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Reading to Make a Difference: Using Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply, and Take Action


"This book is a gift to teachers who want to move well beyond the 'food, festivals, and folklore' focus of the early days of attention to multicultural literature to a consideration of literature as a catalyst for social action.  Teachers will find it a valuable resoure, full of examples of actual classroom practices and questions for reflecting, as well as suggestions of good books to share with students.  The thematic emphases for the chapters are broad enough to apply to texts that represent diverse cultures, but specific enough to work in direrse classrooms." --Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at The Ohio State University

The King of Bees

Henry lives with his Aunt Lilla deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina on a farm by the marshes.  Out back is Henry's favorite--the beehives. He longs for the day when he can wear a bee suit and bee-talk the way his Aunt Lilla does.


Standing on his watching stump, Henry learns a lot about bees from his aunt. He learns that sister bees collect the pllen and nectar from flowers and do all the jobs for the hive.  Henry tells his Aunt Lilla that if he were a bee, he'd help his sisters just like he helps her in the garden.


One day Henry notices a lot of activity around the hives.  Aunt Lilla says, "Looks like the bees are fixin to swarm." Henry worries that they will leave the farm and go somewhere else.


Can he find a way to communicate with the sister bees and convince them to stay?


The Ultimate Read-Aloud Resource

"Best Friend Books"--a small, carefully curated collection of read-alouds that you turn to repeatedly for specific teaching purposes. As you rely on a best friend, you will rely on these picture books for their wisdom, substance, and support.  Lester shows you how to choose your Best Friend Books and use them to their full potential.  You'll also find clear guidelines for digging deeply into both fiction and nonfiction books and enriching students' understanding of content and craft.

Writers ARE Readers

The idea of a flip is simple, heads you read, tails you write.  On one side, we think about what is expected of the reader.  We focus on what he must do to make meaning for himself. On the other side, we think about what the writer had to do to set up the reader. 


In Writers ARE Readers, the mutually supportive roles of reading and writing are made visible through the idea of "flipsides": how a reader's insights can be turned around to provide insights into his own writing, and vice versa. These chapters are full of sample lessons, student writing samples, and recommended text for maximizing the flipped concept across the year.


Discover fresh new ways to turn reading strategies into writing opportunities that your students will be excited about and deeply understand.

Three Hens and a Peacock

Three Hens and a Peacock

Review from Publishers Weekly:
Three Hens and a Peacock
Lester L. Laminack, illus. by Henry Cole, Peachtree, $15.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56145-564-5
What might have been an ordinary be-yourself story is enhanced by Laminack's (Snow Day!) surprisingly thoughtful storytelling. Three hens on the Tuckers' farm are sick with envy when a peacock shows up and attracts the attention of passersby, drawing customers and electrifying the farm's roadside stand business. Laminack characterizes the hens with a fine ear for their Golden Girls outrage; they sound quite human. "We do all the work around here," fumes one. "I'd like to see that peacock lay one single egg." "Exactly," agrees another. "He just struts around screaming." The hens trade places with the peacock, dressing up in beads and ribbons and trying to attract customers--with predictable results. The warmth of the story is a bit overshadowed by the goggle eyes of Cole's (One Pup's Up) barnyard characters; the illustrations go for big guffaws and slapstick instead, and largely succeed. The final spreads--which suggest further complications with the arrival of an ostrich--add a final touch of humor, effectively keeping the book from feeling message-heavy. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)  * Kirkus' Review


Editor Review (reviewed on February 15, 2011)
All is calm on the Tuckers' farm. Cows are quietly chewing cud, hens are clucking and pecking, old hound's lazing on the porch. Only an occasional customer at the produce stand disturbs the routine—until a crate drops out of a passing truck and out pops a peacock! It's his first time on a farm, and he has no idea what to do. He does what comes naturally, and before long, his strutting and shrieking draws attention. Business at the farm stand booms…but the hens are jealous. They do all the work, and that upstart peacock gets all the attention. Peacock wants to be useful, so old hound suggests the two groups switch jobs. The hens glam it up with beads and bows, and peacock does his darndest to lay eggs. No one's successful. Thanks to old hound, everyone learns a lesson about sticking to their strengths. Laminack's tale of barnyard envy is a fine addition to farm fables, but it's Cole's signature watercolor, ink, and pencil cartoon illustrations that charm here. His frenetically posing chickens will inspire giggles, as will old hound's sardonic looks. Good farm fun. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Writing Teacher's Troubleshooting Guide

"By it's very design, a troubleshooting guide is intended to create ease of use, to build both competence and confidence of the user. That is our goals in selecting this format. the spare design compels us to think and to pare down our language to the bare essentials. It requires the practical."

Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations

Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations

"Perhaps the most important skill one should acquire to be ready for any college or any career, to be a productive part of any community, is kindness. In Bullying Hurts, Lester and Reba remind us of the critical importance of teaching kindness and then they do better than that: they take us into classrooms and show us, step-by-step and book-by-book, how we can sues literature to help students become the empathetic, caring, kind people this world desperately needs. you won't just read this book, you'll use it." --Kylene Beers

Snow Day!

When the televisions weatherman predicts a big snowfall, the narrator gleefully imagines the fun-filled possibilities of an unscheduled holiday from school.

Piling under warm blankets. Sipping hot chocolate in snowman mugs. Building a snow fort and stacking up a zillion snowballs inside. Scene after snow scene reveals how a pair of siblings, withe their father in tow, would make the most of their day off.

But when the family wakes up the next morning, the story takes an unexpected twist...Young readers won't be the only ones who delight in the surprise ending in this thoroughly original spin on a familiar childhood scenario. [from the flap copy of Snow Day!]

Jake's 100th Day of School

The 100th Day of School is a BIG event for young children everywhere. And Jake, like most children has been working on his very special collection for a long time. But in the excitement of the big day Jake rushes out to catch the bus and leaves something very important behind. Find out how a very caring principal helps save the day. And watch for a surprise visitor who comes along with Jake's grandma, a visitor who just loves the number 100! This story of caring, creativity and community is a perfect read for the 100th day and all year long. Plus the endpapers have a bit of counting for readers.

Take a closer look at the 100th Day at Woodmeade Elementary. Just follow this link to see the 100th day at the school that inspired this story. http://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/news/060131/book.shtml

Saturdays and Teacakes

"...Drawing on his childhood in Heflin, AL, the author splendidly re-creates... nostalgic scenes, carefully bringing the memories to life by describing the sunny kitchen, the crunch of gravel under bicycle wheels, and the sweet aroma of the cakes. The brilliant watercolor paintings glow with light and idyllically capture the world of yesterday."

--School Library Journal

The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins

This is the poignant tale of a woman who resides in a nursing home, and who seems to live more in a world of memories than here in the present. Although Miss Olivia is unable to respond, and their presence often seems to go unnoticed, daughter Angel and great-grandson Troy know better. Anything from a beautiful sunset to the mention of her porch swing--Troy's favorite place--can take her back into her past, from when she was just a little girl out on the farm with her papa, to a recent birthday shared with her daughter.

Trevor’s Wiggly-Wobbly Tooth

Every kid goes through this, that anxious waiting for the first loose tooth. Lester Laminack captures that eagerness in delightful humor. If you have young children in your life they will be begging, "Please read Trevor again my tooth is loose!" This one is a keeper.

Spelling In Use

This book is an excellent guide to teaching spelling in a new and more productive way. There are many concrete, useable examples and it is written in an easily comprehendable form. It is interesting, intelligent, and practical for the everyday classroom. This is obviously a compilation of many years of experience, rather than a theory that has gone untested. Hooray for educators like these who watch children and are not afraid to try new things!

The Writing Workshop Working through the Hard Parts (and they're all hard parts)

If you can only get one book on teaching writing using the Writer's Workshop model let it be this one. It's detailed, full of practical tips, but most important--you will be INSPIRED! I immediately started my own writer's notebook after I read this book. One caveat...this is not a book that you can pick up on Sunday night because you want to start the program on Monday morning. This book is written to be read and re-read, pondered and poured over. That having been said, this is NOT just a book of theory, it thoroughly and lovingly explains all the nuts-and-bolts of the workshop. (from a reader posted on Amazon.com)

Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature

Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature revolutionizes the read-aloud. Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth lay out six types of read-alouds, each of which targets key instructional goals, including:
* addressing standards in the curriculum
* building community in the classroom
* demonstrating the craft of writing
* enriching vocabulary
* enticing children to read independently
* modeling fluent reading.

Cracking Open the Author's Craft: Teaching the Art of Writing

Welcome to the close study of the author's craft. I don't assume for one second that I have all the answers to questions the choices authors make, let alone the correct answers. However, I have my understandings, my insights, and my notions. Take from them what you will and make this resource your own.

I have attempted to make this resource very flexible. You could begin with the book and read it as you would any other professional book. You could also begin by viewing the DVD, and the reading the book. You could move between the book and the DVD, viewing segments and reading the corresponding text. You could view the DVD segments before you carry out the lessons with your students for background and examples, or you could show the segments to your students as if I am a guest author who's visiting during a craft study.

The language writers use should be fluid and flexible. Have fun with it. Play with it. Try it out in a variety of ways. Lead your students toward more efficient and more effective writing. Surely if we think together, we will all be wiser for the effort.

Climb Inside a Poem: Reading and Writing Poetry Across the Year

Children are natural poets. They speak poetry all day long. They say wonderful poetic gems that surprise and delight us and help us look at the world in a new way. In "Climb Inside a Poem: Reading and Writing Poetry Across the Year" Georgia Heard and Lester Laminack tap into this natural inclination and demonstrate how reading and writing poetry can also support and extend young children's language and literacy development. Through an anthology of original children's poems and related lessons, Lester and Georgia describe how to weave poetry into the fabric of a school day, reading a variety of poems for a variety of purposes. Building on these experiences, children then engage in a formal unit of study on writing poetry.

Unwrapping the Read Aloud: Making Every Read AloudIntentional and Instructional

You'll find several ready-to-use tutorials in which Lester walks you page by page through favorite picture books, introducing techniques you can use to shape and enrich your own read alouds. These "workshops-in-a-book," also perfect for literacy coaches and teacher leaders, demonstrate how to enter picture books and read with an eye and ear for tone, intensity, pacing, and mood, as well as for ways to explore literary elements and across the curriculum instructional possibilities.

On an accompanying DVD you can see Lester read aloud five picture books s he address questions such as these:
*Why is reading aloud so important, and ho do busy teachers make time for it?
*How do facial expression, body movement, and voice modulation contribute to the art of reading aloud?
*Why do students want to hear the same story over and over?
*What makes a read aloud "intentional"?
*Why is inspiration worthy of our instructional time?
*What makes a read aloud "instructional"?

Whether you begin with the DVD or the book, you'll find Lester Laminack an unparalleled guide to the intentional read aloud. Journey with him to the heart of five picture books as he unwraps each one to reveal the magic of language, ideas, and content.

From: The Sylva Herald
Feb. 26, 2004
Volume 78, No. 48

Saturdays and Teacakes opens 'trap door' to past
By Carey King

As a boy growing up in 1960s Alabama, Lester
Laminack didn't think he could be a writer.

"I didn't know that was an option. I never thought about it," he said. "We never had a writer come to our school. We had magicians, and Gideons bringing Bibles, but we never had an author come." ...

To outsiders, the journey from 10-year-old with a poem-filled notebook to adult with five or six book drafts in an editor's drawer may appear to be quite a jump, but for Laminack, the change hasn't been that drastic.

Professor and head of Elementary and Middle Grades Education at Western Carolina University, Laminack speaks at literacy conferences and is consultant to schools throughout the country. He's authored numerous guides for teachers and already has two children's books out, Trevor's Wiggly-Wobbly Tooth and The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins.

"I've always liked to write," Laminack said. "I like to keep a notebook to make note of my noticings."

Over the years, Laminack has gotten in the habit of carrying a green hardbound journal to keep track of quotes that he's heard, observations he's made, or ideas he's had.

Yet the leap from teacher and private writer to published author didn't come until a few years ago, when the professor realized there were few resources available to help his young son deal with his mother-in-law's battle with Alzheimer's.

"I thought, 'I could write something like that,'" Laminack said. "When people tap into their lives, they may not find a publishable story. But they'll find a way of sharing themselves with their children, of explaining their connections to things."

'Trap doors'

Eighty percent of what goes into Laminack's notebook never leaves it, he estimates. Writing about once a day, the author fills about three journals a year, plus a few tiny moleskin notebooks he keeps in his backpack for times away from his desk.

"Sometimes stories start as just notions or inklings," he said. "Then you take a few extra seconds to think. I call those moments 'trap doors.' Every human being has them."

For Laminack, the 'trap door' to Saturdays and Teacakes was a trip to Wal-Mart.

"I walked in and smelled cookies baking and thought, 'That reminds me of something.' It was just sort of this trigger that took me someplace," Laminack said.

When he realized that place was his grandmother's kitchen in Heflin, Ala., Laminack sat down and penned a six-page description of it.

Starting at age 9 or 10, Mammaw Thompson's kitchen was his destination each Saturday, once his mother decided he was "big enough" to ride his bike across town.

"That was before Interstate 20 was built. Heflin was a thriving little town with through-traffic from old Highway 78," Laminack said. "When I was on my bike, I was always sure somebody coming from Atlanta would mash me flat. I didn't trust people from the city."

Pushing his bike out of the garage early each Saturday morning, he would pedal his way past neighbors' houses, the gas station and the bank, ticking off each landmark before arriving at his grandmother's house. There, he'd mow the grass in exchange for good company, tomato sandwiches and a plate full of just-baked sugar cookies his Mammaw called "teacakes."

"It was a time in the world when it was very safe for children to be outside. When I started out, my mother would say, 'Call me when you get there,''' Laminack said. "I knew I had to stop at Chandler's gas station and look both ways, because my mother would hear about it if I didn't."

The story of that safe world - a time when a net of neighbors surrounded children on their journeys - is the one Laminack tells in Saturdays and Teacakes, both to honor his grandmother and to remind readers of the importance rituals play in children's lives.

"Every child deserves one human being in his or her life that makes them feel completely worthy, like my grandmother did for me," he said. "I would have walked across Egypt in the middle of August to get whatever she needed."

Everyone's lives are studded with rituals like those Saturday trips, Laminack says, whether they're vacations or birthdays or just day-to-day things that don't usually get noticed. But they're a powerful way for adults and children to connect, both in the doing and in the remembering.

Returning to roots

You have to write about your own experience for your stories to be effective, Laminack tells his students.

But in the children's book industry, the process of getting those stories illustrated can often be alienating.

"Usually, writers have no say in who illustrates their books," Laminack said. "The author might have a voice in things like the artist's style or palette of colors, but the publisher has the final choice."

Yet, in Chris Soentpiet - the illustrator for Saturdays and Teacakes - Laminack found an artist willing to travel through the 'trap door' with him.

"Chris called me up and asked if I could help him find a house in North Carolina like the one in the story for him to paint," Laminack said. "But then I told him I'd take him to see the real thing in Alabama."

Laminack's cousin now lives in Mammaw's old house, so Soentpiet drove down from New York to spend three days soaking up Heflin memories.

Though Soentpiet has worked on more than 15 children's books, Laminack is only the third author he's worked with face-to-face.

"We just took over my cousin's kitchen," Laminack said. "All the real things are still there. We just brought back things we'd inherited - like the cheese crock and the cookie jar - and put the modern things away."

Soentpiet beat Laminack to town by a few hours, so he stopped by Cleburn Elementary School to get a glimpse of the place Laminack had been both student and first-grade teacher. After introducing himself to the principal, he took a tour of the school and found a third-grader named Luke he imagined looked like Lami-nack growing up.

After a trip to the mall to outfit Luke, they swung by the grocery store to purchase Alabama products in the story like Golden Eagle syrup and Red Diamond coffee. Once Laminack's mother, who still lives in Cleburn County, came over dressed in an outfit from Mammaw's closet, Soentpiet was ready to get to work.

"He put them in all different poses from the book, and then took photographs," Laminack said. "Then he took those photos back to New York and painted from them."

The result is a series of realistic paintings true to Laminack's memories.

"I love the way Chris captures light. In the scene where the boy rests under the shade tree, I love the way the light and shadows dapple through the leaves," Laminack said.

Writers, not writing

The fact that Saturdays and Teacakes' words and pictures are accurate is critically important to the children with whom Laminack has shared the book.

Like his own distance as a child from the idea of adopting writing as a career, Laminack said, kids often create a gap between the writing they do in school and the writing that appears in books they read. Students are amazed when - after telling his grandmother's story from memory - Laminack whips out a copy of Saturdays and Teacakes to show that anybody with a good story can be an author.

"I say, 'My story happened on Saturdays. What do you do on Saturdays?'" Laminack said. "Then they just take off writing."

With one foot in the world of academia, Laminack knows students have end-of-grade assessments to pass that require writing from prompts and multiple-choice answers. But with the other foot planted in the classrooms of kindergartners through eighth-graders, Laminack is certain that the process of helping kids develop into writers is one deeper and richer than such tests can measure.

"We need to help kids develop a text-to-self connection," Laminack said. "We need to let them know that they too are writers. It's important for kids to keep their own writer's notebooks rather than writing through prompts."

You never know what's going to emerge when students take ownership of what they write and start to address issues they feel are important, Laminack said.

"I know there are assessments to worry about," the author said, "but I really trust that if we really try to develop writers rather than develop writing, kids can rise to the challenge."

Mammaw Thompson's Teacakes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Gather these ingredients (Mammaw always used these brands, but you can substitute your own brands) :

2 sticks of Blue Bonnet Margarine
3-1/2 cups of Martha White self-rising flour
2 cups of Dixie Crystal Sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons of vanilla flavoring
Blend margarine and sugar until creamy. Beat eggs and blend. Add vanilla, then flour, and blend. (You can blend the ingredients with a potato masher, then stir with a long wooden spoon.) Gather the mixture into a loose ball and sprinkle lightly with flour.

Lightly flour the surface you'll use for rolling, then roll out the dough.

Next remove about half of the dough onto the cutting surface and roll it out with a rolling pin to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Cut circles in the dough with a teacup, glass, or cookie cutter about 2-3 inches in diameter. (Dip the rim of the cup in flour between cuttings to prevent the dough from sticking.)

Place the circles on a baking sheet that has been lightly buttered or use a nonstick baking sheet. Set the cookies about 1 inch apart on all sides. Sprinkle sugar lightly over each cookie.

Repeat for the second half of the dough. (Refrigerate the dough if it will sit for more than ten minutes. Chilled dough is easier to roll out and cut.) This recipe should produce a batch of about 40 teacakes.

Place the cookies in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes. The cookies are done when they are lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and let them cool a little before you lift them off the baking sheet to eat them.

I hope you make Teacakes with someone you love very much. That's when they taste the very best.

From Saturdays and Teacakes, written by Lester L. Laminack and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet Peachtree Publishers: (800) 241-0113.