Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Third grade students’ sense of humor, their growing knowledge of punctuation, and developing awareness of nuance make them the perfect audience for Lynne Truss’ witty book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!

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You may recall the #1 New York Times bestselling book that Truss also authored, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Eats Shoots & Leaves1I started out the lesson with sharing both the hoax and actual magazine cover that went viral a few years ago, picturing Rachael Ray. The hoax version, sans commas, seems to declare that she engages in cannibalism and eats dogs. Talk about an immediate attention-getter!


rachelray02Then I asked two students to each read one of the following statements, being careful to pause for the commas. Everyone listened intently to detect the subtle distinction. The power of the comma is exquisitely demonstrated, as poor canines once again become food, if commas are not properly used.

IMG_7081a IMG_7081With only two sentences on each two-page spread, the book relies on it’s simplicity and highly amusing illustrations to make it clear just how important commas can be when conveying meaning in writing. Students eagerly volunteered to stand up and read some of the pages to the class.  The page spread that had the biggest reaction in every class? A combination filling station and store illustration:  “Eat here and get gas,” vs. “Eat here, and get gas.”

I passed out laminated bookmarks that I cut out of black construction paper, shaped like giant commas, and suggested that students take special notice of all the commas in the books they are reading. I also included a link on the back to a comma game students can play later, and test their commas skills.  (Note:  Requires Flash, and does not work on iPads.)



One 3rd grade boy came up to me right afterwards, and rattled off a series of sentences he made up on the spot that would be catastrophic without the comma, such as, “We’re eating Grandma!” vs. “We’re eating, Grandma!” He cracked himself up!

A 4th grade student was so entertained by it last year, that she has asked me several times to re-read it to her class again this year. I believe I will.

Students Declare Their Love for These Books

I Love This Book display

A quick and easy student-decorated display for Valentine’s Day:

Wrap red paper around the circulation desk.

Set out markers, tape and paper hearts.

Ask students if they’d like to write the title of any book they’ve ever loved–from Hop on Pop to Eragon and everywhere in between–and tape it to the desk.

Listen to all the conversations it generates.

That is all.

Who is? Who was?

Amelia Earhart index

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anne franknelson mandela

Third graders are starting their biography reports, so to build excitement and to celebrate the addition of 20 new biographies from the wildly popular Who Is…? and Who Was…? series, published by Penguin, we played a quick, fun game in the library before checking out books, using the Apple TV.

Here’s a link to the game:

Students were divided into four teams, and each had my new favorite toy to use:  the answer buzzers from Learning Resources.  Then they challenged themselves to choose the correct answer first.  Because it is multiple choice, even if they don’t know the answer, they are able to figure it out by the process of elimination.  Everyone was engaged.

Examples from the game:

This man was a home run king.

Who was Neil Armstrong?
Who was Babe Ruth?
Who was John F. Kennedy?
Who was Daniel Boone?



This woman is a world famous scientist and animal rights activist.

Who is Dolly Parton?
Who is Michelle Obama?
Who is Jane Goodall?
Who is J.K. Rowling?


There are 10 questions in each round, and if your students are having fun, they can play it a second time, and the most of the questions change.

The books are widely available in paperback, but after some searching, I found the books in hardback with library binding on Amazon.  They are easily identifiable by the over-sized heads on the covers, they are all about 100 pages long, include a timeline in the back, and, most importantly, kids love to read them, even when they don’t have a biography report assignment.  

Also, Penguin just announced the contest results to name the 100th book in the Who Was series.  Over 67,000 votes were tallied and winner was STEVE IRWIN.  Look for the book in Summer 2015.



4th – 6th Graders Rock the Newbery Game

Buzzers 2

BOING!  “The Westing Game!”

HONK HONK!  “Moon over Manifest!”

DING DONG!  “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!”

DING!  “The One and Only Ivan!”

These are a few of the answers the 4th-6th graders excitedly called out when we played a Newbery Award game in the library this week.

I’ll tell you the secret to making answering book title questions so much fun:  It was these answer buzzers that each make a different loud, funny sound. Go to Amazon and order them by Learning Resources. You can do it right now. I’ll wait here.

Buzzers 1A fun-loving colleague from a nearby school district elementary library loaned me these answer buzzers, and gave me the inspiration for creating this game. It cannot be overstated how much fun it is to answer a question when one gets to hit one of these buttons first. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these should be used in court when questioning defendants on the stand. They are just that compelling.

BOING!  I confess, I did it.

HONK HONK!  Yes, I stole those items.

DING DONG!  I had accomplices, and I’ll name names.

DING!  I’ll tell you everything, as long as I get to keep hitting these answer buttons!

I displayed Newbery Award and Honor books on a large table, and gave a short talk about the Newbery Medal. “Who knows what these gold and silver round stickers mean?” I shared some of the eligibility criteria, like the book must have been published in the United States in the preceding year, the author must also be a citizen of or reside in the United States, the book can be fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, and that children up through age 14 are the intended potential audience. I also shared some of the history; it is named for John Newbery, and the first award was given in 1922.  Information can be found right here on the Association for Library Service to Children website.

Students eagerly raised their hands to tell me which books on the table they had read and loved.

Holes was awesome, both the book and the movie!”

“We just read Island of the Blue Dolphins in class!”

The Graveyard Book was soooo good!”

“I’m reading The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle right now, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

“My teacher read, Carry On Mr. Bowditch out loud to us last year.”

I believe the best advertising for books is from peers, and this was even better than I could have hoped for.

I made a two-page list of selected winners and honor books that best suited my needs for the game, that are in the school library collection, and made enough 2-sided copies for every student.


To make 4 teams quickly, I randomly set laminated, color-coded cards that matched the buzzers on all the chairs before the classes came in and sat down, to designated what team they were on.  I learned from a teacher that if you say, “You have 30 seconds to get to your team table,” they get there MUCH faster.

Chairs with Color Coded Cards

Game Table 4 Game Table 3
Game Table 1

I read out clues, and teams searched the lists for books that met the description, and rushed to hit the buzzer first, and called out their answers.  Below are some of the clues I came up with, but there are so many other possibilities.

A book title with Mr., Mrs. or Dr. in it
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Carry on Mr. Bowditch
Dear Mr. Henshaw
Mr. Popper’s Penguins (be sure to point out the year this was a winner–1939!)
The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

A one word title

Day of the week in the title
The View from Saturday
The Wednesday Wars

Book title has the word “game” in it
The Westing Game
The Egypt Game

Insect in the title
Cricket in Times Square
House of Scorpion

A sea mammal in the title
Island of the Blue Dolphins

An animal in the title
Julie of the Wolves
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Sign of the Beaver
Turtle in Paradise
Witch of Blackbird Pond

Title includes something to do with space
Sing Down the Moon
Moon Over Manifest
Walk Two Moons
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
A Corner of the Universe
Number the Stars

Book title has a number in it
The One and Only Ivan
26 Fairmount Ave.
Three Times Lucky
One Came Home
One Crazy Summer
The Hundred Dresses
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963

The last class of the day went MUCH smoother than the first, and I fine-tuned the process as the day progressed.  One lesson I learned:  We kept score for some classes, but not for others.  Funny thing, it didn’t really matter.  Kids loved playing whether they were earning points or not, and I just kept replenishing the books on the Newbery Award table as they were checked out.

Several students stopped by after school to ask if we could do more games like that, and even brainstormed ideas on what the games could be. (“How about a Wheel of Fortune Game?  You could make a big wheel and send us off searching for books…”)  You can’t buy that kind of excitement.

Oh my goodness, I just checked:  Amazon has a Wheel of Fortune spinner!

Student Poetry in the Library


A Book Enlarged Poem

When one of our wonderful consultants at the elementary school worked with students on poetry last year, she came to me with a few poems students wrote relating to books and reading, and inquired if I would like to display them in the library. How fast could I say, “Of course!”

Together we made library displays with the poems. She did the beautiful lettering on large white paper, and I cut out some decorations to go with them on black card stock, and installed them. I free-handed the book with a flock of birds flying out of it. The book and birds are affixed with T-pins, not staples, so I was able to give them a 3-D effect by pulling sections outward on the T-pins. Then my wonderful son gave me a Silhouette Cameo for Christmas, and I used it to cut the other display shapes (tree, grass, girl sitting on a book, book with bookmark, music notes).

They make me smile every time I read them, and the students are proud to point them out to their friends when they are in the library.

The Book

The Book

Upon a shelf
left there to stay

The popular books all taken away
where they can laugh and let their words play

The mystical books of wizards and elves
The scary horror stories of ghosts on the shelves

But alas, that’s nothing like me
I’m just a story ’bout a girl and her tree

The new books go in, the old go out
There’s hustling and bustling going about.

I inhale the smell of new brandished leather
The gilded gold spine that holds it together

That’s not just like me, my color is rust,
and I only smell of moth balls and dust

I’m on the shelf for days, weeks
But then at dawn, a new sun peeks

Then yes, yes, yes, I knew it was true
The librarian says, “This book’s just for you.”

I shine with joy, I dance with glee
For I am a book ’bout a girl and her tree.



The Lonely Book

The Lonely Book

There sat a lonely book
It was the kind of book that nobody took

It sat on the shelf with nobody there
Other books passed by it without a care

Finally the lonely book met a lonely girl
And they hit it off in their lonely world

They walked off feeling fine
The loneliness won’t be back for a while




I am the music of reading
My melody is the beating of words in my head
It moves to the rhythm of my eyes
ripping down the page
With harmonies of overwhelming silence


Angry Birds are Mad About Books!


The youth section of the public library where I work has six large bulletin boards, that the Youth Services staff change several times a year, to fit a selected theme.  This is my creation for the current “Games” theme.

I was given the video game of Angry Birds to work with, and had to do a little research on it, as I had never played the game.  And by “research,” I mean download the free game app and play it!  It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

I cut the lettering out with my Silhouette Cameo, to recreate the font used for the game that looks like paint brush strokes.  I also used the Silhouette Cameo to cut out the stacks of books inside the cardboard tube structure with the green pigs.  The Angry Birds are made with rubber Halloween masks I found at the $1 store.  The red and yellow birds are stuffed with paper and attached with T-pins to the bulletin board.  The black bird mask is stretched to fit on a black rubber ball, and suspended with fishing line from the ceiling.

I’ll leave it to you to guess whether I deleted the Angry Bird game from my phone when I  finished with my “research.”

Sometimes, One Crayon is All You Need to Get Out of a Predicament

After reading the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey, about a bored girl who creates a daring and dangerous adventure for herself using a red crayon, I was reminded of a far simpler version about a footed pajama-wearing, pointy-nosed, wide-eyed, almost hairless little graffiti artist named Harold.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson, has timeless appeal, as he wields his one and only crayon to both create and solve one problem after another, until he draws himself to bed, and the crayon slips from his sleepy hand to the floor.

I enlarged a b&w picture of Harold from the book, and copied him in various random positions all around 12 X 18″ pieces of white construction paper, and set out purple crayons.

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I read the book to students, then after book checkout, they were able to sit down at the tables and create a picture of Harold drawing an adventure of their own choosing.  After seeing Harold’s imagination run wild with his purple crayon on the pages of the book, the students were excited to let their own imaginations take Harold someplace too.

But don’t forget the moon.  The moon always followed along.


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Tag on the back:

Today we went to the library
and Mrs. Foote read
Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson



Where’s Waldo in the Library?


Waldo pictures

As part of my elementary  library orientation at the beginning of the year, I take advantage of the irresistible, universal childhood need to find Waldo, wherever he may be hiding.

I printed and laminated multiple Waldo pictures in a variety of poses, Waldo’s dog, and Waldo’s girlfriend.  I tape them with blue carpenter’s tape around the library in different sections, hidden in plain sight.

I hand out cards to random students, and ask them to stand up one at a time, and locate Waldo in the Fiction section, or locate Waldo in the Picture book section, etc.  Everyone helps out with “You’re getting warmer/colder” comments, and it gets everyone’s attention, because, of course, everyone wants to visually locate him before the student who is actually charged with pointing him out.

I have also worn a red and white striped shirt with blue jeans, to add to the fun.


Where do you think I taped Waldo’s dog?   In the 636 section, of course!

Ready for more fun with Where’s Waldo at the Library from Candlewick Press?