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Ready, Set, Go, by Sandy Meagher

Start this year with exciting read-alouds and valuable teacher resources to use with language arts and research projects

"Are you ready?" Everywhere I go lately – the supermarket, baseball games, the ice cream stand – my students and colleagues ask this question. My standard reply is, "Yes, we are ready!" During the year, I collect books, products, new research methods and ways to collaborate with teachers. If I'm ready with these things, it helps the teachers with whom I work to be ready, too.

Book cover for Junie B., First Grader: Cheater Pants

School tales
Some of the first requests I receive from teachers will be for read-aloud books. A good one is First Year Letters by Julie Danneberg (Charlesbridge, 2003, ISBN: 1-580-89084-9), which is a wonderful springboard for writing as well. I know a fourth grade teacher and a second grade teacher who used this book to start a "buddy" writing project in which fourth- and second-grader pairs were given a journal in which to write to each other. The journals were passed between each grade at designated times of the year.

A fun chapter read-aloud is Junie B., First Grader: Cheater Pants by Barbara Park (Random House, 2003, ISBN: 0-375-82301-8). This book will keep you laughing from beginning to end.

Mystery and suspense
Another favorite is Pleasing the Ghost by Sharon Creech (HarperTrophy, 1997, ISBN: 0-064-40686-5), in which nine-year-old Dennis is visited by ghosts who lead him on a treasure hunt. You'll find an excellent resource for literature circles and discussion at www.harperchildrens.com. Visit the Teachers and Librarians section.

To keep older students on the edges of their seats, read them the Newbery Medal-winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (Hyperion, 2002, ISBN: 0-786-80828-4). The setting is 14th-century England, and 13-year-old Crispin must flee his village to escape execution for a crime he didn't commit. Kids will be riveted by the suspenseful chases and the mystery of what happened to Crispin's parents.

Vital verses
I know many teachers who begin each school day with a poem. If you're in the same habit, or would like to start, here are some terrific new books. Lee Bennett Hopkins' Alphathoughts: Alphabet Poems from A to Z (Boyds Mills Press, 2003, ISBN: 1-563-97979-9) could be used as an alphabet writing model for any grade level on almost any topic.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich's In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion (Boyds Mills Press, 2003, ISBN: 1-563-97145-3) and Sara Holbrook's Wham! It's a Poetry Jam: Discovering Performance Poetry (Boyds Mills Press, 2002, ISBN: 1-590-78011-6) will inspire you to try poetry in a new venue – performance.

Beyond books
This year, I'm building a "library" of products and resources for students and teachers to borrow. So far I have some wonderful things from Learning Resources, including their "Story Starter Cubes." Students roll the cubes like dice to mix and match characters, settings and situations for writing a story. We'll have a great time with these in the library, but I'm excited to be able to let teachers borrow them for use in their classrooms.

I also have a set of Learning Resources' "Reading Rods," which are manipulatives with activities. These are great for learning centers and kinesthetic learners. For more information about these products, visit www.learningresources.com.

Meaningful research
What about those new research methods I mentioned earlier? In April, I attended the Pennsylvania State Library Association Conference and went to a workshop entitled, "Designing Research Projects Students (and Teachers) Love." The workshop and its leader, Doug Johnson from Mankato, MN, were outstanding. Doug believes, as many of us do, that it's important to design research projects to be "intrinsically motivating" for our students.

The "getting ready" has definitely begun, but I still have more planning to do. I'm looking forward to thinking about fall activities, this year's author visit, the in-service for teachers and more. I hope you have things to look forward to as well. Welcome back!

Sandy Meagher is the Library Department Chairperson and School Librarian in the Wayne Highlands School District, Honesdale, PA.