Happy Birthday to Me!

Having a mid-August birthday used to mean that I never was in school for my birthday.  I never brought in cupcakes and never got to wear the birthday crown.  This year though, that changes.  This year, the first day of school for students falls on my birthday.  I’m still debating bringing in cupcakes.  I usually take any excuse to eat sweets, but I don’t want to set the precedent of giving my students cupcakes on day one.  Can’t be too nice too soon.

But we all know that there’s a lot that goes into our classrooms before the first day of school.  So our next few posts here are going to focus on classroom decor.  You’ll get a taste of my end of the spectrum as an OCD elementary over-decorator, and a look at Jessica’s end as the eclectic, everything is here for a purpose, practical- high school decorator.

Welcome back!


Why the Deer in Headlights Stalls

I know why the deer in headlights stalls. To most it’s just a poor choice, standing in the way of vehicles, a swift way to death and automative repair bills. But I know why the deer stalls. The deer stalls for the some reasons I stalled this morning. The deer stalls in the face of a rapidly moving, bright thing, bigger than it can comprehend. The deer stalls and at that moment thoughts such as these are racing through it’s brain:


However, what usually ends poorly for the deer, did not do so for me this morning. Today I had the privilege to attend Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Conference. Today I stalled when author/illustrator Peter Brown finished his presentation. I wanted to tell him how his books had changed me and my students. I wanted to tell him how incredible it was that he had emailed me back and forth months prior. I wanted to tell him how much I enjoy his books, how they helped me rediscover excitement over books. I wanted to tell him how that excitement got passed on to students. I wanted to tell him how much I truly loved his work and found his description of his process incredible.

But I stalled. I stalled in the face of something big and bright. I stalled in front of magnificence. Luckily I was far enough away at that moment to dart in the shadows before collision. Collision came later at lunch and the smaller sessions where I fumbled and he was gracious.

Then I wandered into another session to nurse my wounds, to start the process of questioning every moment of our encounter and agonizing over what I could have done or said differently. What I stumbled upon was another inspiring author, Aaron Reynolds and the process was suspended as I sat enthralled by yet another storyteller.

But before I get lost waxing and waning over the experiences of today or restart questioning my behavior when meeting an idol, I feel that I need to share the story of our summer so far. I need to explain why it seems we have abandoned our writing here. We haven’t. It’s summer. Summer, which for Jessica means a vacation at the beach, relaxing with family and watching her baby (who I swear was born like last week) learn to crawl and explore. Summer, which for me means projects. Projects like semi-stalking my favorite authors, building greenhouses out of CD cases, curating photo books, doing Reading Rainbow’s summer challenge, the bookaday challenge,  building a companion website for my students and the BI-ANNUAL CLASSROOM LIBRARY MIGRATION.

Each summer, due to a lack of acceptable storage, a desire not to be parted from my books and a strange love of organizing and reorganizing the collection, the library comes home.

Here is the library.


The migration usually takes about four trips like this:


Then they sit in my house like this:


Sometimes they take over my kitchen table like this:


Because part of the process is spending an exorbitant amount of time weeding, reading, sorting, reading, reorganizing, reading, labeling and convincing myself that creating an electronic catalog would be a wonderful idea.

It’s honestly a wonder that I have any time left to do anything else. But I do. And part of what I have been doing with my library is the companion website. I wanted to keep my students reading over the summer and am always up for a challenge such as Donalyn Miller’s bookaday challenge. So I combined the two to create Stories with Seelbach, where I am chronicling my journey to read 100 books (about a book a day) before the end of the summer. For the shorter picture books, I’m creating videos of me reading (which is what gets the students checking in) and for longer books, I’ll just usually print a blurb about the experience of reading it. I’m also really looking forward to when I fly back home to visit and the site becomes Stories with Seelbachs.

So that’s why we aren’t here. It’s summer, and we’ve got a lot going on. Now, I need to get back to reveling over my day and the latest fan-letter to an author. Hopefully somewhere I get caught in headlights again soon.  I’ll leave you with these:


Getting matchy-matchy with author and illustrator, the amazing Peter Brown! Seriously, you need to check him out! http://www.Peterbrownstudio.com


Author Aaron Reynolds took time to read with me and LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow. Aaron Reynolds has recently rocketed on to my list of favorite people. http://www.aaron-reynolds.com

Book A Day

I love reading.  I love talking about what I’m reading. I love being in book stores and libraries and sitting on my couch for hours with a book.  However, even with all this love, I there still will be long periods of time where I am not reading much.  When I do get back to reading, it’s like “why did I ever stop?”

I also love a challenge, and Donalyn Miller (one of my idols) has managed to combine these two loves of mine.

Reading Is Its Own Reward: Summer Reading and the 7th Annual #Bookaday Challenge.

One book a day for every day of the summer?  I’m there.  It’s happening.  I’ve even added my own level to this challenge.  I’m challenging myself to read a book a day and post a video each day of either the book being read or a book talk of the book.  You can follow along by viewing our new Read Aloud page.

Battle of the Books 2015: Part 2: The Slaughter

The monster spent a snow day youtubing old Pardon the Interruption episodes.  It was looking for fodder to fuel the scripts for Book Battle Broadcast.  Authenticity and tone are important.  Gone are the days of relaxing or getting work like grading or lesson plans done. The monster has consumed what once was me and now Battle of the Books occupies my every moment.  The monster has invaded my dreams and waking moments. Before I completely succumb, let me account for my actions so that a record exists of my demise from a reasonable teacher into a crazed fanatic.

  1. Found “Tournament of Books” online, monster awakens (see Part 1)
  2. Recruited (monster thrives on company).  Monster posted on Facebook and tags the Reading Specialist from work.  Issued an ultimatum: THIS. NEEDS. TO. HAPPEN.  Went into work, met with Reading Specialist.  Infected her.  Scheduled meeting to infect others.
  3. Met and infected others, determined which sixteen books would enter the competition.
  4. Forced others to stay late on a Friday after school to construct a book bracket in the cafeteria.  Sent out messages for books.  Started collecting books.
  5. Convinced another to build a website to host the Google Forms we will be using to vote as well as videos of the books.  Conceived Book Battle Broadcast, a web series featuring two of our teachers debating the pros and cons of each book and postulating which books would make it.  Started filming.  Started editing. Started posting. Started sharing. Started voting.Battle of the Books

The monster has taken over. I feel the need to talk about Battle of the Books with complete strangers.

VSRA 2015: Pictures and Prose


A picture is worth a thousand words right? Well, I’m not sure a thousand words or pictures could really do justice in describing my VSRA conference experience.

Was it perfect? No. Was my presentation perfect? No. What was it?  Educational! Exciting! Inspiring! And it wasn’t the big name people or the fancy vendors who were really inspiring. It was the middle school librarian who told me all about her “literary lock-in” where kids get people to sponsor them to read a whole book while locked in the library for the night to raise money for books. It was the elementary reading specialist who showed me some word analysis tools to help my students unlock words.  It was the administrator who motivated me to use wordless picture books to help level the playing field and help students find meaning. It was the person who came to my presentation and was OVERJOYED to earn the book and the beard I was giving away.

But back to those pictures:

  • Celebrity and Me: Me and Richard Allington, literacy researcher, author, and former president of the International Reading Association, in pajamas at PJ/PD.  He has a masterful way of offending people and reminds me a lot of my grandfather (my grandfather was similar in both build and disposition).  I let him give me bunny ears to show how magnanimous I can be. What I really wanted to do was give him a piece of my mind, but it’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re asking for a picture and wearing pajama bottoms with Eeyore on them.  I know he knows his stuff, and I know he means the best, but he needs to gain a better awareness of his audience when he speaks.  What I wanted was a picture of him in his pjs as proof that he did come and he was in his pajamas, but he pulled me into the picture with him.
  • Reading Level Correlation Cards: I picked one up from a vendor my first day at the conference and was super excited.  I constantly misplace the paper copy of this chart and have to reprint it.  Now I can keep it with my school ID and be able to check levels of books no matter what.  When I realized what a gem I had found I went back the next day and unscrupulously pocketed plenty to bring back for my colleagues.  I got other freebies, but these are, hands-down, what I was most excited about.
  • My Badge: I got to go to an additional fee session by volunteering as a “Presider” which meant I stood at the door to collect tickets and held up signs to let the presenters know that their time was running out.  I also got a ribbon for being a presenter.
  • My Presentation: I wrote earlier to watch for the crash and burn.  Luckily neither happened in my presentation, though I did get a muscle burn lugging all those books from the hotel to the convention center. (I need something with wheels if I ever do this sort of thing again!)  The technology worked, the people participated, and I even had a couple of people stick around afterward to ask questions and let me know how much they enjoyed it.  Again, I was most excited that the librarian (such inspiring people, librarians) who won the Book and Beard I gave away was very, very happy to earn it and couldn’t wait to put it on.
  • Other Presentations: If only I had a time turner.  There were so many interesting presentations to go to, and so many of them happened at the same time!

I also won a door prize at one of the events and found out about a summer conference even closer to me that will feature one of my favorite children’s authors!  I’ll be riding this high for a while.


VSRA 2015: Jitters and Jubilation

Some people get their feet wet. Some people jump right in.  Me?  I lean so far over trying to get a good look and end up falling in.  Then I wonder what I am doing soaking wet.

This explains why I have so many Billy Crudup movies, why a month after my first 5K I found myself doing a obstacle 10K mud run, why I’m in a graduate program designed to make me qualified as a reading specialist even though I have no real intention of changing jobs and what I am doing at the 2015 Virginia State Reading Association (VSRA) Conference.

The jubilation is over the fact that I’m at a conference surrounded by like-minded book nerds and teachers.  It’s the first time I’ve ever attended any sort of professional conference.  The jitters are over the fact that I am presenting at this conference.  That’s right. Never before have I ever participated or attended a conference and here I am speaking at one.  It’s just a little one-hour concurrent session but it’s still giving me the jitters.

(Pardon me, I had to step away and ponder my life choices for a moment there…)

How did I get here?  One word: GULLIBLE.

Stay tuned for the crash and burn…

Battle of the Books 2015: Part 1: The Awakening

Inside of me lives a monster.  A monster that thrives on competition, obsesses overs perfection, follow stats and condones violence.  This monster compels me to paint my nails, my face and my body to show support for a team.  This monster values sacrifice and bravery. This monster has no problem starting fights. This monster has a name and it is Sport Fanatic.

“Monster?” you say, “Surely she is exaggerating.”  I am not. I realized I had a problem years ago at a football game.  I was there to support my friend’s daughter who was cheering.  I had no stake in the game and no knowledge of the teams.  I wasn’t even there to watch the game.  Yet, I still found myself right there on the sidelines, and when it looked like there was going to be a runaway play, found myself screaming at the defence to “BRING HIM DOWN!  DOWN TO THE GROUND!”

Then I came to my senses and it registered that this was a midget flag football game.  In no other setting would I ever ask one five-year-old to harm another and even in that setting I really should not have been doing so.  That’s when I realized I had to do something.  That’s when I realized the monster needed to be locked away.

And I have locked the monster away.  I avert my eyes in restaurants that play sports channels.  I change the station when they start talking sports on the radio.  I don’t even follow my old teams anymore.  I think I have made a recovery.  I think I have beaten the monster.  The monster is just a specter that lets me enjoy sports movies and who I sometimes let out during the Olympics.

But then…

The other day we had a two-hour delay due to icy road conditions.  I woke up and was ready at my regular time, but did not need to go into work as usual and did not really want to be driving in the dark anyhow.  I felt purposeless, as there really wasn’t enough time before sunrise when I would leave for me to get anything done and I knew that if I tried going back to sleep I would just wrinkle my clothes and most likely end up being late.  So I sat on my couch and did my newest obsession, read teacher blogs.

I came across this:

Book Battle Inspiration

Thanks to the Brown Bag Teacher for sparking the flame!  For more information about how she runs her Tournament, check out her website.

And the monster awakened.  It awakened and has mated with the mild-mannered book nerd that was it’s cellmate inside me.  It has made friends with other people I work with, people who seemed normal but obviously have a little crazy inside of them too.  The monster is coming out to lead a school-wide Battle of the Books.  There’s no stopping it now.


The monster is back.  Stay tuned for updates on the havoc it produces, the relationships it ruins and the chaos it creates.