Kid's Books, Special Guests

Teacher Appreciation Week feat. Special Guest Danielle Diamond Nepstad

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

As the week comes to a close, think back to your own teachers. Who inspired you to be who you are today? Many of us have at least one teacher that we remember fondly and know they deserve some credit for how we turned out.

There are a few teachers from my k-12, undergrad, and now graduate program that I can say with full confidence have helped me to be the best version of myself. What better way to thank them than by paying it forward?

Today’s Q+A features Danielle Diamond Nepstad. I have known Danielle since elementary school and have loved seeing her live her passions – first as a musician and now also as an educator.

Read on to learn what you can find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf and why she decided to join the field of education!

Q. How did reading help shape who you are today?
As a child, I was fortunate to have two loving, bookworm-parents! They instilled their love for reading within my older sister and me from the very start. Nightly bedtime stories, weekly trips to the public library, and Reading Rainbow all came together to foster my love for literature. Some of my earliest memories are of reading to my stuffed animals and invisible students!

Q. What were your favorite books when you were a kid?
It’s so hard to narrow down my favorite books as a kid, but I do remember especially loving books by Robert Munsch; The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, as well as Holes; and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. In elementary school, I loved reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, as well as a book on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement (I can’t remember its title, but I hope to stumble upon it someday!). 

Q. Your job title is 1st Year Reading Interventionist. Could you explain what that is and what motivated you to pursue this career?
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher at some point in life, so in May 2020, I received my Elementary/Middle School teaching license in the state of Wisconsin. With that, I am able to teach all content areas between Grades 1-8. When it came to applying for jobs last year, I knew I wanted to work in my hometown district as a way of giving back to the community that helped raise me. The district didn’t have any classroom positions open, but they were hiring for reading interventionists. I jumped at the opportunity, and luckily, was given a position! It has been a fun experience (despite the crazy pandemic year), and I’ve learned so much.

Before obtaining my teaching license, I was a Special Education paraprofessional in both elementary and high school settings. I truly love working with students of all ages! Someday, I’d like to earn my secondary licensure, but I pursued elementary/middle school because I was able to complete the program faster (and get to work faster)! Ultimately, I would love to teach middle school or high school English Language Arts. Still, there’s something special about working in an elementary school. They are so darn cute and full of curiosity. I love their enthusiasm.

My position is mostly working with students who have reading goals within their IEPs [Individualized Education Plans], so it’s almost like I’m part Reading Specialist, part Special Education teacher. I work with students on their phonological and phonemic awareness skills, as well as strategies to help them strengthen their fluency and comprehension. Most of my caseload consists of students in Grades 4-6. I pull some students for small group sessions, but other times, I am pushing into classrooms to support during their literacy blocks. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

“I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them.”

Q. What kinds of books can we find on Ms. Danielle’s bookshelf? Are students allowed to check them out and bring them home to read?
My classroom library is full of texts from authors and illustrators of all ethnicities, races, religions, and gender identities. I want my book shelves to be representative of our global society, and I want to make sure all students can see themselves in the books available to them. I have everything from picture books, middle grade chapter books, and YA novels, even though I currently work in a K-6 building.

I have a weekly video series I share with the district called “First Chapter Fridays” in which I read a picture book and the first chapters of a novel in hopes of exciting students to read. If a book interests them, they can contact me to borrow it. I’ve had a lot of teachers reach out and use my library, too! I haven’t figured out a reliable system for checking out books to students, especially with COVID protocols. But hopefully next year, I’ll have a better system going!

Q. With your passion for creating art, have you ever written a children’s story or another kind of book? If not, do you have any aspirations to do so?
I have always wanted to write a children’s book! It is definitely a life goal. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been naturally drawn to the art of children’s literature. (If you ever get to take a course in that subject matter, do it!) With my experiences in music, creative writing, and education, I think I have all the ingredients to begin the process. Taking the leap is the scariest part, but I have a lot of ideas just waiting to be put on paper. I better go re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I highly recommend it for anyone, no matter what your goals may be!

Q. What are some of your favorite educational resources?
I really love PBS, Learning for Justice, Newsela, Flocabulary, ReadWorks, BrainPop, and Khan Academy. For the past several years, I have followed the gigantic teaching community on Instagram, and I learn a lot through other educators around the country (and world!). Some of my favorite educators to follow are @toocoolformiddleschool, @thetownieteacher, @littlebookbigideas, @msemilyalt, @elementaryedventure, and @itsmoniquesworld. Many of these educators offer their resources for free or at a small price on the website Teachers Pay Teachers.

Q. What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, as well as The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole.

Q. Are there any mottos you live by?
I try to read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist once a year. There are so many incredible passages from the book, and I suppose I consider them mottos. Two of my favorites are: 

  • “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”  
  • “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

***

As Teach Appreciation Week comes to end, remember you can thank a teacher (current or former) all year round!

Not everyone has to be a teacher in order to share their knowledge and experience. There are countless ways to provide wisdom to others: volunteering, mentoring, coaching, etc. There are probably times you’ve taught someone a thing or two and didn’t even realize it!

Thanks so much to Danielle for being today’s special guest! I know she will have a great influence on all who are blessed to learn with her.

You can follow Danielle’s journey on Instagram: @learningonthebiglake

Happy learning, friends!

All photos are the property of Danielle Diamond Nepstad and are used with her permission.

Book Reviews, Kid's Books

The Last Tree Town by Beth Turley

In The Last Tree Town, Cassi Chord is coming to terms with growing up – identity, culture, heritage, sisterhood, friendships, family dynamics, and mental health are all important elements of Beth Turley’s latest work.

It’s been forty-seven days since our last night of s’mores and scary stories. The number forty-seven has too many sharp edges.”

I really enjoyed The Last Tree Town. It’s classified as a middle school-aged book and I wish I had read a book like this when I was 12.

Turley’s story pieces together many of the things I hadn’t been able to say then and oftentimes struggle to say now.

Because of that, laughter and tears were also common as I read.

I stare at the threes until they look like eights and hearts and fish. I forget if the sum of a bunch of negatives is eventually positive or if it just stays negative forever.”

I really enjoyed Beth Turley’s writing style!

The mix of memories, present day narrative, and diary entries made for short, efficient chapters.

Quirky little details brought the characters to life. For example, Cassi loves numbers.

In the story, Cassi relates issues she encounters to math theories. I love that Cassi excels at math and that the Math Olympics group in the story has three girls in it and not just one “token” female mathlete.

I cannot speak to Cassi’s experiences growing up as Puerto Rican and Caucasian. I can, however, relate to the other things a 12 year old girl experiences – crushes, older sister dynamics, shifting friend groups, complete awareness of the self without actually knowing who that self is.

Depression is a key element of the story. Its effect on the Chord family and their friends is palpable and all too real. It’s inspiring and comforting to read about this health issue in The Last Tree Town because it gives me hope that there will be a positive impact around the stigma.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Learn more about Beth Turley and her works on her author website.

Kid's Books

The Young Reader

Do do your kids love the Berenstain Bears? Little Bear? Brother Bear? I could probably do this whole post using only bears as an example.

This bear perfectly encompasses my energy level today

The sentence example for “anthropomorphism” from Merriam-Webster is the very reason this post is being created.(1)

According to Gabriella Airenti, historical interpretations “distinguish children’s manifestations of this attitude, which are considered “natural,” from adults’ occurrences, which are considered exceptional and must be explained.”(2)

It was always my understanding that kids’ shows and books would use animals because they are cute and interesting and it helps children learn about animals. I forget that anthropomorphizing, this learned behavior, helps us grow into adults who successfully (for the most part) and meaningfully empathize and interact with others.

Have you ever bumped into a chair and said “sorry”? Reflex action and subconscious anthropomorphism. Who are we saying sorry to? We know the chair doesn’t have feelings, but at least we are using our manners!

Here is an example of when anthropomorphism (and my young, first-time parenting skills) didn’t get it quite right: One time I took my son for a walk and I wasn’t holding his hand; a lady came around the corner with her dog and my poor sweet boy started to run up to it and I had to grab him really fast to stop him. The owner said something about how he shouldn’t run up to dogs like that – and she was absolutely right. I didn’t think it was okay in the first place for him to do it, I just didn’t realize that he would do it. This dog looked friendly for no other reason than that it did not look aggressive. If I was a little kid – heck, even now – I’d be excited to pet a dog! Of course this lesson reinforced that I should hold his hand in those kinds of situations.

Another example: A smiling dog isn’t always happy to see you. It could just be hot and panting. It is at that point in time we need to pay attention to the whole picture. What other body language is the dog showing? Tail wagging? Ear position? (3)

It isn’t pictured here but we have a great book called “Hey, Dog” about a little boy who discovers a stray, hungry dog hiding in the bushes by his home. Overtime, he tries to get the dog to warm up to him with food, water, and a gentle disposition. There’s a point in the story where he tells his mom that he thinks the previous owner hurt the dog and she tells him to be careful because if he had been hurt before he might be scared and hurt back. This book does a great job showing kids how to interact with a dog who is just a dog – can’t talk, doesn’t have exaggerated features to make it look cuter. It shows how to be cautious and aware without being just afraid. We live in an area where there are a lot of stray dogs, and almost everyone I know has a dog or has had a dog in their lifetime. Lots of opportunities for exposure!

Since he’s so young, my son will still watch and read things with anthropomorphized animals and it seems there’s a lot more awareness of how to give animals space and that we should teach our kids those lessons at an early age, so I’m happy to incorporate both. (Hey, Dog – Author: Tony Johnston. Illustrator: Jonathan Nelson.)

Growing up with pets helps kids learn about real-life animal behavior; this is our gal Lucy

Children’s literature is really becoming so diverse. I found a book of environmentally-friendly mother goose rhymes, we have books about plants, and books with beautiful pictures. I love Suzie Mason’s illustrations in “I’ve Loved You Since Forever”; it’s one of my favorites for bedtime. We even have a book about an anthropomorphised acorn that goes through the life cycle of oak trees.

Even when our kids aren’t playing outside or strolling at the zoo, they are constantly exposed to animals

Do your kids like learning about animals? My son is starting to get more interested in the educational pieces so we watch short, informative YouTube videos (especially about bugs). Certainly this is what we can take as adults: be the responsible adult but be as curious as a child.

Have a happy & healthy Wednesday, friends! 💜

References

1. Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anthropomorphism

2. Airenti, G. Frontiers in Psychology. The Development of Anthropomorphism in Interaction: Intersubjectivity, Imagination, and Theory of Mind. 2018 Nov 5. Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6231421/#__ffn_sectitle

3. Are Smiling Dogs Really Smiling? Accessed on 21 July 2020. https://www.dogtagart.com/blog/are-smiling-dogs-really-smiling