Summer Tour 2019

I’ll be at the International Literacy Association (ILA) Nevada Intensive on June 21- June 22! I have 2 sessions:

Summer Leap

The Summer Leap: Using Summer to Bridge the Literacy Gap for SED Students

The “summer slide” negatively impacts socioeconomically disadvantaged (SED) students disproportionately. We will discuss how elementary schools can keep kids reading over summer vacation by:

  • Opening up their school libraries for part of the summer
  • Allowing students to check out books over summer break
  • Working with local libraries/bookstores to engage kids
  • Supporting parents throughout the summer through school communications
  • Starting a summer read aloud series on YouTube


IMG_2012Video Book Talks and Trailers: Using Multimedia to Build Background Knowledge and Promote Equity

Book Talks are a great way to introduce kids to a new book. The Video Book Talk takes it to a whole new level- using multimedia to produce a book talk allows educators to include something that is critical to reading comprehension- background knowledge. In this session, you will learn about the research on building background knowledge and its impact on literacy and its role in equity in schools and society. You will also learn how to make your own Video Book Talk. It’s easier than you think! Bring your own device if you want to give it a go!

I’ll be at the Scholastic Reading Summit in LA later in the summer!


Creating a Culture of Literacy in your Classroom and School

Want to create a culture of literacy in your classroom and your school? Principal Don Vu and Barrett Ranch staff used research-based ideas (describe as the Conditions of Culture) to develop a 5 year plan to transform literacy in their school. From easy to implement ideas for the classroom to an inspirational project of creating reading lounges on campus, you’ll be ready to start your own campaign!

Notes from the field: Creating a culture of literacy

Below is an article that I wrote for The California Reader (Vol. 52, No. 2, Winter 2019), a publication of the California Reading Association.


Broncos Read…How to Create a Culture of Literacy

     A few years ago, after being inspired by the work of Donalyn Miller and Steven Layne (at the 2014 CRA Conference in Sacramento), a group of us at Barrett Ranch Elementary School decided to change the reading culture of our school. While our kids were doing well learning the fundamentals of reading (which says a lot about our academic programs because 50% of our students are English Learners and 70% are socioeconomically disadvantaged), we also noticed that progress in reading was stagnant. Kids just weren’t very enthusiastic about reading.

     Many of our students never had a chance to see reading as anything else other than a subject in school that was practiced in between the pages of the district adopted textbook. For those who struggled, reading was even worse. These students were caught up in intervention programs that epitomize the idea of “drill and kill”. While learning the foundational skills of reading is essential and important, it doesn’t inspire students to pick up books and develop lifelong reading habits. We realized that if our reading program stopped at the foundational skills and academic standards, we were only doing half of our job. There was something missing.

    So, we did what most educators do- we formed a committee. A small group of teachers and I formed the Spark the Fire Committee (a nod to Steven Layne’s 2008 book Igniting a Passion for Reading) whose sole purpose was to come up with ways to get kids and adults excited about books. Reading books. Sharing books. Talking about books. We called our effort the “Broncos Read…” campaign and it has been going strong ever since.

     Last summer, a group of us were in Austin, Texas, at the International Literacy Association national conference to receive the 2018 Exemplary Reading Program Award for our school.  This was affirmation that we are on the right track but it is also a reminder that the work we do to engage students in literacy is always ahead of us. Here are a few things we’ve learned on the way in our journey.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Peter Drucker once said this while researching organizational management in the business world. What he meant was that you can have a thousand new strategies to improve a business but if you don’t have a culture that allows those strategies to thrive in your organization, the strategies are worthless. It’s the same for schools. A culture of literacy prioritizes the work of engaging students and staff in books and stories. If lifelong reading is valued, then it’s always an agenda item for leadership team and staff meetings. Money is allocated for classroom and school libraries, books are shared and talked about school-wide, independent reading time is reserved for both home and school. With a strong reading culture, things like Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge or Todd Nesloney’s Book Prom become integral to the school and leave no question that literacy is a priority.

Don’t forget the adults. You can’t create passionate readers if you don’t have teachers who are passionate about reading themselves. That’s why we put so much time and effort into providing professional development for teachers and staff. We allocate funds for our teachers to attend reading conferences (CRA, Scholastic Reading Summits, etc). We collaborate with local reading councils (for us, the Placer Area Reading Council has been an invaluable partner) to bring in literacy experts to work with staff. We also create our own professional development through yearly book studies and, new this year, we are creating a professional development library for all staff. It’s critical to engage teachers and staff so that they can sustain the energy and passion required in this work.

Follow the research. Our work should be rooted in the research. Go back to the research on the importance of independent reading (Krashen, 2011; Miller & Moss, 2013), student choice (Allington & Gabriel, 2012), access to books (Neuman & Celano, 2012), and volume of reading (Allington, 2012; Cunningham & Stanovich, 2003; Guthrie, 2004; Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010; Swan et al., 2010). Read about best practices on reading and writing instruction. Pick up The Book Whisperer (Miller, 2009) or From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers (Harvey & Ward, 2017). This is just a start. The volume of research is robust and it will help provide a framework (as well as support) for the activities you plan for your school. For example, we cited research regarding the summer slide and the importance of reading during summer to encourage families to read over vacation (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2013; Cooper et al., 2000). We planned reading activities, opened up our library, and let kids check out library books over the summer and they logged over 150,000 minutes of reading in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge!

Be creative and have fun. While teaching reading and learning the fundamentals can be challenging work, students and teachers need to be reminded that reading can be fun and transformative. This means that staff should be creative and innovative. Don’t be so quick to say no to an idea. When teacher Kendra Barrett came up with an idea that we should convert a common pod room into a magical reading lounge, we did it. A couple years later, with the generous help of local businesses and our PTA, we have 8 whimsical reading lounges housing thousands of books for students to read for pleasure.

     We started this reading journey five years ago and, in some ways, we are just beginning. We realize that the work that we do isn’t a short term fix. We won’t expect that after having a Book Prom, all of our students will score proficient or advanced on the state assessments. We see the quest of developing the lifelong love of reading in children similar to farming. You sow the seeds, you create the conditions for growth, and you tend to the crops. There are no shortcuts here. The good news is that this work is fun, it’s innovative, and it can be invigorating to our personal and professional journey.

     So where do YOU start? There’s no magic in this. You just start. All you need is a little passion and desire to ignite a fire for reading. The desire to empower others through literacy, to build a culture in which reading is celebrated and valued.


Allington, R. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Allington, R., & Gabriel, R. (2012, March). Every child, every day. Educational Leadership, 69 (6), 10-15.

Allington, R., & McGill-Franzen, A. (2013). Summer reading: Closing the rich/poor reading achievement gap. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J.C., & Muhlenbruck, L. (2000). Making the most of summer school: A meta-analytic and narrative review. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 65(1), 1-118.

Cunningham, A., & Stanovich, K. (1998). What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22 (1-2), 8-15.

Guthrie, J. (2004). Teaching for literacy engagement. Journal of literacy research, 36 (1), 1-28.

Harvey, S., & Ward, A. (2017). From striving to thriving: How to grow confident, capable readers. New York, New York: Scholastic.

Hiebert, F., & Reutzel, R. (2010). Revisiting silent reading: New directions for teachers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Krashen, S. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Layne, S. (2008). Igniting the passion for reading. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Miller, D. (2009). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, D., & Moss, B. (2013). No more independent reading without support. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Neuman, S., & Celano, D. (2012). Worlds apart: One city, two libraries and ten years of watching inequality grow. American Educator, 36 (3), 13-23.

Swan, E., Coddington, C., & Guthrie, J. (2010). Engaged silent reading: Revisiting silent reading. In E. Hiebert & R. Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting silent reading: New directions for teachers and researchers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


Don Vu is the principal of Barrett Ranch Elementary School in the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District in Northern California. His school is the recipient of the 2018 Exemplary Reading Program Award from the International Literacy Association and the 2017 Celebrate Literacy Award from the California Reading Association and the Placer Area Reading Council.

Don has been an educator for about 24 years. He’s a member of the Scholastic Book Fairs Principals Advisory Board. You can find out more about Don and his school at Follow him on Twitter: @drdonvu

Broncos Read…the Importance of Culture (PART I)


FullSizeRenderLet’s talk about culture. I’m not talking about the stuff microbiologists have in those plastic petri dishes…I’m talking about the common values and beliefs of a community.

I was curious about the culture that we live in and looked up the top trends on Google. These are the top 10 results that were trending this past year: Meghan Markle, Celebrities, Hurricane Irma, NFL National Anthem, Unicorn Frappuccino, How to Make Slime, NY Yankees, DACA, Bitcoin, and the iPhone.

While this is by no means a scientific study, it does shed a little light on our values, what interests us, and what is important to us as a country.

The one thing that I didn’t see was a book. In American culture today, reading has taken a backseat. And, it’s not just Google telling us this.

Americans don’t read in school. According to a recent Scholastic survey, only about ⅓ of classroom teachers reported that they allocated independent reading time during the school day. Most educators cite “the demands of the curriculum” as a reason why they do not have students read independently in the classroom.

We don’t read at home. According to a Common Sense Media study, kids read for fun less and less as they older. By the time they reach the end of high school, nearly half of 17 year olds report that they read by choice only once or twice a year.

And, we don’t read as adults. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly half of adults (18-44 year olds surveyed) report that they read no books for pleasure.

While we can’t force adults to read, I am here to say that we can make a difference in the reading lives of our students. And, hopefully, instill the love of reading and learning that will carry them into adulthood.

How can we do this? What strategies can we use to instill the love of reading in our students? We need to go back to the idea of culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.


Peter Drucker said this when he wrote about management and leadership in the business world. What he meant was that you can have 1000 new strategies to improve a business but if you don’t have a culture that allows the strategies to thrive in your organization, the strategies are worthless.

We applied this thinking to our school. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.


With this in mind, we focused on the reading culture in our school.

A few years ago, after being inspired by the work of Donalyn Miller and Steven Layne, a group of us at Barrett Ranch Elementary School (home of the Broncos!) decided to do something about reading in our school. We noticed that our kids were doing well learning the fundamentals- which says a lot about our RTI program because 50% of our students are English Language Learners and 70% of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged (receive free or reduced price lunches). We have many students who come to us from another country not speaking a single word of English. I am constantly amazed at the growth that some kids show as the school year progresses. However, we also noticed that, for many students, progress became stagnant and they didn’t get to more advanced levels in reading proficiency. We had students who were considered “long term” English Learners because they stayed at intermediate levels of English proficiency for many years. When we delved into the data and looked for answers through the research community, we ultimately came to the conclusion that there were several factors creating this dilemma. First, the general lack of background knowledge was hurting our students in reading comprehension (see my earlier post on Building Background Knowledge). In addition, we saw that students needed more work on building academic language and vocabulary. Finally, we realized that they just didn’t have enough practice reading. They didn’t read more than what was required. They didn’t want to read more. Who would blame them? Their reading experiences came from small workbooks that drilled into them the foundational skills. While these skills are so important in learning how to read proficiently, I’ve never seen any student rush home to finish reading their page on sounding out C-V-C words.

We thought that if we could only get kids to want to read more, half the battle would be won. The research on independent reading, choice and volume is vast (see my video on Independent Reading). So we looked at our reading culture.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.


We formed the “Spark the Fire” Committee (named in honor of Steven Layne’s book Igniting the Passion for Reading) to start a campaign we called, “BRONCOS READ…” The sole purpose of this campaign was to come up with ways to get kids (and adults) excited about books- reading books, talking about books. To start to build that culture of reading. In the next few posts, I will detail the activities and ideas that help build our reading culture. From the 40 Book Challenge to collaborating with local businesses to create eight reading lounges on campus, reading became a priority. We have made it fun for kids and adults. It’s been several years now and we have made great strides in building that culture of reading and the love of literacy. A lot has happened since our first “Spark the Fire” meeting. We even got the 2018 Exemplary Reading Program Award from the International Literacy Association a few weeks ago!

We have an extraordinary staff. We all come from different places when it comes to our own reading lives. I come from the perspective of learning to read English as a second language. Reading books was a way for me to learn about a new culture that was different than that of my Vietnamese roots. Kendra Barrett fell in love with books as a young child listening to her mom reading aloud Mary Poppins. Sadly, she lost that love in school but rediscovered it in college reading Homer’s Odyssey. Karina Almanza’s love for reading was instilled by her farm worker grandparents who had no formal education and struggled to become self taught readers. She is a witness to the positive impact reading can provide in creating opportunities for children and families.

Whatever our perspective, we know one thing to be true. Reading has changed our lives for the better and we want this for our students. And I believe that if our school can do it, your school can do it, too. You, too, have an extraordinary staff. No ordinary group of people has the audacity to believe that it can change the world by educating the next generation of citizens. Sometimes, we educators just need to remind ourselves of this. Everyone has their own reading perspective or story and can articulate how reading has made an impact on their life. There is great power in this realization because many of our own stories are reflected in our student’s lives and backgrounds.

So where do you start? There’s no magic in this. You just start. You start with a little passion and desire to ignite a fire for reading. To empower others through literacy. To build a culture in which reading is celebrated and valued.

And remember always, culture eats strategy for breakfast.


A Book Club for Everyone: The Importance of Diversity in Books

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Colin and I love the book A Different Pond– for the same reasons.

A few weeks ago, one of my teachers, Jennifer DeBortoli, gave me a copy of a book titled, A Different Pond by Bao Phi. She left it on my desk with a note that just said, “Don- I think you’ll like this book”. She was wrong. I loved this book.

A Different Pond is a story about a young Vietnamese American boy who wakes up in the wee hours of the morning to go fishing with his dad. They go early because his dad has a second job to go to later that morning. They fish because, “Everything in America costs a lot of money” and they are recent refugees in a new country. They fish, not for fun but for survival. The book shows a family unit that works together to make ends meet. Already looking exhausted, mom and dad are both headed off to work and leave the kids to take care of one another later in the morning. At dinnertime, the family reunites and gathers around the table. They tell funny stories, talk about their day and homework, and eat some rice and fish.

When I was a young kid in school, I would’ve loved to have read a story about other Vietnamese people. To be honest, I would’ve loved to have read anything remotely close to representing any Asian American experience. The only time during school we read about Asians or Asian Americans was the chapter in social studies when we learned about World War II or the Japanese Internment. That was usually about a page…and these weren’t even the stories that celebrated my culture or history. Far too often, we neglect to tell the stories of the people who make up our schools and communities. When we do that, we are sending the message that you are not as important as others, that you live in the margins of the mainstream…that your story is not worth being told.

After reading A Different Pond, it took me a while to process what this story meant to me as a reader, a Vietnamese American reader. I connected with the characters in ways that I’m not sure I can explain. But, here’s my shot at it:

I knew exactly what the boy felt like waking up early in the morning, excited to spend some time with his father, and hoping to contribute to the dinner table. I remember fishing with my family. I remember the red and white floaters, the excitement of catching a fish. I remember those times as part of the joys of childhood, not so much the struggle.

This book reminded me that my story is forever weaved together with that of my parents. I reflected on my parents’ refugee experience- a journey to a new and unknown country to escape war and persecution. I can’t imagine the fear but marvel at the courage to learn a new language and culture. I look at family pictures from our first few years in America and can see the exhausted looks on the faces of my mom and dad and am reminded of the beautiful illustrations from the book (Thi Bui is the amazing illustrator of A Different Pond). The bags under the eyes of the mom and dad in the book depict more than characters who are tired from their daily struggles. To a reader who has lived it, they represent sacrifice, perseverance, and hope for a brighter future.

If you have a hard time understanding my perspective (of course not everyone shares my history and background), indulge me a bit and imagine you taking your family away to live in a country that is very different from America. You live in this foreign land for decades and your kids go to school there. They learn the new language and adopt the new culture. You are a citizen of this new country now but you still have your American roots. You look different and, in some ways, you are different. Everything’s good except there are not books or stories about Americans who live in your new country. No stories about Thanksgiving or the celebrations that may reflect your past (or present). No stories that include people who look like you or share your experiences. Would you start to feel less important in that society?

The picture above is with one of my students- Colin. He’s one of our few Vietnamese American students. He’s in Ms. DeBortoli’s class and after she read aloud A Different Pond to the class last week, Colin said to her, “I can’t believe they said Vietnam. That’s where my family came from. I just loved it”. Decades later, we are still looking to see ourselves represented in American culture…to see ourselves in the stories that make our country great.

This is why diverse books are important- not only because they make us feel important but because they make us important.

Colin and I just started our Vietnamese American Book Club today.

The Two Minute Huddle


I’m a big sports fan. I love Bay Area sports. The San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors. The A’s and Giants. My football team is the 49ers (even though that’s hard to say these last few seasons).

In football, before most plays, the players gather around and plan the offensive attack. This is called the huddle. It’s usually a quick preview of what the play is, who’s doing what, and what to look out for. I’m introducing the Two Minute Huddle in my Read Alouds to do just that- to plan for the play. And of course, the play is the reading of the story. Is there vocabulary that may need explained? Any things to look for or be aware of in the story? It’s just a way to prepare kids for the reading so that they get the most out of the story.

In the new book by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, Creepy Pair of Underwear, Jasper Rabbit overcomes his fear of a pair of ghoulish and greenish underwear. I decided to make this my next video read aloud, my first since the summer, but felt the need to include some way to help kids understand some of the vocabulary better. In the Two Minute Huddle, I break down the word “Ghoulish” and then explain them the suffix “ish”. They will see this in the book so, in a way, we’re planning for the story in our huddle. Hopefully, when they see it in the book, they understand it better AND the ideas are reinforced through the reading.

We can do Two Minute Huddles to help preview any reading in the classroom. And, we should! Imagine football players going out and playing without the huddle before each play! There’d be a lot of confusion. The same goes for reading. The huddle doesn’t have to be very long. In fact, it shouldn’t be a lengthy lesson at all. It’s a short preview- keeping their attention on the reading at hand.

Check out the new read aloud of Creepy Pair of Underwear and the Two Minute Huddle here:


The Two Minute Huddle basics:

  • Quick preview of vocabulary, essential ideas in the story and/or introduces background knowledge
  • Shouldn’t be longer than a few minutes!
  • Helpful to struggling students, English Learners…really, it should be helpful to all students!
  • Use of graphics, images is helpful to struggling learners when learning about new vocabulary or ideas.
  • Make it fun and interesting!
  • It can be done in the classroom or at home when reading a story to your child.



One person can make a world of difference


Planting the seed for change. A few weeks ago, I talked to my students about how it only takes one person to make a difference in the world…one person who cares enough to solve a problem and help others.

I introduced to them a man named Jadav Peyang from India.

Most people have never heard of him but he is known as the Forest Man of India. He started planting trees by hand in 1979 after a heat wave and monsoon wiped out the natural habitat of his village. He was a young kid back then and asked the elders what he could do to help protect the animals and the people from these disasters. “Is there something we can do to help fix this problem?” The elders answered, “Of course, there’s always something we can do.” They gave him some bamboo shoots for planting to provide shade for the animals and protect the land from erosion. Jadav planted the bamboo shoots. And he has planted every day since.


At 47 years old, Jadav has not stopped planting. Today, there is a forest bigger than the size of New York’s Central Park. Jadav’s forest is over 1360 acres today! Now, the animals are back and the erosion has decreased. He is a reminder to us- adults and kids- that one person can make a difference in the world. I hoped that my students would understand this idea and be inspired by this story.



Change blooms. As educators, we hope that our students learn something from our lessons. One afternoon, I was walking through a classroom (Ms. Almanza’s) and noticed some kids working on their computers, discussing a plan to help the people affected by the devastating hurricanes in Texas and Florida. It was a part of a class project but they wanted to see if they could do more. They asked me if they could actually do a fundraiser at school and send the money to a charity to help the victims. I immediately thought about Jadav asking the village elders and responded to them, “Of course, there’s always something we can do”.


Allie, Manmeet, Leuel, Andrey, and Ms. Almanza

Not only did they come up with a flyer that they posted throughout our campus and sent home to parents, they took care of the little details. They made announcements, bought candy for donors, prepared envelopes for teachers, made a video, and even went on a morning radio show to do promote their efforts.

Fundraiser -Broncos Making A Difference

These students have raised almost $2000 to help the victims of the hurricanes. They’ve also inspired others to do the same. Our teachers are now talking about donating our Scholastic dollars and bonus points to help other schools hit by the hurricanes.

Just like Jadav, these students remind us that one person (in this case, four people) can make a world of difference.

Click here for the video that Allie, Manmeet, Leuel, and Andrey made.

Click here for a link to an award-winning documentary about The Forest Man of India.

The Journey Trilogy Reading Lounge


The Journey Trilogy, by Aaron Becker, starts with the book, Journey, and takes us on a magical odyssey with a lonely girl who finds adventure, whimsy, and redemption through kindness and loyalty. Her magical red writing instrument allows her to draw a door to a new world where she saves a beautiful bird from captivity, only to be caged herself. Her feathered friend repays her kindness and becomes a companion on her future adventures…In the next book, Quest, the girl, the bird and a new friend have an adventure when they meet a king who is captured and taken away through a magical door. They begin the adventure by drawing keys to that door and entering enemy territory to help save the king. Their new adventure requires them to solve a colorful puzzle. How will they save the king from the enemy? In the third book of the trilogy, Return, the girl is followed into the magical world by her father. He joins her in an attempt to save the king and her friend, both of whom have been captured by enemy soldiers. Will they be able to help their friends and collect all the colors of magical writing instruments?

As you read the descriptions of the three books in this marvelous trilogy, you may not realize that these books do not have written words in them. I repeat, there are no words to read in these books. 

So why did we choose the Journey Trilogy for a theme of a reading lounge if none of the books have words to read in them? Here are a few of our reasons:

  1. Travel to another world. The three books in the trilogy: Journey, Quest, and Return remind us what good books can do for us. Good books can take us to a different world. Whether it is a magical kingdom behind a red door or a certain place and time in history, good books take us on adventures in worlds that we may never have a chance to visit. These three books do just that, even without a single word.
  2. Exercise imagination. Reading requires us to use our imagination. A picture book without words requires us to use imagination, also. It requires us to make connections with our thoughts and language. This is a literacy skill. We don’t know exactly what the girl is using to draw with- is it a crayon, a marker, a pen? We are required to imagine what it is and fill in the details. Throughout the stories, we are allowed to imagine what other things are possible. Where did the purple bird come from? What is it like in the box of trapped colors?
  3. Develop literacy skills. Using pictures to connect to the story (in this case, make the story) is a critical skill in reading. Students learn from early on that they need to use pictures as context clues. We “read” the pictures with kids first before they read the words themselves in order to connect them with the written story. In addition, pictures help emerging readers develop important literacy skills as they work on comprehension and predicting. As adults, we use the same skills when reading a newspaper, reading an online story or reading instructions to put together a piece of Ikea furniture. Using pictures as context clues is a lifelong skill.
  4. Art appreciation. Picture books help develop an appreciation for art. Do you remember some of your favorite childhood books? What images do they conjure up for you? Most of us can still appreciate the whimsy of a Dr. Seuss illustration or the sweet pictures of Charlotte, Wilbur, and Fern by Garth Williams. Picture books are often times the first exposure children have to the world of art. And we believe that reading and art go hand in hand in enriching the lives of children and adults!

Introducing the Journey Trilogy Reading Lounge…

20170714_150629This reading lounge could not have been completed without the dedication of 2nd grade teacher, Ms. Kendra Barrett. In collaboration with the Reading Lounge Committee and funding from our PTA and the Winn Foundation, Ms. Barrett and her family spent countless hours planning, designing, building, painting, and creating a magical space for kids to read. If you’ve read the Journey Trilogy, you may feel like you were thrown into one of the pages upon your visit to this reading lounge.

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Below is a photo of the man who made this possible! Jack (Ms. Barrett’s dad) spent days and days recreating the magical forest of Journey. Thanks Jack- you’re a Brilliant Bronco!!!!


More about the author/illustrator Aaron Becker


Aaron Becker has created a magical world in which we are all lucky to be able to visit. Check out his website:

Want him to visit your school? He can’t visit everyone but he’s made himself available to all schools (virtually)! Here’s a free author’s visit on

The Dr. Seuss Reading Lounge

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go”. – Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss was selected as the theme for our second reading lounge. Our team of first grade teachers and parents really did a great job putting this all together. Again, Ikea of West Sacramento helped with the design and donated all of the furniture. OSH donated the paint and supplies.

For this lounge, we had a special “reveal” for kids on live TV. This room was covered up and students did not have access to it for a couple of weeks. We wanted the first time kids saw the room to be recorded on live TV. Good Day Sacramento, a local morning show, came out and featured this reading lounge. They recorded a few segments and one was the actual “reveal” of the lounge to students. For some reason, we could not locate that clip. If you are curious to know how the kids reacted to seeing this lounge for the first time, it could be described as “shocked and excited”.  We do have the introductory segment. Check it out here.


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How to make a reading lounge…(part I)


Steven Layne planted the seed a couple years ago. A group of us Barrett Ranchers went to a reading conference in Sacramento and heard him talk about the importance of developing lifelong readers. Not only did he talk about engaging students in reading books but he captivated an audience full of educators by engaging us in a read-a-loud of one of his own children’s books. After the conference, I got everyone his book, Igniting a Passion for Reading, and we started a small committee to do just that. We named it the “Spark the Fire” committee and our main focus was to come up with fun ideas to get kids excited about reading and books. One of these ideas, the reading lounge, was born from one of our earlier brainstorming sessions.

In Dr. Layne’s book, he talks about the idea of creating reading lounges in schools. It makes sense if we want kids to read more that we get them great books to read and create a space that allows them to engage in books. Dr. Layne warns in his book that there are systemic roadblocks (or excuses) to creating reading lounges in schools. The first roadblock is that there is no extra space. While we didn’t have extra classroom space, we did have shared pod areas that were used for small group work and storage. We have 8 of these pod rooms on campus and each of these connect with three classrooms. Space was not an issue for us. If we didn’t have the pod rooms, we would have looked at the computer lab (which is quickly becoming obsolete with the use of Chromebook carts in the classroom). Here is a photograph of a pod:

img_6407The second roadblock that Dr. Layne warns us about is the excuse of not having any money. In fact, at the reading conference a few years ago, he told every attendee that the principal always has money somewhere. I remember this exact moment because all of my teachers turned back at me with some raised eyebrows! Yes, we have some money but we didn’t have enough. When we make reading a priority, we will find the money.

Our idea was to convert all 8 pod rooms into reading lounges. The vision? The reading lounges would foster literacy, offer a quiet and safe space, create a sense of eagerness and imagination, and associate reading with leisure and pleasure. Each reading lounge would have a theme based on a book or author. One classroom articulated their vision of what their reading lounge would look like based on Aaron Becker’s Journey, Quest, Return trilogy:


“My students imagined an enchanted space with lanterns, little white lights and a huge magic carpet that they could sit or lay down upon to read.  Painted on the walls would be a red hot air balloon, a beautifully exotic bird with purple feathers and two large trees, each one featuring a magic door at the trunk’s base.  These two magic doors, one being red & one being purple, would symbolize their secret passage into the fantastical world of books!”- Ms. B., 2nd grade teacher

Of course, we needed the furniture, paint, hardware, supplies, and books. Did I mention books? We had some money but not enough money. This is where the community comes in….(to be continued).