Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tops of 2015...so far

My reading has picked up again after a bit of a lull, so I'm adding to my list of top titles for 2015 every day.  I'm also changing my list Tops of 2015 every day, so it's all a bit confusing. I've mentioned a few in my recent posts and thought I'd do a bit of organizing to make it easier to think about what is on my list since we're a little more than half way through the year.

There's a lot of good stuff this year, so it wasn't easy to narrow my list down to top 5, all of these titles are easily interchangeable with other titles but I had to start somewhere.  I'd love to hear what titles you have on your list that are missing from mine.

My top 5 picture books for 2015...so far, are:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson: Obviously the illustrations are beautiful and the simple lesson about sharing is too.
My Grandma's a Ninja by Todd Tarpley Ill by Danny Chatizikonstantinou: When ninja Grandma comes to visit it's all fun and games, until she starts to get in the way. Can't wait to read this in THE PIT!
With a Friend by Your Side by Barbara Kerley: A collection of photos accompany the text that tells the importance of friendship. Kids will love looking at this one.
And Nick by Emily Gore Ill by Leonid Gore: The four mouse brother are always competing for attention and Nick always gets left behind. In the end he blooms brightest of all.
See You Next Year by Andrew Larsen Ill by Todd Stewart: The annual trip to the beach highlights include a new friend and all of the usual beach things. Good end of summer story for THE PIT.

and my top 5 fiction books for 2015...so far, are:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart: Two points of view, one a teen cancer patient runaway and the other his friend who is left behind and knows where he is. One word description, INTENSE!
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Starting with a magical fairy tale, this is a wonderful piece of interwoven story writing.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: Strong and dramatic from start to finish. The main character, Trent, deals with his anger after being involved in the accidental death of a friend. I'm thinking this will be best for older readers.
The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville: This 3 Bears story from the bears' view is a little long, but fascinating how the author brings in all of the other fairy tales.
Catch You Later Traitor by Avi: Based on Avi's memories of growing up during the Red Scare, written like an old time detective novel make this a pretty quick read.  I'm not sure kids will have enough background knowledge to completely understand it.

So there you have it, my Top 5 of 2015...so far.  I know there will be changes as I keep reading, let me know what yours are.

Monday, July 13, 2015

#IMWAYR - July 13



#IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

It's been a few weeks since I've posted my reading, so it's fun to see that one book I loved, Bill did too - Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Some of the other books that I read the past weeks and entered in GoodReads are shown below.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate - This was a generous gift received at #nerdcampMI last week and it did not disappoint. An imaginary friend that stays with you when he/she is needed - so many children will relate to this. It seems that I've read several books on homelessness and this would be another one to add to that list. With all the great books out there on this topic, a unit on empathy could add Crenshaw as a must read.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan - This was my read after Crenshaw and since I loved that story so much, I didn't think any book could measure up. Boy, was I wrong! Three separate story lines, intertwined by the same musical element, and cliffhangers after each section that left me needing more - all of these combine in a story that children will love. 

Blizzard by John Rocco - A wonderful picture book that many have already read, but I just got to it this summer. I still liked Blackout better, but I really enjoyed the community service displayed in this book. And the winter of "the blizzard" was my first year to live on my own as an adult after college - many of the scenarios in this book felt very familiar!

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett - This was a fun story of two boys who both labeled themselves master pranksters. It was only natural that a "prank war" would ensue. Lots of trouble and fun, all at once. The best is what happens when two pranksters combine their efforts toward a common goal!

The Island of Dr. Libris - An island where a very imaginative boy can make characters from stories appear - that is the premise of this story, but it gets a little complicated when characters from different stories start to engage with one another. I enjoyed the literary elements built into this story, and I really liked the message of how much more creative children are than adults.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman - Another story with a literary backdrop, but I liked this one even better!!!! This was recently recommended to me, and was a great find! Ciphers, friendships, trying to fit in, bad guys, playing a game that no one else (except the bad guys) know about, family relationships - this book has it all. I love the shout out to Edgar Allen Poe in this book, but I especially liked the different books the main character, Emily, leaves in different parts of the city for others to find using a site for Book Scavenger players and giving online clues - Escape from Mr. Limoncello's Library and The Westing Game, just to name a few. I think students will really enjoy this, though I also think many of them may miss out on some of the Poe literary references.


Paper Things by Jennifer Richard JacobsonI loved this book as much as I loved her other book, Small as an Elephant. This is a beautiful story that focuses on unique family units as well as homelessness (another book to help promote empathy).


I had a great few weeks of reading! I'm looking forward to even more great books in the next weeks.








Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Hank Williams Full of Surprises

I found this gem while looking over the new fiction table at my favorite Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metro Library and was drawn by the author, Kimberly Willis Holt.  I like her style...A LOT!  Dear Hank Williams didn't disappoint.

Set in post World War II Louisiana, Tate begins writing letters to Hank Williams who she listens to on the radio every week.  He performs as part of Louisiana Hayride, a music show much like the Grand Ole Opry only on a much smaller scale.  She falls in love with his sound and, as part of a class project, she takes him as her pen pal instead of a student in Japan.

Through her unanswered letters we learn the story of Tate, and her absent mother and father.  She is in the custody of her great Aunt Patty Cake and sometimes her Uncle Jolly when he is not out with his latest girlfriend or drowning his sorrows at the local watering hole.

Tate spends a lot of time with her little brother, Frog, pretending to be spies, practicing her singing or playing hide and seek.  Frog seems to be a scared of a lot of things, and disappears mysteriously at unusual times.

The story moves quickly and filled with surprises and turns that frankly, I didn't see coming.  I love the down home language and Kimberly Willis Holt's descriptions of a simple time in a small town in Louisiana.  I can't wait for my 4th any 5th graders to read this book so we can talk about everything that happens.  I'm definitely adding it to my tops of 2015 reading list.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Series Show Promise

When I moved into the library my super aide Yvonne had a great idea.  She wanted to pull the series that are reading levels grades 1 - early 3 out of fiction and give them their own spot.  Like so many things Yvonne comes up with, I liked it immediately and the books were moved.  Things like June B. and Jigsaw Jones, Cam Jansen and Magic Tree House now had their own place in the library, making them easier to find and so they get more circulation.

Over the years I've updated the series by weeding those that didn't get used and adding new titles like the Ball Park Mysteries, Calvin Coconut and Roscoe Riley just to name a few.  I'm always on the lookout for something new to appeal to a larger audience and recently I have found three that I think will do nicely.

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly B. Burnham Ill by Trevor Spencer:  Main character Teddy is obsessed with getting his name in a Guinness World Record book and will do anything to make it happen.  In addition to this quest, he is also trying to find his place and a little space in his very large family.  With the popularity of the world record books in our library, I'm pretty sure this series will have a long reserve list of kids waiting for it.

Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson Ill by Gitte Spee:   I'm not sure if this will be a series or not, but I sure hope so.  Based on the title, it would seem to fit the category. Detective Gordon is a tired detective who has been asked to solve the mystery of Squirrel's missing nuts.  He is joined in the case by a young go getter, Buffy the Mouse who eventually becomes his assistant.  The story moves along with wonderful illustrations and I'm sure it will be a hit with animal lovers.  I love the gentle humor and interaction between the detective and his new assistant.

Anna, Banana and the Friendship Split by Anica Mrose Rissi Ill by Meg Park: Anna must deal with her best friend turning mean girl, really mean girl, stealing her new birthday necklace and trying to control Anna's every move.  Anna is force to find another friend when all of the other girls are turned against her.  I like this one for the fact that the problem is very relatable and Anna solves it on her own, very little grown up intervention, which is a lesson all kids need to learn.  This book does it in an excellent kid friendly way.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

#Celebrate - June 27




Thanks to Ruth for having a spot where we can celebrate life together. Please check out the other celebrations as well.

I am celebrating 2 weeks of life that couldn't have been more different than the other, yet I cherish both of them!

A week ago, I headed to Nashville with my youngest daughter and my dear friend to explore the city. There were multiple reasons to celebrate our time there. First, I had reserved lodging through a new site (to me) - airbnb.com. This is a site very similar to vrbo.com (vacation rental by owner). We stayed in a lovely high-rise condo right in the middle of town. We couldn't have been more perfectly located had I actually tried, but since I had never been to Nashville before, it was pure beginners' luck. We spent time exploring the city - if you've been to Nashville, you will understand my next statement - you can't walk anywhere without knowing there will be hills going UP at some point; that made walking quite different than the flat terrain that I usually walk. But, even with hills, one didn't have to walk far to get to a fascinating area, or great view.

We spent time doing the touristy thing on the main drag, Broadway, where bar after bar was packed with singing, usually someone different on each floor of the bar. We even made sure to stop at Country Music Hall of Fame. My daughter knew several people in Nashville so it was fun to meet them and to visit less touristy places as well. And we had some great southern food while in Nashville. Getting away for a girls' trip like this was fun and a true celebration.

My other celebration actually encompassed multiple days of this past week. Each day was full of learning and collaborating with others. Two mornings, teachers with whom I collaborate and coach gathered in my family room, and we spent time reflecting back on a year of writing instruction/learning, and looking forward to next year and what instruction might look like then. These were educators looking to refine their art of teaching. A huge celebration!

At one of those meetings, 3 new teachers to our district were in attendance. They stayed for yet another hour after others had left, asking smart questions, and setting dates with me to meet again. I'm excited about the conversations that are happening now, before they begin the set-up of their classrooms. The thinking we are doing together will help them be even more thoughtful as they design the learning environments in their new classrooms. Another huge celebration!


Then, on Thursday, I led a summer literacy chat for our district around the topic of independent reading in the workshop model. 27 educators showed up and we talked about our beliefs surrounding children and learning, and also had good conversations about how to document student growth during this block of time. How lucky I am to work in a district that not only promotes professional development, but where many teachers have a huge buy-in to it as well. It was rainy and dreary, and would have been a good day to stay at home doing something else more leisurely, but they came, we talked, and we learned together. My final celebration!


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Echo is Beautifully Written

I got my hands on an ARC of Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan and finished it over two weekends on a bus to Boston, what a beautifully written story of three characters facing great odds.

By starting the book with the legend of the magical harmonica, Munoz draws the reader in immediately creating an eagerness for finding out where this story is going.  Using a harmonica as a vehicle for the story gives the story a twist not found in any others that I can think of which only adds to the appeal.  Everyone has played a harmonica, so the story has instant appeal.

The three characters cross a span of 18 years, from the beginnings of Nazi Germany through depression era Pennsylvania ending in WW II California.  Fredrich, the first to come in contact with the magical harmonica, is a target for Hitler's storm troopers because of some special gifts and an unfortunate birthmark.  The Mike and Frankie are brothers who end up in an institution during the Great Depression because there is no where else for them to go.  Ivy is a young Hispanic girl living in California who must deal with racism in the schools and try to understand why Japanese Americans are being sent to Internment Camps.

The stories of these characters are told with language that is so wonderfully written, that the reader can't help but be drawn into their lives.  The author uses words that create an empathy for the characters and a sense of wonder about how people could have acted as they did during these incredible historic times.

The book is over 500 pages so it will take some stamina for readers, but the reading level is such that I will recommend it for my good 4th and all of my 5th graders.  This book easily is in my top 5 for 2015 and will absolutely be a Newbery contender.

Monday, June 22, 2015

#IMWAYR - June 22



#IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

Much of this past reading week was spent in Nashville, so I didn't have as much time to read, and when I did read I was in longer adult books. I did get to read 3 picture books (see below) and have begun a fun chapter book - Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. More about that one next week.



Of the 3 picture books I read, a quick synopsis of my thinking:

Little Red's Riding Hood - there are so many very clever versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but this wasn't one of my favorites. Red is a cute little scooter, the wolf is a tricked-out truck, and Grandma is a cute little pink Jeep - the illustrations are fun. There was some fun play on words and fun language to enjoy. 

I will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard - Good message to teachers about embracing the uniqueness of each student. I had a hard time with the behavioral management system used; I wish we could celebrate students without the stars. 

Under a Pig Tree - I chuckled the entire way through this. An error at the publisher leads to every word in a book about "figs" having the word "fig" changed to "pig" each time. As you can guess, that one letter can dramatically change the story. My chuckles came from that, but the comments that the author and publisher leave for each other were my main source of hilarity. I really loved the voice of each one.

Hope you have a great week of reading!