Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Hop Made a Good Read for My Second Bus Trip

On Monday I finished my second student trip to Boston.  I have to admit that doing two trips in a span of about 3 weeks was tiring, but it's nice to have them done with my whole summer ahead of me.  Well almost, Steven and I will be flying to Dallas on Friday for 5 days of playing volleyball in the Junior Nationals.  Anyway, the 14 hour bus ride gives me plenty of time to read and this time I chose the book The Hop by Sharelle Byars Moranville.

There's a lot going on in this book, a grandma with cancer, two parents who are busy with work, a young girl who wonders if her parents have time with her, and urban sprawl taking over a woods and wetlands.  The thing is, as I read it, even though I knew there was a lot going on, I never felt overwhelmed by so many plot lines, they all blended together so well that I think kids will enjoy it too.

The author goes back and forth between a toad named Tad and a girl named Taylor.  Both have similar things going on in their lives.  Tad discovers something special about himself when he wakes from his winter sleep.  He's not really comfortable with it and he tries to hide it from his little toad friends who live in Toadville-by-Tumbledown.  When he reveals the fact that he had dreams during his winter sleep to the Seer, a wise old toad who also dreams, Tad is identified as the toad to save Toadville-by-Tumbledown from The Rumbler.  When the earthmoving equipment known as The Rumbler shows up to destroy Toadville-by-Tumbledown, Tad sets out on a quest to find Reno and kiss the queen.

Taylor is a young girl who enjoys spending time with her grandma, Eva.  Eva lives in the country and plants gardens of flowers and vegetables.  Taylor adores her and her country place with the pond and the tumbledown shed.  Taylor and Eva spend so much time together because Taylor's parents are busy being successful.  They are tied up in meetings and on phone calls and answering texts so Taylor and Eva spend time planting and roaming the countryside.  It is revealed that Eva has cancer and isn't able to do as much as she once was due to the chemo treatments.  We also learn that for one week every summer, Taylor's parents go to Reno for the Old Time Rock and Roll Fest.  It turns out that they play in an oldies band and Taylor has never taken an interest in it, she prefers to spend that week with Eva every summer.  As the earthmoving equipment moves in to destroy the forest and pond by Eva's house, Taylor wants to protest and save the trees, but her parents and grandma inform her that this year she will be going to Reno because Evas will be in the hospital unable to care for her.

The two stories come together in Reno.  Even though I predicted what would happen in the end, Sharelle Byars Moranville does a wonderful job of keeping the reader in the story.  I wanted to keep reading to see how she was going get us to the end.  Part magic, part social awareness, part fairy tale, part family love, The Hop by Sharelle Byars Moranville will be enjoyed by readers 3rd and up and would make a great read aloud with cliff hangers and predictions and imagination.  I liked it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All Write 2012 - Tuesday Slice of Life

My slice of life this week spans a three day period last week when I was an attendee at the All Write Summer Institute in Warsaw, Indiana.  These three days enriched my life as a teacher in ways I never expected.  This post is just one more attempt to process some of the powerful learning that occurred in those three days.

Much like Franki, my actual learning and professional conversations started way before I ever reached Warsaw, Indiana.  The two and a half hour drive from Dublin, Ohio, to Warsaw, Indiana, with Tony and Franki was nonstop talk about books, technology, and good practices in the classroom.  I can't tell you how many notes I jotted down in Evernote as one good idea after another bounced around the car.

The first evening there was a dinner for some twitter friends who were attending the institute.  Though most of the conversation at my table was getting to know each other, there were also some big topics addressed.  But the best part about this evening was getting to know people a little more personally whom I normally just have 140 character conversations with on twitter.

There are many Columbus area friends and twitter friends that push my thinking on a regular basis.  It was so delightful to see them all gathered in one location first at dinner, and then in the PAC to start the All Write Institute:

Thursday, the institute started with the keynote speaker, Ruth Ayres.  I was so happy to start my day with Ruth's thoughtful and wise words.  Whether she realizes it or not, Ruth has changed my life as a writing teacher in profound ways.  I heard her speak for the first time this past February at the Dublin Literacy Conference, and her passion for writing and children was so evident.  Her session convinced me to try the March Slice of Life Challenge, and after March, to continue with the Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge, at Two Writing Teachers, the blog she shares with Stacey.

But I digress.  In Ruth's keynote, her big message was STORY MATTERS.  We all have stories to tell, and a good writing workshop allows our students to tell their stories, and we should be sharing our story as well.  What a perfect way to start All Write!

 The first session I went to was Franki Sibberson's about Comprehension in a Digital Reading Workshop.  One of the messages I took away from Franki's session was if we’re asking students to just do shallow assignments with technology, that's not what we want; we want the technology to change the ways students think, allow them to think in deeper and more meaningful ways.  I also loved her session because she gave so many specific examples of ways to incorporate technology into all aspects of reading workshop.

I mentioned earlier that I took notes in Evernote.  However, when I got home, I transferred my thinking to a chart - one side was what I heard from the various presenters, the other side was what my action plan might be.  The following is just a miniscule part of my take-aways and action plans from Franki's session:

 My next session I listened to Jim Burke, a high school English teacher.  I had several take-aways from Jim.  First, it is so important to scaffold learning for students, especially when they're trying to learn about something in which they have no background knowledge.  I loved how he responded to students' writing while in progress -- he used a different tool, but made me wonder if having students compose in GoogleDocs so that we could have a conversation about the piece, might not have merit.  I know that when I write, I love it when an editor has that type of dialogue with me.  Something to think about.

I ended Thursday listening to Franki again, this time speaking about mini-lessons.  I've heard her talk about this topic before, but it was amazing how much more I took out of her presentation this time (much the same way I get more out of books during a reread).  The biggest message I took away this time is the importance of having multiple texts to teach a similar lesson.  Also, how important it is to be thoughtful about the books or texts you do choose so that you are building scaffolds into their learning.  Though I do plan day by day, based on how a mini-lesson went on any given day, the idea of having the "skeleton" of a unit of mini-lessons and a huge collection of supporting books for those lessons, will be a goal for me this year.

Thursday evening we had the opportunity to dine together again and listen to Ralph Fletcher speak.  I love his passion for notebooks and gathering what is in the world around you into that notebook.  But, much like the car ride here, more good learning took place after the actual hours of the institute.  When we went back to the hotel, I had an opportunity to meet some wonderful teachers from Princeton Day School in New Jersey.  They were a very cohesive third grade team, and I loved having a conversation with them about workshop (even though it was a little hard to hear, because it was also karaoke night in the bar :) ).  It's so great when you start the time together as strangers and end up bouncing ideas off one another.

The first session on Friday was Ralph Fletcher speaking about mentor texts.  I loved his thoughts about how poetry writing can be a great way for students to focus on the language of writing.  It is for that reason that I started my writing workshop last year with poetry, and after hearing Ralph say this, plan on doing the same again this year.

One of my favorite speakers on Friday was Ruth Ayres.  The title of her presentation was "Nudging Joy."  What a great title, and what a wonderful mantra by which to live.  My other two favorite things she said:
  • the best PD teachers can do is to develop ourselves as readers and writers
  • ***are we celebrating with our student writers or are we only trying to change them???*** 
Such smart thinking -- I will be processing this for a long time to come.

The last session of the day I spent with Donalyn Miller, of Book Whisperer fame.  I love how she's pushing our thinking as reading teachers once again.  It's not enough to get our kids hooked on reading and put great books into their hands; we need to teach them how to be independent readers.  If we can do that, that skill will last them a lifetime. 

So, there you have it -- my reflection on the All Write Summer Institute.

Wow, this was a little more long-winded than I expected.  My apologies.  But my adrenaline is still running strong from all that I learned last week.  How can it still be June, just a few weeks since last year finished, and I am this re-invigorated?!!  Attending the All Write Summer Institute was an amazing gift.

Franki was right in her post yesterday, that there did appear to be an unintentional, but incredibly powerful, theme that emerged from the institute: we need to bring joy into our own lives and that of our students.  We can't get caught up solely in all the mandates and pressures that surround us; we need to get to know each of our students, and celebrate who they are as readers and writers.

I think that's a huge message, and one I plan to hold on to all year long!

Thanks to Ruth and Stacey for hosting us on Tuesdays -- I'm delighted to be continuing my membership in this writing community that meets every week for Slice of Life Tuesday

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? -- 6/25/12

 I'm so glad to be back this Monday, posting for It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  In the last two weeks, I've read a wide variety of books, and have enjoyed them all.

My first goal was to read some new graphic novels:
  • Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre -- very fun book whose main character is a very tomboyish-looking girl named Claudette.  She and her friends are going to save their town by defeating the horrible giant that lives nearby.  And while Claudette and her friends are quite amusing, it is even more fun to see how ridiculous Rosado and Aguirre made the adults.  I think children will love how the authors poke fun at the adults' ineptness.
  • Squish, The Power of the Parasite -- this is the third book in the series done by Jennifer and Matt Holm.  Squish is such an enjoyable character, and who wouldn't enjoy the adventures of an amoeba vs. a parasite?!!
  • Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players by Frank Cammuso -- I loved the first book in this series, and the second doesn't disappoint.  It is fun how Cammuso has the connections to the original "Knights of the Round Table" - our main character is Arthur, there is a teacher who gives both sound and calm advice named Mr. Merlyn, and the school is named Camelot Middle School.   Very fun stuff!
I also wanted to read some adult books (I had just brought home a large stack from the library):
  • Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell - I used to love the Kay Scarpetta series, but hadn't read one for quite a while.  Kay Scarpetta had the CSI thing going on way before the television show of the same name.
  • Breaking the Rules by Suzanne Brockmann - fun spy stuff
  • High Noon by Nora Roberts - a hugely fun and guilty pleasure!!
Then, at one session at All Write this past week, two pictures books were passed around that I thoroughly enjoyed:
  • Last Laughs by Jane Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen - a funny poetry book with a different look at death
  • Go, Go Grapes by April Pulley Sayre - a wonderful picture book by an author who has many more very similar to this.  She was a presenter at All Write which made it a perfect book to be sharing!
I had an opportunity to also read the ARC of the first book in a new series, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea.  This is the first book of what will be a fun series for kids. Cryptograms, danger, a very active and very sarcastic narrator, two lively twins, their father who is both an inventor and a professor - all this makes for lots of fun for kids. A good silly book.

TBR pile includes 3 great professional books as well!
Finally, I'm excited about what's in my TBR pile as well.  In addition to what's in the picture, I also was listening in to some authors recommending books to one another for the summer last week on Twitter, so after reading their suggestions, two more titles I'll be looking at are Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank and This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (one of my book club's next choice of book).  This promises to be another great reading week!

Please join Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts, who are the cohosts of this wonderful Monday event!  I love finding out what others are reading, and start planning my next week's reading using some of the participants ideas.   

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Three Times Lucky Was a Lucky Find

On a recent trip to my favorite book store, Cover to Cover, book expert Karen handed me a copy of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  As is most often the case, if I haven't read a fiction title I don't buy it so I stopped at the library on my way home and found a copy on the new book shelf.  Boy am I glad for Karen and my local library, Three Times Lucky was a real treat and has some of the most memorable characters I've read in a long time.

Miss Moses LeBeau is a sixth grader with a mysterious past in Tupelo Landing, NC.  She pretty washed down the river during a hurricane as a baby and was found in the arms of The Captain, another mysterious character who suffers from amnesia.  They both live with Miss Lana, a lover of Hollywood and glamor.  The story unfolds as Moses looks for her upstream mother by having friends and neighbors drop bottles in the river, hoping her birth mother will find one and fill in the holes in her past.

The Captain and Miss Lana run the local diner where all of the local characters eat most every meal.  There's the mayor, Mayor Little, chosen like his family members before him because of his ability to talk to anyone.  There's Mr. Jesse, the local grump who lives by himself down by the creek and is always a little cranky.  Every one's grandmother, Grandmother Lucy Thornton comes in with her blue suit and shoes which accent her halo like white hair.  Finally Mo's best friend, Dale, who helps her out in all of her endeavors including running the diner when The Captain and Miss Lana are both gone.

In addition there is budding NASCAR driver and brother of Dale, Lavender.  Moses has a huge crush on Lavender and constantly makes references to the fact that they will be married some day even though he is quite a bit older than she is.

The cast of characters is introduced pretty early in the book, which makes it easy to keep them straight, and then the whole story is thrown into turmoil when a detective from Winston-Salem shows up at the diner investigating a murder.  Of course everyone in Tupelo Landing from Azalea Women to Tinks Williams are shocked to hear that there may be a connection between their peaceful little town and a "big city" murder, and Moses and Dale form their own detective agency, The Desperado Detectives to help Detective Starr solve the murder.  When Mr. Jesse is mysteriously killed, they kick their investigation into high gear and help to solve the murder mystery and the mystery of The Captain's past.

The story has enough twists an turns to keep the reader interested and Sheila Turnage has written some wonderful Southern characters.  The book has mystery, humor, family drama and personal relationships that are believable.  I think older readers will enjoy this story of a  small southern town and the people who call it home.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chomp Made Great Bus Reading

I just returned from Boston on Monday morning after taking a bus load of 41 students on a tour of the city and surrounding area.  The 13 hour bus ride provides plenty of time for reading and I was able to get through Chomp by Carl Hiaasen.

I'm a big fan of Hoot and Flush.  I've even read a couple of the adult books that Carl Hiaasen has written.  I love his style of humor and character development.  Even though his books for kids all have an environmental theme, they are all very different and feature very different, interesting characters.  He's clearly a smart writer creating smart books for kids who enjoy intrigue and have a sense of humor.

In Chomp, Wahoo Cray is the son of Mickey Cray, a well known wild animal wrangler in Florida.  However, ever since a frozen iguana fell on his head, Mickey hasn't been quite the same.  Suffering from a concussion, headaches and double vision, he has a hard time doing his job.  Wahoo has to pick up some of the slack and Mrs. Cray has no choice but to travel to China to earn money as an interpreter in order to pay the bills.

In her absence a survivalist reality show comes looking for some animals to feature in its next episode and the Crays have just what they are looking for.  The star of the show, Derek Badger, is a fraud and couldn't survive in the wild if his life depended on it, most of the show is staged with semi tame animals.  Every now and then Derek believes his own hype and decides he's going to use real wild animals in his show.  It almost always ends up in disaster.

Throw in a girl named Tuna who is abused by her father, her alcoholic father, the crew of the fakey survival show and a cast of Everglades air boat pilots and you have a book I had a hard time putting down.  Hiaasen is a master at cliff hangers and every chapter ends leaving the reader anxious to find out what happens next. 

As an adult I get the underlying messages that Carl Hiaasen embeds in his humor and I think a lot of kids will too.  My list of really good 2012 books keeps growing.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Oasis in the Summer - Slice of Life Tuesday, June 12

My screened porch is my oasis in the summer. 

A little more than a year ago, I had a knee replacement, so I didn't really get to use it as much as I'd like last summer.  Maybe because of that, whenever I'd have a particularly difficult day this past year, I'd reflect on how this summer would be different and I would visualize myself on the porch - having friends over, eating meals, taking naps, and doing lots of reading.  And as I reflected on how much time I would spend on the screened porch, I decided it was time for an updated look.

I spent days and days looking at patio furniture this spring, but I just couldn't find the furniture that looked like it might be the right fit for our screened porch (it's a little on the smaller side).  I looked at high end places, I looked at resale stores, I looked at Lowe's and Home Depot - nothing quite seemed to fit my needs.

Then, I found myself at Target one day on an unrelated errand, and there it was -- the patio furniture set that would be perfect for what I needed.  I couldn't wait to buy it! 

Knowing what I wanted, I talked to a sales clerk who didn't seem to want me to purchase anything from the store.  First, he told me the floor model was their last set, and he couldn't sell it to me unless it was on clearance.  After we brought in another, more experienced employee, it was decided that yes, I could purchase the floor model.  Whew!  But wait... if I wanted the floor model, I had to take it all with me in one trip; they wouldn't hold it for me.  The problem is I have a small SUV and could only take a few pieces at a time.  I promised to make multiple trips, one right after another, but they assured me that was not going to work.  I got so frustrated, I just plopped down on the furniture, trying to think of a solution and hopefully blocking any interested buyer from purchasing what was rightfully mine. :)  Anyway, after consulting via phone with a much more rational friend than me at the moment, she suggested I at least talk to the store manager and explain the situation.  Success!  The store manager understood that I would be making trip after trip to pick up all the furniture and she was fine with that.

The furniture now resides on my oasis, and even after that saga (which is quite amusing to me now), it really is the perfect furniture for the space and for many years of continued enjoyment.  I've already eaten many meals out there, read voraciously, and taken some great naps, and it's only June 12!

Here's to many more wonderful days and nights on my screened porch, my summer oasis.

Thanks to Ruth and Stacey for hosting us on Tuesdays -- I'm delighted to be continuing my membership in this writing community that meets every week for Slice of Life Tuesday

Monday, June 11, 2012

48 Hour Book Challenge Meets It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

What a great weekend of reading I just had!!  I combined my desire to be part of the 48 Hour Book Challenge again this year, with my summer #bookaday challenge, and topped it off with It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 

We had several social engagements this weekend, so I couldn't read nonstop, but I read in every spare block of time I had.  I didn't read a great quantity of books, but I read some books I am very pleased about.

The weekend kicked off last Thursday when a group of Columbus area kidlit bloggers met for dinner, and then headed to our local independent bookstore, Cover to Cover, to hear a panel of YA authors speak.  The most notable for me was Veronica Roth (2nd from left in picture) of Divergent fame, but they were all great speakers, giving an absolutely packed house some great pearls of wisdom about writing.  It was fun to see the eclectic crowd these authors drew -- a few upper elementary students all the way past my age bracket of 50-something. :)  A sure sign that good writing is good writing no matter what the "genre" is.

Anyway, back to my own reading.  At Cover to Cover, I purchased a book I have heard many people talk about, One for the Murphys.  It was my first read on Friday -- oh my!!  What a wonderful story about living with a foster family and being scared to wish for something better for your life.  This book should have a disclaimer on it, warning you that reading this book is bad for your eye makeup and many tissues will be needed.  If you haven't read this book, I would strongly encourage you to do so.  Great first read!!

After that amazing book, I started The 19th Wife.  I read this book in preparation for one of my book clubs. Not always a fan of historical fiction, but not quite sure that is the actual genre of this book. It takes actual excerpts from Ann Eliza Young's book about being the 19th Wife of Brigham Young, as well as fictionalized anecdotal accounts from Brigham Young and other family members of Ann Eliza.  Then, the author intertwines that historical element with a modern day murder where the 19th Wife of a man is accused.  I couldn't put this book down, even though it slowed me down for my summer #bookaday pace.:)  It took me the rest of Friday and all of Saturday to finish it.

Finally, I've been wanting to go back and read The Hunger Games trilogy since the movie came out.  This was at least my 3rd reread, but I wanted to refresh my memory once again about what will happen next.  My biggest question after rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay, is who will be cast to play Finnick in the movies??  I forgot what a huge part in played in both of these books.

So, the final tally for my 48 Hour Book Challenge was 4 great books over a 3 day period (I have a hard time just doing the 48 hours).  I'm going to call this a VERY successful reading weekend, and one I really enjoyed.

What's next for me?  I have a few graphic novels I've picked up after last month's Title Talk focused on that topic as well as a couple interesting nonfiction reads for my classroom library (see picture for actual titles).  And as soon as I finish typing this, I'm headed to our public library to see what will be calling my name there as well.  I am soooooo excited for summer reading!!

Thanks so much to Mother Reader for hosting the 48 Hour Book Challenge!!!!

Also, please join Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts, who are the cohosts of this wonderful Monday event!  I love finding out what others are reading, and start planning my next week's reading using some of the participants ideas.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Remember Me?

It's been a REALLY long time since I last posted, many of you, including my partner Karen probably thought I forgot how to do this.  Wish I had a good excuse, but I don't, just wasn't inspired to write anything.  Now that school is done for another year I thought maybe I should post something.  I've been thinking about what I've read aloud in THE PIT this year and what some of my favorites were.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean:  The latest Pete the Cat adventure has some math and simple subtraction.  The kids were all bopping around school singing about their belly buttons for about a week after this one.  I even gave the kindergartners homework to go home and sing about their belly button to anyone who would listen.  As usual, Pete provided a lot of fun!

Me Want Pet! by Tammi Sauer Illustrated by Bob Shea:  The cave boy in this book provided plenty of opportunity for some SERIOUS grunting in THE PIT.  The simple story has him trying several different pets like a woolly mammoth and saber tooth tiger before finding the perfect baby dodo bird.  Bob Shea's pictures as always are fun and good for some laughs.  The kids naturally compared it to Me Hungry by Jeremy Tankard.

Randy Riley's Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen:  I always like to do a baseball book in the spring, and finding one by Chris Van Dusen was a real bonus.  Randy isn't much of a player, but he is crazy smart.  When Earth is threatened by a huge fire ball he stays calm and has the hit of his life!  The kids of Bailey really love Chris Van Dusen and his fun rhyming books like King Hugo's Huge Ego and the Circus Ship.  When they found out he's the illustrator of the Mercy Watson books, they liked the books even more.  His bright retro illustrations always entertain and make his books great additions to THE PIT!