Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - Dec. 2

It's been some time since I've participated in IMWAYR, but after receiving/gathering/buying some amazing books at NCTE last weekend, this seems like a perfect opportunity to begin reading again.  I will have to intersperse what I'm reading with what my students are reading since I already took a suitcase of books to school to share with my students last Monday, and we took a leisurely hour of reading workshop and did a book pass, previewing each book, and collecting titles they wanted to come back to when they had an opportunity.  Based on what they recorded in their readers' notebooks, the books in the suitcase were a big hit!!

A few books that were waiting for me to finish them, a book that needed to be reread in preparation for a GREat Discussion (parent/child book club), as well as some new ones worth sharing:

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen -- Thanks to Scholastic Press for sharing these and to Jennifer Nielsen for signing my Uncorrected Proof!  The Ascendance Trilogy concludes.  Once again,  Jaron and his friends have to come together for a noble cause -- trying to save Carthya.  This book is due out Feb. 25, so I don't want to include any spoilers for those of you waiting patiently/impatiently for the conclusion of this trilogy.  I will say that the action remains fast-paced, and leaves you wondering if Jaron learned how to play chess at some point in his life; he is always thinking multiple moves ahead.

Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan -- this is the GREat Discussion book for our 5th graders and their parents. It is possible that I cried more this time than the first time I read this book.  Closer reading with purpose in preparing for a book club conversation forced me to slow down and pay attention to some details I missed the first time.  If it's even possible, I fell more in love with all the characters even more, especially Willow!  I can't wait to have this conversation with our 5th graders and their parents.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo -- This is a book I heard many people discussing at NCTE, and I knew I needed to read it myself.  So when one of my students was returning the library copy on Monday, I snagged it for myself (apologies to the rest of the school).  Because of the author's name, I'm not sure what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised.  A mix of chapter book-like text interspersed with illustrations and graphic novel-like sequences made this an enjoyable read.  My favorite parts of this book were Flora's continual reference to and use of the books, Terrible Things Can Happen to You and The Criminal Element.

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K by Greg Pincus -- I met this author four years ago at a KidLitCon in Washington DC.  I have followed him ever since on social media, knowing he had a love of poetry.  I was so happy to see how he infused poetry into this delightful text that should be a sure winner with students!  Combine the ideas of not fitting in with your family (Gregory loves to write; his family are all mathematicians), not telling the truth and digging the hole of lies bigger and bigger, disappointing friends, and your best friend moving far away, and you get this wonderful book.  I really like that the word "Fibs" in the title actually could have dual meanings.  Teachers should definitely be book-talking this with their students!

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool -- This is a lovely book, beautifully written.  It is a story of two boys taking a journey that allows them to find themselves and gain a better understanding of family.

It's good to be reading again!  I can't wait to add to my growing booklist by reading what others have read this week.  Head on over to Teach Mentor Texts for more posts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I laughed out loud when I read Cathy's #nerdlution post.  I laughed for 2 reasons:
  1.  She was doing exactly what I was -- tying to ignore the enticing peer pressure of our smart friends.
  2. I have been led to push myself and my thinking more times than I can count by ideas Cathy has concocted. :)
But I think Franki, Colby, Katherine, Bill, Chris L, Kristine, and all the others who were in on the #nerdlution thread on Twitter are on to something.  I look at December and I think of all the ways my time will be challenged -- 
  • preparing for the holidays as I write Christmas cards, bake, shop, and wrap 
  • helping my parents through some very difficult medical times, including surgery for both of them,
  • gatherings of friends and family (even though these consume time, they all are blessings)
What I realize is that starting with Thanksgiving and moving through New Year, I mostly spend time taking care of those I love, and often times, neglect myself.  So that's why I'm joining #nerdlution -- by participating and having the energy and support of those other participants, I stand a better chance of making sure I take care of myself as well.

So my 2 #nerdlutions:
First, I plan to take care of my physical self each day -- whether that is walking, yoga, water aerobics, getting my hair done, a pedicure, meditating, or simply "legs up the wall" -- a great de-stressor!

Second, I want to take care of my mental self -- I have not been reading as much lately and I know heading into the holidays that might be one of the first things to go when life gets hectic.  I plan to read for at least 45 minutes each day. 

It's a small start in gaining some balance in my life.  I know I am a much better person when I am mentally and physically in shape.  Thanks to all of you for supporting me with these two #nerdlutions !!

CELEBRATE! Saturday (but doing it one day late on Sunday)

Once again, I am a day late to the party, but hopefully you will all understand as my celebration continued through yesterday evening, and this is the first opportunity I have had to sit down and process anything since returning home from NCTE late last Sunday evening.

I have been immersed in the celebration of family since right after school on Tuesday evening, when I picked up our oldest daughter at the airport.  Then, on Wednesday, the daughter who actually lives in the same town as us, came to the house with a huge duffle bag, prepared to stay for the rest of the weekend.  What a celebration to have all four of us in the same "home" for a few days!!

Our time together was spent in both traditional and non-traditional events.

The girls and I put up holiday decorations together on Wednesday, followed by our annual pre-Thanksgiving movie.  We saw "Catching Fire" at our local AMC theater, which is now sporting these amazing tilt-back chairs.  Great chairs, great movie, great company!!  Life was good.

On the actual day of  Thanksgiving, it was just the four of us enjoying the turkey with all its fixings.  Because we knew this would be a tough Thanksgiving as we lost my father-in-law last February, we decided to throw in the very non-traditional excursion to the casino.  The trip served its purpose perfectly -- after reflecting on stories about Dad T at dinner, the trip to the casino provided us with much hilarity.

Friday, my extended family got together at my brother's home.  Another wonderful turkey dinner surrounded by people I love.  Then, one last holiday tradition remained when we returned home -- putting up the Christmas tree.  I think it's one of my favorite traditions because the ornaments I buy each year for both of the girls or for our family have some type of significance for that particular calendar year.  It is fun to reminisce about each of those events.

Saturday, was a mixed blessing day.  We love to watch football together and three of us did that (the other was actually at the OSU/Michigan game).  Then, it came time to take our oldest, Kate, to the airport so she could wing her way back to her "other" home - DC.  Knowing that I would see her again in about 3 weeks, made these good-byes a bit easier.

I hope these past days were full of time with friends and/or family for all of you as well.  For all the Celebrations, head to Ruth's blog to see this week's line-up.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

CELEBRATE! - Nov. 16

When Ruth started this Saturday tradition of celebrations, her thinking struck a chord with me.  In this time of high stakes tests and more and more demands on teacher time, it would be easy to lose sight of the reasons we all became educators.

This week, I had several reminders of why I want to celebrate working with teachers and students:
  1.  Twice within this past week, I gathered with colleagues outside of the school setting just to have fun.  It certainly helps reduce stress when you can eat, drink, and laugh with the people you see on a daily basis.  And I think it's even better when we get away from our work environment and see each other in different surroundings.  Both opportunities allowed me to appreciate my colleagues in more personal ways.
  2.  I am co-mentoring the 3rd year teachers in our school district this year.  I spent Wednesday morning meeting and collaborating with several of them, as they work on refining their own practices as teachers.  I loved our conversations as they shared with me about their students, their assessments, and their teaching.   So incredibly reflective.  We are lucky to have these teachers moving from the "Resident Educator" status here in Ohio to being fully licensed.  I'm very fortunate to be a part of this journey they are on.
  3. This week was the end of the trimester, and time to have students fill out reading reflections for their growth as readers the past 12 weeks.  Here are just a few of the comments or thinking that help me celebrate:
  • when talking about his comments to other classmates on reading response letters: "I've gotten a lot better at commenting to others.  I'm paying attention to what they say before I comment."
  • when talking about what specifically she wanted to celebrate as a reader this trimester: "I read more books this trimester than in all of 4th grade."
  • another student sharing what they wanted to celebrate: "I started giving better book recommendations when I know books others might like."
  • when sharing how many books they completed in first trimester: A prolific reader recorded finishing 35 books so far while a reader that struggled to find a book and to complete it recorded finishing 5 books.  Both of these numbers and all the other numbers in between are huge celebrations because it means we have a community of readers who understand that time to read is valuable.
There are others, but I will stop here for now.  I look forward to sharing some celebrations from NCTE next week!  In the meantime, stop by Ruth's blog to see what others are celebrating this week!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kirby Larson's guest today!!

That's right -- I just realized I was the guest at Kirby Larson's blog today.  What an honor to be asked, and I got to write about one of my favorite things -- Mrs. T letters (reading response letters), and building a reading community in our classroom.

Head on over to Kirby's blog for the entire post.

Thanks for having me, Kirby!!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Celebrating Writers

My first celebration has absolutely nothing to do with school, but it has been oh-so-fun!!  Friday was our conference comp day so this weekend became a 3 day weekend.  I spent the last 36 hours doing some power shopping -- some cute dresses, new boots (thanks to Franki for the inspiration), new yoga attire, a new tree to replace one that had to be removed, and a new console for our television.  My credit card hasn't had this much exercise in quite a while!!  But the biggest deal of all these things is what I'm typing on right now -- my brand-new MacBook Air.  I love the Apple store and the people who teach me so many new things every time I walk in.  And I love my new laptop as well!

But, on to the true purpose of the Saturday celebration, the part about my students, not me.  I was having a writing conference with a student this week.  She has been somebody who learned how to avoid writing along the way - she would draw pictures, write notes to friends, and just chat up a storm.  That ability to converse is why I knew she had a lot of important things to write about; I just needed her to commit to putting those great ideas down on paper.

She had a breakthrough this week.  We had spent a great deal of time this past month learning and applying revising and editing skills to help enrich and polish our pieces.  With all her newfound skills, she was ready to tackle a new piece.  So, during our conference, she shared that she wanted to publish a story one chapter at a time on our KidBlog.  Her rationale was she planned to end each chapter with a cliffhanger that would leave the reader wanting more.  How cool is that?!!  She is thinking and planning like a writer.  I can't wait to listen to the "buzz" her installments will produce.  I've already read the first chapter and it's a doozy!  Classmates will be begging for more.

How wonderful for her that she found her writer's identity, and how lucky for the rest of us that we get to take the journey with her.

For more celebrations, head on over to Ruth's blog.  Have a great weekend!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Students Words that Made My Heart Sing

For my celebration this week, I am sharing snippets of oral or written conversation that made my heart sing with joy.

1) From one boy's reading response letter:
  • Dear Mrs. T
    I have really enjoyed living in this classroom full of books. 
2) From one girl's reading response letter after a fabulous skype visit with Barbara O'Connor:
  • Talking to Barbara o Conner she does not act like a famous person. 
3) Indoor recess, a group of students playing Charades.  The boy whose turn it was was standing on one leg, with the other leg rotated 90 degrees and placed on his shin.  His hands were pressed, palms together and raised above his head.  Students couldn't guess what he was trying to demonstrate and turned to me for help.  I asked if he was doing the tree yoga pose (thanks to my yoga instructors!).  He was so relieved that I guessed it and he got to leave this balancing pose.  His words:
  • "Thank heavens you were here!" -- I guess he never thought about trying a different clue. :)
4) We went on a new field trip for us to the largest Metro Park in central Ohio, and went creeking to look at the ecosystems in the creek and to judge the quality of the water.  After splashing around in freezing water for over an hour, watching kids so intent on capturing biotic organisms that live in the creek and then try to identify them, watching many students fall on a slippery rock and go down into the water, hearing the peal of giggles and screams because they were excited, learning, and having fun...  My words to my teaching partner as we climbed on the bus:
  • BEST. FIELD. TRIP. EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 I hope you have had a wonderful week that had at least one celebration in it.  Have a great weekend!  And don't forget to head over to Ruth's blog to see what others are celebrating!!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Great resource for what I WILL be reading -- IMWAYR

Though I haven't posted about it, I have been reading voraciously since school began.  The thing about it... I haven't been reading children's books.  I have been reading stacks of library books and a huge number of books on my Kindle bookshelf (MasterCard loves me), but most of these books have one thing in common - they are adult reads.

Okay, I have also read a few delicious picture books recently:
  • The great new poetry book by J. Patrick Lewis, World Rat Day (kids loved it last Poetry Friday)
  • The hysterical picture book, Memoirs of a Hamster by Devin Scillian / illustrated by Tim Bowers.  Fans of Memoirs of a Goldfish will really enjoy this new book.  The hamster is our narrator and he has got great "voice!"
  • Crankenstein by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dan Santat
  • Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Santat
(We had great class conversations comparing/contrasting the illustrations of Dan Santat in these last two books.)

But, back on point...  Other than these humorous quick reads, I have devoted my reading time to adult reads.  I have found great new authors I love -- Kate Morton, for example.  And many authors I already enjoyed came out with new books -- Beth Hoffman, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown.

I don't think my adult reading will slow down anytime soon, because on Friday, a friend shared a blog that a colleague (Elaine) from my former school has been writing.  I went to her blog Friday night and it is scrumptious!!  Her blog is devoted entirely to adult books she has read.  She has great wit, and a wonderful way of spinning the story line so it hooks you (but no more than that).  In addition, she is heavily invested in the characters of each story, which is obvious in her reviews.  I love characters as well, and she has introduced me to some "new friends" I am dying to meet!!

Elaine's blog is The EZ Book Nook; even the title makes me want to cozy up with a book.  Check out her blog.  Hopefully, you will find some "new friends" you want to meet as well!

In the meantime, head on over to Teach Mentor Texts where Jen and Kellee are hosting the conversation about children's books that have been read this past week.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Ruth continues to be an inspiration for me as a writer time and time again.  I love her concept of celebrating a small moment that has given us joy, and then sharing all those moments on Saturday.  It's a perfect reason to dust off my laptop, and jot down this event that I've been reliving the past week. What a wonderful way to begin the weekend!!

A week ago Friday, our school was engaged in a walking fundraiser for the tigers at our local zoo.  The concept is simple -- you are teamed with another class, and you walk together to the Metro Park across the street from our school, and then you walk back.  Popsicles for everyone at the end.  Donations made by friends and families.  A great event.

As in past years, this year we were paired with a kindergarten class. To keep tabs on everyone, the kindergarten teacher walked in the front and I walked in the back to take care of those stragglers who are easily distracted by every little thing.  One of my boys was paired with an energetic student who just kept running forward to catch the rest of the pack, and then back to us.  Instead of running with his partner, my student, T, stayed and chatted with me.

He literally talked the entire 1/2 mile to the destination in the park, and then the 1/2 mile back.  I was flabbergasted!!  This is a student who hardly ever chooses to talk in class.  And now, here I am, on a gorgeous fall day, learning so much about T's family, his interests, his activities, and his friends.  If we hadn't taken this walk, and he hadn't had such an energetic partner, I might have gone the entire school year without learning as much as I did in that 1 mile walk.  This past week, as I greeted him each day, there was a little more purpose in how I greeted him; we now are linked in ways we weren't before.

That my friends, brought me joy!

Have a great weekend!  And sometime, check out some of the other celebrations that others had to share at Ruth's blog!!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Innocence or Immaturity - Either Way I Love it! (Slice of Life Tuesday)

Recently, I found myself in a very similar outfit as another teacher in our building.  As a side digression, let me say this teacher is just one year older than my oldest daughter, so there is a slight irony that I would be wearing a similar outfit to hers!

Anyway, back on point...

We were both wearing a fun black and white printed dress with black leggings underneath and cute black flats on our feet.  I was walking my class to related arts, and when I saw this teacher, I shared how fun it was that we had on the same outfits.

One of my students asked if we had planned it.  I jokingly told her that we had indeed called each other on our princess phones the previous night to organize our style for the day.

Her response: "Really?!!!  You have a princess phone?"

I love that she really thought the old teacher (me) and this darling young teacher had princess phones to call about important items such as wearing matching outfits.  I chuckled the rest of the day.  Call her response innocence or immaturity -- either way, her comment brightened my whole day!

For the rest of the Tuesday Slices, head on over to Two Writing Teachers blog, to see what others had to say today.  Thanks for stopping by here as well.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Savoring Assessment

This year, I decided to stop and savor the time I've spent with each individual student during diagnostic testing.  I'm not sure why I came to that decision -- was it because I have two amazing groups of students and didn't want to rush through, or was it a subconscious push-back from me to hurry up to teach the standards when I knew I had to have solid information about each one of my students first?  Whatever the reason, my assessment time this year has been lovely.

In the beginning of the year, we give the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment), and it yields great information about each student.  But my favorite part of the DRA has been the time I spent sitting side by side with the students, first asking them to choose a text, then inquiring as to why they made the choice they did.  The latter is not really an official part of the assessment but it gave me so much insight into how children preview what they will read.  Then the next segment was time spent listening to them read orally.  Personalities began to shine through during this portion of the assessment.  One more piece of knowledge added to my understanding about each of them.

After the students read orally, they were asked to do a paper and pencil activity that involved some questioning and prediction.  In prior years, I have asked the students to find a quiet location to do this section and then come back to visit me when they were done so I could check for the reasonableness of their predictions.  It was a far more efficient way to approach the testing situation.  However, this year, I threw efficient out the window!  I asked them to stay by me and fill out this first page of wondering what will happen in the text.  I gathered some amazing anecdotal notes sitting beside them, and observing how they approached this task.

Just as valuable were the anecdotal notes I gathered by watching others in the classroom during this time as well.  I noticed that most students were thoroughly immersed in their books of choice, a few wandered around the room having a difficult time selecting a book that worked for them, and several students sat by classmates and needed to share parts of their book with each other from time to time.

The final part of the assessment for the student involved reading the rest of the text on their own and then answering some comprehension questions (again, a paper and pencil activity).

The final part of the assessment for me involved more "savoring" - - sitting here on my screened porch on a weekend morning, looking at the answers the students gave for each question, and analyzing their thinking as a reader.  It was my first real glimpse into their reading mind.  I didn't want to hurry through and miss any information they left for me.  I needed to organize and reflect on all the data I'd collected, thinking about how best to serve each student's needs.  DRA folders surrounded me, and my computer was opened to Google Form so I could input the numbers from their rubrics.  Once the numbers were inputted, Google Form translated them into a spreadsheet where I could look at my classroom information as a whole.  This made starting conferences and strategy groups easy in the beginning of the year as I looked at students with similar strengths and weaknesses.

So I savored my assessment this fall, and the payoff seems to be huge.  It didn't feel like an assembly line, just "getting 'er done."  This year, I felt like the nuances of each learner were more apparent because I slowed down and didn't rush (though the temptation was great as I thought about 50 DRAs to score, analyze, and savor).  And the structures of workshop lived on throughout these assessments because I didn't rush the students as they learned to settle in with a book or a piece of writing for an extended period of time.

Savoring assessment - so enjoyable.

Monday, August 19, 2013

#PB10for10 - 9 days late!! / Also #IMWAYR - on time :)

You know those guests you invite to a party and they perpetually show up late?  Well, when it comes to replying to memes or participating in online events this summer, that would appear to be me, more often than not.  My apologies.

On August 10, Cathy and Mandy hosted #pb10for10 and gathered many rich resources from educators all over the world.  I  had so much fun looking at other people's book lists, that I just had to join in, even though I'm more than a tad embarrassed I didn't make the actual deadline.  But a huge thank you to these ladies for hosting and organizing everyone's post!

The years before this, the 10 books I chose always revolved around one big idea.  This year is sort of the same, but with a small twist -- I have sub-categories of books as well.  The big umbrella my books fall under this year is "Books I Will Share in the First Two Weeks of School." There are 4 sub-categories for these books.  And the books are some old favorites as well as some amazing new favorites.

Picture Books that Help Set Expectations for Classroom Climate / Celebrating our Differences

1) Amazing Faces - poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  The students in my two language arts classrooms this year come from very diverse backgrounds.  Amazing Faces is a book of poetry that shares a variety of faces in different situations.  This will be a great springboard for my students to talk and write about their different ethnic and cultural experiences.  How much richer we will be as class as we discover and celebrate our differences.

2) This is Just to Say - poems by Joyce Sidman.  This book of poetry will be a humorous way to address how we talk to each other as individuals in our community.  Even though the apologies aren't always apologetic and the forgiveness is not really forgiving, through humor, we will be able to set some classroom norms about how we talk in our classroom.

3) Tara and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends - text and photography by Carol Buckley.  This book will be a triple threat: it is a book about animals which is sure to make it a fan favorite, it is non-fiction that is incredibly enjoyable, and it addresses the big idea of how two individuals who wouldn't appear to be the most logical choice for friendship, can really have each others' backs in time of need.  Many life lessons here that we can apply to our classroom community.

4) Crankee Doodle - written by Tom Angleberger. This picture book is just a hoot!  We have two main characters, and one is a huge whiner.  As Angleberger has fun with how the song, "Yankee Doodle Came to Town," originated, we as readers can learn a lot through humor about how not to approach problems and boredom.  The surprise ending is just icing on the cake!

5) Each Kindness - written by Jacqueline Woodson.  Children can be cruel to one another at times, and this book captures that cruelty in a vivid way.  More importantly, sometimes you can lose your opportunity to do the right thing.  This book deals with important issues that crop up in our classrooms, and there is a real feeling of being punched in the gut at the end when the reader realizes there won't be a chance for redemption in this specific instance.  I think this will be a book I come back to time and time again throughout the year.  The message of our actions have consequences is quite clear, and will provide for great conversations.

Picture Books that Tell a Story Through Poetry

6) Moving Day - poems by Ralph Fletcher, and

7) Oh Brother! - poems by Nikki Grimes

Both of these books tell stories through poetry, and would be a great introduction to the concept of novel in verse.  Equally important, both stories have beautiful language embedded within their poetry.  This will be a wonderful way to look at word choice in their own writing.

Picture Books That Promote Gathering Pieces of Life for Future Writing

8) The Matchbook Diary - written by Paul Fleischman.  What a gorgeous book this is!  The illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline are amazing!  But the real gift of this story is how a person can gather artifacts to tell the stories of his/her life.  So many ways to use this story, but my current thinking is that each student will bring in 3 - 5 artifacts of their own history to first orally share with the class and then to capture that same thinking in their writers' notebooks.

Picture Books That Promote Life Science and Word Study

9) How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships - written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  Symbiotic.  I love that word, and it turns out with our new state standards, it is a word my 5th graders will need to know as well.  Steve Jenkins is a prolific writer of nonfiction so this will be a great way to introduce my classes to him as a nonfiction author.  More importantly, we will begin our word study with a word observation of "symbiotic."  We will notice many things together about this word, and after that, I will read the book.  After reading this book and sharing the unique ways animals form partnerships, we will revisit the word to add more thinking.

10) Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors - poetry by Joyce Sidman.  Joyce Sidman is another poet/nonfiction writer my students need to know.  As teachers, we do a nice job sharing authors of fiction; but I think it is equally important that students are aware of nonfiction authors as well.  In addition, I love how Sidman weaves poetry and nonfiction text together on each 2-page spread.  We will also be doing a word observation of "ubiquitous."  Another great word!  I want students to know from the beginning of the year, that words are important in our classroom.

So there you have it - my very belated #pb10for10.  I wish for you and your students many wonderful reading experiences this year!

Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for co-hosting the kidlit version of the meme, It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Navigating Early Wonderfully Written

In 2011 Clare Vanderpool surprised most of us who Look for Newbery every year.  Her novel Moon Over Manifest sort of came out of no where to win the medal.  None of the students in our Newbery Club at school had read it because I hadn't included it on any of our watch lists for them to read.  I liked the book, but Clare Vanderpool's second book, Navigating Early, is even better in my opinion.

Set just after WWII Jack Baker is uprooted from his Kansas home after the passing of his mother.  His father, a captain in the Navy, returns home after 4 years at sea in the U.S. Navy and changes everything.  The biggest change is moving Jack to a boarding school in Maine.  Jack is put into a place where he has nothing in common with the other boys.  The students at Morton Hill Academy are not mean to Jack, but when you move in after all the groups and friendships have been formed, and you have very little in common with anyone, it's tough to fit in.

On his first day at Morton Hill, Jack observes Early Auden filling sand bags by the shore as if he is trying to hold back the ocean.  As the story progresses Jack always refers to Early as "the strangest of boys" but they become friends even though Early has some very special abilities.

When a math teacher goes into a theoretical speech about the numbers of pi ending, Early walks out of class, clearly frustrated.  Later when Jack finds him in his workshop room he learns that Early has a clear interest in the number pi and sees a story in the numbers.  He begins to tell Jack the story of Pi, a navigator on a quest.  Jack also learns the big secret about Early, he is the brother of The Fish, a Morton Hill legend and that fact makes the other boys uncomfortable.

Jack and Early come together through conversations about Pi, the music that Early enjoys listening to, and rowing.  Together they work to make Jack a better rower and even build a boat.  Through it all Jack is fascinated by this strangest of boys and reluctantly becomes his friend.

During a week long break Early plans to go on a quest to find Pi, his lost brother, and a 700 pound bear that is threatening hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  When circumstances prevent Jack from spending the week with his father, he joins Early on his quest.  The author alternates between the boys' quest and the adventures of the navigator Pi.  The two mirror each other and Early is sure they will find all of the things he set out to look for because Pi did. 

The set up for the quest is beautifully written giving the reader insight into all of the characters and why they do what they do.  When the boys set out on the quest, the writing becomes exciting and suspenseful with the reader wondering what will happen around the next bend in the trail.  Clare Vanderpool mixes in just enough of Pi's story to remind us where we are going and what we have to look forward to.  The ending part of the book brings it all together allowing all of the characters to discover what it is they needed to discover in order to be happy and have their lives return to order.

I like this book a lot.  I think it will be difficult for a lot of readers and will be recommending it to my best 5th grader readers.  I've been looking for our first Grand Discussion book of the year and I may have just found it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Quiet Ones Might Just Surprise You

As a teacher I've had my share of quiet students.  The ones that are great kids, do their work,  always give their best effort and are kind to others.  They don't really stand out as the leaders or followers, just really nice kids that I knew would be fine and successful in the end.  As the years pass I would hear things from other kids or parents about those quiet ones, how they had blossomed in middle school and were now the class leaders who were involved in everything.  The beauty of it was, in most cases, they were still the same person they were in elementary school, great kids who still were kind to others and took care of those in need.

Our son Steven fits this category.  As an elementary student Steven was a kind and gentle soul.  He followed the rules, laughed often and took care of others.  He wasn't the kid being chosen for the student council or the Choose to Lead program at his school.  He was chosen as student of the month several times and every teacher said the same thing, "He's such a nice boy, concerned for everyone and always happy."  In first or second grade he surprised us all by stepping up for a solo at the winter music concert, and he nailed it, not one bit of nervousness showed.

We saw a glimpse of what was to come beginning in fifth grade when, at the end of the year talent show, he did voice impressions.  The lovely Mrs. Prosser and I knew Steven was funny, in a quiet, witty kind of way, but we had no idea the level of confidence he really had.  He took the stage doing Mickey Mouse, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elmo and his specialty, Donald Duck.  The crowd went crazy and our Steven, our quiet Steven, commanded the stage.

He continued to branch out in middle school, playing various sports, participating in choir and drama and doing well in school.  As we attended events we began to have teachers and coaches begin to say, "Ohhh, you're Steven's parents, what a great kid!" 

It was in high school that we saw Steven really begin to show his true talents.  He continued his sports focusing on his new love, volleyball.  He continued performing in the choir and on stage in the Darby productions, but now he added a new wrinkle, he began taking a leadership role in all of these things.  He was chosen as a captain of the volleyball team, he was elected as an officer in choir and served in the freshman student council.  He began talking of his future plans as a leader at his school.  He had a real vision of what he wanted to accomplish in his four years at Hilliard Darby.

In his senior year, Steven could not have done anymore for his school.  As class president he lead the student body in a way that changed the culture of the school.  Now the lovely Mrs. Prosser and I had teachers and total strangers coming up to us telling us how much they loved Steven and what he had done for his school.  The beauty of it all is that it wasn't just Steven.  He maintained his humility through it all and gave credit to his fellow class officers and those around that helped create an amazing school year for all of the students.   He also kept his kindness, making sure that everyone felt welcome and included in everything,  he was till taking care of others, and laughing a lot. 

At his graduation party his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Cassell looked at the table set up celebrating Steven's accomplishments.  Shaking her head she said, "I never would have predicted this.  I knew Steven was a good boy and would do well, but I never would have thought he would have accomplished all of this.  You must be very proud."  Yes, we are.

On Sunday we will pack Steven up for his freshman year at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, he's moving in a week early as part of a leadership program.  I've known a lot of kids who say they will re-invent themselves in college, become the person they wished they had been in high school.  I don't think that's true of my son, I think he and everyone around him like the person he is.  That doesn't mean he won't try new things, he's never been afraid of that.  It just means that he will continue the progression he's been working on for the last 12 years, being all he can be, and taking care of others.  I know there will be lots of tears shed on Sunday, the lovely Mrs. Prosser, his sister, Meredith, and I will all cry for most of the 2 hour drive home, but in the end we will all be excited to watch what  he does with the next four years.

Watch the quiet ones, they will surprise you.  As my mother used to say, "Still waters run deep."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gordon Korman's The Hypnotists is Action Packed

Frequent visitors to Literate Lives know that I'm a big Gordon Korman fan, in fact, if there was a Gordon Korman fan club I'd be a card carrying member with the secret decoder ring and knowledge of a secret handshake, that's how big a fan I am!  I have liked everything he has written and I know when it has his name on it, kids are going to love it too.  His latest, The Hypnotists, is no exception, it gets you from the start and mesmerizes to the end.  It also leaves you wanting more, which I'm sure we'll get because that's how Gordon rolls.

Jax Opus seems to be just a normal 12 year old middle schooler, dealing with the usual middle schooler issues.  There is one small difference, people are drawn to him and want to do whatever will make him happy.  Oh yeah, and his eyes, his eyes which seem to change colors depending on his mood.  Two events lead Jax to start believing he might have some special ability.  The first is during a basketball game when the best player in the league seemingly does whatever Jax suggest he do.  The second comes during a school field trip when he controls a hypnotist on stage.

Turns out the hypnotist has connections to a man named Elias Mako and the next thing the Opus family knows, Jax is being recruited for a special school for special kids with special abilities.  Turns out, Jax is "mind bender" meaning he has the ability to enter another person's mind and control their actions without them knowing it.  As it turns out he comes from a long line of super mind benders on both sides so he is like a super mind bender.

All of this leads to trouble, with a villain who wants to use the power for evil world domination and the troop of misfit mind benders called the Sandman Guild who are trying really hard not to take advantage of their special gift.  Classic evil versus bad, but trying really hard to be good, stuff.  I loved it!

As usual, Gordon Korman writes in a style that is very kid friendly.  The kid characters in his books are all regular kids with a bit of twist, but the twist is done so that even that is believable.  The adventure and action keep you on the edge of the seat and just when you think you have it figured don't.  I'll be recommending this to all of my 4th and 5th graders and some better 3rd grade readers.  It's just good fun!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Two Well Done New Literary Non Fiction Titles

I've been working my way through the ALSC Notable Nominee list and have read almost all of the picture books included.  I recently finished two from the non fiction category and will be adding both to our Bailey Library collection.

The first, The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin has a special place because it is about a couple of Ohio towns that resisted the Fugitive Slave Law prior to the Civil War.  Oberlin, OH was a safe haven for escaped slaves in the mid 1800s.  Not only did they hide them from the slave catchers who wanted to send them back south, they accepted them as part of the city's culture.  Escaped slaves were teachers, shopkeepers, farmers and preachers.  In 1856 when a slave catcher came to town looking for slaves to capture and return for the bounty, the towns of Oberlin and Wellington, OH turned out to not only protect their neighbors, but also help one prisoner escape.  The story of this event is told in vivid exciting language that puts the reader in the middle of the action.  In the end, 37 men were charged and arrested for aiding in the escape of a slave.  One of the men, William Lincoln was arrested in his classroom while teaching students, in, wait for it....Dublin, Ohio!  I love when a book has a hometown connection and it always makes it an easier sell to students when part of the story is part of their own town's history.  The illustrations by Eric Velasquez are detailed and enhance the story, making it easy for the reader to picture the events as they happened.  The final picture is an actual photo of the arrested men standing outside the Cuyahoga County Jail.

The second, Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, is a fairly common theme about how baseball played an important role in helping Japanese Americans survive the internment camps of the 1940s.  This one, however, stands out because it is about an individual who led the prisoners in a camp in Arizona to building an actual baseball stadium.  Kenichi "Zeni" Zenimura was a ball player.  He grew up with the game and even though he was barely 5 feet tall, he played along side the giants of the game like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in exhibition games.  He literally brought the game to a large part of the Japanese American population and introduced it in his native country.  This is a wonderful story that not only teaches a sad piece of our country's history, but also lessons in perseverance and making the best of a horrible situation.  Zeni Zenimura is a true American hero.  The illustrations are by Yuko Zhimizu are fascinating.  The texture and colors along with the style bring to mind old time baseball cards.  I'm sure kids will love looking at them and seeing different things each time they do.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On a Beam of Light is a Kid Friendly Einstein Story

For some reason I have a lot of students fascinated by Albert Einstein.  I'm not sure why this is, it may be the popular picture of him with his tongue out and wild hair, but for whatever reason they love the guy.  The little that I've read about him it seems he loved kids too and was quite child like in the way he loved jokes and laughter.  Until now, though, finding a book about Albert Einstein that is as kid friendly as he was has been difficult.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne portrays the great scientist in very human ways.  The author spends several pages on his growing up and not speaking until he started school and his parents loved him just the same.  When he finally did start to speak it was to ask endless and difficult questions of the teachers, they said he wouldn't amount to much and still his parents loved him.  As Albert went through life it became obvious that he had a lot to say and it was all very important in the advancing of science and math and then, the world loved him.  Jennifer Berne even manages to make his greatest discoveries, accessible to kids.

The illustrator is Vladimir Radunsky whose pictures I love.  So simple yet so detailed and perfect for a book about Albert Einstein. 

With the push toward non-fiction, I can't wait to get the wonderful, short biography about a fascinating man into the hands of kids.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library is a FUN Adventure

While waiting for books from the ALSC Notable Nominee List to come in at the library, I pick up new titles on display.  One of those just practically jumped off the shelf at me and once I started, I could not put it down.  Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein will surely be a hit with kids and teachers.

There isn't much to do in Alexandriaville, Ohio, so the Keely brothers play games.  Their favorites are games made up by the famous game creator Mr. Lemoncello.  The best game player in the family is Kyle, the middle brother.  Not a jock like his older brother and not a brainiac like his younger brother, Kyle looks to winning games, all games, when playing against his brothers.  The big news in town is the opening of the new library.  Alexandria hasn't had a library for 12 years, now, thanks to contributions from Mr. Lemoncello, an Alexandriaville native, the town will have the biggest, most advanced library in the country.

As part of the celebration there is an essay contest for all 12 year olds in the town.  The best 12 essay writers will get the chance to go into the library early for a lock in and games.  When the 12 are announced you have the girl who does nothing but read, the spoiled rich kid, the cheerleader popular girl and then Kyle and his regular kid friends.   The story continues and the kids are treated to the night of their lives, first playing with all of the new gadgets and gizmos and then challenged to solve the mystery of the library in order to become spokes models for Mr. Lemoncello's company.

The game involves solving puzzles that have to do with using the library, you know, like Dewey Decimal and stuff!  The kids need to know authors and book titles as well as Alexandriaville history to be successful.  I have to say,  just when I thought I knew what would happen, Mr. Lemoncello and super librarian Dr. Yanina Zenchinko throw us a curve and story goes a whole new direction.  Like I said, I couldn't put it down.

I will be recommending this to all readers grades 3 - 5 and some better second graders.  It is written at that many levels.  I loved the similarities to Charlie and Chocolate Factory and the Winston Breen books. I also loved how Mr. Lemoncello sprinkled his conversations with the titles of books.  Listening for these could be a focus activity for a teacher reading this to their class.   This book needs to be on every teacher's shelf of read alouds.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Second Thought, Building Our House is Really Good

The first time I say Building Our House by Jonathan Bean I was at Cover to Cover, my favorite bookstore in Columbus, and my friend Beth had included it in a stack of things she told me I needed to see.  Working my way through the stack, I gave it a look, but not the detailed look a great book like this deserves.  As I work my way through the ALSC Notable Nominee List I'm re-reading some titles that deserve a second or even third look!

Building Our House makes this list of "look again" titles.  Based on real life events, told through the author's older sister's eyes, it takes the reader from an empty weedy field purchased from a farmer.  After moving a trailer for temporary housing onto the property, the building begins.  Step by step, the timber-frame house takes shape and 5 years of labor is condensed into a wonderful short story of hard work and family.  The illustrations only add to the short text and make the story even more detailed.

There will be a lot of uses for this title in the classroom.  It's a how to book, it's a personal narrative and literary non-fiction.  It will make a wonderful mentor text for a lot of writing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Better Nate Than Ever a Showstopper

As I read through the ALSC Notable Book Nominee list, I've found some books that I really like but probably are written for a little older audience than the students I have.  The beauty of this is that we have the best public library anywhere in our community.  My students have easy access, a bike ride on beautiful bike paths, to a branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  Since I have to be fairly selective to stay in my budget, I can make recommendations of books that can't be found on our shelves but can be reserved at the "big library" as we call it at Bailey.

One of those books is Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle.  Nate Foster is a theater kid.  He  loves musicals and stage shows and dreams the Broadway dream of making it in New York City.  The problem is, he is growing up in a suburb of Pittsburgh that doesn't really value the arts, in fact his school, like many is cutting funding and the performing arts are getting hit hard.  In addition to standing out for his love of theater, Nate has an older brother who is the star athlete and everything else in their hometown.  Nate is the brunt of every bully in town and tries to play it off with a laugh, but can only take it for so long.

His best friend Libby transferred to his school from a school for the arts and the two of them work together to make Nate's dream come true.  After practicing and working on his acting skills, Nate and Libby plan his secret get away to the Big Apple for a tryout.  He is hoping for the role of Elliot in a stage production of E. T.  Of course the trip doesn't go quite as smoothly as planned and through the ups and downs of making a dream come true we find out a lot more about Nate and his family.

We learn that his mother and father are having marital troubles.  Nate is actually rescued by an estranged aunt who also had the Broadway dreams that lives in New York and his star student athlete brother shows a chink in the armor discovered by Libby as she tries to cover for her friend back home.

The author actually had a similar experience as a teen, running off to New York which is probably why the writing in this book is so strong and credible, a great example of writing what you know.  I love this book for middle schoolers, boys and girls who feel like they don't quite fit.  Even with its drama and sadness, there is laughter and hope that its ok to be different.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Matchbox Diary Already a Hit With Teachers

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman made the picture book list of ALSC Notable Nominee list that I've been reading this summer and based on what I'm seeing from my Bailey colleagues, it has mad their list of most wanted for the 2013 - 14 school year.  Many have already purchased their own copies, but rest assured friends, there will be a copy available in the library when school starts.

When a little girl visits her great grandfather for the first time she is introduced to his matchbox diary.  As a little boy in Italy he was unable to read or write, but wanted to keep a diary.  He began collecting matchboxes and putting items that sparked memories, an olive pit, a piece of pasta, a picture of his father.  One by one as the boxes are opened, the little girl is introduced to her family's history and immigration story.  The pictures by Bagram Ibatoulline reinforce the story by showing each item or memory.  A wonderful, heartwarming story to be sure, but knowing my Bailey friends and the awesome teachers they are, I'm sure they have already come up with ideas on how to use this book to spark the creative writing process in their students.

As I read the story, the ideas for writing and creating seemed endless. 

It might be tough to find so many matchboxes, but a photo collection could be made instead of their school year, similar to what Mary Lee at A Year of Reading does each month.

Bring back show and tell and have the students bring in artifacts from their life, first write then talk about the items.

An oldie but a goodie, have the students interview the oldest person in their families to learn the family history.  I sort of feel like this one might be the most important to keep our kids in touch with their past.

The list goes on, and I'm sure when I get back to school I'll see many examples of how this book is used in all grades.

Add this to my Caldecott watch list.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Beholding Bee First on My Newbery Watch List

Next to my computer I have my "blog" stack, books I've read and plan on posting about.  Until now, I've just been working my way to the bottom, until now.  I just finished Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco and I put it right on top of the stack.

I found the title on the ALSC Notable Book Nominee list and had no idea what it was about.  What a find.  The author pulls the reader in from the beginning and doesn't let go until the very end.  Bee is an orphan traveling with a carnival during World War II.  Her parents were killed in a car accident and she is being taken care of by the young woman, Pauline, who runs the hot dog cart.  Bee also works the cart, helping Pauline with the onion chopping and hot dog grilling.  It doesn't sound like much of a life for an 11 year old, but Bee and Pauline make the best of it.  Pauline doesn't see a way out of the life, Bee is ever hopeful that they will end up in a house and the traveling will stop.

Bee is strong, not only does she have an incredibly difficult life, she has an unfortunate birthmark on her cheek shaped like a diamond.  The fact that she is traveling with a carnival makes people think she is part of the sideshow and they talk about the mark in all sorts of negative hurtful ways.  Bee copes by making sure her hair is hanging over her cheek, hiding from the mean folks who come to the carnival.

Kimberly Newton Fusco creates amazing characters that bring out all sides of Bee's character.  The carnival owner, Ellis, who Bee says has snakes under his hat he is so mean.  Ellis brings out Bee's strength.  He sees her as a future sideshow gold mine, putting her in a booth and charging people to come stare at her birthmark.

Bobby, the man who takes care of the pig races, shows us that Bee is wise beyond her years when it comes to judging people.  She sees how Bobby really feels about Pauline when Pauline can't see past the pig smell.  Bobby is Bee's biggest protector, teaching her to run so she can escape mean people and to spit, in case she can't.

Bee is visited, when things get tough, by a lady in a floppy hat.  Nobody else can see her and Pauline always gets angry with Bee for talking about an imaginary friend.  As the story moves forward and Bee escapes from the carnival this lady is joined by another and Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter become Bee's care givers even though no one else can see them. 

Along the way Bee meets all sorts of folks, some who are mean, like most of the school staff when she enrolls herself and some that are wonderful, like her classmate Ruth Ann's mom. 

The book is written in short chapters that are only 1 to 3 pages long and even though it is 329 pages long it moves quickly.  What an amazing book to behold!  I will be recommending it to all of my 5th graders and some of my better 4th grade readers.  The Newbery Club will for sure find it on one of their reading lists.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Dark Comes Alive in The Dark

Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen have teamed up on a book that I'm sure will be a hit and fun to read in THE PIT.   The Dark is about a boy and his fear of the dark.  However, in Lemony Snicket style, there's twist.  The Dark is an actual thing!  It hides behind the shower curtain, in the closet, and at night it "goes out" spreading itself against the windows and doors.

But these are just hiding places for The Dark.  Everyone knows The Dark lives in the basement where Laszlo greets him each morning from the top of the stairs in order that The Dark won't come visit him in his room at night.  One night the night light burns out and lo and behold, The Dark has come to visit Laszlo's room.  In a fun twist, The Dark leads Laszlo on a quest to solve the problem and the story has a very satisfying ending.

I won't lie, I haven't figured Lemony Snicket out yet.  Kids love his stuff and that's good because that makes my job easy.  I keep trying to love his stuff, but mostly it confuses me.  This book however, I get and I like, A LOT!  Throw in illustrations by Jon Klassen, one of my favorite illustrators and BAM!  it's a winner.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hoop Genius is a Winner

As I continue to work my way through the ALSC Notable Book Nominee list, I can report that I have now read 6 of the fiction titles, and all of the picture book titles.  There have been a lot of good books that will be making their way into the Bailey library come August, and there was at least one of the fiction titles I didn't finish because I knew it wouldn't be making it's way into the Bailey library come August.  Sometimes when I get 50 pages or so into a fiction title and it's clear that it's not written for an elementary audience I abandon it so I can move on to something that might be a future purchase.  I know I miss out on a lot of great YA stuff, but I have to be efficient with my time.

I hadn't read any of the informational picture books, so I was excited to see this list.  As we all know, non-fiction reading will be our big push.  The first title on the list, Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy really caught my attention.  I'm a huge college basketball fan so I was eager to read the history of the game.  I liked the simplicity of this book.  The author does an outstanding job of cutting the story to just the facts.  Told in short paragraphs on each page, the reader, and I think this book will be accessible to a wide age range, gets the story behind the only true American game.  The story begins with James Naismith taking over a job that had been held by two PE teachers before him, but they just couldn't control the class.  He had to find something similar to football, that wasn't as rough and could be played indoors.  The author takes us through his trial and error period explaining quickly and in just enough words why each didn't work.  Finally, we are walked through the thought process used by Naismith and the end product is basketball.

The illustrations by Joe Morse are amazing.  The colors and techniques reflect the time of the invention of basketball and the subject of the pictures enhance and further the story.  It is because of the pictures that the author was able to use a minimum of words to tell the story.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how it shows the changes in the game.  The original rules of basketball are published on the cover pages and I think kids familiar with the game will be interested to see how simple the game's rules were compared to what we watch today.  The book will make a wonderful classroom addition to talk about change over time and make comparison charts.

I like this book a lot and it's on my list of Caldecott hopefuls.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Jinx Will be a Hit With Fantasy Lovers

If you've followed Literate Lives for any amount of time, you know that fantasy is not my genre of choice.  I struggle with it and, unfortunately, I've probably failed a lot of students because I have a hard time with it.  That's why it's good for me to use lists like the ALSC Notable Book Nominees.  It forces me to read things out of my comfort zone.  Jinx by Sage Blackwood...definitely out of my comfort zone.

I'm ok when it comes to simple fantasy, the stories without a lot of strange characters and stories that don't get too complicated with dark powers and living powers and which are the most powerful power sources.  Jinx is not simple fantasy.

Jinx comes from the Urwald, a land of trees that is inhabited by all sorts of bad things like trolls, ogres and werewolves...oh my!  If you stay on the path and don't wander off into the dark woods, you are protected by the truce of the path, nothing can attack you if you stay on the path.  When his step parents decide they can no longer afford to keep him, Jinx is taken out with the plan of abandoning him in the woods.  The plan is foiled by a wizard who takes him in and some trolls who run off with his step father.

Jinx becomes the servant and apprentice to Simon, a wizard who may or may not be good.  Simon is a bit of a mysterious character who seems to have a foot in two worlds, the world of magic and the world of his wife where magic is illegal.  Jinx does some spying work and tries to figure it all out.  After Simon uses Jinx for some experimental magic, Jinx realizes he must leave and explore what is beyond Simon's home and possibly beyond the Urwald.

He starts out on his quest and meets up with two more characters who are cursed, Reven and Elfwyn.  Reven is a real mystery man and can't answer any questions about his background.  Elfwyn, on the other hand, is the daughter of a witch who must tell the truth when she is asked anything.  They all end up in the home of the evil Bonemaster the most powerful wizard in the story.  After a daring escape the three return home to Simon's and plan their next adventure which sets up the next book from the Urwald, Jinx's Magic coming in 2014.

As I've said, I'm not a fantasy guy but a lot of kids are.  This book is very well written, the language Sage Blackwood uses is magical, which is what you want in a fantasy story.  It is also written at a level that will be accessible by my better fifth grade readers, but I'll caution them that they need to be serious fantasy readers.