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) - This is a site very similar to (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!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summer Joys - #SOL June 16

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the Slice of Life Tuesdays. Though I have been a very infrequent participant, I love that this community exists and supports one another!!

This past week was my first full week of summer break, and I embraced it as a time to begin to get my life in order and try to feel a bit more organized. I had some coaching work and a meeting to attend, but other than that, this week was my own.

Here are a few things (okay - 10 things) I enjoyed about the gift of time this past week:

1. Reading!!! Since school has ended on June 2, I have read 14 books. Some of them great children's books, some great adult books, and some just plain fun adult reading.

2. Time with friends - I've had the opportunity to have breakfast with one friend to plan an upcoming trip, had brunch with a group of friends, and I had dinner with yet another friend. 

3. Work - crazy, I know! But the ability to work whenever I want during the day in the summer is very liberating. The intermediate literacy coaches even met at my house for an entire afternoon, and that was fun as well. Though focused on work, it is much different when being able to sit on the screened porch to talk, or to gather the entire group in the family room in a comfortable setting.

4. Write! This blog and any other types of writing I typically do needed to be dusted off and revisited. I forgot how much I enjoy the process of composing.

5. Pampering - getting my hair cut and colored one day and the next day getting a pedicure - both during morning hours. Loved it!

6. Exercise - meeting with my trainer once a week, 2 days of water aerobics, 2 days of yoga, and a few days of walking as well. I know this is the time to really take care of my physical fitness and to build great routines that will carry into the school year.

7. Organizing around my house - I spent two entire days last weekend cleaning, rearranging furniture, and purging things from our living room/my study. It felt great to take 3 bulging full garbage bags to the curb for the trash collectors to pick up.  I can't wait to tackle the other rooms in the house next!

8. Cooking - I cook year round (kind of...) but this past week, I had some time to try recipes that I had  collected because they piqued my interest. They were all yummy!

9. Naps - I don't think I can say enough about the restorative power of a nap.

10. Phone calls - the ability to make phone calls that are needed whenever works for me - what a lovely thing that is. Setting doctors' appointments, planning travel, conversations with family, setting appointments for things that need to be done around the house - all of that is done at my leisure.

I don't take any of these things for granted, and I look forward to an entire summer of joys such as these. Hope your summer is full of some restful things as well.

Monday, June 15, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - June 15

Even though I haven't participated in quite awhile, #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!!

I've been reading mostly adult books lately, but many children's books have also made it into my library bag and are most definitely worth a mention today!

Here are the GoodReads pictures of the children's books read since summer break began:

Some notes about these books -

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt - I have always loved Holt's writing style and her development of characters. She didn't disappoint in this book. The story is entirely told from letters to Hank Williams, a country singer, from the main character, Tate P. Ellerbee. Tate has chosen Hank Williams as her pen pal for a year-long school assignment. Through her letters we learn about her, her family, her truths, and her deceptions. Holt has built in a few plot twists that I didn't see coming. So clever how she tells so much through this one-way correspondence.

The Great Good Summer by Liz Garton Scanlon - My first 2 reads of the summer are both set in the South. The Main character in this story, Ivy Green, is quite unhappy that her mom just up and left town, her dad, and her to follow Hallelujah Dave, a preacher to Florida.  I really enjoyed the relationship between Ivy and Paul Dobbs, the person traveling with her to retrieve her mom.

Billy's Booger by William Joyce - This will be a great book to share with intermediate teachers and students, and would be a nice mentor text for narrative writing. The fact that there is an actual book inside a book (even if it is about boogers) is a bonus!

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley - A fantastic story that gives a new meaning to the phrase "save my life." My favorite page of all is the last one for that very reason.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick - This man is brilliance. The ability to tell one entire story in pictures, then intertwine it with a story written in words and set in a different time period is amazing. This is a must have for so very many reasons.

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord - I am a huge fan of this author and she doesn't disappoint with this story in the least. The plot around two girls from different heritages and lifestyles is solid. And this story demonstrates how we are so much better when we embrace the differences between us.

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban - I can only hope this is the beginning of a series by the very talented Urban. The ending definitely leaves the door open for that possibility. A great fantasy with some wonderful bad guys in the mix lead to a fun, energetic story that children are bound to enjoy!

How to Read a Story by Kate Messner - A perfect book to share in the beginning of the year when setting up the structure of reading workshop in the classroom. It is probably meant for a younger audience but I can see great possibilities for intermediate students when it comes to modeling how independent reading should look for them.

A great beginning to my reading summer. Hope you are enjoying some great books as well!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Sharing our Notebooks - Summer Edition

I had the pleasure of contributing recently to Amy Ludwig Vanderwater's latest inspiration -- Sharing Our Notebooks. She is asking anyone who is willing to share tips for notebook writing that she can share at this blog site for both children and adults.

So far, there are 67 contributions (I'm #62)!, and the numbers grow daily! This would be a wonderful website to share with students now if you're still in school, or in August/September when you are trying to build a new community of writers.

Amy has always been generous with sharing writing tips around poetry at her blog, The Poem Farm, and this new blog centered around writing and writers' notebooks, looks to be another great resource for all!

Thanks to Amy for her generosity. Check out the contributions, and I know Amy would love to hear from you if you have any other notebook ideas!!

Happy writing!