Friday, February 5, 2016

A Book, A Cake and an Afternoon Together...

A quiet picture book with soft colors and plenty of white space, Waiting embraces the story of five animal friends sitting on a windowsill, each waiting for something. As time passes, they see clouds and rain, fireworks and snow. Other animals stop by--one for a short time and another that shares a surprise. Waiting is a beautiful book that begs to be read again and again.

Thrilled that Kevin Henkes’ Waiting received a Caldecott and Geisel Honor, my family was determined to celebrate! And since the best celebrations always involve cake, that’s exactly what we made.

The Process
We started by baking a cake in a 9 x 13 pan. While it cooled, we re-read Waiting and talked about our favorite parts, and how we'd re-create them on our cake. Then, we mixed several drops of blue food coloring and one drop of green to a tub of whipped topping. Blue frosting would be an easy substitute, but I’ve noticed my children have a difficult time spreading frosting on cakes so we prefer to use whipped topping. 

IMG_1433.JPGAfter “painting our sky” on the cake, we sprinkled shredded coconut around the pan to make the window panes and ledge. Since the puppy who was always waiting for snow was one of our favorite characters, I brought out the snowflake sprinkles. However, in a house with multiple children, no decision ever seems to be unanimous. Sooo…. we added rainbow sprinkle to represent the fireworks right alongside the snowflakes. Why not? 

To complete our work of art, we put the final touches--animal crackers on the windowsill. 

Now that our masterpiece was complete, the waiting was over, and we could dig in! We hope the taste of victory is just as sweet for your family.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Reward of Giving

All the way back in November, Travis Jonker held a giveaway for Kwame Alexander's forthcoming novel, Booked (HMH Books, April 5). The stars in my literary heaven were aligned that night, and I found myself reading a tweet announcing I had won the copy. To say I was excited is just a bit of an understatement. Soon after, the package arrived, and I sat like many of us do, holding the book in my hands not yet opening it, just basking in the anticipation of what was to come. I took a picture, tweeted a thanks to Jonker once more, then held the book and traced my fingers over the cover... for a day or two. As eager as I was to read it, I did not want the moment to come when it would be over. I read all of the information on the back cover--twice--then, grinning from ear to ear, decided I could finally crack it open (gently, of course). Eleven pages into it, I knew Kwame had written a gem and had hooked every single child that would ever have this book in his or her hands. I put the book down again, knowing how lucky I was to be holding it, thinking about how much I admired Alexander's voice, and again thinking that I never wanted to finish Booked.

Scrolling through Twitter notifications, I saw Stacey Riedmiller commented, "OH MY..." on my pic of the ARC and suddenly, I knew what would become of this copy. I let Stacey know I'd be sending it her way as soon as I finished reading it. Her enthusiasm overwhelmed me and I wondered if Jonker had this same feeling when I thanked him--and used most of my 140 characters on exclamation marks. The idea grew and soon others were in line for the book. Kristen Picone had the amazing idea of people leaving thoughts on post-it notes as we read the novel. Every time the book was shipped off to a new reader, we cheered for one another. Every time the book was received, we spent days commenting back and forth. Scott Fillner sent pictures that cracked us up. Kwame joined in the conversations.

It was awesome.

literacybigkids When @kwamealexander's BOOKED looks so fly in your classroom library. TY @Beth_Parmer 🤓#nerdybookclub…

kwamealexander's avatarAppreciate that Jimmy. Who got next?!…
You've done it again @kwamealexander Lyrical, empowering, honest, relevant, & emotional. #titletalk #nerdybookclub

These strangers suddenly became the best book club I had ever been a part of, and while I'd give anything for our club to fly to the same city and meet over coffee or beers, I'm thankful for the way we came together. Tweets, YouTube clips, pictures, Vines, post-it notes, snail mail and A BOOK. We read and shared, and reflected on how we'd bring this experience to our students. Because when you read children's literature, you know you are reading for the reader you will hand it to, the child that needs that book. There is not a doubt in my mind that we will all buy copies of Booked for our classrooms or libraries. We will all buy a personal copy so we can stare at it on our bookshelves and reflect back on this amazing experience. But, I don't think it will quite end there. I think there will be another book in store for our new book club. I can't wait to find out what it will be.

Want to read some of our Booked club comments? Check out this Storify!

As always, thank you to my Pay It Forward mentors, @mrschureads and @loveofxena.

Friday, January 15, 2016

How Do I Measure Growth?

In the next couple of days, I will receive data on my students from their standardized online reading assessment. This test has the power to prove they are gifted in reading, that they have made adequate growth over the past few months, and determine if they are on track to meet year-end targets. According to the state, my students' scores will reflect how well I do my job. These scores will be plotted and recorded and used for future planning, and will not know nearly as much about the children as I do.

The scores will not reflect the child who raised his hand, asked if he had to read the entire passage, then complained that it was too long and said he didn't feel like it, so he clicked on an answer and moved on to see if he could find a question with less reading. It will not show the kid who got frustrated after the first five minutes because every time she asked for help, I couldn't offer help so she just clicked away until finally the torture was over. The data will not mention that the test text is not engaging and there are no pictures, yet in an effective classroom real books with those very components will be used on a daily basis. It will not take into consideration the number of students who are comfortable reading on a screen and using a laptop vs. the students who have had considerably less time using technology.

So when the scores are revealed, a lot will be "discovered" about my students and me, and I'll let others dissect it. I have data that is far more valuable. I have students that at the beginning of the year wouldn't pick up a book, and today, they come up to me and say,"I just finished this book! What should I read next?!!" There are students that at the beginning of the year wouldn't engage in read-alouds that now raise their hands to share their thoughts, and students that wave their hands madly in the middle of a story because they have a connection or insight that they have to share before I turn the page and read further. I have students that come up to me first thing in the morning and ask if they can share with the class the book they read last night because others might want to read it. Every. Single. Day. Kids eager to read. Eager to share. That is how I measure growth.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How Little Robot Changed a Life

Ben Hatke's Little Robot has been on bookstore and library shelves for just over a month and while I don't know sales or circulation statistics, I have inside information on something far more valuable. This 144 page graphic novel changed a life.

Little Robot is a mostly wordless graphic novel, and that is mostly what made all the difference. It is also a page-turner of respectable length, and the full-color illustrations look cool. (Yep, that's my professional description of Hatke's remarkable artwork.)

You see, I have a 7-year old student that reads far below grade level and it can be a struggle to find something for this child to read. I have guided reading books for her during group time, but let's be honest, a second grader does not want to walk around carrying those for fun. She wants to read a chapter book like many of her peers. So she carries around My Weird School books and Judy Moody, and flips pages during independent reading time. Even though I promote picture books for all readers, and remind students that we all have different "good fit" books, I don't blame her for grabbing Miss Daisy Is Crazy. She is tired of the easy readers that are still too hard, of her life being limited to 32 pages or less when her friends are dabbling in the 100-plus page pond. However, when she holds a chapter book filled with lines of text she cannot decode it's unlikely she will fall in love with reading. Perhaps Ben Hatke knew all about these types of readers when he set out to create Little Robot.

After reading Little Robot, I knew my students would love it, but I never dreamed of where it would lead. When I handed it to this child and told her that I had a brand-new book I thought she would like, she accepted the invitation to be the first reader. Upon finishing it, she shared her favorite parts with me, she brought it home to share with her family and she shared the beginning of the graphic novel in front of 50 students. My developing reader suddenly became the reading star! Now EVERYONE wants to read Little Robot and she is sharing in authentic book conversations with her peers.

She is in no hurry to put the book down and I am not one to pass up opportunities for learning so when she drew a scene from the book, I asked if she would like to write a sentence to describe it. I hope it leads to a collaborative effort where she creates more pictures, we edit the sentences, and eventually create a mini Little Robot book that she can read again and again. As a teacher, I think this would be an excellent learning opportunity and a chance for her to practice writing and reading, but as a lover of books, I know I won't push it farther than she wants. The real goals have already been scored. She fell in love with a book. She shared it with her peers. She felt reading success. Thank you, Ben Hatke.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Finding Picture Book Paradise

Where Did I Go Over Summer Break? Picture Book Paradise 

During the school year, I devour middle grade novels so I'm armed with suggestions of what new books to read next. It's not a bad plan, but sometimes I get annoyed with myself for rushing through a book I should have savored. Don't get me wrong, there are many times page-turners keep me up waaay too late, and I soak in every last detail, but, there are also times I turn the pages too quickly. Usually this happens when a book friend gives me a new recommendation and I can't wait to dive into it, or, one of my holds becomes available at the library. Book gluttony. 

However, I have a different approach when it comes to picture books. I refuse to move through them quickly. I've tried, but rushing never gives me a chance to fall in love. Enter Summer Break. This is when I overload on picture books. During the first reading, I like to be in a quiet room free of time constraint or distractions. I love to sit and take in every part of the new book--the dust jacket, the cover beneath, the description of how it was illustrated, the layout of the words on the pages. I love totally being immersed in it. I read it quietly to myself, then I love to read it aloud. When I read a picture book aloud, I am transported to my high school theater's stage where I'm performing a monologue that has totally captivated the audience. They laugh at all the right parts, encouraging me to be more expressive with my voice, to exaggerate my facial expressions. They are silent during the dramatic moments so I pause even longer at the end of suspenseful sentences. We go through the experience together, and at the end, the applause is deafening. 

Ok, to be completely honest, I've actually never been in a play, but when I read to children, I do feel like I'm on stage. And I think read alouds should make us feel that way. I want to be so wrapped up in the book that the reader can't help but be caught up in it, too. 

When I have a new group of children, I start with books that are sure-fire hits, ones that I know will cause fits of laughter. Not all of my new students will be used to hearing books read aloud, nor will they trust that I will choose interesting titles, so I work on building their trust. I try to show them that when I open a book, they are in for a treat. I want them to see how enthralled I am by the story so they can't help but be fascinated with it, too. I want my students to join me in Picture Book Paradise.
These (and the above Shh! We Have a Plan) have worked really well as read-alouds for my young students:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Read THIS Next! Yard Sale by Bunting/Castillo

Perfect. Every word written. Every brushstroke painted. The location of the text on the pages. The colors chosen. The heart-wrenching scenes about Goodnight Moon tallies and letting go of a treasured bike. The spot-on facial expressions. Perfect.

I love sharing brand-new books with my students, and each year I showcase current publications to expose them to the latest and greatest in children's literature. But, some masterpieces are worth sharing year after year after year. This is one of them. Yard Sale written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Lauren Castillo is going to be the book I read to all of my future classes, the book I recommend to all of my colleagues, and the book I repeatedly share with my own daughters. It is that beautiful.

Callie, the little girl in this story, has to move from her comfortable two-story house into a small, one bedroom apartment. She tells her friend that "it's something to do with money", but she doesn't quite understand. Since they are downsizing and likely trying to earn extra money, nearly all of their possessions are being sold in their front lawn. When I teach with the book, I will display this opening scene with the words covered (and before revealing the title) onto a projection screen. I'll ask students to tell me what they can infer from the illustrations. Castillo lets us know how the character is feeling with the way she is sitting and the look she is wearing. We'll predict why the family may be selling their belongings. Then I'll begin to read. I'll pause on the page with the lady buying Callie's headboard and we'll discuss how she feels, and I'll try to collect myself because that page always brings tears to my eyes. I'll continue reading and pause when we see Callie getting so upset about the man that is buying her bike. We'll discuss the next page: whether Callie's dad is teary-eyed, and if she really will get her bike back. I know my eternal optimists will believe she will and I'll hope right along with them. As I continue to read, we'll infer from Bunting's words how the parents are feeling. And we'll pause again after Callie's dad reassures her they wouldn't sell her for a "million, trillion dollars", and I'll remind my students that their parents feel the exact same way even when they break the rules or forget to do their chores. I'll have to try to regain my composure once again because this scene, too, always moves me to tears. We'll wrap up the story and discuss the author's message.

In the future, we'll use it as an mentor text for writing personal narratives. Here are my lesson ideas and slides. (Lesson 1 is for the initial read-aloud, and lessons 2-4 are for using it as a mentor text. Read speaker notes to see how I will use the slides.)

This book will make you ready for a new school year to begin so you can lovingly read it aloud and take in the children's reactions. Wishing you and your students a wonderful experience! 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Princesses and Ponies

I have two young daughters that LOVE their princesses, their ponies and most of all, their dress-up boxes. They spend their days in the world of pretend, acting out scenes from books (and Disney movies--anyone ever hear of this one called Frozen?). They dive into their wild imaginations to embellish the stories. When I watch how much they imitate what they see, I am reminded of the importance of filling them with a world of strong female role models. Their doctors and dentist are females, and at the age of three when they had to see a male pediatrician, the older twin's jaw dropped as she asked,"What?! Boys can be doctors?"

When I sit down to read with them, I want them to be surrounded by books they love, as well as books that have powerful female characters. The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale is one of my favorites because it appeals to their love of princesses, but Princess Magnolia is no ordinary princess. She is a monster-fighting badass. Princess Magnolia wears frilly pink dresses and has a castle filled with pink furniture and accessories, but as soon as her monster alarm goes off, you better believe her secret identity as a tiara tripping, sparkle slamming  superhero that dresses in black comes to life.

Be sure to check out the second book in the series, The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party available on October 13, 2015. As much as my family loved the first book, if it's possible, we enjoyed this one even more. What young reader doesn't love a book with a good birthday celebration? The call to fight monsters may be interfering with her party, but Princess Magnolia always has a plan up her sleeve when it comes to keeping her identity hidden. Non-stop action, a delightful new character, and an ending that is, as Princess Sneezewort would say, "absolutely perfect" make this a book you'll want to pre-order.  If your boys and girls are anything like my students, this sequel can't arrive on bookshelves soon enough!  My daughters are already asking for Book #3.

For slightly older kids, the Pack-n-Go Girls chapter book series offers stories of friendship, mystery and world travel. This indie pub series appealed to me when I read the creators' mission is to inspire young girls to be adventurous and to explore the world beyond themselves. During the first global trek, Brooke visits Austria where she meets a young girl named Eva. Brooke and Eva are girls that love ballerinas and horses. These two characters will appeal to readers that share those same interests, but throughout the story the appearance of a mysterious ghost will keep readers turning the pages. Author Janelle Diller weaves details and explanations of Austrian language and culture into the text without interrupting the flow of the story. She skillfully explains to readers that while certain foods and clothing are traditional to Austria, it is also common to see food and clothing similar to what is found in the U.S., helping readers understand that countries and cultures around the world influence each other. When I traveled around Austria, I was stunned by the enormity of the Alps, the beauty of the baroque churches, the history in some of the small towns and the familiarity of a TGI Fridays. Diller captures all of that into her story while her characters learn about friendship and uncover clues. By the end of the story, like Eva, many readers will have solved the mystery, learned new words and discovered interesting facts about Austria.

Teachers interested in using this series in their classroom will want to sign up for free teaching resources. These books are ideal for students reading at an end-of-year second grade/early third grade level. In the back of the books there is extra nonfiction information that could be utilized in the classroom. In the Austrian book, I found: quick facts about the country, a description of its location and climate, a recipe for Kaiserschmarrn, a traditional dessert and a list of common German words with their pronunciations and English translations.

The Pack-n-Go series features mysteries in the following countries:

To help fund the cost of publishing the next country in their series, they have launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $5,000 for illustration and design expenses.

Whether boys or girls, if you know a child that loves adventure, be sure to check out these two series!
Happy reading.