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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

When One Door Closes...

“All right, Daddy . . . I’ll do what you say. I’ll go back to Ernest B. Lawson Elementary School. But I won’t like it. I won’t like the people who buy the land, and I won’t like my teacher, or the kids in my class, or the ride on the bus. And I won’t like you or Mama, either” (from Ida B . . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan)

Change can be HARD. There are days I feel like Ida B when she accepts the change but refuses to like it. On those days I want to yell, "Fine!" and storm out of the room. There are also days where I don't want to utter a word, just scowl like a sulky teenager. After the swirl of emotion settles, my rational side kicks in and I remind myself that even though change can be hard, it is not impossible. I know there is beauty in new ideas that spark from change. As humans, I believe we grow emotionally and intellectually when we overcome change. We grow by leaving behind what we knew, what we've been successful with, and leaping into a whole new world of uncertainty. It can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time. While this year brought a world of change for me, I will be a better teacher for it. Next year, my students will face changes. Whether it's a new building, a new teacher, a new way to school or big changes in their homes, all of them will come to me facing changes. What will I do?

I will listen to their stories. I will empathize with them. And, I will offer them a good book.

Picture Books

Experiencing an addition to the family is a common change for many of my younger children. I love Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and Maple by Lori Nichols. In fact, you can join Maple in two additional journeys with Maple and Willow Together and Maple and Willow Apart (available July 21, 2015).

Mariama: Different But Just the Same by Jerónimo Cornelles is about a young girl that experiences change as she moves from her familiar home in Africa to a new country where faces, languages, food and customs all seem so very different from what she knows.

My Name is Sangoel (pronounced Sun-Goal) by Karen Lynn Williams has long been a favorite of mine. Williams writes about a character that experiences change when his family is forced to flee Sudan. A teacher's guide explains the themes present in the book and gives curriculum tie-in ideas. Her book Four Feet, Two Sandals would pair up well when teaching text-to-text connections.

Middle Grade Novels

In the latest book by Newbery award-winning Katherine Applegate, fifth-grader Jackson goes through the turmoil of not knowing what change is coming his way. His family has been homeless before and now, they are selling all of their possessions leaving him to wonder if losing their apartment will come next. Applegate once again uses a delicate pen as she delivers her story eloquently to readers. Crenshaw will be available on September 22, 2015.

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson is an excellent middle grade novel about sibling loyalty and the changes eleven-year old Ari faces in her life when she decides to stay by her older brother's side. Losing a friend, experiencing homelessness, and letting go of her dream school are some of the battles Ari comes across in this "I stayed up all night to find out what happened" novel.

Lisa Graff excels at creating a roller coaster of emotions as you turn the pages in her novels. I found myself laughing out loud, then just as suddenly as a turn or dip comes on a coaster, one of her character's would deliver a line that cut the humor and made my heart drop. Trent experiences a life-altering change and though months have passed since the event, he continues to struggle. He finds little support from his family and friends, until Fallon shows up to slowly chip away at the wall he has built around himself. Eventually, Trent starts to let others in and allows himself to heal. 

Young Adult

The 2015 Printz Award winner Lost in the Sun by Jandy Nelson is also a Stonewall Award Honor, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, NYPL Best Book of the Year, an NPR Great Read, YALSA Top Ten...the list goes on. In short, it's definitely a not-to-be-missed title. Teenagers Jude and Noah share that special bond twins are known for, but as secrets, love, grief and guilt surface these two change and along the way, so does their relationship.  

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez is an excellent adult book for young adults. Perspectives of many different immigrants fill the pages, but the main story is about the Rivera family who moves to America from Mexico with the hope that their daughter Maribel will have all of the resources she needs in the U.S. to help her recover from an accident. 

Susan Kuklin's 2015 Stonewall Honor, Beyond Magenta:Transgender Teens Speak Out, is based on interviews with six individuals that seek to become their true selves. Each teen epitomizes embracing change, listening to oneself even when others may not understand and taking risks to become the person one is meant to be. An educator guide is available to help facilitate discussions.

This post could be endless, but these are just a few of my favorites that you may wish to put in the hands of your students. Never underestimate the power of connecting with a good book!

Happy Reading.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sharing Ideas Is What We Do!

Whether as a bookseller, a teacher or a librarian, the question, "What should I read next?" has always sent the wheels in my head spinning and my pulse racing. Maybe it's because I view it as the moment I can turn a child into a reader--if I pick the perfect book. Or perhaps, it's because I want to give the reader a chance to feel the magic I feel as I turn the pages of a book I love. Answering that question is an honor, a pleasure and a challenge all at the same time. I love it.

I love the kids I know so well that when they walk into the library, I say, "You gotta read this!" and they smile, check it out and return it with a "That was awesome," a few days later. I love the kids who say "no" to everything I offer, but magically find "the one" by the end of class. I love the kids who are willing to branch out from their favorite genre, the kids who cheer when the next book in their favorite series is available, and the kids who are honest and say, "I didn't really care for that one you gave me." I love them all.

Most of all, I love when we share book recommendations together. At the beginning of class, we start with, "What have you been reading? What would you recommend?" And now that summer is nearly here, I cringe at the thought of missing out on our face-to-face conversations. So I leave my little ones with some ideas for summer reading while hoping they find many treasures of their own until we meet up in August and begin with new ideas all over again.

Which Book Will You Read Next? Picture Book Edition

Which Book Will You Read Next? 2015 Titles

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding Our Paths

What path do YOU want to take? What are YOUR thoughts on this issue? Asking a student to answer these questions in front of his or her peers is a mighty challenge. Let's be honest, it's often hard for adults to answer truthfully. We weigh what others will think if we say something unconventional or controversial, and we gamble with whether the risk of opening up is worth it. But to embrace life, we need to allow ourselves to grow, explore and diverge from that beaten path. If we cannot, how do we expect to encourage our students to walk their own paths?

For my younger students, I like to use the familiar favorite, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. This is definitely a "multiple reads" read-aloud. The first reading has to be all about performing the masterpiece with silly voices, ROARing and pausing through students' fits of laughter. On the second day, reading aloud can focus on how Mr. Tiger works to discover his path to happiness. He cautiously starts off by walking on all fours and climbing buildings, then graduates to taking off his clothes in public (absolutely our favorite page!) and eventually, he heads into the wilderness to be completely wild. As he spends time in the wilderness, he realizes he misses some parts of his old life. What does it mean to walk our own path? I don't necessarily think it's something we figure out right away. Perhaps, like Mr. Tiger, it involves trial and error, independent soul-searching and a bit of support from our friends.

The new middle-grade novel, The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart is extraordinary and will captivate readers' attention from the start. In this book, Mark decides to embark on a mission to climb Mount Rainier. I love his drive, his determination, even when so many things seem to be going wrong. He is sick, he gets beat up, his money is stolen and a huge winter storm is heading his way. The thought of his parents being upset over their "missing" son weighs heavily on his mind. How do we manage our conflicting thoughts when traveling our own paths? There's a lot to discuss in this debut novel from Gemeinhart. 

For behind the scenes videos with the author, check out:

For older students, explore the work of fiction, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. This Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe winner exemplifies what it means to walk our own paths. In a neighborhood filled with violence and drugs, Ali chooses not to be in a gang. He chooses not to use drugs. He chooses to stand up for his friends and be a good person. Not that Ali is perfect, but that's what I like about him. Like all teenagers, he makes a mistake...and he learns from it. He learns what it means to make choices that could cost a friendship. Ali's life is filled with conflict, and that makes this the perfect book to use in class discussions. The path we walk down, it has a lot of forks and boulders, how do we decide which route is best, and if we choose the wrong one, how do we change course?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Inaugural Post

As educators, many of us strive to help students develop growth mindsets, a concept researched by Carol Dweck and explained in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. We want our students to be risk-takers and problem solvers, and to understand that failure is a part of the learning process. This can be a mighty challenge, but many authors in the world of children's literature have written exceptional books that can be used to support this way of thinking in the classroom.

Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds is one of my favorite books to use when showing students what it means to think differently. In this story, when it is time for students to create go-karts, Maya does not follow the prescribed directions in the kit, but rather creates a vehicle of her own design. I love that Peter and Paul Reynolds showcase a female character as a creative inventor, and I also love that when Maya and Rafael pair up, we see the amazing possibilities of teamwork!

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires exemplifies the idea that we learn through our failures. The main character can picture exactly what she wants to build in her mind, but when it comes to actually making her invention, she is unsuccessful after her first attempt, and her second and her third... She tries again and again, but continues to struggle and eventually gets frustrated. Her trusty assistant insists that they walk away for a few minutes to calm down. This solution helps her discover that all of her "failures" were really just pieces of what becomes the most magnificent thing. Spires concludes with a brilliant ending by sharing that the invention isn't perfect, but it IS magnificent.

And if you teach older students...
Fish in a Tree, a new middle grade novel by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is already becoming the MUST READ book of 2015. I love the story. I love the characters. And I love the author's inspirational message to readers at the end of the book where she shares, "Things will not always be easy; sometimes we do fail. But it isn't failing that makes you a failure. It's staying down that does. The ability to stand up, brush yourself off, and try again is a huge strength." Add this to book to your classroom library today!

All of my students were hooked after I read chapter one, but you can also capture their attention with this trailer:

Happy Reading!