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.