Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Monday! What Are YOU Reading?

I'm participating in the meme "It's Monday!  What Are You Reading?" sponsored by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.  There are more finished books here than I anticipated this week!  School started last week and we're in the process of moving.  Somehow, I managed to finish a few books (you might say reading is my therapy...).  Enjoy!


Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

I read this on the second day of school and we talked about working with and being kind to everyone throughout the year. It's a great story of learning to spend time with those you think you don't like, and then discovering that you could be friends after all. We even discovered several themes within the book. A fun one to start off the year!

Journey by Aaron Becker

This is a beautiful book about a lonely girl who uses her imagination to unlock doors of discovery. I plan on using it with my students to talk about our hopes and dreams for our 5th grade journey. The illustrations are stunning, with something new to discover every time you look at it!  Check out Holly Mueller's excellent blog post on this book: Reading, Teaching, Learning


I wasn't sure I was going to like this one at first. I felt like it started slow, but...I loved it! There is a new library in town funded by Mr. Lemoncello, a popular maker of board games. Several kids at the local school write essays to qualify to get a sneak peek at the library. Once they are in for the overnight party, a new game begins. The kids must figure out how to get out of the library without using the main exits and/or fire exits. A mystery ensues filled with children's literature references. Will they make it out before the time is up?


Crossed by Ally Condie

This one wasn't nearly as good as the first in the series. I think I didn't care for the male narrator's voice. I found myself plodding through it. Cassia has left her family to find Ky, along with other aberrations in the desert and canyons. She must stay strong in her search and fend off the Society that is trying to hold her back.



That's it!  What have you been reading?

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Monday! What Are YOU Reading?

I'm participating in the meme "It's Monday!  What Are You Reading?" sponsored by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.  I don't have a lot this week, as I've been working in my classroom (school starts this week!) and packing my own home (we're moving this week!).  I did manage to squeeze in a few reads, though.  Enjoy! 

Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

This was about one of the Ringling's bringing 50 some elephants together in a circus and training them to perform together. He solicited help from Igor Stravinsky (a composer) and a famous choreographer (also from Russia) to create the show. Interesting to learn about the people of the circus and to see how much the elephants loved the people. I would have liked to have known more about why the elephants were adopted by the circus.  This one was a little over Natalie's head, even though she claims she loved it. ;)

My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb

I loved this book about a young girl from Appalachia that grew up to be a teacher. She dreamt about traveling to far-away places and never got there, but inspired a love of learning, reading, and dreaming in her students. A great book for any teacher!


Mercy Watson Something Wonky This Way Comes by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Yet another fun addition to the Mercy Watson series. Mercy goes to the movies with Mr. and Mrs. Watson and can't resist the smell of buttery popcorn. She escapes from the car and hilarity ensues as Mercy heads to the cars of everyone else at the drive-in to help herself to their popcorn.


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Narrated by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra

This is my favorite book of the summer! I listened to this (and I had to wait in the middle of it because it was due back to the library and I couldn't renew it--but I got it back two weeks later; it was painful!). The narrators should be awarded! This is a heart-breakingly wonderful book of two teenagers falling in love, but so much more than that! Eleanor moves to Omaha to live with her mother and step-father, Richie. Her step-father is abusive and Eleanor gets taunted at school. Park befriends her on the bus and they soon fall for each other. A mesmerizing story of teenage angst, love, and abuse. This should be required for all teens. I loved it!!!



The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian


The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Our book club pick for this month.  I can't wait!  I've wanted to read this since it came out last year!

Drop me a line.  I'd love to know what you're reading!

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

I'm talking part in the meme, "It's Monday!  What are you reading?" sponsored by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey.  Here's what I've been up to over the last two weeks (I missed the post last week):

Picture Books:
Otis and the Puppy by Loren Long

Another cute addition to the Otis family. Otis and the other farm animals acquire a puppy, who ends up lost in the woods one night. Otis must face his fear of darkness and set out to find the puppy in the woods.

The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola

This would be a fun book to use in a writing class, as half of the book is wordless. dePaola starts the story with words, then tells the remainder in illustrations. It would be a good exercise, especially for struggling writers, to create dialogue to go with the story. The framework (often the hardest part for an emerging writer) is there. Natalie loved it, too. Anything with some fantasy and she's sold. She gets it from her dad...

The Mighty LaLouche by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall

The illustrations in this book make it great! The Mighty LaLouche is a mailman who loses his job in Paris at the turn of the century. His job is lost because the post office just bought a fleet of automobiles. He must find work and becomes a fighter. His small size surprises his opponents and he turns out to be more agile than the bigger men he fights. In the end, he once again becomes a postal worker (the cars didn't work out so well) and all is well for LaLouche.

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Henry is a slave that longs for freedom after his wife and children are taken away. He mails himself in a box to Philadelphia, bound for a new life. The illustrations are gorgeous.

Mercy Watson Fights Crime by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, read by Ron McLarty

This was Natalie's first audio book! It was great fun. You could have heard a pin drop in the car. Another great installment in the Mercy Watson series.

The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Sarah Warburton

I loved this tale of a girl who wouldn't eat peas. The doctor diagnosed her as a princess and she moved to the castle to eat cold cabbage stew! She soon decides being a princess isn't all bits cracked up to be and moves back home with her dad in the woods. Great picky eater story!

Flood  by Alvaro Vila

Beautiful book about a family that has to abandon their house because if an impending flood. They return to find their house destroyed, but work to restore it to its original beauty. Could use each page as a story starter, then out all stories together to form a written companion to the book.

Adult Books:

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

A story about two women searching for freedom, 160 years apart. Josephine is a slave in Virginia that runs for her freedom. Lina is a lawyer in NYC who is searching for her mother. Both stories are important and both are told extremely well in Conklin's first novel. I particularly loved how each chapter alternated between Josephine and Lina.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This was an intriguing book about a serial killer who travels through time from the 1920s to the 1990s in Chicago. He hunts down woman throughout the 70 year span that are "shining". He attempts to kill Kirby, but her dog saves her from the attacker and now she is on a mission to hunt him down. A fast, different take on a murder mystery. There's a lot to talk about in this one!

Currently Reading:

Unlocking Complex Texts by Laura Robb

Every Day After by Laura Golden

Currently Listening To:

Crossed by Ally Condie

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

WOW!  That's a lot of books!  What are YOU reading this Monday?  Leave a comment!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 for 10 Picture Books about People (real or imagined)

I'm participating in Reflect and Refine's and Enjoy and Embrace Learning's Top 10 picture book blog post!  I had the good pleasure of meeting both Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek at the Choice Literacy writing retreat this summer.  What a fun day it was working with them in small writing groups.  This blog post was a fun one to ponder.  There are so many great picture books out there!  I finally settled on picture books that are about a person (real or imagined) that not only tell a person's story, but also have a strong theme.  I use many of these books in my 5th grade Social Studies class.  There's always room to squeeze in a picture book and talk about/think about/love literacy.  Here are my top 10, in no particular order:

Morris Lessmore loves books. He has them all over his house. One day a storm blows through town and everything gets completely turned upside down and scattered, even the letters in his beloved books. He sees a beautiful woman floating in the sky, pulled by flying books. They lead him to a spectacular library where the books "speak" to him. He spends years there, taking care of the books and reading all of them. Meanwhile, he writes his memoir. When he is an old man, the books read themselves to him. When he finishes writing his life story, he tells the books it's time he moved on (all within the bright light of the door~can we say symbolism?). In the end, a new little girl discovers the sacred library because she saw a man leading her there with flying books...a great read to start the school year! So much to talk about all year long.

2. Frankenstein by "Ludworst Bemonster" (aka Rick Walton)

This book is hilarious~especially if you're a fan of Madeline. I want to use this during Halloween season--read Madeline first, then Frankenstein. It would be a fun read and a good lesson on how you can use a mentor text and twist it into something completely different. It shows how you can have fun with words.

3. Unspoken by Henry Cole

This was a gripping wordless book about a young girl who helps an escaped slave to remain hidden and fed in her barn. Would be intriguing to have kids write a story from the perspective of the child or the slave.

4. The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

This is the story of Pedro, who lives in a South American country (it was originally published in Venezuela) under a dictatorship. Each night his parents secretly listen to the radio, as part of a resistance movement. One day at school, a captain from the army comes into class and tells the kids to write an essay about what they do at night. Pedro struggles with what to write. He knows he can't tell the truth, or his parents will be taken away, as has happened to other friends. Instead, he makes up a lie about his parents playing chess each night.  I use this in my 5th grade classroom as we cover dictatorship. It's an example of dictatorship from a country other than Germany.

5. That Book Woman by Heather Henson

I read this aloud to model sentence collection and it was a great pick! It's about a family in Appalachian Kentucky who has little access to books. One of the girls in the family, Lark, loves to read and her brother Cal is baffled by her love. A Book Woman starts coming round in any type of weather to trade books out every two weeks. In the bleak winter, Cal finally decides he wants to learn what is in the books and Lark teaches him to read. The book is based on a mobile library service that was instituted in the 1930s by FDR's Public Works Commission. It was a great book to model a skill and reinforce the reasons we read.

This was an amazing book to share with my 5th graders right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many didn't know about the sit-in at Woolworth's. It was stunning to watch their reactions when they learned the four men that started the sit-in were not served and ended up with coffee poured down their backs and ketchup in their hair. We had some great class discussion. We've come a long way in 50 years! Thank you Pinkneys for a great book that is approachable for a 10 year old.

7. Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange

WOW! This book is written in poem form and is incredibly moving because of it. The weight of each of the words conveys much more than a "typical" biography. It's the story of Coretta Scott both before and after she married Martin Luther King Jr. It should be read aloud so the author's craft can be discussed, but also because it alludes to so many historic events during the Civil Rights Movement. Kids that have little to no background knowledge about Civil Rights will need to be guided through the book. It's definitely one that should be shared with the whole class.

8. The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool

This is a wonderful picture book about a boy who spins fabric out of clouds. Each day he sits at the top of a hill and weaves the clouds: gold in the morning with the sunrise, white at midday, and crimson in the evening. As he weaves, he chants what his mother always told him, "Enough is enough and not a stitch more." One day the king spots the boy's scarf made from cloud fabric and orders many scarves, cloaks, and dresses to be made, stripping the sky of clouds and therefore rain. When the villagers begin complaining to the king about the drought, he doesn't know what to do. His quiet daughter has an idea though...
This would be a great one to use for theme.

9. Mrs. Spitzer's Garden by Edith Pattou

A sweet story about a teacher who receives "seeds" from her principal at the end of each summer. She proceeds to plant the seeds and take care of them until they bloom at the beginning of summer. I read this every year to illustrate metaphor.  It's fun to watch the lightbulb go on in my 5th graders heads when they figure out the seeds are students in Mrs. Spitzer's classroom.  They always ask me to reread it so they can pick up on other metaphors throughout the book.  It's a fun one!

This was a fun one about Julia Child. And who doesn't love Julia Child?!?!  The presentation is very  graphic novelesque. Kids enjoy this because not only is it informative, it's also funny. It would be a good one to use to model how to read nonfiction. 

Whew!  That was hard to narrow down to ten books!  I'd love to hear some of your favorite books about real or imaginary people.  I'm always building my picture book collection!  Drop me a line in the comment section.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Learning from Complex Texts...and Laura Robb!

Rockstar teacher, writer, researcher, and presenter Laura Robb came to the fair city of Lebanon, OhioLebanon, Ohio to bestow her knowledge of the Common Core in reading and writing to a group of intermediate and middle school teachers from around the area on Thursday and Friday.  What a two days it was!  My friend Holly Mueller and I were lucky enough to attend both days and we learned so much!

We started Thursday with her new book Unlocking Complex Texts.  
I'm so excited to dig into this one.  She's set up the book by genre studies and provides readers with anchor texts and materials, guided practice texts, independent texts, and additional materials.  There is even a CD included that has the materials in it that you might want to copy when you try out some of the units.

One of the first things Laura talked about was how kids should be reading 40-60 books per school year.  This goes hand-in-hand with Donalyn Miller's philosophy of the 40 book challenge, which I use every year in my classroom.  There is no reason students can't strive to read this many books in a year.  However, we must give them time to read at school and expect them to read at home, too.  Laura emphasized that there is no reading homework in her class, other than to read.  She touched on the excitement that can be contagious in a reading classroom that has a teacher that facilitates a love and appreciation of reading in daily life.  She suggested that each child give one book talk per month to help other students find new books.  This is an idea that is mentioned in almost any professional text about teaching reading.  Kids love to get suggestions from other kids.  When you foster that type of environment in your classroom, you will garner a large number of excited readers.

After this introduction, Robb went on to present to us the use of a concept map.  She used the word "devastation".  This is more than a vocabulary exercise.  She put the word in the middle of the paper and had an audience member tell something that was devastating.  She then further prompted the person to explain how that particular thing was devastating.  By doing this in front of the entire group, everyone heard the story and had a better understanding of what the word "devastation" meant.  We went back to this concept map throughout the day and added ideas to it.  Going along with the devastation theme, we read two short nonfiction pieces that centered around a type of devastation.  Both pieces were by Jim Murphy.  One was about the great Chicago fire in the 1800s and the other piece was about the Blizzard of 1888 in Harlem, NY.  Both were high-interest, narrative nonfiction.  The emphasis for this part of the workshop was close reading.  If you know anything about the Common Core, you know that close reading (reading closely to learn new information and slowing down) is a huge part of it!  Here's how Laura presented it:

1. Preview the text by reading aloud the first and last paragraphs.  Then, have kids write down anything they could remember about the two paragraphs (basically, kids are bullet pointing important information they heard in the two paragraphs).
2. Set a purpose for reading--this is a lot like determining importance.  What do you want to know about while reading this text?  It's important for the students to set a purpose themselves, resulting in several different purposes around the room.  Students need to have a vested interest in what they're reading.  I love this!  So often, I set the purpose and now I can turn that over to my class.
3. Read the text through completely, SILENTLY.  This is crucial.  Students must have time to read silently and undisturbed to absorb what they're reading.
4.  After kids have read the text through completely, you discuss the "gist" of the text with them.  Then, you can turn this gist into a theme statement.  

From there, Laura has developed discussion questions that get kids talking about the text and defending their claims with evidence from the text.  These can be jigsawed throughout the room.  She has also developed multiple choice quizzes to go along with the texts that mirror those that will be found on the PARCC assessments.  My favorite part of all of this (other than its accessibility), is that after the students take the quiz, she expects them to pick one question and defend their answer in a paragraph.  In other words, students must find evidence from the text that proves their answer is correct.  This is not only critical thinking, but it makes students put their thoughts into writing.  I can't wait to try it out in my room!

On Friday, we focused on writing and boy, was it difficult!  We all know Common Core is rigorous, but this really showed us exactly how rigorous it will be!  We got lots of scaffolding and practice, though, and Laura was right there guiding us through each step of the process.  I loved doing argument writing and I'm so excited to try it out with my fifth graders this fall.

We started the writing workshop by learning that a claim has a yes/no perspective.  Sometimes you can argue either yes or no, but often just one or the other.  We read a fascinating article entitled, "Dust Bowl Disaster" and made a claim based off it.  She then guided us through writing an introduction for our essay, citing evidence from the text (which should be paraphrased, not quoted directly!), and writing a conclusion.  While this seems fairly simple, put yourself in a 6th or 7th grade classroom and reconsider. It took a group of writing teachers a long time to fully grasp the complexity of this type of writing.  Kids will need a lot of modeling and guidance.  But, it was fun!  When we finished, we felt so accomplished.  After lunch, we read three texts that were related in some manner (a poem by Langston Hughes, an excerpt of Frederick Douglass's memoir, and a riveting story about a modern-day childhood slave in California).  On our own, or with our table, we had to create a claim, an introduction, cite evidence from the text, and a conclusion, along with a working title.  Talk about close reading text for meaning and comprehension!  We referred back to the texts often and came up with a pretty decent essay.  Again, I'm so excited to try this close reading and writing with my classes this fall.  

Laura Robb is an amazing woman who is obviously passionate about teaching kids and educators.  She was a wealth of knowledge and guided us every step of the way.  I now have a better idea of how to approach close reading a text and of how to teach one of the three major types of writing for CCSS, the argumentative essay.  Thank you Laura and Warren County ESC!