Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Favorites

This year I believe I read more books than I ever have in one year.  I think I will top out at about 550 books.  I still have one more day though so it's not a final number yet.  It's true that around 300 of them were picture books, but more than 200 of them were novels or narrative non-fiction so it's still a lot of pages.  Whew.

This whole reading frenzy was inspired by Donalyn Miller.  She has this great reading challenge called Bookaday on Goodreads.  I happened to see Bookady and think maybe I could read 365 this year since I know I did it once in Jr. High (seriously - I wrote them all down).  I laughed though because I noticed that there was a guy on there who was aiming for 2011 books this year.  I even called my daughter over and said, "Look at that - he's got to be crazy."  By now I have come to discover that yes, he is crazy.  Crazy about books.  And, I have come to appreciate all that Mr. Schu does to promote reading and books.

During this reading challenge, I have read some simply amazing books and as most Nerdybookclub members seem to do, I must share some of my favorites.

Picture Books

Me...Jane - the text and illustrations fit together so well. I loved the mix of created illustrations with actual photos from Jane's childhood and it had a quiet feel. Beautiful.

Blackout - pictures are great, but I also enjoyed the message of taking a time out to reconnect with each other.


Press Here - just absolutely fantastic for many ages. The interactivity of it is so fun for little ones.

I Want My Hat Back - hilarious and a great way to get people interacting since some things are left to the imagination and readers don't always agree about what happened. Plus, the eyes of the animals are just a hoot as one of my students demonstrates above.

Queen of the Falls - the pictures are fabulous and the story (based on a real person) is a jaw dropper.

Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes - My kids adore this - the song adds so much, but Pete is just too cool.  I wrote about him earlier in the year here.

Middle Grade Novels

Wonderstruck - Selznick has done it again with a weaving of stories that pulls the reader along. The excellent illustrations really move the story.

Bigger Than a Breadbox - a bit of magical realism that touches the heart of any reader, but particularly a reader that has experienced the separation or divorce of parents. Beautifully done.

When Life Gives You OJ - unique storyline and I fell in love with the Grandpa even though he is seriously cranky.

Ghetto Cowboy - a part of urban life that I did not know was possible and characters that touched my heart.

Friendship Doll - great historical fiction following a Japanese dolls' interactions with people on a tour of the states prior to and through WWII.  Great for the history, but the doll was convincingly learning and growing while also affecting the people around her.

A Monster Calls - powerful message for anyone dealing with grief. Gives me shivers when I think about it.


Over and Under the Snow - loved learning about this fantastic other world full of creatures under the snow.  Also especially loved being able to talk to Kate Messner about writing this book. See post here.

Amelia Lost - I appreciated learning that Amelia was not perfect.  This was a more well rounded biography than those I have read in the past.

Heart and Soul - just beautiful and it is wonderful to see US history from the African American perspective.


Hidden - fantastic novel in verse that has strong characters, a mystery and hidden messages.

Every Thing on It - unbelievable luck that there were still more Shel Silverstein poems out there for us to enjoy.

Graphic Novels

Zita the Spacegirl - feisty and fabulous main character.

Amulet: The Last Council - enough action for anyone and gorgeous illustrations.

Anya's Ghost - reminds me of something Neil Gaiman would do. Fantastic and seriously creepy. (YA)


Divergent - LOVED IT! Action, adventure, and strong characters all together in a dystopian world. Excellent!

Under the Mesquite - another great book dealing with grief - this time through verse. I appreciated that it was based on the author's own struggles. Beautiful.

It's a long list, but I was wowed by a lot of books this year and there are even some I am leaving out to keep the list shorter like Balloons Over Broadway, Grandpa Green, Perfect Square, Breadcrumbs and Inside Out and Back Again.  I just have to stop at some point though.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Monday. What Are You Reading?

Sheila over at Book Journey started  

This led Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts to start 

With this meme, the aim is to get people to reflect on the reading they did during the past week, and to also make a reading plan for the coming week.  Sheila had a great idea and Jen and Kellee just tweaked it with a kitlit focus. It's a great way to see what other people are reading, but I really like that this might just get me to make a plan for the week.

During the past week, I have had the chance to read some hilarious picture books. I finally got my hands on A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid and loved it.  Petunia is adorable.  I also got to read Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher by Laurel Snyder.  It was fantastic and educational (in a good way).  A Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale was entertaining and the board book Welcome to the World looks like a very nice book for little ones.  They always seem to enjoy looking at the faces of real babies.        One final picture book was Oops by Arthur Geisert that totally reminded me of a Rube Goldberg experiment gone awry.  It wasn't my favorite, but was fun.

I was also making an attempt to catch up on some non-fiction reading so had several on my list. Reading Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets, The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs, Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, and Can We Save the Tiger? helped to make a dent in my TBR pile.  Swirl by Swirl was my favorite of the bunch. I loved the illustrations and the text weaving throughout.

Anya's Ghost was the only graphic novel that I got to read, but wow it was amazing and creeptastic. It was one of several young adult books that I was lucky enough to read.  Beauty Queens by Libba Bray was simply hilarious on audio.  Libba Bray does a phenomenal job with the characters.  My Name is Not Easy was the most serious and challenging book of the week, but was also quite moving.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of my fantasy-adventure jaunts that certainly kept my attention and left me waiting for more with a seriously annoying cliff hanger.

My only two middle grade reads were Liesl and Po which was an excellent fantasy and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, which contains some rather bizarre short stories that are very intriguing.

Now for the week ahead.  I am in the middle of Jefferson's Son by Kimberly Bradley and am finding it fascinating.  It is definitely a book to make a reader wonder many things.  I am also in the middle of Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  I am going to try to finish both of those.  Then I will plan to read a bunch of picture books and those below:

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost
Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth
Wheels of Change: How Women Rode they Bicycle to Freedom by Sue Macy
Dragon Castle by Joseph Bruchac
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Around the World by Matt Phelan

I am excited to be reading so many great books over vacation and being able to fit in more than one book a day is fantastic.  Happy reading!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Nerdy Book Club

Enjoying My Nerdy Book Club Gifts
I have had such a great time learning, laughing, and reading so far this year with the Nerdy Book Club.  This group of readers gravitated toward each other on Twitter and have gathered members rapidly. Within a month or two they have gone from talking about books on #titletalk and daily on Twitter, to organizing the First Annual Nerdies book award, creating a group blog, starting a Cafe Press Store for getting Nerdy t-shirts and other fun stuff, and contributing pictures of favorite reading spots to make a fun video.  I can't wait to see what the new year has in store with this very creative and extremely enthusiastic bunch of readers.  I'm so glad that I get to be involved!  Now I'm going to get back to my book.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reading Stacks!

I am eagerly anticipating my winter break. Of course I want to spend time with my family, but I also have a plan - a reading plan. I have a stack of books from my own school library, a stack from the public library, and some from my son's high school too.  I have gathered them and ordered them from all over. Some from the public library are still yet to come on loan from many miles away. A lot of them are sitting in our office waiting for me to get out of school on Thursday and begin my winter reading break.  Here are some of them. Oh, and the knitting I hope to get to while I listen to a couple of audio books.

Not surprisingly, many of them are on my TBR list based on recommendations from Twitter friends. Some of them will also be read as a result of the Nerdy Book Club and in particular the very first Nerdy Book Club Awards. I tried to read many of the nominations before voting, but there were simply too many fabulous books to get through in a short time so now that I will have some extra time, I think I can catch up.

Next year, I hope to be better prepared.  This summer I signed up for the 2011 Reading Challenge, but half of the year was already gone.  This coming year, I will be in it for the whole year and so hopefully I will not be so far behind. I look forward to a fantastic year of reading and anticipate reading more books than ever before.

So I hope you are making your reading plans. I wish you many wonderful pages.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kate Messner & Our Skype Visit with Update

Our third grade was very lucky and had the opportunity to visit with Kate Messner recently.  We had all read her picture books Over and Under the Snow and Sea Monsters First Day, and a lot of us had read Marty McGuire.  We really enjoyed getting to talk to her and ask lots of questions about her writing process.  She shared about some of her favorite books she read as a child (Ramona books and Judy Blume books), where she got her ideas for the books we had read, and about carrying around a notebook to jot cool ideas down.  We found out that the new Marty McGuire will be published in the spring and we cannot wait to get our hands on it.

After the visit, we wanted to figure out a way to say thank you.  The students that are happy to be in front of a camera have spoken for all of us in the video below.  We hope you enjoy seeing their response to Kate.  If you or your class are interested in Skyping with Kate or with other authors, she has a fantastic blog post explaining how it all works and which authors do this: Authors Who Skype with Classes or Book Clubs (for free).  This was our schools' second Skype author visit.  The first was Tom Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame with our 4th & 5th grade - and he was a hoot.  We would like to make virtual author visits a regular occurrence because we learn so much and they are extremely fun. Thanks again to Kate Messner who made our day.

P.S. I forgot to add the video messages of one of my classes.  They let me know it when I showed them the video above.  Sooooo, here are their messages too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Technology Conference

My brain is extremely full, but in a good kind of way.  After attending SLATE (School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education) this week, I have many ideas of things I would like to do.  Narrowing them down and seeing which ideas are actually the most logical to work on will take awhile.  It is fun to meet and talk with so many people that are excited about teaching in innovative ways.  I’m a bit overwhelmed, but am enjoying thinking about and imagining the learning that could happen in our classrooms because we went to this conference.  These kinds of events are meant to be transformative and I hope that this truly will be for me and the others from our school district that attended.

We had keynote speakers that talked to us about the big picture.  We are educating our students in a rapidly changing world and we need to prepare them for a job market that has also changed.  They will need the skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication along with content knowledge.  We have a big job ahead of us.  

I was able to see nice examples of digital student portfolios using collaborative wikis with teachers from the Kiel Area School District.  That got me thinking about how digital portfolios could be used in our own school, but also about how it may help my own teenager as she moves towards job and college applications.

I was fortunate enough to be in a session with Tammy Lind @taml17 learning how to use mobile devices to share student work.  I already had Evernote on our iPads, but had not considered the many amazing uses of that app.  I took advantage of it throughout the rest of the conference.

The next session I was able to attend was the iPad App Shootout and wow - they (Marion University instructors) had some amazing apps to share.  The most awe-inspiring one was the Tour Wrist and the 123 Sculpt was way cool. There were too many to mention here, but they supplied a list of favorites.

My final session was with a high school French teacher, Cecilia Schoultz @profhutch who is a technology leader in her school.  She gave us many excellent suggestions for encouraging technology use in our schools.  Her presentation was fantastic and her information may be found here

Our closing keynote speaker also gave us a lot to think about.  Things are definitely changing and we will have to take advantage of those changes and move forward.  We will create our future as a district.

Another big benefit of this trip was getting to spend a lot of time eating, shopping and relaxing with my fellow LMC directors and talking technology AND books.  I am glad I was a part of this, but am also very glad to be back in my very own living room with holiday lights and my dog curled up in my lap as I get ready to do a little reading.  Good-night.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankfully Reading Results

I have to say that I was not able to read nearly as much as I had hoped for the Thankfully Reading Weekend, but I had fun with my family and made a significant dent in my NaNoWriMo novel in addition to stealing a little time to read a few books.

The first book in my weekend was Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner.
I stole minutes every chance I could to sink into this fun middle grade novel about a young figure skater struggling with her priorities.  Claire must balance helping out at her family's Maple farm, school, skating and her friendships.  Since I have spent many hours watching my daughter skate and prepare for competitions, I truly enjoyed this novel. It was a nice escape when I needed a little quiet time.

The second book I was lucky enough to read was Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee.  Seaglass Summer tells of a young girl spending part of the summer with her uncle, a veterinarian, while her parents visit family in India.  She has been waiting and waiting for this opportunity because she wants to be a vet when she grows up.  Her eyes are opened as she sees the many messy and difficult things that a vet must do.  Poppy has pluck and I had fun watching her learn.

The final book of my weekend was The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy.  Since I was reading a galley from Netgalley, I wasn't able to see the illustrations, but the story was unique and very entertaining.  I enjoyed the Dickens allusions and the wonderful old inn where the story takes place. Skilley is a cat of refined tastes.  Mice do not interest him, but the fabulous Cheshire Cheese, now that is another story.  Skilley and his new mouse friend, Pip, work together in spite of some dangerous enemies in their way.   Reading this book was a wonderful way to while away my Sunday.

While I didn't get to nearly enough books over the weekend, I enjoyed every moment I could manage to carve out.  I have a wonderful pile of books waiting for me now.  I'm off to read a few.