Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Teach Mentor Texts hosts a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

The Past Week:

Picture Books

My favorites from this week were Niño Wrestles the World and Ganesha's Sweet Tooth. Both had incredible illustrations and imaginative stories. Betsy Bird has a fantastic review of Niño here

Middle Grade

I will review this later, but The Real Boy was a fun and unique fantasy.

I don't know that I have a favorite of these, but I enjoyed them all. Funny that I only picked yellow young adult books this week. Once was a historical fiction book about the Holocaust and I read it with my ears. I loved the main character Felix. He was frustrating at times because of his ignorance of everything going on, but he definitely grew on me. A Really Awesome Mess will be coming out later this month and I will review it soon. It was a book that bounces back and forth between two characters and two authors worked together on it. There seem to be more and more of these collaborations. Finally, The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong will also be coming out soon. I am still puzzling over what I think about that one. I will be reviewing it over at Rich in Color.


This was perfect for my vacation flight. I really liked the fantasy aspect of it and Gaiman gave me a lot to think about. I know I will be re-reading this one.

The Coming Week:
I am reading Since You Asked by Maureen Goo right now and will be finishing it this week. It is funny and a bit snarky. Holly Kim has attitude. I have quite a few ARCs to read, but I am not sure what I will pick up next to be honest. I have been out of town and have a pile of library books that are likely due soon so I will probably grab the ones that are on hold for other people first. What are you reading? Have a great time with your books!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Unleashing Readers Blog Hop

Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg are launching a great new blog called Unleashing Readers. The focus of their blog is providing literature and non-fiction resources for teachers. As part of their launch, they have set up this blog hop and many people are sharing some of their favorite books. Here are some of mine.

Read Aloud
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Summary: A bear has lost his hat so he wanders through the forest asking other animals if they have seen his hat. The text is simple and he illustrations are spare, but filled with wry humor, I Want My Hat Back is a work of art.

My thoughts: No matter the age, this book has something for everyone. It is a simple story, but there are layers and the author does leave some things open to interpretation so there are many opportunities for discussion. This is a book that is hard to review since there isn't much I can discuss without spoiling the book. I can say though that students can observe the author/illustrator's craft with this book. He color coded the text. He used the eye's to say things rather than only relying on the text. He also set up the book so that the reader has to be thinking and not just absorbing. I have used this book with first through fifth grade students and have found that all ages are eager to interact when they experience it the first time. They also want to read it a second time because it is a completely different situation when you know the ending. This is a great book for debate/discussion and encouraging the students to support their arguments. The book has a companion that is a must read too - This is Not My Hat.

Books that are similar: I put this book into the class of "surprise endings." There are several more picture books that have that feeling.

For the younger readers:
Wolf's Coming by Joe Kulka
I am so Handsome by Mario Ramos

For younger AND older readers
That is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems
Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis

Close Reading   
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Summary: Bryan Collier illustrated the poem I, Too by Langston Hughes - full full text of the poem is here. Collier used the context of Pullman porters in his illustrations of this expression of equality.

My thoughts: This is a powerful poem and offers opportunities for students to read beyond the text. Langston Hughes was a craftsman and even in this short text students can see evidence of that. The added layer of the illustration related to the Pullman porters is a bonus that also offers a chance for students to think of their own alternate contexts. The author's note at the end adds another whole layer for discussion too.

Books that are similar: Poetry works well for close reading. Here are a few others that give students plenty to investigate.

Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissak
Hip Hop Speaks to Children edited by Nikki Giovanni
Peaceful Pieces by Anna Grossnickle Hines

Lit-Circles/Book Clubs
Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

Summary: Rebecca's parents have just separated. Her mother moved Rebecca and her little brother to their grandmother's house in another state. At twelve years old, this is a lot to deal with, but she does have one new distraction: a magical bread box that gives her whatever item she wishes for. This seems like a wonderful and amazing find, but soon Rebecca runs into many complications as she takes advantage of its powers.

My thoughts: Bigger than a Bread Box has a dash of fantasy with the magic bread box, but it remains quite realistic. The fighting and break up of her parents seems all too real and easy to relate to if you have ever witnessed the a family falling apart. Another aspect is that Rebecca has to start at a new school and deal with all of the drama there too. Snyder handles these very real issues with a light hand. We feel the pain that the characters are going through, but it doesn't get too overwhelming. I had a group of students who read this together. They found much to interact with in the text and many ideas to discuss. They loved brainstorming items that they would wish for if they were in that position. They also had a lot to say about Rebecca's relationship with her mother.

A bonus for our group is that Laurel Snyder has been available to Skype with many readers in the past and she took the time to visit with us. Obviously she may not be able to meet with everyone who reads her books, but she makes an effort to connect with readers through Skype or on Twitter.

For students who are unfamiliar with family break ups, Bigger than a Bread Box can help them know a little bit about what that might be like. For students who have experienced family struggles like this, there may be emotions simmering close to the surface during reading, but they will see that they are not alone.

This book worked really well with fifth grade, but could probably also be used with fourth or sixth.

Books that are similar: Bigger than a Breadbox is a realistic fiction book with well developed characters and plenty of topics for discussion. The following books are also realistic fiction and would also allow for lively discussion.

Chapter Books
Almost Home by Joan Bauer
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Love Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

Picture Book
Each Kindness by Jacquline Woodson
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

Classroom Library Suggestion
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Summary: In Smile, a graphic novel memoir, Raina Telgemeier shares the angst, the craziness, and the dental issues that plagued her as a young person. She tripped and fell injuring her two front teeth which lead to all kinds of uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing dental procedures and appliances.

My thoughts: Raina's memoir is rip-roaring funny. Having worn braces myself, I could completely relate to the dental trauma. This graphic novel wins over even the most reluctant readers because it has fashion drama, humiliation, and all kinds of tween agonies. Readers completely relate. Fortunately, the cover is not "girly" so boys pick it up without a blink too. This book is particularly great as a cross over book. For many of my female students, this is one of the first graphic novels they may have read. With Smile, many of them discover that graphic novels are not all about superheroes. Smile is a perfect fit for 4th-6th grade students.

Books that are similar: Here are a few more great memoirs:

The Boy Who Bit Picasso by Antony Penrose
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
Knots in my Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli

Straight Memoir
Drawing from Memory by Allen Say
Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu (also a graphic novel)
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Favorite Book

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

Summary: A young boy, Jack, struggles through poetry lessons in school with Mrs. Stretchberry. Along the way, he shares some of her lessons with readers. The book is written in free verse and is one of the first novels-in-verse that I ever read. It is also one of the best. Sharon Creech is a master of word play. She also has a knack for using humor which is especially helpful as this book deals with some serious matters and the humor balances that out well.

My thoughts: Jack's voice is fresh and believable. I also enjoyed his interactions with the famous Walter Dean Myers as he tries to convince this poet to come visit their school. I appreciate the content and structure of the book, but more than that, I find it amazing and wonderful that Sharon Creech introduces so many poems to readers. I was unfamiliar with many of the poems she included. The sequel Hate that Cat is also fun.

Books that are similar: There are some great novels in verse, but I also want to mention Dear Mr. Henshaw. That book also has an author-child interaction that is filled with humor.

More novels-in-verse
Hidden by Helen Frost
Heartbeat by Sharon Creech
May B. Caroline Rose Starr
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Friday, June 28, 2013

Teachers Write

I have my notebook. I have my writing utensil. I am ready to go. Sort of. This is the week that I am spending with my aunt, sister and daughter. We are all together in San Antonio exploring the area and doing a ton of giggling. Since I am trying not to be anti-social, my writing has been fairly limited so far, but starting Sunday, I will be fully participating in Teachers Write. I had a great time last year. The authors and teachers involved in this are so helpful and inspirational. We stretch and grow as writers under their direction. Sometimes the activities are downright difficult, but every word down on paper is an accomplishment. Teachers Write is a more relaxing event than NaNoWriMo too.

I mostly write book reviews and blog posts except during NaNoWriMo, so this is a great exercise for me. I will be focusing on a bit of poetry and some fiction. What do you prefer to write?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

The Broke and the Bookish have a weekly feature called Top Ten Tuesday and they invite anyone to participate. This week we are posting the top ten books we have read in 2013. Argh! Limitations are so tricky. I hope I can do this. Ha! I just thought of a loophole. I am going to list my top ten picture books and my top ten novel length books (that way I can include non-fiction too).

Picture Books

Tea Rex may cause you to laugh so hard that liquid shoots out of your nose so maybe you shouldn't actually drink tea while reading this.

Dreaming Up has a combination of concrete poetry, illustrations of children building, and photos of incredible architecture related to the children's play and the poem. There is also a lot of good information at the back of the book. You can look inside on the author's site. I can't wait to use it next year with my students and then have them explore with building materials.

When I Was Eight is a picture book memoir of the year that Margaret Pokiak-Fenton left her village to go to school because she is determined to learn how to read. This is a shorter version of the chapter book they published earlier called Fatty Legs. Here is a look inside

I love Tito Puente: Mambo King/Rey del Mambo. My students and I had such a fun time reading this book and listening to Tito play. First we watched the book trailer before the book was released.

Then we found out about the author and illustrator.

Finally, when the book arrived, we watched Tito perform on Sesame Street - 

-- then we listened to him play with his band while we read the book together. Fabulous!

This Book of Animal Poetry is breathtaking. National Geographic never fails to take amazing nature photos. To top it off, they are paired with a wide variety of fun poetry.

We March shows history in simple terms and powerful pictures.

This is my all-time favorite Scaredy Squirrel! He is a hoot as he braves the perils of camping.

Ball is a wordless picture book that fully expresses the joys of being a dog with a ball.

Tea Cakes for Tosh was a warm story of the relationship between a boy and his grandmother, but it was also about cookies and provided a recipe! I love any excuse to bake. I wrote about it here.

And in the final spot...

I laughed so hard reading Stick Man's Really Bad Day. The situations that he gets himself into are incredibly hilarious. I defy you to read it without at least grinning. You may moan and groan too, but I had tears running down my face from laughing so hard and so did my students.

Novel Length Books

Almost Astronauts shared a fascinating yet depressing bit of history of women in the space program. I am so in awe of them and what they did and so disappointed that things changed so slowly and still need to change with regard to equality.

I laughed, cried, interrupted people to read portions aloud, and had a fabulous time reading Openly Straight. I reviewed it here. I will not forget Rafe anytime soon.

This was another book that brought hefty doses of laughter and tears. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a story of bullying, but it is more than that. It is also a story of family relationships. I think it will be empowering to many readers. Here's a great review by Jessica at Rich in Color.

I adored Kiara/Rogue. She touched my heart. I loved seeing inside to know what motivated her behaviors that would otherwise be difficult to understand. 
I hope many people get the chance to know Kiara.

I am J was the first book I can ever remember reading with a transgender character in the starring role. This book was certainly eye opening. I appreciated seeing this perspective and getting just a small idea of some issues that transgender teens face. It's more complicated than I had imagined and the homelessness statistics took me by surprise. I found this book to be difficult to read because of the intensity, but completely worth it.

I can't even express how much I love Aristotle and Dante. Over and over again I would pause holding my place in the book just to think about it. Saenz has a wonderful way with words, but again, this was a book that brought me to tears. It was a story of two friends going through good times and very bad times. It was also a story of family love. It's just about perfect.

Eleanor and Park is a funny, sad, and fabulous story of two "misfit" kids. I loved the 80s references and the sweetness of their friendship. Very witty.

Doll Bones was a delicious snack. Slightly creepy, but mostly a fun adventure.

For all out creepy I would have to go with The Diviners. Libba Bray can completely freak me out.

And finally, for a little fantasy, The Girl of Fire and Thorns series. The Bitter Kingdom finished off the series with a bang. Elisa is strong and intelligent and I loved to cheer her on and see what she would come up with next. 

What books have you enjoyed so far this year? Be sure to leave a link if you posted today!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Jen & Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme every Monday that invites people to share the children's and young adult books they have been reading over the past week and what they plan on reading the following week.

You may find more complete information about what I am reading at Goodreads or by clicking on the Goodreads widget along the side of my blog.

I am typing this up on Friday since I will be VERY busy this weekend driving to Iowa and back to see a wonderful music concert at Luther College and then visiting with family. Soooo, I am only posting on what I have read through the business week.

The Past Week:
Picture Books

I adored Molly Idle's books. Flora and the Flamingo simply begs you to get up and dance. And Tea Rex just cracked me up. The absurdity of a massive dinosaur coming to tea is perfect. The illustrations had me laughing out loud and snorting. The Day the Crayons Quit was a nice book about creativity. It's great for encouraging thinking outside of the accepted color schemes. It's also written in letter format. My only issue was that I got kind of tired of the letters before the book was finished. I almost gave up. Fortunately I stuck with it because the ending is sweet. The Boy and the Airplane made my heart smile. Like Flora it is a wordless book and it speaks volumes through the illustrations. Those were two of the books spotlighted in the Sharp-Schu Bookclub this week. If you missed out, here is a recap.

Author of The Day the Crayons Quit


These are two very powerful pieces of literature. Letter from the Birmingham Jail was on the Sync website this week. They offer two free YA audio downloads a week throughout the summer. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing writer. He spun those words together to create poetry. I can't understand reading that or hearing it without being moved. Beyond Courage also tugged at my heart. The horrifying things that people have done to others just defy understanding. I had to wonder if I would have been brave enough to do the incredible things that the Jewish Resistance managed to accomplish. Such an incredible collection of heroic stories.

On a lighter note, I loved finding out more about Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I had heard of their work with the fences and umbrellas, but didn't know about any of the other public art that they have created. I would have enjoyed seeing the flags in Central Park. It is a fascinating discussion of weather art that is not meant to last is actually art. Their installations are usually on exhibit for two weeks and then are dismantled and recycled or repurposed never to be seen again except by photo or video. It's a different way to think about art and expression. The photos were inspiring.

Young Adult

After having Lyn Miller-Lachmann visit over on Rich in Color, I had to read Rogue. Lyn was writing from her own experience and I appreciated that look into the world of Asperger's syndrome. Kiara stands out and not in a good way, but she is trying so hard to fit in. It is sometimes painful to watch what she is willing to do to have a friend. I wanted to step into the book and meet Kiara and learn from her. She has such a neat perspective. The Bitter Kingdom was a completely different type of book. Fantasy all the way. I will be reviewing it later this summer over at Rich in Color, but for now, just know that it was a very satisfying end to the Fire and Thorns trilogy. Things didn't go exactly as I expected, but it was fantastic.

The Coming Week:
I am in the middle of The Real Boy and am loving it. I am also listening to another free audio, Once. I can't believe I am back in World War II so soon. I am super excited to have The Ocean at the End of the Lane in my bag for this weekend. I had to run out and buy it after reading Amanda Palmer's intriguing post about Neil Gaiman's newest book. There are also a lot of ARCs waiting for me and I am not entirely sure which ones to pick next, but with my family visit I probably won't get a ton read this week. 
So looking forward to this!

What will you be reading? Have fun no matter what you choose.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Twitter Gems

I have been favoriting and retweeting so many things lately that I am afraid I will forget them. So here is a list of some of the cool ideas.

Things I want to do:

Use Flipboard with students
via @cppotter

Share this Animoto with my students that features all of the books for
Battle of the Books via @S_Wieczorek

Things I want to make:

Photo via Kikmoyoo on Flickr

via @pragmaticmom

via @senoritao

An Awesome Box or Awesome Shelf like the one Tom Angelberger describes

Thanks for sharing @MrSchuReads

Things I Learned:

Dine' youth in Northern AZ made an awesome video about the sacredness of the San Francisco Peaks.

A lot of people are coming to nErDcampBC!

Reasons to Smile: