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


  1. Wow, Crystal. You did a wonderful job with this post. I think we teach different age levels, but it was so fantastic to fall into your world.

    Thanks for joining us for the blog hop. It is really neat to learn about so many books I haven't read yet. :)

    1. Thanks! I'm glad I could be part of the launch!

  2. What a wonderful list, and I love that you included books that were similar. I, too, LOVE I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. I was SO excited This Is Not My Hat won the Caldecott! I read Bigger Than a Bread Box aloud this year, and the kids loved it. We also Skyped with Laurel Snyder, and she was fantastic! I loved Smile and Love That Dog, too.

    1. Thanks! I am excited that Laurel Snyder will be at The Nerdcamp in MI next month. I will get to meet her in person. :)

  3. Just great that you added books that are similar to your list. I know most of the books & agree that they will fit the middle reader so well. FYI-a teacher of younger students used both Love That Dog and Dear Mr. Henshaw as mentor texts this year. The students loved them, and received a reply from both authors when they wrote them.

    1. I love when authors are able and willing to interact with students. So fun.

  4. LOVE! What a wonderful post Crystal!
    I, too, love Love that Dog as you probably saw from my post. I Want My Hat Back is a great read aloud for all ages and adore Smile. And you are right- I think Bigger than a Breadbox would make a great book club book.

    Thank you for being part of the blog hop :)

    1. Thanks Kellee. I was so happy to be a part of your launch. I look forward to learning through your blog.

  5. I'm going to echo other people's comments. Great post! I love that you included similar titles. It's always nice to see the same books being mentioned on other blogs!

    1. Thanks! I agree it was fun to hop around to everyone else's blogs and compare titles.