Friday, July 31, 2015

Your Alien by Tammy Sauer - a book review

Your Alien
Your Alien
by Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by Goro Fujita
publishes August 4th by Sterling Children's Books

When young children hear a book for the first time, you want them to engage with the story.  This usually happens when they feel something - whether it's a bubble of laughter coming from their mouth or their insides feel warm and fuzzy after a tender moment.  Your Alien by Tammi Sauer will have young readers laughing out loud by page 3, and want to reach in and give the alien a hug by the middle of the book.  When young readers feel something in a book, they are more likely to go back to it again and again.  Of course, having a good story helps!  Kids will love meeting the Alien and Boy and see them fall into a fast friendship, get into some trouble together, and need that reassuring hug from parents.

But every good story needs illustrations.  Ones that are eye-catching and bold will help.  Goro Fujita's work on Adobe Photoshop, is top notch and creates highly engaging illustrations to match the heart-warming text.

Be sure you find Your Alien at your local bookstore or library on August 4th.

Want to use it in your classroom or library this fall?  Try these ideas!

Teachable Moments
* show students how this is a narrative text.  It starts at the beginning of a day and moves through to the end of the day.

* this book is told in the 2nd point of view, which is not as common.  In the 2nd POV, the narrator is telling the story to a character in the story, using the word "you".  Compare with Laura Numeroff's "If You Give A...." stories.

* find points in the text that make the reader feel something.  What emotion is it?  What did the author or illustrator do to make you feel that way?

* the problem in the story is inferred through the words and text.  What is the problem?  How did you know?  Do you agree with the way the author told the reader the problem?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to Convince Your Middle Grader That Books Are For Them When They Don't Like Reading

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied                  How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel                  How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue (My Life Is a Zoo, #3)

Maybe not the cleverest of blog titles, but since this post is about Jess Keating's series, I thought a little play on words titles would be fun.

Middle grade can be tough to keep kids reading.  Electronics are more accessible and the ability to communicate with one's friends becomes more appealing than getting lost in a book.

When I think middle grade kids, I think friends and how important friends and how friends, and peers, think about each other become to middle grade kids.  Jess Keating nails this concern right on the head with her Ana series

Meet Ana.  Ana is right smack dab in middle school.  She is trudging through the throes of that age, friendships changing, having enemies and those enemies knowing your weaknesses, losing and gaining friends, boy friends becoming boyfriends.   Fears must be conquered.  Can anything be worse than that?  Oh yeah, your family is going to move into the zoo.  Literally.

I think this series is the perfect one to pass on to middle grade readers.  Ana could be them.  The insecurities and fears that Ana deals with is relatable.  Ana has one of the best middle grade voices out there.  I hear Ana in kids.  Ana is clever and witty without being preachy or too much like an adult.  Kids know when you're trying to pass something over them or when you're trying too hard.  I think Jess Keating got Ana just right.

The first two books in the series are out now.  Find How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied and How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.

Here are some of my favorite lines from book one:

pg. 49 "I swear, if there were a place called Bright Side, my mother would be queen. Complete with a little crown of stars and glitter and happy unicorns of opportunity."

pgs. 70-71 "Next year's students getting to see my work? That would be like someone seeing inside my doodle notebook. That's practically like seeing someone in their underwear."

pg. 73 "For the first time in my life, I didn't even want to draw, which probably meant I was dying from some awful disease that I'd picked up from crummy math class. I always figured integers were contagious." {I am so with you, Ana!!}

pg. 86 "You can't stay anonymous and stand in front of a crowd of people at the same time. That's like vanilla ice cream wanting to be mint chip. And I am so sticking with Team Vanilla."

pg. 149 "I bit my lip to keep from saying anything. I was still too emotional, and there was no way I was going to get all Sweet Valley High on her." {oh, how I laughed at that one. That had to be meant for the teachers and parents - a SVH comment??? Love it!}

Then make sure you pick up the third book in the Ana series, How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue on October 6.  You won't want to miss it.  Pick it up for a middle grader in your life, too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday 7.29.15


I am excited to join Alyson Beecher and other friends in this weekly challenge.  Finding great nonfiction picture books isn't a challenge anymore, there are so many wonderful books to be read now!  The challenge is sharing them with as many people as possible so they can find this wealth of literature to share with our young readers.  Thanks to Aly for starting this weekly link-up and thanks to all who join in!  See all of the posts at kidlitfrenzy.

Poetry has always been kind of iffy for me.  Some poems really stick to me.  I tend to like those that are short, simple in description, that make me feel something.  I like books - novels and picture books - that are in free verse, but I need to be pulled in right away or I won't stick to them.

Luckily, there is a wealth of poetry books, both new and old, that make me want to keep trying this genre.  Here are a few new books I've found.

Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection
Changes: A Child's First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow
Organized by season, these poems are sure to capture the young reader and make them want to read!  The late Charlotte Zolotow had such a way with words, and this collection is a stand-out.
The illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke will appeal to a child, as the bright colors and child-like characters seem so innocent.  I spent as much time looking at the illustrations as I did reading the poems.
The introduction is by Crescent Dragonwagon, Charlotte's daughter.  I loved the way she introduced the book and gave us a little bit of Charlotte to think about as we read.
This is a perfect collection to have in a Kg-3rd grade class or library.  I think 4th grade students will enjoy the simplicity of the poems, as well.

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects selected by Paul B. Janeczko
Another poetry anthology, this one different in that they are written by different poets, as well as written in different time periods.  The commonality is that they are all about objects. Janeczko selected each of the 50 poems and organized them by time periods:  Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, Romantic Period, Victorian Period, Modern Period, Postmodern Period and Contemporary.  In the introduction, Janeczko talks about finding a balance of male and female poets, but also finding them in equal parts of the world (East and West).  Each poem is illustrated by Chris Raschka, done in his trademark watercolors and inks.  

Shape Me a Rhyme: Nature's Forms in Poetry
Shape Me A Rhyme by Jane Yolen
Yolen collaborates with her photographer son, Jason Stemple, in this gorgeous concept book.  Stemple take photographs from nature, showing a shape and Yolen writes beautiful, yet simple poetry about the shape in the photograph.  Such an easy concept that Yolen and Stemple take to another level.  They have two other concept books created in this fashion, Color Me a Rhyme and Count Me a Rhyme.  

You Are Stardust
You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey
This book, told in poetic verse, is deceiving.  The lovely language and amazing artwork is breathtaking and takes you to a place you did not see coming.  Hidden in this book is a science lesson.  Kelsey shows us how we are all connected to different parts of life.  
Make sure when you read this book with students, read the author's note at the end.  I think many ideas in this book can be a bit foreign to young students, but the idea that they connect with nature is pretty cool.

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking
Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking by Elin Kelsey
The newest book that is collaborated by Kelsey and artist Soyeon Kim has just blown me away.  I loved the illustrations in You Are Stardust and thought the concept interesting, but just a bit abstract for young kids.
This book - the possibilities are amazing!  Kelsey shows, again in poetic verse, how animals are constantly adapting to their environment.  They learn new things from their parents and other animals.  They have problems, and they try solutions until one fits.  By using this analogy, teachers can talk about what to do when students have problems.  How can they make it work?  Do they have to try again?  How can animals in nature inspire them?
Kim's artwork again, blows me away.  Each page is actually created by a diorama.  See, dioramas do have a place in children's literature!  Simply gorgeous.
This book is a must-have and must-read at the beginning of the year.
If you're doing a unit on animal adaptations, this book would pair wonderfully with Tooling Around by Ellen Jackson.

What new poetry books have inspired you?  Share titles in the comments below!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

SoLSC Water is Water 7.28.15


Slice of Life is a weekly event hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

A few weeks ago I came across an article that IPC swimming (International Paralympic Committee) had tweeted.  It was titled "10 Things You Only See At A Para Swim Meet".  Please take a quick minute and read the article.  It's an eye-opener.  Plus it has a great ending line.

After being at a Paralympic swim event, I can tell you how amazing they are.  These athletes work so hard at their sport and they do it with a disability.  

People have asked me before about the difference between Special Olympics and Paralympics.  A main difference is Paralympics has a more elite athlete - they only compete on an elite level.  They have specific classifications and must meet specific standards for those classifications.

The part of this article that gets to me is number 10.

I think that is true, "water is water."  These athletes have found a way to move through water in such a strong, profound way. It equalizes us.  

How can we do this at school?  How can we equalize all of us?  How can we have all students give all that have?  How can we make all students be doing what they do because they love it?

Keep these questions in the back of your mind as you start school this fall.

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7.27.15

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Well, our Back to School newsletter came out... that means #bookaday is coming to an end.  No more lazy summer days reading.  Wait? Have I had any of those?  Pretty sure that would be a no!  Why do we pack so much in during the summer time and skip on the relaxing?  I need to amend that.  I still have a month left (darn newsletter making me feel like school is a week away!), need to find that hammock in the shade!

Picture Books

The Princess and the Pony
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
3/5 stars
It's funny, and since Scholastic has printed a report that states kids are looking for funny books, then this one is sure to be a hit.  
It has a surprising main character - a princess who is ready to be a warrior.  And a humorous secondary character - the farting pony.  
While not a favorite book for me, I would recommend it to kids because they are going to want to read it.  Again and again.

Maple & Willow Apart
Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols
4/5 stars
The Maple and Willow series is such a perfect one for young readers.  And the illustrations... they are some of my favorite to look at!
Sweet story about the older sibling, Maple, leaving to go to school for the first time and the effect on the sibling that stays home.  

Little Bird's Bad Word
Little Bird's Bad Word by Jacob Grant
5/5 stars
I first read this book at ALA Midwinter and knew it was one I would want to own.  Great themes of how words can hurt and how words can heal.  And it has a funny ending that will leave you chuckling!

Bernice Gets Carried Away
Bernice Gets Carried Away by Hannah Harrison
4/5 stars
Oh, this book is wonderful just for the pouty pout face of Bernice!
But really, another great story to teach theme and learning a lesson.
And really great illustrations!

Middle Grade

Goodbye Stranger
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
5/5 stars
This was actually my first Rebecca Stead book.  This shouldn't be my last since I have Liar and Spy on my #mustreadin2015 list!
I had heard some good reviews and some ok reviews.  I heard some people say they just didn't get it.  I think when you read reviews before you read a book, there are times when it influences you in a way you don't want it to... and there are times where it actually helps.  This is a time where it helped.  My expectations were set maybe a bit lower.  I didn't have all hype to live up to.  I knew there would be an unnamed character helping telling the story.
And for me, it all fit together.  I loved the multiple voices.  I thought Stead captured middle grade quite well and explored a very relevant topic.  I think there are going to be adults who criticize the sensitive and adult nature of the topic, but I don't think schools should shy away from it.  Kids are growing up faster than ever and social media is having a huge push on that.
I loved the unnamed character's chapters and seeing the parallel from the main story.
I think students 7th-8th grade are really going to enjoy this book.  I think a mature 6th grader, one who will be able to understand and think about the topic, will also enjoy it.
Looking forward to more Rebecca Stead books!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #1)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
4/5 stars
I have seen so much love for this book.  We've had it in our Guided Reading library for so long and no one has really checked it out.  I wanted to give it a try, but other books always got pushed in front of it.  With a 4 hour trip to nerd camp looming, I figured I would try the audio.  And here's where the audio debate comes into play.  Does every book do well on audio?  For me, the audio of this book actually did harm.  I really did not like it and my opinion was definitely affected.  I listened to 2/3 of the book on audio before I gave up.  Luckily, I switched to the paper copy of the book and found it to be much more enjoyable.  I ended up liking the character, Calpurnia, and what she faced at the turn of the century.  I liked the way the author kept true to what was expected of a girl and did not have a false ending.  As with many historical fiction books, I think this book can be a hard sell for students, especially when my building only goes to 4th grade.  There will always be a student here and there that will like this type of story, and for those students, I will happily place this book in their hands.  At some point, I would like to read the second book, and I will definitely read the print copy, not listen to it!

How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue (My Life Is a Zoo, #3)
How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue by Jess Keating
5/5 stars
Have so much love for this book.  In fact, it requires a separate post.  Will write about the series later this week.  Check back in!

Currently Reading

A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Pram, #1)
The Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano
Seems to be a bit of a ghost story...

Only a few weeks left, but my reading tower is still that, a tower!  What are some books you want to finish before school starts?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Digital Reading #cyberpd Chapters 6-7

Image result for #cyberpd          Digital Reading: What's Essential in Grades 3-8

Follow along with our Google+ community and learn from #cyberPD.
This summer we will be reading Digital Reading by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass.
Thank you to Michelle NeroCathy Mere, and Laura Komos for setting up this learning community!

As I read this book, I'm thinking about the information I want to share with my colleagues.  As a literacy specialist/coach, I hope to use my learning to inspire others to try something new!  As I write my posts, I'm thinking of what I want to share.  I don't want to summarize the chapters, that can get too long.  But what are the points that stick to me the most?  What are the big picture notes that will inspire teaching to reach students?  That's what I'm writing about.

Chapter 6:  Assessment: Keeping OurEye on the Literacy
Chapter 7: Beyond the Classroom Walls: Connecting Digital Reading at Home and School

I think the name of chapter 6 is perfect because it encompasses what this book has strived for - being authentic.  Just as we need to be authentic and purposeful in our selection of what students use for their digital reading and understanding, we need to stay the course when thinking about assessment.

I felt like this quote was such an important reminder of what assessment is.  It's NOT, something we do before report cards or three times each year.  It shouldn't give us an end result, but help us understand student learning, and give us next steps.  As Franki and Bill say, "assessment techniques should be about moving readers forward in their learning." pg. 90.

When thinking about assessment, the authors included a list of ongoing assessment ideas.  How many of these do you use?
  • kidwatching
  • taking notes while conferring
  • analyzing written response
  • examining student annotations
  • listening in on conversations
  • analyzing miscues and oral reading
  • talking to students about their own goals
  • collecting artifacts and written responses to reading
  • synthesizing use of strategies for understading
Purple highlights are things I'm doing well at.  Yellow highlights are things I would like to improve upon this year.

Next Steps
  • I'd really like to try Evernote out.  I've said that for over a year now, but I think if we truly are doing ongoing assessments, there needs to be a common place to store information.
  • I like the possibilities of a classroom Twitter account.

This book has really pushed my thinking about digital reading and what it means.  I have some new ideas and new steps to take this year.
What were your big takeaways?  Mine is being authentic.  How can I use digital tools authentically?  What are the sites and apps that are going to push student learning?  I have a few to try this year!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SoLSC What identifies you? 7.21.15


Slice of Life is a weekly event hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

"What identifies you?"

Who are you?  When someone describes you, what do they start with?  Are you the person that......?  Are you the guy that always.....?

"Where is the girl with the leg?"

Two weekends ago my daughter had a swim meet.  It was all weekend - Friday through Sunday - but she didn't swim on Saturday because it was her birthday.  She had made the choice to do something else to celebrate {meet Lynda Mullaly Hunt, actually}.  

On Sunday, her swim friends told her a story.

"Where is the girl with the leg?"

That's what they were asked by a swimmer from another team.  

Of course, her swim friends knew who they were referring to, but their response was matter of fact. 

"It's her birthday and she's not here today."

That was the end of the conversation and story.  

To other people, that's who my daughter is.  The girl with the leg.  Yup, it's shorter than the other leg.  Yup it has many many scars on it.  Yup, her lower leg is thinner and her foot is smaller in size.

No, it's not who she is.

To me, she's a stubborn kid.  She fights for what she really wants (usually a new song or app, not books, she knows mom has that covered).  She's affectionate.  She'll still hold my hand from time to time and expects a hug and kiss every night.  She's someone who wants to be right all the time and it's hard for her to admit when she's wrong.  No idea where she got that...  For her, swimming centers her.  She knows that about herself and because of that she always wants to be in the water.

If you ask her friends, they would say she's loyal.  If you know she's your friend, she stays your friend until you don't want her (it happens).  She's a hard worker.  She does what everyone else does.  She's silly.  She plays and makes up stories.

Every four years, she has to leave for months and comes back with a longer leg, so yes, she is the girl with the leg.  But even when she's gone, she's still that same kid that I see and her friends see.  

Why do we see what is apparent on the outside and not wait and think about the inside?  I ask that question even though I know I sometimes do the same thing.

Next time you find yourself doing that, ask, is that the girl with the leg?  and then change the question.  What is the story inside that girl?  Is that the guy that has a story that is waiting to be told?  I wonder what we find out instead.

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Moday! What Are You Reading? 7.20.15

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Why is it summer time and I'm having a horrible time staying caught up with my reading?  I've been spending a lot of time reading and writing about some professional reading and learning and I guess that is cutting into my time.  I've been trying to be very sneaky and get some picture books in when I can to up my #bookaday count!

Picture Books

Beach House
Beach House by Deanna Caswell
4/5 stars
What a perfect summertime read!  This book captures a small moment of a family arriving at their beach house and that feeling of getting to a new place but having to be responsible first - unloading and unpacking - before the fun begins.  Told in rhyme, the rolling language and beautiful watercolor and pencil illustrations by Amy June Bates, this book is a sure fire hit for summer!

My Dog Is the Best
My Dog is the Best by Laurie Ann Thompson
4/5 stars
I love this early reader picture book!  I think there are some great possibilities for this book that I wrote in this post.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't! by Elise Parsley
4/5 stars
Super cute school story.  Loved the illustrations.  I'll be reading this to students at the beginning of the school year.

Middle Grade

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
5/5 stars
Katherine Applegate amazed me with Ivan.  Her ability to make Ivan say just enough and leave the rest up for the reader to figure out.
She does the same thing with Crenshaw, but with a different voice.  This time Jackson is our narrator, a young boy who is faced with problems that are too big for him.   Jackson teeters on the line of being too young to understand, but smart enough to figure it out.  That's where the magic fits in.  Crenshaw, Jackson's invisible friend from years ago, makes a return.  And sometimes, magic is what you need.
Beautiful story that echoes the magic found in Beekle by Dan Santat and Yard Sale by Eve Bunting.  
This book is a must reread on Sept. 22!

Transitional Chapter Books

Judy Moody and Stink: The Wishbone Wish
Judy Moody and Stink and the Wishbone Wish by Megan McDonald
4/5 stars
Thanksgiving is a time for traditions and this book has plenty of them.  I love how McDonald stays true to Judy's personality while fitting her into timeless acts of Thanksgiving.
Sure to be a fall favorite.  Publishes Sept. 8.

Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time, #2)
Ranger in Time - Danger in Ancient Rome by Kate Messner
4/5 stars
I enjoyed this Ranger story even more than the first one.  There was more fast paced action and excitement that will keep students turning the page.  I'm really looking forward to book 3 where Ranger helps on the Underground Railroad!

Adult Reads

In the Unlikely Event
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
5/5 stars
Judy Blume never fails to amaze me with her talent.  I loved reading this adult novel - the woman still has it!
It was even more fun reading Kathleen Krull's new book - Women Who Broke the Rules - Judy Blume, after reading this new novel!  I wrote about this new series this past Wednesday.

Currently Reading

Goodbye Stranger
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This is actually my first Stead book, although I have another one in my #mustreadin2015 pile.  I'm really enjoying this one, so far.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #1)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Still reading it.  I went from listening to reading it.  I listened to 2/3 of it on the way to and from NerdCamp.  For me, this book did not work for an audio.  I had a very hard time paying attention, I think because there is not a whole lot of dialogue or action.  I know there is so much book love for this book and I've read how everyone loves the writing.  I'm hoping by switching to reading it, I may fall in love with it more.  Right now I'm not all that interested.  I really do think audios can make or break a book.  Read below!

Finished Listening With My Ears

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
5/5 stars
I loved reading this book, but listening to it brought it to a whole other level of enjoyment!  There were 4 different narrators and there was music.  I loved the piano and harmonica accompaniment to the words.  My daughter listened with me and loved the stories.  I think had she read this book on her own, she would not have been as engaged.  She is not one to enjoy historical fiction, and I don't think she would have stayed with the book at this age.  But with the music and different storytellers, she always wanted to listen in the car.
For me, this book worked better as an audio than a written text.

I cannot believe it's already the middle of July.  I have so many books I want to read before school starts, and so little time.  I'm already thinking ahead to Mock Newbery time.  We've started a new voxer thread to talk Newbery and I have many books I want to read to prepare for it.  Have you thought about Newbery time?  Any books you would put on a Newbery list yet?  Please leave titles in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 17, 2015

New book to use with early readers!

My Dog Is the Best
My Dog is the Best
by Laurie AnnThompson
illus by Paul Schmid

Back in the fall, The Educator's Collaborative did their first "PD in your PJ's" series of workshops.  The one that was not only the most meaningful to me, but made me think long after it was over was Kathy Collins'.  She talked about a subject that has made me ponder a lot - getting those young kids to be thinking about their early reader books and understanding it more than just reading the quick, easy text.  If you missed her workshop and teach younger students, I highly recommend watching it.  Here's the link.  In her workshop, Kathy shows a menu that can be used with young readers that gives them ideas of how to go back and revisit a text.  I think I found a fantastic book that teachers can use to show many of these ideas.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Laurie Ann Thompson, author of the book My Dog is the Best.  I first came across Laurie's work this winter when Emmanuel's Dream was published.  This book is near and dear to my heart since it is about how a child born with a physical disability overcame and became known not for his disability, but for the work he has done.  My daughter and I did the Nerdy Book Club post for it.

I had quickly read My Dog is the Best at ALA Midwinter, but finally sat down and read it again this week.  I had time to think about the text, the illustrations, how they worked together and the message of the text.  It made me think of Kathy's presentation, probably because the book she used is about a dog and so is this one!  Both have easier texts and words that can be decoded by early readers.  This illustrations help readers understand the text and will therefore be a book that is accessible for those early readers.

Books like these are hard to come by.  Oftentimes, the easier the text, the more boring and dry the book.  This book will hold readers' attention because of the subject matter and the endearing illustrations.  

I can see teachers of primary grades using this text to show students how to synthesize what the story is about - no, it's not about their favorite page or just about the dog being the best.  This is a text that teachers can go back and revisit and look at the illustrations and what new information do they get by going back and looking at them for a second time.

It is a delightful book and one I plan on using this fall!