Monday, December 31, 2012

My Reading Life in 2012

I'm going to take this last day of 2012 to review my reading life this year.  This year I did the most reading I have ever done.  I was inspired by readers, writers, teachers, and librarians like Mr. Schu, Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Jen and Kellee, Franki and Mary Lee, David Etkin,  Paul Hankins, The Styling Librarian, my colleagues, my Twitter and Facebook friends, and many more.  I was also inspired to start a blog during my participation in Teachers Write this past summer. I was also a guest blogger at Nerdy Book Club several times.  I started a Mock Newbery 2013 Club with the help of my former teaching partner and building media specialist in my former district and a Mock Caldecott 2013 Club in my currect district.  I took the dream job I've always wanted - to teach reading to gifted students in 4th grade, and I've participated in the reading life of my friends, colleagues, students, and family.  What a year! I have lots of goals to improve upon for 2013, but I'm very happy with what 2012 brought!  Here are some stats and year-end book favorites:

- I read 248 books (my goal was 150) - this isn't anywhere near the books some of the above-mentioned gurus read, but it's way more than I read last year! 

- 10% adult titles (24) - that's funny because that's what I mostly used to read - I still belong to one adult book club, and they keep me reading adult titles.  I need to increase that again, though.

- 22 % middle grade novels (54) - I love reading middle grade literature - especially because that's what I teach!

- 3% early reader chapter books  (7)- this is not the age group I teach, so I don't read many early readers, but I participated in a couple #SharpSchu Twitter book clubs, so I read them for those.

- 8% young adult titles (21)- I read more young adult books this year because I just really enjoy them, and my high school daughter reads this category, so I read them to recommend titles and join her reading life.

- 5% poetry (12) - a gap in my reading!  I need to increase that next year!

- 1% graphic novels (3)- Yikes!  Another glaring gap.

- 14% adult and children's nonfiction (35) - I did better this year than past years, but I still need to step this up.

- 35% fiction picture books (87) - yep, I love picture books!

- 2% teaching/professional books (5) - I obviously need to read more professional books this coming year!  However, my excuse is that I read lots of blogs by teachers, and I use those ideas frequently.

I started my blog in June, and since then, I have had 7,839 hits, 71 posts, 9 e-mail subscribers, and 21 followers (I would love to increase that number, so if you're reading this, and you haven't joined as a follower or an e-mail subscriber, please do!).

Cindy Minnich and Donalyn Miller talked recently about Book Gap Challenges, so I will make my declarations here:
1.  I will increase my graphic novel reading.  My goal is to quadruple my GN reading this year to at least 12-15 books - that's one a month.  That should be do-able.
2.  I will increase my nonfiction reading in both adult and children's titles, especially middle grade instead of picture books.  I will also increase my students' nonfiction reading.
3.  I will read more professional books.  I would like to read at least 8 professional teaching books this year.
4.  I will read more adult titles.  I would like to increase my adult titles to 30-36.

I'm going to increase my Goodreads goal to 300.  This is still way less than many of the professionals mentioned on this blog, but I'm getting there! 

To add to the hundreds of year-end lists out there, here is mine:


The Shoemaker's Wife




The One and Only Ivan One for the Murphys

I had so many Mock Newbery Club books that I love this year that it's extremely difficult to choose my favorites.  I also loved Same Sun Here, The Mighty Miss Malone, Glory Be, The False Prince, On the Road to Mr. Mineo's, and May B.

Wonder, Capture the Flag, and The One and Only Ivan were my favorite read alouds of the year.  One of the highlights of my year was the Wonder book club we had with my students, their parents, and a few administrators during an evening in the fall.


This is Not My Hat


Z Is for Moose Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington  The Fantastic Flying Books ... hello! hello!

Can you tell I can't really make up my mind?  There are SO many picture books I loved this year!  I chose these not only because I loved them, but because my students loved them.  They will vote on their favorites, though, in January.  I also loved Extra Yarn, Bear Has a Story to Tell, and and then it's spring.


The Fault in Our Stars


Code Name Verity Every Day

I didn't read near enough young adult titles this year, but of the ones I did read, these are ones I loved most.  I also loved See You at Harry's and Curveball:  The Year I Lost My Grip.

I can't wait to start hearing about 2013 books.  Happy New Year everyone, and here's a toast to reading!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Review

I still didn't get to read as much as I wanted to (lots of company), so I hold out hope for this coming week!  Here are the books I read over Christmas week:
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

adult-fiction, coming-of-age, environmental, fantasy-science-fiction, young-adult-book

Eleven-year-old Julia, living in a California suburb, learns along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer, gravity is affected, birds are plummeting to the earth, and people are acting strangely. Some things in Julia's life are ordinary: shifting friendships, coming-of-age troubles and triumphs, a crush, complicated parental relationships. However, some things are anything but ordinary - risk of radiation, longer and longer periods without sunlight, divisions between the real-timers and the clock-followers, end-of-the-world stock-pilers, the syndrome, etc.  This book seems eerily realistic and plausible, which makes it scary!

Twelve Kinds of Ice
Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

2012-book, intermediate-kids-book, memoir, setting, winter, writing-connections

What a perfect week (snowy and cold) to read this book about a childhood spent in Maine when the first ice caused great excitement! This book took me back to my own childhood when I would need to break the ice in the horse and cow water buckets before school, wait for thick ice to develop on our pond for skating parties, and accidentally fall through too-thin ice in early spring while leaning too far over the dock to poke it with a stick. This is a perfect book to share when introducing memoir to kids around a theme topic.

Bad Kitty for President  Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel
2012-book, animals, early-reader, government, humor, social-studies-connections

This early reader recently made the Nerdy Book Club winners list, so I had to check it out. I'm glad I did! Even though it's an early reader, my fourth graders would love the humor, and it's a great way to introduce election terms (Edna's Lovely Little Glossary of Election Terms in the back) in a way that kids will remember! Bad Kitty is hilarious.

  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit
adventure, fantasy-science-fiction, journey, reluctant-hero

I had to read this before the movie came out.  I can't believe I've waited this long to finally get to it.  My oldest daughter loves this book.  She read it in third grade, and I imagined her enjoyment as I was reading it - the fantastical creatures, the reluctant and humorous hero, the adventure, the wise wizard, etc.  I will definitely be going to see the movie this week.  I will also be encouraging my fourth graders to read it.  I think they will love it, too!


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Review

Well, the Christmas season obviously caught up with me because I only finished one book of my own.  However, I did finish our read alouds in three out of four classes, and I shared some fabulous picture books with my class this week for our word play unit.

Matched (Matched, #1) Matched by Allie Condie

audio-book, dystopian-novel, romance, young-adult-book

It's time for Cassia's Matching ceremony, and she's amazed to learn that her Match is Xander, her childhood friend. It's very rare to be Matched with someone you know. She's very happy about it - Xander is trustworthy, kind, and above all, safe. Later, when she takes time alone to watch the microcard to learn more about Xander, another face comes up temporarily, and oddly enough, it belongs to another person she knows, Ky. The rest of the story involves Cassia trying to find out what's behind this "perfect" society, the society that she trusted and believed in. She also becomes confused about who her true love really is. I really liked this book, and so did my 16-year-old daughter -  I'll be listening to the sequel next!

The One and Only Ivan  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
I just finished this read aloud in one of my classes, and the response was phenomenal.  I didn't think I could ever equal Wonder with the emotional impact it made, but this one gave it a run for its money!  The kids loved it, and it got a standing ovation when I finished it on Thursday.  See my previous blog post (Dec. 7th) for more information.

animals, mock-newbery-2013, point-of-view, middle grade novel

This is a wonderfully told story from the point of view of a gorilla, Ivan, who has been kept at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade for so long, he's forgotten what it means to be a silver back. His best friends are Bob, the dog (a favorite for my students and me), and Stella, the elephant. When baby elephant, Ruby, joins them, they rethink what it means to be in their domain/cage, far away from others of their kind. Julia, the caretaker's daughter, befriends the animals and connects with Ivan through art. Mac, the owner, is a complicated antagonist - he's not all bad. What's amazing about the writing is that it's so simple and sparse, but incredibly poignant, and in parts, funny. The story is a cross between Water for Elephants and Charlotte's Web - it captures the complicated relationship between people and animals without being sappy or didactic. 

  Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Capture the FlagI just finished this as a read aloud in three of my classes, also following up Wonder.  Again, I was worried I could ever find a read aloud that the students would love as much, but they really enjoyed this perfect middle grade mystery.  It was funny, though - they figured out the culprits much sooner in the story than I did when I first read it!  It was fun watching/listening/reading about their inferences and predictions throughout the story.  I read it aloud while they read their own mysteries.  I was also thankful to Messner for all the figurative language throughout the book because we were studying word play and literary terms while reading it.

history, idioms, mystery, middle grade, mock newbery 2013

I enjoyed this mystery about Anna, Jose, and Henry, 3 kids solving the case of the stolen famous flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner."   It's part National Treasure, part From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, part Chasing Vermeer, and part DaVinci Code since there's even secret societies.  I love that Kate Messner has two Nerdy Book Club finalist books for 2012 - this one and Eye of the Storm, which several of my students have read and really liked.  Messner is also the reason why I write this blog.  I was inspired by her Teachers Write program this past summer.

I hope I read LOTS during this holiday break and can review a lot more the next several Sundays!




Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Book Exchange

Yesterday was our last day before break, so we did a book exchange in each of my classes.  Quote from class one:  "It's like a Christmas miracle!"  Each student was happy with his/her surprise book!  It was amazing, especially in that first class, how each book fit each student exactly without it being planned.  I just told each student to bring in a wrapped paperback, as gender-neutral as possible, and then we played a version of "Hot Potato" to exchange them.  Everyone, in all four classes, did a great job picking out books!  Now everyone has a book to read over break.  Awesome - let the reading begin!



 JFB 2

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hello! Hello! Winners

Today I held a raffle in all four classes for the four copies of Matthew Cordell's Hello! Hello! that I bought during his awesome promotion.  I got a fabulous original watercolor, and my students got a fabulous book.  A win, win situation!!  The winners were SO excited!  In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy last Friday, any stories about connecting with others, enjoying nature, and encouraging family time is welcomed! So are the smiles on these kids' faces. Don't you love them?!


My watercolor!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Review

This has been a busy week of reading, and I have a lot more to read to prepare for my final 2012 Nerdy Book Club Awards voting! 

Code Name Verity Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

audio-book, character-motivation, character-who-writes, friendship, gifted-girls, historical-fiction, journey, mock-printz-2013, point-of-view, setting, social-studies-connections, strong-girl-character, war, young-adult-book

This is an incredible young adult story about two women - one a spy, one a pilot - in WWII. It's very different from most of the young adult books I've read lately. The audio version is excellent.   It's definitely a strong contender for the Printz! Amazing.

Nic Bishop Snakes  Snakes by Nic Bishop
animals, creative-nonfiction, figurative-language, nature, nonfiction, photography, picture-book,  science

Oooh - kids will LOVE this book about snakes. The photographs are amazing. I liked the end notes by Bishop explaining how he got the pictures. The facts are interesting, and the snakes are beautiful and fascinating. I'm also going to use it to point out figurative language in nonfiction.

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story
  Alex the Parrot by Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So

animals, biography, communication, friendship, gifted, mock-caldecott-2013, nonfiction, picture-book, science


A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor PlayI really enjoyed reading about graduate student Irene Pepperberg and her African grey parrot, Alex. She bought him in 1977 in order to study him in a time when most scientists thought birds were not at all intelligent. Alex and Irene set out to prove them wrong. I laughed out loud at Alex's personality. It's a fascinating and intriguing story. I think kids will be greatly interested. Now I want to read Irene's own book, Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process.

  A Stick is an Excellent Thing by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

2012-book, multicultural, nature, picture-book, poetry

Lots of poems about playing outside. Great for encouraging creative play and the outdoors.

Poem Runs: Baseball Poems Poem Runs by Douglas Florian

2012-book, books-for-boys, picture-book, poetry, sports, strong-girl-character

I'm a big Douglas Florian fan, and I think kids will love this poetry book. Great word play and fun pictures. I also like how Florian includes girls as great athletes!

Listen to My Trumpet! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)  Let's Go for a Drive! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)  Listen to My Trumpet and Let's Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

2012-books, animals, early-reader, friendship

 What would we do without Mo Willems in children's literature?  This two treasures are precious early readers that will make young kids laugh out loud.  Elephant and Piggie are adorable friends who are devoted to each other and love new adventures and activities.  Willems wrote one of my all-time favorite picture books,  City Dog, Country Frog
I think I'll forever love the first best, but kids are crazy about all the Pete the Cat books! 
allusion, humor, poetry
I love William Carlos Williams, and this is a clever group of apology poems based on his "This Is Just to Say." Kids will have fun identifying all the stories referenced. Matthew Cordell's line drawings perfect for the mood.
early-reader, problem-solution
 This is a cute story about Penny getting a doll from Gram while she is helping her mother in the garden. She loves the doll, but she can't figure out what to name her. She finally settles on just the perfect one!

 A Very Babymouse Christmas (Babymouse, #15)  A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

allusion, character-traits, christmas, graphic-novel, strong girl character


I confess this is my first Babymouse book. I read it for the SharpSchu December Book Club. It took me a bit to get into it, but I ended up really enjoying it. Graphic novels are hard for me, but I know they're popular with kids, so I'm trying to be open-minded. I love the narrator throughout, and I just taught my fourth graders about allusion, so I could share this with them. I know I have a few Babymouse fans among my fourth graders.  One of them told me I could borrow her collection so I could increase my knowledge of this adorable character!  I love when kids want to share their expertise with me. 

A Leaf Can Be...  A Leaf Can Be... by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija

2012-book, creative-nonfiction, nature, nonfiction, picture-book, science

Reminds me a little of the series A Rock Is Lively, An Egg is Quiet, etc., only for an earlier reader. I like the illustrations a lot, and good word play.

I'm Bored  I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

mock-caldecott-2013, picture-book, strong-girl-character, text-style-and-shape

This is a zany story about a girl who starts out bored (reminds me of Lucy from "The Peanuts")but meets a potato who's even more bored than she. He tells her kids are boring, and she proceeds to show him all the ways that kids are NOT boring. Her expressions are hilarious. Perfect book for little kids who claim they are bored!


character-motivation, dystopian-novel, mock-printz-2013, strong-girl-character, young-adult-book
Insurgent: n. 1: a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government; especially: a rebel not recognized as a belligerent. In this sequel to Divergent, Tris and Tobias continue to figure out what is happening in their world and whether or not secrets are being kept that need to be destroyed or protected. Now we have to wait until next year to see what they will do with their new found knowledge.

More to read this week!!!  What are YOU going to vote for at Nerdy Book Club???

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top Ten Christmas Picture Books

This was written as a Top Ten guest post for Nerdy Book Club.  I LOVE the Nerdy Book Club, and I've only been a guest blogger for it several times, but every time, it gives me a thrill.  I feel like I'm a rock star for a day!

Since this was posted the day after the awful massacre in Newtown, CT, it seems a little surreal and trivial to be taking about Christmas picture books. However, each of these titles is about hope, joy, and giving - putting yourself above others. I pray we can still put out that message in the midst of terrible tragedy and teach it to our children.

Every year, my husband and I give each of my daughters a Christmas picture book and a pair of pajamas to be opened Christmas Eve.  They always open them on the hearth, a fire blazing behind them in the fireplace, stockings hanging over their heads.  Then we read the books after putting on our pajamas.  These are ten of our favorites.  I could write about many more, but I had to narrow them down.  I know The Polar Express is missing from this list, but I figured everyone knew about that one, so I tried to feature some that may be less well known.

Josie's Gift by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Frank Ordaz

Josie's only desire the Christmas after her Papa died was that blue sweater in the window display of her favorite clothing store, but there was a Depression going on, and her mother was barely making ends meet on the farm as it was.  As Josie reflects on Christmases past when her father carved a new nativity figure to add to the collection he started on Josie's first Christmas, she feels like nothing will ever be the same.  Late on Christmas Eve, when she felt that that year would only be filled with longing, she discovers the blue sweater under the tree.  On a walk in the snowy darkness, clothed in the warm, beautiful sweater, she finds a family taking refuge from the cold in her barn, and she realizes the true meaning of Christmas.  It is "not about what we want.  It's about what we have."  She finds a way to help the family and to thank God for the blessings she already has.

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell and illustrated by Paul Micich

The Littlest Angel was four years old when he presented himself to the Gatekeeper to await admittance to the glorious kingdom of God.  Upon arrival, the Littlest Angel upset the peace in heaven.  He sang off-key, knocked every one's wings askew, and tarnished his halo by holding it with his sweaty hand while running. He was miserable when he realized he was causing so much trouble. Thanks to the Understand Angel, he was comforted when a box left under his bed at home was brought to him.  When it came to pass that Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, the Littlest Angel decided to give the holy baby his box, which contained a collection of simple treasures from his boyhood.  No sooner had he decided this was to be his gift to Jesus, he was filled with remorse.  How could he give the Son of God such a shabby gift?  However, his doubts were assuaged when God declared it His favorite.
Jonathan is not happy that he and his family had to move to Detroit so his father could help a struggling church get back on its feet.  Things seem to go bad to worse when the sacristy wall is ruined by a leak from a terrible snowstorm. Jonathan feels like the Chirstmas Eve service will be ruinted, too, and is not convinced when his father tells him everything will work out for the best.  When they go into town to bring back Christmas decorations for the church, Jonathan spots a beautiful tapestry that would be the perfect size to cover up the hole in the wall.  They buy it for exactly the amount that his father can afford.  They also help an old woman by taking her home so she doesn't have to take the long bus ride home.  They stop off at the church to hang up the tapestry, and the woman is shocked.  Amazingly, she was the one who made it, long ago in Germany.  She had made it as her wedding Chuppah - the canopy over her and her husband.  It would have been used to wrap her children if the Nazis hadn't torn she and her husband apart and put them in separate concentration camps.  I won't give away the ending, but every time I read this book, it gives me goose bumps.  I love the way the story weaves together different faiths and makes clear God has a plan.
Jacob's Gift by Max Lucado and illustrated by Robert Hunt
Jacob's GiftJacob is a talented young carpenter's apprentice.  Rabbi Simeon announces to the boys in the shop that whoever builds the best project will work with him on the new synagogue.  Jacob works tirelessly on an animal feed trough.  One night, exhausted after working, he is woken up from a deep sleep to see a beam of starlight coming through a crack in the shop.  He walks toward the star and hears a sound in the stable behind his father's inn.  There he sees a tiny baby laying on a nest of straw as his parents look on.  He realizes he has built exactly what that baby needs, and it is his best work.  When Jacob tells his teacher, Rabbi Simeon what he has done with this project, they realize he has made a cradle fit for a king.

My oldest daughter has a collection of Jan Brett books, so we have several Christmas stories of hers.  I always got a kick out of this one because of the troublesome reindeer and the expressions on their faces.  Santa gave Teeka the charge of getting his reindeer ready to fly on Christmas Eve, but they rebel at her heavy-handed training techniques, and when they all end up tangled up and crashed, she realizes she'll accomplish more if she tries kindness and encouragement instead.  As with all her books, the illustrations are delightful.
Our Christmas traditions have included trips to see "The Nutcracker" in both Cincinnati and while we lived there, Pittsburgh, so I had to add the story to our picture book collection.  There are many versions, but I really enjoy Susan Jeffers' illustrations.  This version of the story is child-friendly and follows the story of the ballet.
  The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and illustrated by P.J. Lynch  This is another classic Christmas story that I felt like we need in our collection.  I've always loved the sacrifice and love shown by Della and Jim for each other.  This version has gorgeous illustrations and thick, artistic pages. 
  Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan
Sometimes I would choose that year's picture book because of something we did or something one of the girls was involved or interested in during that year.  In 2009 Katie was enjoying horseback riding lessons, so I was drawn by the cover of his book.  It was Christmas Even when an old man awoke, achy and tired.  He walked out in the snow to chop and gather firewood, daydreaming of previous Christmases when he and his wife searched for the perfect tree out in the snow-covered woods.  She would always tell him the star was the most important part of the tree.  It symbolized hope, and no matter how bad things got, you should always have hope.  But his wife was gone now, and the old man was hopeless.  Meanwhile, not far from the old man, a mare wandered, lost and cold, through the the blizzard.  She was exhausted and couldn't go further so she collapsed in the snow, nickering, right behind the old man's house.  Little did he know, that they were about to bring each other hope.
Mary Engelbreit's The Night Before Christmas
This is another classic story illustrated by one of my favorites, Mary Engelbreit.  I love her whimsical, colorful drawings and overall cheerfulness of her work.  I had to buy one of her Christmas books for our collections, and this one was it!  I think her Santa is perfect!
Drummer Boy
One of my oldest daughter's favorite Christmas songs is "The Little Drummer Boy," so when I saw Loren Long at The Blue Manatee Children's Book Store in Cincinnati this fall, I bought it for this year's gift.  A toy drummer boy appears on a child's doorstep one day with a note that read: "Open now and enjoy the Christmas spirit early."  The child loved the toy and played with him all the time until one fateful day when he accidentally got knocked into the trash.  He begins quite an eventful, and not always pleasant, journey.  Throughout it all, he kept playing his drum.  He finally makes his way home and he ends up right where he belongs.