Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
I read this right after Engle's memoir in verse, Enchanted Air, so the bright colors of Cuba (guava pink, lime green, pineapple yellow) and "the rattling jawbone of a musical mule" were still etched in my mind. Inspired by the true story of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl, who broke the taboo against female drummers in Cuba in the 1930s, Drum Dream Girl will inspire young readers to pursue their passions and break glass ceilings. Engle's lovely poetry and the vivid purples, oranges, greens, and reds in Rafael Lopez's illustrations capture a young girl's dreams of making music with drums.

My attention was brought to these books because I saw them on several Picture Book 10 for 10 lists.  They're perfect for sharing at the beginning of the school year to talk about identity, self-esteem, bullying, kindness, standing up for others, etc.  Clever and simple, these stories can help build a community of caring and confident learners.
The Princess and the Pony

Oh my goodness - so silly, but I laughed aloud at the hilarious pictures of the pony.  Kids will, of course, laugh hysterically at the farting.  Sometimes, you don't always get what you ask for, like the princess learned.  However, she also learns to make the best of what she got.  The pony might not be a big, strong warrior horse, but it turns out to win the day anyway, in all its cuteness.

Rude Cakes

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

 2015-book, humor, beginning-of-school, manners, picture-book
Another silly, but funny book. Kids would enjoy this humorous look at manners - perfect for the beginning of school.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but look at this one! So beautiful. Fortunately, the inside matches the outside - a beautiful memoir in verse by Cuban-American Margarita Engle. It's full of gorgeous language that describes the angst of growing up, feeling torn between two countries, longing for adventure and travel, not always fitting in, confusion over politics and culture clashes, the beauty of Cuba and America, the love of art, stories, and poetry, and so much more. It makes me want to visit Cuba! I was just as absorbed in this story as I was in Brown Girl Dreaming - they will sit side by side on my bookshelf.
The Dumbest Idea Ever!


Funny, honest, and inspiring! Great example for kids about how ideas for writing evolve.  This will join the other graphic memoir texts in my library: Smile, Sisters, El Deafo. 
Saint Anything
Words in the Dust

Sunday, August 30, 2015

DigiLit Sunday - The Yarn


      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.

     I've been hearing a lot lately about a podcast series called The Yarn, and since it was about books and recorded by Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker, two of my favorite kid lit enthusiasts, promoters, and experts, I figured I better check it out!  I've been listening nonstop to catch up on the first season.  Wow!  Who knew that a graphic novel requires an army of incredibly talented artists/ entrepreneurs/editors/writers/colorists/designers/etc. to put it together?! After listening to all eight podcasts, you will get an excellent picture of what it took to make the graphic novel Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, the brother/sister dynamic duo who brought you Babymouse and Squish.
     I CAN'T WAIT to read the book now, and I can't wait to share the podcasts with my students.  I have one student in particular who LOVES comics and drawing comics who I want to share them with, but also all the kids who did a brilliant job writing their graphic memoirs after reading Smile, Sisters, El Deafo, and The Dumbest Idea Ever.  You saw them on one of my blog posts - if you missed it, then you can read them here.  Maybe we could even make our OWN podcasts of interviews with those kids to hear about their creative processes and what inspired them about reading other graphic memoirs.  The possibilities of how to use The Yarn Season One series in the classroom are endless!
     Don't wait!  Download them NOW - they're free!! 
Learn more about each episode and little bonus stories:
     When you listen to the whole series, you're going to want to hear more (I do!), so head to Kickstarter to help fund the next season(s)!

     And a little graphic novel discussion bonus....



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Slow Down and Connect

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
Usually I choose a topic for the week, but this week, one didn't come to me until this morning.  Feel free to link up your post about any topic that you needed to write about today!
I recently subscribed to Pernille Ripp's blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.  I knew about Pernille through The Global Read Aloud initiative, but I had never heard her speak until this summer.  She gave a powerful mini-keynote at NerdcampMI, an amazing conference put on by the Nerdy Book Club folks for educators, authors, illustrators, and anyone else who loves books.  I even got to sit by her at dinner.  I'm loving her blog posts - full of reminders of why we teach, who our students are, and the power of reading and writing.  This morning I STILL wasn't sure what I was going to write about until I read her post today.  You can read it here.
My favorite line:  "We hurry so much at times in our urge to get to everything that we forget that we are not here to teach content, but here to teach children."  I need this reminder all the time.  I can feel that familiar clench in my stomach, the dull headache, and the grinding of teeth - all as a result of the overwhelming amount of content we need to teach.  I've reread both my pacing guides multiple times over the last couple weeks - 5th grade and 6th grade ELA, and I get that sense that I need to HURRY UP and teach it all NOW.  NO TIME TO WASTE! NO TIME TO TALK!  NO TIME TO DAYDREAM!  NO TIME TO CONNECT!  NO TIME TO SAUNTER!  NO TIME TO LAUGH!  NO TIME TO HAVE FUN!  NO TIME TO PLAY! NO TIME TO TELL STORIES!  NO TIME TO CREATE!  Oh, my.  Get the picture?  Sound familiar?  Sound TOO familiar? 
Time to slow down.  It's only August.  As much as I know I have a ton of content to teach, I also know I have young human beings in my care.  Children who need time.  Time to talk, time to daydream, time to connect, time to saunter, time to laugh, time to have fun, time to play, time to tell stories, and time to create.  We'll get to the content, and we'll work hard.  They need that, too. However, our most important job is to help our students feel safe, connected, and loved.  Yesterday, as one group of students were coming down the hall, I exclaimed, "Here come some of my favorite people!"  You should have seen the smiles.

Slow down.  Listen.  Breathe.  Connect.  Our students need us.



Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.
Marilyn's Monster
Awww. Loved this one! Matt Phelan's emotional illustrations and Michelle Knudsen's sweet story combine to tell a heartfelt story of a young girl's quest to find a friend. Beautiful. I see pairing it with Beekle and having a point of view discussion. Beekle is from the imaginary friend's perspective, and Marilyn's Monster is from the child's perspective.

To the Sea

To the Sea by Cale Atkinson
Jillian Heise shared this with me during the first dinner at NErDcamp. I can see why she loved it so much! Such a sweet testimony of the transformative power of friendship. LOVE the whale. Reminds me of Dear Mr. Blueberry.  Be sure to check out a wonderful interview with author/illustrator Cale Atkinson on Mr. Schu's blog!
This Is Sadie
This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Perfect picture book to use at the beginning of school to talk about story, imagination, courage, and the idea that you can be what/whoever you want! I just love the cover.
Something Extraordinary
Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary if you just look at it a little closer. I like this book as a writing workshop starter - maybe for Slice of Life.
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich
So funny! I loved the expressive illustrations - don't you just love the cover?! This will be a great picture book to talk with middle graders about an unreliable narrator.
Masterminds (Masterminds #1)

Ooh - this is the start of a great series! The only criticism I have is that now I have to wait until the next one! Middle grade kids are going to love this story about kids who live in, what seems to be, the perfect town. However, all is not what it seems...I loved the idea of this story.
                                     Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

2015-book, anger, character-development, drug-and-alcohol-use, emotions, empathy, family, friendship, home, honesty, intermediate-kids-book, mock-newbery-2016, mothers

What a unique and powerful story of an 11-year-old girl, Ruby, whose mother is in prison. Every year our church has an Angel Tree gift drive. Angel Tree is an organization which takes Christmas gift donations for children whose parent(s) are in prison. I've donated to that, but to be honest, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about what it must be like to be one of those children. Nora Raleigh Baskin did an excellent job of helping me understand. This story is also about honesty, friendship, and family. I may not have any students in exactly the same kind of situation, but the issues in this book cover a whole lot of territory, so I think they will be able to connect in one way or another.  Great for my EMPATHY unit!

Be sure to read David Etkin's excellent interview with Nora Raleigh Baskin here.


Saint Anything I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban


The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist  59 Reasons to Write: Mini-Lessons, Prompts, and Inspiration for Teachers

Sunday, August 23, 2015

DigiLit Sunday - Instagram

      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
This is going to be short and sweet, but I want to keep up the habit of posting DigiLit Sunday posts even when I only have a short one.  As you might know, I had a hard time letting go of my 6th graders last year since I had been their gifted ELA teacher for three years.  There are a few of them on Instagram who follow me, so I decided to follow them back.  As soon as I did, I got two great mentions...

I loved that both of them sent me book-related Instagram messages.  Social media and students is always a controversial topic.  I don't "friend" students on Facebook unless they've graduated, or are in my former district.  However, Instagram is a little different.  I love posting pictures of what I'm reading on Instagram, so I'm hoping kids will get new titles from me. Students can follow me, and like I said, I've only recently followed my former students.  What are your thoughts on students and social media?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Stress

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
This week's topic is STRESS.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  - James 1: 2-4

School started this week.  For all you teachers, students, and parents out there, you know why the topic of stress might have been on my mind.  Summer already seems like a distant memory!  I love my job, but it comes with its share of stressors. However, a couple things came my way this week that reminded me that our attitudes about stress and difficult situations can be controlled.  We can choose whether to look at times of stress negatively or positively.  On the first day of school on Monday, our in-service day, I had "Good Morning America" on in the background as I was making breakfast and sleepily pouring my first cup of coffee.  Lo and behold, GMA was doing a week-long series on stress.  How apropos!  We've all heard and seen lots of things on how to handle stress, but this one caught my attention. 

ABC Latest News | Latest News Videos

“You don’t necessarily have to embrace the situation that’s stressful, but you can embrace your capacity to rise to the challenge,” McGonigal told ABC News of the mindset shift.

“Stress is basically a signal that something you care about is at stake,” McGonigal said.

Robin Roberts is an excellent example of how to handle stress with grace, faith, and a positive attitude!  "If you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel." - Robin Roberts

Then, at my in-service, our principal introduced our theme and motto this year.  This is my third year working for her at Kings, and I've loved our past ones.  "If not you, then who?" inspired by Connor Grennan's Little Princes was our motto two years ago, and "Live above the line" which championed taking responsibility, ownership, and accountability instead of relying on blame, excuses, and denial, was last year's.  This year, she chose "Choose Optimism" as a result of a staff book study we did last year over Jack Berckemeyer's book Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education.  She showed us this TED Talk by Shawn Achor Monday afternoon in our staff meeting:

I enjoyed watching Achor so much (notice he mentioned taking a positive spin on stress), I searched for more videos of him and saw that he had been on "Super Soul Sunday" with Oprah.  I think I saw it when it aired!  I thought he seemed familiar.
Last but not least, you might have already seen the Kathie Lee Gifford tribute to Frank Gifford, who passed away last week.  In case you haven't, this is a must-see.  Talk about handling stress with amazing grace!  One of my colleagues, Karen, shared this video with us, and today we talked about how awesome it was for NBC to give her that much time to share her tribute, and what was ultimately, a testimony of her and Frank's Christian faith.

In summary, one of my favorite things about what I've heard this week is that if we're experiencing stress, it's because we care about something.  We care about our jobs, our children, our spouses, our students, our friends, our neighbors, our parents, etc.  That knowledge alone can start to shift our attitudes about stress.  Focus on the joy of caring about something enough to respond to it.  Then focus on empowering yourself with the responses to stress, turning those responses to positive action.  And lastly, focus on the One who has the power you can rely and lean on in times of stress. With Him, you can turn stress around and respond this way, "What is my stone?  What is the gift that only I can do in this world to make it a better place? And spend the rest of your life trying to throw it well." - Kathie Lee Gifford

I've always loved this song by Kutless - it's a good go-to song for when stress gets the better of you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nonfiction Wednesday

  Join Alyson and others at Kid Lit Frenzy for a nonfiction picture book bonanza each week!
Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle
I need to buy this for our #ReadWalkWater unit!!  Poetic, beautifully illustrated, and creative - this picture book captures the wonder, beauty, and fascinating qualities of water.  Good information in the back about forms of water and how much water makes up various things - it never ceases to amaze me that water covers 71% of the Earth's surface!

The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams

The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

It's fascinating that Jane Addams felt a compassion toward people in poverty at the age of six and vowed to do something about it at such a young age. Addams had an incredible spirit of adventure, love of learning, and sense of social responsibility. These added up to make her a force of goodness in the world. I loved the part that described how she gave all her gifts away to the less fortunate - even a monogrammed pair of bloomers! She gave people second chances and their dignity back. "Today, every community center in America, in large part, has Jane Addams to thank." Wonderful research and story telling from Tanya Lee Stone (I LOVE her writing) and beautiful illustrations by Kathryn Brown come together to introduce young people to a remarkable woman.  
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything
Thomas Jefferson was interested in EVERYTHING! What a brilliant man. I especially loved the tidbit about designing his bed to be open to two different rooms. He slept slightly sitting up so he could get up at daybreak. "He could either go into his study with his ingenious copying machine and rotating book stand, or he could get out of bed on the other side, jump into his books and go outside." Kalman doesn't shy away from his faults, but she handles them in a completely appropriate way for young children. I love her energetic and colorful illustrations.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.



I love wordless picture books! This one has all the elements of the perfect wordless story - beautiful illustrations, pops of color, vivid expressions on the boy's face, a perfect story arc, and a great ending. I would use this in the classroom for teaching story elements and for discussions on imagination, creativity, play, and resiliency.

The Night World

The night really can be a creepy, silent, but magical world. I loved the illustrations in this book as the black and gray tones of night explode into a colorful morning. Loved Sylvie, the cat!

Red: A Crayon's Story

2015-book, honesty, humor, identity, individuality, metaphor, mock-caldecott-2016, picture- book

Seemingly simple at first glance, this story goes pretty deep! A "red" crayon can't seem to do anything right - everything it draws is blue!! Self-discovery, true identity, honesty, and defying labels - all embedded in this humorous, but important book. Would be great to use for teaching metaphor. Also, I thought of my friend who will be leading an LBGTQ group (she's calling it The Alphabet Club) at her high school this fall. This would be a great book to share with them to spark discussion!


Circus Mirandus

I loved this book from the dedication to the acknowledgments. I think I found a new read aloud - it would be perfect for my home/family or a hope unit. A somewhat Roald Dahl-esque story, Circus Mirandus captivated me from the first page - "Four small words. That was all it took to set things in motion. The words came from an upstairs room filled with the rustle of paper and the sweet stink of medicine." Talk about a great lead! I loved Micah Tuttle and his hopeful heart, Grandpa and his sweet generosity, and Jenny and her spunky loyalty. And of course we have to have an antagonist - Aunt Gertrudis is someone my students will love to hate! Magic, love, adventure, courage, friendship, and the true definition of home...everything I love in a book. Everything my students love in a book! This one is a treasure.

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth

I thought this was an interesting follow up to Circus Mirandus - a nonfiction book about the 1944 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fire that killed 167 people. I didn't know about this fire. What a tragedy that something that is supposed to bring joy and happiness to children and families should end in devastation instead. Great photographs and vignettes of the people who attended made this story more personal.  Two mysteries remain from this story: was the unidentified body of "Little Miss 1565" really Eleanor Cook, and was the fire accidental or an act of arson by Robert Segee? I think my students would find this book interesting - I'm sure they don't know much about the circuses of early days.

The Great Good Summer

Beautiful! The Goodreads review of this book compared it to Deborah Wiles' Each Little Bird That Sings and Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, and I would agree. The humor, the spunky protagonist,the charm of the South, the spiritual aspects, the unlikely friendship, and the tug at the heartstrings, etc., all remind me of Wiles' and DiCamillo's work. It's a classic journey story, so I will be adding it to my JOURNEY unit text set.

Whenever authors handle the subject of God in middle grade and young adult lit, I get a little nervous because I want them to handle it well. I don't want faith in God to be made fun of or put down; however, I'm okay with characters questioning or doubting God and spiritual beliefs - that's just part of the process! Scanlon handles this subject beautifully. Ivy's friend, Paul, is a scientist (he loves space and dreams of becoming an astronaut) and quite possibly an atheist, and Ivy believes in God (even though she has to work through the mistakes her mama makes as a result of her religious upbringing and beliefs). Both Paul's and Ivy's stances are honored and even compared - they both question and are sometimes disappointed in what they put their faith in, they both find a way back to it, they both fight for what they believe in, and they both appreciate each other's passions. Perfect. I also loved the "if" and "then" discussion and will be using it in a future blog post!

"Looking up at the sky and wondering is what science people like Paul do. And it's what God people like Mama do too. If that's not the craziest thing."

Lost in the Sun

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

This story captivated me right away - I was rooting for Jared through everything. What a heartbreaking, hopeful, beautiful book with complicated, flawed, and wonderful characters. It will definitely be a read aloud this year. Reminds me a little of Tangerine, only not as dark. I loved how Graff decided to end it.  I think this book has great Newbery potential. Graff is such a talented writer - her books are becoming some of my favorites!

Mark of the Thief (Mark of the Thief, #1)

Another great adventure/fantasy series coming from Jennifer Nielsen! Nic reminds me a lot of Sage - funny, rebellious, dauntless, reckless, reluctant heroes, impulsive, smart. I liked the setting of this one - Rome. I also love the Griffin - she reminds me of Saphira from Eragon. I'd like to include this in my mythology unit text sets.

A Handful of Stars

Cynthia Lord is brilliant. How does she keep writing these beautiful, touching stories?! So much wisdom in this one about home, family, art, loss, love, moving forward, diversity, courage, letting go, friendship, identity - on and on. Some of my favorite pearls of wisdom:

"I think art can take ordinary things and show them to you like it's the first time you've ever seen them," she (Salma)continued. "And you realize that even ordinary things aren't really ordinary at all."

"That's something we can learn from dogs, isn't it? They don't keep looking backward at what they've lost or asking 'why me?' They just move on and find a new way to be happy again." (Pepere)

"Giving up and letting go are too very different things, Lily. Giving up is admitting you're beat and walking away. Letting go means you're setting something free. You're releasing something that's been keeping you stuck. That takes faith and more than a little courage." (Pepere)

Masterminds (Masterminds #1)

59 Reasons to Write: Mini-Lessons, Prompts, and Inspiration for Teachers