Saturday, December 31, 2016

#MustReadin2016 Update and Favorite Books of the Year

       Thanks to Carrie Gelson, I make a #MustRead post at the beginning of the year.  She asks us to reflect upon our lists at the end of the year.  You can read my #MustReadin2016 post here.  I didn't read every book on my list, but I read a good amount.  Here is my update:

1.  PAX by Sara Pennypacker  Read March, 2016
This was one of my favorites of the year! I read it for our staff middle grade book club, and also as a read aloud during the Global Read Aloud this year.  My 5th graders LOVED it.  It's also my pick for the 2017 Newbery Award.  It's loaded with amazing writing - symbolism, interesting points of view, layered characters, beautiful imagery, deep themes, intriguing structure and plot lines.  It's got it all!

2.  See How They Run by Ally Carter Didn't read.

Raymie Nightingale
3.  Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo Read May 28,  2016
I didn't realize how much I loved this book until the last line.  It kind of snuck up on me!  This was one of our middle grade staff book club picks.

4.  Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson  In Progress
I got a chance to meet Kirby at NCTE because she was on an historical fiction panel I chaired.  She's fantastic!
Hour of the Bees

5. Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager  Read April 8, 2016
So, so good!  Another of our staff middle grade book club books.  We had a great discussion, and it's been a hit with my students.

Carry On
6.  Carry On by Rainbow Rowell  Read March 6
I enjoyed this one - full of witty humor and a compelling story.  LOVED meeting  Rainbow at OCTELA in February!

7.  Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart Currently listening to the audio

P.S. Be Eleven (Gaither Sisters, #2)
8.  P.S Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia  Read Feb. 6
This is a great series!  I got to meet Rita at NCTE, also, because she was on my panel along with Kirby (and Janet Frost, Linda Sue Park, and Augusta Scattergood - I lucky am I?!).  Rita is so smart and funny.  Loved hearing her talk about her writing process and philosophies.

9.  One Crazy Summer by Rita William-Garcia Read Feb. 16

10.  Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds Haven't read yet, but I DID read Ghost and As Brave As You this year, and I got to see Jason on an NCTE panel with Laurie Halse Anderson.  Man, did I love listening to them!!

11. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez  Didn't read.

12.  The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick  Didn't read.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
13.  The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose Read Feb. 21
I listened to the audio of this, loved it, and then decided to read it aloud to my 6th graders during our social responsibility unit.  It was a big hit, and we wrote arguments about freedom vs. safety.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March
14.  Turning 15 On the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery and Elspeth Leacock  Read Feb. 6
This is another one I read on my own first, and then decided it would make a great read aloud.  I was right!

15.  George by Alex Gino  Read Feb. 5

16.  The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg   Didn't read.

17.  Simon vs. the Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli  Read March 31

18. Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin  Didn't read.

19.  The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B  by Teresa Roten  Didn't read.

20.  Booked by Kwame Alexander  Read April 25
While this one didn't impact me as much as Crossover, it's still good, and some of my kids like it even better.

21.  Red:  The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff   In progress.

22.  Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys  Didn't read.

23.  The Rose Society by Marie Lu  Didn't read.

All the Light We Cannot See
24.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr   Read May 31
Wow - this one was beautiful and a masterpiece!

25.  My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I'm Sorry by Fredrik Backman  Didn't read.

26.  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes Read March 28
I was scarred when I read the book, and then I scarred myself again when I saw the movie!

The Husband's Secret

27.  The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty Read July 15
I love Moriarty's books - they're all intriguing and compelling! Read the newest one recently, as well - Truly Madly Guilty.  I liked it, as well.  My favorite of hers is Big Little Lies, but I haven't read What Alice Forgot.  Maybe I'll put that on my 2017 list!

28.  Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay  In Progress

29.  The Lake House by Kate Morton  Didn't read.  Will put on 2017 list, though.

30. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates  Didn't read.

31.  The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery  Didn't read.

32.  Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson  This is a book that I started, loved, skipped around in, etc.  I'm considering it In Progress, but can't really count it as read yet.  Love Anderson's ideas!! I enjoyed meeting him and learning from him at All Write this past summer.

33.  Writing with Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O'Dell Didn't read, but I did attend a session they led at one of the literacy conferences I went to this year and really enjoyed it.  I'll be reading this eventually!

34.  Writers are Readers by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth  Didn't read.

35.  Making Nonfiction from Scratch by Ralph Fletcher  Didn't read.  Yikes!  I didn't read the professional books I wanted to.  I DID read The Journey is Everything  by Katherine Bomer, and got a ton out of it.  Still trying to process how to incorporate her ideas into how  I teach essay writing.  I also read both Notice & Note books by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst and have been incorporating them into my teaching.  I love their strategies! 14 out of 35.  A few in progress.  Not quite half.  Oh well.  Some of these will go on my #MustReadin2017 list that I'll publish next week, and some I will let go.

Now, my favorite books of 2016 - I met my Goodreads goal of 200, and these books stood out:


1.  PAX by Sara Pennypacker

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White

2.  Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
3.  Wish by Barbara O'Connor
4.  Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
5.  Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
6.  Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager


The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles
1.  The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin Stead
2.  Ida, Always by Caron Levis, Charles Santoso
3.  They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Return Cover
4.  Return by Aaron Becker
5.  The Airport Book by Lisa Brown


Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
1.  Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, Sally Wern Comport
2.  Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (putting this in two categories - it HAS to win an award in January!!)
3.  Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, Isabelle Arsenault
4.  My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valerio
5.  Pink is For Blobfish by Jess Keating


The Serpent King
1.  The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
2.  The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
3.  The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose


1.  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
2.  A Mother's Reckoning:  Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

BEST POETRY (Picture books)

A Poem for Peter
1.  A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney
2.  When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano
3.  Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, Beth Krommes
4.  Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
5.  Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, R. Gregory Christie


Save Me a Seat Cover
1.  Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks, Gita Varadarajin
2.  Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
3.  The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
4.  The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox
5.  The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White (even though this isn't a 2016 book, I had to include it because I was inspired to listen to it after I read Some Writer!, and it's narrated by E.B. White.  Wonderful!!!

Looking  forward to what 2017 brings in books!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Slice of Life - I Want My Why Back

         I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a                                                                            story, reflection, or musing.

Image result for i want my hat back

     "What you do proves what you believe." - Simon Sinek

     While pantsuit-clad voters went to the poles today, our district held an inservice.  Our superintendent's keynote started the day.  While talking about our district's future, he featured Simon Sinek's golden circle and a clip of this video:

     Interestingly, this "why" idea has come up a few times in the last month or so.  It came up in a sermon about making a mission statement for your life.  It came up last week when I read Margaret Simon's "Focus" post on Digilit Sunday.  Margaret defines her mission as "I want to empower others to be the best they can be.  I want to bring creativity into the world."  That's her WHY.  That drives what she does and how she does it.  I know Margaret, and you see her WHY in everything she does.

     By now, you're wondering why Jon Klassen's book, I Want My Hat Back, is at the top of this post.  When I was talking to Libby, my daughter, tonight on the phone, I was telling her about the golden circle and "inside out" idea.  She works at Nationwide in marketing, and she knew this concept of starting with the WHY in her business.  As we talked about it, I explained I had been feeling a little "off" lately, spiritually and professionally.  (This is partly why I haven't blogged in a long time."  I laughed a bit about how I've lost my WHY.  Because I had introduced Klassen's billiant books to her in the past, she responded, "It's like that book I Want My Hat Back - you want your WHY back!"  YES!  Yes, I do.

     I know why this happens - losing my WHY.  I get busy.  I get distracted.  I get bogged down in the HOWs and WHATs - starting with products and processes instead of the WHYs.  There are lots of reasons for this...state tests, data obsession, published literacy programs, other pressures.  These can crowd out the WHY and only concentrate on the WHAT.  A colleague asked me today, after another colleague and I shared Kidblog and the Slices of Life our students write, "Why are you doing that (having kids blog)?"  I have to admit I was flustered for a minute.  I didn't expect that question.  However, it's a fair one.  After a brief pause, I answered with a couple reasons, but I know there are a lot more - I just wasn't ready.  Another colleague who is going to try blogging with her kids, sent this graphic later:


     Believe me, I know this.  But I need to keep the WHY in mind all the time. I need to be able to respond quickly and confidently about why I do what I do in the classroom - and life, for that matter.  Sinek says, at the end of the TED Talk, "It's those who start with WHY who inspire others or find others who inspire."  I've found those people - people who have inspired me in education.  In Donalyn Miller, Franki Sibberson, Penny Kittle, Megan Ginther, Lester Laminack, Ralph Fletcher, Kelly Gallagher, Katie Wood Ray, Chris Lehman, and more.  I know what it feels like to understand, without a doubt, why I do the things I do. I know what it's like to do the right thing for kids.  To teach ELA the right way.  I need to get back to that place.  I'm not far from it - I just forgot the WHY for a bit.  

     I want my WHY back.  And I'll find it.


Monday, September 19, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thank you,  Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers, for giving us a space to share our reads each week!


They All Saw a Cat Cover

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

And for all you Emily Arrow fans, there's a song!

Perfect to talk about perspective and point of view - great to pair with Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne. Beautiful and interesting illustrations! The kids were really excited to write their own perspective writing in their notebooks afterward. I got this from the library, but I'll be purchasing it for my classroom!                 

The Water Princess
The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Who could resist the beautiful cover and title of this book based on model Georgie Badiel's childhood experiences in Burkina Faso. What touches me about this story is how the beginning - Gie Gie's descriptions of her beautiful African home and establishing her character as full of dreams and song - is juxtaposed with Gie Gie's arduous walk for water, not even knowing if the water will be clean. This juxtaposition is carried out throughout the book - even though Gie Gie and her mother wake in the dark hours of the morning to make the journey, after Gie Gie's initial grumbling, they are full of song, light steps, and dance. However, after the water collection, their feet are sore and thirsts are heavy. Gie Gie plays with her friends at the well, but when dipping her pot in the water, it is dusty and earth-colored. I love the depiction of her loving family. I think my students will see themselves in "Princess" Gie Gie and feel connected. Perfect book to accompany A Long Walk to Water in our Social Injustice unit. Peter Reynolds's illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.



Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

My students have been WAITING for a new Raina Telgemeier book because they've read all her other graphic novels multiple times. They won't be disappointed. There are so many layers to this book, and I'll be interested in how they react to all of it - Dia de los Muertos, the afterlife, cystic fibrosis, fear and acceptance of death, sister issues, appreciating one's own culture and learning about others, etc. I want to have Duncan Tonatiuh's Funny Bones on hand for those kids who would like to know about the Day of the Dead.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

Oh, what a wonderful story! Ms. Bixby is the kind of teacher, we who are in the profession, aspire to be. The kids are funny, real, and endearing, and you wouldn't think a book with cancer at the center could be full of adventure and fun, but it is. I look forward to passing this one around my room. We'll be talking about it at our September staff middle grade book club next Friday.


The Key to Extraordinary



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Slice of Life - Freak the Mighty

 I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing.

     I thought I was okay.  I was nearing the end of book (stop if you've never read Freak the Mighty because you're about to read a spoiler), reading aloud to my 6th graders - this was the first time I've ever read Freak the Mighty aloud - when I got to this line: "His heart was simply too big for his body." I lost it - all the composure I had conjured up before this scene, knowing what was going to happen because I read it last summer, dissipated when the doctor explains to Max that Kevin died.  I started to cry and had to stop reading. 

     There is a strange thing  that happens when you cry at a point in  a read aloud in front of a class.  There's a hush that falls over the room.   Kids are unsure of what to do.  Some are crying  with you,  some are quietly waiting, others are impatiently prompting you to keep reading. 

     I recovered eventually, I got a box of tissues and passed them around, and continued the story.  The class loved the book.  It's funny, raw, and so, so sad.  I imagine the kids will remember the friendship that Maxwell and Kevin...Freak the Mighty...forged.  And the day their teacher cried over the boy who slayed dragons, embarked on epic quests, and whose heart was too big for his body. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Nonfiction Wednesday


I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the fifth year in a row!

I need to step up my nonfiction picture book reading.  I haven't posted in a while, but I had to share this book!

My Book of Birds

I loved this beautiful book on birds!  The stunning illustrations of the birds are collages made from old magazine paper.  My favorite pages are of the snowy owl.  I also enjoyed the blue heron since I've enjoyed watching them at our new condo on the lake.  One likes to stay in the tree by the corner of our deck!  Loved the end pages of eggs and feathers, too.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Celebrate This Week and DigiLit Sunday


I'm combining my Celebrate This Week post with DigiLit Sunday today.  Thank you, Ruth Ayres and Margaret Simon, for providing these spaces for us!

Wow!  What a week it has been.  This has been the first full week back to school with students, and I'm loving it!  I get to teach my returning 6th graders again this year, and I met my new group of 5th graders.  So much to celebrate!

- I noticed that several of my 5th graders say "Thank you" before leaving class every day.  I'm so encouraged by that!

- Heart maps with 5th graders! 

- 6th graders excited about getting back to Kidblog!  Their first Slice of Life posts are due today.  I loved their excitement for getting back to writing, and I've enjoyed reading about their summers.

- I love that I get all my 6th graders for Round Table at the end of the day, and I love that they're happy about that, too!

- Our staff middle grade book club got together to talk about Peter Brown's The Wild Robot.  We all really enjoyed it and had a great discussion.  Our next book is going to be Ms. Bixby's Last Day.

- The press release from the Ohio Board of Education came out Friday to announce that I was the 2017 Teacher of the Year for Ohio State Board District 4.   Now we wait to see who the overall 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year will be.  It should be announced soon.  The whole experience has been amazing.  I was nominated in May, so I filled out the application for the deadline at the end of the school year and found out I was a finalist in June.  Then I interviewed August 5th.  No matter what happens at this point, it's been quite a journey (with a few funny stories along the way which I may write about in the future), and I am so honored to represent District 4 and Kings Local Schools. The outpouring of support has been wonderful.  I am beyond blessed that I get to teach at such a wonderful place with great colleagues, administrators, families, and most of all, students. I love my job!

- Fun Friday night concert with my husband to see Mat Kearney and Needtobreathe.  It was SOOO hot, but we still had a great time!

- I continue to love waking up to amazing sunrises in our condo.  We love living here!  As an extra bonus, one of my best friends just moved into our neighborhood last week!!  We had fun enjoying wine and conversation at her condo last night.

- In addition to getting back to digital writing on Kidblog, my 6th graders wrote "Where I'm From" poems and will be creating Animoto videos to accompany their lines.  I did this with my students for the first time last year, and I loved how they turned out!

- I'm happy for both my daughters, Libby and Katie, because they have great things happening in their lives.  

- It's my mom and dad's 51st anniversary today, so I had a nice chat with them on the phone this afternoon.

I'm ready for a great week ahead, and I look forward to following Margaret's Twitter chat with Katherine Bomer this evening!  I read her new book about essays, The Journey is Everything this summer.  It challenged my thinking and provided lots of wonderful mentor texts and ideas for teaching essays.  Margaret Tweeted out the questions for tonight's chat...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

DigiLit Sunday - Digital Voice

   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.

Humans of New York Cover

     When I saw Margaret's tweet about her topic this week, Digital Voice, I immediately thought of my students' weekly Slices of Life on their Kidblog site.  That's where I think their voices ring the truest and loudest.  It's not a place for academic writing - it's a place for personal writing on topics of their choice.  Their voices develop strongly throughout the year.  My returning 6th grades students will start right away, and my new 5th graders will start in the fall.  This year, I'm very excited to have all my 6th graders with me for every Round Table, which is an intervention/extension time built into the school day for all our students.  Usually I have to split RT with several teachers, but this year, I get them all to myself every day for an extra 30 minutes!!  This is like discovering gold.  I especially loved it when I told them at open house, and they all cheered!  I'm going to use that time for Kidblog - to delve into personal essays and poems, authentic grammar and mechanics instruction, and word work - all for their writing within Kidblog.  My 6th graders can't wait to start writing their Slices of Life again, and I can't wait to work with them.

     One of the first projects I'd like to work on for their Slices was inspired by my colleague, Tracy (she and I are the co-leaders of #ReadWalkWater). We started talking about ideas, and I'm not sure how it came around to this, but we were talking about Humans of New York, and she suggested we do it with students.  She was going to have her students write them and call them "Humans of the Renaissance Team", which is her team name.  I loved that idea!  I'm going to steal  borrow it!  I work with several teams, so I thought I'd call ours, "Humans of Columbia Intermediate".  I immediately put the book on hold at our library, and I picked the book up over the weekend.  It's a fascinating book.  I follow his Facebook page, too, and the stories, some short, some longer, and photos are captivating.  I think it will be a wonderful mentor text study...and talk about voice!  The voices are so perfectly captured in their stories and photos.  Of course, not all of them are appropriate for 6th graders- there are plenty that are, however, and I will choose them carefully.  I think the study will also bring home the fact that our stories are important.  They are what makes us human.

     On a personal note, my aunt, who is a positive, vital, intelligent, and amazing woman in her eighties, has been suffering from memory loss.  She had the book, Humans of New York, when she was visiting us last Christmas.  She's always been a reader, but now she can't sustain a novel.  However, she loved the short vignettes in that book.  They're short and poignant, and she loved talking about them.  That really touched me.  These little stories are important. Even with her memory loss, my aunt needs stories.  We all do.

     I'll share our "Humans of Columbia Intermediate" in a couple weeks!

     "We're all desperate to tell a really good story." - Brandon Stanton


Monday, August 15, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? and #bookaday

The epitome of summer reading - deck, Ben, and book - I think I just created a new hashtag...#benandbook


     This summer, Donalyn Miller invited us to participate in the Eighth Annual #bookaday Challenge.  Our last day of school this year was May 27th, so summer and free reading started before Memorial Day weekend!!  Joy!  It's hard to believe the summer is over.  I start back today.  So how did my #bookaday go?  I had 79 days of summer, so that means I needed to read 79 books to meet the challenge.  I read...59.  Oh well, I didn't quite average a book a day, but I read a lot of good books!

Here are my 5 star books...


Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals

Pink is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, illustrations by David Degrand

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comfort

Freedom in Congo Square

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Flora and the Peacocks Cover

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle

A Beetle Is Shy Cover

A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois

Mother Bruce Cover

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

Return Cover

Return by Aaron Becker

Wendell the Narwhal Cover

Wendel the Narwhal by Emily Dove

Toys Meet Snow Cover

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky

What Do You Do with a Problem?

What Do You Do With A Problem? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

My Book of Birds

My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valerio


Maybe a Fox Cover

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

The Honest Truth Cover

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Some Kind of Courage Cover

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

Wolf Hollow Cover

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Raymie Nightingale Cover

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

(5 stars)

The Serpent King Cover

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Memory of Things Cover