Sunday, January 22, 2017

Our 2016 Staff Middle Grade Book Club Books - Favorites and 2017 Newbery Predictions

While others are talking about and watching the D.C. Women's March, the Presidential Inauguration, the NFL final playoffs, and the many other stories out in the world, I am thinking about the ALA Youth Media Awards right now.  Don't get me wrong, I'm very interested in all those other things as well, but tomorrow the children's literature world is going to be recognized in a very special way, and I can't wait to see what books, authors, and illustrators will be awarded!

This past March, I started a staff middle grade book club at my school.  I wanted to promote teachers as readers and take a look at the wonderful 2016 that were coming our way.  It didn't necessary start as a Mock Newbery Club, but it became one.  Our little club ranged from 3-7, meeting once a month in the media center before school.  We even met one time during the summer at Panera.  We discussed the book using discussion guides if available or just on the fly, took a look at any teacher materials the book had, and talked about how we would use it in our classrooms or what students we would recommend it to.  We teach around theme topics in our ELA curriculum, so we also brainstormed ideas around how they would fit into those themes.  Together, we chose a book for the next month.

Friday we met for the last time before the awards, so we voted on our favorite books of the year. Before I get to those, I wanted to highlight the books we read.  We chose wisely because, honestly, we liked them all!  I'm not sure why we didn't get a picture every time, but we one for most of the books!

MARCH - our first one!
 Wonderful for our 5th grade theme topics of FEAR and COURAGE, EMPATHY, and JOURNEY.  I LOVED reading it aloud during the Global Read Aloud in October.  My students really enjoyed it, and we had lots of great discussion around it.  Beautiful writing and story.

This was another 5 star book for me, and we had a great discussion about it.  Fits under the 5th grade FAMILY and HOME theme topic and the 6th grade LEAVING A LEGACY.  We also talked about the magical realism genre.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook 

This book really touched our hearts.  We fell in love with Perry - he is such an endearing character.  This book would fit perfectly in our EMPATHY and FAMILY and HOME theme units in 5th grade.  It would also fit SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY and LEAVING a LEGACY in 6th grade.  I love REDEMPTION books, so I do a little mini-unit on that in 6th grade, and this would do well there, too. Pair it with Ruby On the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin.


We planned to meet at Panera in June to discuss this book, but unfortunately, no one could make it.  DiCamillo's books are all special, though, and this one is no exception.  Even though the story is simple, it's message about love, loss, and friendship are important.


I just finished Some Kind of Courage as read aloud with my 5th graders.  Oh my did they love it! We can't wait to Skype with Dan Gemeinhart on Tuesday!  Our book club loved this title, too.  It's perfect for our FEAR and COURAGE and JOURNEY units in 5th grade!  We liked Summerlost a lot, also.  Theme topics such as FRIENDSHIP , FAMILY, and LEAVING a LEGACY are all covered. 

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

We really enjoyed this quirky story.  We agreed it probably fits best for 3-5 graders.  Our 5th grade theme topics of EMPATHY and DIVERSITY and FAMILY and HOME would fit well with this book.  Lots of great discussions possible about technology, acceptance, diversity, family, cooperation, and more.  There were some tender moments as well as good action.  The kids in my classes who have read it really liked it.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day 
Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

You wouldn't think a book with cancer at the center could be full of adventure and fun, but it is!  Not only did the book club love it, but a group of 6th graders did, too, when they read it during our LEAVING a LEGACY unit.  They wrote wonderful things about the characters.

NOVEMBER (had to skip October, so we chose two in Nov.)
Wolf Hollow 25311520
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Welk and Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Wolf Hollow is a gorgeous book with the makings of a classic.  One of the book club participants and a 6th grade teacher, Tracy Kleis (the co-leader of our #ReadWalkWater project), is reading it aloud to her 6th graders and said they love it.  It's perfect for our SOCIAL INJUSTICE theme topic.  I listened to Save Me a Seat on audio, which was great.  This book would fit our EMPATHY and DIVERSITY theme topics at the beginning of 5th grade.  There's also a perfect example of the Aha Notice & Note signpost in it when Ravi realizes something very important about himself.

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Some Writer!: The True Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet and As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

I am a HUGE fan of E.B. White AND Melissa Sweet, so I am excited to see if this book will win an award tomorrow.  I think it has a great chance to be a Caldecott winner!  I got to meet her at NCTE and have her sign a book. Our club enjoyed it, too.  There have been several kids in my classes that have read As Brave As You and are big fans.  The obvious theme topic it would best fit is FEAR and COURAGE.

JANUARY 2017 (A 4th participant, Sharon, was at bus duty)
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Wow!  This is quite a piece of work!  Two of our book club teachers LOVED this story!  I also had a 6th grader read it, and she also loved it.  I read an interesting piece about this book in Elizabeth Bird's Newbery prediction post.  Read it here.  

And now, our top choices....


Wolf Hollow


So let's see what happens tomorrow!!  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Slice of Life - My One Little Word for 2017

I started choosing a One Little Word in 2014 (other resources can be found herehere and here.)  It was JOURNEY.  I loved that word and still do.  It was inspired by Aaron Becker's beautiful wordless book, Journey.  Then in 2015, I chose FOCUS, inspired by Cynthia Lord's thought-provoking middle grade novel, Half a Chance.  2015's word was also inspired by a book. It was a little tougher to choose a word in 2016.  I had several words that popped up and seemed like strong contenders.  One was CHANGE, and the other was CHILDLIKE.   I finally decided on WAIT for last year, inspired by Antoinette Portis's nearly wordless book, Wait.  Suddenly, it was time to choose one for 2017.

Created by David Etkin

      The OLW, WAIT, was a good one, but I'm ready to say goodbye to it.  It came in handy when we had to wait until God's perfect timing to sell our house and downsize into our condo.  The waiting paid off - the sale came at the best time - the offer came in on the evening of Ed's 50th birthday in February, and we moved into our condo in April - spring is beautiful here.  We live on a picturesque little lake and enjoy breathtaking sunrises.  My own 50th birthday on December 26th several weeks ago brought the year to a close.  It was such a fun celebration - we were in Florida enjoying warmth and sunshine and went out to my favorite Mexican restaurant there, our table full of family.  During that celebration I realized that yes, I really was 50.  How did that happen, and how did I feel about that?!  I admit turning 40 a decade earlier was much easier, and I fully embraced it.  Was even ready for it.  50 though - that's quite a number.  I don't feel fifty - inside or out. I don't normally get flustered by birthdays; in fact, I love them, but this one slightly flustered me.  I guess what I was realizing is that time is flying.  WAIT!  I wanted it to slow down.  But I know that's impossible.  Time does not wait.  So what can I do to savor it?

     One afternoon a couple days after my birthday, I was talking to my daughter, Libby, by the pool (ah yes, the pool), and she was talking about a book she had gotten for Christmas, The 4-Hour Work Week.  There were some concepts in it that we were discussing.  A couple were that people are bombarded by information, and they are constantly in communication via e-mails, social media, and texts.  These things become time wasters. We need to learn to manage that.  I laughed, saying maybe that's why I'm forgetting so much lately! (Besides the fact that I'm 50 or I'm developing early-onset Alzheimer's. Ha.)  Maybe it's information overload, and I need to be more intentional about what I read and how, who I communicate with and when, when and what I blog, etc.  I thought, maybe this is my word!  INTENTIONAL!  However, after talking to my younger daughter, Katie, and the more I thought about it, the more I also think that a culprit of forgetfulness and the sense of time getting away from me is attention or the lack thereof.  I've got so much stuff going on that I'm not paying enough attention.  I could choose ATTENTION, but that didn't seem quite right.  I need to be more in the present, slow down, choose more wisely, pay attention, be mindful.  BE MINDFUL!  The word, MINDFULNESS started to take shape.  It's closely related to FOCUS, too, which I love.  I always like how my OLWs can relate to each other.

     One small issue about choosing this word is that I didn't necessarily have a book inspiration.  The conversation started around Libby's book, but I needed one of my own.  All my other OLWs were inspired by children's books!  Fortunately, two things came my way.  One was a birthday gift from my friend, Jill.  We had talked about my word, and she said as she was shopping with her mom, she saw the perfect book!  It's beautiful, and I already love the couple entries that I've read.

     The other thing that came my way was a beautiful print by Pam Zagarenski.   I love her art and books.  I especially loved one that had a reference to Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening."  Frost is one of my favorite poets, and that particular poem seems perfect for the concept of MINDFULNESS.  Taking a little time to stop and watch the snow before continuing a JOURNEY.  See how my previous words seem to continue?!  I can't wait to get her beautiful print framed and hung in my classroom, adding to my collection of original art and prints by children's illustrators.

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Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Related Poem Content Details

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

     I'd like to practice mindfulness in various aspects of my life: physically (exercising/eating healthy), spiritually (reading the Bible more, praying, worshiping), mentally and creatively (reading, writing, learning), embracing this time in my life, enjoying family and friends, and having a great year celebrating 50.

     This week I'm leading my 6th graders to their One Little Words, and tomorrow they'll make word clouds after using to look up lots of synonyms for their words.  It helps them expand their understanding of their words and increase their word knowledge.  I use this time to explain denotation and connotation and to help them understand nuances of words.  I've used Tagxedo in the past, but our Chromebooks don't support it, so we're trying out Tagul this year.  I experimented tonight with it.  It's fairly user-friendly.  I decided to use a leaf for the shape of my word cloud because I think trees inspire mindfulness.  I love maple trees, especially in the fall.  We'll also be writing poems around our words, possibly create presentations if we have time, and they will be writing this week's Slices of Life on Kidblog about their words.  I'm excited to see how our words will influence our year!

Saturday, January 7, 2017


  Before I share my #MustReadin2017 list, check out Nerdy Book Club today - my 6th graders helped me write a post!  I love the picture books they chose as their favorites.  Now, on to my list.  Thank you, Carrie Gelson, for encouraging us to make these lists.  Research tells us lifelong readers make reading plans, so here are my plans for this year!!

   I'm carrying a couple books over from last year's list that I didn't get to but still want to read...


Salt to the Sea Cover

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Everyone says to read this!


Lily and Dunkin Cover
READ 1/10/17
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
I'm listening to the audio of this book and am captivated by the endearing main characters.

The rest are new to the list!


The Girl Who Drank the Moon Cover
READ 1/14/17
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
I'm about halfway into this book and love it.  


The Inquisitor's Tale Cover

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz
This is our staff middle grade book choice for January, and the couple staff members who have already read it LOVED it.  My "kid tester" in 6th grade also raved about it.  A possible Newbery winner?  Can't wait to get to it!


The Lie Tree Cover

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
I've seen this on multiple "Best Of 2016" lists, and I imagine it's a contender for the Printz.  Intriguing!


Snow White Cover

Snow White by Matt Phelan
Lots of buzz around this one!  Several of my #MustRead books are coming from this post by Elizabeth Bird.


Cloud and Wallfish Cover

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Another Elizabeth Bird recommendation.


Full of Beans Cover

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Because duh, it's by Jennifer Holm!


Some Kind of Happiness Cover

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

I saw Claire on a panel at NCTE and loved what she had to say.  I look forward to this book!


Falling Over Sideways Cover

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

I got this title from the 2016 Young Adult Fiction Nerdies.  I've loved every Sonnenblick novel I've read, so I'm sure this will be no exception.


Still a Work in Progress Cover

I bought this a while ago and haven't gotten to it yet.  The subject matter in this book hits close to home, so I want to be sure to get to this soon!


Throne of Glass Cover

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I've been wanting to get to the series for a while now.  We picked as one of our books for my Junior High Girls Book Club in the spring.  My daughter, Libby, loved it and has gone on to read the rest of the series.


Moo Cover

Moo by Sharon Creech

I bought this book for my classroom but made the mistake of putting it out before I got a chance to read it.  It's been in kids' hands every since!


The Sound of Gravel Cover

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

My book club picked this one for January.


Born to Run Cover

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

I bought the CDs of this memoir for my husband for Christmas so we could listen to it on our car trip back to Ohio from Florida.  Bruce reads it.  We were thoroughly captivated by his stories for a full 14 hours.  Unfortunately, it's a 20 hour audio book!  I need to find a way to keep listening - Ed and I need to take another road trip!


Presenting Buffalo Bill Cover

I love Candace Fleming books!  I got to see her at NCTE in a round table session, and she talked about this book.  


The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary Cover

I read a Colby Sharp post and a Donalyn Miller post about this book - how can you resist after those two rave about a book?


Finding Perfect Cover

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

This is a 2016 Middle Grade Nerdy winner.  It looks great!


Scar Island Cover

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

I'm reading Some Kind of Courage, one of my favorite books of 2016, to my 5th graders right now.  They are loving it!  I want to make sure I have his newest one on hand after we finish because I know my students are going to want to read all Gemeinhart's books.  The Honest Truth was wonderful, too!


What Elephants Know Cover

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

I accidentally bought TWO copies of this book - I must have loved the cover!  It's about time I read it!


Upstream Cover

Upstream by Mary Oliver

I love Oliver's poetry, and I know I'll love these essays.  I lent it out to my daughter, Libby, though, so I need to get it back!


Flying Lessons & Other Stories Cover

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

I'm excited about a book of short stories for middle graders!

Just a few more - these are books that aren't published yet that I can't wait to read!


Short Cover

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Orphan Island Cover

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder


The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Cover

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Okay - I'm going to stop there!!  Here's to lots of reading in 2017!!