Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 5/27/13

Check out all the links at Teach Mentor Texts today!  The sun is finally out after a soaking week of rain.  Hooray!

Picture Books

I picked up Ted Kooser's House Held Up By Trees because of Jon Klassen's illustrations.  The origin of this story is interesting.  Ted Kooser actually saw a house that looked something like this, then developed the story to go along.  The writing is beautiful, though there is not much of a story.  I expect that it will go right over the heads of my first graders, but it will be interesting to see what they have to say about how Klassen's illustrations compare to his other work. 

I loved this book.  Fans of Jackie French's Diary of a Wombat books and Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm, Spider, and Fly will appreciate this one.  Tim Bowers' illustrations are fantastic.  I love how the eyes of the fish are so expressive.  I expect my kiddos are going to be big fans of this one.
The Great Fuzz Frenzy was another new-to-me title that was highly recommended by a colleague.  I was teaching alliteration and it fit in quite well, but as I read through, I realized what a great mentor text it was for so many things.  If you haven't read it, it's the story of what happens when strange fuzzy object (a tennis ball) falls into a prairie dog burrow.  I'm thinking it would make an awesome reader's theater script--that might be a project for this summer.  I ended up buying my own copy for my classroom. 

Middle Grade


Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt was recommended to me on Twitter.  I got into a bit of a Maine kick after I read Navigating Early, so this was naturally on the list.  I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  I always feel funny when I don't like a book that so many other people really like.  I had a hard time getting into it.  I appreciated the story, especially since it was based on real events, but I don't think I was ever really invested in the characters. 




I had seen this title on a lot of lists and knew almost nothing about it except the title when I started reading.  This is a memoir, written by Will Schwalbe about the unofficial book club formed between him and his mother during her cancer treatments.  This was a tribute to reading and how books can bring people together, and I have to say that it added a few titles to my TBR pile as well.  It was interesting to read this one and The Fault In Our Stars at the same time.  There were two very different perspectives on a similar situation.  I would recommend this one.

Currently Reading

I'm currently still listening to Matched on audiobook, although it is rapidly coming to an end.  I'm thinking about taking the long way to and from work tomorrow.  I just started Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord (yes, another Maine title!) and I'm really enjoying it so far.

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 5/19

I'm linking up with Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts today.

We just received a shipment of new picture books at our school to use as mentor texts.  It was like Christmas!  I wanted to sit in the book room and read, but alas, there were spelling tests to correct and other such fun paperwork to be done during my prep time on Friday.  I did manage to read a few, but there are many more that will be calling my name before the year is out.

Among them were two awesome books that I might just need to purchase for my own classroom.  Both are going to be staple mentor texts in my Writing Workshop next year, I'm sure.  The first,
Ralph Tells a Story, is author Abby Hanlon's first book. Anyone who has taught first grade writers has taught a "Ralph."  Ralph cannot think of anything to write, and so he rather comically avoids the task.  It does, of course, have a happy ending, which makes it a great book to have in the classroom.

I loved Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  Not only is it a great mentor text for punctuation, but there is so much in the story as far as theme, vocabulary, and character development.  The illustrations are simple and fun and work so well with the text.  This one is a must-have.

Finally, after a long and not-so-patient wait, I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  I had previously listened to Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Looking for Alaska on audiobook and loved them both, so I was really looking forward to reading this one.  It did not disappoint.  As I finished, I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start again.

This week, I'm reading Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt.  (Hooray for another book set in Maine!)  I'm listening to Matched by Ally Condie on audiobook, which I suspect will probably take a while, but I'm enjoying it so far. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why Author Skypes Are Amazing

Disclaimer:  I am very much an introvert.  I got nervous about posting my first Tweet, which I believe was in a TitleTalk full of people I had never met.  I have heard wonderful things about Skyping with authors, but I never imagined that I would do that with my kids.  Skyping?  Yes, maybe.  With a complete stranger?  Hmm...  With a complete stranger who is also a well-known children's author?  Certainly enough to give anyone pause. 

Enter the fabulous Ame Dyckman, author of Boy + Bot.  Ame has a gift for making everyone feel comfortable. I "met" Ame on Twitter a few months ago.  She somehow manages to express unlimited enthusiasm in limited characters, and her love of kids and books is obvious. 

I work with a small group of first grade kiddos in an after-school writing club.  As a way to wrap up our spring session, I wanted to do something special with them.  Feeling brave, I sent Ame a message and asked her to Skype with our kiddos.  The result?  Total and complete awesomeness.  Here are the top 3 reasons that a Skype visit is amazing:

1.  Show kids that authors are real people

My little friends often think of capital-A Authors as these magical Others who live in a land filled with unlimited supplies of white paper and writing tools.  There's nothing like a conversation with an author to make that person real for the kids.  It helps when your author mentions that she needs to go pick up her daughter from the bus stop soon, tells her cats to stop fighting, and shows you her bag of books from the library.  Authors are real, people.

2.  Show kids that authors are readers

I think Ame mentioned somewhere around 10 titles during our 30-minute chat, showing us the books when she had them handy and mentioning a few others in the context of the conversation.  There's nothing like an author telling your kids to read to drive the point home.  I recommend books all the time, but a different (and famous!) voice doing the same is certainly a benefit.  This is a picture of the newest book tub in my room.  I think it's empty now. 

3.   Encourage kids to be authors NOW

There's nothing like a published author asking about your writing to encourage you to make more of it. Ame's enthusiasm for my students' writing and illustrating will go a long way. 

My first Skype author visit will definitely not be my last.  If you're on the fence, be brave and make a connection.  There are tons of authors who are willing (and excited) to Skype with your kids.  It never hurts to ask, right?  Thank you, Ame, for saying yes and for being awesome!

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/13/13

I hope there's nothing weird about a Monday the 13th.  Sounds sort of ominous to me.  I'm linking up with Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.

I read some awesome books this week.  First, I finished The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore.  This book was just fantastic.  I didn't want to put it down.  I loved the flashbacks to the early days of the castle and the dynamic between Ephraim, Mallory, and Will.  This one, like a few others I've read recently, makes me wish I taught a middle grade so that I could hand it to my students.  I've seen it mentioned in some early Newbery murmurings, and for good reason.

I love it when I visit my library and the new arrivals shelf is full.  That's what happened this week, and I checked out some great new titles.  I'm really excited to share A Hen for Izzy Pippik, by Audrey Davis, with my first graders.  I'm interested in the discussion that will follow that one.  My daughter LOVED Again! by Emily Gravett.  I have to admit, I may have gotten a little excited when I saw the last page of it too.  She loved reading along ("Again! Again!") and pronounced it a "good book." 

I'm currently reading Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club and after a couple of month wait, I finally have The Fault in Our Stars from the library.  I am so excited to read this one.  I listened to Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Looking for Alaska on audiobook and loved them both.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Need for Speed

Confession:  I'm a recovering speed reader.  When I was in elementary school, we lived for a few years in a town without a library. (GASP.  I know.  It was hard.)  Once a week, we would drive twenty-five minutes or so to the nearest out-of-town library to pick up some new books.  I would pick out my limit of two books, we would get some groceries, and we would head home.  There were many days where I would have finished or nearly finished at least one of my books by the time we pulled in the driveway. By this point, I had already read everything in our house that was remotely age-appropriate, and of course, I wanted to spend quite a bit of my time reading. My poor mother was pulling her hair out trying to keep my in reading material.

At the height of my speed reading, I'm pretty sure that I would just read down through the center of the page.  I've still been known to skip the first paragraph on the page as I'm flying through books.  Obviously, I was missing out of quite a bit of the text, which also lead, not shockingly, to comprehension issues.  Somewhere in late middle school and high school, I managed to slow down enough to curb the comprehension problems, but there are times when the need for speed remains.

I have recently read some truly fantastic books, books where I wanted to savor every beautifully crafted sentence and plot twist.  (Three come to mind immediately:  Navigating Early, The Center of Everything, and The Water Castle.)  I started these books doing just that, reading slowly and taking it all in.  However, as the plot grew thicker and picked up speed, so did I.  There's a point in each story where it's like the peak of the roller coaster.  You start careening toward the end of the ride, and it's impossible to get off or to slow down. Were there lines and beauty to be treasured in the final treasures of each of these?  Most likely, but in my hurry to JUST KNOW what happened, I probably missed them. 

I think about my students, especially my high-flying first grade readers.  I can see myself in them, finishing books one after the other without much thought or savoring.  I want to tell them to slow down and take it all in, but there's a balance.  I also want them to know what it's like to get sucked into the story to the point where they lose control of their own reading.  I guess it's about knowing yourself as a reader, and knowing that while you can never read a book again for the first time, you can always read a book again.

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/6

I'm linking up with Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts today.  Last week was Screen Free Week, so I was hoping to have read a bit more, but it coincided with a stretch of gorgeous weather that is remarkably still going.  High 60s-70s and sunny in Maine for 10 days straight is something of a rare thing in May.  (Or ever.)

I finished Small as an Elephant last week, which I really liked.  The book is set in Maine, and I recognized a lot of the places to which Jack traveled throughout the book.  I'm reading The Water Castle now, another book set in Maine, and although it's fictional, it's not hard to see the parallels between Crystal Springs and Poland Springs.  I think it's really cool to read books that are set near your home area.  It's almost like sharing a secret with the author..."Hey, I know this place too!" 

I read a couple of picture books that I loved last week.  One by Kathryn Otoshi is a book that I first heard about when I heard Lester Laminack present about bullying last December.  Warm weather temperatures often cause other things to heat up on the playground, so it was a good one to share with my kiddos.  I also finally got a chance to read Mo Willems' Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs while I was waiting for a print job in the library.  I want to live next door to Mo Willems.  I was cracking up laughing when our librarian came in.  I can't wait to share it with my kiddos. 
Next week, I'm going to finish The Water Castle.  (If I could have made an extra day in the weekend, I'd have devoted it to that purpose.  It's really good.)