Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mock Newbery Thoughts... So Far.

I was incredibly lucky to to be able to present to local teachers about Mock Book Clubs at our Mason Learning Series this past week. I'm so thankful for the teachers that attended my session and excited that they wanted to empower their readers through a Mock Book Club.

As the start school of approaches, I'm beyond excited to meet my new readers and hopefully new book clubbers! I thought I'd do a quick post today with a few front runners (in my opinion) for the Newbery award!

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams Garcia

This book is dare I say my new favorite Rita Williams Garcia novel! The relationship between Clayton and Big Papa Byrd is unmatched. Their bond is one that will stick with me for a long time. It reminded me a lot of The Hour of the Bees which was my favorite and front runner last Newbery season. Rita Williams Garcia does a great mastering Clayton's voice and showcasing that although Clayton is a "good kid" - he can still make mistakes. It also highlights the notion that we can't know what we all carry with us as we go to school or about our day. Sometimes, we carry burdens of grief or sorrow that we hide away from others. Relationships run deep and we can't always assume how kids are feeling. I could hear the sorrowful melodies of Clayton playing his blues harp right beside Big Papa. I'm currently envisioning this story with a shiny sticker on its cover. The audiobook of this text was superb! An accessible and short text which is great for all middle grade readers. Grades 4+.

The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish

I read this book last year and it's still a story I'm carrying with me. The craft of this story and the way subplots and plots weave together truly mesmerized me. I thought I knew how things may come together but I was taken on quite the ride as a reader! This book does a great job of address post traumatic stress disorder and how it can affect children. There is also a great deal of work in the development of  Ethan "before" and "after" the incident. Perfect novel to address character change and theme. This book perhaps however is also a favorite because this book teaches that hope helps us cope with change, loss, and moving on. This book is a longer for some readers that may not have stamina or ability to connect all the stories however it's worth downloading the audiobook to support readers that may need it. Grades 4+.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

This book is timely. It is a story that needs to be shared with students TODAY. It is a story that all students and adults will instantly be able to connect with as it deals with fitting in and finding a true friend. Katherine Applegate manages to balance humor, wisdom, and heartache so artfully you'll be laughing and crying within pages. Red has a distant voice that you'll hear whispering as you walk past trees in your own neighborhood. Focused on the harassment of a Middle Eastern American, this story teaches empathy, compassion and the power of community. Short chapters are also ideal for reading this story aloud. I can't wait to see what the illustrations add to this text as well!  Grades 3+ with support.

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Could there be an more relevant book released in 2017? Refugee centers around three very different characters in three (seemingly) very different time periods. I'll admit I haven't finished this one yet but already, I know this is going to be a very powerful and profound story. You'll want to make sure you have this one your list and available to kids. It was not on my initial list but plan on having two copies to matriculate to interested readers. This title will also be at fall Scholastic Book Fairs and in the TAB Flyer for September if you need additional copies. For this book due to the context and some knowledge of history - I'd say Grades 5/6+.

Do you have a current favorite? 
Share your front runners below in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Sunday, July 9, 2017

#MockNewbery 2018 - My List

On Nerd Camp eve, it seems only appropriate to share my list for Mock Newbery 2018. Although, I've not read all the books yet on my list, I've read most and I can say, I'm really excited about sharing these 18 titles with my new fifth graders!


Monday, July 3, 2017

#IMWAYR June Wrap-Up

I haven't joined in the #IMWAYR  in a while, so I thought this would be a great way to wrap up some amazing reads that I finished in June! A big focus this month has been on Mock Newbery contenders. I try to read as many of the books as possible so I can be a better book talker to my students (and of course be able to make my own predictions.) I'm also throwing myself into as many picture books as possible so that I can hit the ground running with #classroombookaday next year. You can see all my picture book reads and reviews on goodreads. I'll focus on middle grade books for this post!

This diverse collection of short stories is a must for any middle grade classroom! I enjoyed listening to this book as a audio because each story was read by a different narrator. It kept the book moving forward and made the stories come to life. Kwame Alexander and Matt de la Pena had two of my favorite stories along with author Grace Lin. Many of the stories tackle issues that kids can relate too including stereotypes, fitting in, and finding your own way. You won't be disappointed in this collection and it'd be a perfect fit for the Reading Without Walls Challenge. Grades 5+.

This story and the cast of unforgettable characters captured my heart! Carter Higgins has created a fantastic read that will have you craving sweet potato fries and hot dogs. Everything is better at the ballpark and this story is no exception! Students will instantly connect with Derby and her love of all things food, family, and fun! From helping out a friend in need to training turtles this book has it all. Lots of great discussion to be had about losing a loved one and how friends and family can help you move on. On my #MockNewbery list for 2018. Grades 4+.

I have so many mixed feelings about this novel. I had heard some great things and read stellar reviews on goodreads, so I knew I had to pick up a copy. I'm glad I've read this book and was able to journey with Rydr as she comes to grips with loss, love, and life as she makes her way to an uncle she's never met. The writing is fantastic! However, I think School Library Journal and the author are a little out of touch with middle grade literature. This is NOT a middle grade novel in my opinion. From the Ginsberg references to the drug/relationship inferences - I'm not sure any 5th or 6th grade will fully comprehend the author's intent. I also was left without much hope for Rydr because her future was so uncertain. While I'm not saying the ending should be perfect - most MG books leave the reading feeling a sense of hopefulness for the future. I didn't get that feeling. I see this more of a YA book for 7th and 8th grade students. I believe that more books need to confront the drug problem we're facing in today's world but I'm not sure this is the book for younger students. Grades 7+.

Jen Maschari's newest book Things That Surprise You does not disappoint! I fell instantly in love wiht Emily Murphy and connected with her struggle to navigate the difficult world of middle school, divorce, and feeling like you matter. Emily's story is a must read for any middle schooler and Jen's own personal connections to the story make the story shine. It's realistic and true and students will appreciate some "messy" truths about life as a young adult. I read this book in just under 24 hours because the writing and story were so well crafted. You'll want to preorder this August release for your classroom or Mock Newbery book club. This title is definitely on my #MockNewbery 2018 list. Grades 4+.

Izzy Kline has butterflies about starting fifth grade and auditioning for the school play. She's also worried about friends and fitting in. Told in verse and through "small moments" in Izzy's life, this story is a fast read that students will love! Izzy's life is heart-warming and easily relatable to any one that's tried to set outside their comfort zone. Grades 4+.

Is it too early to say this is a Newbery contender? This story instantly took me back to my first time reading The Giver in 6th grade. The world that Laurel Synder has built is magical and realistic -- so much so you'll never want to leave Orphan Island. The characters and setting make for a wonderful tale of nine children thriving on an island. This story captured my attention from the first sentence to the last period. I read this book in 2 days trying to savor the ending. I've seen some mixed reviews about pacing online - but I felt the story flowed as you witness first hand the blurred lines between childhood and young adulthood. Jinny's story is one that many students will want to read again as they try and put together the puzzle that is Orphan Island. So many questions and metaphors, this book kept me thinking even after the last page. A must have for middle grade dystopian and fantasy lovers! On my Mock Newbery for 2018. Grades 4+.

Currently, I'm reading Hello, Universe & listening to the audiobook for See You in the Cosmos
What's your list for July?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What We Value

As I sit waiting for the Chicago Reading Summit's Facebook Live video to kick off, I'm thinking about how I should have saved some extra money and made the four hour drive. Why would I do that? Because I value reading and learning. It's worth it to me to spend a day around people I know will better me as a teacher and learner. Thankfully, Nerd Camp isn't too far away and for two days I'll be immersed in all things books, authors, publishing, learning & general nerdiness. Okay, nerdiness may not be a word but it totally should be.

I wholeheartedly believe that teachers need the summer to rest and recharge. But we also need summer to work on our foundations - read a professional book, read some #kidlit, subscribe to a podcast or attend a workshop or two, etc. -- so that we can be better teachers come fall. I feel like I've heard too many teachers lately say (or post), Well I don't have time to read or I haven't read a book in ages. Some of these teachers have been fellow language arts teachers. This is unacceptable. If we value reading and learning, then we add it to our schedules. We make time in the car, between appointments, at baseball games - we read in those edge moments to fit it in because it matters. Reading is important. 

If we're not reading and keeping up with current literature, how are we supposed to get students on board? Specifically, students that already have the mindset that reading is not for them. I'm not saying you need to be reading a book a day or even a week but a book or two over the summer isn't unreasonable. Read a picture to your kids. Choose a short story collection. Just choose something you can read and share with kids. I'm usually able to finish an audiobook in about 14 days by just driving around and running errands over the summer. I also often listen in the shower each morning on my wireless speaker. It can be done.

Why is this important? Because as teacher we're role model readers.
Check out the research and key findings from Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report.

Look into your life. Where does reading fit in? Is it valued? Have you read a children's book published in 2016 or 2017? If not, then maybe you to look at your daily habits. How can you fit reading into your life? Start taking a book with you in your bag or car. Download an audiobook app. Listen at the gym, pool or before yoga. Not sure what to read? Jump on Twitter or Goodreads - what are other teachers reading? #Mglit , #Kidlit and #Opportunity2Read are hashtags that can help you find great books.

You can't be the best reading teacher if you're not reading. End of story.Would you trust a baseball coach who hasn't picked up a baseball in the last five years? Would you take lessons from a band teacher that doesn't play an instrument? Would you want to go to a doctor that hasn't read any new research in the past year? Your students deserve it, you owe it to them to hone your craft. So many of us are already doing all these things. But, if you're not, this post is not meant to shame but open your eyes and motivate.

Stop the excuses. Make time. Put it on your list. 
Just do it because your students are worth it.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Read This ... Then That!

If you're like me, you are always looking for the next book to read or recommend that is similiar to a book you were head-over-heels for!  Book-hangovers are the worst! And the cure? Find another amazing title! Kids feel this, too! I have students ask all the time for books that are similiar  in concept or style to other favorite books and authors. I try and keep a list of books and authors that kids may like if they've found a favorite read - however, as I read more, it's impossible to keep up. Therefore, it's mostly in my head... I'm hoping to share my thoughts and turn this into a regular (monthly, perhaps?) series on the blog. For this first installment, I decided to pick "that" books that have been or will be released in 2016/2017. I know I always dread the, "I read that in 4th grade." So, hopefully, these books will be brand sparkly new to your students as they look for their next amazing read!


These books are an ideal pairing! If students loved the friendship of Jess and Leslie, then they'll fall in love with Annie and California. In each book, the characters, take to the woods together, creating a place all their own. Annie and California set their sights on solving a family mystery that could help heal old wounds. Both books also deal with loss and how family can bring you strength during tough times. Hopefully, you're students' hearts will swing sideways for this natural match-up!


Historical fiction duo that will take you back in time! After an integrated Civil Rights Unit, my students couldn't get enough historical fiction. Many students adored the book Making Friends with Billy Wong which centered on an unlikely friendship between Azalea and Billy. If students loved the 1960's time period and unlikely friendship, then they'll be ready to meet Alice and Miss Millie down in Rainbow, Georgia. Like Azalea, Alice is not happy about spending the summer away from home with her grandma. And when she learns she is moving to Rainbow, Alice can only think about her home back in Columbus, Ohio. However, soon Alice finds some unlikely friends in Georgia and begins to think that maybe a fresh start isn't so bad after all. Walking with Miss Millie will be released on July 4, 2017! Preorder your copy(s) now! 


If students loved the dynamic and often conflicted character of Thyme, then students will instantly connect with the vibrant and often the messy life of Emily Murphy. These two books tackle tough family issues! Both books center around two strong female main characters that are ready to make a plan to change their lives! However, life seems to get in the way! Both girls try to balance out their seemingly small problems to larger family issues. They learn however that their problems and feelings matter, too. Both authors address tough issues (cancer and anorexia) with grace and poise while offering readers "real truths" about friends, family, and life.  Things that Surprise You will be released on August 22nd! Make sure you have a copy or two for your classroom library! 


If students loved the ballpark magic in The Distance to Home, then they are sure to love the magic and mystery of Ridge Creek, Virginia. Like Quinnen in The Distance to Home, Derby Christmas Clark from A Rambler Steals Home, is also missing a loved one. The stadium provides a welcome distraction as both girls learn to move on and face their problems. From hot dogs to turtle races, these books capture summertime at the ballpark flawlessly. Yet, these stories are more than your average "sports" story. Both authors craft a compelling story that will keep readers invested and engaged in the lives of the people and players involved with minor league baseball. Themes of hope, home, and family will have Quinnen and Derby sliding into your readers' hearts.


If students loved the magic and mystery in Crenshaw, then they will love reading about a magical eclipse in Moon Shadow. Both books offer realistic stories with hints of fantasy and magic sprinkled throughout. Moon Shadow also includes "dark" chapters throughout written by a mysterious presence. In each novel, characters must come to terms with themselves before taking on their other half. These books do a fantastic job of including realistic characters that have real life problems such as struggling with poverty and the separation of parents. Themes surrounding friendship, secrets, and finding your true self are abundant in both these stellar reads! The lasting lines in each book will be sure to leave an imprint on your readers' lives.

Click any of the images to be taken to Amazon's page for each "That" book.

Do you have a suggestion for a Read This & Then That mash-up?
Comment below with some ideas or topics you'd like to see in the future!

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