Saturday, August 20, 2016

10 Back to School Picture Books for Big Kids!

I survived my first week! I'm in love with my new group of fifth graders and all the learning and growing we've done already. I'm also really excited about all the picture books we've been reading so far this year! Here's ten of my favorite picture books to start off the year!












What are some of your favorite picture books to start off the year?
Check out the hashtag #pb10for10 for more great titles! 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mock Newbery Book Club


I've posted on Twitter & Instagram several photos of books coming in for my Mock Newbery book club and it's been generating a lot of talk on social media. Many people simply want to know -- What is it? How did I get started? Where did I find all the books? I hope that this post can help answer some common questions and help get others started with Mock Newbery.

Before I answer some questions, I do want to be upfront. I've never participated in Mock Newbery before but I knew this is something I wanted had to do in my classroom. So, where did I get my information? Well, I started out by asking friends about their experiences. I went to a session on Mock Newbery at Nerd Camp and then I did lots and lots of research on the internet including joining groups on Goodreads and checking out various blogs by "gurus" of education. Hopefully, my research can help you out!


What is it? That was the most asked question on social media. Mock Newbery is essentially a "mock" or fake Newbery committee made up of students. Students read books that are getting lots of buzz or praise that may be Newbery contenders for the medal in January. Students read the books and analyze the books as would committee members on the actual Newbery Committee. Students look for ways books are distinguished in topic, characters, style and theme. You can check out the Newbery Criteria {here} but be warned it's not super kid friendly. I'm working a way to get it more kid appropriate.

The rules for Mock Newbery are simple. Books must be written within the year of the medal, so all books must have a 2016 publishing date for the 2017 medal. Also, all authors must be American citizens or residents of the United States. Lastly, books to be considered should add a "contribution to American literature."


Everyone has their own opinions and ways of running a Mock Newbery Club. Therefore, I did quite a bit of research just to see how others ran a Mock Newbery Club. Here are a few resources that I found really helpful as I started my Mock Newbery journey back in May.

All links will directly take you to the Newbery posts/articles.

Kids Talk Kid Lit Blog 

North Oakview Library Mock Newbery

Literacy for Big Kids Mock Newbery

#MockNewbery Twitter search

School Library Journal Mock Newbery List

ALA Newbery Winners 1922 - Present


After reading some posts and getting my ideas forming, I decided it was time to start thinking about a list! I bounced lots of titles off friends and other Mock Newbery participants. I set my list at the end of last year knowing I wanted to create a Donors Choose to get my books by August. Thankfully, my project was funded and I will have plenty of books to share around. I do not know if all books would be considered "distinguished" by the actual Newbery panel but I chose books that spoke to me and would open up doors for my students. There are several other books that I wish I had on my list and I may add them or recommend them as time goes on but alas I had to stop somewhere!

Twitter gave me tons of inspiration!

Mock Newbery stack from my amazing friend and fellow 
#BookJourney member Scott Fillner (@sfillner)

Here's a few other lists I used to help get me started:

Mr. Shu's Goodreads Mock Newbery 2017 List

Goodreads Popular Mock Newbery Books

Mock Newbery & Caldecott 2017 List

For Those About to Mock 2017 Contenders

My List: 
To keep things manageable and keep discussions going, I set up a monthly reading list. Students will be asked to read at least one book on the monthly list in order to participate in that month's committee meeting. Students may always read ahead but I want students to be able to form sub-committees to discuss thoughts on the same book each month. I've also aligned my choices with book releases and units of study so that students can also be reading these books for class activities / book clubs as well.

In my list I tried to incorporate various styles, genres, topics and reading levels. Hence, you'll find higher level historical fiction like Wolf Hollow and some lower level realistic fiction like Weekends with Max and his Dad all on my list. Roller Girl was an honor book last year, so I did also add Ghosts (released in October) to my list as well. Added incentive, the Mock Newbery crew are the first to read my four copies! I'm also championing debut authors like Jenn Bishop, Melanie Conklin and Elly Swartz because their novels all touched me in a very special way.


There are so many ways you could run a Mock Newbery club. Some teachers do it school wide, grade wide, or even as an entire class. Others make it an optional after school activity. Your level of comfort and interest are your only limits.

This year, being my first year, I'm holding an optional book club with just my team of 120 students. Since our school has nearly 2,400 students -- school wide was not something I felt comfortable running my first year. In fifth grade alone we have nearly 800 students so I wasn't quite ready to tackle a grade level after school activity as well. Thus, I decided to start small with just my team. I'm hoping for about 30-40 participants out of our 120 students. Our school has quite a few rules about holding after school activities so for this year my teaching partner and I will run our Book Club during our FLEX (intervention) period in which we have two 30 minute blocks that we could combine for an up to an hour of book club time. We plan on holding 1-2 meetings a month for an 30 minutes - hour during this time period. I'm still working with other teachers to coordinate this effort but I think this will work best for our team. I'm hoping that every other Friday, we can meet just like a real life book club and discuss what we've been reading. I also have some author Skype sessions in the works as well as a few other "fun" activities planned leading up to the awards in January.

To get started, I created a letter to pass out at Open House so that parents know about this great opportunity as well as the students. The book list is on the back of the letter so that students may start reading early if they choose! It's never too early to start the buzz. I also plan on going over this whole class within the first few weeks of school and passing out another letter/tentative sign-up.

Since we do not know all the important dates of our building, I haven't set an official calendar but I'm hoping to set all my dates by the end of August. I also plan on having one meeting in August to introduce books and talk about some of the Newbery criteria and expectations. I'm currently working teasers for each our September books to get all the students excited about joining Mock Newbery Book Club!

What other questions do you have?
Who else is considering Mock Newbery?
I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Audiobooks 2.0


I've done a previous post about using audiobooks in the classroom. You can check out that past post {here}. However, today, I wanted to do a little blogging about a specific type of audiobook - Playaways. Playaways are a player and audiobook in one! These are a fantastic alternative to iPods or CD listening stations in a classroom. 

What is a Playaway? Like an iPod or MP3 player, Playaways have an audio input jack so that you can connect a set of ear buds or a headphone splitter if multiple students want to listen at a time. Playaways can also be connected to external speakers or laptop with the appropriate cable. However, unlike an MP3 Player these mini-players are super easy to use, require no passwords, durable and run on a single AAA battery. Plus, there is no way for students to delete or rearrange content! #Foolproof


What are the benefits to using audiobooks? I use audiobooks in a number of different ways in my classroom. I personally, love audiobooks in the car or at home when I'm having trouble focusing. I also find that listening to certain audiobooks really helps me get "lost" in the story. Audiobooks, therefore, are always a valid choice in my classroom.

Students may choose to listen to audiobooks during independent reading time as long as they are following along with the text. They may also buddy listen to audiobooks during this time using my Belkin headphone splitter. Once again, I only require that they are reading the text as well so that they can pay attention to authors' craft and vocabulary. It also helps some students stay focused who may not be natural auditory learners.

I also use audiobooks in small reading groups. Often my ESL students or striving readers will choose the same books for our class book clubs. These students often read with me a few days a week for help with fluency and comprehension, however, on my conferring days, they may choose take a Playaway to listen to the audiobook since we will not be reading together. I find that this helps many emerging readers with comprehension skills as well as fluency related skills.

I also allow Playways to be checked out of my classroom library just like "regular" books. Students may take them home for nightly reading. These are a great way for students "on the go" to get in edge reading as they drive to football practice or a swim meet. I find that this is a great way to get many non-readers or students that claim that they are "too busy" into reading. They are also great for students that may not have parents at home who can always read and check-in with them. I feel it's important for students to know that audiobooks are a valid form of reading and therefore count towards reading minutes and the 40 Book Challenge in my classroom.

Lastly, Playaways or any audiobook is a great way for students to preview books. Students that have trouble shopping for books, often find it easier to listen to a few chapters of a book. I've found that this also gives me more time to confer with other students after providing this strategy for students that struggle with choosing books. I help them find 2-3 audiobooks and send them back to listen to the first few chapters. The Playaways keeps those readers take ownership and begin to problem solve. Some students find that they wish to continue to listen to the audiobook while others then pick up the text with the Playaway.


So where can you buy or find Playaways? There are a few different ways to get Playaways in the hands of your students. However, I've found the prices to be of a significant range. So, here's a quick glance at a few Playaway options for several books you may want to include in middle grade library.

eBay 

  • Reached by Ally Condie ($12.99)
  • Love that Dog & Goosebumps ($8.99)
  • Large lots of Playaways from ($12.22 - $24.99)
  • Some books as low as $2 when sold in bulk
  • Selection can change daily
  • Some are auction items only
  • Make sure you factor in shipping costs


Amazon

Playaway

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio ($64.99)
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander ($54.99)
  • Love that Dog by Sharon Creech ($39.99)
  • Large selection
  • Prices range from $39.99 - $74.99
  • Option to buy audio & text
  • Most expensive option

The verdict? I've been working hard this summer to build my own Playaway collection. Previously, I used the public library for audiobooks. I would check out 2-5 books at a time and make them available to my students. I've personally found eBay to be my best option. I bough several bulk collections of 12 books for $20-$26 dollars. I have yet to purchase any books on the Playaway website. I will continue to check out used library sales, eBay & my local library. Donors choose or requesting Playaways in your school library could be additional options.



Happy listening! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Six Books to Preorder .... Now!

Being a part of a special book club like #BookJourney has allowed me to read some absolutely amazing ARCs. I can't say thank you enough to the authors, publishers, Twitter friends, and my Book Journey crew for sending and sharing so many great books! I'm so lucky to be able to share all these great reads with my students next year.

Since my last post featured books you could load into your Amazon cart right now, I thought I'd feature a few books that aren't released yet but you'll definitely want to preorder or request at your local library. Why preorder?  Preorders are important to authors because all sales go towards their first week sales. Therefore, helping to increase and maximize their book release sales and hopefully getting them closer to the best seller list. So, if you seen an author you admire, do them a favor and preorder their book to show your love and support.


Links are included for Amazon preorder for all books. Bonus: Amazon is amazing because preorders are guaranteed to arrive the day books are released! All of these books below are perfect for our middle grade 4th-6th grade readers (IMO) and although they tackle some tough subjects the authors do so with an appropriate lens for younger readers.


Alright, get those shopping carts ready... 


Who else is a HUGE Haddix fan? If you're a fan of Margaret Peterson Haddix or science-fiction, you'll love her newest series, Children of Exile. I dare say this may be my favorite Haddix to date. The writing is suspenseful and begs to be read aloud! There is literally a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter that keeps readers engaged and engrossed! I.COULD.NOT.PUT.THIS.BOOK.DOWN. I only stopped to Vox with my book club group about my thoughts and reactions as I was reading. This book is completely suitable for middle grade readers (4th-6th) yet I think older students would also enjoy this book as well. I loved that unlike the YA Hunger Games and Divergent, this book was written with middle grade dystopian fans in mind. This book still packs a suspenseful punch but without the mature content. I've already ordered several copies of this book because I know it will be SUPER popular! It's a fast read and would be perfect to help convert your reluctant readers. The only downside is waiting for the sequel.

Children of Exile will be released on September 13th, 2016.
{My Rating: Five Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon


I can not say enough wonderful things about the book Wish by Barbara O'Connor. I loved this book so much, I'm adding Wish to my Mock Newbery book club for next year. This book is filled with some of my favorite characters. Students will instantly identify with main character Charlie as she tries to settle into a new town and a new life. Charlie doesn't want to get too attach to anyone or anything, as she's just visiting until her mama can get "back on her feet." Although, against her better judgement Charlie starts to enjoy her new surroundings and even creates a plan to catch a local stray so she can finally have a dog to call own.

Charlie's friends and family will have readers wanting to take a trip to the Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. As I was reading this story, I could feel Barbara O'Connor's love for North Carolina. This story literally transports readers to Aunt Bertha's kitchen and Uncle Gus' garden. Themes of family and friendship run deep in this story. Through Charlie's story readers also learn about hope and the power of a wish. Fans of Because of  Winn Dixie, Touch Blue, and Rain, Reign will love this story.

Wish will be released on August 30th, 2016. 
{My rating: Five Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon



Sharon Creech fans will not be disappointed with her latest verse novel. Moo follows the story of a family that chooses to leave the big city for life in rural Maine. Knowing nothing about farming and leaving their friends behind, Reena and her family must learn to get used to the lifestyle, pace, and cold weather associated with Maine living. At times, I felt like I was in Maine with the characters due to Creech's observant and precise writing. Like Love that Dog and Hate that Cat, the characters are charming, funny and learning to love. This "moo-ving" story about Reena's quest to train and show a troublesome cow named Zora, will have students laughing out loud and learning about grit and dedication. Filled with lots of cow patties and a charging pig named Paulie, animal antics alone, is sure to win over many middle grade readers.

I did think this story was quite a bit long even written in verse for some of my striving readers. However, I was thankful for the white space and changes in font style and craft to help break up this 275+ novel. That being said, this book would be a great stretch for students wanting to tackle a "longer" book since it is not nearly as dense as other nearly 300 page reads. The story was well told and I felt like I was really able to get to know each character including Zora the cow!

Moo will be released on August 30th, 2016.
{My rating: Four Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon


This book has quite the possibly the most powerful first line of any book I've read. For students that need that "instant" hook -- just read them the first sentence of Maxi's Secrets. This book has been on my Mock Newbery list and there is a reason. This book is a powerful read full of wisdom, friendship, and love. So much more than a dog book, this story follows a family's move to Maine and their life with a new puppy, Maxi. Each chapter ends with a thoughtful life lesson that the main character Timminy has learned from his dog Maxi. Due to its unique style and craft, I believe this story is a top contender for the Newbery. I laughed and cried and didn't want this story to end. Whether is a crazy dog person (like myself) or not, this book filled with honesty and wisdom that goes beyond owning a pet. This story teaches students about patience, love, forgiveness and friendship.

I know my students will be more empathetic and better people after reading this novel. I can't wait to book talk and share this beautiful story with my students. Students who love The Honest Truth, Rules, and Love that Dog will devour this story! This story is a #heartprint book for me and one that I will carry with me for a very long time. For teachers, this book would be great in a theme or character unit of study. It would also make an excellent read aloud as each chapter is fairly short and closes with a wonderful lesson to wrap the day's reading.

Maxi's Secrets will be released on August 23rd, 2016.
{My rating: Five Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon


This story is a the sequel to Phil Bildner's first Rip and Red novel, A Whole New Ballgame. I would highly recommend reading the first book before reading Rookie of the Year since lots of character development does take place in the first novel. However, the first few chapters give enough background that this could be a stand alone novel IMO.

Rookie of the Year, follows Rip and Red as they get ready to start a new basketball season with their favorite teacher and coach Mr. Acevedo! New to the school and team, Tiki tries out for the team and teaches Rip about teamwork and good sportsmen ship. Phil Bildner crafts an exceptional story about
5th graders dealing with real fifth grade problems! This story is fun and will pull in both boy and girl sports lovers. However, enough this story may initially appeal to sports fans, the story goes beyond basketball to tackle issues like school budget cuts and project collaboration. Fans of Dan Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures and Kwame Alexander's Booked & The Crossover, will love this series!

Rookie of the Year will be released on July 12th, 2016.
{My rating: Four Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon


This book fills a void in my classroom and hit a personal note with me. Tackling the issues of OCD, anxiety, and perfectionism, Finding Perfect asks kids some tough questions. This debut from author Elly Swartz, had me questioning my own habits and routines. For anyone that has perfectionism tendencies this book is a thoughtful mirror filled with authentic characters and voice. After reading this story, I immediately made a list of students that could benefit from having this story in their life. Teaching in upper middle class school district that is HIGHLY competitive in both academics and sports, I see more and more cases of anxiety and perfectionism each year. I know  many students (and teachers) that can relate to Molly and her struggle with "finding perfect."

This book deserves so many "Mr. Shu" book hugs from teachers and students alike! I can't wait to add this book to my interpretation (theme) book club. I know students will love the characters and story and find a bit of themselves within Molly. Although a fast read, I found that this story really did give a glimpse into the mind of someone struggling with issues of control and order. I hope to work this novel into my read aloud rotation for next school because it's THAT amazing! Molly's voice is strong and real and I didn't want to put this story down! Afterward, you'll want to share with teachers and students alike after reading this powerful book. This book great for realistic fiction fans of novels like Rules, Ruby on the Outside, and Raymie Nightingale

Finding Perfect will be released on October 18th, 2016.
{My rating: Five Stars}

You can check out more review on Goodreads and the book summary on Amazon
Thank you to all the wonderful authors. You've been gracious and kind, I've loved connecting with you all on Twitter. As teacher, your words will greatly help my fifth graders feel connected to each other, the world, and hopefully develop empathy for others unlike themselves. I'm so grateful to be part of this golden age of kidlit. 

Happy Reading,


Disclaimer: I take no responsibility in the accumulation or cost of books in your Amazon cart!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Six Must Reads (so far) in 2016.

As many of you know, I joined the sixty book challenge back in January and pledged to read sixty books in 2016. I also said, I'd give myself some grace but was willing to fit reading back into my everyday life. Well, today, welllll before December, I've already read sixty books! Several have been picture books, but I'm excited that I've made time for reading. I can't thank my #BookJourney friends, amazing authors& teachers on social media, and Mr. Shu's Book Release Calendar for all the great books and recommendations! I'm so excited to continue my reading journey this year.
If you're following me on Instagram or Twitter, you know I've read several ARCs for some very anticipated books but I will save some of those for a later post. Today, I want to suggest six books that you can buy right now that are a must read in 2016!

Unputtdownable! I could not stop reading this book. Fans of The War that Saved my Life will enjoy this novel! I'm very interested to see how students react to this story. I thought the main character had such a strong and powerful voice. I was instantly lured into the story. Plus, the villain Betty -- she's a villain among all villains. A vile character that rivals Dolores Umbridge for appearing sickeningly sweet yet completely cruel!  The setting and historical fiction elements only add to the mystery and intensity of this story. I know my avid readers will enjoy the craft and suspense of this read. However, striving readers may find it difficult to sustain reading. There were several parts I saw glimmers of author Lauren Wolk's adult writing background & felt they were not as kid friendly. Yet, there is lots of Newbery buzz surrounding this novel. Definitely preview before giving to a middle grade reader!

Anything but just a robot story. Peter Brown crafts an imaginative story in which Roz, the robot, is stranded on a forested island. At first the animals are very judgmental of Roz. Weaving in themes of friendship, determination, and family, Peter Brown crafts a magnificent story. Roz eventually finds her place on the island and allows herself to become a bit more "wild." I loved, loved, loved this book. I would give more than five stars if possible. The short chapters and interesting characters make this book a fast read for any middle grade reader. Complex questions like - What is family? will keep even your highest readers engaged! Plus, the button! The button! I was nervous & hesitant reading that chapter!  There is even an entire chapter related to animals "doing their business" to help fertilize Roz's garden. What fifth grader doesn't want to learn more synonyms for poop?

Cherish your time with family & embrace change. This story is full of character, character, character! Thyme Owens is uprooted and moved to New York from California because her little brother has a rare cancer. Thyme will do anything for her brother but that doesn't mean being the new girl isn't hard. Thyme begins saving up "time" in order to hopefully buy her old life back. This story has such powerful voice. I instantly knew Thyme! From laugh out loud moments to tearful treatments, this book deals with tough issues in a clever and endearing way. Melanie Conklin deftly crafts a story that many middle grade readers will treasure for years to come! This story is timeless and has all the elements of an instant classic! Plus, so many wonderful & inspiring quotes for a graffiti wall!

If you wish hard enough, will it come true? This simple story has won over my heart. Set during Japanese Internment during WWII, the main character and her family are moved to a desert internment camp from their home in Washington. Sadly, the family must leave their dog Yujin behind. A dark time in American History as seen through the eyes of a young girl struggling to find her dog and her voice in this new home. This book is great for students that love nonfiction. Author, Lois Sepahban, has greatly researched this time period and shares additional links and websites at the end of the novel.


What if you could connect with loved ones that have passed away? Being a pretty avid reader, I'm not always shocked by plot twists these days. However, I was expecting a straightforward realistic fiction story about a young boy who has recently lost his mother to cancer. But this story, took a turn I was not expecting! Fans of The Nest and Coraline will love "creep" of this story. Charlie's story is sure to be a supernatural adventure that will keep readers reading! I'm glad I added this story to my Mock Newbery book club. A fresh look at grief and friendship. Can't wait to discuss this book and get student reactions to the twists and turns.

Kids will devour this graphic novel sequel! I haven't quite finished this one yet as I'll admit I'm not the fastest graphic novel reader. Something, I'm still training myself to do! However, within the first few pages, I instantly knew this would a HIT with my students. Starting of with a bang, Hilo's head is looking for the rest of his body! But wait... just as Hilo thinks life is finally becoming "normal" strange portals bring Viking Hippos and Killer Vegetables to earth! Will Hilo and his friends be able to save the whole wide world? Witty and clever this book is perfect for fans of  Big Nate and Amulet alike. This is a new series you'll want on your radar!

What is your middle grade must read of 2016?