Sunday, November 12, 2017

Let's Get Cookin'

Each year brings different readers into my classroom. This year my students are into practical nonfiction - they want to make, take, and do. They want to learn how to code and beat various tasks on Mine Craft. They are also loving DIY and crafting books -- especially cookbooks. I have several students that just can't get enough cookbooks. Several students have even created food or recipe related blogs on Kid Blog.


Before, jumping down the book buying rabbit hole, I gave my students a short Google Form asking what they thought my library needed. Students had the option to respond by author, genre, or title. And they could make as many suggestions as they wanted. I told them I may not be able to buy all their suggestions but would find ways to make sure our classroom library was meeting our needs. After the survey, I noticed that many students were requesting cookbooks. I didn't have single cookbook in my classroom library and to make matters worse, the school library's cookbooks looked dated and a pretty "elementary" for some of my savvy young chefs. So, I set out to find a few great cookbooks for upper elementary readers!

After shopping around and asking for suggestions on social media, I found several great looking cookbooks. Many "felt" like cookbooks and had excellent photographs of foods and steps. The Kid Chef cookbooks also have sidebars with common pit-falls and solutions. Lots of great culinary vocabulary and techniques are covered each of these books as well.

Be Budget Wise: Many of these books are available on Amazon as well as cheaper online solutions like Thriftbooks and Book Outlet. Shop around as the price of a good cookbook (even for kids) can be pricey!

Here are a few of my students' favorites: 
Clicking each image will take you to the Amazon page for each book. 






How you do build your library cater to your students' needs?
What cooking essentials am I still missing in our classroom?

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Monday, October 30, 2017

#IMWAYR October

I haven't posted a #IMWAYR in quite a while, so now is as good as time as any to get caught up with some of my October reads! Back to school this year has been insanely busy as I get to know my new readers, learn and teach the new Units of Study and implement #classroombookaday. I may not have been reading quite as much as "usual" but I feel like I'm finally starting to feel on top of things that are happening in the classroom.

So, here's what my reading life has looked liked recently...



I purchased Ryan T. Higgins' latest gem as birthday present to myself and I'm so glad I did! It may be my favorite of the Bruce series so far. Bruce, the mice, and the goslings are all back and looking for a new home! The end papers and "undies" of this book are my favorite of 2017! We also read all the Bruce books for #classroombookaday and the students were not disappointed either. I highly recommend this book as a read aloud for any classroom.



I had seen so much social media press about this story. So I had to pick up a copy and read it for myself. This story was great and did not disappoint me or my fifth graders. Loved the messages that change takes time and everyone gets to create their own destiny. I also loved that Bad Seed taught us that no one is perfect even bad seeds trying to be "good."



This was a recent read. I picked up a copy at our local book festival, Books by the Banks. I loved all the photographs of shelter dogs and their rescue stories. I wish there was a little more about each dog or their new lives but I think this will make a nice addition to my classroom library along with my other photography based books like Strong is the New Pretty.



My audiobook for October was Dumplin' and I'm a Julie Murphy fan for life. I love her writing style and the story of Willow Dean. I can't wait for  the next installment Puddin'. From the Dolly references to the local beauty pageant - this book takes the crown! Loved Willow's sassy and bold voice while also showing that she can be insecure and vulnerable too. A great audiobook and fantastic story! 


I'm absolutely loving the voice of Karma is in this new middle grade novel. Perfect for upper grade readers that are starting to notice changes in themselves and with their friends. Karma's dealing with a lot from family changes to the seventeen hairs she discovers on her upper lip, this story is sure to connect with lots of kids, especially girls who find it hard to fit in during those middle school years. I can't wait to finish this book and share it with my students! I'm also super excited to meet author Kristi Weintge as she's coming to a local indie, Blue Manatee Bookstore in November!


I picked this book up last year prior to the Newbery awards. But I just couldn't get into it. I wanted to love it as I absolutely love Medieval historical fiction (major Karen Cushman fangirl! Catherine Called Birdy & The Midwife's Apprentice were my jam back in 6th grade) and really enjoyed The Canterbury Tales in high school. But alas, I just couldn't dig into it. So, I rebooted this time as an audiobook. I'm enjoying the audio although it is a little hard to keep track of all the characters telling the tales even though there is a whole cast of narrators. I also almost put it down again but I've reached the farting dragon and I think I'm finally hooked enough to finish this story! Finally, starting to feel like the story is coming together and moving in a direction I can get behind.

What are you currently reading?
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Saturday, October 21, 2017

#Classroombookaday Read This... Then That!

Our #Classroombookday is going strong this year. We read a picture book every day Monday through Thursday. If you want to learn more about #Classroombookaday check out the hashtag on Twitter or the Nerdy Book Club post by Jillian Heise.


Today, I thought we'd match up some great picture books and novels! I know many of my students are making thematic connections between picture books and novels so why not pair up some picture books and novels! Plus, you could easily read one of these picture books Monday - Thursday and then share a novel counterpart for a #FirstChapterFriday!

If students love the humor and fractured fairy tale genre of It's Not Jack in Beanstalk by Josh Funk then they will love any of Liesel Shurtliff's fairy tale retellings including Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Both of these "remakes" of classic fairy tales add lots of humor and dynamic characters to the mix. Imaginative and creative, both these stories have students reimagining these famous tales while laughing along the way! Both stories also make for an excellent read aloud as each "Jack" has such a strong voice and personality. I can't recommend both of these titles enough. If they are not currently in your classroom library, you'll want to order them ASAP!

I'm in love with After the Fall. After meeting Dan Santat two weeks ago and hearing him read After the Fall, I hope a shiny sticker will be on his cover come February. I was surprised and amazed by his new creation - if you haven't read this story yet, put a copy on hold at the library NOW. Do it. You'll thank me. As I was thinking back to novels with a similiar theme, I instantly thought of Garvey's Choice. Written in verse, Nikki Grime's story centers around a main character that is also trying to face his fears (and his father) while finding his place in the world. Both stories teach students about perseverance and having the courage to be who you were always meant to be. Although both characters often doubt themselves or are fearful at times, they eventually have the courage to let their true selves shine.

Both We're All Wonders and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, teach us that differences don't define us but instead make us "wonders." In some ways we are all wonders and that's what makes the world such a special place. Both Auggie and Aven have physical disabilities yet they don't let those differences stop them from living their lives. While both experience stares and sometimes glares, they both stand proud are not afraid to be themselves. Aven's voice will be one you won't soon forget and I'm hoping the Schneider Award Committee notices this middle grade gem!

If you're looking for some great reads about taking risks, then you'll want to pick up Jubari Jumps and Amina's Voice. Both Jubari and Amina are facing some scary challenges from climbing up the highest diving board to a Quran reading competition. At first, both characters are afraid to try something new and face their fears. With a little help from their families (and friends), both characters face their fears with more confidence. Both stories are great for teaching growth mindset and the power of "yet." 


Nerdy Birdy and Real Friends are two stories that are a must own for any elementary classroom library. Nerdy Birdy has a problem, he doesn't fit in with some of the other birds like the eagle and hawk. He finally finds birds that are just like him - nerdy! But he soon learns his fellow nerdy birdies may not be the true friends he's been looking for. Similarly, Shannon in Real Friends realizes she may not really fit into her group of "friends." Both Nerdy Birdy and Shannon, must seek out true friends that will appreciate them for who they are. Students will identify with both main characters as many middle grade readers also struggle to find those "real" best friends. Filled with themes of friendship and kindness, these books are for creating meaningful discussions around what it means to be a true friend.

What are your favorite picture book and novel mash-ups?
Happy Reading, 
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Mock Newbery Write Around

It feels like it's been ages since I've sat down and blogged. Truthfully, I'm a little sad because I absolutely love the time I spend blogging. I have a few new Read This & Then Read That posts planned out and hope to complete a few more Mock Newbery related posts as well. So, check back in soon!

Today, I thought I'd share a little about how Mock Newbery is going so far in my classroom and share a few resources that were really helpful to me and my students!

Since we only had 30 minutes for our first meeting, we tried to keep it simple. We read The Last Stop on Market Street and then discussed how that text was distinguished. This launched us into creating an anchor chart of what we can notice about a text and how different stories can be distinguished.


These notes were taken inside manila folders next to their calendar of dates and some "teacher" reminders. To see our notes you can check out our handout {here}.

For our second meeting, we reviewed what it meant to be distinguished and then set kids off to talk about distinguished elements they've been noticing in their books. Last year, we had created a poster for each Mock Newbery Book. This year with more titles and a group of about 42 students, that just was not feasible. We focused our posters on story elements this year and students choose books that they felt had excelled in those areas.

Here are our results:




If you would like a copy for your classroom, you can grab the Editable PowerPoint version {here} or the Non-editable PDF version {here}. Looking back, if I had to create these again, I'd use Last Stop on Market Street as that was a previous winner and a touchstone for all my book club students. However, in the moment, I used Wish by Barbara O'Connor because it is our current read aloud and a book all students are very familiar with.

Hope everyone else is enjoying these great books of 2017! 
Look for a new Read This & Then That post soon! 
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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,
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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!



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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?
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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.

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