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!


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Embracing Restless Reading Moments

Summer is finally here! And although, I can't quite read a #bookaday, I can tackle so much more reading during the summer. My current TBR "pile" is in fact several shelves at my house. I currently have about eight Mock Newbery contenders to read, six #BookJourney ARCs (some still in mailers), and four professional development books I've been itching to sink into. However, I've noticed some of my reading habits have changed this summer and I've become some what of a restless reader. I don't sit and devour books but I've been more keen on enjoying a book with coffee in the morning and then coming back to the read later that night. Although it's summer, I've been reading in edge moments so that I can tackle other projects throughout the day. I'm also nearly always juggling two or three different stories.

Since the end of school, it seems I've had a middle grade novel, audiobook (often YA), and several picture books all in the rotation. And, I don't think this is necessarily a bad habit. There will be those pool side moments where I can sit and devour a book - but I think embracing the restless moments are important too. Real reading is restless at times and that's okay. I feel like I know several of my students so much better as they were the ones with three or four books going at various times during the school year. I used to think that those students should abandon some of those books or put them on hold. I'd advise them to try and focus on one or two stories that they are really enjoying. I wish I could apologize. Like them, I realize, I am enjoying all the books I'm reading but I've felt the need to change the line up throughout the day or week. As my attention wonders, I start a new book or go back to one I've put on hold. A staycation for my mind? New characters, new scenery, new attitude. I'm not sure what the rest of this summer will bring and hopefully slowing things down will ease my restlessness. Or perhaps, I'm just capitalizing on more opportunities throughout the day instead of one long period. However, as I sit and reflect, I'm aware that noticing changes in our own reading lives can only make us better readers and teachers.  

I've found that YA audiobooks, historical fiction, as well as short stories have really captured my attention during these past several weeks. Here are a few books to consider for yourself (or students) that are having trouble getting lost in a good book...

Happy Reading! 


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Mock Newbery Questions Answered (Part Two)

Hopefully, many of you with questions read {Part One} of my Mock Newbery Questions Answered series and are now ready for Part Two! Part Two will focus on what to do once you get your books...

How do you get kids excited? What do you do once they've signed up? Before my teaching partner and I created a sign up, we gave a book talk to all our students. We knew that for many of them our Open House Letter {2018 Letter} may not be enough to get kids pumped for a great book club! So, we took about 20 - 30 minutes out of our day and book talked our first round of books. We also hooked kids by sharing about author Skypes and some books we'd be getting that weren't released yet! Last year a huge draw was being one of the first few to read Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts. Book Talks and Book Trailers are a great way to generate some excitement before starting a sign-up. I keep my Book Talks super simple - read the first page/line of a book and show a trailer if it's available. You can check out a book talk I did for our last year's Mock {here}.

What is required once they sign up? Last year, we made the kids "pledge" that they'd read six books from our list of 18. However, with bigger than expected turnout and some readers that read at a slower pace, the average student only finished 2-4 books. This was a bit of a let down for me. I was really hoping kids would fly through the choices and while they did love the books - many just didn't have the stamina to read a book every two weeks. This year, I'm going to have to my students pledge to read four books. That's a book a month during the book club. They can always read more. I think that is feasible and they can always use that book as their in class reading book as well. I also chunked my books into two huge chunks this year to get more books out and circulating within the club.

Okay, teachers, let's get real for a second here. The purpose of Mock Newbery (IMO) is for students to begin to participate in real life, authentic reading. This is NOT be taken for a grade. No worksheets. No book reports. Keep it authentic. Make it optional. I've never done a worksheet or created a cereal box book report at a book club meeting. In real life, you sit and have coffee and talk about books. What did you love? What was frustrating? What surprised you? This is how a real book club works and this should be the focus of Mock Newbery as well. Yes, you can plan activities to help aid conversations but it should feel authentic. Help kids see that reading is a life long habit and a fun hobby.

How do you keep track and check out books? I keep it super simple. Stacey from Literacy for Big Kids helped me out so much during my first year of Mock Newbery. I had asked her this same question and she shared her checkout page with me! I updated it to fit my needs. Here's the Google Doc I came up with! You could easily keep this electronically but I prefer to print it out and put it on a clipboard right on the corner of my desk.

As a kid checks out or in a book - I can mark it off. I also numbered all my books hence the (#) column so I could keep track of copies that were left or dropped in the hallway. I decided it was easiest to highlight returned books, so I took off the return column later in the year. Feel free to make a copy and adjust to fit your needs!

What does the first meeting look like? Last year during our first meeting we talked about the requirements for the Newbery. There is a pretty good short video explaining the medal {here}. We then talked about what being "distinguished" meant. This was something that many students hadn't really thought about as they were reading before so we talked about how that's the purpose of the actual Newbery Committee- read, looking for those elements that are distinguished.

I also shared The Last Stop on Market Street with my students as an example of a distinguished text. We ran of time last year before we could fully discuss all the great writing found in The Last Stop on Market Street. This year I have two picture books I'd like to share - The Last Stop on Market Street and Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's Books.

I'm hoping to break it into two meetings or perhaps even share one in class as way to generate some buzz before sign-ups. I highly recommend buying or checking these books out from the library if you're planning on hosting a Newbery Book Club. We also made an anchor chart at one of our first meetings that reminded students what to look for in a Newbery winner such as unique & distinguished: characters, setting, plot, language or style/format.

What do meetings look like? When do you hold meetings? Who runs the meetings? I tried to have a Skype a month (or so) and then also a meeting each month for discussion. We varied the activities from creating medals to hosting a round table discussion about the distinguished qualities of the books we were reading. I also set up a Mock Newbery group on Google Classroom for kids to go on and post thoughts as they were reading.

This year, I want to capitalize on Flipgrid and set up a grid where kids can give their own book talk and reviews as well as feedback about what distinguished characteristics they noticed. I'm hoping that utilizing platforms online like Google Classroom and Flipgrid will keep the converstations going between meetings.

In December, we held a full group meeting to discuss our favorite contenders. Kids were able to stand up and give reasons why their favorite books should win our Infinity Newbery. Prior to the debate kids were able to get into groups and come up with the top three reasons that their book should win the Newbery, keeping in mind they had to prove it was distinguished in some way.

Here are a few snapshots of our Round Table discussion & Skype with author Melanie Conklin! 
I also saved several meetings for additional book talks. I released books by month last year and so we'd also allow time for checking out and returning books as well as book talking and highlighting books that were being released. I also used this time to feature books that may not be on our list but were still worth reading and considering. We also held an optional medal design contest. We couldn't award a winner without a medal! So I challenged my students to create their own that highlighted their values of reading. We also had a very special guest, Elaine Fultz, come join us for a meeting. She was a member of the 2017 Newbery Selection Committee and she was able to share some of her notes and reading habits with us -- which was a fantastic way to get a glimpse into a REAL Newbery member's world!

At our last meeting, we voted on the winner using Google Forms. We had previously (after our debate) narrowed down our choices of 18+ titles to the top five favorites. Our vote was incredibly split - showing just how many great books students read and loved. However, our ultimate winner was The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.

Who plans the meetings? Do you read any of the books as a class read aloud? Last year, I planned all the meetings but ultimately the kids were the discussion facilitators. They lead discussions in their groups and with others and carried out the conversations. We were all equals in our discussions and thoughts. I didn't read any of the books with my students. All Mock Newbery reading was independent last year. I did read a few sections of Pax with all my students since it was the Global Read Aloud but I did not choose to read any of them as a whole class read aloud. I know several teachers that did read some of the books as a class so that is always an option.

When did you hold meetings?  Luckily, we have an hour of "intervention" time in our building known as FLEX time. This is a time when students get special services outside the classroom like gifted support and reading intervention. On Fridays, all students stay with their teachers for intervention or enrichment activities like Genius Hour. I was able to schedule our meetings on Fridays, so that any student that wanted to attend could come to our monthly meetings. However, I know that many other teachers held their meetings after school so that entire grade levels could get involved as well as other teachers.

Hopefully, you found the information you were looking for! 
If you still have questions post them in the comments below! 

Happy Reading,

Friday, June 2, 2017

Mock Newbery Questions Answered (Part One)

Many of you are so excited to try and start your own Mock Newbery Book Club. But I get, you've got questions! I've been there. Without the help of other teachers, I wouldn't have had the courage to tackle a new book club (and all the reading) this past year! But, I'm here to help (hopefully) and give you the courage to try something new in your classroom or school.

What is Mock Newbery Book Club? Not sure what a Mock Newbery Book Club even is -- don't worry! I've got you covered in a post I wrote as I was figuring everything out last year! Check out the past post {Mock Newbery Book Club} to get you started! That post covers a lot of basics and gives you a lot of resources to start and visualize what a Newbery Book Club could look like for you!

What does Mock Newbery Book Club look like start to finish? How long does everything take? Do you continue reading after the awards in January? I'm going to be honest - Mock Newbery takes some work. There is quite a bit of planning, reading, and organizing that has to happen in order for you to get the club up and running. I tend to stress out - so I probably over plan and organize all the details. However, working with other teachers and utilizing social media can really help ease the burden and stress. Everyone's timeline is going to look a little different. The Newbery Award is announced every January at the ALA Mid-Winter Conference.

So, I started getting ready in January for the next year's Mock Newbery. This includes reading novels published in the new year and having students give input on recently published novels as well. My goal is to have a rough list together by the end of April/May so I can prepare for funding of books and give out a summer list reading to previous book clubbers. Over the summer, I read, read, read. And then read some more to try and read as many of the titles as I can before school starts back. This makes me a better book talker and helps me get the kids excited.

By August, I have a list of books prepared for my new students and we start Mock Newbery in September. We meet September - January. We met about once or twice a month. I set up dates and passed them out to students as bookmarks. We then voted in January on our winner and honor books. Our last official event was watching the awards together LIVE! (or sort of live if you have specials during the time of the awards! But don't worry, they record them and air them by that afternoon so that you can all watch together (sort of) LIVE!) Then the book club is technically over. However, I do ask for reading helpers and experts, to help me read the newest books to start a list for Mock Newbery next school year. I blogged about {Enlisting Expert Readers} in a past post if you want to learn more!

How do you choose books for Mock Newbery? How many books do you choose? There is no set list or number of books. You could easily choose four books or twenty-four books and it'd still be a great experience. You want students to be exposed to new, quality literature. So pick books that can start a conversation or books that have a unique point of view or style. I chose several books last year that I knew kids would LOVE. I knew they may not fit the term "distinguished" to an adult but kids would absolutely love them. Those books such as The Wild Robot and Weekends with Max and his Dad were kid favorites. I also chose books about topics I knew my students could connect with like Finding Perfect. There is no magical list or formula. I literally look at what others are reading and thinking about the Newbery. I also look at star reviews and try and pay attention to the National Book Award as well. The blog Heavy Medal has also really helped me get ideas for books and what to read.

How do I ultimately narrow down my list and pick books? I read. I read a lot. This year, I'm still reading but I also relied on friends on Twitter as well as the Goodreads Mock Newbery Shelf and book discussion group. I also choose books by authors I admire and I know are great at connecting with readers. I've also chosen books that are already released so I could start reading and ordering books NOW. I can always add titles later or give book talks on other great contenders as books are released. Here's my Mock Newbery List (as of now) for 2018.

Lastly before I set my list, I need to make sure books are appropriate. Just because everyone is raving about a certain title, doesn't mean it was meant for fifth graders. So, I ask friends and also try and do some reading on my own. For this current year, my goal is to connect our Mock Newbery with the Reading Without Walls Challenge so I also tried to find more diverse authors, titles, and genres for my students to explore. I tried to be really intentional about the books I chose. Most recommendations were from friends on Twitter and Goodreads.

Here's a peek at my reading list for 2018... 

How do you buy the books? Do kids purchase books? Do you check them out from the library? Buying brand new books is NOT cheap. Therefore some thought and planning does need to go into how you will raise the money to buy the books. A stocked book club could run you about $500 - $700 if you're looking for 2 - 4 copies of each book so that it can be an actual reading club. Last year, I submitted a Donors Choose for all of my book club novels. I did add The Girl that Drank the Moon and Gertie's Leap to Greatness and bought two copies of each with my own money. This year, I was able to get a grant for $500 dollars through my school to fund nearly all the titles on my list. I've also won several ARCs on Twitter giveaways (A Rambler Steals Home, The Someday Birds, and The Ethan I was Before) which give me some extra copies too.

For my remaining titles (books not yet released), I'm going to either write a Donors Choose or set up an Amazon Wishlist for friends, parents, etc. to buy to help support our book club. I'm also hoping that since many of my choices were books published in January/February our local library will have some extra copies come fall. Last year, I was also able to get some audio book copies of The Key to Extraordinary and Pax which also gave access to more readers as they could listen to the books with headphone splitters in the classroom. Teacher Tip: If you're willing to invest some of your own money, check out Half Price Books, Barnes and Noble Market Place, eBay or Thriftbooks for cheaper copies of "older" releases. Often, you can find gently used copies for nearly half the price!

I have never asked kids or parents to purchase books. However, I did have several parents buy books for their kids after reading our Open House letter because the kids were excited to be part of the Mock Newbery Book Club. Many of those students then let other students read their copies once they were finished.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow... 
I'll tackle some questions about checking out books and what to do during meetings!

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