Monday, September 7, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (9.7.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Ruby on the Outside, by Nora Raleigh Baskin
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, June 16, 2015)
     Ruby is grappling with a secret she keeps: her mom is incarcerated. This complicates everything for the 11-year old, but especially friendship. One summer, Ruby meets Maraglit and is filled with so much hope for her new friendship that she has to consider abandoning the rules she has always played by to keep her mom a secret. 
     Ruby on the Outside will appeal to readers who are drawn to realistic fiction as a means of experiencing another person's world. Readers develop empathy for Ruby through the conflict between the inside and the outside. Ruby's raw and difficult questions and emotions around loss, abandonment, self-worth, and normalcy rest on the reader's heart, making her a character you want to reassure and protect and love. 

Drowned City, by Don Brown
(HMH Books for Young Readers, August 4, 2015)
     Drowned City is an informational text about the devastation and horror faced by New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Written and illustrated in graphic novel format, Don Brown's book adds variety to the growing text set of books set during this same historical event (Zane and the Hurricane, Upside-down in the Middle of Nowhere, Marvelous Cornelius, etc.) Drowned City reads like a play-by-play of the sequence of events, and tension and emotion build as time passes and the severity of the situation compounds. Brown is honest and real in his writing, but even the most difficult truths of Hurricane Katrina (looting, disease, death) are presented in a tactful, middle-grade appropriate way.

Sunny Side Up, by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matt Holm
(Graphix, August 25, 2015)
     Sunny has looked forward to vacationing in Florida and has grand plans when she visits her grandfather for the summer. However, with the help of flashbacks, the reader realizes Sunny's visit is a temporary relocation while the family grapples with her brother's drug abuse. 
     The Holm's graphic novel memoir will likely be among the most circulated books in my classroom this year. Readers will scoop it up because it is a new, full-color graphic novel, and I hope will linger in the greater messages of the story for longer. Sunny Side Up opens the door for conversations about oppression from drug abuse and other family "secrets," letting readers know they don't have to feel alone.

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
(Sterling, September 1, 2015)
     When the breakfast duo of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast discover there is only one drop of syrup left in the bottle, a wild adventure ensues as they both race to be the victor.
      The illustrations are bright and playful. The rhyming text of this picture book race is creative and entrancing. Filled with puns and rich word choice, readers will smile their way through the page turns to find out the results. Warning: results may be unpredictable.

The Greatest Catch, by Penny Kittle
(Heinemann, 20o5)
     In a collection of stories from her teaching life, Penny Kittle invites readers to consider what is truly important in the teaching profession. Her true stories evoke laughter, lots of head nodding, and tears at times, too. This is a renewing read, one that encourages our teacher hearts to hold fast to what really matters in our work with learners and reminds us that our work every day is a gift.

What I am Currently Reading:
Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon
(Bloomsbury, August 4, 2015)
Upstanders, by Smokey Daniels and Sara Ahmed
(Heinemann, 2014)

What I am Reading Next (in no particular order):
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick
Death by Toilet Paper, by Donna Gephart
A Night Divided, by Jennifer Nielsen

Sunday, September 6, 2015

So Much Potential: On New Writer's Notebooks

Over time, my life as a writer has changed me. For instance, I have a greater appreciation for the potential of a new notebook.

Every time I begin a new writer's notebook, I find myself swept into this ultra-reflective state of mind. Flipping through the pages of the previous, finished notebook, I make note of the things preserved there--large and small--that I captured and stored away. Brave moments, developing ideas, markings of wonder, complaints, and celebrations. And inevitably, I close that finished notebook and smile to myself about all that filled the pages knowing that most of what is there now, committed in imperfect scribble, I didn't anticipate when I was writing on the first page.

Similarly, I found myself in this position this week when I saw my fifteenth First Day of School. I was ready with a few minutes to spare, and I sat in my too-quiet, too-tidy, too-white classroom, noting the connection between my feelings this morning to those that stir when I open to that first page of a new notebook. "There--at those cleared tabletops, in those empty chairs, on those blank walls--rests so much potential," I thought.

Soon, the quiet was replaced with eager energy, excited students looking and behaving a whole year older. The once empty tables were cluttered again with toppling school supplies.

We went about the business of sorting and storing materials. When I asked the students to hold up their writer's notebooks, something surreal moved through the air. As I gathered the notebooks at each of their tables, I was struck with the assortment and imagined them in the back-to-school aisles of the stores, thoughtful and deliberate in picking their new writer's notebooks. I was overcome by what I know from experience: on this day, they could not know how those blank pages will be filled, what will happen in the days they live as writers, but later they will look back with wonderment of what is there.

And this became the basis of launching writers' workshop with my students, the heart of my impassioned words about the endless possibilities and potential a new notebook holds. I held their stack of brand-new notebooks and talked with unrestrained enthusiasm about how much I wonder about their blank notebooks, and how wonderful and exciting it is to dream of the growing and self-discovery that will fill their pages. I spoke to my writers about the gift of time to write, to wonder, to explore. I spoke of writing imperfectly, taking chances, and the opportunity to revisit and revise. And I spoke about the great privilege that I feel, because I get to journey beside them as a writer, too. Every day. This whole school year.

I told my writers about my ritual of reflecting at the end/start of each new notebook, and I flipped open to the first page of the very notebook I'm writing in now. I read this first page aloud:

It was quiet when I stopped. I had goosebumps. I looked around at their faces, reading the expressions. They were on the edge of their seats, their eyes sparkled, and they couldn't suppress their smiles. So, I did the very most perfect thing to do: I invited them to write, encouraging them to let their first, new, blank page to speak to them.

I returned their notebooks with great reverence, as best I could between uncoordinated attempts to brush away embarrassing tears. But always astute, they noticed, and I heard one student tell another, "This matters so much, she's crying!" The tears were entirely unplanned, but Yes, Dear Writer, your new beginning as a fifth grade writer very much matters.

Once all of the students had their notebooks again, I settled with my own and began drafting this post. Once or twice I made myself pause to observe their stamina and behaviors. Almost without exception, their pencils were moving fluidly.

Before I left for the day, I peeked inside their notebooks, curious what I would find there. Some students had launched into drafting stories, but some had listened for the voice of the blank page, and their voices caught my heart.  
"How can I become the most spectacular writer I can be?" 
Wow, kid. Keep asking. Please.
I love how creatively the blank page "spoke" for this writer.
Moving from grade 4 to grades 5/6 this year, I recognize the growth on these first pages, too. A year later, a year more of life as a writer, and the students aren't as afraid of the blank page. Maybe, just maybe, they see that blank page as limitless much potential.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Happy Birthday, Milo Speck

Dear Milo,

I’ll admit it: this is a first. I cannot think of another time in all my book-crazed doings that I wrote a letter to a middle-grade book character (let alone published it online). But, no matter how much it heightens my nerdy-factor, I couldn’t let your publication day pass without writing to say: 
Happy (Book) Birthday!

I bet you have quite a team celebrating today. I can only imagine the feelings of your author and her incredible support team on your publication day. My students and I have celebrated book birthdays before, but we agree that yours feels different, maybe more personal thanks to Linda, who invited us into your world two years ago. You were a manuscript under revision. Unbeknownst to you, you were an experimental subject, the topic of many revealing and inspiring writing conversations between my students and Linda. We’ve anticipated this day, too, the more we got to know Linda as a fellow writer and witnessed her writing process and followed you through to publication.

I still remember two Decembers ago when you--a “smaller” you, in only your first five chapters--first made your way to my classroom. My students and I knew we were spending time something--someone--special as we read, discussed, reacted, and responded. We got to know you and your family. We ventured with you to Ogregon, where boy-hungry ogres seemed impossible to dodge. We couldn’t know your mission yet (really) and couldn’t imagine if you would survive it. But we were already looking forward to this day, when you would be published.

Do you remember the day you arrived in my classroom as an ARC? Our school secretary knew you were inside that decorated envelope and hand-delivered you to our door. The room erupted in excited noise. The students insisted that we stop whatever we were doing (I can’t remember what that was now. Telling, isn’t it?) and read on from where we had stopped in the manuscript that still lived in my inbox. And we did. Whenever we were inside your story, we were making happy memories--sharing our reading and writing lives.

We spent months in friendship with you as we virtually navigated the world of Ogregon, willing you to evade threats of danger and to be successful in your mission. We studied your actions, your words, your choices. We noticed as you changed and grew, and we found courage in your bravery, perseverance, and leadership.
Ready to begin again...

Today is not only your book birthday, Milo, but it’s also our first day of school. One of our very last memories of the past school year was talking about you in person when Linda visited us. The whole day felt celebratory, celebrating my writers and Linda and you, all the same. And now, here we are at the beginning again, and it seems fitting that my students and I will begin your story again--the published version--on page 1 with all of our new classmates and friends, in all of six of our new 5th and 6th grade classrooms.

Milo, your book birthday is a happy day for all of us, because there are so many other readers like us who will have the chance to read your story now, too. Kids and teachers and parents. They’ll laugh. They’ll cheer. They’ll worry and wonder for you, too. And then, they’re probably going to tell someone else about you. We sure hope they do.

It has been a real honor, Milo, to watch you evolve over the last two cheer you along...and now to celebrate you.
Happy Birthday, Milo Speck: Accidental Agent.

Two Years of Book-loving Friends at Oxford Elementary School

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.24.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

A Whole New Ballgame, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Tim Probert
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux-BYR, August 18, 2015)
     Rip and Red start their fifth grade year with great anticipation, until they arrive at school and find that there are lots of changes, including a new male teacher for their classroom who will also be their basketball coach. Rip learns about himself through a class project (he's paired with Avery, someone he would never have worked with otherwise) and his leadership on the basketball court (where the team's record is abysmal). 
     A Whole New Ballgame will invite all readers into Mr. Acevedo's classroom and open the doors for conversations and community building with it's diverse cast of characters and realistic conflicts. A second book in the Rip and Red series is already in the works.

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
(Candlewick, February 10, 2015)
     At ages 11 and 18, Ari and Gage have lost both parents and are under the guardianship of Janna, a friend of their parents. When Gage moves out of the house, Ari chooses to go with Gage to fulfill what the two believe is their mother's dying wish. Only the road ahead is full of unanticipated uncertainty: the two roam among friends houses and the shelter closet while Gage tries to find work and Ari tries to maintain her focus at school.
     Paper Things is a heart-tugging invitation empathy and compassion by visiting the hardships of homeless youth. It belongs in a text set with Kate Messner's The Exact Location of Home and Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw.

azalea, unschooled, by Lisa Kleinman, illustrated by Brook Gideon
(Islandport Press, May 5, 2015)
     Azalea's family moves. A lot. Their dad is constantly trying to find success with work, which keeps them moving. Azalea and her sister, Zenith, have been homeschooled in the process. When the newest venture (a tour bus driver) brings the family to Portland, Maine, Azalea's family decides to try "unschooling." 
     The concept of unschooling is only one (background) story line of the novel, and I wonder if the concept is clear to readers. The mystery around who is defacing Azalea's father's tour bus drives the story, as does Azalea's conflict as the new friend in a trio of girls. Azalea is likable, and student readers will want to know how she overcomes her trouble. 

The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel, August 18, 2015)
     Duncan's crayons are back. Only this time, the cast of characters are crayons who have been lost in some way or another: vacations, pets, toddlers, etc. Through a series of postcards to Duncan, the crayons share their adventures and express dismay with being forgotten.
      This team does it again, personifying crayons in a way that readers can imagine their own crayons coming to life with complaints and requests. I had the chance to read this aloud with my favorite little readers and it provoked giggles and grins, every single time.

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Schwartz & Wade, July 14, 2015)
     Through the strong metaphor of elderly (100 year old) Lillian climbing a steep hill to vote, Winter and Evans take us on a journey through the historic events leading up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With Lillian's memories of her ancestors and significant political leaders, readers revisit the Fifteenth Amendment, poll taxes, voting tests, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and more.
      A poignant and thought-provoking picture book.      

To the Sea, by Cale Atkinson
(Disney Hyperion, June 2, 2015)
     Tim has been lonely and feeling invisible. One rainy day, he meets a whale named Sam who needs the help of a friend. Tim takes care of Sam, Sam takes care of Tim, and Tim feels less lonely in the end.
      The illustrations in this book are beautiful and make the story come alive. Atkinson's take on friendship and caring for one another is gentle and warm. I'm anxious to read this with students and let them talk about it.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
(Schwartz & Wade, January 6, 2015)
     Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana with only one strong leg. Determined to make a difference and raise awareness that disability does not mean inability, he set out to ride bicycle around the country of Ghana.
      Emmanuel's story becomes another resource to draw inspiration from as we work with more and more students who are afraid their differences will hold them back from what they aspire to. Emmanuel's example of persistence and commitment is just the kind of story we need to share with students.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't, by Elise Parsley
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 7, 2015)
     Magnolia is a young student whose classroom, like many others, has show and tell. Only, when Magnolia takes an alligator to school, she finds out just how much trouble that might cause.
      In her cautionary tale, Magnolia walks readers through all the ways that she (they) might get in trouble: name on the board, checkmarks, visits to the principal. The illustrations are humorous and fun.

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, January 8, 2015)
     After church, CJ and his nana board the city bus for a ride to "the last stop on Market Street." All along the way, CJ asks questions and his nana replies in a way that encourages him to see the beauty and the good in his surroundings.
      I loved the nature of the relationship between CJ and his nana. I loved the sense of routine that was illustrated in the text. This is such a lovely picture book for talking about appreciation and the power of perspective. (What took me so long to get to this?)

I, Fly, by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
(Henry Holt and Company-BYR, March 10, 2015)
     The fly narrates his own narrative nonfiction, instigated by yet another classroom studying butterflies. He teaches about the fly's life cycle and sets the record straight on common beliefs about flies. 
     The unique approach to presenting informational text has me eager to share this in the classroom. The illustrated narrative includes diagrams and speech bubbles that will appeal to student readers. The snarky voice of the narrating fly (and occasionally gross information) will have readers hand-selling this book to one another. 

What I am Currently Reading:
The Greatest Catch, by Penny Kittle
(Heinemann, 20o5)

Teaching Reading in Small Groups, by Jennifer Serravallo
(Heinemann, 2010)

What I am Reading Next (in no particular order):
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick
Drowned City, by Don Brown
Upstanders, by Smokey Daniels and Sara Ahmed

Friday, August 14, 2015

Using an Out-loud Voice

Last week while driving myself and my colleague, Sara, to the ECET2 conference at Colby College, I had a notorious Melissa-moment. Our ride was full of chatter about the first day of convening and about our developing ideas for returning to school. There was a comfortable moment of quiet in the conversation which I punctuated by blurting:

"Yeah, I guess I need to email some people."

Sara's head whipped to look at me, and even though my eyes never left the road, I could see her puzzled face questioning my out-of-nowhere comment. It was a look I had seen countless times before in our friendship. I told you, it was a classic Melissa-moment.

I laughed, mostly with awareness that I had done it again: had something of a conversation with myself inside my head and then sputtered out my seemingly-random conclusion in my out-loud voice.

I am so lucky Sara is patient and forgiving of this habit. And yet, maybe I need to attend to this.

In yesterday's case, my internal conversation was really just an ambling of small details and things I need to attend to sooner than later related to back-to-school business--literally a to-do list. But I know on other occasions my internal conversations have been more meaty, from thinking about increasing student ownership of my classroom to puzzling out ways to encourage parent involvement. How many other conversations do I have with myself internally that should be voiced...out-loud?

And I wonder: why don't I? (Why don't we?)

I wonder if it's because ideas are complicated, sometimes fragile and sometimes rough around the edges? I wonder if ideas feel safer in the confines of our minds, tumbling around without feedback, criticism, or response from others? Do ideas stay inside out of fear of rejection? Or are ideas trapped by perseveration on refining and perfecting our ideas first? Do we convince ourselves that someone else has already thought our thought or would think it better? Do we assume everyone else knows what we don't?

How often do we, as teachers, do this with our practice and our classroom experiences?

How many interesting, challenging, creative, or forward-thinking ideas get tossed around internally in the safety of our minds or on the pages of our notebooks but never benefit from tangling up with other people's questions or thinking or stories? How many lesson ideas, cool collaborations, or professional growth opportunities are never actualized or take longer to take shape because we keep them protected? How many ideas never have the chance to see encouragement, influence, or the company of others?

Honoring risk and vulnerability with ideas is a place where my own growth is slow, but improving. More often than not, the risks I have painstakingly taken to be vulnerable about exposing my thinking have resulted in positive growth and promising momentum.

The ECET2ME convening was a small sampling of professional community that helped reiterate this learning for me. ECET2ME was glittered with conversations between pairs or groups of impassioned educators on the edge of creativity and movement, forward-thinking teacher-leaders who brainstormed and problem solved and empowered one another through the sharing, questioning, and probing of ideas--out loud and with others.

This is what I am thinking about as my "new year" approaches. As I consider what I might prioritize as professional goals this school year, I'm thinking about the ideas I protect internally and what might happen if I let them out. 

I have a voice. I need to use it. Out-loud.

I think I'm going to. How 'bout you?

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (6.29.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate
(Fiewel & Friends, September 22, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     Jackson is smart, and he knows that all signs point to financial trouble for his family, which means change, sacrifice, and discomfort. He's growing up, faster than we might feel he should. Frustrated with his parents and their efforts to shield him from hardship, Jackson faces tough decisions about whether to "protect" his younger sister and keep his families trouble a secret from friends. Crenshaw, an oversized jellybean-eating cat and Jackson's old imaginary friend makes a return appearance in Jackson's life, coaxing him to make choices that honor the truth.
     Crenshaw awakens readers to the discomfort kids face when working hard is just not enough. And Crenshaw relates to readers that having one true friend who encourages you to be true to you can give you the power to face the tough stuff, too. The same beloved qualities of Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan are present in Crenshaw: it's gentle, it speaks to your heart, and ignites an inner stir about what is unjust about our reality.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 12, 2015)
     When Sophie and her family moved to the farm they inherited from her uncle, she also inherited chickens. Of an unusual type. Very soon into her new farming experience, Sophie discovers that the chickens have various magical powers. When Sophie's chickens are at risk of being chicken-napped, she pulls out the stops, eventually enlisting the help of her small-town community  in protecting them.
     The format for this novel added to the quality of entertainment. The story is told largely through alternating letters that Sophie writes and sends to her abuela and to Agnes, a mysterious chicken-connoisseur. Sophie is likable and independent, determined to have success with raising her great-uncle's chickens.

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley
(Dial, June 2, 2015)
     Micah's grandfather, his caretaker, is very ill. Their close relationship has always been bound and sealed by Grandfather's stories of Circus Mirandus, a magical destination where Grandfather could celebrate magic. Promised a miracle in his youth, Micah suspects the miracle is integral to preserving more time with Grandfather, and he makes it his mission to insure the miracle is delivered. In doing so, Micah finds all is not quite what he thinks.
     The storytelling of Circus Mirandus is engulfing, calling you in as the magic circus tent might, grabbing hold, and charming you with stories--stories of which you'll question the validity. This book is full of lyrical and poignant lines that will linger in your mind, and maybe your heart.

Listening for Lucca, by Suzanne LaFleur
(Wendy Lamb Books, 2013)
     Siena's family moves from inner-city New York to coastal Maine in an effort to support her younger brother, Lucca, who is selectively mute. In their old Victorian home, Siena finds a treasure in a lost pen, a pen that tells her stories of a family from the past (World War II era). The more Siena pieces together parts of the past family's puzzle, the nearer she comes to growing into her own person and empowering her brother to find his voice. 
      With just the right amount of magic to keep the book mysterious and reader curious, Listening for Lucca, keeps readers turning pages, eager to see Siena, and Sarah--from the World War II family--resolve their conflicts.

Citizen Scientists, by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
(Henry Holt and Company, 2012)
     In Citizen Scientists, Loree Griffin Burns introduces readers to four citizen scientist projects in which they can take part. Helping to monitor monarch migration or the populations of birds, insects, or frogs tap into students' natural interests and curiosities. Ellen Harasimowicz's photography is precise, bold, and attractive, capturing students' attention and drawing them in. The writing empowers students, charging them as growing citizens to consider the ways they can help the world around them. The text includes plenty of additional resources, websites, and other ideas for citizen scientist projects in the back matter.

What I am Currently Reading:
No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman
(Disney Hyperion, 20o2)

What I am Reading Next (in no particular order):
The Iron Trial, by Holly Black
Like a River: A Civil War Novel, by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Milo Speck: Accidental Agent

What do YOU do when you read a book that you just LOVE?

If you are anything like the crazy book loving kids from my classroom, you just can't wait to tell someone about it.

For the last two years, my students have been incredibly fortunate to be pen pals with Linda Urban. She has shared with us stories from the process of writing and publishing her forthcoming book Milo Speck: Accidental Agent. The students and I feel especially lucky to have been advanced readers of the newest Linda Urban book. 

As we wrap up the school year, and the students reflect on the highlights of fourth grade, they keep circling around to the experiences we had with Milo Speck: Accidental Agent. Sharing the book and creating book buzz about a title we know you will love has strengthened our community.

I'm glad the students have given me permission to share the Milo Speck: Accidental Agent book trailer they created on my blog. They were thoughtful, creative, and committed to representing the book well for potential readers.

We hope you enjoy the book trailer now and love the book in September. 

And, if you feel inclined to share, please do. Nothing would make them happier.

Milo Speck: Accidental Agent, by Linda Urban, coming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September, 2015.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (5.11.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor, by Nathan Hale
(Amulet Books, April 21, 2015)
     Harriet Tubman was once Araminta "Minty" Ross, one of many children in a slave family. Her story of escape to freedom, guiding others on the Underground Railroad, and assisting in the Civil War make her a prominent example of bravery and risk-taking in American history. Nathan Hale narrates the heroic story of Harriet Tubman.
     As is true for other books in the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series, The Underground Abductor will capture readers' attention quickly and have them page turning as they read on to hear the (sometimes unbelievable but) true stories of our nation's history. Anecdotal information and interesting stories that are often left out of biographical texts and the side comments made by the Provost and the Hangman raise the entertainment quota.

Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff
(Philomel, May 26, 2015)
     Trent carries around heavy feelings from the accidental death of a classmate that make him susceptible to feeling inadequate and result in days filled with nervousness and anger. Trent's struggle threatens all of his relationships--with family, teachers, and friends, including a mysterious classmate (Fallon Little) who nudges Trent towards forgiveness and an opportunity at a second chance. 
     Lisa Graff has given the reading world more characters to build our compassion. This was a book in which I lost track of the act of reading and was more engaged in the act of caring. I wanted better for Trent, I wanted healing and forgiveness. Though written as a companion book to Graff's previous novel Umbrella Summer, it seems to me that neither depends on the other and could be read as a stand-alone (though I don't know why you wouldn't read both).

The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
(Candlewick, April 14, 2015)
     Princess Magnolia lives in a pristine pink-plated castle, but when she is summoned in the middle of tea with a duchess to help fight an invading monster, her alter-ego as the Princess in Black is threatened.
     The story of the Princess in Black is cute. Formatted as a short, beginning chapter book, it is a good fit for middle elementary readers who are transitioning to books of length. There is enough left unsaid in this book to lend itself to other titles in the series. 

I Wish You More, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle Books, March 31, 2015)
     What do you wish for your friends and family and those important people you know? This collection of wishes for well-being will warm hearts. The language, the art, the sentiment--everything about this little book is full of big heart. 

Gravity, by Jason Chin
(Roaring Brook Press, 2014)
     With stunning illustrations that you'll want to revisit and simple text on the pages, Jason Chin conveys the concept of gravity. This book will make a great introductory text in classrooms.

Barbed Wire Baseball, by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu
(Harry N. Abrams, 2013)
     Kenichi Zenimura developed a love for baseball at a young age and pursued his dream even when his family questioned him. He grew more successful each season, but his baseball dreams were stopped short when he and his family were placed in internment camps in Arizona following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As with most true passions, Zeni looked for a way to keep playing, creating a baseball diamond within the walls of the internment camp and rallying others to play, too. 
     Marissa Moss introduces us to a personality from American history that gets little attention, yet is a stunning example of the power of human spirit, hope, and resiliency. Zeni's perseverance and commitment to playing baseball again, even in the face of darkness inspired those around him during the time of war, and Barbed Wire Baseball keeps his inspiration alive for readers, too.

What I am Currently Reading:
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, by Holly Schindler
(Dial Books, 2014)

What I am Reading Next (in no particular order):
The Iron Trial, by Holly Black
Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, by Jen White
The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britt

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OES Reads: An Epilogue

Through January and February I invited other colleagues to virtually follow our five-week whole-school community reading initiative, OES Reads. When we reached the conclusion of our event, I posted what I thought would be the last blog post in that series, even subtitling the post "The Final Chapter." That was short-sighted on my part. Our last day of OES Reads was hardly a finale. Our reading story has gone on and on and on as the year has continued.

Frankly, I'm thankful for all the things that have taken me by pleasant surprise since our closing assembly. We believe our whole-school program is valuable in getting books into the hands of our families, connecting families to school life and promoting family literacy, and building a greater reading community. But there can be a fine-line between "valuable" and "successful," and--as is true about so many other facets of our lives as teachers--our committee has wondered about how to measure the success of OES Reads. How do we know OES Reads was successful?

I realized recently that I have seen all kinds of signs--big and small--that should be considered evidence of "success." For the sake of my colleagues who put their time and their hearts into OES Reads and for those who have followed virtually, I offer these notable examples.

~ The closing activities for OES Reads were held almost three months ago, yet the staff has asked that we leave the long, stretching publication timeline and OES Reads displays hanging on the walls of the building because they've noticed students still point to and discuss the photos and book covers. Some students could easily sweep a Jeopardy category about Kate Messner's publication dates.

~ Kate Messner is regularly referred to as just "Kate" in and among the rooms and people at our school. There's no intended disrespect in this habit--Kate has simply become an extended part of the family, and when her name comes up in conversation, no explanation is needed.

~ Classroom conversations are frequently punctuated by "Kate Messner said..." or "What do you think Kate would do?" One student proudly owns his new-found commitment to Kate and her writing. He has read All the Answers four times cover-to-cover outside of school, is modeling a free choice writing piece after Wake Up Missing and is eyeballing the ARC of Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome that sits on my table. Hardly a day goes by without a reference to his favorite author, and the best part is this: his classmates aren't annoyed with his admiration because they shared in the discovery experience together.

The thirteen Kate Messner books that were purchased for us as part of OES Reads are never in the library. The collection has a seat of prominence along the top of the bookcase (with our Ranger in Time poster and Kate's picture), but the shelf where they had all been displayed during the five-week program is empty. Always. There have been arguments at the circulation desk about whose turn it is to check out Wake Up Missing.

~ Many students who didn't consider that a person was behind all the writing in the book they carry, let alone name a favorite author, now proudly claim Kate Messner as their favorite.

~ Students to-be-read lists--for February vacation, April vacation, and now summer reading--are dominated by Kate Messner titles. Students are hand-selling her books to the kid across the table. They are lending their own copies to kids who are looking to borrow them.

~ Kids are asking about upcoming releases and have a book-ish nosiness about what Kate is writing next. These questions are being asked and conversations are happening among students across grades and with school personnel that are not the students' classroom teacher. These conversations are happening over cheeseburgers in the lunchroom as well as from the top of the jungle-gym on the greening playground.

~ The Digital Media Club has been working diligently on a feature newcast about OES Reads with their advisor (my neighboring teacher), Katie Thomas. I am grateful to have been a "consultant" on the project and shared in their excitement as this film was built, and I'm even more excited to feature it's debut in this post. Let the kids' joy speak for itself:

This year the committee took a leap of faith in changing our whole-school community reading program from "One Book for All" (our previous slogan) to "One School, Two Books, One Author." In making the shift, we hoped our program could balance reading AND writing, and that we could open doors for the students through books that start a series and an invitation to other books by our featured author.

As the school year winds down, we're looking back at the moments that made this year memorable and enriching for our kids, and it seems OES Reads was significant in building the literacy lives of our students and our school. What more evidence is needed to know that the initiative was successful?