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?

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (5.4.15)

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:

Blackbird Fly, by Erin Entrada Kelly
(Greenwillow Books, March 24, 2015)
     Apple Yengko wants what most middle school girls want: to fit in and feel confident. And she wants to play guitar. But it seems school bullies aren't the only thing standing in Apple's way as she challenges her mother's protective nature, apparent dislike for music, and her Filipino heritage. Blackbird Fly is Apple's path to understanding herself and those around her as she moves towards being more comfortable in her own skin.
     I appreciate the glimpse into Apple's melded lifestyle as a young Filipino-American. I loved Apple's passion for The Beatles (and her devotion to George). And I really liked that she found light in one strong friend who could help her keep going when the pressures of middle school life seemed too strong. The bullying situation in Blackbird Fly is vivid, with mean name-calling, list-making, and harassment. Why there was never reprimand or consequences for the bullies is unclear and seems unlikely. This book will lend itself to opening doors for conversation.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth, by Ian Lendler and Zack Giollongo
(First Second, 2014)
     When the zookeeper locks up and the coast is clear, the animals assemble for theater. Zoo characters assume roles in an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. 
     The graphic novel format will make this an attractive and accessible version of Shakespeare's story for intermediate readers. The telling of Macbeth mimics a theater experience with multiple acts, an intermission, and an audience who can't keep their comments to themselves. I smiled to myself throughout my reading at the cleverness and creativity behind this work.
Edmund Unravels, by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, March 10, 2015)
     The time has come for Edmund to move on into the world. As a ball of yarn might, Edmund unravels a little more with each "step" he takes, until he is smaller and smaller. When Edmund makes a return trip home, he is reminded of where he comes from, and his friends and family help him to wind back up.
     This might be my new favorite book to give away to graduates or friends who are making that next big step/move. The illustrations are bright and beautiful, and the symbolism of Edmund's unraveling and re-winding are good reminders for all that it's always important to come back to what makes you feel whole.

by mouse & frog, by Deborah Freedman
(Viking Books for Young Readers, April 14, 2015)
     Mouse is beginning a new story when frog hops in. Frog's contributions are of a different mood and feel than the story mouse intends to write, and mouse isn't exactly appreciative of Frog's ideas. Frog's disappointment is apparent. Finally, the two budding writers put differences aside and collaborate on a new, different story.
     by mouse & frog will make kids laugh, and adults will have fun sharing. Reading aloud these characters' personalities will invite joy. Another book for the collection of friend duos who have to overcome differences and hurt feelings for the sake of their friendship.

Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Beach Lane Books, 2011)
     Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee partner in this story about stars: all the places they can be found, all the magic they hold, and all the encouragement a star can be.
     Frazee's artwork is always lovely, but the combination of Ray's poetic language, Frazee's art, and the hand-lettered font make this a whimsical ode to stars-those that inhabit the skies above and those that exist quietly among us.

What I am Currently Reading:
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor, by Nathan Hale
(Amulet Books, April 21, 2015)

What I am Reading Next:
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, by Holly Schindler
Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, by Jen White
Lost in the Sun, by Lisa Graff

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Art and Word Mingle

One of my many celebrations this week came as an unexpected surprise. 

Last week was our first week of state testing, making our schedule way more topsy-turvy than it usually is (even for me). In between the test sessions, my goal was to keep our classroom activities easy-going, but to use time well. Like my colleagues across the country, I am trying to slow time down as I run out of days!

I accepted an invitation for my class to Skype with another group of fourth graders at Michele Knott's school in Illinois. Michele was incredibly well-organized and had a plan in place, leaving me to prepare my kids and fall in: we would read a few poems for two voices together with the Maine kids and the Illinois kids alternating, and then each group could share some of their poems with others. 

Uh, hold up. Share their poems? This was the onset of small panic attack. What did my students have to share?

My students had done a little bit of poetry writing in their weekly library special before vacation, but those haiku were mostly first-draft poems. You know, the kind you write when you're just trying out this new-ish, uncomfortable thing and, for the most part, any show of effort is close enough for now? I hadn't facilitated this learning. Did I think the students had haiku ready to share?

No, I knew. I wouldn't want to put them in a position of sharing first-draft work on the spot. I needed to give them time to practice writing, and they should know that the purpose of their writing will be to share with an audience.

Though this was in the back of my mind on Monday morning, it was purely happenstance that I lifted the screen of my computer and found myself looking at photo of a snake...and a three-line poem with the hashtag author Loree Griffin Burns. During our Monday morning class meeting to look at the week ahead, I shared the photo and Loree's haiku with my students. They applauded and expressed words of praise, and then someone said, "Isn't Loree the one who wrote Beetle Busters?" (And someone else chimed in, "And Handle with Care!")

Just like that a conversation spawned about writers who try different kinds of writing, and that yes, the same Loree Griffin Burns who they knew from the informational books in our classroom library also writes poetry. And, she's probably not the only writer who likes to write different types of writing.

The next day, when Loree posted another haiku accompanied by another photo, I was struck by the way the two -art and words- complimented one another. And that's where an idea that electrified my students' haiku writing struck.

In their previous haiku experience, my students had been asked to pull poetic language from wherever they had stored encounters with nature in their minds--in fact, their library assignment was strictly an animal haiku. For many of my learners, poetry writing was too open-ended and abstract, and many lines of their haiku contained phrases like, " awesome" or "I like..." or "...are cool." What if, I wondered, I could hand them visual inspiration from which to write? What if I could give them a choice of photos to get them started?

As quickly as the idea had come, I was revamping our poetry workshop for the day. When I shared my wonder, Loree generously offered her own photos for our use. Before they even put a syllable to the page, the students felt important and empowered by her offer. There was a swell of positive energy hovering in the room as I came to the last of Loree's photos, and students told a partner which photos inspired them to write. They needed no reminders or redirection. Notebooks flipped open, pencils scratched, and hands clapped out syllables.

I wrote, too--for a while. But mostly I listened. Voices came from tables around the room. 

"Ugh, that's too many!"
"What if you try..."
"Could you say 'pond' instead of 'ocean'?"
"Oh, I really love that line!"
"Could you pick a better word than 'awesome'?"
"Read that one again."

They were writing partners and poets, on a mission to give Loree's photos haiku, and in the writing process, no one was going to be left behind. Some students wrote many haiku and selected their favorite, sometimes polling their friends. Others created from images in their heads, and when it was time to format their poem on a slide, we were able to find photos in my own personal collection that they felt matched. 

The students are so proud of themselves and their poetry. On Friday, the project became something of a team effort as we pressed to finish before the week ran out--students were rallying behind other students to make suggestions about replacing words or dropping syllables. Every student has a finished haiku slide in the classroom collection. Many of their finished haiku slides are below. It has been so interesting to see which images spoke to which students and to catch them counting syllables in their spare time, too. 

What started as a frantic response on my part became a memorable workshop in our classroom. Productive talk and writing conversations, freedom to create and express punctuated the broken up days of our testing week. What a gift. Someday (if time allows!), I would like to take the students outside to the wooded edge of the playground, equipped with their notebooks AND iPads, to give them a chance to create poems with art and words again.

Art and Word mingle--
inspired poets result.
This teacher gives thanks.

(Oh! And several students did confidently share their poems with the students in Illinois while the others cheered them on. Phew.)