Monday, July 18, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (7.18.16)

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 Recently:

Finding Perfect, by Elly Swartz
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 18, 2016)
     Molly can't help but feel like she is losing more and more control of her world, riddled with her mom's sudden move away from the family, competing challenges with middle school friends, and these routines, and rituals, and numbers...yes, numbers. Molly realizes she needs help, yet, she is also unsure of where to turn and who to trust with the truth that scares her.
     Elly Swartz's debut-novel portrays OCD with sensitivity and honesty. Though Elly is not without her obstacles and challenges, the family and friends in Finding Perfect are loving and supportive. This is another middle grade book that will help build understanding and empathy by opening doors to the realities of mental health that are faced by our children and their loved ones.

Wish, by Barbara O'Connor
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, August 30, 2016)

     Charlie Reese longs to have a family--the kind that looks like everybody else's and helps her to feel normal and loved. In fact, she has a looonnnggg streak of wishing so every single day in every possible way to wish imaginable. Now that she's living with extended family members who she doesn't know in a small town in the middle of nowhere, Charlie feels her wish is far from becoming a reality. But when her new dog, Wishbone, becomes the center of her universe, she just might start to see things differently.
     Barbara O'Connor's writing is every bit as easy and gentle and true in Wish as in her other novels, and Charlie will be a fast friend for our readers who are in need of one. Wish will push readers--just as it does Charlie--to broaden their definition of what family looks like and grow their hearts a little, too.

Sticks & Stones, by Abby Cooper
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, July 12, 2016)
     Elyse has a condition in which names she is called appear on the skin of her arms and legs. At first, this is interesting, with words like beautiful and cute. But as Elyse has grown older--and now that she is in middle school--the words haven't always been painless. Negative words like loser and stupid form and itch in a torturous way. What's more, Elyse's newest realization is that even the words she thinks about herself are appearing. Certain she needs a bank of lasting compliments to help her perpetually feel good--and control her condition--Elyse sets out to win the competition to the the leader of her class's three-day expeditionary trip.
     Abby Cooper's first book will raise questions and important conversations in upper elementary and middle school classrooms. This is the kind of book that will have kids exploring themes of kindness and respect and talking about the standards they want to hold each other to. Elyse's understanding and perspective at the end of the book are the kind of growth and confidence we hope to encourage in our students, too.

The Slowest Book Ever, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
(Boyds Mills Press, April 5, 2016)
     Across categories such as animals, plants, body, space, and more, this book is a collection of nonfiction information about slow things: snails, coral, digestion, dark matter, and more.
     April Pulley Sayre has compiled page after page of interesting (and sometimes obscure) information related to speed that will have students rushing to share "did you know's" with their friends or heading off in search of more evidence that validates their reading. Short sections of digestible information and a witty voice will make this nonfiction appealing to kids.

When Friendship Followed Me Home, by Paul Griffin
(Dial Books, June 7, 2016)     
     When Ben Coffin was adopted by his foster mom, things seemed to fall into place, and when she let him keep a dog he found, things got even better. 
     When Friendship Followed Me Home invites you into easy friendship with Ben and Halley (and Flip). The dynamic between these two characters is full of heart and a beautiful balance of reciprocal admiration and support without being too heavy. Paul Griffin's writing about loss and grief takes a hopeful stance.

Poor Little Guy, by Elanna Allen
(Dial Books, June 7, 2016)
     This "poor little guy" is adorable, quite frankly. On his adventure in the ocean this day, he encounters other sea creatures and appears to be overwhelmed and intimidated...until he takes matters into his own hands.
     You need to read this one for yourself. Really.

Rules of the House, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Meyers
(Disney-Hyperion, May 3,  2016)
     On a vacation, feuding brother and sister get an imaginative look at what might happen if the rules of the house aren't followed when broken rules come to life in monstrous form.
     An interesting idea, and the illustrations literally add life to the story. Curious to know what kids think, but I decided it was a little too creepy for my 4-year old nephew this time around.

Hensel and Gretel Ninja Chicks, by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, May 24, 2016)
     Ninja students return--this time, chickens--in the poetic retelling of Hansel and Gretel. The well-schooled ninja chicks are lured into the kitchen of the witchy fox, but true to the original fairytale, they outsmart that fox and get away.
     I love this picture book series by this team. I marvel at the craft of Corey Rosen Schwartz's rhyme and meter and humor. Dan Santat's illustrations are a perfect match for the fun of the story. Read it aloud.

Let Me Finish!, by Minh Le, illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, June 7, 2016)
      All this boy wants to do is settle down with a good book, but with each attempt, he is interrupted by well-meaning friends who can't help but talk about his selections. 
      A humorous portrayal of the risk we run when we talk (too much!) about the books we love and spoil them for those who haven't read them yet. Upbeat art and the repeated interjections will make readers--young and old--smile.

What Do You Do with a Problem?, by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom
(Compendium, Inc., July 1, 2016)
     When the character identifies a problem as the thing looming and inviting worry and fear, he must decide how to handle it. 
     The book is essentially one extended think-aloud about making the choice to dig into a problem to decide how to handle it, and finding that problems often come with a glimmer of light--opportunity.

The Storyteller, by Evan Turk
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, June 28, 2016)
     In the tradition of Moroccan storytelling, this is the story of a boy who saved Morocco from the wrath of the Sahara desert. Only it is so much more. Rich with metaphor, The Storyteller is about the power of storytelling to nourish us and honoring traditions to keep culture alive and well.
     The art. The writing. The layers. The message. This book is beautiful.

Good Night, Baddies, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Julie Kangas
(Beach Lane Books, May 17, 2016)
     Night has come and all across the castle, the villains of your favorite fairytales are getting ready for sleep.
     Each page has a gentle and easy rhyme that gives hints the readers can use (with the pictures of course) to recall the fairytales in which each "baddie" starred. Clever, fun, creative.

What I am Currently Reading:
Celebrating Writers, by Ruth Ayres, with Christi Overman
(Stenhouse, 2013)
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
(Algonquin, August 9, 2016)

What I am Looking Forward to Reading Soon (in no particular order):
Return Fire, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Midnight Without a Moon, by Linda Jackson

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Five Things I'm Celebrating About nErDcampMI

Parma, Michigan is not a short trip from my little town in western Maine. But it's a distance I'm willing to travel to spend time in a place where the energy for all-things-literacy runs high, a place where I can refill my cup and pocket seeds of inspiration alongside other nerdy folks from all over the country. nErDcampMI is a professional development opportunity that I am celebrating.

Five Things I'm Celebrating About nErDcampMI
Photo credit: #nerdyphotographer Justin
1. Connections. 
Some of the truest relationships I have built are with others who share the love of all things nerdy, and yet, in most cases, these important people are people I see only a few times a year--if that often. For my Voxer group, nErDcampMI is a gathering space for us to return to, to celebrate and to enjoy each other's company. And, true of my Voxer group and other nerdy friends, too, it is easy to pick right up where we last left off. I don't think any of this is an accident. It comes down to friendships that are seeded in deep-rooted passions...passions that are alive and thriving at nErDcampMI, passions that are so central to our identity. It is so important to know we are not alone. Not just to "know," but to feel we are not alone, and nErDcampMI provides a gathering space where we can feel our commonality pulsating. And while we're returning home this week feeding on the nErDcampMI energy, connections built here will be sustained all year long.

2. Story. 
For the second year, I was honored to present a session on Day One of nErDcampMI. In a session called Writing Mentorship, Beyond Mentor Texts, I showcased my students' learning and growth as writers that resulted from experienced writers (both published authors and *ahem* me) sharing our writing lives transparently. I am so lucky to be able to tell the stories of my students and my classroom and of my own learning in hope of inspiring others. (Not-so-)Secret: It makes me wildly nervous to prepare and present, but I will always swallow my fear for the opportunity to share the Story my students and I are writing.

But sharing stories isn't limited to organized sessions, and the informal, spontaneous conversations that I had with other teachers and writers have left me as hopeful as the opportunity to speak on this topic did. I hope my story and my example of transparency with my writing life can be even a small nudge that helps someone else discover the value of writing and sharing their writing life with their students. I sincerely hope I can cheer other teachers on as they begin to build a their writing lives bravely. I'd love to hear their stories, too.

I can't wait to tell new students 
about meeting Nora Raleigh Baskin 
& to share nine, ten with them.
3. Learning. And learners.
There are organized sessions and Nerd Talks preplanned for Day One, often by prominent names and podcasting to empowering student readers to strategies for teaching perspective in writing and beyond. (Find the notes from all of the Day Two sessions on the nErDcampMI Idea Board.) But the people. The people who come to nErDcampMI open and curious and with a mindset of growth and self-improvement. And that makes nErDcampMI a positive and refreshing climate of professional learning that leaves you inspired to try something new or different that what you knew (or thought you knew) before.
personalities we love and admire. There are always too many interesting and appealing options of pop-up sessions on Day Two to choose from. The opportunities for learning at nErDcampMI are abundant and diverse, ranging from

My students are BIG fans of 
Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies.
4. Gratitude.
Something special about nErDcampMI is the make-up of the crowd. Sure, 1,200 people is A LOT of people. But in and among the hundreds of teachers, librarians, and other educators is a great number of authors and illustrators (and their editors, too!) who generously make the trip to connect with all of us, also. To have authors and illustrators accessible to lend expertise to panels and discussions, to field questions and compliments about their books, and to take endless photos with us that undoubtedly boost our star-status with students IS special. I am glad for the opportunity to express gratitude to these creators who make the books our students love, books that grow them as young people.

5. Magic.
Jenni Holm conferences a young writer's four-panel comic.
Possibly my very favorite part of living the nerdy life is making connections between readers/writers and the authors they love and admire, so having a chance to volunteer at nErDcamp Jr. is the perfect conclusion to filling my own cup at nErDcampMI. Overseeing a small group of young readers and writers as they rotate between author sessions and dinner is a fantastic "pit stop" in the middle of summer to talk to kids and to witness the magic of talking to and learning from published authors and illustrators. This year my group had mini-writing sessions with Jenni Holm, Ruth McNally Barshaw, and Louise Borden. The students were respectful, thoughtful, and engaged. I love thinking about my return to my own students and sharing with them that I could connect with new kid-friends in Michigan over a shared appreciation of the same books.

nErDcampMI organizers (Colby & Alaina Sharp, Suzanne Gibbs, and team) have a lot to be proud of with another successful year in the books. Congratulations...and thank you.

You can take part in reflecting and celebrating each week, too! Ruth Ayres hosts Celebrate This Week - the Celebrate Link-Up on her blog every Saturday. Take time to celebrate.