Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thirty Days of Writing: Looking Back

My December "Don't Break the Chain" Calendar
Today makes 30 days. December 1 to December 30.
I wrote for 30 minutes on every one of those 30 days.
My longest string yet.

So, on this last day of #writedaily30, I'm looking back.

Calling today "the last day" has me a little on edge. See, I can't really look at today as a "last" day. I've been successful with this challenge, but I can't afford to chance breaking the chain. I can't treat today's celebration of my accomplishment as a finale or lean on 30 days of success as a reason I don't need to write tomorrow.

The truth is, I do.

I do need to write tomorrow. And the day after. And the 363+ days that come afterward. 
I do need a place to reflect and express and play and create and explore.

I don't always need the same thing of my writing time, but I do always need my time to write.

My December #writedaily30 goal was essentially to show up. To make a commitment to keep my pen moving on paper for 30 minutes every day. No specific topic, no intended audience, no pressure to publish. Just "me" time with my notebook to see what would come.

Writing is generative.

Flitting among the pages of two (Yes, not one, but two!) notebooks, there are recurring themes and ideas I have circled back to. There are pages that house classroom vignettes or specific memories I'll be glad to hold on to. And there are occasional rants or outpourings of questions--followed by more questions--that may never have real answers. But that's ok.

All of it is, actually. Because it's evidence of how my thinking and my life as a writer are evolving. Together.

Last night I set a timer for five additional minutes after my 30 had passed. I wanted those five-more-minutes to respond to Linda Urban's prompt: What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about goals and daily writing and commitment?

Reflective notes flowed freely from my pen. I was astonishing by the ease in which I was listing! Could it be that while my attention was turned to keeping a 30-day writing commitment and establishing a habit, I was glazing over some bigger realizations? Like these:

  • Ideas come to me. All. The. Time. An offshoot of writing daily means that consciously or subconsciously, I anticipate the chance to write. My daily goings on include observing, generating, and storing ideas for writing time, whether intentional or not.
  • My notebook is an extension of myself. Along with my wristlet and phone, my notebook is the third thing that travels with me almost everywhere. And I depend on my notebook to catch my randomness--inspirations or otherwise.
  • Sometimes the pressure of posting publicly stifles me as a writer. I get caught up in doing it right. Giving myself permission to "take a break" from blogging was hard, but a necessary reprieve to let me get back to reflecting on and banking ideas. And I've come away with at least a dozen smaller writing pieces that I can return to. That said...
  • I need to up the ante on myself. Free writing with no pressure has been what I needed this month, but now I need to attend to a nagging idea that is begging for more of my attention. It's time to find a balance between continuing to generate writing and making project-specific progress.
  • As solitary and personal as writing is, keeping the company of other writers is motivating to me. Beyond the gentle nudge of accountability, the #writedaily30 community is special, generously encouraging one another with positive responses to expressions of relief or frustration.

Today I'm celebrating my success. 
I kept a commitment for 30 days and wrote 30 minutes on each of those days.
And I came away with lots of possible blog posts, a project to pursue, and a whole lot to think through about what it means to be a writer and a teacher of writing.

I'm pretty sure I still need to write tomorrow.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Letter to My Blog

Dear Neglected Blog,

I'm sorry. I realize I've done a really poor job of keeping you refreshed and up-to-date with my reading diet, happy celebrations, and otherwise random musings of classroom life and professional endeavors. I feel really guilty that I have not shared the highlights of #NCTE14 or amazing connections my students have had with books and authors. I know it likely seems I have been swallowed whole by a book I have yet to review, and that is somewhat disheartening to you. It is to me, too.

So, let me begin by reassuring you: I am still the same "me." I'm still doing important work helping kids find who they are and assume their place of responsibility in a crazy world every day. I'm still a nerdy book lover, devouring middle grade novels in a single sitting (when I can). I'm still thinking-incessantly-about what is going right in my professional world and what needs to change. And, I'm still writing, I promise. In fact, I'm writing more now than ever before.

So then, you ask, what's the deal?
Why no new posts since mid-November?
Why the skipped weeks of #IMWAYR?


For the most part, it's because I'm writing
A lot. 
All the time. 
In my notebook.
To reach this point, I've had to give myself permission to relax about posting to you, sad Blog. I've had to allow myself the freedom to write to explore my ideas without the expectation of publishing for an audience, without the pressure of finding words that are pretty, or perfect, or provocative enough to interest readers. And you know-just between you and I-doing so has actually give me PAGES of what feel like possibilities. Possibilities for researching and revisiting and revising... Things that might grow into blog posts I can share later, that will help you appear "impressive."

Dear Blog, I hear your cry of concern that time is passing me by, and I'm not saying enough or showing everyone else who I am. I share your concern a little, too. But right now, this free, personal writing feels good, feels promising. So I'm going to trust in it...for a little while longer.

I want people to look at you...I do. I hope you can one day do even more to introduce me to people and connect me to great professionals with whom I can stretch my thinking. For now though, I beg you, be patient with me and my process. Support me in taking the quiet road. I have some things I need to think about. Explore. Tussle out. 
For a few more weeks, at least.

I will be back. Don't give up on me. 

I'm just finding my way.

Your wandering (but no less committed) writer,

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (12.1.14)

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:

Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris
(Scholastic Press, January 6, 2015)
     Sam Abbott and his family are traveling west on the Oregon Trail when they are joined by Ranger, a time-traveling dog who has strayed from his owner, Luke, left in the present. Ranger's adventures in the past include traveling the Oregon Trail, complete with illness, stampedes, and challenging terrain. 
Ethan's Ranger in Time Fan Art
     No one will be able to resist the relationship formed between Sam and his family and Ranger, and readers will feel connected to Ranger themselves as though they are traveling, too. The factual information about westward travel is woven well into the text, making history digestible for developing readers. I read this book aloud with my 6-year old nephew over the Thanksgiving holiday. He loved Ranger and can hardly wait for more!
The Yeti Files, by Kevin Sherry
(Scholastic Press, September 30, 2014)
     This first book in Kevin Sherry's new series introduces cryptids and their enemy, the cryptozoologist who is on a mission to debunk the creatures as mythical. 
     Sherry's artwork and book design will appeal to transitional readers who are looking for a book of length but not prepared for pages of text. The book is highly scaffolded with drawings, including diagrams and maps. My students are grappling to be the next to read this book. 

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick, October 14, 2014)
     Sam & Dave set out to dig a hole and find something splendid, but with each move they make, they narrowly miss the treasure they are after.
     Ever a fan of the Barnett/Klassen team and their individual works, this book was a treat for myself at NCTE '14. The artwork is beautiful and telling. With each page and a new "near miss" of the treasure, students are sure to be giggling and slapping their foreheads. 

What I am Currently Reading:
The Friendship Riddle , by Megan Frazer Blakemore
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 5, 2015, ARC)

What I am Reading Next:
Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen
All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, by Jess Keating

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Imani's Moon: Author/Illustrator Interview and Giveaway

Imani’s Moon
by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Charlesbridge Publishing, October 14, 2014

"A challenge is only impossible until someone accomplishes it...it is only you who must believe."

Young Imani wants to be something great. She wants to do something memorable. Yet day to day, she is faced with the teasing and taunting of the village children who pick on her because she is small. Inspired by stories her Mama tells of Olapa, the moon goddess, and Anansi, the clever spider, Imani makes several attempts at reaching the moon, however she is unsuccessful. At last Imani is energized by the adumu, a cultural celebration of the Maasai, and she strengthens herself with a mindset that she can jump to the moon. Once she has accomplished this mission, Imani owns her mother’s advice that she can do anything if she believes it possible.

With remarkable, vibrant illustrations to match the tale of Imani’s repeated attempts and eventual success at feeling accomplished, JaNay Brown-Wood and Hazel Mitchell have teamed up to create a new, diverse picture book about empowerment and the importance of believing in yourself and your ambition. Imani’s story can be shared with readers again and again, similar to the tales of Olapa and Anansi shared with Imani as instances of perseverance and commitment. 

In addition to hosting this book as part of the Imani's Moon Blog Tour, I had the opportunity to pose questions of JaNay and Hazel about the significance of storytelling and what they did to tell Imani’s story so beautifully in Imani’s Moon.

MG: The role of storytelling is highlighted twofold in Imani's Moon, both as Mama shares stories with Imani, and also in JaNay's styling of her story as a tale to be told. Did you (or do you) have storytellers in your life? Who, and what memories of their storytelling can you share?

JaNay Brown-Wood, Author
JBW: I really love this question. I did have storytellers in my life and I was surrounded by very creative people. For one, Dr. Seuss was a MAJOR storyteller in my life, and his work would always come to life through the voice of my father as he read me Seussical stories, as well as many others (Shel Silverstein and A.A. Milne were two other favorites of ours). I can still remember the inflection and cadence of my father's voice as he read. These early stories often prompted my own stories to pop into my head and play out on the page as I wrote them down, or acted them out with dolls and bears. Also, I have a cousin who is a fantastic saxophonist, and I always felt like she told stories with her horn when she played. I grew up listening to her play at jazz events and concerts all around Fresno, and I'd sometimes make up lyrics to her wordless melodies in my head. So although these two examples may not be traditional instances of storytelling, they are certainly experiences that resonate with me.

HM: My mother used to read to me when I was a child, and I remember her silly voices, especially in Beatrix Potter stories. She also used to draw little cartoons of bunnies and Victorian ladies that I loved. I don't really remember anyone else as a significant storyteller. I know that my best friend and I made up excellent stories from the age of 6 into our teenage
Hazel Mitchell, Illustrator
years. Probably we believed a lot of them were true!

MG: What stories were significant to you as a child? In your adult life? What stories have shaped who you are?

JBW: Many of my memories of stories and books being read to me as a child include Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, A.A. Milne as well as the Mercer Meyer stories. As I got older, I got hooked on the Harry Potter series. I was intrigued by how JK Rowling so seemingly effortlessly created this complete world that captivated readers, and made a massive impact on our culture in general. Her creativity stays with me, and I strive to capture some imaginary and impactful elements in the stories I write, too.

HM: As a horse mad child I loved any horse or pony story and I devoured them. As a British child, I adored Enid Blyton, as did most children of that time. As I grew older I loved Alan Garner, a British fantasy author and then C.S. Lewis and Tolkein. I also loved classics like Jane Austen, the Brontes, Dickens and read every Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Dick Francis going! My reading became more wide ranging as I reached young adulthood. Douglas Adams influenced me as a teenager for sure and I read a lot of science fiction! In older years I like biography and non-fiction. But mostly I read picture books and middle grade now!

MG: I imagine that representing the Maasai story in the telling of Imani's Moon must have required research. What did the process of engaging in (or with) the Maasai culture look like for each of you?

JBW: I did a fair amount of internet research as I looked up and read about elements of the Maasai cutlure. I also looked at different books in libraries to help paint a mental picture of the regal Maasai. Additionally, I watched some videos, such as them participating in the adumu, and other elements of their lives, and allowed those details to morph into pieces that colored Imani's world. Additionally, in high school, I took a mythology class and I remember learning about different African stories like the Boshongo creation myth. Later I was introduced to Ananasi, and then much later Olapa. I think those stories from high school stuck with me. As a matter of fact, I wrote a whole manuscript out inspired by the Boshongo creation myth when I was in college, but I'm not sure if it is one I'll try to publish.

HM: I did a lot of research for Imani. Of course I knew of the Maasai and their culture. But I needed to absorb the dress, jewelry, the traditions, the structure of the people-which is very particular. I also spent time researching Africa and the trees and creatures that Imani encounters. Most of this was done online...search engines and photo sites like Pinterest, Flickr, etc. I did find some great books about the Maasai and read a lot about their tribal life. I watched videos of the Maasai on YouTube, especially of the jumping dance. I even got to wear a Maasai blanket and hold a spear as my friend's son spent time in a Maasai tribe. To help me with Imani, I had the help of a young model for poses and gestures. That helped a lot!

MG: We know that the beauty of picture books is the thoughtfulness of the illustrators in conveying the story through their illustrations, and Imani's Moon is certainly no exception. What were some of the choices you faced when creating the artwork for Imani's Moon? Can you share a particular spread in which you were really selective about your design or creation?
HM: I did spend a lot of time thinking about the composition of the spreads. I have to give credit to my Art Director, Susan Sherman, at Charlesbridge Publishing, who guided me in directions that really helped some of the illustrations be more insightful. When illustrating, there is always a choice of what to show and what to leave out. The illustrations must bring something else to the words, and not just be a direct replica of what has been said. Emotion, setting, angle, close up or distance, mood-this can all affect the story and the way the viewer regards the scene. Continuity is very important. One of the spreads I thought about a lot was the "adumu" ritual. I wanted this to be dramatic...it's Imani's "ah-ha!" moment. I spent a lot of time working out the composition, with Imani in the front and then finally I have her in the background coming upon her tribe. I hope this scene captures the vibrancy of the Maasai people.

MG: Imani is a young girl of the Maasai tribe. Did her culture shape her story or did the story shape her culture? What, if any, connection is there between the theme of storytelling and the Maasai culture?

JBW: I think that there were elements of the Maasai cutlure shaping her story and her story shaping pieces of her imaginary world. I had the idea of a child jumping to the moon before I added in the Maasai, thanks to a thought shared by my older sister, Erin. But as I massaged the Maasai culture into the initial drafts, it seemed to flow seamlessly. Of course, the story is inspired by the Maasai and aspects of the story couldn't/wouldn't actually happen in real life, but I feel that Imani comes through authentically and the hope to accomplish something major in one's life is a sentiment that everyone everywhere can relate to. Also, I understand that the oral tradition of storytelling is historically an important component of many African cultures, and I wanted this to show through Mama as she shared the inspirational tales, and then Imani at the end who then shares her own inspirational story. I liked the idea of the story coming full circle in regards to the oral tradition, concluding with Imani's Tale of the Girl who Touched the Moon story. It felt like the perfect "bow on top" to an inspiring adventure.

MG: It's conceivable that Imani's Moon will become a mentor text in many classrooms where students are writing their own stories of perseverance and believing in oneself. What would you, or Imani, say to writers who are trying their hand at storytelling on paper every day?

JBW: Wow, that would be so wonderful if Imani's Moon became a classroom text. I would be beyond thrilled.

As for words I'd share with children, I'd tell them anything that is worth having takes hard work, so don't let challenges keep you down! When writing, let the words flow and remember that writing is a process that ALWAYS includes editing, revising, and fine-tuning. It's just like sculpting, you start off with a block of clay or stone, but you know the finished masterpiece is in there. You just have to keep at it and work your magic. Patience and perseverance is key. And lastly, I'd tell them believe and you will get there!

Thank you, JaNay and Hazel, for taking the time to respond to these questions and for bringing us Imani's Moon.

YOU can WIN your own copy of Imani’s Moon through a generous giveaway by Charlesbridge Publishing!

To be entered into the random drawing, complete this quick and private form. The winner will be drawn using a random number generator and notified on Friday, November 14!

Congratulations to Emily Wayne, winner of her own copy of Imani’s Moon!

For more information about Imani’s Moon, visit CharlesbridgePublishing.
Learn more about JaNay Brown-Wood at her author site or connect with her on Facebook.
Learn more about Hazel Mitchell at her author site, and follow her on Twitter at @hazelgmitchell.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (11.10.14)

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 (and last):

Life on Mars, by Jennifer Brown
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, August 4, 2014)
     Arty and his family have always been space people. The stars have guided them in everything from shared experiences to naming their children. Arty's whole identity is rooted in his love for space and an experiment to communicate with alien life on Mars. Which is why it is such a blow to his world when his father looses his job at the observatory and finds a new job...in Las Vegas, the city of lights. In the time Arty has before the move, he pursues his mission and gets stuck staying with the creepy man next door, who turns out to be more meets the eye.
     Readers will appreciate the worries and fears of Arty, a well-framed middle child with a strong passion for science and only two really close friends with whom he shares his time. The deeper questions that come from changing dynamics in his long-time friendships, an unexpected friendship with his ailing neighbor, and his confusion over attending to his passion versus his love and commitment to his family provide student readers plenty of opportunities for reflection and discussion.

The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
(Amulet, January 13, 2015, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     When Miles Murphy prepares to attend his new school as the new student, he decides to be known to his classmates as the prankster. Yet, from the moment of his arrival, Miles discovers and is reminded that there is already a prankster in his new school. When his straight-laced new student buddy, Niles, reveals himself as the first prankster, Miles declines the offer to join forces, initiating a prank war. When at last Miles rethinks his decision, the two unite to execute what might be the biggest and best prank in school history.
     The humor and quirky feel of this book and it's characters are just exactly the flavor that will be appealing to intermediate readers. For the students who try to cause trouble to the students who WISH they could cause trouble, the antics of Miles and Niles will keep them turning pages, chuckling to themselves all the way. 

All the Answers, by Kate Messner
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, January 27, 2015, ARC Courtesy of NetGalley)
     The publisher has requested that reviews of this book only be posted in another month, but I couldn't keep myself from reading. You won't either. Don't hesitate to pre-order.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce, illustrated by Joe Bluhm
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012)
     Mr. Morris Lessmore's story takes an unexpected turn, and he finds his way again with the help of books. In caring for the books in the library, he discovers the magic that books can take him anywhere. All the while, Mr. Lessmore pens his own story daily, and when he ages and must say goodbye, the treasure of his own story is left behind for a new reader to discover.
     William Joyce and Joe Bluhm have together created a gentle gem that invites readers into a world representative of what it means to be in relationship with books. Though the story can stand on it's own, there is so much symbolic meaning that readers-kids and adults alike-cannot help but walk away feeling a connection to this book.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith
(Roaring Brook Press, October 7, 2014)
     When the Toads come to town, they wreak havoc. Everything would be in danger, if not for Kid Sheriff Ryan, who arrives upon his tortoise. With his deep knowledge of dinosaurs and their skills for robbing banks and stagecoaches, he outsmarts the Toads and rids the town of their trouble. 
     Kids are going to find this book wonderfully amusing as they consider each of Kid Sheriff's moves in attributing the trouble to dinosaurs. Bob Shea's writing carries a heavy western dialect that will have any reader bringing voice and character to their read of this book.

Going Places, by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 18, 2014)
     The wait is over, and "Going Places" kits are distributed to all the students in Raphael's class. Eager to win the race, he dutifully sets to making his car according to the directions in the kit. When he curiously checks out his classmate Maya's progress, she sparks in him the encouragement to think more creatively about his "Going Places" vehicle for the race. What the two create together far surpasses what their classmates have made by following the directions.
     In typical Reynolds' fashion, Peter and Paul Reynolds have teamed up to bring us another beautiful masterpiece that encourages and celebrates the spirit of uniqueness, individuality, and creativity. 

Imani's Moon, by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
(Mackinac Island Press, October 14, 2014)
     This beautiful picture book will be featured here on my blog tomorrow (and will host a giveaway, too!), so I won't say much more now. Come back tomorrow for a special feature!

See more about Imani's Moon in my Author/Illustrator post, including how you could win this book!

What I am Currently Reading:
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor , by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Harry N. Abrams, August 19, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters, by Lauren Tarshis
How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel, by Jess Keating

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.27.14)

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 (and last):

Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
(EdgemontUSA, January 6, 2015, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)

     Hissy Fitz is a big, old cat who is grumpy about the interference of his human family in his cat life. The book tells of his complaints and describes a cat's possible perspective in response to kind--and not-so-kind--kids who have a pet cat. 
     Cat fanatics will find an appreciation in this book for the cat's point of view. Many descriptions had me recalling the relationship my own childhood cat had with my siblings and me. Though the perspective is realistic, I kept waiting for the story to lift off. The book is mainly a series of strung together events from Hissy's point of view.

Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park
(Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
     Julia and Patrick plan to team up and win a prize at the state fair, but they need a project that will impress to earn the prize. Limitations prevent them from raising typical animals, and Julia's mom suggests growing silkworms. While Patrick latches onto the idea, Julia has a distaste for the project, feeling it is too Korean, where she is feeling pressure to be normal--or American. The project, in all it's stages of inception through execution provides Julia with the opportunity to explore her values as she grapples with some difficult ethical issues, and helps her to embrace her cultural identity.
     In keeping with my recent theme of reaching back and reading books I've missed along the way, I'm glad my attention was pointed to this book. Not only is the story of Project Mulberry interesting, the characters believable, and the conflicts engaging to the mind, but Linda Sue Park has done something unique with the format of the text, punctuating the chapters with internal dialogue between the main character and herself. These exchanges enlighten readers to "the story behind the story" and the process of writing, the way the novel evolves. 

Courage for Beginners, by Karen Harrington
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 12, 2014)
     Mysti Murphy's daily life has always been impacted by her mother's agoraphobia, but she feels the pinch more when a sudden accident lands her father--the parent who goes places--in the hospital for several months. The timing of the accident coincides with the beginning of middle school, and Mysti's long-time best friend has decided he wants to conduct a "social experiment," so he stops interacting with her in hopes of getting the attention of other students. Left on her own to navigate middle school, cope with the unknowns in her dad's prognosis, and help her family carry on despite a parent who won't leave the house, Mysti has no choice but to summon a little courage.
     Karen Harrington has a second novel that will tug at your heart (the first being Sure Signs of Crazy). Readers will want to coax Mysti along as she works past this broken and hurtful friendship with her long-time friend and will cheer for her new friendship with Rama. They will share her burden as she laments the troubles and undeserved challenges that come with an agoraphobic parent. And, if the reader is a reader like me, they'll appreciate that Harrington's book isn't heavy in happily-ever-after, but more realistic in it's ending.

The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson
(Arthur A. Levine Books, May 27, 2014)
      It is easy to tell from the very beginning, Jackson Greene is the kind of trouble-making student you want to read for. When the young con detects unethical play in the school's Student Council elections, he gathers a cast of diverse characters around him to help foil their plan and insure the right person wins the presidential position--even if that happens to be his ex-best friend.
     I am so glad to finally be caught up on this book that held the attention of so many in my book-loving circles this summer. It is with good reason that everyone has been buzzing about Varian Johnson's adventure/mystery. The characters' stories and scenes weave together seamlessly, and the reader feels a part of Jackson's recruited team, helping to make things right. Johnson makes heroes of unlikely characters, blurring the stereotypical lines of social class in middle school. The book reads like an action movie, which I suspect will appeal to many students and leave them asking for subsequent adventures. I cannot wait to share this title at school.

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery, by Sandra Markle
(Milbrook Press, August 1, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     When scientists discover the Little Brown Bat population is declining, and, upon investigation, notice an unusual white fuzz on the noses of others, the team goes into action to solve the scientific mystery of what is causing more Little Brown Bats to die. This informational text takes readers on the journey from inquiry about the cause of dying bats to discovery of what is happening. With stunning close-up photos and a narrative style of writing, the text will hold the attention of curious readers, inviting them to be on the inside of active scientific research and discovery.

The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell, Donna Jackson, and Timothy Rodwell
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2011)
     The Elephant Scientist is a Scientists in the Field text that documents the research about elephants and their ability to communicate through their feet and legs. The text chronicles the research of biologist Caitlin O'Connell and her team as they investigated a suspicion that elephants "listen" to the ground for signs as part of their communication. The step-by-step discoveries and explanation of the team's response to their findings made this a page-turning informational text. 

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 8, 2014)
     Beekle has waited patiently for a special friend to dream him up, but after waiting a long while, Beekle takes matters into his own hands and journeys to the real world, a city setting, in search of his special friend.
      Always a fan of Dan Santat's work, the illustrations in Beekle do not disappoint. The story gives a whimsical play to the theme of friendship and imaginary--and not-so-imaginary--friends. (Thank you, Niki Barnes, for this beautiful gift!)

What I am Currently Reading:
Life on Mars, by Jennifer Brown
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, August 5, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett, Jory John, and Kevin Cornell
I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters, by Lauren Tarshis
All the Answers, by Kate Messner

Monday, October 13, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.13.14)

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:

Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2, 2014)

     Jaden lives with his adoptive parents. From Romania, he has struggled to assimilate to live in America with his family. The book takes us on the journey of Jaden's family to Kazakhstan, where they intend to adopt another baby. Jaden believes their desire for another child is to compensate because he is not good enough. The book chronicles Jaden's experiences in Kazakhstan and his evolution as he discovers his feelings for his family-to-be.
     I'm still sitting with Jaden's story, undecided about the ways students might connect with Jaden's situation. Many students identify with his feelings of inadequacy, but I'm not sure if the international adoption line of the story is going to make it hard for them to access. I'm so curious to hear what other readers think of this book.

Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech
(HarperCollins, 2008)
     Jack is back in the sequel to Love That Dog. As in the first book, Jack's class is studying poetry, but in this novel in verse, the students are emulating the language of poetry in their own work. Jack's poetry is about his fear of a neighborhood cat, and then his own kitten. Through his poetry, we also learn more about his relationship with his mother.
     Sharon Creech's book pair may be inspiring to writers, encouraging them to try their hand at free verse as a means of telling their story.
In Memory of Gorfman T. Frog, by Gail Donovan
(Dutton Children's Books, 2009)
     Josh is in 5th grade, and whether he's at home or at school, his mouth gets him in trouble--he likes to talk. When Josh finds a frog with three back legs in his backyard, adventure begins. Josh is determined to chase his curiosity about how and why this happened to the frog (named Gorfman). Josh's plight to prevent more frogs from future defects helps him find a new level of self-acceptance.
     The characters in this book are realistic, and the story line will appeal broadly with kids. Josh shows characteristics of an early activist, and so many elementary students have an interest in the well-being of creatures and the environment. I'm looking forward to finding this book a reader this week.

Little Elliot, Big City, by Mike Curato
(Henry Holt and Co., August 26, 2014)
     Mike Curato has created an adorable new character in Little Elliot, who finds himself too small to do most things in his home in New York City. When Elliot comes upon someone smaller than him and realizes teaming up will get them both what they want, and more, his new friendship brings him happiness.

The Invisible Boy, by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013)
     Brian is a quiet student who doesn't command a lot of attention. He is often overlooked by students, too. This picture book communicates the feelings of being left out and lonely in a classroom setting, and it offers students an opportunity to consider how they can be compassionate with one another.

What I am Currently Reading:
Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park
(Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

What I am Reading Next:
Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks
The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna Jackson, illustrated by Timothy Rodwell

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (10.6.14)

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:

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, by Julie T. Lamana
(Chronicle Books, April 8, 2014)
     All Armani wanted was to celebrate her 10th birthday with her family and friends at her home, but nature had something different in store. Set in the city of New Orleans when the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina struck, this book is the account of Armani and her family as they faced obstacles and hardship at every stage of the natural disaster.
     Julie Lamana's writing is beautiful and heartfelt, even while describing the horror of Hurricane Katrina. Her description and portrayal of the cast of characters and their feelings stretched my reader's heart wide (and demanding something of a tissue-quota). Terrible as it was, it was fascinating to read about a historical event of recent past. This book will linger for a long while for me, and it will be passed on to the right reader at the right time...when that is found.

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polinsky
(Disney Hyperion, November 4, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     Sixth-grader Grayson Sender lives in Chicago with his aunt and uncle and two cousins after losing his parents in a car accident when he was in preschool. Grayson has long self-identified as female, but keeps his feelings suppressed with realization that the rest of the world would not take kindly to him, expecting gender conformity. Grayson lands the female lead in his school play and finally finds a means for expressing his true self. 
     Ami Polinsky brings to life a courageous character in Grayson and tastefully crafts the conflict--both internal and external--faced by young people who are exploring their sexuality. This book can broaden students' perspectives and touch on the necessity of tolerance for differences. I'm glad to have had this reading experience.

Bugged: How Insects Changed History, by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton
(Walker Childrens, April 15, 2014)
     Throughout time, insects have played a role in history, guiding discovery and impacting the outcome of known events. Bugged provides both detailed research and shorter quips describing instances and examples of the influence of insects on where we are today.
     Students will find the topic highly engaging once introduced to the material between the cover. True to informational books, readers can move fluidly around the pages, reading as little or as much as they like at a time. I imagine that this book will get passed around a lot in my classroom, with some of the more capable readers investing energy in the lengthier passages and my still-developing readers flittering from text box to image to text box to caption collecting bits and pieces as they go. The back matter of this text is wonderful and serves as a great exemplar of organizing vocabulary and sources for future readers.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge, 2013)
     Melissa Stewart creates another nonfiction masterpiece as she illustrates the interdependence of organisms related to cocoa beans in the rainforest. By layering each player and explaining their role in the growth and development of cocoa beans, Stewart reinforces the concept that each one is dependent upon the other, that all have a role to play and each link is vital. The illustrations are beautiful, and the tiny worm commentary in the corners of the page are smile-worthy and offer a voice and personality to the page that will entertain readers without detracting from the text. This book presents interesting information in a digestible bite.

Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
(Harry N. Abrams, 2013)
     Rosie has an interest in tinkering with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos, until one day her uncle laughs at a very well-intentioned piece, shutting down Rosie's creative juices. One day Rosie's aunt Rose (fashioned to represent Rosie the Riveter) arrives, and when she expresses a desire to fly, Rosie is again inspired to create and build. But her creation crashes. Rosie is ready to quit again when she is unsuccessful, but Aunt Rose inspires her to look at the creation as a first attempt. 
     Rosie Revere, Engineer is another great fit book for developing a growth mindset in children. I am eager to share this book with my students and anticipate they will have great conversations about the similar theme in this book as The Most Magnificent Thing and Ish

What I am Currently Reading:
Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
(EgmontUSA, January 6, 2015, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham
(International Reading Association, April 28, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
Half a World Away, by Cynthia Kadohata
Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks
The Elephant Scientist, by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna Jackson, illustrated by Timothy Rodwell

Monday, September 29, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (9.29.14)

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:

Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire, by Simon Nicholson
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, October 7, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     When his Hungarian family was split up, Harry was sent to live in America, where he makes his way as a shoeshine boy and performs magic for small crowds with the help of two loyal friends, Billie and Arthur. One evening, Harry's friend and inspiration, Herbie Lemster, is kidnapped after his regular magic show and Harry and his friends will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery of his disappearance. 
     The beginning of this book captured my attention immediately, lulled a little, and once I was wrapped up in Harry's chase, I turned pages until the end. This will be a new and interesting series to offer middle grade students since it has elements of mystery, historical fiction, and adventure tangled into one 240-page novel. I'm looking forward to eliciting student feedback, and I'm curious about how the series will continue.

Gooney Bird Greene, by Lois Lowry

(Dell Yearling, 2002)
     Mrs. Pigeon's 2nd grade class is very intrigued by their new student, Gooney Bird Greene. Gooney Bird tells many stories, chapter after chapter, maintaining her stories are true by cleverly playing with words and their meanings. In the end, when Gooney Bird has told her last story, she highlights stories her peers could also share, imparting the ability to storytell upon then.
     I read Gooney Bird Greene in keeping with my recent theme of finally reading some books I've had around forever but never spent time between their covers. I appreciated the eccentric-ism of Gooney Bird Greene, and I especially appreciated the ultimate message that everyone has stories to tell. Some of my young, developing readers might find happy company with Gooney Bird.

Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds
(Candlewick, 2004)
     Ramon's love of drawing is squelched when his older brother laughs at one of his pictures. After quitting and growing angry, Ramon discovers his sister is a great admirer, and she helps him recognize there is room for things to be 
"-ish." With a changed mindset and accepting of -ish-like things, Ramon is able to resume his drawing, finding joy.
     My students loved this book, especially following the reading of The Dot. They completely understood that expecting to be perfect is unrealistic, but -ish-like things can continue to develop. Many related this book to The Most Magnificent Thing.

The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

(HarperCollins, 1999)
     An illustrated poem with repetitive/predictable pattern, Margaret Wise Brown presents to readers ordinary objects and the qualities that make them important. A colleague used this book in years passed as a community building book to grow appreciation of one another. I just may attempt something similarly inspired, and I may use this book as a mentor for students, with each writing and contributing their own page. I may use it for synthesizing content, or maybe I'll use is as a remembrance gift for the students. Hmm...

What I am Currently Reading:
Bugged: How Insects Changed History, by Sarah Albee
(Walker Childrens, April 15, 2014)
The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham
(International Reading Association, April 28, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
Hissy Fitz, by Patrick Jennings
Gracefully Grayson, by Amy Polonsky
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, by Julie T. Lamana