Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (6.30.14)

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:

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
(Nancy Paulsen Books, August 28, 2014 - ARC)
     In Brown Girl Dreaming, Jackie Woodson invites us into the memories of her childhood as she, in verse, recalls the formative experiences of living in the south and the north during the era of Jim Crow laws. She offers her child-perspective of this period of great change as civil rights leaders fought for equality. And between the stories of travel and play are glimpses into the evolution of Jackie Woodson, the now accomplished author, with chapters that alight readers with Woodson's early memories of reading and writing.
     Brown Girl Dreaming is one of the most talked about titles in book conversations this summer, and for good reason. I had a persistent feeling while reading that I was reading something important, being let into some intimate moments the author was sharing. The novel-in-verse format presents historical perspective in a lyrical format, which would pose a gentle contrast to informational titles about the civil rights era. The whole text is a work of (he)art, but most chapters could be used with students as stand-alone excerpts for study of writing craft. There are many ways for this book to be incorporated into the classroom, but it is undeniable that any classroom library will be richer when this book is included.

Book 1: Friendship Over (The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine), by Julie Sternberg (author) and Johanna Wright (illustrator)
(Boyds Mill Press, October 1, 2014 - ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     I was familiar with Julie Sternberg's work with Eleanor, the star of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, Like Bug Juice on a Burger, and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake--my students have devoured the first two and will be ecstatic to see the third--so when I discovered she had a new book coming, I didn't hesitate to see what it was about. Alas, I discovered Celie Valentine, a new 10-year old character who is every bit as real and relate-able as Eleanor.
      The book is intended to be a journal, given to Celie by her father to help her handle her feelings and frustrations, especially related to her older sister. Celie's journal takes readers alongside her thoughts and feelings about more than just her big sister, Josephine, as everything around her seems to be in a state of change. She logs accounts about friendship struggles with her (former) best friend and the confusion she is trying to puzzle through as her parents suddenly get very serious about her grandmother's health. Celie is about to become a new friend for our students to align with when they seek comfort and company in a book! The book is printed in a casual font suggestive of journal writing, and many artifacts are made to look like they are taped in, such as spy notes and Celie's drawings. The book itself will be very appealing to middle elementary readers, especially those who are just beginning to venture into books of length but are not ready to commit to novels with hundreds of pages of straight print.

Circa Now, by Amber McRee Turner
(Disney-Hyperion, May 27, 2014)

     Circa Monroe has rested comfortably in the creative lair of her parents, both photographers, until a sudden stroke of misfortune befalls her family in a weather event. Faced with the sudden, premature loss of her father, Circa and her mother, who battles anxiety and depression, must their way as a team of two. When a teenage-stranger appears in their yard out of nowhere one day, he provides a distraction for both the remaining Monroes, finding his way into their hearts. Driven by a desire to develop her photography skills to be able to continue her father's work, Circa continues to tinker with images on the computer. The hobby allows her to feel close to her departed father, but also challenges her thinking and makes her wonder about her influence on the world and brings her closer to the people around her the more she shares her talent. 
     Many times during the reading of this book I found myself reaching for note paper or my phone to write down lines that I knew would linger with me later. The writing is lovely, and the story itself is tight with all of its pieces carefully interlocked. Nothing is left loose or wiggly, making the Monroe's story one readers can be wrapped up in. While the theme of dealing with loss is predominant, Turner writes such beauty into the characters' relationships that the story's emphasis seems to be on healing rather than on darkness.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2011)
     I am ashamed at how long this book sat on my to-be-read (-purchased) list. The book won the Sibert Medal and the Orbis Pictus award, need I say more? Melissa Sweet has a stunning pairing of informational biography and collage artwork in Balloons Over Broadway.
     Tony Sarg was the puppeteer responsible for the original balloon creations that float through the streets of New York City to Herald Square in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Sweet writes a narrative-style picture book biography of how his inverted-puppets came to be. The writing style and the layout of information will make the book very appealing to my 4th grade readers who are curious and love to learn, but are easily overwhelmed with lots of print. They will, like me, spend as much--if not more--time feasting with their eyes in the illustrations created with various mediums. The end notes include Sweet's resources and some insights into her process.

What I am Currently Reading:
Bugged: How Insects Changed History, by Sarah Albee
(April 15, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, by Jess Keating
Spirit's Key, by Edith Cohn
Hidden Gems, by Katherine Bomer

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (6.23.14)

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:

(Ok, confession: I didn't read this one THIS week, but I still needed to mention it!)
Manhunt, by Kate Messner

(Scholastic Books, June 24, 2014 - ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     Manhunt is the awaited finale in the Capture the Flag triology. For fans who read the mystery-driven adventures of Henry, Anna, and Jose, this next adventure does not disappoint. I enjoyed all three titles, but this one may be my favorite.
      The three children are reunited when their Silver Jaguar Society connections are called to assist with an art heist. Though the initial setting of the book is Boston, MA, the society members are soon off to Paris, France, and when the adults begin their top secret work, the kids are free to venture, attempting to beat their adult relatives to the solution. Their regular dynamics are changed with the introduction of a new French character, Hem, who the group has mixed feelings about. Throughout the book, Messner succeeds in enlisting the reader as another "member" of the Silver Jaguar Society clan-it is inevitable that the reader begins to puzzle through the mystery themselves. In anything I have read by Kate Messner, her research always impresses me, but her thorough research allows this book's accurate description of the sights and sounds, reminding me of my fondness for the city of Paris.

Absolutely, Almost, by Lisa Graff
(Philomel, June 12, 2014)
     Albie is almost. Almost...anything. Albie is a student in any of our classrooms with his self-perception of inadequacy and comparison to others. When Albie's mom announces a new babysitter, Callista, Albie wants to argue and deny that there is any need. However, Callista turns out to be a significant influence for Albie as she is that older person who treats him respectfully, honors his individuality, and reflects back to him what it is he IS, pure and true.
     Lisa Graff is an author I've enjoyed reading, and even if I still love The Thing About Georgie as my favorite Graff novel, Absolutely, Almost comes awfully close. Albie is that student in your classroom who you empathize for because he so badly wants a chance to be "the one" with a chance to shine. Albie is the kid with a kind heart who wonders why his best isn't enough to get him noticed or help him feel important. Kids in our classrooms need Albie, Lisa Graff gifted him to us, and now we have to forge the connections. Albie will be perfect companion for so many.

Read Write Teach, by Linda Rief
(Heinemann, April 21, 2014)

     In her most recent professional text, Linda Rief invites us into her classroom, providing a walk through of the learning environment she crafts for students through deliberate orchestration of activities that promote choice and challenge for her middle school students. Using narrative description, anecdotes, and ample student work samples, Rief offers more than a glimpse into the ways she seamlessly promotes reading and writing, manages the activity of her classroom, and evaluates student progress. This will be a good read for teachers who are exploring ideas for instilling the importance of reading like a writer and, in turn, writing like a reader. Rief writes in with a style that is compassionate, understanding, and gentle-just like she presents in person. 

The Meaning of Maggie, by Megan Jean Sovern
(Chronicle Books, May 6, 2014)
     In some ways, Maggie Mayfield is a typical 5th grade girl who is trying to make sense of the world around her-particularly as it relates to relationships with her family, friends, and boys. As a kid with factual smarts, but little social awareness, Maggie is awkward in a wonderfully charming way. Maggie and her family are living life with the added dimension of caring for a dad with Multiple Sclerosis. Accurate to real family dynamics in dealing with such illness, the family members-including Maggie-come to terms with his debilitating state in their own time. All the while, Maggie continues to grow into her "self."
     I instantly had empathy for Maggie and her shallow understanding of her father's condition. I am curious to see how students respond to Maggie, but more so to the choice Sovern made to leave her father's condition unnamed for so long in the book. I suspect The Meaning of Maggie will be another great read aloud with classrooms full of talk in the company of Rules, Wonder, and Out of My Mind.

Athlete vs. Mathlete, by W. C. Mack

(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, February 2013)
     This was my next title as I continue to try to read most of the Maine Student Book Award list. I jumped into it quickly because it was handed to by one of my students in the last week of school who insisted I needed to read it because he really enjoyed it.
     Athlete vs. Mathlete is the story of twin boys who-though twins-have stereo-typically developed interests in different areas. Owen is the renowned athlete with a passion for basketball, while Russell prefers to excel academically on his school's Masters of the Mind team. When a new basketball coach arrives at the school and plants a seed of recruitment in Russell's mind, status quo is challenged, and Russell finds himself curious about playing. He goes on to make the team, and then the boys have a new dynamic to adjust to, surfacing the kind of rivalry and jealousy that many sports-oriented readers prefer. The book wraps up with a tidy and positive message about the importance of family as tried and true support.

What I am Currently Reading:
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
(August 28, 2014, ARC)

What I am Reading Next:
Circa Now, by Amber McRee Turner
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, by Jess Keating
What Readers Really Do, by Dorothy Barnhouse & Vicki Vinton

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Importance of Yes - #celebratelu

[The Celebrate Link-up is hosted by Ruth Ayres on her blog. Join in each Saturday with your own post about celebrations.]

Yesterday, Linda Urban joined my students’ RIF Pizza Party. It was, easily, one of the highlights of their year. They’ll never forget that she said yes.

You don't have to spend a lot of time with Linda to recognize that she is a special person. If you’ve met Linda, you know what I mean. She radiates energy and positivity. (Every time I talk to her, I find myself hoping a little will rub off on me!) When you talk to Linda, you know she is listening. When you listen to Linda, you hear her genuine nature. She is honest, humorous, and respectful of young people. This is a stand out quality. She appreciates kids. (It’s no wonder she is able to capture their hearts and minds so adeptly in her work.) I’ve been fortunate to connect with Linda and to share my students with her. She has helped me to make their literate lives richer.

My students have come to know Linda through email exchanges over the last five months. She has shared writing experiences and excerpts related to her books and her current work in progress with them. They have sent her notes of encouragement in this long stage of revision, offered their opinions as readers, and posed questions as writers—about everything from suggestions for revision to wonderings about critical friends to curiosities about the publishing process.

However, as the students became more involved in the writing exchange and their enthusiasm built, they began to voice an inevitable wish, and addressing it had been an unspoken concern of my mine. When, they wanted to know, could they meet Linda? Would I invite her to come to our school? (It didn’t help that a recent email had highlighted Linda’s school visits in Michigan and California!) I danced my way through explaining the real world of author visit fees and lack of funding for such visits at our school. And mostly, it seemed, they understood. Until weeks later when we were composing an email to Linda and our class had just been announced the winners of the RIF reading contest. As the winning class, they would be treated to a Pizza Party, and…HEY! Couldn’t they invite Linda to come?!

If you’re chuckling to yourself or even laughing out loud, then maybe you understand my reaction to their request. My adult mind was swarming with imagined ideas about how busy Linda probably was and about how dismissive of her schedule and position as an author it might seem to make such a suggestion. To this point, I had done really well at transcribing their actual words and responses to her in our emails, no matter how tempting it was to “fix it up” and insert adult politeness. To be entirely honest, if not for the other support staff that were present that day, I probably would have made an excuse for why it wasn’t appropriate to ask. But in the end, I honored the students’ wishes, and though my mouse hovered over the “send” button for a long while (Imagine the thickening anticipation of my students!), I did send the email that invited Linda to the students’ Pizza Party. And then I immediately started preparing them for possible disappointment.

I admit: when Linda’s response came, I peeked. 
And then I grinned.
She had found a just right answer for my 27 hopeful ten-year olds.

The next day when we opened the email together and read her answer, the students whooped with excitement at her suggestion that she make her own pizza and join their party through Skype. They floated with untethered joy, balloons popping up one after the other. “She said YES!” they cheered at me, maybe respectfully saying, I told you so.

Yesterday, Linda Urban joined my students’ RIF Pizza Party. Their Skype was comfortable and easy-going. They smiled a lot (I smiled a lot) and the candidness with which shared their literacy lives with her reflected to me they felt important, valued, special. Linda is an author they appreciate and respect, and she made time to talk—and listen. They’ll never forget that she said yes.

And now I'm thinking... Do I say yes as often as possible? Do I let my "adult" voice inhibit opportunities? In what ways could I grow more hope and inspiration if I said yes more often?

Today I celebrate this:
  • I celebrate the growth my students have made as readers and writers through the discovery of favorite authors and books.
  • I celebrate the generosity of Linda and other authors who truly appreciate the value of connecting to readers and what students have to offer.
  • I celebrate the importance of saying “yes” at the right time, to the hope that “yes” inspires, and the sense of worthiness “yes” provides to our students.