Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (7.28.14)

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:

Dash, by Kirby Larson
(Scholastic Press, August 26, 2014, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     In Dash, a companion book to Duke, Kirby Larson paints the historical experience of Mitzi, a young girl of Japanese heritage whose family is transported to multiple internment camps following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not only does Mitzi have to part with her dog (Dash) and nearly all her belongings, but she feels she is parting with life as she knows it.
     Mitzi's story will speak to your heart. Deep research and a historical base lives within Larson's beautiful and emotion-filled writing. Readers will feel Mitzi's concerns and worries as she navigates unjust, senseless consequences for her heritage.

Sugar and Ice, by Kate Messner
(Walker Childrens, December 2010)
     Claire is happiest when skating and when passing time with family on their sugar farm in northern New York. After a stunning performance at a local skate show, Claire is recruited to attend an intense training program intended to be a feeder program for Olympic hopefuls at Lake Placid on scholarship. Participating in the program challenges Claire, from maintaining school performance and relationships with her friends to working through catty and competitive girls in the program. Claire has to come to terms with how to balance what makes her heart happy.
      Kate Messner's work is always enjoyable, and in Claire she has created a soft-hearted girl with a familiar conflict between opportunities to shine and what is familiar and comfortable. Her writing is realistic, from the description of the mean girl relationships at Lake Placid to the step by step descriptions of the skating programs they perform. 

Super Schnoz, by Gary Urey
(Albert Whitney & Company, September, 2013)
     Andy Whiffler was born with an exceptionally large nose, which earns him a lot of extra attention from his classmates. day the school is evacuated due to a pungent smell, and Andy--dubbed Schnoz--investigates with his extra attuned olfactory abilities. He teams up with a handful of classmates, and together they work on solving the mystery and saving their town from an evil plot. 
     Super Schnoz is an alternative fictional superhero who will rival Captain Underpants as the next creative character with a story full of boy-humor. Light touches on teamwork and appreciating what makes each person unique might be extracted from the story. The first in a series of books, this could be a hit with intermediate kid readers.

Oliver and the Seawigs, by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
(Random House Books for Young Readers, July 22, 2014-ARC provided by NetGalley)

     Oliver has lived an explorer lifestyle with his parents. On this day, his parents have wandered onto a rambling island and been swept away, abandoning Oliver. On a mission to find them, Oliver encounters a talking albatross, a blind mermaid, and another rambling island with a confidence issue. As they work together to win the seawig competition, Oliver finds his parents were captured by a bully character who has conquered his own island. In the end, the cast of fantasy characters unites so that good triumphs over evil.
     While the story and characters didn't hold my attention very well, I'm curious to see what students' reactions will be. It is a relatively short text and has ample illustrations interspersed with the text, making it a manageable read for those readers who are gaining independence.

The Map Trap, by Andrew Clements(Antheneum Books for Young Readers, July 22, 2014)

     Alton Barnes is a cartographer. His fascination with maps has lead him to design maps of all types, including sociographs of his school cafeteria, record keeping of the principal's bad habits in public speaking, and trends in the teacher's clothing. His maps have been private, until he shares with a popular classmate who's attention he is glad to have. Then, when the map folder goes missing, Alton must face the unintended consequences that could arise as a result of his map-making.
     As a long time fan of Andrew Clements, I anticipated a new release. This title is in keeping with his characteristic school stories. He is perceptive and accurate in portraying students--in this case, the middle school variety--and their relationships with school personnel. While students will relate to the characters, they may need guidance to arrive at the greater message of this book.

Ice Dogs, by Terry Lynn Johnson
(HMH Books for Young Readers, February, 2014)
     Vicki Secord is a dogsledder, carrying on her father's interest after an unfortunate accident on the ice claimed his life. Still dealing with the grief of loss, Vicki has ambitions to earn a spot in and win the White Wolf. However, in what should have been a routine trip out one night, Vicki encounters a snowmobile accident and a boy her age who has been injured. The book becomes a battle to survive as the pair and the dogs become lost and encounter setbacks and obstacles for many days. 
     There were times in reading this book when I found myself lingering in the language and description Terry Johnson uses to establish the setting and emotions that should come with being stranded in the Alaskan bush. There were other times where I recognized that I was page turning because I couldn't stand to be any longer without knowing that Vicki and Chris would be ok. I know this book has a group of readers waiting for it in my classroom. I can't wait to share.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart and Sarah Brannen
(Charlesbridge, February 2014)
     Feathers is a collection of facts about the ways various kinds of birds use their feathers for survival, from warmth to camouflage to attracting a mate.
      The book is simply beautiful, but the structure and style of the book was most appealing to me. Each page/spread features a bird, including the illustrated bird, one or two facts, and another picture of an object to which the bird's use of its feathers is being compared. For instance, on the page featuring the heron, the caption under the illustration of the heron itself includes its habitat. On the facing page (with an appearance of being taped-in, scrapbook style) is a slip of paper with information about the heron using it's wide wing-span to shade the water like an umbrella as it hunts for food. And, there are also little drink umbrellas taped in to illustrate the comparison. I love the smart thinking behind this book.

The Three Ninja Pigs, by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat
(Putnam Juvenile, September, 2012)
     The three pigs are in trouble when faced with the villainous wolf. The first two brother pigs are helpless in defense, but the third sister pig has what it takes to save them.
      The text of this fractured fairy tale is written with the rhyming structure of a limerick. Additionally, it is illustrated with stunning bright, bold illustrations from Dan Santat. The pages are sometimes home to a single illustration and other times the pages are split into multiple frames. Kids will love this book and hopefully find it a model of creative writing.
Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching from the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing, by Katherine Bomer
(Heinemann, March, 2010)
     In this professional text, Katherine Bomer emphasizes the power of reading our students' writing in search of the brilliance that sits within the art of their work. Bomer reminds us that both teachers and students can quickly grow discouraged when the emphasis for reading student work is about what students cannot do yet, ways their writing does not meet rubrics and standards. Through examples of student writing and her responses to the writers, Bomer demonstrates the way we can speak long and empower writers by honoring and acknowledging their strengths; building their confidence and self-perception not only yields more writing, but establishes a "can-do" attitude with kids.

What I am Currently Reading:
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
(2012, Katherine Tegen Books)

What I am Reading Next:
Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin
Straw Into Gold, by Gary Schmidt
The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Developing Reading Preferences (#cyberPD)

When Twitter connections selected Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller) as this year's #cyberPD book study, I found myself grateful for the chance to go back to the treasure trove and reread parts of the book alongside so many others. For more on the #cyberPD project, visit Literacy Learning Zone for this week's installment.

Also, join us next Wednesday, July 30, 7 p.m. CST when we chat live on Twitter with Donalyn Miller (hashtag #cyberPD).

"Determining readers' expressed preferences in what they like to read helps teachers connect with students and value their individual reading tastes...Wild readers develop authentic preferences through wide reading and heightened awareness of the variety of texts available. Encouraging students to read what they want while exposing them to high-interest, engaging, quality texts of all kinds fosters their engagement and provides the diverse experiences they need to find texts that will meet their reading interests and needs both today and tomorrow." 
-Donalyn Miller (Reading in the Wild, 2014, p. 192)

In my current job in a summer program, I'm delivering math tutoring. But my reader-heart is happy because I get to engage in a lot of talk about the students as learners with my literacy colleagues. The population of students served by the summer program attend a different elementary school than the one in which I work, and this has made for an interesting learning experience. This temporary change in communities has provided me with distance in my perspective since I have no previous experience with the kids. I've noticed the way this impacts my reflection.

When we started the program a few weeks ago, we had to get to know the students we'd be seeing. They came with essentially no data (the previous year's standardized test score was of little help in designing short-term goals). On one side of the room, I surveyed students about their math attitudes and played games to observe their number sense and computation strategies. I could overhear my counterpart on the other side of the partition, questioning students about their interests in reading: books they've enjoyed, authors they like, genres they prefer. There was a lot of wait time between questions and responses. When the students did answer, it was mainly the same responses: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Goosebumps, Captain Underpants, animal books.

Whether fair or not, I found myself processing these conversations and reminded of one of Donalyn's prominent points: We must build relationships with our students. Students will reveal information about what they need as readers if you listen to them. These students seem to have exposure to series. They also seem to be reading in the same circle of books.

Immediately, I wondered: What do conversations with MY former students, those I consider to be "wild reading ready," say about my reading instruction and the opportunities I facilitated?

Nurturing students as wild readers depends on balancing and advancing several factors. Giving students choice in independent materials is crucial to their buy-in and engagement. Safeguarding time for students to read is a priority for acceleration and growth. Yet, neither can operate smoothly without the students' awareness of their reading identity--part of which is recognizing and attending to their preferences. Until they do, do students really have autonomy over selecting independent reading materials?

And, they don't--as a rule--come with that awareness.

So then, how do kids develop preferences?

Kids develop preferences in music, clothing, food, hobbies, favorite idols, largely in part to outside influences. They observe the world around them, making note of the preferences of others in their sphere of influence: adults, older kids (siblings or otherwise), and peers. Sometimes they experiment and learn by trial. Sometimes they assume someone else's preference as their own. And still, at other times, they have to be forced into trying something  and finding out if it fits their preference by a trusted other. (How did you first try calamari?)

And then, in typical reflective fashion, I went a step further: what does this mean for me as a teacher? How do teachers help students develop preferences?

As a teacher, I should challenge my own preferences a little more. I want to be explicit with students about how I choose what I'll be reading, and I want to demonstrate how I weigh one book against another-especially when it challenges my preferences. I'd like to encourage colleagues to help share their reading preferences with students also, to show students more of ourselves and communicate that not all readers are shaped in the same mold.

I recognize I need to be more aware of the reading diet I feed my students. I need to expose students to a wider variety of texts and facilitate experiences with these books that enable my readers to make more informed judgments about their preferences. When I first moved to grade 4 three years ago, my grade-level partner and I modified the 40-book Challenge. I looped the following year and discontinued the challenge, determining my group didn't need the same level of scaffolding in 5th grade. However, I think I am going to recommit to a modified genre challenge. My incoming 4th graders need the structured support to engage in self-discovery of their preferences.

However, simply instituting the challenge and providing the students with a genre graph won't do the metacognitive work of developing students' reading identities. That will come in the ways I guide students to be reflective. I will need to be intentional with coaching students to analyze patterns in their behaviors and choices to arrive at conclusions about their preferences. We'll need to, together, make use of logs, surveys, and notes from conferences and observations. I'll need to listen, and reflect back to readers what I hear, gradually lessening my input to encourage their independence.

And eventually, my readers will be better equipped for release into the wild.

How do you help your students develop their reading identities and uncover their reading preferences?

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (7.21.14)

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:

El Deafo, by CeCe Bell
(Amulet Books, September 2, 2014, ARC)
     CeCe Bell uses her talents in storytelling and art to share her own memories and experiences as a student with a profound hearing impairment. Readers witness Bell's frustrations and challenges around being different when all she really wanted was to be the same. Bell's language and portrayal of the characters is realistic and accurate. Her superhero identity, El Deafo, helps to keep the autobiographical graphic novel light and humorous.
     El Deafo is a graphic novel that will circulate in classrooms this fall. I expect it will rarely see shelf time in my classroom. El Deafo is a beautiful book, bringing the reality of hearing impairment to light for students who are full of curiosity about others' challenges and adversity. 

Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier
(GRAPHIX, August 26, 2014-ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     The long awaited sequel to Smile is on it's way. Raina Telgemeier illustrates the ways in which her wish for a baby sister was more than she bargained for. Telgemeier captures the truth behind sisterly relationships-the irritations, the frustrations, the embarrassments, and even what makes it worthwhile.
     Telgemeier uses true stories from her own relationship with sister, Amara. While the text takes place over a family road trip (California to Colorado and back) to a family reunion, Telgemeier has perfectly positioned flashback episodes along the way that help illustrate the complexity of their relationship and how small things compound. Students will be page turning from beginning to end, and their only complaint I expect? They're going to want more.

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
(Nancy Paulsen Books, February 5, 2015-ARC)

     Ally has earned a reputation as a difficult student with challenging behavior. She feels isolated and alone at school, her peer relations and academics seem to suffer from her choices. Until Mr. Daniels appears on the scene with a different approach to working with Ally. Through his intervention and unwaivering belief in her, Ally gradually overcomes her tarnished self-image and discovers what good she can be.
     Infused with inspiration from her own emotional stories of school, Lynda Mullaly Hunt has captured the very raw emotion of students who struggle to fit in, keep up, and generally belong. Hunt's characters will instantly feel real, and students will find discussions about this book to be an easy bridge to talking about their own school experiences with perceived distance. Without a doubt, this is a book that anybody (everybody) should read.

Mountain Dog, by Margarita Engle
(Henry Holt & Co., 2013)

     Margarita Engle has written a novel in verse where the alternating chapters switch perspectives between a boy (Tony) and his uncle's dog (Gabe). Tony's life is in flux when he moves to his uncle's house. His mother is in jail for dog-fighting. When his uncle assumes guardianship, Tony must adjust to life with Gabe, a mountain rescue dog, and his uncle's lifestyle of helping hikers who have encountered trouble on their hikes. In time, and with Uncle Tio, BB, and Gabe, Tony finds peace with the cruel misfortune he was dealt and learns that he can have dependable relationships.
     The novel-in-verse style of this book will empower reluctant readers to assume a can-do attitude. Further, I expect some of these students to find themselves in the pages, relating to Tony's fears and frustrations about feeling less than sufficient, wanting to be loved. The alternating viewpoints raise the level of complexity in the text and will provide plenty of place for thoughtful, sensitive discussions with students.

Out of Nowhere, by Maria Padian
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013)
     Maine author Maria Padian writes about a small Maine city in a post-9/11 world in this YA novel. Some communities saw an influx of Somali immigrants post-9/11, and the communities faced very real problems around cultural tolerance and understanding. Tom Bouchard, the senior soccer player stars in the story, befriending a Somali student with profound talent on the soccer field. Through his friendship with Saeed, and in his work with Myra and Samira at the K Community Center, Tom realizes first-hand the injustices and prejudices that come with the intersection of American culture and Somali culture and beliefs.
     Intrigued by the setting (fictional Enniston is based on a community 30 minutes east of my home) and by the predominant French-Canadian culture, Out of Nowhere was on my TBR list for a long time. Certainly, with frank language, references to drugs and alcohol, and suggestive sexual content it isn't a text I will recommend to elementary students, however it is masterful and held my attention from cover to cover. When I took a break from reading to attend to other tasks, I kept thinking about the characters and couldn't wait to get back to the book. I'm glad I carved out time for this one.

Adventures in Vacationland, by Mark Scott Ricketts
(Islandport Press, Inc., May 3, 2014)
     A young boy, Joe Livingston, embellishes his family trip to see an aunt in Maine by writing his own version of the story. Joe, on his way to rescue his auntie from the perils of Cracker, a mechanical lobster-monster, encounters a band of characters that are deeply Maine-inspired including the Moose King, a "wicked big" Maine Coon Cat, and Captain Chester.
      The text includes typical picture book pages with text and rich illustration, but interspersed in the pages are also those designed to look like they were lifted from Joe's own notebook (white lined paper with child-like drawings). Many pages include speech bubbles, adding to the whole book experience. This book is fun and Joe is endearing.

What I am Currently Reading:
Dash, by Kirby Larson
(August 26, 2014, ARC courtesy of NetGalley)

What I am Reading Next:
Sugar and Ice, by Kate Messner
Super Schnoz, by Gary Urey
Hidden Gems, by Katherine Bomer

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Reading as Connectedness (#cyberPD)

When Twitter connections selected Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller) as this year's #cyberPD book study, I found myself grateful for the chance to go back to the treasure trove and reread parts of the book alongside so many others. For more on the #cyberPD project, visit Ruminate and Invigorate for this week's installment.

"Reading seems like something we do alone, 
but it isn't." 
-Donalyn Miller (Reading in the Wild, 2014, p. 128)

This week this was the line that resonated with me in a way I knew I needed to explore further through writing. Just this very morning at work in the summer program, I listened to a colleague's concerns that many teachers have a vision of reading as a controlled, solitary activity. The image of a student "reading" tends to be of the student alone with a book, no? Unfortunately our conversation went unfinished as the day began. But then, this quote was there for me to consider again this afternoon. How do we portray reading in the classroom? What image of reading do we paint for students? If we pause to really consider our own reading behaviors, can we honestly say our actions are solitary?

Before we read, we talk about what to read. We elicit recommendations and opinions that lead us to our selection. We probably talk about related books-other books by the same author, other books like this one, even other books that are NOT like this one. When we anticipate a book's release, we count down the days with other readers, we speculate and predict, share reviews and behind the scenes notes as we learn of them. These behaviors are as much a part of reading as the act of turning pages and diving into a story.

When reading the book-the part that probably most often looks like being alone-we react and respond to the message the author has crafted for us. The characters become friends, sometimes foe. The characters' feelings, conflicts, and choices remind us of other people...and we might tell them. We remember our own experiences or lessons learned, and sometimes we are saved us from having to learn all of life's lessons ourselves. We find ourselves asking our own tough questions, and we talk about hard situations and tough choices with others. We are hardly alone.

After we turn the last page, we share. We talk. We tell someone else-to get it, to skip it, to give it to so-and-so. We recount our thinking, our relationship with the text. We post to Twitter, to Facebook, to Goodreads, to blogs. We add it to visual displays and record keeping lists. But we usually don't keep our reading to ourselves.

Reflecting on this quote in Reading in the Wild reminded me of the reading experiences I had when I read Brown Girl Dreaming last month.

At first, the social aspect of reading was indirect and subtle, like an overheard conversation. Known readers on Twitter began to buzz about Jacqueline Woodson's new book, Brown Girl Dreaming (available August 26). A frequent sufferer of f.o.m.o. (fear of missing out), I was sufficiently curious. Then, my friend Justin returned from the IRA conference with an ARC. He did what readers do-he read it, told me about it, and let me borrow it. I had only just started when Justin and I met Donalyn for dinner. She had just finished reading Colby's copy. Guess what we did? (Really, this is a gimme: Donalyn, book, dinner?) We talked. We talked feelings, opinions, related works, memories. We talked about who we would recommend the book to next and how we would share it.

I had a little disruption to my reading life that week (ahem, Boothbay Literacy Retreat!) and it took me longer than usual to finish. (I also wanted to linger in it so badly.) All week, I was sharing the special company of Jackie Woodson in the pages of her book, listening to her share the stories of her childhood and being reminded of my own-so very different. This is to say nothing of the added bonus that came with reading after Justin had, noticing passages that he had marked and noting those that struck me, too.

When I did finish Brown Girl Dreaming, I talked to people about this book. I tweeted. I blogged. I shared by word of mouth. People responded. I responded to others. I got on my computer and sent an email to Linda, who I had seen comment in another conversation that she was interested in the book.  We wrote back and forth a little (me about Brown Girl Dreaming, Linda about having just finished Locomotion-same author). Justin gave me the nod, and I shipped the book out to Linda.

Brown Girl Dreaming was not an "alone" reading experience. 
If anything, my experience with Brown Girl Dreaming made tangible the real connectivity of reading.

I feel gifted with a new chance to awaken to this notion that reading is not solitary. But what does it mean for me as a lead reader? What can I do to promote the awareness that reading is connectedness in my classroom? How do I not only permit the social act of reading, but promote it?

Three things I want to try to promote connectedness:

1. Taking the lead from my interest in Justin's response to the text, I want to see what will happen if I leave post-it note flags or pencil notes in books after reading them. I don't want to distract my developing readers, but I do want to extend an invitation to react to parts that made me think, note places that made them think, and see what-if any-conversation ensues. I know Justin has put copies of books he marked up in his library. I'm curious to see if my 4th graders will connect with me and each other this way. (And maybe this will create a spin-off to Donalyn's graffiti board model, too.)

2. Included in our discussion of Brown Girl Dreaming was the need to find other readers to whom we would recommend this book. I am better now than ever before at regularly incorporating book talks into the reading community's routines. (My students will ask for Book Talk Tuesday on any day of the week, actually.) What I am not good at (yet) is helping students synthesize their thinking about their own reading and handing over the hot seat to them to make peer-to-peer recommendations. I want to be more deliberate in promoting their ability to influence other readers by giving attention to this.

3. I'm dreaming up a way to emphasize our connectedness through books visually. I want to find a way to illustrate for and with students what the chain looks like when readers pass books along amongst themselves. The copy of Brown Girl Dreaming that I read changed hands three times. I don't know how many times Colby's copy got passed. But I also know that a book vine has since been started and other copies are being mailed reader to reader, state to state. On a smaller scale, I want to encourage students to share books with other readers, and to begin taking interest in what each other are reading. I think this might be workable.

How have books helped you feed connectedness?
How do you promote connectedness in your classrooms?

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (7.14.14)

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:

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied by Jess Keating
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 3, 2014)
     I loved Ana. I felt for her- as will many students-as I lived her 12-year old live with her in the pages. Ana (named for an anaconda...see?) and family have moved to a house inside a zoo where her parents are zoologists. Ana's best friend has moved to New Zealand and is out of touch. Ana contends with the popular crowd at school. She feels compelled to do something important, but cannot find her inner bravery. In short, Ana feels like she can't measure up in any of the ways that she wants to.
     Filled with natural humor and a main character with a lovable personality, Keating has a story that will have student readers shaking their heads (I can hear them now: I can't believe they did that!) and pumping their fists in support of Ana as she tries to wrangle her own identity.

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm 
(Random House Books for Young Readers, August 26, 2014-ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     When Ellie's mom returns home with a strangely familiar teenager, Ellie is not suspecting that this is her relative. But it's her grandfather who has reversed his own aging in lab work studying senescence. The book balances accounts of Ellie's adjustments to new friendships and her grandfather's footprint on her middle school life. 
     Holm has introduced a curious character in Ellie. Not only does Ellie show interest in learning more about science (the book does a great job touching upon famous historical scientists and will send kids searching for more information about their studies and discoveries), but she does some soul searching when all her thinking leads her to wonder about the effects of exciting, new scientific discoveries. Ellie's realistic social concerns, a touch of science fiction, and ample embedded tough questions will open the door to interesting student conversations.

Always, Abigail, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 6, 2014-ARC)

     In a stereotypical middle school setting, Abigail starts her 6th grade year with high hopes of earning a spot among the popular students on the pom-pom team. As if it isn't hard enough to be the third wheel in her own best friend triangle, Abigail's hopes are shattered and she must face the question of who she is if not
1. a pom-pom squad member, and
2. Allicam's (two girls who go by one name) best friend.
     Through a class assignment, Abigail looks below the surface of a social outcast in her class, Gabby, and develops empathy and a friendship. But then she is called upon to fill a vacant spot on the pom-pom squad, and she must face the choice of the 6th grade life she wanted or the one she has created.
     Cavanaugh has formatted her second book creatively, just as she did with This Journal Belongs to Ratchet. The text is a page turner, with one page after another filled with lists. The story is told effectively in this format, and the voice captured in Abigail's character is accurate to the age. I want to believe Always, Abigail will touch students' hearts. At the very least, it will open the doors to communication about kindness and being someone you are proud to be.

Shelter Pet Squad #1: Jelly Bean, by Cynthia Lord
(Scholastic Press, August 26, 2014-ARC)
     Suzannah is a second-grade student who can't have a pet of her own, but is happy to be part of the Shelter Pet Squad at her local animal shelter. When a family drops off a guinea pig, Jelly Bean, one day, Suzannah consoles the upset owner, promising to find Jelly Bean a home. But can she?
     Lord has published a first book in a brand-new series that will be versatile across elementary classrooms. Striving readers often look for animal-related stories. They, like Suzannah, will desire a happy ending, which will keep them reading, and straightforward text will help their cause. At the end of the book, Lord has included pages that share facts and information about guinea pigs (since Jelly Bean is the star of this first installment), directions for making the toys that were mentioned in the story, and information about her interest in animal shelters and her guinea pig, Cookie. A second book, featuring a ferret, is due for publication in 2015.

Fossil, by Bill Thomson
(Two Lions, November 2013)
     Readers will not need text in this wordless picture book. The illustrations are lifelike and communicative, and the reader is free to imagine the sounds and feelings of the story. Thomson created all of the illustrations with acrylic paint and colored pencils.
     Out for a walk with his dog, a boy accidentally find a plant fossil, and his discovery brings the plant to life. He finds two subsequent fossils, which also come to life, and bring a larger-than-life adventure. This book would be a great addition to any collection of picture books and shouldn't be saved only for wordless picture book lovers. The book, or individual pages/spreads, would be wonderful inspiration for original student writing.

What I am Currently Reading:
El Deafo, by CeCe Bell
(September 2, 2014, ARC)

What I am Reading Next:
Sisters, by Raina Telgemeier
Dash, by Kirby Larson
Hidden Gems, by Katherine Bomer

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Reading Networks (#cyberPD)

When Twitter connections selected Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller) as this year's #cyberPD book study, I found myself grateful for the chance to go back to the treasure trove and reread parts of the book alongside so many others. For more on the #cyberPD project, visit Reflect & Refine.

Donalyn's truths have a way of making me own up to the teacher I am and want to be, and I appreciate her work for that. As usual, I read through the wisdom and evidence that supports choice and independence in the reading workshop nodding my head, marking strong statements, noting ideas that I may want to explore further. However there was one phrase that lingered with me pages beyond it's devoted section and prompted me to reflect on two fronts: as a lead reader and as a teacher of reading. Today that phrase was "Reading Network."

In the last few years, I've done a lot of work to revitalize literacy instruction in my classroom, mainly with a priority to cultivate community. I've observed the increased strength and independence in my readers each year that is all the evidence I need that my shifts are for the better. Community is critical and must be nurtured and developed before the truest value of literacy--what comes from sharing with others--can be uncovered.

But, while that word "community" has received a lot of my attention, I hadn't really set it down next to the word "network" and considered what might set one apart from the other. Are they really the same?

My reflection began. You claim to be a wild reader? A lead reader? Do you have a reading network? And how did you find it or build it? Who is it? What sites or resources do you depend on?

I started a list. And I have to admit, I was surprised with the truth it revealed and I have to face. Even though I occasionally get caught revealing my inner-nerd in book talk with a few close colleagues, most of my people, sites, and resources are teachers and/or readers outside of my face-to-face circles. That is to say: I do most of my reading networking online. From Goodreads to Twitter, emails from publishing groups/sellers to authors' websites and countless hashtags, most of my network is outside a 50-mile radius.

Naturally, this led to reflecting in my other role. So--"teacher of reading"--how ARE you going to help foster a reading network with next year's students?

For my own sake, I have decided to interpret "network" as an extension, reaching out beyond the classroom. The reading community interactions--student to student and student to teacher--are a subset of the students' network, but to me, "network" implies a broader connection, beyond the classroom's four walls.

At the end of my list making and scrawl, I am walking away with three main ideas for expanding students' reading networks this fall:

1. Family. It's time to get real about parent involvement in reading. Maybe that will take some heavily scaffolded event nights or being a broken record about having parents visit us in the classroom, but the word MUST get out that our kids need to see the adults in their lives as readers. They need wide exposure to who reads and the variety of what they read. Donalyn describes an activity she does with students in which they bring in and share favorite read aloud books. My mind is rolling with how this could be tailored for a "get to know you" evening with students and families at the start of the year...

2. Geographically-diverse peers. My students need their horizon broadened. Their local community is small, and they have little opportunity to connect with peers in other places. The Global Read Aloud project will be a wonderful opportunity to facilitate some conversations between my students and others about a common book. (We're going to read One for the Murphys.) Yet, there's no reason to limit the book talk and networking to only October. Maybe this is the year to consider pairing with a "sister classroom." Maybe it's time to modernize the old pen pal routine (see #3).

3. Increased access to technology. The fact is, most of my students do not have access to a computer and/or the internet at home. Our access at school is limited also. However, now is the time to begin to lobby for the rumored laptop carts again. Now is the time to think creatively about scheduling to maximize time with the equipment. It's time to compile a bank of possible sources for collecting and sharing ideas of students' reading recommendations. Edmodo can host our classroom discussions. Eventually I expect to prepare students to maintain their own blogs on KidBlog. What I need to look for now is a site with student-generated book reviews and/or ads, or a safe-search site that will produce a query for book trailers.

How do you foster a reading network for yourself?
How do you foster a reading network for your students?

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (7.7.14)

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:

Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn
(Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, September 9, 2014 - ARC courtesy of NetGalley)
     On the island where they live, Spirit and her father are different from the others. They are from away, but they also have a talent for "seeing," making them additionally unique. Spirit's father has always been sought out predict the future by holding someone's house key. Spirit's closest companion, a wild dog she called Sky, has died, and other wild dogs are turning up dead around the small island village. The traditional island folk believe this is a sign of great evil. When many of the adults--including Spirit's father--are locked away with "illness," Spirit's determination kicks in, both to be reunited with her father and to help the villagers grow in tolerance for the wild dogs.
     Spirit's Key holds enough adventure, mystery, and gritty characters in it's pages to keep intermediate readers reading. The magical elements of seeing the future and the dogs' ghosts were not distracting the story. The theme of respect for wild life will prompt student readers to think about the ways we impact animals. Readers who can see generalizations may also see the implications of holding on to old beliefs instead of taking opportunities to learn things for what they are, much as the villagers did with their fears of the wild dogs.

Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake, by Julie Sternberg (author) and Matthew Cordell (illustrator)
(Abrams, March 18, 2014)
     When I returned from NCTE '13 with Julie Sternberg's Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and Like Bug Juice on a Burger, my students dove in and passed the books among themselves. They didn't come back to our shelves until the end of the year! I was so grateful to win Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake in Kellee Moye's giveaway. I know my students will be delighted!
     Eleanor, like any other 4th grader, finds herself in quandries. The first two books have their situations, and now Eleanor is experiencing what it is like to be the third wheel. A new student, Ainsley, has moved to her class and become friends with Pearl, Eleanor's best friend. As the tension builds with Eleanor's jealousy and fear of being left out, she bursts, letting out a secret that makes everyone uneasy. How will she repair the damage? An additional subplot includes Eleanor being cast as the lead in a 4th grade play, and in order to succeed, she must overcome her fear of singing alone on stage.
     The books do not have to be read in order, however there are references in this book to the previous two Eleanor experiences. Also, Eleanor is getting older, and explores the possibility of a first crush in this third book.

The Numberlys, by William Joyce, illustrated by William Joyce and Christina Ellis
(Antheneum Books for Young Readers, May 27, 2014)

     The Numberlys live in a world where everything is orderly and neat...and numbers. When they begin to wonder and explore what else could be, the Numberlys begin to building alphabet letters and discover what happens when letters are put together.
     The illustrations in this book will strike you. The initial illustrations are in grayscale, and gradually more color works into the illustrations as the Numberlys' world broadens with the incorporation of letters. Unlike the cover, the book's pages are arranged mostly in a vertical orientation, though the story does require some rotating back and forth. The book jacket itself is printed on clear plastic, so although hard to tell from the image above, the plastic jacket is printed with the title and black/gray scale parts of the cover, and the colored image is on the hardcover book cover underneath. This makes for an interesting visual when holding the book in hand.
     Additionally, the back flap includes a QR code and reference to an app that further enhances the reader's experience. With the iPhone or iPad app, readers can hover their device over the pages in the book for an interactive experience, collecting toys and backgrounds through the pages that can be used for letter and number games on the device. My nephews, 6 and 2.5 years, both enjoyed the bonus features.
    For still more fun, check this website with letter of the day videos.

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art, by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 11, 2014)
     This book is a picture book biography (My collection grows!) of Vasya Kandinsky, a notable artist who is believed to have had synesthesia, a condition of mixed senses. Though encouraged to be proper and intelligent in traditional ways, Kandinsky discovered that music would elicit colors and shapes, and he felt called to creating art. Kandinsky's art was largely abstract and challenged conventionality.
     With beautiful illustrations to compliment the artist as a subject, the story is short in length, includes enough information without being factually heavy, and would be a good text for helping students grasp the condition of synesthesia, which can be abstract and hard to imagine itself.

What I am Currently Reading:
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, by Jess Keating
(June 3, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
Hattie Ever After, by Kirby Larson
Ice Dogs, by Terry Johnson
Hidden Gems, by Katherine Bomer