Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (2.23.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

How to Fly with Broken Wings, by Jane Elson
(Hodder Childrens Books, March 5, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     Willem is a character living with his grandmother, Aspergers Syndrome, and the torment of bullies. After gang violence interrupts Willem and his grandmother's lives and those of everyone in their neighborhood, Willem finds himself an unexpected friend in Sasha and a sometimes-friend in Finn. Their mutual interest in flight joins them together with another unlikely individual in their building and their commonality brings each of them to a path to something better.
     I was grateful for the resolution in this book since there seemed to be so much struggle and pain. The emphasis on community rallying was refreshing, the interesting way family history was woven into the story, and the courage of the characters to become who they wanted to be led me to keep reading. However, the setting and conflicts of this book--with gang-violence and 18+ story apartment buildings will make this hard for my students to relate to.
The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold , illustrated by Emily Gravett
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, March 3, 2015)
     Rudger is an imaginary friend, brought to being by Amanda. When the friends encounter Mr. Bunting, an adult who seeks out imaginary friends and inhales them as a means of keeping his own imagination alive, Amanda is seriously hurt, and Rudger's existence threatened.
     This book is unlike most others. Readers will bend and flex their ideas of the conditions in which we keep imaginary friends. Creative, inventive...imaginary. Emily Gravett's art--the selective use of color in her otherwise black and white art--compliments the intrigue of the story. I expect the actual hardcover copy of this book will be beautiful.
The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013)
     Ruby Pepperdine is grieving the loss of her grandmother, Gigi, and carries with her the weight of regret, wishing she could redo her last memories with Gigi. With the help of her community, traditions, and old and new friends, Ruby tests the power of wishes as she seeks for what is supposed to be.
     This was a reread for me, a book I picked up to climb inside something soft, gentle, and whole-ly true. Ruby resonates as a character with strong emotions and questions to sort through, a friend for pensive young people in our lives. While told over the course of one day's community celebration--parade to fireworks--the story covers several days' time with flashbacks and memory moments that reveal background information at just the right time. There are layers upon layers in this book, keeping it satisfying with each subsequent read.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2014)
     When Gracie suddenly loses her mom, she moves in with a grandmother she has never known. What she has known is that her grandmother sent her mother away. Now Gracie struggles to make peace with this relative, finding her place in a small town that has always claimed her while never having known her in person. Gracie discovers how this small town community can reveal more of her mom's story--and her own--to her.
     Gracie is built as a character who is determined to be strong-willed and independent, but is really longing for the backing and support of someone she can trust. Through her struggle to accept the cards she has been dealt, Gracie arrives at peace, recognizing that her challenging hand has made her story.
Stella by Starlight, by Sharon Draper
(Antheneum Books for Young Readers, January 6, 2015)
     Stella's family and her community are being terrorized by the threats of the Ku Klux Klan. Stella embodies bravery in her continued efforts to be a writer and the way she leaps into action at the first sign of friends or family who need help. 
     Sharon Draper's writing is lovely and entrapping. Stella will quickly become a hero, a role model readers hope to emulate, through her courage and plight to do what needs to be done. With glimpses of real emotions including fear, worry, and shame, Draper offers a hopeful, resilient picture of how African-American families would offer strength to one another in the face of segregation.
Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris
(Scholastic Press, June 30, 2015)
     Ranger is a time-traveling dog with search and rescue training. His magic first aid box travels Ranger to ancient Rome and the time of gladiator fights in the Colosseum. Ranger helps two boys, Marcus and Quintus, to battle in the Colosseum and earn their freedom before he can travel back home.
     Danger in Ancient Rome is the second book in the Ranger in Time series. Through Ranger's adventures, readers will learn about the people and cultural habits of ancient Rome. Armed with plenty of research notes (and an author's note to prove it), Kate Messner takes readers on a time-travel journey they otherwise wouldn't know. Ranger feels like everybody's dog!
Notebook Know-How, by Aimee Buckner
(Stenhouse, 2005)
     In Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner invites readers into the flexible and expandable world of using writers' notebooks in classroom writing workshops. Buckner emphasizes the importance of using a notebook as a habit or routine, providing concrete suggestions for lessons, activities, and language that can be incorporated into students' writing times. Buckner's models lend themselves well to fostering an environment of self-reflection, appreciation for progress, and student empowerment.

What I am Currently Reading:
Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, by Trisha Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Candlewick, April 14, 2015)

What I am Reading Next:
Paperboy, by Vince Vawter
The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

OES Reads: The Final Chapter

In addition to some final classroom projects, this week we put closure on OES Reads for 2015. Our last day of the five-week period was bookend-ed with excitement and celebration.

(Find more information about OES Reads in these previous blog posts in the series: Building Excitement, the Big RevealWeek 1Week 2Family Literacy Night, Week 4.)

Virtual Author Visits

Kate Messner has been a superstar in our new venture of unifying students PreK-6 with studying a single author's work. Kate has been generous in her support for OES Reads, always curious and interested in what was happening with her new readers in our small school in rural Maine. While we were unable to coordinate an in-person author visit with Kate, she was gracious in scheduling two virtual visits with our students and staff on Friday, the day of our closing assembly.

As the first group of students arrived--the younger readers who read Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail--a colleague shared with me that the students were excited. "They're more excited about this than Valentine's Day and the 100th Day of School!" (Which it was on Friday, too.) I think her comment stemmed from the nervous/excited buzz of the gym as students were seated on mats on the floor and were taken by the large projection on the gym wall. But that buzz of energy didn't worry me; it told me the students knew what I did--what was happening was something special. For this group of students (and many of my colleagues), our Skype with Kate was a first: they had never had this experience before. 

Soon enough, the icon near Kate's name turned green, I gave the students an ever-so-brief introduction, and they fell silent, waiting to see the author they've heard so much about over the last five weeks come alive on the screen.
The buzz subsided. They were fascinated as soon as Kate said "Hello."
Kate shared the story of how Ranger in Time came to be and told about the travel and research she did to write Rescue on the Oregon Trail and Danger in Ancient Rome. Our students delighted to hear they were among some of the first readers to see the newly printed ARCs of Danger in Ancient Rome, and they were happy to sneak a peek inside at Kelly McMorris's art. 
Kate also took questions from the group, ranging from how she "got so good at writing" to why she kissed a frog to do research! Students and teachers alike were mesmerized when Kate read aloud the beginning of soon-to-be-published Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt (March 3, 2015).

We signed off with Kate briefly and transitioned the K-3 group--with magic still alive in their eyes--back to their classrooms, bringing in the 4-6th grade group who read Capture the Flag. Some of these students had experienced an author Skype before, but far more of the students were new to the experience in this group also.

The reaction of the older students to Skyping with Kate was just the same. The students were engulfed in Kate's presentation about the research and writing process behind Capture the Flag. Writing became real for them when Kate showed them her oversized pages of maps and webs and plans. The questions posed by the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students showed real interest and curiosity about authorship. Most questions were about Kate's writing process and habits. 
The 4th-6th grade students' to-be-read lists grew a little during our Skype, too, especially when Kate talked about the plot in her Spring 2016 novel, currently titled The Seventh Wish. Now they will all be waiting along with the rest of us!

If she hadn't already captured the students with her books, Kate certainly won them over with her virtual visits on Friday. It might have had something to do with the package of bookmarked and signed book labels she promised, but I think it had more to do with the statement she made to OES Readers (and writers!) that they matter--enough that she wanted to talk to them. Kate became "known" to the students as a person behind the name and beautiful book covers. As an OES Reads author, Kate will remain part of our school community for a long time to come.

The Closing Assembly
The last 75 minutes of the day on Friday--a send-off to vacation week--was spent as a whole-school community. Assembled in the gym with many parent guests, our closing assembly was fashioned to showcase OES Reads-related work from across all grade levels.
Third grade students display poster-sized directions for making a yarn doll.

  • Kindergarteners sang "R-A-N-G-E-R" (to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O"). 
  • 1st graders shared visualization work or opinion writing. One class of first graders even taught the teachers a square dance.
  • 2nd graders shared maps of westward movement trails, including the Oregon Trail.
  • 3rd graders shared reflective writing and the directions for making a yarn doll.
  • 4th graders performed a skit to book-talk other Kate Messner titles for future reading.
  • 5th graders recited Kate's poem "What Happened to Your Book Today."
  • 6th graders performed a readers theater about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner.
  • Grades K-3 sang "Yankee Doodle" and grades 4-6 sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
  • And we watched the whole five weeks in review with a slideshow.
The closing assembly was special. It was a new venture to have so many students and classrooms share the spotlight. Parents snapped photos, took video, and beamed over everything the kids did.

The last day of OES Reads will be an important memory in the lives of our students as they look back on their year of school. From the opportunity to talk with our OES Reads author to the final showcase of student work, our last day of OES Reads 2015 embodied what it's all about: connecting through reading and writing.

Thanks for "journeying" with me/us through this blog series. I hope, sincerely, that something from our project has been helpful or inspiring to you as you think about making the connectivity reading and writing real for your students and school community. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (2.16.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014)
     Josh Bell is a superstar athlete. He and his twin brother, Jordan, are an unstoppable pair on the court, partially to the credit of the at-home coaching of their well-known father who led his European team to a championship. Yet, when Jordan's new girlfriend impedes the twins' closeness and with additional family stress and worry about Mr. Bell's unattended hypertension, Josh's emotions are checked out of bounds. Through the turmoil, he finds a way back into the most important game.
     The newest Newbery Medal winner, this novel-in-verse is sure to be a favorite read for many readers. The structure of the novel contributes to the all around experience of The Crossover, with the text darting and dashing, suggesting of a player making his stealth moves on the court. Tucked inside this basketball book is a story with enough raw emotional content to charge readers' empathetic nerve and build hope for Josh and his family.
Pluto: A Wonder Story, by R.J. Palacio
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 10, 2015)
     When your first best friend has a facial deformity, you might learn early on that friendship can be a lot of work. Since their parents were friends, Christopher was Auggie Pullman's first real friend. Though he was accustomed to Auggie's deformity, he witnessed first hand the troubles Auggie faced making friends and living life like other kids their age. When Christopher's mom doesn't seem to be around for him the way he needs her to be, Chris is reminded of the countless sacrifices he and his family and Auggie's family have made for Auggie. He's resentful, until the truth is revealed...and then he is reminded of why friendships--even hard ones--matter.
     The second additional e-book in the Wonder story series, Pluto is told from the point of view of Christopher, who was Auggie's friend before his days at Beecher Prep. Palacio continues to provide Wonder fans with more pieces of the whole story as she slips into other characters whose voices could offer more lessons in kindness and empathy.
The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart
(Scholastic Press, January 27, 2015)
     Mark has been battling cancer since the age of 5. It has been an up and down journey--as it often is--but recently Mark received word that the cancer is back. Frustrated with all cancer has robbed from him, Mark sets out on a mission to control the one thing he has left: death.  The Honest Truth is Mark is determined to climb Mt. Rainier and die doing so.
     Dan Gemeinhart has written a new take on a survival story. Mark's plotted plans twist and turn making the reader page-turn to find out how the story will end. Alternating "half" chapters are narration of what is happening simultaneously with Mark's parents and best friend, Jessie, depicting the real struggle in not only having a loved one who is lost, but of being the support system for someone with terminal illness. The Honest Truth is written to hook readers with intrigue and will offer plenty of opportunities for conversation about character motives, actions, decisions.
Violet and Victor Write the Best-Ever Bookworm Book, by Alice Kuipers, illustrated by Bethanie Murguia
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, December 2, 2014)
     Book-loving Violet is writing a book, and when she asks her brother Victor for help, she finds he has a very different style and opinion about what makes a good book. As they work through the differences, the two write a story they both love and find something in common-their interest in reading it. 
     Violet and Victor were cute, likable characters. I appreciated their differences portrayed on the page. Most interesting to me about this book were the choices about color, text, and collage that were used to illustrate the story and help young readers keep the story and the book the children were writing separate from each other. 
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever, by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
(Beach Lane Books, 2013)
     Kate Sessions always loved studying science, even before it was a common interest for women. When Kate settled in the desert of California, her passion for trees did, too. She conducted research to find species of trees that could live and grow in desert conditions and began her mission to bring plant-life to the otherwise barren space. Kate succeeded in establishing beautiful, lush plant-life in Balboa Park in San Diego.
     Kate Sessions is not a name I would have known without this lovely picture book biography. It is another for the collection of picture book biographies about individuals who have followed their passions with relentless hope in an effort to make a difference and improve their world with their vision.
59 Reasons to Write, by Kate Messner
(Stenhouse, January 13, 2015)
     Kate Messner has rounded up writer friends to publish a bound version of the increasingly popular Teachers Write summer camp. The book includes 59 short essays from authors touching upon any and all parts of the writing process, providing short "assignments" for writers to try for themselves. The chapters include additional warm-ups from Teachers Write co-facilitator Jo Knowles and are punctuated with real excerpts of Q&A from previous summers of Teachers Write.
     More than sitting with a pen and highlighter to read through and extract theory and instructional practice (though, the reflective teacher will find that implied), the intent of this book is to be a friend to writers working daily on their own writing or building the habit of writing. This book would make an excellent guide for a beginning writing group or can serve as a self-study guide for writers who want to work at their own pace. Either way, one thing is clear: teachers should engage in writing.

What I am Currently Reading:
The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, March 3, 2015)

What I am Reading Next:
How to Fly with Broken Wings, by Jane Elson
The Secret Hum of a Daisy, by Tracy Holczer
The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

OES Reads: Week 4

Despite the uncooperative weather and a slew of recent snow days, our whole-school family reading project (OES Reads) presses on. Here's another round of related literacy projects

(Find more information about OES Reads in these previous blog posts in the series: Building Excitement, the Big RevealWeek 1Week 2, Family Literacy Night.)

Our fourth week of OES Reads coincided with a parent-student-teacher conference day. A number of classrooms featured writing from their Ranger in Time work. Second grade has been delighted that Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail supports their Westward Movement unit!

These second grade students had to choose only the most important items to pack on a wagon trail ride. They wrote about their selections. They also were hard at work retracing other trails besides the Oregon Trail.

Third-graders were challenged to choose only one thing they would take with them on the Oregon Trail as a reminder of home. They wrote and illustrated their responses.

Third-graders were busy crafting yarn dolls this week, too. They followed directions and made a new pal. Now they are at work writing fiction stories about their new friends.

Some of our first-graders have been learning to square dance, too. They are practicing in hopes of sharing at our closing assembly.

Sixth-graders have been studying Anna, Jose, and Henry closer as part of their character analysis work. They have interpreted and reflected on the way the young super-sleuths have been acting, feeling, and thinking while trying to reclaim the Star-Spangled Banner.

Items from the activity calendars keep trickling in. This creation is a pocket watch with a family photo stored inside. This product was made by a third grader and her family in addition to briefly explaining what single pocket-sized item she would take with her as a memory of home.

The day is drawing near for some lucky students who will win Kate Messner books, an incentive sponsored by their fifth-grade teacher. Students have been earning raffle tickets for completed calendar items and attendance at the Family Literacy Night. Those will be some wonderfully lucky students no doubt!

It's hard to believe, but now we are in the final week of our OES Reads program. Friday will be the big culminating event, with many students and classrooms contributing to the celebration. Don't forget to come by again and see how we wrap it all up!

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (2.9.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September, 2014)
     Amira is a dreamer. Dissatisfied with tradition in her Sudanese village, Amira longs for education and learning, wishing to let her inner sparrow soar. When their village comes under attack, her family suffers horrible tragedy, losing their home and Amira's father. They become refugees. Aid comes to the refugee camp, and it is there Amira is gifted the red pencil--a gift that opens her grieving soul and inspires her to dream once more.
     This novel-in-verse is a window through which readers can experience a world many of us have heard of but is limited to our imagination. Andrea Davis Pinkney relays the struggles and emotions of Amira and her family with careful words and phrases. Her writing is truly art in itself, and paired with the illustrations of Shane Evans, Amira's character is strong and convicting. 
Hero, by Sarah Lean
(Katherine Tegen Books, February 3, 2015)
     Leo feels overlooked in his family, afraid he will never make his family proud. An accident at school earns Leo the respect of the crowd, albeit led by a classmate with a reputation. In Leo's attempt to belong, he finds himself weaving a tale of lies, and when his lies earn his father's attention and pride, it becomes much harder for Leo to be who he really is. True heroism wins out, saved by the importance of real relationships forged by a small dog.
     Books teach us about who we want to be...and who we don't. Sarah Lean's Hero will evoke conversation with readers about decision making and what is "right." This book will be a good touchstone text for young readers--boys in particular--who are stuck in that battle between who they feel pressured to be and who they want to be inside.
Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of Room 11, by N. Griffin, illustrated by Kate Hindley
(Candlewick, February 10, 2015)
     Smashie's 3rd grade classroom just got a new pet--that she doesn't like--and now that pet is missing. With a lousy substitute, a prankster who is gluing items to people, and a missing hamster, Smashie teams up with her best bud, Dontel, to try to solve the mystery amid the chaos and suspicion of her classmates.
     Smashie is an adorable new character with a heart of gold and just the right kinds of quirks to be imperfect. Student readers will find a new cast of characters to love as they accompany Smashie in her efforts to locate Patches, the hamster. N. Griffin is explicit in her use of investigative vocabulary, making this a strong supporting text for instruction in the genre of mystery.
Beetle Busters, by Loree Griffin Burns, photography by Ellen Harasimowicz
(HMH Books for Young Readers, October, 2014)
     When the Asian longhorned beetle was found in the United States, scientists took to the challenge of identifying the insect and preventing further damage to trees and forests. The eradication of the Asian longhorned beetle has had grave implications for the infested areas, requiring trees that have been inhabited to be cut down and chipped--as well as any trees to which Asian longhorned beetles may have spread to. 
     Loree Griffin Burns' telling of the plight of citizens of all ages and experiences to protect trees from the invasive beetles plays to the emotions of the readers. Readers are challenged to weigh the environmental impact of beetle eradication (the loss of enormous numbers of trees) with the hopeful outlook that the drastic measures taken will result in eventual health of the impacted areas. In Beetle Busters, Burns' presentation of a real environmental threat is an invitation to conversation with students and a reminder of our responsibilities to be environmentally-conscious.

What I am Currently Reading:
How to Fly with Broken Wings, by Jane Elson
(Hachette Children's Books, March 5, 2015)

What I am Reading Next:
Pluto: A Wonder Story, by R. J. Palacio
The Honest Truth, by Dan Gemeinhart
The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

OES Reads: Family Literacy Night

A staple of our whole-school family reading project (OES Reads) is a Family Literacy Night when we bring students and their parents and siblings to school for a wide-array of activities related to our whole-school books/author. 

(Find more information about OES Reads in these previous blog posts in the series: Building Excitement, the Big Reveal, Week 1, and Week 2.)

The event was supposed to be held on January 27, coinciding with the release of Kate Messner's newest book, All the Answers. However, the weather was uncooperative. We held our event on it's rescheduled date, January 29, and had good attendance despite the change of plans. Fifty-three families were represented!

The event was comprised of two main segments: Activity Stations and the All the Answers Birthday Party.

Activity Stations
All participants rotated between three stations in the first part of the event. When families arrived, they were given a raffle ticket in one of three colors. The colors helped keep the size of the groups fairly even. The three activities happened simultaneously for 20 minutes, and then the groups would rotate.
In the gym, staff volunteers facilitated many activities children on the Oregon Trail might have engaged in to entertain themselves. Students and parents were jumping rope, playing hopscotch, using hoops, and more. This station also had the equipment to play Capture the Flag. Outside the gym, students and families were invited to sign their names on Independence Rock.
In the cafeteria, families made book-related crafts. Some constructed covered wagons out of milk cartons. Others made Silver Jaguar Jewelry with silver medallions, paw stamps, and oodles of beads. Some families accomplished both crafts. There was also a station in the cafeteria where staff were poised with face paint for participants who wanted "Snake Arm" tattoos. 
The third station took place in our music room. A kindergarten teacher gathered all the students in this group and read aloud from some of Kate's other books (including Over and Under the Snow, Sea Monster's First Day, and Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish). While the students were occupied, parents and school staff engaged in conversations about supporting students in their writing development. The conversations were fashioned in the likeness of restorative practice circles, keeping the conversation voluntary and interactive.

The Birthday Party
When the committee first looked at our five-week time frame for OES Reads with the goal of reserving a date for Family Literacy night, we looked for something that was mid-way through the project to maintain excitement and interest. I had read an advanced reader's copy of Kate Messner's All the Answers and when I realized it would be released on January 27--smack dab in the middle of our timeline--we had a win-win situation. Before long, plans for a book birthday party were underway.

When Family Night finally arrived, we had balloons and party hats and cupcakes and gifts...and excited readers. What more could we need?

And this was taken BEFORE all the cupcakes had arrived!
Raffle prizes wrapped as presents
After three rotations, the whole group assembled in the cafeteria around tables adorned with a birthday cake and cupcakes of every possible variety. After some brief announcements and thank yous, All the Answers was introduced to the crowd and students, families, and staff sang "Happy Birthday" to this (almost) brand new book. No one minded that it was belated!

While families ate their cupcakes and trail mix and sipped on lemonade, the host drew tickets for the "gifts." Wrapped up like presents were an assortment of other Kate Messner titles and packages of notebooks and writing tools to encourage student writing at home.

Digital Media students mid-production
Student Media Coverage
Members of our school Digital Media team were on hand for Family Literacy Night. In addition to collecting photos and video from the event, the students conducted interviews with an assortment of guests, which they hope to compile into an OES Reads news report. Even I was interviewed!

Supporting Home Reading
Erica Jedd, owner of our community bookstore Books N Things, was in attendance for the Family Literacy Night also. Not only did she deliver the Kate Messner books that were ordered in advance (including copies of the brand-new release All the Answers!), but she brought limited stock to make available to families. She sold out of Wake Up Missing and All the Answers, and a few other titles were seen walking around, too. Erica is still taking orders and honoring the OES Reads discount for OES families for the next two weeks of our project, also.
Families perused other Kate Messner
titles at the Books N Things display.

Tomorrow we will begin Week 4 of our OES Reads program. Four snow days in the last eight days have made the classroom projects hard to accomplish, but have given students lots of time for reading at home and working on calendar activities. And, we're beginning to turn our planning minds to the finale of our project. More to come!

Use this link to read the next blog post in the series: OES Reads: Week 4.

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (2.2.15)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
(Scholastic Press, February 24, 2015, ARC)
     Nic is a slave in the mines who earns his freedom by taking on a mission to steal a precious amulet. The mission is almost certain to have him killed, only the amulet provides him with unsuspecting magical powers and he escapes a harrowing situation. However, his magic makes him a target of high-ranking officials who are vying for positions of power in the future of Ancient Rome. Nic has mysteries to unravel and must make choices to protect himself and Rome.
     Mark of the Thief is the first book in Jennifer Nielsen's new triology Praetor War. Fans of the Ascendance Triology will find the same kind of characters, suspense, and adventure that made the first triology a hit without fearing repetition. Jennifer Nielsen knows how to take her readers on an adventure that walks the edge of danger. Readers will have a hard time putting this one down.
The Question of Miracles, by Elana K. Arnold
(HMH Books for Young Readers, February 3, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     After Iris's best friend Sarah died in a sudden tragedy, her family relocated to rainy Oregon. Iris's grief is overwhelming, and as she grapples with the vacancy in her life left by Sarah's death, she struggles with belief in miracles. She especially questions how miracles are appropriated. In time, Iris befriends Boris--who is himself being investigated as a miracle--and as she rediscovers friendship, she is able to move closer to peace.
     Iris will find her way into readers hearts, as there is hardly one among us who has not at times questioned why bad things happen to good people. I appreciated that things were not tidy in Iris's life, but rather real--from her struggles to accept friendship in life again to her worries about her parents and the changes in their lives since the move. The choice to have Boris investigated by the Vatican as a miracle for sainthood of a deceased pope was an interesting contrast to Iris's very real thoughts and actions. While accurate, most student readers will not have the background knowledge to appreciate this thoroughly. 

My Cousin's Keeper, by Simon French
(Candlewick, September, 2014)
     When Kieran's estranged cousin Bon suddenly turns up at his school, Kieran's efforts to blend in with the popular crowd are in danger. Bon is awkward, at best. Outwardly, he appears different--unkempt, a long braid, and in the company of a another new student...a girl. Bon has been on the road with his mother, moving frequently from place to place, until now-she has asked her mother and sister to care for Bon. Kieran must do some soul-searching as it becomes clear that he cannot deny his relationship with his cousin...and that his cousin needs him.
     While this book has a popular theme addressing bullying and a young character who must find out who they really want to be in the depth of their heart, there is something about Kieran's perspective that felt different. I know I have one reader already waiting for me to bring this in--but for my 4th graders I will want to give parents a disclaimer that some of the language is very...real.
Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins, by Liz Kessler
(Candlewick, February 24, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     Jessica Jenkins had no knowledge that she had superpowers until her best friend Izzy catches her disappearing. As the girls uncover the source of Jessica's magic, they learn the magic could be in danger as the wrong hands are itching to steal it away. With the help of some unlikely friends who share the magic, the group is able to preserve their powers.
     I was eager to read this book by Liz Kessler, having been fascinated by her workings of magic in A Year Without Autumn and North of Nowhere. The power of intrigue and mystery wasn't as strong in this book, which may make Jessica Jenkins easier to follow for developing readers. Some students will be amused with these characters, their superpowers, and the plot to save the magic from being stolen. 
Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
(Candlewick, April 24, 2015, ARC)
     When her family decides to downsize, selling their house to move to a studio apartment, Callie finds all of her families belongings strewn across the yard. As items begin to leave their home to go to the homes of other people, Callie has to part with their memories and meanings. Callie is overcome with fear that she, too, might be easy for her family to part with.
     The authenticity of Callie's emotions come through clearly for readers because of the beautiful pairing of Eve Bunting's story and Lauren Castillo's artwork. Anyone who has had to part with their belongings and begins to feel their life shifting before them will connect to Callie's facial expressions and will deduce the feelings in her heart.
My Grandma's a Ninja, by Todd Tarpley, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou
(NorthSouth, March 1, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     Ethan's ninja-grandma seems pretty cool. His friends are all paying attention. But when her ninja moves ruin the soccer game, Ethan does something he didn't expect: he asks Grandma to stop being a ninja. Grandma concedes, but Ethan realizes all the ways Grandma being a ninja was a good thing after all.
     This picture book was a perfectly cute story about a boy's relationship with his grandmother, the ways kids want to impress friends and get embarrassed, and-an early approach-to looking at how we learn to be who we are. I shared with one of my favorite young readers (age 6), and he loved it.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
(HMH Books for Young Readers, September, 2014)
     George Ferris created the Ferris Wheel for presentation at the World's Fair in Chicago. When he presented his plan to the committee, he faced nay-sayers and doubters. In fact, they were unwilling to invest in his structure financially. But George Ferris persevered in creating one of the most remarkable structures the world knows.
     This is a stunning picture book with it's outstanding art and interesting narrative account of George Ferris and his work. Punctuated on each page by facts or quotes from first-hand sources, readers can learn about the history of the Ferris Wheel without being overwhelmed with text and information. This book is already getting rave reviews from my 4th graders.
The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees, by Sandra Markle
(Lerner Publishing Group, 2013)
      Large quantities of honeybees disappear from hives each year, concerning beekeepers and scientists alike. What is causing their mass disappearance?
     Sandra Markle investigates many theories about what might be impacting the honeybees and causing them to die off. With clear, real photographs, the book is attractive in format and presents information about honeybees in a way that will hold readers' attention.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
(Milbrook Press, February 1, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
      Women in the Gambia recycle plastic bags that have been discarded as trash, cutting them into strips and weaving the strip to make small purses and bags. This informational text shares the story of one woman, Isatou Ceesay, who saw a need to make her world a better place and took the steps to make it happen.
     Presented as a story, readers may not recognize the informational nature of this book. The mixed medium illustrations are fascinating, incorporating actual plastic bags collage style. It is hard to imagine a reader who will not walk away from this book with a sense of responsibility for caring for the planet.

A Rock Can Be..., by Laurie Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija
(Milbrook Press, March 1, 2015, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     This beautiful book presses readers to think about all the different things rocks can be and what rocks can be used for. 
     A poetic nonfiction text, Laurie Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija have collaborated to create a beautiful work of art in this book. Each poetic example of what a rock can be is explained with more depth in the final pages of the book, providing more information for readers.

What I am Currently Reading:
Beetle Busters, by Loree Griffin Burns & Ellen Harasimowicz
(HMH Books for Young Readers, October, 2014)
59 Reasons to Write, by Kate Messner
(Stenhouse, January 13, 2015)

What I am Reading Next:
How to Fly with Broken Wings, by Jane Elson
The Imaginary, by A. F. Harrold and Emily Gravett
Hero, by Sarah Lean