Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.24.15)

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:

A Whole New Ballgame, by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Tim Probert
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux-BYR, August 18, 2015)
     Rip and Red start their fifth grade year with great anticipation, until they arrive at school and find that there are lots of changes, including a new male teacher for their classroom who will also be their basketball coach. Rip learns about himself through a class project (he's paired with Avery, someone he would never have worked with otherwise) and his leadership on the basketball court (where the team's record is abysmal). 
     A Whole New Ballgame will invite all readers into Mr. Acevedo's classroom and open the doors for conversations and community building with it's diverse cast of characters and realistic conflicts. A second book in the Rip and Red series is already in the works.

Paper Things, by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
(Candlewick, February 10, 2015)
     At ages 11 and 18, Ari and Gage have lost both parents and are under the guardianship of Janna, a friend of their parents. When Gage moves out of the house, Ari chooses to go with Gage to fulfill what the two believe is their mother's dying wish. Only the road ahead is full of unanticipated uncertainty: the two roam among friends houses and the shelter closet while Gage tries to find work and Ari tries to maintain her focus at school.
     Paper Things is a heart-tugging invitation empathy and compassion by visiting the hardships of homeless youth. It belongs in a text set with Kate Messner's The Exact Location of Home and Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw.

azalea, unschooled, by Lisa Kleinman, illustrated by Brook Gideon
(Islandport Press, May 5, 2015)
     Azalea's family moves. A lot. Their dad is constantly trying to find success with work, which keeps them moving. Azalea and her sister, Zenith, have been homeschooled in the process. When the newest venture (a tour bus driver) brings the family to Portland, Maine, Azalea's family decides to try "unschooling." 
     The concept of unschooling is only one (background) story line of the novel, and I wonder if the concept is clear to readers. The mystery around who is defacing Azalea's father's tour bus drives the story, as does Azalea's conflict as the new friend in a trio of girls. Azalea is likable, and student readers will want to know how she overcomes her trouble. 

The Day the Crayons Came Home, by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel, August 18, 2015)
     Duncan's crayons are back. Only this time, the cast of characters are crayons who have been lost in some way or another: vacations, pets, toddlers, etc. Through a series of postcards to Duncan, the crayons share their adventures and express dismay with being forgotten.
      This team does it again, personifying crayons in a way that readers can imagine their own crayons coming to life with complaints and requests. I had the chance to read this aloud with my favorite little readers and it provoked giggles and grins, every single time.

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Schwartz & Wade, July 14, 2015)
     Through the strong metaphor of elderly (100 year old) Lillian climbing a steep hill to vote, Winter and Evans take us on a journey through the historic events leading up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With Lillian's memories of her ancestors and significant political leaders, readers revisit the Fifteenth Amendment, poll taxes, voting tests, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and more.
      A poignant and thought-provoking picture book.      

To the Sea, by Cale Atkinson
(Disney Hyperion, June 2, 2015)
     Tim has been lonely and feeling invisible. One rainy day, he meets a whale named Sam who needs the help of a friend. Tim takes care of Sam, Sam takes care of Tim, and Tim feels less lonely in the end.
      The illustrations in this book are beautiful and make the story come alive. Atkinson's take on friendship and caring for one another is gentle and warm. I'm anxious to read this with students and let them talk about it.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
(Schwartz & Wade, January 6, 2015)
     Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born in Ghana with only one strong leg. Determined to make a difference and raise awareness that disability does not mean inability, he set out to ride bicycle around the country of Ghana.
      Emmanuel's story becomes another resource to draw inspiration from as we work with more and more students who are afraid their differences will hold them back from what they aspire to. Emmanuel's example of persistence and commitment is just the kind of story we need to share with students.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't, by Elise Parsley
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 7, 2015)
     Magnolia is a young student whose classroom, like many others, has show and tell. Only, when Magnolia takes an alligator to school, she finds out just how much trouble that might cause.
      In her cautionary tale, Magnolia walks readers through all the ways that she (they) might get in trouble: name on the board, checkmarks, visits to the principal. The illustrations are humorous and fun.

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
(G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, January 8, 2015)
     After church, CJ and his nana board the city bus for a ride to "the last stop on Market Street." All along the way, CJ asks questions and his nana replies in a way that encourages him to see the beauty and the good in his surroundings.
      I loved the nature of the relationship between CJ and his nana. I loved the sense of routine that was illustrated in the text. This is such a lovely picture book for talking about appreciation and the power of perspective. (What took me so long to get to this?)

I, Fly, by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
(Henry Holt and Company-BYR, March 10, 2015)
     The fly narrates his own narrative nonfiction, instigated by yet another classroom studying butterflies. He teaches about the fly's life cycle and sets the record straight on common beliefs about flies. 
     The unique approach to presenting informational text has me eager to share this in the classroom. The illustrated narrative includes diagrams and speech bubbles that will appeal to student readers. The snarky voice of the narrating fly (and occasionally gross information) will have readers hand-selling this book to one another. 

What I am Currently Reading:
The Greatest Catch, by Penny Kittle
(Heinemann, 20o5)

Teaching Reading in Small Groups, by Jennifer Serravallo
(Heinemann, 2010)

What I am Reading Next (in no particular order):
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, by Rodman Philbrick
Drowned City, by Don Brown
Upstanders, by Smokey Daniels and Sara Ahmed

Friday, August 14, 2015

Using an Out-loud Voice

Last week while driving myself and my colleague, Sara, to the ECET2 conference at Colby College, I had a notorious Melissa-moment. Our ride was full of chatter about the first day of convening and about our developing ideas for returning to school. There was a comfortable moment of quiet in the conversation which I punctuated by blurting:

"Yeah, I guess I need to email some people."

Sara's head whipped to look at me, and even though my eyes never left the road, I could see her puzzled face questioning my out-of-nowhere comment. It was a look I had seen countless times before in our friendship. I told you, it was a classic Melissa-moment.

I laughed, mostly with awareness that I had done it again: had something of a conversation with myself inside my head and then sputtered out my seemingly-random conclusion in my out-loud voice.

I am so lucky Sara is patient and forgiving of this habit. And yet, maybe I need to attend to this.

In yesterday's case, my internal conversation was really just an ambling of small details and things I need to attend to sooner than later related to back-to-school business--literally a to-do list. But I know on other occasions my internal conversations have been more meaty, from thinking about increasing student ownership of my classroom to puzzling out ways to encourage parent involvement. How many other conversations do I have with myself internally that should be voiced...out-loud?

And I wonder: why don't I? (Why don't we?)

I wonder if it's because ideas are complicated, sometimes fragile and sometimes rough around the edges? I wonder if ideas feel safer in the confines of our minds, tumbling around without feedback, criticism, or response from others? Do ideas stay inside out of fear of rejection? Or are ideas trapped by perseveration on refining and perfecting our ideas first? Do we convince ourselves that someone else has already thought our thought or would think it better? Do we assume everyone else knows what we don't?

How often do we, as teachers, do this with our practice and our classroom experiences?

How many interesting, challenging, creative, or forward-thinking ideas get tossed around internally in the safety of our minds or on the pages of our notebooks but never benefit from tangling up with other people's questions or thinking or stories? How many lesson ideas, cool collaborations, or professional growth opportunities are never actualized or take longer to take shape because we keep them protected? How many ideas never have the chance to see encouragement, influence, or the company of others?

Honoring risk and vulnerability with ideas is a place where my own growth is slow, but improving. More often than not, the risks I have painstakingly taken to be vulnerable about exposing my thinking have resulted in positive growth and promising momentum.

The ECET2ME convening was a small sampling of professional community that helped reiterate this learning for me. ECET2ME was glittered with conversations between pairs or groups of impassioned educators on the edge of creativity and movement, forward-thinking teacher-leaders who brainstormed and problem solved and empowered one another through the sharing, questioning, and probing of ideas--out loud and with others.

This is what I am thinking about as my "new year" approaches. As I consider what I might prioritize as professional goals this school year, I'm thinking about the ideas I protect internally and what might happen if I let them out. 

I have a voice. I need to use it. Out-loud.

I think I'm going to. How 'bout you?