Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

  Be sure to visit Jen and Kellee at Teach.Mentor.Text for a full list of all the blogs participating in the It's Monday! What Are You Reading meme!

I missed posting last week but I have a VERY good excuse...I promise! New England states have this wonderful thing called February Break where schools close for a week! Many "snowbirds" head for warmer temperatures and this year I  was one of the those fortunate "snowbirds"!  But not to worry...there was plenty of reading going on!  I have so many titles to share I'm not sure where to I think I'll begin with my favorite YA read of the two weeks.

Publisher: Dutton (January, 2012)
Ages 14 & up

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. (description from publisher) 

The Fault of Our Stars was the first book I've read by John Green.  I loved it! While I won't share this book in my classroom because of some mature content (it is a YA title), I have already recommended it to several of my friends and will definitely be including it in the library I organize and run during the summer. The story of Hazel and Augustus is one that can't help but change you. It's about love...of family, friends, and the power that stories have to bring us together. Even if you don't work with older readers...this is book you won't want to miss! It will be an emotional read, after all it is about a kid with cancer, but it's a story that well worth the emotional ride! Get it! Read it! Share it!

Other YA title I just have to give a little extra attention to here:
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (2011)
Ages 13 & up
Meet Jake who lives in a neighborhood controlled by street violence and fear. He meets a sculptor across the street, and his eyes are opened to another world. Or Jojo,who's closer to her three dogs than to her foster family. When Jojo tries to help another girl who needs a friend, the dogs know what to do. Or Jamie, Erik, and Grandpa, who make up an unusual family. (description from

This collection of three novellas had me from Paulsen's introduction:
"I was one of those kids who slipped through the cracks. I had what was euphemistically referred to as a troubled childhood. We were broke, my parents were drunk, my parents had -- another euphemism here -- an unhappy marriage. I was an outsider at school and pretty much raised myself at home. I had nothing and was going nowhere.

Then art and dogs saved me.

First reading, then writing. First friend-pets, then sled dogs. They gave me hope that I wouldn't always be stuck in the horror of my childhood, made me believe that there could be more to my life."

Paulsen then shares the stories of three different young people, writing from what he knows from his own abusive childhood. Each character is on their own with little or no support and resources to draw from. Yet each encounters "hope" through art or dogs or both. Their stories aren't tied up with pretty little "happy ending" bows but their strength and courage is inspiring and effective! I loved it and it's another book that will stick with me long after the last page.  The video below is long (6 minutes) but well worth the time to watch when you have it:

Other YA and Middle Grade novels I read this week included Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles, Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson, The Dragon's Tooth by N. D. Wilson,  and Into the Trap by Craig Moodie.

I also read two non-fiction titles that will be great additions to my classroom library:

by Rosalyn Schanzer
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (2011)
Ages 12 & up
The riveting, true story of the victims, accused witches, crooked officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness affecting two children into a witch hunt that took over a dozen people’s lives and ruined hundreds more unfolds in chilling detail in this young adult book by award-winning author and illustrator Rosalyn Schanzer.  With a powerful narrative, chilling primary source accounts, a design evoking the period, and stylized black-white-and-red scratch board illustrations of young girls having wild fits in the courtroom, witches flying overhead, and the Devil and his servants terrorizing the Puritans, this book will rivet young readers with novelistic power. (description for

by Stewart Ross (illus. Stephen Biesty)
Publisher: Candlewick Press (2011)
Ages 10 & up
Discover how the greatest explorers in history — from Marco Polo to Neil Armstrong — plunged into the unknown and boldly pieced together the picture of the world we have today. With the help of masterful cross sections, dramatic storytelling, and sidebars that highlight key concepts, places, and technology, immerse yourself in such expeditions as Leif Eriksson’s voyage to North America (eleventh century), Zheng He’s travels from China to East Africa (fifteenth century), Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe (sixteenth century), Tenzing Norgay’s and Edmund Hillary’s scaling of Mt. Everest (twentieth century) plus ten more exciting journeys!

My favorite picture book was:

Crafty Chloe
by Kelly DiPucchio (illus. Heather Ross)
Publisher:  Antheneum (February 2012)
Ages 7-11
When another girl has already purchased the most perfect birthday gift for Chloe’s friend Emma, Chloe decides she’ll make a present—something you can’t buy in a store. But crafting isn’t easy, and it’s beginning to look like she won’t have a great idea in time. Fortunately, with a good doodle session and a whole lot of glitter to inspire her, Chloe figures out just the thing to save the day—and with a little help from her trusty glue gun, she just might save a friendship, too! (description from

The appeal of this picture book is that it's adorable, but not overly sweet. Hurray for Kelly DiPucchio! The message is a great one for girls, as it encourages individuality and creativity. There is a corresponding website where readers can learn how to make the cool crafts featured in the book. March is National Craft Month (who knew?) so it's the perfect time to check this title out!

I also read Petunia Goes Wild and Hugs From Pearl, both by Paul Schmid, Listen to My Trumpet! by Mo Willems, Night Knight by Owen Davey, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Rinker, and then it's spring by Julie Fogliano, Randy Riley's Really Big Hit by Chris Van Dusen, Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist, and One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo.

I have two weeks left before our Maine Student Book Award Committee meets to make the final decisions on our 2012-2013 list. I still have about 16 titles to read from the short list and I really have no idea how we will ever narrow the list of 112 down to just about 40 titles! There are so many great stories on the list!

I'm currently reading:

Titles "on deck" for this week include:

And just so you know...I'm starting from the bottom of this pile! I can't wait to start Wonder by RJ Palacio!

So there you have it...and another week (two actually) of reading is in the books!
Have a great week among the pages!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review~The Pocket and the Pendant (Max Quick #1)

Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant
by Mark Jeffery
Publisher: HarperCollins (2011)
Ages 10 & up

(description from Quick is a pickpocket, a vagabond, an orphan, and a thief. Even so, nothing about him seems particularly special . . . until one day when time mysteriously stops. Suddenly, nearly everyone in the world is frozen in time—except for Max.

Now Max must journey across America to find the source of the Time-stop. Along the way, he meets others who aren't suspended in time, like Casey, a girl who's never been on her own until now. Together, as they search for the cause of this disaster, Max and his companions encounter ancient mysteries, magic books, and clues to the riddle of stopped time. But relentless and mysterious villains are hot on Max's heels and will do everything in their power to prevent Max from ending the Time-stop. And the closer Max gets to the answers, the more it seems that his own true identity is not what he once believed. Racing against a clock that no longer ticks, Max must embrace his past to save his future—and the world—from being altered forever.

This book was first brought to my attention by my friend, Linda, who serves on the Maine Student Book Award committee with me.  She had a fifth grade boy who brought this book to her claiming it was "the best book I've ever read!" He asked her to read it. She did. Then she brought it to our committee, shared her story and asked if others would please read it.  She and I are both committed to listening carefully to what kids are saying about books so I promised her I would read it, even though I felt like all I was reading was fantasy/sci-fi stuff...not my genre of choice. But a promise is a promise...and so I opened the book....and did not put it down until I had finished the last page!

This book has everything a middle grade reader is looking for! Tons of adventure, twists and turns that keep you guessing, a main character with a mysterious past, new friendships, betrayal, ALIENS...yep...the "perfect storm" for hooking even the most dormant middle grade reader. I liked the idea of "time traveling" by running...really fast! Not because I necessarily like running, I don't, but I thought it was a clever way to make that happen. I also loved that the characters traveled by way of books! Don't "we" always tell students that books can take them places? Well, in this fantastic story they certainly do that!  While many questions are answered by the end of book, there are some unresolved questions that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next book in this series!

Don't forget how important it is to listen to and talk with students about what they are reading.  After all, had it not been for that 5th grade boy bringing this book to Linda's attention, and her commitment to modeling the power for recommending books, we might have both missed out on this fun adventure!  You won't want to miss it...and share it with your readers!

Enjoy the book trailer for Max Quick~The Pocket and the Pendant!

Meet the author of the Max Quick series, Mark Jeffery!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Power of the Word-less Book

Wordless picture books have been around for well over 60 years.   Almost every learning objective in the language arts curriculum of every grade level can be taught or enhanced using them.  However, wordless books are most often associated with emergent readers, typically preschool and kindergarten aged students.  When I moved from the kindergarten classroom to fourth grade, I thought I would leave them behind but boy was I wrong!   Wordless books are so flexible in their use that they can easily be used in the middle grade classroom.  They enhance the creativity, vocabulary, and language development of all readers, at all stages for reading development!  Author David Wiesner commented once that one of the most valuable characteristics of the wordless book is it's "endless possibilities for creative interpretation."  From using them to help students become more aware of monitoring their thinking while reading during Reading Workshop to using them during Writer's Workshop with students who struggle with coming up with something to write I have found many ways to incorporate them into the middle grade classroom. Here are just a few of my new favorites.

A perfect addition to any wordless book collection is the 2012 Caldecott Award winner A Ball for Daisy  (2011) by Chris Rachka. This sweet and creative wordless book follows the adventures of a lively dog named Daisy as she loses her treasured ball, is given a new one, and gains a friend in the process. It's a great story for younger readers who have attachment objects, and who are still learning how to make and be friends. The illustrations are simply delightful!

Leaf  (2008) by Stephen Michael King is a delightful story about a boy who runs outside trying to escape from a pair of scissors threatening to take his long hair.  When a little bird flies overhead with a seed in its mouth and accidentally drops his seed on to the young boy's head a wondrous thing happens. While the words may be absent this amusing and adventurous story is loud, bold, and a lot of fun. 

A Circle of Friends (2003) by Giora Carmi  is a warm and caring story about random acts of kindness.  When a young boy anonymously donates his snack to a homeless man, he begins a cycle of goodwill that reverberates and expands in a great circle of kindness.  This title is distinctive in that as the story unfolds the author/illustrator uses color to spotlight the new or critical story element on each page. 

The 2005 Caldecott Honor book, The Red Book (2004), by Barbara Lehman is a misleadingly simple one. A girl walking through a winter cityscape finds the corner of a bright red book peeking out of a snowbank by the sidewalk. She rescues the book and takes it with her to school. A quick reading of it shows that it is a story about a warm sunny island, where a boy walking along the sand also finds a red book, this time peeking out of a sandbank. As the boy on the beach reads it he sees that is a story about a city... in which a girl in her classroom is reading about him.  The pictures are great, and the implied plot is engaging.   The best thing, though, is all of the possible interpretations, and all of the opportunities for inferring. Other titles by Barbara Lehman include  Museum Trip, The Secret Box, and Rainstorm.
In this  almost entirely wordless book, Jerry Pinkney manages to portray strong emotion while keeping the animals looking 'real' as he visually tells the well known fable The Lion and the Mouse (2009). There is so much to see in the background to help tell the tale.  The use of onomatopoeia brings an auditory awareness that adds another dimension to the story.  The illustrations are simply lovely and more than deserving of the 2010 Caldecott Medal! Pairing it with Pinkney's Aesop's Fables offers a great opportunity to compare and contrast the two versions.

In Shadow by Suzy Lee (2010) with  a simple "click" a young girl pulls the light on in a garage and her imagination takes over. On the left side of the page are the contents of the garage, and on the right, their shadows. Lee's simplistic  black and white pictures with  golden yellow accents intensify the message that imagination has no limits. Without using words, readers are able to give even greater attention to the elaborate details of the illustrations. Pair with the non-fiction text What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla for a fun afternoon of 'shadow' play.  Other books by Lee include Wave, Mirror, and The Zoo.
Wonder Bear (2008) Tao Nyeu opens with two children planting mysterious seeds from which grows a remarkable flowering vine.  At the top of this vine emerges a remarkable big white bear. On his head is the top hat that allows him to work all kinds of magic that day.  This  imaginative illustrated wordless book evokes the wonder of imagination in which a different story can be created with each re-reading

There are so many other titles I could have highlighted here such as Deep in the Forest by Brinton TurkleThe Umbrella by Dieter Schubert, Chalk by Bill Thomson and Zoom! by Istvan Banyia.   The bottom line is don't make the same mistake I did, thinking that wordless books only have a place in the preschool or kindergarten classroom.  Dust off some of your old favorites...or go searching at your local library...and begin to find the teaching power in word~less picture books in the middle grade classroom! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Teach.Mentor.Texts for a full list of blogs participating in the It's Monday! What Are You Reading meme!

My reading for the 2012-2013 Maine Student Book Award list continues! The days until our "decision" meeting are winding down and I still have about 20 titles I need to get to. Here are the titles I was able to knock off the list this past week:

Publisher: Hyperion Books CH (2011)
Ages:  10 & up

Scrub isn’t happy about having to spend the summer with his hippie grandmother in “Middle of Nowhere,” Washington. When he arrives at her Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, he’s not surprised by its 1960s-meets-Star Wars decor; but he is surprised by the weird looking guests. It turns out that each room in the inn is a portal and his grandma is the gatekeeper, allowing aliens to vacation on Earth. She desperately needs Scrub’s help with disguising the tourists as humans. As if that weren’t difficult enough, the town sheriff is already suspicious of Granny. One wrong move and Scrub could blow Grandma’s cover, forcing the B&B to shut down forever. And when it comes to aliens, every move seems wrong . . . (from

Publisher: Holiday House (2011)
Ages: 12 & up
Irena Sendler was a diminutive Polish social worker who helped spirit more than four hundred children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Using toolboxes, ambulances, and other ingenious measures, Irena Sendler defied the Nazis and risked her own life by saving and then hiding Jewish children. Her secret list of the children's real identities was kept safe, buried in two jars under a tree in war-torn Warsaw. An inspiring story of courage and compassion, this biography includes a list of resources, source notes, and an index. (from

Publisher: Sterling (2011)
Acclaimed naturalist and illustrator Jim Arnosky helps birds and imaginations take glorious flight in this breathtaking nonfiction picture book with six giant gate folds.  He explains why there are no feathers on a vulture's head, which bird is the deep-diving champ, what makes an owl's wings perfectly silent in flight, and much more. (from
I also read two 2012 titles this week:

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (July 10, 2012)
Candace Fleming gives teen and older tween readers ten ghost stories sure to send chills up their spines. Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes place during a different time period from the 1860's to the present, and ends with the narrator's death. Some teens die heroically, others ironically, but all due to supernatural causes. Readers will meet walking corpses and witness demonic possession, all against the backdrop of Chicago's rich history—the Great Depression, the World's Fair, Al Capone and his fellow gangsters. (from

Publisher:Wendy Lamb Books (2012)

Deza is the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana, singled out by teachers for a special path in life. But the Great Depression hit Gary hard, and there are no jobs for black men. When her beloved father leaves to find work, Deza, Mother, and her older brother Jimmie go in search of him, and end up in a Hooverville outside Flint, Michigan. Jimmie's beautiful voice inspires him to leave the camp to be a performer, while Deza and Mother find a new home, and cling to the hope that they will find Father. The twists and turns of their story reveal the devastation of the Depression and prove that Deza truly is the Mighty Miss Malone. (from

I'm currently reading:


Books I also plan to read this week:

So there you have it...another week of reading is in the books!
Have a fantastic week among the pages!

Friday, February 10, 2012

World Read Aloud Day~March 7, 2012

Children's author Katherine Paterson once said "The best way to cultivate [children's] tastes is to read to them, starting at birth and keeping on and on. 'Let me hear you read' is a test, 'Let me read to you' is a gift."

On Wednesday, March 7, 2012 people all around the world will be celebrating the gift of reading aloud. World Read Aloud Day , sponsored by LitWorld, is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to every person, regardless of race, age, or economic situation. It is intended to motivate children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another. 
Reading aloud happens everyday in my classroom. It's not a special event but rather a daily routine that strengthens the bond of our community of readers. It's magic...and my class will be sharing that magic on March 7th by reaching beyond the four walls of our classroom. We will be connecting via Skype with classrooms and libraries not only here in Maine but across the country. We might even have a couple of special guest Skype visit as well!

Resources for World Read Aloud Day:
World Read Aloud Day Official Site
World Read Aloud Day Resource Kit 
WRAD Skype with a Author 
Change the World Story by Story Wiki (hosted by John Schumacher & Shannon Miller)

"Like" World Read Aloud on Facebook
You can also follow on Twitter: @litworldsays or the hashtag #WRAD

I would love to hear about your plans for World Read Aloud Day!  How do you plan to share the "gift" of reading aloud with the readers in your life?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: Ghetto Cowboy

Ghetto Cowboy
by G. Neri (Illustrator: Jesse Joshua Watson)
Publisher: Candlewick Press (2011)
Ages: 11 and up
Review copy provided by publisher
(description from publisher) When Cole’s mom dumps him in mean streets of Philly to live with the dad he’s never met, the last thing Cole expects to see is a horse—let alone a stable full of them. He may not know much about cowboys, but what he knows for sure is that cowboys ain't black and they don’t live in the inner city! But on Chester Avenue, horses are a way of life, and soon Cole’s days of goofing off and skipping school in Detroit have been replaced by shoveling muck and trying not to get stomped on.    Crazy as it may seem, the lifestyle grows on Cole, and he starts to think that maybe life as a ghetto cowboy isn’t so bad. But when the City threatens to shut down the stables—and take away the horse that Cole has come to think of as his own—he knows that he has to fight back.

I had put off reading this book for quite while, admittedly because of the cover.  I was quite surprised with the depth of this book when I finally read it.  From the moment I opened the cover, I was drawn in to Cole's world and I couldn't put the book down! Reading it in one sitting I think I experienced every emotion possible as the story unfolded. When I got to the end I knew this was a book that I needed to tell others about but more importantly I needed to get it in the hands of kids! 

The tension between Cole and his mom grips you right from the beginning. It increases as Cole is left on the doorstep of a father he has never known! All the way to from 

Detroit to Philadelphia, you keep thinking that Cole's mom is going to relent and turn around.  What I loved most about G. Neri's storytelling wasthat how he wrote Cole's character in a way that the reader senses his growth and maturity through the routine of caring for the horses.  The strained relationship between him and his father ebb and flows in a realistically  believable manner.  Other strengths of this book include  strong character development, plot, use of realistic dialect, and authentic urban setting.  Neri's story would be  a fantastic choice for a read aloud or book club discussion. Jesse Joshua Watson's black and white illustrations are an added bonus!

I was especially interested to learn that this book was inspired by the real-life inner-city horsemen of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, which I knew nothing about prior to reading this story. 

I book talked this title in 5 of our 7 5th grade classrooms right before Christmas. Students were hooked immediately and we have had 7 copies tearing their way through our classrooms since then. The waiting list in each classroom is long! Conversations around Cole's story are the the lunch room...on the playground! to my ears! And as we watched the live simulcast of the American Library Youth Media Awards on January 23rd, the room erupted with loud cheers when Ghetto Cowboy won a 2012 Odyssey Award Honor for outstanding audio!

You can read a guest post by G. Neri over at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations.

Other reviews of this title:
MSBA Book Buzz (a student review)
A Fuse #8 Production
Literate Lives