Monday, November 14, 2011

Picture Book Month

The whole month of November has been dedicated to celebrating picture books! Did you know? If not, that's ok - Picture Book Month is a brand new international initiative to designate November as picture book month and encourage people to celebrate literacy through picture books! This initiative was founded by a group of writers and illustrators, including Diane de Las Casas and Katie Davis, who believe that "in this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book." with daily posts by some really impressive authors and/or illustrators of this art form.

The rhythm and tones, the delight and humor, the imagery and beauty that can be found in children's books are just a few reasons why I have found picture books to be integral tools I can use to bring language alive for my students. Whether teaching rhyming in Kindergarten or use of metaphors to make a story more interesting in 4th & 5th grade, I have found an abundance of quality children's literature out there to support my instruction.

When I moved from the kindergarten classroom to my current position as a fourth/fifth grade teacher, I knew that I didn't want to leave picture books behind. There would be opportunities to use picture books in powerful ways across my teaching day. Vacca & Vacca state in Content Area Reading:Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum that a picture book "has the potential to act as a magnifying glass that enlarges and enhances the reader's personal interactions with a subject" ( 2005, p. 161). So true! They are a quick and convenient way to help older students activate their prior knowledge. There is a new focus on picture books that deliver difficult content in simple language. Contemporary picture books explore issues such as homelessness, war, drugs, death, violence, racism, and divorce. Using picture books as mentor texts for student writing is another way I have found to use them, as they contain vivid language and a variety of text structures. The beauty of using picture books in the upper grades (and I believe in middle and high school too) is that they can be read aloud in a few minutes and provide students with information connected to the concept or skill being introduced. They can be used for increasing fluency and expanding students' vocabularies. Picture books can be used to help differentiate instruction and make learning more fun and interactive for students of all ages. Really the possibilities are endless!

Visit the Picture Book Month website to read fantastic essays about the importance of picture books written by an amazing group of authors & illustrators.  You can also follow the posts on Twitter by following the hashtag #picturebookmonth.

A fun conversation starter in our building this month has been this bulletin board of our staff members favorite picture books! Thanks to my friend @mrschureads for the idea~

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10 for 10: Building Character & Community

Welcome and thanks for stopping by to see my 2011 10 for 10 list!  I can't believe a whole year has passed since the first ever August 10 for 10!   You can see my 2010 lists for Kindergarten here and 4th/5th Grade here.  This year I have decided to share picture books that I use at the beginning of the year to encourage conversations about being a member of our learning community:  recognizing one's own uniqueness, being a collaborative member, and accepting other's differences. 

 You can read more about my thinking around using picture books in the intermediate grades here but let me take this opportunity to reiterate again what an important role they play in teaching literacy at the intermediate level.  I want to dispel the notion that picture books are "baby" books right off the bat with my students.  In those first few weeks of school as we building classroom community, we are also building our stamina and picture books break the day up into smaller chunks.  The picture books I chose for this year's list all share one thing in common...they evoke important  discussions that lay the foundation for our future work together.  So, in no particular order, here are my 10 picks with a brief description.

CourageCourage by Bernard Waber (2002) Focusing on a variety of scenarios, from the serious ("Courage is being the first to make up after an argument") to the more lighthearted ("Courage is tasting the vegetable before making a face"), Waber introduces children to the many ways to define this character trait. One or two statements appear on each page, accompanied by a whimsical pen-and-ink and watercolor illustration that offers an amusing interpretation of the caption like text.

A Circle of FriendsA Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi (2006) 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. I love using wordless picture books to help students really focus on the comprehension strategies they use while reading and this one is one of my favorites for thinking about inferring. It also lends itself to discussions about showing kindness and the idea of paying it forward.

Agate: What Good Is a Moose?Agate: What Good is a Moose? by Joy Morgan Dey (2007)  Agate is a moose with low self-esteem. He feels inadequate and plain, like an ugly brown rock, especially when he compares himself to his beautiful friends who are named after birthstones. These friend help Agate to see that just like his namesake, true beauty lies within. Stunning original watercolors, a witty, positive message about self image plus bonus pages with birthstone and agate facts. 

Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School HazardsButterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards by Serge Bloch (2008)  With witty and wonderful images that mix whimsical line drawings with photographs of inanimate objects, Bloch gives us a unique and sympathetic perspective on a boy’s first day of school where colorful butterflies flutter in our hero’s stomach and a cloud rains on him when he’s “under the weather.” Even the “big cheese” Principal has a body cut out of a block of Swiss.  This is one I go back to later in the year when talking about idioms, similes, and metaphors.
The Conversation Club by Diane Stanley (1990)  When shy Peter Fieldmouse is invited to join his new neighborhood's Conversation Club, Peter isn't sure he has anything to offer so he asks if he can just listen. At the first meeting, he makes a disturbing discovery-- everyone talks at once!  When Peter invites his neighbors to join his Listening Club, they discover that listening to each other one at time truly hits the spot.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About MannersDo Unto Otters by Laurie Keller (2009)   Mr. Rabbit's new neighbors are Otters. OTTERS!  But he doesn't know anything about Otters. Will they get along? Will they be friends? Just treat otters the same way you'd like them to treat you, advises wise Mr. Owl. And so begins Mr. Rabbit's reflection on good manners. But don't be fooled! While on the surface this book may appear a simple list of manners, it's really about becoming the kind of person you would like others to be.

Junkyard Wonders
 Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco (2010)When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as “The Junkyard,” she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn’t be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them.

Don't Laugh at Me (Reading Rainbow Book)Don't Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin (2002)  Do you wear glasses? Ever been picked last for the team? Afraid you’ll be called on in class? Have you laughed at someone else for the same reasons? Someone you thought was geeky or slow--someone different from you. For anyone who’s ever been bullied--or been a bully themselves--it’s time to change your tune. This is not a book for whiners, but a new language that will give you the words you need to take charge and stop the cycle of teasing.

Say SomethingSay Something by Peggy Moss (2008)  This story takes an interesting slant on an important topic. A young narrator describes different examples of bullying that she witnesses at school and on the bus, but remains silent. One day, when her friends are absent, she must sit alone in the cafeteria, and several students make jokes at her expense. In addition to feeling angry about being treated this way, the girl is frustrated with the other kids who look on sympathetically but say nothing. She is then able to empathize with other victims.  As well as demonstrating different examples of bullying, the author gradually but clearly illustrates that being a silent bystander contributes to the problem.

The Secret Olivia Told MeThe Secret Olivia Told Me by N. Joy (2007)  This is the story of two friends, who share a secret. It starts off small and grows as the secret is shared amongst classmates on the playground.  This simple book illustrates in pictures and words how simple secret can change and grow as it's shared.  The illustrator, Nancy Devard, provides an interesting touch with a red balloon that also expands as the secret grows through the playground. 

Thanks so much to Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robek (@mandyrobek) at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for hosting this fantastic event!  You can see all of the lists shared today at this really cool jog that Cathy put together.  You can also follow and post on Twitter by using the #pb10for10 hashtag. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Book Review: Marty McGuire

Marty McGuire
Marty McGuire
by Kate Messner (illus. Brian Floca)
Scholastic Press, Publisher (2011)
Ages: 5-9
Review Copy provided by the publisher


(Summary from  Marty McGuire would rather spend recess catching frogs in the pond than playing dress-up with the other girls in third grade. So when her teacher casts Marty as the princess in the class play, Marty's absolutely, positively sure that there's been a huge mistake. But after a special lesson in the art of improvisation, Marty comes up with her OWN plan to IMPROVE the play: Why use stuffed-animal frog onstage when a live one would be so much better? In the end, Marty's one-of-a-kind performance makes for an unforgettable show. Maybe Marty CAN live happily ever after, after all!

If you haven't read anything by Kate Messner yet you really need to! I absolutely LOVED her two middle grade novels, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and Sugar and Ice.  What I love most about Kate's writing, besides the fantastic story lines, is her ability to create strong girl characters that young readers can not only relate to but also, hopefully, emulate.  I was thrilled to once again find that type of character her new early chapter book series, Marty McGuire

Marty is a  spunky third grade girl! Following in the foot steps of equally spunky characters like Ramona and Clementine, she's a girl who knows what she likes.  From the opening chapter where she says  "I'd call Veronica Grace Princess-Bossy Pants if I was allowed to call people names.  But I'm not. So I won't."  her voice rings true.  She's funny and full of energy without coming across as annoying.  I also love the caring, supportive adults that surround Marty in the story. One of my favorite lines is when her teacher, Mrs. Aloi, who is explaining to Marty  why she would make the "perfect" princess in the class play,  reminds her that she's..."somebody with a lot of talent and confidence.  Somebody with a strong voice and lots of energy.  Somebody who is brave and smart who can think on her feet."  And she is all that and more!  I love that in the end, Marty is true to herself.

A perfect read aloud, this book also fills the need for readers who are ready to move into more advanced chapter books for independent reading.  The storyline deals with great issues like friendships, commitment, and taking chances on new things in a realistic, believable way.   I can't for Kate's next installment, Marty McGuire Digs Worms! which is due out in February, 2012.

Read what others are saying about this GREAT series:
Kid Lit Frenzy
Random Chalk Talk
The Cath in the Hat

For more information about Kate Messner visit her website:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Perfect Square

Perfect SquarePerfect Square
by Michael Hall
Greenwillow Books, Publisher
Ages 2-7
Review copy purchased for my classroom library

Publisher's Summary:  A perfect square is transformed in this adventure story that will transport you far beyond the four equal sides of this square book.

"Perfect" is the perfect word to describe Michael Hall's newest picture book.  The perfect square start out perfectly happy being a square on Sunday.  But on Monday when the perfect square finds itself cut up and hole punched, it doesn't get down in the dumps! Oh no! Instead it makes the best of the situation and becomes a beautiful fountain. The week continues to bring new challenges until Sunday comes again and it realizes it's not happy just being a "perfect" square.  The ending, which relates to beginning, concludes with a wonderful surprise!

I fell in love on the very first read through.  Filled with whimsy and imagination, children will easily be drawn in to the story of how this perfect square changes itself into something new and surprising each day of the week.  Hall uses brief text to allow the geometric shapes and bold colors of his illustrations to tell the story.  When it comes to concept books, this one is jam packed with possibilities including shapes, colors, and days of the week. Offer readers the opportunity to transform their own perfect square of colorful paper by cutting, ripping, wrinkling, pasting, and punching holes to create an adapted classroom version.  This story is sure to become a classroom favorite! If you like this one then be sure to also check out My Heart is Like a Zoo, also by Michael Hall.

Don't just take my word for it! Read what other's are saying about this fantastic book:

The Page Turn
There's a Book
A Fuse #8 Production
Brimful Curiosities

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We Have a Winner!

Juniper Berry

Thank you to everyone who posted a comment for a chance to win a hard cover copy of Juniper Berry and signed book plate by M. P. Kozlowsky.  The winner of the giveaway is Deb Tyo (@chocolateair), a middle school language arts teacher from Ohio! Congratulations Deb! Your students are going to love this one! Be sure to check out Deb's blog, Chocolate Air too!

Thank you to Kellie and Walden Pond Press for the review copy and this giveaway. You can find Walden Pond Press on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Juniper Berry Blog Tour: Review and GIVEAWAY

Juniper Berry
Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Copyright Date: 2011
Age: 9-12
Review copy provided by the publisher

Publisher’s Summary: Juniper Berry’s parents are the most beloved actor and actress in the world—but Juniper can’t help but feel they haven’t been quite right lately. And she and her friend Giles are determined to find out why.

On a cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets bound in a balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.

M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are.

Disclaimer: I’m a teacher. I’m a reader. I’m a connector. I read books with teachable moments always in the back of my mind. My reviews are written from the prospective of a teacher looking for any opportunity to connect kids with engaging books.

Read alouds are one of the easiest ways I have found to help connect students with books...and it doesn't matter the age. Reading aloud is a non-negotiable in my classroom. I’ve written about it’s importance here on several occasions. I’m always on the lookout for middle grades novels that will spark my students’ imaginations, stretch their thinking, and sweep them up, carrying them away in the current of a significant story. When I received an ARC of Juniper Berry by M. P. Kozlowsky from Kellie at Walden Pond Press, I was thrilled to have found exactly that kind of book.

Imagine, if you will, twenty fifth graders sitting absolutely still, entranced actually, on a rug in front of you, completely captivated as you read aloud. You come to the end of the chapter and they beg…yes, beg…for you to continue reading. That doesn’t happen you say. Well that is precisely what happened when I read Juniper Berry aloud to my class. Now, while I’ve been told by some that I’m a “really good read alouder” I can’t take full credit for this book’s read aloud potential. I really can’t even take partial credit.

M.P. Kozlowsky has penned a chilling tale of good vs. evil whose descriptions are so well written the reader can easily visualize what is going on, leaving them with lasting images. The characters are believable, their voices so well written that they literally jump off the page during the read aloud. While I personally found the pacing of the story a bit slow at first, my students didn’t seem to notice and once the action got going, it was difficult to pull ourselves away. I appreciated that Kozlowsky didn’t water down the story with simple language. His use of rich vocabulary was done in a way that wasn’t condescending.

Based on the age old saying “Be careful what you wish for” the story line offers many themes worth exploring with students. During our read aloud of this book, we had thoughtful discussions about such themes as facing our fears, giving in to temptations, being your true self (even when no one is watching), our choices and their powerful consequences, loyalty and friendship.

Here’s what some of my students had to say after we finished this book:

“This book really keeps you hanging which makes you want to keep reading it!” Sierra

“The author didn’t just tell you everything at once. You had to read between the lines...go below ‘ the surface’! That kept me on the edge of my seat!” Jaden

“I loved that it was dark and scary! I really liked the way the author gave strong descriptions of the characters.” Dylan

“There seemed to be a surprise with every turn of a page!” Gabby

“I learned to expect the unexpected!” Jillian

Courtesy of Walden Pond Press I’m excited to be able to offer one reader a hardcover copy of Juniper Berry with a signed bookplate!  Leave a comment on this post and you are entered! It's that's easy. Please be sure to leave your email address so that I contact you if you are the winner.   The giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only.  Comment before  Monday, May 16, 2011 at 11:59 p.m.
But wait...there's more! To celebrate the release of M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut novel Juniper Berry, Walden Pond Press is inviting all writers aged 9-14 to write their own tales of terror and temptation in at least 500 words. One grand prize winner will receive an iPad, a library of Walden Pond Press eBook, paperback and hardcover novels, and his or her story published online at Author M.P. Kozlowsky will select the winner. To learn more:
Be sure to check all of the stops on Week 2 of the Juniper Berry Blog Tour:
Juniper Berry Blog Tour: Part II

Tuesday, May 10th - Interview and Giveaway at Another Gray Day
Wednesday, May 11th - Interview at Bri Meets Books
Thursday, May 12th - Interview at Book Yurt
Friday, May 13th - Review and Giveaway right HERE!!!
Saturday, May 14th - Review at MundieKids
Sunday, May 15th - Guest Post at Kid Lit Frenzy
Monday, May 16th - Review and Giveaway at Kid Lit Frenzy
Tuesday, May 17th - Interview and Giveaway at MundieKids
Tuesday, May 17th - Guest Post and Giveaway at The Cozy Reader

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Dog's Way Home

A Dog's Way Home
Dog's Way Homeby Bobbie Pyron
Katherine Tegan Books (Publisher)
Copyright Date 2011
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Review copy from my classroom library

Eleven year old  Abby knows that Tam, her Shetland sheepdog, is her north star, and she's pretty certain she's his, too. But when an accident separates Abby and Tam, it feels as though all the stars have fallen out of the sky and nothing will ever be right again. As the days between them turn to weeks, then months, dangers and changes fill up Abby's and Tam's lives. Will they ever find their way home to each other?

Okay, I'm going reveal something about myself that until now, only those very close to me have known.  I am not really a dog person.  Actually, I'm not really an animal person.  So just that fact that I'm talking about this book should clue you in to just how great this story is!

Bobbie Pyron's debut novel appears to have a very simple plot on the surface:  girl loves dog; girl loses dog; dog tries to get back to girl; girl tries to find dog.   But don't be fool...Pyron's writing talent gives the read so much more!   The story switches back and forth between  Abby and her dog Tam, each fighting to get back to the other.  The voices of these two characters are so realistic in my opinion. When you think about the fact that one of the main characters is a dog, that's not an easy thing to accomplish! I could not put the book down, often reading with a pounding heart as I rooted for Tam through some extremely dangerous situations.   I loved Abby just as much!  Her spunk, good nature, and determination were endearing.

Reminiscent of Lassie Come Home and The Incredible Journey, A Dog's Way Home is so perfect for middle readers.  It has a perfect mix of danger, family drama, friendship issues, nature, and more.  I won my autographed copy over at Linda Benson's blog! Yay! Love free books!  Not surprisingly, since I book talked it last week hasn't been on the shelf. In fact the "waiting list" is so long, I've ordered two more copies!   I, for one, am looking forward to reading more from librarian Bobbie Pyron!
Meet Bobbie Pyron

I'm not the only one gushing book love!  Here's what others have to say about this endearing story: