Children's Books

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Wishtree Staff Book Club

During January several staff members have been reading Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. We have 17 members of book club this time, and I have been busy finding extra copies of the book as more people jumped into book club.  This time of the year is tricky for book club because unseen obstacles like snow days or sick days can impact the amount of reading time available. Even though there may be obstacles it's important to pick a good book and keep reading.

I had already read Wishtree, and I couldn't wait to share this amazing story with my fellow readers. I missed our first discussion day because I was sick, and I was a little disappointed at some of the responses I heard. Some readers were having a difficult time getting into the book. Some were confused with the point of view. "Keep reading," I urged them. I knew that eventually they would discover the magic. They would be drawn to Red and the way Red held the community together.

Today was our final discussion, and those who finished reading the book loved it. Here are a couple comments:

  • I have really enjoyed it and I know others have also.  It has also been great to have kids say...hey my teacher is reading that book too!
  • ...I wonder if the parents will ever start being friends?! Great book!
  • I loved watching a friendship evolve...I think there is hope for the parents.
  • I enjoyed this book!! I enjoyed reading it with my kiddo too and seeing him get the big idea in the book. It was so interesting how the author chose to write from the tree's point of view.
  • ...I feel that it ties together really well with the whole aspect of welcoming and interacting with others who aren't necessarily like you.
It was also exciting to have Katherine Applegate tweet a comment about our book club.

What can learn from staff book clubs? I have a couple ideas:

  1. Reading in a book club helps provide accountability for readers. 
  2. Book clubs provide us with opportunities to share with our families.
  3. Students are watching us. They are watching us as readers. 
  4. Book clubs may introduce us to books we may not read otherwise.
  5. Book clubs are fun!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018


With the new year approaching I began looking for my #OneWord2018. I didn't have a word that just jumped out and cried to be the word for the new year. So I sat down and listed all the words that came to mind. I wanted a word that led to action. Courage and balance kept coming up as two words that I really needed in my life.  After looking at the website I found three questions that helped me in my search.

2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."
  1. What do I need?
  2. What's in my way?
  3. What needs to go?
Balance (verb)- establish equal or appropriate proportions of elements in.

This year I am dedicated to working on finding balance. 

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

Friday, December 29, 2017

Embrace the Magic

Since I am a reading teacher, I have the pleasure of working with some of the same children for multiple years. Each September the students will start asking when our Elf on the Shelf, Bellzzy, will come back to our class. They will fondly start talking about our elf and his escapades from the previous year.
"Remember when he was digging in the Legos? One day we found him sleeping in the Kleenex box. He had tissues all over the floor. Remember when he sitting on top of the projector? Remember the day he had Post-It notes stuck all over him? One time he was swinging from a string across the room."
I'm amazed how they remember everything about our little visitor who might be in our classroom for about 15 days. (But we can't seem to remember the differences between vowels and consonants.)

To be honest, each year I consider not having Bellzzy return to our classroom. He is a distraction. I feel compelled to use every second I have with students productively. We have to spend the first couple of minutes in each group looking for the Elf each day. I have to make sure the Elf has a new spot each day. In the middle of lessons someone will yell out, "Bellzzy just moved his head. I saw it." It's kind of a pain.

...and then the magic happens. Bellzzy arrives, and I have students who can't wait to get to reading class. They make predictions about where Bellzzy might be today. They'll run into class with excitement and anticipation. I'll see 4th graders tiptoe over to our class elf and whisper secrets. Kindergarteners are called to action to solve Bellzzy's problem when a classmate accidentally touches the elf. They write him notes. They walk over and proudly show Bellzzy the work they have completed.
Bellzzy is hurt. Best friend Bellzzy.

The love my students have for Bellzzy helps me remember the magic of childhood. The holidays can be stressful for adults and kids, but it is also a magical time. That silly little elf helps me remember to embrace the magic of the holidays. I'm reminded that my students are kids, not mini-adults. They see the world through the lens of magic as long as we allow them to. How can I continue to embrace the magic of childhood when the holidays are over? That's my goal as we return back to school in a couple of days.

January, February, March, April, and May need to be just as magical as December.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Staff Book Club Fever, 1793

Lincoln Staff Book Clubs are up and running again. We are reading Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson for our November book discussions. Book club members read the first half of the book with the task of reading and thinking about what they were doing as readers. My goal was to have us think about the skills we are using as proficient readers when approaching a historical fiction text. When we think about what we do as readers we are able to share that thinking with students.

Fever 1793 is a great book, and it has given us a fabulous story to talk about. Here are a couple of comments book club members made about their thinking as readers.

  •  "I needed to do lots of visualizing in the beginning...I noticed myself reread tons in the beginning.  Once I got into the story then I started predicting what would happen next and predicting how I think the book might end."
  •  "I noticed myself relating this story to parts of the Framework for Poverty book...I could really feel what Matilda was feeling during this time in the story! "
  • "I am also finding myself looking up some of the vocab words. "
  • "I also did lots of visualizing in this book. The author did a great job of providing details so you could really see/feel what was going on... I loved the banter between Matilda and her mother. I could “see” them arguing.   I know this is based on real events but I ”googled” a couple of things to see if they were real such as the Blanchard hot air balloon (real event in Philadelphia).  I didn’t know they had them back in 1793."
  • "I noticed myself reading and rereading details about the setting and trying to get a strong visualization about the setting and the people (what the surroundings look like, what the people might be wearing, tasks they are doing). "
Readers are thinkers. Teachers reading YA novels are thinking about the skills they are using as readers.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree is the newest release from Katherine Appelgate, award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan. This tale of friendship, community, and acceptance is told from the point of view of Red, neighborhood oak tree. Red is known to the neighborhood as the wishtree, because each spring adults and children tie ribbons, scraps of fabric, and even underwear that contain wishes onto Red. This tradition hasn't been a problem until recently. Red and his animal friends work together help the people in the neighborhood. (I don't want to tell too much about the plot, because I don't want to give away too much.)
I think this book make a perfect read aloud for grades 1-6. The chapters are relatively short and manageable length for readers. The characters are engaging and speak to issues we unfortunately address each day. I can just imagine the thoughtful discussions that would come from discussions about Red and the characters in Wishtree.  Classroom teachers and librarians need to read Wishtree in order to be able to talk about it and recommend it to that special reader.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (part 1)

      Early this year I fell in love with The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. In March I read the book and immediately felt I needed to tell all my other reading friends about it. I read it with other teachers in our staff book club. (You can read all about that here.) I purchased a copy for each of my fourth graders, and we read it together before they graduated from Lincoln Elementary. We didn't understand how a mother could be so cruel to her daughter, Ada. We were touched by the growth Ada made when she was able to escape her mother's cruelty while facing the problems of World War II England. We were so disappointed when the story ended. There were so many questions related to the characters that were left unanswered.
      We were elated to hear that Kimberly Brubaker Bradley was releasing a sequel to The War that Saved My Life in October. Hopefully our questions would be answered. Would Ada receive surgery to repair her clubfoot? Would Ada's mom allow her and Jamie to remain with Susan? What would happen to Butter? How would the town survive WWII?
     Yesterday I was able to get my hands on The War I Finally Won. I am on page 11 of the book, and I have really mixed feelings. I can't wait to keep reading, but I have such strong feelings about how I think Ada's story should turn out. Will I be disappointed with the sequel? I really hope not.
     As a reader I'm suggesting you do two things-

  • First, read The War that Saved My Life. Tell me what you think. 
  • Second, follow up by reading The War I Finally Won
Happy Reading!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Burkins and Yaris, LIVE!!!

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris speak about next generation reading instruction. They are powerful duo. It was evident that they work well as a team, and they truly believe in pushing our thinking and teaching in order to do our best work.

My mind if so full of great ideas I want to share, but let's just start with three.
  1. A balanced reading process is as important as level.  Students should have balance between using print and meaning in their reading processes. Students who rely on either print or meaning at the expense of the other will not be able to sustain comprehension and growth. My goal as a teacher should be to realize when students do not have print and meaning balance and intervene at that point.
  2. Am I maximizing the gradual release of responsibility? Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading allow a gradual release of responsibility from teacher instruction to students independently using the skills they have been taught. Guided reading should be the opportunity to see if students can use the skills that have been taught in read aloud and shared reading. "Guided reading should look as much like independent reading as possible."
  3. "The brain that does the work is the brain that does the learning" by David Sousa. When I can release responsibility and problem solving over to the students, they will be the ones learning.
What's my plan?
  • Video tape myself during small group today. (Yikes!) Am I leading students to the problem solving situations, or am I allowing them to problem solve through the difficulties that arise?
  • Continue to read Who's Doing the Work.