My Final List of Favorite Picture Books for the Coming Year

A final post on some new favorite picture books before the year kicks off officially tomorrow.  I just received my final batch due to a grant from the Meemic Foundation who thought it was a delightful idea to purchase picture books for 7th graders.  (They have a ton of grants that are easy to write, you should totally check them out).  So without further ado, what shall we be exploring together in the coming weeks and months.

I have long been a loud fan of Bob Shea’s for a long time.  After all, he is the genius that wrote Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great so I had to get Ballet Cat The Totally Secret Secret.  It is laugh out loud funny.  And the best part is that I can completely relate to the story and so will my students.  Plus this will be perfect for acting out when we act out picture books at the end of the year.  Is it bad if I have started the countdown for the next book to come out in February?

We are the shark team at our school so when a fellow picture book lover suggested I get this non-fiction picture book called Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy I was sold.  Warning; this is a real book about sharks, and they eat seals, so your 6 year old may be slightly terrified.  I love the set up of this book and like I said, the illustrations are magnificent.  What an amazing way to marry facts and picture book.

I can always count on Jillian Heise for having great recommendations for picture books and this one was one of them.  Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen is one I think many of my students will gravitate toward with its quiet message.  I know I will e using it to facilitate deeper conversations about finding our own path in the world.

Another great recommendation from fellow picture book lovers was Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer.  This is one of those picture books I cannot wait for my students to read because I want to see their interpretation of it.  The illustrations and the text beckon you to wonder, and that is a great thing indeed.

Wild About Us by Karen Beaumont is a beautiful book in many ways.  The illustrations done by Janet Stevens pop off the page and catch your eye, but the message of the book is what really got me.  We all have things that we can pick apart, but what we do with those things is what matters.

Just finding the image of the cover of I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton makes me laugh.  Again an incredible non-fiction picture book that doesn’t scream non-fiction (not that there is anything wrong with non-fiction).  We read this a few times at home and then told everyone about it.  I cannot wait to see my students reaction to this book because you have to allow yourself to get a little bit silly.

Much to my surprise I was able to pick up a copy of Elwood Bigfoot Wanted:  Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum before its supposed release date.  I love this message of the story, especially as a way to discuss with kids about what we do to try to fit in.  And let’s admit it; Elwood is a really cute and funny Bigfoot.

Boats for Papa by Jessica Bagley is one that I am looking forward to reading and sharing with my students.  The simple story is one that many of my students can relate to as well as the ambiguity of the situation.  I love how this will help us discuss and understand that there are many correct interpretations of a story.

I happen to be a fan of both Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell so it was only natural that I added The Skunk to our collection.  I cannot wait for the discussion of how we make decisions and how little things can affect our life in a big way.

To see the lists from this summer and other years, make sure you go here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

We Are Ready

She was born weighing less than 4 pounds.  So fast that the nurse caught her, no cries.  I didn’t see her until hours later when we both had been stabilized.  I didn’t hold her for another 24 hours and even then it was just for the briefest of moments, after all, anything could make her vitals crash.  Our youngest daughter Augustine was born almost 10 weeks early.  For 6 days prior the hospital tried everything they could to stop her from arriving, but as we now know; when Augustine is ready to do something, she does it.

A few days into their attempt to stop labor, a doctor from the NICU visited me.  He told me that while they were hoping that these words were unnecessary, that if she came, they were ready.  That if she came, they had a room, they had a team, and they would do everything in their power to help her grow.  That she would be in the best of hands because this is what they did and this is what mattered to them.  He then told me of the difficulties that premature babies sometimes face, and how we wouldn’t know for a few years exactly what she might face.  That there were brain development steps that might be harder for her, but if that was the case, then they were ready, they would help her grow.

it felt like I had never changed a diaper before with her
it felt like I had never changed a diaper before with her

I start school in two days.  Every parent that sends their child into our classrooms is hoping we are ready.  That we will help their child grow.  No matter their start in life, no matter their previous years, no matter their summer.  They hope that we have a team that is ready to support, to nurture, and to give whatever is needed for their child to be successful, to be happy, and even to be protected.

So I tell myself that I am ready.  That previous years are now in the past and what matters now is the year we have ahead of us.  That I cannot determine how that child came to us, but that we can work with the child that arrived.  That I will fight for every child.  That I will see every child.  That I will support every child as they try to reach their goals.  That I will support every child even if I am not quite sure of an answer or what help they might need.   It is the least I can do.

As I tried to sleep those nights in the hospital, hoping that by morning my labor had stopped, the doctor’s words ran through my head.  I knew that if she came early, she would be in the best of hands, and that they would do everything in their power to help her.  And they did, and she grew, and after 6 weeks she came home.  Now 20 months later and the hospital tells me that she is perfectly average.  Perfectly normal.  And that she should be just fine.  And I know that we are so lucky and I am so thankful.  Because they were right; they were  ready and so are we.  Ready for whichever kids show up this year.

All 4; we are so lucky.
All 4; we are so lucky.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

Why My Classroom Has No Theme

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My first year of teaching I remember trying to create a theme for my room.  What would our classroom look like?  What teacher would I be known as?  Would I be the ocean teacher?  The movie teacher?  The zombie teacher (too scary)?  I asked my mentor finally for help and what she told me stuck with me throughout the years; don’t worry about a theme, worry about the kids.

And so I did.  And I never did get a theme.  Every year I thought that this would be the year that I would finally decorate and pull it together, but it just never happened.  Instead I filled it with books.  I filled it with blank walls.  Empty bulletin boards and room to breathe.  I thought I was a lost cause, the teacher with no theme, until I spoke about it a few weeks ago.  I was wrong, I do have a theme.

My theme is students.  My theme is room to invent.  My theme is books as they threaten to take over every single surface available.  My theme is fun.  My theme is flexible.  My theme is for any child that walks into our room to make this their room.

So I have no polka dots or pastel colors.  I have no chevron stripes (even though I love them).  I have no meaningful borders or fancy sitting areas.  I have furniture we can move and the space to do it.  That doesn’t mean I have a problem with those that spend so much time and so much money concocting a theme for their room.  It simply means that I am on a different path.  One that will never lead to my classroom being featured as something to emulate for its beautiful design.  One where I will always choose to spend my money on books rather than decorations.

Yet I do write this post with a few questions in mind to those who do have a theme.  Please ponder them if you will.  Does your theme allow for students to take over your room?  To leave their very own imprint or will their creativity only be shown in designated areas?  Do students feel like this is their room or does it say your name on the wall?  Does a sign above your door welcome them to your room?  Will boys feel welcome in your room?  Will girls?  Will those who do not agree with your theme still feel welcome?  Does your theme inspire all?  Does your theme and decorating leave room to grow?

If yes; thank you.  Thank you for creating a space that you and all of your students can breathe in, can work in, and can be themselves in.  Thank you for creating a space that allows students to flourish and strengthen themselves.  For creating a space where they feel welcome and that does not overwhelm their senses.  If no, then I have no advice, other than to think about it.  Look through the eyes of your students and see how they might feel.  See how your room may inspire or stifle them.

I posted pictures of my room earlier this summer and not much has changed.  I wait for my students to come in and make our room come alive.  Yet, I feel the guilt tugging at me from year’s prior wondering why my room doesn’t look ready.  Wondering why my room doesn’t look fancy?  Or cute?  Or has a theme so that students will know who I am as a teacher.  I guess they will just have to find out as we grow together, much like I will.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

How I Select A Picture Book For Our Classroom

Yesterday a new student wandered into our classroom with his parent and younger siblings; locker drop off was happening in preparation for the first day of school.  As I looked up something for him, I heard them excitedly talk about the books in our room.  “Here’s that one that you wanted to read…Oh, do you remember this series….”  And then they saw the picture books.  After all, they are hard to miss.  Right away the comments came, “Oh, I loved this one…”  “Have you seen this one, that looks fun…”  And so forth and I smiled ever so wide, because picture books once again have proven to be a way to connect in our classroom.

But how do you pick the right ones for your classroom?  How do you know which ones to get?  I make lists, as do many others, but how do I even know which to put on the list?  I thought a few helpful tips may be in order.

I am connected.  I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter  I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there.  I follow hashtags like #Titletalk, #pb10for10 and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know.  And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.

I keep a written list handy.  I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag.  I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject.  This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.

I read them beforehand, most of the time.  Many times we will wander to the nearest book store so that I can  browse the books before purchasing them.  How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…

Do I react to it in any way?  A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions?  All of these are things that I look for.

Is it easy to follow?  Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly.  At least most of them.  However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.

Is the language accessible?  Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels ranges from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?

What purpose does it have?  I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self connections, or conversation starters.  We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year.  But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood.  I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.

Will we read it more than once?  Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again.  Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story.  Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.

Do we have other works by the author?  My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible.  Some of our favorites are Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Sometimes I just take a chance on a book.  Sometimes I have no rhyme or reason for  what I bring in other than a small feeling that some kid at some point will connect with it.  I never know which picture book my students will love, so sometimes I just sit back and let them explore and then pay closely attention.  Then I go out and get more of those.

And, of course, I cannot write a post discussing picture books without sharing a few of my new favorites or ones that I cannot wait to get.

Laugh out loud funny, The Pretty, Pretty Bunny by Dave Horowitz is in my first day pile for kids to choose from.

The Promise by Nicola Davies is a beautiful tale of making a difference.  This would also be great for a science classroom.

I cannot wait to get Finding Winnie – The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  I wonder how many students will love this tale of the real Winnie the Pooh.

Why do I have a feeling that Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum will become a favorite of my students?

Picture books are a part of our tapestry and something that I am proud we use in our middle school.  I hope being vocal about the benefit of using picture books with older students will help others take the jump.  I got to discuss more of this in this article here.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

What We Need to Remember

image from icanread
image from icanread

The words seem to fall off the pages as I scroll through their answers.  The beginning seeds to what will become the kids that we will get to teach.  They speak of hope, of dreams, and wishes.  They speak of failures in the past, of words beyond their control, and actions they wish they could have protected their child from.  Some merely say they hope for a good year, while others ask us to please love their child, that they could really use someone more who cares.

We take these children for granted.  We take their dreams for granted.  Their hopes.  Their wishes.  We have them speak but then do not always listen.  We hurry so much at times in our urge to get to everything that we forget that we are not here to teach content, but here to teach children.

Yet the parents.  The guardians.  The ones that sit at home.  They tell us to please remember.  To please not forget, that that child we spoke of today in our meetings, that the child we mentioned to our families, that the child that kept us up thinking late last night, that child belongs to someone.  That at one point that child was so loved that the world seemed to stop for a moment and everything else fell away.  Even if life has changed by now.

So as we get ready for another year, please remember that we do not teach products.  We do not teach neat little boxes that will follow our every direction.  That we do not teach robots who will comply with our every whim.  We teach human beings, with all of their laughter, with all of their joy, but also with all of their anger, their confusion, their restlessness, and their dreams of something better.  Please don’t forget that.

Because from one parent to another.  From one teacher to another.  Sending your child to school and hoping that someone else will get them is one of the hardest things to do.  It’s one of the biggest leaps we take.  We hope with every inch of us that on that first day of school our child will come home with a smile on their face and not just talk about all of the great things they did but about how much they love their teacher.  How much they cannot wait to go back.

We hold the power to the future, we cannot forget that.  Even on our toughest day that child is someone else’s.  That child has dreams.  And that child needs us to love them.  Even when they don’t love themselves.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

My Favorite Reads of the Summer – Part 2

I have a week left of vacation; a week left to read as many books as possible.  A week left to try to get through my ever growing to-be-read pile.  This afternoon, I made a list for my best friend’s 7th grader of books he had to read, and I once again realized how lucky we are that we get to help students find amazing books.  And how lucky we are that authors continue to write such incredible tales.  So what are some more favorites from this summer?

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Thanks to Netgalley I just finished reading the wonderful The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.  I love the science woven into this thoughtful story about grief and trying to find your place in a world that seems hellbent on making it hard for you.  This is a Global Read Aloud 2016 contender.

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds has been in my TBR pile for a long time, but since it had a gun on the cover in a way I had kind if dismissed the book as being suitable for my 7th grade classroom.  Folks, do not let the cover stop you from reading this book, it is incredible, and do not let the cover stop you from adding this to your  middle school classroom, you need to read it, discuss it, and then share it with students.  The Boy in the Black Suit also by Jason Reynolds is another of my favorites and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers out there.  This is another Global Read Aloud 2016 contender.

Ruta Sepetys is a master story teller who proved her staying power with Between Shades of Gray.  She has done it again with Salt to the Sea.  This historical fiction novel based on one of the largest maritime disasters during WWII is full of suspense as well as well-developed characters and a story that keeps you turning pages.  Note, this book is for pre-order only right now, I was given an ARC at ILA.

Another magnificent historical fiction novel about Ada and the seemingly impossible odds she is trying to overcome during the evacuation of children from London during WWII.  The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is one to add to your classroom library from 4th grade and up.

Joelle Charbonneau, author of the great science fiction series The Testing, is back in full-force with this realistic fiction novel Need.  This was a page turner of the truest kind, so much so that I stayed up into the night so I could finish reading it.  Once again, this is more mature, and also only available for pre-order at the moment.  Since I read it on Netgalley, I have already placed my pre-order, this will be a huge hit in November with my 7th graders.

I have admire Holly Black’s vivid imagination ever since the incredible and terrifying The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.  That is why I was surprised that it took me such a long time to read her newer one The Darkest Part of the Forest.  It is so good, again, I read it one night. Scary and with some relationship stuff in it, but nothing too graphic, I had to read just one more page to see how it all would turn out.  This is one of those books that makes you admire writers even more because how do they ever come up with such amazing ideas?

So there you have it for now.  A few new favorites to add to your library, a few new favorites to share with students.  Happy reading everyone!

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.