Using Picture Books in the Middle School Classroom

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We have hundreds of picture books in our classroom.  Ranging from board books, yes, books meant to be handled by babies, to beautifully illustrated picture book versions of classic stories; ours is a picture book classroom.  And while I have written extensively about the power of picture books and how it can be used to hook resistant readers, to build a reading community, and all of the other incredible benefits of having them as part of our reading community, I have not really written about the usage of picture books as mentor texts.  That is, until now, so here you are, some of the ways we use picture books to teach different concepts.

Thematic statements

Using a picture book as an example, see my list here, we read one aloud and work through the example together.  While many of my students can easily pick up on the theme “word” (Death, love, freedom), they have a much harder stretching that into an actual thematic statement.  So rather than just death, they have to write something along the lines of “In the picture book, Ida Always, the text is used to illustrate that the fear of death should not stand in the way of creating lasting bonds.”  While this may seem hard at first, the idea of doing this work with a picture book, rather than a longer book, alleviates some of the stress that my students have with the analytical work being done.  After we write our thematic statement and turn it into a full paragraph, the students are then given a stack of picture books to choose from to practice on their own.  This is, therefore, a way to assess their understanding without having to use a common text.  Students can then either hand in their thoughts as a written piece of work or choose to discuss it with me or record it using their device.

Writers Craft

The writing skills used in a great picture book are worthy of our close analysis.  I love finding a stack of small moment picture books and then having students really take the writing apart.  How did the author move the story along with such few pages?  If we were to remove the images would the story still stand on its own?  Why?  Other questions can be:

  • How does the author transition time or setting?
  • How the author situates us?
  • How is the character described?
  • How are the words further explained through the illustrations?

These are just a few examples of separate lessons that can be done through a lense of writer’s craft.

Non-Fiction Focus

We have written nonfiction picture books in the past and one of my greatest joys is to get students read some of the incredible nonfiction picture books we have in our collection.  I think of books like Pink is for Blobfish, Growing Up Pedro, Gorillas, Giant Squid, or How to Be an Elephant.  These authors breathe life into their nonfiction texts and so I ask my students to study their craft.  How did they take all of this research and create something so accessible yet information-filled?  It is wondrous to see the lightbulb go off for my students when they can see what I mean right in the text.

Fluency and Expression

One of our favorite units of the year is when all of our students perform plays based on Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie books.  It is incredible to see these sometimes very cool 7th graders, truly connect with their silly side and go for it in their performance.  Reading aloud picture books, performing them, and putting your heart into it helps with all public speaking skills.

Introductory texts. 

In order for us to go deeper with text analysis and discussion, I need my students to sometimes gain some confidence.  Picture books are not scary.  They are inviting to kids.  So as we begin the year with an introduction or reminder of the signposts as discussed in the book Notice and Note, I use picture books to introduce every single signpost.  (To see the lists go here).  It helps me break it down simply for kids, to give them confidence, and then also to be able to transfer it into their own reading.

Inferring.

One of my biggest tools for boosting inference skills is to use wordless picture books.  After all, it is hard to read books like Unspoken or The Whale and not have an opinion on what just happened.  Another reason I love wordless picture books is that it levels the playing field for a lot of our kids.  They don’t have to decode the words to get to the story but instead have to decode the images.  I have found that some of my most vulnerable readers are incredibly good at this as this is one of the reading survival strategies they use daily.

As you can see, picture books are not just for show, and yet, even if they were, I would be ok with that.  After all, how many times does a child just need to fall into the pages of a picture book to remember the magic that reading itself?  What an incredible gift all of these authors and illustrators give us when they decide to spill their ideas into a picture book.

To see all of our favorite picture books, go here or follow me on Instagram for “live” recommendations of books.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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Great Picture Books for Small Moment Stories

As we dive into our first fictional writing unit, I am reminded that sometimes kids don’t know how to move their story along.  So of course, what better time than to read some more picture books to remind them of the amount of action needed for a short story.  I dug through my shelves today and pulled a few favorites.  Here they are.


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Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank.

Plot Description:

Market is very crowded.
Mama is very busy.
Baby is very curious.
When Baby and Mama go to the market, Baby is so adorable that the banana seller gives him six bananas. Baby eats one and puts five in the basket, but Mama doesn’t notice. As Mama and Baby wend their way through the stalls, cheeky Baby collects five oranges, four biscuits, three ears of sweet corn, two pieces of coconut . . . until Mama notices that her basket is getting very heavy! Poor Baby, she thinks, he must be very hungry by now!

 

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Shhh!  We have a Plan by Chris Haughton

Four friends creep through the woods, and what do they spot? An exquisite bird high in a tree! “Hello birdie,” waves one. “Shh! We have a plan,” hush the others. They stealthily make their advance, nets in the air. Ready one, ready two, ready three, and go! But as one comically foiled plan follows another, it soon becomes clear that their quiet, observant companion, hand outstretched, has a far better idea.

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Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

This is an extraordinary new picture book about a little girl who cocoons her cold, grey town in joy and warmth…and brightly coloured yarn! On a cold, dark day in a dull, grey town, little Annabelle discovers a box of brightly coloured yarn. She knits a cosy jumper to keep herself nice and toasty warm and finds, to her surprise, that she still has yarn left over. So she decides to knit her dog a jumper too but – hang on a second – she STILL has extra yarn! Annabelle knits and knits and, soon, she’s blanketed the entire town in a rainbow of colour, knitting away the dreary iciness that grips it. Her prodigious status spreads far and wide. It doesn’t take long for the evil Archduke to set his beady eyes upon Annabelle’s magical box of yarn but, little does he know, you have to have a little bit of magic inside your heart for it to work..

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A Bike Like Sergio’s by Marybeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones

Ruben feels like he is the only kid without a bike. His friend Sergio reminds him that his birthday is coming, but Ruben knows that the kinds of birthday gifts he and Sergio receive are not the same. After all, when Ruben’s mom sends him to Sonny’s corner store for groceries, sometimes she doesn’t have enough money for everything on the list. So when Ruben sees a dollar bill fall out of someone’s purse, he picks it up and puts it in his pocket. But when he gets home, he discovers it’s not one dollar or even five or ten—it’s a hundred-dollar bill, more than enough for a new bike just like Sergio’s! But what about the crossed-off groceries? And what about the woman who lost her money?

 

When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they can’t bear to leave their beloved cat, Kunkush, behind. So they carry him with them from Iraq to Greece, keeping their secret passenger hidden away.

But during the crowded boat crossing to Greece, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs from the chaos. In one moment, he is gone. After an unsuccessful search, his family has to continue their journey, leaving brokenhearted.

A few days later, aid workers in Greece find the lost cat. Knowing how much his family has sacrificed already, they are desperate to reunite them with the cat they love so much. A worldwide community comes together to spread the word on the Internet and in the news media, and after several months the impossible happens—Kunkush’s family is found, and they finally get their happy ending in their new home.

 

Jameson only ever wears green pants. When he wears green pants, he can do anything. But if he wants to be in his cousin’s wedding, he’s going to have to wear a tuxedo, and that means black pants. It’s an impossible decision: Jameson would love nothing more than to be in his cousin’s wedding, but how can he not wear green pants? Will Jameson turn down this big honor, or will he find a way to make everyone happy, including himself?
A young astronaut is absolutely sure there is life to be found on Mars. He sets off on a solitary mission, determined to prove the naysayers wrong. But when he arrives, equipped with a package of cupcakes as a gift, he sees nothing but a nearly barren planet. Finally, he spies a single flower and packs it away to take back to Earth as proof that there is indeed life on Mars. But as he settles in for the journey home, he cracks open his cupcakes—only to discover that someone has eaten them all!
Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!
Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. “Looks easy,” says Jabari, watching the other kids take their turns. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board.

Sangoel is a refugee. Leaving behind his homeland of Sudan, where his father died in the war, he has little to call his own other than his name, a Dinka name handed down proudly from his father and grandfather before him.

When Sangoel and his mother and sister arrive in the United States, everything seems very strange and unlike home. In this busy, noisy place, with its escalators and television sets and traffic and snow, Sangoel quietly endures the fact that no one is able to pronounce his name. Lonely and homesick, he finally comes up with an ingenious solution to this problem, and in the process he at last begins to feel at home.

Seven year-oldInnosanto’s father, a famous Indonesian playwright, is in trouble with the government for his newest play’s unfavorable portrayal of governmental power and corruption. After a rousing performance at a large theater complex which also houses the Jakarta Planetarium, Innosanto’s father manages to sneak out of town to avoid arrest while Innosanto and his mother spend an exciting night sleeping under the stars in the Jakarta Planetarium.

 Ida, Always by Caron Lewis and Charles Santoso.

Gus lives in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city, and he spends his days with Ida. Ida is right there. Always.

Then one sad day, Gus learns that Ida is very sick, and she isn’t going to get better. The friends help each other face the difficult news with whispers, sniffles, cuddles, and even laughs. Slowly Gus realizes that even after Ida is gone, she will still be with him—through the sounds of their city, and the memories that live in their favorite spots.

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison.

Paula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield

One day, a bear cub finds something strange and wonderful in the forest. When he touches the keys, they make a horrible noise. Yet he is drawn back again and again. Eventually, he learns to play beautiful sounds, delighting his woodland friends.
Then the bear is invited to share his sounds with new friends in the city. He longs to explore the world beyond his home, and to play bigger and better than before. But he knows that if he leaves, the other bears will be very sad . . .

Ferocious Fluffity written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Henry Cole

Mr. Drake’s second grade class has a new class pet. Fluffity appears to be a cute and docile hamster—but the kids soon discover that she is not the cuddly pet they expected. From the moment her cage door opens, Fluffity becomes FEROCIOUS—biting and chasing everyone down the hall and into the library! Will the class be able to tame this beast and bring peace back to their school?

Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won’t understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom.

Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs.

 

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case.  being yourself can be hard when you society will judge you but this book is a must add for any classroom.

Jacob loves playing dress-up, when he can be anything he wants to be. Some kids at school say he can’t wear “girl” clothes, but Jacob wants to wear a dress to school. Can he convince his parents to let him wear what he wants?

 

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La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal

El príncipe knows this girl is the one for him, but, as usual, his mother doesn’t agree.

The queen has a secret test in mind to see if this girl is really a princesa.

But the prince might just have a sneaky plan, too . . .

 

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Rice and Rocks by Sandra L. Richards and Megan Kayleigh Sullivan 

Giovanni’s friends are coming over for Sunday dinner, and his grandmother is serving rice and beans. Giovanni is embarrassed he does not like ‘rice and rocks’ and worries his friends will think the traditional Jamaican dish is weird. But his favorite Auntie comes to the rescue. She and Giovanni’s pet parrot, Jasper, take him on a magical journey across the globe, visiting places where people eat rice and rocks.

 

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Ish by Peter Reynolds

Ramon loved to draw. Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.

Drawing is what Ramon does. It�s what makes him happy. But in one split second, all that changes. A single reckless remark by Ramon’s older brother, Leon, turns Ramon’s carefree sketches into joyless struggles. Luckily for Ramon, though, his little sister, Marisol, sees the world differently. She opens his eyes to something a lot more valuable than getting things just “right.”

 

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Billy’s Booger by William Joyce 

Billy loves to draw. He draws on books and on his homework and even on his math tests—he might not get the answer right, but doesn’t it look swell sitting in a boat at sea? His teacher doesn’t think so, and neither does the principal. But the librarian has an idea that just might help Billy better direct his illustrative energies: a book-making contest!

Billy gets right to work, reading everything he can about meteors, mythology, space travel, and…mucus? Yep, his book is going to be about the world’s smartest booger, who stays tucked away until needed—say, to solve multiplication problems, or answer questions from the President. Billy’s sure his story is a winner. But being a winner doesn’t mean you always win.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

Morris Lessmore loved words.
He loved stories.
He loved books.
But every story has its upsets.
Everything in Morris Lessmore’s life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds.
But the power of story will save the day.

 

Ever wonder where this game comes from?  Here is the origin story.
An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.

Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

La Paz is a happy, but noisy village. A little peace and quiet would make it just right.
So the villagers elect the bossy Don Pepe as their mayor. Before long, singing of any kind is outlawed. Even the teakettle is afraid to whistle!

But there is one noisy rooster who doesn’t give two mangos about this mayor’s silly rules. Instead, he does what roosters were born to do.

He sings:
“Kee-kee-ree-KEE!”

There are many more, but I thought I would share a few.  happy reading and if you are looking for more of our favorite books, go here. 
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

A Few Books about 9/11

Monday marks another anniversary of 9/11, a tragic day in American history.  As I prepare my lesson for Monday, I am so thankful to the authors that have made it easier for us to discuss the events of 9/11 with our students through the books they write.  I thought it would be nice to have a resource here, in case you need a few book ideas for your library.

Picture Books:

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman was new to me this year.  A mighty little story indeed.

From Goodreads:

This is the inspiring true story of the John J. Harvey—a retired New York City fireboat reinstated on September 11, 2001. Originally launched in 1931, the Harvey was the most powerful fireboat of her time. After the September 11 attacks, with fire hydrants at Ground Zero inoperable and the Hudson River’s water supply critical to fighting the blaze, the fire department called on the Harvey for help. There were adjustments—forcing water into hoses by jamming soda bottles and wood into nozzles with a sledgehammer—and then the fireboat’s volunteer crew pumped much-needed water to the disaster site. The John J. Harvey proved she was still one of New York’s Bravest!

I have read aloud The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein the last three years.  It is a powerful reminder of what there was and now what there isn’t.

From Goodreads:

In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. This picture book captures the poetry and magic of the event with a poetry of its own: lyrical words and lovely paintings that present the detail, daring, and–in two dramatic foldout spreads– the vertiginous drama of Petit’s feat.

I added 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah to our library last year.  It is a powerful story that deserves to be read aloud any time of year, not just in honor of 9/11.

From Goodreads:

In June of 2002, a very unusual ceremony begins in a far-flung village in western Kenya. An American diplomat is surrounded by hundreds of Maasai people. A gift is about to be bestowed upon the American men, women, and children, and he is there to accept it. The gift is as unexpected as it is extraordinary.
A mere nine months have passed since the September 11 attacks, and hearts are raw. Tears flow freely from American and Maasai as these legendary warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away.
Word of the gift will travel newswires around the globe. Many will be profoundly touched, but for Americans, this selfless gesture will have deeper meaning still. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope and friendship.

 

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I do not own The Little Chapel that Stood by A.B. Curtis myself as I have yet to find a copy in my price range, but I hope to one day have it in our library.

From Goodreads:

The beautifully illustrated book tells of the historic chapel less than 100 yards from the Twin Towers that miraculously survived on 9-11. Firemen hung their shoes on the fence and raced to help the people in the towers: Oh what gallant men did we lose/Who never came back to get their shoes. The story of terror overcome by courage and bravery that teaches us no one is too small to make a difference.

 

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The Man in the Red Bandana by Honor Crowther Fagan and illustrated by John Crowther is the picture book I will read aloud this year.

From Goodreads:

When Welles Crowther was a young boy, his father gave him a red bandanna, which he always carried with him. On September 11, 2001, Welles Remy Crowther saved numerous people from the upper floors of the World Trade Center South Tower. “The Man in the Red Bandanna” recounts and celebrates his heroism on that day. Welles’ story carries an inspirational message that will resonate with adults as well as young children.

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Published last year, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez is another remarkable picture book of resilience and what can come from a tragedy.

From Goodreads:

There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something special about the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven from New York to a foundry in Louisiana. Metal workers heated the beam to a high, high temperature. Chippers and grinders, painters and polishers worked on the beam for months. And then, seven and a half tons of steel, which had once been a beam in the World Trade Center, became a navy ship’s bow. This powerful story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from a devastating event.

Chapter Books:

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a wonderful middle-grade book that shares the experience of 9/11 from four different perspectives around the country.

From Goodreads:

Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.

But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.

These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined. Award-winning author Nora Raleigh Baskin weaves together their stories into an unforgettable novel about that seemingly perfect September day—the day our world changed forever.

 

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The Red Bandana by Tom Rinaldi is the young reader’s edition of the same adult book.  It is quite a remarkable read of one man’s courage and ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.

From Goodreads:

On a day that changed a nation, one young man found his calling.

Welles Crowther didn’t see himself as a hero. He was just an ordinary kid who played sports, volunteered for the fire department in his town, and eventually headed off to college and then to Wall Street to start a career. Throughout it all, he always kept a red bandanna in his pocket, a gift from his father when he was little.

On September 11, 2001, Welles was at his job on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were attacked. What he did next would alter the course of many lives.

That day, the legend of the Man in the Red Bandanna was born.

I do so appreciate the 10 True Tales series and how they added Heroes of 9/11 by Allan Zullo to their collection.

From Goodreads:

When Captain Jay Jonas of the Fire Department of New York hears an emergency radio message about the World Trade Center, he has no idea of the terrible conditions he and his team will face. Arriving at the burning building, the firefighters must summon all their courage. On the same morning, just outside Washington, D.C., a jetliner piloted by terrorists slams into the Pentagon. Can Colonel Philip McNair save lives inside the flaming building?

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Lauren Tarshis does another great job with her research and storytelling in I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001.

From Goodreads:

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the fire department where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

Again geared toward a younger audience, America is Under Attack by Don Brown does a marvelous job of explaining everything in a kid understandable way all in the span of 64 pages.

From Goodreads:

On the ten year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, a straightforward and sensitive book for a generation of readers too young to remember that terrible day.

The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world forever. In the fourth installment of the Actual Times series, Don Brown narrates the events of the day in a way that is both accessible and understandable for young readers. Straightforward and honest, this account moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the WTC site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings. Vivid watercolor illustrations capture the emotion and pathos of the tragedy making this an important book about an unforgettable day in American history.

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Geared toward middle school and up, The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner is unlike any 9/11 book I have read.  Part mystery and gripping tale, this story leaves you wanting more until the last page.

From Goodreads:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a NYC detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home?

Tom Roger’s book Eleven is my favorite 9/11 book, which is a weird thing to say.  The story just works so well, leaving your heart in a tight vise until the very last page.  This is also a very powerful read aloud for middle grade and middle school.

From Goodreads:
Alex Douglas always wanted to be a hero. But nothing heroic ever happened to Alex. Nothing, that is, until his eleventh birthday. When Alex rescues a stray dog as a birthday gift to himself, he doesn’t think his life can get much better. Radar, his new dog, pretty much feels the same way. But this day has bigger things in store for both of them.

This is a story about bullies and heroes. About tragedy and hope. About enemies with two legs and friends with four, and pesky little sisters and cranky old men, and an unexpected lesson in kindness delivered with a slice of pizza. This is Eleven: the journey of a boy turning eleven on 9/11.

Told in the present time Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes not only speaks of 9/11 but of family, of trauma, of hope.

From Goodreads:

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Dèja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

 

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With Their Eyes edited by Annie Thoms is an essay collection by high school students at Stuyvesant High School who witnessed the attack firsthand.

From Goodreads:

Tuesday, September 11, started off like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, located only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.

The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to start a new year. But within a few hours on that Tuesday morning, they would share an experience that would transform their lives—and the lives of all Americans.

These powerful essays by the students of Stuyvesant High School remember those who were lost and those who were forced to witness this tragedy. Here, in their own words, are the firsthand stories of a day we will never forget.

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I just ordered the 9/11 Report – the Graphic Adaptation for my own reading.  Created with the desire to have more people understand what the findings were of the report, this book is sure to keep older readers interested.

From Goodreads:

On December 5, 2005, the 9/11 Commission issued its final report card on the government’s fulfillment of the recommendations issued in July 2004: one A, twelve Bs, nine Cs, twelve Ds, three Fs, and four incompletes. Here is stunning evidence that Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, with more than sixty years of experience in the comic-book industry between them, were right: far, far too few Americans have read, grasped, and demanded action on the Commission’s investigation into the events of that tragic day and the lessons America must learn.

Using every skill and storytelling method Jacobson and Colón have learned over the decades, they have produced the most accessible version of the 9/11 Report. Jacobson’s text frequently follows word for word the original report, faithfully captures its investigative thoroughness and covers its entire scope, even including the Commission’s final report card. Colón’s stunning artwork powerfully conveys the facts, insights, and urgency of the original. Published on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, an event that has left no aspect of American foreign or domestic policy untouched, The 9/11 Report puts at every American’s fingertips the most defining event of the century.

I know I have missed some.  Which other books are out there to help us teach 9/11?

PS:  To see all of our favorite books, go here.

 

Great Picture Books to Inspire Hope in the World

It seems that these are dire times.  That hate, anger, and rage against others is more than the norm than ever.  I can tell you, going home to Denmark, many friends have asked me; what in the world is happening in America?  At times, it feels as if we are judged as a nation by the very loud actions of a few and so it comes down to the rest of us, those whose voices are for some reason not being heard to make sure that the America we know is one of love, of hope, of kindness.  A place where all can exist unafraid.  What better way to spread more kindness, love, and hope in the world with a few great picture books?

I wonder if there will ever be a time where I can read I Wish You More  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  (Author), Tom Lichtenheld  (Illustrator) without tearing up.  After all, Amy’s whole mission in life seemed to be to spread more love and happiness.  What better way to remind ourselves that this is what we should wish for everyone?
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator) continues to be a needed book.  We must teach children that their actions, even their unkind ones, have repercussions and that we all play a part in how we make others feel.  While this book does not offer up a happy ending, in my eyes, it offers up the perfect one.

My favorite Peter H. Reynolds book, which says a lot, is The North Star.  We follow the journey of a boy who goes on a windy path to get to where he needs to be.  I end every single year with a read aloud of this book because my students are on a journey that is just beginning, even if the future seems a bit unknown and sometimes scary.

Originally published in 1993, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is about to be reprinted in 2018 for its 25 year anniversary.  What a powerful picture book written by Maya Angelou using paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat to remind us to face our own fears.

When we learn about what others have accomplished and overcome sometimes our own troubles do not seem as scary.  I love Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics 
At times, the biggest reminder we need to not feel afraid is to be in the very moment we are in.  Now by Antoinette Portis is magnificent in its simplicity and powerful reminder of mindfulness, quiet, and patience.

 

 

While not out until February 2018, I wish Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill would be the very first read aloud in every single classroom.  We are so quick to tell children to be kind, but do they really know what that means?

Sometimes our best-laid plans and biggest dreams don’t turn out the way we had anticipated, so then what do we do.   In We’ll Paint the Octopus Red 

 

 

How can you find hope in a picture book about death?  In the Danish picture book Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved (Author), Charlotte Pardi (Illustrator), Robert Moulthrop (Translator) they manage to do just that.  While death is inevitable, how we feel about it is a choice.
Have we forgotten how to be united as a nation?  Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass  (Author), E.B. Lewis (Illustrator) shares a remarkable story that would be a great reminder to many.

 

Be a Friend by  Salina Yoon reminds us all to see past the obvious when looking for a friend.  After all, who doesn’t hope to meet joy?

 

While it is certain that all of Kathryn Otoshi’s books could be on this list, my favorite is One.  The book reminds us of what the power of one can do in the face of adversity.

 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald  (Author), Freya Blackwood (Illustrator) reminds us of the power of familiarity even when everything seems new and scary.  It is also a beautiful tale of friendship and reaching out to others.  

 

Sometimes the world is so scary that all we want to do is shut the door and protect our hearts.  The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers reminds us to not do that but to keep on loving even when we are afraid of our hearts breaking.

 

We are one, even when we are split, even when we are hurting, even when others seem hell-bent on splitting us apart.  One Today by Richard Blanco  (Author), Dav Pilkey (Illustrator) is the beautiful poem from President Obama’s second inauguration is the commemoration of the dreams so many of us carry for the United States.

 

A few great picture books to bring back hope, and love, and kindness.  What are your favorites? To see all of our favorite books, go here.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Some Favorite New Picture Books 2017 Part 2

 

We live a rich life of picture books.  Surrounded by stacks of amazing text that makes us wonder, that makes us laugh, and that makes us ponder our even stories; Picture books are one of the most important components of our reading lives both at home and at school.  And while I have read countless picture books since my last favorite post, there are some in particular that just keep circulating in my head.  Here they are to inspire reading and sharing for you.

Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro (Author), Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Illustrator).  I had this book book-talked to me and immediately placed it on my wish list.  Yes please to a bunny that sneaks into the library through the return slot because he needs his books.  Then Annie Silvestro contacted me and asked if I would like a copy of it, of course!  I was not disappointed.  What a great picture book to discuss the importance of library, to talk about book clubs and just to love reading.
A Perfect Day by Lane Smith is a great picture book to talk about perspective.  While almost all of the animals show how their day was ruined by the bear, the bear at the end shows us how his day was the most perfect day.  
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh came out a few years ago but has just made it into our library thanks to a grant I received.  This allegorical picture book is a must add for starting discussions about illegal border crossing and why anyone would risk everything to reach a better life.
Ame Dyckman continues to amaze me with her creativity.  This picture book made us laugh out loud since my own kids really do want a unicorn.  Be careful what you wish for.

The true story of a cat lost and then reunited tells the larger story of a family who had to flee the dangers of Iraq becoming one of the many thousands of refugee families traveling toward safety around the world.

 
Who cannot relate to just wanting to be yourself rather than being asked to change for others?
Kwame Alexander can do no wrong in our classroom.  I am therefore very grateful that he spearheaded this beautiful poetry collection as a way to get more students to discover poetry.  Remarkable and beautiful.
Several of Phil Bildner’s picture books are well-loved in our classroom, but he has outdone himself in his latest.  I am so grateful for a sports picture book that not only features friendship, hard work, but also two females.  There simply are not enough books out there featuring females in sports.
How to turn mistakes into masterpieces is the message of this picture book and what a wonderful message it is.
Can Peter Reynolds do no wrong?  As the mother of a happy dreamer, I got teary eyed reading this book.  How many of our kids need to hear their own amazing, sometimes overfilled brains, portrayed as something amazing and wonderful instead of something to be fixed?
What a great picture book to talk about what happens when we don’t pay attention to the world around us.
This picture book version of the book Wonder is on heavy rotation in our classroom,  And how can it not be?  The message of kindness, empathy and seeing others for everything they are is one we all need to be reminded of now and again.
I am a major fan of all of Josh Funk’s picture books but I think he may have outdone himself in this book.  While it is only available for pre-order right now, I have read an F&G aloud to my 7th graders and every single time they laugh.  I love how I can use this picture book as a way to discuss narrative technique as well.
A picture book about a whiny penguin?  Yes, please.  I also love how there is what we think is an Aha moment in it and then the penguin reverts right back to its old ways.  So fun to read and share.
Ever wonder why we play Rock, Paper, Scissors?  Look no further than this picture book for the hilarious made up back story behind the game.
Great picture book to use for teaching theme and also for sharing about our own fears, as well as how we can overcome them.
I love that this picture book shares the story of an extraordinary female architect and how she found her inspiration.  Too often our students are not exposed to stories like this.
I just discovered this book although it came out in 2008 and I am obsessed with having others include it in their library.  How do you describe the color of the rainbow to someone who cannot see it?  This picture book all in black and silver with raised images, text and Braille does just that.
A remarkable picture book that tells the tale of  Isatou Ceesay and how she envisioned a creative solution to the plastic that was burying her village.
Susan Hood continues to amaze me.  Again, a great picture book to discuss perspective and how everything is relative to each other.  So if you think you know opposites, think again.
There you have it, another batch of incredible picture books waiting for us to read and share them.  If you would like to stay up to date on recommendations, follow me on Instagram where I do just that.
If you are wondering what other books we love in room 235D, please go here.

85 Picture Books or Graphic Novels that Support Social Justice Teaching

A few weeks ago I was informed that I had been awarded a $1,000 impact grant from the EdCamp Foundation.  If you are not aware of this incredible grant opportunity, hurry over to their website and find out more, they are truly trying to help all educators reach their dreams!  While my heart nearly leaped out of my chest at the incredible news, I was not just thrilled because of the money, but because of the purpose of the grant; to get more picture books and graphic novels focusing on social justice issues into the hands of our students.  I have, therefore, spent the last few weeks researching which books to purchase and with the help of many incredible colleagues and resources shared, tonight I submitted my wish list with 85 titles on it.  I gladly shared the news on Twitter and then was asked to share it on here.

So what was my emphasis for this grant?  To broaden my students’ understanding of the world and to help them become more informed citizens.  We already incorporate lots of picture books, to see some of our favorites go here, and my students love graphic novels so it was a natural fit to focus on these two formats as a way to increase conversation, understanding, and also empathy.  While I know this list really only scratches the surface, it is a further commitment to the titles we already have, and so combining these books with all of the chapter books, picture books, and graphic novels we already have can only bolster the journey that our students are on; to become better human beings who understand the world more fully.

What does this list have?

An emphasis on #OwnVoices authors

An emphasis on typically marginalized populations

An emphasis on historical knowledge from a non-dominant narrative lens

And an emphasis on traditional roles being lived in non-traditional ways

I really tried to only purchase literature that has been vetted by others for authenticity, quality, and also non-harmful portrayal, however, I have not read all of these books myself yet, so if you see one that slipped through, please let me know.  Instead of doing the typical post here with all of the titles, I decided to instead just link to the list itself.  So here you are:  My list of 85 titles to promote a more empathetic world