being a teacher, new year, picture books

My Favorite Back to School Picture Books for 2019

One of my favorite parts of our classroom is our use of picture books to create community, to settle into routines, to get to know each other, and so much more.  This means I am always searching for great new picture books to share during those first few weeks and why not share those.  Some of these are new, some are older, but here is a discussion of what I  will be sharing and why.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins will be our first day read aloud (I think) because it is funny and also because we can talk about some expectations we may have when it comes to our community.  When we can laugh a bit together, it helps ease some of the anxiety that there inevitably is wrapped up in the first (and sometimes many) days of school.

Consent is something I really want to weave throughout the year because there are so many aspects to it that impacts our students.  That’s why we will use Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller to lead us into a conversation about consent as modeled by Elizabeth Kleinrock.  

Being an immigrant and a child who moved a lot means that there were a lot of new days at schools.  As we start our identity work, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez is used as a mirror text for me, something that speaks to a part of my identity because I have the name teachers have to think about how to pronounce, because I didn’t speak the language, because I never knew who would sit with me and what they would think of my food.  

I was so excited about the new Pigeon book to come out and this one is perfect for discussing emotions regarding going to school.  In The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems we get to see how Pigeon feels about going to school which may mirror the feelings of some of our students as well.  This is, thus, a great conversation starter about how school makes us feel as we start to think about identity.

Independent reading is a cornerstone of our classroom and so using How to Read A Book by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Melissa Sweet will fit perfectly in with the conversation about books and how they impact us both positively and perhaps even negatively.  This will be the invitation into how we book shop.

The story of football player and reader, Malcolm Mitchell, is one that I share every year with students and so reading his picture book The Magician’s Hat  is the logical next step.  It is always interesting to see a few kids start to let their guard down about reading books because of him.  

Inquiry is at the heart of our year together in my plans, so I want to use Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s great new picture book Why to discuss what it means to pursue answers and ask many questions.  I like how the book also shows that sometimes there are no answers but there always more questions.

Another picture book to use as we launch inquiry is Does it Fart: A Kid’s Guide to the Gas Animals Pass by Nick Caruso & Dani Rabaiotti illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths. This new picture book is a great way to show how a single question can offer a lot of information and how we can navigate all of that. It is also funny, which is a nice juxtaposition to some of the heavier work we will be doing.

What do we need when we write? I may teach 7th graders but that doesn’t mean that they embrace writing or even know what to add in to their writing, so Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davis will be a great reminder to the writing process.

Because I haven’t met my students, this is a tentative list. A few of these I will for sure use, some I may or may not, and then are many others that I may use after I meet the kids. There are so many amazing ways to start a conversation, courtesy of the picture books that are created. I cannot wait to uncover which ones we need.

And then we launch into Memoir and Personal Essays where the books I am sharing are on a another list that can be found right here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.

books, picture books, writing, Writing Identity

A Few Picture Books to Teach Memoir

We are starting the year, and the creation of our writing portfolio, with a unit focused on memoir and personal essay. I am hoping that in this unit, the students will start to share parts of their writing identity through discussion of what makes them a writer or not, the erules of writing and which we need to break, as well as experimentation with writing based in their own lives.

I have been gathering memoirs and personal essays for a while now, trying to focus on stories that may enrich their understanding of how others see the world so that they in turn can focus on their own lives.

As always, our trusted picture books are part of the mentor text collection that will surround students as we embark into this work, so here are the ones I have pulled so far that focus on small moments and written in 1st person. While some of these are true memoirs, others are texts I can use as models despite them not being true stories.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and edited by Sara Jane Boyers
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I will add more as I pull them, especially newer books to use. If you would like to see other lists of favorite books, go here.

books, picture books, writing, Writing Identity

A Few Picture Books for Discussing the Writing Process

As I get ready to embark on another year of teaching English, I have been learning more about the writing process and the specific skills that I need to teach in order to help my students change or strengthen their experience with writing. Within the pages of professional development books I have found so much inspiration for how to create a better experience, hopefully, for kids. And so when I went to my classroom today, I pulled a few great picture books that I plan on sharing and showcasing to students to help them discuss the supposed rules of writing and how we can break them to create our a unique written piece. Here are some of the ones I pulled.

The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Hannah Marks is a newer picture book that breaks the fourth wall. While it tries to set up the problem of the story, panda quickly realizes that he is supposed to be the problem but he does not want to be.

Ideas are All Around by Philip C. Stead is a great book to share when someone tells you they have no ideas. Perhaps they need to take some time to look around and then see what they can come up with.

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett is a great picture book to use with kids that feel they have no ideas because it shows the legitimacy of starting from something known and making it your own. Plus, this book is just a fun read!

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davis is perfect for thinking of how we craft stories and the elements we need.  The illustrations are playful and the story itself is informational and whimsical.

I wonder how many Mac Barnett books I have featured on this blog, his How This Book Was Made illustrated by Adam Rex is perfect for discussing writer’s and illustrator’s process.   I am so thankful for their genius.

I love how I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino urges us to think of how far stories have traveled and how they shape our society.  I love the illustrations paired with the unfolding of story, fantastic for setting up writer’s workshop at any age.

This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else) is laugh out loud funny.  I especially enjoyed the interplay between the author and the panda.  Kids are sure to appreciate the message but also how well it is portrayed; who really creates the story and how can we co-create?

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The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski is beautiful both in text and in the illustrations.  Using a book whose words fall out as a way to discuss imagination is a marvelous way to get students thinking more creatively.

In Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, we see how our pencil heroine has to navigate the perils of writing. relatable and wise, this is a great picture book.

Three PD books that are furthering my work at the moment are

Comprehension & Collaboration – Revised Edition by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels is helping me frame our year of writing as inquiry explorations.

Rozlyn Linder left us much too soon but her genius lives on in her book The Big Book of Details. If you have ever told a child to add more details but wasn’t quite sure how to have them do this, this is the book for you.

The importance of Why They Can’t Write by John Warner to my upcoming year of instruction is undisputed. I am re-working everything I am doing with writing because of this book.

books, global read aloud, Literacy, picture books, technology

The Global Read Aloud and Literacy Curriculum

One of the most common questions, I receive in regard to the Global Read Aloud is how, and whether, it integrates into a pre-existing literacy curriculum. Is this project merely a fun add-on or is there actual academic value in it that can be defended in case it needs to be?

While there would be little wrong with the program if it was “just” a fun add-on, the answer is that; yes, the Global Read Aloud has academic value, and not just for the students, but for the teachers themselves as well. So let’s break it down a bit.

Because the program centers around a read aloud, that means you have a mentor text. Many participants use the text as their central text while they work through lessons on story development and analysis. However, that is not all it is. The driving idea behind the project is to connect with others and the way that is accomplished is often through writing or speaking. This then adds another layer of meaning to the project because it allows us to center our teaching on not just text exploration and discussion, but idea creation and sharing with others. For the sake of ease, let’s dive into the Common Core Reading standards for a moment as most are covered through the GRA.

“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” Because the text is not only read aloud but also discussed with a worldwide audience, students are not only expected to understand the text but also be able to infer and formulate their opinions about the text in a way to effectively communicate with others.


“Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.” The whole notion of the read aloud is to understand the story, to predict what will happen, to discuss and share with others, and be able to hold the whole text in your mind while you continue to listen to the read aloud.


“Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” Tracking the characters along with the story allows us to work on stamina, to work on long-term predictions, and to get to know the characters and story on a deeper level.


“Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.” In order to convey nuance, the read aloud often lends itself well to studying the craft of writing as seen through word choice and figurative meaning.


“Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” One of the main points of the GRA is to dive into perspective, this does not only include the perspective of the narrators but also how our own perspective and lens impacts our understanding and experience with the text.

“Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” Because there are additional tools layered in with the Global Read Aloud, such as author videos, student presentations, and other content created by students around the world, this is a natural extension of the learning.


“Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” I love having my students discuss with others what they believe will happen in the story, as well as what the characters should do in order to stay within character. Diving deep into a character and then being able to articulate and argue one’s opinion is a vital skill.


“Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.” I always add in other sources and use the Global Read Aloud as a springboard into inquiry. Because the books chosen are often set in unfamiliar places or center around unfamiliar events, students naturally have a lot of questions. This is why the resource sharing is an incredibly powerful tool of the GRA.

This is just discussing the reading component, but the beauty of the GRA is that it is so much more than “just” reading. Coupling it with the collaborative global aspect offers us the opportunity for students to work on writing, on speaking and listening, on the act of collaboration itself, as well as meaningful technology integration. It allows us to focus on building an understanding of others, of developing empathy and activism. This is at the center of what great 21st century learning looks like; providing authentic and meaningful ways to engage in a world wide dialogue around relevant topics.

And for the teachers involved, it allows for new tools to be introduced, new connections to be forged that will bolster their teaching, as well as a meaningful way to dive into literacy that will model what literacy experiences should look like.

But don’t just take my word on it. I asked educators who have done the GRA to share how they integrated the project into their curriculum and here is what they said.

My district encourages the SAMR model for technology integration. Using technology to share ideas and collaborate with students from other parts of the country/world is a task that falls under the highest level of the SAMR model.

I use FlipGrid as a way to respond to the text while assessing speaking and listening standards, come to discussions prepared and adding to the discussion. I also assess postcards for adding media to support text. In addition to literacy, GRA really fits into our S.S. theme of world regions and cultures.

GRA works across all levels, promotes excellent collaboration, learning styles, communication, technology integration and global connections. The teacher has the flexibility to incorporate using standards/skills that he/she sees fit. I’ve shared about it only positively.

Refugee was a huge addition to my 7/8 curriculum last fall, and I’d wager that it was an experience that would be at the top of the list for what kids will remember from my class. We use a workshop model, largely, and so the chapters would be built in as model texts for minilessons in reading and writing workshop. We’d do quickwrites about character development, inferences, vocabulary in context, to name a few . . . Most important to me, however, was just the chance to share a terrific story and know it was also happening in classrooms around the world – so powerful!

We were asked this year to use a read aloud to model fluency and what a reader is thinking while they read. Our 6th graders seem to think letting the words pass through the eyeballs without going to the brain is sufficient, and we are trying to change that perception. Two of us could attest to its effectiveness due to GRA. We did Refugee this year and it opened up all sorts of thinking and discussion.

At the end of Refugee, I had them create one pagers, and I met individually to discuss questions related to the book and standards. For instance, what was the theme, how do you know, how did it develop through the story. What was your favorite scene and why was it important to the whole story. Really just took a look at State standards and created questions. Then, we followed up with self-selected research topics related to the story. Also, brought in non-fiction pairings to add to depth of topics.

It’s the epitome of 21st century skills – the kids have to communicate and collaborate with others around the world; they think critically about meaningful issues that impact their peers; they come up with creative projects and responses. They’re also highly engaged with a great text.all great things!! 

It lends itself SO well to standards and curriculum!! I teach 1-2 on a loop and did A Boy Called Bat and before that the BFG! Asks and answers questions for sure, technology (connecting with other classes), social studies and map skills (finding new friends on the map)….not to mention that they LOVE reading and get interested in authors and their other books!!!

I teach in South Africa and participated in GRA for the first time last year. It was the highlight of the year. Our school year starts in Jan and my present class have a countdown going for when they can start GRA. I integrated Refugee into all subjects I teach. The book became real and even more so with the global connections and sharing we made. 21st Century teaching is all about communication, collaboration and creative thinking. This is exactly what GRA does.

It is so important that students learn of different cultures in our ever changing world. We use the Lucy Calkin’s UOS for our literacy block. We read the book aloud as the read aloud time for the day and it reinforced the skills being taught in the workshop that dealt with social issues. We also hit so many listening and speaking goals by connecting through Flip Grid and Google Hangouts with a global audience for both. We learned about author’s trade through our weekly videos we watched made by the author. We wrote authentically with sharing our thoughts on Padlet and posting on social media under the guidance of our teachers and me the librarian. We gained knowledge and empathy for what people in other cultures across the world might experience through hyperdocs created by educators to be used to help us learn vocabulary and history about the culture of the people in the books we shared.

I’ve been able to integrate the picture books into the standards we’re teaching during that time. Since it’s so close to the beginning of the year, it’s your basic story elements.

And so, much like I have said before; why take the time to do the GRA? Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin.

To sign up for this year’s incredible project, go here. It kicks off September 30th!

books, picture books

Best Books of 2019 So Far

Today marks my last school day with students and as we gathered many asked me what my favorite book of the year was. As you can see, I cannot just pick one. So here it is; all the books I have loved since January 1st. While most of these are out, some of these are only available for pre-orders. These books moved me, changed me, delighted me, and impacted the reading journey I am. Thank you to all of the creators.

Picture Books

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The Bell Rang by [Ransome, James E.]


Early Readers

Middle Grade

My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder
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Redwood and Ponytail by KA Holt

Young Adult


Non-Fiction

books, Literacy, picture books, Reading

A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

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Yup – two books about the incredible Katherine Johnson
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Technically not nonfiction but it introduces/reminds students to Wilma Rudolph
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Technically not a person
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Technically not nonfiction but representation matters as far as stories
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression
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By no means is this an exhaustive list. We also have some of the picture books left out from last month that feature courageous women. If I had more space, I would have any more. Which are your favorite picture books for March?