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?

Literacy, picture books

Read Aloud a Picture Book a Day in Honor of Black History Month

As February approaches, I am scouring our classroom library to find the picture books that I will read aloud every day in honor of Black History month. I try to stay away from the most known stories, after all, if we are to truly celebrate Black excellence then it is important that my students can name more people than just Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks or Harriet Tubman. And yet, they also need to know these stories. And so for the 21 teaching days of February, I pulled 21 picture books, each featuring, perhaps, a story of someone that my students may not have heard of it. Each featuring something they should know more about. Something that may inspire them to ask more questions, to understand more about the world they live in.

I have pulled many more than this and every surface in here is filled with stories of those who have made our country what it is. I hope that our students will take a moment to reach out, read something, and learn something. It is only a small component of the ways Black History will be explored in our school.

In no special order, here are the picture books I plan on sharing with students. I have a few more purchases coming in, so these may change, but they are a start.  Which picture books do you plan on sharing?

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Other great resources that help me plan and think of what I can explore with students.

Poetry for Black History Month

Resources from Teaching Tolerance

PBS resources – including videos – to celebrate

Black History is Happening Now Spotify curation by Pharrell Williams

Finally, Black History month shouldn’t be the first time that students see collections of text that feature African American. I know it seems silly to say, but representation matters and it matters all of the time. As I pulled books for this read aloud collection, I had to skip great books because we had already shared those stories. This is how it should be every year in my classroom. So while I continue on my journey to do more and learn more, reading these stories aloud is one further step in my journey.

books, picture books

My Favorite Books of 2018

Another fantastic year of reading and yet I know there are so many books I have probably missed on this list. In the hundreds of books I got to experience this year, these are the ones that stood out. These are the ones that I hope others get to experience. While many were published in 2018, some were not and I am so glad I finally got to read them.

Picture Books Fiction

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Picture Book Non-Fiction

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Chapter Books – Middle Grade or Younger

Lu by Jason Reynolds

Wicked Nix by Lena Coakley and illustrated by Jaime Zollars

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi  (Author), Hatem Aly (Illustrator)

Wonderland by Barbara O’Connor (Author)

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden  (Author)

Courage by Barbara Binns

Minrs 3 by Kevin Sylvester (Final book of the Minrs trilogy)

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes 

Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Enginerds by Jarrett Lerner

Winnie’s Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut, art by Sophie Blackall

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Small Spaces by Catherine Arden

Lions and Liars by Kate Beasley

Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Mac B. Kid Spy  by Mac Barnett illustrated by Mike Lowery

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

The Endling by Katherine Applegate 

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Graphic Novels

Undocumented – A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh

7 Generations – A Plains Cree Saga by David Alexander Robertson and drawn by Scott A. Henderson

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal (Ms. Marvel Series) by [Wilson, G.]

Ms. Marvel by G. Wilson and drawn by Adrian Alphona

Last Pick by Jason Walz

Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab and Jackie Roche

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Speak – The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Click by Kayla Miller

All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas by Dav Pilkey

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

Chapter Books – Young Adult

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Odd One Out by Nic Stone

Internment by Samira Ahmed – won’t release until March 2019 – must pre-order

Dry by Jarrod Shusterman and Neal Shusterman

The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram  (Author)

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland NOTE – Debbie Reese has an excellent discussion of the Native portrayal in this book (or lack of) that made me think through the book in a different way.

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One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Tradition by Brendan Kiely

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

The Fandom by Anna Day

Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

#Murdertrending by Gretchen McNeilTrail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Non-Fiction


(Don’t )Call Me Crazy – 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen

Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson

Unpresidented by Martha Brockenbrough

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise our Voices edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson

First Generation by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace, illustrated by Agata Nowicka

Dog Days of History by Sarah Albee

#NotYourPrincess – Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charlieboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Two Truths and a Lie – Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson

Which books did you love in 2018?

To see all of our favorites through the years, go here