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.
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Some Little Things that Grow Our Readers

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Who are you as a reader is a question that shapes our experience together in room 235D.

At first, their answers are typically short. ..

I am a reader because I like to read.

I hate reading.

I only read because I am told to.

As the year progresses so do their thoughts.  They start to realize the parts that were there all along and that they are discovering and so gradually their answers change.

I am a reader who only reads a certain type of book.

I read because it takes me away.

I am a picky reader who loves to read but struggles with finding the next great book.

As their identities develop, the responsibility shifts from me to them.  They set the goals at the beginning of the year, I make sure they revisit them, but I also ask them, “Now what?” when they say they don’t like reading.

I ask them, “Then what?” when they say they cannot find a book.

I ask them, “How can I help?” when they tell me they don’t know what to do as readers.

These questions subtly change the power of the room, the control of the learning.  they may seem insignificant but they add up.

As the year progresses, our conversations shift.  No longer a focus on what I need to do but rather on what they need to do. But this doesn’t just happen, I ask them to take responsibility, to figure out their own part so that I can help guide them rather than lead them.

Today, as we settled back after a long weekend break, I asked them to tell a partner who they were as readers.  I modeled it and then let them loose.

Their words surrounded us for a few minutes and then they turned their eyes on this reflection.

Only four questions, but again, such a simple reflection of the thinking that needs to happen.  The ownership that needs to be taken and honed.

I read their answers and am reminded once again how such a small assignment can help me grow so much.

They need my help still with book shopping.

They want more time to read.

They have grown but are still not sure that reading is for them.

They ask me to speak to them more about their reading.

And they see their own role in what it means to be a reader.  As one child writes, “Ms. Ripp doesn’t have to do anything to help me. I think that this is something I need to work on myself.”

So much growth, all from the little things we can do that go beyond handing a child a book and giving them time to read.

 

 

On Book Censorship and Fighting Hard

I cannot say that I teach all children if I do not have all children s stories represented on my shelvesWe say we want equity.

We say we want equality.

We say we want to teach social justice.

That we want our kids to be awake, to be critical, to be citizens who not just consume information, but tear it apart, ask the hard questions and then draw their own conclusions.  Who stand up, who fight for what they know is right, who knows what it means to be afraid of the decisions they make but still keep fighting.

We want them to feel safe with us.

To matter with us.

To be something even more than they were before with us.

We say we want to teach all children and help them discover their superpowers so that they too believe that they can be someone.

But our censored libraries tell different stories.

Our libraries tell us of the fear we feel.

The decisions we make.

The way we exclude without meaning to.

The way we keep the white, cis-gender, hetero norm the norm.

The way we perpetuate the privilege so many of us live.

When we say we want equity we cannot shout those words without looking at the equity that our libraries represent.

Do we have all our children’s stories represented?

Can all of our children find themselves in our books?

Can those who are not ready to label themselves find the answer they may not even know they needed within our pages?

Can those who feel marginalized, disenfranchised, rejected find a home within the pages of the books we place on our shelves?

Can those who mainstream society tend to label as “other” find a representation of the normal being they are?  One that is not other, but one that just is?

I get that we are afraid to offend.  I get that we are afraid for our jobs.  I get that we worry about backlash, pushback, and questioning.  But perhaps that is why we became teachers so that we can fight for those who society has tried so hard to silence?  So that our voices can join those whose voices are just a whisper.

So that we can stand up for those who do not have the armor of white privilege, of hetero privilege, of middle-class privilege, of cisgender privilege and say that their stories are part of the human story and therefore deserves to be in the very books we hand to children.  And once we are standing up, we can give them our space, so that they can reclaim the void that society wants to keep them in.

I cannot say that I teach all children if I do not have all children’s stories represented on my shelves.  It’s as simple, and as complicated as that.

Don’t forget that not being able to find yourself in a story is not just a tragedy, it is a complete erasure of your identity.  One that we easily can forget when our own identity is constantly represented.

So fight for yourself.  Fight for your books.  Fight on and fight hard.  All of our children are counting on us.

PS:  If you want to be smarter, follow my friend Dana Stachowiak.

 

Finding the Time for Independent Reading – Every Day, Every Kid

“I would give them time to read but I don’t have the time…”

The words haunt me several weeks later.  Shocking in their simplicity, yet profound in their meaning.  I didn’t have the courage then to address it but I have the courage now.

You see, that statement represents so much of what goes wrong in our reading instruction.  We want kids to read but expect them to do it outside of our classrooms.  We want them to grow as readers but expect them to fall into the pages of a book on their own.  We want them to be readers but then tell them that with us we don’t have to practice because surely they know how to do that already.  And yet the numbers don’t lie.  The increase in summer slide, in kids who say they don’t read for fun and the scary statistic that says that 26% of adults haven’t read a book in the last year.

And we wonder why we seem to be turning from a nation of readers into a nation of watchers.

It starts with us.  It starts with the way we choose to spend our time.  It starts with our lesson planning.  We nurture the seeds of reading and make the decisions that will help them grow or wither.  With us, the reading should start so that it has a chance to continue once they leave us.  It is as simple as that.

So how do we find the time to have kids read when we don’t have the time?  The answer lies in the small things, the small tweaks that we make every single day with one goal in mind; more time to read.

We start with independent reading.  Every day.

My students start every single class with 10 minutes of uninterrupted free choice reading time.  I do reading check-ins during this time, but their job is to read. To fall into the pages of a book.  Nothing else.  Every child is expected to read, and for those who fight it every single day, I keep trying every single day.  I wish I could give more but 10 isthe least I can give, if I had a longer class period, I would give more time.

Ask yourself; what if we started with independent reading, what is the worst that could happen?

We figure out our learning target.

While I don’t love everything about learning targets, they do force me to think about the ONE thing that I want students to grow in.  Too often we pile many different lessons into one, which increases our talk time.  Instead, really narrow down what is the most important for today and then focus your lesson in on just that.  I know that I teach many different skills in one day, but this helps clear up some of the clutter.

Ask yourself; what is the one skill we really need to focus on today?

We stop talking so much.

Teachers are estimated to speak 60-75 % of the time.  So if you teach in 45 minute periods like I do, we are dominating almost 30 minutes of that time.  No wonder we say we don’t have the time.  Yet how much of that time talking is spent on repeating instructions, on giving extra directions, or simply trying to answer every single thing question asked in front of the whole class.  So set a timer, record yourself, have someone observe you, or ask a child to stop you after a certain amount of time.  Couple this with a specific goal and then stick to it when someone says you are out of time.  If it is a lengthy lesson, which mine sometimes are, explain why to the kids and then help them get up and move.    But again, if you start with reading then you will already have preserved their reading time.

Ask yourself; how can I find out how much time I actually spend talking?

We get to the point.

I know we are supposed to activate background knowledge, share personal stories, and really suck kids into our instruction but how often do we get so wrapped up in sucking them in that we lose them by the time we finally get to the point.  Keep the introduction short, it is, after all, the introduction, and get to the meat of the lesson more quickly.

Ask yourself; How can I keep my introduction to only a few sentences?

We do most of our teaching in small groups rather than whole class.

How often do our lessons increase because we are trying to teach all the skills to all the students and yet what is really needed is one major teaching point and then tons of small groups for personalized instruction?  So focus your one thing in on what all the kids need and then save everything else for small group instruction.  That way kids are getting what they need rather than tuning out in a large class.

Ask yourself; is this needed for all of the kids or just some of them?

We re-evaluate our routines.

Independent reading is my bell-ringer, it is my task to do while I do attendance.  It is the thing to do while kids get settled in.  It is the thing to do while I check in on a kid.  It the thing to do while we wait for the last kid to show up.  If you are waiting for something you read.  If you think you are done and need to check in with me you read until we can speak.

Ask yourself:  What small things take up time in your everyday routine that could be converted into reading time because, truly, every minute counts? 

We cut out the extra stuff.

Just like we speak too much during class, we also have kids go through unnecessary hoops to teach and practice their skills.   Do they really need to “do” something every day with their reading other than talk?  Can they simply read some days and not write about it? Not post-it note it?  Not do mini jots or other tasks?  I fear we often feel that we need proof that their reading meant something or that they got something out of it, and that leads us creating more tasks to do.  We focus a lot on longer projects so that we minimize the time spent doing stuff around their reading.

Ask yourself; is the task I planned for them to do essential or filler?

We grow our patience.

We often stop with independent reading because not ALL kids are reading, not ALL kids are making great choices, not ALL kids are using it well.  But some are.  The thing is, it takes time, sometimes months, sometimes years to help kids embrace independent reading.  For some, it seems an impossible task and yet, we can nurture them as readers every single day.  We can show that our belief in them being well-developed readers is strong and that we will keep believing in them every single day, even if they reject us completely.

Ask yourself; Am I making whole class decisions based on a few kids?

 

If we want kids to be readers we give them time to read, I cannot state this enough.  I cannot bold it enough.  I cannot repeat it enough.  We cannot wonder why our students are not reading if we don’t give them time to do so with us.  Then that’s on us.  And if you don’t believe me, read the research courtesy of Donalyn Miller.

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.

Mock Caldecott 2018 Predictions For Now

The leaves have fallen, Halloween has passed, and now November is here reminding us that this year will, too, come to an end.  And what a year it has been once again in the world of illustrations for children’s books.  For the fourth year in a row, our 7th graders will participate in our Mock Caldecott unit in January, trying to assess the illustrations of children’s books to find the ones they believe deserve the honor.  So as the year-end nears, I thought I would share a few books that are on my radar for possibilities.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and the Fan Brothers.

The Fan Brothers are at it again with their incredible illustrations that make this picture book soar.  Even the texture of the book is divine.

The incredible, whimsical Claymates is by the uber talented Dev Petty and Lauren Eldridge.  I have been loving this book before it even came out because it is so funny and unlike anything else I have seen.  It is also a sure kid pleaser.

One of my most favorite picture books of the year is After the Fall by Dan Santat, and while the story itself makes this picture book read aloud worthy, the illustrations are what really makes the story incredible.  Once again, Dan Santat has outdone even himself.

 

The simplicity of the illustrations is what makes The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken such a stand out.  With a powerful message to all of us, the illustrations truly show how we can turn anything, even a mistake, into something beautiful.

The illustrations in Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth and illustrated by Ekua Holmes makes the poetry come alive.

Kadir Nelson’s illustrations in Blue Sky White Stars by Savinder Naberhous are breathtaking.  The beauty of the poignant text is truly lit on fire by the work of the Kadir Nelson.

I pored over the illustrations in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by Evan Turk.  The colors and the detail are what made this picture book stand out to me.

I read Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say as an F&G and immediately placed my order.  While the story about James Castle in itself is worth your time, the techniques used by Allen Say is what makes this one of my favorite picture books of the year.

 

The illustrations in Dazzle Ships by Chris Barton and illustrated by Victo Ngai is what made me want to pore over this book for a long time.   Amazing how this lesser-known part of WWI history springs to life within the pages of this fantastic book from one of the master of nonfiction picture books himself, Chris Barton.

In Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, Sean Qualls, and Selina Alko the illustrations deeply reinforce the powerful message of who we are and how we intersect with others.

Update – Adding a few more titles

What an incredible visual journey Mighty Moby by Ed Young and Barbara DaCosta is.  It is truly a book that pulls you in every which way it can.

I added Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix because I thought the illustrator captures the whole essence of Chef Choi’s message so well in the art.  A perfect example of when text and images reach a higher state together.

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy wouldn’t be the same picture book without the incredible illustrations, I was simply lost in them.

Every time I read This House Once by Deborah Freedman, I become more mesmerized by the book.  The subtlety of the images can take your breath away if you let them.  This is a book to savor.

I still have some thinking to do but here at least is a start.  Which ones do you think will be in the running?

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

On Accelerated Reader and All the Other Computer Programs

Pardon me while I write what is on my mind for a little bit.

I just took an Accelerated Reader practice quiz on Elephant and Piggie’s There’s a Bird on Your Head.  A picture book  I have read so many times I think I know it by heart.  A picture book series that my 7th graders end up loving too as we perform plays based on them.  A picture book series that made me cry when the last book came out and they told us all “Thank you for being a reader.”

You know what AR wanted me to know about the book?

It wanted to know what happened and what was said.

That’s it.

Not why Gerald didn’t like the birds on his head.  Not what the message of the book was.  Not what they could learn from the book and apply to their own life.  After all, that doesn’t prove they have read it.  That doesn’t prove they have understood, right?!

Sheer memorization and retelling.

Of Mice and Men wasn’t any better.  Again, memorization was the key factor here.  Not deep thinking.  Not deep conversation about the ultimate decision made at the end.  Not how this book will change you or make you think about the world you live in.

An American classic boiled down to remembering minute details.

All in the hands of computer programs which purport to help readers grow.

And before, someone tells me that for some kids programs like this works, I would like to know what we define as “works?”  Do we define “works” as rushing to read another book?  As sharing the incredible experience a book just provided them with others?  Do we define “works” as cannot wait to read another book, outside of class not because they have to but because they want to?  Do we define “works” as continuing to develop a positive reading identity that will carry them into adulthood?

Or do we define ‘”works” as kids doing it because they are rule followers and don’t want to cause a stir? Do we define “works” as a computer telling us how much a child remembered from the book they just read?  Do we define it as how many points they have gained this year as a supposed reflection on how they have grown as readers?  Or as now we know which book a child should read next because the computer told them so?

Because if that is what we mean be developing lifelong readers then I must have lost my mind.

When people ask me why I dislike programs like AR so much, it is hard to know where to start.  My problem with these blanket programs are many; we rob kids of actual true choice not determined by a reading database that only allows you to select books that have quizzes on them.

You know which books don’t have AR quizzes on them right now?  Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and Dear Martin by Nic Stone.  Arguably two of the most important books for adolescents to read this year. I hope they never add them, I can’t even begin to imagine what types of low-level questions they would ask.

We rob kids of the chance to have conversations with others about the books that are changing them.  We rob kids of the messy process that it is to get to a deeper meaning within a book, even when they are young.  We rob kids of the chance to be seen more as the points they are given.  We rob our most vulnerable readers, those we label struggling, low, or whatever other harsh terms in our data meetings, the opportunity to have the best possible chance at becoming a reader through the determined instruction of a knowledgeable teacher.

In our eagerness to make sure every child is reading the right fit book, we have forgotten about the very child reading those books.

Reading was never meant to be about points.  Or scores.  Or correct answers.

It was never meant to be about levels or data or rewards for goals met.

Reading was never meant to be easy either.  It was meant to be a complex process in which we discover parts of ourselves that we didn’t know before.  A process that brought us closer together as a community of learners, as we felt the growth we made not because a test told us but because the very book we just finished was an accomplishment in itself.

Don’t believe me?  How can simple computer programs really be so bad?  Why don’t we ask the very kids we subject these programs to?  A novel idea, I suppose, as what would kids really know?  And yet, I am here writing about this because of the very things kids (and their horrified parents) have told me over the years.

“AR means my child picks the smallest books they can in order to get the points they need…”

“AR means I am not allowed to read the book I wanted to…”

“I am a bad reader because I cannot get the answers right…”

So what can we do instead of these programs?

We can start the conversation first.  We can ask the very kids we subject to the reading programs and then do something about what they tell us.

We can ask parents and caregivers how this program either hurts or harms their child.

We can invest all of that money spent on this program into great books and then put them in every single classroom.  And then we can read them and speak about them and help kids find great new books.

We can give teachers training on reading workshop and how to have meaningful conversations about books with kids.

We can tell our teachers to go back to common sense reading instruction.

We can tell our teachers that teaching to fidelity doesn’t mean fidelity to the program but to the kid in front of them.

We can evaluate everything we do with kids and see if it really gets to what we hope they become; kids who read books because they want to!

If we want to know whether a child is reading, we can look at them while they read.

If we want to know whether a child understands what they are reading, we can ask, sometimes face to face, other times on paper.

If we want to know how a child is progressing as a reader, we can assess them, hearing them read out loud, conferring with them and asking further questions.  And sure, use a computer to give them a test but make sure that the test is actually giving you valid information.  Let the data be a part of the conversation, not the whole conversation.

If we want to know what book a child should read next, we can ask them. Then we can bookshop.  If a child doesn’t know how to select a great book then that is where we start.

If we want to know whether a book is a good fit for a child, we can ask them.  And we can remember the words of Fountas and Pinnell who said, that “Levels are a teacher’s tool and not a child’s label.”

You know what helping a child figure out their reading identity is?  It’s hard.  It’s messy.  It’s exhausting at times.

It’s not easy.

But it’s worth it.

it’s worth it every time we see child realize that they, too, can be a reader.

It’s worth it every time we see a child realize that they, too, can get something out of a book.

It’s worth it every we see a child realize that they, too, can understand what it means to want to keep on reading.

Not because a computer told them to select another book from their level.

Not because they were given points for their work.

Not because they were given rewards.

But because to them, it mattered, beyond the computer, beyond the quiz, beyond the task.

But because to them, they became readers because someone cared about their reading journey and protected the very hope they carry for being a reader some day.

A computer program will never do that for a child, no matter how “research-based” it is.

PS:  Whoa, apparently this post which was just me thinking out loud has struck a chord for many.  I encourage you to reflect on it and see where it fits into your reading philosophy.  As I have said before, if a program harms even one child’s love of reading then we need to question it, which is what I am doing here.  I am not shaming teachers, I am a teacher myself, but instead asking us to really reflect on whether the thousands of dollars spent on these computer programs are really helping us achieve our goals in the long-run, because of course programs like these can garner compliance in the short run, but we are in this reading life for the long run.

To see more thoughts on AR please see Jen Robinson’s posts which showcases other work on it.  Donalyn Miller’s post on it and do take the time to read Stephen Krashen’s discussion of the research that AR uses as a selling point.

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.