Our Mock Caldecott Winners 2017

For the past week my students have been busy dissecting, discussing, and loving picture books as we tried to select the one winner and three honors books for the 2017 Caldecott.  This is the second year I have done this exploration with 7th graders and as one student told me, “This is one of my favorite units” and I agree.  Picture books allow all of my students to access tough issues, complex ideas, and also to gain a new appreciation for this artform.  They are a constant companion of what we do in our classroom and in our reading journey.  They form the ties of our community.  Delving into these books have allowed my students to think deeply about their own opinions and also worked on their debating skills.  While our exploration was short, I used some ideas from Jes Lifshitz’s longer Caldecott unit and then meshed my own ideas with it.  To see her post go here.

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Some of our Mock Caldecott potentials

 

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Love these beginning thoughts from my students.

I asked each class to come up with one winner and three honors books.  Here are our choices:

 

1st Hour

Honor:  Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Honor:  They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:  Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

 

Winner:  The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

 

3rd Hour

Honor: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor: 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner: A tie between 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

And

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

5th Hour

Honor:

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

6th Hour

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Ada’s Violin – The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

7th Hour

Honor:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Honor:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Now we wait until January 23rd to see how right or wrong we were

Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

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It’s January.  In the perfect world all of my students would love reading by now.  All of my students would bring their self-chosen book to class, eager to dive in, begging for more reading time.  In a perfect world, every child would have a goal they were working toward, every child would be eager to book talk their books, to browse our library, to read outside of class.  I don’t teach in the perfect world, I don’t think anyone does.

Instead, by now here in January, I have kids that still show up with no books.  That still tell me they hate reading.  That still would rather flip the pages and not actually read anything.  I still have kids who don’t read outside of class, who have no goals, who would rather do everything they can to avoid having a reading check in with me.  Not a lot, the numbers have dwindled, but they are still there, they are still prominent, and I still lose sleep over how to help them have a better relationship with reading (or writing, or speaking, or English, or even just school…)

We all have these kids in our classrooms, in our learning communities.  These kids that seem to defy the odds of every well-meaning intention we may have.  Who do not fall under our spell or the spell of a great book.  Who actively resists not so much because they want to but because they feel they have to.  And so our initial thoughts are often to tighten the reins.  To tell them which book to read.  To hand them a reading log so that you can see when don’t read.  To tie in rewards to motivate or even consequences to punish.  We create lesson plans with more structure, less choice, less freedom overall thinking that if we just force them into a reading experience, perhaps then it will click for them.

We must fight our urges when it comes to the regimented reading experiences.  What these kids need is usually not less freedom, more force.  What these kids need is not more to do when it comes to their reading.  What these kids need is not the carefully crafted worksheet packet with its myriad of questions that will finally make them read the book.

What they need is patience.  Repetition.  Perseverance.  I am not in a fight with these kids.  I am not here to punish them into reading.  I am not here to reward them into reading either.  I am here to be the one that doesn’t give up, even if they have themselves.  I am here to be the one that continues to put a pile of books in front of them and say “Try these…”  I am the one that will repeat myself every day when I say, ‘Read…” and then walk away.  Who will crouch down next to them and ask them how they feel and listen to their words, even if I have heard them a million times before.

We look to external systems and plans because they entice us with their short-term promises.  We fall under the spell of programs, of removing choice from those who have not earned it, in an effort to get these kids there faster.  Yet, what I have learned from my students is that every one is on a different path.  That every child is on the journey  and while their pace may be excruciatingly slow, they are still moving forward.

So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I.  I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.  And so that is what I will do, every day, up until the last day, hoping to reach every single one, even if I have not reached them yet.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

I thought I wouldn’t be able to pick all of my favorite picture books from 2016, and then I realized that I do not need to.  I can write this post as a way to pay homage to the picture books that started conversations, that taught us to think, to question.  That made us laugh out loud, that made us cry.  This post is therefore not the best picture books of the year necessarily, they are the ones I loved.  The ones I remember as I sit at home fighting off the flu.  I can guarantee you that when my head clears and I am back in our classroom, I will add more to the list because inevitably some will get left off.  While most of these were published in 2016, some were not, some were simply discovered by me finally.  Also, to save my own sanity at the length of the post, I will only write one sentence about each book. I encourage you to read them, to buy them, to praise them, to read them in your classroom and to advocate for the use of picture books with all ages.

So in no particular order, which books am I so grateful to have discovered in 2016?

Be A Friend by Salina Yoon

Friendship. Loneliness. Beautiful.

A Piece of Home written by Jeri Watts and illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Fitting in. Feeling lost.  Appreciate differences.

To the Stars!  The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong.

Inspiration. Wonder. Empowerment.

Jazz Day:  The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill and illustrated by Francis Vallejo

In-depth.  Eye-opening.  Mesmerizing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ida, Always by Caron Lewis and Charles Santoso.

Tears. Death. Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

Magical. Hopeful.  Enchanting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Deep. Thoughtful.  Love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wildest Race Ever:  The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Megan McCarthy

Unbelievable. True. Informational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville written by Pat Zietlow Miller illustrated by Frank Morrison

Dreams. Perseverance. Equality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon

How did I not know about this before?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller

Funny. Creative. Inventive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Dance! Dance! Underpants! by Bob Shea

Laugh out loud funny. Must be acted out.

 

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davis

Story craft. Inventive. Funny.

How This Book Was Made written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Story craft.  Collaboration. Hi jinx.

I Am A Story by Dan Yaccarino

Thought provoking.  Imaginative.

This Is My Book! by Mark Pett (and no one else)

Creative. Funny. Writer’s craft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Call Me Grandma written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Fierce. Unapologetic. Thought provoking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.

Discussion starter.  Community builder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love

Celebrating differences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead.

Creativity boosting.  Writing process. Storytelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

Funny. Naughty.  Great read aloud.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson 

Meant to be read aloud.  Mentor text.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Finish written by Minh Le and illustrated by Isabel Roxas.

Makes me want to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return by Aaron Becker

Inventive.  Masterful conclusion.  Dreamers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

Bridging differences. Adventure.  Appreciation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.

Finding commonality.  Social justice.  Funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Just let me read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David Degrand.

Another book, please?!  Knowledgable.  Crowd favorite.

Inventive.  Perspective. Thought-provoking.
Love is love is love is love is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison.

Friendship. Perspective. Loyalty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith

Gratitude. Fitting in.  Perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe and Laura Ellen Anderson

Finding common ground.  Social justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead

Heart-attacher.  Caring for others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shy by Deborah Freedman

Gorgeous. Empowering.  Tender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead

Humanity. Loneliness. Connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield

Chasing dreams. Loneliness. Finding home.

Finding commonalities.  Seeing good. Social justice.

 

Poetry comes alive.

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Maybe Something Beautiful written by F. Isabell Campoy and Theresa Howeel and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Inspiring. Dreamy. Do something.

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Gilbert Ford’s The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring

Informational. Inventive. Inspiring.

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Power. Empowering. Speak up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Surprising. Hilarious.  Sequel, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora

Monsters in the library.  Imagination.  Read another time, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Read it again.  Surprise.  Shock.

Just one single promise, please.
You can feel the love with every word. Social justice.
How something was salvaged from the horror of 9/11 and made into something powerful.
How do we cope with the changing minds of our grandparents?
Aresting visuals.  Heartbreak and creativity.
 May we never forget our own humanity when helping refugees.
Who knew learning about octopus could be so beautiful?
I know I left some off because I am writing this from home.  However, this is a start, this is a way to say thank you to all of the books and those who create them that made this year even better.

My Favorite Chapter Books of 2016

It is with great trepidation that I make this list.  Inevitably a book will be left off or I will somehow screw this up.  But…these books have shaped my year.  These books with their worlds, their heart, and their dreams have made me better.  Have offered me solace on long winter nights, have lulled me to sleep on airplanes and in hotel rooms.  When work has been too hard and life has been too busy, these books have kept me afloat.  So how can I not praise them?  (Thank you Goodreads).  While are new this year, some are not, but all were new to me.

Please read them.  Please love them.  Please share them with others.  After all, books may just be the very thing that brings us all together.

It is always exciting when I discover a new series and The Reader by Traci Chee did not disappoint.  While it took me a few days to read, my confusion was rewarded at the end when everything made sense and I was left with a longing to read on.  PG13 and up.

I had heard of Gene Luen Yang before he was chosen as National Book Ambassador but his new title led me to discover more of his work.  While I loved all of his that I read American Born Chinese was definitely my favorite.  This is a must add to any middle school classroom and up.

It is hard not to love Pax by Sara Pennypacker.  This book was the Global Read Aloud choice for elementary and up for 2016 and I still think it is one of the most powerful reads of the year.  This story of a fox and his boy will simply stay with you for a very long time.

I thought I knew a lot about hurricane Katrina but after reading Drowned City by Don Brown, I realized how little I actually knew.  Sparse, powerful, and haunting is the best way for me to describe this graphic novel nonfiction book.  Must add to middle school and up.

It is hard to not admire Kate Messner and her formidable brain, she epitomizes to me what it means to be creative.  I love her new series, Ranger in Time,  geared toward early readers and have brought the books in to my own 7th grade classroom as well.  What a wonderful way to discover history.

This was my very first read of the year and it was oh so good.  In fact, I think Shadow and Bone from Leigh Bardugo was the series feeling I chased all year.  Magic, action, love, this series has it all for our PG13  readers.

It is hard to describe the sadness that overcame me as I read the graphic novel Yummy – the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri.  After all, this is the story of an actual child, this is the story of something that actually happened.  This is the story of a child who got so lost that he ended taking the life of another child and then losing his own.  PG13 and up.

I teach using the Notice and Note signposts, and a A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is one of the texts used.  I knew I had to read it when I saw how it captivated all of my students.  This story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is one that many students throughout the year has also gravitated toward.  This could be placed in the hands of the right 5th grader who was ready for it.

There is always something bittersweet when you realize a book you loved and booktalked is missing in your library.  This is the case of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  I loved it, I book talked it, someone snagged it to read and poof it has disappeared.  This is a graphic novel tale I will gladly re-order though.

I  wonder how many times I have booktalked Gym Candy by Carl Deuker this year?  This is the book I reach for when I am running out of options for my resistant readers.  This is the book that I found myself sucked into as I ignored my family on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  This is one of those books that becomes a magic weapon when we try to help students love reading more.  PG13 and up.

With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 we saw a slew of powerful books being published about the events.  While I read almost all of the ones published, Eleven by Tom Rogers is still the book that for me captured the day in the most powerful way.  4th grade and up but my 7th graders devour it as well.

I came across Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins as I booktalked poor covers.  My librarian told our class that while the cover might leave something t be desired, this was a really popular series.  I therefore promptly took t home to read it and boy was she right.  Love, action, magic, yes please.  Great middle school and up series.

Another fox book?  Yes please!  Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee is a powerful story of loss and discovery.  Of a family seemingly torn apart.  Of a fox that knows that it plays an important part in the healing.  This book is beautiful and for 4th grade and up.

This was the year i started to re-think my hatred of dog books and Maxi’s Secret by Lynn Plourde played a big part in that.  While yes the dog dies (it is told to us in the first chapter) this story is bigger than that of a dog.  It is about friendship, finding your place, and finding yourself.  4th grade and up.

 

I was told to read The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid this summer by a friend because she thought  it would be one of those books that I could not wait to share.  She was right.  The Diabolic is a masterful piece of work; challenging science fiction that still is a page turner.  PG13 and up.

I don’t know how I missed A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness for so long but I am so glad that I now have many copies of it in my classroom library.  This is one of those books you hand to those kids that say that they don’t like reading much.  I, along with many students, are eagerly awaiting the movie adaptation that is coming out in January.  Middle school and up.

Another book recommended to me by a trusted friend was Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.  This book is needed in our libraries, especially as we focus on creating windows, mirrors, and doors into the lives of others.  Middle school and up.

I love complex fantasy, ones that have deep story lines where I need to find the time to fall into its pages and forget about life for a while.  Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is just the right kind of fantasy book.  Beautiful language and a story line that mesmerizes, I am glad this now a part of our library.  4th or 5th grade and up.

How amazing of a storyteller is Kate Messner?  I loved The Seventh Wishso much that it got it’s own stand alone review on this blog, and I stand by those words.  This book belongs in our classrooms, in our libraries, and yes even with elementary children.

Hands down one of the best non-fiction autobiographies I have ever read.  Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer! about E.B. White is a masterpiece in visual layout as well as text.  I have ordered another copy to house permanently in my classroom and will be using it to teach writer’s craft.  I cannot wait for children to fall into the delight of these pages and to be inspired to write more themselves.

I have loved the genius of Jenni Holm for a few years now and her new book Full of Beans is a delight.  This is one of those perfect books that will make for a great read aloud, especially in our 4th and 5th grade classrooms.  This is also a Global Read Aloud  contender for 2017.

I started my summer with The Best Man by Richard Peck.  Spurred on by my friends’ love of this book and by the sad fact that I had never read a Richard Peck book before, I was glad to start the summer with this one.  I was delighted, surprised, and ever so wonderfully tangled into the story and have loved booktalking it to students.  This one is great for middle school and up, or even a 5th grader.

 

How I have managed to go these years without falling in love with The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefwater I am not sure.  This has been one of my most recommended books this summer because I dropped everything just to read this whole series in a week.  Now that that the whole series is out there is no reason to wait to get this for your classroom library, I would recommend middle school and up.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is still one of the best books I have read all year. This is the book I hope most of my students discover.  This is the book I keep recommending.  A masterpiece in story-telling that I could not put down and neither could those I have handed it too.  This debut author has taken everything that is right about a great YA and put it into a book.  I cannot wait for his next book.

 

I was handed Fenway and Hattie by the author herself, Victoria J. Coe, and read it the very next day. Delightful, fun, and imaginative I have recommended this book to many people since.  I love how Victoria Coe writes it from the perspective of a dog and will be using this to show perspective writing with my 7th graders.  While this is geared toward a younger audience, I think some of my 7th graders will enjoy it as much as I have.  This is also a contender for Global Read Aloud 2017.

Loving Vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Shadra Strickland is a must add to your library.  This text sheds light on the landmark case of marriage equality and is riveting in how it unfolds.  You fall in love with the Lovings and their simple fight to simply be allowed to be married.  (Note: Available for pre-order now).

What an incredible book Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is.  In fact, I would be surprised if we did not see this book receive awards later this year.  Unlike anything I have read in a long time, Wolf Hollow draws you into a world that speaks of simpler times and yet the story unravels in a way you would not expect.  From 4th grade and up, this book is also a must add in middle school.

I loved the scary tale and the beautiful language of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. I rooted for the main character Corinne as she fights for her father and the rest of her island, protecting them from the supernatural beings that live in the forest.  For kids that love a great scary story, I cannot wait to book talk this, and even better; there is a sequel coming.

I had the incredible honor of seeing Erin Downing, the author of Moon ShadowMoon Shadow, at NCTE.  This book is a must read in 2017 (our in May!).  With its creepy yet deep story, it promises to be a book that many middle grade kids will want to read, discuss, and share.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is the book I keep telling people to read, keep telling people to pre-order (out in February).  This powerful story is one that simply needs to be experienced and then placed in the hands of our middle schools and up.  Powerful, eye opening, and also just a great example of wonderful story telling.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell is a book I didn’t expect to love as much as I did.  I had heard from others that it was a great title and yet whenever I picked it up, I just didn’t quite fall into the appeal of it.  Its tale of honor, family, and yes, wolves left me mesmerized from page 1.  This is the best of books; nature and survival, historical fiction and fast paced adventure.  This is a must for 4th grade and up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of these days I might write an entire post about how much I admire the talent and work of Jacqueline Woodson.  The conversations she invites us to have in our classrooms are profound and I am so thankful I finally discovered her book If You Come Softly.  While the story is set in high school it is not high school langue which makes it even more accessible to many students.  This book about race and love and growing up is one I won’t forget.  I also read, and loved, Behind You, the follow up novel.

I cannot imagine the painstaking work it must have been for Allan Wolf to write The Watch that Ends the Night.  This is the Titanic story like I had never experienced it before.  Middle school and up.

Can Jennifer A. Nielsen do no wrong?  She once again had me hooked from the early pages of The Scourge, what a great story of mystery, survival, and also devious means to fight back.  4th or 5th grade and up.

I am not sure I have enough words to publicly declare how much I love the brain of Dav Pilkey and his new series Dog Man.  This one book has completely transformed my daughter’s life, who is 7, but is equally loved by my 7th graders.  This is what great books are made of.

Another book I was surprised I had missed until now.  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate is her other master piece.  This book with its free verse formand heart wrenching story is everything great books are made of.  This is also GRA contender for 2017.

I don’t know how Jason Reynolds manages to crank one book out after another but I am thankful that he does.  His latest book Ghost is the beginning of a series, thank you!  It is a Global Read Aloud Contender, and it is oh so good for middle grade and up.

I finally settled into my new reading chair and fell in love with The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.  It is always such a delight when simple language brings us deep reading experiences.  This is also one of those books that I know I can hand to many kids and they can have a successful reading experience with it.  4th grade and up,  but 7th graders love it too.

I always have room for a great creepy book and Janet Fox’s new book, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, is just that.  Mysterious, creepy, and suspenseful will keep readers tuned in from 5th grade and up.

I tend to steer away from WWII books simply because I have oversaturated myself in the genre, but for The Plot to Kill Hitler by Patricia McCormick, I knew I would make an exception.  What is crazy about this story is that it is true, and also one I had not heard of before.  This was book-talked once in my classroom and I have not seen it since. Perfect for middle grades and up.

I think My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and JodI Meadows is one of those books where you either love it or hate it.  I loved it with a capital l.  This felt fresh, funny, and of course I had to read just one more page to see what would happen.  Perfect for middle school and up.

I can be very hit or miss when it comes to historical fiction, I feel that I either love it or really do not like it.  The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson  Coats is a book that I loved reading.  I loved the can-do attitude of or female protagonist and also how it provided me with a glimpse into the settler time period.  This gem comes out at the end of February and is not to be missed for middle grade and up.

Argh, cancer books.  I am terrible with you and yet I also feel myself drawn to their pages.  Love, Ish the new book by Karen Rivers is one that will take you for a ride whether you wanted it to or not.  Powerful storytelling brings us right there with Ish.  Out on my birthday, March 14th, this is a great book for middle grades and up.

There were so many other books that I loved this year but I tried to stick to a little bit of a shorter list.  To see all of the books I read and rate follow me on Instagram or on Goodreads.  Which books did I miss?

We Have Already Grown

I realized today as my students sat quietly reading that if a stranger were to walk into our classroom, it would all look so effortless.  As if the kids had always quietly settled in with their books and this hush had fallen over us.  As if the kids had always read when I asked them to.  As if they had always known just what to do and when to do so.  Yet, that is not the true story.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you; creating a space for independent reading time is not easy, nor does it just happen.  It is hard work.  It takes effort.  It takes planning, and boy, does it take a lot of patience.  It takes great books.  It takes dedication.  And it takes a community, takes trust, takes respect, and takes conversations.

We build our communities in small pieces.  We plant the seeds on the very first day when we welcome our new kids into our lives and into our classrooms.  When we say this is your room, these are your books, and we mean it.

We build it when we ask them to pick up the books.  To read a few pages.  To talk to one another and to share their truths.  We build it when we accept their truths about why reading does not matter and promise that we will try to help them change their minds.
Every day as we plan our lessons and build our communities, we give them the reading pieces to place into the puzzle of their identities and hope they will see the value.  And we do it one day at a time.  One conversation at a time.  One book at a time.

It may be almost December, we have so much time still left, and yet I cannot help but marvel at how far so many have come.  How many actually will read, not because I ask them to but because it is their habit.  How many of them will casually abandon a book because they know they can find a better one.  How many of them will recommend a book because they want to,  because they need to share it, because someone else deserves to have the same experience with this book that they just had.

This is work.  This is love.  This is what we do.  And we do it in such small steps that sometimes we forget to look back at just how far we have come.  So as I sit tonight, exhausted, thinking back to all of the moments we shared today, I also realize that while we are not all there yet, we have come a long way.  We have already grown.  We have become better readers, even if if for a second I may have forgotten that.

 

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

Great Picture Books to Teach Plot

While I continue to update the other lists I have compiled of amazing picture books, a teacher asked me if I have any suggestions for teaching plot.  Well, of course I do.  I am so thankful once again to the amazing authors and illustrators that give us these incredible books to teach pretty much everything we need to in our literacy classes.

The Bear and the Piano by David Lichtfield is a book I use for plot and for theme.

Plot description:

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 . . .
Across the Alley by Richard Michelson and E.B. Lewis is ten years old but still very relevant.  This is also a great book to add to your social justice curriculum.
Plot description:
Abe and Willie live across the alley from each other. Willie is black and Abe is Jewish, and during the day, they don’t talk. But at night they open their windows and are best friends. Willie shows Abe how to throw a real big-league slider, and Abe gives Willie his violin to try out. Then one night, Abe’s grandfather catches them—will Abe and Willie have the courage to cross the alley and reveal their friendship during the day?
A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall is also on my Mock Caldecott watching list.
Plot description:
In the year and a half since the flight of the first manned balloon in 1783, an Italian has flown, a Scot has flown, a woman has flown, even a sheep has flown. But no one has flown from one country to another. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, want to be the first. On January 7, 1785, they set out to cross the English Channel to France in a balloon. All seemed to be going fine, until Jeffries decides the balloon looks too fat and adjusts the air valve―how hard could it be? Too bad he drops the wrench over the side of the aerial car. With no way to adjust the valve, the balloon begins to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard throw as much as they can overboard―until there is nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily, they come up with a clever (and surprising) solution that saves the day.
Samson in the Snow by Phillip C. Stead is beautiful for many reasons.
Plot description:
One sunny day Samson, a large and friendly woolly mammoth, encounters a little red bird who is looking for yellow flowers for her mouse friend (whose favorite color is yellow). As she flies off with the flowers, Samson wonders what it must be like to have a friend. He wonders this for so long, in fact, that he falls asleep and wakes up to a world covered in snow. In the midst of a blizzard, Samson finds and shelters the little red bird and flower-loving mouse in a tender tale of kindness and unexpected friendship.
Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis is also great for inferring.
Plot description:
Du iz tak? What is that? As a tiny shoot unfurls, two damselflies peer at it in wonder. When the plant grows taller and sprouts leaves, some young beetles arrive to gander, and soon—with the help of a pill bug named Icky—they wrangle a ladder and build a tree fort. But this is the wild world, after all, and something horrible is waiting to swoop down—booby voobeck!—only to be carried off in turn. Su! With exquisitely detailed illustrations and tragicomic flair, Carson Ellis invites readers to imagine the dramatic possibilities to be found in even the humblest backyard. Su!
A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts and Noah Z. Jones is fantastic for theme as well.
Plot description:
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?
White Water by Michael S. Bandy, Eric Stein, and Shadra Strickland is another great book to discuss social justice.
Plot description:
It’s a scorching hot day, and going into town with Grandma is one of Michael’s favorite things. When the bus pulls up, they climb in and pay their fare, get out, walk to the back door, and climb in again. By the time they arrive in town, Michael’s throat is as dry as a bone, so he runs to the water fountain. But after a few sips, the warm, rusty water tastes bad. Why is the kid at the “Whites Only” fountain still drinking? Is his water clear and refreshingly cool? No matter how much trouble Michael might get into, he’s determined to find out for himself.
Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies is one of the most perfect picture books for plots, this is the whole purpose of the book!
Plot description:
It begins with an octopus who plays the ukulele. Since this is a story, the octopus has to want something—maybe to travel to faraway galaxies in a totally awesome purple spaceship. Then the octopus sets out to build a spaceship out of soda cans, glue, umbrellas, glitter, and waffles. OK, maybe the octopus needs some help, like from an adorable bunny friend, and maybe that bunny turns out to be . . . a rocket scientist? (Probably not.) But could something even more amazing come to pass?
My Friend Maggie by Hannah Harrison is just a must-add in general, this picture book is great for theme, plot and just kindness overall.
Plot description:
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.

Another fantastic picture book to discuss problems and anxiety is Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.  I love the illustrations of how Jack’s worry follows him around and how he ends up solving it.  Many children would benefit from this book in their classrooms.

Plot description:
Jack loves playing the trumpet, and for weeks he’s been looking forward to taking part in his first concert. But on the morning of the big day, Jack finds he has a Worry. And his Worry starts to grow. Even when Jack’s mother calls him for a special breakfast, even when he hides under the bed or runs around the yard, his Worry follows him. Suddenly, when it’s almost time to leave for the concert, Jack finds it’s all too much. For anyone who’s ever been afraid of failing at something new, this book offers just what’s needed to shrink a Worry down to size.

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.

Plot description:

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?

To see a list of all of our favorite books for many different things, please go here.