Monday, September 29, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Picture Books

"Where does our food come from?" is a huge topic. This book series introduces individual foods and other agricultural products with their own biographies. You can read how I am using this series with my students in this week's post on Teaching about the Geography of Food.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett Krosoczka. This story of friendship, bullying and doing what is right revolves around two friends, Peanut Butter (a sea horse) and Jellyfish, and Crabby, their cranky neighbor. This story could foster discussion among kids about bullying but also about what can happen when friendships become exclusive. Cute illustrations too. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance.)

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, illustrated by Mark Pett. Perfectionism can be a big deal for some kids, and this book tackles the idea head on (but perhaps a bit too exaggeratedly). Beatrice has become known as "the girl who never makes mistakes" and seems to do everything right. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that this is holding her back from trying new things. I wish that her eventual mistake could have been something a little more normal, but at least it communicates the idea that a mistake is not the end of the world. Still undecided about whether I will share this one with my students.


Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham. Wonderful new poetry and nonfiction resource about Africa, inspired by the animals found around a water hole in Kenya. Read my full review at New Book Alert: Dear Wandering Wildebeest.

Middle Grade

El Deafo by Cece Bell. This sensitive autobiographical graphic novel focuses on the author's experience growing up and losing her hearing at age 4, as well as her later trials and tribulations with her gigantic Phonic Ear. I think the graphic novel format (and rabbits for characters) makes this book accessible to a wide-range of readers. A great book for talking about differences and how to treat others.

New Book Alert: The Doll People Set Sail by Ann M, Martin and Laura Godwin and illustrated by Brett Helquist (publication date is Oct. 14, 2014). This fourth book in the Doll People series adds illustrator Brett Helquist to replace Brian Selznik, but the book loses none of the charm or creativity of the original three. Read my full review here.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Book Alert: The Doll People Set Sail

The Doll People Set Sail (Book 4) by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brett Helquist. (ARC provided via Net Galley. Publication date: Oct. 14, 2014.)

The Doll People are back, on their wildest adventure to date! Annabelle, Tiffany, and the rest of the Doll and Funcraft families find themselves in quite a pickle - instead of spending some time in the attic while the bedrooms are being renovated, they are accidentally carted off with the charity donation boxes. Now they are steaming out to sea and away from the Palmer family!

This fourth book in the series keeps up the charms and quirks of the original three, while broadening the focus in an adventure that keeps both families deeply involved. The dolls also meet several new (and surprising) friends along the way. The will-they, won't-they questions during their adventures will keep you turning the pages for more.

Brett Helquist steps into to fill the talented shoes of Brian Selznick, who has been filling his time with the incredible Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, among others. Helquist keeps the fun and feeling of the original illustrations while still imparting some of his signature style.

The Doll People are a popular series among my third graders, and I know that the publication of this newest book will help others discover these books as well. They are a great entree into the longer, more complex world of middle grade novels, and the occasional illustrations help to scaffold the readers' comprehension and pique their interest along the way. Fans of such books as The Borrowers and The Littles will enjoy meeting another pint-sized community. This one has definitely been pre-ordered for my classroom library!

Friday, September 26, 2014

New Book Alert: Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole

I was very excited to get the email from our local library that Dear Wandering Wildebeest had arrived. The timing was perfect, as we are set to begin our Africa unit in another week or so.

Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham is a combination poetry and nonfiction resource inspired by a series of photographs taken around a water hole in Kenya. Many of the poems focus on an individual species, and each two-page spread offers gorgeous illustrations of the animal as well as a text book with additional information. The poems themselves range from factual to humorous and cover a wide range of styles and forms.

Irene Latham hosted the Poetry Friday round up last month and shared some of the process behind creating the book. Her post. Poetry Friday ... is Missing!, even contains a poem that was cut from the book, along with the reasoning behind the revision. I am looking forward to talking with students more about the poetry writing (and poetry revision!) process and being able to share a little "inside information" with them about this book.

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is being curated by Laura at Writing the World for Kids. See the whole list of hosts at Poetry Friday by Kitlitosphere.

As for my students and Poetry Friday, writing alliterative poems has become the runaway hit of the last few weeks. What started as a group of boys sharing a poem nearly entirely brought to you by the letter D has spawned a flurry of letter-based poems, some that their creators find so amusing they can barely share them with the class without howling in laughter. (The alliterative poem craze has also sparked a student-inspired run on using the dictionary to expand their poems, and two other students discovered the rhyming dictionaries last week, which led to some amazing tongue twisters.)

Anyone have good leads for alliterative poems?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Teaching about the Geography of Food

Searching for an idea for a final project related to our geography unit, I started brainstorming about things that are global in nature or have a geography component to them. This led me to think about the geography of food. While Farmers' Markets and "Eat Local" campaigns have raised our collective awareness about our food and where it comes from, many students still know very little about this topic, so I designed a research project based on food.

Our project is based upon the How Did That Get Here? series of nonfiction picture books. Each book is titled The Biography of ... and features a different food or agricultural product. One library in our public library system hosts a collection of about 15 different titles for students to choose from. Book selecting day is always highly anticipated, and students gain additional 'buy-in' by selecting their favorite item to study.

I also use this series to reinforce the basics of nonfiction text structure, including modeling about how to use the Table of Contents, Index, and Glossary. The books follow a generally similar format and chapter outline, making it easy for me to help guide students to the necessary chapters.

The series is written at a later elementary school reading level and contains far more information than my students need for this project. We talk about some of the ways that reading nonfiction is different from reading fiction, and students practice skills like skimming and summarizing to find relevant information.

The final product is a short oral presentation to the class. Students use a world map to take notes about where different foods were originally grown and grow today, which helps reinforce the geography connections. The kids enjoy learning cool food facts and history information from each other, and it is a great beginning of the year intro to research.

Do you teach about food or the geography of food with your students? Do you have other favorite resources?

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Picture Books

This week I shared a collection of Fun Picture Books about Imaginary Friends - Visible and Invisible. Reading the most recent addition, Beekle, made me start thinking about other books about unusual friends and started the ball rolling for this post.

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. My third-grade students thought this book was a riot. I shared it as part of our paper blogging challenge this week to write about what they want to be when they grow up. Moose is a great example of not letting anyone (and, err ... reality) get in the way of your dreams. Students have been re-reading this one constantly, including large-group reads during their break time. (H/T Pernille Ripp.)

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I love their earlier River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams, so I was excited to be the first in the library hold line for this new title. Will definitely share this one with students when we get to talking about how and why to use a thesaurus. Fascinating to read how the idea evolved and to see the original meaning-based organization of the first edition.

Ish by Peter Reynolds. We shared Ish last Monday as part of International Dot Day. (Most students had already read The Dot previously.) I enjoyed the message of "ish" over perfectionism and the triumph of art and creativity.


A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by J. Patrick Lewis. I love sharing these poems with students and using them to aid in our study of geography. You can read more details, including an example poem in my post Teaching Geography with Poetry.

Middle Grade

Mock Newbery lists are being posted! Check out the one from Anderson's Book Shop. (I have read 9 of the 24 so far, and two of those nine are below.) 

West of the Moon by Margi Preus. This story blends historical fiction with Norwegian folktales, as the main character struggles to find and reunite with her father during the high tide of American immigration. Personally, I did not find this story particularly enthralling, nor did I find much of a pull towards Astri, our narrator. Much like last week's The Night Gardener, I had a vague "I've read this before" feeling of a Julie of the Wolves crossed with Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (ARC provided via Net Galley). Now this was a mix of historical fiction and folktale that I absolutely loved. The frame of the narrating monk provides an interesting style and substance that immediately drew me into the story and the characters. Once the Prince and the Pauper-style switch is underway and Baba Yaga enters the scene, you will be hard-pressed to put this book down, honeycakes. 

The publisher has pitched the book at ages 12 and up, so it is on the tale end for the Newbery. I would agree with the older age range, as I think the complicated structure of the frame story and narration might be difficult for younger readers to be drawn in by. 


In non-Newbery news, I borrowed Dragon Slippers and Dragon Flight this week from a student and really enjoyed them. Young Creel is an amusing heroine, in the style of Cimorene from Dealing with Dragons. Forced by her aunt to fake her own dragon kidnapping (in an attempt to have her rescued and married off, of course), Creel discovers some of the realities behind the dragons of myth. Fun, engaging reads.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Teaching Geography with Poetry

Geography is our first big social studies topic of the year, and I have found that poems are an invaluable resource in our unit. Many of my favorite geography poems come from A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by J. Patrick Lewis.

This week, we shared three different poems from the book: the opening poem called Places and Names: a Traveler's Guide, The Circle and the Poles, and my personal favorite, How to Tell Latitude from Longitude. If you are a teacher who does anything related to latitude and longitude with students, you need to share this poem. Immediately, if possible. It is so short, so catchy, and so useful.

Screen shot from SmartNotebook, showing my added drawings of the two

My students usually laugh at the poem and especially the word "flatitude," but I always smile about how many times during the rest of that lesson and the ones that follow do I hear mutterings of "latitude, flatitude" as students lean on the poem to help them remember which is which.

How do you integrate poetry?

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is being curated by Amy at The Poem Farm. See the whole list of hosts at Poetry Friday by Kitlitosphere.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fun Picture Books about Imaginary Friends (Visible and Invisible)

Imaginary friends are almost a rite of childhood. This fun collection of picture books highlights a variety of imaginary friends - both physical and invisible - and the many ways that these friends help the main characters grow and learn important lessons.

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf. I found out about this adorable picture book at the most recent Charlotte Zolotow awards (where we were treated to a sung speech by Lemony Snicket, ahem, I mean Daniel Handler, about why words are the most important things in a picture book. Priceless). I was delighted to learn that the author actually got the idea for this story from her daughter who, as a small child, befriended a squash one day in the shopping cart and never looked back. This charming story follows this unusual friendship and the advancing seasons that threaten it. A lovely story about the power of imagination and nature.

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This is the story of what happens when you are bored. And come across a potato. Who also happens to be bored. I love how quickly the narrator shifts from being bored to trying to convince the potato about all the great things that kids can do. A fun book for exploring imagination or trying to conquer an attack of "I'm Bored!" (H/T Elisabeth at The Dirigible Plum.)

The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. This is the clever and heart-rending story of Beekle who lives on the island of imaginary friends, waiting to be imagined so that he can join his new friend. Sick of waiting and being abandoned, Beekle sets off to the real world to find his friend for himself. A great way to start a discussion about friendship, stereotypes, and preconceived ideas. Beekle finds a friend quite different than the one he imagined, and this story might help our students do the same. (H/T Ryan at Reading Rocks!)

Marilyn's Monster (2015) by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Matt Phelan. Marilyn is waiting and waiting for her monster to arrive, but none has. She breaks with tradition and sets off to find her monster. This charming picture book makes an excellent bookend to last year's Caldecott-winning Beekle.

Leo: a ghost story (2015) by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Another in the recent pantheon of books about invisible friends, Leo is a ghost who finds himself sadly unwanted when a new family moves in. Rather than give up, he sets off to find out where he belongs. A predictable, yet still adorable, conclusion awaits. (H/T Mr. Shu.)

Imaginary Fred (2015) by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. This interesting take on the imaginary-friend-picture-book focuses on the imaginary friend, Fred, and his fervent desire to not be forgotten and separated from the human friends he keeps making. This one has some cute twists and humor that will appeal to kids.

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Picture Books

This week I shared Part 3 in my new series Around the World in a Single Book: cultures around the world. This series presents some of my favorite nonfiction resources for studying world cultures. Part 1 focused on books exclusively about children around the world. Part 2 looks at cultures around the world, and Part 3 examines specific aspects of culture, including books about languages and schools around the world.

Share the power of girls and schools with this collection of nonfiction and historical fiction resources. These picture books (and one biography) introduce students to the struggles of girls around the world (and through history) as they strive for education and equality. Start a conversation with your students around this important topic. Read The Power of Girls and Schools: text set for specifics about each book.

The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse and illustrated by Wendy Watson. This powerful World War II picture book is based on a true account of cats being used to thwart German sniffer dogs in Warsaw, Poland. A great resource for teaching about World War II and resistance movements. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance)

Middle Grade

Our school librarian and a colleague are busy trying to prepare for this year's Newbery selections and are hoping to have read (and guessed at) the winner and honor books. To that end, you may see a lot more 2014 potential Newbery candidates coming up in my reading lists in the next few months. (We will also be doing Mock Caldecott book shares and voting with the students near the end of the year. Any leads are welcome!)

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm. This great new release from Jenni Holm mixes science fiction with the normal problems of middle school, resulting in a delightful story about family, friendship, and the fountain of youth! Read my full review here.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. This Victorian novel and self-proclaimed "scary story" was an enjoyable read, but most of the time I had the feeling that I read it before. It was only when attempting to explain the plot briefly to another friend that we realized that this book may have every Victorian or Dickensian trope thrown at a single book. (Orphans? Check. Innocent cripple? Check. Haunted feeling and unnatural events? Check. And so on.) I think students without a strong background in Victorian literature might find the book more engaging, and I think it would make a great "scary story" recommendation to mid/later middle grade students, as it has that scary element without being horrifying.

Caminar by Skila Brown. This historical fiction novel in verse tells the story of young Carlos, living in 1981 in Guatemala. A powerful variety of poems tell his story as the paths of both the army and guerrillas overlap in his village. Brief historical context is provided in the opening note to the reader and the Q&A at the end. Suitable for older middle grade and young adult readers.

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Around the World in a Single Book - part 3: specific aspects of culture

This post is the third in our series about books focused on world geography and world cultures. Part 1 focused on books about children around the world, and part 2 focused on books about cultures around the world. This post will cover books about specific aspects of culture around the world: languages, schools and libraries, and more.

Books about Languages around the World

Hello World! Greetings in 42 Languages around the Globe! by Manya Stojic. This charming little book features full-page paintings of children around the world saying hello. Each greeting is spelled out and written phonetically and includes the language of origin. My main complaint about this book is that I would have liked to how "hello" is written in each language as well, rather than just using the roman alphabet for all of them. (H/T Carrie at There is a Book for That.)

Animals Speak by Lila Prap. This book takes a different tactic, introducing the reader to the different sounds made by animals. The book includes 14 different animals across 41 languages. Only a few languages are included for each animal within the book itself, but you can read all the variations in the end papers. Students love sounding out all of the different sounds and trying their own hand at spelling out what they hear from various animals. I appreciate that this book does include the actual scripts for different languages, but the "pronunciation guide" is not necessary accurate. (The French duck sound is spelled coin in French but is pronounced more like KWA than the COYN that an English speaker would expect from that spelling. A minor point.) (T/P High Variance.)

(If your students really like the idea of animal noises in different languages, there is a super cute series of posters designed by artist James Chapman that were a big hit with my students last year. Click here to see the article and posters.)

Books about Schools and Libraries around the World

My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world by Margriet Ruurs. This book highlights interesting and unusual libraries around the world, with a focus on the importance of books and access to books for children (and adults). Each two-page spread about a country contains photographs of one or more libraries, as well as facts about the country itself. I use this book near the beginning of the year to help my students realize how lucky they are to be constantly surrounded by books at school and at our local public libraries, Little Free Libraries, and Bookmobiles.

My School in the Rain Forest: how children attend school around the world also by Margriet Ruurs. This follow-up book takes the same format to explore schools around the world, again illustrated with photographs and facts about the countries. Each school is described through the eyes of a particular student who is also featured in the write-up. Another resource for comparing and contrasting around the world. (H/T Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.)

Off to Class: incredible and unusual schools around the world by Susan Hughes. As the title suggests, this book provides a look at a variety of schools around the world, with a focus on unusual schools or school situations across three broad categories - Working with the Environment, No School? No Way!, and One Size Doesn't Fit All. Each school has a two-page spread with photographs and several paragraphs of information about the school. Many also have an interview with an individual student from the school. This book is pitched a little older than the two books above and would be suitable for upper-elementary and middle school students. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance.)

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books. Click the link to check out other nonfiction posts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Power of Girls and Schools: text set

Throughout history and even in some places today, girls have not always had the same opportunities as boys when it comes to schools and education. These picture books share the power of girls and schools to make a difference. Share one and empower a young girl (or boy) in your life!

The Power of Girls and Schools

China, 1900s. Ruby's Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. (H/T Kendra at Simply Learning Together.) This story is based on the experiences of the author's own grandmother, who grew up in China at a time when all the girls in her family were expected to get married and only the boys were expected the stay in school. Ruby fights for her own education, writing a fiercely honest poem that impresses her grandfather. A story about the importance of standing up for yourself.

The Great Depression, 1933. The Lucky Star by Judy Young and illustrated by Chris Ellison. During the Great Depression in the United States, many smaller schools were closed due to lack of funds and many students dropped out of school to help support their families. The Lucky Star is the story of fifth-grader Ruth who learns how to be her little sister's lucky star by teaching her and other neighbor children how to read, write, and do arithmetic after their local school closes down. This book would be a great tie-in to lessons about this time in US History.

Afghanistan, 1990-2000s. Nasreen's Secret School: a true story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter. Young Nasreen stops speaking after the Taliban take her parents away and close down schools for girls in Afghanistan. Her grandmother finds out about and sends her to a secret school for girls where she slowly opens up and learns the importance of knowledge. This book highlights some of the challenges facing girls who want to get an education.

Afghanistan, 2000s. Razia's Ray of Hope: one girl's dream of an education by Elizabeth Suneby and illustrated by Suana Verelst. This powerful picture book is based on the true story of the Zabuli Education Center started by Razia Jan outside Kabul, Afghanistan. The main character, also named Razia, finds out about the construction of the new school and wants desperately to attend. Despite her grandfather's support, her brother initially bans her from going. Only by proving the power of an education and convincing the teacher to come speak to her family, does Razia get to go to school. The book includes statistics about children not in school as well as the back story about Razia Jan, the school's founder. There is also a page of possible classroom activities and discussion questions. (H/T Carol at Carol's Corner.)


Pakistan, 2010s. Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney. The book opens with an overview of Malala and provides background knowledge about how she was attacked for supporting education for girls in Pakistan. The rest of the book is a photo essay that pairs letters written by girls around the world with evocative photographs of other girls and some of the difficulties they face in getting an education. This book is a way to address the modern problems with girls and schools for students who might be too young to read Malala's own autobiography, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books. Click the link to check out other nonfiction posts.