Monday, October 31, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 10/31/16

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach 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.

Last Week's Posts

    Picture Books

    Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016) by Melissa Sweet. I need to write an ode about how much I love Melissa Sweet. Her scrapbooky style of artwork is always so inspiring, and she did an amazing job incorporating so many actual photographs and ephemera from the White family. This biography seems like an instant classic for anyone who loves and appreciates the stories of E. B. White. As a teacher, one of my favorite insights was the inclusion of multiple (wildly different) drafts of the opening page of Charlotte's Web. A mini-lesson in the making.

    Middle Grade

    Ms. Bixby's Last Day (2016) by John David Anderson. I knew I had to grab this one off of my TBR stack after hearing Mr. Schu book talk it recently. He was so animated about the students and their predicament, after their favorite teacher received a cancer diagnosis and ends up leaving school unexpectedly early. Despite the sad premise, this is a charming - and often hilarious - story, and one that I think both students and teachers will love and appreciate.

    Al Capone Does My Shirts (2004) by Gennifer Choldenko [Newbery Honor winner]. I was seeking books featuring characters with disabilities, and this popped up in the Amazon recommendations. Set on Alcatraz Island during the 1930s when the prison was operating, the book is narrated by Moose whose family has just moved to the island. This is a humorous and charming story as Moose tries to fit in at school and with the other island kids while also balancing the needs of his "younger" sister, Natalie (who today we would recognize as autistic). Raises some really interesting questions about mental illness and disability in a historical context.

    Counting Thyme (2016) by Melanie Conklin. I was thrilled to lockdown a Skype visit with Melanie Conklin in February as part of World Read Aloud Day. I had already heard great things about Counting Thyme and finally got a chance to sit down with it.

    Thyme is frustrated by living in limbo - her parents have just moved the whole family cross-country so that her younger brother can participate in a clinical trial for his neuroblastoma cancer. Thyme is trying to juggle being new and fitting in with the hope that they will be leaving and moving back in a few short months. This is a cute and enjoyable story, and one that does a good job of laying bare the impact a severe illness can have on a family.

    Happy Reading!

    Wednesday, October 26, 2016

    Middle Grade & Picture Book Pairings: Japanese Internment

    Picture books are one of my favorite ways to build background knowledge about a subject. When I taught US History to fourth graders, I always relied on well-written picture books to help guide and further our discussions. This is the first post in a new series highlighting great middle grade and picture book pairings.

    MG & PB Pairings: Japanese Internment

    I did not learn about the United States's interment of Japanese-Americans when I was in school. It may have received a sentence in my AP US History book, but if it did, I don't recall any conversation about it. Because this a topic that kids are unlikely to have much background knowledge about, it makes it a great candidate for using both picture books and novels to complement each other.

    Dash by Kirby Larson (2004) by Kirby Larson is a highly personal and engaging middle grade historical fiction novel set during World War II. Based on the actual experiences of Mitsue Shiraishi, the story is told from the perspective of 11 year-old Mitsi and picks up right in the thick of it.

    The story draws you in immediately, as Mitsi struggles to understand why her friends have started treating her differently, and any student can empathize with growing slights and the difficult dynamics of lunchroom seating. The story gives a detailed picture of this regrettable time in US History, from the initial imprisonment of Japanese men to the deportation and relocation to internment camps of Japanese-American families. The horror is further compounded for Mitsi when she learns that her dear dog Dash will not be allowed to accompany them to the camp.

    This book hits on so many issues of importance to late-elementary and middle school readers including issues with friends, rejection, sibling disagreements, and the power of connections with pets. This book would make a great Book Club selection for a whole class or small groups, as there is a lot of potential for discussion and conversations, especially in conjunction with a unit on World War II or Japanese Internment.

    Picture Book Pairings: Japanese Internment

    The process: saying goodbye and initial resettlement

    The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida and illustrated by Joanna Yardley. The Bracelet begins with second-grader Emi and her family on the eve of resettlement in the internment camps. Emi receives a bracelet from her friend Laurie but loses it on the way to the camp. Despite the setback, Emi realizes that she can remember Laurie and her papa without it. The story covers only the initial resettlement into a temporary shelter in a horse stable and is based on the author and her family's own experiences in internment camps.

    Daily life in internment camps: a child's perspective

    A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai and illustrated by Felicia Hoshino. This honest bilingual book opens with a note from the author providing a brief explanation of internment and her family's personal connection to the story, through her mother's family. The story provides a young girl's perspective on the internment camp, focusing on her experiences trying to express herself through art class. Both the text and illustrations provide hints at some of the darker issues, like the conditions of life in the camps (soldiers with guns, bathrooms without stall doors), but the story ends with an image of hope and the sprouting of Mari's sunflowers.

    Flowers from Mariko by Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks and illustrated by Michelle Reiko Kumata. Flowers from Mariko begins at the internment camp but the focus is on what happens to the family after the war ends, and they are allowed to leave. Rather than being able to simply go home, the family is resettled in a trailer park after the father discovers that their previous landlord has sold the truck he promised to look after for them. This book is powerful in that it continues the story outside of the camps and explores some of the difficulties that these Japanese-Americans had in readjusting and re-starting their lives again.

    Daily life in internment camps: an adult's perspective

    Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. (H/T Linda at Teacher Dance and Kellee at Unleashing Readers). This is the true story of Kenichi "Zeni" Zenimura, a Japanese-American baseball player who was sent to an internment camp. At the camp, Zeni strove to build his own baseball field and inspire hope in a difficult situation. Publisher Abrams Books has a curriculum guide available here.

    Long term impact of internment: connections to the present

    In the great span of history, internment is not a distant chapter, and many people alive today have direct personal or family connections. So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet follows the Iwasaki family in the modern day as they visit the Manzanar War Relocation Camp, where the narrator's father and his family were interned and where her grandfather is buried. This powerful look back at the impact of internment is told through alternating color (present) and black and white (past) illustrations documenting both time periods. For use with older students as this story raises more hard questions than some of the others.

    How do you use picture books to provide additional context or information?

    Monday, October 24, 2016

    It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 10/24/16

    It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach 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.

    Last Week's Posts

      Middle Grade

      Ghost (2016) by Jason Reynolds [National Book Award finalist]. Ghost is the first in a new middle grade series from talented author Jason Reynolds (who I just found out will be the speaker at next year's Zolotow Lecture here in town, yay!). The main character, who has nicknamed himself Ghost, finds himself perplexed by a track practice in progress and ends up showing off and earning a spot on the team. Ghost is struggling to find out who he is and where he fits, especially as he hides his traumatic secret from others. This is a powerful story (and quick read), and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

      Firegirl (2006) by Tony Abbott [a Golden Kite Award winner]. This story about acceptance is about a girl who is terribly disfigured in a fire and is narrated by a boy in the classroom she moves to when she has to change towns to be closer to her doctors. The focus is on the meaning and responsibility of being a bystander, but I think it might have been a more interesting and more powerful book if the girl herself had been given more of a voice.

      Freak the Mighty (1993) by Rodman Philbrick. This is a story of friendship that transcends stereotypes and abilities. The narrator, Maxwell, is a lumbering giant of a middle schooler who has been diagnosed with learning disabilities. But he finds his voice and his confidence when Kevin ("Freak"), a boy with a genetic condition that has kept him small and required to wear leg braces, moves in next door. Together they become Freak the Mighty and take on challenges both real and imagined. (I read the 20th Anniversary edition which also contains significant back matter including some priceless letters to the author from children.)

      Young Adult

      The Monster Calls (2011) by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, and inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd [winner of the Carnegie Medal for literature and the Kate Greenway Medal for illustration]. This book wrecked me. The writing is so powerful and deeply sad, yet there are also these just incredibly humorous lines too. This book is a potent combination of ghost story, mystery novel, and tear jerker. I'm curious as to how well the book resonates with YA readers who have yet to experience significant loss in their own lives, but for those who have, it will be a lifeline. Be sure to get a version with Jim Kay's amazing illustrations - and read it before the movie comes out in January. (A review copy of the book was provided by Candlewick. All thoughts are my own.)

      Happy Reading!

      Wednesday, October 19, 2016

      #KidLitBlogHop for October

      We want to welcome you to the October 2016 Kid Lit Blog Hop. Fall is here, and Halloween is in a mere two weeks...WOW! There are some really great Halloween and autumn books out there for children. Do you have a favorite to share? Link it up below! (Of course, posts on any theme within great children's literature are welcome.)

      This exciting, monthly hop is an engaged group of people who love everything that has to do with children's literature. Everyone is welcome to join us: bloggers, authors, publicist, and publishers! Please make sure that your posts are related to children’s literature only. Please make sure to add a direct link to your post only, but authors are invited to simply to link to your blog.

      Once you are done, then hop around to visit others. Please follow the hosts and visit at least the one or two people directly before your link. Please leave a comment when you do visit - we all like those. Also, it would be appreciated if you grab the Kid Lit Blog Hop badge image and displayed it on your blog and/or your post.

      Have you seen the Kid Lit Blog Hopper Facebook fan page? This page has all the news and information related to the hop plus ongoing posts, giveaways, news articles, etc. related to Kid's Lit. Check it out, and of course, please like the page.

      We would be grateful if you tweet about the blog hop using our hashtag #KidLitBlogHop and/or posted on Facebook. Let’s grow this wonderful community. The hosts will be around to see you soon.

      Our next hop will be January 18, 2017. (We are taking a break due to the busy holidays.)

      Reading AuthorsHost
      Cheryl Carpinello
      Pragmatic Mom
      The Logonauts
      Spark and Pook
      The Bookshelf Gargoyle

      Happy Hopping!

      Link Up Below:

      Monday, October 17, 2016

      It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 10/17/16

      It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach 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.

      Last 2 Week's Posts

        Picture Books

        Show Way (2005) by Jacqueline Woodson [Newbery Honor]. Jacqueline Woodson is speaking in town this week, so our school's librarian put together a book display to share with our students. I have no idea how I'd missed this picture book before now!

        Show Way is a historical look through Woodon's own family connected to the process of quilt making and the connection between quilting and knowledge of the Underground Railroad. This is an incredibly-lyrical and well-illustrated book, and it received a Newbery Honor (for the writing).

        Middle Grade

        Bridge to Terabithia (1978) by Katherine Paterson. Reread. (Full disclosure: when I was younger I had my own imaginary world in the woods near our house named TerebiNthia, because I was subtle in my plagiarism.) It has been a long time since I last read this book, and overall I felt like it still holds up and could be relevant to today's readers. (Though the teacher calling up the student and taking him on an impromptu field trip raises eyebrows.)

        When You Reach Me (2009) by Rebecca Stead. Another Newbery winner off my to-read list!

        This is an interesting and quirky story that I'm still not quite sure what to do with. Thankfully, all of my students read A Wrinkle in Time last year, because I wouldn't want anyone to read this book who hadn't already read Wrinkle, as there are major spoilers included. It also feels a bit hard to book talk this one without giving too much away. But at its heart this is a story about family, the difficulties of middle school friendships, and wanting more from life.

        I'm still working on building my list of must-read or must-discuss books for middle schoolers. (Especially books they might not pick up on their own.) Others I'm considering include One for the Murphys , Tuck Everlasting, Paper Things, and The Fourteenth Goldfish.

        Happy Reading!

        Saturday, October 15, 2016

        #DiverseKidLit: Share your favorite diverse authors and illustrators!

        Our theme for this month's Diverse Children's Books linkups is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Who are your must-read authors or must-see illustrators? (The theme is only a suggestion. Diverse posts on alternate topics are always welcome.)

        What Is #DiverseKidLit?

        Diverse Children's Books is a book-sharing meme designed to promote the reading and writing of children's books that feature diverse characters. This community embraces all kinds of diversity including (and certainly not limited to) diverse, inclusive, multicultural, and global books for children of all backgrounds.

        We encourage everyone who shares to support this blogging community by visiting and leaving comments for at least three others. Please also consider following the hosts on at least one of their social media outlets. Spread the word using #diversekidlit and/or adding our button to your site and your diverse posts.


        We hope this community will grow into a great resource for parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and authors! Our next linkup will be Saturday, November 5th and on the first and third Saturdays of every month.

        Upcoming Theme

        Our theme for the current linkup is Favorite Diverse Author or Illustrator. Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you're interested, you can start planning now for our upcoming themes ...

        Most Clicked Post from Last Time

        Our most-clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit linkup features super-talented author-illustrated Kadir Nelson. Miss T's Book Room shares a brief biography of Nelson and his long-list of awards and amazing picture books.

        I had the honor of hearing Kadir Nelson speak during a breakfast at last year's NCTE conference. He is an incredibly-talented artist, as well as a thoughtful and caring man. If you are not yet familiar with his work, you are in for a treat!

        My #DiverseKitLit Shout-Out

        Mark your calendars for Multicultural Children's Book Day, Jan. 27, 2017! Multicultural Children's Book Day is an all-day (really, more like all-month) celebration of diverse books. Opportunities are currently available for teachers and bloggers to receive a free diverse book to review as part of the event. Interested parents can also win books through various giveaways. This will be my third year participating in #MCCBD and my first year as a co-host. This is another great way to bring attention to diverse books, and I hope you'll consider joining in!

        #DiverseKidLit is Hosted by:

        Want to be notified when the next #diversekidlit linkup goes live?

        Receive an email reminder for each new #diversekidlit linkup

        Interested in joining as a host or an occasional co-host? Contact katie at

        (Never participated in a linkup before? Please click here for a more detailed step-by-step.)

        Get #DiverseKidLit Recommendations on Pinterest!

        Our Pinterest board highlights a wide range of amazing posts and resources for Diverse Children's Books. Please consider following the board for even more great books!

        Wednesday, October 12, 2016

        Great Graphic Novels for Middle School, part 2: fantasy

        Graphic novels continue to grow in popularity and creativity, and there are so many wonderful ones out there to choose from. The first post in this series introduced some of my favorite realistic fiction and memoir graphic novels for middle school. This post explores options within the fantasy genre. (Although popular among my middle schoolers, many of these books are in high demand from younger grade levels at our K-8 as well.)


        The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, with color by Jordie Bellaire. This later middle grade graphic novel is a fascinating historical fiction/fantasy story set in an ancient Asian-inspired city. The thrust of the story is a friendship between two unlikely characters: Kaidu, a Dao (the current ruling group), and Rat, a member of the Named - those who live and have always lived in the city, despite the swirling and changing politics at the top. This is an engaging first book in a likely series about the city, its past, and its future. (I received an ARC of this book through an entry in Publishers Weekly.)

        Secret Coders (2015) by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes. This new graphic novel series features new student Hopper and her unlikely friendship with the popular Eni. Events conspire to drawn them into the mysterious power of binary numbers and basic computer programming. Book two, Paths and Portals is also available, and book 3, Secrets and Sequences, is coming in March 2017. [This book made me quite fondly nostalgic for that dear little turtle in the original Logo program that we learned back in the '80s.]

        Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke. Another student recommendation, this is the first book in this charming graphic novel series. A lot happens in just the illustrations of this book, so you need to slow down and "read" the illustrations more than you do in some other graphic novels. Very enjoyable book. (You can read a review of this series by one of my third grade students here.)

        Little Robot (2015) by Ben Hatke. My students love Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl series, so there was much excitement about his newest graphic novel. The book did not disappoint. This is a very sweet story with minimal text, making it great for reluctant readers. (I actually dressed up as the character in this book for last year's Book Character Dress-Up Day.)

        Cleopatra in Space 3: Secret of the Time Tablets by Mike Maihack. Now that book 3 is finally here, I feel more comfortable recommending the Cleopatra in Space series. Book 2 left on a HUGE cliffhanger that frustrated readers to no end. But now the wait is over for this action-adventure series lightly based around the Egyptian Cleopatra. (If you liked Cleopatra in Space, check these other book recommendations from students.)

        I have not personally read any of the Amulet series, mainly because they are never actually available in our school library due to high demand! Plus, they have the recommendation of Mr. Schu who mentioned in a talk last week that not only is Amulet one of his favorite graphic novel series of all-time but it is also the best smelling graphic novel series ever. I leave that for you to judge.

        Traditional Tales and Fairy Tales

        Trickster: Native American tales, a graphic collection (2010) assembled by Matt Dembicki. This "graphic novel" collection brings together 21 stories by Native American storytellers from across the US paired with illustrators. This is a great collection of tales, and the graphic novel or comic format makes this an especially appealing book for reluctant readers. Though labelled as Young Adult by my public library, the stories do not contain graphic or mature content (other than what you would expect from a traditional tale).

        Snow White: a graphic novel (2016) by Matt Phelan (A review copy of the book was provided by Candlewick. All thoughts are my own.)

        Phelan reimagines the story of Snow White set in and around the stock market crash that abruptly ended the roaring 20s. The tale unfolds mostly in the ways that would be expected, but the most interesting fun is to be had in seeing how Phelan interprets and translates each character and event in the story into the new time period.

        Told in his sparse, image-heavy style, readers may need to rely on their knowledge of the tale in some points to better interpret the story and its actions. (Background about the time period can be helpful too.) It will be interesting to see whether this becomes part of a series of fairytale reimaginings.

        Did I miss any of your favorite fantasy graphic novels for middle school? Please share in the comments below!

        Wednesday, October 5, 2016

        Great Graphic Novels for Middle School, part 1: realistic fiction

        Graphic novels are an incredibly popular format and many tell stories of richness and depth that appeal to middle school readers. A graphic novel even recently received a Newbery Honor Award, the highest honor in children's literature. The first post in this series will focus on graphic novels that fall within the genres of realistic fiction and memoir.

        Realistic Fiction and Memoir

        Roller Girl (2015) by Victoria Jamieson [Newbery Honor Book]. This graphic novel might have sparked more conversations as an "unusual" Newbery choice had picture book Last Stop on Market Street not won the award last year, but it is a great book and a great story in its own right. Roller Girl is the story of twelve-year old Astrid, who discovered roller derby over the summer, as she struggles with growing apart from her best friend, Nicole. I love how the book both a) refused to make easy solutions to the friendship issues and b) even included some meta-asides about perfect endings. This is a book that will appeal to readers across a wide age range.


        Smile (2010) by Raina Telgemeier and with color by Stephanie Yue and Sisters (2014) by Raina Telgemeier and with color by Braden Lamb. These two autobiographical-graphic novels detail different episodes in the author's childhood. Smile covers the years of middle school and high school when Raina struggled with her dental-related adventures, while Sisters focuses in on a family road trip and reunion that revolves around Raina's relationship with her younger sister, Amara.

        Drama (2012) by Raina Telgemeier. This realistic-fiction graphic novel focuses on seventh-grader Cassie, and the drama of the title refers both to her interests in theater set design as well as the kinds of drama one expects in middle school - issues with friends and relationships. Drama has made the ALA's 2014 list of the Top 10 Most-Challenged Books in the US because of its inclusion of gay characters and relationships. (You can read more about how I celebrated Banned Books Week in my classroom here.) I am delighted to have a signed copy of this book to add to my classroom library (thank you, #nErDcampMI!).

        Let's finish the Raina-admiration party with The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea (2006) by Ann M. Martin and reimagined as a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier. Despite having read dozens upon dozens of these books as kid, it was interesting how little of the series stuck with me. It was entertaining to see the series reimagined and to see how the issues and concerns still speak to modern middle school readers.

        Sunny Side Up (2015) by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. Sunny is sent to spend the summer with her grandfather at his retirement community in the summer of 1976 and is a thrilled about it as you can image. Only as the story continues, do flashbacks start to suggest that there is more going on here than a simple vacation. This deals with some difficult family issues and is based on the real-life experiences of the authors. The Yarn podcast did an entire first season of interviews all around the creation of this book. It makes for an incredible listen.

        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.

        For Mature Readers

        This One Summer (2014) by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, winner of a Caldecott Honor Award. This graphic novel was shelved in the teen section of my public library and is definitely geared towards high school or later middle school students, so I can see why it was a contentious choice for the Caldecott (aimed at readers 0-14 years old). What seems like a fairly straightforward "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" story becomes much more complex and darker as the book unfolds.

        Did I miss any of your favorite realistic fiction graphic novels for middle school? Please share in the comments below!

        Monday, October 3, 2016

        It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR 10/03/16

        It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from picture books through YA by Jen of Teach 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.

        Last Week's Posts

        • The Odes of Pablo Neruda. Example poems and picture book about his life to use when introducing this form of poetry to students.

          Picture Books

          Dear Dragon: a pen pal tale (2016) by Josh Funk. So cute and clever. Some major miscommunications happen as human and dragon pen pals put their own lives into the letters from their new friends. A great conversation-started about prejudice and stereotypes!

          Middle Grade

          One for the Murphys (2012) by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I'm trying to put together a series of book club book choices for my seventh graders. I'm looking for shorter books with plenty to think about and that deal with higher-level issues. I've read Fish in a Tree (which some of my students read last year), so I thought I'd check this one out too.

          One for the Murphys is the story of a girl named Carley who finds herself in foster care after she is beaten by her stepfather. This is a tear-jerker of a tale about family, friendship, and finding your own way. I have read some negative criticism about the depiction of social workers in the book, but I still think there is a lot to value in this story.

          What are your must-read or must-discuss books for middle schoolers? (Especially books they might not pick up on their own.) Others I'm considering include Tuck Everlasting, Paper Things, and The Fourteenth Goldfish.

          Happy Reading!