Thursday, February 19, 2015

#NF10for10 - 2015 version

What an exciting day this has been -- no school so plenty of time for organizing taxes, reading the next book for my adult book club, finalizing plans for #Dublit15, and choosing the finalists for my #NF10for10 list.

I promised myself I wouldn't do it, but I've already picked at a few of the lists - so many books I need to read and, most likely, purchase (and after just looking at the total amount I spent on books in 2014, I hope my husband doesn't read this post)! I love the different thematic ways people approached choosing their books.

In my new position this year as an intermediate literacy coach in our district, my 10 choices ultimately became the books I have most frequently used with teachers when modeling in their classrooms this year. Some of them were published in the past year, and others are texts I've been using as "touchstones" for several years. So with no further ado, here are my 10 nonfiction picture books for the past year in no particular order:

1) The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet caught my fancy the moment I saw it. A book about words that includes wonderful vocabulary and their definitions, and a boy who loves words; what is not to love about that?! A perfect book to share for a word study lesson. But the power of this book for me has been in sharing with students and teachers how a passion for something can begin early in life and you can carry that passion into adulthood.

2) Which leads me to another biography that I have shared many times this past year: The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Paul Erdos loved numbers from an early age, so much so, that basic life skills tended to escape him. I used this book frequently to share how to read across multiple texts (pairing it with The Right Word), and then to contrast/compare information about individuals, their motivations, and the conflicts they met along the way.

3) Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is another go-to text for me. I recently paired it with some excerpts from Jacqueline Woodson's brilliant book, Brown Girl Dreaming, to help give context to some of the southern racial backdrops of 1963 in that book.  This is also a nonfiction book that can help teach theme - students are amazed at the perseverance these college students demonstrated through the adversity others brought to them.

4) Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate is a wonderful text to pair with her story, The One and Only Ivan. The compare/contrast that could happen between the fictionalized account of Ivan and the true story is a good conversation to have with students. In addition, it is a great mentor text for informational writing, specifically biographies.

5) El Deafo by Cece Bell - I'm not sure what I can say about this book that others haven't already said. But the power of this book is great - it allows ALL children to see that they may have a story to tell, and more importantly, it allows them to see the power of embracing their individuality. I know the Newbery committee did not judge it as a picture book, but I feel comfortable putting it on this particular list. It has allowed me to demonstrate for both teachers and students the power of the graphic novel format; words are critical to telling a story in a more powerful way.

6) Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver had been a popular mentor text in my 5th grade classrooms the past few years, and then this year, I used it many times as a mentor text for informational writing. I love that each 2 page spread can be read and analyzed individually - I did much work with 3rd graders thinking about cause/effect as a text structure on these pages. And what a great topic to gather interest!

7) Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman. I feel like that phrase can almost stand alone. Sidman is at her best when combining genres (using informational text and poetry) within her nonfiction picture books - The Dark Emperor is another wonderful example of this. Using Ubiquitous, I modeled for teachers how they could use a text like this to help push writers who might need a challenge. Recently, when I worked in 3rd grade classrooms, some students were very clear on how to gather information and organize it into paragraphs or other like groupings. I shared Ubiquitous as a text that could be a choice for them - try to organize their thinking about their chosen topic into a different genre. It was fun to watch them stretch their writing skills.

8) Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. The first reason I bring this to classroom is because Steven Jenkins is a go-to nonfiction writer that students need to know. I love how the point of view in this book is each of the animals and they are sharing information about themselves by answering a letter. This is another great mentor text to share with students writing informational pieces - that letter format is a great one to borrow and it makes organizing more manageable for some.

9) Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin is a wonderful addition to any classroom. I share this a lot in 5th grade classrooms, as a perfect example of how to blend science learning (our state has learning about adaptations to environment as a 5th grade skill) and literacy. Cause/effect and problem/solution - this book has it all. In addition, this has been a great introduction into timelines as an infographic. The book is divided into sections, each millions of years apart. Creating a timeline for the Galapagos Island from the information has been good practice.

10) Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track it
by Loree Griffin Burns is part of the Scientist in the Field series of informational texts. I love the series, but what I love when I share this in classrooms is how it is so well written, I actually care about what is going on with beetles (and I don't even like bugs one little bit). The organization into chapters, how it reads in such an interesting way (not dull at all!), additional sections added in between chapters. This is a book I've tended to share more with 4th and 5th grade teachers as I've talked about the standards, specifically RI.4.10 and RI.5.10 - the standard at 4th and 5th grade that deal with text complexity. While I am a firm believer in what Dorothy Barnhouse shared at NCTE - we shouldn't try to begin teaching complex standards with complex texts; we should begin with simpler texts and make sure the learning is solidly in place - I do think it is important to scaffold readers into more complex texts and a book like Beetle Busters could fit the ticket.


Well that's it for this year. There are so many great books that I'm sure would work equally as well, so I'm excited now to head over to the Google community to see what others have put in their #NF10for10 lists!  Thanks to Mandy and Cathy for hosting!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

#IMWAYR - Feb. 2


 I so love reading #IMWAYR posts from others on Mondays - it gives me yet another window into book titles that might have missed my radar or ways those books might be embedded into the classroom. I learn so much. Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the #kidlit version of this meme. Be sure to head over to Jen's blog to see what others are reading!

First, what a great day this is!!!! ALA awards are announced - as I write this post on Sunday, I am so excited to think about all the possibilities of winners, and which authors/illustrators will be receiving "THE" phone call early Monday morning. I have read an incredible amount of wonderful books this year, all deserving of attention, but a few will be recognized further today.

One of the possibilities is El Deafo, by Cece Bell. I read this book in January and loved everything about it. Laurel Snyder, an amazing author herself, wrote this wonderful Facebook post about El Deafo.  NPR did a great interview with Cece Bell. I'm not sure what else I can add to these two pieces of writing except to say - this is a book that needs to be read - it needs to be on the shelves of classrooms and teachers should be reading it aloud to students. It's just that good! (*****Just saw the ALA Newbery awards - this is an Honor Book - yay! Talk about timing!****)

Three picture books I revisited and read aloud with students this past week were:

We were focusing on looking at a similar theme across several texts, and then doing a compare/contrast of those themes. Some of the themes students noticed were:
  • don't give up
  • perseverance
  • keep trying
  • when you encounter roadblocks, figure out how to get around them
As I shared these stories, it was wonderful to have the students connect these themes to their own lives. As I think about the instructional shifts Common Core has required like supporting answers with evidence, reading over multiple texts, and writing about your thinking, these three books that we read together allowed us to do all of that.

It is fun to not only reread texts with students, but to listen to their perspective on what the texts mean.

I hope you have a wonderful week of reading! If you're anything like me, you might be reserving books after hearing the #ALA announcements in the morning! :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SOL - Reading Cycles




In a recent Choice Literacy Big Fresh newsletter, Jen Schwanke talked about how her reading has cycled depending on where she was in life. When I read that, it was as if she had read my mind.

As some of you are aware, I have had some sad and difficult times since just after Thanksgiving. But with getting ready for Christmas, helping organize a funeral for my mom, and having family surrounding us through Dec. 28, I wasn't great, but I was managing.

Then, one by one, my family left. My oldest daughter flew back to DC. My youngest daughter headed  down to the Sugar Bowl. My dad went back to his house. My husband went back to work.  And the grief enveloped me because I was all alone with no buffers. That's when I landed on the word "courage" for my OLW this year; I was going to need courage just to get up some mornings.

I needed a plan of escapism to accompany my courage; how could I escape the sadness that threatened to overwhelm at times? That's when I remembered the piece Jen had written. She was right; we need different types of reading depending on life's circumstances.  In this phase of my life, I needed books that would allow me to escape.

Enter my good friend, Katherine Sokolowski, who had mailed me an ARC of a book by Ally Carter titled All Fall Down. This will be the first in a series titled Embassy Row. It was an easy read and I forgot about being sad for awhile. Just like students, when I find an author I like, I want to know what else they have written. As it turned out, Ally Carter has a series called The Gallagher Girls and another called The Heist series. Both looked intriguing and better yet, almost the entire Gallagher Girls series was available on my public library's Overdrive. I downloaded the series to my Kindle and away I went!

For a week, I read for big chunks of the day. The Gallagher Girls is not a tough series. I think middle school girls, and maybe high school girls, might enjoy it. It is about a spy school for girls and speaks to the power of girls and how they can do so many things when they put their minds to it, especially with the support of their friends. The adventures of these girls across 6 books allowed me to escape, and for that I was grateful.

This weekend, I have discovered another new author to me, Terri DuLong. She has written many fictional stories about an island in Florida, Cedar Key.  Though you don't necessarily need to read them in order, each story has intertwined the characters from all of the stories. I have found my new escape series - plots and characters are predictable, happy endings, not a lot of thinking on my part.

In order to have courage this year, I do believe I will have to be kind to myself, and one way I plan to do that is by escaping form time to time with my books and stories and characters.  

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday. You should head on over to read other slices for this week.

Monday, January 19, 2015

#IMWAYR - Dog Breath




As a literacy coach, I have the good fortune to work in many classrooms alongside teachers, and while doing that, get to see a wide variety of mentor texts used with students.  One of the books I read recently was purchased after I saw a teacher use it as a mentor text for her narrative writing unit.

Dog Breath: the Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis has been around since 1994, but I had just never seen it. As I watched a 3rd grade teacher read it with her students, I found myself guffawing (I was way past laughing!) as the story unfolded.

The teacher who used this book used it as mentor for how narratives can have problems and solutions and story arcs. It worked beautifully for this as students could clearly identify the issue of the story: the dog, Hally Tosis (you have to love that play on words!), has incredibly bad breath which presents a real problem for his owners.

But this book could be used for so many more reasons which makes it a wonderful mentor. The idioms and language (play on words) would provide great conversation:
  • The dog with bad breath had the name, Hally Tosis.
  • When the children, trying to solve the problem, took him to see "breathtaking views."
  • They also tried to take him to a movie that advertised it would "leave you breathless."
  • Then the roller coaster that advertised "You'll lose your breath on our roller coaster."
  • "But that idea stunk too."
  • The last line of the story: "Because life without Hally Tosis just wouldn't make any scents!"
All sorts of fun to be had with words!!

Thanks to Jen for hosting the kidlit version of It's Monday, What Are You Reading? Head on over to her blog to see some other wonderful titles.


Friday, January 2, 2015

My #OLW for 2015


I actually had to go back and research what word I used for my #OLW this past year; I think that speaks to the fact that the word didn't find me, but rather I went looking for it. I could make up a post about how it truly guided my life this year, but it would be false, so I'm not even bothering.

This year, my word absolutely found me: COURAGE.

Many of you know this, but my mom died this past month - Dec. 13, to be precise. It came on the heels of the painful loss our friends had. It has been a difficult holiday season in many respects for my family and me.

But a friend who had recently lost a parent reached out and introduced me to an author I didn't know with this article. Glennon Doyle Melton's article spoke to me in important ways; ways that are helping me survive the grief of this past month. "Courage Today." That was something I could wake up each morning and try to live by. One day at a time. This was manageable, at least most days. Others were meant to be grieving with naps, tears, or total lethargy.

I truly wasn't going to participate in #OLW this year; it felt like one more thing on a plate I was barely balancing as it was. But there was that word - COURAGE - that I have been saying to myself each morning. Give me courage today. It was calling my name and I had to respond.

So COURAGE is the word that will guide me this year because it is currently helping me get through the day emotionally.

But, I think the longer-lasting impact of COURAGE will be important in my life as well, especially as I approach a new decade of life this year.

Courage to take even more chances professionally.
Courage to push my body to try new things athletically.
Courage to embrace all the small moments of life.
Courage to share the hard stuff; not just the good.
Courage to reach out and help others less fortunate than me.
Courage to embrace my new decade and all the wonderful it will bring.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SOL - Grief

I do not normally share difficult personal stories here; I tend to focus on the more positive stories, the ones that are easier to write. My usual reaction when things are tough is to hibernate and withdraw. However, this piece begged to be written, so I am going to try to give it justice.



I have experienced grief, sorrow, and sadness at many times of my life, but my most recent encounter with grief has profoundly changed me. Friends of ours lost their 16 year old son. He was delightful - full of laughter, humor, spirit, and lots of orneriness. When he walked in a room, his engaging ways could make us smile, even when we didn't feel like it.

One day he was here; the next day he was gone. Any parent who has lost a child knows this isn't the "natural" order of things. Our children should outlive us, and when they don't, we are filled with a hole in our lives that leaves us inconsolable.

That feeling is what our friends are currently experiencing. Their grief is a living, breathing thing; it has a life of its own. I was with them at the calling hours, the funeral, and even at their home when we all sat around, cried, hugged each other, and told some stories about this child.  We held on to each other, trying to make sense of something that defies all logic.

The fact that they are our friends has me grieving, but another layer to this story is that I also had this child as a student. For about 175 days one year, we spent time learning from each other in our classroom. I imparted my knowledge about being a reader and writer, but I learned a lot from him about how to embrace life. He loved his family, his sports, his friends, and anything Cleveland. When his parents are ready, I have many "M" stories to share that will allow us to laugh and cry together.

He was life force all of his own, and now he's gone.

That fact has many reeling - his friends (a multitude of students from all 3 high schools in our community), his coaches, his teachers, his neighbors, his teammates, his extended family, his brothers, his mom, and his dad. The grief is real.

Learning how to live without "M" - that is a grief his parents are feeling, and the hard road they now need to travel. The best any of us, as friends, can do is to stand along the road to support them in whatever way needed.

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Tuesday Slice of Life. Head on over there to read even more "slices" that others wrote.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Day Jitters - #SOL Dec. 2


It's move-in day again.  Not new house move-in.  Not college move-in. Not moving a daughter into her new apartment. No this is move-in day for me.

In my new position as intermediate literacy coach, I have the privilege of working beside my intermediate colleagues in four different buildings in our school district.  The number of colleagues I work with can be daunting, but not as daunting as the first day move-in.

A small portion of what moves into
my offices with me :)
Our district's coaching model finds us in one school at a time, for about a span of three weeks.  For me, that means four different offices.  I'm certain I will fine tune this by the end of the year, but for now, four different offices means all my mentor texts, professional resources, technology tools, container of chocolate (a must for all coaches!), and various sundry items all travel with me each time I make a move.

And then there are the first day worries:
  • Who will I sit and eat with at lunch?
  • Will people like me here?
  • Will I be able to find the bathrooms?
  • How do the copiers at this school work?
Let's just say, I have an entirely new appreciation for what it means to be the "new kid" at school.

But after I have moved in to the new office space, unloaded my things making sure that books are the first thing noticed when entering the office, and found the bathrooms, the jitters go away.  I find some people with whom to eat lunch and the staff welcomes me warmly.

But thank heaven, I don't have to find a group to play with at recess!

***Disclaimer - I actually wrote this Slice back in September, but never published it. As I am beginning my second cycle of coaching, I am currently back in my very first building. The moving in is still a thing, but I love that the relationships I built with people all the way back in August and September, have been incredibly helpful as we begin a deeper layer of collaborating together.  It's so nice not to be the new kid anymore, but I am grateful to all the colleagues who so graciously helped me to not have those "new kid" feelings.***

A huge thank you to the smart ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting a Slice of Life each Tuesday.