Monday, October 26, 2015

#IMWAYR - Oct. 26, 2015

I'm so happy to be back and sharing my reading life on Mondays. Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for hosting #IMWAYR each and every Monday!!

It was a fun reading week for me. I read one picture book and 3 middle grade chapter books. I loved each one of them for different reasons.

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall - I loved this book!!! It read like a combination of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life and Touching Spirit Bear. Much like the latter, it involved an adult stepping up to propose an alternative punishment than going to juvenile jail for the main character. Like the former, the main character needs to discover the truly important things in life. Add to that, Pearsall based this story on something incredible that actually exists now at a Smithsonian museum.  Great read!

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Elis Smith - This is another story that has the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina (quite a few of those this year), but what makes this story unique is that "hurricane" can mean more than the storm that forms out in the ocean. In this story, hurricane also is a feeling you get when you live near a mountain in Vermont and a tragic event occurs. The dual story lines of the character living through Hurricane Katrina and the character trying to escape Vermont, though a bit far fetched, truly worked for me.

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb - This was a find at last week's Junior Library Guild Warehouse sale. I loved that the setting was in Ohio, on a small island located in Lake Erie, off the shore from Toledo. The twist of having an island story be something located in the Midwest made it fun for me. Great characters, family dynamics that occur that no one else even realizes, the ups and downs of friendships, and even a teacher who maybe found her true calling again through a conversation with the main character (an avid reader!) - all wonderful reasons to read this gem.

Neighborhood Sharks by Katharine Roy - This picture book is fabulous told with a narrative line as well as page after page after interesting facts about this Great White Shark. I'm not sure what took me so long to read this book, but it will be a mentor text I share with many colleagues!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Words Matter - #SOL Sept. 22

Thanks to all the wonderfully smart women at Two Writing Teachers who host this gathering each week. It is a lovely place to capture and share those small moments in life.

Recently, I was sitting on my screened porch, doing some writing. While the screened porch is one of my favorite places to be, this particular writing activity had been weighing heavily on me for awhile and I was dreading it. I was writing the thank you notes for all the kindnesses shown to our family when my dad died this summer.

I think I put it off for so long because, after Mom died in December, and then Dad died a scant seven months later, writing these thank you notes meant there would be some closure around my parents' deaths and I wasn't quite ready for that.

But, through the days I procrastinated on this activity, I started to think about all the words that had meant so much to us as a family this past year:

  • The kind words on each sympathy card that made its way to our mailbox.
  • The words people used during calling hours to talk about what a positive impact my parents had on their lives.
  • The words my brother gathered and arranged into eulogies for our parents - words that captured the special and unique qualities of both of them.
  • The words the granddaughters used when sharing their favorite memories about their grandparents.
  • At the memorial service for Dad, the words that a variety of people chose to share with the entire group.
  • The comforting words on the cards accompanying the flower arrangements that added such a lovely touch to each service.
  • The letters received from cousins recalling memories of their times with my parents and how much those experiences had meant to them.
  • The online words: emails, text messages, Facebook messages, Voxes - these were words of comfort.
And then, one day, I had a big "aha" moment about my grief and moving through it - WORDS MATTERED. 

Words mattered during my grief, and the least I could do was to share my words of appreciation for the gifts of concern and kindnesses we had received as a family. So, while those thank you notes were not my favorite task to do on the screened porch, I could only hope that my words of appreciation mattered to the recipient of each thank you. I know your words most definitely mattered to me!

Monday, September 21, 2015

#IMWAYR - September 21

A huge thank you to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts for cohosting the kidlit version of It's Monday, What Are You Reading? I love it personally to find out what others are reading, and, as a coach, I love to share it with teachers to help them find new titles to share with their own students.

I haven't contributed for awhile, but in the last week, I've read some books that are definitely worth sharing.

I'm New Here by Anne Sibley O'Brien caught my attention because of the front cover. As there is a  call for more diversity in books and the need for all children to see themselves in a book, this is a picture book that would do just that. The story focuses on 3 children that are new to a school in America. Each student spends a great deal of time thinking about the talents they had in their former homes; now, the language, the words, the writing, their contributions in class are difficult for them, and leads to sadness and confusion. There is a nice shift within the story that allows each child to feel some success with his/her classmates by the end of the book, but I wonder if that is a simplification of  the actuality. Regardless, the story would lead to great conversations within classroom communities.

See You Next Year by  Andrew Larsen and Todd Stewart was another lovely story about a family that returns to the same beach each year. This would be a great book to use with students in a narrative writing unit. I especially like the narrator's story about the Sunday at the beach, beginning with watching the tractor on the beach as it rakes the beach, and ending with the people leaving the beach in the evening and the gulls returning. Not all children will have the background knowledge or experience to relate to this story, so finding multiple books about experiences children might have would be good.

Leo: A Ghost Story written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Christian Robinson is a testament to children's imagination and the value of friendship. Leo is a ghost who is not appreciated by the new family who moved into his house, leading him to leave that home and search for something better. I love the words and illustrations that occur when Leo encounters Jane, who has decorated the sidewalk with imaginative drawings and asks him if he wants to play Knights of the Round Table with her. I love the nods to creativity and friendship.

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson was a fun frolic. I looked forward to this book because it was by Jeff, and I so enjoyed the story - quirky characters whose storylines come together in humorous, and sometimes empathetic ways. This is a slice of middle school that Jeff writes very well.

I hope you all have a great week of reading!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrating Six New Colleagues

Thanks to Ruth for creating a community where celebration at the end of each week occurs!

Our school district hired many, many new teachers this year. However, this week, I am celebrating the good fortune my school district had in their hires of six specific new-to-our-district teachers. They all came with years of experience; some a few, some more. But the thing they all have in common - a passion for learning.

I am the literacy coach in four different elementary buildings; three of those buildings hired these six new teachers. I reached out to them this summer, as soon as my building administrators informed me of their hires. I welcomed them to their respective buildings, and I shared some district literacy learning opportunities available to them during the summer. I also offered to meet with them at different times to talk about what reading workshop, writing workshop, and word study might look like in their classrooms.

Here is why I am celebrating after our first week of school:

  • Every single new-to-our-district teacher availed themselves of one, or more, of the summer learning opportunities available to them.
  • Many of them attended the weekly summer literacy chats the coaches hosted.
  • Many of them attended our district's two day summer Leadership Academy where they attended sessions to help them with student learning in their classrooms.
  • All but one (and she had prior summer commitments) sat in my house for hours over several days as we talked about the components of workshop.
  • I was invited into many of their classrooms this summer as these teachers were setting them up to help organize or think about spaces for student learning.
  • With one group of three, we were able to sit down together and talk about the components and expectations for word study in our district.
  • They all expressed their gratitude for all the amazing professional development opportunities in which they had taken part.
  • They are all learners and continue to engage in conversations with me and their other colleagues on how best to help children learn.
  • They all have expressed how lucky they feel to be part of a district that supports their professional growth.
And me... Well, I feel quite fortunate to coach and collaborate with these new-to-district teachers who value learning and PD. How lucky am I??!! I look forward to this year of collaboration with all of them!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Tech Work


Our school district has been rolling out new MacBook Airs to teachers, 4 per building at a time several times a year.  My name cam up at the end of the school year and I recently completed the short class required to receive the new machine. It's pretty awesome.

As part of the class we had to create a short video and post it to the district collection of videos.  I figured since I was spending time on it, I might as well make something I can use in the library so this is what I came up with.  I plan on using it the first week of library, probably just have it playing on a loop as the kids come in and then talking about what I read as they share their summer reading.

I'll be adding to the video over the next few weeks because summer's not over and I'm still reading.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tops of far

My reading has picked up again after a bit of a lull, so I'm adding to my list of top titles for 2015 every day.  I'm also changing my list Tops of 2015 every day, so it's all a bit confusing. I've mentioned a few in my recent posts and thought I'd do a bit of organizing to make it easier to think about what is on my list since we're a little more than half way through the year.

There's a lot of good stuff this year, so it wasn't easy to narrow my list down to top 5, all of these titles are easily interchangeable with other titles but I had to start somewhere.  I'd love to hear what titles you have on your list that are missing from mine.

My top 5 picture books for far, are:

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson: Obviously the illustrations are beautiful and the simple lesson about sharing is too.
My Grandma's a Ninja by Todd Tarpley Ill by Danny Chatizikonstantinou: When ninja Grandma comes to visit it's all fun and games, until she starts to get in the way. Can't wait to read this in THE PIT!
With a Friend by Your Side by Barbara Kerley: A collection of photos accompany the text that tells the importance of friendship. Kids will love looking at this one.
And Nick by Emily Gore Ill by Leonid Gore: The four mouse brother are always competing for attention and Nick always gets left behind. In the end he blooms brightest of all.
See You Next Year by Andrew Larsen Ill by Todd Stewart: The annual trip to the beach highlights include a new friend and all of the usual beach things. Good end of summer story for THE PIT.

and my top 5 fiction books for far, are:

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart: Two points of view, one a teen cancer patient runaway and the other his friend who is left behind and knows where he is. One word description, INTENSE!
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: Starting with a magical fairy tale, this is a wonderful piece of interwoven story writing.
Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: Strong and dramatic from start to finish. The main character, Trent, deals with his anger after being involved in the accidental death of a friend. I'm thinking this will be best for older readers.
The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville: This 3 Bears story from the bears' view is a little long, but fascinating how the author brings in all of the other fairy tales.
Catch You Later Traitor by Avi: Based on Avi's memories of growing up during the Red Scare, written like an old time detective novel make this a pretty quick read.  I'm not sure kids will have enough background knowledge to completely understand it.

So there you have it, my Top 5 of far.  I know there will be changes as I keep reading, let me know what yours are.

Monday, July 13, 2015

#IMWAYR - July 13

#IMWAYR is one of my favorite days to check blog posts. It is so fun to see what everyone is reading! Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the kidlit version of this at her blog, Teach Mentor Texts!!

It's been a few weeks since I've posted my reading, so it's fun to see that one book I loved, Bill did too - Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. Some of the other books that I read the past weeks and entered in GoodReads are shown below.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate - This was a generous gift received at #nerdcampMI last week and it did not disappoint. An imaginary friend that stays with you when he/she is needed - so many children will relate to this. It seems that I've read several books on homelessness and this would be another one to add to that list. With all the great books out there on this topic, a unit on empathy could add Crenshaw as a must read.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan - This was my read after Crenshaw and since I loved that story so much, I didn't think any book could measure up. Boy, was I wrong! Three separate story lines, intertwined by the same musical element, and cliffhangers after each section that left me needing more - all of these combine in a story that children will love. 

Blizzard by John Rocco - A wonderful picture book that many have already read, but I just got to it this summer. I still liked Blackout better, but I really enjoyed the community service displayed in this book. And the winter of "the blizzard" was my first year to live on my own as an adult after college - many of the scenarios in this book felt very familiar!

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett - This was a fun story of two boys who both labeled themselves master pranksters. It was only natural that a "prank war" would ensue. Lots of trouble and fun, all at once. The best is what happens when two pranksters combine their efforts toward a common goal!

The Island of Dr. Libris - An island where a very imaginative boy can make characters from stories appear - that is the premise of this story, but it gets a little complicated when characters from different stories start to engage with one another. I enjoyed the literary elements built into this story, and I really liked the message of how much more creative children are than adults.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman - Another story with a literary backdrop, but I liked this one even better!!!! This was recently recommended to me, and was a great find! Ciphers, friendships, trying to fit in, bad guys, playing a game that no one else (except the bad guys) know about, family relationships - this book has it all. I love the shout out to Edgar Allen Poe in this book, but I especially liked the different books the main character, Emily, leaves in different parts of the city for others to find using a site for Book Scavenger players and giving online clues - Escape from Mr. Limoncello's Library and The Westing Game, just to name a few. I think students will really enjoy this, though I also think many of them may miss out on some of the Poe literary references.

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard JacobsonI loved this book as much as I loved her other book, Small as an Elephant. This is a beautiful story that focuses on unique family units as well as homelessness (another book to help promote empathy).

I had a great few weeks of reading! I'm looking forward to even more great books in the next weeks.