Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists. For future Top Ten Tuesday topics & info on how to participate, please click here!

Today's Topic: Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds

It was interesting to go back through my Goodreads lists and realize just how much I enjoy books about reading and about readers. While I could list WAY more than ten - here are my top 5 YA and top 5 Adult books featuring characters who love stories and books. 

 Young Adult Picks:


 A favorite of mine as a child, I loved Sara Crewe's stories and resilience.
“Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage."

2. Hermione (Harry Potter)
Hermione Granger was one of those rare reader characters who actually spends a significant amount of the story really reading. She's gone for hours in the Hogwart's library to emerge ready to save the day.
"When in doubt, go to the library."

3. Despereaux (A Tale of Despereaux)
Poor little Despereaux! I can completely relate to getting so immersed in a story that it infiltrates your dreams.
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark."

4. Amanda (Maniac Magee)
A favorite of our class when I taught 6th grade, Amanda Beale loved her books so much she dragged them to school in a suitcase so her little brother and sister wouldn't wreck them. 
“Amanda took the torn page from Maniac. To her, it was the broken wing of a bird, a pet out in the rain.”  

5. Liesel (The Book Thief)
My dear, sweet Liesel.... this child worked her way so much into my heart that I tear up a little now thinking of how she painstakingly learned to read through that first awful book. I've experienced this book twice - once reading and once as an audio - and I'll never hear accordion music without feeling a pang for Liesel's Papa.
"Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” 

Adult Picks:

6. Marianne & Elinor (Sense & Sensibility)
I love that sisters Elinor & Marianne have such a rich reading life that Marianne's most stinging criticism about Elinor's potential suitor is that he reads aloud horribly.
"Oh! mama, now spiritless, how tame was Edward's manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely... To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!"

This entire book is populated with thoughtful readers - both those long-time readers like Juliet, and those forced (at first) into reading by the need to make true their alibi during the war.
“That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive - all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” 

8. Queen Elizabeth (The Uncommon Reader
This funny novella features a chance encounter between Queen Elizabeth II and a mobile library that leads to her sudden and deep passion for reading for pleasure.
“Books are not about passing time. They're about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.” 

9. Margaret (The Thirteenth Tale)
The insightful and poetic commentary on reading and writing in this book make it one of my favorites despite the way the plot seems to get warped at the end.
“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.” 
While 99% of these fun vampire & werewolf & witch & shapeshifter & fairy novels are all about the paranormal, I love how the main character pines for a simple day of basking in the sun with a romance novel.
“They say there's no harm in daydreaming, but there is.” 

What do you think?  What are your favorite books featuring book nerds?

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Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/27/15

What better way to cure those Monday blues than to talk about my favorite thing - books!
It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and then refocused onto KidLit by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts, and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. It's a fantastic way to reflect on your reading and discover great new titles by connecting with the other bloggers that link up.  

I finished reading:

Rollergirl by Victoria Jamieson
 12 year-old Astrid finds herself drifting away from her long-time friend as they pursue different interests. For Astrid - it's all about roller derby - and it's not so clear whether their friendship is going to make it. My 8 year-old daughter and I just loved this graphic novel - and we were psyched to find something as fun as Sisters and Smile. I'm planning to surprise her with tickets to see an Assault City Roller Derby bout next month.  Can't wait!!

This title has been hanging out in my room for a long, long time, and I'm so glad I finally picked it up!  It's a sweet, fun read about a middle school kid whose origami Yoda seems to give oddly enlightened advice. Is it something supernatural or is there more depth to this strange kid than everyone thinks?

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman)
Another incredible book this week - heart wrenching, harrowing, horrible - I think I'll remember more about Harriet Tubman's life from reading this one graphic history than from any other source I've read.  It's powerful...  and I appreciate that it does not gloss over our nation's often deplorable acts.

Nathan Hale needs to take very good care of himself so he can write lots more book like this!  

As my entire family will tell you - I have been talking about this book all week!  Did you know that some Renaissance men would store snacks in their codpieces? Or that no one wore underwear until the 1800s? Or shoes were not made with a left and right foot until about 150 years ago?
This is going to be a great non-fiction addition to my classroom library this year!

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
Getting an advanced reading copy of this graphic novel is one reason I love my husband's job! I'll be writing a full review of this title in a bit - so more on this later...

I am currently reading:

I am currently listening to:

The Boleyn Reckoning (Laura Anderson)
I am such a sucker for the Tudors! How would English history be different if Anne Boleyn's son had actually survived?  Oooo... count me in!

What have you been reading this week? Comment below or link up!

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Monday, July 20, 2015

July Book-a-Day Challenge

In order to kick start my reading again after a bit of a lull, I decided to join the Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by The Nerdy Book Club (and others!).  The "rules" are pretty straightforward:

  • Decide on your own start and end dates. (I'm starting with July 1st - July 31st. Then we'll see about August.)
  • Read an average of one book per day. 
  • Any book counts. (Mine are mainly young adult, picture books, and a few adult books thrown in.)
  • Keep a list and share on social media - hashtag #bookaday (I'll update this page with my running list of books - and if you want to connect, I am also on Goodreads and Twitter!)

July 2015 Book A Day Challenge

Picture Books:
  1. Biscuit Wants to Play (Alyssa Capucilli) - 3 Stars
  2. The Unsolved Mystery of the Loch Ness Monster - 3 Stars
  3. Diary of a Fly (Doreen Cronin) - 4 Stars
  4. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (Julia Sarcone-Roach) - 3 Stars
  5. The Most Magnificent Thing (Ashley Spires) - 3 Stars
  6. Oh No! (Candace Fleming) - 3 Stars
  7. The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten (Maureen Fergus) - 2 Stars
  8. The Bizarre Life Cycle of an Octopus (Therese M. Shea) - 4 Stars
  9. The Beetle Book (Steve Jenkins) - 4 Stars
  10. Biscuit Goes to School (Alyssa Capucilli) - 3 Stars
  11. Poop-di-doop! (Stephanie Blake) - 2 Stars
  12. Animal Robots (Erika L. Shores) - 3 Stars
  13. Raindrops Roll (April Pulley Sayre) - 4 Stars
  14. Wish (Mathhew Cordell) - 4 Stars
  15. Ice Cream Summer (Peter Sis) - 2 Stars
  16. Stick and Stone (Beth Ferry & Tom Lichtenheld) - 4 Stars
  17. Pterodactyl (Aaron Carr) - 2 Stars
  18. Not a Stick (Antoinette Portis) - 4 Stars
  19. My Teacher is a Monster (Peter Brown) - 4 Stars
  20. Sam & Dave Dig a Holes (Mac Barnett) - 4 Stars
Young Adult Fiction:
  1. Rain Reign (by Ann M. Martin) - 5 Stars
  2. The Crossover (by Alexander Kwame) - 5 Stars
  3. Circus Mirandus (Cassie Beasley) - 4 Stars
  4. Roller Girl (Victoria Jamieson) - 5 Stars
  5. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Tom Angleberger) - 4 Stars
  6. 33 Minutes ( Todd Hasak-Lowy) - 5 Stars

Young Adult Non-fiction:
  1. Why'd They Wear That? Fashion As The Mirror of History (Sarah Albee) - 4 Stars
  2. Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale) - 5 Stars

Adult Books:
  1. Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller) - 5 Stars
  2. The Boleyn Deceit (Laura Anderson) - 4 Stars
  3. Teach Like a Pirate (David Burgess) - 4 Stars

Off to a good start! What have you been reading this July?

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Fiction Friday: Rain Reign, The Crossover, and Circus Mirandus

Happy Friday! This week I'm joining up with Amanda from The Teaching Thief to share my reading from the past week and highlight some of my favorite fiction books from my #bookaday challenge.

1. Rain Reign (Ann M. Martin)  4 1/2 stars
When ALL your librarian friends are recommending a book to you - you KNOW it's going to be great...  Rain Reign is narrated by a 5th grader named Rose who loves homonyms, rules, and prime numbers - in that order. As one of her conversation starters, she says "My official diagnosis is high-functioning autism, which  some people call Asperger's syndrome. (Do you have a diagnosis?)"  I just couldn't helped but fall in love with Rose, her dog Rain, and her Uncle Weldon.  Her dad though.... well, not so much. And there is the major conflict of this novel with her father accidentally (maybe?) letting her dog out during a hurricane and Rose having to develop a plan to get him back.

2. The Crossover (Kwame Alexander)  5 stars
I'll admit right now that I am not a big poetry fan. And when I found out this Newbery Award winner was a novel told all in verse - it languished in my "to read" pile until it was almost due back at the library. But once I let myself simply enjoy the rhythm of each page without worrying about stanzas or rhyme schemes - I just couldn't keep it out of my hands. This sweet (and sometimes sad) story is told from the point of view of middle schooler Josh Bell (aka Filthy McNasty) and delves deep into basketball, his relationship with his twin brother JB, and his rough spots with his parents.  Last weekend, this book had me grinning at old-school basketball references, sighing with understanding at sibling squabbles , and yes, eventually sobbing in my cereal last Sunday morning while reading that last chapter.

3. Circus Mirandus (Cassie Beasley)   4 stars
This novel reminded me so much of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  Both are fantasies featuring a young boy with a special bond with his dying grandfather who keeps magical secrets. Both have peculiar people with strange abilities who should have been dead decades ago and yet have not aged a bit. Both have odd bird people....   And yet, I found this book to be much more enjoyable and likely more suited to a middle grade audience. The jacket quote "You have to believe it to see it." could lead to a fantastic discussion about that topic. And while I am a person who would far rather know the truth about something than believe a comforting lie, I was willing to enjoy this novel despite the questions it raises.

Next week look for posts on Roller Girl and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Want to join me on my #bookaday progress or share your fiction recommendations?  Connect with me on Twitter, leave a comment, or link up with Amanda at The Teaching Thief!

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Top 10 Class Reads of 2014-2015!

Each year there are certain books especially loved by that particular class. These are the titles that have long waiting lists to check them out, titles that capture the imaginations of students, titles that get passed around the classroom, and leave us wanting to know everything there is to know about that author and the world they created for us.  Here were our books for this past year.  And please share yours in the comments!

Our Top 10 Books of 2014-2015

#1 Wonder (R. J. Palacio)
This book kicked off our year with a sweet, funny, (and sometimes sad) story about August Pullman - a boy with severe facial deformities who is transitioning from home-schooling to his first year as a 5th grader in a public school. With each section narrated by a different characters, this was a fabulous audio book, and we were totally immersed into the world of Auggie, his sister Via, and their friends. The later discovery of the released Julian Chapter was announced one morning amid screeches and scrambles to the nearest computer!

#2  43 Old Cemetery Road Series: Dying to Meet You (Kate Klise)
Sometimes a book seems to take off out of nowhere and that is precisely what happened with this series. I'd had this title in our classroom library for several years and it got little attention until I randomly grabbed it off the shelf one Friday afternoon when I needed to have something to read that weekend and then stayed up all night to finish it. But it wouldn't have taken off unless one of our avid readers borrowed it after my recommendation, had the same experience, and then it spread like wildfire on her recommendation. A quick novel of letters, Dying to Meet You had a quiet creepiness that fit our October mood perfectly. Our class copy just barely made it to the end of the year with rubber bands and tape.

#3 Smile (Raina Telgemeier)
This full color graphic novel was an instant hit in our class after a book talk by our Scholastic Book Fair organizer, Mrs. Coolbeth.  Clearly an avid and knowledgable YA reader herself, my students hang on her words with reading journals in laps to jot down the titles she shares.

#4 Sisters (Raina Telgemeier)
After the whirlwind of Smile, our class was obviously eager to read Sisters and after an emergency trip to the bookstore to get extra copies, we finally had enough supply for the demand.  Despite the title, this (and Smile) were both books that the guys in my class read almost as eagerly as the gals. We can all relate to long car trips with family, sibling conflict, and family drama.

#5 The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)
This title had a slow start - but mainly because I resisted "letting it loose" to the class until I heard whether it was going to be added as an official 5th grade title. Whenever the reading teacher popped into our class, we chatted a few seconds about the book and ratcheted up the cryptic teasers until a few in the class were begging to borrow it.  (Sneaky devils we are...)  The plight of Ivan, Ruby, and Stella had us rethinking the role of zoos and their story touched us beyond our time spent reading it.

#6 I Funny (James Patterson)
This book was sparked by one of my least confident readers - but of our most confident kids. He was drawn to its humor and middle school aged main character. So when a kid who doesn't read a lot endorses a book and jumps into its sequel - that is heard loud and clear by the rest of us!

#7 Big Nate In a Class By Himself (Lincoln Peirce) 
This title became popular due to our own Nate who devoured it and its sequels throughout the year. He became our class expert on all things Big Nate and offered up his own copies when our class and school libraries came up short.

#8 Where the Sidewalk Ends  (Shel Silverstein)
One young man single-handedly made this title *the* poetry anthology to read this year.  I'll admit that Silverstein is a gap author for me - somehow I've never read one of his books.  (I know, I know!!) But somehow my dusty classroom copy of this classic made the rounds this year. And yes - it's on my summer TBR list now...

#9 El Deafo (Cece Bell)
El Deafo came to us by way of our middle school librarian extraordinaire, Mrs. Kowalski. She featured this book as part of Bookapalooza 2015, our annual district/community read.  We simply adored Cece Bell's graphic memoir. I had to purchase 4 copies of this one keep up with demand this year!

#10 Backlash (Sarah Darer Littman)
A book that begins with an attempted suicide is probably not one that I would have recommended, but this YA novel about the perils of social media and the pressures to fit in captured a truth that spoke to many of the girls in my class this year.

Those were our top ten books that made us laugh, made us think, and brought us together as a community of readers. What titles made your list this year? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter!

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Book Whisperer Success!

Last summer I fell in love with Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child , and it turned around teaching reading for me. I finally felt like I had permission to make reading for fun the true focus of our classroom. And what a difference it made!

Right off the bat, before the first day of school,  I ditched revised the "required" list (shhhh...) to include far fewer books and focused on only a couple great ones to make room for the loads of free reading we'd be doing.

Then, during that first afternoon of school,  I introduced the 40 Book Challenge. Yes - 40 chapter books. Per student. I expected some groans - maybe even a few terrified faces. Instead?  Excitement!  If there's any doubt to the power of enthusiasm to rub off on people, that day was proof.  Instead of having reluctant kids plodding through school-selected books, I had psyched kids eager to start reading and sharing what THEY wanted to read.

The next morning, we put together our Reading Response Journals. Never was there a group of 18 kids who cut and pasted and planned with more glee. I am a color-coder by nature, so I printed out "Characteristics of a Genre" sheets, "Genre Overview" guides, "Reading Requirements" tally sheets, "Books Read in 5th Grade" recording pages, and "Books I Want to Read" pages in every color of the rainbow.

Each week, they wrote a letter to me (or another teacher sometimes) about their current reading including a response to a standards-based question (compare/contrast, text features, point-of-view, etc...), their opinion of their reading, and answering/asking some conversational questions.  They were all due on Thursdays, and I handed them back by the following Monday. Usually. You know how that goes.  ;-)  Why Thursday?  Because this Dance Mom was stuck in a studio waiting room for two hours while her darling daughters tapped and pirouetted away, so I had ample time to write letters back.

Thursday Night Routine!
My first hint that things were really working was the first set of parent conferences in October.  Every parent brought up the challenge. And every one thanked me for it and said how much more their child was reading at home. Every. Single. One.  I cried that night. (Heck - I'm tearing up now just thinking about it. How often do we teachers get that much unanimous feedback from parents about something?)   Here is a sample conversation:

Me: Do you have any other things you want to discuss today?
Dad (looking stern): Yeah - that book challenge you're doing this year.
Me (bracing myself): Oh - yes?
Dad (nodding): That is simply great. John is reading so much more this year - I think he's actually starting to like reading!  Thank you so much for pushing him.

I'll tell you though - there's no way I could have kept the ball rolling with even the small class I had this year without lots of help.  The teaching assistants in my room were constantly donating new books to our class and modeling good reading.  The reading teachers were the first to jump on board to respond to a handful of different kids each week so I wasn't going nuts. Our reading specialist constantly supported me with examples of responses. The lunchroom staff kindly let my kids read in the cafeteria when it technically wasn't allowed (due to some library book mishaps in the past), and most of the staff offered to write back to them in their journals when I asked for some volunteers one week to change things up a bit.

Yes - there are some things I am going to change next year (more on that later), but overall - a total success!

12 of 18 got to their 40 goal. And let me tell you - those that didn't quite make it to 40 blew their reading from the year before out of the water!

I'll leave you with some feedback from my students:

"The 40 Book Challenge made me nervous at first, but I came through." - GC

"I ended up reading 27 books but that was GOOD for me!" - CP

"At first I thought 'Ugh!', but now I'm really glad we did it." - GH

"At the beginning of the year, I was scared of the 40 Book Challenge. Now, I'm like - that was so easy!"

And since a picture speaks more than words, I'll share a little hidden message in a journal from one of my developing readers who got to a personal best of 19 books this year:

Want to get started with The Book Whisperer?  Grab your copy right here:

Have you used the strategies in The Book Whisper with your class?  I'd love to hear about it!

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