Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten of 2013

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Head on over to see more Top Ten lists!

This is the first time I am participating in Top Ten Tuesday, though I have read and enjoyed many of the blog posts in the past.  I was going to do a Favorites of 2013 list anyway, so I figured I would link up today!

My Top Ten of 2013

Winger by Andrew Smith

Even though it's hard to pick a TOP book of the year...I think this one does it for me.  Any book that can make me laugh and cry and then punch me in the gut is a sure-fire winner!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park

Two of the best, most memorable characters ever!

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

I just love the voice in this book.  I reviewed it here.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

The Real Boy

While Breadcrumbs is still my favorite, this one was amazing as well.  I reviewed it here.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadahota

The Thing About Luck

This is another book with very memorable characters.  I reviewed it here.

Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Where the Stars Still Shine

Callie has spent her life running from town to town with her mother who kidnapped her as a child.  When she is caught, she is sent to live with the father she barely knew.  Callie is one of my favorite characters of the year.  

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing (The Testing, #1)

I'm really looking forward to the next book in this series that comes out in January!

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

This Is What Happy Looks Like

Considering You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies ever, it's no surprise that I loved this book.

Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s

I'd love for this book to get some Newbery love in January!

Jinx by Sage Blackwood


Looking forward to this sequel, Jinx's Magic, coming out next week!

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers in sharing my reading this week.  Head on over to their blogs to see what others are reading and link up your own post!

I haven't posted an IMWAYR post in quite awhile.  But since I am once again attempting a winter break book-a-day, I thought I'd recap my reading so far.  I've been in quite a reading rut, I think that between Thanksgiving and winter break, I only read picture books, not one complete novel to be found.  Thankfully, having time to travel and rest over the last week has brought me back to my usual reading habits!

YA Books

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Not a Drop to Drink

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.  A different take on the usual dystopian novel.  Water has become extremely scarce, and therefore, extremely valuable.  Lynn and her mother have lived alone for her entire 16 years, their main goal for survival is keeping their water supply safe from others.  This is the book that brought me out of my reading rut...it's fantastic!  I'm really looking forward to anything this author writes in the future!

Let It Snow by John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson

Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances

I think someone recommended this on their blog, so I checked it out as a quick, Christmas-themed, read.  It's a collection of 3 short stories that have intertwining characters and events.  I enjoyed reading the first story and getting a glimpse of a character, then reading the next two to see how their story fit in with the others.  

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)

This book starts out with a seemingly perfect-for-each-other family spending an unexpected snow day together.  Quickly, things turn to tragedy and Mia is fighting for her life.  It kind of reminded me of Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, which I also loved.  There is a sequel to this book, Where She Went, which I have requested at the library and will hopefully be reading soon.

Absent by Katie Williams


I would actually kind-of put this book in a category with the above book, and the Lauren Oliver book.  Paige has recently died as a result of falling off the roof of school during physics class.  She and her fellow ghosts, two other kids who also died at school, are bound to the school grounds.  As she listens to her fellow classmates deal with her death, she starts hearing awful rumors about herself and sets out to set the record straight.  This was a really short book and I loved it!

Middle Grade Books

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman

The Wells Bequest (The Grimm Legacy, #2)

I loved this companion book to The Grimm Legacy.  The whole premise is so intriguing - a mysterious library in the middle of New York City where guests can borrow objects from history - including magical items from fairy tales and science-fiction.  I think I'm going to do a blog post about this one later this week.  

The Hidden Summer by Gin Phillips

The Hidden Summer

Nell and Lydia have been best friends for ages.  However, their mothers do not get along, and Lydia's mom has forbidden her to see Nell all summer.  Nell comes up with a plan for them to be able to spend the long summer days together because she can't bear to be in her house with her unpredictable mother.  This is a book where I felt like nothing much happened, but it was beautifully written.  Here's an example from the beginning where Nell describes her mother:

"I am an expert when it comes to reading my mother, but that doesn't mean I don't make mistakes.  The trick is to tell when she's in a carnivore mood or a herbivore mood.  (Carnivores have sharp teeth for biting.  You shouldn't get too close.  But herbivores never attack.)" p. 8

I really felt bad for Nell and wanted everything to change for her in this book.  But as she says at the beginning, "Don't go thinking that this story will end with my mother coming to her senses and realizing her mistakes and begging me to forgive her." p. 16

Picture Book

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker


I read this one to my sweet little niece...she's not quite 1, so I don't know what she thought of it.  But I think it's cute!

Currently Reading

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train

Possible Reads This Week

The Twistrose Key          Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)          The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1)


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Flora & Ulysses

Hello?  Hello?

Is this thing on?

Oh, it's working.  Guess that can't be my excuse for going silent for 2 months...


I recently read Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  As soon as I finished I thought, "This is a book I have to blog about."

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

The place to start with this book is literally the first page of Chapter One.  I just can't get enough of Flora in this book...I am obsessed with the voice Kate DiCamillo has chosen to use.

Flora Belle Buckman was in her room at her desk.  She was very busy.  She was doing two things at once.  She was ignoring her mother, and she was also reading a comic book entitled The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! (p. 5)

See what I mean?  It's amazing.

In this book, Flora's neighbor, Mrs. Tickham, receives a vacuum cleaner for her birthday.  (NOTE TO HUSBANDS:  THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.)  Even if it is a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X.

Let's just say this doesn't go over well with Mrs. Tickham, Mr. Tickham tries to impress her with its features, and the vacuum ends up flying out the door, into the backyard, and sweeping up a squirrel.

Flora sees all of this from her bedroom window.  And since one of her favorite comics is titled "Terrible Things Can Happen To You", she is always prepared for disaster.  She rescues the squirrel (now named Ulysses), who has gained some unexpected superpowers.  

So begins the story.  

There is quite a cast of unusual characters - 

Flora's mother - a romance novelist - Flora cannot stand romance

Flora's father - who will always introduce himself, even if he's met you before

William Spiver - who is "suffering from temporary blindness induced by trauma"

Mary Ann - a shepherdess-shaped lamp that Flora's mother loves dearly

The more I got into this book, the more I felt for Flora.  She feels misunderstood by her mother.  She doesn't get to see her father that often.  Ulysses is the first "person" that she has felt emotions for in quite some time.

There is one more passage I need to share.  Kate DiCamillo's words can be so powerful:

(This is a conversation with her mother - but I don't want to give too much away)

Those four words (so small, so simple, so ordinary) came flying at Flora like enormous slabs of stone.  She actually felt herself tip sideways as they hit her.  She put up a hand and held on to Ulysses.  She used the squirrel to steady herself. (p. 151)

Powerful stuff.  I think that would be a great passage to use as a mentor text in writing. 

I also have many kids in my class who love writing graphic novels.  Since this book has some short comics (amazing illustrations by K.G. Campbell) in between some chapters, I think it would be a great mentor for incorporating narrative and comics into one piece of writing.

Obviously, I loved this book.  After checking it out from the library, I bought a copy for my classroom.  But (and I do have a "but" about this book), I am not sure if the humor will make it through to my 5th graders.  It "might" be one of those books that adults can appreciate more than kids.  I do have two kiddos in mind that I am going to recommend it to first...I'm actually hoping to snag another copy and maybe they can try reading it together.

Have you read Flora & Ulysses?  Have any of your students read it?  I'd love to hear what you think!  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wake Up Missing

Let's just say, I am a huge fan of Kate Messner.  I read The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. a couple years ago, and I thought, "This is an author I need to have on the shelves of my classroom".  Kate Messner "gets" kids.  As a former teacher, she knows how kids sound and how kids act.  All of her books have such real and believable characters.  I recently read her book Eye of the Storm (review here) and loved it.  And when I heard that there was another science-based novel coming out, I knew I had to read it ASAP.  Thankfully, my friend Stephanie sent me an ARC to read.

Wake Up Missing

Cat has had a life-changing concussion.  She has lingering headaches, trouble focusing, and dizziness.  She is unable to do many of the outdoor activities that she has loved her whole life.  When she and her mother learn about a cutting edge brain-injury center in the Florida Everglades, they jump at the chance to send her.  Cat is nervous for her mom to leave her, but she really wants to get better.  When she arrives, she meets three other kids her age who are also being treated for similar brain injuries.  Things look great at the start, state of the art labs, two smart doctors, kids who say they feel better already.  But Cat is observant.  She notices everything.  She starts to get a funny feeling when she learns about two other kids who are supposedly there, but she never sees them.  She overhears the doctors talking about the DNA of dead scientists and a girl who isn't getting better.  Cat knows something is up and has to convince the others that things might not be what they seem.

Just like Eye of the Storm, this book is fast-paced and exciting.  I read it in one sitting and was sad for it to end.  Kate Messner does a fabulous job researching her books...this book taught me about the science of brain injury and also a lot about the Florida Everglades.  I hope she has some more of these sci-fi type novels to come!

This books comes out on September 10th!  I can't wait to get a copy for my classroom!

Here are some other Kate Messer books I love:
Capture the Flag
Over and Under the Snow
Marty McGuire
Real Revision

Have you read Wake Up Missing?  I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Slice of Life #1

WRITE your slice. SHARE your link. GIVE some comments to (at least three) other slicers. If you're leaving your comment early in the day, please consider returning this evening or tomorrow to read some of our evening posters' slices.
Ruth and Stacey host Slice of Life on their blog, Two Writing Teachers, every Tuesday.  Head on over for some fantastic posts!

Confession:  I am a lurker.  I have spent months (years?) lurking around Slice of Life posts.  I am the kid in my classroom who never has anything to write about.  I love to read.  I love people who write.  But, writing is so hard for me.  This summer, Christopher Lehman visited my school district.  He told us, "the single most important thing we can do to help our kids write is to be a writer ourselves."


In an attempt to live the life of a writer, I started this blog.  I decided to write about books because that is where I am comfortable.  I LOVE to read books.  I know things about books.  I like to motivate others to read books.  I think I have done a good job, and I now have some "writer's life" type things to share with my students.

BUT today is different.  As I went about my business after school, a SLICE OF LIFE post came to me!  So here it is...my first Slice of Life.

Running is my nemesis.
I used to be good at it, really good at it.
I spent years of my life running...
around the bases on the softball field,
up and down the soccer field,
from Start to Finish around the track.
I used to be good at it, really, really good at it.

But now, not so much.
Recently, Joey and I have taken up running again.
We should do it.
We need to do it.
We are slowly getting back in the groove, together.

But today, he's not home.
In the car, I think
I'll get home and do a quick run.
But then the traffic hits.
And I start yawning.
Oh, and I forgot I have to return an overdue library book.
(The Day the Crayons Quit).

I get home.
There is no one to push me.
I could just sit down.
I might just sit down.
But I don't.
I lace up my shoes.  I'll do a quick one.
I head out.

And it's hot.  So hot.
I think my car said 90 degrees.
I'll make it quick.
My legs move faster.  I feel better.
Maybe I'll go farther I think.

I pass the spot where we turned yesterday.
I go up one more street.
I could turn around.
I want to turn around.
But instead, I run up the hill.
When I get to the top, it will all be downhill from here.
Halfway up, I might die.  I think I am dying.
When I get to the top, it will all be downhill from here.
I am barely moving.  I'll stop at the top.
When I get to the top, it will all be downhill from here.
It's all downhill from here.

And I don't stop.
I run down the hill...
turn right at the light...
down some more...
cross the bridge...
and I've done it.

I smile the rest of the way home.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Solve It Your Way: Which Type of Ball Can Roll The Farthest?

Last week, I wrote about some of the big ideas that I wanted to explore with my class this school year. Some words that floated around in my head included:  creativity, open-minded, thinking, inquiring, cooperation, risk-taking, perseverance.  I want my classroom to be a place where each child feels comfortable trying new things and knows that they will be supported no matter what.

One of the activities I started our year with was "Solve It Your Way".  I read about Solve It Your Way this summer on one of my favorite blogs, A Year of Reading.  The premise behind this project is that kids are given a question...and that's about it.  We give kids time to think, ponder, chat, discover, and reflect on the question.  Then they try some experiments.  Then they come back together and talk about what worked and what didn't.

I thought this fit in perfectly with our "theme" for the year.  Here's how my classroom approached Solve It Your Way:

Since it was the first week of school, I thought this would be a great project for me to observe how kids worked together and what they knew about putting together projects and experiments.  I put my kids into 5 random groups.  I put the question up on the board:  Which Type of Ball Can Roll The Farthest?

I gave groups several minutes to chat.  Then we came back together and we looked at the Questions to Ask Yourself part of the website.  From that point on, groups had time to brainstorm and plan.  Here are some of our brainstorming charts:

The next day, the kids came prepared to experiment.  I never imagined the sheer volume of balls that would enter my classroom.  Everything from the smallest marble to a plethora of bouncy balls to baseballs to water polo balls to soccer balls to basketballs to an enormous pink I don't even know what kind of ball.

We went out on the playground armed with yardsticks, tape measures, clipboards, and of course all of our balls.  Right away, it was interesting to see where each group gravitated.  Most groups wanted flat ground.  Several groups were interested in how the balls would roll on different terrain:  grass, mulch, dirt.  Despite our discussion about how one of our challenges would be pushing each ball with the same amount of force, only one group decided to use a ramp (the twisty slide on the playground).

The kids spent about 45 minutes experimenting and gathering data. 

After our experiments, we went back inside and debriefed.  We talked about how scientists use their data and results to draw conclusions.  We also talked about how scientists reflect and think about what they would change the next time they tried an experiment.  The kids made some posters about their process, results and conclusions.  

This was such a fun project.  We are looking forward to spending time each month Solving It Our Way!  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

First Week Read Alouds

You can probably tell by the lack of posts recently that I have started school again.  Every year I think, "Oh, it's not such a big deal to start back.  It'll be easier this year."  But going into my 12th year teaching, I put just as much, if not more, effort into planning and preparing for those first few days.  The first few days of school scare me more than any other days of the year.  I am a creature of habit.  I crave routine.  And there is NOTHING routine about those first days.

But now, I've gotten through it.  I actually have to say that these first few days were some of my best ever.  Despite being a creature of habit, I always want to find the newest and most interesting activities for my kids to set off the school year.  This year, I did several new things that worked out really well.  I thought I'd share some of these activities over the next few days.

This summer I made an effort to read more picture books.  I went well over my book-a-day goal due to this fact.  I wanted to start the year thinking about working together to be creative, open-minded, risk-takers, inquirers, and thinkers.  I chose three picture books for the first three days that revolved around this theme.

First, we read On a Beam of Light:  A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne.  We talked about living a life that was filled with wonder and thinking.  We talked about asking questions and how to find the answers.  We talked about how some questions may not have answers and that is okay too.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein

On the second day, we read Mr. Flux by Kyo Maclear.  We talked about the importance of trying new things and being open to ideas that might be different from ours.  We also talked about how we are all awesome just the way we are :)

Mr. Flux

On the third day, we read Papa's Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming.  This book led us into discussions about never giving up, growing ideas by collaborating with others, and revising our thinking.

Papa's Mechanical Fish

After we had read all three books, we made a chart of the things we had learned that we can carry with us for the rest of the year.  Here were some of our ideas:

* A brilliant invention can come from anyone at anytime.
* Never give up on the things you want.
* Talk to others and share ideas.
*Any goal can be conquered when you put your mind to it.
*It's okay to be different.
*Change can be a good thing.
*Be unique.
*Be yourself.
*Keep reading, wondering, thinking.
*Be curious about the world around you.

I think those are some great reminders to have posted in our classroom this year!

Our first novel read aloud is Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein.  I think we will be able to continue our discussions about problem solving and working with others as we read that book as well!

Have you read and enjoyed any of these books?  My students and I would love to know what you think!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Picture Book 10 for 10

A Mix of Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books That Fifth Graders Love

Today I am joining Picture Book 10 for 10 for the first time! I have read and enjoyed these posts the past couple of summers. I am excited to share books I love to read in my fifth grade classroom. Head on over to Cathy Mere's blog, Reflect & Refine, or Mandy Robek's blog, Enjoy and Embrace Learning to see what books other people are reading and loving right now!

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

This book is one of my favorite read alouds.  I read it each year when we talk about writing memoir.  It reminds me of playing with my sister when I was little.  We had a huge yard, with huge trees.  And, therefore, tons of leaves in the fall.  We would rake paths and create a town, complete with a jail if anyone would run too fast on the streets.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back  This is Not My Hat
This is an obvious choice (along with its companion This Is Not My Hat).  But, it’s true, my fifth graders could listen to this one over and over again.  I personally love the second book even more than the first.  That little fish gets me every time.

Animals should definitely not wear clothing. by Judi Barrett

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing
Laurel Snyder, author of Bigger than a Breadbox, read this book to my class when she Skyped with us for World Read Aloud Day. I had never heard of it, but my kids were screaming with laughter. And it truly is hilarious. Who doesn't want to see why animals should definitely NOT wear clothing???

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosell

Tikki Tikki Tembo
I mean, come on, who doesn’t love saying Tikki Tikki Tembo’s name! If you don't know, it is Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo!  My class always loves trying to say his name along with me.  It’s always a favorite for sharing with 1st grade buddies after we read it in class.

The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg

The Sweetest Fig
This is a book with a main character you love to hate.  Monsieur Bibot is selfish, rude, and cruel to his poor pup.  Kids are always confused for a moment, but then love the twist at the end.  And I do too!  

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

The Curious Garden
First off, anything Peter Brown does is AMAZING.  This is a quiet book about how one person can make a difference.  It leads to great discussion about doing your part to care for our environment.  But more than that, it’s just a great story with wonderful illustrations.  Love, love, love this one!

If You Lived Here:  Houses of the World by Giles Laroche

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World
A wonderful nonfiction book about how people live around the world. I love the collage illustrations of all of the different homes. Each page has a paragraph that starts with, "If you lived here, you..." It tells why this house worked well for the people who built it. Under the paragraph are fascinating facts about when and where these homes were built and what they would be made of. It is a great mentor text for hybrid (narrative/expository) nonfiction.

My Librarian Is A Camel by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World
This book is a great companion to If You Lived Here.  Kids love to see how things work in other parts of the world.  This books shows how kids around the world get access to books. In the northern regions of Canada, kids can request books via email or phone and a library far away will mail them books to keep for 6 weeks. In Finland, a boat brings books from one island to the next. In Kenya, camels bring books to remote villages. Another great hybrid non-fiction mentor text. After reading the information about the books, there is a box or two with a map and more information about that country.

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins

Can We Save the Tiger?
This is a quiet, but hugely powerful book.  I think you can hear a pin drop when I read it aloud.  This book shows kids a range of animals...those that are currently endangered, those that we will never see again, as well as those that we are slowly bringing back from extinction by raising awareness.  Amazing illustrations and another great mentor text for weaving narrative nonfiction with facts.

Balloons Over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of the Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
I love sharing a book that shows creativity at work.  Kids have all seen the huge balloons in parades, but they don’t think about how the balloons came to be.  In addition to learning about Tony Sarg, the collage illustrations are fabulous.  Lots of kids pick this one up afterwards to examine the pictures up close...every time you look, you see something new. This book won the 2012 Mock Caldecott in my classroom.

Oh Rats!  The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin

Oh Rats! The Story of Rats and People: The Story of Rats and People
Confession:  I haven’t actually shared this book with fifth graders yet.  But I am adding it because I think it is going to be a huge hit with them!  I read this book this summer and reviewed it here.  Anyone who thought they knew a thing or two about rats (or anyone who never wanted to learn a thing or two about rats) will learn a ton in this slightly creepy book.

Whoops, I think I shared 11 books.  I’m sure no one will mind!