Notable Books I Read In 2012

The BEST BOOKS of 2012 have already been covered extensively. Mr. Schu has a great roundup of Best of 2012 lists if you’d like to peruse the bulk of them. ERMAHGERD BERKS!!!

All I can really add to the conversation is to humbly provide recommendations for books I connected with this year. I’ve tried to filter out some of the great books you probably know about (Wonder, Green, etc.), unless they particularly resonated with me. Some months have more books than others, because some months I read more than others. You can tell when I was finishing my National Boards.

I didn’t consciously chose to include more nonfiction than most lists I’ve seen, but I do want to point out how important I think it is to highlight more traditional expository writing. YES, lyrical nonfiction books are fantastic, but we do a disservice to our kids when we aren’t seeking out good books of the type they’ll encounter when they’re doing research, even if they’re not as thrilling for us to read.

I owe a lot to the book recommendations from Nerdy Book Club folks who I’ve given shout-outs below.

I’ve included children’s books and adult books, and not all of them were published this year. Images were either created by me or swiped from GoodReads.





TRUTH TIME. I actually like the trailer for C. R. Mudgeon better than the book itself. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) Julian Hector’s work:





Watch me pimp out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place on Mr. Sharp’s Nerdbery video:









Phew! What a year! I eagerly await your input on these selections.

Book of the Week: The First Story Ever Told

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

The First Story Ever Told, by Eric Jendresen and Alberto Villoldo

The legend is told as a story within a story, with Grandmother Fire visiting a modern-era explorer in a dream to share with him the first story ever told.

The story-within-a-story structure is elegant, but I’ve received feedback from 3rd grade teachers that it’s a lot more effective if you read the book at least twice with students.

Anyway, the lesson of the story is basically not to spend your life looking for one mythical place, because what matters most is the journey that you took along the way.

If you know me, then you know that I believe “Ithaca” is the most brilliant, lyrical poem ever written. Toby and I had it read at our wedding. And if you think your students are ready for it, it might be a great companion to this book. Listen to James Bond read it here:

The Wildwood third grade team (2012-13) used this book as a mentor text during the launch of Daily 5/CAFE, so you can talk with any of them if you’d like feedback.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

Bulleted list begins. Then tell about the strategy

Bulleted list begins. Then tell about the strategy

Bulleted list begins. Then tell about the strategy

Bulleted list begins. Then tell about the strategy

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


In Dallas!

I arrived in Dallas yesterday evening.

This is an enormous city. I flew into the airport featured in Gila Monsters Meet You At The Airport. It is an enormous airport. I was met, not by a gila monster, but by the lovely educator-history-buff-museum-gal Elaina (Hauk) Carlisle, who I’ve known through MSU-genius-friend-and-roommate Franny Howes for close to ten years, but have never met in person. She has a fantastic house with epically tall ceilings and a friendly, happy mutt who looks like a Muppet. And a husband, who is accustomed to lengthy teacher-talk conversations.

We drove through Dallas. I saw the place where John F. Kennedy was shot, which is frankly still giving me extreme feelings related to creepiness and the power and gravity of history and all sorts of other random emotions. Yes, I saw the grassy knoll (it’s small). Yes, I saw the book depository (it’s ordinary). I am still processing how such a short glimpse — we literally just drove through the intersection, not stopping — of an historical site can have such a big impact.

WE ATE DELICIOUS FOOD. Lockhart Smokehouse is close to my hotel, so it was a perfect choice. A DELICIOUS CHOICE.

Then I came home, reserved my Wednesday shuttle to the convention center, and fell into bed to read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I’m trying to be reflective and thoughtful about tomorrow’s presentation without freaking myself out. I’ve been only marginally successful.

My most significant crisis of confidence came this morning, when I sat up in bed (or rather, flopped over in bed, pushing the aforementioned Sherlock Holmes volume off me) and said, “I can’t possibly read a book as a part of my freaking session; no one’s going to sit around and hear a whole book!”

I fretted. But I reread the speakers’ notes and focused on this bit, “Your presentation method should be consistent with and model strategies that NCTM advocates for classroom teaching (Example: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics).” Hm.

We’re always complaining about math standards going a mile wide and an inch deep, right? So I got myself in check. What better way to demonstrate the importance of deeper understanding by anchoring this brief (hour-long) session around one common text? After all, I told myself, THE TITLE OF MY FREAKING PRESENTATION IS DEEPENING LITERATURE CONNECTIONS. I mean, this way, even if they hate my presentation and the strategies presented, they’ll be able to bring news of a fantastic new picture book back to their schools.

So I’m sticking with sharing Extra Yarn and using it to illustrate how the language of teaching comprehension strategies used in literacy can be math. I’m sharing student-derived examples of how math can be taken from the book. People will be able to try out their own problems and I’ll post them on this site.

Additionally, I found this part of my speakers’ email useful:

New this year! Attendees will have the opportunity to rate presentations using the survey on the Dallas Conference App.

Using a 1-5 scale attendees will rate the following:

• Overall rating of session

• Presenter’s knowledge and understanding of the topic.

• Presenter’s use of appropriate and effective teaching and learning strategies

• Likelihood of attending another session by this presenter. (Yes/no/maybe)


I know I won’t be able to please everybody with my presentation, but JUST LIKE WITH OUR KIDS, it’s so helpful to know what I need to do with the end goal in mind, so seeing what I’m going to be rated on helps me narrow my mind from the bloom of concerns that are crowding each other out in my brain.

One last worry that remains is that I’m breaking copyright laws by projecting Extra Yarn. But… a picture book read-aloud isn’t a freaking copyright violation, is it? Lawd help us if it is.

Oh, also, I’ve been working to make sure I won’t be doing emphatic karate-chop gestures all presentation long.

Anyway. Enough. Time for lunch and reading.

Book of the Week: A is for America

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

A is for America, by Devin Scillian

I love pretty much anything published by Sleeping Bear Press, and the bazillions of alphabet books they’ve printed are, by and large, pretty wonderful. We have a mentor text copy of A is for America ready to go in the bookroom.

You can access an extensive activity guide for almost every Sleeping Bear Press book here.

The author of this book is also the nightly news anchor for Channel 4 in my beloved Detroit, and it’s pretty awesome to see a “celebrity” author who can write pretty darn well.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

  • Back up and reread. This is a pretty dense text. I actually intended to post this lesson two weeks ago, but since then, *I* as a teacher have had to back up and reread the book several times. In the past, I’ve used Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books over several days, reading two letters (and reviewing each of the previous letters using call-and-response). Often, we talk about backing up and rereading if the text is CONFUSING, so it could be important to talk about backing up and rereading if the text is just plain DENSE.

  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries as tools. In my time away from teaching social studies, I forgot about the fabulous tool hidden in the back of our textbooks known as the Gazeteer. A “geographical dictionary,” isn’t that brilliant? I know I often tell students to not worry if they can’t pronounce a proper noun in text, but wouldn’t it be great to give each student a letter from the book and have them investigate each of the locations featured in their letter?

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Reader’s Workshop Trading Cards

I recently led a mini-PD on reader’s workshop for my district’s new highly capable teachers. I was concerned about making the material relevant for them, as I knew they were already familiar with a five component model of literacy instruction.

I also know that personally, when I receive a handout on white paper, it will get lost. If it’s hole punched, that chance is reduced by about 30%. So I try to make sure any information I give out is either on nonstandard-sized paper or is on colored paper.

Back when I did SFA, I shamelessly bribed my students into being interested in texts they’d already read 289365 times by making and handing out trading cards related to the books they were studying. So the day before the HCAP training, inspiration struck! Literacy resource trading cards!

The document is available here: HCPguidedreading

They’re not the most beautiful cards ever, but they suited my purposes just fine. I was also able to use them as a mini-assessment when I asked teachers to hold up the card they were most excited about using and a card that didn’t strike them as particularly useful.

Let me know if these were helpful! Comments make me smile.

Plant Books: 3rd Grade Unit

I’m preparing to do a rad GLAD integrated plants unit this year, so I want plenty of books I can use during our literacy block. Our school nonfiction selection, although significantly improved this past year, is still wimpy. I get most of these books from the Seattle Public Library. Our school district does a trees unit in Kindergarten, a plant unit in 3rd grade, and an ecosystem unit in 4th grade, so many of these books would work in all three of these units (HINT HINT, NEW WILDWOOD LIBRARIAN, PLEASE BUY THEM!!!). I’m organizing these books by approximate reading level for 3rd grade, although you may sort them differently. I’m also attaching a shopping list without cover pictures!

I know that no book list can be exhaustive. I tried to include mostly titles that you wouldn’t necessarily find if you ran a basic library search for “plants” unless they’re excellent (like How a Plant Grows, which is brilliant). I’ve also sorted them from most recently published to older, because I know my science curriculum does a pretty good job of covering classic kids’ books about plants (i.e. Aliki’s Corn is Maize).

What am I missing? Tell me in the comments!

Emergent Readers

And ANOTHER thing. Really quick. I hate it when curricula are like “here are some books for beginning readers” and I get them and I’m like NO WAY are these a good fit for my beginning readers. So most of the books in this section are wordless or have less than a sentence on each page. For real.

A Leaf Can Be..
A Leaf Can Be, Laura Purdie Salas (2012)
The Conductor
The Conductor, Laetitia Devernay (2012)
Ava's Poppy
Ava’s Poppy, Marcus Pfister (2012)
The Giant Seed
The Big Seed, Arthur Geisert (2012)
Green, Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2012)
Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant
Rah, Rah, Radishes!, April Pulley Sayre (2011)
Green Beans, Potatoes, And Even Tomatoes: What Is In The Vegetables Group? (Food Is Categorical)
Green Beans, Potatoes, And Even Tomatoes, Brian P. Cleary (2010)
Farm, Elisha Cooper (2010)
How a Plant Grows, Bobbie Kalman (1997)

Grade-level Readers

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard
Citizen Scientists, Loree Griffin Burns (2012)
Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic
Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic, Ginnie Lo (2012)
C. R. Mudgeon
C.R. Mudgeon, Leslie Muir (2012)
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life
Living Sunlight, Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm (2009)
People Need Plants!
People Need Plants!, Mary Dodson Wade (2009). EVERY BOOK IN THIS SERIES (Plants Grow!, Flowers Bloom!) IS EXCEPTIONAL.
Uno's Garden
Uno’s Garden, Graeme Base (2006)
My Light
My Light, Molly Bang (2004)
Mathematickles!, Betsy Franco-Feeney (2003)
The Bee Tree
The Bee Tree, Patricia Polacco (1998)
Tops & Bottoms
Tops & Bottoms, Janet Stevens (1995)

Advanced Readers / Read Alouds

The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth
The Plant Hunters, Anita Silvey (2012)
Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas
Ocean Sunlight, Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm (2012)
The Camping Trip that Changed America
The Camping Trip that Changed America, Barb Rosenstock (2012)
First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew
First Garden, Robbin Gourley (2011)
Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces
Grow Great Grub, Gayla Trail (2010)
Mama Miti, Donna Jo Napoli (2010)
The Huckabuck Family: and How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back
The Huckabuck Family, Carl Sandburg (1999)
The Legend of the Bluebonnet, Tomie dePaola (1996)

Look! PlantBooksShoppingList! Click and download! Then you can get ALL OF THE BOOKS!!!

Robot Zombie Frankenstein!

We owe our eternal gratitude to Annette Simon, who sent us a super-rad package full of Robot Zombie Frankenstein goodies! Wow! What a huge, fun surprise to come in from recess and have the contents of the envelope spill out onto my lap! That just sounded kind of sarcastic, but I’m never sarcastic in class, so it was honestly really funny. We had glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the floor and my legs.

“Thank you for bringing us the book — it was great to read!” ~Alejandra

“Thank you for the stuff that you gave us that was from the book — like the pirate stuff.” ~Vashti

We looked at all the goodies you sent us before we read the book, so we were kind of unsure what they all meant. But as we read the book, everything started to make sense, and it “fell into place,” as Arianna said.

Arianna asked if Annette Simon had written any other books, and we looked on her website, but the Seattle Public Library doesn’t have any books other than Robot Zombie Frankenstein. We are curious, though, what book will be coming soon and is to be announced.

“I was confused about the Robot Zombie Frankenstein stuff, because there was a cape / apron / dentist bib, and a whatever whatevity-do,” Anthea said.

We are writing this at the end of our school day so we are running out of time, but please know that your thoughtful package and hilarious book was great, awesome, and totally made our day! THANK YOU SO MUCH!


Book of the Week: Annie and the Wild Animals

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

Annie and the Wild Animals, by Jan Brett

Before you get started on anything Jan Brett related, you’ve got to stop whatever you’re doing and go straight to visit Mrs. Eltrich or Mrs. Burn. They’ve put together a pretty fabulous Jan Brett author’s study that might be useful.This book has post-its with open-ended questions attached to several pages to use during reading.

This book was originally paired with Caldecott-winning book The Big Snow, but that text hasn’t been added to the mentor text library as of this posting.

You can see Annie and the Wild Animals read aloud here:

I’m pretty impressed with the literature guide here. I honestly don’t know that there’s much I can add beyond that!

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

  • Compare and contrast within and between text. Spoiler alert! Annie’s cat has kittens. In the past, before Bob Barker’s daily reminders to spay and neuter our four-legged friends, this text might have been a great one to make predictions and confirm them at the end. Older students can discuss how the book would be different now that it’s nearly thirty years after it’s been written.
  • Infer and support with evidence. This strategy could be used regardless of whether students predicted Taffy would have kittens or not. If few or no students are familiar with the signs of a cat about to have kittens, it’s a great opportunity for a discussion of how difficult it is to infer if you don’t have much prior knowledge and how important it is to have heightened awareness of the world around us. If students DO pick up on the signs of Taffy’s pending delivery, proceed with a regular inference lesson.

  • Ample easy reading. If students have read this book (perhaps with Mrs. Eltrich or Mrs. Burn! :)), remind them that in a book as complex and detailed as Annie and the Wild Animals, there’s plenty to return to and explore, particularly if they first discovered the book a year or two ago.

  • Ask someone to define the word for you. Mrs. Eltrich has already printed out vocabulary cards for several challenging or uncommon words in the text. Talk with students about how if you know a word is particularly unusual and you don’t anticipate many will know it, you choose to give them the word ahead of time.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Mock Caldecotts: A How-To Guide

So hard to believe that our SECOND annual Mock Caldecott award season is over, but it’s time to reflect and think about what we can do next year to make it even better. Today, I’m going to walk you through what we did in our class.

You probably know that any book published in 2012 by a US illustrator is eligible for the 2013 Caldecott. That means you can start reading potential Caldecott books RIGHT NOW! Yay! One of our bulletin boards is dedicated to recording all the Caldecott-eligible books we enjoy as a class. By the end of the year, the list looks something like this:

Between January and June, I usually include a few new books in our daily CAFE strategy read alouds. I record the books we read, and I keep them on the list after students leave and come back in the fall. This can get a bit tricky if you don’t loop with your students. This year, I only kept three of my students, so at the beginning of the school year, I created a bucket of books with all the eligible books we’d read last school year so everyone could be caught up.

In September and October, we continue this pattern of reading a few potential books in class. Whenever I check out new books from the Seattle Public Library, I point out during our morning class meeting which ones are eligible.

November is National Picture Book Month, so I read eligible books every morning during class meeting. Then in December, I continue that morning routine under the title of “Mock Caldecott Preparation.” :) I haven’t had any complaints from students or admins yet.

By the time January rolls around, we’ve read about two dozen books. The first full week in January, I check out any books that I’ve overlooked (using other Mock Caldecott lists and best-of lists as a guide). At the end of the second week in January, we create our short list. Here’s the video I put together to refresh students’ memories on all the books we’d read. Everything’s listed alphabetically.

Students pick their top five books, and I rank order their choices. This year, I also allowed write-in candidates, as the only titles I put on the ballot are ones we’ve read as a whole class. That’s how Sidekicks made it onto the list this year.

The Friday before the ALA Midwinter Conference, we use our short list to vote for students’ top three titles. We release our list the Friday before the official decisions, so our votes aren’t swayed by the “real” votes. This schedule got a bit botched this year due to SnOMG, so we weren’t able to watch the live webcast of the awards on Monday. Normally, students come in early for snacks and beverages (because we’re on the West Coast, we almost always have to arrive at school early).

This poster was a huge help in explaining the other book awards — this year we also read the Geisel honor, the Schneider Family award winner, and the Sibert award winner.

Can’t wait for next year!

Jumping Fox!

This morning, in our quest to read books that are eligible for the 2012 Caldecotts, we enjoyed Kate Messner‘s Over and Under the Snow.

We were inspired to watch the BBC video of a fox hunting its prey in the snow. Here’s the link:

You can click through the video to see the clip of the fox jumping on a trampoline that we weren’t able to watch in class.