Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Review of Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann

Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry   
by Jennifer Ann Mann  
Published October, 2013 by Bloomsbury                 
208 pages 
Genre: Fiction
Format: Chapter book
Disclosure: Obtained from Netgalley

Summary From Goodreads

We’ve all woken up on the wrong side of the bed. But have you ever woken up stuck to the bed? Masha Sweet has. And there’s only one possible reason: her little sister Sunny. Masha is used to Sunny’s evil genius ways, but the glue Sunny used to secure a bouquet of plastic daisies to Masha’s head is not coming out! The girls have to stay home from school and through a bizarre turn of events, they wind up at the hospital. It’s the perfect place to fix Masha’s head…but first they will (almost) contract a (not so) killer virus, steal a cast, and lead the nurses on a wild goose chase. When this is all over, Sunny Sweet is going to be so sorry!

My Thoughts
I loved this debut novel by Jennifer Ann Mann and I think kids will too.  I found Sunny and Masha to have a delightfully complicated (and hilarious) relationship.  Little sister, Sunny, is a "genius" and genuinely tries to be helpful to Masha, but often causes more problems for her.  Sunny never seems to get in trouble for her antics which frustrates Masha to no end.  Many tweens will relate to Masha who is adorably clumsy and awkward. The story has many twists and turns that will keep readers interested. 

Who Would Enjoy This Book
Children who enjoy precocious characters and books such as Beverly Cleary's Ramona series would enjoy the Sunny Sweet books.  I like how Masha is an older "tweenager" because the book appeals to younger (3rd gradeish) and older (5th gradeish) students.  I have several of my 4th graders reading it right now and they are just loving it.  I often struggle to find books for tween readers. This is a great series for kiddos who are not ready for the content of YA, but need books with more of a story line than is offered in some early chapter books. 

I was very fortunate to (accidentally) meet Jennifer Ann Mann in a session at NCTE. I was also lucky to score an ARC of the next book in this terrific new series in Boston as well. It is called Sunny Sweet is So Dead Meat and it comes out in the spring of 2014.  I am hoping to read it as soon as my students will give it back to me.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

ReTHINKing It Thursday-Get More Out of Your Read Aloud

 ReTHINKing It Thursday
Exploring alternatives to worksheets in the literacy classroom.

It has long been a concern of mine that many students are "worksheeted" to death at school. While worksheets are not inherently evil, many times there are better, more engaging ways for students to learn and practice the skills or strategies we are trying to teach. 

Recently I had a discussion with one of my students about how 4th grade is going for him so far.  After saying that he liked school he added, "We don't do many papers." While it was more of an observation and he didn't share if he thought this was a good or a bad thing, it did get me thinking.  I guess we don't really do many "papers" such as commercial worksheets.  Don't get me wrong here.  I DO use worksheets from time to time, when I am just too busy to find an alternative or when I feel the worksheet is just as good as any other way to teach or practice a skill.  But, whenever possible, I try to use real text, online activities, small group/partner activities, quick writes, discussion and modeling.  

So, I would like to try to start using some of my Thursday posts to offer some very simple alternatives to worksheets.  These will not be super-innovative activities here folks.  But I hope they provide different ways of THINKing about how we use our time in school. 

Today's Idea- Get more out of your read aloud. 

The benefits of read aloud can not be over stated in my opinion. They are too numerous to mention here, but I believe that read aloud is so important in my 4th grade classroom that it is the only time I will not allow any of my students to be pulled out for their support services. It is literally the only time all of my students are with me. 

Read aloud can be used to address many strategies, skills and yes (gasp) standards. 

It is important not to "kill the book" by doing too much with it. So keep it simple and brief. During the several weeks of a chapter book read aloud, you can touch upon several things. Some examples of activities include pausing for discussions, analyzing difficult or interesting words, discussing character changes, modeling think alouds, discussing an author's choices, etc.  Where you choose to focus will depend on the book and your goals.  It takes just minutes a day and really adds to your read aloud experience without killing the book. 

Here are our charts at the end of Out of My Mind. 

So there is one very simple thing you can do without a worksheet to add to your read aloud experience while teaching skills and strategies. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Slice of Life- Surprises at NCTE '13

Each Tuesday Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers host Slice of Life Stories (SOLS). This is where bloggers link up to share anything they would like to share about what is happening in their lives. 

While I am back at home and into my regular, hectic routine, my thoughts are still at NCTE.  I will probably need a couple of posts to reflect on this amazing experience. 

A year ago, I had just recently launched my blog and started participating on Twitter.  I followed all the tweets from NCTE 2012 and was beyond jealous. As I read about the new things people were learning and the connections they were making, I vowed that I would attend in 2013 no matter what.  

I am not exaggerating when I say that attending NCTE was THE best professional development experience I have had in my 20+ years in education.  I was lucky to be there with my terrific Maine friends: Susan Dee, Mary Bellavance, Melissa Guerrette, Marylou Shuster, Jen Felt, Justin Stygles and Paula Bourque. 

I was prepared for a great time, but there were a number of things for which I was totally unprepared. 

I am going to use this post to write about what surprised me about NCTE and advice I would give a first timer.  

*You don't sleep much.  You are up early for breakfasts or sessions and you stay into the wee hours of the night talking with old and new friends.  The Starbucks in the lobby may become your new favorite place. 

*You will get emotional.  I did not realize that tissues would be necessary at a literacy convention. When you meet a beloved author, you will cry.  When someone shares an inspiring story, you will cry (aka-Donald Graves breakfast).  When you meet online friends in person, you will cry.  In my case, if you think about the fact that you are actually at NCTE, you will cry.

*You don't eat regular meals.  Generally, I am not a meal skipper.  However, when given the choice between learning from Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts, followed by hearing Temple Grandin speak rather than eating lunch, well of course you'd choose to skip lunch. Pack granola bars. 

*You might not see the host city.  I am a New England girl and I love Boston.  We were right in the heart of the city and I did not see a single bit of it.  In fact, I did not step foot outside from Thursday afternoon to Sunday afternoon when we left. 

*You will get free books, LOTS of free books. Yes, I had heard that publishers give out free ARC's. But I was totally unprepared for the exhibit hall. Every time you turn around, a new author is signing a new book and many of them are free.  I had 2 big bags full of books. Thankfully we drove to Boston and could bring our books home, but you may want to bring extra money to ship your books if you have to fly home.  

All of those books lead me to my next tip....

*You may need a chiropractor or massage upon returning home. All those books are really heavy and you will have to carry them in a shoulder bag or in your arms.  Either will lead to neck and back pain, but it is so worth it.  

*If you don't get to a session early, you may not get a seat.  Many sessions fill up quickly.  It brought tears to my eyes (yes, again) to see teachers sitting in the floor of the room or standing outside the room straining to listen and learn from the presenter.  It was a true testament to the dedication of teachers that want to learn all they can in order to help their students. 

I am still processing all that I learned and experienced while in Boston.  In future posts I will attempt to synthesize my learning into something I can express in a somewhat coherent way. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Celebrating the Fact that I Came to NCTE 13!!

Every week, Ruth Ayres over at Discover. Play. Build. invites people to share celebrations from the week and link up at her blog. This is my first link up. 

I have no idea how I will possibly synthesize the tremendous experience of NCTE.  I plan to reflect (probably several times) in the near future.  Today I just wanted to quickly celebrate the fact that I am actually here.  Last year, green with envy,  I watched all the tweets as people shared their learning and the amazing connections they were making.  I vowed then to do whatever I needed to do to make it happen in 2013.  

I am still pinching myself. The experience of meeting my online friends in "real life" has been surreal to say the very least.  

One thing I was unprepared for was how emotional I would get.  
I cried when we arrived. 
I cried at the Donal Graves Legacy breakfast (which was AMAZING!!).  
I cried when I saw Judy Blume, JUDY BLUME!! 
Then I cried when Temple Grandin took the stage to start her presentation.  
Most recently, I cried after Chris Lehman's closing remarks after his session on close reading. 
I did not expect this aspect of NCTE at all. 

I will certainly be sharing pictures, quotes, new learnings and memorable moments soon, but for now I will just celebrate the fact that... 
I. Am. Here! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

$50 Amazon Card Giveaway and Book Blast for A Bad Mad Sad Day for Mama Bear

A Bad Mad Sad Day for Mama Bear 
by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by KC Snider

On a very bad day, Little Bear offers Mama Bear various items to make her feel better, but she’s too busy to notice-until he gives her his super, so good, so very special dolly. Silly humor, alliteration, repetition, and onomatopoeia make this a fun read-aloud story. Suggested age range for readers: 3-7

“Mayra Calvani magically intertwines two generations perspectives of one’s bad mad sad day through caring efforts and that together difficulties can be overcome. A Bad Mad Sad Day for Mama Bear is sure to be a delightful time shared by parents and their young muses.” –Amazon reviewer

“The humor of the story, married with the artwork, leaps off the page. After seeing the illustrations, you can’t imagine the story any other way. With so much to read and see on every page, it is truly captivating – a delight for eye and ear.” –Amazon reviewer

“Enter Mayra Calvani’s world with this sweet and funny story about a little bear that wants to help his overwhelmed mom, who is having a bad, sad and mad day. A great story teaching the little ones, in a fun way, that adults aren’t perfect and can have bad days too. Children will enjoy the illustrations. A wonderful gift for this upcoming Christmas!” –Amazon reviewer

Author Mayra Calvani
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications like The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, Bloomsbury Review, and others. She lives in Belgium with her husband of 25+ years, two wonderful kids, and her two beloved pets. When she’s not writing, editing, reading or reviewing, she enjoys walking with her dog, traveling, and spending time with her family. She’s represented by Serendipity Literary.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?- Nov. 18, 2013

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

Click on the covers to learn more about the books I read this week.

Little Red Writing
by Joan Holub
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is a new favorite! I love the concept of a little pencil bravely facing the challenges and dangers of writing a story.  Very clever and the illustrations are fantastic! For grades K-5.

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library
by Chris Grabenstein
Such a fun book for any children's lit. fan. The characters try to escape from Mr. Lemoncello's library by using research and a bit of sleuthing, in order to win fame and fortune.  There are many parallels to Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka. I loved the children's book references, but kids may need help getting some of the jokes if they have not read widely. Highly recommend for grades 3-5. 

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
This is the somewhat creepy story of a boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard.  While the writing is beautiful and rich, the story was not a favorite of mine.  I would not recommend it much before grade 5. 

What's next?
I really don't know. Maybe whatever I pick up at NCTE in Boston this weekend! That's right, I am attending my first ever national convention and I am beside myself with giddiness (yes, it's a word)! I'll be sure to share the highlights. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Review of Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl

Genie Wishes
by Elisabeth Dahl

288 pages
Publication Date April 2, 2013
from Amulet Books
Review copy provided by
My Rating 5 out of 5 stars!

Summary from
This sweet, funny novel follows fifth-grader Genie Kunkle through a tumultuous year. From the first day of school, Genie knows there will be good, bad, and in-between. The good? She’s in homeroom with her best friend, Sarah. The bad? Sarah’s friend from camp, Blair, is a new student at their school, and is itching to take Genie’s place as Sarah’s BFF. The in-between? Genie is excited to be elected to write her class’s blog, where she’s tasked with tracking the wishes and dreams of her class. But expressing her opinion in public can be scary—especially when her opinion might make the rest of her class upset.

My opinion
I think that many "tweens" will relate to Genie Wishes.  It could be the Are You There God It's Me Margaret for this generation.  Elisabeth Dahl tackles classic preadolescent challenges like friendship issues, jealousy, puberty, and popularity.  Genie, whose name is Genie Haddock Kunckle, is in fifth grade.  She is a sweet, innocent young girl who is forced to deal with the struggles of growing up when her BFF Sarah becomes close with the new girl, Blair.  Blair is somewhat superficial and is interested in flirting with boys, wearing makeup and being in the popular clique. Genie does not see what the rush is to grow up and is confused and hurt by the changes she sees in her friend Sarah.  As a result, the two friends grow further and further apart.   Throughout the story, Genie starts to learn tough lessons about true friendship and being happy with yourself.  

The writing is entertaining with many funny parts. Genie is a very endearing and likeable character.  I loved the part on Halloween when many girls were interested in looking "hot"in their costumes and Genie makes her own adorable fish tank costume.  

So many students will love this book.  It is listed for ages 8 and up (from the publisher). I, however, would recommend it for students in later 4th grade and up because of some sensitive issues such as wearing bras, flirting with boys, weight concerns and all the other wonderful things that come with going through puberty.  

I would consider Genie Wishes more of an individual or small book club book rather than a class read aloud because of the topics mentioned above.  I think it would be a valuable book for parents to read with their "tween".  It would be a nice springboard to having some important discussions about social difficulties and adolescent changes. I will be reading it with my own fifth grader.  
Kudos to Elisabeth Dahl for tackling some tough issues in her wonderful book. 

Check out the book trailer.   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nonfiction Wednesday Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' strike of 1909

Please visit the host of this weekly nonfiction book event: Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909
by Michelle Markel
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published in 2013 by Balzer and Bray
32 pages
Format: Picture book
Genre: Nonfiction
Disclosure: Book obtained from library
I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Ukranian immigrant Clara Lemich and her family have come to the US in search of a better life. Clara becomes a garment worker, sewing shirts with 300 other girls and women.  The working conditions are horrible, the hours are long and the pay is terrible. This was not the life Clara imagined she would have in America so she decided to do something about it. Through perseverance and determination, Clara works to get New York Garment workers to go on strike.  The strike succeeded in making hundreds of bosses raise pay, shorten work weeks and improve working conditions.  

My Thoughts
Clara is a fantastic example of girl power! She exhibits the qualities of determination and grit. The book contains very nice watercolor and mixed media illustrations.  I just love the message that one girl can make such a difference. 

Use this book....
In a biography unit.
As part of a history unit of the Industrial Revolution
To discuss strong female characters.
To discuss immigration. 

Possible Companion Texts

   Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larsen. Another feisty shirtmaker. 

Article written by Clara- Primary resource
Fact Monster-Industrial Revolution

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?- November 11, 2013

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

Here is what I have read over the last two weeks.

Picture Books-Fiction
A Gift for Mama
by Linda Ravin Lodding
Illustrated by Alison Jay
Sweet picture book with amazing illustrations.  Oskar sets out to find the perfect gift for his Mama, but every time he gets a gift, someone else wants it.  Generous Oskar keeps giving his gifts away in exchange for other "perfect gifts".  This book has a nice ending and would be a great read aloud and mentor text to discuss generosity for grades K-3.  

Manners Mash-Up
by Ted Arnold and several other kid lit artists
A hilarious book of manners with a team of illustrators presenting their own interpretations of good manners. Fun for grades K-4. 

by Julie Brinkloe 
I remember catching fireflies in the summer when I was a kid so this book was like traveling back to childhood for me.  It is a simple book with black and white pictures and glowing yellow for the fireflies. Contains lots of figurative language. Best for grades K-4. 

by Chris Van Allsburg
I can't believe I had not read this book.  I remember my daughter coming home and talking about how much she liked it in third grade.  With amazing illustrations, as one would expect from Chris Van Allsburg, and an action-packed story, this is one that kiddos will love.  Good for elementary grades. 

Picture Books Nonfiction
 The 4th of July Story
by Alice Dalgliesh
Illustrated by Marie Nonnast
This book very briefly skims the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent Revolution. It is intended for younger children.  For me the illustrations were a bit outdated and plain, but it is a nice overview.  Grades 2-4. 

by Diana Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Susan L. Roth
When I happened upon this book at my public library, I had not heard about The Watts Towers.  The towers were created in a vacant lot by Simon Rodia from 1921 to 1955.  He used old tiles, metal, and anything Rodia happened to find.  Although the little girl is fictional, the story is true and the towers still stand today.  Grades 2-5.

by Wendy Pfeffer
Illustrated by Jesse Reisch
This book includes the scientific reasons behind the winter solstice as well as how many cultures around the world recognize the event.  It is written in prose and has some very nice illustrations.  Grades 2-5 

Middle Grade
by Lee Mandel
The universal theme of dealing with a bully is basis of this book.  Chas is a mean bully who teases and embarrasses Zack mercilessly. This book is also a coming-of-age story where Zack gets his first girlfriend.  Because of this content, I would not recommend it for students under 5th grade. 

Finished Listening
by Leslie Connor
Poor Addie has it pretty rough.  Her mom is absent most of the time and leaves her to fend for herself without a lot of food or money.  After her mother divorced her step-father, Dwight, Addie doesn't get to see him or her little sisters much.  I loved this book, but it was emotional to read. I just wanted to reach through the pages and bring her home with me.  

Professional Book
by Sean Ruday
I needed this book.  I know that teaching grammar through mentor texts is the best way to show students how these seemingly disconnected skills relate to writing.  However, I did not have a good list of texts to use.  This book gave me the "whys" behind the CCSS grammar skills and the mentor texts to use to help students see them in practice as they learn to incorporate grammar skills into their own writing. 

Currently (still) Reading
by Neil Gaiman

What Are You Reading Friends?

Other posts: In recognition of Veterans Day, my class wrote letters to a soldier who is serving in Afghanistan.  Click here to read it.