Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? October 28, 2013

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

Please click on the picture to go to the book's page on Goodreads to learn more about it.

Picture Books

by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Adorable little Spork is searching for his place in the world.  He's not a fork, nor a spoon and the other utensils shun him.  Until one day a messy "thing" arrives. 
I read this to my 4th graders and they loved it.  They especially liked guessing what the messy thing was and rooting for Spork to find self-acceptance. 

Not A Box 
by Antoinette Portis
Oh the wonders and possibilities of a simple, empty cardboard box.  In this book the rabbit uses the box as a spaceship, robot and a car just to name a few. 
Good for ages 4-8. 

Bob and Otto
by Robert O. Bruel
Illustrated by Nick Bruel
I was delighted to find this book at my library.  I love Nick Bruel's illustrations and after looking into it more, I discovered that Nick Bruel found this story his father had written after his father passed away. He made some minor changes and did the illustrations. 
This is a story of friendship.  Bob and Otto are great friends and enjoy spending their days together on the ground.  
You can read the book online at the site below.
Good for grades K-3

Nonfiction Picture Book

 Harlem's Little Blackbird
by Renee Watson
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
This picture book biography is about Florence Mills, a singer/dancer from Harlem in the 1920's. She was lesser known than some more famous African-American performers of the time, but just as influential.  Strangely enough, there are no known audio or video recordings of her voice on record, so her story has been passed down by generations of story tellers. 
Good for grades 3-5.


A Stick is an Excellent Thing
by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
This is a really fun book of short poetry to celebrate outdoor play.  It made me want to roll in some leaves and jump off a swing.  Good for grades 2-4.

Middle Grade

Fortunately, the Milk
by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Skottie Young
Although this book was not a favorite for me, many kids will enjoy it for it's over-the-top silliness. A father gets delayed bringing milk home for his two daughters.  The tale he tells about why he is late is the basis for the book. Traveling through time, being captured by pirates and rescued by a stegosaurus in a hot air balloon are just a few events from his tall tale.  The fun, messy illustrations are the best part of this book. 
Good for grades 3-4.

Currently Reading

Frog Burgers 
by Lee Mandel

The Graveyard Book 
by Neil Gaiman

Currently Listening

Waiting for Normal
by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't Push the Button Blog Tour- Author Guest Post and Book Review

Don't Push the Button
by Bill Cotter
Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Expected release date: Nov. 1, 2013
32 pages Hardcover
Genre: Fiction
Disclosure: I obtained a digital advanced copy of this picture book from

Larry the adorable monster is the character in this book.  Larry's book has one rule for the reader, don't push the button.  Of course breaking that rule is just too tempting.  Soon Larry invites the reader to push the button quickly when "no one is looking".  After the button is pushed, Larry changes in some very fun ways. 

My Thoughts
Don't Push the Button is a simple and really fun interactive picture book. After the reader pushes the button on the page Larry turns yellow or polka-dotted. Then he multiplies and the reader is asked to shake the book to make the extra Larrys go away.  
Little kids will love this book. Although the publisher lists Don't Push the Button for ages 4-8, I think it would appeal more to ages 2-7.   It has simplistic text with fun, colorful pictures.  I can just see kids asking to read it again and again and getting super-excited every time.  

Author Guest Post
I would like to thank Bill Cotter for offering to write a guest post. Read below to see how Bill's students helped him write Don't Push the Button. 

My favorite part about teaching in a pre-k program was that at any free moment we were reading a picture book to them. Books were perfect when the teachers needed something for the kids to concentrate on during snack time, when they were waiting for others to finish washing hands after art, or if a parent or sitter was late picking them up. I found myself reading several books on a daily basis. 

It was extremely beneficial to be able to sit down with kids and observe first hand how they reacted to different kinds of stories, characters, colors, textures, you name it. I tried my best to absorb these experiences and boil things down to the main elements that young kids react to: bright colors, simple design, a catch phrase, a character talking directly at them, and a way to physically interact with the story. "Don't Push the Button!" came out of me trying to create the most fun book experience possible using these elements.

I feel like the best proof that this works is this video that a fan sent to my publisher:

The interactive part of the book was very much inspired by the teaching philosophy of where I worked, the Church Street School of Music & Art in New York City. Being physically engaged with the activity is crucial for a student at this young age. Every song that the kids learn has accompanying hand gestures. The gestures help them learn the words and vice versa. In art class we are constantly making the student verbalize the different materials and textures they encounter. I feel like the experience is better solidified in the child’s mind if there are more than one of the senses are being engaged. 

Win a copy of Don't Push the Button
The publisher has generously offered to give away a copy of the book to a resident in the US or Canada.  
Just leave a comment below by 11:00 pm EST (October 23, 2013) indicating who you would like to read this book with.  A winner will be chosen randomly.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Classroom Strategy- Ways for Students to Keep Track of Books They Have Read

Students in my 4th grade classes are reading like crazy.  It is the expectation that students read at least 40 books this school year (ala Donalyn Miller).  I feel that it is important for students to see their reading progress so they are keeping track of the books they have read in several ways.
One way is by using  This is a kid-friendly social reading website.  Students can keep track of books they are reading, have read, and want to read.  They can rate books and recommend them to each other.

They also keep track on a genre sheet as they are asked to read from a wide variety of genre.  
Click here to view the sheet I use.  I think you can access and edit it with the link. 

Finally, they keep track in the hallway.  In previous years I have had the students complete a paper book spine and we created "stacks" in the hall.  While the students loved seeing their stacks grow, this system was cumbersome for 45-50 students. It also took up a ton of wall space and used a lot of paper.  I had to use volunteers to tape them to the wall and then they were torn down and recycled at the end of the year. 

This year we are using a new "system" to track the number of books we read.  Each student has a metal book ring to which he or she adds a new 2"x 3"card with the title of each new book read. Then when they read more books, they move their ring to the appropriate number.  Once established, this system is quite easy. Now my biggest problem is making sure we don't run out of cards. At the end of the year, they will take them home as a keepsake of their 4th grade reading. 

Right now we have up to 25 books on the board.  As needed I will add higher numbers to the bottom half of the board and make room by raising some rings higher on the board. 

Keeping track of all the books they have read, helps students to see growth and helps fuel their motivation to read. 
I would love to hear about how others have students keep track of their reading.  Leave a comment and share!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On a Beam of Light- Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein 
by Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
Chronicle Books 2013
56 Pages
Genre: Nonfiction, biography
Format: Picture book
Disclosure: Obtained from public library

Summary from Goodreads
A boy rides a bicycle down a dusty road. But in his mind, he envisions himself traveling at a speed beyond imagining, on a beam of light. This brilliant mind will one day offer up some of the most revolutionary ideas ever conceived. From a boy endlessly fascinated by the wonders around him, Albert Einstein ultimately grows into a man of genius recognized the world over for profoundly illuminating our understanding of the universe. Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky invite the reader to travel along with Einstein on a journey full of curiosity, laughter, and scientific discovery. Parents and children alike will appreciate this moving story of the powerful difference imagination can make in any life.

My Thoughts
I think everyone is a little bit fascinated with Einstein and I am no exception.  I found this book to be very interesting.  The author does an amazing job of weaving the story of Einstein's life into a picture book format.  The whimsical, disheveled style of the illustrations seem to reflect the personality of Einstein himself. Although this book discusses some of his theories, it is written in "kid friendly" language.  I would imagine students in grades 1-5 enjoying this book. 

Use This Book.....
in a biography unit.
as a mentor text for discussing differences and strengths.
as a springboard for brainstorming big and small questions.

Click here to see a short video about Einstein for kids. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?- October 14, 2013

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

Please click on the picture to go to the book's page on Goodreads to learn more about it.

Picture Book
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
This nonfiction picture book is a terrific overview of Einstein's life and contributions.  Check back on Wed. for my review. 

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
Edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad
Illustrated by Benny Andrews
I was happy to stumble upon this book at the library.  I love Langston Hughes' poetry.  This book is great because it offers some behind the scenes information about the chosen poems. 

Middle Grade
Timmy Failure #1: Mistakes Were Made
by Stephan Pastis
Overall, I really liked this book and I know many kids will love it. It is silliness and beyond.  If you can get past that, the story is cute. Fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid have a new series. 

Professional Book
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits
by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley
Yes, it is as amazing as you would think.  Just buy it, you won't regret it. 

Currently Reading
Sunny Sweet is So NOT Sorry
by Jennifer Ann Mann

What's Next?

No sure yet, but I have some great choices on my TBR pile. 

What Are You Reading Friends?

Recent posts:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Maine Student Book Awards 2013-14 Post Two

Several weeks ago I shared my thoughts on 5 of the MSBA 13-14 titles.  Click here to see that post. 

 Today I will discuss ONe nonfiction and 4 fantasy books from the MSBA list that I have read. 

Giant Squid
by Mary Cerullo

The Goodreads summary states that this book "Describes the science of the giant squid and the challenges in finding and learning about this cephalopod". This is a bit over simplified in my opinion.  This book chronicles oceanographer, Clyde Roper's multi-decade quest to find and study the elusive giant squid. 

My Thoughts
Let me start by saying that this is not my favorite genre.  I struggle with expository nonfiction.  The book is very well written and reflects years of hard work.  The text is accompanied with real photographs.  Clyde Roper is a wonderful model of showing perseverance as he continues his quest after many setbacks. Since I teach 4th grade, I tend to look at books through the lens of a 4th grader. I do think the text is a bit too dense for most 4th graders to handle independently, but I can see some older students really getting into it.  I would recommend it for grades 6-8.  

Always October
by Bruce Coville
384 Pages

Goodreads Summary
No doubt about it, little brothers can be monsters. When sixth grader Jake Doolittle finds a baby on the doorstep and his mother decides to keep it, those words are more than just an expression. Instead, they perfectly describe the way his new little brother, LD, sprouts pointy ears, thick fur, and fangs in moonlight.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed reading this book.  It combines a setting in the "real world" and the fantasy, monster-filled world of Always October.  Jake's quest to keep his new little brother safe inside and outside of Always October is suspense-filled with just the right amount of scary to make it a page-turner.  It is a story that 4th graders will enjoy, but at 384 pages it is very long.  My 6th grader is reading it now and loving it. 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms
by Lissa Evans
272 Pages
Fantasy (1st in series)

Goodreads Summary
Enter a wonderful world filled with real magic, mystery … and danger.
As if being small for his age and also having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop.  Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.
A quirky, smart, charming page-turner, Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms will enchant young readers--as well as teachers, librarians, and parents.

My Thoughts
I was drawn right into this story as an adult reader.  There is a great amount of mystery surrounding Stuart's Uncle Tony's disappearance and Stuart is determined to find out what happened. Although most of the book is a work of fantasy, the fantastical elements do not overpower the story.  With 272 pages, no pictures to support the text and some slower moving parts, I think this one is best done as a read aloud for most 4th graders.  In my opinion, this one is better suited for grade 5 through middle school.

by Mark Fearing
Fantasy, Graphic Novel

Goodreads Summary
Every kid worries about making friends at a new school, but when nine-year-old Bud accidentally catches the wrong bus and finds himself launched into deep space, new friends are the least of his problems! At Cosmos Academy, Bud learns that Earthlings are the most feared creatures in the galaxy, and even Earth's location has been hidden! With the help of his new friend, Gort, Bud goes undercover as a Tenarian exchange student. Unfortunately that means everyone thinks he's a pro at anti-gravity Zero-Ball (even though he's really only a pro at watching sports). And with paranoid Principal Lepton threatening to expel any Earthlings (into outer space) and only Gort's hacked Blip computer to help them determine Earth's co-ordinates, will Bud ever find his way home?

My Thoughts
This book will appeal to kids in 4th and 5th grade who love fantasy and graphic novels. It is not a difficult read and is one of the most "accessible" books on the list.  Your struggling 4th graders should be able to read this one without a ton of help. For me it was just ok.  This kind of fantasy and format is not really my thing.  But, kids will like it. 

The Last Dragon Slayer
by Jasper Fforde
Fantasy (1st in series)

Goodreads Summary
In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

My Thoughts
This is one of my favorites (so far).  I just loved the concept of a magical world where everyone has a different type of magical talent (or none at all) and seeing how that would is managed. I also like that the protagonist is a girl. I would give it to my more advanced 4th graders who love books like Harry Potter.  I would expect students in late elementary through grade 8 would enjoy this book most. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday-October 9, 2013

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

by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
Charlesbridge Publishing
32 Pages
Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book
Disclosure: Obtained from public library

Goodreads Summary

Most kids love chocolate, but few of them know that its main ingredient, the cocoa bean, comes from a tree that grows in the tropical rain forest. Dual-layer text describes the life cycle of the tree, emphasizing its botanical structures and highlighting the interdependence of the plants and animals such as the pollen-sucking midge, brain-eating coffin fly and aphid-munching anole lizard. Two wise-cracking bookworms offer commentary and humor in this fascinating depiction of microhabitat survival. 

My Thoughts
One thing I love about nonfiction picture books is the fact that they can convey information in an understandable and relatable way. With just the right amount of text and big, detailed pictures, kids will enjoy this book and learn a ton. The two "bookworms" are lots of fun. Kids will also appreciate the small amount of "grossness" that is included such as the brain-eating flies.  The information at the end of the book and the "What you can do to help" section offer more valuable information. 

Use this book......
in a unit on ecology or animals. 
as a mentor text for writing a "without this, then that" type of informational writing.
to model cause/effect.
to model think alouds for informational text. 

How chocolate is made video

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading- October 7, 2013

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

Please click on the picture to go to the book's page on Goodreads to learn more about it.

Fiction Picture Books

Warning: Do Not Open This Book!
by Adam Lehrhaupt

If you love reading There is a Monster at the End of This Book with kids, then you will love this book.  

123 Versus ABC
by Mike Bolt

In this adorable book, letters and numbers try to prove that the book is really about them. 

Zero the Hero
by Joan Holub

I love the concept of this book. The other numbers don't respect zero because he is worth "nothing".  He proves he is not worthless by doing his very special job.  Kids will love this book. 

Nonfiction Picture Books

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
by Melissa Stewart

This scientific examination of how everything in nature is interconnected is a winner! 

Noah Webster and His Words
by Jeri Chase Ferris

I really enjoyed this story of Noah Webster's quest to create a common "American" language after the Revolutionary War. 


Jedi Academy
by Jeffrey Brown

So many kids will love this book.  However, I think I lack sufficient background knowledge (and interest) to enjoy it. It is too visually busy for me, but kids will not have a problem with the handwriting font and comic strip combination. Get it for your Star Wars fan. 

Currently Reading

Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry
by Jennifer Ann Mann

Timmy Failure 
by Stephan Pastis

What Are You Reading Friends?

Recent posts: