Review of Upcoming Book, REBOUND, by Kwame Alexander (04/02/18)

Rebound, the prequel to the Newbery-Winning title, The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, tells of childhood days of Charlie “Chuck” Bell (Josh and Jordan’s father). At the age of 12, Charlie had already experienced love and loss, carrying much baggage to his grandparent’s house in the summer of 1988. “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel, and The Fantastic Four a buck. When I met Harriet Tubman and the Harlem Globetrotters…”

Charlie retells his story for his sons (and the reader) of those not-so-and-absolutely glorious days — playing basketball with Roxie, his cousin, and Skinny, his best friend, in the summer heat, dealing with the heat from Grandpa and the weather, and wishing that he could be a Fantastic Four super hero star. Charlie gains knowledge about his family tree, about basketball moves (such as the crossover — get it?), and about consequences of getting into trouble. Charlie even changes his name — to Chuck (thanks, Grandpa) — that summer, and in a series of poetic episodes, finds out what it means to be a true star. He has to learn to REBOUND, on and off the court.

Kwame Alexander’s vocabulary lessons continue in Rebound, as well as his lessons about family, life, and love. I couldn’t tell how the stories would weave together at first, but Kwame expertly spins, twists, and turns the plot, and in the end, I yelled, “Swish!” out loud! Fans of Kwame Alexander’s rhythmic style will love the references to other works, including The Crossover, Solo, and the now-famous sing-along song, “Be A Star.”

Rebound IS the star of this spring’s book season. A MUST to add to your reading “Playbook.”

February 10th: Nonfiction 10 For 10 (nf10for10)

It’s February 10, 2018, and all the local news revolves around the deep snow and Winter Olympics, so I’m going to use the news for my theme. My nonfiction picture book “10 For 10” has me thinking about winter (#nf10for10).

The Snowflake: Winter’s Secret Beauty (Kenneth Libbrecht): Pair this nonfiction book with Snowflake Bentley (Jacqueline Briggs Martin) for a winter research project. Wilson Bentley discovered the beauty and wonder of intricate snowflakes. I enjoyed a look at individual flakes and wondered how they all pack together to create the chaos that is today’s weather. (I like reading about snowflakes better than looking at the snow outside.)

Secrets of Winter (A Shine-A-Light Book) (Carron Brown/Georgina Tee): My granddaughter and I carefully pulled up the papers on these pages to reveal fun secrets. What is winter like outside?

When Winter Comes (Nancy Van Laan): What happens to flowers, and fish, and deer when winter comes? This book allows us to snuggle under the warm covers and find out.

The Polar Bear (Jenni Desmond): Nonfiction facts AND a beautiful picture book. Just look at the cover — it pulls you in!

A Is For Axel: An Ice Skating Alphabet (Kurt Browning with Melanie Rose): Take a look at Olympic ice skating from a real expert — Kurt Browning skated for Canada and was a 4-Time Figure Skating Champion before writing this ABC book. Part of the alphabet series and appeals to any-age vocabulary buffs. (2nd edition, 2015)

A Kid’s Guide to the 2018 Winter Games (Jack L. Roberts): This book came out in July 2017, and prepared readers for events of the 2018 Winter Olympics, going on NOW. This title is COOL — it has colorful and interesting photographs, facts and figures, and even a medal tracker readers can use to record winners.

Best in Snow (April Pulley Sayre): Speaking of photographs, I could just sit and stare at April Pulley Sayre’s beautiful pictures all day. Her picture books’ photography shots are “best in show” for sure! This title shows the wonders of the snow and winter in the wild. I consider her books science-class must-haves, and it doesn’t hurt to tell you she’s a friend, does it? (By the way, I’ll just recommend her new title, Warbler Wave — coming out this week– while I’m at it!)

Over and Under the Snow (Kate Messner): Speaking of friends, let me also recommend the Over and Under books by Kate Messner. Her nonfiction books are beautiful and informative, and the research presented in them is packaged in an engaging picture-book style (my favorite format!). In this title, the reader discovers the wonder and activity that lies beneath the snow-covered ground.

Blizzard (John Rocco): Now that I’m an adult, I sure hope we don’t have to relive the Blizzard-of-’78-kind of snow again. I remember donning my one-piece snowsuit as a 10-year-old and heading out to the swing set in the back yard — my sister and I sat on TOP of it! We had so much fun while my dad and the neighbor walked all day to get groceries at the corner gas station. What a crazy week that was. John Rocco placed his memories in this picture book, which is just as fun to read as that old swing set was to sit on.

Now it’s time for YOU to read and share your #nf10for10. Picture books are the best!

Book Review: TBH, This is SO Awkward

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I read TBH, This is SO Awkward: A Novel in Text, by Lisa Greenwald, so I could keep in touch with the teenage trends. I never fit in while I was in middle school, so I don’t know why I thought I could go back in time now and relive the awkwardness. But I did. And I’m glad I read the book — it’s really going to become a recommended read for those pre-and-teen girls who like to text and want to talk about boys. Really. It just wasn’t “me.”

Lisa Greenwald creatively uses text-style writing and emojis to write this entire story, which is an accomplishment. The cover makes you want to pick it up off the shelf, for sure. It’s easy to read for middle and high schoolers, and there’s a glossary at the end of the book to help the rest of us. The story is about 3 BFFAE (Best Friends Forever and Ever), Cecily, Gabrielle, and Prianka, who live in the middle of the middle school drama and are thick as thieves — making mistakes concerning a new girl, mothers, boys, and the Valentine’s Day dance — all the while staying friends. Of course, they get mad at each other, but at the end of the day, these girls are nice, smart girls who are just trying to live through their middle school days (just like the rest of us did.)

If you like middle school, teen drama, mean girls, cute boys, and school dances, this book is a must-read. I think if I would have lived a different middle school life, I would have liked this book better. But that’s not Lisa Greenwald’s fault; her words-in-text send a needed message for today’s students: Be kind. Do good things. Stay BFFAE.

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

 

Reflection: Why is Reading Left Behind? 2 Years

I drafted these words for a blog post in March of 2016:

I read a post by Kelly Gallagher about the number of high school seniors who admitted that they had never read an entire book. Although I was saddened by this news, I would have to agree. School is a place where if students ACT like they are busy, teachers leave them alone. This should not be acceptable any more!

My main reading grade in my reading class comes from the motto: “Read During Reading Time.” I give my students, choice, time, opportunities (I have a huge classroom library) — all of the categories required to promote reading inside (and outside of) school. So why is reading left behind?

(I never published that post.)

Wow! These words still ring true today, at the Saturday workshop for Indiana Partnership for Young Writers at Butler University — and I still have the same question. Kelly Gallagher was the Visiting Scholar today, and the entire workshop I was picturing my past reading classrooms, reflecting on my teaching, and questioning why nothing has changed for students in school. I have always held the belief that students should, indeed, READ during reading class. I didn’t understand why people standing outside the classroom were looking for anything else inside — namely the teacher at the board teaching reading comprehension skills, with students “performing tasks” and “taking notes,” or completing a worksheet, or taking a test. I ended the draft above with a question: So why is reading left behind? What I meant (at the time) was that it seemed like activities that could be observed as students “being engaged” or “learning” were better indicators of “reading” than reading a book. It wasn’t the first time I heard about an observer reporting to some reading teacher, “Students were just reading.” I questioned (in my head), “What do you want them to do in reading class?”

That question in my head bothered me so much that I made it my teaching reading motto: READ DURING READING TIME. It WAS (and IS) what should be happening in reading classrooms. Period. In a published piece, I posted these words on my blog in October of 2017:

I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.

He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.” 

I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.

Obviously, this “kids-don’t-read-in-school” issue is still grinding on my nerves. Thank you, Kelly Gallagher, for reminding me again that reading creates better readers — and adding “better writers” — in middle school and high school. Here are the BIG IDEAS I took away from the workshop:

1. One MUST READ to become a good writer. Today we read quite a few texts, wrote about them, and shared with a partner.

2. We need to read and write with students in school every day. Every. Day.

3. There are 4 teaching moves that can help students to become better readers and writers: increase volume of reading, give choice in reading and writing class, model good reading and writing for our students, and confer with students about their reading and writing.

I promise I will not keep my thoughts in my head anymore. I love teaching reading, writing, and I love learning. I want my students to love reading, writing, and learning as much as I do.

 

 

This is NOT a review of THIS IS NOT A VALENTINE

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This is NOT a Valentine. It’s just a little note that tells readers they will enjoy this lovely picture book by Carter Higgins! Carter has taken all the Valentine-stereotypes and threw them out the school bus window, and shows us what Valentine messages really mean.

Valentines sparkle; they’re pink and glittery.
But you might like the brown in the mud puddle.
Valentines have cooties that tumble out when you open them.
“But if we both get cooties…then we can have cherry juice…together.”

This is NOT a Valentine. It’s a good book to share with someone in February…
or any other month you like.

IMWAYR Review: The Youngest Marcher

I love learning about people and their real-life stories. I especially love the lesser-known stories of historical time periods. Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and we also remember other great names in Civil Rights history. Did you know that some famous Civil Rights activists were children? Today’s IMWAYR title should be shared widely. I share here to remind myself and others that children CAN and DO make a difference in our lives and in our communities.

The Youngest Marcher: The story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, by Cynthia Levinson will stay with me for a long time. I know the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches and speeches, and they have inspired me in the past. Last year when I read The MARCH Trilogy, I learned so much more from Representative John Lewis’ firsthand accounts and experiences. Now I am reminded (through a picture book — see, picture books teach all ages) that there were children arrested in May of 1963, one being Audrey Faye Hendricks, who was nine years old at the time. I thought, “NINE? They arrested 9-year-olds?” Yes, yes, they did, and by doing so, they filled the jails in Birmingham, Alabama. Amazing. Frightful. Inspiring.

I missed this book when it released in 2017, but I am so glad I have remedied that. I recommend that you buy this book and keep it — read it when you need a good story about children being brave and changing the world.

Picture Books Are For Everyone! January 12, 2018 Reviews

If you ever hear someone say picture books are just for kids, don’t listen! Read these picture books. You’ll be glad you opened your heart.

Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell. (Feiwel and Friends, 2017)

Matthew Cordell doesn’t need words to convey the message of empathy, love, and kindness in this Caldecott nominee for 2018. I felt so much — for the humans and the wolves — in this story about being lost in the snow. A small child waves goodbye to her school friends, and begins her walk home. A pack of wolves also sets out around the same time, with a little one struggling to keep up in the blowing snow. Both the small girl and the small wolf become lost as the pages turn white. What happened next pulled at my “mom” heartstrings.This is a MUST READ book for all ages.

 

Love, by Matt de la Peña. Illustrated by Loren Long. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)

I LOVE this book! Love is NOT just red roses and pink hearts, and Matt de la Peña and Loren Long focus on the daily definitions of love in this beautiful new book. There is love when you play in the sprinklers, when you hide from parents who fight, when you fish with grandpa. There is love in flowers, laughter, and rain puddles. There is love, even when you cannot find love and you try, try, try. Enjoy the sounds, smells, and colors of LOVE and share the book, and your love, with everyone.

IMWAYR: Predators and Prey — Funny Way to End the Day

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I read The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett. Mr. Barnett is always so clever with his storytelling skills, and he got me giggling again. “Early one morning, a mouse met a wolf, and he was quickly gobbled up.” End of story, right? Not quite.

See, there’s already a duck that has made a home in the wolf’s belly. The mouse and the duck made such a ruckus inside the wolf that the wolf got a stomach ache. A hunter then hears the wolf, and sets up to shoot. I can’t give the story away, but I promise you’ll be amused. The ending is also a surprise. Genius.

A twisted tale about predators and prey with a load a laughs. You’ll never think of hunting the same way again. (Good thing.) By the way, the illustrations with familiar bright eyed-animals created by Jon Klassen make The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse another Barnett/Klassen classic. A good book for a long winter’s night.

 

IMWAYR: The Creativity Project

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My plan was to start tomorrow, but I opened The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp tonight after a longer-than-expected drive home from the NCTE annual conference, and fell in love immediately with the structure of this amazing text. I’m sure I’ll read this one quickly again, and later slow down and really ponder the wonder of this amazing project. Colby Sharp is the co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, so by nature, he is a reader and writer. He asked several authors to supply creative writing prompts for each other, then sent packages to authors with the prompts, asking each to share their writing/creating process. He wanted to share (with his elementary school students) how writers come up with ideas and “observe the way that creativity works.”

Mr. Sharp wrote in the introduction, “A few weeks later, the pieces started coming in, and HOLY SMOKES! I was completely blown away.” As I flipped through the pages tonight myself, perusing the structure of the book, I, too, was in awe of the prompts themselves and the projects that were submitted. For example, author Peter Brown submitted this prompt: “Create something that includes a tree looking out-of-place.” Illustrator Lauren Castillo answered with a drawing of a city scene, and there’s a tree there, looking quite out-of-place.

I can’t wait to read this book deeply and maybe even try something myself. Thank you, Mr. Sharp, for challenging all of us — experts and amateurs —  to create!