Thursday, January 29, 2015

NCTE Book Awards

NCTE announced its book awards this week.  I love both of the lists.  I've always loved the Orbis Pictus Award. I've watched it for years and have discovered so many amazing nonfiction books through this award and list each year. This year, I had read many books on the award list, but have several that I'll add to my TBR stack.  

This year, I was part of the Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children committee. It is an honor to be part of this committee during its first years. I never had the opportunity to study under Charlotte Huck at Ohio State but I feel that I learned from her through her writing and through others I knew who knew her. What a legacy! And I so love the premise of the new Charlotte Huck Award.  From the NCTE website, "The award commemorates the work of educator Charlotte Huck and her focus on the importance of bringing books and children together in significant ways. " It goes on to discuss the criteria--below is the first bullet.
  • Fiction for children that has the potential to transform children’s lives
    • Fiction that invites compassion, imagination, and wonder
    • Fiction that connects children to their own humanity and offers them a rich experience with the power to influence their lives
    • Fiction that stretches children’s thinking, feelings, and imagination
Isn't this what children's literature is all about? Isn't this what matters?

The experience I had on the committee, learning from so many amazing people, thinking about this award was incredible. Definitely a great way to start 2015. If you have not seen the award list, you can find it here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

I Am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer

I'm so glad I decided to participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kidlit Frenzy.  It is a great reminder to keep up with my nonfiction reading in 2015!

The newish picture book biography series, "Ordinary People Change the World" by Brad Meltzer's a perfect nonfiction series for elementary students.  We have the first few books in our classroom and I've noticed that several kids are picking them up on their own to read during independent reading time.  They are great stories and are very accessible to young children.

These books look simpler than they are.  I read the newest title, I Am Jackie Robinson this weekend and realized how packed the book is.  The focus of the story and the theme of all of the books is one about heroes.  So the story focuses on the things Jackie Robinson did to change the world.  The stories is an engaging one for kids and the illustrations make them books that kids will pick up even without our nudging.

From a nonfiction reading standpoint, I plan to use these books to teach lots of mini lessons.  The page layouts, the ways the talking bubbles share details that go beyond the main text, the timeline at the end of the book, and other features all make these books a new favorite nonfiction series for me.

I love this new edition and am looking forward to the next book in the series--I Am Lucille Ball coming in July.

This short clip tells a bit more about the series:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

George O'Connor Blog Tour

Ares: Bringer of War
by George O'Connor
First Second, January 27, 2015
review copy provided by the publisher

"The stories that make up the body of Greek myths are what remain of their culture’s deeply held beliefs. The stories of Zeus and his family are more than just entertaining yarns about giants who slice open the sky and monsters so fearsome their gaze can turn a person to stone. They were, and are, an explanation of the world that that ancient culture’s people saw around them: a lightning storm could only be the King of Gods hurling his thunderbolt; a volcano could only be the escaped vapors of an entombed Titan. 
Not many people today believe in the gods of Ancient Greece. But their stories are still around, and they live on in all of our memories." George O'Connor (from his website, The Olympians).
The volumes in George O'Connor's Olympians series (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite) do so much more than simply retell a story from Greek mythology. They also feature a detailed family tree at the beginning of the book. At the end are extensive G(r)eek notes that cite page and panel numbers and are a combination of author commentary, historical context, and vocabulary and classical art connections. After that, there are resources for the reader who wants to know even more.

The whole premise of Ares is pretty amazing -- in it, O'Connor retells the Illiad with a focus on the gods' role in the Trojan War. In a 66-page graphic novel. For kids.


Everything you know about Ares is shown to be true in this book -- when it comes to warmongering, he is the opposite side of the coin from Athena, who is the disciplined strategist of war. Ares represents the violent, crazed, bloodthirsty side of war. But in this book, we also see that he is a father with at least a teeny tiny soft spot in his heart.

One of my favorite spreads in the book is p. 12-13. It takes you by surprise as a reader, because the top half of both pages is one large panel. It shows the gods gathered around a sort of table that is the battlefield in the mortal world. The panels below the large top panel read left to right as usual, but all the way across both pages. When you turn the page, the story continues in the usual page-by-page format until the climax on p. 52-53 when the gods can't stand it anymore and they go down to the mortal world to battle it out "god-on-god" (p. 73 in the G(r)eek Notes) All of this is to say that besides being a master of mythology and storytelling, George O'Connor is an amazing graphic artist.

I recommend this book for students in grades 4 and up...all the way up to adults who would like a refresher course on mythology and a peek into some of the best graphic novels around.

You can follow George O'Connor on twitter @GeorgetheMighty.


Monday, January 26th
Kid Lit Frenzy

Tuesday, January 27th – A Year of Reading -- You Are Here!

Wednesday, January 28th
Great Kid Books

Thursday, January 29
Charlotte’s Library

Friday, January 30
Graphic Novel Resources

Saturday, January 3
Librarian’s Quest

Sunday, February 1
Musings of a Librarian

Monday, February 2
The Graphic Novelologist

Tuesday, February 3
Supernatural Snark

Wednesday, February 4
Panel Patter

Thursday, February 5
Finding Wonderland

Friday, February 6
The Book Rat

Saturday, February 7
Teen Lit Rocks

Sunday, February 8
The Brain Lair

Monday, February 9
Haunting Orchid

Tuesday, February 10
Alice Marvels

Monday, January 26, 2015

Math Monday -- Catchphrases

I'm participating in Math Monday with Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

You might think 


is a trendy catchphrase 
(syn: slogan, motto, catchword, buzzword, mantra)
 that you can afford to ignore because it will eventually go away.

I'm here to tell you that if you are just teaching standards because 
they are in your pacing guide 
or on the next page of your math book 
and you have no idea 
whether or not your students already know those concepts,
then chances are
you will be wasting your time and theirs.

it's a pain to give a pretest
and grade it 
go through the results child by child
to see who does and doesn't know which concepts.

But then your teaching path spreads before you
and you can clearly see 
which students 
which concepts, 
what to teach whole class
and what to teach to just those few.

It's a pain
but it's worth it
and it's good teaching
so it's not going away anytime soon 
and you might as well get on the 

( the words of a beloved former curriculum director...*the clue bus)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Kid Quips

Tagging posts is a good thing. I ran across the tag "kid quips" while I was working on another post and I was amused by what I found there.

I have kept up my goal to "catch a fish" every day of the school year in my new little purple journal. I now have 88 short snippets of the year that I can look back on and remember why I do this crazy job and why I love this crazy job.

My entry for last Thursday is a good "kid quip." We are working hard on the science standard about the predictable patterns of movement between the sun and the Earth. Tilt of the axis, direct and indirect rays of sunlight, seasons that are opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

A. looked up with those big brown eyes and sighed and said, "It was so much easier when I was younger and there were just the four seasons, back before I even knew the axis existed, let along the tilt and the direct and indirect rays of the sun."

"Yeah," I said. "That's the joy and the sorrow of growing up and learning the science behind what makes the world work -- there's joy in knowing, and there's sorrow in losing that simple view of the world."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Poetry Friday -- Potato Chips

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by sriram bala

What do potato chips know?
     You can't resist us.
     There's power in crispness.
     Grease is delicious.

What do potato chips know?
     Our stay is brief.
     Life needs treats.
     Occasionally, salty conquers sweet.

©Mary Lee Hahn 2015

This is my first attempt at a Deeper Wisdom poem, a challenge given by Joyce Sidman. I'm trying to write a more serious one. Really, I am. But this will have to do for now. 

Tara has the Poetry Friday Roundup at A Teaching Life.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Series I'm Adding to 3rd Grade Classroom Library

It seems that no matter how many books I have, it just isn't enough to keep 25 3rd graders engaged every day.  There always seems to be a gap.  A few kids seemed to be in a rut and I realized they needed some early chapter books and they'd read most of the series we had that interested them.

Katie DiCesare mentioned the Branches books and although I had a few (I love the Boris series), I didn't realize that there were so many others. So I bought a few of the series I didn't know and have been reading a few.  Two that I read this week were:

Monkey Me and the Pet Show. This is a silly series about a boy who turns into a monkey when he gets excited. In this book, he ruins picture day and he also enters a pet show as the monkey. This is just goofy silly and I think some 3rd graders will love it.  The thing I like about this is that when Clyde is a boy, the text is written in linear, chapter book form.  But when he is a monkey, it switches to graphic novel/comic form.  I'm wondering if kids will notice that on their own right away. It looks like there are at least 4 books in this series so enough to keep kids reading for a bit.

The Notebook of Doom: Rise of the Balloon Goons is another with a goofy
sense of humor.  Alexander moves to a new house and a new school and finds a notebook filled with monster drawings.  It seems that some balloon monsters are after him.  This is a funny book that will make kids laugh.  It is a bit longer and more difficult than Monkey Me but definitely perfect for 3rd graders.

I hope to read more of these Branches books over the next few days.  Series that I have on my stack are Dragon Masters, Looniverse, Eerie Elementary, Owl Diaries and Lotus Lane. I love these Branches books and am glad to have discovered more of them!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to Fit it All In -- Writing Workshop Edition

"Stack of Thinly Sliced Trees" by Tom Woodward, Flickr Creative Commons photo

The reports my students finished before Christmas break have been waiting patiently to get back into the hands of their authors. I spent hours assessing them with our district's rubric/feedback form, and then I spent more hours writing comments. I didn't want to just hand them back without a conversation about what they did well and what they can work on next time, but I also didn't want to take current writing workshop conference time to talk about something other than current writing.

So I decided I would utilize indoor recess season to its fullest and do conferences then. Great plan...except the first two weeks back after break I had recess duty.

Now it's the third week back, my duty-free week, and what happens? Good weather and outdoor recess! I'm not complaining about outdoor recess; don't get me wrong! I just had to invent plan C. I asked one of my writer girls to invite 4 other friends to eat lunch in the classroom, and as they ate and chatted, I called them to the back table one at a time to talk about their writing. They still had plenty of time for recess.

It was fabulous for a couple of reasons. First, it was fun to be a fly-on-the-wall and listen to the girls giggle and chatter. More importantly, there was enough distance between themselves and that piece of writing that they were able to talk very objectively about what went well and what they absolutely know they need to work on next time they write informational text.

Joy in repurposing delay!

Joy in utilizing every moment of the day!

Joy in shrinking the to-do list!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

3 Books I'd Have in My Classroom Library if I Taught 5th Grade

I have been reading lots of books lately that I would so love to have in my classroom library. But they just aren't a great match for 3rd graders. They are books that would be perfect if I taught 5th grade. That always tends to happen around Newbery time. I try to catch up on all of the books that I've had on my stack all year and so many of the good ones seem to be more 4th-6th grade books.  This month I read a few good ones.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods was a great story about an eleven year old character who I fell in love with immediately.  The book blurb states, "Violet is a smart, funny, brown-eyed, brown-haired girl in a family of blonds."  Violet's mother is white and her father is black. But her father died before she was born and she is struggling with not knowing about that side of her family.  This is a great story about family and identity and love. It hits on issues of race in ways that are honest and accessible to 10-12 year olds.  I loved this character so much--she is spunky and smart and strong. She is definitely a character that will stay with me for a while.

I am embarrassed to say that I don't remember whether or not I read Elijah of
 Buxton.  I feel like I did but I can't be sure.  When I heard about The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis, I heard that although it was connected to Elijah, it definitely stood on its own. So I gave it a try. Honestly, I didn't intend to love the book-nothing about it seemed like the kind of things I love about a book. But, around page 50, I realized that I had fallen in love with the characters and the story.  This is definitely a book for 5th grade and above. Not  because the content is a problem but because it is more complex than I think younger kids can handle. The characters are amazing.  The story is quite the adventure. It is really perfect in every way.  If I were teaching 5th grade, this might be a read aloud or I might get a group of readers together to discuss this one.  

The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab is a sweet story that would be good in a 5th grade classroom. It would also be good in a 3rd grade classroom. It is the story of a town that has an Angel Tree put up secretly each year. The tree invites people to hang wishes and other community members help to make the wishes come true. This book is about 4 kids impacted by The Angel Tree.  This is a simple story with a very obvious theme.  It is good for kids who like a predictable story with a theme that is very accessible to readers. I don't have many holiday books in my rooms but this one is more about a community coming together for each other.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Math Monday -- Playing Favorites

Because of the holiday, I have some extra time to play around with my favorite math -- baking.

I love the precision of measuring all of the ingredients to begin the dough, and then, when it's time to add the rest of the flour to the butter-milk-yeast-salt-sugar-flour starter, knowing exactly how much I can not measure, and instead rely on the feel of the dough.

When do kids get the joy of using math to make something?

Mid-month payday was last Thursday. On Saturday, I got to do another of my favorite maths -- balancing my checkbook. This is a bi-monthly game of (again) precision: Can I be accurate enough in my accounting to match my online bank statement to the penny? You'd think at my stage in life that I would be able to do this without a problem every single time. How hard can it be? Well, that's the point -- it's not hard, but it does take attention to detail. Constantly.

When do kids get the joy of using math in a way that really, really matters?

Somewhere along the line at the end of last year, the iPhone app Elevate caught my eye. This "brain training" app was Apple's 2014 App of the Year. It was free, so I downloaded it. I am rocking all the games that tap into my reading, writing and vocabulary skills. None of those feel like training to me! But, when one of my three free games for the day is Math Conversions or Math Discounting, I groan out loud...but still play the game. I often make so many mistakes that I "lose all of my lives," or I run out of time because I can do it...just not quickly enough. (For comparison's sake -- when I get the game where I have to look at faces and hear names and facts about people and then remember that information...I actively AVOID that game because it is such a weakness for me that the game causes the same kind of anxiety I have in real life about names and faces!)

Do kids choose to play video games that improve their math skills?

It's on my weekend to-do list to finish gathering and organizing everything for 2014 taxes. I'm avoiding that item. There's still time; it can wait. And about taxes themselves -- I used to stubbornly do them on my own. I wanted to believe that an American citizen with decent math and literacy skills should be able to manage their own Income Taxes. Yeah. I made a few mistakes about a decade ago. Didn't get audited, but now I pay a professional to do the taxes.

Paying someone else to do the math for you is one of the privileges of adulthood. Sorry, kids! For now, you have to do your own math homework!!

I am joining Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for Math Monday.