Monday, January 30, 2017

Nonfiction Mentor Text (and a GREAT man)

Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born
by Gene Barretta
illustrated by Frank Morrison
HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan Books, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

This book has a unique text structure, making it interesting for study as a mentor text.

Rather than beginning with Muhammad Ali's childhood, this picture book biography starts with a series of dated snapshots of Ali's key fights -- his surprise first win over Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship in 1964, his rematch and win over Liston in 1965, his defeat of George Foreman in 1974 when he won the world heavyweight championship for a second time, and the 1978 fight with Leon Spinks when he became the first boxer to win the world heavyweight championship three times.The word POW is prominent in each spread, along with famous quotes by Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali).

If that isn't enough to hook the reader, this sentence does it, "And he owed it all to a stolen bicycle."

A page turn after that, the reader is taken back to 1954, beginning again at the very beginning, and learning how it happened that a stolen bicycle really did lead to a boxing gym and an early mentor and a dream that became a reality.

This book is a fabulous introduction to an iconic athlete who was also a humanitarian, social activist, and positive role model for those diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Cold

image via unsplash

Confronting Icy Water is Directly Linked to Revolution

Standing at the edge,
I brace myself for the harsh truth,
the cold shock that awaits.

My commitment pushes me
to dive deep, invisibilizing below the surface,
rewriting the liberation of my body.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

I am joining Laura Shovan's Annual February Writing Project. The words/phrases for this poem originated here.

Carol has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Beyond Literacy Link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Year of Reading's Bucket List

This blog began as an extension of our conversations about possible contenders for the Newbery and Caldecott Award winners.

Our "year of reading" has turned into eleven years of reading, writing, teaching, and poetry.

Last weekend, we checked an item off our lifetime bucket lists -- we went to ALA Midwinter and saw the Youth Media Awards announced LIVE instead of streaming on our smartboards in our classrooms!

We were about 5th in line, and right behind us was Jules Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, who's been blogging just about as long as we have. It was so cool to meet her (and her family) in person!

In addition to seeing the book awards announced, 

we were there to cheer and congratulate OSU's own Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop on the Coretta Scott King - Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

This year, we had both read the Newbery winner and many of the Newbery and Caldecott Honor books.

It was another great Year of Reading in 2016, and we came home with suitcases full to the brim of ARCS so that we can begin our 2017 Year of Reading!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Still Learning to Read: A Great New Early Chapter Series


This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.

Having the right books for our readers is one of the most important things we can do.  Third grade is a little tricky because kids are at so many different stages as readers.  And if we want kids to read independently every day, we need lots of books that are right for them. So I am always looking for good early chapter books that support readers who are just learning to read longer books.  This week I received two books in the new Agnes and Clarabella series (Agnes and Clarabelle and Agnes and Clarabella Celebrate!) from the publisher.  This is a fun new series about 2 friends and t is perfect for our transitional readers.  

This book is perfect for the beginning of the year 3rd grader  who is just starting to read chapter books. There is so much that I love about these books:

I feel in love with both characters. They have very distinct traits which is good for our young readers when thinking about what to expect from characters we love.
  • There are 4 chapters in each book and each chapter is its own little story. That is perfect for readers just learning to read longer books. Holding onto one story over time is often challenging so this is a perfect transition.
  • There is enough sophisticated humor that kids will love these books no matter what--I laughed aloud a few times.
  • There are chapter titles. I think that is important for young readers so they can use the titles to think about what's coming up.
  • The illustrations and font size are perfect. Lots of white space on a page so text is not overwhelming for readers.  I also like that many sentences start on one page and finish on the next.  This is something new for lots of transitional readers and this book handles it well.
  • The books are small and they feel like a chapter book but there are lots of visual supports for readers. 
So happy to have this new book! Can't wait for more books about these characters!  

*These are part of "Read and Bloom" based on the cover. There seem to be 3 other books/series in this collection that I'd like to check out--Stinky Spike, Wallace and Grace and The Adventures of Caveboy. I am hoping they support readers in similar was--if so they will be perfect for 2nd and 3rd graders!

(Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released in August!  You can order it online at StenhouseYou can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead.)


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Social Activisim

Here We Go -- Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong of Pomelo Books have knocked another one out of the ballpark.

Like their first Poetry Friday Power Book, Just You Wait, this interactive verse novel/optional poetry writing course is full to the brim with anchor poems, response poems, and mentor poems. There are Powerplay activity pages for brainstorming, and Power2You Writing prompts that encourage poetry writing.

Here We Go features four characters who are dealing with timely issues: being an immigrant, being a Muslim, surviving family tensions, dealing with fake news, trying to do good in the world.

This is the right book at the right time. I'm hoping the characters in this book will help me encourage my 5th graders to look beyond the school walls and the boundaries of their neighborhood and find their own ways to make the world a better place. Thank you, Janet and Sylvia for using poetry to start the most important conversations we could possibly have with our students.

Check out Irene Latham's extensive review of Here We Go for more details about the book.

Violet has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Violet Nesdoly | Poems.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Two Picture Books About the Refugee Experience

The Journey
by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye Books, 2016
review copy from the public library

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey
by Margriet Ruurs
illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr
Orca Book Publishers, 2016
review copy from the public library

Both of these books depict the refugee experience through art that begs to be examined over and over again. I hope that means that readers will go back to the story over and over again as well, deepening their understanding of this huge worldwide issue of war, displacement, refugees, immigrants, migrants...people who have lost one home and are starting over again in another place.

Both of these books were born out of the author's desire to tell the stories of real people, but both are very careful to make their books not just The One Story of Refugees, but a possible outline of some of the steps and emotions of the journeys of many.

Stepping Stones is written in Arabic and English, inviting a more personal connection for children who rarely (if ever) see their language in print in a book in an American library or classroom. The inclusion of Arabic is yet another stepping stone provided by this story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Still Learning to Read: A Reading Conference

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.

One common thing I see with intermediate readers is the ability to read and decode words without knowing what they mean. I want readers to begin to have lots of strategies for figuring out the meaning of words they don't know so often, after some conferring on the topic of words in context, kids go off and track their thinking about unfamiliar words. In this conference, a student is sharing the words she did not know when she first got to them in her reading. Then she tried the strategies she knows and we chatted. On the sticky notes, she took her best guess at what the word meant after trying some things.

Our conference around these sticky notes were to find patterns in her strategies--what works some of the time? She discovered that sometimes, if you read on, the author gives you a clue about the meaning of the word. She also found that sometimes, there is a word that you know inside of a word (for example, trail was in trailing) and sometimes, the way the sentence is worded gives you a little clue.

The goal of this work is not to figure out all of the correct definitions of the words she didn't know. Instead it is to help her become aware of her process. I want her to recognize when she gets to an unfamiliar word. I want her to get into the habit of stopping and thinking instead of merely reading on. And I also want her to begin to own and practice some strategies that readers use when this happens. Of course we'll move on from there but these things must be in place for her to own this part of her reading life.

(Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released in August!  You can order it online at StenhouseYou can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Community

Last week, I had something to share, but no time to read through the roundup and be a part of the community.

This week, I am longing for our community, and planning to snuggle up with laptop and hot tea tomorrow morning to rejuvenate my soul with your postings...but I have nothing to say.

Which is not exactly true, because for some reason, typing the word COMMUNITY this morning makes me tear up and sniffle. I belong here in a way that I don't belong in any other facet of my life. I am thankful for this community.

I searched through my poems and nothing came up for "community," so I tried "together" and got a poem that says much about community. It is from Laura Shovan's Found Object Poem Project last February, and is a good reminder to self that while I can't/won't stop writing #haikuforhealing, I need to get back to writing other poetry as well. Are there events or challenges going on/coming up that I can join to jumpstart my poembrain?

Photo by Laura Shovan


The mysteries of the world are myriad.
Sometimes they look like little balls of butter.
Sometimes they clump together in the shape of South America.

The mysteries of the world puzzle us.
They make us take our glasses off and look so close
we dust our noses with them.

The mysteries of the world hold hidden ripeness.
Each might contain a new life,
or the possibility to change the weather patterns of the entire world.

The mysteries of the world cast shadows.
Hovering above, they block the sun
and send a chill through us as they pass over.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

The Poetry Friday Roundup this week is hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends.  She sent me the most wonderful "suitable for framing" poem postcard! Mine will go out this weekend, so if your mailbox has been bad. Here they come!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Two Great Books for Writing Workshop

by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
illustrated by Benji Davies
Candlewick Press, 2016

"Every story starts the same way...with nothing."

Maggie Tokuda-Hall takes us through the process of starting with nothing, then finding our characters (not a little girl, not a OCTOPUS!) and figuring out what our character wants and how they're going to have to work to get it.

Just like in the stories we'll write and tell, things don't exactly go the way the octopus plans, even when it has help. "So the octopus plays the ukulele, because music is good for the heart," and things start to change. 

When the reader is on the brink of being given a satisfactory ending, Tokuda-Hall leaves it up to the reader to decide what happens, and she reminds us, "When one story ends, it's just making room for another story to begin." 

The illustrations in this book go with and go beyond the written text in wonderfully priceless ways. You really have to see it for yourself to get a sense of its awesomeness! I can't wait to use this book to launch writing workshop next fall.

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Adam Rex
Disney*Hyperion, 2016

This book is not just about the process of writing a story, it gives the reader insight into the steps a story or manuscript goes through in order to become a book. Early in the book is my favorite part, in which we learn about the role of editors: "An editor tells you what parts of your story are good and what parts you need to fix. She is like a teacher, only she works in a skyscraper and is always eating fancy lunches."

This book pairs perfectly with Also an Octopus in the way the illustrations work with (and go way way beyond) the text, making this book also all kinds of awesome. You've read books by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex, haven't you? Then you know why I'm not even going to try to describe and explain the elaborate silliness that ensues as the book in the story goes through the publication process. There is a tiger all the way through the book (including tiger-fur end papers), and there are astronauts. Also dogs playing poker. 

The best part is the end, "Because a book can have words and pictures and paper and tigers, but a book still isn't a book, not really, until it has a reader."

Another fabulous book you will want for your writers, your writing workshop, AND your readers!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

SLTR-Read Aloud-Written Response

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.

We do a lot of writing during our read alouds.  Kids have the option of how they want to track their thinking during reading. The students are VERY comfortable using a variety of tools to annotate their reading--to jot thinking down as they read. And they've grown in the ways they think about a text as they read. This writing has had a big impact on their comprehension. At this point in the year, I want to see what kids can do in terms of responding to text after reading/thinking.   So for this read aloud (Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins), we are trying something new.  Kids are still using their notebook to stop and jot to track their thinking while we read. But each day,  we are going to end read aloud with time to think about their reading AFTER our read aloud time is over. I want them to have a way to summarize thinking in a more formal way, but nothing that is cumbersome.  Read aloud is a happy time in our room and writing during read aloud is very low-stress and kids love to track thinking. 

I wanted this to be simple for the kids and for me. I didn't want it to be intimidating and I wanted it to be easily accessible--to kids and to me. I want to be able to look at these quickly to get a sense of where individual students and the class as a whole is.

So, we are using the large index cards (4X6).  Kids are folding them in 1/2 and using 1/2 of a card each day that we read.  The cards are going to be put together on a ring and hung on a hook. (We have 4 different color hooks so kids know where theirs belong. With 6 on a hook,  it shouldn't take time to grab these/distribute at the end of read aloud.

A student uses her notes during reading to quickly respond at the end of the day's reading.

The cards hanging ready for the next day.

I don't want this to be a big thing but I do want to have kids write at the end of read aloud every day for a few reasons:

  • It will give me a daily view into their thinking. I take a look at their writing often but it is often hard to see it all. These cards will be easy to look at quickly each day.
  • It will help me assess their responses to reading to better see what they are doing as writers about reading.
  • It will give us lots of ways to think about what makes a strong reading response.  Even though these are short, I'll be able to use some as mentors for thinking that is written in a way that is thoughtful and well beyond a summary of what was read.
  • We will be able to talk off of a few when we start read aloud each day.  
  • Kids will be able to reflect on their own responses and possibly set future goals because they will all be together and easy to analyze.
I'm not quite sure where this will go but I think it is worth doing for one read aloud--for my own information and for kids to have a record of their end-of-reading thinking across a read aloud. We'll see what happens!

(Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released in August!  You can order it online at StenhouseYou can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead.)

Monday, January 09, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday!  Here are some recent books I've read that I thought were worth sharing. For the roundup, visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers!

I have had Commonwealth by Ann Patchett on my stack since it was published. Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors (Bel Canto, one of my favorite books of all time). I loved this book. What is amazing to me is that all of her books seem so different at the beginning but then as you keep reading, they are all about relationships and family. I had a little bit of trouble getting into this one but am so glad I stuck with it because I LOVED it.

I am still not a huge graphic novel reader--they are still a bit of a challengeSnow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan is a brilliant book. Really, how someone takes a classic story and retells it in such a unique way is fascinating to me. I think upper elementary and middle school kids will love this one. So glad that I read it!
for me.

I always love to find a biography about a new-to-me person who made a he difference in the world. Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Viven Thomas is such an interesting story about his work as a research assistant and the huge impact he had on children's heart surgery.  Such important work and Thomas was rarely recognized for his contributions.

Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern will be released in April of 2017.
I picked up an ARC at NCTE and one of my 3rd graders devoured it when I got back. She HIGHLY recommended it so I read it over break.  This story is told from Chester's perspective. Chester is a service dog (almost certified) that is adopted by Gus's family. Gus has autism and his parents hope the dog will help him. This is a great story and the dog is one I loved from the beginning. This is perfect for middle grade readers.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Looking for OLW

by W.D. Snodgrass

What was I looking for today?
All that poking under the rugs,
Peering under the lamps and chairs,
Or going from room to room that way,
Forever up and down the stairs
Like someone stupid with sleep or drugs.

Everywhere I was, was wrong.
I started turning the drawers out, then
I was staring in at the icebox door
Wondering if I’d been there long
Wondering what I was looking for.
Later on, I think I went back again.

Where did the rest of the time go?
Was I down cellar? I can’t recall
Finding the light switch, or the last
Place I’ve had it, or how I’d know
I didn’t look at it and go past.
Or whether it’s what I want, at all.

That's exactly what it felt like to look for my One Little Word for 2017. Last year's word was a dud -- BEND. It had a great image, but it didn't inform my life at all in 2016. 2015's word was NOTICE, which was not bad, but severely underutilized. 2014's word, BREATHE, has carried me through many days for the past three years. It's my go-to word when I'm feeling stressed...which feels like most of the time these days.

I restarted my morning exercise routine this week, and received a stern warning from the universe that I am of an age where I simply cannot take a couple of months off without severe repercussions. Oh, man, am I sore! How could I lose so much ground in such a short period of time?

As I work to regain my physical strength, I am also striving to be stronger in my beliefs and actions. And so, my word has found me through these two efforts: this year, I vow to be STRONG.

Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at TeacherDance.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Still Learning to Read: Choosing Our Next Read Aloud

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins

January in third grade is such an interesting time. Students come into third grade having just finished 2nd grade. They are young children. Primary children. They aren't much older in January but they seem to grow up a lot during this first half of third grade and they start seeing things a bit differently. I know this happens in every grade but I find it to be the most obvious in 3rd grade as kids move between the primary and intermediate grades.

Up until January, I work hard to choose read alouds that focus on plot, help students build strategies for understanding longer books and holding onto a story over time. I want them to find series they love and to learn to talk and write about their reading. In January, I know they are ready for something a little bit different--something a bit more complex--something that will move the conversation a bit.

So this week, we'll start the new year with Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. This is one of my favorite new books published in 2015. (It was an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor book last year and has received several other honer and awards.) I read this book aloud last year and it was definitely an important book for our class and a favorite for many students. This book is perfect as a read aloud for 3rd and 4th graders . It is a plot that they can carry over the course of the book. The character is one they will come to know and understand. We will watch the character change over the course of the book. The book also introduces readers to an issue they may not know much about. The story is set in the Sunderbans and thinking about a setting which they are unfamiliar will start lots of conversations. This book has a plot that young readers will love and it also has layers of depth and invitations to think about a variety of issues in our world. And the book does so in a way that is accessible and appropriate for 3rd graders.

In a school year, we only have so much time for read aloud. We can read aloud a book every 3-4 weeks so I now I have to be very picky about the books I choose to read aloud. I want them to be books that will be loved by most of the students, that will grow conversations and understanding of the world, that will expand comprehension strategies in a comfortable environment and that will continue to grow our community. I am excited to see where the conversation goes with this read aloud!

(Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released in August!  You can order it online at StenhouseYou can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead.)

Monday, January 02, 2017

3 New Series Books!

There are some great new series books out in late 2016 or early 2017.  These are a few I recently discovered!

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

I was looking forward to the new series The Bad Guys and was able to read the first book over winter break. What a fun book!  A few bad guys, led by The Big Bad Wolf decide they want to change their reputations and become Good Guys.  In this first story, we meet the characters and follow them as they rescue dogs from the local dog shelter.  The humor in this book is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.  It is a clever concept with pretty funny lines throughout.  There is a lot of visual support so this will be a good series for transitional readers and beyond. The second book in the series is due out in February!

King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats by Dori Hillestad Butler
I was happy to see that the author of The Haunted Library has a new book/series out. My 3rd graders are HUGE fans of The Haunted Library series.  King and Kayla is an early mystery series--great for readers new to chapter books.  I think mysteries are hard for young readers but this one is perfect. A perfect mystery (missing dog treats), some clues and great visual supports.
A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold is more of a middle grade novel that is set to become a series according to a blog post I read recently.  The main character in this series is Bixby Alexander Tam (BAT). In this story, BAT's mother, a veterinarian, brings home a baby skunk. They need to take care of it until the shelter can keep him and release him back into the wild.  But BAT wants to keep the skunk as a pet.  BAT is a great new character.  He is on the autism spectrum which makes this series unique. It is a great series and I think a lot of kids will love this one. Looking forward to the next in the series already!


Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy Birthday to Us!

A Year of Reading is celebrating its 11th Birthday today!  We had no idea how many amazing people we would meet and how much we would learn when we started this blog. Thank you all! And Happy New Year!