“Good Books, Relatively Speaking…”

Last week I needed to take my husband’s truck to the local dealership to get an estimate for some body work. As I usually do when facing a waiting room situation, I try to avoid having what Donalyn Miller calls a “book emergency.” This means stashing a book in my vehicle, my laptop bag, or in last Wednesday’s case, my oversized purse so I can steal some extra reading minutes.

After handing over the keys, I settled into one of the leather chairs and pulled out Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel version of Ann M. Martin’s “The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey.”  I flipped to the page that held my bookmark and returned to the fictional town of Stoneybrook. A couple minutes went by and I had that feeling that someone was watching me. I lifted my eyes from the book and noticed one of the service reps glancing my way.  Returning to the babysitters, a few more minutes passed. A mechanic walked by. Then a customer. And another.

One by one, each of them took momentary note of my reading material. As the hands on the clock slowly made their way around, I grew more and more self-conscious about the book I was holding. What were they thinking? Had they formed an opinion about my choice? And if so, what was it? I had a sudden urge to defend my actions…

“I can explain!”

“I’m a teacher!”

“I’m reading this so I can talk about it with my kids!”

But most of all, if I was being truthful with myself, I was reading it because I simply enjoyed it. I had grown up with The BSC series and though I am so excited to share it with a new generation of readers, I am equally excited to transport myself back to a familiar, comfortable place and spend some time with familiar, comfortable characters. But I didn’t say that. I didn’t say any of it.  I slowly closed my book and sat quietly, thinking about what I had just experienced.

And I thought about our students.

The students whose texts evoke awkward feelings of embarrassment for them. Perhaps they’re sitting in a guided reading group or carrying around an overflowing browsing box filled with books labeled “Level G.” We, as teachers, need to be mindful of the texts we require students to read and take into consideration their perception of it.

Even more importantly, we need to foster a community of acceptance where it is safe to read what you choose, safe to experiment with book choice, and safe to take risks as readers.  I’ve seen a lot of posts recently from author friends about the fact that there should be no qualifying of literature as “a good boy book” or “a good girl book,” that there are simply GOOD BOOKS. I agree with this premise wholeheartedly.

Our children deserve to be able to make their own choices about what they choose when it comes to independent reading. They shouldn’t have to feel like they need to carry around a four-pound Harry Potter book in order to be seen as a “good reader.” Likewise, reading Elephant & Piggie books doesn’t make someone a “bad reader.” Have you read that series?! It’s darn funny and this 42-year-old highly proficient reader quite enjoys it!

This school year, I urge you to think consciously about the messages you send to your students, both verbal and nonverbal messages. Celebrate ALL readers, ALL reading, and establish a safe literacy community for ALL learners.

Picture Books 10 for 10!

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Once again I’m participating in Cathy Mere’s “Picture Books 10 For 10” (#pb10for10). This time around I decided to choose picture books that cause us to crack up, giggle, and belly laugh. Laughter in the classroom is such an instant way to build community and forge connections.

So here is my tribute to “Ten Picture Books That Make Us Laugh!”

#10…

Interrupting-Chicken-Book-Cover  “Interrupting Chicken”  by David Ezra Stein is the hilarious tale of a father trying to share a bedtime story with his little one, who is sooo excited that he just can’t help himself from interrupting his dad time after time.  This is a great read aloud, especially with the unpredictable outbursts throughout the story.  A 2011 Caldecott Award Honor book, “Interrupting Chicken” is not only funny, but embeds within it a lesson in manners and patience.

#9…

The Day the Crayons Quit “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt & illustrated by Oliver Jeffers was not only a hysterical account of the plight of a box of crayons, it made for a wonderful addition to my persuasive texts collection.  Written as a series of letters to their owner, Duncan, his crayons have decided to revolt against what they each feel is unjust treatment.  And let’s face it, it stands to reason that Yellow and Orange Crayons are no longer speaking because they each believe they are the true color of the sun!

#8…

Scaredy Squirrel  I first came to know the “Scaredy Squirrel” series by Melanie Watt when I was training to be a literacy coach. We had gone to visit in a second grade classroom and at the back, by the classroom library, was a HUGE Scaredy Squirrel display. There were several different titles featured, writing that students had done based on Scaredy Squirrel read alouds, and as I ventured over to have a closer look, I was immediately surrounded by about half a dozen eight-year-olds, all singing Scaredy’s praises, asking me if I had read any of the books and recommending their favorites.  I picked up one  (the first one, as one student told me, was “the most logical place to start!”) and I was hooked! This series is about finding your inner strength and be willing to take risks. In the end, who wouldn’t love a bushy-tailed hypocondriac rodent, with a little OCD?!

#7…

That Is Not a Good Idea! I am a HUGE Mo Willems fan to begin with, so if I have to narrow it down to just one of his books, I’ll go with one of his newer titles, “That Is NOT a Good Idea!”  In typical Willems style, this book builds big anticipation throughout it, with a funny twist at the end that even I didn’t see coming! No spoilers, though! I highly recommend you check this one out!

#6…

It's a Book While I have not used this in my classroom (spoiler alert: it does include the word ‘jackass’ and I’m pretty sure it is meant as a double entendre! Ha, ha!), I have shared this book with the folks in the graduate literacy courses I teach and they think it is a complete HOOT! For bibliophiles everywhere, this book, (you know, the print kind where you turn actual pages!), is a tribute to the “hold-in-your-hand, smell-the-newness, and hear-the binding-snap-for-the-first-time” stories that are still holding their own in an age filled with technology and digital media.

#5…

I Want My Hat Back  This Is Not My Hat Ok, I admit it… I’m trying to squeeze in a “two for the price of one” with this one! My students and I fell in love with “I Want My Hat Back” and we were so eager to get our hands on the follow-up picture book and 2013 Caldecott Medal winner by Jon Klassen, “This Is Not My Hat.”  Talk about texts that use illustrations to their fullest advantage!  The storyline (and the humor!) is conveyed through the pictures, which also lets the reader in on the jokes.  Kids will beg you to read these over and over again!

#4…

Pete the Cat This picture book made my list this year for the simple fact that it makes kids smile! Every. Single. Time.

Its infectious rhythm and song will have kids rockin’ on the edge of their seats. I highly recommend taking time to go to: harpercollinschildrens.com/petethecat to listen to the audio of this book (and the rest of the Pete the Cat books).  It is TOTALLY worth it to hear the songs sung on the website!  Warning: You WILL be singing it all day long! 🙂

#3…

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great I shared this book with a class of eight-year-olds one Wednesday during our weekly “Picture Book Palooza!” at the recommendation of my friend, Bailey, their second grade teacher.  It’s a classic “the grass is always greener” tale with smart comic relief thrown in. Goat has been agitated since Unicorn showed up on the scene and feels that everything Unicorn has and does is better.  Then one day, Goat discovers that Unicorn has some envious feelings of his own and together they dream of using their unique superpowers to rid the world of evil.

#2… 

Wolfie the Bunny  Written by one of my favorite picture book authors, Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, “Wolfie the Bunny” is the story of a baby wolf adopted by a family of bunnies. Wolfie’s sister, Dot, seems to be the only member of the family concerned that their new addition might actually, you know, EAT THEM! Dot spends the majority of the book trying to get her family to see the error of their ways, but when the chips are down, Wolfie might actually save the day.

ANNNNNND…

#1!!!

Book-With-No-Pictures   Hmmm… DOES a picture book with no pictures really qualify as a picture book?! If it’s “The Book With No Pictures” by B.J. Novak it does! Kids listening to you read this book are going to ask you to show it to them to prove what you’re reading is really in the book because, “Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.”

And then they’ll ask some other unsuspecting person to read it to them. How do I know? That’s what they did to me- and about six more people after me! It’s a new picture book favorite… minus the illustrations. 😉

HONORABLE MENTION…

The Monster at the End of This Book Here is my homage to funny picture books of my youth! “The Monster at the End of This Book”  by Jon Stone is one of those books that elicited the “read it again!” request immediately after my mom and I recovered from belly laughs all the way through to the last page. Page after page, Grover begged us to not turn another page, but did we listen?! Heck, no! This book is the literary equivalent to someone wiggling their finger 2 millimeters away from your ear; you just can’t keep a straight face! Extra points if you can do Grover’s voice while reading it! 😉

I hope you enjoy these titles as much as I have and please be sure to visit the rest of the Picture Book 10 For 10 Community at: http://www.reflectandrefine.blogspot.com

Happy Reading!

“It’s Monday! What Are YOU Reading?”

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Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

Ok, admit it- who among us tweens back in 1986 (before ‘tweens’ was even a word!) didn’t want to start their own babysitting club, thanks to Ann M. Martin’s popular series?! Being the founder of a failed neighborhood girl band (we all wanted to be the lead singer because none of us could play guitar), I began to set my sights on other business ventures. I remember trying in vain to rally my friends in an effort to combine our talents in the area of below minimum wage childcare.  It wasn’t so much the budding entrepreneur in me, as it was the desire to take part in something a bit bigger than just the occasional afternoon playdate or sleepover.

I was elated when, based on my prior purchases of Smile, Drama, and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, my friendly online bookseller recommended her graphic novel version of Martin’s, “The Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey.”  And last week, my pre-order arrived!

Instantly, I was transported back twenty-nine years to the first time I cracked open a BSC book and got lost inside the seemingly everyday lives of Kristy, Stacey, Claudia, and Mary Anne all over again. Lives that were both believable and inspiring- important qualities to this consummate consumer of realistic fiction.  This graphic rendition is sure to attract a whole fan base of BSC readers. The full color illustrations, coupled with Telgemeier’s embedded wit, will appeal to tweens in your life and the plot line of Stacey dealing with being a newly diagnosed diabetic will resonate with a growing number of kids dealing with similar health issues.

Thanks, Ann and Raina, for giving this reader a chance to revisit one of my childhood favorites from a new perspective. And for giving a whole new generation a chance to experience it for the first time.

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Happy Monday and Happy Reading!

Jenn

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“It’s Monday! What Are YOU Reading?”

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Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

When I replied to a Facebook post by Cynthia Lord, about a book vine, I was so excited to get her latest Shelter Pet Squad ARC (Advance Reader Copy) into the hands of a lucky reader! A book vine is when readers share a book via the mail, kind of like a wonderful literary chain letter. The first person reads it, sends it along to the next person, that person does the same, and so on until it gets sent back to the original person who sent it out, in this case, the author.  I had participated in Cynthia’s book vine with an ARC of her latest middle grade novel, “A Handful of Stars,” which I loved and reviewed on my blog.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, this time around the days on the calendar ran out before those who I’d planned to share it with were able to finish it and I had to send it along to the next lucky reader.  The afternoon before I was due to pop it in the mail, I had to drive my husband to a doctor’s appointment, so I jumped at the opportunity to read it for myself in the waiting room before sending it on its way.

The second book in this fun, engaging series for those beginning their journey into the world of chapter books does not disappoint. “Shelter Pet Squad: Merlin” is the story of a mischievous ferret who arrives at the shelter where Jada, Matt, Allie, Levi, and Suzannah, the narrator, volunteer.  Merlin is a very different kind of pet than the Maplewood Animal Shelter usually encounters and it’s going to take a very special person to adopt him and provide the patience, love, and understanding that he needs.

I’ll be honest. I’m a little freaked out by ferrets.  I would definitely not be the right fit for Merlin. However, I can certainly appreciate the fact that all pets deserve a caring home.  And I did learn a LOT about ferrets from reading “Merlin.”  That’s something I absolutely love about this series; it is informational and, at the same time, inspires readers to participate in their community and worthy causes. The “Take Action!” section at the back of the book shares different ideas about helping out at your local shelter and the directions for all the Shelter Pet Squad activities are included as well.

Through her desire to help Merlin find a home, Suzannah comes to terms with being the youngest member of the Squad and also learns that it’s ok to ask for help when she needs it.  Like lots of kids, she wants to prove herself when the Squad does research on caring for ferrets, by being the one to carry the biggest, heaviest, most sophisticated nonfiction book in the bunch.  However, not admitting that she is unable to read it could ultimately put Merlin at risk.

Young chapter book readers and animal lovers everywhere will delight in Merlin’s tale. And who knows how many pets may find their forever homes as a result of Cynthia Lord’s Shelter Pet Squad series!

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