Review: The Great Greene Heist


The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

7 word summary: Middle school elections bring about a heist.

Realistic fiction, crime.  Stand-alone novel.  Share with ages 9-12.

Take the premise of Ocean’s 11 – a gang of friends working on a complicated heist for the greater good – and set it in middle school.  Jackson’s a reformed con, but dusts off his gloves when the school elections seem to be corrupted by both students and faculty.  With some of the most outrageously talented 7th graders around, he pulls off a complicated switch involving ballots, keys, and Scantron machines.  Keep all the characters straight and this is a nerd-tastic, kids-can-do-anything romp to enjoy.

Read Aloud Tuesday: Nov 25, 2014

This week, my boy H’s class celebrated Thanksgiving with the reading and making of Stone Soup as a community-building activity, I wanted to highlight the importance of farms and crops as well as include a not-so-Thanksgiving thankful story.


 Doug Unplugs on the Farm by Dan Yaccarino

Doug the robot is back!  He’s in the car with his mom and dad, learning as much as he can, when the car gets stuck in a ditch.  Fortunately, it’s by a farm – which Doug has just learned all about!  From hearding sheep to milking cows, Doug helps out a young Farm Girl with her chores.  When it’s time for Doug to leave, he uses his new knowledge to get his car unstuck, too.  Bold illustrations make this quirky story of a robot on a farm a winner.  Share with ages 3-8.  ©2014.


WazDot? by Michael Slack

A little robot lands on Earth, eager to learn.  As it comes across different objects, it asks “Waz dot?” (What’s that?).  Using its cell phone-like device, the robot scans each object to get the answer.  Clever readers scan the illustrations to reveal the unknown object.  Another robot on the farm story, but with an interactive twist, WazDot? had the children shouting out the answers to the little robot’s questions.  At the end, the children wondered if the robot will travel to the city.  Share with ages 2-6.  ©2014.

tops-and-bottomsTops and Bottoms retold by Janet Stevens

Bear doesn’t work and sleeps all day on his porch.  Hare has a family to feed, a can-do attitude and a clever mind.  A folktale centered on the value of hard work and the consequences of laziness, this gem kept the children in rapt attention while highlighting how food is grown.  A beautiful tie-in to their weekly Stone Soup unit on using crops together.  Share with ages 3+.

thank-you-worldThank You, World by Alice B. McGinty

A gentle look at thankfulness around the world.  From the sunrise in the morning to the swings during the day to the stars at night, children around the world are all thankful for similar things.  The detailed drawings would be best suited for small-group sharing.  Share with ages 4-7.

Read-Aloud Tuesday is when I read aloud in my son’s Montessori classroom (ages 3-6).  Young readers are demanding and honest: I strive to share the best of the best with them each week.

Library Lessons: Nov 26

Week 13!

Given that I only work W, Th, and F, this is a short week for me.  Only one class on the day before Thanksgiving.  However!  It happens to be my annual observation.  This is what I’m doing:


Read: Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

This picture book biography of puppeteer Tony Sarg tells the story of how the Macy’s parade balloons were created with determination, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking.  A perfect STEM title for those in need.

After reading, I’m posing this question: “What children’s book character do you think deserves a place as a balloon in the Macy’s Parade?  WHY?”  To get them thinking far and wide, I plan to share the recent list of 50 books every child should know as featured in Entertainment Weekly.  Seeing this list really gets me going: Harry Potter?  A Wild Thing?  What about the cover graphic from Smile?  Or Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat?


To facilitate the  sharing of ideas, students will use Flipgrid to give their thoughts as well their evidence of WHY the particular character should be part of the parade.  I’d love it if students logged on during the parade to add thoughts or elaborate on the balloons, too.

I’ll post an update after teaching.  Stay tuned!

Book Fair 2014!

Week 12 = Scholastic Book Fair!

Last week was dedicated to the fun and excitement that is the Book Fair.  I’m thankful to the team of dedicated volunteers who come in to run the registers while I work with students, teachers, and families in selecting great new reads.  Oh, and teaching about sales tax.  Math in the library?  Of course!

One of the best ideas we’ve come up with to promote the purchasing of books during the Fair is the Fun Zone.  All the non-book items – pencils, pointers, posters, stuffed animals, etc – are in this section.  It’s blocked off and is not open for the first 3 days of the Fair.  On Family Night – usually Wednesday – the Fun Zone opens.  I predicted that pulling these non-book items would hurt sales, but the opposite happened: sales actually increased.  Students were buying more books, too!  Win-win!


We’ve done this for a few years, and students now flock to Family Night.  They also revisit the Fair on Thurs/Fri to purchase those must-own trinkets, as the Fun Zone stays open the last half of the week.  I’m up front with them: no restocks on the fun items.  It can be a bit crazy, but it works.

The library benefits greatly from our Book Fair.  This year, we raised over half of our annual operating budget!  How exciting it is to have the funds to order great new books for the students and staff in the coming months!

Thankful for Books, Day 8: Each Kindness


I’m thankful for: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Woodson’s picture book tells the story of Maya, a girl who is less-than-welcoming of the new girl Chloe.  She won’t return smiles, she doesn’t play with her at recess, and she references Maya’s lack of new clothing with the nickname Never New.  It’s not until the teacher leads the class in an activity showing the ripple effect of kindness that Chloe understands the power of her actions.

As a teacher, the message of this story has great importance and value.  There are two “rules” in our school library, one of which is Choose Kind…because kindness is a choice.  It’s easy to smile back.  It’s possible to say hello.  Yet, ultimately, it is a CHOICE.  And choices can have consequences, which Chloe learns the hard way in her story.  As a parent, I ask my littles how they have shown kindness in their day.  It’s the little things that matter: looking people in the eye, using an appropriate tone, saying people’s names when saying hello.  It’s a work in progress for all of us, but it’s made easier with such a luminous, heartfelt story to share and discuss.


Each year, as Thanksgiving approaches, I take a moment to reflect and give thanks to the books that influence my life, my family, and my students.

Thankful for Books, Day 7: Small Steps


I’m thankful for: Small Steps by Peg Kehret

An autobiographical memoir, Peg shares her story of living with polio as a child.  Determined and honest, this is a can’t-put-down piece of nonfiction for students and adults.

I came across this gem when I was a children’s public librarian reading all the state award nominated titles.  Many others were flying off the shelf, and I wondered why this one wasn’t circulating.  Fast-forward 10 years: this is one of the go-to books for teachers and students in my building.  It’s been read aloud in dozens of classrooms, and students repeatedly self-select it as well as its companion, Fifty Pages a Day.  Students are drawn to Kehret’s open honesty about a disease that should never affect them in life.

Each year, as Thanksgiving approaches, I take a moment to reflect and give thanks to the books that influence my life, my family, and my students.

Thankful for Books, Day 6: Babymouse!


I’m thankful for: Babymouse by Jennifer L Holm

With its distinctive pink and black artwork, Babymouse is easily recognizable as one of the kings (queens?) of graphic novels.  It’s her strong sense of self, her struggles with friendship, and her vivid imagination that keep readers coming back for more.  From the beach to the stage, the high-spirited Babymouse series is a winner.

J-girl, age 7, is a huge Babymouse fan.  It’s the classic combination of words and pictures in a palatable format that keeps her entertained for hours.  She seeks out titles at libraries and bookstores, rereading favorites wherever she can: in the car, under the covers, on the couch.  As much as she loves Babymouse, though, perhaps I love her more.  Because any character that engages my girl and encourages reading is worthy of adoration.