Best Book I’ve Read This Summer (so far)

I’ve been reading…a lot.  Which (hopefully) explains why I haven’t been writing.

Between TLA in Austin, ALA in San Fran, and numerous trips to the library, this has been a summer of stories. Sad stories (Orbiting Jupiter), funny stories (Star Wars: Jedi Academy), concept stories (Friendshape), fantastical adventure stories (Milo Speck: Accidental Agent), historical stories (A Night Divided), graphic historical stories (Sunny Side Up), realistic stories (Goodbye, Stranger), and more.  A lot more.

One story, though, stands out. As of today – July 16, 2015 – this has the distinction as the 2015 Best Book I’ve Read This Summer (So Far): Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo.  

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It’s a big one, clocking in at 587 pages. Don’t let the size hold you back like I did, though.  The writing, the stories, make it so you never look at the page count until the end, when you realize in horror that the book will soon be over.

Ryan is a master at historical fiction, having written gems like Esperanza Rising, Riding Freedom, and Becoming Naomi Leon.  Echo, though, is her masterpiece.  In it, she tells the seemingly separate stories of Friedrick (in Nazi Germany), Mike (in 1940’s Philly), and Ivy (in WWII California), weaving them seamlessly with the theme of music. And while it was maddening how each story ended in an abrupt cliffhanger, it was pure brilliance when the tapestry of the three stories grew to a crescendo in the fourth, tear-invoking story. Fittingly, Echo includes both a folklore-esque prelude and postlude, making the book one that will stay with the reader for a long, long time.  Hence, the title: Echo.

I’m staking my claim now: Echo will be a Newbery winner or honor title come Winter 2016. It’ll have tough competition (see: Goodbye, Stranger…SO. GOOD!), but it is So Very Worthy.  And a special shout-out to Scholastic’s Tracy Mack, who told me to move this book to the top of my to-read pile.  Tracy, you were right.  I thank you.

If your’re curious, you can follow me on Twitter with the hashtag #2015BBIRTSsf, which will clock some of the very best books I’m reading this summer. Now, back to the books!

Finding Yourself in a Book

Growing up, I’d always run with the boys – playing street ball, wading through creeks, talking sports.  The first day of sixth grade, when the girls self-selected to sit separately in the lunchroom, made it clear that life was changing. I needed a primer course in all things girl.  Thank heavens for Judy Blume.  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was my go-to book for learning about periods, bras, and middle-school girl drama.  Reading about another girl who was kinda like me – and who I kinda wanted to be like – made my life easier.

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Ragged and worn, I’ve lost my copy along the way…but I never lost the comfort I felt from reading about someone similar to me.  I expect it’s the same for most people. When we are confused, scared, or just lost, we look for ourselves in books. We always have. Ranganathan’s second law of library science states as much: Every reader his/her book.

Maybe that’s why, 24 hours after the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair article hit the web, I haven’t stopped thinking about two books: Ami Polonsky’s Gracefully Grayson and Alex Gino’s George.

Both stories feature tween boys whose internal struggle with identifying as transgender make for honest reads while being informative and absorbing.  These are stories that weren’t published 20+ years ago.  Thankfully, that was then.  This is now – when we know these stories mirror the lives of some of our students, when we know that others can gain empathy and edification from reading diverse literature.  This is now, when people can be who they’ve always been – both on the inside and the outside.   The back cover of George says it best: Be Who You Are.

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It can be easier to be who you are when you know someone else going through the same struggles. Finding a friend in a book makes leading your life that much easier: if they can do it – even in a work of fiction – then maybe I can do it, too.

Back in sixth grade, I luckily stumbled upon Margaret in my school library when I needed her.  Being a girl was tough – Margaret helped.  Today, I hope that Grayson and George will be there – literally there on a shelf, in a school library – for someone who needs to see themselves in book, too. Because being a transgender girl has to be tougher than tough.  Thankfully, their stories are being written and published. It’s now our job to have them available for our readers.

 

PS: Be Who You Are, indeed: I still talk sports, wade through creeks, and play street ball with my kids. :)

Digital Citizenship, Social Media, and Tech in 4th grade

This year, the 4th graders have participated in extensive lessons on Digital Citizenship.  Focusing on being SAFE, RESPECTFUL, and RESPONSIBLE online, I used the fantastic curriculum from the amazing Common Sense Media, tailoring their lessons to meet the unique needs of my students.  In specific, I used Digital Citizenship Pledge, Super Digital Citizen, Private and Personal Information, Strong Passwords, What’s Cyberbullying?, and Talking Safely Online.  common-sense-media

Blending these lessons together and teaching them across the spring, I learned more about my students than I ever imagined.  They are digitally connected.  Some write blogs and have personal email accounts. Others are afraid to talk to their parents about tech mistakes.  Most know someone who has either been cyber-bullied or posted something they shouldn’t have online  Most importantly, though, through our conversations I learned that they are LEARNING.  They’ve started coming in with questions about pop-ups and apps, leading to peer-led discussions and authentic learning experiences.

The end of our year together is focused on two activities designed to compliment their digital learning: writing Digital Safety Tips and completing a Tech/Social Media Questionnaire.

 

Digital Safety Tips:  Similar to the safety tips found in the picture book Officer Buckle and Gloria, students are writing Digital Safety Tips on ways to be safe, respectful, or responsible online.  Each tip must be specific and include WHY it is important. They will be using ChatterPix Kids to create videos of their tips, which will (hopefully) be shared with the 2nd graders during the last week of school.  Much depends on iPad availability (6 iPads in one school = nightmare).  Students just got started on this project last week and are EXCITED to share what they know using such a cool app!

 

 

Technology & Social Media Questionnaire:  With all the data gathered each year by schools, none pertains to student access to and use of tech at home – the information I need to know.  So I made it a mission to get the data I wanted.  Blending two surveys (from CSM Student Media & Tech Survey and a school in Wisconsin), I created a Google survey for my students.  It takes about 20 minutes to complete – perfect for the end of the school year when there is no more check-out.Digital Citizenship Logo

Read-Aloud Tuesday: 05.26.15

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Welcome! On #ReadAloudTuesday, I read to the Maple classroom at my son’s Montessori school to students ages 3-6.  Young readers are demanding and honest: I strive to share the best of children’s literature with them each week.

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Smick! by Doreen Cronin

. NEW in 2015!

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Madame Martine by x

. NEW in 2014!

julias-house-for-lost-creaturesJulia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

. NEW in 2014!

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Ballet Cat: Leap, Butter Bear, Leap! by Bob Shea

. NOT YET PUBLISHED. Coming in Feb 2016!

Read-Aloud Tuesday: 05.19.15

read-aloud-tuesday

Welcome! On #ReadAloudTuesday, I read to the Maple classroom at my son’s Montessori school to students ages 3-6.  Young readers are demanding and honest: I strive to share the best of children’s literature with them each week.

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Tea Rex by Molly Idle

.

party-croc

Party Croc! retold by Margaret Read MacDonald

.NEW in 2015!

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Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

.NEW in 2015!

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Peanut Butter & Jellyfish by Jarrett J Krosoczka

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2016 WCCPBA Nominees!

A few weeks ago, the fine librarians on the Washington Children’s Choice Committee announced the nominees for 2015-2016!Picture1

A quick glance through the twenty nominated titles made my kidlit-loving heart happy, as some of my favorite authors are represented (Peter Brown, Matt de la Pena, Kelly DiPucchio among others).  I can’t wait to get my hands on all of these books and share them with kids!

The 2015-2015 WCCPBA Nominees

  • Mogie: the heart of the house by Kathi Appelt
  • Ivan: the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla by Katherine Applegate
  • The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer
  • If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur by Linda Bailey
  • Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
  • My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña
  • Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio
  • Catch that Cookie by Hallie Durand
  • The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma’s Wardrobe by Diane Fox
  • Lifesize Ocean by Anita Ganeri
  • Creature Feature by Steve Jenkins
  • At the Old Haunted House by Helen Ketterman
  • Sick Simon by Dan Krall
  • How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans by David LaRochelle
  • This is a Moose by Tom Lichtenheld
  • Ten Rules for Being a Superhero by Deb Pilutti
  • A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
  • The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose
  • Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin

Top Ten Lit Lessons I’ve Learned

Last week, I had the honor of having a column published over at the amazing Nerdy Book Club. I love Top 10 lists, and writing this post was an opportunity for thoughtful reflection on the library experience for students.

 

 

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With more than 2 months between submitting the column and its publication, I had forgotten exactly what I’d written.  Rereading the column – and reading the thoughtful comments of others – reinforced the value in reflecting and learning from students.  Not a day goes by without thinking how I could do something better, more efficiently, or more meaningfully.  From lessons with students to library admin to classroom management, there is always something to learn.  Ignoring the opportunity to learn and grow is a disaster for educators.

I suppose this explains why, when my husband deleted the first draft of this column, I didn’t completely lose it.  Yes, I sulked.  Yes, I was fussy.  But as my 4th grade students remind me, I have a choice: I adopted growth mindset and started rewriting.  After all, it was ultimately my fault (I didn’t save it), and the writing was better for it.

So now I ask you: What lessons have you learned from your students this year?  Please share!