Category Archives: Reading with J&H

We’re Full…of Beans

Oh, Jenni Holm. How I am thankful for you.

As a parent, your books make reading fun. Babymouse was J’s first graphic novel that she loved. Proof: her 2nd grade diorama.  H, like any younger sibling, followed suit. He doesn’t care if a book is pink or blue. He’s all about fun. And Babymouse is fun to read.

When your new chapter book came out – Full of Beans – I read it. LOVED it. Talked about it. And gave it to J – now a 4th grader – to read. And she did: she likes Jenni Holm books, after all. And like the little brother he is, H picked it up. He started reading it a week ago, then said he was almost done the other night. Like a good teacher-parent, I asked what he liked about it. Turns out, there was a lot that went over his head. So: FAMILY READ ALOUD.

Full of Beans is a brilliant read aloud: fast-paced, diverse characters, memorable setting. And as we read, we sometimes talk. About Key West. Rum-running. Choices. Through your story, we’re building understanding and empathy for others whose lives might be different from ours.  We are inferring (who DID paint “Queen Dot’s Throne” on the outhouses?). Learning. Enjoying. And, ultimately, connecting.

History is a tricky subject to teach and to learn. (My childhood report cards are evidence of this.) I truly believe literature – specifically kidlit – is a magic portal for learning and understanding historical events and outcomes.  Full of Beans is a brilliantly accessible novel to introduce readers to the Depression, the New Deal, and how lives are impacted by economics. This was not my goal; rather, it is a happy result of our time spent reading and reflecting on Beans, his choices, and his family.

Our reading and conversations about Full of Beans has really stuck with my kids. Yesterday, while grocery shopping, there was a kid-initiated discussion on which character each child would choose to be and why. Ultimately, H chose Termite…because everyone loves dogs, even flea-ridden ones. J was Beans. Naturally.

So Jenni, thank you. Our family is full – full of appreciation for the stories you share with us readers year in and year out. Full of gratitude for creating memorable characters who have depth and flaws.  Full of admiration for writing historical fiction that is appealing and informative.  The bright, shiny 2017 Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award is truly deserved.

Du Iz Tak?

There’s been a lot of  buzz about Carson Ellis’s newest picture book, Du Iz Tak?: it seems like every journal, Best Of list, and bookstore has it listed as a top picture books of the year.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

You may have noticed that it wasn’t part of my Best Of 2016 list (it’s there now).  Yes, I’d read the book. It took longer expected, for a book having so few “words” (we’ll get to those in a moment).  My verdict: it was okay. Not Best Of worthy. I could leave it.

But I hadn’t stopped thinking about the book (there’s a sign).  So last night, we read it during Family Story Time.  Telling J&H (ages 9&7) that it had no real words in it piqued their interest. And 25 minutes later, we sat back, completely amazed and blown away by what Ellis created…and I admitted I was wrong.  This book is so, so worth of Best Of honors.

Let’s start with the illustrations. Ellis shows readers the passage of time – and the unfurling of Mother Nature’s gifts – with a simple, accessible ease. Grass grows, characters enter and exit with appropriate speed, seeds fall (then grow), seasons change. The cycle of life is clear, which is needed in order to make sense of the words.

The words – yes, words. You can read this story of 100% nonsense words…with a little work. And that was what made this book a grand slam to my kids. Du Iz Tak?, in our house, translated to What Is That?  Look at the cover: two insects (or oodas, as we figured out), one pointing at the green sprout – and a question mark as punctuation. It *had* to be asking What Is That?  As we read, flipping pages back and forth, we slowly figured out Ellis’s language. Using body language and gestures as well as capitalization and punctuation, we deciphered the insect’s conversation. What an exemplary example of using text features/illustrations to infer language. And for students working on decoding…it doesn’t get any better. This book is a teaching dream.

My gut says that sharing it as a whole-class read-aloud maybe tricky, but it’s totally doable. Maybe share on a doc cam would work well – to allow all to really “see” the illustrations. I’d certainly read it twice: first, without stopping, having children really pay attention to the pictures. The second time, we’d try to figure out the language. I think it’d be super-fun AND educational. Imagine pairing with an insect unit!

Fantasy. Insect Story.  ©2016.  Recommended for ages 6+. Plan on spending 20+minutes reading – and thinking through – this one.

Barnacle’s Boring Bubble Blog Tour!

Jonathan Fenske, Geisel Honor author, has written and illustrated his first picture book, Barnacle is Bored. It’s my pleasure to host Barnacle on his Boring Bubble Blog Tour!

Summary & Review:

Bored children, meet your comrade Barnacle. He experiences the same things every day: high and low tide, sunrise and sunset.  Nothing changes in Barnacle’s stationary life under a dock, until a new polka-dot fish swims by.  Filled with imaginative longing, Barnacle fancies him in exciting adventures: “I bet he dives with dolphins. I bet he soars with sailfish.” When the active fish is caught off-guard by the unexpected arrival of a hungry predator, both Barnacle and the polka-dot fish get new outlooks on life.  Fenske tackles a common childhood foe – boredom – in an appealing, engaging story that reminds us that things are not always as bad – or good – as they seem. The speech bubbles with straightforward vocab and crisp design with cutaways make this picture book perfect for newly independent readers….or anyone who has ever been bored.

Jonathan on Barnacle, boredom, and picture books.

I think Barnacle… is no different than most of us. We all have that person or group of people whose lives, from the outside, look so much more exciting than ours. Sometimes we find out things on the other side might not always be as awesome as they seem! But who am I kidding?! I know contentment is a lesson I never seem to learn!

Boredom ismy own fault! There’s always something to do. Sometimes you just have to use your imagination when finding what that “something to do” is! My mom says I ALWAYS complained about being bored. And now my own kids complain to me, so I guess there has been some justice in that (and book inspiration, too!). 

 Picture books...are eye-popping portals to magical new worlds. I spent hours and hours lost in picture books when I was a kid, and now I get such joy from reading them to my own children. I’m so very grateful to have such a fulfilling art outlet! Mixing words and pictures to create a book, and knowing parents and children are reading them together….I can’t think of any career I’d rather have! Hooray (and “thank you”) to everyone who reads picture books (and any books, for that matter)! 

Barnacle is Bored is in bookstores TODAY – May 10, 2016!

Kid Feedback:

Quotes from kids:

  • H, age 7: “I wonder what the polka-dot fish will do next? Maybe the barnacle gets loose and helps save the fish.”
  • J, age 8: “I think the polka-dot fish will have a plan to escape. Or maybe he’ll get digested and come out as droppings.”
  • J, age 6: “Maybe Barnacle will escape the eel’s stomach using the hook!”

BIG Thank You’s to Jonathan for sharing his book (and Barnacle swag)! And congratulations for being an Amazon Best Books of the Month for May 2016!

Mid-Winter break – staycation success

This morning was tough. Last week was mid-winter break: no school, no schedules, no alarms. Pure bliss.

Seattle did its usual: gray, cold, peekaboo sun bursts. So we did our usual, when given time: trips, treks, and treasured moments in our home state.

Finding out who’s wilder: the zoo animals or children who’d been cooped up inside.

Discovering that there are much cooler cars than Teslas and Porsches (the unofficial cars of the Eastside of Seattle) at LeMay.

Remembering just how beautiful our city is from high in the (Issaquah) Alps…and reaffirmation that snacks are the most important part of the trek.

Dropping by our neighborhood pool, “bubbled” for the winter, to play and splash and swim in solitude. Great Wolf Lodge, it isn’t…but it’s free and local!


Trekking into the city to a local “bookstore” to browse and play. And buy. It’s impossible not to buy. (Side note: The book selection available in the Ages 6-8 section is quite impressive. Though if I could give feedback, I’d label it for Ages 6-9.)

Creating something new with books and technology. Because we can only take so much rain before breaking out the electronics  – it is the rainiest winter on record here – J&H asked to play with the iPad. In return, they were asked to do something creative with it (read: not just Temple Run or YouTube). Scrolling through old videos, they were inspired by student projects from last year make using ChatterPix.  Result: talking books.

Strolling the aisles of the neighborhood library for new favorites and old stand-by’s. Eating lunches out. Making new dinners. Watching movies, snuggled in cozy-tight. Staying up too late. What a week. What. A. Week.

Now it’s Monday. Back to the world of school, sports, and no sleeping in.

But what a lovely week.

What’s new in Valentine books

Love is (almost) in the air, according to every mass retailer.  But hold the candy, save the flowers: it’s books that foster the feeling of love that make me swoon.  Here’s are a few titles from the last two years that have me feeling the love. Can’t wait to pick these up at the local library or bookstore and share with J-girl, my boy H, and the children at #ReadAloudTuesday!

Books for transitional readers – the OTTER Award

A few years ago, while serving on the Sasquatch Committee, there were a handful books that the committee loved (like Lulu and the Brontosaurus) that didn’t make the final nominee list.  Why? They were geared to an audience younger than the grades 4-6 award criteria.

Pondering on this, I had a thought: there should be an award for chapter books geared toward children ages 6-9.

The idea went dormant…until last year, when my daughter was in 2nd grade and struggling to find just-right chapter books. Looking critically at my 2nd grade students and their reading choices, I realized they also were challenged to find a just-right chapter book that wasn’t part of a household-name series.  The chapter book shelves, full of all levels of fiction, were overwhelming to them.  And while the collection contained plenty of appropriate titles for 6-9 year olds, I had to find ways to share these outstanding titles to them…and to their parents and teachers.

For my students, I displayed and shelf-talked titles: hand-selling books is one of my favorite things.  There were many happy readers…but not enough.  Too many non-readers weren’t engaged.

For my teachers and parents, it was harder.  Advertising great beginning chapter books via newsletters and emails didn’t get results.  The big winner was face-to-face conversation: adults liked hearing personal recommendations, especially the “best books” – ones that won awards or were well-received by other students.

Last winter, still thinking about a beginner chapter book award for grades 1-3, I mentioned it in passing to a colleague across the state. Seeing a similar need in her district, she was on board for a pilot book award project. So were our fellow teacher-librarians.  Relaying the idea to my 2nd grader, she said “Are these books kids like or books adults think kids like?”  With that one sentence, I heard a challenge. If we (teachers, parents, librarians) are trying to get kids to read, then we should be sharing the titles that kids like…not the ones we think they should like. Their opinion matters.

She ultimately read some of the potential nominees, as did my 6 yo son and my students at school.  And after some discussion among librarians, we curated a list of nominees that kids liked and created a new book award for young readers in Washington State.

The OTTER AwardOur Time To Enjoy Reading – aims to be that award.  Designed for for children in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, these titles are intended for transitional readers.  They have ample white space, larger font size, adequate line spacing, and/or illustrations.  Most importantly, they have been read and approved by young readers.  These are books kids like.

Note: this is a pilot project. It has not been approved by WLMA…yet. 🙂

12.18.15 update: the OTTER Award is now an official WA state award! Thank you, WLMA!

The 2015-2016 OTTER Award nominees:

Dog Days by Karen English (Carver Chroncies #1)

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale (Princess in Black #1)

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman (Bunjitsu Bunny #1)

Ares and the Spear of Fear by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Heroes in Training #7)

White Fur Flying by Patricia MacLachlan

Our selection criteria:

  • copyright year 2013-2014
  • reading level suitable for grades 1,2,3
  • multiple kid-friendly specs (including, but not limited to: white space, font size, line spacing, illustrations)
  • read and positively reviewed by a student (“books kids like, not books adults think kids like”)
  •  representation of genres/gender/diversity/series

Voting will take place by April 15. Award winners announced by May 1.  Nominees for 2016-2017 year TBA.

Now: to submit this award to WLMA.

Back in the Saddle Again

June is long gone.  The 4th of July, a memory.  August’s pool days are over.

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. With two active, involved kids at home, I chose to spend my summer break with them rather than blogging. We swam, biked, played, built, visited, created, imagined, read, explored, and connected during the time off.  Just how a summer break should be.

But now it’s September. School has started, lessons have been taught, books have been read, schedules have been made, collaboration has begun. And what a year it should be.  Working with such a talented, dedicated colleague as Mrs. Bethel makes having a job-split a dream come true. Receiving 10 iPads for our school library was a long-shot dream grant win from the PTA.  Preparing to attend and present at WLMA and AASL is a professional dream come true.  And catching up with my staff and students, talking books and more, has fed my soul. Looking forward to a hugely successful 2015-2016 school year!