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reading

Top Ten Kid-Recommended Picture Books to Celebrate Kindness

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

Happy World Kindness Day! Every November 13th, we have the opportunity to celebrate kindness, while recognizing that kindness is important every day of the year. Today, during snack, my third graders and I started discussing books that fit a theme of kindness. This launched a fascinating conversation that stretched into our literacy block and throughout the rest of the day. My students compiled the following list of Top Ten Kid-Recommended Books to Celebrate Kindness. Enjoy, and be sure to let us know how you celebrate kindness in the comments below!


Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev was one of our read alouds on the first day of school. Telling the story of a boy and his pet elephant, this book captures the isolating feeling of exclusion as well as the joyful feeling of including others. My third grade readers said the message of this book can be expressed in just three words: “All are welcome.”

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi is an absolutely gorgeous wordless picture book. It’s fitting that this book has no words, as it communicates a feeling that can be so hard to articulate: the feeling of genuine friendship. While friendship can be messy and hard, it can also be beautiful. My third grade readers love the colors and creativity with which this story is told.

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio captures the feeling of longing to belong – something that we all experience at some point in our lives. In the same way that her novel asks students to “choose kind,” Palacio’s picture book encourages readers to see the strengths that we all hold inside ourselves.

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts makes me cry every time I read it aloud! It can feel so isolating to be the only one who is “missing out” on the newest thing. This book celebrates the people in our lives who try to give us the world, and teaches us that it’s okay when we can’t get everything we want. In fact, what doesn’t work out for us might be the perfect thing for someone else.

 

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh chronicles young Sylvia Mendez’s fight for quality education in the 1940s. When a student proposed it as a book about kindness today, he pointed out that being fair and inclusive is necessary in order to be kind. This nonfiction text reminds us that justice for all is another way to show kindness towards all.

 

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes just effuses kindness. A little gardener, no bigger than a worm, puts his whole heart into helping his garden. While he doesn’t look like much, he makes an impact a million times larger than he could imagine. This book is a celebration of kindness towards the environment and kindness towards each other.

 

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a gorgeous wordless retelling of an Aesop fable. Today, our class discussed how kindness can circle back towards you when you least expect it. If you put kindness out into the world, you may get a little bit (or a big bit!) back.

 

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister shows how unkind behavior like bragging and excluding others can harm everyone. Celebrating our strengths and using them to bring joy to others is the way to go! My students have such fond memories of reading this book for the first time in kindergarten or first grade. It’s definitely a kindness classic!

 


One by Kathryn Otoshi is such a great read aloud for any grade level, K through 12. My students love the playful way in which the colors learn to stand up for themselves, and eventually stand together. This is a book we return to again and again throughout the year as we explore ways in which we can speak up and stand up.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson is a heartprint book that always leaves my third graders thinking. Every day, we take actions that create hurricanes or sunshine for others. How will you bring sunshine to the lives of those around you? Each Kindness reminds us of the importance of considering this question every single day.

Books We Love: Draw the Line

Books We Love

Have you ever thought about the power we give to lines? We use them to connect, and we use them to divide. They make up paths from place to place, as well as borders that separate. In Draw the Line, two boys are each drawing their own lines when they discover that some magical things can happen if they team up. In order to create something amazing, they’re going to have to let go of the things that stand between them.

The fact that this book is wordless creates so many possibilities for its use in the classroom. It will inspire countless conversations on friendship, community, and communication. Younger readers can use the book to discuss how they connect with others, while readers through high school age can connect this story to current events. Readers of all ages can imagine the thoughts and conversations of the two artists. How might words help them achieve their goal? How might words stand in their way?

I can only imagine the impact this book would have if it were put in the hands of every child and adult. This is a book that is desperately needed in today’s world. Draw the Line will inspire us all to live our lives drawing lines of connection.


Draw the Line will be released in October 2017 by Roaring Brook Press.

Thanks to Roaring Brook Press for making an Advanced Review Copy of this book available at the International Literacy Association conference.

Books We Love: Moon Shadow

#bookexcursion, Books We Love

 

One of the things I love most about the middle grade genre is the tendency to ask big questions. Moon Shadow does just that. Almost-thirteen-year-old Lucia has had many changes in her life: her mom moved to Sweden, her strongest friendship has completely dissolved, and she just started middle school. When Lucia celebrates her thirteenth birthday on the night of a lunar eclipse, strange things start happening. People start telling Lucia she was out and about when she knows she was asleep. She wakes up with wet sneakers next to her bed, and with strange memory-like dreams floating through her head. Lucia has to put the pieces of the puzzle back together before something really strange happens.

This book finds its audience in middle grade readers who are still figuring themselves out. Lucia’s life isn’t perfect, and neither is she, but she finds ways to cope with her struggles and let her strengths shine through. Erin Downing’s storytelling will captivate readers. They will keep turning the pages in anticipation of each “Out of the Shadows” section, where the pages turn black, the print turns white, and Lucia’s “shadow” seems to take over. In addition to being suspenseful and action-packed, this book helps readers explore questions about what it means to be yourself. Moon Shadow is a great fit for middle school classrooms.


Moon Shadow was released on May 16th, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Huge thanks to Erin Downing and Simon & Schuster for sharing a copy of Moon Shadow with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Let’s Do Better: Diversifying Our Reading

#DiverseKidLit, Literacy in the Classroom

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” -Maya Angelou

I vividly remember the moment when I first encountered this startling infographic:

I started asking myself a lot of questions. In curating a classroom library, what experiences were becoming visible for my students? Were all of my third graders seeing reflections of their own lives in the books that filled our classroom? Were my students getting a chance to see the world through the eyes of people of different cultures? Races? Socioeconomic backgrounds? Genders?

According to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at UW Madison, only 14.9% of children’s books published in 2015 were about people of color. In 2016, that number jumped to 22%. While this shows progress in publishing, I wanted to explore whether or not my own reading was beginning to diversify.

Since the start of 2017, I have read 101 children’s books. 55 of those books were fiction, while 46 were nonfiction. To begin analyzing my own reading habits, I looked at representations of race and ethnicity in my fiction reads.

What I found was troubling. In the 55 fiction books, there were 62 featured characters. Nearly 70% of those protagonists were white. Only 9 protagonists were African or African-American. Another 9 protagonists were talking animals or objects. 6 characters were Latinx or Latinx-American. There were only 3 Asian Pacific or Asian Pacific-American protagonists. Out of the 62 protagonists in the 55 books, there were zero American Indian or First Nations characters.

I worry about the messages we send to children when we make it hard for them to find stories depicting the lived experiences of others. I worry about making children feel like their own experiences are unrepresented in the books that are available to them. I worry about the implications of being a teacher who has spent half a year reading fiction books in which 84.9% of the characters are either white, a talking animal, or a talking object. And while analyzing my reading habits opened my eyes to the lack of racial diversity in the fiction books I’ve read this year, I imagine the the findings would be similarly concerning if I examined representations of gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

As a reader, a teacher, and a citizen of this country, I need to do better. I need to seek out books that tell the stories of people whose lives look different from my own. I need to use resources like We Need Diverse Books, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the American Indian Youth Literature Award, among others. I need to ask for recommendations, look at booklists, use my local library, and get these books into my classroom.

Over the past few months, there have been glimmers of hope in my reading life. wishtree by Katherine Applegate explores how a community can heal after a hate crime against a Muslim family. Hello Goodbye Dog teaches young readers about therapy dogs and how they assist students with disabilities. Girl Rising helps young adult readers learn more about education equity around the globe. As these new books are released, we have the opportunity to put them in the hands of the children who sit in our classrooms.

At the International Literacy Association conference this summer, I was inspired by the work of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang. His Reading Without Walls challenge asks readers of all ages to reach outside their comfort zones. There are three parts to the challenge: read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and a book in a format you don’t usually read. While the concept is simple, the impact is powerful. Can you imagine the changes that could be made if we all spent time expanding our reading horizons?

We are living in a world where we have to know better, and then we have to do better. We have to seek out diverse reading experiences when they don’t land on our newsfeeds or in our classroom libraries. We have to break down the walls of our classrooms to connect our students with the world around them. The books we put in children’s hands today determine how they live their lives tomorrow. Now that we know better, let’s do better.

Author Interview: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Author Interviews, Books We Love

This past January, one of my students came into school clutching Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Telling bedtime stories of inspirational women throughout history, this book re-invents the definition of a fairy tale. The stories and illustrations leapt off the page, bringing history alive for young readers.

I was amazed to learn the backstory behind the book itself. In 2016, the book topped one million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Now, the authors are back with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, due out later this year, as well as a Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast! The Kickstarter campaign for the new projects has already raised over $417,000.

There are so many things that make this book a must-read for students. So many of the stories readers encounter in this book aren’t being taught in history class. In Rebel Girls, students can learn about Ada Lovelace, the Brontë sisters, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and more. Any child can find a role model within the pages of this book.

To celebrate the success of Rebel Girls and the release of Rebel Girls 2, I interviewed authorsElena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. I knew they would have lots to say about the impact these stories can have on the world!

 

With so many incredible stories out there, how do you decide which ones to include in your books?
 

The first women we researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra and nobody has ever heard of, and Maria Sibylla Merian, the German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. These are the first two stories that we tested with our Timbuktu newsletter, in the months leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. We are particularly fond of them not only because they are wonderful, unknown stories, but also because they helped us understand we were onto something really big. Our readers responded enthusiastically to those stories, asking for more.

We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.

 
In an interview with The Bookseller, Francesca said that “children are citizens of the present.” Instead of waiting until they are adults, how can kids begin to change the world today?
 

There are so many ways that kids can change the world now without waiting until they get older.  We get messages from kids and their families about different things they are doing to change the world already. Some are helping to start Rebel Girls clubs to promote these strong women and help others learn about them. Others are using the book as inspiration to write their own Rebel Girls stories-about their lives or about the lives of others and share it with their families and friends. Outside of the book, we hear about readers volunteering their time, raising money for great causes, or working to be inclusive to classmates at school. We’re also proud and excited to hear about the positive things kids are doing.

 
 
What makes 2017 the perfect time for Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2?
 

The position of women has significantly improved over time in our society, but there is definitely still lots to do. Especially because no accomplishment, no matter how big, can ever be given for granted.

In 2017, Children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. These are stories about real women, which is different than a lot of goodnight stories about fictional characters. We wanted to feature painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, and political leaders-rebel girls whose actions have changed the course of history.

How do you think adding Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to family bookshelves can change the experiences of young girls?
 

Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offered them a very narrow representation of who they can be. The illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look like. This reflects in a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.


For more on Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, you can check out the Rebel Girls website.

Reflecting on a Year as Readers

Literacy in the Classroom

One of my colleagues shared an amazing idea with me this past spring, and I just had to give it a try in my classroom. My colleague has her students write letters about their reading journeys. The insights students share are amazing! My students came up with questions they could answer in their letters. Here are a few:

  • What have you discovered about yourself as a reader this year?
  • What is your favorite reading memory from third grade?
  • What new things did you try as a reader in grade three?
  • Are there any books that stuck with you this year?
  • How have your reading habits changed in third grade?
  • What are your reading plans for summer and beyond?

All the questions were optional, and there wasn’t a sentence or page requirement. I was amazed with the writing that came back. Students wrote pages upon pages about the books that made a difference in their lives, the ways they have grown, and their plans to keep reading in their futures.

Many of my students described finding the genres and book formats that fit their reading styles. Learning how to make reading choices was a big focus of ours this year, so I was so excited that many students now know where to look to find new reads!

I love how this reader admitted to losing her reading log. (I tell students all the time that it’s about the reading, not the piece of paper that says you read!) I also loved the description of finishing a great book: a mix of sadness and understanding.

As this reader says, this letter was my “ticket to knowing town” when it comes to learning about him as a reader. After finishing Stone Fox, I knew this reader would appreciate Pax. I’m so happy he stuck with it!

What a great description of a cozy reading moment! I hope that all of my students can identify some landmark reading memories. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book when it’s raining outside.

As this reader illustrated, “reading is what I live for!” When there are so many books out there and kiddos want them all, we know that our school has created a strong reading community.


How do your students reflect on their year as readers and writers? Let us know in the comments below!

Chapter Book Read Alouds for Third Grade

Books We Love, Literacy in the Classroom

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves.
-Neil Gaiman

One of my favorite things about being a teacher is reading aloud to my students. During that fifteen or twenty minutes a day, our class connects in so many ways. We laugh together, we cry together, and we share big ideas we have about the world. This year, my class has connected around four chapter book read alouds. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are inspiring, but all of them have brought joy to my students, and I hope they bring joy to you, too.

 

Sideways Stories from Wayside School
by Louis Sachar

Every year, the third grade team at my school starts off with Sideways Stories. There’s so much to love about this book: hilarious characters, fantasy elements, laugh-out-loud scenes, and teachable moments. This book reminded my students how much there is to love about reading. After we read this aloud, the other books in the Wayside School series flew off of my classroom bookshelves!

The BFG
by Roald Dahl

This year, we read The BFG as part of the Global Read Aloud. While the entire experience was amazing, the book itself takes a lot of the credit. Kids around the world love the characters of the BFG and Sophie. They immerse themselves in a world where “frobscottle” and “whizpoppers” are actual words, and where courage and kindness matter above all else.

 

Holes
by Louis Sachar

As you can tell, my class and I love Louis Sachar. Students are usually amazed when they realize that Sideways Stories and Holes are written by the same author. The books couldn’t be more different! I usually read Holes a little later in the year, when students can dig deeper into the questions the book raises about fairness, luck, hard work, and friendship.

 

The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown

Since The Wild Robot will be the selection for this fall’s Global Read Aloud, I decided to give the book a shot with this year’s crew of third graders. While we haven’t finished the book, the students absolutely love it so far. Reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web, but with a sci-fi twist, this book appeals to so many types of readers. Fair warning for teachers: make sure you have your robot voice down before giving this book a try! I highly recommend adding this book to your collection and connecting with other classes during the GRA this fall!


I would love to hear about the chapter book read alouds that captivated your classes this year. Feel free to comment below to share the literacy love!

Books We Love: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

Books We Love

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do
by Ashley Spires

Lou is just an ordinary girl – one who loves to play with friends and go on adventures. That is, until the adventure is something new. When Lou’s friends want to climb a tree, Lou thinks of every excuse possible for staying on the ground. One reason in particular keeps her from trying: “I CAN’T climb the tree.” When Lou tries to climb, she learns that she really can’t climb. “Not yet, anyway.”

This book is a sweet and simple look at how saying “I can’t” makes us miss out on adventures. Adding a “yet” to that sentence inspires us to give things a try until we get closer to our goal. This book pairs nicely with Ashley Spire’s The Most Magnificent ThingSpires’ writing teaches kids that by trying and learning from our attempts, we can grow stronger and reach our goals.

Classroom Connections

I can’t wait to use this book with some of my 3rd grade kiddos. In a time where the world places so much pressure on kids to be “perfect,” this book takes some weight off kids’ shoulders and shows them to trust the journey. This book is perfect for introducing growth mindset in your classroom, or for a reminder of the power of “yet.”


 The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do will be released in May 2017 by Kids Can Press.

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Kids Can Press. in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Books We Love: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

#DiverseKidLit, Books We Love

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
Written by Susan Hood
Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

“Buried in the trash was music. And buried in themselves was something to be proud of.”

When I was eight years old, I joined a choir at my elementary school called the Peacemakers. I speak often about how being a part of a music group changed my life. It gave me confidence and instilled a strong work ethic. Nothing felt more magical than coming together to create one sound. Today, I get to see my third grade students shine in the Peacemakers, too, and I can see yet again how instruments and songs can make a difference. When I picked up Ada’s Violin, I immediately felt connected to the story of music changing lives.

It’s not often that you find a nonfiction book that so strongly radiates hope. While children’s stories often teach lessons and inspire to action, the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay reaches another level. Teaching lessons of growth, perseverance, environmental activism and diversity, not a page goes by in Ada’s Violin that doesn’t inspire.

At its heart a story about the power of education, Ada’s Violin follows a young girl in Cateura, Paraguay as she lives her life among trash heaps. In a small town where mot people are employed as “recyclers” who go through the trash each night, Ada strives for something more for herself and her younger sister. Her call is answered when her grandmother signs her up for lessons with a man named Favio Chávez. As Favio realizes his students are without instruments, he begins to create them out of the trash that lines the streets. Over time, the instruments and their musicians come together to create a beautiful orchestra.

As soon as I finished reading Ada’s Violin, I picked it up to read it again. There are so many ways in which this book gets you thinking. This story holds the promise of change. It urges us to change the way we use and throw out garbage. It urges us to find magic in the smallest things. It urges us to never give up, even when the odds are stacked against us. As Favio Chavez tells his students, we all must “be kind, always say please and thank you, say you’re sorry, be dedicated when you commit to something.” Ada’s Violin inspires us to do just that.

Review: Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White

Books We Love

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet

My Rating:
★★★★★

Note: Some Writer! will be released on October 4th, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers. A link to pre-order is included at the bottom of this review.

 

Earlier this year, I shared how excited I was to hear that Melissa Sweet would be publishing an E.B. White biography. When I received an advanced review copy, the book took my expectations and completely blew them out of the park. Some Writer! is one of the most well-written biographies for children that I have ever read. I have no doubt in my mind that this book deserves and will receive a place on classroom bookshelves everywhere.

Melissa Sweet digs deep into the life of the beloved children’s author, starting with his early life and carrying the reader through his final days. Along the way, Sweet masterfully weaves in remarkable artifacts and quotations from E.B. White’s own writing. The book is a celebration of the genius found in White and his work. Although I didn’t think it was possible, Sweet’s writing made me love White’s work even more than I already did.

While Sweet celebrates White’s incredible writing, Sweet’s writing deserves similar recognition. It is rare that a biography for children carries so much emotion and weight. Sweet paints a picture of White’s life in a way that is easy for children to understand, but still draws them in. Sweet enables readers to feel as if they were a character in White’s life story, walking alongside him through all his adventures.

With truly unbelievable illustrations and graphic design, Sweet makes White’s story accessible for readers of all levels. This book is bound to be enjoyed by kids and parents for generations to come, just as White’s book’s are.

This is a don’t-miss book that tells the beautiful backstory of the children’s stories we all know and love.

Memorable Quotes

The most memorable quotes from the text don’t come from Sweet’s writing, but from White’s. Sweet seamlessly incorporates quotations from White’s books and essays in order to support her comments about White’s life. Here are a few favorites:

On writing for children:
“I would rather wait a year than publish a bad children’s book, as I have too much respect for children.”

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up to children, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and general congenial readers on earth… Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net.”

On being human:

“Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

“Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

Classroom Connections

This book is a great fit for the fourth to sixth grade classroom, although it could be used across many grade levels.

  • Sweet uses fantastic vocabulary throughout the book. Many different terms can be introduced using the text, such as footloose and sound advice. Sweet does a great job of providing context for these words, so readers can be challenged to infer the meaning of words that are new to them.
  • The book includes absolutely amazing advice on writing from E.B. White and other children’s authors who loved his work. Chapters on style and substance in children’s writing could inspire students to demonstrate some of the strategies in their own writing. Middle school students could use White’s advice on writing in conjunction with E.B.’s children’s books to find exemplars for the writing strategies White championed.

Book Information
Title: Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White
Author: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: October 2016
Price: US $18.99
Source: Edelweiss – Advanced Review Copy

Find this book on:
Goodreads
Amazon
HMH

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!