Monday, June 26, 2017

Reading Without Walls

Revenge of the Green Banana
by Jim Murphy
Clarion Books, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

The Reading Without Walls challenge gets you out of your reading comfort zones and introduces you to new characters, settings, genres, or formats.

A funny story set in a Catholic school in the late 1950's that features a group of 6th grade boys (and one wacko second grader) plotting a revenge of reciprocal humiliation on Sister Angelica, their teacher, is definitely not my bailiwick. I described some of the details and read aloud a couple of scenes to the resident Catholic School Lifer, and he thought it all rang very true (and was very funny). Would a reader without such a resource buy into the Catholic School setting? Are the references to the 1950s/1960s strong enough to give a clear sense of "historical" fiction? Perhaps, perhaps not, but any reader who wants to enjoy a funny story about an underdog who tries to get revenge, but who stumbles on his own foibles at every turn, will enjoy this book.

Jimmy is a troublemaker who has a reputation (and a big fat red folder of his misdeeds) preceding him. He wants to change this year, but there's no way to get a fresh start with a reputation like his. It definitely seems like Sister Angelica has it out for him, but with 62 in the class, I have just a bit of empathy for her. To survive the odds of 1:62, being a little bit proactive with the behaviors seems like a plan. In contrast to her apparent targeting of Jimmy in class, the scene where Jimmy teaches Sister Angelica to shoot a basketball lets her humanity and personality shine out, which is why I'm cutting her a bit of a break, although not enough to add her to our list of 100 Cool Teachers of Children's Literature!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poetry Friday -- History

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Found Animals Foundation

by Robert Penn Warren

History, shaped like white hen,
Walked in at kitchen door.
Beak clicked once on stone floor.
Out door walked hen then;
But will, no doubt, come again.

I won't suggest any possible parallels to The News of the Day. I'll let you chuckle to yourself and wish for whole flocks of chickens to clean up the kitchen floor.

This gem comes from You, Emperors, and Others: Poems 1957-1960 by Robert Penn Warren, the newest addition to my collection of poetry books signed by U.S. Poets Laureate.

Heidi has today's Poetry Friday roundup at My Juicy Little Universe, along with a shiny diamond of a poem written by her second graders.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Surprise Endings

The Book of Mistakes 
by Corinna Luyken
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017
review copy from the public library

This book is a celebration of mistakes...mistakes that can be seen as good ideas if you don't get stuck thinking they are mistakes. Just when the book seems to be getting repetitive, it gets complicated, and then it takes your breath away. This will be a fabulous #classroombookaday.

XO, OX: A Love Story
by Adam Rex
illustrated by Scott Campbell
Roaring Book Press, 2017
review copy from the public library

What's it called when a book is told all in letters? Epistolatory. Yeah. That's what this is. Ox loves Gazelle and tells her so in adoring letters. Gazelle does NOT love Ox and tells him so in increasingly irritated responses. Until...

Make sure you study the endpapers before and after reading. What do you know about the two characters from the beginning end papers? (Ox loves lots of things; Gazelle loves...herself.) And what can you infer from the ending end papers? (Lives have been changed. Anything is possible.)

This will be another fabulous #classroombookaday.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff
by Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017
review copy from the public library

Speaking of endpapers, here is another book with great rewards in the end papers. (And another to save for #classroombookaday!)

The fourth in Jerry Pinkney's retellings of fables and folktales, this one is (again) nearly perfect in every way. Pinkney doesn't just give us another predictable retelling. He adds several twists that make the story even bigger than the original. In his version, the ogre gets a taste of his own medicine, highlighting the recurring nature of verbal bullying. But the ending holds a surprise. There are clues, subtle in the last spread of the story as well as the final spread with the author's note, but obvious in the final endpapers, that the billy goats' hearts are big enough for forgiveness, and the ogre's is open for redemption. That's a surprise ending worth replicating!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Math Books for the Classroom

How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit On a Plane? by Laura Overdeck is a fun new book that I discovered thanks to someone sharing on Social Media!  It was released a week or so ago and I ordered it right away. This book is a full of questions you can answer yourself using math. There are chapters that categorize the questions--Animal Math, Nature Gone Wild, Math for Your Mouth and more. Each two page spread poses a question and gives the info you need to solve the problem. It also answers and explains the reasoning for the answer. For example--How many times do dogs take a bath a year?--and then goes on to investigate. I see this as a great book to use for openers for Math Worksop or in a variety of ways to just have fun with math.

Animals By the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins is a book of visuals. The infographics on each two-page spread are all about animals and each infographic is very unique.  Reading each page takes time and attention to detail and I can see doing Notice and Wonder thinking routines with these pages. These are great pages to linger over as you talk about data, displaying information, comparing things and more. And of course this book has Steve Jenkins fabulous illustrations so it can be used in coordination with some of his other books like Down, Down, Down.

Finally I need to thank my friend and colleague Maria Caplin for introducing me to this book.  Mind Boggling Numbers by Michael J. Rosen is another one that is great fun!  This is a book that is similar in concept to How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit On a Plane? as it also asks questions of readers and then goes on to think through the math.  This book also includes great graphics and. visuals....and some humor!

I am happy to have discovered three books that have great ideas for young mathematicians. And these are definitely for older elementary students. Excited about sharing these 3 books with my 5th graders in the fall.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


I love online book chats. I love the flexibility and the range of thinking that happens when you read with people who are in different teaching situations, etc. And I love the flexibility of reading and discussing at my own pace.  I joined #NCTEreads last month. #NCTEreads is an ongoing month-long chat on Facebook and Twitter. I was a bit worried about joining as the book, Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives, was not at all my area of expertise or work. As a reader, I love YA lit--no question. However, I wondered if I would have anything to contribute or whether I'd be able to connect with the conversation since I teach 3rd grade. But I know the book and I know author Jennifer Buehler (@ProfBuehler) is brilliant so I decided to join.  I'm sooooo glad I did!

Although the book focuses on YA pedagogy, there are so many threads that cross age and grade.  So much got me thinking in new ways about my role in the classroom. It helped me think about the bigger goals we have for students, and to think about books in new ways.

Not only that, but the Facebook group was full of fun events.  A podcast with the author was shared and there were live events with YA authors! I was able to attend one of the live events with author Deborah Heiligman. What a great event. It was a conversation between Jennifer and Deborah about her newest book, Vincent and Theo which sounds fabulous. It was recently named the Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Award winner and it's already received several starred reviews! It was a great chat and I was so happy to be able to watch it live on Facebook!

Toward the end of the month, #NCTECHAT will continue this conversation about YA Literature on June 25. #NCTECHAT is a monthly one-hour chat on Twitter. I am excited to learn more and to get new things to think about. One of the things I am loving about #NCTECHATs is that I keep learning new things and meeting new people. I've been brave enough to join chats that are not my area of interest or expertise and every time I find brilliant people who push my thinking.

If you teach middle school or high school, I would definitely recommend this book and joining this conversation.  NCTE members can still join the Facebook group, and everyone is welcome to join in on Twitter on 6/25. If you are an elementary teacher and you are still wondering whether a book and conversation about YA has anything to do with you and your teaching, here are some of my favorite quotes from the first half of the book:

"I recognized that young adult authors were drawing me out of my own life and into the larger world.  They were helping me think about who I was and who I wanted--and didn't want--to become." (p. 2)

"When students are assigned books they can't understand, and when they sit in classrooms where they listen to others talk about literature instead of reading it themselves, they are shut out from the opportunity to be readers." (p. 3)

"If helping students become readers is partly about helping them form reading identities, it's also about patience and progress over time." (p. 6)

"I want to suggest that there are two key dimensions of text complexity, and we need to attend to both in our teaching. Complexity can be found in the text--in the overall quality of an author's writing and thinking. But complexity can also be found in what readers do with texts--in the meanings they create based on their purpose, context and motivation for reading. This means that as we evaluate texts for their inherent measures of complexity, we also need to explore how and why texts become complex for individual readers." (p. 29)

"Even as teachers adapt their approach to meet the needs of particular students in specific contexts, there are four qualities we can expect to find in common across these classrooms: Qualities of
(1) belief that the work is important; (2) discussions that blend personal response and literary analysis; (3) a sense among students that they are known and valued; and (4) collective investment in a shared experience." (p. 53)

The first #NCTEreads has been such a great experience for me. I've read a great book, met great people, heard from a new author, and I have so much more to think about.  Loved the experience!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Reading Without Walls

National Ambassador For Young People's Literature, Gene Yang, is encouraging ALL readers to try Reading Without Walls: "I want every kid — every reader, really — to explore the world through books. Books have played a vital role in getting me outside of my comfort zone. I believe they can do the same for you." He encourages readers to try reading a book about a character who doesn't look like or live like you, or a book about a topic you don't know much about. You can also stretch into a format you don't usually read for fun.

Refugees of war-torn countries are often in the news these days, and sometimes sitting in our very own classrooms. How do we talk to our students about what's going on in our world with both accuracy and sensitivity? How do we help them understand the journey of their classmate? How do we help them imagine the unimaginable? How can we give them hope, even though the situation seems hopeless?

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees
by Mary Beth Leatherdale
illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare
Annick Press, 2017

This collection of stories of boat refugees gives historical context to today's news. A timeline in the beginning gives brief examples from around the world from 1670-1914, and another after the main text gives modern day (post-WWII) examples from 1939-2016. The main text tells five stories of escape -- stories that older readers (grades 6-12) could read independently, but that younger readers (grades 3-5) might need to read with an adult in order to process concepts such as anti-semitism, people smuggling/human traffickers, and the grim reality of detention centers. Each of these five stories ends with hope, telling about how each of the refugees has made a new life through hard work, education, or the passion of art (photography, filmmaking).

Where Will I Live?
by Rosemary McCarney
Second Story Press, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

Even the youngest readers can experience empathy for refugees with this book of vivid photographs from around the world accompanied by simple text: "Sometimes scary things happen to good people. / When soldiers fight or danger comes / families must pack their things and search for a safe place to live." The question "Where will I live?" is the refrain all through the middle of the book, but it ends with hope, "I hope someone smiles and says "Welcome home." I hope that someone is you."

Come With Me
by Holly M. McGhee
illustrated by Pascal Lemaître
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young, September 2017

The character in Holly McGhee's picture book could very well be the someone wished for in Where Will I Live? She sees all the scary news and is afraid, but her parents show her that the world can be healed with small acts of kindness. In just a few words, this book packs a powerful message that every person is able to and responsible for changing the world into a place of kindness and acceptance.

Hello Atlas
by Ben Handicott
illustrated by Kenard Pak
Wide Eyed Editions, 2016

What better way to get started on healing the world with kindness and acceptance than by being able to say HELLO! in many languages?!? One of the things I love best about this atlas is that the native/indigenous languages of each continent are represented predominantly (along with single examples of speakers of the common languages -- English, Spanish, etc.) This is a fabulous representation of the diversity of our world, but especially of our continent. A "window" for those of us who only speak the dominant language, this book shows that the native people in our country are not a thing of the past, but living (and speaking!) among us today. And what a powerful "mirror" for those who speak one of the original languages. Be sure you download the free app so you can actually hear the languages spoken!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Poetry Friday -- IF

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Nicholas Flook
Did you see my post yesterday? If not, I'll wait a minute while you check it out.

Here's what happened in my notebook after I wrote that review. On the left, I listed (mostly) concrete ordinary items. On the right, I listed some of the not-always-fun things about adulting. Then, I paired them up (mostly) randomly.

Here are some of my IFs. I'm not sure IF they are a poem, but they were definitely fun to write! You give it a try!


If houseplants had jobs,
the commute would kill them.

If birdbaths had children,
the yard would be filled with puddles.

If the screen door paid bills,
the currency would be slams and breezes.

If clocks made investments,
only time would tell if it was all worth it.

If measuring cups had power of attorney,
responsibility would be calibrated.

If a window left a last will and testament,
it would be completely transparent.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

Carol has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Carol's Corner.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Laughing Out Loud

If Apples Had Teeth
by Shirley Glaser
illustrated by Milton Glaser
Enchanted Lion Books, August, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

You will want this book. It might change the way you look at the world.

Some of the IFs are practical:
"If apples had teeth, they would bite back."
"If a kangaroo was fond of you, he could carry your books home from school."

Some of the IFs rhyme or have alliteration:
"If a rhinoceros wore a sweater, he would look a lot better."
"If horses had hat racks, they would be reindeer."

But some of the IFs make you drop your chin:
"If eggs were made of glass, you could count your chickens before they hatched."
"If trees were pink, they would be nevergreens."

Did I mention the art? Very whimsical and fun!

Did I mention that this is a reprint from 1960, a year that may or may not have significance in my life? Here's a bit from Enchanted Lion about why they've brought this book back:
"Enchanted Lion's catalog currently pursues three different acquisition routes: origination, translation, and reissues. It feels important, especially in this moment, to bring back books that might otherwise be lost to time. We've published some treasures, including three André François books, this Glaser book, and our upcoming Jacqueline Ayer books. We're currently looking at another Glaser book and have begun working with out of print Remy Charlip books, which we're thrilled about. 
IF is a book that needed to be brought back. It's playful, smart, beautiful...we're so glad it hasn't been lost.

In terms of the art, the illustrations are hand drawn ink illustrations. A part of why they're so vivid and visually stunning is due to Pantone spot coloring process."
Excuse me while I open my notebook and see if I can write some IFs of my own!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Books I am Adding to My 5th Grade Classroom Library

Summer #bookaday is off to a great start. This week I discovered three books that I'll add to my classroom library this fall.

The Exact Location of Home is an upcoming novel by Kate Messner. It deals with issues of family, friendship and homelessness.  As always it is very well-done for middle grade readers and I imagine great conversations around this book.

I finally had a chance to read A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner after hearing so many good reviews of Rookie of the Year and Tournament of Champions. I love the characters in this book. This is another that will invite great conversations. It definitely did not disappoint and what a plus that there are now three books in this Rip and Red series.

Wishtree is the newest book by Katherine Applegate. A story of community, hope and healing that will engage readers from the first page.  The combination of Applegate's writing and her message make this one a must-have.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Classroom BookaDay

Our daily #classroombookaday (Thanks Jillian Heise and Donalyn Miller) is a favorite part of our school day.  We spend the last 5-8 minutes enjoying a book together. These books are often just fun reads that help us end the day with joy.  I am paying attention to new books I read this summer and creating a stack of possible #classroombookaday books. Usually I look for a shorter picture book that is light--I use the other, more complex picture books at other times during the school day. Here are a few books I've discovered this summer that might make great #classroombookaday selections!

Caring for Your Lion--a fun how-to book with lots of humor!

Give Me Back My Book--a fun read aloud with lots of great dialogue!

Nothing Rhymes with Orange-Poor Orange, nothing to rhyme with. Orange's side comments are quite amusing!

Professional Crocodile--a wordless book with a clever surprise!