There is hope

There is so much yuck in the world.  There is so much hating and unrest.  However, I am lucky.  Day after day, I get to look out at the many different colors of skin on my students and see hope.  I see students who don’t understand our nation’s past and are enraged by it.  This week, I read two picture books that showed me just that.  The first one is Sit In.

This is the true story of 4 black college friends who go to a Woolworth lunch counter in 1960.  All they want is a donut and coffee with cream on the side.  This is the story of how they came back day after day.  How they exhibited bravery as they sat there and took abuse.

This book was beautifully written and the illustrations were spectacular.  My students completely didn’t understand about this part in our history.  The reading time ended with us all rolling up our sleeves and putting our arms in the center of a circle and looking at all the fabulous different colors we ar.


The next book is I Dissent.  This book is the true story about Ruth Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice.  In this amazing book we learn that women were brought up to get married and have babies. They were not expected to work outside the home.  We learn that Ms. Ginsburg broke the mold by being I believe one of seven women in her law school (and 500 men).  We learned how she fought for equality of all.  The girls in my class were outraged by the treatment she had endured.  I knew this book hit home when a young man in my class used the word dissent in his writing!A40EA71F-0787-45F8-95EC-599C949A63E1

The final book, and I will be writing a whole other blog on it is Love.  This book was beyond amazing.  The words, the pictures and the illustrations.  It is one of the most spectacular books I have ever read. My students did a follow up to this and I want to grab a few pictures, so I will be making another post.


I am grateful to the amazing authors and illustrators out there who bring amazing books to children.  Because of these books, we are able to explore this difficult topics in a way that is appropriate for their age.


Reading 2017

Today is the first day of 2018.  Happy New Year!  It is also the first day of setting a reading goal for this year.  My goal for 2017 was 100 books.  I actually smashed that. I finished the year with over 120.  Thank goodness for the goodreads app to keep track of what I read! I did mark down some of the read alouds and some of the picture books that read, but not all.

As I reflect on my reading life for 2017, I am once again in awe of the incredible genre that is middle grade books.  These books are just amazing.

My last year’s class loved the War that Saved My Life so much that they knew that the companion book the War I Survived would be coming out in November, when they were in grade 4 and they have been visiting my classroom to get it! I love that we are introducing students to historical fiction in an exciting fashion and for books they want to read.


A Boy Called Bat was another one of my favorites! I fell in love with him and the book raced through my classroom last year.

The Hate U Give is too sophisticated for my 8 year olds but oh my, what a book.  I read it right after I had read Jodi Picoult’s latest Small Great Things.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere is a story about Hurricane Katrina. Counting Thyme is about an 11 year old girl and her dealings with her brother and his cancer. Both I recommend to my former students who come back looking for recommendations.

One of the most amazing books I read this school year was Refugee.  It was brilliantly done.  This story follows the life of three different kids from three different time periods, leaving three different countries.  Incredible! It is a definitely must read again for me!



Restart is another one that I was fascinated with.  I love the imperfectness of the characters.  The main character, who was a bully, loses his memory.  Life is not perfect as he starts to remember.



Another book worthy of this group is Wishtree.  This book was just amazing. I was blown away when I read it to myself in the fall, but as a read aloud, it really had an incredible impact on my students.

2017 again has shown me the incredibleness of the middle grade genre. While some of these books are too challenging for my students in both content and vocabulary, many students are beginning to venture into this area.

I cannot wait to see what comes out in 2018!

The Power of a Great Read Aloud

Read aloud time is THE most important part of my day.  Period. The end.  I am lucky that I teach in a self contained third grade, so I can make sure it happens, every day.  It is my morning meeting, my reading lesson and so much more.

This is my second go around with teaching third grade.  I did a stint about 18 years or so ago for 6 years.  However, this time things are different. I have a different perspective on teaching grade three, as I taught second grade for many years, then fourth and then I landed back in grade three. Also, in that time, the middle grade genre exploded!

Third graders are an interesting bunch.  They are caught between early childhood and middle grades.  That makes read aloud a very interesting time.  At the beginning of the year, many (not all) responses to conversation are about themselves. If you are reading about a dog, they will tell you they have dog or their aunt has dog or their friend has a dog. Etc.  This is very developmentally appropriate.  As we delve deeper into read alouds and read more, slowly, their responses begin to change.  They are able to begin to look through the characters eyes now. They can make predictions that make sense to the story and not what they want to happen.  Because by now we have shared many good books, we are starting to make connections to other stories.  I marvel as their responses grow as they mature as students and small humans.

Last week, an amazing thing happened.  My read aloud at that time was the One and Only Ivan.  This is one of my personal must read to student books.  It is about a gorilla named Ivan and his friend Stella the elephant who live in a shopping mall.  If you haven’t read it, you need to! It is probably my 5th or so novel this year so I am starting to see the change in responses from my students.  Anyways, 3 girls asked if they could stay in for recess to work on something.  I said sure.  I noticed that one student took about 20 sheets of copy paper.  She put them all out like a puzzle and began sketching.  At the end, she handed everyone sheets to take home and work on it.  At the end of recess, they told me that they were creating Stella the elephant. (See picture below).  The story was so powerful that they felt the need to miss recess to get their ideas down.

So, I finish the story and then I read the picture book by the same name.  The students were not happy about the treatment of animals.  Also, at that time, my daughter Kelsey is in South Africa   Home.   And had been to safaris.  She had been sending us pictures and information about animals that needed help.  It was decided that we would “save” animals.  We looked up the World Wildlife Federation and we decided to save a gorilla or an elephant.  It was decided that the students would have to earn the money themselves. it cost $25 to sponsor one animal.  I told them that if they raised $16, I would kick in the rest.  Well, a very generous donation from our teaching assistant, Mr. Carroll helped us to adopt a gorilla.  The students then worked to adopt an elephant.  They were to do chores at home.  Parents were not just give them the money.  The money started coming in. Yesterday, I was able to adopt a gorilla, an elephant AND a rhino (which we had learned from Kelsey were in the most need).  How fabulous is that?

My next read aloud which I started immediately (and am still reading) is Wishtree also by the same author as the One and Only Ivan. The same girls from before decided to make a Wishtree where each child created a wish for it.  They also felt we should have a class wish, which is in the middle of the tree.  These girls also played Wishtree at recess.  Students who at the beginning of the year who were making connections to themselves are now seeing connections between Wishtree and Wonder.

I love to read aloud.  I love to watch their faces as the story unfolds.  Some books, I choose to read every year.  Some books I mix up but every year, students surprise me with their insight.  Every class takes read aloud in a different direction.  I am so lucky to be able to watch it unfold. I can’t wait to see where this class continues to go..


This is our bulletin board mentioned above.  On the sides is our personal reflections to the One and Only Ivan.  The elephant is Stella.  (The girls haven’t finished yet with the title).  The sign in the middle says, We Love Katherine Applegate Book.  Then the Wishtree.  Our class wish is that We Wish everyone to be kind to each other.


I have been waiting for this book since I first knew of its existence.  I watched in envy as people with advanced copies tweeted and posted about its magic.  I even preordered it from Amazon Prime, which is not something I do often with books.  Katherine Applegate is a writing genius.  Her books are amazing.  The One and Only Ivan is a must read aloud every year for me. It is brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a gorilla who is in a shopping mall zoo and the trials and tribulations that come with it.  It was the first book that I had a student so invested in the book that she broke down and cried at one part.

As I sit here on a chilly end of September morning wrapped in a blanket, I devour the whole book in one sitting. I wanted to slow down and savior its deliciousness, but my brain need to absorb every word and find out how/if the story worked out. Once I finished, I felt I should go to the gym, but I must write about this work of art. Beautiful.  That is how I describe this book.  Just beautiful. My favorite line of the whole story is, “I wanted to tell them that friendship doesn’t have to be hard.  That sometimes we let the world make it hard.”  I reread that line again and again.  I find myself still mulling that line over.

This book is meant to be shared, talked about and lingered over.  The central character is Red an oak tree. Red and the other animals help the reader to see a different perspective than we usually see.  This book is about friendship, kindness of strangers, prejudice and so much more.  This book takes us back to look forward.

I cannot wait to share this work of art with my students.  They will love it!





Reading aloud is the most important thing I do in my classroom.  It is the glue that holds us together. Read aloud is so much more than hearing a really wonderful story.  During read aloud, we discuss reading and reading skills without the students realizing it. We talk about how books go and what to expect from certain books. We talk about how the book reminds us of other books. We make predictions, we notice patterns and we analyze the plot.

But read aloud time is more than that.  It is when we become a community.  It is when we learn about ourselves and our world.  Read aloud is when we tackle big social problems as group through the safety of literature and our classroom.  

Beginning grade three is a time when I begin to build that trust.  I always start off the year with Marty McGuire.  A delightful story by Kate Messner.  The students enjoy Marty and her naughtiness and I begin to hook them.  I usually read Marty McGuire Digs For Worms next to get kids hooked on series.  This year, however, I tried something new.  Usually, my first “heavy” book would be done with the Global Read Aloud, in October. But with the movie Wonder coming out in November, I decided that it would be my next read aloud.

I struggled with the decision, was it too early in the year for my students?  Wonder is about a boy with cranifacial abnormalities who is attending school for the first time.  It is a wonderful story that I would definitely read later in the year.  However, I am a reading purist and do not like reading a book after the movie has come out.  So I struggled, should I do this? Would my small humans be able to handle the complexity of the book?

I decide that I will try and see what happens.  Well, this week has shown me that I made the right decision.  I am a little over half way through with the book. I am beginning to notice a change in my students.  They are starting to get emotionally involved in the book.  Auggie is taking up space in our classroom and in our hearts.  We are beginning to really dislike other characters.  Students are spontaneously cheering at appropriate parts (not to give anything away). During meaner and more intense parts, I am watching their faces and they are so engrossed in the story line.  Many showing anger and happiness throughout my reading.

What amazed me the most was yesterday.  I showed them a short YouTube video called I am Auggie.  It was a montage of different people saying, “I am Auggie Pullman.”  Each person had a different abnormality.  It was very powerful to watch.  You could hear a pin drop in my room as the students sat and really watched the video.  The discussion after it was priceless. In such a short period of time, they have grown as humans.  A good book does that.

I am glad I made the decision to read the book early.  I always believe that students will surprise you every time.  As we head toward the second half of the book, it is with mixed emotion.  I don’t know if we will be ready to put Auggie away, but I know that he will be in our classroom the rest of the year!

Counting Thyme

For the past several years, I have made reading a priority in my life.  Being a part of #sixtybook club has really made me keep track of what I am reading.  I read every day.  I steal moments when I can to read a chapter here or there.  I balance my personal reading with professional reading and middle grade reading. Becoming a stronger reader in my personal life has made me a stronger teacher of reading at school.

Middle grade reading has grown in amazing ways.  Middle grade books are amazing. If you haven’t checked them out, I would! Teaching grade three has allowed me the privilege of seeing students go from reading primary books to discover the richness that is middle grade novels.

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin is one such book that I cannot wait to share with my students.  In this story, Thyme along with her sister Cori and brother Val move to New York for Val to get treatment for cancer.  This is how the book opens.  Right away it gets you in the heart strings.  The book takes you on a journey as Thyme tries to navigate a sick brother, being new at school, a best friend and grandmother back home and family relationships.  It was a book that I wanted to hurry up and read to find out what happens to Val and yet slow down and savor every word.

I cried and laughed often through this book. At the end, I was on our deck and my husband brought me sunglasses because he thought the sun was getting in my eyes. ;). I highly recommend this book to anyone..not just middle grade students.

Iwanicki Book Awards

In going with the theme of making the last day of school as good as first, I did this Dave Burgess inspired activity of the Iwanicki Book Awards.  This was several weeks in the making and revealed today. Just a quick recap. Students used Kidblog to write their nominee and convince others of their choice. Then I created a google form which they answered (using google forms for the first time).

During the week, small groups of students had created trivia questions for many of the categories. Another group also made a word search. During the Award’s ceremony, we built up suspense by playing Oscar Music and then announcing each category and the nominees. I would then say, “Here is a word from our sponsor.”  While the students waited, they worked on their trivia.   Students were cheering and yelling and there were even a few disappointed students.  I had to sit back and remember that this was all about books!  Students in my class were yelling about books! How great is that?!  The books listed below affected my students.  It made them passionate readers. They all made my students think just a little differently.

It was a wonderful activity that I hope will become a tradition.  I am glad that I pushed myself just a little harder.  The students reactions were priceless.

PS I would recommend any book on this list for anyone to read. They are all fabulous!


Best Setting
Winner: Echo
Runner Up: The War That Saved My Life


Best Supporting Character:
Winner:  Frankie in Echo
Runner Up:  Rose in Out of My Mind

Best Illustrations
Winner: The Night Gardner
Runner Up:  Journey

Favorite Character in a Graphic Novel
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: El Deafo

Favorite Character in a Chapter/Middle Grade Novel
Winner: Tie: Gerta in Night Divided and Charlie in Wish
Runner Up:  Frankie and Mike in Echo

war that saved my lifeBest Picture Book:
Winner: Snappsy
Runner Up: The Night Gardener

Best Graphic Novel
Winner: El Deafo
Runner Up:  The Bad Guys

Best Middle Grade Novel
Winner:  Echo
Runner Up: Tie The Night Divided and The War That Saved My Life

Favorite Read Aloud
Winner: Rump
Runner Up:  Out of My Mind
the night divided