I Will Not Book Talk Bigger Than A Bread Box


I am so excited to not book talk Bigger Than A Bread Box when school starts this fall. I cannot wait to not tell my students all about my favorite read from the summer of 2011. Never in my life have I been more excited to not talk about a book that I love.

Does this sound weird? If you know me at all, you know that book talking great middle grade books is one of my favorite things to do as a teacher. The reason that I am looking forward to not book talking Bigger Than a Bread Box is because I cannot wait to read it aloud to my incoming fourth graders late fall/early winter. I had this same plan last year, but after a killer book talk that involved me jumping on top of desks and shouting how much I love this book, pretty much all of my students read it before I had a chance to read it aloud. I have no problem reading aloud a book that some of my students have read, but I had talked so deeply about Bigger Than a Bread Box with so many students that reading it aloud just seemed silly.

This does not mean that I won’t book Laurel Snyder’s other middle grade novels, and it doesn’t mean that my handful of copies won’t get displayed in the classroom library, it just means that I’ll probably hold off on book talking this amazing middle grade novel as long as I can.

I wonder if anyone else has ever been excited to not book talk a book. Excited to hold off book talking a favorite to see if students are able to hold off and see if students discover it on their own.

Not book talking Bigger Than A Bread Box is going to be tough. Wish me luck!

We Are Not Eaten By Yaks: Part 3



JEN: We’ve talked about how Oliver and Celia, the two main characters in We Are Not Eaten By Yaks, are hysterical characters. I think London does a great job of bringing them to life. All they want to do is watch cable TV but their parents keep signing them up for wild adventures. Last week we talked about how intense they are about wanting to watch TV but you brought up the fact that London is effective in writing characters kids can look up to even if they only want to watch endless amounts of TV. How do you think London is able to do this?

COLBY: I think that it is very important that we don’t glorify the amount of television that kids watch today. I don’t think that London does this. Oliver and Celia love television and they would watch as much as possible, but London portrays this character trait as a flaw. Reading We Are Not Eaten By Yaks, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Oliver and Celia because they were missing out on so much life because they would rather be watching television. They seem to be completely oblivious to this, but I don’t think young readers will see it that way.

JEN: When it comes to stories, I think it’s all about how the characters deal with situations and problems. It doesn’t really matter what the situation or the problem is, it’s how the characters respond. I highly doubt I will ever be thrown into the outlandish situations Celia and Oliver find themselves in – but I can think about how they use what knowledge they have and how they work together to deal with their situations and think about how I will deal with situations that are hard for me.

COLBY: I think that it would be so much fun to talk with students about how they would handle some of the situations that Celia and Oliver find themselves in.

JEN: What I think I love the most about Oliver and Celia is that they don’t really realize how smart they are. They are super smart. They know a lot and they are able to apply the information they know to help themselves survive. It isn’t until they are put to the test that they are forced to use what they know. It’s the same for kids, regular kids shouldn’t be afraid of new situations or experiences. They should be confident in what they know about the world and that they can figure things out if they have to.

COLBY: Don’t you feel like this as an adult as well? I never thought I could handle raising children, yet after 5 years I have managed to keep them fed, clothed, and alive.

JEN: Now that you say that, yes! When I was a kid, I went to my dad a lot of time for advice. He would tell me again and again: “Anything is possible, if broken down into manageable segments, stabilized by balance and purified by belief.” I heard that countless times, so much that it’s just part of who I am. I was afraid of new things when I was a kid but my dad helped me realize I shouldn’t be afraid. Today, anytime I am faced with a new challenge, I just take it step by step.

I also love that Oliver and Celia have each other. I truly believe it’s important to have at least a few people in your life who you can trust explicitly and who always have your best interest at heart. You know that when it comes down to it, they will stick by you and work with you to do what needs to be done. Oliver and Celia show readers how if they trust in themselves and each other, they can get things done.

COLBY: Don’t YOU call those type of people something like “balcony people”?

JEN: I do call those people balcony people! After listening to Steven Layne speak at IRA in Chicago this year that is. His whole speech focused on balcony people: how we each have balcony people and how we need to be balcony people for our students. Balcony people are there for you and cheer you when you need it. Oliver and Celia are there for each other, my dad has always been there for me, your parents are there for you. I also think balcony people are the people we cherish most because it feels pretty awesome when someone believes in you.

Doesn’t that make you want to be in your students balcony more than ever? I try to support my students and help them feel like they can tackle any problems and they can go after their dreams. I think there are times when kids – or adults –  need someone else to have confidence in them in order to help them build their confidence. The power of someone saying, “Why don’t you try this…” or “I think you would be great at…” is huge. It might take hearing it from one person or from many people depending on who you are. (For me, it can be one person making a suggestion, and I take off with an idea. For others, it takes time to embrace a new idea.) Either way, having someone believe in you does make a difference.

COLBY: I feel that I do my best to always be in the balcony of my students. This makes me think of the importance in helping them see what classmates they have in their balcony. It’s one thing for me to be in their balcony for fourth grade, but if they find a couple of great friends they might be in their balcony for life.

Interview: Shana Burg


Shana Burg Blog Tour

7/17: Mr. Schu Reads
7/17: Sharp Read
7/20: Journey of a Bookseller
7/22: Nerdy Book Club
7/24: From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors
7/25: Read, Write, Reflect
7/26: The Musings of a Book Addict
7/30: The Pirate Tree
7/31: The Pirate Tree

Be sure to check out what Shana had to say about creating the trailer for laugh with the moon in her interview today with Mr. Schu. Watch.Connect.Read.

Shana Burg

As we reach the middle of the summer I am really starting to miss spending time with fourth graders every day. I have decided to interview author Shana Burg in a way, that will allow me to share the interview with my new fourth graders in the fall.

Shana, thank you so much for taking a little bit of time to answer a few of my questions. I enjoyed your book, Laugh With The Moon, tremendously. Thank you for taking me to Malawian. After reading Laugh with the Moon I read a little bit about you own personal visit there on your website: http://shanaburg.com/bio/

When writing fiction, I often encourage my fourth graders to think about writing a story about something that they are passionate about.

What advice would you give young writers about taking something that they have experienced and/or are passionate it about and fictionalizing it?

This is a great thing to do! Since you usually will not want to portray a person you know exactly as they are without their permission, you might decide to create composite characters. A composite is when you take traits of several different people you know and mix them together to create a whole new person. Another technique you can use is to work from photographs. I did this a lot when I wrote Laugh with the Moon. For the character of Memory, I used a photograph of a girl I had met who was about the right age, but other than that, I hardly knew her at all. Still, I looked at the photograph and imagined what her personality might be like based on her shy smile and serious eyes.

My fourth graders often LOVE to draft their stories and they often LOATH revision.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy most? Is there a part that you do not love?

To me, writing a first draft is exciting, but oh so scary, because I usually have no idea what’s going to happen and if I’m just wasting all of my time on something that stinks. I love revising, because no matter how bad what I just wrote is I have the chance to make it better. And it usually is better—way better—after I revise. It makes me feel good to see how my work improves with each draft. I think that I love it all when things are working out, and I really don’t love it when there’s a problem I can’t solve and it’s keeping me up at night.

What advice would you give young writers that are interested in becoming professional writers when they grow up?

My advice is to live life! What I mean is that you want to have some adventures. And I don’t mean sailing solo around the world before you hit your teenage years. I’m talking about adventures you can have right in your own neighborhood, like trying to learn a new language that nobody you know speaks, or maybe figuring out how to make your own backpack, or—and here’s the best one—getting to be friends with lots of kids who are really different from you. It’s these experiences that give writers subjects to write about.

Other than that, keep a journal of your experiences, and of course, read. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read cookbooks and magazines. It doesn’t matter what, but just read and without even knowing it, you’ll absorb the techniques of good writing, and you’ll learn to recognize bad writing, which is just as important.

Any time that my fourth graders get a chance to interact with an author, they always ask the following question. Last year my students said that they think that it’s the most important question that you can ask an author.

What MG books would you recommend to young readers?

I love The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger because it’s hilarious. I really enjoyed Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which is historical fiction written in free verse. David Almond’s book Skellig is another favorite of mine because of the lyrical, mystical writing. And I also think Savvy by Ingrid Law is amazing because it’s so imaginative and whimsical.

Shana, thank you so much for answering my questions today. I can’t wait to share your responses with my fourth graders in the fall!

Laugh with the Moon

I’m giving away one copy of Shana’s book Laugh With The Moon.

* The giveaway runs from July 17 to July 20 at 11:59 PM EST. I will draw a winner when I return from vacation July 24.

* You must be at least 13 to participate.

Newbery Challenge: The 1940s


OMG! Mr. Schu and I have now read and made a video for every single Newbery Medal winning book from 1923- 1949. If I had 10 words to describe the books so far it would look like this:

1920s: Awful

1930s: Terrible

1940s: Not Good

Yay! “Not Good” is so much better than awful and terrible. I actually really really liked a few of the books in the 40s, but I’m not going to lie, I am excited  we are getting to now read books that were published during the lifetime of my parents. Yippee!

I figured I put together a little post of my favorites from the 1940s.

My Favorite Mr. Schu video: Strawberry Girl

My Favorite Mr. Sharp video: Johnny Tremain

My Favorite Book: 21 Balloons