Newbery Interview: Niki Barnes


I am super excited to interview my Michigan Nerdy friend Niki Barnes today. As someone that is completely obssessed with the Newbery Medal, it is good for me to take a few minutes each week and see what my friends think of the award that means so much to me. Thanks for playing along, Niki!

My questions will appear in red, Niki’s answers in black.

What is your favorite Newbery Medal winning book?

Maniac Magee

What do you love about Maniac Magee?

Everything! But seriously…it is hilarious and thought provoking. Maniac Magee represents everything that is great in a Newbery Medal book. Kids love the hilarious antics of Maniac Magee. I’ll never forget the infamous baseball scene! It is one of my favorite scenes ever in a book. I also loved reading it to my fourth graders because it was a great way to open up discussion about black-white relationships. I work in an almost all white community. So I always felt like this was a perfect book to share to show that people are just people…amazing, funny and complex- just like Maniac Magee.

What is your earliest memory of the Newbery Medal?

I don’t remember much about the Newbery when I was a child. I didn’t pay much attention to it till I was a teacher. I think I now know so much more about the power of the Newbery because of Mr. Sharp and Mr. Schu.

The Newbery Medal is.. a great way to celebrate children’s books. They may get it wrong sometimes in retrospect… but no one can doubt how much it means for a book to get the Newbery Medal.

Niki Barnes is a second grade teacher. She loves books and is a proud (library) card carrying member of the Nerdy Book Club.

Be sure to follow @NikiOhsBarnes on Twitter.


If you’d like to be featured in my Newbery Interview series please fill out the form in the link below.

The Carpenter’s Gift Blog Tour: Interview: Jim LaMarche


I love waking up on a day where I get a chance to celebrate children’s literature with Mr. Johnny Schu and the Nerdy Book Club. Today is one of those days.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out The Carpenter’s Gift, I highly recommend that you run to the library and check out a copy of this inspiring book.

As part of today’s trifecta Mr. Schu interviews author David Rubel.

Be sure to check out The Carpenter’s Gift author David Rubel’s Nerdy Book Club post.

Last week I asked my students if they would be interested in interviewing illustrator Jim LaMarche about his work on The Carpenter’s Gift. They were super excited to do so, and I think their questions are prettying stinking fantastic.

My students questions are in red and Jim’s answers in appear in black.

Have you ever been to Rockefeller Center? Have you ever seen the tree in real life?

I was in New York briefly a few years ago and unfortunately didn’t get to Rockefeller Center. I’ve only seen the tree in pictures and TV. I would love to see the lighting of the tree.

When you were drawing Henry, did you base it off of someone you knew?

Yes, the model I used for young Henry is a boy that had been a student in my wife Toni’s classroom. I looked at old photos and read stories from that time to learn about the clothes people wore and their living conditions. By an amazing coincidence in 1931 when the story begins my father was the exact age as the young Henry. I talked with my dad to get information about what it was like for him growing up during the Depression. I used my dad’s recollections to outfit Henry and get the right look and feel in my illustrations.

Did you ever live like Henry did in the book?

No, my family was never poor. But every summer I would spend time at my grandparent’s cabin in northern Wisconsin. It was a very small cabin on a lake. There wasn’t a TV or indoor plumbing. My grandmother cooked the fish we caught and baked her blueberry pies using ba wood burning stove. My brother and I spent our time fishing and reading. I loved being there.

Did you ever have something special like Henry had with the pinecone? Did you ever have a special moment like Henry did?

I was very lucky to have had such a wonderful time growing up. I had many special moments as a boy. I spent a lot of time outside swimming and fishing and skating and skiing and hiking and biking and camping and tramping through the woods. I did find an old raft on a little pond when I was a young boy. That raft became the idea for a book I did called THE RAFT.

Did you ever have huge trees growing in your yard?

My mother still lives in the house I grew up in. Some of the big old trees have died but the trees that I used to be able to jump over as a boy are now the old giants.

How many drafts did you draw of the book?

I start by making hundreds of fast, tiny pictures called “thumb-nail” drawings. These help me get my many ideas down on paper. Then I use the best of those to develop a rough sketch for each page. I then make up a book out of those sketches. This sketchbook is the same size and the same layout as I want the final book to be. When the editor and art director have seen all my ideas and are happy with them I then, finally, draw and paint the final art.

Have you ever lived in New York?

I have never lived in New York, although the area where I grew up in Wisconsin looks a lot like the countryside I drew for the story.

How long did it take for you to draw the pictures?

It took about 7 or 8 months for me to complete the art for this story.

How were you able to vision what the pictures would look like? How did you decide what you wanted the pictures to look like based off the author’s words?

A wonderful thing about my studio is it is only a block from my public library. I spend a lot of time in the stacks looking up books about the subjects I illustrate. I also have been gathering pictures and stories for 30 years. When I see something I like in a magazine I file it away for another time. I have files on animals, birds, cottages and lakes. I have pictures of interesting people doing interesting things. I have stacks of files and in each file are hundreds of pictures. The hard part is filing it all away so I can find it when I need it.


A big thanks to Jim LaMarche for answering my students questions.

Thank you Random House for providing the images.

Blog Tour

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012:

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012:

Friday, November 23rd, 2012: The Book Maven’s Haven

Saturday, November 24th, 2012:

Sunday, November 25th, 2012: {Eat the Book}

Monday, November 26th, 2012: Maestra Amanda’s Boohkshelf

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012:

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/26/2012


Be sure to visit Teach.Mentor.Texts, Jen and Kellee are the host of this wonderful meme.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel

By: Jeff Kinney

The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #7)

A Trip To The Bottom Of The World With Mouse

By: Frank Viva

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

Going Vintage
By: Lindsey Leavitt

Going Vintage

One Came Home

By: Amy Timberlake

One Came Home

The Grey King

By: Susan Cooper

The Grey King

Title Talk: Best Books Lists


I hope that everyone out in the kid lit world that loves books as much as I do will join Donalyn Books and me tonight at 8 PM EST for Title Talk. Title Talk is a twitter book club that will take place this evening using the hashtag #titletalk.

Our topic tonight is a fun one: best book lists. I am completely obsessed with book awards and book lists, so I am heading into tonight’s chat looking to broaden my book lists knowledge, and I hope to learn some creative ways to use these lists with my students.

If you are new to Twitter chats, please watch the video below. It does a great job of describing how to participate in Twitter chats and how they work. If you still have questions, please leave a comment and I’ll try and help you out before the big bad chat.

Newbery Interview: Adam Shaffer


Every Friday I interview a reader about the Newbery Medal. I ask them a series of questions around their thoughts of this amazing award.

I am very excited to interview Adam Shaffer on the Newbery Medal today.

Click on the image below to check out Adam’s site.

My questions are in red, Adam’s Responses are in black.

What is your favorite Newbery Medal winning book?

Bud, Not Buddy

What do you love about Bud, Not Buddy?

There isn’t a book by Christopher Paul Curtis that I don’t love. I think what I really like about Bud, Not Buddy is that it is very accessible for middle grade students (who doesn’t enjoy those “Rules and Things”?), but also has plenty of history. I’ve also seen Christopher Paul Curtis talk a couple of times, and hearing about authors’ writing processes always increases my appreciation for the story. Plus, it’s a great read aloud.

What is your earliest memory of the Newbery Medal?

I don’t really know when I first heard of the Newbery Medal. I know I read some Newbery winners in elementary school (Dear Mr. Henshaw; Mrs. Frisby), but I have no recollection of teachers or librarians referring to the award. I don’t think it was something I really thought much about until college, when my English-elementary education professor, Nancy Johnson, assigned us a Newbery project. I had Dicey’s Song. Even now, I don’t think about it much.

The Newbery Medal is …not the last word on quality children’s literature. It’s not even the first word. It’s just A word. Winning the Newbery Medal does not guarantee student (or teacher) enjoyment. It is important to the history of children’s literature, but it is not something I consider at all when selecting books for myself or my students (unless they’ve told me that they like “award winners”). And, while it’s nice for authors to receive recognition for their achievements, it doesn’t bother me when my favorite books don’t win. For me, the true measure of a book’s quality is how many of my students are loving it, and I’ll always recommend my favorites, regardless the shiny sticker on the front.

A bio from Adam: I teach 5th grade in Everson, Washington. I run a Guys Read Book Club for 4th and 5th grade boys. This is my 11th year teaching, but my first full year under the powerful, positive, encouraging influence of the #nerdybookclub, which has transformed my teaching and my life.


If you’d like to be featured in my Newbery Interview series please fill out the form in the link below.

Mock Caldecott Update


When my friend Mr. Schu and I started our little mock Caldecott project at the beginning of the month, I was super excited to see what our students thought of what we feel are 20 pretty amazing picture books. It has been a joy watching them fall in love with these books over the course of three weeks, like Mr. Schu and I have feel in love with them over the course of 2012.

The one thing that has surprised me about this little project is how much more I have fallen in love with some of these books.

Here’s a quick list of 5 books that I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with because of the work our classrooms are doing with these books.

A Home for Bird

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead is a one of those books that I wish I could read again for the first time. The first time I read it I was completely mesmerized.  Although I cannot reread it again for the first time, it has been a joy watching 52 fourth graders fall in love with Stead’s beautiful book.

Boy and Bot

For the last couple of weeks Mr. Schu’s students have Skyped with my classroom to talk mock Caldecott. A few students from each class share a book that they love, and why they love think it is an excellent picture book. Boy + Bot is a book that, without fail, is talked about each and every time. It’s fun to see that the students and librarian at Brook Forest love this book as much as the fourth graders and their teacher in Battle Creek.

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

Fifty Cents and a Dream was a book that I hadn’t read before we started this project. I am finding that this book is creating some of the most interesting conversations. Students are mesmerized with both the story and the illustrations. I am feeling very thankful that Mr. Schu picked this book to be a part of our project.

All my students love this book. Every. Single. One.

Dear Authors,

Book trailers work. My students were salivating the day I brought Cordell’s book into the classroom. After watching the trailer students wouldn’t stop asking me when we would get this book. It got the point that it was cutely annoying.

Your friend,

Mr. Sharp


If I have learned anything from this project it is that the picture book is: alive, powerful, and important.

Top 5 Middle Grade/Chapter Books of Quarter One


Last week I ran a post about the top 5 graphic novels, in terms of, circulation in my classroom. I’m back today with the category that warms my heart: middle grade fiction. The books on this list represent the books that have been the most popular in my fourth grade classroom up to this point.

Junie B. Jones, First Grader: Toothless Wonder

By: Barbara Park


Marty McGuire Digs Worms

By: Kate Messner



Capture the Flag

By: Kate Messner


Bigger Than a Bread Box

By: Laurel Snyder


The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

By: Tom Angleberger