My 5 Favorite Middle Grade Books of the First Quarter

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As we end the first quarter of the reading year I thought it would be fun to do a little reflecting on the books I’ve read so far this year. This week, while I’m on spring break, I’m going to try and write a few posts on my favorite 2013 books that I’ve read so far this year. Some of the books haven’t come out yet, but I think they are too good to leave off the list.

Hattie Ever After

By: Kirby Larson

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I am so thankful that Kirby Larson decided to tell more of Hattie’s story. Every time I read a Kirby Larson book I find myself rereading multiple passages in each chapter. Her writing is beautiful, storytelling masterful, and novels always blow my mind.

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The Center of Everything

By: Linda Urban

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When I finished Linda Urban’s The Center of Everything I wanted to immediately start over and read it again. The pressure of finishing the Newbery Challenge prevented me from doing that, but The Center of Everything will be the first book that I reread in 2013. This book is special.

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Every Day After

By: Laura Golden

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Every Day After is a beautiful book that I look forward to sharing with my students for years to come. A fourth graders told me that Every Day After didn’t feel like historical fiction to her. I asked her what it felt like. She told that it felt awesome. I think that historical fiction usually feels awesome, but I think I understand what she meant. It had a little bit of a Lions of Little Rock feel to me.

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Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

By: Liesl Shurtliff

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I’m not the world’s biggest fan of fantasy novels. I like them, but I tend to not love them as much as my Nerdy Book Club friends or my students. I’ve found that a lot of my favorite fantasy MG novels are the ones where I get real excited about trying to figure out the magic. I LOVED learning the rules of the magic in Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin. The two students in my class that have read Rump think that it is the second best book they have read this year (Ivan is hard to beat).

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Hold Fast

By: Blue Balliett

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Think The Mighty Miss Malone meets Wonder. Need I say more?

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I love making lists of books that I adore. The hardest part is trying to narrow down my choices. I know that I left some pretty distinguished books off my list, but that’s one of the best parts of making these lists. You never really know what you’re going to put on them until you start making them.

Ann Stampler Picture Book Tour

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I’m pretty excited to be participating in the Ann Stampler Picture Book Tour. I’ve decided to give you three reasons why you should read each book.

Up first: The Wooden Sword

  1. This book exposes students to cultures that may be different from their own.

  2. The poor man is a character that will spark a lot of great discussions.

  3. This book has a great authors note. Be sure to share it with young readers.

Not it is time to talk The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street

  1. The ending is so darn cute.

  2. It’s fun to read a great book for kids that doesn’t include kids as characters.

  3. You can never have too many “cat” books in your library.

Ann’s picture book website, www.annstampler.com/pb

Publisher Links

The Wooden Sword – http://www.albertwhitman.com/content.cfm/bookdetails/The-Wooden-Sword

The Cats on Ben Yehuda – http://www.karben.com/The-Cats-on-Ben-Yehuda-Street-Hardcover_p_613.html

Goodreads

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12420445-the-wooden-sword?ac=1

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16190362-the-cats-on-ben-yehuda-street?ac=1

Illustrators

Carol Liddiment http://www.childrensillustrators.com/illustrator-details/cliddiment/id=1067/

Francesca Carabelli http://francescacarabelli.ultra-book.com/

Blog Tour Schedule

Mon – March 18 – Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy

Tue – March 19 – Alethea at Read Now Sleep Later

Wed – March 20 – Gail at Nightengail Art

Thu – March 21 – Danielle at There’s a Book

Fri – March 22 – Wendy at Noodling with Words

Sat – March 23 – The Cats on Ben Yehuda Launch Party at Children’s Book World, Los Angeles

Mon – March 25 – Julie Rowan-Zoch

Tue – March 26 – Joanna at Miss Marple’s Musings

Wed – March 27 – Niki at Daydream Reader

Thu – March 28 – Cynthia at Teaching in Cute Shoes

Fri – March 29 – Colby at Sharpread

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My Journey to the Magic Tree House

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My 6-year-old son is a very good reader. He began reading at a very young age, and I feel very lucky that he loves reading as much as he does. Last year I wrote a blog post asking for book recommendations to help me start reading chapter books with him. I knew that he had the skills to take that leap, and I was excited to move to that phase of his reading life.

We tried one of the recommendations that I received last spring and it was a big fat flop. He had no interest reading the book by himself or with me. We tried another chapter book and had similar results. I decided not to push things. My son was reading all the time and he was loving what he was reading. I was not about to make reading a chore for my then 5-year-old.

Over the course of the next 12 months my son has read hundreds of books: picture books, graphic novels, informational, poetry, etc. What he had not read was a chapter book.

I was never worried about my son not reading chapter books, and I don’t think that it hurt him as a reader not reading them. Just because a reader can read something doesn’t mean that they should be forced to read text.

Last week my wife and my son started reading the first Magic Tree House book, Dinosaurs Before Dark. My son was mesmerized. He kept asking for us to read, “One more chapter.”

I was lucky enough to be able to read the end of the book with him. I’ll never forget how he shook with fear as the T-Rex approached Jack, or how his eyes filled with tears with Jack and Annie made it home safely. Over the course of the last handful of days we have made it through two Magic Tree House books, and I’m thinking that next week on spring break we’ll read a bunch more.

As I reflect on the last year of my son’s reading life, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I would have forced my son to read chapter books before we was “ready”. I guess I’ll never know, but what I do know is that my happy little reader is right where he needs to be.

I’m about to start my last day of school before spring break. I can’t wait to spend the day talking about books with my fourth graders. On more than one occasion today I’ll be talking with a student reading a graphic novel or a picture book, that could be reading a middle grade novel, that some may feel is more challenging. My job today is to value the choices of my young readers and find something in that text that I can use to help them grow as a reader.

Today is going to be awesome.

Blog Tour: A Day At The Lake

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My fourth graders were super excited when I informed them that they would have the opportunity to participate in the A Day At The Lake blog tour by interviewing authors  Stephanie Wallingford & Dawn Rynders.

Earlier this week we read and discussed A Day at the Lake and then the kids generated about 20 questions for the authors. We narrowed it down and this is what we ended up with.

What were the benefits/difficulties of co-authoring A Day At The Lake?

One of the benefits of co-authoring A Day At The Lake was getting to work on a creative and fun project with a really good friend.  We do quite a bit of laughing when we are working on a project and we also spend lots of time finding the right word to express each of our senses.  We ask questions like: What does it sound like when you run down a dock or row a boat?  How do you explain a loon’s call on the lake or what does an eagle sees as he flies overhead?  How many times does a stone skip when it’s thrown by a really good rock skipper?  Those are just a handful of things that we talked and scribbled notes down about and eventually put into our book.

Also, you probably do something called peer editing with your writing projects at school.  Writing with a co-author is like having a peer editor with you all the time.  You get to ask if they can think of a better word for something or if what you wrote draws a good picture for them.  They can also tell you when something needs to be more descriptive, more interesting, or more exciting.  We like the same kinds of books so we have similar tastes in how we like things to sound.

One of the hard things is that we each have three kids so we’re pretty busy working and being moms so it’s hard to find lots of time to work on projects.  We some times send our work back and forth by email, but we always get more done when we’re in the same place and by place I mean coffee shop!

How did you come up with the topic?

In Minnesota we have lakes all around us and there’s actually not very many picture books about kids going to lakes.  When you want to get a book published you want to have a subject matter that doesn’t already have lots and lots of books about that topic.  Also, we wanted a book that used real animals, birds and bugs that you would see at a lake.  As you can see in the book, the pictures are all really playful, but the animals all look quite realistic.  That was done on purpose so that young readers could learn about animals they might not know and then be able to recognize them when they see them in other pictures or books.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

We first pick a general topic and then we talk a little about the setting, the age of the kids, what will they be doing, and where we want the story to go.  A Day at the Lake was fairly easy because we didn’t worry about a plot line or character development.

From there we made a list of things that you do at the lake and decided which ones would be the most interesting to our audience, which in this case is young children.

Then we talk through all those options and write down adjectives and sounds that describe each activity.  We close our eyes and just explain to one another what it feels like row a boat, jump in a cool lake or discover an interesting bug.  We go back and forth writing down phrases and words that we like. It’s a little like fixing a puzzle made up of words and ideas.

After taking lots of notes, words turn into phrases and phrases turn into complete thoughts.  When we have a whole page of complete thoughts, we highlight the best ones and eliminate the ones that don’t sound as interesting or might be hard to illustrate.  We put things in an order that makes sense and slowly it all weaves itself together to become a story.

What makes A Day At The Lake special to you?

It’s our first book!  Having a book published has been a long time goal for each of us, so it’s great to have gotten the opportunity to accomplish that.  We both also have great memories of going to the lake when we were kids and still love to take advantage of the beautiful lakes that are all around us here is Minnesota.

Do you have any recommendations of great books that you think we should read?

Dawn: My family has loved reading the Guardian of Ga’hoole series by Kathryn Lasky.  We loved owls before and now we’re a little obsessed with them.  Also, I’m a fan of nearly anything written by Richard Peck.  We love to listen to them on long road trips, and his humor is good for both children and adults.  Last but not least, Sharon Creech writes some wonderful books: Walk Two Moons, Ruby Holler, Chasing Redbird, and The Wanderer.

It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate

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It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
By: Don Tate
Illustrations by: R. Gregory Christei

If I were to create a list about all of the reasons that I love kid lit, I would have a very very long list. Somewhere near the top of list you might see something like this:

Reason # 131 as to why I LOVE Kid Lit

Picture book biographies of amazing people I have never heard of.

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It Jes’ Happened by Don Tate would fit perfectly in this category. Before reading this book I had never hear of Bill Traylor, a man that we went from a boy born in slavery to man that began drawing at the the age of 85.

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I love learning history from picture book biographies, and for me one of the most fascinating times in our countries history is from the end of the Civil War until The Great Depression. I am very interested in what life was like for people that transitioned from slavery to freedom.

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I don’t always read the afterward at the end of picture books biographies, but I found Bill Traylor’s life so intriguing that I not only read the afterward, but I also spend some time online research Bill Traylor.

Today I’m feeling very thankful thank Don Tate shared Bill Traylor’s story.

Bill Traylor
Blue Man with Umbrella and Suitcase, 1939
pencil and tempera on cardboard
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Children’s Choice and Teen Choice Book Awards

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My fourth grade students and I are huge fans of book awards. We followed the Newbery and Caldecott closely, I shared with the m the Schu-Jonker Top 20, and they each counted how many Nerdy Book Club winners they had read. I’m super excited to teach them about Children’s Book Week. They will be super pumped to find out that they get to vote for a book to win a national award.

For more information on Children’s Book Week please click the image below.

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I’m really looking forward to sharing Mr. Schu’s post of resources for each of the books.

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