The Caldecott Challenge

I am very excited to be participating in Laura and Anna’s Caldecott challenge.

My goal is to read all of the Caldecott winners and honor books. I hope to complete the challenge in 2012. Unlike the Newbery challenge that I am co-hosting with Mr. Schu, I do not plan on reading Caldecott books in order. Most of the Caldecott books are not at my public library, so I will be reading them in the order I receive them from inter-library loan.

I’m not sure how I will blog about this challenge, but I’m excited to start reading!

For more information on challenge check out Laura’s post: Ready, Set, Go – #nerdcott

Feel free to join the challenge by linking up at LibLaura5


The Newbery Challenge – 1922-Present

I am very excited to be co-hosting and participating in The Newbery Challenge with teacher-librarian Mr. Schu. This stress free challenge is explained in detail by Mr. Schu in the video below.


My goal is to read every Newbery winner in chronological order over the next two years. I will be posting short video reviews for each title.


For more challenge information please click the image below.

Click here to download a Newbery Challenge badge.

Awesome 2011 Middle Grade Novels

I really struggled narrowing my list of awesome MG books to 10. This list could just as easily been 20, but in order to be fair to picture books I decided to keep it at 10. I decided to let my friends tell you why these books are awesome. Enjoy!


The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm

Elizabeth Bird

A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day

Franki Sibberson

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

The Brain Lair

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

John Schu

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathon Auxier

Michael Scotto

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznik

Kellee Moye

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

Me and Jen Vincent

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Mr. Sharp’s Darth Paper Party

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Abby the Librarian

The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

Mary Ann Scheuer

Ten Picture Books I loved in 2011

I’m not sure how to honor the books I loved most in 2011. I’ve decided to just name some of my favorites, and write ONE sentence about each one of them. The ten favorites were hard to pick, but what was even harder was only writing once sentence about each book. Here is what I came up with.

Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet by Paul Thurlby

The amazing pictures in this book make it my all time favorite alphabet book.


Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

I am not a huge fan of nonfiction anything, but this book captured my heart with unforgettable illustrations.

You Will be My Friend by Peter Brown

I just want to be Lucy’s friend.


Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

I read this book at least 75 times to my daughter because she absolutely this book.

Me..Jane by Patrick McDonnell

The last page turn still takes my breath away.


Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly

My three year old daughter is so much like Prudence.

The Book With a Hole by Herve Tullet

I could have gone with Press Here, but I don’t want people to forget about this brilliant book.

Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

I fell in love with this little cloud trying to find its place in the sky.


Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

You know a book is great when your students start clapping uncontrollably when you finish.


Little Chicken’s Big Day by Katie and Jerry Davis

“I hear you cluckin’, Big Chicken,” was stuck in my head for weeks after reading this book for the first time.


Hound Dog True: Part 5

I am spending the month of December talking about one of my favorite 2011 books, Hound Dog True, with my friend Jen from Teach Mentor Texts.

This is our fifth and final post on Hound Dog True by Linda Urban.

Hound Dog True: Part 1

Hound Dog True: Part 2

Hound Dog True: Part 3

Hound Dog True: Part 4

Jen and I had this conversation in a Google Doc. Her text is pink and mine is black.

I want to talk about Linda Urban’s writing.I have it on my list to talk about her writing, too!

After rereading Hound Dog True, I am going to have to say that I think that it is the best written book of 2011. It might not be my favorite, although it is close.

It feels like Linda put tremendous effort into writing each and every word in this book. I cannot find a wasted: paragraph, sentence, or word anywhere in the book. It is as close to perfect as I have read in a long time.

One thing that I am going to be sure to point out to my student when I read this book aloud is going to be Linda’s use of specific actions in her writing.  I often talk with my students about using specific actions in their writing, and I model it constantly, but Linda Urban is a master. The actions of her characters, often subtle, paint an amazing picture.

An example of what I’m talking about (I believe you call it snatch of text on your blog):

It is just dark enough outside for Mattie to see her reflection in the window. She tries smiling at it. Big smiles. Little Smiles. Stretched-tight smiles like Quincy wears. Makes her looked worried, that last one. Mattie shifts her gaze past the window glass to the sky. The moon sits silent by the treetops, like a schoolyard kid hoping someone will ask her to play.

I’ve never used the term “specific actions”. By that, do you mean that there is a purpose for everything that character does? I’m thinking of how the story is about Mattie and her growth as a character by developing her self-confidence and not being to shy when it comes to interacting with other people. BUT, from the beginning, Uncle Potluck tells Mattie he talks to the moon and the moon talks back. It doesn’t make sense until the end. In the end, what it means is that if you tell or share any piece of you (not necesarily with the moon) that you feel that recognition and validity of that statement and it resonates within you (so it feels like the moon talking back). At the beginning it seems like that advice is only for Mattie and that it’s Mattie’s story but when I stopped to think about this it really applied to many of the characters.  

Mattie has to talk and open up to Quincy to become her friend. Mama has to open up to Mattie to share why they have moved so much. Quincy has to open up to Mattie to share her insecurities (which helps Mattie trust her). Quincy also has to open up to her aunt…which doesn’t officially happen, and this might be because her aunt isn’t really receptive to this). Uncle Potluck and the principal even has to be honest with each other. And my favorite is that Mattie has to tell Uncle Potluck how sorry she is and he tells her the same.

It seems like it’s just a story about a really shy girl but it’s so much more than that on so many different levels. I’m always amazed at how authors are able to weave in all these stories and make it seem effortless.

What I noticed most about Urban’s writing, is how she combines words. I haven’t been able to find a specfiic term for this…we should really ask Jeff Anderson but I call them compound adjectives or compound verbs.  Did you notice that Linda Urban puts two words together with a hyphen to create a hyphenated adjective:

p.1 – holding the ladder “two-hand steady”
p. 12 – she explains she takes “something shiny-silver out of her bureau” when she talks about her silver notebook
p. 120 – “Miss Sweet’s glass-shatter laugh”

She even makes compound verbs:

p. 21 – when Star crumples up Mattie’s notebook page she’s “fist-crunching Mattie’s story page”
p. 84 – When Mattie is vacuuming – she “zoom-zips the vacuum under chairs”

Your snatch of text even has one: “stretched-tight smiles”.

I have been a big fan of hyphenating words like these ever since high school. I can remember writing notes to my best friend and making up long strings of hyphenated words. It is so creative and imaginative. I think by doing this she also makes her writing focused and specific. She doesn’t use words or phrases that are commonly over-used. She’s making up her own words.

Talking about this kind of writing reminds me of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. That book seemed so intentional, too. Intentional in a way that the reader has no idea how significant everything is and then you get to the end and it all just falls into place and you didn’t even realize how brilliant it was. It takes your breath away.  It makes me happy that you have read When You Reach Me and gave it 5 stars on GoodReads just like I did. Did you know we have 91% of our books in common? That’s crazy-awesome.

That is funny that I use the term “specific-actions” and you haven’t heard it used. It is something that Lucy Calkins uses a lot in her Units of Study writing books. I just love how Linda helped me to see every single little action that Mattie was doing.

I never noticed the hyphenated words. Thanks for pointing them out. I LOVE THEM! I’ll be looking for them more in the near future. I was going to listen to A Crooked Kind of Perfect, but I might have to read it now to see if Linda uses them in that book as well.

I think this book has a real shot to win the Newbery. The more I picture the judges reading these books over and over, I just can’t help but think that this book will be able to stand tall against the others.  When you reread a book, you often begin to see its flaws. When I reread Hound Dog True, I was looking for flaws, and I just couldn’t find them.

I’ve read Calkins but not that book! I went through junior high and high school with reading and writing workshop. In college, I remember reading her workshop books for a presentation I had to do for a class. It seemed so natural to me.

I do have a question for you, since you have read it multiple times now. Did you notice that Urban doesn’t describe Mattie’s physical characteristics? At one point I was trying to picture Mattie and realized there wasn’t really a description. I was thinking of a student I had who was insanely shy. She was very naive for her age and wore bows in her hair that seemed too childish for her age. If anyone asked her a question she would shrink and her eyes would go wide like she was scared to answer. It was interesting to me that even when Star teases her it has nothing to do with her physically but the fact that she likes to writes.

I did not notice that about her physical characteristics.Holy cow! I just realized how Star teasing Mattie really shows Star’s insecurities. Is that another example of a specific action? Urban had to have intended to show how oftentimes bullies are insecure themselves but It was so natural I didn’t even realize until now.

I don’t see any flaws either. This is such a complex book that will speak to readers on their level. I love the message of having to be scared to be brave. That can apply to anyone anywhere at some point in their lives. For those who are like Mattie, this book can be a message of hope and a chance to identify with someone like them. For those who aren’t as shy as Mattie, this book is a message of empathy and compassion to see someone else’s perspective and still a message of hope when they do encounter something that requires them to be brave.

Thanks for picking this book, Colby! It was amazing to read along with you and discuss. I got so much more out of the book this way! It’s a cool experience to be part of.

Jen, it was my pleasure. Thanks for talking about a 2012 Newbery book with me:)

Mr. Sharp Loves Babymouse

This morning one of my students made me this wonderful Babymouse Christmas ornament. Our classroom loves everything Babymouse and everything Jenni Holm.


My interview with Jenni at NCTE.


Real Men Read Babymouse!!


This song has been stuck in my head all week.

Hound Dog True: Part 4

I am spending the month of December talking about one of my favorite 2011 books, Hound Dog True, with my friend Jen from Teach Mentor Texts.

Hound Dog True: Part 1

Hound Dog True: Part 2

Hound Dog True: Part 3

Jen and I had this conversation in a Google Doc. Her text is pink and mine is black.

This next part I am so excited to talk about! Mattie is starting to become friends with Quincy and since she is so super shy, it’s really hard for her to open up and trust someone. Earlier in the school year, I learned about three essential elements to trust: sincerity, reliability, and competency. Since then, I have thought about people who I trust and how these three elements are present in relationships with people I trust. I’ve also been able to examine relationships with people I don’t trust and realize where the breakdown is.

Mattie is just starting to trust Quincy when she comes home and finds her notebook out on her bed. She thinks Quincy read her notebook and she’s so upset. At the same time, Quincy sneaks out with her aunt and when her aunt asks if they should invite Mattie along, Quincy doesn’t say anything but they leave and Mattie realizes that means Quincy didn’t want her along.

Trust is such a complicated feeling. I think it’s so hard to trust someone and at the same time so easy to lose trust in someone’s trust once you have given it…and even harder yet to be able to trust a person once they have betrayed your trust.

Poor Mattie is finally taking steps toward making a friend and then she finds out she can’t really trust Quincy. She can’t rely on her not to go through her things and read her notebook and she realizes Quincy doesn’t sincerely want to be her friend if she doesn’t want to invite Mattie to go with her and her aunt.

In general, I’m a very trusting person. I think I give people my trust easily until they do something to cause me to start to distrust them. Have you ever had someone betray your trust? How did you deal with it?

I wouldn’t say that I have had anyone blatantly betray my trust. My circle of people that I trust and let in is very small, so I don’t give many people the opportunity to hurt me. I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of people that I call my friends, but the people that are my friends tend to be very close friends.

Some of the best advice my father ever gave me was that it is better to have a couple of really close friends, than to have lots of “kind of” friends. He modeled this for me growing up, by keeping his circle small and close.  He is one of the happiest people that I have ever met, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that he gives his time to people that he loves and trusts completely.

It was very interesting for me to meet you and some of our other Twitter friends at NCTE. I did not have the issues that I usually have with letting people into my circle. Surrounding myself at NCTE with people that love teaching, kids, and books made it so much easier to connect than it is for me in my normal world.

It was really cool to see how people who are friends on Twitter could so easily translate to being friends in real life. It wasn’t awkward at all, it just seemed normal at NCTE. Honestly, it felt like a reunion of friends from college. Even though we were meeting for the first time, it was like we had known each other and had been friends for years. I don’t think all online relationships can work this way since you don’t always officially know who is on the other side of that screen name, but so many of my friends on Twitter had actually met each other in real life so it was easy to feel safe with these people.

Jonker and Schu’s Top 20

When you are a 30ish year old guy that loves kid lit, two people that you look up two are John Schu and Travis Jonker. They run two of the best blogs on line: 100 Scope Notes and Watch.Connect.Read. They are lovers of kid lit, and they flat out know their stuff.

I have been looking forward to their annual list of top 20 for a long time. Once Thanksgiving rolled around, I started trying to guess which books would make their list.

Watching them roll out five top book a day last week was heaven. Today, I’m going to take a quick look at my reading and their list.

1. Overall Books Read

It was Meat Loaf that said, “Two out of three aint bad.” When the list came out I had read 17 out of 20 books. Meat Loaf says 67% isn’t bad, so I’m pretty happy with my 85%. I am now up to 90% after reading Amelia Lost by Candice Fleming yesterday.

2. My Goodreads Star Rating

I am always a little worried that when a book list comes out that I will have either hated the books on the list, or that I will have not heard of books on the list. Thankfully, this year I am happy to say that I LOVED all the books on John and Travis’s list.

We’ll use Goodreads to look at my star ratings of the books I’ve read from their list.

5 Stars: 16 books

4 Stars: 2 books

Holy smokes!

3. The 10%

Time to look at the two books I haven’t read from the list.

Wonderstruck-I’m going to be honest. I am disappointed in myself for not reading this book. It came out at the absolute worst possible time for me as a reader. Wonderstruck came out right when I had to start reading for Cybils, and I pretty much blocked out all other novels for a couple of months. Lately, I have been frantically trying to check this book out from the library, but it is never available. When I saw it was #1 on the list, I ordered it. The book is on the way.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True (Knights’ Tales, #3)-This is the only book on the list that I was surprised by. I just don’t know that much about it. I had seen the book come through on my Goodreads scroll every once in a while, but I hadn’t heard much chatter about it on Twitter. I’m excited to give this book a read over holiday break. It is waiting for me on hold at my local public library.

If you’d like a quick way to see which books you’ve read from the list, I’ve created a Goodreads shelf:

I’m looking forward to next December and another Schu-Jonker top 20.

Hound Dog True: Part 3

I am spending the month of December talking about one of my favorite 2011 books, Hound Dog True, with my friend Jen from Teach Mentor Texts.

Hound Dog True: Part 1

Hound Dog True: Part 2

Jen and I had this conversation in a Google Doc. Her text is pink and mine is black.

I was thinking about how hard it was to ever admit how crushed I was after my spelling bee experience. I did not want to tell anyone that story because it was so humiliating for me. Now, it’s not that big of a deal but I felt so ashamed of spelling bicycle wrong for a long time.

When I read the part about the girl named Star reading Mattie’s notebook, I felt like I was right there with all the hanging-up coats beside Mattie as she watched Star with her notebook and didn’t know what to do. I’ve had that feeling of being so distraught but not being able to say anything. Just being frozen. It reminds me of when someone is mean and then hours later you think of the perfect come back and you wish you could go back in time and respond how you want to respond. I can’t think of a specific time that this has happened, but I know it has.

I like how Mattie says even though it’s only Star saying “og-ree” to her, just that one word, it still counts as bullying. I think that’s important for adults to recognize and for kids to recognize, too. Sometimes we don’t think about our actions and even something so teeny, tiny little can still make someone feel so small. This reminds me of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. All those little negative interactions can add up to make someone feel so horrible about him or herself. Plus, everyone perceives things differently. What may seem trivial to one person is the opposite to someone else.

A few weeks ago a classroom teacher shared a bullying activity with me. Students are asked to take out a piece of paper and crumple it up, squish it as tight as can be, stomp on it and then open it back up and look at the piece of paper. Now imagine that piece of paper represents a person. It shows how when we bully someone it makes an impact on them – that piece of paper is still a piece of paper, but it doesn’t look the same after someone has attacked it and it can never go back to the way it was before. That’s the same way with a person, it may not seem like one word that you say to a person can make a difference, but that one word can stick with them forever and does change who they are.

I think reading Hound Dog True, or even just the parts about Star and Mattie and doing the crumpled-up-paper activity would be a great way to start a discussion about bullying. We need to recognize that there are different levels of bullying but that none of it acceptable.

That piece of paper activity sounds intense, but I guess bullying can be pretty intense.  It is nice to see a book portray bullying in non lunch money stealing sort of way. I think that people on the outside have a picture of what bullying is in their mind, and they don’t realize that bullying like what took place in this book is a huge issue.  The type of bullying that Mattie faced, I feel, is also harder to identify and stop.

I wasn’t ever really bullied in school. I feel very lucky. How about you?

I wasn’t bullied either but there was one girl who was always super mean. I have no idea why this girl didn’t like me, but it seemed like ever since our elementary schools combined in 4th grade, she just never liked me. All through high school she was just rude. I’m not a fan of people who aren’t polite. I’m not saying she had to be my best friend, but she didn’t have to be rude. She would make unkind comments or make weird faces and was just really snotty.

There is a teacher at one of the schools I work at now who acts like I don’t even exist when he sees me in the hall. It might be just him and I passing each other in the hallway and he acts like I’m not even in the hall. I have no idea why it’s so hard for him to even acknowledge that I exist but it reminds me of that same girl from when I was in school. I try not to let it bother me now but sometimes I find myself just wondering why. If I had done something awful to him, I would get it but I can’t think of anything I have done to warrant that kind of treatment.

It’s weird, look how these people can make me feel icky without even having to do anything. Just by ignoring me they make me feel inferior.  

I find it interesting how adults deal with bullies differently than kids. You feel icky and maybe inferior, but you don’t react the same way that Mattie does to being bullied.  I guess it helps that as adults we get to have a little more control over the people we Internet with. I can’t imagine being a 10 year old and feeling tortured by having to spend 7 hours a day in a classroom with someone that makes your feel so sad.

Calli Be Gold by Michele Weber Hurwitz

We’ve all read books about a superstar athlete. We’ve seen parents that put too much pressure on kids to succeed in athletes, and we’ve read about overworked parents. Calli Be Gold has all of that, but what makes this novel special, is how Michele Weber Hurwitz shows what it’s like to be in a family of superstars, when you don’t feel super.

Calli Gold is an 11 year old quiet kid in a very loud family. In a family where the modo is: Be Gold, Calli can’t seem to find her place. She’s tried sports and acting, but she has no interest (or skill) in either.  Every night when her family sits down for dinner and her dad ask each kid what they accomplished that day. Calli is always the odd kid out. Her brother and sister are always out doing extraordinary things, and Calli is just living a life of ordinary.

I really enjoyed reading about Calli, and her quest to find herself.  I think this is a book that both kids and parents could benefit from reading. Too often, kids are pushed to live our the dreams of their parents, and this book does an excellent job addressing that issue.  It also does a wonderful job showing how kids can be successful in different ways. Calli is nothing like her superstar brother and sister, and I think that a lot of kids would benefit from reading her story.

While reading Callie Be Gold I thought a lot of the books Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner and Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. In Sugar and Ice Claire deals with trying to figure out if figure skating is her dream. Her parents are a lot different from Calli’s, and it would be interesting to talk with kids that read both to look at how much easier Claire’s parents made things on her than Calli’s. The shyness lives inside Callie made me think a lot of Mattie from Hound Dog True.  I think these books could really help a child that is shy, understand and accept their shyness, and not see it as something wrong with them.

Don’t let the cover to Calli Be Gold fool you. This is not a silly teeny bopper book, it is a book that will get to the hear of a lot of kid readers.