Trifecta: My Students LOVE The Chicken Problem

I love celebrating books with my pal Mr. John Schu and the Nerdy Book Club. Today we celebrate The Chicken Problem. This book is the bomb. I hope you get a chance to read it to kids.

Be sure to check out Jen and Billy’s interview of each other over at Nerdy Book Club.

Mr. Schu premiered the trailer earlier this week. He’s back today with the thoughts that his students had about the trailer.

Now it’s my turn. Well is was suppose to be my turn, but my students pretty much took over the review and the interview. They really enjoyed asking Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson questions.

How did you come up with the idea for The Chicken Problem?

We love chickens! We find them hilarious, and fun to draw!

What inspired you to be a writer/illustrator and what would you do if you were not authors?

Jen grew up loving Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strips, and decided early on that she wanted to be an artist just like him.

Billy used to write when he was really young too. He loves making stuff up!

If they weren’t authors, Jen would do some sort of work with animals, and Billy would want to be a jazz musician.

Is the setting in The Chicken Problem based on a place that you have been? Have you ever lived on a farm?

 No, we’ve never lived on farms. Not even close! But we loved imagining it!

Did you have any pets as a child that inspired the cat and the pig?

Jen’s Cat Sydney inspired Cat. She would sit at the computer working, and Sydney would sit at her feet causing trouble in a lovable way.

Do you like solving problems like Peg? How would you have solved Peg’s problem?

We love solving problems! But while Peg solves every problem she faces, we haven’t solved every problem on our list…at least not yet!

What is your favorite type of pie?

 Billy’s is pecan, and so is Jen’s!

What were your favorite books as a kid? What are three books you think we should read?

Billy’s was Yertle the Turtle. Jen’s was Fox in Socks. Three books you should read are Yertle the Turtle, Fox in Socks, and The Chicken Problem!

Did where you grow up help you to come up with writing topics?

 We both moved a lot and had a lot of difference experiences, which contributed to our work.

Are you going to write any more books? If so, what?

Definitely! Maybe more books for Peg and Cat?…


Now it’s time to share my students reaction to The Chicken Problem. I asked them to tell me in one or two sentences why they liked the book.

  • I liked the part where the chickens went crazy.

  • I loved when the chickens got out.

  • I liked when they solved the problem using a wheelbarrow.

  • When she was carrying the chickens in a wheelbarrow.

  • When the chickens got loose!

  • I liked the part when she was talking really fast and yelling. It made the book fun and exciting.

  • I liked the part when she hugged the cat.


Newbery Challenge: It’s Like This, Cat!

I’m sorry about my messy kitchen. Yikes! I didn’t realize it was this bad until I checked to make sure the video uploaded correctly. I should probably keep this short so that I can get this kitchen straightened up (If you look close you can see my prom picture on the fridge).

Be sure to check out Mr. Johnny Schu’s Newbery video on his blog: Watch.Connect.Read.

Reading Along I-94: Fake Mustache, Part 4

Each month, my friend Jen Vincent and I pick a book to discuss on my blog. This month it was Jen’s turn to pick. I was very exciting when she told me that we would be reading Fake Mustache. I am a big Tom Angleberger fan.

Check out our previous Fake Mustache discussions.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

JEN: We’ve come to the end of the month and our discussions of Fake Mustache. It’s been so much fun talking about the wild and craziness of this book. We talked about the beginning and we’ve talked about the random things Tom scatters throughout the book and how it might even become a writing strategy to try. I think for our last chat it just makes sense to talk about the endings in Fake Mustache. Not necessarily the ending of the book, but the great endings of some of the chapters.

COLBY: Sounds good to me.

JEN: I really noticed how the endings were so clever! Here are some of my favorites…I tried to pick ones that don’t give tooooo much away and I didn’t include some of the fun ones at the very end.

Chapter 2 – “But I had never bothered to go into Chauncey’s Big & Small, Short & Tall before. That’s the first place Casper wanted to go that fateful day.” p. 7

Chapter 3 – “I had to admit, Casper did look a little bit more like a short man-about-town than a slightly tall nerdy seventh grader, while I still looked like a slightly short nerdy seventh grader. Maybe I should have bought a dusty hat.” p. 12

Chapter 4 – “‘All right, fine,’ I said, and gave him the ten bucks.
This, of course, was a terrible, terrible mistake. A mistake that would change the course of history. But please, please believe me that if I had known what that ten dollars would do, I never would have given it to Casper. Never.” p. 15


Chapter 12 – “”Did you do it or not?!?’ I yelled after him.
He didn’t answer.” p. 38

Chapter 14 – “That’s when our front door was knocked open by a battering ram and fast-food restaurant employees burst through, point at me and yelling, ‘There he is! The Evil One! Grab him!’” p. 45

Chapter 15 – “Nobody can catch me when I’m on my bike.” p. 47

Chapter 28 – “‘Where’s my Jello-O?’ he snarled.” p. 84

Chapter 30 – “The bodybuilders applauded wildly.” p. 93

Chapter 31 – “I looked at my watch. It was already 3:30. I had been a girl for more than seven hours!” p. 96

Chapter 46 – “I hit the surface hard and kept going down. It was like diving in a pool, except instead of a splash it made a big burping sound as it sucked us under.” p. 142

COLBY: It’s fun to read these endings out of context.  I am thinking how fun it would be to read these chapter endings to my fourth graders and ask them what they think the book will be about.

A good ending to me makes me feel something. Good endings make me laugh, smile, cry, wonder, feel nervous, and all sorts of other emotions. I think that Angleberger does a wonderful job of getting his readers thinking and feeling with his endings. Did I mention that I’ve cried my way through the endings of all three of his Origami Yoda books?

JEN: Did you really? I don’t think I cried in any of the Origami Yoda books! And I am Mrs. Weepy-pants when it comes to books! I’m the most sentimental when it comes to the original Origami Yoda, but no tears. Usually a book that does have me completely destroyed by tears is an amazing book. I love books that really grab my heart right out of my chest.

What I really love about a book is when I read the last page and close the book and I just have to sigh. My eyes-closed, head-shaking sighs are for the great books. I can’t help but marvel at great books when I’m done. They fill a tiny place in my heart and make me feel a little more complete because I read them. Is it weird to say that books complete me? I really do believe that we learn and grow as people from reading so I guess it makes sense that books make us just a bit more complete…not that we could necessarily be completely complete because we’re always and continually growing…but you know what I mean (I think).

Once I finish a story, it’s like the book weighs more in my hands because reading and knowing the story gives it more value. It’s extra special after I know the beauty it holds within its pages. There’s something super exciting about a book that I haven’t read before…it’s the curiosity over what the book has in store for the reader. But it’s pretty amazing to hold a book I have read – or hug it, I usually hug books that I love after I read them – and know what it has in store for another reader. It’s hard to contain myself once I’ve read a book and want to share it.

Was that a little TMI about me marveling over books? I feel mega-Nerdy-Book-Club right now!

COLBY: You didn’t cry at the end of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda when Tommy went out on a limb and asked Sara to dance?  Crazy.

I have no problem saying that books complete me. None at all. And yes, you are mega-Nerdy-Book-Club.

Interview: Dan Santat

I am very excited to be celebrating 3 Ninja Pigs with Mr. Schu and Nerdy Book Club.

Be sure to head on over to Mr. Schu’s blog to read his interview with author Corey Rosen Schwartz.

Now that you know all about Corey, please head on over to the Nerdy Book Club and check out her Nerdy Book Club post.

Now it’s my turn. I am so excited to have the opportunity to interview kid lit rock star Dan Santat. My questions are in red and his responses in black. Enjoy!

Please booktalk The Three Ninja Pigs in fewer than 140 characters.

The Three Ninja Pigs is the story of the Three Little Pigs meets Steven Segal, The Karate Kid, and Enter the Dragon

You and Corey Rosen Schwartz are a perfect match. What were your first thoughts when you saw the story that she had written?

I immediately felt like it was a perfect fit for me. The story had the same energy of Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) and I could already clearly envision every image in my head. My plate was already full for the year before I accepted the job, but in the end I made time for it and I think it turned out to be the best illustrated picture book I worked on this year.

Are you most like Pig One, Pig Two, or Pig Three?

I’m definitely pig three. I always have to see things to the end. When I was a kid I spent seven years earning my black belt in Shotokan karate and there were definitely times I felt like I wanted to quit, but I stuck with it. Sometimes, this discipline can work against me. There are moments when I go to a restaurant and I’ll decide to experiment and order a new dish only to realize it’s just awful. The problem with me is that I’ll finish that awful bowl of food just to teach myself a lesson to never make such a bad decision ever again. I’ve hated watching Grey’s Anatomy for years now (long after my wife stopped watching it with me) and for some reason I HAVE to know what happens to these awful characters. I HATE GREY’S ANATOMY! WHY AM I STILL DOING THIS TO MYSELF!??!?!

What are some of your favorite fractured fairy tales?

“The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” and “Stinky Cheese Man” by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith made me want to get into children’s publishing. They are the kings.

Picture books are…

….Extremely underrated in difficulty to write. The task of boiling down a metaphor into an interesting story that’s usually under a thousand words while still maintaining the simplicity of the message is already a tough challenge. Then add the additional challenge of filling that book with illustrations that are supposed to tell more of the story. The story that lies in between the lines of text. Then try to make those two tasks speak to the five year old child in you that existed years ago, and do it well.

Reading is…

…the first step from becoming a child and on to becoming a self thinking individual. In different stages in your life books mean different things to different people, but I think the one thing almost everyone can say is that the first thing they ever read was a picture book. Ask yourself what was the first book you read and I bet you know off the top of your head. Mine was “Danny the Dinosaur” by Syd Hoff. As an adult you probably don’t remember the feelings that go through your head of that moment you were consciously aware that you were reading for the first time, but I can remember it like it was yesterday. It’s not so much reading your very first word that makes you a reader, it’s the act of reading whole entire sentences that makes someone fully aware that they are a reader. It’s easy to forget because it’s like a switch and one day you just get it. The day you learn to read is a miraculous day that’s all thanks to picture books.

Mr. Sharp, you should have asked me about…

… The time I hung out with Rhea Perlman and Danny Devito at their Malibu Beach home when my wife and I were suddenly introduced to George Clooney. (True story. See “Otto Undercover”) Or maybe my new picture book I’m writing/illustrating over at Little,Brown called “Beekle” (working title) or my new graphic novel I’m writing/illustrating over at Scholastic called (Can’t tell you just yet)

Ivy + Bean Blog-a-Bration: 4 Reasons to Read Aloud Ivy + Bean to 4th Grade

I think that Ivy + Bean makes a great read aloud in fourth grade. Even though some of my students walk in to class reading books at a “higher level” than Ivy + Bean, I feel that reading aloud Ivy + Bean to fourth graders can be super awesome for these 4 reasons.

Nine Books in the Series

With the release of Ivy and Bean Make the rules the series is now nine books strong. If I read the first book in the series, chances are many of my fourth graders will read the whole darn thing. That gives them a couple of weeks reading about characters that they fell in love with during the read aloud.

Cover Girls

I think that it is important for the boys in my class to see that books with girls on the cover can be awesome. I’m a boy, and when I was young I didn’t want much to do with books with a girl on the cover (thank God for Charlotte’s Web). I want my boys to see that books with girls on the cover can be awesome, and I want girls to see that books with boys on the cover can be awesome.

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Ivy and Bean are very different from each other, yet they manage to make great friends. That is a lesson that I think I will be trying to help kids see for as long as I am a teacher. If a kid can see the great friendship these two characters are able to develop and maintain for nine books they may start to internalize that and apply it to the relationships they have inside and outside of class.

Short and Sweet

It isn’t super long. I like for my early 4th grade read alouds to be less than 150 pages. This allows me to get in and out of a handful of texts quickly, which builds up our shared reading experiences early in the school year.

Chronicle Books is giving away a copy of Ivy + Bean (book 7) as well as a sets of Ivy + Bean mini-notes. How cool is that?
Rules for the Giveaway
1. The giveaway will run from September 26 to 11:59 PM on September 28.
2. You must be at least 13.
3. Please pay it forward.
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The winner of the giveaway will be entered to win the grand prize giveaway from Chronicle Books.

A complete set of Ivy and Bean hardcover books signed by Annie Barrows
1 Ivy and Bean Paper Doll Play Set
1 Ivy and Bean Button Factory
1 Ivy and Bean READ Poster signed by Annie Barrows
 Set of Ivy and Bean Silly Bandz
Set of Ivy and Bean stickers

Coquette Maman
In the Pages
Kid Lit Frenzy
Media Darlings
One Page to the Next
Roundtable Reviews for Kids
Ruth Ayres Writes
The Children’s Book Review
The Family That Reads Together
The O.W.L.
There’s A Book
Van Meter Library Voice
Watch. Connect. Read.

Interview: Jeramey Kraatz

Any day that I get to celebrate books and authors with The Nerdy Book Club and Mr. Schu is a good day. Today is one of those days. Today on Nerdy Book Club Jeramey Kraatz writes a beautiful post about his life as a reader. On Watch.Connect.Read Mr. Schu features some sweet Jeramey Kraatz resources, and here on sharpread I interview Jeramey.

Check out Jeramey’s Nerdy Book Club post:

Check out the resources Mr. Schu has put together.

I had a blast coming up with questions to ask Jeremy. I can’t wait to share his responses with my students.

If one of my fourth grade readers came up to you and said, “Could you please tell me about your book in 3 sentences?” What would you say?

Alex Knight is a twelve-year-old boy who can move things with his mind. He’s a fourth-generation member of The Cloak Society, a secret group of supervillains his parents now help lead, so he’s got a LOT to live up to. On his first official mission, however, he ends up saving the life of a junior superhero, and from there Alex starts to wonder if there’s more to the world than what his parents have been telling him.

Alex has some pretty sweet telekinetic powers in The Cloak Society. If you could have any super power for one day, which super power would you pick and how would you spend your day?

I’ve been trying to come up with a final answer to this question most of my life! I guess if I only had one day, I’d want the power to stop time. This is totally selfish, but I could set up shop in the local gourmet market between the cheese and dessert sections and just plow through my to-read list and write all the things I want to write. And I could visit all the secret, roped-off places in museums and fancy libraries you’re not allowed to go in…the possibilities are endless.

Or I’d want to fly. I could definitely just pick flying.

In your Nerdy Book Club post today you talk about your relationship with comics. A lot of my fourth graders are madly in love with graphic novels. If a young reader wanted to move into the comic book world, what would be a good comic for them to start with?

I really dig Marvel’s Oz series by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. It might be a nice way of introducing young readers to a different medium since the first collection in the series is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and even though it’s closer to the book than the movie, it’s familiar territory. Also, I’m just a huge fan of Skottie Young’s art—it’s incredibly energetic.

How does your career as in the animation industry help you as an author?

Definitely! I work with a lot of Japanese animation, covering a wide range of target age groups. I see a ton of new forms of storytelling—especially since anime can be so different from the kinds of cartoons I grew up watching—that it’s impossible not be inspired, to want to create.

My students love when I ask authors for book recommendations. What are three must read middle grade reads?


  1. I’m sure your students have already heard the praises of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate many times, but I just read the book this morning, and there’s no way I could make this list without recommending it. It’s a book that makes you feel all the feelings.


  1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This may be cheating because I think I like it more now than I did when I was a kid, but that’s part of its charm. I like books that can grow with you, that you can find different meanings in as you get older.


  1. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. I mention this series because I just kind of stumbled upon it when I was a kid, and don’t know that it gets enough love these days. I really liked these books when I was growing up, especially the first two—Dealing with Dragons and Searching for Dragons. They’re great, fast fantasy books that play against a lot of fairy tail tropes (the first one stars a princess who runs away to live with dragons and spends a lot of her time convincing knights and princes that she doesn’t need to be rescued).

Thanks for stopping by, Jeramey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/24/2012

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

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

By: Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril

By: Jarrett Krosoczka

Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril: Lunch Lady #8

The Cloak Society

By: Jeremy Kraatz

The Cloak Society

Bear Has a Story to Tell

Written By: Phillip C. Stead

Illustrated By: Erin E. Stead

Bear Has a Story to Tell

It’s Like This, Cat

By: Emily Neville

Illustrated By: Emil Weiss

It's Like This, Cat


Reading Along I-94: Fake Mustache, Part 3

Each month, my friend Jen Vincent and I pick a book to discuss on my blog. This month it was Jen’s turn to pick. I was very exciting when she told me that we would be reading Fake Mustache. I am a big Tom Angleberger fan.

Check out our previous Fake Mustache discussions.

Part 1

Part 2


JEN: Colby! I am almost done with Fake Mustache which means I’m in the middle of the craziness! This book is just crazy! I mean, can you imagine being Lenny Flem Jr? Things are just so frustrating for him. He knows the truth but there aren’t many people he can trust. Even his own parents have been brainwashed by the mustache!

COLBY: Thank goodness for Jodie O’Rodeo. Did I ever tell you that I do a great Jodie O’Rodeo voice when I read aloud Fake Mustache. Last year my fourth graders went wild during her parts. It is quite fun to try and imitate a teen cowgirl.

JEN: I’m sure!!!! I would love to hear you yodel! Things just keep getting crazier as the book goes on. When you think fast food workers out to get you is bad enough, then come mimes and karate instructors. As I’ve been reading (and listening), I just keep shaking my head at the craziness. It’s almost as if someone challenged Tom Angleberger to write a book and include these things:

a fake mustache
a sticky hand
a trolley
a yodeling pre-teen star
fast food workers
karate instructors
body builders
football players
a werewolf
a horse
green goo booger slime
a bank robbery
there is also a presidential election going on!

If that doesn’t define craziness, I don’t know what does.

COLBY: That is a lot of awesomeness. Of all the things that you listed I think the “sticky hand” is my favorite. I loved talking about the sticky hand with my fourth graders at the end of the book.

JEN: Isn’t it amazing how all these things can be incorporated into one story? From the perspective of using Fake Mustache as a mentor text, I think it would be a fun activity to give kids a few completely random elements and then ask them to write a story. This would be great for brainstorming ideas or just a writing exercise. It might actually end up being a piece they would like to develop more. Look at how successful Tom was with Fake Mustache. Sometimes the most crazy and outlandish stories really are interesting and just what a reader needs.
What if this was a partner activity? If each student thought of 3-5 nouns (part of speech, yay!) – a person, a place, an event, a thing, and then their partner had to write a story that combines or at least in cludes all of those things.

COLBY: That would be super fun. The key for my students would be to make sure that even though they are writing a crazy story, they need to still be thinking about the things that they know how to do as a writer. We can write funny and  crazy stuff, but we can’t forget  the things makes good writing good. I think that is what is so awesome about Mr. Angleberger. Even though he is writing this crazy awesome story, he is doing it in a way that features some pretty rockin’ writing.

JEN: I’ve read interviews and seen video interviews of David Levithan talking about how he has collaborated with other authors to write a book. He shares how one person writes a chapter and then the next person writes a chapter. I remember he said that he and the other authors he has worked with would end up throwing twists at each other and challenging each other to respond to the chapters. I am so fascinated by this idea of writing with others and playing off of each other to write a novel.

COLBY: That sounds insane. Makes me think of the 39 Clues series a little bit.

JEN: Totally! I love the concept of the 39 Clues series. Some of my favorite books that are co-authored but they are all young adult. They are Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, and, more recently, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. I think it would be insanely fun and motivating to write with another writer. I feel like there would be a huge sense of responsibility to writing that is sometimes hard to develop independently. All of these are great books that I highly recommend!

COLBY: I have read none of those books. Isn’t that sad? Did you know that Tom Angleberger co-authored a book? It’s called Stonewall Hickleman & The Battle of Bull Run. He wrote it under his old pen name Sam Riddleburger.

JEN: It’s not sad, they are YA and you don’t read YA very often. I can’t think of many co-authored MG books – but you know Stonewall Hickleman. I haven’t read that one but am so curious now!

I’m wondering, could two writers in a class generate a bunch of ideas together and then take turns writing part of the story and adding in one idea/thing in their part before handing the story back? This seems like it would be an awesome way to also develop a culture of learning for students when they are both invested in the writing together.

Hmm….I’m actually thinking this would be cool as an option for students – not necessarily an assignment. Let’s face it, writing is a vulnerable activity, so maybe offering this as something for them to try either later in the year once they know each other better, or as an option if they know someone they are willing to write with. Oh, and maybe there would need to be parameters around this – setting up the plan for how to do this beforehand just to try and troubleshoot any problems that might pop up.

COLBY: I know one thing, a lot of my students would LOVE trying something like this.

JEN: Colby, if you ever want to co-author a crazy Fake-Mustache-style book, let me know! I’m in. 🙂

COLBY: I have zero desire to write a book. I’m going to stick to reading them:)

JEN: *sighs* Fine. (But I’m still here if you eeeeeeeeever want to. ) 🙂




Newbery Challenge: A Wrinkle In Time

I’m excited that Mr. Schu and I “only” have 50 more Newbery Medal books left to read as part of the Newbery Challenge. I look forward to celebrating completing the challenge next fall by curling up and reading the 2013 winner while I snack on yogurt covered raisins. Yum.

Be sure to check out Mr. Schu’s video on his blog:

I was about to hit publish on the post a little while ago when I heard a knock at the door. It was a police officer. Hanging out of the back of his police car was my wife’s bike. He was holding her sunglasses and bag. Scary, right? Thankfully she is okay. She’s bruised and battered but still in one piece. My 5, 4, and 2 year old were big fans of riding to the scene of the accident in the back of a police car. 

Thank You, Ms. Holm


A week ago today Jennifer Holm visited my school. You can read all about it today on Mr. Schu’s blog: Watch.Connect.Read.


I have decided to share a few lines from the thank you cards students wrote this week.

  • Even though I have read all of your books, I just keep reading them over and over.

  • Thank you so much for coming to our school. It was the best Friday in my whole life.

  • I really like your books. I want to be a graphic novel person when I grow up. You made me think that I could be an author when I grow up.

  • I wish you could have stayed longer.

  • I was so excited for you visit that I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. I will never forget the day that you visited my school.

  • I loved how you signed my book. It was the best day ever.

  • Thanks for showing us how to draw Squish. I hope you had fun.

  • Thank you for the kindness in your heart. I can’t believe you came all the way from California to sign my book.

  • I hope you had a good fun time because I should did.

  • You made me like reading more.

  • After you visit I started to try and write a grphic novel. I took shapes around me and made them into characters.

  • That was defidently positively one of the best days ever.

  • Thank you for being nice, awesome, and helpful.

  • I really appreciate you coming. I learned that I need to follow my dreams no matter what anyone else says.

  • I can’t believe the best writer in the world came to our school.