Five Middle Grade Books That I Hope Win a Nerdie

Yesterday the Nerdy Book Club ballot opened for the 2015 Nerdies. Here are the 5 middle grade books that I’m nominating. It was super hard for me to narrow down my middle grade list down to 5 books.

The Fourteenth Goldfish

By: Jennifer L. Holm



I think Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish is brilliant. Every word is meticulously placed in a way that weaves together this perfect middle grade novel in a way that only Ms. Holm can do.

Brown Girl Dreaming (This book might fit better in the Nerdy biography category)

By: Jacqueline Woodson


You see that National Book Award sticker on the cover? If you are like me you are trying to image where Penguin is going to put all the other stickers this book has a chance to win: Newbery, Sibert, Coretta Scott King, Printz, etc. Ms. Woodson has written an unforgettable book that our students’ grandkids will read 50 years from now.

Circa Now

By: Amber McCree Turner


Miles and Circa are two characters that will remain in my heart for as long as I am still breathing. I’m so thankful for this book.

Rain Reign

By: Ann Martin


I am a better person and a better teacher because of this book.

Wow. This book would have left a huge impact on 11 year old Colby. I wish he could have read this book when he was a kid.

Death By Toilet Paper

By: Donna Gephart



This book surprised me more than any other 2014 book. I went in expecting it to be a super silly and fun book, I left feeling lucky to be a teacher in a world where I can put books like Death By Toilet Paper in the hands of young readers.


Absolutely Almost

By: Lisa Graff


I know. I picked 6 books. The Nerdy Survey Monkey tells me that I can only nominate 5 books.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost is crazy good. It’s one of those books that I read and thought: I wish books like this won the Newbery Medal. Maybe it will. I know that if I was on the committee I would bring this book to the table.


I thought this was going to be a silly book about toilet paper. I had no idea what it would be such a beautiful crafted and important book for young readers. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s brilliant.


One 2015 book that I’m embarrassed to have not read is Deborah Wiles’s Revolution. I was about a third of the way through it when I ran into a high school history teacher friend. I knew that she would LOVE the book, so I let her borrow it. This was back in May. She still hasn’t returned it. I’m guessing that she loved it so much that she decided to keep it.

It just might be time for me to buy another copy.


Guest Post: Laura Gehl

I’m super excited to be hosting Laura Gehl on her One Big Pair of Underwear blog tour. Happy reading!

Thanks so much to Colby for hosting me on this stop of my One Big Pair of Underwear blog tour!



Colby asked me to talk about writing with kids. For me, writing is fun (although it is sometimes the kind of fun that makes me want to scream, and bash my computer to bits with a sledgehammer).

Since I want kids to think of writing as fun (minus the screaming and the sledgehammer), I like to play games to jumpstart their imaginations.

Here are a few simple writing games to try with your favorite kids. These can all be done in written form or verbally, depending on the child’s age.

1) Add-on story. One person starts the story. The second person adds a sentence. Then the third. And so on. This can be done with an entire class, or as a back-and-forth game between one child and one adult.

2) Three columns. Draw three columns labeled Main Character (Who?), Setting (Where?), and Problem (What?). Have kids brainstorm ideas for all threecolumns. For the Problem column, examples might include “Missing diamond” or “Flying carpet breaks down” or “Giant tornado is coming.” Then ask kids to pick one choice from each of the three columns and use those choices to craft a story.

3) Five words. First, brainstorm a bunch of silly words, writing each on a small piece of paper and placing it into a bag. Pickle. Diaper. Kersplat. After brainstorming, you can have each child pick his or her own five words out of the bag and make up a story to connect them. Or you can pick five words yourself, and have all of the kids use those same five words to create their own totally different stories.

4) What if? Brainstorm a list of “What if” style questions. What if a princess fell into the moat? What if a pirate got attacked by ninjas? What if a bunny rabbit hosted a birthday party for a hungry wolf? After brainstorming, ask each child to pick one “What if” question to expand into a story.

5) Make your own mad-libs. First, have the child(ren) rewrite…or retell, with you writing…a simple fairy tale, like the Three Little Pigs and The Big Bad Wolf, in pencil. You can also use the computer. Then choose 10-15 words to erase or delete, including at least one word from the title. In place of each missing word, write a blank line with the part of speech. Now find an innocent victim (i.e. another adult or child who does not know which story was chosen). Ask the innocent victim to supply the nouns, verbs, and adjectives that are now missing. If your child is able to read, challenge him or her to read the story, which may now be retitled The Twelve Smelly Computers and the Big Bad Wolf, out loud…without laughing!

Whichever game you pick, have fun! If you are having fun, the kids in your life will have fun too.


On December 9, I will be talking about more ways to inspire kids to write stories at Don’t forget to check out that post for additional ideas.


Bio: Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, as well as four upcoming picture books: Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, Peep and Egg: I’m not Hatching and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. Her own kids love writing stories…including, recently, The Maze of Death (K, age 10); The Gangster (N, age 8); The Presidents (S, age 6); and The Rainbow, the Butterflies, and the Giant Slice of Pizza (T, age 4). You can visit Laura online at and

5 Things I Loved About the Last Seven Days 11/28/14

Be sure to check out all the great Celebrate posts on Ruth Ayres’s blog each Saturday.

Discover. Play. Build.
1. Hobbes
Yesterday Alaina and I welcomed a healthy baby boy into the world. We are filled with joy.

AJ loves being a big sister.

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Nov 11, 2014 at 4:16pm PST

2.  A Thanksgiving Play On Tuesday Breslin’s class performed the play he wrote about the first Thanksgiving. It was adorable. We are so proud to be his parents, and so thankful that his teacher gets him.

3. One Last Day as a Father of Three

Our beautiful baby boy came on Thanksgiving day, so I got to spend all of Wednesday with my three oldest kids. We read books, watched a movie, had dinner with family, and spent some time at the kids’ museum in our town. It was the perfect day.

Hanging out at the museum with the kids.

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Nov 11, 2014 at 11:36am PST


4. A Nerdy Post with Mrs. Sharp

My wife and I were the Nerdy bloggers on Thanksgiving. I really enjoyed reflecting on our journey of raising young readers.

You can check out our post by clicking on the Nerdy logo.

You can check out our post by clicking on the Nerdy logo.

5. All The Bright Places

I think that All The Bright Places is a special special book. I hope that every YA reading person in the universe gets a chance to read in in 2015. It’s one of those books that kids need to have access to. I hope the readers in your life find it as powerful as I did.

You can check out my post on All The Bright Places by clicking on the cover above.

You can check out my post on All The Bright Places by clicking on the cover above.

Cover Reveal: Book Scavenger (with a Bonus Interview)

I love beautiful book covers. I’ve spent enough time in a classroom to know the importance of a great cover, and a great cover is what you will find on the front of Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger.

I’m excited to reveal the cover (below).

Book Scavenger cover

If you are anything like me after seeing that cover you are dying to know a little bit more about what’s inside. Lucky, us! I have an interview with Jennifer below.

It’s a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 interview.

Here are the rules:

1. I give the interviewee 5 questions

2. They have to answer

·         1 question with 5 sentences

·         1 question with 4 sentences

·         1 question with 3 sentences

·         1 question with 2 sentences

·         1 question with 1 sentences

3.  They get to pick which question which question to answer with each number of sentences

4. Have fun!



1. Can you tell us a little bit about BOOK SCAVENGER?

For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.

Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game—before those who attacked Griswold come after them too. BOOK SCAVENGER is an adventurous mystery that incorporates ciphers, puzzles, and random bits of literary and historical trivia.  [5 sentences]

2. What is your favorite thing about being a writer?

I love when I’m able to pull something or someone from my imagination and make them come to life on paper. [1 sentence]
3. What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?

My favorite thing about writing is also the hardest thing. It takes a lot of revision and analyzing and patience to translate an idea from my brain onto paper. It’s not unlike drawing something–you can do a quick sketch to capture the essence of the idea, but then comes a lot of careful work to finesse the lines, and add color and depth and vibrancy. [3]

4. If you could spend one day inside the world of any book which book would you pick?

One of my favorite series growing up was The Babysitter’s Club, so I’d like to spend a day riding a bike around Stoneybrook. I imagine visiting Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Dawn would feel nostalgic and comforting, like reconnecting with old friends. [2 sentences]

5. What advice do you have for the young writers in my classroom?

When I was ten, I wrote a letter to James Howe and asked him for his advice on how to become an author. To my surprise and delight, he wrote back! His advice worked for me, so I’m passing it on to you. He said: Read, write, and have fun! [4 sentences]


Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, June 2015). BOOK SCAVENGER launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Two additional middle-grade mysteries will follow in 2016 and 2017.

Jennifer was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied writing and dance at the University of California, Irvine, and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. When she was eighteen, she interned for a magazine in Manhattan and has worked in publishing ever since.

You can find her online at where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

Five Thoughts on Author Visits

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of author visits. The students at Parma Elementary have had quite the year. We’ve been blessed to have a few authors visit our school and we hosted Nerd Camp Junior last summer.

Here are a handful thoughts that I have on author visits.

1. Kids Read Author Visit Books Long After the Author Leaves

Andy Griffiths visited my school last spring. Chances are if you visited my classroom you’d find his books in a handful of students’ seat sacks (we don’t have desks). I don’t think that it would come to a surprise to anyone that after an author visit kids would be reading the books by the author, but we are 6+ months and a whole school year later, and kids are still devouring books by the authors that visited our school last year. My first grade daughter carries around her copy of The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow like it is made of gold.

Authors are rock stars. #nerdybookclub

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Sep 9, 2014 at 4:31pm PDT

2. Kids Write More

Another no brainer, but I’ve found that when my students meet authors they write more. They take the advice that authors spew and try to put it in their own writing. I can teach my kids revision until the cows come home, and they are still hesitant. Linda Urban or Janet Tasjhian can talk revision and the kids are all about it.

. @AaronZenz is amazing with kids. #nerdcampmi

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Jul 7, 2014 at 2:53pm PDT

3. They Want More Authors to Visit

If you bring authors to your school, your students will want you to bring more authors to your school. My students are always asking me when their favorite author is going to visit. “Hey, Mr. Sharp! Do you think we could get that Amulet author to visit Parma later this year? What about Kate DiCamillo? I think she’d really like Parma.” This is a good problem to have. I like that my students see authors as people that would enjoy hanging out with us.

4. Students Take Pride in Their School

Hosting an author is a full time job. I’m sure you’ve seen some of Mr. Schu’s Vines/Tweets/Videos of how amazing his library looks when an author visits. My students want to impress authors. They want authors to feel welcome. I think that my students have learned so much about being a good host and doing things the right way by hosting authors.

I loved it when Andy busted out his laptop an gave the kids a sneak peak at The 52 Story Treehouse.

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Apr 4, 2014 at 1:19pm PDT

5. Author Visits Need to be Done Right

I need to write a whole post on this one.

The success of an author visit is 80% teacher/librarian preperation and 20% author delivery. Those numbers are not exact. It may be more like 90% teacher/librarian prep. The bottom line: if you don’t prepare our students like the author visit is a huge deal and extremely important it is just another assembly. I have been in an author visit where some classrooms are prepared and some classrooms are just at another assembly. It’s not pretty. It’s not cool. It’s not fun. A couple of classrooms not prepared can totally change the vibe of an author visit.

I have so much more to say on this topic. More to come!

All The Bright Places: The Book That Picked Me

A few weeks ago I received a text from my former teaching partner asking me to call her after school. I’m the type of person in situations like these that expects the worst. All day I played different scenarios through in my head of what awful thing must have happened for me to need to call her as soon as school got out.

It turns out, that my mind couldn’t come up with something as awful as what had happened. I learned in that phone call that a former student of mine was cyber-bullied severely, which people believe led to her taking her own life.

She was a freshman in high school.

She was 14.

On Friday, I received a package from Random House that contained the book All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. I am lucky enough to at times receive advanced copies of books. This was the third time Random House send me this book. I’m not sure if it is some sort of mailing issue, or what, but I got the point: I should probably read this book.


The book starts with two teenage students, a boy and a girl, on the top of the ledge of the school bell tower. They are both considering ending things.

I’m only about 175 pages into this 390 page book. I’m not sure how things are going to turn out for Violet and Finch. What I do know is that this is the book that I needed to read. This book found me. This book somehow knew that I needed to read it.

Reading All The Bright Places doesn’t dull the pain of losing a student, but for 175 pages it has helped me think about suicide in ways that I haven’t thought about it before. It has helped me remember times when Lauryn sat in my class with a giant smile on her face.

I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction. Maybe one or two books a year. I’m not sure that I’ve ever written about a young adult book on my blog, but I can’t stop feeling like I need to do everything in my power to help this book find its way into the hands of other readers. This book needs to find its way into the hands of kids that are hurting, struggling, lost.

I’m sure that your to-read pile is as large as mine, and putting another book on top of it might seem a little overwhelming, but I hope you consider adding All The Bright Places to the stack. I can’t help but think that a reader in your life might need to read this book as much as I did.

December #SharpSchu and #celebratelu

Happy Saturday! I’m going to combine my “Celebrate Saturday” and #SharpSchu post into one today.

Discover. Play. Build.
Here are 5 things I LOVED about the last 7 days.
1. December #SharpSchu
I am so excited that Mr. Schu and I decided to celebrate two of my favorite 2014 books during the last #SharpSchu book club of the year.

2. Thanksgiving Play

On Thursday my wife and I met with our second grade son’s teacher for his conference. We are really proud of our little guy, and very thankful that he has a teacher that gets him. We learned during the conference that on Tuesday his class will be performing a Thanksgiving play that he wrote. Apparently the play has been a great community building experience for the class. They are even designing a set!

I can’t wait for Breslin’s second class to perform his play on Tuesday.

A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Nov 11, 2014 at 4:44pm PST

3. A Great Staff Meeting

Yesterday we inched closer to finishing the craziest run of the school year. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving we get zero days off of school. We could have spent Friday’s staff meeting talking about a million different things. Instead, we headed to the gym and did some bowling. It was the perfect team building activity. It was exactly what our staff needed.

We have the best staff meetings. #wsdpanthers #parmastrong A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Nov 11, 2014 at 5:21am PST Drawing With This Guy

You have to check out James Burks YouTube channel that includes his new series “Drawing With This Guy”. In the first two videos he teaches viewers how to draw the characters from his Bird & Squirrel graphic novel series. In the future he’ll feature guest illustrators that will teach viewers how to draw their kid lit characters. My kids are so excited!

  My kids love @jamesburksart’s new YouTube drawing videos.   A photo posted by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp) on Nov 11, 2014 at 4:15am PST

5. Simple Machines

My students and I are having a blast studying simple machines. They love getting their hands dirty and digging in.

Trifecta: The Storm Whale

Today I’m celebrating The Storm Whale with Mr. Schu and Nerdy Book Club.

Mr. Schu interview’s Benji Davis.

Benji’s Nerdy Book Club post.


I love picture books.

I love reading them with my kids at home.

I love celebrating them with my students.

I love sitting down with a big stack of them on a Sunday morning.

I love how I feel when when one captures my heart.

The Storm Whale is a book that has captured my heart. It’s a book that begs to be read aloud, and pleads to be shared with children.

You need to check out this book.

Mrs. Sharp is 39 weeks pregnant and I have lots to do around the house before the newest Sharplet joins the family, so I’m going to have to keep this pretty short.

Here are 10 things that I love about this book.

1. I love that Noi lives with his dad by the sea with six cats.

2. I love that this book makes me want to pack my bags and move to the sea.

3. I love Noi’s hat. It’s adorable.

4. I love that Noi hides a whale in the bathtub.

5. I love that my kids love this book.

6. I love that Noi’s big fisherman dad is a hugger.

7. I love each and every illustration. If Benji lived in the states this book would have so been on the Mock Caldecott list.

8. I love the cats. Each time I read the book I discover cats on pages and in places that I didn’t see before.

9. I love the last page.

10. I love hearing what others think about this book. *hint-hint*

nerdy monster

Fairy Tale Garage Sale: Poems After the Ever After

Last summer author Laura Purdie Salas asked me if I’d be interested in putting together some resources and activities for a collections of poems she wrote. Poetry isn’t really my thing, but I figured what the heck.

Putting together these activities really pushed me as a teacher and it gave me a new appreciation of poetry. You can learn more about the project by clicking on the cover of the book below.