Looks at Books

Superfantastic Bubble Plastic Mentor Text

If you are using the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop model like me, you know that mentor texts are the absolute heart-and-soul of the program.
My Sweet Thirdies and I have been writin’ our little hearts out on everything from small moments narratives to informational/expert texts.
And then…cue the ominous music…we ran headfirst into…opinion essays!  
It’s that bad.  ‘Nuff said.
The most frustrating part is that there just aren’t that many really great mentor texts that are written in the “full-on, in your face” opinion essay style. 
And then the heavens opened up and a beam of light burst forth from the clouds…bearing…
A real opinion essay in an engaging book form!
Oh my stars!  A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea is such a remarkable book in that is written in ACTUAL OPINION WRITING FORMAT!  It’s true!  My kiddos could pick out everything from the thesis to the supporting details PLUS the author uses a generous sprinkling of great transitional words (which we have been having a heckuva time with!).  A strong grabbing lead and a terrific wrap-up closure make this book just that much more appealing!
It’s about time.  That’s all I’m sayin’.
The author of this remarkable specimen is none other than this guy…Michael Ian Black.  (You might recognize him from shows like “Ed.”)  He’s a pretty funny guy and this book is just great!
Anywho…Those Collaboration Cuties, Amanda and Stacia, have put out this great linky partay and I’ve decided to join in on the fun.  Go ahead…you know you want to go over there and get a little crazy!  Get ready to start pulling more books into your Amazon.com wish list!  It could get expensive!  
Happy Reading!

Tracks in the Snow

Oh…those Collaboration Cuties Amanda and Stacia don’t disappoint, even over the holidays!  They are having a linky partay where everyone shares their favorite “winter book.”
From the onset of my Readers Workshop, I share a book entitled Tracks in the Snow, by Wong Herbert Yee.  While this book isn’t phenomenally engaging for my thirdies, it does serve as the foundation for my students to leave their own “tracks in the snow” while reading.
I teach my students how to question the text, make notes on unfamiliar words, and take general notes using sticky notes and placing these notes inside the text.  These “tracks” allow students to return back to important places in their reading and get the answers they need to make sense of the text.
We also use the “tracks in the snow” strategy with our Anchor Texts.  Each child receives a book that they can mark up by leaving their own tracks directly inside the text.  The “snow” is actually the white spaces on the pages.  We are currently reading Frindle by Andrew Clements and the kids are lovin’ how many tracks they’ve made so far!
Why not check this book out and make your own “tracks?”


Gifts of Literature

Right before the holidays, my students and I had so much to celebrate…Christmas (of course!), the completion of our Writers Workshop Unit of Study (Informational Texts) and having four of my little honeys exiting their Tier Two intervention for reading.
Now, the exiting part might not seem really big to you, but to a kiddo who has always been considered “low” in terms of reading, this is a pretty ginormous thing!
So…when we return from the holidays, where do we go from here in terms of these readers who are finally considered “at level?”
We are continuing our journey together in the Readers Workshop, utilizing Anchor Texts, Mentor Texts, Mini Lessons, Into the Book Strategies and Independent Reading as the foundation of our reading program.  We are diligently adding to our BLBs (Book Lovers Books).  
It’s time for the teacher to “up the ante” by pushing her readers towards more rigorous book choices for independent reading time.  No more gentle nudges and courteous nods for this girl…my strongest readers and my newly fluent “on level” kiddos deserve better.
I’ve been using this strategy in my classroom for quite some time actually.  
Call me what you will…Book Queen, Hoarder of All Things Bookish, Collector, Bibliophile…I LOVE BOOKS!  I have tons of them…much to the disappointment of my hubby and my librarian sister-in-law!
There’s a part of me that enjoys sharing them immensely…and a part of me that gets pretty stinkin’ ornery when they don’t come back.
I have a smallish collection of my own personal books that never make it to my classroom library, but they are so good that I can’t NOT share them.  So I’ve created a small book basket of personal loaners that are “by invite only.”  These are the books that I “gift” my students with.
How do I do this?  
I start by writing out a short letter to the reader and then leaving the book on his/her table in the morning.  When they come into the room, they find the gift book and the note ( no pressure, just a vote of confidence that I have matched a good reader to a great book that will certainly challenge them and help them to grow!)  
If the student chooses to accept this gift, they keep it to put in their book baskets and read it during Independent Reading Time.  Since these are books I have personally read and enjoyed, the conversations we have in regards to these books are pretty great!   I’m better able to guide these readers through the challenges that each text presents to the individual and hopefully expose these readers to a higher level of quality in terms of text and book choices.  
Imagine the power this strategy has in terms of guiding your readers!  Think of the kids in your class who are strong and solid readers, but continuously go to the same “stuff.”  In my room, kids have a difficult time moving away from Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Goosebumps.  And while these three series are great for bringing reluctant readers to the Readers Table, they aren’t enough to sustain a reader for long periods of time and move them forward in their reading.
One of my readers, Brody, is so stuck in Junie B. Jones books.  Again, great series and well written books, but not enough to feed the mind of a kiddo with a 600+ Lexile level.  Brody is definitely a candidate for my “gift” basket.  I have a book with his name on it too!  (Brody is going to get a big push from me…period!)
What about the student who brings the book back to me and says, “Not interested.”?  That’s ok.  I’ll keep offering different choices.  Eventually, I’ll come up with a winner.  (I’m an optimist!)
Another terrific byproduct of this strategy…once other kids see these books, they ask if they can be the next person on my list to get the book.  It’s really pretty cool!  (Note:  For the students on the waiting list, the next time we go into the school library, I find the book and share it with them.)
I’ve just read three AMAZING books over the holidays that definitely fit the criteria of “gift” books.  They are as follows:
1.  Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman.  This quick read is one that your fantasy readers and “tellers of tall tales” will certainly embrace.  Enough pictures to provide a nice segue between the world of picture books and the intense world of chapter books, the text is rigorous and imaginative and would be a great fit for those creative readers and writers in your classroom.  (I have Olivia in mind…how about you?)
2.  The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes.  This is a sweet little read that is split among the four individuals that are most important to Billy (Teacher, Mom, Dad and Little Sis).  Billy is a second grader with a ton of heart who is worried that he won’t be successful in second grade.  This isn’t a complicated text, but it is a bit beyond the world of leveled readers and it has a ton of HEART!  I think boys and girls would enjoy this read as it isn’t overly “boyish.”  (I’m thinking of Matthew who just exited from Tier 2.)
3.  Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo.  Ok…say what you will, but in my opinion, this is DiCamillo’s BEST BY FAR!  She definitely has the “people and animal formula” down to a science, but each time, it’s just a bit different…unpredictable…This book is a spectacular read!  Your animal book lovers will think it is terrific. and it has great dialogue between the characters with a little mix of comic book format.  I love, love, love it!  (Note that this would be a terrific classroom read aloud and it is certainly going to make its’ way into my Mentor Texts in reading AND writing!  Yup…it’s that good!)  I’m thinking of my friend Mallory and what a good match this book will be for her.
Using the “Gifts of Literature” strategy, I’m able to point kids out to books that have the potential to be award winners and that they will certainly be exposed to along the way.
Other books that are in my “gift” basket are:
I highly recommend each and every book on this list, although not every one of these is appropriate for every reader.  The books in my “gift” basket are thoroughly read by me so that I truly know what the readability is and what the reader needs to have “emotionally” in order to tackle the content.
Here’s your challenge:  What books would you put in your “gift” basket?  Which students would be your first lucky recipients?  I challenge you to go through your personal stash of books and find those books that should be matched up with readers.  Maybe you’ve changed grades, like me, and found that the books you used to read aloud aren’t a great fit for your current grade level, but maybe there is a student who could use a push and the confidence instilled by having a teacher recommend a great book for them…
Oh, the possibilities!
Have fun learning and laughing with your kiddos!

Oh yeah…I love this linky party.  It usually results in me amblin’ on over to Amazon to get me a book or ten, but…no apologies…I. LOVE. BOOKS.  Period.
Amanda and Stacia over at Collaboration Cuties have been giving us all a great spot to check out new books and I am fresh off of a Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Project week in NYC, so I am inspired.  On fire even.
The question is…which book do I share out?  There are just so danged many!
After much thought and deliberation, I decided on this beaut:
Being able to truly conceptualize large numbers is very difficult for young learners.  Heck…it’s also pretty tough for much more sophisticated learners!
Andrew Clements (FrindleThe Janitor’s Boy, and many many other fine texts) and Mike Reed team up to create a book that addresses numeracy is such a concrete way.
It’s a long way to a 
million, right?
Of course it is.
But do you really know
what a million looks like?

This book truly shows a million dots with a ton of other really great facts that are provocative enough to get even your most skeptical critics thinking and learning!
One word…MILLION!
Check it out!

Ok…so this is two posts in one day, but it’s a great day to be linking up and this one is too hard not to weigh in on!
I love Guided Reading with the 4th and 5th grades because you are helping your kids become fluent and MATURE readers, so this tends to take on a Literature Circle feel.  
Another opportunity to work with this age of students is in the form of “Anchor Texts.”  Using Anchor Texts with the whole group helps the teacher to better model what goes on inside a fluent and mature reader’s head as they read more complex/sophisticated texts.
This year my teaching partner, the AMAZING LINDA, and I chose Jerry Spinelli’s book, Maniac Magee, as our Anchor Text with our fourthies and were totally floored by how our kiddos responded to this text!
In addition to being a Newberry Award winner, Maniac Magee is also chock full o’ great similes and metaphors.  Spinelli really has a way with words and many of our kiddos try to emulate his style in Writer’s Workshop.  Needless to say, Linda and I get a ton of bang for the buck with this book!
In order to do Anchor Texts well with our kids, we purchase each student his/her own copy of the book.  Not only does the kid own the book, but he/she is encouraged to make “tracks in the snow” by underlining text that appeals to them and making notes in the margins.  Our kids get really involved in reading the book and go much deeper than we ever thought possible.
How does this translate over to Guided Reading?  Well…we don’t allow our kids to write in the copies of the book, but we do encourage them to take those “tracks in the snow” over to their books by making notes on sticky notes and putting them in the book.  The kids love this and stay super-engaged during the process.
I’d love to hear how you use Maniac Magee in your classrooms!  Drop me a line and let me know!
Have a Wonderful Workshop Wednesday!