Favorite Picture Books We Read in 2017 #TeacherMom

I once read that parents tend to show their kids only the books they personally cherished as children. And with the deep emotional connection we make with our books, it makes perfect sense. But, boy! are we missing out when we so limit ourselves (and our kids)!

I’m frankly astonished at the fact that new authors and illustrators manage to keep filling the world with simply wonderful books, year after year after year.

2017 was no exception. Here are my favorites so far!

#1: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

#2: Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares

#3: Triangle: by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

#4: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

#5: The Rooster Who Would Not be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy and Eugene Yelchin

#6: The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

#7: A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Applelhans

#8: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

 

#9: XO, OX A Love Story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell

#10: The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Putting 2 books on my list from the same author/illustrator duo in no way has anything to do with the fact that we attended their AuthorLink at our local library and got our copy signed and geeked out in general…ahem.

Bonus: Leave Me Alone! (ok this was published in 2016, but it got a Caldecott Honor in 2017, and is definitely worth mentioning again).

What have been your favorites? Please share!!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Balancing Reading Challenge With Choice

It was another day of library time in fourth grade. Most of my classmates headed to the fiction section. A few dared the dark musty nonfiction corner (I still have no idea why it was always so poorly lit in that corner!). And I went for the picture books. I just couldn’t get enough of the pictures, and I certainly didn’t have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading just one page.

So it had gone week in and week out — until that momentous day that my sweet librarian, Mrs. Lutz, chose to intervene. She had apparently noticed my quiet reading habits, and chose to step in to offer a challenge. And what could easily have turned me off from reading instead launched me into the world of children’s fiction and deepened my self-identity as a reader.

How did she strike that careful balance of providing challenge without judgement?

Here’s what she did not do:

  • Tell me the books I was reading were babyish or below my level.
  • Prevent me from reading books of my choice.

Here’s what she did do:

  • Listened to what kept me coming back to the picture books (the pictures, of course).
  • Shared some books that she loved (that conveniently included some pictures).
  • Encouraged me to keep stretching my reading muscles.

It can seem an impossible task to help our students stretch themselves while simultaneously honoring their choices. And while choice should ultimately take precedence for their personal reading, finding this balance can help students expand their view of literary possibilities.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Magic of an AuthorLink #TeacherMom

A few weeks ago, our local library hosted Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen as they shared their newest book, “The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.”

It was a 3-generational fan-girl geek-out.

Hearing authors read their own stories is always a treat…

…but having an illustrator demonstrating their process, too? For my young aspiring author/illustrator, it was nothing short of magical.

As we waited in line to get our copy signed, my daughter grew a little nervous. But as soon as we got up to the front of the line, she told Mac and Jon all about her large box of books she has created, and they told her to never get rid of any of them, no matter what anyone ever says (and that they still get ideas from stories they made as kids).

 

What I love most about AuthorLinks is it gives kids the chance to see authors and illustrators as real people. Suddenly, the idea of making a book isn’t some abstract fantasy, but one with concrete choices and steps and possibility. For this gift for my daughter, and for the gift for my future students with whom you can bet I’ll be sharing these photos and videos, I’m grateful! Thanks so much Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and authors everywhere who take the time to connect with kids.

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My 10 Favorite Concept Books #TeacherMom

Concept books — picture books centering on ideas like numbers, letters, and colors — can be tricky. So many seem to possess as much complexity and charm as this humorous example from comedian, Brian Regan:

More troubling still, some seem to be put on the same kind of academic pedestal that drives the “school prep frenzy” I’ve written about before. As blogger Anna Mussman writes,

“For some reason, we seem as a culture to think that precocious counting is more important than cultivating habits of thought like attentiveness, wonder, and eagerness to engage with ideas.”

All that said, there are plenty that evoke more thought, joy, and emotion than your run-of-the-mill concept book. If you’ve been searching for some recommendations that you’ll actually enjoy reading with your kids, this is the list for you!

Z is For Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinksy

I couldn’t believe that the same artist who gave us the exquisitely illustrated Rapunzel brought this book to life. The playful and hilarious illustrations absolutely make this alphabet, and will have you rooting for Moose long before you reach Z.

Once Upon An Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

As you would expect from Oliver Jeffers, each story is full of delightfully silly and surprising twists (I especially love the repeated appearances from certain characters…).

Doggies by Sandra Boynton

This is a counting book our whole family loves to read and listen to again and again — we all have our own way of making all the different woofs (I still think my “nnn…nnn…nnn…” is the best), and it never fails to bring smiles all around.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet and Christopher Franceschelli

A delightful and interactive composition that shares colors with a more unique approach.

Hippopposites by Janik Coat

Graphic design meets concept book here in a way that will keep kids (and you) turning pages to find out how else the author can picture a hippo!

The Turn-Around, Upside-Down Alphabet Book by Lisa Campbell Earnst

Always a fun book to handle and look at letters with new perspective.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

This hilarious story brings new perspective to the experiences of each color — from a crayon’s experience.

Antics! An Alphabetical Anthology by Cathi Hepworth

Though kids will almost certain know their letters long before they comprehend the word “Antics,” this is still one even older kids love visiting again and again.

One by Kathryn Otoshi

This beautiful story goes much deeper than simple numbers — it’s a fabulous read into bullying, friendship, and unity.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle

Is any list of concept books complete without Eric Carle? I don’t think my kids and I will ever tire from the bouncy rhythm of this book.

featured image: Tim Pierce

Why I’m Saying No to a Home Reading Program #TeacherMom

An invitation to opt-in to a home reading program arrived from my daughter’s school this week. Not only does it send home a book on my child’s reading level every day, but it states that it “has proven to be successful in improving the reading skills of every student who participates.”

So why would any teacher/mom say no to such a program?

While there are some other concerns I’ve been mulling over, the most important reason comes down to this:

Because my daughter wants to choose her own books at home.

I sat down with her, explained the program, and asked her what she thought about it. And that was her response. She told me she had some other reasons that were hard for her to explain, but this was the one she gave, and you know what? I don’t need her to explain more.

Because she already loves reading.

Because one of her go-to ways to spend an hour is to plop down with a stack of books, or to make up her own stories.

Because we continue to discuss her love of Get Fuzzy (our most recent Get Fuzzy-inspired discussion hilariously centered around King Henry VIII).

Because library day is a kind of weekly Christmas for her as she adds our new books to our designated public library book shelves.

Because when I ask her if she’d rather go to the weekly library junior reader’s club, or spend that time playing with her friends, she chooses the reader’s club.

Because when I suggest a book that I think she’d enjoy and that might push her abilities a bit more, she’s willing to give it a try.

And when it comes down to it, what good would it do for her anyway to accelerate her progress in the guided reading levels charts if it diminishes her love of reading?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure this is a fine program that has worked very well with many families at her school, and will continue to do so. I’m so grateful for the many educators that work to provide these kinds of resources to reach all our kids, and I recognize that we are privileged to enjoy the opportunities I’ve listed above.

But at the same time, I’m going to trust my daughter’s instincts on what would be best for her personal reading journey.

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On Following the Learning (comic book style) #TeacherMom

One of my favorite comic strips is Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy. Clueless dog Satchel, delusional cat Bucky, and somewhat-socially-awkward bachelor Rob make up more of a hilariously dysfunctional roommate scenario rather than a pet/owner relationship.

With more advanced humor and vocabulary than I’d expect my 7 year-old to be able to catch, I was hesitant when she asked to borrow a copy for her bedside shelf. But holding true to the belief that we should never stand in the way between our kids and a good book, I agreed.

Despite my skepticism, I wasn’t too surprised when she fell in love with the book — after all, the pictures alone provide plenty of humor she can relate to. But what did surprise me was in-text learning she was reaping.

Where I thought she’d gloss over enigmas like idioms, proverbs, and cultural references, she instead started asking me to fill in the blank. I found myself explaining:

  • the history behind “Houston, we have a problem” (because of the day Bucky applied Nair all over his body in order to compete with a furrier cat and Satchel said, “Houston, we have a Persian.”)
  • the meaning of the phrase “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” (because of the day Satchel had a hungry dog friend over that wanted Rob’s nachos, and Bucky observed, “Give a dog a nacho and he just eats for a day, but if you teach that dog where to buy nachos, you’re stuck with it for the rest of its natural life.”
  • the iconic reference to the old comic strip, Garfield: “I hate Mondays” (since Bucky was having a tough day with stale food, sat-in tuna, and a non-tasty bug in his water).

Overall, this is was a good reminder to me that when we follow our kids’ interests, the learning follows, even in unexpected circumstances. We’re so tempted to instead start with the long checklists of content so we don’t “miss” anything. But there is rich abundance of learning to be had when our children take the lead in their learning, if only we’re willing to trust them to uncover it.

And as a bonus, big sister now spends bedtime giggling away with her little brother as she shares comics with him, too.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up with Basals (& How to Finally Move On)

The typical basal-reading program lesson frequently boils down to something like this:

  • Assigned shared text read aloud.
  • Definitions of carefully-bolded vocabulary words copied down.
  • Comprehension worksheets filled out.
  • Students and teachers alike feeling bored to tears.

The truth is, putting kids through this kind of soul-less exercise will produce authentic readers no more than the mastery of connect-the-dots sheets will produce artists.

And we know it. Master teachers refer to the need to “finesse and hybridize” basals to make sure they’re effective. ¹ (which also makes basals’ claims at “research-based effectiveness” shaky since there’s real possibility they take credit for master teachers’ adjustments).

There are so many other ways to help our students develop the reading skills they need while protecting and nurturing their love of reading. Here are a few of the messages I believe we keep getting from basal program companies to convince us otherwise.

#1: Inexperienced teachers need me!

Basals assert that new teachers won’t be able to navigate the waters of literacy instruction without their careful direction. However, if our solution for offering literacy support to new teachers is to let them muddle through a sub-par program, we’re doing a disservice to both our teachers and our students.

Furthermore, even with all the details of a basal program (many of which supply ideas for differentiation, activating background knowledge, etc), “only a well-trained teacher can make the multifaceted decisions involved in developing such instruction”² anyway. Outsourcing this training to a one-size fits all manual is simply inadequate.

P.S. Going basal-free doesn’t mean you have to/should abandon a framework. One phenomenal example is a a workshop framework by Pam Allyn that I reviewed a couple years ago.

#2: You can’t be sure students will develop skills without my guidance.

In a workshop/units of study model, not only do students develop literacy skills, but they do so with a greater degree of context and response to the ongoing trajectory of student learning.

Meanwhile, basal programs tend to spend disproportionate amounts of time drilling specific skills, such as the ones involved in reading comprehension. Consider this:

“It is critical to note that these and other reading programs allocate as much or more actual time to rehearsing comprehension skills than they allocate to teaching any other element in their language-arts program…In reality, when children experience problems comprehending text, it is much more likely due to the child’s lack of knowledge of the subject matter…The notion that we can teach students a set of skills that they will be able to apply to new and unfamiliar texts or situations is a process that cognitive psychologists call “skills transference.” This is regarded as an inordinately difficult task for our brains to pull off and, therefore, is not a practical educational goal. But it is a goal set forward by every major reading program on the market.”³

In addition, even if students develop said skills, if they never apply them because all those basal worksheets suffocated their love of reading, what’s the point? As educator Ross Cooper wrote, “First and foremost, we must promote a love of reading, not a culture of literacy-based micromanagement.4

#3: You won’t have ready access to ability-appropriate text!

Twenty years ago, this may have been the case. But just consider this small sampling of today’s possibilities:

  • Shared texts via projectors/document cameras
  • Newsela (engaging, level-able text at the click of a button)
  • Wonderopolis (text based on “more than 90,000 Wonder questions submitted by users” and differentiation features such as selected-text-to-audio and hover-to-define-vocabulary)
  • DOGO (kid-friendly news that’s also leveled at the click of a button and includes assignments, vocab, and Google Classroom integration)
  • Savvy multimedia librarians that can help identify/pull relevant texts during the immersion phase of units.

#4: You won’t have as much time without me to meet students’ individual needs!

Basal models assume that most kids’ learning takes place right at the top of the bell curve, with “differentiation tips” for the few kids on either side of the curve. But the truth is, every journey is unique. The sooner we disentangle ourselves from all the micromanaged requirements of a basal, the sooner we can spend our time where it really counts: 1-1 conferences, responsive mini-lessons, mentor text studies, student ownership/agency, etc.

No matter what promises are made to the contrary, we need to remember that “there’s no simple solution, no panacea, or miracle cure for reading. The range of ways to solve reading achievement challenges is as broad as the range of student profiles.”²

Sources:

1. http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1507&context=ehd_theses

2. https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/resources/2/Principal/2009/J-F_p26.pdf

3. http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Basal_readers.pdf

4. http://www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/3-reasons-to-rethink-your-basal-reader

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto