Friday, June 29, 2012

All the Way to America & a freebie!

All the Way To America:
The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
by Dan Yaccarino

Last year my Social Studies curriculum was changed.  The most challenging but fun part of the new curriculum for me has been teaching immigration.  Up until a year ago, I taught American History from Indians through the Civil War.  I loved it and was disappointed when the wars especially were taken from my list!  I also wondered how to teach history, but not sequentially.  Now I would have to pass by all of the {super fun} war stuff and skip from colonial studies to immigration. 

At the beginning of the year, I sadly packed up my "Schoolhouse Rock" videos, my scripts, props, and costumes for plays about the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere, the "Liberty's Kids" videos (goodbye Ben Franklin as played by Walter Cronkite ~ *sniff*), and bravely went on a search for new videos, plays, songs and books to help me make Immigration come alive for my students.  I'm not going to lie; it was a bust.  My heart wasn't in it, there was a lot of upheaval at my school, and I just didn't do a great job.

So this summer, I have recommitted myself to my students and the curriculum and have spent hours on the internet and at the library searching and developing great lessons.  Recently I came across this book on the New Book shelf at the library.  It's really cute and will be a great introduction for my students.

All the Way to America is the true story of the author's family beginning with his great-grandfather who immigrated from Italy through Ellis Island to start a new life with a shovel and advice from his mother: "Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and always remember your family."  The story continues by following four generations of the Yaccarino family and the shovel that has been passed down through the years.  It is a great discussion starter, and hopefully it will make my students question where their families have come from!  I Loved it!  

There is also an All the Way to America blog!  It's not so popular yet, but I thought that would be a great authentic audience for my students to share the stories of their families at the end of the unit! Can't wait!

My school and students are very lucky to have a well-stocked library.  As soon as I read this book, I knew it would be a great springboard into the novels available in my library and the school's.  I made this quick activity that the students can do during library class to explore some of the books we have just waiting to be read!  You can download the activity for free by clicking this link or the picture.  If you download it, please let me know what you think.  I hope you can use it and your students love exploring these books!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Waiting for Normal

Waiting for Normal
Leslie Connor
February 2008
From Barnes & Noble:

"Addie's stepfather, Dwight, has always been the responsible one in the family. But after he and her mother divorce, and he gets custody of Addie's two younger half-sisters, it's up to Addie, a sixth-grader, to keep order in the tiny trailer that Dwight has found for Addie and her mother. While her mother disappears for days at a time with her new boyfriend, Addie cultivates friendships with people she meets at a neighboring convenience store."

Through all of her mother's absences and surviving on her own, Addie remains optimistic, honest, and kindhearted.  She is resilient and resourceful.  Ms. Connor has created one of the most heartwarming heroines I have read.  This poignant novel examines the often unnoticed plight of children who are neglected by their caregivers.  Simply told, and with touching moments that are not easily forgotten, Waiting for Normal is unlike most children's literature in its realistic, not always sunshiny tone.  

I loved this book!  I finished it a couple of days ago, and I can't stop thinking about Addie.  Unfortunately for me, I don't think it's for most 5th graders.  But the middle school girls at my school would love this, and would be fascinated I'm sure by Addie and her mom.  I will definitely recommend it to them when the new school year starts.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I won an award!!! 

I am so excited!  Thanks so much to Jenna at Just Diving In for nominating me for this award.  To say I'm shocked is putting it mildly.  Even though I've had this blog for nearly two years, I really only started getting serious about it in the last month!  Thank you, thank you, thank you for my very first award!  BTW, her blog is ah-mazing!

Now, I get to pass on the award to fifteen new or favorite bloggers!  I had a fabulous time looking for the following blogs to give the award to:
I can't get enough of Jordon's blog!

I am new to teaching science, and Leslie's blog has been a godsend!

Fifth Grade Fancy

Leading and Reading

The Teachaholic Blog Button
This one is new to me! I love it already!

Smart Bottom
Not new, but one of my FAVES!


Perhaps the best find of the day!

Love "Fifth Grade Follies!" Mrs. J doesn't have a button; this is her dog. :)

Once you receive the award, you must follow 3 rules:
1. Follow the person that gave you the award.
2. Link back to the peson that gave you the award.
3. Pass the award on to 15 new bloggers.

Thanks again to Jenna!

Princess Academy

Princess Academy
Princess Academy
Shannon Hale
July 2005

I fear I might be in a total rut; I've read a ton of fairy tale-like books lately, and this one is no exception.  I guess it's because we end the school year with a super fun fairy tale unit and I am still living in that moment.

Anyway, Princess Academy is really good!  It's easy to see why it was honored with a Newberry Honor Award.  And since one of my students read it (and like 100 other books this year - no lie!) and recommended it to me, I couldn't wait to read it. 

Miri lives with her father and sister in a mountainous territory of the fictional Danland that is known for its linder stone (marble).  Life on Mount Eskel is simple and pleasant, and the people of the territory are a strong, tight knit community.

When the king's priests tell him that his son's bride is from the small village, he wastes no time in sending guards and servants to create a Princess Academy to prepare the girls of Mount Eskel to become princesses.  In one year, the prince will come to the Academy and choose his bride.

Miri and the other young girls are taken away from their families and put in the often harsh keeping of Olana, their tutor.  Faced with harsh conditions, competition from the other girls and homesickness, Miri ultimately uses her new knowledge to aid her family and her entire village.  Through her studies she learns that her people have been taken advantage of when they sell their linder stone to the traders who visit each year.

Full of intrigue, mystery, adventure, and a little bit of magic, Princess Academy lends itself quite easily to discussions of character, setting, themes of acceptance, friendship, and even economics.  This would be a good book for a small group; I don't think most of the boys would enjoy it.  But the right group of girls and boys might really get into it!  I will definitely recommend this book for partner reading next year.

Buy it now at Barnes & Noble 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

illustrated by Quentin Blake
September 1998

This weekend I had a garage sale, and my sister sent a ton of my nieces' forgotten toys and books to sell.  After selling almost all of their old dolls, stuffed animals and most of the books she sent, I was ready to close it up and send everything else to the Goodwill.  That's when I found this gem in the leftover book pile!  I'm soooo stinkin' glad it didn't sell because I {LOVE} it!

Clown is a delightful wordless story about a toy clown who is thrown away with a bunch of other toys.  Determined to save himself and his friends, the clown travels through a city looking for a child willing to help him rescue the other toys.  Despite a series of mishaps,  he and the discarded toys find love with a new family.  Illustrated by Quentin Blake, my students will instantly recognize the artist from his illustrations of Roald Dahl books (always a *huge* favorite in 5th grade!).

Ever since I saw a post using wordless picture books as reading centers, I have been on the hunt for great wordless books.  (Sorry ~ I can't find the post and have deleted the download from the post that led to my fascination!  If you know it, let me know.)  

Anyway... the creative soul from whom I  'borrowed' this idea wrote three writing prompts for each book and differentiated them by color coding them for below level, on level, and above level.  I loved them so much, I made a set of my own for the books I found at my local library.

As soon as I found this book hiding in the stack in my garage, I knew I had to create a set of prompts for Clown, too.  Click the preview to get the preview set for free at my TPT store:

Or click here to get the full version with activity cards for seven wordless books, including my new favorite, Clown.

Buy it at Barnes & Noble

Blog Stalking

My favorite pastime - especially on Saturday mornings - is to catch up on all my favorite blogs and hopefully find new ones that I can become addicted to learn new things from.  And this morning, I followed one of my favorites (Farley at Oh, Boy 4th Grade) way right into a new blog that I LOVE!  Laura over at Will Grade for Coffee (isn't that a great name?) is hosting a 100 follower giveaway, and I love her blog so much I had to share!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

How to Handle Difficult Parents

 How to Handle Difficult Parents
Suzanne Capek Tingley
September 2006

From Shelfari:
"Be it "Pinocchio's Mom," who thinks her child never lies, the "Caped Crusader," who will stop at nothing to have a book eliminated from the curriculum, or the "Helicopter Mom," who hovers and swoops in to protect her child from disappointment, this humorous handbook helps educators deal with impossible parents. Each chapter features a hilarious caricature that illuminates common parent anxieties followed by specific, practical methods for addressing the problem. Easily implemented advice on face-to-face confrontations helps teachers approach each conflict with the confidence to get their point across and the composure to keep their professional principles intact."

I sat down and read this book in one sitting.  I couldn't put it down!  The caricatures of  parents I have dealt with made me laugh out loud, but the advice for handling them was invaluable and  really kept me reading for much longer than I had planned.  Like I've said before, I  tend to shy away from professional books unless they have tons of practical advice from real teachers - and this does just that.  Ms. Tingley is a former teacher, administrator and now a superintendent.  Some of the advice is common sense, but who can't use a reminder that common sense sometimes must prevail?  I will keep this book for years as a refresher and resource to have on hand when I need it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Half Price Books and 2 New Fairy Tales

Today I went to Half-Price Books.  I really need to stay out of there... but some days I just can't resist.  Turns out,  today was a great day to give into my craving for cheap and new books; HPB has massive amounts of kids' clearance tables out right now!!  I do want it on the record that I did not buy any adult fiction for myself - even though that cart was calling my name, and there were at least three books that caught my eye and tried to come home with me.  I was strong.  I will not go back.  Maybe.

Anyway, by the end of my hour in the store, I had amassed a collection of about fifteen new-to-my-library books and three or four that I just needed one (or three) more copies of for my classroom library.  (I can't seem to keep copies of Love That Dog on my shelves!  I can't imagine that kids are that much in love with it; when they review it, most of them tell me it's about a boy whose dog dies.  Um... and??)

Falling for Rapunzel 
Leah Wilcox 
illustrated by Lydia Menks
December 2005
Two of the new stories I brought home fit in with my fairy tale unit, and I read them right away.   FALLING FOR RAPUNZEL by Leah Wilcox is a delightful picture book illustrated by Lydia Menks.  Written in a sing-song rhyme that lends itself to oral reading, it tells of a Rapunzel who is overheard whining about a bad hair day.  The prince mistakenly thinks she is wishing to be rescued and calls up to her to 'throw down your hair!'  Being so far away, Rapunzel can't quite hear the prince and instead throws down her underwear!  The mistakes continue with hilarious consequences.  

What kid doesn't love a book in which underwear lands on some poor guy's head?  I know the 5th graders will get a giggle out of this book.  I'm only sad that I should wait until next spring to share it!  This was a super fun book with silly pictures to go along with it.  

Cinderella (as if you didn't already know the story)
written and illustrated by Barbara Ensor
July 2011

This second fairy tale was cute, too.  Barbara Ensor has rewritten the original Cinderella with some endearing twists.  At about 113 pages, this story is perfect for young readers who like predictable text and are ready for a short chapter book.  

In CINDERELLA (AS IF YOU DIDN'T ALREADY KNOW THE STORY), the poor young maid writes letters to her recently deceased mother.  Through her letters, we learn more about Cinderella's thought and emotions that we are usually given.

The illustrations are black and white silhouettes that are cleverly created and positioned on the pages.  Paired with crazy and fun fonts, the overall look of this book drew me in as much as the story. 

This would be a great book to compare with the original.  The differences are few but really change the reader's understanding of the characters' motivation.  Perhaps a good old-fashioned Venn?  I think I will create a center with the Venn cards already created and let the students sort them. (Hula Hoops - here I come!) It'll be interesting to see who are my careful readers; these two books are quite similar.  Students who don't read carefully could be misled by the nuances.

Summer Throwdown


OK people.  I just committed myself to the Summer Throwdown: Team Teacher.  If you don't know about this fun Battle of the Readers between teachers and librarians, go here:

Heise Reads & Recommends
If you are better at this stuff than me, you can follow the progress of the throwdown on Twitter.  (Someday I must try again to learn to tweet!!!)  

OK, I must start reading and stay the heck off of this computer for a while. Go Team Teacher!!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Billionaire's Curse

The Billionaire's Curse
Richard Newsome
April 2011

Gerald is a fairly ordinary thirteen-year-old living in Sydney, Australia with his fairly ordinary parents.  Until his Great Aunt Geraldine passes away in London.  Suddenly Gerald's hope of a holiday getaway with his best friend is suddenly dashed as he is whisked away to England for the funeral and reading of the will.  Having never even heard of Great Aunt Geraldine, Gerald is stunned when he is named the heir to the bulk of Geraldine's vast fortune!  Now owner of multiple homes, billions of dollars and even a private Caribbean island, Gerald soon discovers Geraldine was murdered - and he may be next!  With the help of his new friends, twins Sam and Ruby, Gerald sets off to solve the mystery of Great Aunt Geraldine's death and save his own life in the process.  

THE BILLIONAIRE'S CURSE reminded me of a great mystery story from my childhood!  Think Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden with more action and adventure.  There are no vampires, no witches, and no aspects of fantasy to detract from the mystery the characters face.   And it's a great mystery full of twists and turns, excitement and danger that doesn't relent!  

I cannot recommend this book enough.  This is the first in the Archer Legacy Series; I'm looking forward to the other two in the series. Even the most reluctant readers - especially boys - will be caught up in the story and not be able to put it down!  I don't know if I can see this as a read aloud, however; there is some moderate graphic violence that may not be appropriate for every child in my classroom.  (It's no worse than what they see on TV and in movie, but I don't want to assume every parent would be okay with it.)  But I do see this book as the book that is passed from student to student throughout the year.  I must definitely buy at least a couple of copies of the book for my classroom library!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Code Busters Club #1: The Skeleton Key

The Code Busters Club #1: The Skeleton Key
Penny Warner
September 2011

Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E. are middle school students who have one thing in common: they love writing, deciphering and working with codes.  Strengthening their code busting skills and turning them into more than a simple hobby, they create a club - complete with secret clubhouse and ever changing passwords. 

When a nearby house catches on fire, the Code Busters Club is on the case.  They are determined to find out what caused the fire that landed the Skeleton Man, their strange, reclusive neighbor, in the hospital.  Soon they are embroiled in the midst of a real life mystery with codes leading every step of the way!

In this very cleverly written series, readers are encouraged to solve the puzzles along with the Code Busters.  The Code Busters must decipher all kinds of codes - everything from American Sign Language and Morse Code to Consonant Code and Semaphores. (I didn't know what it was either!)  Don't worry, though, there are decoders and answers at the back of the book.

I loved this book!  The concept is clever and lets the reader be the detective along with the characters.  The mystery is fast-paced and intriguing, and the characters are likeable and daring.    As I was reading this, I kept thinking about all the novels I love that have to do with language, words, and how people communicate and decided this would be a great read aloud (showing the codes on the document camera) during a guided novel study of such books as FRINDLE (lower level) and NO TALKING by Andrew Clements, THE WORD EATER by Mary Amato, and for my advanced students THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norman Juster.

Of course this would also be a great tie in to our annual Mystery Week in fifth grade, but I don't think I can fit one more thing into that week!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grandpa Green


Grandpa Green
Lane Smith
August 2011

When I went to the library yesterday, I was really looking for some of the great books I've used in my classroom this year but didn't have time to blog about like this one and this one.  Then I saw GRANDPA GREEN.  First, the cover struck me, then I saw who the author was, and I had to have it!  

Lane Smith is the award winning illustrator of many of my favorite go-to books, most notably these two:

GRANDPA GREEN does not disappoint!  In it a young boy tells, in a child's simple language, of his grandfather's exciting life while the pictures illustrate that life in the garden the grandfather has nurtured.  Memories are handed down through the topiary trees that have been carefully cultivated throughout the grandfather's life.  This is a captivating story of aging, love and family.  I found myself re-reading it immediately so I could savor the pictures and the message more slowly and carefully.

I can't wait to read this to my class next year on Grandparent's Day to both the kids and their grandparents.  This is the kind of book that will lead my students to ask their grandparents what life was like when they grew up.  Perfect.

Buy it at Barnes & Noble

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It
False Apology Poems
by Gail Carson Levine
Matthew Cordell (illustrator)
March 2012

From the book:

"This Is Just to Say
If you're looking
for an nice
happy book
put this one down 
and run away 
Forgive me
and good cheer
are boring

Inspired by William Carlos Williams’s famous poem ”This Is Just to Say,” Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine delivers a wickedly funny collection of her own false apology poems, imagining how tricksters really feel about the mischief they make. Matthew Cordell’s clever and playful line art lightheartedly captures the spirit of the poetry. This is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever apologized . . . and not really meant it."

Each year my 5th graders complete a poetry book.  But at my school, they have done all the formula poems (haiku, cinquain, etc.) in third grade, so I just focus on word choice, figurative language and playing with English.  By the end of the unit (done in April - National Poetry Month), each student has written over a dozen poems and created a cover page which I bind into a keepsake book.  And every year, the best poems are by students who don't get a lot of chance to feel successful!  It's a huge hit.

FORGIVE ME, I MEANT TO DO IT is a great addition to that unit.  The poems I love best are from the point of view of a literary character, like this one:

 This Is Just to Say

I have shortened 
my nose
with your saw

telling lies
is so much fun

Forgive me
I don't care
about becoming
a real boy

Super clever, right?  I know!

I love, love, love the pencil drawings that go with each poem, but the best part of the whole book is the cleverly place Introduction in which Ms. Levine persuades readers to become writers of their own false apology poems!  And isn't that what we all strive for?  Genius.

The Orphan

The Orphan: A Cinderella story from Greece
Anthony L. Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou
Giselle Potter (illustrator)
October 2011

Each year, the fifth graders do a literature study of fairy tales, and each year I scour the library for fractured tales - especially based on Cinderella.  To my delight this year, I found this one.  THE ORPHAN is a fun retelling based on two traditional Greek stories.  In it, the Godmother is replaced by Mother Nature and her many children who bestow gifts on the young girl so that she may attend church services while the prince is visiting.  The prince orders honey to be spread on the church steps, and the orphan loses her blue slipper (a gift from the sea).  Unlike other tellings of the story, this Cinderella doesn't sit in a corner meekly waiting to be found by her prince.  She takes matters into her own hands and presents herself to the prince.  And they live happily ever after - naturally!

This was a great book for my students to compare to the original.  It stayed true to the original French version (more than most, actually) and yet was different enough to keep the students interested.  The notes that are included indicate that the authors told two stories but updated their heroine to make her more modern thinking.  The watercolor pictures throughout the story are delightful; my students commented especially on how ugly the stepsisters were!  I was enchanted by the pictures of Mother Nature and all her children.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


R.J. Palacio
February 2012

After reading this blog post, I knew I had to read this book.  So when I saw it at the library today, I snapped it up, and rushed home to read it!  It didn't disappoint; this is perhaps the most touching, realistic middle grades book, and I am recommending it to everyone who teaches, goes to school or at some time has felt like an outcast.  

August Pullman is starting 5th grade in a new school.  A difficult transition for any kid.  But for Auggie the addition of two extraordinary factors make it even more stressful.  1. He's been homeschooled his whole life and 2. He was born with an extremely rare birth defect: as he puts it, "I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."  WONDER follows Auggie through his first year at his new school - the ups and downs that every new kid faces magnified by about a million.  Cleverly told from several points of view, R.J. Palacio does a remarkable job at conveying emotions and feelings of the characters.  

I can't wait to share this book with my 5th graders next year.  Themes of family ties, growing up, acceptance, bullying, and growth and change make this a great book that I feel will lead to wonderful discussions.  I'm already planning some great anchor charts for character development!

I could really go on forever about this book: just read it.  I promise you'll love it!  I leave you with the book trailer from you tube:

Buy it now from Barnes & Noble.