Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Literacy Night Cafe: Now Serving Books

Spreading the love of reading and getting students interested in books is one of the parts of my job that I am most passionate about. A book tasting, not an original idea, but one that is widely written about on various literacy blogs and websites, has been an effective way to help students learn about books that interest them and motivate them to try out new titles, authors, and genres. For the first time, I hosted a literacy night at my school based on the idea of a book tasting. Watching students interact with their families as they "sampled" books and listening to them talk about books they may like to read was a joy. To a literacy specialist, there is nothing better than witnessing this excitement about reading.


Before students returned to school at night with their families, the school cafeteria was set up to resemble a restaurant. Five tables were covered in red and white checkered tablecloths and set up with battery-operated candles and platters of books. Each table was designated for one of the following genres or types of books: realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, mystery, and graphic novels. A "Now Serving" sign, stating the book genre for the table, was placed on each of the five tables. 


 As families entered the cafeteria, Italian dinner music played and a virtual "fire" crackled on the projector screen. Students were given a "menu" which served as a place for them to record book titles they were interested in reading, a raffle ticket for the opportunity to win one of three book prizes, and a bracelet with the words "I Love to Read". Parents were given a handout with ways to encourage reading at home. For the first fifteen minutes, students visited the raffle table and a table where they could help themselves to bookmarks, stickers, and pins related to various books and reading. Many of the freebies available were provided by generous children's authors who I reached out to through Twitter. Students enjoyed cookies and juice that were donated by local supermarkets.



When families finished their snacks, I spoke briefly about the importance of reading and letting students choose what they want to read. I played this Dav Pilkey video in which he shares research about reading for fun. Then I explained the book tasting to families. I told them that similar to food, you don't know if you are going to like a book until you "sample" it. I also explained that sampling a book is like sampling food, meaning that you read only a little bit, such as the description on the back or the first page or two. "I Love to Read" pencils were passed out to each student and the book tasting began.



For about eight minutes, families "sampled" the books at the table where they sat. Students jotted down titles of books on the "menu" they were given when they arrived. There were a variety of levels of books on the tables, from picture books to early readers to chapter books, for families to peruse. When the designated time was up, families moved to the next table. Families had the opportunity to visit all of the tables. In between table rotations, two students told a book-related joke. After families visited all the tables, raffle winners were chosen and students had the opportunity to sign-out any of the books they were interested in borrowing to read. I think families left for the night feeling excited about books and reading.


Some of the books at the "Mystery" table. 
The planning for this night involved gathering books to place at each of the tables. I chose mostly recently published titles. Being a reader of children's literature, these were books I know and love. I also made sure to include those books that tend to be popular among students. I purchased the books through a grant from an organization I am a member of, the Southeast Regional Reading Council, a local council of the Massachusetts Reading Association. With this grant, I was also able to purchase some of the supplies needed for the night. Thanks to SERRC, the generosity of children's authors, local supermarkets, and the teachers who assisted me with the event, the first family book tasting event at my school was a success. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...


Give Me Back My Book by Travis Foster

Redd has a book, but Bloo insists that the book is his. While the two are arguing about the book, Bookworm grabs the book for himself. Redd and Bloo have an idea to get their book back. They not only get their book, but they learn to share. This is an amusing story, told through dialogue, that shows the joy of books.

Malala's Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai

This books provides a version of Malala Yousafzai's story that is accessible to young readers. Malala's determination is inspirational. The idea that it's possible to make change through writing is an important one to share with our youngest students.

The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse by Mac Barnett

A mouse is gobbled up by a wolf. Within the belly of the wolf, mouse discovers a duck and the two quite enjoy dancing and feasting together where they are safe from the outside world. When a hunter threatens the wolf's life the mouse and the duck must defend their home. This is a quirky, creative, and humorous tale telling the story of why wolves howl.

Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander

Wallace and Grace have a detective agency and they solve mysteries together. Edgar asks them to help solve the mystery of the ghost in the garden. Wallace and Grace solve the mystery, but they also reveal an adorable surprise that will delight young readers. I think many early readers, those who like mysteries and animal stories, will find this a fun read.

It's a Mystery, Pig Face! by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

Tracy and her friend Ralph find a bag of money at the baseball field and they decide to hide it and figure out who it belongs to. Although Tracy doesn't want her brother tagging along, he becomes involved in their detective work. The trio finds out that solving a mystery has its challenges. This book tells the story of a fun and mysterious summer adventure of a group of neighborhood children, but it also has lessons about friendship and appreciating siblings. Thanks to the author, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, for sending me a copy of this book.

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Farah and her friends discover an unusual looking board game. When Farah's younger brother disappears into the board game, Farah and her friends must enter, as well, to rescue him. The board game brings the friends to a magical world where they are faced with a set of challenges. If they win the challenges they return home. If they don't, they are trapped there forever. This book is a page-turner, fast-paced and mysterious. The setting of the book is interesting, too, as the world of the board game is an imaginary Middle Eastern city. This is also a story about family and teamwork.

A Book to Look for in 2018


Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Stella, who hasn't yet mastered English, feels different from the others in her class. She feels uncomfortable speaking in school unless it's to her friend Jenny. This book tells the story of Stella's struggle to fit in and find her voice. Stella's story is one that some students will be able to relate to and will help others empathize with those who may have a similar struggle. Stella shows that it's possible to overcome our fears and that it's okay to be oneself. The author's note at the end of the book explains that much of the story is based on her own life. This book publishes in January.

Monday, October 23, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...


It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk

This is the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, only Jack does not want the story to be told the way it's supposed to be told. As the narrator tells the story, Jack talks back complaining and offering his suggestions for how the story should go. From the first page where Jack is not wearing pants and throughout the rest of the story, Jack brings humor and fun to the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. It's not the ending you expect from Jack and the Beanstalk, but Jack does manage a happily ever after. This is a fun and unique fractured fairy tale that students will find very entertaining. This book already has me eager for the next, It's Not Hansel and Gretel, which will be published in 2019.  Thanks to Unleashing Readers, one of the hosts of It's Monday! What Are You Reading? and the publisher, Two Lions, for a copy of this book.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

Cucumber only wants to go to start school at Puffington's Academy for the Magically Gifted, but he's been chosen to save Doughnut Kingdom before Queen Cordelia achieves her plan for world domination. His sister, Almond, seems more suited for the job, but her mother thinks it's too dangerous for her. Together the siblings set out to save the world. With a Gumdrop Forest and a Caketown, there is lots to this story that is sweet, but there is also evilness as Cucumber and Almond become involved in a battle for the Dream Sword. Graphic novels with adventure and humor, like this one, are always a hit with middle grade readers.

If Found...Please Return to Elise Gravel by Elise Gravel

Elise Gravel's illustrations are imaginative and fun. This book is a recreation of Elise's black notebook which she draws in at night while her daughters sleep. Within the book's pages there is lots of inspiration and encouragement for those who like to draw or those who may feel their drawings aren't any good. Readers will love looking at the drawings of creatures Elise has invented, many of which will give them a laugh. The book itself looks like a little black notebook. If I was a kid, I'd be asking for my own black notebook to doodle in after reading this book.

My Robot Ate My Homework: Project Droid #3 by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser

Logan has a cousin, Java, who is actually a robot his mother built. Logan has Java do his homework for him, but this backfires when his teacher announces a geography bee and Logan realizes his class could find out what he did. Logan must learn his geography facts to win the competition. Java's literal understanding of the world and Logan's attempts to cover up the fact that he's a robot is entertaining and humorous. This is a great read for transitional readers.

Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy by Gareth Wronski

Holly Farb has just lost the school election and she wants nothing more than to get into a prestigious private school. One day at school she gets kidnapped by space pirates who think she is the Princess of the galaxy and she finds herself in space along with a new kid from school and her teacher. They have an exciting space adventure as they try to get home. Imaginative, with lots of action and humor, this is a book that science fiction readers will enjoy.

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch

Mabel's parents own an antique spoon museum, but it is only a cover since they are spies who are often sent on secret missions. When her parents go missing and her Aunt Gertie is arrested, Mabel is determined to solve the mystery of what is happening and save the spoon collection from her greedy and shady aunt and uncle who have suddenly shown up in town. This is a fun mystery with interesting characters. Mabel herself is a delight with her cleverness and quick-thinking.

A Book to Look for in 2018


Spy Toys by Mark Powers

Dan is a Snugliffic Cuddlestar, a toy bear with a computerized brain, but because he can't control his own strength he is sent to the rejects pile. Along with another toy and a robot rabbit, he is chosen to be a spy toy and protect the senator's son from being kidnapped. Dan is unsure about his assignment and worried about his abnormal strength, but he learns to put those thoughts aside to keep the senator's son safe. The toys are involved in an amusing adventure, but their experience shows the power of believing in oneself. This is the type of fast-paced, humorous, sort-of-silly book that many middle grade readers enjoy. There are many pictures throughout which will entice reluctant readers and those who prefer shorter chapter books. This is one with lots of kid appeal.

Monday, October 16, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...


Finding Gobi: The True Story of One Little Dog's Big Journey by Dion Leonard

Gobi has quite a journey in this story, as does Dion, the runner who was determined to find a way to bring Gobi home. Dion found Gobi, or rather Gobi found him, when he was running an ultramarathon through China. Gobi would not leave Dion's side even as he ran through the desert in extreme heat and when the race was finished Dion knew they belonged together. Bringing Dion home to Scotland was not an easy task to begin with, but then Gobi disappeared. This is a true story of Dion and Gobi's friendship and how they beat the odds to be together.

Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

This is a spooky story that is more than just a spooky story. It is also a story of a girl dealing with changes in her life and navigating new friendships. You can read more of my thoughts about this book here.

The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline Ogburn

With a unicorn and a talking cat, I think this book will be one that intrigues elementary readers. Eric starts taking care of an injured unicorn at the farm where his grandmother lived before she went into a nursing home. He discovers there are other magical creatures and he agrees to keep them secret. He also hopes to heal his grandmother with the help of the unicorn's healing magic. This is a touching story that those who have lost a grandparent will be able to relate. I think this book has a good blend of fantasy and realism to entertain readers, but also teach life lessons.

A Book to Look for in 2018


Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

I loved so much about this book. It's about family and learning to accept one's differences. Definitely a heart-warming read. It doesn't publish until January of 2018, but it's one to be on the lookout for. You can read more about my thoughts here.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

I have taught many students throughout the years who have what could be considered untraditional families. For some students, their grandparents play the major role in their upbringing. There are definitely middle grade readers who will be able to relate to Robinson, the main character in Just Like Jackie, who is being raised by her grandfather.

Robinson has a tough exterior and does not let anyone get away with teasing her about her family even if it means she has to use her fists. When she gets in trouble for fighting at school and her grandfather is called in, Robinson starts to worry that others will find out that something is wrong with him. Lately, he is starting to forget things and get confused. School, also, presents a problem for Robinson when she has to complete a family tree project. Unlike others in her class, she doesn't have any family members besides her grandfather to put on her tree. Robinson would like to know more about her mother and is afraid with her grandfather losing his memory that she will never find out.

Robinson is a character I immediately liked. She acts tough, but she has a sweet side to her, as well. Although it gets her in trouble, she stands up for herself and what she thinks is right. The relationship Robinson and her grandfather have with each other is heartwarming. She is determined to take care of him and find a way for them to stay together.

Just Like Jackie is a story that shows how family can be more than just those who we are related to. It's also a story of friendship. Robinson's story shows how challenging it can be when one feels different from her peers. Although she doesn't always make the right choices, she learns that friends and family stick together and help one another. This is a book that middle grade readers, whether their families are untraditional or not, can learn some important life lessons. This is one to keep an eye out for when it publishes in January of 2018.

Thank you to the author, Lindsey Stoddard, and the book's publisher, HarperCollins, for sharing an advanced reader's copy of the book with my book group, #BookExcursion.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Tess is not happy that her family has moved to Chicago from Florida. Not only is the weather very different from back home, but she misses her art teacher and her best friend. The house that her family moves into on Shady Street does not help matters either. An old house, built in the 1800's, it seems dark and uninviting. Tess and her family aren't living in the house long before Tess starts to get spooked. She finds a mark on her sketch pad that she didn't make, the lights flicker on and off, she has weird dreams, and her brother Jonah starts to talk about seeing ghosts. More and more strange occurrences take place and Tess comes to the conclusion that her house is haunted.

When Tess is exploring her neighborhood she meets Andrew and, knowing she should make friends, introduces herself. Andrew has a friend, Nina, who knows a lot about graveyards. Together, the friends start investigating the mystery of what is happening on Shady Street. Their research takes them to a nearby cemetery where they begin to connect the haunted happenings in Tess's house to a six-year-old girl who died over a hundred years before. The friends' journey to figure out the mystery is filled with just enough spookiness to entertain middle grade readers without being too dark or scary.

Middle grade readers who like spooky stories and mysteries will be intrigued by the plot of this book. But, this book is more than just a spooky story. Tess is a wonderful character navigating middle school life as she moves to a new place and has to make new friends. Tess shows that it's possible to make the best of a situation that is less than ideal. Middle grade readers will also be able to relate to the challenges of friendship and getting along with others that Tess works through in the book.

About the Author

Lindsay lives in Chicago, Illinois with one incredibly patient hubby, three amazing kids and THREE DOGS! She's fond of tea, Halloween, Disney World and things that go bump in the night!

An author of young adult and middle grade fiction, Lindsay is represented by Kathleen Rushall, of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Her middle grade novels are published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Her young adult novels are published with Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, published by Aladdin, is available today. Thanks to Lindsay Currie and the publisher for providing me with a digital advanced review copy of the book.

Monday, October 9, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading This Week...


Ada Lace, On the Case by Emily Calandrelli

Ada has recently moved to a new neighborhood and is missing her best friend. She would rather be outside exploring and researching, but she is stuck inside because of the cast on her leg. Ada befriends a girl in the neighborhood and together they investigate a missing dog case. This book has a mystery, friendship, and a character who loves science and technology. This is a shorter text with quite a few illustrations so it will appeal to transitional readers and those who don't have the stamina yet for longer chapter books.

Open if You Dare by Dana Middleton

Birdie and her friends find a box buried in the ground with the words, "Open if you dare" written on it. The clues lead Birdie to a mystery about a girl who lived in the neighborhood decades before. As Birdie becomes wrapped up in the mystery she is also facing challenges of being middle-school aged, such as a friend who is moving away, an annoying younger sister, and friends who are beginning to like boys. This is a story that many middle grade readers will be able to relate to, but the mystery also makes it an intriguing read.

Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

This is one of two books I read this week about lost objects. Gertie Milk wakes up on a mysterious island with no memory of who she is or where she is from. When she meets a strange little man, named Kolt, he explains that she is on the island of Skuldark and she has been chosen to be a Keeper of Lost Things, as he is. Together they travel in time to return lost objects while they try to escape the clutches of the Losers who want to destroy all knowledge. Gertie and Kolt's time travel is adventurous, but also leads them to encounters with historical figures and gives some clues to Gertie's life. The quirky characters and imaginative setting make this an enchanting story.

A Book to Look for in 2018


The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Marty's favorite possession, a jacket given to him by his father, has gone missing. Marty has also learned that his father, who has cancer, has limited time left. To get his lost jacket back, Marty goes on a journey to find the Train of Lost Things, a train that collects lost treasures that children have lost, which his father has told him stories about. When Marty finds the train he meets two other children also searching for lost objects. Through his journey, Marty learns about love and memories. This is a heart-breaking and sweet story of hope and resilience. The book publishes in January of 2018.

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information and to find out what other bloggers are reading check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I've Been Reading...

Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals by Gabrielle Balkan

This book was in the Halloween section at my local Barnes and Noble. Being about bones, this book could be shared around Halloween, but this is a nonfiction book that will be useful all year round. The book tells about ten animals who hold a record related to their bones. Readers can find out what animal has the biggest bones, the lightest bone, and the fewest bones to name a few of the records shared in the book. The book gives clues about the animal and its bones for the reader to figure out. The information is presented in a fun way that will amuse readers. The author also makes connections between a human's bones and the animals' bones. I can definitely see my students being enthralled with the information in this book.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

I have a collection of well-worn alphabet books from when I taught first grade that I used to put out in my classroom library at the beginning of the year. These books helped beginning readers feel successful because they could go through them naming the letters and the word associated with each letter. Even though I don't teach first grade any more, Patrick McDonnell's book is one that I will add to my collection. The book is almost wordless, telling the tale of a little red cat who ran away and is being chased, first by an alligator, and then some other animals who join in. As readers tell the story, they can figure out what each letter of the alphabet stands for (the author gives the list of words for each letter at the end). There is an almost catastrophe at letters N and O, but the story works out for all involved. This is probably the most fun alphabet book I've read.

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups by Chris Harris

This poetry book is just what it sounds like from the title, a collection of poems with a lot of nonsense. Chris Harris has been referred to as the 21st-century Shel Silverstein and his book is definitely reminiscent of Silverstein's poetry. I think these poems, which will definitely make young readers laugh, are a bit edgier. Some are a play on words, such as, "The Ice Cream Mondae." Some give insight into childhood, like "You'll Never Feel as Tall as When You're Ten" and "The Little Hurts." Others, like "I Don't Like My Illustrator," are just plain funny. Fans of ridiculous and amusing poetry will enjoy this collection.

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas

Stella is on her way home from NASA when she is followed by a black hole. The black hole seems a convenient pet because it can swallow all the things she wants to get rid of, like Brussels sprouts, the stranger sweaters her aunt makes, and anything that reminds her of her father who recently died. When Stella, and her brother, get swallowed into the black hole she finally learns to acknowledge the black hole at the center of herself and realizes that it's possible to move on in the face of sadness. There is some science interwoven into the book, as well as a lot of humor. Michelle Cuevas, author of one of my favorite novels, The Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier, and the picture book, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, has a great imagination and unique writing style.

Mr. Lemoncello's Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein

Kyle and his friends are participating in Mr. Lemoncello's new Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy game in the third book in the Mr. Lemoncello series. With its puzzles and adventure this is a fun book to read. The book also highlights the importance of research, facts, and not jumping to conclusions as Kyle and his friends work to uncover the truth when they discover information about Mr. Lemoncello that could destroy his company and the library. Many well-known books are referenced throughout the story and the list of titles is included at the end. This is another fun addition to the series with a great lesson.