Saturday, December 31, 2011


Reading Franki Sibberson’s post at Nerdy Book Club today got me thinking about resolutions. Like Franki, mine always revolve around getting healthy. Maybe I will run, maybe I will commit to five workouts a week, etc. But in regard to reading, what are my resolutions? I’m planning on joining a couple of reading challenges this year.

Donalyn Miller calls Goodreads her reading brain, and I agree. I am doing a better job on actually tracking each book I read. According to the site, I have read 263 books this year. For 2012 my goal is 300. They don’t have a new widget yet on the site to track the progress for 2012 but as soon as they do, I’ll be adding it to this site.


John Schu of Watch Connect Read and Colby Sharp of Sharpreads are hosting this multi-year challenge – to read all the Newbery winners from 1922-present in chronological order. I will be joining them on this two year challenge.


Laura of LibLaura5 and Anna of A to Z Library are hosting this multi-year challenge – to read all of the Caldecott Medal and Honor books from 1938-present. I don’t think I will necessarily do this one in order, but as I can find the books.

State Awards

In Illinois we also have state awards. The nominees will be announced sometime in February (I think). I read all 20 nominees for Monarch (aimed for readers Kindergarten-3rd), Bluestem (aimed for readers in 3rd-5th), and Rebecca Caudill (aimed at readers in 4th-8th). So I plan on reading all 60 of these books before the start of the next school year.

My only other resolution in regard to reading is to use my library more. It is so easy to order books online, and I do that all too often. This is how I end up donating books to my middle school library because I want to read it but it ends up being too mature for my students. I am trying to cut down on how much I spend on books so I want to focus on using my public library more and only buying the ones for my class that I know will fit my classroom.

Now I need to finish my last book of 2011, which will be 264 – The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. So far I love it. And I’ll be back tomorrow to post about my personal resolution, which will be my One Little Word as I join Two Writing Teachers. I’ll share my word tomorrow.
Cheers from my home to yours. Happy New Year!
~ Katherine

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and Addie on the Inside by James Howe

Today I finished two amazing books, Ghetto Cowboy and Addie on the Inside. Both came highly recommended from friends on Twitter.

Ghetto Cowboy is written by G. Neri. He also wrote Yummy: The Last Days of the Southside Shorty. I haven’t read that one and now it is on my “to read” list.

Watch this amazing video for a quick summary:

Ghetto Cowboy follows the story of Cole (or Coltrane) as his mom drives him from Detroit to Philadelphia. He has gotten in trouble in school, again, and she just can’t handle Cole anymore. She drives him to Philly to meet his dad, Harper, for the first time. Cole is angry with his mom for abandoning him and is also trying to figure out what kind of person he is. Is he truly this troublemaker from Detroit – headed down the wrong path? Who is his father and why does he love horses more than his own son? Through his dad, the guys at the stable, and the horses – Cole learns the cowboy way. All I can say is read this book.

Reading level: 5th and up
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Appeals to: Boys and Girls
Rating: Five Stars
Release date: Out now

Addie on the Inside is by James Howe. This is a companion to the books The Misfits and Totally Joe. They follow a group of friends who are misfits at their middle school. The story is told in free verse and follows Addie, the only girl in the group of misfits. You get to know Addie’s insecurities as she deals with the pitfalls of junior high.

I loved this book. Addie is outspoken and knows what she stands for – and stands up for her beliefs even when that causes her to be ostracized more. One of my favorite quotes was from page 151:

“Maybe it would be better not to think,” I say. “Sometimes thinking hurts.”

“It isn’t the thinking that hurts,” she (Grandma) says, smoothing my hair. “It’s the caring.”

Reading level: 5th and up
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Appeals to: Girls mainly – some boys
Rating: Five Stars
Release date: Out now

A Change in Perspective

Today I was heading for one of my 20 mile drives through cornfields to get groceries. As always, this is a good time to think things over. My mind was dwelling today on the state of education in our country. In case you have been residing in a cave for the last few years, it isn’t good. The media is constantly vilifying educators, administrators, and schools in general. Before leaving home I had glanced at Twitter. Diane Ravitch had posted the following tweet:

How have we gotten here? When talking to fellow teachers, many feel under attack – and not just from the government. Morale is at an all time low. Students are showing a lack of respect for teachers, as are parents. We are torn apart in the news. New laws come in, more is asked of us and our time, but nothing is ever taken away.  Funding is cut, classroom budgets shrink. We don’t get paid an exorbitant salary and many pour some of that salary back into their classroom. (Classroom library, in my case)

“Bad” teachers make the news – ones that are cruel to the students, lazy, cheat on the high stakes tests, etc. Public Education is criticized daily. Education is held up in comparison to countries 1/50 of our size with little to no poverty. The message is that they are successful, we are not. How can we possibly turn this around? Sometimes it is enough for me to feel hopeless. Luckily for me, today I paused. Does public education have room to grow? Absolutely! But are there good things happening? Are there good teachers? I would say yes.

What is it about our country that we want to sensationalize the bad? Why aren’t good deeds done by others front-page news? Yes, there are bad teachers out there, but there are bad doctors, lawyers, police officers, cooks, etc. I would argue that the percentage of hard working, caring teachers far outnumbers the bad. I know this because I have seen it.

My boys are nine and six. We have been blessed with amazing teachers.

Teachers who attend their students sporting events on their weekends. Teachers who work outside of the school day to make extra time for the children who need just a bit more.
Teachers who eat lunch with their students.
Teachers who take the time to learn who their students are.
Teachers who write letters to their students about their reading.
Teachers who show compassion and caring for the child who is lost and doesn't fit in.
Teachers who work to make their students feel accepted for who they are.
Teachers who work 80 hours a week and give up many weekends.
Teachers who pour their own money into classroom materials.
Teachers who model what it is to be a good citizen.
Teachers who love our children.

I also work with amazing teachers.

Ones who go to conferences on their own time.
Ones who meet for book clubs on professional reading in the summers.
Ones who brainstorm ways to use technology on the weekends and then share their learning.
Ones who email articles regarding education for “fun” reading.
Ones who eat breakfast in their classrooms with students long before their “work day” starts just to help them get the day off on the right foot.
Ones who devote themselves to this career knowing there is not a lot of praise,
no monetary awards, no benefits other than the satisfaction of helping a student grasp the concept.
Ones who love students and teaching.

So as I start this New Year I am choosing to shift my perspective. While I know there are teachers that need to improve, I am going to focus on the fact that at least 95% of the teachers I know are amazing. I am going to work to thank the teachers I know for the unbelievable work they are doing. As a parent, I will back my children’s teachers. I will work to ensure that my children are respectful. I will thank them for the amazing job they do on a daily basis. And I plan to pray for the day that the rest of the country realizes we need to recognize the good in each other, not dwell on the negative. We can all do better, but if we worked to see all of the wonder already surrounding us, we’d be in a much better place.

A special thank you to Mrs. Coleman, Mrs. Donovan, Mrs. Munster, Mrs. Welter, Mrs. Reedy, Mrs. McHale, Mrs. Bower, Mrs. Allgeier, Mrs. Crook, and Miss Plecki for teaching our boys. And Ms. Tuck for being my Miss Stretchberry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reflecting on my reading in 2011

Only five days left in 2011 and, as always, the years seem to be going faster the older I get. Today has been a snowy, slushy, day here in central Illinois, time to curl up with a book, hang out with my family, and reflect back on the year. While many events have made this year wonderful, for this blog post I want to think about how my reading life changed and grew stronger this year.

As of the writing of this post, I have read 255 books this year. In 2010 I read 184. These are the books I actually “counted” and recorded in Goodreads. I’m not terrific at remembering to do this but have gotten much better since a friend shared how she used her iPhone to scan books quickly in there. I was lamenting that 255 didn’t seem like a lot. However the Associated Press did a poll in 2007 with the findings that 1 in 4 adults read ZERO books a year, with the average number being 7 books. Seven! So maybe my number isn’t so bad.

Looking over the list of books I’ve read this year I notice a few things. I read a wide variety of books. Non-fiction picture books are more prevalent than other non-fiction books. Picture books in general are well represented. Graphic novels are clearly adored. Young Adult, beginning chapter books, middle grades – wide ranging levels of books. Realistic fiction, Fantasy, Mystery – a myriad of books can be found. But, after all of these books, what will be the books that I recommend over and over to my students? That’s a hard question – it truly depends on the student and their interests. So, for my own information – what are my unforgettable books of the year? What ones will stay with me as I move on to 2012? Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, here they are:

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I read the ARC of this book last spring. Sobbing, curled up in a ball in my bed I remember sitting back, staring at the book, and wondering how this man is that brilliant.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. A picture book that became so much more. My class read it and debated if they were “team rabbit” or “team bear.” My friends on Twitter debated the book. Jen Vincent sent me a red hat. I gave out Bear and Rabbit ornaments at Christmas as “thank you” gifts to friends that had helped me out throughout the year. I bought several copies to give as gifts.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. This book had been on my table to read for several weeks. When I finally sat down to read it, I was swept away. I love when I feel that I “become” the character – and that happened with Hazel. I was trekking through the magical woods – looking for my friend. What an amazingly beautiful story.

Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder. My parents, luckily, have celebrated 41 years of marriage. But my husband’s parents divorced when he was in fourth grade. That happens to so many of my students – and I only have had a notion of how hard it is. After reading this book, I feel that I understand better. Laurel writes it so that your heart is torn in two. Rebecca is confused, frustrated, sad, and angry as her parents separate. As her mom deals with her own emotions, Rebecca isn’t consulted and often feels ignored. This is something I think many of my students can relate to and has made this one of the most popular books in my classroom this year.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner is a beautiful, quiet, picture book. The story follows a girl and her father as they go cross-country skiing through the woods and describes the animals that are present both over and under the snow.

The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson was an amazing introduction to what I am positive will be a popular series in my classroom. While I loved the book for what it was, I was further captivated by the NPR interview with the author. In it he talks about why he chose not to give the main protagonists magical powers and why the setting is Wisconsin. Love it and can’t wait to share it with my students.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt was incredible. When any of my students tell me they can’t relate to a main character of the opposite gender – I use this book to explain how you can. Doug made me want to dive into the book and adopt him. There is a particular scene where he is in gym class and you finally understand why he didn’t want to be on the “skins” team for all of those classes. I remember thinking I couldn’t hate a character more than I hated his dad at the point. So often during the story the voice of Doug was so clear that I felt I was living the book. Amazing writing.

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. Mattie is one of those characters I connected with right away. This is the book I wish was written when I was younger. In many ways, I was Mattie. It’s hard living in your head, not wanting to take risks, feeling it is better off not having friends than being rejected by them. I love this book.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall. I found the first book in this series years ago and adored it. I think I love the third installment even more than the first two. I love the little literary references dropped in throughout. This book focused more on the second oldest Penderwick, Skye, and how she had to be in charge on a family vacation while her older sister Rosalind and her Dad and stepmom went elsewhere. This book makes me wish the Penderwicks were real and I could be adopted into their family, so much fun.

Finally, Sidekicks by Dan Santat was an amazing graphic novel. You know a book is popular when it is passed from student to student in your classroom, never to touch the shelves. An amazing graphic novel that took Dan around seven years to create – you can tell he poured his heart into this book. I love recommending it to students. I love when they come up, beg the sequel, and how crestfallen they are when I tell them there isn’t one. Then they usually turn and recommend Sidekicks to a friend. Such a fun book.

And that’s ten. There are so many wonderful books I read, but those are the top ten in my mind. What a fabulous year for reading this was!  In setting my reading goals for next year, I’m doing a lot of thinking regarding a goal for how many books I want to read. I plan on thinking this over and then putting a Goodreads counter on this blog so I can track it throughout the year.

I also am joining John at Watch Connect Read and some other friends as we read all of the winners of the Newbery award through the years. This is a two-year goal and I will be reading them in chronological order. My goal is to average four Newbery books a month so I will finish with a little time to spare. What are your reading goals for 2012? Have you noticed anything about your reading habits? And did you have a favorite book of the year? Please feel free to share it here in the comments. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Monday - What are you reading?

I am joining Jen and Kellee from Mentor Texts for this weekly post about what we're reading.

Ah, I do love a break from school. I am finally getting through some books that have been on my bedroom shelf forever. Unfortunately, I’ve also checked out many from the library and ordered new books, so my shelf hasn’t decreased by that much.

I’ve plowed through many picture books – I was woefully behind on those. Also got the chance to read some amazing novels and graphic novels since last Monday. Here’s the rundown of what I’ve read:

Chicken Butt’s Back by Erica Perl
Ice by Arthur Geisert
Should I Share my Ice Cream? By Mo Willems
Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo
The Three Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara
Detective Blue by Steve Metzger
Bake Sale by Sara Varon
Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak
The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris
Neville by Norton Juster
Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee
The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker
Hatch! By Roxie Munro
Fabulous: A Portrait of Andy Warhol by Bonnie Christensen
The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett
Sparrow Road by Shelia O’Connor
A Pet for Petunia by Paul Schmid
The Great Migration – Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield
Inkblot by Margaret Peot
My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer
Jim Henson: the Guy Who Played with Puppets by Kathleen Krull
The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole
I am the Book by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall

As for what this week will bring – I have no plan. I have so many books to choose from and so many more that have been ordered and are being delivered (and order from the library as well.) First on the list to finish is Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu but I have no plan after that.

Happy holidays and happy #bookaday to everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Gift of Reading

I love buying books for Christmas. I have given my cousins (who are 21 and 23 years younger than me) gifts for their birthdays and Christmas since they were small. My niece gets books. My sister and her boyfriend - books. My boys have always gotten books. This year my husband did as well. (Chris - don't read on!)

Here were the books under my tree this year:

  • Steve Jobs bio to my husband and my brother-in-law.
  • Focus by Schmoker to my sister.
  • Divergent to a cousin.
  • Crossed to a cousin.
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go to a cousin.
  • Two Babymouse books and I Want My Hat Back to my niece.
  • Lego Ninjago guide, Lego Ninjago chapter books (2), Wonderstruck, The Adventure of Sir Gawain the True, and Frindle to my oldest son, Luke (9).
  • Lego Idea book, Look – A book!, Chicken Butt’s Back, and Should I Share my Ice Cream to my youngest son, Liam (6).

And I have several books for myself such as: 68 Rooms, Where Things Come Back, 100 Cupboards, and Leepike Ridge – all from a phone conversation yesterday where I decided I HAD to have them.
I love buying books. Every Christmas as a kid one of my favorite gifts was books. Where would I be transported to? Would I grow to love the books I got? Incredible.

On Twitter today some of my friends were discussing where you buy your books. We used to have an AMAZING independent bookstore five years ago. It's gone now. My choice for buying is Barnes and Noble - not in my own town but the largest town near here, which is 30 miles away. I buy a lot of my books on Amazon. Hate to do it, I know that doesn't help our struggling bookstores, but I don't have a lot of options. Just learned about Indie Bound this year. Haven't figured it out yet, honestly, but am happy to use it if it will help out the smaller stores. I also use my local library for my own reading much more than I used to. Love reserving the books online and just picking them up at the counter.

Are you buying any books for Christmas? Please tell me about them. And check out the Nerdy Book Club website. Colby and John have videos up talking about what they are giving this holiday.

Happy Holidays! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dragon's Tooth by N.D. Wilson

Ashtown Burials I: The Dragon's Tooth (book trailer with alternate score) from Gorilla Poet Productions on Vimeo.

I’ve had this book on my bedside table for over two weeks. I knew, from reading friends’ reviews, that I would love this book. However, it’s not a tiny book. I needed to have a stretch of time to devote to reading it. That time was available yesterday.

Let me start with the story. There are three kids living in an a rundown roadside motel in Wisconsin. Daniel is the oldest brother and most of the responsibility – and burden – of running the family lies with him. Antigone, or Tigi, is the middle child. Cyrus, or Cy, is the youngest at almost twelve years old. They have spent the last two years trying to survive since their dad died in California and their mom slipped into a deep sleep. (She resides at a nearby hospital)

The main two protagonists are Tigi and Cy. After an incident at their motel they are left on their own to learn about a world of explorers they didn’t know existed, much less that their family has been a part of it. They have sworn an oath and will now learn more about these explorers that have been guardians of many of the secrets of the world.  Hopefully this new group will help them find some answers, like where their brother has disappeared to and why the stranger came to their motel, gave Cy keys, was engaged in a great battle, and died as their motel burned.

I loved many things about this book. One, it takes place in the Midwest which my students will love. Two, Cy and Tigi have to rely on their wits and strength in battle, not magic. Three, there is a plethora of likeable characters in here. I am particularly fond of Nolan. Four, it was action packed and difficult to put down.

Listen to N.D. Wilson here on NPR (about 8 minutes long). Excellent interview and I love his thoughts on why he created the series the way he did.

Check out the website for the series:

Follow N.D. Wilson on Twitter here: @ndwilsonmutters

Reading level: 5th on up

Genre: Fantasy
Appeals to: Boys and Girls

Rating: Five Stars

Release date: August 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Asking Questions

Anyone who has been around young children for any length of time can tell you about their fondness for asking questions. This video reminds me a bit what my life is like on any given car ride:

My boys are 9 and 6. Questions are asked on any given day. Last year my then 8 year old asked me where babies came from. I explained. Then he asked what someone would do if there were two men or two women married – what would they do? I explained surrogacy and adoption. That moved us to why our neighbor’s kids were adopted since there was a man and a women in that marriage. My main reaction was to tease my husband for being out instead of home answering this barrage of questions with me.

Some of the other questions I’ve been asked in the last few days:

Do people choose to be gay?

Why do some states refuse to allow gay people to marry?

Is that bullying?

Do dogs go to heaven?

What is heaven like for people?

Does dying hurt?

Am I afraid to die?

When Daddy and I die, where will my boys go?

Should they Skype my parents to tell them to come get them?

How much longer will our dog live?

When she dies, can we get two puppies?

What type of dogs will we get?

Did people come from evolution or Adam and Eve?

What year was it when the dinosaurs were here?

Was it year one?

Do people still find dinosaur bones?

If we found one, would we get a lot of money?

And on, and on. Questions begot more questions. Some I knew answers to, some I didn’t. Often I answered, “ What do you think? We need to look that up.” Sometimes I would hand my iPhone back and tell them to research it as we drove.

Today’s shopping trip was about a ½ an hour drive from home. As I drove past cornfields and farms I thought about my sons and their never ending sets questions. I loved that they were so inquisitive; their thirst for knowledge is limitless. Now my sons are a bit younger than my students, but where are their questions? I get a few but not a ton.

But then I reconsidered the traditional classroom. We ask a question – usually with one answer we are looking for. The teacher is considered the main source of knowledge. One person is speaking at a time. We have to stay on task. Teachers don’t often admit if they don’t know the answer. The teacher retains the power.

That isn’t the way conversations work with my sons. I often admit I don’t know the answers. When we talk about a question and an answer, we have a discussion where all opinions are heard. We are all equal in the conversation– my first grader had an answer to one of the third graders questions today. We are on multiple conversation threads at a time.

Today’s drive was a good reminder to me, my students need to be thinking beyond right and wrong questions. I love that I teach within the workshop model, I think that is a start. But I want to keep pursuing it. I think helping my students with the process of inquiry, I am teaching my students, and my sons, to be in charge of their own learning.