Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal is a young girl growing up in the Punjabi province of Pakistan, in a town so small it doesn't even earn a dot on the map.  She is the oldest of four sisters, and her school, her neighbors, her village, and the sugar cane fields and orange groves are all she knows.  Until one day, she talks back to a man who hit her with his car.

She later learns that he is the son of the man whose family rules her village.  Insisting that Amal pay back her debt, the man takes her as a house servant to his estate.  Here, she learns a new set of rules as she is elevated to maid servant, much to another servant's dismay.  But while navigating this new home and new rules, she overhears something that makes her realize how desperately this family clings to their power.  No one speaks out against them, because of the consequences.

And now, Amal has to decide whether to do anything about what she's overheard.

This book would make a great read-aloud (it is one of the Global Read Aloud choices for 2018) for students in grades 4 and up, and would be a good book for independent reading in grades 5 - 8.  It is filled with information about Pakistani culture and life in small villages, information that many children don't have,  It would also generate a lot of good discussion as students put themselves in Amal's shoes, trying to decide the choices she has to navigate.

I have created a novel study for this book, which you can purchase here, if you're interested.  The novel study, aligned with a number of Reading and Writing Common Core standards, asks deep-thinking questions meant for discussion, while students work through a number of reading strategies.

What books are you reading with your students this week?
If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Salt to the Sea

This is one of my favorite books!  I could not put it down!

This books fictionalizes a real event most of us have never heard of, the greatest maritime disaster in history.  It was not the Titanic.  It was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I.

Please note:  I would exercise a little caution with who should read it.  There is an implied rape in the book, and that might be too much for some of your students.  Although there are no details, you read that one of the characters was dragged off by Russian soldiers, screaming.  You already know she's pregnant.

The Premise of the Book

There are four main characters in this book, each of whom carries a hidden guilt:

1)  Florian, a young Prussian man whose skill is art restoration.  He uses it with a noted professor only to learn that what he thought was noble, was just creating a way for the Germans to steal art from other countries.  So he decides to get even.

2)  Joana, a young Lithuanian woman who became a nursing assistant, a skill that comes in handy many times; she lives with the guilt that, in writing a note years ago, she might have killed her cousin.

3)  Emelia, Fifteen years old, from Poland, frightened, pregnant.  She tells a story.  But it's not really hers.  She's too ashamed to tell the real one.

4)  Alfred, a young German sailor, filled with a heightened impression of what he's doing to help Germany win the war; he writes letters in his head to a girl he admires.

This is a powerfully told story of four people joining together, with others, in desperation to survive the horrors of World War II with Germany pushing from the west and Russia pushing from the east.  There are so many beautiful moments in this book that capture the essence of being human, even in the midst of very difficult circumstances. 

The story flows from character to character, and each moves the story ahead a little bit.  You meet so many people: the "shoe poet" who spouts wisdom and takes Klaus, the little boy, under his care; Eva, who says whatever's on her mind and then apologizes later; Ingrid, who is blind, but can "see" better than most people.  I think this would be a powerful book for middle and high school readers.  Give it a try!

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?




If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.




Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Unusual Picture Books to Start the Year


As a Reading teacher with a large library, I want to introduce students to my books, but I also want to start reading aloud to them.  This year, I read several blog posts about using picture books for older elementary students, and I decided that I'm going to use some those first few days.

But these aren't your typical "First Days of School" books, they're books with a more focused reading purpose.  The act of reading aloud, by itself, demonstrates a love of books, as well as the habit of reading daily.  But I want students to get more than that from these books.

What do I want my students to learn?

I want my students to know that readers come in all shapes and sizes; everyone is unique and no comparisons are made. 

I want them to know that books are magical.

I want them to know that books can take you to places you'll never get to in real life.

I want them to know that books teach lessons.

And I want them to know the daily habits that make good readers.

Which books am I using this year?

I'm starting the year with this beautiful book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, picture books
We'll read it, then watch the video.  Students will have Post-It Notes to see if they find connections between the book and the video or the book and other videos (lots of references to the Wizard of Oz.)  We'll spend some time talking about the magic of books, and (hopefully!) turning some thinking around with my more reluctant readers.


 While this one reads a little "young" I think it makes an important point.  I want students to know that readers come in all shapes and sizes, and that one person, who might read 12 books this year should in no way be measured against someone else's 35 books read.  Everyone reads according to their interests and choices and as I get to know them as readers, I'll be able to tell if they're reading the kinds of books that are a good-fit and if they're spending the right amount of time reading, for them.  There is NO "one size fits all" with reading, and choice is key!

Day 3 will be this book.

This book will start to set the tone with how we share books in our classroom.  Students can do book commercials, Flipgrids, and small group discussions, helping each other locate good books.

We'll create a visual reminder of every book we've read, starting with me buying this font from KG Fonts and creating a "This is What We've Read So Far" sign outside my classroom.  (Still need to do this but I've been sick and haven't had a chance to make it and put it up!) Using this book spine, which you can grab here, we'll start a trail of books we've finished outside my classroom door and see where the trail takes us!


Day 4 will serve a slightly different purpose, but one that needs to be emphasized.  I love that Each Kindness has an African-American protagonist.  Although I think the book is intended to teach a powerful message about being mindful of the way we treat each other, I also want to use it to explain to students that I work hard to provide multi-cultural books in my library.  I want them to feel like they can find books about people whose culture and race are similar to their own. This is where I showcase Amal Unbound, Refugee, Inside Out and Back Again, Shooting Kabul, Ghost, Patina, Red Thread Sisters, Esperanza Rizing, Echo, and a host of other books that reflect protagonists who look and live like them. 
Day 5.  Kids love to talk about books!  That's a good thing.  But it's not a good thing when we give away the ending and ruin reading the book for someone else.  Book commercials are specifically tailored so that students explain up to the climax of the plot and stop there.  Their final line is:  "If you want to find out what happens next, read _____________." 

  We'll also talk about and practice finding good places to sit and read.  My classoom is a mix of desks, bungee chairs, and low tables with pillows.  Students have a lot of choice about where to sit.  As long as they're reading, they're good to go!

After creating a number of Project-Based Learning experiences for my students the past few years, our entire sixth grade team has worked with some of the leaders in our community.  Our town has just hired someone to take a look at how they can improve the community, and she is excited to have our students come up with proposals from their perspective.                                                                                               What better book to read than this one, to get students ready?








I hope to teach about the things I value as a reader while reading these books to my students, and I hope they learn a little about themselves as readers!  What do you think about these choices, and about using picture books with older students?




Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Take a Shelfie: Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

Imagine having to plan your escape from your home.  You can't speak to anyone about it, but you know it will happen soon.  And it terrifies you, because people in power want your father to join them, something he's not willing to do.  What happens if they force him?  You know it's only a matter of time before they come for him.

That's the situation that 12-year old Fadi, and his sisters Mariam, and Noor, find themselves in, in the summer of 2001.  But when the transport truck shows up at the rendezvous point in the middle of the night, it turns out the Taliban is not far behind.  In the chaos of throwing themselves onto the truck, six-year old Mariam looses her grip on Fadi's hand and is left behind.  The transport truck, filled to the brim with refugees can't go back without the risk of everyone being killed.

Fast forward to life in San Francisco, where Fadi's father, who has a Ph.D. in Agriculture (from the University of Wisconsin) is now driving a taxi to earn a living.  The family is attempting to adjust to this new life where the language, the food, and the customs are so different from their own.  Each member of the family hurts, and each feels that leaving Mariam behind is their fault.

Fadi slowly adjusts to life in middle school, making some friends and running into bullies.  It's in Photography Club though, that he comes to life.  And a chance to win a contest that would take him to India, the country next door to Pakistan, energizes him.  He is determined to find a way to locate Mariam and bring her home.  There are some unexpected plot twists, including that Fadi, determined to win the contest, doesn't.  But that doesn't mean that there isn't resolution.

Who would enjoy this book?

This is an interesting book, especially if you have students who are curious about life in other cultures, or if you have students from Pakistan or Afghanistan.  The tragedy of losing a sibling in this scary way is enough to keep students reading, hoping that there will be a happy ending.

If you'd like to read my review of Restart, click here.  For my review of House Arrest, click here.

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?






 If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

3 Reasons to Embrace Socratic Seminar

Socratic Seminar is such a powerful tool to use with your students.  Once you teach them a few rules about how to engage with each other, you will love the thinking that comes out of your students' heads.  I love the way it gets kids thinking about and discussing text!

Give students a passage to read a few days ahead of time with the explicit direction that it must be completely read or else they don't get to participate in the discussion.  You can give them questions to think about or with some instruction, have them come up with questions that require text evidence.

On the day of the Socratic Seminar, we review that students should talk like they're having a conversation.  They don't raise hands and they don't wait for someone to tell them when to speak.  They respectfully wait for someone to finish speaking before speaking; sometimes two or more people will speak at the same time and we discuss what to do, and then we're pretty much ready to go.

In the beginning, students will wait for you to start them.  I sit in the circle with them and stay quiet.  Eventually, someone gets uncomfortable and starts the discussion. Then, watch your students go!

Why give up all the control and let students lead the discussion?

#1 - Kids get to to hear other kids process out loud
The power of kids learning from kids shouldn't be underestimated.  I am stunned at how much students appreciate hearing other kids think aloud.  Hearing someone take a stand, and then watching that person's viewpoint change because of new evidence presented by someone else - that's powerful stuff!  And you see kids nodding their heads in agreement, so you know they're on board with this new information, too.

#2 - Collaboration builds confidence
Many students say they look at text differently after these discussions.  There are nuances they notice now that they didn't before.  They feel less intimidated about answering questions in class because, especially after a Seminar, they see how much they can add on to each others' ideas and how safe that kind of collaboration feels.

#3 - You want them digging into the text, right?
Observe the discussion as one student stops, eyes racing up and down the paper to find the exact text evidence wanted.  Suddenly, someone else who is searching finds it, and now everyone is paying closer attention to text, and even marking it as they listen to others' points of view.  You will see attention to detail that you don't always see.

And the best part?  Students will tell you, in one way or another, that while it's helpful to learn from you, it makes so much more of an impact when they learn from each other.

Give it a try!  There are lots of wonderful resources out there to get you started.  One of the best ones I found is here.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Take a Shelfie: House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Have you ever done something that you thought would help someone?  Only the thing you did went all wrong?  Maybe, because you hadn't really thought it through.  Maybe because it was impulsive and stupid?  And now you regret it so, so, so much?

That's the circumstance that got Timothy on house arrest in the book by the same name by K.A. Holt.  Timothy's not a bad kid; he just made a stupid decision and he can't even tell you what he was thinking about when he did it.

In this novel-in-verse, written in 1st person, you learn about everything that changed when Levi, his little brother was born.  Levi, who couldn't breathe and needed a tracheotomy.  Levi, whose father couldn't handle this new life and left the family.  Levi, who needed nurses to care for him while his mother worked.  Levi, whom Timothy tried to hate.  But how can you hate a little baby?

This fast-paced book is filled with the dramatic realities that a new baby with physical needs places on a family.  Especially a family reeling from their father/husband leaving.  Timothy needs to keep a journal, required by the court, and that's where you learn what he's thinking and how hard he's trying to help out.  Even when it means stealing someone's wallet.

You can find my novel study guide for this book on TpT.

If you want to read my review of the book Restart, click here.

You can find the link to the book on amazon below.  (I am an amazon affiliate, so if you purchase the book through me, I earn a couple of pennies.)

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Take A Shelfie: Restart by Gordon Korman

If you could make yourself over - starting from scratch - what would you change about yourself?

That's the underlying premise of this Gordon Korman novel, except that Chase doesn't get a choice.  He falls off the roof.  In addition to a concussion and a separated left shoulder, he's got amnesia.

Which means he doesn't remember what a jerk he used to be.  How he, and his two best friends, Bear and Aaron, used to terrorize the entire school using their football-playing skills against any weaker students.  As he learns about his previous behavior, the "new" Chase is horrified, but understandingly, finds few people who trust that he's changed for the long term.

Especially Shoshona Weber, whose twin brother Joel is now attending a boarding school, having suffered horribly at the hands of Chase and his cronies the previous year.  Until she and Chase start working together on a video project for a national competition.

Although there is a happier ending, the characters don't get there without some struggles, rejection, and self-doubt.  There are just enough twists and turns in the plot and in character development to make this book interesting to both boys and girls.  With the exception of Chase's father who felt a little one-dimensional to me (which made his change at the end less convincing) the other characters are pretty believable.

I think your upper elementary and middle grade students will enjoy this book!  If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  (I am an amazon affiliate, so if you purchase the book through this link, I earn a few pennies.)

What book are you reading right now that your students will enjoy?