5 … I mean, 4 Books I Read to My Students

Yup. That heading is correct … I only read 4 books to my kids last week. This is because we got snow; I repeat…SNOW! Friday was a day of chaos, excitement, and panic trying to figure out how everyone was going home since school let out early because of the snowstorm. I guess that’s a pretty good reason to miss a day. I ended up with a total of 8 inches of snow, which is a rare occurrence in Georgia. It sure did make this Maine girl super happy!

The four books that I read aloud this week came from my school’s Media Center. My kids were so excited to learn that they were the first class in the building to read these stories because I stole…I mean borrowed them from the new release cart. Maybe one of them will strike a chord with you and you’ll be able to share with your students or children.

IMG_9774We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio

Two years ago I read Wonder and fell in love with the sweet story. I tried to read it aloud to my third graders because I thought every child needed to hear that story. And I still stick to that. But it totally flopped with my students and we never finished it. That’s ok…they got to hear it in fifth grade and many of them read it independently. It was a difficult book to read aloud and keep the attention of third graders.

Lucky for me, there’s this great picture book that my third graders loved. It’s a simpler version of the novel but the message is just as strong. My students are all familiar with Wonder the novel and many have already seen the movie. The #choosekind movement is nothing new to them, but it’s always a good reminder. This read aloud did just that…remind us that everyone matters.

This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations by Amy Krouse RosenthalIMG_9773

I was thrilled to introduce my students to Amy Krouse Rosenthal through this book. We love reading books that play around with text and show us how there are no boundaries or limits to what one can do with words when it comes to story telling. This book inspired my students to start a page in their own writer’s notebook where they began to jot down their own life equations.

IMG_9772Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

This is the cutest book! Even my toughest boys couldn’t help but “Awe!!!!” over little Kelp the unicorn who was born in the sea and lived with narwhals. The illustration of Kelp in his swimmies is so cute! One day Kelp notices a creature that looks like him and discovers “land narwhals”. Ok, not really, Kelp…they’re unicorns and so are you. He has to make a decision to either stay with the sea unicorns or live with the land narwhals. My students loved what he came up with in the end.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark PettIMG_9771

Beatrice is a little girl who NEVER makes mistakes…ever! Life is perfect for her until one day when she makes her first mistake. At first she doesn’t know how to handle it. Then she finds her way and realizes that life is more fun when it’s messy. My students loved this book and the reminder that if we’re not failing and making mistakes, then we’re not really learning and living.

Happy reading!

5 Books I Read to My Students …

My blog has been quiet lately, as there never seems to be enough hours in the day for it. However, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about my reading instruction and how to make it better and more efficient. I’ve immersed myself in the works of Donalyn Miller, Jen Serravallo, Mary Howard, Kylene Beers, Jan Richardson, and Lester Laminack. Their books, and daily social media posts, inspire me to be better. There comes a time in every educator’s career when they have to decide on which side of the line they stand when it comes to instruction. I’m at that point with mine. Stay tuned to hear about some of my changes.

In the meantime, one thing that I will not give up is reading to my students on a daily basis. I will fight for this opportunity.

So, here goes … 5 books I read to my students this week. Maybe you’ll find something that will work in your classroom.

IMG_9735A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert

This one has been around for a while, but it lends itself so well to our social studies standards about productive resources. It’s a sweet story about a little girl who needs a new coat. She and her mother barter various items over the course of a year to get the new coat made. It gives a lot of perspective for just how much work and resources are needed to make an item. Anna has such appreciation & joy for her new coat when it’s finally finished.



Encounter by Jane YolenIMG_9734

My colleagues introduced me to this title for our standards about European explorers. This is a wonderful book about Christopher Columbus’s landing in San Salvador from a Taino boy’s perspective. He tries to warn his people about the newcomers who only appear to be interested in what they can take from his people. My class had a great discussion about perspective and inference after reading this text.


IMG_9731Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

This is a book that I borrowed from my child’s personal library to share with my students. It’s about a little boy, CJ, who travels on the city bus with his grandma to the soup kitchen where they volunteer their time. CJ questions his grandma frequently about the things they don’t have. She gives him perspective and gently helps him to see and appreciate the simple beauties around them.


Perimeter, Area, and Volume: A Monster Book of Dimensions by David A. AdlerIMG_9733

Who says a read aloud can’t be done during math? The author uses the premise of a 3-D monster movie to help teach measurement concepts for perimeter, area, and volume. The pictures are silly and this book is a lot of fun!


IMG_9732My Weird School Fast Facts: Explorers, Presidents, and Toilets by Dan Gutman

My students LOVE the My Weird School series! Finding this non-fiction text with familiar characters and humor was like striking gold for my kiddos. We only read the first chapter that related to Christopher Columbus & the Native Americans, and then I made it available in my classroom library. This book is a fun and goofy way to learn about parts of American history.

5 Books I Read to My Students This Week

So, this amazing thing is happening with these read alouds that I’ve promised myself (and my students) that I’m doing every single day. When finished, I place them in the front of my room … and my kids are reading them … a lot! We are 8 books into my new venture and I’m thrilled at the number of amazing words my students have heard, great mentor text they’ve seen, and the connections they are making already. They love this part of our day!

So … here are the five books I read aloud to my students this week:

the dark#1 The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Sure, my kids have all heard of The Series of Unfortunate Events and many have already watched the series on Netflix. I told them I’m holding off on that until I read all of the books. But they didn’t know that there are several more Lemony Snicket books available in our very own Media Center!

After reading about the Creepy Underwear last week and unsettled Jasper when it comes to the dark, my kids were expecting something a little more ominous than what they found in this book. In this book, Laszlo isn’t really a fan of the dark, but he learns that the dark isn’t all that bad and scary. The most interesting thing that my kids took away from this book was how the dark was an actual character who interacted with the little boy, Laszlo. They didn’t realize that something so abstract as dark could be used in that role.


13 words#2 13 Words by Lemony Snicket

This is another unusual book that gives kids exposure to a different type of text format. This book’s story is structured around 13 unique words. The story builds bit-by-bit and creates a world where these unique words/ideas all fit together in a way that just works. It’s silly. It’s odd. And it’s fun.

After reading this, I wrote 13 strange words on the board and some of my extremely motivated writers are working on their own version of 13 Words to see if they can build a cohesive world like in the original book.


batman#3 Batman’s Dark Secret by Kelley Puckett

Ok, who doesn’t like some superhero adventures once in a while?

This book starts with the child, Bruce Wayne, and briefly describes how he gained his courage & motivation to fight evil in the world. As a kid, he was faced with a monster in a dark cave and had a choice to make. He found the power to say, “No!” and to stand strong, which inspired him to do more to help others. It’s short, beautifully illustrated, and reminds children that even though they are young, they can still be brave.


trouper#4 Trouper by Meg Kearney

Watching all of the posts from the animal shelters that have worked tirelessly to help the displaced animals from the hurricanes made me think of this story. Trouper is a homeless dog that gets picked up by animal control and brought to the shelter. He watches the other dogs get adopted one-by-one, but he remains. That is until a young boy sees something special in him and brings him home. He learns what it means to be a part of a family, to have food, and a soft bed. And even though he only leaves three footprints in the snow, he’s still worthy of love.


Escape-From-Mr-Lemoncellos-Library-Book-Front-Cover-Artwork-Art-Work-Lemoncello-Chris-Grabenstein-Nickelodeon-Nick-Press#5 Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein.

No, I didn’t read this whole book to my class this week. Instead, I totally hooked them because once we return from break, we’re starting this as yet another read aloud. This is partly because I love this book and it’s so much fun, but also in preparation for a Skype chat we’ll get to do with the author later in the year (cross your fingers & toes for us).

So, to get the kids really excited, we read the first chapter in class and I left them on a cliffhanger before a week long break. Bwahahaha!


Three Books I Read to My Students This Week

IMG_8631I recently saw this meme floating around on Facebook and it struck a chord…this is so me! I was that kid in school who had a book in her lap and would sneak glances down to read because my book was far more exciting than anything I thought my teacher had to say. And I definitely stay up late reading as an adult.

And then I got to thinking about my own students. One thing that hasn’t required a lot of practice is independent reading. My kids love to read! (tough problem, right?) I realized just how often I have to tell my kids to put their book away because we have to move on. Of all the things you don’t want to tell students … that’s it.

And then I thought some more about my students and realized that one of the few times it feels that I have their complete and undivided attention is when I’m reading aloud. They love stories! That means that I need to read aloud more to my students. I love it; they love it; and there are so many lessons that can come through a read aloud.

So, I made a promise to myself that I will read aloud more to my students. Every day. I’m going to go beyond just what the county has told me to read to them. Each day I hope to read aloud a different book to my students. It won’t be a grandiose lesson. In fact, some days it will just be a read aloud. Other days they will have something to reflect on.

My teacher brain is constantly going. So, what looks like a simple read aloud is actually a small part of a much larger plan. We’ll refer back to these picture books constantly throughout the year. One day we might touch on character development during our reading lesson; a week later we might refer back to that same text to see great examples of voice in writing.

But I can’t use these books as teaching tools & building blocks in learning until I’ve read them to my students and they have a growing “book bank” from which to pull ideas, connections, and even vocabulary.

We give our students multiple strategies to help them be successful in math, but sometimes we forget to expand their exposure to text. We spend a lot of time digging deep with one text over the course of a week or even a few weeks if it’s a novel study. There’s real merit in that. But we can’t forget the small sips from an engaging read aloud and the value of that daily exposure.


This week was short due to inclement weather, so I was able to read aloud three picture books to my students on top of the county curriculum requirement. Check out the books below for ideas for your students or children at home.

creepy carrotsCreepy Carrots! Words by Aaron Reynolds & Pictures by Peter Brown

Jasper the rabbit has been munching on carrots from Crackenhopper Field a little too long. One day he gets the spooks when he thinks that the carrots are out to get him. Are the carrots actually out to get Jasper or do they have their own plan? We actually read this book twice because my kids loved it so much. They spent time reflecting on who they thought won by the end (Jasper or the carrots) by having the best plan.

Check out the book video for this book!


creepy underwearCreepy Pair of Underwear! Words by Aaron Reynolds & Pictures by Peter Brown

Jasper the rabbit is back! In this book, he decides that he’s a big boy rabbit and ready for creepy underwear. Well, things don’t go as planned when he notices them glowing at night, which is a bit too creepy for Jasper. He tries to get rid of the creepy underwear, but they keep coming back! How will he get out of this predicament?

My kids constantly sneak this book off the shelf so they can read it independently. Both of these books about Jasper are great fall reads.

Check out the book video for this book!


cordeliaCordelia by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt

This is a powerful book with a female protagonist who learns to believe in herself and to soar as high as she wants to go despite those who say she can’t. This is a story of learning to be your own hero, to stand strong, and to reach for your dreams. My kids took away a powerful message that it doesn’t matter what other people think.

What would you try if you knew you wouldn’t fail?


July has arrived and I’m over the halfway point through my summer break. Yet, I still have many thoughts on something I heard at the end of the school year some five weeks ago.

The end of the school year is full of celebration and reflection. A tradition in most high schools is for the graduating seniors to write some sort of advice for the yearbook. A local radio show did a couple of segments on this topic: one sharing what they wrote for their yearbook once upon a time and one about what they would write today knowing what they now know.

Something that was said has stuck with me these past weeks. The host shared something to the effect of how successful people never ask for permission or acceptance to be successful. He talked about how a lot of people work on things privately, or not at all, because they don’t want other people to know in order to avoid weirdness and awkward conversations.

How true is this! How many people today haven’t even taken the first step toward their dream or even a hobby because of the risk of failure or having to explain themselves to other people.

What would you try if you knew you wouldn’t fail?

Failure is inevitable, especially when starting something new. But having to explain or justify why you’re not successful can be tough.

For years and years, I never shared my love of writing and desire to someday publish my work. I stuck a toe into the water on Facebook years ago, but I had a code for what I was doing—“Plan B”. I know, right? How silly was that! I don’t even know what Plan B was supposed to mean except that I was working on something for me but I wasn’t ready to share it yet.

Then I finally got over it. I realized that I don’t need someone else’s permission to be a writer. No one needs the approval of others to work toward their dream, start a new hobby, or to try someone new.

Our journey belongs to us alone.

I want to believe that most people in this world are kind and encouraging. There are some who’ll mock you, roll their eyes, or make things awkward (Why don’t you have an agent yet?). But don’t let the few stand in your way of doing what your heart yearns for. Your life is not their journey. Don’t let decades pass you by because fear of failure has you stymied. As the big 4-0 looms over the horizon for me, I realize just how many years I’ve lost because of fear of failure or because of what other people thought of me.

Start today. Make a list. Get the ideas out of your head and make them real. What new hobby do you want to try? What adventure is waiting for you? What is holding you back?

Oh, and if I had the chance to tell my 18-year old self something, it would be this: Spend more time looking inward and trusting in yourself than looking for outside validation.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

~Steve Jobs

Not so bad …

IMG_7539It’s no surprise that I like words. I like reading them, writing them, and looking at beautifully lettered projects.

So, I decided a while back that I was going to teach myself calligraphy. Because what’s one more project and hobby?

For those of you interested, here’s the blog (The Postman’s Knock) that I discovered. It’s fabulous and walks you through calligraphy step-by-step. This blog recommends starting with “Faux Calligraphy”. The recovering Type A in me thought, I don’t want to start with Faux anything. If I’m going to do this, then I’m doing it right. Give me the dip pen right away!

But I’m a recovering Type A (parenthood will do that to you). And I can learn to take baby-steps. So I grabbed my Pilot G-2 like the post says, printed off the practice worksheets, and started with my faux calligraphy.

Well, I suck at it.

I have beautiful cursive handwriting so this should have been an easy thing to pick up. Nope. It’s hard. I couldn’t get my curves just right. Things didn’t flow like I thought they should.

It was toward the end of the school year that I first started this new venture, and I didn’t need anymore stress, so I set aside the practice sheets for another time. If you know teaching, the end of the school year is the second busiest time of year and I didn’t need another stressor.

Fast forward to after school let out. My schedule was more open and my head clear.

I pulled out those practice sheets thinking I’d give it another go. And you know what? They weren’t quite as bad as I remembered. In fact, I nailed it with a few of the letters. Maybe I could actually do this. Maybe I could pick up faux calligraphy and then eventually move on to the real deal with a dip pen. Hmm.

Surprise. This post isn’t actually about calligraphy.

It’s about taking a step back, getting some breathing room, and looking at things with a fresh perspective. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t as bad as they seemed at first.

Sometimes they are. Sometimes the news is bad no matter how much space you give it. But most of the time, it’s not. Most of the time we can’t see just how good things are because we’re too close to the situation.

I find this with my writing all the time. I have what I think is a fabulous idea, I write it, read it, and then shudder. What the hell was I thinking?! This is garbage! I toss the notebook aside and move on with my life.

Weeks, even months later, I pull it back out and think, Hmm. This isn’t so bad. In fact, some parts are really good. Maybe I can work with this.

Space to think, to breathe, and try something new is a good thing.

It’s true what they say about the grass on the other side. Sometimes we need to step away from our own lawns for a bit to really appreciate the beauty in our lives and see just what we’re capable of.

I’m not giving up on calligraphy. I don’t suck at it. I can learn to write beautifully hand-lettered projects.

I believe in myself. I believe in you, too.

What projects are you struggling with? Do you need space so you can then appreciate the beauty of your capabilities?

180 Days

sun 180 days

180 Days

For 180 days you’re mine

You’re one of my kids

My kiddo

I watch you

I hear you

I listen to you

For 180 days you’re mine

We talk

We laugh

We cry

We may even yell

We forgive and move on

For 180 days you’re mine

I see you struggle

I hold your hand

I push you to give more

I celebrate with you

For 180 days you’re mine

We set goals together

You reach goals

We set new goals

We stretch,



For 180 days you’re mine

I care which teacher you get next

Who you become matters to me

I will celebrate with you

I want to see you shine

I want to watch you grow

Because for 180 days you’re mine

But you’ll forever be in my heart.

~Amy Judd

Doing the Work

icebergIt’s that time of day … again. Evening. This part of the day and I stare each other down frequently. I was up at 4:30 this morning with a killer headache, looooong day, and a busy evening. My kiddo is finally zonked out and it’s now 7:28pm.

I couldn’t squeeze out any words earlier in the day. You know, during that time when I was fresh, coherent, and somewhat awake.

So, now it’s 7:29 and time to push some words out. And it’s hard.

A friend shared this iceberg image on Twitter. You know this one. We’ve all seen it before. I looked at this image for a while tonight. I thought a lot about what it takes to make things happen. Dedication. Hard work. Habits. Rejection. Fatigue.

Too often people comment to me about how easy my life is. About how I’m able to write because it’s easy for me. And somehow I magically have more time than them. And it just comes easier.

Um, no it doesn’t. Writing is hard. Very hard. The first draft of anything I write absolutely stinks (including this blog post). And I think we all have the same 24 hours in a day. I do choose to use those 24 hours differently from some of my peers. Maybe that’s what they’re referring to. Who knows. I try hard not to invest too much time into what others think because it makes my head spin.

But the point is, no matter what our dreams are, we have to invest the time. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to push through when it hurts, when we’re tired, and even when we just don’t feel like it and we’d rather curl up and read a book. We have to make sacrifices. We have to fight against the resistance pushing against us, telling us that we’re wasting our time, we’re not good enough, and it’ll never happen for us.

We have to do the work.

So, now it’s 7:55 and time for me to get to work. I hurt, I’m tired, and I’m kinda grouchy … but the craft calls.

What have you pushed through lately? What motivates you to keep moving forward?


Middle-Grade Ghost Stories

Let’s talk about ghost stories for middle-grade readers. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much that I loved more than being scared. And let’s face it … not much has changed since then. So, when my students come to me looking for a recommendation for a creepy ghost story I get really excited to share some of the books I’ve read.

Kids today are really, really lucky when it comes to ghost stories because there are some fabulous authors who know how to chill a spine without crossing the line and being too scary for young readers.

rl stineThe selection was small when I was a kid. By the end of elementary school I had exhausted every R.L. Stine Fear Street and Christopher Pike book I could get my hands on. The only Baby-Sitters Club I ever read was #9 The Ghost at Dawn’s House. And of course I read The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith way before it became what it is today.

By late elementary and early middle school I had moved on to Dean Koontz and John Saul. It wasn’t until my early adult years that I started reading the master, Stephen King. Since then I’ve discovered more authors who keep me reading late into the night albeit under the covers.

Below are 7 middle-grade ghost stories that I highly recommend. They’ve got enough spook to make you look over your shoulder every time you hear a bump. If you want to make them even spookier, crawl under your covers at night with a flashlight. Setting is everything when reading a ghost story.



#1 Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler

Twelve-year-old Avery and her brother Blake are spending the summer with their grandmother. Blake is tired of the games they used to play to entertain themselves and is too busy for Avery. This makes her furious. She befriends Julian who is staying with his dad in a nearby cottage. Julian is an amateur filmmaker who has his eyes on Hilliard House, an empty mansion that Avery is forbidden to go near. Hilliard House has a sordid history that Avery and Julian slowly unravel together while creepy things begin to happen around them. Have they awakened something that should have been left alone?This book had just the right balance of creepy and adventure to keep me reading straight through to the end.


#2 GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

I’m not really a fan of graphic novels, but I’ll try anything about ghosts. This book was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. It also had a nice message about family and culture.

Catarina’s family moves to Northern California because of her sister’s illness. Cat doesn’t like this one bit. She likes it even less once she learns that her new town is haunted. Her sister, Maya, can’t wait to see a ghost, but Cat feels otherwise. This story is their journey of learning to put aside fears, trust in others, open themselves to new experiences, and find courage.


#3 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Need I say more? I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman! But if that’s not enough, this gem is about a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts since he was a toddler. He has many adventures, and faces equally as many dangers, with this peculiar lifestyle. He’s not able to ever leave the graveyard, though, because the man who killed the rest of his family is still after him.


#4 Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another fav of mine that I read a couple years ago is also by Mr. Gaiman. I know a lot of students who’ve seen the movie, but as I say, the book is almost always better. This book starts out innocently enough and almost like many middle-grade books where our main character is another child faced with utter boredom. But as the book progresses, Coraline’s adventure in an alternate, mirror reality of her life is everything but boring. A creepy read with a heart felt message. I highly recommend this quick read.


#5 Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

I don’t know where Mary Downing Hahn has been all my life. I only wish stories like hers had been around when I was in elementary school. Took is her most recent ghost story. It’s short, but not at all sweet. 13 year-old Daniel Anderson moves with his family from Connecticut to the country. He’s not welcomed by the locals. In fact, they bombard him with stories of an old ghost witch. It doesn’t scare him until his sister spends more and more time talking to her doll. And then his sister disappears in the woods. Could the ghost witch be real? As soon as I finished this book, and put it in my classroom library, my students gobbled it up.


#6 All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

I could probably dedicate one whole blog post to all of Mary Downing Hahn’s books. Here’s another spooky one to add to your shelf. Travis and his sister decide to play a prank and fake ghost-like activity at their grandmother’s inn. Unfortunately, you need to be careful with what you pretend because sometimes you might actually wake the dead. The two kids end up waking more than they bargained for.

book of bad things

#7 The Book of Bad Things by Dan Poblocki

This is the first book I’ve read by Dan and it is creepy! I plan to dive further into his ghost stories. In this one, our main character is Cassidy, who is visiting her host family in upstate New York for the summer. The weird hermit, Ursula, who lived down the street has mysteriously passed away, and now the town citizens are taking her stuff. However, those who take her things regret their decision. Ursula’s ghost is creeping around the town with a warning. Cassidy has to uncover the mysterious connection between Ursula’s death and the items being taken.

Next up … 


Next on my list of middle-grade ghost stories is The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell. This should be a good one! A mysterious mansion, dark secrets, and birds … yikes!

Happy reading!


img_6353Spring has come to Georgia. I know this because of these yellow beauties that have popped up in my yard. I also know that spring has arrived because of the large 30-count box of Claritin sitting in my kitchen. That sign is almost more powerful than the flowers. Spring in Georgia…need I say more. <cough cough>

One of the best parts of spring time, and the warming weather, is the gift of sitting outdoors with a blank notebook and a favorite pen. The sun is out, the earth is warming, flowers are opening, and the baby grass that I planted last fall is starting to poke through (much like my story ideas). New beginnings.img_6359

New Year’s Day is a momentous occasion for new beginnings and goals. Then begin the dark days of January and much of February. If you’ve hit a rut, like I often do, spring time offers another fresh start to recommitting oneself to doing whatever brings joy.

Yes, there’s spring cleaning and planting and dusting, but there should also be moments of quiet and reflection. Moments spent enjoying the sun, the outdoors, and a blank notebook and pen. Simply experiencing joy.

What’s your joy?