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!


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!


Books That Got Me Through July…

FullSizeRender 3

July is always a busy month because we return to school at the end of the month. That means teachers start heading back in to set-up classrooms mid-July so we don’t get too overwhelmed the first few weeks. Surprisingly, I still managed to read quite a few books this month. Score!

“I followed his finger to the spot where they squirmed and twisted in the organic muck of Varner’s violated torso: three maggots performing a sinuous ballet in the infected meat, their black heads shining like polished beads.” ~The Monstrumologist

I have entered into the world of the Monstrumologist and I love it! This is a four part series, and I’m half way through the journey. So far, I’ve read The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo. The first one, by far, is my favorite. Rick Yancey writes with such delicate prose, that it’s almost poetic, about the adventures of a young apprentice working with a monstrumologist. The next two in the series are The Isle of Blood and The Final Descent, and I hope to finish those sometime in September. Afterward, I’ll dive into his next series, the first of which is The 5th Wave.

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird

Finally, in my thirties, I can say that I have read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I won’t lie…it was because of the hype from Go Set a Watchman that I finally decided that I needed to read this book. Like many, I devoured each and every word of this book. It took me a couple of days to get through because I was determined not to miss one word. Beautiful. Each and every word was beautiful. I have no desire to read anything else by Harper Lee. This was enough.

The other gem that I finished in July was Goddesses Never Age. Without a doubt this book should be required reading for all women. This book has changed my life. I’m a work in progress and this book has helped me to see what I need to improve upon and how to do it. It has motivated me to continue to change my outlook and to be more proactive in my life. I’m not an audience member. This is it. I get one shot at this thing called Life and I need to make it my own.

I actually listened to the audio version of this book, which I highly recommend. Anytime you can listen to the actual author read his or her own work, it adds so much life to the book. After finishing it, I broke down and got the hardback so I can refer back to it. I’ll also need it to help me stay on track for the 14 day ageless goddess program at the back. I hate using the word “program” so I’m going to change it to rejuvenation, because that’s what I think it is. It’s not anything magical or prescriptive. It’s simply good things all women should be doing on a daily basis to recharge and appreciate ourselves.

Mary Kubica…wow! I’ve had The Good Girl on my Kindle for quite some time. It was a Kindle Daily Deal a few weeks ago and I thought ‘hmm, I should probably read this’. I’m so glad that I did! Throughout the book I thought I had an idea of what was going on. Then I really wanted what I thought to be the truth. Then I read the second to last chapter and was so bummed that I was wrong and that it didn’t end the way I had hoped. And then…well, thank you, Ms. Mary. What a thrilling story!

I did read another novel by Blake Crouch, Run. This was a fast paced, quick read on a lazy afternoon. Not as awesome at Wayward Pines but I still recommend Blake Crouch as a fantastic author.

I read a lot of John Saul growing up. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was too young to be reading such twisted stories, but what can I say…I like a good thriller. Shadows popped up as a recommendation on my Kindle and I can’t resist some old school John Saul. Another quick thriller on a lazy summer day.

August is proving to be even more busy than July, but I am reading some good books. I signed up for NetGalley so now my TBR pile has grown even more. Did I mention that I went to a Scholastic Warehouse book sale? So, yeah, my TBR pile is taking over my bedroom.

What book has really captured your interest lately?

Happy reading, friends!

Books That Got Me Through June…


Thank you to Blake Couch for The Wayward Pines trilogy. Those three books got me through my dog’s stressful CCL surgery and the initial recovery. And now I get to experience the creepy town all over again as I catch up on the TV series. Nothing can top the written words, though. Mr. Crouch has a way of providing just enough detail to keep the story vivid and moving along. Just what I like! RUN was a Kindle Daily Deal the other day so I snagged it. I can’t wait to read more by this fabulous author!

Jojo Moyes has become one of my newest favorite authors. It started with The Girl You Left Behind, which is something I never would’ve picked up on my own, but was highly recommended by several friends. I’m so glad I tried something different because I discovered another great writer. Next, I read Me Before You, which definitely gave me something to think about. One Plus One was a slower read for me, but really picked up about halfway through. I’m glad I stuck it out because it’s a feel good story. Life is tough and full of bumps and challenges no matter our circumstance, but I really liked how she wrapped everything up at the end. It gives one hope that things will work out. If we don’t have hope, then what’s the point?

The parenting books are pretty self explanatory. We’ve struck the “Terrible Twos” in my house and I’m humble enough to accept all the advice I can get to support my little independent, curious, strong willed guy. It’s Ok NOT To Share really made me think about how we push our kids to do some uncomfortable things that we ourselves would never think to do. I would never force someone to let me have their iPhone just because I wanted it and felt it was my turn all under the guise of “sharing” <insert sappy music>. Good grief! I highly recommend this title for some down-to-earth parenting reminders to keep things in perspective. Dobson was a tough read and I honestly skimmed most of it. It was hard for me to take someone seriously, when giving parenting advice, after he admitted to using a belt to discipline his dog. That was hard to swallow. I did find a couple of nuggets, but overall this book wasn’t for me because I personally don’t use corporal punishment. Setting Limits for the Strong Willed Child was my favorite of the three. I loved the real world examples (although he reused some scenarios and just changed the child’s age) and the reminder to be consistent and firm. There wasn’t anything new for me in this book as I use much of this approach in my own classroom, but somehow I forget to use it at home, so the reminders were appreciated.

I made it to page 67 of The Gargoyle and had to abandon the story. I hate it when that happens! When I commit to a book and invest a chunk of time, I want to go all the way. Alas, I could not with this book. It just didn’t strike a chord with me.

The War of Art was for the artist in me because somewhere, deep down long forgotten, she still exists. Beneath the role of Mommy, teacher, dog mom/nurse, bill payer, and all the other stuff that comes first, there’s a piece of me still there longing to shine and not be forgotten. Reviving this blog is a small step in digging her out again. #smallsteps

I’ve kicked off July with some great titles! One book I’ll probably never make it through but we’ll see. I’ve got a couple of horror books to chill the spine and of course Blake Crouch’s RUN.

Happy reading, Friends!

The Shelf of Five

Writing Spaces

I recently read one of Joe Hill’s (author of Horns and Heart-Shaped Box) blog posts about his writing space. In this post he described his office in great detail (pictures included). Side note: I noticed three wireless Mac keyboards on his desk … three! I have no need for a wireless keyboard at this time, but man, there’s something about having three Mac keyboards on your desk that gives you power. It’s like a container full of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. Joe also shared some of the books he keeps on the various shelves around the room. 

Two thoughts left with me when I finished reading his post: one-I need my own writing space; two-I need a Shelf of Ten. 

He shared that he writes at a desk that he’s had for about 16 years. Wow! That’s commitment. I float around my apartment from my desk (which isn’t even my desk), to the balcony, to my kitchen table, to the chair by the window (which my dog fights me for even though we both don’t fit there simultaneously), to my bed, to the floor in my closet, and then to Starbucks down the street. Why do I float? I am constantly trying to get away from my loud neighbors who fight with the characters talking in my head. 

My ideal writing space would be a clean, cavernous basement. The walls would be lined with bookshelves and photos of wolves. My desk would be large enough for me to comfortably spread out. The space directly in front of my laptop/monitor would be white and blank. I wouldn’t mind a few eyebrow windows on the opposite wall from where I’m writing to let in a little natural light. A large couch is a must. 

The Shelf of Five

Joe also has a Shelf of Ten. This holds the next ten books he’s going to read all lined up in the order in which he’s going to read them. Something clicked when I read that. Duh! That makes total sense. 

I love books (see my previous post), and I have them everywhere in my apartment. At one time they were divided by books I’ve read and books to read. Then like books returned to like books. Certain authors just merged together like finding lost friends. And I lost my mind trying figure out where I left off in my reading pile. 

I love the idea of having books all lined up for when I’m ready to start the journey. But ten? I don’t know if I can commit to ten books at once. I can commit to five. I’m a mood/situational reader. Sometimes I find a book and love the blurb on the back. When I get home and start to read it, the books fails to deliver, and I question why I even bought the book in the first place. It then gets tossed to the shelf. A year or two later I’ll pick the book up again, only this time I fall in love with it and wonder where it had been all my life. I suppose if the next book on my Shelf of Five just isn’t jiving with me, I can always toss it back to the pile and move on to the next book. 

What if one of my Five is on my Kindle Fire, though? Should I line my Kindle Fire up along with the other titles? Sometimes I use my Fire for other things which means that it wouldn’t be in order and I’d have to keep track of what comes next (back to square one?). I suppose I could use my other Kindle, or some other place holder, to hold the spot . 

So, after much deliberation, here is my first set of Shelf of Five books (in order … I think):

1. The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (I think a Shelf of Five needs at least one non-fiction title, and I’ve been dying to read this book)

2. The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (I borrowed this book through the Kindle Lending Library, and I just want to finish the trilogy)

3. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (every sci-fi writer needs some good sci-fi in their reading pile)

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (this title was recommended by many people at a sci-fi symposium at GA Tech)

5. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (another title recommended at the sci-fi symposium)

Photo (5)
(The Fire is on top only so you can read the title. I’ve since moved it back in line.)

So, that’s my Shelf of Five. The good thing about this selection is that I’m super excited to read all of these books, so I really think I set myself up for success. I know I can commit to these five titles. 

But what will come after these? Hmm …

What titles would be on your Shelf of Five (or Ten, if you’re feeling brave)?