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!


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

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!


Love Me Some Lester

lester-2I’ve lived in the South for a very long time now and the phrase “Love me some …” makes my eye twitch.

I guess it’s a Southern thing. I’m from Maine. There you go.

But when it comes to Lester Laminack, no one is more Southern than he. And when I think of Lester and all that he has taught me over the years, without even knowing who I am, the only words that come to mind are, “Love me some Lester!”

Last Saturday, Lester visited with 150 teachers in my school district to talk about the power of the read aloud to children. This was the third Lester event that I’ve attended in the past year. He acknowledged those of us who stalk … I mean, attend his other events and said there would be repetition because he has the same brain, the same mouth, and only knows so much shit.

That’s why I love Lester … he keeps it real.

Because, you know what, teaching can be hard. There’s a lot of pressure. We all feel it. But if we can get back to basics, then maybe it won’t be so hard.

I’m a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. And Lester reminds me of just how to do that in my classroom.

The Power of Picture Books

Come on … let’s be honest. We all love picture books. It doesn’t matter how old we are, we never get tired of reading a beautifully illustrated picture book with words that practically sing off the page. I’m a sucker for them. Seriously, you should see my own kid’s book collection. (I’ll save that for another blog post.)

Let’s remember this love when we’re working with our students.

Many of our kids just don’t have the prior knowledge and vocabulary that we’d like when they arrive to our classroom.

Lester says that picture books give exposure to language and scaffolds by building an image bank that our kids just can’t get if we only read aloud novels to them. They need to see the pictures. So that means even fifth grade through high school students need picture books read aloud to them.

Movie Read

Lester is big on doing a “movie read” the first time a book is read aloud to children. That means we as teachers can’t stop and ask our kids a billion questions about the text. We can’t ask our students to turn & talk. They’re still processing the book the first time, they’re learning the characters, they’re making connections in their head, and they’re letting it all sink in.

He suggests we read the text once through and let it simmer. Let the kids come to their own understanding over the next day or so. We can plant seeds about our own questions, and that will help foster excitement and thoughtfulness about the text within our kids.

Lester reminds us to ponder just who has a right to decide what is important in a book? Let students discover that for themselves.

As for holding them accountable, thus using turn & talk all the time, well it’s sometimes normal for kids to get lost during a read aloud. We learn through experience when to tune in and listen. The act of getting lost, and realizing that one is lost, will teach kids to not get lost next time.

“If you’re teaching for the right answer, you’re teaching wrong.” ~Lester Laminack

If you want them to regurgitate a response, you might as well just tell them the answer.


Reading aloud is an art. We need to be so familiar with the text we’re sharing that we can accurately convey mood and tone, that when we read dialogue it is as if the characters are truly speaking, and we must know when to pause.


Probably the most significant thing Lester said, the thing that really struck me, was that as teachers we are the last gatekeepers of print. So much of the world has converted solely to electronic devices for quick entertainment.

Libraries are closing. Book stores all around us are closing.

But we are the keepers of the printed book, and we have the power to keep it alive by what we do with our students. And that will have a ripple effect.

Reading matters. Reading to children matters. One of the greatest gifts, I think, we can give our children is the gift of story through a book. It teaches them to feel, to connect, to compare and contrast, to recognize relationships, to reflect, to wonder, to guess. And let’s not forget, to be able to hear the beauty of language.

An expansive vocabulary will serve a child very well in his or her life. To be able to communicate with that many more people because that child has the gift of words on his or her tongue and can easily access them. What a powerful way to bring people together! To increase understanding and empathy by being able to communicate clearly.

I may not be able to change educational policy, but I can create and foster change within myself. I can keep my focus on my students and what I know good teaching to be.

And I can read to my students—a lot—and often.

Thank you, Lester, for reminding me of the power that I do have.

*If you’re a teacher, I highly encourage you to sign-up the next time Lester is in your town. It’s an experience you will never forget!

If Lester isn’t scheduled to come to your area, then check out his books. My favorites are below: