#IMWAYR-It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: A Perspectives Flip Book Series

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

Early in their brilliant new book, Disrupting Thinking, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst write:

“We would argue that in today’s world, learning to extract information is not enough.  It’s not enough to hold a reader’s interest and it’s not enough to solve our complex problems. We need students who can do more than answer questions; today’s complex world requires that our next generation of leaders be able to raise questions.  They need to be able to hold multiple ideas in their minds.  They need to be able to see a situation from multiple perspectives. They need to be flexible thinkers who recognize that there will rarely be one correct answer, but instead there will be multiple answers that must be weighed and evaluated.”  (pg.21)

Getting kids to think with this mindset requires being able to offer a wide variety of texts about topics with different points of view, which can be a time consuming task albeit a worthy one.  So it was with delight that I came upon this series: A Perspectives Flip Book.  Each book in the series centers on one topic, examined from two opposing points of view. Here is the one on School Lunches, for instance.  Side one examines the issue from the point of view of why changes should be made,and side two looks at whether these new dietary regulations are either necessary or even good for school aged children.

The bias and objective of the argument is thoughtfully considered from both perspectives, with informative side bars, statistics, and graphics.  The series covers a wide range of  topics, from animal testing to the Civil War, and is written in an informative yet engaging way.

This is a wonderful series for book clubs and for informational and argument writing, as well.  I know this series will  definitely be on my purchase order for next year.

#IMWAYR: Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

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As luck would have it, my copy of Ralph Fletcher’s  Joy Write: Cultivating High-impact, Low-Stakes Writing arrived the week we were getting ready for the PARCC test – i.e. low-impact, high-stakes writing.  I read it with relish and relief – relish because few people write with as much joy about writing workshop as does Ralph Fletcher, and relief because Ralph’s note of caution about current writing workshop practice is something I have been grappling with and needed to hear his voice of encouragement.

For some time now, Ralph Fletcher has been asking us to examine how we structure and prioritize student choice in our writing workshops.  In Making Things From Scratch, he introduced the exploratory notebook and new strategies to help our students move away from the sort of formulaic nonfiction writing they tend to write and towards writing that has authentic voice and creative energy.

In Joy Write, Fletcher expands the scope of his analysis to include all aspects of writing workshop.  Having been there from the very inception of the writing process movement, he brings the force of  his institutional knowledge to this task, and the questions he poses about the way we’ve come to run our classroom writing workshops are both insightful and timely.  In my own sixth grade classroom, for instance, we follow our school’s genre based writing curriculum: we move from one genre to the next through a predictable series of steps, beginning with mentor text studies and culminating in writing celebrations.   Although I see the value of predictable routines and scaffolds in moving my kids through a year of writing in which they grow as writers, I would be the first to agree with Fletcher that hewing only to a genre based workshop saps the creative energy and “buy in” of my young writers; or, as he puts it:

Today in many classrooms we find children being taught exacting writing formulas. When format dominates the writing, there’s little wiggle room or opportunity for kids to make writing their own…They are directed to write in a particular genre in a way that’s highly structured and externally imposed.  From a student’s point of view, the writing is less about me and more about what the teacher tells me to do. (p 22)

So, what’s a teacher to do? If we’ve gotten away from the essence of writing workshop in this age of high stakes, test-oriented writing, and want to find our way back to the joy of student-driven writing within the parameters of our curriculum and state mandates, what is our path forward?  Well, Ralph Fletcher has some ideas:

In this book I am proposing a new concept: greenbelt writing. Writing that is raw, unmanicured, uncurated…I am talking about informal writing..I am talking about low-stakes writing, the kind of comfortable composing kids do when they know there’s no one looking over their shoulders.

… a wild territory where kids can rediscover the power of writing that is:

  • personal
  • passionate
  • joyful
  • whimsical
  • playful
  • infused with choice, humor, and voice
  • reflective of the quirkiness of childhood  (p39)

Greenbelt writing, as described by Fletcher, encompasses everything from blogging to Slice of Life writing to…whatever our students feel moved to write about in the form they choose.  The most important factor in this kind of writing is the fact that we (i.e. teachers) have little to no presence or influence: it’s all about what our kids feel they have to say, in the way they want to.  I loved reading through all the varieties of inspired creativity such freedom invites, and the sense of empowerment it creates:

But many students – more than we might imagine – will find their stride through greenbelt writing.  That’s where they’ll (re)discover the passion of writing, the thrill of saying exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it, savoring how it feels when you create every word, comma, exclamation point and can say with proud confidence: “This is what I wrote, and it’s all mine.”  (p.97)

In my own classroom, thanks in large part to Ralph’s words of caution every time he presents at conferences or takes to Twitter, I have found that making time for greenbelt writing has led to a much greater sense of writing partnership with my students, and (as a consequence) their own sense of personal investment.  Even when it comes to our weekly Slice of Life writing, for instance, “giving over” the platform to my students so that they can propose how they want to write changes the dynamic instantly.   Carving out the time for such endeavors is tricky, after all, do we even have time for the things we are mandated to do, let alone the things we would like to do?

Ralph Fletcher  believes we can:

What will kids remember about writing in school? I want them to remember … writing that is fun, passionate, and joyful, and reflects what matters to each student.  This is the best way I know to create writing classrooms where the student can develop the concept: I am a writer.  (p.40)

Each student as a joyful writer – now that’s something wonderful to consider and work towards.  So, even as we dive into testing season and all it brings, I would urge writing teachers everywhere to go get a copy of Joy Write, read it, and bring greenbelt writing into their classrooms. 

#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby Powell

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?  is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

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The story of Mildred and Richard Loving has been very much in the news recently.  A critically acclaimed movie, a sensitively told picture book, podcasts, and the re-airing of documentaries are just some of the ways in which the Loving’s extraordinary battle to challenge Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws has been revisited and retold.

For those not familiar with the Loving’s story, here it is in a nutshell: Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving grew up in the same town, Central Point in Caroline County, Virginia. Things went awry when their friendship blossomed into love, for Richard was white and Mildred was black, and interracial marriage  was against the law in  Caroline County (anti-miscegenation laws, in fact, existed in 24 states at the time).  The young couple have to travel to Washington D.C. to be married, and are arrested immediately upon their return. It takes time in jail,  many years, and many court battles before the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Lovings, and they are allowed to live in peace and raise their children in the place they called home – Central Point, Virginia.

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Patricia Hruby Powell’s Loving Vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case is a welcome addition to this collection, especially because of the way in which it tells the  story: in verse, and through the voices of Mildred and Richard.  The two perspectives allow the reader to better understand how both Richard and Mildred processed the events as they unfolded, and gives us some insight into what they thought and how they felt. 

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I loved that the book included snippets of history (the Civil Rights movement, the Brown vs. Board of Education case) which allow us to put the Loving case in its historical context. Shadra Strickland’s delicate artwork adds so much to the experience of the book, as well:

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Our students take so many of the advances made by the Civil Rights movement for granted today, even as many of those advancements (voting rights, for instance) are under assault. Books like Loving vs. Virginia remind us of the sacrifices made by individuals like the Lovings for such rights and for progress, and they remind us that the fight for civil rights is an ongoing struggle in which we must all participate. Loving vs. Virginia is a must have book in middle and high school classrooms, it would make for an important readaloud, especially now.

#IMWAYR & #SOLC17: The Crane Girl

The Slice of Life March Writing Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers – 31 days of  a writing community.

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?  is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I love picture books for a variety of reasons, but I especially love picture books when I am so crazy busy that finding time to dive into a chapter book is both impossible (time? where to find time?!) and frustrating (how to carve enough time to dive back into a thought provoking novel when you have 15 to 20 minutes of time to spare?).  Besides,these days, picture books are such rich and joyous pleasure.  Here ‘s one I managed to read:

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Curtis Manley’s The Crane Girl is a reimagining of a Japanese folktale with a twist. Yasuhiro comes upon a wounded crane who he rescues and treats with great kindness until it is able to fly away. The next day, a young girl arrives at the hut Yasuhiro shares with his father – she has nothing in the world, not even a home, and asks if she could stay with them.  Although father and son are struggling to eke out an existence, they agree to take in Hiroko out of the kindness of their hearts. But, the girl notices the father’s difficulty in finding work, and she offers to spin silk if they promise not to open the door when she is busy at the loom. Hiroko’s silk proves to be of the finest quality, and soon the father grows greedy for more – so greedy that he breaks his promise.  When the door is opened, father and son discover that Hiroko is the crane Yasuhiro had once saved, but she can no longer remain with the boy she has come to love and must return to her own people. Yasuhiro refuses to let her go without him, through the power of their love he is transformed into a beautiful crane as well.

Lyrical haiku are woven throughout the story, which is a lovely way to move the narrative and add to its emotional weight. Lin Wang’s gorgeous paintings are a feast for the eyes, as well:

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The “twist” in this story? Here’s what Curtis Manley has to say:

I have loved these tales for many years but wanted to create a version in which it is a young boy who saves the crane and befriends and loves the crane girl, but who is not greedy or at fault when the girl’s true identity is revealed. Although the crane must leave, she is able to keep her connection with the boy who rescued her.

I loved this twist!  So often in these folktales, there is tragedy and loss at the end, brought about because of the betrayal of a character the reader has come to like.  Manley’s twist was a happy one – Yasuhiro does not fail the test, his kindness is rewarded, and he is able to be with Hiroko, the one he so truly loves:

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her wingbeats –

my heart soars

A beautiful ending to a beautiful book…

#IMWAYR:The King of the Birds, Preaching To The Chickens, & Ghost

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

Winter break gave me the chance to dive into the box of books I had had shipped home from NCTE, which was just the kind of vacation activity I enjoy most: reading!

The first book I reached for was The King Of The Birds, Acree Graham Macam’s delightful picture book:

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Natalie Nelson’s gorgeous cover had caught my eye as I was wandering through the maze of book displays at NCTE, and I remember stopping to leaf through it even though I had promised myself that since I had already bought too many books already and blown the book budget, I would absolutely NOT buy this book.  It took just one page to break that promise, for how could I resist the glorious story of how Flannery O’Connor came to add to her collection of birds (it was news to me that O’Connor even collected birds – lots of them – when she was a young girl) with a peacock?  Unfortunately, this is a peacock who refuses to preen, until O’Connor wakes up in the middle of the night with a solution:

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This is the perfect book to share with my students on a bleak winter day when they are tired of school and everything about school and need a jolt of color and diversion.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis led the iconic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge  in Selma, Alabama and has continued to lead us in our march towards a more just society. His story is now also told in a three volume graphic novel, which is a wonderful way to keep it alive and part of the conversation in classrooms.  One of my favorite anecdotes from March was the one about how Lewis discovered his love and gift for preaching, which is the basis of Jabari Asim’s new picture book Preaching To The Chickens:

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Jabari Asim’s poetic telling of Lewis’ story resonates because we know the great work that was to come from this humble beginning:

Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.

John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth.  The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed.  They swayed to the rhythm of his voice.

John’s henhouse sermons became so regular that his brother and sisters took to calling him Preacher.  He didn’t mind.  He knew that someday he’d speak before thousands. He hoped that his words would stir people’s souls and move them to action.

E.B. Lewis’ exquisite paintings allow the reader to linger and savor the power of this story all the more:

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I had heard so many amazing things about Jason Reynolds’ Ghost, that I knew I would love it…and did.

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Castle Cranshaw prefers to be known as “Ghost”, on account of his amazing ability to run, and run fast.  Ghost does not see himself as a team player for any sport, not even basketball (which he loves). That’s just not who he thinks he is, a team player.  But then he comes across a track team led by a cab driving coach who seems more than just a cab driving coach.  And, as he is drawn into the team and its ethos, he comes to learn about himself, about the anger that boils up inside him when he thinks of his father, and how he came to be so fast in the first place – running away from his father.

Ghost is one of those rare books that one reads and connects to on so many deep and important levels: it’s a story about discovering one’s true self, and about confronting one’s darkest secrets; but it’s also a story about perseverance and having faith, and how important it is for children to have adults in their lives who can nurture their desire to persevere and to have faith in people.

Late in the story, coach tells Ghost, “…you can’t run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be.”   Ghost is a powerful reminder that our kids need adults in their lives who can help point them towards what they want to be.

#IMWAYR: The Wolf Keepers, The Wild Robot & A Hound’s Holiday

imwayr-2015-1-2It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

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Zoo life, the mysterious ways of wolves, a new friend who turns out to be a runaway, and a hiking adventure  deep into the wilds of Yosemite in search of John Muir’s lost cabin – put them all into one book and you have Elise Broach’s exciting new title: The Wolf Keepers. Here’s the jacket copy synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Lizzie Durango and her dad have always had a zoo to call their home. Lizzie spends her days watching the animals and taking note of their various behaviors. Though the zoo makes for a unique home, it’s a hard place for Lizzie to make lasting friends. But all this changes one afternoon when she finds Tyler Briggs, a runaway who has secretly made the zoo his makeshift home. The two become friends and, just as quickly, stumble into a covert investigation involving the zoo wolves who are suddenly dying. Little do they know, this mystery will draw them into a high-stakes historical adventure involving the legend of John Muir as they try to navigate safely while lost in Yosemite National Park.

This was a lovely story about friendship and trust, and the backdrop of Yosemite and the fascinating yet tangled issue of releasing wolves into their natural habitat made this a hard-to-put-down adventure story as well.

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I adore everything Peter Brown writes, so I was especially keen to read his first middle grade novel, The Wild Robot.  This was such a beautiful and unusual story to lose myself in: haunting, moving, and unforgettable.  Here’s the jacket synopsis:

Can a robot survive in the wilderness?

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is–but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island’s unwelcoming animal inhabitants.

As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home–until, one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

At the heart of this story is the unlikely way in which Roz comes to become a mother to Brightbill: first as a caretaker to the solitary egg she is able to rescue, and then to the duckling who emerges and demands both love and guidance. Is a robot capable of either? Well, Roz discovers that she is capable of that and so much more, and in doing so she becomes a character we grow to love as well.  Brown’s illustrations grace the book perfectly, adding just the visuals the reader needs to help imagine the world of the book. Here’s a fascinating  post Peter Brown wrote about what moved him to write “a robot nature story”.   I imagine many wonderful classroom conversations about the lessons learned from Roz and her fellow island dwellers.

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I chanced upon A Hound’s Holiday at an art show, and fell in love with this charming holiday story, written in verse by Kim Spensley.  Old Bowser the dog is left at home while his family pack their sleigh with holiday fare and drive off through the snow to share a holiday feast.  But Bowzer will not be left aside so easily, and he manages to free himself and gallop off through a New England winter in search of his family…and the feast. Heather Bellanca’s enchanting scratchboard artwork brings warmth and delight to each page, and add just the kind of Christmas season nostalgia one always looks for at this time of year.  A treasure of a book!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Moo by Sharon Creech

imwayr-2015-1It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers.

One of the great highlights of last summer was being able to attend the Washington County State Fair.  We had heard so much about it ever since we’d purchased our farm in upstate New York, for every where we went (or so it seemed) the whole point of summer work was to be able to “show” at the fair.  On the day we visited, we saw kids of all  ages proudly “showing” every variety of farm livestock to be found: chickens, goats, horses, ponies, hens, roosters and cows.  For a citified person like me, it was all rather grand and marvelous.  Farm kids who “show” were so impressive…I was hooked!

Reading Sharon Creech’s enchanting new book, Moo, took me back to the world of the fair and gave me a whole new perspective on the kids who work so hard to train and groom their animals, day in and day out, so that they can glisten and gleam and have all the right moves at state fairs everywhere.

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The story is set in Maine, rural and lovely, to which twelve year old Reena and her seven year old brother Luke suddenly move from their bustling city life.  Before they can adjust fully to this new way of life, their parents volunteer their services to the crusty old lady on the farm next door…the one who owns a rambunctious  pig, an ever present snake, a rowdy cat…and a stubborn cow by the name of Zora.

Can Reena take on the task of getting Zora ready for the fair?  Will this 800 pounds of ornery stubbornness get in the way of Reena’s new dream: to show at the county fair?

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There is just so much to love about this warm and funny story, not the least of which is the way Sharon Creech plays with words and white space in whimsical ways.  I shared Moo with my sixth graders last Friday, and was thrilled to see it begin its rounds among of long list of kiddos excited to read the latest treasure from one of their favorite authors.