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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! A Wave Came Through Our Window

Wow. A Wave Came Through Our Window (2015) by Zetta Elliott is a book that teachers will want to make sure to use as a fabulous mentor text for teaching writing.


Not only is this text a perfect fit for teaching 'small moments' in writing (particularly fits well with that in the Lucy Calkins' Writing Units of Study), but is phenomenal as examples to illustrate author's word choice.

Through engaging characters that our brown students can relate to, this book will help you show students by example how to hone in on that small, meaningful moment to write about. The author didn't choose to write about an entire summer and how hot it was; she chose to hone in on what one summer night in their hot apartment was like. And not just one night in their apartment, but one night at bedtime!

If you or your school uses Jennifer Serravallo's Writing Strategies book, this fits perfectly with Goal 4: Focus/Meaning. Within Goal 4, you may want to use this as a mentor text for Strategy 4.5: Write About a Pebble or 4.6: Zoom In On A Moment of Importance.

You'll also definitely want to use this book as a mentor text for Author's Craft. In Jennifer Serravallo's Writing Strategies book, you can see this book fits very well as a mentor text for Goal 6: Elaboration and Goal 7: Word Choice.


Check out those similes, sensory details "... warm and thick ..." and use of rhyme, "...turns and churns..."!


Below are a few more excerpts. See if you can spot the similes, sensory details and alliteration.





Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking Strategy 6.13: Show, Don't Tell: Using Senses to Describe Places from the Serravallo Writing Strategies book, as well as 6.14: Show, Don't Tell: Emotions. You can also definitely find a mentor sentence here to suit your students' needs, as in 6.38: Mentor Sentences.

For Goal7: Word Choice, 7.4: Bring Objects to Life, 7.5 Verbs That Match the Meaning, and definitely 7.8: Sneaky Sounds: Alliteration, Consonance and Assonance.

The more you return to a particular mentor text, the more students (and you!) will understand how that text works and how you can edit your writing by using the mentor text example.

And A Wave Came Through Our Window is just plain darn beautiful descriptive writing you and your kids will love.

I'm getting my copy of this book as soon as I get my first check of the school year. I think you'll want to do the same.






Sunday, August 11, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga

Elementary teachers, Traci Sorell's lyrically beautiful, multi-award-winning We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga (2018) is just what you are looking for.


Summary from the author's website:
Otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is a word that Cherokee people use to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the Cherokee New Year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and illustrated by Frané Lessac, this nonfiction look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.

UP FRONT NOTE: There are two main federally-recognized Cherokee tribes. Traci Sorell is from the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation and her book is from that setting, perspective and research. Points in her book may vary from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians' culture and history here in North Carolina. Oklahoma and North Carolina teachers and librarians, especially, should be aware of these distinctions. It would be interesting to have students compare and contrast the two through the lens of We Are Grateful.


Teachers, We Are Grateful Otsaliheliga lends itself to teaching main idea and supporting details (boxes and bullets in the non-fiction reading unit if you use Lucy Calkins' Reading Units of Study) for second through probably fourth grade. You'll find this in Jennifer Serravallo's Reading Strategies book, Strategy 8.5, Boxes and Bullets. This would be particularly useful for third grade at my school. For kindergarten and first graders, or students who aren't quite ready to determine what a book is mostly about, this is also a good fit for Goal 8.3, Notice What Repeats.

You'll also want to be sure to teach students to analyze the information presented. Your students can critically analyze the traits the author writes about the Cherokee, the take-away, and why the author believes this story was important to write. In the Reading Strategies book, Strategy 8.15, Why Does the Story Matter? will help you do that.

Additionally, this is a great book to teach text structure because of its seasonal, cyclical structure with plenty of text feature clues. This text could be either description structure (main idea/detail) or sequence but as a circle, not a timeline.

I love illustrator Lessac's four-season tree on the opening page.
This page orients readers to the rest of the book.

The header (top left) makes this an easy model for text structure.
At bottom right, this pronunciation guide is just one of the text features.
All that being said, this is clearly a book elementary teachers will want to use at Thanksgiving in place of problematic books that promote stereotypes but are so commonly used at that time.

We Are Grateful is an #OwnVoices accurate representation of Native life. The author refers to the Cherokee in the present-tense, not as extinct or stuck in history. The illustrator's art also depicts contemporary Native people. And the theme is one that we all want to teach young students: gratitude.

While I would never want to pigeon-hole this book as a 'Thanksgiving book', it really is an excellent substitute for books that we may have used for years, but that actually promote stereotypes.

For more information on accurate teaching about Thanksgiving, please see the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education's Teaching About Thanksgiving page.

If you are a teacher in North Carolina, the entire SACIE Culturally Responsive Instructional Resources website was made into a for-credit pd module two years ago. You can access it the same way you access your PDP.  NCEdCloud -->NCEES. Then Professional Development tab at the top, then Course Search for #8048 Culturally Responsive Teaching About American Indians: Self-Paced. Please take this course! Huge amount of learning resources that will pay off in your classroom. Plus, you can do it in your pjs. 😉

For more information (you can even plug a book title into the search bar) on kidlit and accurate Native representation, please see Debbie Reese's amazing blog, American Indians in Children's Literature.

Teachers and librarians, please make sure this book is in your school!

Men cuddling babies? Yes, please!




Saturday, August 10, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! The Night Diary

The Night Diary (2019) by Veera Hiranandani is the 2019 Newbery Honor Book, as well the winner of a host of other awards, and a masterful piece of art.

In high school, I remember learning about the separation of India and Pakistan, and about Ghandi and his teachings. I remember seeing photographs of trains filled beyond capacity, people on roofs, people hanging out windows, trains packed full of people tighter than sardines, to reach India or Pakistan.

But the human cost of that political decision on the daily lives of millions of people escaped me because it was not taught in History or heaven forbid, in English Language Arts.

Teachers, this #OwnVoices middle grade novel (I'd narrow it down as late middle grade and recommend it for grades 6 - 12) will remedy that situation for your students.

Publisher's summary:

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train bu later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together. 
Told through Nisha's letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girls' search for home, for her own identity... and for a hopeful future.

The teaching points for history are obvious and I'd definitely recommend history/social studies/world cultures teachers use this book. But I'd also highly recommend it for ELA teachers, and ideally, for ELA and history teachers to coordinate efforts to use this book for instruction.

There is a fabulously detailed, well-thought-out teacher's guide on the publisher's website with complex thinking points and Common Core Standards alignment. Definitely use that.

But what stood out to me as I read it is character analysis. Not just having complex characters to teach students to analyze to meet standards, but characters that will resonate with your students and empower them.

Do you have students that are very hesitant to speak except to one or two other people? It feels like you must slowly draw them out every day to get responses from them? They will be relieved and intrigued to recognize themselves in Nisha.

Do you have students who struggle to read and write? Whose gifts may not be recognized by all? They will understand Amil's struggles and triumphs.

Do you have students who need to begin to understand the personal, human toll of politics? Who need a way to unpack and reframe social justice issues? Who need to learn about daily life, food and customs in other countries? (That would be everybody.)

Do you have students who need to analyze true historical world events in light of today's world events? (Again, everybody.)
"I heard Papa telling Dadi there are riots everywhere and, if we don't leave, we could be killed or taken to a refugee camp. Who would do this? Our neighbors? The kids we went to school with? The merchants at the market? Patients who Papa treated at the hospital? My teacher? Dr. Ahmed? Papa says that everyone is killing one another now, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. Everyone is to blame. He says that when you separate people into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than another."
Middle school and high school teachers, please buy, or ask your district to buy, this book and use it for instruction. It's a gem.



Saturday, August 3, 2019

Summer is for Reading! Islandborn

Islandborn (2018) is a longer picture book* by Junot Díaz, illustrated most wonderfully by Leo Espinosa. Mr. Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic like his main character, immigrating to the United States as a young child, making this an #OwnVoices book.

Teachers, this story could be just taken at surface level for younger readers. A young girl, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, interviews family and community members about the island for a class project. It could be taken as just that - a story of fitting in, being proud of where you come from, learning about where you come from. 

For readers at about Levels M-P(ish), it could also make a great reading and writing mentor text for vivid setting and the effect on the main character (Goal 5.22 in Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book), fitting in beautifully with Lucy Calkins' Reading and Writing Units of Study.

Look at Lola totally immersed in writing about the beautiful island her family and neighbors have told her about. She takes pieces from each of their descriptions. Bats "as big as blankets", beaches that "are poetry", an island exploding with music and color. Everyone shares wonderful, vivid memories with Lola.


Lola in 'the zone'

Lola's writing exploding from the page for her class at the end of the story

And you can even discuss . . . the monster!



And on that note, this book can be so amazing instructionally! Because, see, that monster is everything. 

For more sophisticated readers (up to Z+), you'll definitely want to discuss theme (start with theme vs plot, if your students need that). But then, this book lends itself beautifully to thinking deeply about theme, and forces the reader to infer: What is that monster? What could that monster represent and why? I love that the author never answers that for the reader.

This text connects directly to thinking about the real world in a text (7.15 in The Reading Strategies book), and to history. Although the monster could represent a number of fears according to the author, to middle grade and/or high school students, it can tie directly to Dominican dictator Trujillo's Parsely Massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic in the late 1930s. In this light, you'd want to ask your students why this story matters, what is the social/historical impact of that time? This book? Beautiful tie-in with historical political conflict, power, or Latin American Studies.

For all of that, this book is a light-filled, colorful triumph of joy. Author's craft - word choice for sure, illustrator's craft and impact, making inferences, questioning, all within a framework that will validate so many of our students. 


My favorite spread. Together they vanquished the monster. Hope and joy.


*Special appreciation and shout out to Dial Books for Young Readers for taking a chance and publishing a LONGER PICTURE BOOK!  Yay!!! 48 pages! We've been waiting for a return to longer picture books, and I hope this beauty ushers in many more. 






Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! Jabari Jumps

Oh, be still my heart! Jabari. 💓

I was lucky enough to be able to order a six-pack of Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (2017) for our school's book room in the spring of 2017.

Teachers, if your school does not have this book, please remedy that!

This is one of those picture books that can be used on multiple levels for Kindergarteners through high school, depending on your instructional purpose. The text is deceptively simple. But don't underestimate Jabari!

For the littlest ones, it's a feel-good story about being brave, rich with family love. I read this to one of my second grade reading groups to test the waters (pun intended). K, a young man with learning and focus challenges who struggled to comprehend and retell most stories, told us everything after I read it to them. He told it all! Not just events, but feelings of the main characters, possible reasons - K made good inferences.

My favorite spread

Representation matters. In this 'simple' book about a little boy facing his fear of jumping off the diving board, bolstered by his father's love and support, K saw himself. He was literally quivering with excitement. This book mattered to him. (Not only that, but let me just point out the obvious - a functional Black family, a Black dad's love and care for his children, a Black family not just at the pool but taking swimming lessons, passing swimming tests - sadly, it's a thing that people think Black families don't do this - all of this matters.)

Above, you see my favorite spread. Look at those sweet characters - Jabari standing there just like little boys do, holding his daddy's hand. That baby girl's arm going around her daddy's back. Daddy has all his kid-care supplies in his backpack for the day.

And then read that last sentence. "But when his dad squeezed his hand, Jabari squeezed back." That is an entire mini-lesson's worth of instruction for third grade through high school right there! That is the pivot point in the book, the author dropping us a clue, the author's choice of character action - can your students analyze that sentence? Did they even notice it?  (This is CCSS R.5)

Those are the discussions you'd want to be sure to have with students reading about on Levels O - Z+ (mid-third grade and up).

You'll also want to use this book as a great model (because of its depth of complexity and its short reading time) for understanding the deeper nuances of character and theme with upper elementary through high schoolers. If you are a fan and user of Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book, Jabari Jumps would be a great mentor text for just about all of Goal 7 that marries character and theme.

Difference between plot and theme? Quick and easy with this book. Also from Serravallo's Goal 7, you can use this text for lessons on what we can learn from how characters treat each other, seed to theme, character change reveals lessons, secondary sages, aha moment, and titles (is "Jabari Jumps" literal or is there more to it?). All of these fall within CCSS R.2 and R.3, theme and characters. Great for small group lessons on all of these skills.

Look at the spread below. We've all been there.



But could we take that more than literally with this story? What could this be a metaphor for, both in the text and in the larger context of community, the world?

And then there's the art.


Look how Cornwall uses what looks to be old book text to form the city buildings. Why did she choose to do that? What is the impact on the story? The reader? CCSS Anchor Standard R.7.

Get Jabari Jumps. You'll love it as much as I do.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer is for Reading! Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock

Teachers, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock (2018) is one of those books that will make teaching easier! Quadruple duty: theme/central message, analysis of two or more texts, stories from diverse cultures & global goals, and author's craft.


Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt, illustrated by Amanda Strong, is an #OwnVoices picture book. It's also recommended by Debbie Reese on her blog American Indians in Children's Literature. The main character, Awâsis, gets help from some animal friends after accidentally dropping her grandmother's bannock. 

Short reads, especially picture books, are great to model think-alouds for K-12. Since they are short, they get across the teaching point through example quickly, and illustrations make them memorable for students all the way through high school (and beyond). Additionally, if you use the same text to help teach multiple standards, students will become more deeply familiar with that text and thus more familiar with how to think deeply about a text.

This short read would be great to model theme and central message (RL.2), especially for 2nd through 8th grades, and even more so if your grade level standard mentions 'diverse cultures' (2nd and 3rd grades here in North Carolina). Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock also has a guide to included words in the Cree language in the back, and you can also watch this video with your students to learn the words together!

Is your school a global school? If your grade level learns about North America, this would be a perfect text to combine global goals with ELA standards.

Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock would also be fabulous to use to teach RL.9 - analyzing two or more texts. Below, these grade levels' RL.9 would be a great fit for this book:

RL.2.9 Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story by different authors or from different cultures.

RL.4.9 Compare and contrast the use of similar themes and topics and patterns of events in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
RL.5.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
RL.6.9 Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
RL.8.9 Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works, including describing how the material is rendered new.

There are a couple of texts that students could compare to Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock. Little Red Riding Hood would be a traditional story that students would find an interesting comparison (mother/grandma sends girl on a mission through the forest to help relatives in both stories, mission fails in both stories, girl meets animal in the forest, animals are helpful in one story, not in the other - lots of possibilities). 

The other great comparison text that springs to mind is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer, in which the main character goes from relative to relative collecting jingles for her jingle dress to dance in the powwow for her relatives. (If you don't have Jingle Dancer, get it - it's phenomenal!)


Theme comparison would involve differences: listen to your parents, or do as you are told or bad things will happen vs helping others, interdependence, accepting help, working together - many possibilities.

And you know we need to insert Author's Craft whenever we can at every grade level, so check this out:



See what my pencil is pointing to? Yay! Why did the author decide to use a smaller/larger font for this part? What is the effect of the author's use of a smaller/larger font? What does the author want the reader to do when they get to the smaller/larger font? Why? 

Aaaand, the world-famous bannock recipe is in the back so you can actually make it! Science and math standards, anyone? Yum!











Monday, July 15, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! The Sockeye Mother

Summer is for reading!

I just read The Sockeye Mother (2017) by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson).



I can see so many classroom uses for this nonfiction picture book! It details the life cycle throughout the year of a sockeye salmon, a key species for the Gitxsan people of Northwestern British Columbia. I'll be adding it to my school's purchase list.

Teachers, if your third grade does the Lucy Calkins animal research unit, this book would be perfect! It would also be a great fit for ecosystem standards (fifth grade in my home state), and animal studies standards (fourth grade in my home state).

But wait, there's more! See those text features in the pic below? You know how hard we work to teach young readers how to recognize and use these in all grade levels. This book has an author's note, a map, headings and science vocabulary text boxes (as per pic below).


Beautiful artwork by Natasha Donovan also keeps young readers engaged, as does the connection to the seasons and the Gitxsan people (see pic below).



This book is remarkable in that the overarching theme is how the two species, the sockeye salmon and the people, are interconnected. Nonfiction animal fact text and theme? Yep! It's there.

Debbie Reese has a more detailed review on her blog, American Indians In Children's Literature that you should check out, too. Debbie suggests using the video that is on the Portage & Main Press site (linked above), Youtube, and also her review, to learn how to pronounce some of the Gitxsan words in the book. I'd also suggest showing the video to your students. Have fun and do your best with the words and use it as a model of your learning, along with your students!

There is also a video on Youtube of the author, Brett Huson, talking about culture, the importance of women, mothers, grandmothers, and family, as well as where the story of The Sockeye Mother came from. This is a longer, but very interesting video that teachers will want to watch/listen to and then choose parts to share with students.

Get it, teach it, love it.