Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays and "Best Of" Book Lists for 2014

We wish all of you a peaceful and joyous holiday season. On January 5th, we’ll be back with a regular posting. In the meantime, we wanted to share a collection of "Best of 2014" lists. Please feel free to add to our collection of links by submitting a favorite "best of" listing of your own in a comment.

We’d like to extend our deep appreciation to the teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and publishers who join us in our efforts to put wonderful books in the hands of children. 

Happy New Year to all!

Best of 2014
Click on each title for the full list. 

Scholastic's 2014 "What Kids Want to Read" Research Report

Additionally, we thought our teacher and librarian friends would be interested in this latest position statement on leisure reading, co-published by the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the Canadian Children's Book Centre. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Written by Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN #978-0763662295

Grades K and up

Book Review

How do you know when you’ve found something spectacular? Perhaps, you might answer, when you open Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, the latest picturebook by the award-winning duo of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Armed with long-handled shovels and full of chocolate milk and cookies, Sam and Dave embark on a familiar childhood pastime: digging a giant hole. Indeed, Dave announces they “won’t stop digging until they find something spectacular.” Told with Barnett’s perfectly paced and straightforward prose, and through Klassen’s earth-toned and textured cross-section illustrations of the subterranean adventure, the story humorously follows the boys’ earnest, but misguided decisions about their digging. Only the readers and the boys’ accompanying dog sense what treasures actually surround them, and only the sharpest reader will sense what is truly remarkable about their experience in the end. This is picturebook storytelling at its finest, as text and illustration entwine to tell the whole story and make for “something spectacular” for your students to encounter.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

The Joy of Digging. What is it about digging that children find so fascinating? Set up a classroom digging station using a sensory table or bin. Fill it up with sand, hide some fun treasures to discover in it, and provide students with small shovels. Have students sort their discoveries into various categories, map the locations in the sand where they dug up their treasures, and then rebury the items for the next group of students to dig up.

Go Dig a Hole. What would your students find if they dug a hole? Pose this question to them, and then launch an inquiry into the geology, ecology, and even the pedology (study of soils in their natural environment) of your school’s geographical location. As a class, research what mineral and organic material they might expect to find, perhaps even what man-made materials might also lie in the ground beneath them. Use some of the website provided below in Further Explorations. Then have them write or illustrate what they hypothesize they’ll discover. Finally, dig a hole with your students, and see how their predictions match what they find.

Global Proportions and Directions. At the end of the book, Sam and Dave appear to have dug through the earth to the “other side.” What is directly on the other side of the world from where your students and school are? Study the globe with your students to determine geographical locations that would be directly opposite from theirs. Then, pick various locations for students to use as starting points and have them determine what lies on the other side of the world from those points (e.g., Is the South Pole really opposite from the North Pole?). Have them list these geographical opposites on a class chart. Some of the answers may be surprising.

Animal Senses and Perceptions. Although the boys miss the treasures around them, their dog senses each one. How are animal senses and perceptions different from those of humans? What do animals sense that humans don’t? Have your class research the sense abilities of various animals, especially those known to have some keener senses than humans: dogs, cats, elephants, alligators, bats, and seals, for example. Then, have students rewrite Sam and Dave Dig a Hole with a different animal accompanying them and using its unique sense abilities to try to guide the boys.

About that Ending. The ambiguous ending provides rich opportunities for students to go back into the book and engage in close reading of the text and illustrations. Guide your students in a discussion of the ending, charting their interpretations about what happens as well as the evidence they cite for support. Share some of the interviews that Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen gave about the book (see Further Explorations below). For older students, share the School Library Journal article that offers six theories about the book's ending. Then, have students continue the story by writing what happens next to the boys.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary. Although the boys never find any of the jewels hidden in the dirt, they nonetheless believe they experienced “something spectacular.” Have students brainstorm times when something wonderful or surprising happened when they least expected it, such as spotting a hawk while out on a walk, having the vending machine drop two snacks instead of one, or finding an item they thought was lost while they were doing chores. Using Sam and Dave Dig a Hole as a mentor text, have students narrate their own stories about something extraordinary resulting from an ordinary activity. You might also share some of the books listed below in Further Explorations, such as Not a Box and The Dot, to show how amazing things can be made from ordinary objects as well.

Painting with Soil.  Another way to show how the ordinary can produce something extraordinary is to have students create artwork with soil. Show them images such as these ( that artists have painted with soil. Involve students in the preparation for painting by taking them on nature walks to gather soils of different colors, or have them bring in a container of soil from other places in the community.

Author/Illustrator Study. Both Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen have written and illustrated several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of their books to conduct an author study and/or illustrator study. For the author study, ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the books. Examine Mac Barnett’s writing techniques, as well as the topics and perspectives he writes about in his books. For the illustrator study, survey Jon Klassen’s illustrations, and identify his artistic style, his artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. Gather information about both of these men from their websites listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources.

Author-Illustrator Pairs. The author/illustrator relationship can be a powerful one. The author has to trust the illustrator to tell their story in pictures. Though often, the author and illustrator work separately, sometimes never communicating about the book in order to allow each other to represent the story in through their own vision. However, there are author/illustrator pairs like Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen who have worked together or have repeatedly been paired without actually meeting each other to create some of the most compelling contemporary picture books in the last few years. Conduct an author-illustrator study of the work of some of these pairs. You might look at the picturebooks by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet, Eve Bunting and David Diaz, the father-son duo of Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, and the husband-wife team of Brian Pinkney and Andrea Davis Pinkney. Compare and contrast the books they have created together with books they have created with others. Students could work in pairs to become author/illustrator partners and create a shared story. How does their collaboration create something better than what they could have created alone?

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Mac Barnett’s website

Jon Klassen’s website

Soils 4 Kids

Soil Science Society of America

Soil Education - USDA Natural Resources Conservative Service

Geology for Kids

All About Soil – Easy Science for Kids

Amazing Animal Senses – Neuroscience for Kids

Super Senses: The Secret Power of Animals

Six Theories on the Ending of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole - School Library Journal article

Interviews with Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen


Portis, A. (2006). Not a box. New York: HarperCollins.

Portis, A. (2007). Not a stick. New York: HarperCollins

Reynolds, P. H. (2003). The dot. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Rosinsky, N. M. (2002). Dirt: The scoop on soil. Ill. by S. Boyd. Minneanapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Saltzberg, B. (2010). Beautiful oops! New York: Workman Publishing.

Tomecek, S. (2007). Jump into science: Dirt. Ill. by Nancy Woodman: National Geographic Chidlren’s Books.

Zuppardi, S. (2013). The nowhere box. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our entry at

Monday, December 8, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
Written by Jacqueline Woodson
Published in 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Grades 4 and up

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Book Review
To refuel, rethink, and reconnect in life, we need only be reminded of the power of dreams. In Brown Girl Dreaming, acclaimed author Jacqueline Woodson eloquently shares the story of her childhood and the dreams that propelled her into a writer’s life. Written in verse, Woodson’s memoir offers readers a compelling life story written with the sounds and structures of poetry to help us breathe in her words with greater attention and reflection. Born in 1963, Woodson writes about the joys and challenges of being raised first in the South and then in Brooklyn during the Civil Rights era. She thoughtfully writes about the complexity of the relationships that mattered to her most including the connections she had to her mother, grandparents, siblings, and friends. As Woodson writes to make sense of her own life, we, in turn, find deeper meaning in our own. Brown Girl Dreaming provides readers a text worthy of close reading and rereading in a study of memoir, poetry, or as a primary source for interdisciplinary studies on the civil rights era. Woodson’s story is an impacting and welcome addition to young adult literature inviting us all “perchance to dream.”

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom

Grades 4-8

Verse vs. Prose: Memoir Text Set. Most memoirs are written in prose while Brown Girl Dreaming is written in verse. Consider with students why Woodson made the choice to write her memoir in verse to share the stories of her childhood. In what ways do the sounds (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, etc.) and structures (line breaks, stanzas, white space, etc.) of poetry convey the issues of identity and growing up that Woodson explores. Support students in a duet model by reading brown girl dreaming and the verse novel The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. In what ways do both authors use poetry to convey the complexity of coming of age and girlhood in different times and places?

Memoir Text Clubs. Support students in memoir text clubs using other memoirs such as Knots in my Yo-Yo String by Jerry Spinelli, Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid by Ralph Fletcher, When I Was Your Age by Emily Ehrlich, My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen, The Tarantula in My Purse by Jean Craighead George, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, and Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (based on autobiographical context) drawing students' attention to the comparisons that can be made about the themes and writing style each writer uses.

What’s in a Title? Support students to interpret the many layers of significance Woodson’s title suggests. In what ways does the title demonstrate poetic license with the use of lower-case letters in keeping with poets such as e.e. cummings? Throughout the text, trace with students moments in the text that connect back to the title. In what ways does a few simple words reflect the complex positioning of the author? In what ways are girlhood, skin color, and the power of dreams central to Woodson’s story? Support students to craft titles for their own memoirs. Can they say more with less as Woodson did? Finally, support students to further their visual literacy skills by interpreting the silhouette on the cover to accompany and compliment the title. Like the title, how are the visual choices simple yet complex?

To You: Duet Model. Brown Girl Dreaming opens with Langston Hughes’ poem “To You”. Read and interpret the poem with students and support students to make predictions about the ways in which Woodson’s childhood stories will connect to Hughes’s urging to “Hold fast to dreams”. What are the dreams she will hold on to? What are the dreams of other people in her life? In what ways are they fulfilled or unfulfilled? In what ways could Hughes have inspired the choice Woodson made to write her story in verse?

Finding Voice through Writing. Throughout the book, Woodson describes how she began to find her voice through writing. Come to your own definition as a class for "voice" and compare to other definitions in the field which vary widely. Support students to identify moments in the text where Woodson's voice is illuminated through descriptions of her feelings and convictions. Then, draw students to notice particular poems, such as "writing #1", "writing #2", and "the stories i tell", considering how writing came to impact Woodson's voice in her family and community. Extend student learning with a comparison to Woodson’s Behind You drawing comparisons to how she uses first person narration to create the voice of several key characters.

A Year in Focus: 1963. The first pages of brown girl dreaming open with reference to sit-ins, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Ruby Bridges. Research with students these references along with top news stories from Woodson's birth year, 1963. By reading across texts, have students consider the ways in which the events of 1963 impacted Woodson's childhood and how she positioned herself or may have been positioned by society both in Ohio and then South Carolina.

Finding Significance in Objects. Woodson’s notebook became her savior. As she writes, "on paper, things can live forever." Consider with students objects in their own lives that have significance to them--that shape them in some way. What do those objects say about them and the hopes and dreams they have for themselves? In what ways do those objects position them in their families and in school?

The Impact of Place. Woodson’s childhood began in the Ohio where her father’s family had for generations felt respected as Black Americans. This respect was powerful enough to keep Woodson’s father firmly rooted there. Woodson moves with her mother to South Carolina and the place itself impacts who she becomes. The feel of the dirt. The voice of her granddaddy. The smells of cookin. When she moves up North again she is influenced by new people, languages, and events. Support students to notice these details in Brown Girl Dreaming and to consider the ways their own coming of age narratives are shaped by the places they live. Pair poems from Brown Girl Dreaming with George Ella Lyon's poem "where i'm from" and have students compose their own poetry about the various places they are from and the details that make those places meaningful to them. Consider multimedia extensions by having students construct their own audio or videos that accompany their poems.

The Complexity of Family and Friendship. Throughout the memoir, we come to realize that Woodson’s family may in many ways be like our own. That is, there are moments of fierce loyalty and moments of great conflict. The same can be said of Woodson’s friendships particularly when she moves to Brooklyn and meets her friend, Maria whose "hair is crazily curling down past her back/ the Spanish she speaks like a song/I am learning to sing." Support students to interpret poems such as "family" and "going home again" to draw conclusions about Woodson's relationships with family and friends. In what ways do your students find connections to their own lives? In what ways do they find disconnections?

How to Listen: Reading Across Poems. Throughout the memoir, there are ten poems entitled "how to listen" #s 1-10. Compile these ten poems into a text set and have students consider the ways in which Woodson is encouraging us as readers to listen more closely to the people, words, and sounds around us. Then have students compose their own “How to Listen” poems offering words of wisdom to one another. Scaffold student thinking about how to listen by considering as a class other related questions such as: who should we listen to, where should we listen, when should we listen, and why should we listen.

Author Study. Who is Jacqueline Woodson and how can we as readers and listeners come to know her better? As a class, listen to the first National Public Radio interview with Jacqueline Woodson about Brown Girl Dreaming. In what ways does the interview further students’ thinking about Woodson and what she hopes her writing does for the world. Then, gather students in text clubs to read other books by Jacqueline Woodson such as Behind You, After Tupac and D Foster, Feathers, Coming On Home Soon, Hush, and If You Come Softly noticing the themes and craft techniques she uses within and across texts. Have students consider the ways in which their knowledge of Woodson from the interview informed their reading of her other works.

Critical Literacy

Race in America.
Woodson’s memoir is focused on the 1960s and 1970s where the Civil Rights movement and the remnants of Jim Crow laws greatly impacted her childhood and family life, particularly in South Carolina. Consider with students evidence of how race impacted Woodson’s childhood story both in the South and in Brooklyn. In what ways has the conversation about race in America changed since then? View the National Book Foundation Awards and consider with students the racially charged comments by the presenter, Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series, about Woodson’s allergy to watermelon. Read Woodson’s response in the New York Times and listen to her National Public Radio interview. What are signs that we as a nation have made progress with attitudes and beliefs about race? In what ways do events such as the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and subsequent protests show us that racism is alive in America? In what ways do Daniel Handler’s comments show us that racism comes in overt and subversive forms? Support students to discuss ways that their own skin color impacts their identities. Turn to our entry on Teaching for Change and Social Justice as a teaching resource to continue this work throughout the school year.

A People’s Revolution. Woodson describes in her National Public Radio interview on the book why she included the word “brown” in the title. As Woodson stated, "My grandmother would always say to me, 'You're a pretty brown girl,' " she says. "There was something about 'brown' that felt more universal, and it was speaking to more people than myself." Support students to identify the ways in which collective voice is evident throughout the text. We read about Woodson’s childhood but we are positioned to consider the collective interests of people of color both historically and today.

#weneeddiversebooks. Read with students the New York Times book review of brown girl dreaming. Discuss as a class whether your students think the title is limiting its audience because of the reference to skin color as Veronica Chambers suggests. Together as a class do a classroom bookshelf inventory. How many books have characters of color? What is the percentage of books that have characters of color out of the full collection? Join as a class the #weneeddiversebooks Twitter campaign that is urging the publishing world, libraries, and classrooms to make more diverse children’s and young adult literature a twenty-first century priority and right for all readers.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Jacqueline Woodson's Site

National Book Award Acceptance - .VIIHD2TF-Ho

New York Times Book Review

Washington Post Book Review

National Public Radio Interview

Reading Rockets Video Interview

Author Chat with New York Public Library

Author Reading from Brown Girl Dreaming

National Public Radio Interview: Woodson’s Response to Watermelon Joke

Woodson’s New York Time Opinion Article “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke”

Buzzfeed Reaction to Daniel Handler Comments

Classroom Bookshelf Entry on Woodson's Each Kindness and Beneath a Meth Moon

Woodson, J. (2002). Between Madison and Palmetto. New York: Penguin Group.

Woodson, J. (2002). Hush. New York: Penguin Group.

Woodson, J. (2002). Last summer with maizon. New York: Penguin Group.

Woodson, J. (2003). Locomotion. New York: Recorded Books.

Woodson, J. (2007). Feathers. New York: Penguin Group.

Woodson, J. (2009). Peace, Locomotion. New York: Putnam's.

Woodson, J. (2010). After Tupac and D. Foster. New York: Penguin Group.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Written by Joyce Sidman and Illustrated by Rick Allen
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014

All Ages

Book Review

Moving readers through winter from the first flakes, “Snowflake wakes, / whirling, / arms outstretched, / lace sprouting from fingertips,”  to the first indications of spring’s return, master poet Joyce Sidman offers an exquisite exploration of animal behavior during the coldest months of the year. Twelve poems, varying in structure and style, describe animals’ methods for survival, while accompanying expository text supports readers’ understandings of scientific terms such as migration, brumation, and subnivean activity. Some poems are playful and rhythmic, “I’m a big brown moose, / I’m a rascally moose, / I’m a moose with a tough, shaggy hide;” while others are lyrical, such as the poem featuring the Tundra Swan, “Dusk fell / and the cold came creeping, / came prickling into our hearts.” Each poem is elegantly accompanied by Rick Allen’s detailed linoleum prints, which also serve to create a secondary narrative, following the journey of the red fox who is featured mid-pounce on the book’s cover. This is a title to which you will return again and again, to use as a mentor text for nonfiction poetry, to explore the seasons, to marvel at the versatility of animals and nature, and simply to appreciate the profound beauty of its verbal and visual imagery.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K and Up

Winter Where You Are. What happens during winter in your area? Are there seasonal changes? What changes in animal behavior occur? Invite a local naturalist to come in to talk with your students to answer questions like these that students have prepared ahead of time. Take a walk outside to see if you can find any evidence of animal activity – make notes and take photographs. Find out if there may be a WebCam nearby that is recording animal behavior. Using information gained from the interview and from additional research, create a class book describing winter in the natural world in your area. You might choose to use a compare/contrast text structure, comparing the seasonal changes in your area with those in another geographic location. Student artwork or photographs can be used to illustrate the student composed text.

Animal Research. Invite students to select an animal featured in one of Sidman’s poems or another favorite animal to explore through further research. Students can use survey texts on the animal and/or digital resources to make notes on the animal’s behavior and habits. Encourage students to use the genres of poetry and the structure of expository text to convey what they have learned about the animal, creating a side-by-side presentation of poetry and prose modeled after Sidman’s writing in Winter Bees.

Winter Poetry. Read Winter Bees as part of a collection of poetry about the winter season. Titles such as: Iguanas in the Snow and Other Winter Poems, Winter Poems, Snow, Snow, and Other Winter Poems, Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts, and Winter Eyes: Poems and Paintings (see Further Explorations section below for full references) can be used as mentor texts for students own poems. After studying variations in content, theme, style, structure, and tone across the poems in these books, students will compose their own poetry. Be sure to hold a poetry café celebration so that students have an authentic audience for their writing.

Animals in Winter. Gather a text set that focuses on animal behavior in preparation for and during the season of winter. Suggested books include: Animals in Winter, Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here, In the Snow: Who’s Been Here?, Over and Under the Snow, Winter is Coming: A Story of Seasonal Change and Under the Snow. Compare and contrast the information in these nonfiction texts along with the style and structures used by the author. This activity could be followed by the “Winter Where You Are “ invitation above.

Grades 2 and Up. 

Close Reading of the Illustrations. Rick Allen’s linoleum prints are beautiful and fascinating. You and your students can learn more about his print making process by reading the interview provided by the blog Seven Impossible Things before breakfast. Conduct a “close reading” of the illustrations in Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, tracking the progression of time and seasonal change across the course of the story (eg. tree leaves, to snowflakes, and back to tree buds).  Students will likely be quick to follow the journey of the fox across the poems and pages in the book. Examine the double page spreads closely to see if you can identify any other patterns or motifs across the illustrations. Discuss the relationship between the images and the words and how both mediums work together to convey meaning and content information. If possible, work with your art teacher to provide your students with an opportunity to try making linoleum prints.

Duet Model Reading with Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen have also collaborated on the Newbery Honor winning title Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. This title is a perfect pair for comparison in a duet model reading (see our Teaching With Text Sets entry) with Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Compare the illustrations, poem content, style and format, and the overall book design. Invite students to consider other cycles, such as moon cycles or life cycles, as a structure for a collection of poetry. Work as class to compose, illustrate, and publish a new book modeled after these two titles.

Poem and Prose. Through the inclusion of a secondary text, Sidman provides expository information about the featured animal or aspect of winter in prose. Invite students to consider the relationship between the prose and the poem by modeling with “Big Brown Moose.” Project a copy of the poem and prose passage side by side and ask students to make explicit connections between the expository text and the poem. For example, the line “Winter’s main challenge for moose is to provide enough plant material to powe their enormous bulk,” is reflected in the poetry line: “I’m a ravenous moose/ as I hunt for the willow and yew.” Following this modeling, break the class up into small working groups to repeat this exercise using the other poems. This activity could be followed by further genre study of nonfiction poems, leading to students’ original compositions.

Tone & Style in Poetry. In Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, Sidman masterfully varies her style and tone to match the animal and animal behavior featured in each poem. Divide your class into small groups, assigning each group one of the animal poems to examine. Ask students to identify how Sidman crafts the poem through word choice, figurative language and effects of sound, such as alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Students should be prepared to present their poem with an oral reading (performance) and a specific discussion of the tone and style.

Sidman Author Study. Joyce Sidman is a prolific and inspiring poet whose works have been recognized with numerous awards, including the Newbery medal and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry. Conduct an author study of Sidman’s work, exploring the range and variety of her work, paying particular attention to patterns in the topics, themes, forms, and style of her poetry. A listing of Sidman’s books can be found on her informative website.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Joyce Sidman: Author Website

NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry

NoWaterRiver: Poetry Month 2013

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Rick Allen (Illustrator / Printmaker)

Rick Allen: Kenspeckleletter Press

National Geographic Kids


Alarcon, F.X. (2001). Iguanas in the snow and other winter poems. Ill. by M.C. Gonzalez. New York: Children’s Book Press an imprint of Lee & Low.

Bancroft, H. (1996). Animals in winter. Ill. by H.K. Davie. New York: HarperCollins.

Florian, D. (1999). Winter eyes: Poems and Paintings. New York: Greenwillow.

George, J.C. (1993). Dear Rebecca, winter is here. New York: HarperCollins.

George, L.B. (1995). In the snow: Who’s been here? New York: Greenwillow.

Gerber, C. (2008). Winter trees. Ill. by L. Evans. Cambridge, MA: Charlesbridge.

Hines, A.G. (2005). Winter lights: A season in poems & quilts. New York: Greenwillow.

Messner, K. (2011). Over and under the snow. Ill. by C.S. Neal. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Rogasky, B. (ed.). (1999). Winter poems. Ill. by T.S. Hyman. New York: Scholastic.

Stewart, M. (2009). Under the snow. Ill. by C.R. Bergum. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

Stinger, L. (2006). Winter is the warmest season. New York: Harcourt.

Thornhill, J. (2014). Winter is coming: A story of seasonal change. Ill. by J. Bisaillon. Toronto, ON: Owl Kids.

Yolen, J. (1987). Owl moon. Ill. by J. Schoenherr. New York: Philomel.

Yolen, J. (1998). Snow, snow : winter poems for children. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press.

Related Entries:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving from Mary Ann, Erika, Grace, and Katie at The Classroom Bookshelf. We will be back next week, squeezing in a few more favorites from 2014 before the year ends.  We are grateful for the work we do, and the opportunity to share it with you and your students.  

If you are looking for a read aloud in the last couple of days before the holiday, you might find our entry on Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet of interest. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Teaching to Complexity: A Framework to Evaluate Literary and Content-Area Texts

Teaching to Complexity: A Framework to Evaluate Literary and Content-Area Texts

Written by Mary Ann Cappiello and Erika Thulin Dawes
Published by Shell Education, 2014
ISBN: 9781425814601

This week, we celebrate the publication of Erika and Mary Ann’s new book, Teaching to Complexity: A Framework to Evaluate Literary and Content-Area Texts.

As we write in our introduction: “The texts we ask students to read matter. They influence their knowledge of the world, their recognition of multiple perspectives, their ability to develop empathy, their understanding of how inquiry operates, and their perception of how people use literacies to express their understanding of the world around them, whether through a historic speech, a picture book, podcast, or poem. Our goal in writing this book is to support you as you select the texts that will make a difference in your students’ learning today, next month, and in years to come.”

As you know, each week on “The Classroom Bookshelf,” we, along with Grace and Katie, offer examples of expertly written children’s and young adult books that offer a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities. We try to model, week after week, the ways in which well-written books can serve a number of roles in language arts and content area classrooms and meet a variety of instructional purposes.

But how do we identify these books? How do we consider the strengths and weaknesses of books as we contemplate books for this blog? How does our thinking about instructional purposes and possibilities shape how we read books we’re considering for classroom use? How does our understanding of readers influence our choices and the instructional activities we suggest for the same book at different grade spans?

If you’re a fan of our earlier book, Teaching with Text Sets, you can consider Teaching to Complexity its “back story.” In it, we articulate the processes that we use to select texts for classroom use, and situate those processes within the current landscape of the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity. We provide a pathway for both new and experienced teachers to follow, one that reflects our beliefs about the importance and centrality of beautifully written books for children and young adults, not just in their personal reading lives, but as a central component of curriculum in language arts, science, social studies, and the arts.

As such, the book is a primer for selecting texts for classroom use. We seek to give you a deeper understanding of how texts operate, the nuances of genres, and why having “good” books in the classroom matters. We link an evaluation of the quality of a book with its role in the classroom, and discuss the many, many different purposes for using books across the content areas, and how that shapes your approach to selecting a text. We then bring in a conversation about readers, matching the quality and utility of the book with a consideration of text complexity.

Ultimately, we share an understanding of text complexity as something malleable, not fixed, dependent upon not just the range of readers in the room, but the context in which a text is being used, and how the other texts within the text set are positioned. Depending upon how any single text is being used within a text set, it may be more or less complex for readers. In Teaching with Text Sets, we discuss how some texts in a text set are scaffolds, some are immersion experiences, and some extensions. These roles within the text set and the curriculum are pivotal points for considering the ways in which text complexity can be considered.

If you’re in the Boston area, please join us at Lesley University to celebrate the book launch on Wednesday, November 19th at 5 pm. To register for this free event, and get a free copy of Teaching to Complexity, follow this link:

If you’re going to NCTE in Washington, please join us at our panel with School Library Journal’s Daryl Grabarek. We’ll be talking about the processes for selecting texts and apps for use in text sets. You’ll find our session details here: .

Grace will also be presenting at NCTE, and you can find her session details here:

You can order the book at:

Shell Education:


Monday, November 10, 2014

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes
Written by Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7315-4

Grades 3-5

Book Review
Where do you begin the conversation with young people about the tiny microbes in and around us everyday, some of which keep us healthy, some of which make us sick? You start with Tiny Creatures, a beautiful nonfiction picture book written by zoologist and children’s author Nicola Davies, and illustrated by Emily Sutton. Rather than attempting to be a survey book telling readers a little bit about all there is to know about microbes, it is instead an ideal example of the concept book. It focuses on the basic essentials of the concept “microbe” and includes information about size and scale, their ability to quickly reproduce, and as Davies says, the fact that “[t]hey are the invisible transformers of our world—the tiniest lives doing some of the biggest jobs.” This book doesn’t provide a full range of vocabulary; it does not discuss the difference in language between germs, bacteria, and microbes, for example. However, through concrete comparisons of size and scale, matched beautifully by Sutton’s gorgeous illustrations, your students will walk away with new awareness of what microbes are, and of how many millions of them could be growing inside of them, for better or worse!

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Sense of Scale. How do your students develop a sense of size and scale of animals relative to one another? After reading Tiny Creatures together, read aloud Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size. How do Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton, and Steve Jenkins use both words and pictures to develop a sense of size and scale? For example, examine the illustration of the ant antenna and whale as a means of showing scale rather than accuracy of size, or the use of a drop of water or teaspoon of soil to convey numbers. How do comparisons and contrasts help your students to better understand size and scale in relation to one another? Have students research an animal, and decide what feature of the animal they would like to illustrate. Have students use something else (another animal, an everyday household object, sports equipment) to help others understand the size and scale.

Healthy Microbes. Many students may be surprised to learn that there are things that are alive that are not animals or plants! Students may be even more surprised to learn that there are important microbes living inside of them. Have your students explore what some of these microbes do to keep the ecosystems inside their body healthy! Have students illustrate particular microbes from particular parts of the body, and write a few sentences describing what they do. Using pictures of microbes, have students convey a sense of accurate color and scale. Recognizing that they will be drawing them much larger than they are, have students do the math to determine the level of magnification their drawings are taking on. Use resources listed below to assist you in your explorations.

Vocabulary of Microbes. After reading Tiny Creatures together as a read aloud, list your students' questions about all things microbes. After all, microbes can be many things. What are germs? Bacteria? Viruses? Use some of the digital and print resources below to begin to develop a working vocabulary of these types of microbes. Students can work together in pairs or small groups to write and illustrate a class book to share their research.

Microbe Reproduction. How fast can microbes split to reproduce? The example of e-coli is quite startling! Find information about how fast other microbes split, and have students read about those different microbes in small groups. Have each group pictorially represent the germs splitting the way in which Davies and Sutton do in this Tiny Creatures.  

Pathologist Visit. Have a pathologist visit from a local hospital, or do a Skype visit with one if you life in a rural area without close access to someone. What made him or her choose to become a pathologist? What is it like to study microscopic pictures? Have him/her share slides if possible, and ask students to identify what they see, practicing their “close viewing” and descriptive language skills.

Microbes at Work in Compost. Davies mentions compost and yogurt as two concrete examples of microbes at work. Does your school have a composting program? If not, perhaps you and your class can write a persuasive letter to the head of your food service requesting that such a program be initiated in the school cafeteria. This might serve as a catalyst for planning a school garden in the spring! If interested, see our entry on It’s Our Garden and Planting the Wild Garden.

Microbes at Work in Yogurt. Ask your students how yogurt is made. What do they think happens? Next, bring in a yogurt maker and have the students experience the difference between milk and yogurt. What happens when the milk is heated up and microbes from older yogurt are added? Have students describe the taste and texture of milk in their science journals, and then describe the taste and texture of yogurt. Next, have them review and write down the process of making yogurt. Finally, have them pose questions about what might be happening to the milk that turns it into yogurt, and have them make predictions about what they think microbes are doing, based on what they learned. You can then fill them in on what does happen. 

Author Study. Nicola Davies has a Ph.D. in zoology, but writes for children and young adults about scientific issues. After reading Tiny Creatures, place students in small groups reading a nonfiction book of their choice authored by Davies. It may be possible to get copies of the books you need for small groups through interlibrary loan. Ask your school or local librarian if this is possible!  What do students see as similarities and differences within her body of work? Have students identify her writing style and how she addresses concepts in her work. Next, have them research a scientific topic of their own choosing, and emulate some aspect of Davies’ writing style that they have identified. 

Further Explorations

Digital Resources

Nicola Davies’ Official Website

Emily Sutton’s Official Website

Microbe World

Microbe Magazine

BBC for Kids – “Bitesize” Videos on Microbes

Kids Discover Issue on Mircrobes
NOTE: Check databases available via your school and local library for articles from this issue that you can have students read on laptops or tablets or using your LCD projector/Smart Board.

Microbe Magic

Live Science: Microbiome Surprising Facts


Corcoran, M. (2011). The quest to digest. Ill. by  J. Czekaj. Watertown, MA:

Gardy, J. (2014). It’s catching: The infectious world of germs and microbes. Toronto, CA:

Jenkins, S. (2004). Actual size. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Leet, K. (2012). Food intruders: Invisible creatures lurking in your food. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 

----(2012). Yard monsters: Invisible creatures lurking in your backyard. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 

Simon, S. (2005). Guts: Our digestive system. New York: Harper Collins.

Swanson, J. (2012). Body bugs: Invisible creatures lurking inside you. [Tiny Creepy       
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 

-----(2012) Uninvited guests: Invisible creatures lurking in your home. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 

Weakland, M. (2011). Gut bugs, dustmites, and other microorganisms you can’t live     without. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing.