Category Archives: Books

Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

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Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we are in November already.  The day after Halloween, my satellite radio station was already touting their Christmas music stations.  I still have cobwebs all over my house.  However, I do have Christmas lights kind of up because we did a Stranger Things themed Halloween party.  So, that worked out well.

Anyway, as you can see from the blurb above, I am back to doing my weekly “Gifts for the Gifted” column, which might seem like I am caving to the commercialism of the season.  I don’t really have a defense for that, so I’m just going to move on to this week’s recommendation.

I wrote a poetic post about this poetry book earlier this month.  (I wouldn’t read it, if I were you – my post, I mean.  It’s a poor excuse for a poem.)  Chris Harris’ poetry is much better than mine.  My students from 1st-5th roll on the floor when I read them, “The Old Woman Who Lived in Achoo.”  They raise their eyebrows at the title poem, “I’m Just No Good at Rhyming.” (How can this person be so daft as to not know simple rhyming words?!!) From the cover jacket to the last page, this book defies the rules of poetry, indexes, dedications, and acknowledgements.

But don’t take my word for how great this book is.  To read more about the book and Chris Harris, check out this article from Publishers Weekly.

If you are looking for a good gift for an elementary school student, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a great choice.  And do yourself a favor – don’t let the recipient read it independently the first time.  Sit with him or her, and read it out loud.  Just give yourself ample time because neither one of you is going to want to stop.

If you are reading this in time, and live near Austin, TX, Chris Harris will be at the Texas Book Festival on 11/4/17, reading out loud and signing books.  An even better gift than this book would be this book signed by the author!

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I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

If you think it’s rotten to be sad,

Here’s a book to make you glad.

Chris Harris tried to write a poem.

(It’s okay if you don’t really know him.)

In truth he wrote more than one,

(poem)

And they are more than just a little fun.

(not ho hum)

Lane Smith did every illustration,

Except maybe went on vacation

For the “Alphabet Book” portion –

Kind of a surprise distortion

Of what you might have expected,

But let’s not get redirected.

From author’s note to the last rhyme,

Read and laugh and postpone bedtime.

Your kids will love this cheerful book

More than a chef loves to bake.

I highly recommend I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith, for your child or your classroom.  It’s clever and fun, a refreshing book that will make you smile.  To hear more, you can listen to Harris’ interview with Scott Simon on NPR here.

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Purchase the book here

 

storymamas

As pretty much anyone who attends an ISTE conference will tell you, one of the most important features of the entire event is the connections that you make.  With the explosion of social media many educators have been able to find like-minded colleagues around the globe through Twitter chats, Facebook Posts, or blogging.  But when 20,000 of these people convene in a single city, these bonds can be strengthened as we get to meet each other in-person.

Two of the people I was fortunate to meet up with this week happen to be 2/3 of the storymamas team, Kim and Ashley.  These two, along with their friend Courtney, are the women behind the storymamas blog, a site dedicated to sharing book recommendations for children.  The three all have elementary school experience, and coincidentally they each have 2 children. (Did you have the second one three months ago, Kim, just to even things out?) As soon as I met Kim and Ashley, I knew that we all shared the same passion for reading and education, which definitely makes this an ISTE connection worth celebrating.  If I could just get them in the same room with my Twitter/Blog pal, Joelle Trayers, I think we might become a new alternative source of energy 😉

What is great about storymamas (besides the cool people who created it) is that the blog is a great resource for busy teachers and mothers who are looking for new children’s literature.  Now that my daughter is a teenager and stubbornly choosing to decide her own reading materials, I don’t find myself in the children’s book section very often.  It’s nice to have another place to get ideas for books to use with my younger grade levels.  I also like that they include author interviews on the blog with 3 questions about the story and 3 questions about the author.

So, want great new book ideas and insights into what makes writers tick?  Check out storymamas.  You can also find them on Twitter and Instagram at @storymamas, #storymamasbookaday & #authorsaturday

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Cultivating Communication in the Classroom

In this recent article from Huffington Post, the writer poses the following questions to students preparing for their future careers:

  • “Are you adaptable?
  • Can you quickly learn a new skill?
  • Can you draw on different, seemingly unrelated knowledge and then connect that knowledge in a meaningful, creative and effective way?
  • Can you throw yourself into a job or career and learn quickly without needing a supervisor to hold your hand?”

In essence, employers are rarely interested in how well potential employees can memorize or fill in the right bubbles on standardized tests, but in their abilities to be flexible problem solvers who are able to leverage available resources (or create new ones) to meet unprecedented challenges.

Lisa Johnson’s new book, Cultivating Communication in the Classroom, offers teachers tools they can use to prepare secondary students so that they will thrive in the “real” world that will envelop them after high school, and be able to answer the each of the above questions with a confident, “Yes!”

Lisa Johnson is well known in the ed-tech community as TechChef4U.  As an instructional technologist, writer, presenter, and even jewelry-maker, Lisa’s creativity and massive portfolio of shared resources have already made a huge impact on innovative educational practices.  She continues to add to her legacy with her new book, a practical but fun guide to infusing curriculum with important 21st century skills.

In each of the 7 chapters in Johnson’s book, you will find great visuals, industry insights on the value of each topic, and plenty of use-it-right-now resources.  One of the unique features is the inclusion of  “Communication Catchers,” which can be printed and folded just like those fortune tellers that seem to fall in and out of fashion as often as tides ebb and flow.  The Communication Catchers, designed for student use, are great tools for reflection and review of the key topics covered in the book.

Throughout chapters on topics such as e-mail etiquette and social media involvement, Johnson is careful to remind us that educators who ignore or ban technology in the classroom will not be doing their students any favors.  Instead, we should be teaching our students how they can benefit from responsible use of unlimited information and the ability to communicate in so many ways.

Although Johnson’s book is targeted for a secondary audience of teachers and students, much of it can easily be adapted to students in higher elementary as well.  To be honest, many adults, whether or not they are educators, could benefit quite a bit from its wisdom.  I would even recommend this book to parents so they can guide their children through the complexities of our digital age.

If you want to learn more about how to prepare your students for a world that requires critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, then I highly recommend you purchase and read Cultivating Communication in the Classroom by Lisa Johnson.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a digital copy of this book to review.  However I received no compensation, and all opinions are my own.

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Click here to purchase.

FIAT Contest/Celebration

Fish in a Tree, the awesome book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that I reviewed here, has just come out in paperback.  The paperback includes the main character, Ally’s, complete Sketchbook of Impossible Things.  In honor of this, Hunt has launched a nationwide contest for students in 3rd-8th grades to create their own incredibly unique writing or artwork, photos of which must be received by May 12, 2017.  You can find all of the details, including the list of prizes, here.

Also, if you have time, Mrs. Hunt recently did a live webcast for School Library Journal, and I think that you can view the archive by registering here.  My 3rd graders and I watched it today, and found it very inspirational.  Mrs. Hunt talks about her own learning difficulties, the many real-life models for her characters, and how her long-term goals helped to keep her on track.  If you have spoken to your students about growth mindset and grit, then you will find her speech will really resonate with them!

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New in paperback here!

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Stories of Inspirational Females

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

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For this post I am going to recommend two books.  One is fiction and the other is not.  Both have amazing illustrations.  Both champion scientific discovery.  And both feature strong females who are curious, persistent, and determined to pursue their interests despite costs and sacrifices.

I saw a comment about one of these books where the writer said, “If I had a daughter, I would give her this book.”  That’s fine – but there’s no reason a son shouldn’t receive either of these as a gift.  Yes, we need to increase the number of women in scientific fields.  But that doesn’t mean that we need to exclude males from them.  And, if our belief is that stereotypes should be eradicated, won’t this be helped even more by young men learning about inspiring females and males?

Ada Twist, Scientist
Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist, Scientist is a delightful book by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts about a young girl who exasperates and amazes the adults in her life with her quests to find the right answer.  This picture book is one that I reviewed a few months ago here, and part of a series of brilliant stories about children who refuse to allow life to just happen to them.

Women in Science
Women in Science

Women in Science, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, has caught my eye on so many “Best Of…” lists that I finally had to order it.  It says quite a bit about my education (and my memory) that I only recognize the names of 4 of the 50 female scientists described in this book.  To be read independently, this book would be best for ages 8 and up.  As a read-aloud, however, I don’t see any reason that parents or teachers couldn’t start earlier – maybe choosing one scientist a day to study.  The graphics, colors, and font of this book separate it from the stodgy biographies that would immediately elicit yawns, and Ignotofsky has done a wonderful job of succinctly describing each scientists contributions in laymen’s terms.

With the upcoming Hidden Figures film and books like these, women in STEM careers are finally receiving real recognition.  None of this negates the amazing feats of men in these fields.  Instead, we are getting a richer picture of our history and more motivation to play significant roles in the future.

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Fish in a Tree

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program.  Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.

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When a new student entered our 3rd grade gifted and talented class this year a few weeks after we’d begun classes, I thought we might need to spend some time filling her in on what she had missed so far. I was wrong.  Growth mindset, the importance of stretching your brain, systems thinking – she had already covered these topics at her previous school.  One day, we were talking about how, if you don’t learn about how to deal with challenges you might begin to avoid them altogether because you don’t want people to think you aren’t smart and she said, “This reminds me of Fish in a Tree!”  She was so excited about the connection between this library book that she was reading and our discussion that I said, “I would like to read that book, too!”

“There’s extra copies in the library!” she exclaimed!

“Well, let’s all read it, then!” I said, completely caught up in her exuberance and not at all concerned that I had just committed our small class to reading a book that I hadn’t previewed yet and that the “recommender” hadn’t even finished.  We went straight to the library and checked it out.

My student was right.  Fish in a Tree is the perfect supplement to our classroom discussions.  In the story, the main character, Ally, covers up her difficulty with reading.  She eventually finds out, due to a dedicated teacher, that she has dyslexia.  Along the way, she learns that making good friends is more worthwhile than trying to fit in, and that her imagination, perseverance, and courage are truly admirable.

The other young characters in the story, especially the new friends that Ally makes, remind me of many of the students I’ve taught over the years.  Ally’s teacher exemplifies so many of the caring colleagues I have had the honor of working with during my career.

In the book, Ally’s use of figurative language – particularly similes – offers a lot of opportunities for discussion along with great mental images that make the story come to life.Fish in a Tree

If you are a parent, I encourage you to buy this book for your child, and read it together.  If you are a teacher, read it along with your class (and here are some classroom activities to go along with it).  It’s a heartwarming novel that emphasizes kindness, understanding, and individuality.