Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Back in April I was lucky enough to have coffee with Kathi Appelt, who was in the area for a school visit.  We had a great time talking about books, writing, and blogging.  Before parting ways, Kathi told me she had a book I absolutely must read.  She said she knew I would love Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.  I wrote down the title and promised to look for it.  Of course, I promptly forgot about all of this in the chaos that is the end of the school year.

Last week I was at a district meeting and was thrilled when the supervisor pulled out Bella & Bean for a read-aloud!  Of course, I immediately remembered Kathi’s recommendation (and then felt bad for forgetting!).  After listening to the story, I was hooked.  Kathi was 100% right- I loved it!  I can not wait to share this book with my students this year.  

Bella and Bean are best friends.  Bella is a writer- a poet- always playing with words and concentrating on her writing.  She begins each day ready to sit at her window-side desk, writing about the beauty around her.  her best friend Bean is outgoing, fun, and hands-on.  She’s always trying to get Bella to put her writing aside to come and play by the pond.  All day long Bean pokes her head through the window of Bella’s house and tries to get her attention.  She shows Bella her new hat, shows off her “cute toes”, and tries to convince Bella to think of the word “Bean” if she is concentrating on words.  Bean is adorable and I wanted to run off with her!  The illustrations by Aileen Leijten are precious and you just want to dive into the book with Bean.


But Bella will not be distracted.  She even gets grumpy with Bean!

 

I don’t have time for hats, Bean,’ said Bella. ‘I’m writing new poems…I can’t think about rivers and moons when you are talking about hats,’ said Bella.”

Bella perseveres through the distractions and is rewarded- her poems are stunning!    

But what about Bean?  And their friendship?  I won’t spoil the ending for you because it is absolutely perfect.  I admit I couldn’t wait to find out what happened while we were being read to!  I will just tell you to get this book ASAP.

I can not wait to use this picture book in my 6th grade classroom this upcoming year.  There are so many ways I foresee using it.  Of course, it will be wonderful during our poetry unit.  Bella’s poems are not only wonderful but her methods and wordplay will inspire many students.  It will be a great mentor text for my 6th graders.  One of my favorite lines says, 

“The sky poured stars like sugar…”

How gorgeous is that?  I love it!  I can already see Bella inspiring many of my writers.  She certainly inspired me.

Bella & Bean is also a window into the writing process.  I think I will start our writing workshop this year with this book.  What a wonderful way to introduce my students to the workshop we will be a part of during the year.  

But the story is not just about writing.  It’s beautiful on so many levels.  It’s also about friendship and tolerance.  It’s about taking time to live life, not just watch it go by.  It’s about being disciplined but also having fun.  It’s about opposites attracting. Due to the multi-layered text, this book is perfect for kids of all ages, from preschool to high school.  In fact, the adults at my meeting all fell in love with it!  There is no age limit on this one.  And anyone who aspires to be a writer can’t help but be inspired by  Bella & Bean.  Be sure to pick this up for your classroom library!  And maybe even for your teacher library. ;)

Meso-American Books for Kids?

I need your help!  This year I will be teaching an enrichment course based on monarch butterflies.  One of my focuses will be the Meso-American cultures in central Mexico, where the monarchs migrate. I am looking for great kid’s books(picture book to YA)about Aztecs, Mayans,Purepechua, etc.  In other words, I need fiction or non-fiction books about Meso-American cultures in Mexico.  So far I have found the following, but I need more!

 

I am interested in books that look at these cultures in the past and now.  I am especially looking for some chapter books/novels.  Any ideas?

Awesome Christmas Gift!

Chris and I exchanged gifts tonight, as we will be busy traveling from my family to his family tomorrow.  After laughing because we bought each other tons of Rutgers stuff, I opened the gift he was most excited to give me.  

How to know you are a book geek extraordinaire- your boyfriend gives you a USB scanner, UPC labelmaker, and instructions to catalog your vast library!  After downloading Delicious Library, I have been playing with my USB scanner ever since.  It is so much fun!  And I can sync my library to my iPod!    SO COOL!

Walking to School by Eve Bunting

Very few of my students are familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland over the course of their lifetime.  However, this contemporary situation is one that should be taught.  Before I read Eve Bunting’s newest offering, Walking to School, I wasn’t really sure how to do it.  Now, I know I will share this story with my students as a read-aloud (and a perfect example of a small moment story/personal narrative).  

 

Allison has just started at a new school in Belfast.  In fact, she has just started school at the same girl’s primary school that her mother attended at her age.  Instead of being excited, though, Allison is dreading school by the second day.  Not because of her teacher or classmates or the work.  No…she dreads the walk to school because on her first day, Protestants lined the main street and spat the children while yelling and cursing.  She is terrified to walk to school again.  Her mother enlists her uncle to walk with them, but Allison can’t tell her that she is also scared of Uncle Frank.  See, she knows a secret about her uncle that her mother doesn’t even know.  And because of that she is afraid of him and this makes walking to school even worse.

Of course, Allison’s mother makes her go to school.  While the walk is terrifying and even worse than the day before, a momentary connection between Allison and a young Protestant girl changes everything for her.

This is a deep story and one I plan to use as a mentor text for personal narrative.  I can also see using Walking to School as a picture book for advanced readers because there are so many layers to the story.  The possibilities for discussion are almost endless.  Eve Bunting has done it again!

Snow by Cynthia Rylant

I don’t review a lot of picture books, despite using many in my reading and writing mini-lessons. However, when I received a review copy of Cynthia Rylant’s new book, Snow, I was thrilled. Rylant is one of my favorite authors and her books are both gorgeous as stand-alones plus they serve as wonderful mentor and touchstone texts.

Snow is no different. The illustrations, by Lauren Stringer, are wonderful and evoke a feeling of home and warm nights spent by the fire. And Rylant’s poetry/prose is wonderful. I have a hard time putting into words how I feel while reading her books, so I will leave you with a few quotes:

The best snow is the snow that comes softly in the night, like a shy friend afraid to knock…

p. 1

Some snows fall only lightly, just enough to ake you notice the delicate limbs of trees, the light falling from the lamppost, a sparrow’s small feet.

p.9

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Rylant is a gifted writer and Snow is a welcome addition to my classroom library. I can already foresee using it in my poetry unit, in my non-fiction unit (focusing on one topic and writing beautifully about it), and in small-moment stories.

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