Spot the Plot by J. Patrick Lewis

Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis is a great little picture book that every English teacher should have in their arsenal. Full of riddles that challenge the reader to “Name That Book”, it’s a great title for all ages. The books named in the riddles include Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Madeline, and much more.

I used my copy of Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles at the end of this past school year. It was one of the last days of the school year. You know the days- nothing on the schedule but locker cleanout, the kids checked out mentally weeks ago, and no one wants to be there but we have to put in a half day. That morning, I pulled out my copy of the book. I decided to make a game of the riddles, knowing how competitive my students were. I copied the poems and divided the class into groups, giving each group a few of the riddles. I explained that the riddles all described famous children’s books, set the timer, and had them get to work. The group that finished first, with the most correct answers, won. The students assumed it would be easy and were shocked to find that Lewis made some of the riddles into real brain-teasers!

Like I said, this is a book every English teacher should have a copy of. It’s perfect for those moments when you need something for the students to focus on and you want that something to be fun and meaningful. Highly recommended!

Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas- Appositives and Picture Books

Last week while planning my lesson on appositives, I knew I wanted to use a picture book to show my students how often writers use appositives.  And because I have  practicum teacher who would be teaching the lesson in one class I wanted to make sure the lesson was fairly straight forward.  I looked through a bunch of picture books and was thrilled when I saw that Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas was chockfull of appositives!  Even better?  My students are currently obsessed with Greek mythology, thanks to Rick Riordan’s books.  Young Zeus seemed like the perfect match for the lesson.

The back of the book says:

This is the story of how young Zeus, with a little help from six monsters, five Greek gods, an enchanted she-goat, and his mother, became god of gods, master of lightning and thunder, and ruler over all. in doing so, he learned a lot about family. Who knew that having relatives could be so complicated, even for a god?

Zeus is a young god in the story, being raised by the she-goat Amalthea.  When he learns the truth about his father, Cronus, he is determined to rescue his brothers and sisters.  That way, he will have someone to play with.  What child (or god) doesn’t long for the perfect playmate? A fantastic introduction to Greek mythology, kids will love this one.  Teachers will love it even more for it’s well-written prose.  The artwork is also gorgeous.

Plus, it uses tons of appositives!  A great way to show students the many ways appositives are used by “real” authors.  By the middle of the book, students were raising their hands to point out appositives as we read.  They also drafted their own sentences about the gods and goddesses, using appositives, after we finished reading the story.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher


Never Smile At a Monkey and 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steven Jenkins

Did you know that a platypus is poisonous?  In fact, they are the only poisonous mammals.  I had no idea!  After reading Steven Jenkins’s Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember I know that and much more. Right now, the Worst Case Scenario books are very popular in my classroom. Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember is the perfect book to pair with them.

Jenkins’ illustrations are always stunning and that doesn’t change in his latest nonfiction book.  While the book is supposed to be aimed at younger readers, I know my middle schoolers will love it.  I think it will also serve as a great introduction to some species they are not familiar with.  Hopefully, that will then lead to more research on their part.  I mean, I learned a lot from this book!  I had no idea cobras aim at the eyes and can spit venom accurately from over 8 feet away.  Holy cow! I also enjoyed the afterward at the end, which gave more in-depth information on all of the animals.

*Copy purchased by me

Peaceful Heroes by Jonah Winter

It seems to be a standard middle school project- choose a hero and write a report about them.  Sure, the product may vary- report, triboard, slideshow, website, multigenre project- but the assignment rarely varies.  And what always happens?  Teachers end up with 32 projects on the same 3 people.  Every. single. year.  For that reason, I can’t wait to add Peaceful Heroes to my classroom library.

This slim volume simplifies the biographies of 14 peaceful heroes throughout history. While a few are well-known, like Martin Luther King, Jr., most even I was not familiar with. The stories are brief, about 2-3 pages, but they give just enough information to intrigue the reader. Each heroes chapter focuses on what made them a hero, with some brief background information. I think this is the perfect book for students who don’t want to choose the same old person to research but also have no idea how to find anyone else to research. Peaceful Heroes is the ideal introduction to people like Oscar Romero, Meena Keshwar Kamal, and William Feehan, all of whom risked their lives to make our world a more peaceful place. I myself was inspired to look up more in-depth information on a few of the men and women featured.

A great addition to any middle school library, and especially valuable to social studies/history teachers.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers

After reading Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers, I immediately added it to my “Where I’m From” unit. It will fit in perfectly with my beginning of the year activities.

Looking Like Me is a celebration in poetry of who we are as individuals. We are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, dancers, readers, writers, athletes, and so much more. Each of us is so much more than just the sum of our parts. Myers makes this obvious in his lyrical text. I was almost singing/chanting the words as I read it. The message, that we should all celebrate who we are, is powerful.  And the text itself is gorgeous at many points.  One of my favorites stanzas keeps running through my head.

My words are

sometimes

hurried;

At times they

come out

slow.

At times

they fly like

snowflakes

with

everywhere

to go.

At the beginning of each new school year I get to know my students through “Where I’m From” poems. I think that Looking Like Me will be a great introduction to thinking in terms of who we are. I can already foresee activities where we list who we are. What a great introduction to our new community and to writing!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson

My students love baseball, especially the boys.  Year in and year out, that’s a given.  One of the most popular players to read about is Jackie Robinson.  When I saw Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson in the Scholastic catalog, I couldn’t wait to read it.

This is a touching tribute to Jackie Robinson, written by his daughter Sharon. While it does explain his how he integrated major league baseball, it is really a story of a daughter and her father. We see Jackie as a father and family man in the story, determined to do the best for his children.

In 1955 the family moved to a 6 acre stretch of land in Connecticut. The children befriended the neighbors and spent hours swimming in their lake and exploring. Jackie spent a lot of time with them, but never went in the lake because he could not swim. But when the lake freezes over, Sharon and her siblings learn just how brave their father is. Because while they know he was extremely brave to integrate baseball, children rarely see their parents the way the rest of the world does. This story is a tribute to Jackie Robinson as a father, not just as a baseball player. And Kadir Nelson’s drawings are gorgeous!

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Nonfiction Monday- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is one of my favorite books to use as a mentor text during the year. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I saw that it was being reissued in paperback next month! I just received my review copy and have to say it is wonderful. I love hardcovers, but sometimes it is nice to just have a paperback copy to keep with my notes and the unit that I use the book with.

I use Snowflake Bentley during my multigenre unit of writing because it is a wonderful example of multigenre writing. The inner portions of each page tell the narrative biography of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farm boy who was fascinated by snowflakes. He spent his life photographing and studying these tiny flakes of snow. Many of his photographs are still used today! The story is biographical and reads as a narrative, so this would make a great read aloud for any age.

The outer edges of each page offer more information on snowflakes and the science used by Bentley. The sidebars read less like a story and more like interviews or informational text. However, both sets of text meld together almost seamlessly….it’s a phenomenal example of multigenre writing!

Not to mention, the woodcut illustrations are gorgeous, hence the book receiving the 1998 Caldecott Medal. Snowflake Bentley is a picture book that should be in all classroom libraries, from preschool to high school!

That Book Woman by Heather Henson

I love David Small’s illustrations, so That Book Woman by Heather Henson immediately caught my eye. And the illustrations are gorgeous. But it’s also a great story and one I plan to read with my class next year when we begin the new school year.

This is the story of a boy named Cal who lives way up in the Appalachian mountains during the 1930′s. Cal is a good boy who enjoys helping his Pa with the chores, like plowing and chasing after wayward sheep. What he doesn’t understand is why his sister, Lark, just sits around reading most of the time. Cal can’t read and has a hard time understanding the value of those “chicken scratches.” He sees no use for reading- they live an isolated life in the mountains!

When a woman shows up one day with a sack full of books, Cal worries that his Ma and Pa are going to trade his berries (for pies!) to get books. But then that book woman says the books are free! And she will show up on horesback about every two weeks with new books! Cal doesn’t believe her, but she isn’t lying. Through rain and snow she comes, with new books every time.

This is a gorgeous story for readers and non-readers alike. Cal is the kid all teachers and librarians know- the one with no use for reading. But even the most reluctant readers can be changed. ;)

Teammates by Peter Golenbock

Today I used Peter Golenbock’s Teammates for a lesson on inferencing themes with my 6th graders. I had never read Teammates before this week and I had no idea I was missing out on such a great book!

Teammates is the story of baseball player Jackie Robinson’s friendship with PeeWee Reese, a teammate who risked his career (and possibly his life) to stand up for Jackie when he joined the Dodgers.  Golenbock looks at a single moment in American history and turns it into a gorgeous narrative.  The story is illustrated in paintings and photographs.  The story is powerful and timely- one that every student should hear.

The subject of baseball, Jackie Robinson, and segregation is one that appeals to all of my students, and especially the boys.  They were thrilled that we were reading such a “cool” picture book.  And it lent itself so well to the lesson I had planned on inferring themes!  I highly recommend this one for all ages.

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft is a visually stunning book.  You can not fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations until you hold it in your hand.  If you have not seen this stunning new picture book, find a copy right now!

Ally is so excited to be going on a month-long trip to Australia with her mother.  She is especially excited to use her artistic talents to draw her adventures in this new land.  When she arrives in Australia she meets Pauline, an Aboriginal artist who shows Ally that art isn’t always made with crayons, markers, paints, or even paper.  And that sometimes what seems like a mistake can lead to new discoveries.  Napoli and her daughter Furrow craft a lovely story about a young girl learning the true meaning of art.  And at times their prose is poetic.  

But the real star here is Bronwynn Bancroft.  An Aboriginal artist and designer herself, she has made this book a masterpiece.  I wish I could frame each and every page.  Her painting of Ally’s plane crossing the ocean is so visually soothing that I want to tear it out, place it above my bed, and stare at it as I drift off to sleep each night.  This book is a fantastic way to introduce Aboriginal art to students.  I can’t wait to share it!

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