Monday December 28th, 2015

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Each week I share a reading photo of the week. This is from my final week before the holiday break. One of my little readers is proudly sharing poems from her poem book with an intent listener.

Monday December 28th, 2015

We have almost chosen our winners for our Mock Caldecott. But, not quite. It will be the first thing we do when we return. Final voting and tabulating results.

Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. It’s the best way to discover what to read next.


It’s been two weeks since I posted an #IMWAYR post so this post includes two weeks of reading.

And since I last posted, I blogged. A lot.

On the blog:

One of my favourite ever Top Ten Tuesday posts: Favourite Read Aloud Experiences

I celebrated after a busy last week of work: (Brief) Ramblings and the Happiness Train

I made some best on the blog lists:

Best of my Book Lists (2015)

A Year of Thinking (2015)

Celebration: Literacy to Fill the Year (2015)

For #nfpb2015, a collection of nonfiction titles I have been reading

Which ten titles would you like to find under the tree? I had a list of picture books

As I do every year, I compiled a favourites list. This year it includes 9 picture books and 6 novels.  Favourites of 2015

Books I loved:

Picture books:

Stella Brings the Family written by Miriam B. Schiffer and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

An inclusive solution to inviting “someone special” to a special day party.

Stella Brings the Family Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Winter is Coming written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Jim LaMarche

I reserve a really huge place of awe in my picture book heart for illustrator Jim LaMarche. This book is absolutely stunning. Ode to a season. Honouring nature. Celebrating quiet and focus and wonder. I had to buy this book.

Winter is Coming Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Wait by Antoinette Portis

The simplicity of stopping to “be” with all that is around us. So very lovely.

Wait Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Marguerite’s Christmas written by India Desjardins and illustrated by Pascal Blanchet

This was the one holiday book I purchased this Christmas. The illustrations are from another time and place. The story is about Marguerite and her quiet life that shifts a little one Christmas Eve. Loved this book.Marguerite's Christmas Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That


Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Twelve year old Grayson is navigating middle grade friendships, the grief of losing his parents and the fact that, while born male, he feels female. A school play and an inspiring teacher provide opportunities for risk, change and understanding. A solid middle grade read.

Gracefully Grayson Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

 This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki with illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

A YA graphic novel about summer places, family changes and all of the awkward and in between of sliding into adolescence.

This One Summer Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

The True Blue Scouts of SugarMan Swamp by Kathy Appelt

I will admit I worried as I began to read this title. Appelt’s The Underneath was just too mythical/magical/spirtual for me. So at certain early on points, I worried. But the balance between Chap’s story and the racoon scouts, soon pulled me in to this beautiful tale.

True Blue Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

I loved everything about Stella – her courage, her determination, her devotion to family and her journey as a writer. A book about some hard and ugly things (racism and prejudice) with lots of beautiful people to bring us hope.

Stella by Starlight Monday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

Whoa. A start and don’t put down until done book. Dog as hero. Boy with the weight of the world. Honest truths are the hardest because we don’t often tell them. Beautifully told. Absolutely gripping.

Honest-TruthMonday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I love historical fiction when it is really well done – when the story is enhanced by a time and a setting that literally transports you. In this book, well done is left in the dust. This is excellent writing, an incredible story rich with complex characters living in challenging circumstances. This novel twists from the ugly cruelty of abuse to the powerful healing of connection. It offers up hope and courage mixed with lots of pain. One of the best novels I have read in some time.

The War That Saved my LifeMonday December 28th, 2015 There's a Book for That

Updates on my 2015 Reading Goals:

2015 Chapter Book Challenge: 70/80 complete

Goodreads Challenge: 447/415 books read COMPLETE! 

#MustReadin2015: 18/24 complete

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 78/100 titles

Diverse Books in 2015: 50/50 books read COMPLETE! 

This is the final #IMWAYR posts of 2015. Happy New Year and Happy Reading to this wonderfully generous community of book lovers. Like many of you, I will miss the participation of the passionate reader, educator and blogger Debbie Alvarez (Styling Librarian) who passed away last week after a three year battle with cancer. Debbie was one of the first bloggers to welcome me when I dove into sharing my reading life in the blogging world. I learned much by sharing with her and I will miss our book conversations.

Five Favourites from the Week

Report card writing means book blogging is a diversion I shouldn’t be taking! But we did so much great reading aloud last week, I can’t help but highlight five favourites. The power of reading aloud is always worth celebrating!

Bird, Butterfly, Eel with story and paintings by James Prosek. We shared this book in our reading group where we have been reading a variety of information storybooks and focusing on evidence that supports specific questions we pose. Right away we were curious what these three creatures on the front cover might have in common. In reading the book, we discovered that there were many things. Students summarized key points in their writing: each creature starts out on a farm near the sea, they each migrate over a large distance and they each return to the farm after a long return journey. We did note that only the bird travels south and returns and that the monarch and the eel who return are part of a new generation. Fasincating. This book prompted a lot of discussion and further investigation.

One of the books we read during our morning book sharing was not actually a book but one story from the book Tom Thumb (a collection of Grimms’ tales) illustrated and retold by Eric Carle. We read The Fisherman and his Wife and I was surprised at how instantly engaged the students were with the story. There was constant chatter and commentary and we frequently stopped the story to discuss what might happen or what we thought about the actions of a character. The Fisherman’s wife got few points; generally, we thought her quite awful and selfish! We were glad when she lost her grand homes and titles. “She’s so greedy that she can’t be trusted with all of that power,” someone aptly pointed out. Students have been asking me to read the three other stories in this collection.

I found the book Virginia Wolf written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault at the public library and asked my Reading group to give me some feedback. Should we put this book on a list of books Ms. Sheperd-Dynes should purchase for the library? Personally, I loved this book. I appreciated that it explored sadness, sibling relationships, the negative influence one child’s mood can have in a house and that it celebrated the perseverance of a sister to lift her sibling out of a dark funk. But . . . what would kid’s think? They loved it too! They told me it had a theme of “emotions” and “wrong-side-of-the-bedishness” and “being transformed.” They were fascinated to see what Virginia really did look like. Many read this book again on their own during independent reading. The verdict? It’s on the “we need this book for the library” list!

I have had Albert written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Jim LaMarche sitting on my desk for months waiting for the perfect time to read it aloud. It is rather long for a picture book and I wanted to make sure that we had time enough to read and spend time discussing the plot. When we returned from our canoe trip on Monday afternoon, students were tired and in need of a quiet activity. After a little bit of play time on the playground, we settled at the carpet for a story. In this book, Albert fears the outside world, so the author has the outside world come to Albert. It comes through a bird who nests in his outstretched hand. A truly delightful story that inspired many, many discussions. A book we savoured after a wondefully active day. I have blogged about this book before. Read here for more details.

The Tooth was another book I read with the students during our morning picture book sharing time. This book is written by Avi Slodovnick and illustrated by Manon Gauthier. We used this book to practice our prediction and inferring skills. From the title and cover picture, what might it be about? Our list was quite detailed and included many tooth possibilities- teeth that wouldn’t come out, teeth full of cavities, teeth that got lost before making it to under the pillow. We didn’t manage to capture all of the complexities of what this book contained however as this book is also about being homeless, about wanting to do something and not knowing what and about being compassionate and kind. Definitely worth reading for the rich discussion that ensues.

The Raft

This week we read The Raft by Jim LaMarche and practiced asking deep thinking questions vs. quick questions (inspired by Adrienne Gear‘s Reading Power). We know that a quick question is quick to ask and usually we find the answer in the text. With deep thinking questions, we are often inspired to ask new questions and our thinking goes on long after we have closed the book.

the raft

The Raft tells the story of Nicky who has come to spend the summer with his grandmother. He isn’t very eager to do this (bemoaning being away from television and any kids all summer) but it doesn’t take long before Nicky finds himself fascinated by his summer locale. A raft covered in leaves and branches floats up and bumps against the dock Nicky is fishing on. It is covered in drawings of animals and it completely captures Nicky’s imagination. Where did it come from? Who painted the animals? What does it mean? Soon he and his grandmother are spending lazy days poling down the river. An array of animals keep Nicky company – foxes following him along the shore, birds hitching a ride, a great blue heron snacking on crayfish. Nicky often takes the raft out alone and sketches all of the animals he sees. Somehow the raft seems to draw the creatures to him.

The students noticed the changes in Nicky.

Miami: “He’s been transformed. He was so grumpy when he came to his Grandma’s and now he’s not.”

Hajhare: “I think he was set up. Do you know what I mean Ms. Gelson? His Dad tricked him into liking his summer. His Dad knew he was going to like it all along.”

Finally,  Nicky adds his own animal to the raft for a very special reason. Students were lulled by the beauty and magic of this book and eagerly wrote down questions as I read.

I then gave the students a task: Choose 2-5 of your deep thinking questions and list them in your notebook. Choose one and try to answer it (You will need to infer)

Kevin put his hand up. “But I can’t just put 5. Each question leads to another question so I’ll need to write 10. I “inferenced” as I thought them so I included them when I did my writing.” (Yippee! Learning!)

Some samples of student thinking.

Jena: Are all of the drawings adventures of how people saved animals? Maybe yes and the raft was made and passed on from generation to generation.

Lisa: One of my questions before was that are the animals from the raft going to come alive. Maybe if Nicky visualizes, they will come alive to him.

Ricky: Who drew all of these animals on the raft? Why is Nicky’s Grandma called a river rat? Did she also save an animal on the river? Maybe a rat? Is Grandma part of nature?

At the end of the book, Scott sat back and said, “That book was awesome.” When I asked him why, Eddy piped up. “It’s really making me think thinking stuff.”

I think this should be our new measure of success when we judge a reading experience – did we think thinking stuff? Does book really inspire our thinking voice? The Raft did and then some. It left us talking with each other, following a question into an inference and going back into the story to try and find clues, having “but what if. . . ” discussions all around the room. A wonderful book.


Last night I read a really wonderful picture book to my children: Albert, written by Donna Jo Napoli (her first picture book after many award winning novels including one of my favourites The Prince of the Pond and illustrated by Jim La Marche.

Albert is an interesting man. Everyday, he eats his breakfast, reads the comics, gets dressed and thinks about going outside. Everyday, something convinces him it is not the day to venture out. It might be the damp weather. It might be the noises – the not good noises like arguing or rumbling garbage trucks. If we really want to call it, I think Albert experiences some quite serious anxiety about the outside world. Not an easy place to be.

The lovely thing about this book is that Napoli arranges the outside world to come to Albert.  In the form of a twig, that becomes a nest, that hosts little eggs and a perching cardinal all on his outstretched hand. For Albert, who finds the outside world too overwhelming, he is gently (but insistently) forced to get one foot firmly planted on the ground – in the form of a hand carefully suspended in the air. Albert keeps his hand with a bird’s nest on it stretched outside his window because . . .  how can he not? For days and days. Really! Of course my adult brain wonders how does he go to the bathroom? How does he not drop the nest when sleeping? How does he survive without food or drink? (This is addressed actually when father bird starts dropping berries in his mouth) My children though just got caught up in the magic of it. “He’s so kind!” my son exclaims. My daughter is a little worried. “Mama, Albert doesn’t have a job. How can he get money?”

In the end, the birds fly away and Albert who has been interacting (through the birds) with the outside world realizes that the world is a wonderful place – full of all kinds of noises and experiences. He puts on his hat and goes for a walk.

I asked: “What do you think the birds taught him?”

My daughter had lots to say: “Helping others helps youYou should go outside and fly your heart away!”

Yes, indeed.

Books I wish I owned

Our local public library has finally reopened after being closed for months due to a flood. Hooray! So in celebration, I wandered through the stacks and selected some of my favourite books to read again – with my own children and likely they will find their way into the classroom this week. If I had a million dollars and a billion bookshelves these books would hold a special place! I might just have to justify purchasing them anyways because I keep taking them out of the library again and again! They must be meant to be mine!

Clara and Asha written and illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann is a gorgeous journey into the fantasy world of Clara and her friend Asha, a gigantic fish. Asha may be a child’s imaginary friend, yet Asha feels very real!

Wolves by Emily Gravett is a delightfully eerie book. You know how a book becomes more real as you read it?

And then you start to feel so connected to a book that you literally feel as though you have fallen into it? Hmm . . . seems to have happened to our little friend rabbit. This book has two endings – one specially designed for those with more sensitive inclinations.

Have you ever been told you are too small to do something? In our house, “small is powerful” is our mantra. In this book, Up, by Jim LaMarche, Daniel (aka Mouse) is a small boy who seems to develop some pretty extraordinary powers. Or at least the power to believe . . . A magical story with absolutely stunning illustrations.