Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

So . . . I am back to teaching again! Finally! If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might notice that I have announced this frequently but considering we had job action disruption since May and more than 5 weeks of full scale strike action, I am celebrating in every moment that I am back to doing what I love.

My energy is “leapy” – which I am not sure is a word exactly but I’m translating it as: a feeling of great excitement; can result in jumping up and bouncing about in happiness. Often and without warning.

Sitting to write a blog post will be a little challenging. I decided to use this opportunity to celebrate nonfiction titles to share some books I am thinking of reading aloud to my students in the next few months and why. . .

The Rat by Elise Gravel (published 2014)

Our first read aloud of the year was The Fly by Gravel and it was a huge hit. Students are completely intrigued with this series and I can’t wait to share more titles with them. One child offered this description:

“great because it’s a graphic novel and it fills your head with knowledge and funny facts!”

The Rat Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Salmon Creek written by Annette LeBox and illustrated by Karen Reczuch (published 2002)

We are off on our first field trip of the year on Monday, heading up to Grouse Mountain to explore. Salmon Creek will give us an opportunity to read about B.C. wildlife and forest habitats.

Salmon Creek Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White (published in 2011)

I want to study endangered and extinct animals as we learn more about habitats, animal interactions and adaptations. This is one of the best nonfiction titles to introduce some of these concepts.

Can we Save the Tiger? Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth (published in 2013) Winner of the 2014 Sibert Medal

The perfect story about how human actions can begin to help rather than only interfere with an endangered species.

 Parrots over Puerto Rico Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry (published 2013)

I love sharing picture book biographies and this is a title I didn’t get to read aloud last year. I also have some incredible art projects in mind that I think this book will inspire.

 The Tree Lady Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears written by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff; illustrated by Gijisbert van Frankenhuyzen (published 2013)

Another title that illustrates how a species can become endangered because of human treatment and behaviour. I found this book this summer and knew it would be a book I had to share with my class.

 Jasper's Story Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Feathers Not Just for Flying written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen (published 2014)

I have a very interesting project in mind that this book will be a part of. There are a few other titles that will also be part of the inspiration. I don’t want to spoil anything but stay tuned . . .

Feathers Not Just for Flying Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World by Steve Jenkins (published April 2014)

Every year I share bits of a Steve Jenkins book over the course of weeks or even months. A page or so a day. This is the Jenkins title I plan to begin with.

 Eye to Eye Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: So, I think I might read . . .

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

klf_nonfiction2014_medium (1)

My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 107/65 complete!

Monday December 16th, 2013

It’s Monday! What are you reading?


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! This is always my favourite way to discover what to read next.

I read a lot of mediocre books this week – not intentionally! But many were 2/5 or 3/5 ratings. I won’t share them here.

A few were standouts however and saved my reading week!

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry

I will admit that I bought this book because I have been in awe of its gorgeous cover and I knew it was about an inspirational woman who transformed an entire city. Love it for its passionate celebration of nature. For its gorgeous illustrations. Or for its important historical journey back in time beginning in the 1860s with a little girl named Katherine Olivia Sessions. A little girl who brought lush, green life to the city of San Diego. A woman who studied science when other women and girls did not. A woman who took what she had learned it and applied it in the most important of ways and brought a city to life. And oh, that cover . . .

 The Tree Lady #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

Just delightful. Intricate, amusing illustrations. A tribute to New York City, “groovy jazz music” and the importance of finding the one that “gets you”. Herman and Rosie is a treasure. A book that my students loved but so did my Dad. Something for everyone, that’s for sure. I think this book is like a bottle of fine wine – it just gets better with age. However, it should not sit on a dusty shelf. It should be explored and pored over multiple times. Read my student’s reviews here.

Herman and Rosie #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Other books I enjoyed:

Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong

Full of humour and fantasy, this story is all about a magical pot that makes double anything that is dropped inside of it. Double the coins, double the purses, even double the people! A perfect math book to inspire some work with doubles!

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola

Ah, Strega Nona and Big Anthony- such endearing characters. This story captures a month long series of holiday festivals in Italy beginning with the Feast of San Nicola on December 6th.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll written by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Set in the Depression, this story explores the importance of family. Three sisters long for a store bought doll in times when money is very scarce. The doll does not bring them the happiness they imagined, but they learn the value of time together.

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I have continued reading a holiday picture book every evening to my children as part of our book advent experience. These are the titles we read this week:

#IMWAYR There's a Book for That

I finished Matched written by Ally Condie

A dystopian YA novel that was a pleasant surprise. Yes, there are themes/similarities to other novels in this genre but enough felt fresh and interesting enough to really hold my attention. I have Crossed, the next in the series ready to begin tonight and look forward to reading it! Many philosophical questions pondered by the main characters. Not a book of extreme action – more an in your head kind of read.

Matched #IMWAYR There's a Book for That

Wonder Inducing Nonfiction Read Alouds

It’s funny how one’s focus can change when looking at the classroom library. For a while, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nonfiction titles in my room. Last summer I started to get anxious about whether or not I had enough books in the room that my Grade 2/3s could pick up and read independently. It seemed like my “best” nonfiction titles were books that I needed to read to my students. Which was wonderful because I had some amazing titles to use as we model strategies, but what about when it was independent reading time? Did I have enough titles that students could read by themselves with success? My book shopping focussed on purchasing titles that I knew my students could manage on their own, especially as we built strategies to read nonfiction text over the year. Some of my favourite books that I added?

  • The Discover More Series by Scholastic
  • Nicola Davies Flip the Flap and Find out books which include Who Lives Here? and Who’s Like Me?
  • Laura Hulbert‘s Who Has This Tail? and Who Has These Feet?
  • A huge array of Bobbie Kalman titles
  • The Are you a . . . ? series by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries
  • The Amazing Animal Series by Kate Riggs

NonfictionText for Independent Reading There's a Book for That

Now, here I am a year later. Again, thinking about the books in my room . . . What is my focus now? That I want some “Oh, wow!” titles to read aloud. I want to make sure that just as I am reading a variety of picture books and some engaging novels, that I have a real variety of excellent nonfiction picture books to read aloud. Sometimes to model/practice a strategy, sometimes to enhance our learning on a particular subject and sometimes just because, the more we read, the more we know and I want my students to be inspired and curious about learning all year long!

I am fortunate to be looping my Grade 2/3 class into Grade 3/4 and so I have a sense of this group of children, what they wonder about and what I think might inspire them. Last year, I noticed that they were intrigued by stories – folklore, Aboriginal tales, stories from around the world and stories about things that really happened. They were very curious about the stories of people and how these stories connected to us in our classroom. It made me realize that I haven’t been reading enough biographies. I also want to focus on places around the world and the wonder of the world around us. Last year, students loved learning about animals from each continent and had endless questions about habitats.  I know we love art and books and music. So, I have some sense of what kinds of books I need to share.

Knowing how busy school can get and knowing how I sometimes need a one stop shop when I am planning, I decided to take advantage of the time summer has to offer to amass a huge list of amazing nonfiction read alouds. I was looking for titles that my Grade 3/4 class would enjoy. Some are favourites from previous years and some I have yet to read myself. Thank goodness for the wonderful book bloggers out there that I used for inspiration. So here is my list of 25 “wonder inducing” nonfiction read alouds. A reference for me and one that I am sharing here.

The book I plan to use to launch my year: On A Beam of Light- A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky This book made my own thoughts whirl and swirl and race around my head. It has all the perfect themes of wonder, curiousity and thinking outside of the box.

 On a Beam of Light

Based on some picture book biographies I already loved, I grew that list to include:

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin written by Jen Bryant  and illustrated by Melissa Stewart

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Stewart

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon written by Jaqueline Davies illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Biographies - Wonder Inducing NonFiction Read Alouds There's a Book for That

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Melissa Sweet 

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A Nivola

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Biographies Wonder Inducing NonFiction Read Alouds There's a Book for That

Some titles to explore amazing places and the world around us:

Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Redwoods by Jason Chin

Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin

The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest by Steve Jenkins

A Rock is Lively written by Diana Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long

Sea Otter Inlet by Celia Godkin

Fire! by Celia Godkin

Infinity and Me written by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world by Allan Drummond

The World Around us Wonder Inducing NonFiction Read Alouds There's a Book for That

And to learn about creatures great and small:

The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins

Ape written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland

Wonder Inducing NonFiction Read Alouds There's a Book for That

 And a title to be released this fall:

Is This Panama?: A Migration Story written by Jan Thornhill  and illustrated by Soyeon Kim

Is this Panama?

Will I read all of these titles aloud this year? Maybe not. Perhaps interests and passions will take us in different directions. But this list will help keep me on track to make sure I am sharing lots of books that inspire both learning and thinking in my room!

Do you have some other must share nonfiction titles for Grade 3/4 listeners? Would love to hear your suggestions!

I learn so much by reading all of the blog posts that link to the Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday event that KidLit Frenzy hosts. Visit Alyson’s blog to see what books are shared this week.


Non fiction Picture Book Wednesday: Gorillas, the Largest of the Apes

It’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday! 

What kid doesn’t love learning more about apes? Gorillas are the largest and strongest of the apes and a fascinating topic!

One of my absolute favourite nonfiction titles to introduce children to the great apes is the book Ape written by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Vicky White (published 2007). Shared in my classroom here. The pictures are gorgeous and the text fascinating. An excellent read aloud for the primary classroom.


A goal I have this year is to fill my classroom with texts that many of my students can manage with independence. Books that will be picked up and read during book choice time or when learning more about a particular animal.  I was so pleased to discover Gorillas by Kate Riggs (published 2012). Here is a book that my Grade 2/3s can read on their own with real success.


When my students learn about an animal, they are looking to find answers to some specific questions: How are the babies/young born and raised? What kind of interactions does the animal have with others? How does the animal’s body help it to do things? 

This book – with an almost magazine style format – thin, sleek and full of facts invites the reader in to do a lot of learning. Discover what gorillas eat (lots of wild celery it turns out), how their babies grow and develop and the dynamics of their family groupings. We also learn how these gorillas spend their time – much eating (60 pounds of food a day) and napping (in addition to the 13 to 15 hours of night time sleep). Physical features are described and details of their habitat are outlined.

Features that make this book especially accessible:

  • large full page colourful photographs with relevant captions
  • bold words with definitions at the bottom of the page
  • an index, suggestions for further reading and websites listed at the end of the book

This is a title that I purchased for my class nonfiction collection and I am happy that it was one of four titles in this series that I ordered at the same time. I think this will be a series my students will have a lot of success with! I look forward to reading more of these books by Kate Riggs.

The Amazing Animals titles in my collection:

kateriggs books

My original goal was 60 nonfiction picture books for 2013. Progress: 33/60 complete 🙂

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2013!


Do you have any favourite nonfiction titles about gorillas?

Owls all around

Busy little artists in Division 5 have continued to work hard to fill our room with gorgeous owl art to inspire us all to be wise and thoughtful!

This project was inspired by The Snowy Owl Art Project on the amazing art blog Deep Space Sparkle. We benefited from the wonderful photos and step by step instructions! This blog is fantastic for art ideas!  We used different background colours to capture the feeling of fall nights and amazing late afternoon skies that happen as we move from fall to winter.

Step by step, went like this:

1. We painted our background either orange or yellow and then added white paint spatter and drops to represent a blustery sky

2. We added the body of the owl (a circle for the head, a big filled in U for the body, wings and ears) We then let the paint dry overnight.

3. Our next art class was all about adding the finishing touches. Basically transforming some white blobs on a background into fantastically personable owls! First students added a branch for the owl to stand on, big eyes and a beak. Then they switched to fine brushes and outlined all of their original shapes in black paint.

4. With black paint, students added legs, pupils, branch details and feathers for the owls (using little “u” strokes)

Finished projects are wonderful! You can’t help but feel joyful with these owls looking at you.

Our bulletin boards are now full of owls perched on branches watching us!

These owls join our other owls in the classroom (follow this link) . As we grow wiser each day, we appreciate the wisdom that surrounds us!

Monday October 22nd, 2012

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Join in with Jen and Kellee’s meme and share what you are reading from picture books to young adult reads. Always an opportunity to learn about new titles!

I had huge amounts of picture book love this week! A large part of that was having tickets to go see Jon Klassen at Vancouver Kid’s Books. Wow! Such an interesting and engaging presentation. Jon is charming and then some.

And  . . . it gets better. I was able to take my class to the Vancouver Writer’s Festival to see Sheree Fitch and Kyo Maclear. Their event was called High and Low and All Around. All of these author and author/illustrators impressed me to no end. (Sheree Fitch can recite her poems at super sonic speed. She is spellbinding!) I was inspired to continue sharing the love of literature, the beauty of the written word, the magic of the clever illustration, and the images of joy via the wonder of picture books. One of my favourite moments was when Kyo Maclear talked about how she loves reading and one of my students whispered intently to me, “She’s just like you!” Phew! Six weeks in and I’ve conveyed my love of books. So many weeks still ahead to pass this love on to each child in my room! 🙂

So because this post is all about picture book gushing, I thought I would try to place these books loosely into categories to bring some kind of organization to this post . . . that way you can just locate a section you are interested in!

First up: Art and more:

This is Not my Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen Love this book. Doesn’t hurt that I got to hear it first read and explained by Jon Klassen himself all the while holding my signed copy in my bag! But I would have loved it anyway. I love the dark pages, the horizontal format, the mood conveyed by the eyes and all of the inferring this book begs you to do. The crab in this book is a fantastic supporting character. (He gets a starring role at the top of this post!) I find Klassen quietly brilliant.

Virginia Wolf written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Kyo read this book to us in the presentation at the Writer’s Festival and when I returned to class, I read it aloud to the children again. They were completely delighted by the story and Arsenault’s stunning illustrations. As soon as it was quiet reading time, this book disappeared to be read again independently. A fantastic title about a dark mood, a hopeful sibling, the magic of imagination and the lightness when sadness lifts. This book can be read again and again and the reader will continue to discover new things.

I read this book last year to my Reading group and they adored it.

In the Wild is written by David Elliot and illustrated (gorgeous woodcuts) by Holly Meade Poems written by Elliot are lifted off the page by Meade’s striking and powerful woodcuts. My wish list now includes On the Farm a previous collaboration by these two.

A few books in the Rhyme and Repetition category:

A Gold Star for Zog written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Sheffler This was our first BLG book of the year and we loved the language, the plot and the bright illustrations. Zog may not be the best at every task at Dragon School but he helps someone else find her way. For that, I think we can call him heroic.

Toot Toot Zoom written by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Matthew Cordell This is a likeable little story about the search for friends. Many adventures and lots of delightful traffic noise fill the pages as Pierre the fox travels to the other side of the mountain.

Books full of humour:

The Younger Brother’s Survival Guide by Lisa Kopelke Supposedly, this book was written by “Matt” Kopelke’s younger brother who entertains the reader by his step by step guide on how to terrorize and torment your older sister (who remains all the while older and more clever).

Please is a good word to say written by Barbara Joose and illustrated by Jennifer Plecas I’ve read some reviews of this book that claim it is a simple, too cutesy book about manners. I found it quite wonderful really. It is definitely a child’s voice that comes through loud and clear as when and how to use polite phrases and expressions are explained. It is hardly simple to understand the proper placement of please so that it sounds polite and gracious vs. whiny and annoying. I can see this book making kids really think about how best to use manners and that it would prompt many conversations.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. I first heard about this book from my principal because her five year old daughter was raving about a hilarious book that her teacher had read to her and was insisting that they had to have this very book a.s.a.p. I am always intrigued by book passion so had kept this title in the “be on the lookout for” compartment of my brain. I found it this week at the public library and now see why this little kindergartener was so enthused about it. It is hilarious! Bright and colourful illustrations and a funny little plot. Oh beware the vacuum if you are a dust bunny! The bonus: it also lets the readers practice rhyming! What could be better? I want this book for my buddy reading bin! It is perfect for reading to our little kindergarten buddies.

And also this category: Nature

Mossy by Jan Brett. I have always loved Jan Brett. My children were fed Jan Brett books about as often as mashed carrots in their early years. Always her illustrations are exquisite. Most of the time her stories are good. Sometimes just okay. Sometimes great. This book falls into the great category. It examines a beautifully unique little creature and the human tendency to want to “have” that beauty at the expense of the happiness of the creature. In this case, Mossy is captured and placed in a museum until a young girl senses her unhappiness. Reminds me of the wonderful Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo. In fact, I think I am going to read both books this week with my reading group and do some inspired writing.

That’s not a Daffodil by Elizabeth Honey. This book has many things in it that made it a quick favourite for me: an intergenerational relationship, a theme of nature and gardening and beautiful imaginative language and imagery. A perfect book to inspire looking at nature in creative ways and I can’t wait to share it with my students. It also heads into my school bag this week.

I am also smack dab in the middle of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and must finish it by Friday as it is requested and I can’t renew it at the library! Wish there was more time because I am really enjoying the story. Determined to squeeze in some late night or early morning reading sessions.

What are you reading? Please share!

Wisdom all around us

Our art project this week was all about owls! We have decided to fill our classroom with gorgeous owl art so that wise old owls can perch up on our bulletin boards and look down at us learning and growing wiser each day! Kind of a wisdom every where you look scenario!

I got the idea for this art project on the wonderful art blog Deep Space Sparkle in a post that highlighted a number of owl inspired art projects.

We completed this project over two art classes. Day one was drawing and painting and day two colouring a backdrop and adding our owls to our night time scene. Step by step directions follow:

Step 1: Everyone drew an owl on light coloured construction paper after we did a guided drawing lesson about how owls look (think about the tucked in wings, the large eyes, the talons, etc)

I love how each owl had personality just in a pencil drawing!

Step 2: We began painting using just these colours: white, yellow, brown and black.

Students added spots and stripes and played with blending colours.

Fully painted owls looked striking! Details on the wings look like multicoloured feathers.

Step 3: Cut out the owls

Step 4: On black construction paper we drew a tree trunk and branch, stars and a moon (if desired) and attached our owl into the scene.

We only used yellow, brown, black and red/orange oil pastels for our backdrop.

Wishing everyone a very wise fall in their classrooms! 

The Season of Sunflowers

Sunflowers are in various stages of splendour around the city. Some are in full bloom. Some are drooping. Some are going to seed and their petals are drying and falling off. We brought in sunflowers and filled our room with sunflower books and captured this beautiful moment of fall in our artwork. Our sunflowers were also inspired by the gorgeous Vincent Van Gogh sunflowers on the blog For the Love of Art.

Follow our process step by step:

First we drew sunflowers in pencil and outlined our completed drawings with black sharpies.

Students thought about petal size and shape and showed flowers in various stages of vitality. Some students added insects or other details to their pictures.

There were no rules about size and shape of flowers and so each picture turned out to be very different.

On Day 2 we painted our blue backgrounds (gave students choice of just two blues), vases and tables (again colour choice was limited to orange, brown or red.)

Students chose to use a smaller brush when painting close to their flowers and stems.

Everyone was very excited about how wonderful the first colours looked together.

Day 3 was all about paining the stems and all of our blossoms and petals. We used browns, yellows and oranges for the flowers. Students snaked their paint brushes up the stems between vase and flowers.

Painting the sunflowers allowed us to get very creative.

Students blended colours and spent the entire art class on task and talking about their work. Just lovely to observe!

If your class has done any sunflower art this fall, please share by providing a link in the comments section!

Happy Sunflower Season!

We imagined some gardens . . .

This gorgeous book written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher was our inspiration for some beautiful flower art. The Imaginary Garden tells a story of grandfather and granddaughter who paint a lush garden mural when a real garden is no longer possible in Poppa’s new apartment.

Just as little Theodora and Poppa created flowers from bright green stems and blobs of paint colour, the students used dabs of paint to create beautiful imagined gardens, each one unique.

Students began by adding dibs and dabs, blobs and swirls of bright coloured paint to their papers.

Adding the blooms

Some chose to make huge blooms. Others, a mixture of shapes and sizes.

Then with vibrant green paint, stems were added.

Carefully snaking the stems up to the flowers

We let our pictures dry overnight with plans to add details the next day with felt markers.

When we were ready to add more detail to the flowers on Day 2 we used two books by Lois Ehlert for inspiration.

Planting a Rainbow takes us on a garden tour colour by colour.

Waiting for Wings tells the story of butterflies flitting flower to flower in a garden in full bloom. Both books are gorgeous.

Each student approached this step very carefully creating a variety of interesting effects. Markers were used to add details to blossoms and stems.

Adding details

Finished pieces are stunning. Come check out our display in the hall and walk through an imaginary garden or two or three . . .

Can you pick a favourite flower?

We were so pleased with how these pieces turned out that our Mother’s Day cards are painted in the same style!

Another one just because they are that beautiful . . .

 Tempted to come visit our display yet? They really do look beautiful all together!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms, Grandmas and important women who love us!


Have I mentioned lately how brilliant my little reading group happens to be? Or how much I enjoy our morning lessons? It is such a pleasure to learn along with these students! We have been working on strategies to use when we come across an unknown word or concept using the wonderful story by Thomas F Yezerski: Meadowlands – A Wetlands Survival Story.

This book takes us back in time hundreds of years to when the Meadowlands were 20,000 acres of swamps, marshes and bogs and home to many different plants and animals. Over time human interactions had a very detrimental effect on this wetland habitat. Much of the wildlife fled or disappeared. Pollution and gargbage threatened to destroy the area completely. In the 1960s only 11,000 acres of wetlands survived in the Meadowlands.

However, many things worked in the favour of this ecosystem: the daily meeting of the river and tide, laws that alterted chemical dumping, reintroduction of different insect, fish and bird species as the habitat improved, etc. In 2007, a young osprey was spotted taking flight from a nest built in the Meadowlands. This young bird of prey was a symbol of recovery and hope for this precious ecosystem.

As we read the text and came across a word we didn’t know, we collectively tried to figure it out and charted our thinking. We filled an entire chart paper with strategies!

An example might help. The text read:

The Meadowlands is an estuary where the Hackensack River empties into Newark Bay. Much of it is wetlands, with a mix of freshwater and salt water soaking the spongy ground.

We didn’t know what estuary meant. We needed to use some of the strategies listed below to determine what the word meant (especially reading on to the next sentence, inferring and referring to a reference page that included a map) We figured out that it probably meant a boggy, wet area where the fresh water mixed with the ocean water and that maybe it would support unique ecosystems.

What do you do when you come to an unknown word? 

The list the students came up with:

*hold a question in our head and read on to find out

*re-read a section and think carefully

*read the previous sentence or next sentence for clues

*does the word sound like another word? have a root that we recognize?

*check the reference pages like maps, glossary, pictures

*connect to other texts or our background knowledge

*use the reading power strategies like connect, visualize, question and infer

*think about whether you are understanding. This is worth it even if it might be slow going and very tiring!

*ask, “Does this make sense?” and then “Does what I am thinking make sense?”

So I did mention the brilliant aspect of these kids right? What was wonderful was that as we read, we found there were fewer unknown words or confusing concepts because we were gaining a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Now we can engage in this active engaged reading independently with various non-fiction texts. But, we continue to practice with a weekly book we can share together.