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Kathryn Reads KidLit

I am an upper elementary teacher who loves reading and sharing books with my students and fellow educators.

It's Monday! What are you reading?

How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied - Jess Keating Treasure Hunters - James Patterson 13 Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson The Last Little Blue Envelope - Maureen Johnson El Deafo - Cece Bell Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater

The last two and a half weeks have been hectic, to say the least, but are settling down a bit as we start our second week with kids at the school that I left my former school for at the very last minute! In the packing up of one classroom and trying to make my new room a welcoming space for my students on a very short time frame, I got a chance to see some of my old favorites and snag a few classics I have never gotten around to reading.  I probably don't need to add old books to the ever-growing TBR pile I have at home, but it seems some addictions are just never satisfied.


I finished How to Outrun A Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied by Jess Keating last night and know that my students will love this story not only because of the quirky zoo-life aspect and a famous grandfather, but also because of how true-to-life Keating's portrayal of the awkward and self-conscious stage the main character is.  They will be able to relate to her experiences as a kid, if not as a someone who gets rides to school with camels!


On the audio-front, I finished Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.  While I am sure that many of my kids will enjoy the story, it just isn't my favorite style of writing.  I enjoyed Grabenstein's Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library much more!


Before that, I enjoyed a little YA adventure with Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope.  While they were a fun jaunt through Europe and I enjoyed the trip, I do think that they are a little old for my 6th graders - nothing terribly inappropriate (some drinking, references to pot smoking) but the experiences the author is having just seem to me to be too far out of reach for my kids to really understand the stories.


Tonight is CeCe Bell's El Deafo so that I can get it in the mail tomorrow! And I have started listening to Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater because my 12 year old son wants to read it and I want to make sure he will still be sweet and innocent if he does! ;)  Now that I am a little more settled in my new classroom, I also need to start in on some of the PD reading that didn't get finished this summer!


What are you reading?

How do we change the world?

Marcus is one of the very few librarians in the vast St. Paul Public school district and an owner of Addendum and what all of us as teachers want when we walk into a bookstore.  My arms were soon overflowing with good new books and my heart with his kind words.  We discussed the state of reading instruction and swapped book recommendations, and our discussion continued via twitter after I left, and eventually basically came down to: How Do We Change The World (more or less).


Sometimes when we connect on twitter through #nerdybookclub, #bookaday, #complitchat, #bproots, #titletalk, #nctechat, #cyberpd, and others, we feel like the majority.  We are a community of believers.  We have all read The Book Whisperer, Readicide, Book Love, and others.  We have transformed our teaching, filled our classroom with books we have bought at garage sales and off the new releases shelf, given students choice and voice, and read like crazy to catch up on the latest and greatest books to share with our kids.  We don't gather to convince each other, but to share ideas, titles, and successes.  It can feel like this is a mindshift that has become the standard, the way reading looks in classrooms everywhere.  Visit schools, attend a traditional conference, talk with a librarian, and realize it is not.


So, how do we change the world?  My answer is model and hope.   Education is a field of fads, of new programs, of the latest and greatest.  Some of it is, and some of it isn't.  The changes that I have seen and experienced that are most effective are those that are led by passionate educators learning, questioning, and trying new things.  Very few of us who are teaching reading based on reading real books with choice started this way.  My first year moving down to elementary with my one college literacy methods  class to draw on, I used the basal.  I hated it, but had no other ideas.  Another teacher suggested Daily 5, so I tried that the next year, and read The Book Whisperer sometime that fall.  This last year was my third year and I used the Units of Study from Lucy Calkins.  It was a process, it didn't happen overnight and we can't expect that it will for others, when they see the light.  So how do they see that light?


I think the way that we affect the teachers around us is to make it impossible for them to ignore the successes we are having using real book, choice-based literacy.  We don't have to preach it and talk their ear off until they switch their lunch time.  We can keep our doors open, let our reading and writing communities spill out into the hallways.  We can be the class that reads while waiting for the assembly to start and during that awkward 4 minutes in the hallway between reading to the first graders and music.  We can talk about the books we are reading - the children's books, the MG and YA books.  We can share "Today I am Reading:" as a teacher, as students, as readers.  We can invite other classes into our rooms to read with us and let them hear and see the way we live books.


And then we hope.  We hope they see and hear how our kids love to read and talk about their reading.  We hope that they change just one thing this year.  We hope we see them at the next garage sale grabbing all the good books.  We hope that they come and ask if they can borrow our ragged (and signed, because we are nerds!) copy of The Book Whisperer.  We hope.  And if it isn't this year, we keep doing it next year.

Next time he loads my arms full of new books for my kids, and we sit down over a cup of coffee, Marcus and I probably won’t be discussing a major shift that has happened in the reading kids are doing in the schools we see.  But, we might be able to talk about the small rays of hope, the teacher who asked him to order The Book Whisperer, the secretary who responded to my email with the book she is reading. The little signs that our successes are being noticed, that what we do makes a difference, that we are changing the world every time we get a good book into a kid’s hands. That we have reason to hope.

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater I loved this book. I thought the writing was brilliant, with a distinct feel for the two different characters' perspectives that were represented in the different chapters. I was sorry to reach the ending, but feel like I have such a feel for the unique island life and the main characters that I can safely imagine where things go from here. There are a few sexual references, people die violently but not graphically - mature grade 6+ Listened to July 2014 (the readers were excellent...dare I say I had a bit of a crush on Sean?! I think it was due in large part to the reader's performance.)

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher - Jessica Lawson I would give this more than 5 stars if I could. I loved the story, I just savored every sentence - just perfectly conveyed so many emotions in one or two beautiful lines. I laughed out loud, and cried a bit. I can't wait to share this story with my kids (and everyone else I know). Grades 5+ just because I think they will want to read Tom Sawyer when they are done. Read July 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs I wanted to like this book more than I did - it just didn't hold my interest. I liked the first part better than later with the loop. I am sure that kids would like it, but some of the language would make me reluctant to recommend it to kids in 5th grade. Grades 7+ Listened to July, 2014

Nightingale's Nest

Nightingale's Nest - Nikki Loftin I know this one is a hit with most people, but it just didn't grab me. There were so many negative adults, so little hope for Gayle and Tree, and I just wasn't satisfied with the ending. There are some kids I can think of who will like it, though! Grades 5+ Read July, 2014

Doll Bones

Doll Bones - Holly Black I listened to Doll Bones because I had been avoiding reading it due to the creepy cover....great audiobook! This is a book that I know kids will pick up because of the creepy factor, but they will get a wonderful tale of growing up and friendship. Grades 5+ Listened to July 2014

Hope Is a Ferris Wheel

Hope Is a Ferris Wheel - Robin Herrera This almost makes me want to assign vocabulary words and sentences with the hopes that I would receive something like what Star wrote! I would recommend this not only to my students, but also to teachers. I felt like this was a very real 5th grade outcast perspective. I cringed for Star when the students made fun of what she thought was her beautiful hair cut/color...not just because I can understand it as an adult, but I remember those moments as a child, and dread when they will happen to my kids. This book will stay with me, and I will be thinking about Star and Winter's future. Grades 5+ Read July 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish - Jennifer L. Holm I love that we have a female character here who gently develops a love of science and discovery through the course of the book. At the same time, it is a nuanced understanding and I think that the examples used in the book will help kids to understand that discoveries have consequences and that is an important part of science that we don't often consider at this grade level, but that is increasingly important in our world with technology and science advancing so quickly. Aside from that, it is just a great story, with interesting characters and it addresses these big science issues right alongside the normal concerns of middle schools kids - friends, boys/girls, and other aspects of growing up. I plan to read it aloud to my class. Grades 4+ Read July 2014


Trouble - Gary D. Schmidt, Jason Culp Good story, good message, should get readers thinking. Downsides -- some of the extra storylines that did illustrate some aspect of racism, immigration, etc...relied a little too much on coincidence or led to a feeling of "really?". Overall, I did really like it. There are references to violence in the home and in Cambodia, including shooting, rape, the horrible living conditions. Would probably be best for 6 or 7 up. Listened to June, 2014

Jefferson's Sons

Jefferson's Sons - Kimberly Brubaker Bradley Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a great look at what life may have been like for the children in this unique situation and of Jefferson as he lived his post-presidential life. I liked how she presented the story from the perspective of the two older boys for the first parts, but when she switched to a non-Jefferson child for the last part, I was confused and annoyed. It just didn't feel like it fit with the structure of the book and I wanted to hear from the youngest and didn't get to. In the end, I can see that it was valuable to see things from a family that did not have the priveleges of the others, but it seems like there might have been a better way to do so. Overall, good book, I'm not sure which kids would like it....older, history buff? It is accessible, but not sure if it will hold attention of the 5th graders. Listened to July, 2014

Under the Egg

Under the Egg - Laura Marx Fitzgerald An engaging mystery with a couple of strong girl characters leading the way - love that one of them is "weird" in that she isn't your average young lady living in NYC, but cans and preserves from their garden, repurposes items she finds at home (and around town), has no TV or cell phone, and doesn't shrink from this uniqueness. A girl after my own heart! Great art history/appreciation without being boring, I have kids I know will like it. I didn't love the way the mystery was solved, would have preferred that the research underway won the day, but overall, a fun premise and enjoyable read. Grades 4+ Read July, 2014

West of the Moon

West of the Moon - Margi Preus Perhaps one of the problems with having an unsympathetic main character is that sometimes the reader just does not like them, does not root for them, does not care if they overcome the situations they have put themselves in. While I was rooting for Astrid in the beginning when she was in the clutches of the Goatman, soon after, I was just waiting for her to stumble, somewhat hoping her sister and the mysterious, quiet stranger would take the reins in the story. Certainly, Preus is a masterful writer and I enjoyed the mixture of folktale and history, but I could not love a book that I had to force myself to finish because I so disliked the main character. Grades 6+ Read June 2014

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon - Steve Sheinkin I really enjoyed listening to this book, learning a lot that I did not know about all that went on during this race. I did have a little problem keeping track of some of the many players involved, possibly because I was listening and not seeing the names. I don't think that this will be a book all kids enjoy, but some will. Listened to July 2014

The Unwanteds

The Unwanteds - Lisa McMann The quote on the front of the book says it is a combination of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, but the beginning and the scenario on one side of the fence seems much more The Giver to me with the lack of connections within families and the designation of people for certain categories when they turn 13. I think that kids will like this book, I think it is more of an entry level book for the thinking that we do when we read The Giver, with more lightness and magic. On the heavier side, siblings and parents/children are trying to kill each other when the battle begins - it isn't graphic, but still a bit harsh. Grades 5+, Listened to July 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly

The Mark of the Dragonfly - Jaleigh Johnson I would do a 4.5 if I could. I fell right into this new world and loved learning more about it as the book unfolded. I was caught up in the story and wanted to know where it was going - and was thrown for a loop a few times with unexpected twists. I think that the gorgeous cover will pull kids in and that they will really love this one! Grades 5+ Read July, 2014