Questions and Actions

I just finished reading Book Love, by Penny Kittle.  I’m not going to lie – this book was inspiring, heart wrenching, and thought provoking.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, you should go right now and read.  Come back in a few hours.  It’s worth it.

Lessons Learned

There were so many things that I highlighted, underlined, starred, sticky noted, and Tweeted in her book.  These final few chapters did not fail to live up to my expectations.  So, rather than bore you with my ramblings, I want to just outline the take-aways and lessons I have learned by reading Book Love.

  • Teaching a love of reading is hard.  However, it is the kind of hard work that sometimes ends in disappointments.  It is also the kind of hard work that ends in miracles like Crystal (p. 159-167).
  • Teaching a lifetime of reading habits is hard.  You will find challengers and naysayers from surprising faces.  You will find the surprise champion for implementing a culture of readers.  You will cry.  You will smile.
  • Teaching others that choice is essential for a healthy reading life – especially for teens or for reluctant readers – is hard.  You will battle for the type of curriculum that allows choice, promotes readers workshops and writers workshops, and flips the whole idea of teaching on its head.
  • Teaching a love of reading is something that is a life mission.  It is something that you must be passionate about and it is something that will permeate your entire life.  Whether you are an English major, an English or Reading teacher, or the school principal (p. 141-146) – you are a teacher of book love.

Questions and Actions – How I will LIVE Book Love
Image courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

There is too much in this text to analyze or synthesize.  I’ve learned so much that it is difficult to put it into a few hundred words.  Instead, I think I’m going to publicly declare my intentions to be a teacher of book love.

My Declaration of Teaching Book Love

I hold firmly to the belief that we are all teachers of reading.  I have an insatiable desire to share books and stories with all people – young and old, student and friend.

I also firmly believe that as a teacher of book love I must live by example.  I will continue to read voraciously and to share these amazing (and sometimes not the best) stories through my blog and my Twitter feed.  I will help people find THEIR book – that gateway to the door of reading – and get that book in their hands.

I solemnly vow that I will never stop asking this most vital question

What are you reading now?

For it is with that question that I will frame my expectations, that all people will be reading something, and that their reading lives are just as important as what they had for dinner.  I will ask others for suggestions and will endeavor to ask this essential question multiple times a day and in every interaction I have.


What are you reading now?  Let’s talk below…


Did you read the assigned reading?

This is the question that I am pondering today.  I experienced assigned or required reading as a secondary student.  I know there are students today who are also assigned reading.  But, what is the purpose of assigned reading?  More importantly, is there another way to motivate students to read without assigned reading?

Reflecting On My Experiences

So, what were my experiences with required reading?  As I talked about a few weeks ago, I read everything I was assigned (except The Scarlet Letter) for school.  Yet, some of the books we read didn’t quite make sense to me.  Smart student that I was, I dialed up AOL and supplemented my reading with Spark Notes. This was just expected procedure among us students in high school.

3006348550_1017d24be8_oI do remember one moment of questioning though.  As a Freshman, I was in a different English class from one of my best friends.  Her class read Animal Farm and my class did not.  I always wondered why we were not required to read this book.  And, why were they being taught Animal Farm?  Why did our teacher choose specific books for us?

A “Typical” English Class?

Is there a “typical” English class?  One that would be recognizable to all students across the country?  I think there is one – at least parts in each class across the country.

It seems that this typical class is assigned “classics”.  You know these – Scarlet Letter, Animal Farm, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights.  I know that I struggled with these books about adults with adult problems!  I mean, how was I supposed to relate to the community that Dr. Frankenstein lived in?  How am I supposed to relate to it now, as an adult?

These “classics” are taught year after year in class after class to generations of students.  Why?  I think we were assigned to read them because they were deemed to be “classics”.  What made them classics?  Well, the fact that they are taught year after year in class after class to generations of students!  Everyone reads them, so why shouldn’t our teachers have us read them?

A Novel Idea – Penny Kittle

This week we explored the first couple of chapters of Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  In the book, Ms. Kittle explores the question of why students don’t read the assigned reading.  She also asks how students “pass the tests” without reading.

The short answer to these questions is:  they don’t read because it is boring or hard or doesn’t relate.  They pass the tests by getting notes from friends or from Spark Notes (or Wikipedia now).  And, isn’t that exactly what I did with The Scarlet Letter?

What would happen if we changed the way English is taught?  What if we focus instead on, as Penny Kittle suggests, building a reader’s stamina and volume with texts they are passionate about?

Crazy, right?

But maybe not.  Over the years she has asked her students about their reading habits.  This video shows just a few of her students’ reactions to her questions.  Her students in the video have read SO many pages and books – all because she lets them have choice in their independent reading.  CHOICE. There is even a student who says, “with the two I didn’t finish I still read…”  She didn’t finish a book and that was accepted.  Amazing!

Most of the students Kittle talks with find that they will read more if it is something they like or something they are passionate about.  Once we help students find the book that will be their forever friend, they will read it.  And the next one.  And the one after that.  And one about one of the issues.  And on and on until we have a capital R READER!

Classroom of the Future – of NOW.

I read a lot of good information this week.  So, how can I put it into use?  How can I create a classroom with students who read a vast volume of pages and books?  How can I match each kid with the book?  How can I teach them to analyze literature and teach the content I need to teach?

In my classroom, I will:

  • Help each student find their reading passion, whether it is National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, or Shakespeare
  • Encourage my students to read more than they ever had, read things they like, and talk about their reading
  • Teach the skills of literary analysis with in class books – where we can struggle with meaning together
  • Most importantly, I will GIVE THEM TIME TO READ.

What do you think?  Did you read all the required books?  How would you have changed your experiences in English class?  Let’s talk below….

Six Things You Should Know About Children’s Lit

Hello Kid Lit Lovers,

We are now at the tail end of the semester and this is my final, final official post for ENG 235:  Children’s Literature.  Don’t worry, this blog won’t end!

In the meantime, I wanted to wrap up things with a look back that the top ideas and concepts I have learned about Children’s Literature.  This is a collection of the most important, interesting, and exciting things that I have learned this semester.

1.  Public libraries, and their amazing children’s librarians, are an invaluable resource.

I learned this in week two or so.  I needed 50 Caldecott books to read and I had no idea how to gather all 50.  I went through the Caldecott list and reserved a number of the winners.  Yet, I still needed help finding more.

Enter my new favorite friend – our children’s librarian.  I showed up to the library and said I needed help.  She was so quick to start looking and really wanted me to read all the “good” Caldecott books.  We crawled around the floor in the picture book stacks and found all 50 books that I read.  It was amazing for her to spend an hour (or more…) looking for and checking out Caldecotts.

Our relationship didn’t end there.  She was always ready to find a book to meet my theme for the week and to suggest others that might fit.  She also asked how the books that I read were and if I would suggest them to others.

2.  Children’s Lit awards really do point you to amazing books.

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the various book awards (most of them sponsored by the ALA).  The committees who read and analyze the various contenders have a big job to do when it comes to selecting the winners.  However, they do an amazing job.  I learned that any book that is an award winner or honor is going to be a quality work.  I may not have liked all of them, but they are all quality books.

3.  There are a lot of nonfiction picture  books – and they are great!

This is something that I did not know before this class.  Reading the various picture books and finding a collection of nonfiction books was a surprise.  These books are a combination of illustrated picture books and books that have photos covering a wide array of topics.  They are also very well written and very informative.  If you want to read a nonfiction book on a specific topic, look up the children’s literature book!

4.  There is an amazing world of Kid Lit bloggers, authors, and websites.

This has been one of the coolest, most surprising aspects of Children’s Literature.  I have enjoyed discovering the social media accounts of my new favorite authors (I’m talking J.K. Rowling here).  There are also amazing bloggers who review books and share the fun things they have found.

Finally, my classmates have had wonderful blogs too.  The process of reading their blogs and commenting have made this distance, online learning course feel a little more connected.  Looking back on my list of comments, I found that there are 4 or 5 people I regularly commented with.  In my imaginary Kid Lit world, we are a collection of friends who read and share books together.

5.  Everyone loves to talk about Kid Lit books.

As I read throughout this course, there were times that I needed to find a book that wasn’t available in my library.  So, what did I do?  I put out a plea and asked my friends, neighbors, and colleagues requesting  help finding the books.  People came out in droves – offering books, reviews, suggestions, and always wanting to talk.

I also asked friends, family, and colleagues for suggestions for my independent learning project (Kid Lit Readers – check it out!).  Again, people came out in droves.  They offered book ideas, their favorite books from childhood, and their children’s (or grandchildren’s) favorites.  Essentially, everyone is is a Kid Lit lover.

6.  Children’s Literature is not just for children!

This is one of the most exciting pieces of knowledge I have gained.  I have really loved reading all of these books written for children.  They are not only informative (nonfiction) or fun, but they are well written, quality works of literature.  I have no qualms about reading picture books and short chapter books and books from my childhood.  There is no need to defend myself when reading these books.  Rather, I have learned to share them, tell others, and enjoy reading these books.

What six things did you learn this semester?  Which of the things on my list did you also learn?  Let’s talk below…

Welcome to the Virtual Classroom!

Computers and the internet have given us teachers a really nice present:  the ability to open our classrooms and allow the world into them!

Computers?  The world?  This is a KidLit blog?  What are you talking about?
Photo CC – by mrmayo

Why, it is virtual author visits!  This week I read Kate Messner’s Skyping Renaissance article and it made me even more excited to open my classroom up to the world.  Messner presents us with interesting facts about having authors or other experts visit classrooms virtually.  This is amazing – especially when you live in a small town not very near to an airport.  By arranging a Skype (or Google Hangout) author visit, your students get a chance to meet with some of their favorite authors, ask questions, and take part in our global world.

Would I want virtual author visits?  YES!

There are so many advantages to using technology in a middle grades reading classroom, and Skyping authors is only one of them.  If Skype author visits can be arranged with students’ favorite authors, or the author of the class novel or class read aloud, students will be able to get a connection with someone they may not otherwise have the chance to meet.  They can ask the author questions.  The author can share tips, tricks, and anecdotes.  These are experiences that my middle grade, small-town students may not otherwise get.

There are drawbacks to Skype author visits.  The biggest would have to be issues with internet connectivity.  In our small, Wyoming town the wind often blows – which makes our internet spotty on the best of days.  Issues with technology speed also impact the ability to use Skype.  As technology evolves at a rapid pace, schools are not always able to afford to update classroom technology at that rate.  When classrooms or schools do not have the latest technology, connectivity and processor speed can severely impact the ability to use Skype.

However, if it is important enough, we can advocate for the technology and invite the world into our classrooms!


So….who’s on my author visit dream-list?

First, let me say that I would want my students to choose an author they are fans of and want to have visit us.  When they are excited, I think they will be more motivated to be engaged during the visit.

Secondly, I think that participating in an event like the Global Read Aloud, where my students can interact with students across the globe, would be a milestone experiences for them.

So, my personal list?

J.K. Rowling – She is hilarious on Twitter and seems very open to communicating with fans.

Dan Santat – I have recently discovered his work and am in awe of his abilities.  Also, my students love his books.

Katherine Applegate – I absolutely loved The One and Only Ivan and cannot wait to read Crenshaw.  She also seems to be a very active author who visits with students across the country.

Gregory Maguire – So, he’s not necessarily a children’s author (although he wrote the hilarious Leaping Beauty), but he is probably my favorite author of all time.

Who would be on your author visit list?  Do you think that virtual author visits are something you’d like to try?  Let’s talk below….

Read Alouds – Sharing books with students

This week our school is participating in a Stop. Drop. Read. challenge. For 10 minutes on Friday morning, we will stop what we are doing and read. We have the option of reading silently or reading something together. I’ve decided to do a Read Aloud with one of my favorite new pictures books: Beekle

Why are we doing this?
      1. We have been invited by another school to join them.  They want to set a record for the most people reading at the same time.
      2. It is fun to break up a Friday routine with a different activity.       Also, I’ll have 6th graders, and what 6th grader isn’t up for a quick story time?
      3. Read Aloud time is essential. It is important. It should happen in all grade levels in all schools across the country.
Thoughts about Read Alouds

This week we read two articles on Read Alouds. They present some interesting ideas.

Katherine Sokolowski stressed the importance of reading out loud to people of all ages – from birth to graduation.   She continues by saying that there are many purposes to a Read Aloud. She uses them to get to know students, to build character, to create a fun environment, and to teach them something. Read Alouds are essential in her 5th grade class.

We also read a piece from Franki Sibberson, a 3rd grade teacher.   She shared with us some of her favorite Read Aloud books – ones that she uses to fulfill a purpose. Her class has Read Aloud time to begin working on conversation about books, to model a reader’s notebook, and to practice using audio books. She is very careful with her Read Aloud choices.   She believes that our Read Aloud choices are seen as the types or difficulty of books that we, as teachers, value from our students reading. Choosing books from a wide variety of genres, ability levels, and on a wide array of topics is essential for building a Read Aloud routine.

Back in my class….

I think classroom Read Alouds are vital. I’ve seen them modeled in the middle grades classroom – with a teacher reading and modeling notetaking, by reading along with an audiobook, by using a combination of styles including partner reads. I’ve learned a few things along the way too. I learned that even 8th grade students can get into a children’s book – they are not too cool for it. I’ve learned that if I am excited about a book, students will be excited. I’ve also learned that when we do Read Alouds, students then share what they are reading with each other and with me. Each time I do a Read Aloud, I end up with a giant homework list of their favorite books. I love it.

Read Alouds with a Purpose

I’ve gone through the list of the books that I have read so far this semester to come up with a Top 10 list of books I’d use in my middle grades classroom. As I thought about what books to choose, I thought about why I would choose it and what lesson it would demonstrate. So, without further ado, here is my……

Top 10 Read Alouds (in no particular order)

To practice our oral reading fluency

To see how illustrations can add to the storyBeekle

To discuss how word choice conveys emotionIvan

To practice putting a twist on a classic tale 3-ninja-pigs-BuckarooBook

To laugh and realize that humor is essential MyButt

To talk about how we are not that different from one another

To introduce reflective writing

To practice a book/film comparison

To use historical fiction to spark additional learning ISurvivedShark

To see that all informational texts are not dry and “boring” SoYouWantToBePresident

My Read Aloud Lessons

I’ve learned that Read Aloud times are an important time for bonding, character building, learning, practicing reading and listening, and for fun. I’ve learned that we can read children’s books and picture books to students of all ages. I’ve learned that I need to continue to build my Read Aloud list.

And with that, my typical “end of post plea”…..

What books do you think are great for Read Alouds? Are there special considerations when choosing a Read Aloud for middle grades? What is your favorite Read Aloud?

As always, let’s talk below…..


I will be spending much of the rest of the semester creating and completing my own reading challenge.  I do not enter into a challenge or a plan easily.

My Thinking

Why Challenge and Plan?

When we challenge ourselves, we stay committed to continue reading.  A challenge gives me, as a reader, a goal.  When I work through a challenge, I do not have to question what book to read next – the challenge provides that for me!

I am also a big planner!  I have been planning my life since I was a kid.  Creating a reading challenge and a plan just seems natural to me.  When I work through a reading plan, I have goals and direction in regards to how much I read.

My Criteria

This past week I have spent some time looking at various Children’s Literature challenges and lists.  I knew that I wanted to read as many books as possible.  I also knew that I wanted the books to span a number of continuums.

I wanted to read books that were published a long time ago and books that were published recently.

I wanted to read books that cover many genres and styles:  picture books, chapter books, happy books, sad books.

So, what did I choose….?

Setting the Stage


My Challenge

I have decided that I am going to begin working on Amazon’s 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime.  This list, compiled by editors over at, contains picture books and chapter books.  Each of the books has a “tag line” to it.  They spread publication dates (from classics to recently released).  I think this is a good cross section of Children’s Lit and fits so many of my “criteria” for a challenge.

My Rules

I’ve also set myself a plan and rules about this challenge.  I know I will never read 100 books between now and December.  Instead I will be using this fall to take a big bite out of the list.  But, I need to set myself some rules.

  1. Anything I’ve read since August is considered done.
  2. Each week I will read 3 books.  1 will be a picture book.  1 will be a chapter book.  The other will be a choice book.
  3. I will read something new to me each week.  I can re-read some favorites, but each week I have to read something new to me.

How Can You Help?

Slide2My Current Thoughts on the Challenge

I am very excited to set out to read the 100 Children’s Books to Read in a Lifetime.  I am looking forward to reading books that are popular among children’s literature readers.  I’m also really looking forward to reading some books I wouldn’t normally pick up!

There are a few thing that will be hard for me.  First, choosing which books from the list to read will be difficult.  100 books is a lot of books, and I do want to eventually read them all.  However, where do I start?  I need you, my readers, to help direct me to books on the list that match my tastes and reviews of recent reads.  Some of the best books are the ones that others recommend.

Secondly, I know that limiting myself will be challenging.  I love to read and would love nothing better than to sit and read Children’s Lit all week.  Alas, I have adult responsibilities (booooo) and cannot do that.  So, recognizing and accepting that fact that this challenge will take more than a few months to complete will be essential for me.

You can see what I have read each week by looking at the “It’s Monday” tagged posts.  You can also see my overall progress on the “Challenge” tab at the top of the page.  Stop by each week, see what I’ve read, and recommend, recommend, recommend!

Let’s get reading….

Tempus Fugit
Photo courtesy a CC license

Time flies when you are having fun.

Time goes faster as you get older.

These adages are certainly true for me!  I have a busy schedule this fall with full-time teaching and a full load of classes.  How am I able to read all these Children’s Lit books?  The truth is…..I don’t know.

How much do I read?

We are supposed to read 4 hours per week for this course.  Four hours sounds like a long time, but I think that I have read more than that each week.  The big key to this is that I am enjoying what I am reading!  (Thanks Donalyn Miller!)  I have chosen books that I am drawn to for a variety of reasons – the cover, a funny title, beautiful illustrations.  When I enjoy what I am reading, I make the time to read.

When do I read?

I am an early  bird.  I have found that when I get up in those quiet hours, I get a lot done.  Those early morning hours are not filled with reading though.  Rather, I get some of my other tasks get done.  I then have time to read in the late afternoons.  This has been when I read the most – between coming home and dinner.

I also work to read during those “edge times” – 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. This is not the most productive for me.  I do better when I read in semi-long blocks of time.

Where do I read?

Mainly, I read at home.  I go to my stack of “To Be Read” books, choose one, then curl up on my couch to read.  My favorite reading buddy is my corgi.  She and I hang out while I enjoy the stories I am reading.

This week I have had a few of my books in ebook format.  This has allowed me to take my book in my pocket!  I can more easily read on my phone or tablet with an ebook.  However, I prefer to read a paper book – especially picture books – but technology has made carrying books much easier.

Final thoughts

Reflecting on my reading these last few weeks, I say that my habits reflect Donalyn Miller’s strategies for teaching reading.  Choice.  Comfort.  Fun.

I have choice in my reading material.  I have a warm and comfortable environment to read.  I have people to talk to about my reading.

Where do you read?  When do you read?  Do you prefer traditional books or ebooks?  Let’s talk about reading below!