If your students struggle to be kind to one another… have you tried reading them a picture book?
If you have a student having a hard time sharing… have you tried reading them a book?
A child in your classroom has a lot of anxiety around taking tests… but have you tried reading them a book?
Books are magical. Books are incredible. Books can teach our students more than we will ever fully comprehend. Authors and illustrators have a talent for speaking directly to children in a way they understand.
If you’re working on being a friend in the classroom, have you tried reading The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig?
If you want to teach your class about leadership, have you read Sophia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty?
If you have particularly worrisome kids, have you tried reading Ruby Finds a Worry? By Tom Percival?
When your students are struggling or need some extra love or help, can I offer some advice?
Here is a brief list of book recommendations for middle grade readers (3rd-6th Grade).Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!
Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur
One scoop of graphic novel, one dash of fantastical adventure, and two heaping tablespoons of witch makes this book the perfect recipe (or spell!) for the hesitant reader in your life. With beautiful illustrations and an engaging storyline, this is the perfect way to introduce middle-grade readers to novels without making them feel like they are reading a novel.
“When Dani and Dorian missed the bus to magic school, they never thought they’d wind up declared traitors to their own kind! Now, thanks to a series of mishaps, they are being chased by powerful magic families seeking the prophesied King of Witches and royals searching for missing princes.” -HaperCollins Publishers
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
“Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona… she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined.” -GoodReads
This book is the perfect reminder of the importance of friendship, courage, and acceptance (of yourself and others).
The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel
Nothing captivates a reader like the suspenseful twists and turns of a good mystery, and this book is no exception! Read aloud or read alone, you’ll find your readers on the edge of their seat.
“With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who’s a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she’s sure she won’t fit in. But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home with a note reading: These belonged to your father. When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth’s secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can’t help but think that the society had something to do with her dad’s disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth…” -Sourcebooks
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Alright, this recommendation might come from a place of self-indulgence as this was a series that I absolutely LOVED as a kid. But I’ve also reread them as an adult, and they still hold up.
“For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary is one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite . . . Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, powerful forces of evil are unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives, to save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world.” -Shadow Mountain
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
“Boys don’t keep diaries—or do they? It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.” -ABRAMS Publishing
Anyone who has been a kid, is a kid, has kids, or has even looked at a kid has heard of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This series is another resource to encourage disinterested readers. I mean, Jeff Kinney wouldn’t be able to write a 17-book series because kids aren’t reading his books, so he clearly knows a thing or two about getting kids excited about reading.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
“Accidentally built sideways and standing thirty stories high (the builder said he was very sorry for the mistake), Wayside School has some of the wackiest classes in town, especially on the thirtieth floor. That’s where you’ll meet Bebe, the fastest draw in art class; John, who only reads upside down; Myron, the best class president ever; and Sammy, the new kid—he’s a real rat.” -HarperCollins Publishing
Comedic, clever, and kooky; this book has it all! With chapters that read like short stories, it is ideal for reading out loud. These far-fetched stories will fetch a laugh or two (or 89).
Now that I’ve finished my PYP essential elements provocations, I plan to begin the next series of inquiry-based provocations on the SDG’s (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030).
But first, I’d like to pause and do a couple of inquiries into more general learning identities. We all hope our students will move from “doing” math, writing, reading, or science” to seeing themselves as mathematicians, writers, readers, or scientists. Amidst the many curriculum-mandated tasks associated with those subjects, however, it can be difficult to hold on to this sense of identity.
This week’s provocation is meant to help students inquire into what it means to be a writer.
Resource #1: My recent post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors/Illustrators.” I had so much fun putting this compilation together with my kids. Almost a month later, my kids are still referring to specific videos in our house, recalling some funny thing Oliver Jeffers did or requesting a re-watch. Each of the videos offer a unique lens for what it means to be a picture book-maker, but below are a couple I would especially recommend in this context:
As I was updating Goodreads with an old picture book list I’d made, I came across notes I had written about a couple fabulous author/illustrator videos that I wanted to remember to share with my students. And re-watching those just kind of…snowballed into this post.
I always love a good compilation; especially one that gives kids a glimpse into the processes & lives of their favorite authors & illustrators as people. I hope you enjoy these as much as my very small students and I did!
#1: Oliver Jeffers Picture Book Maker: As playful as all his books. We particularly enjoyed the sandwich hunt.
#2: Little Carmen Deedy Didn’t Like to Read: Loved her story on how she first found the right book. “And I’ve said for a long time that if the right book and the right child find each other, bam…fireworks!”
#3: Author & Illustrator Peter Brown on his Process: Great insight into the decision-making process. Especially his note, “Should I use the word ‘naked?'”
#4: What is Music? from ChristianRobinson: Ok, so this one isn’t directly about Christian Robinson, but it still provides insight on him as an illustrator. And it absolutely delighted both my kids and me (for more direct information about him, see this Meet the Illustrator article).
#5: La La La by Kate DiCamillo & illustrated by Jaime Kim. Great perspective to hear about book collaboration.
#6: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett: So I guess this isn’t directly about Jon & Mac’s lives either, but having met them at a library Author Link, I’d say there’s probably more accuracy than one might guess…
#7: An Interview with Beverly Clearly: So cool to hear about how she got started writing realistic fiction!
#8: bethany bARTon monster painting. No words. Just some great tunes & Bethany enjoying her art.
#9: The Truth About the Writing Process by Julie Falatko. As hilarious as her books and her tweets.
#10: Meet Tomie dePaola. I loved hearing about how folktales shaped him as an author.
#11: Snappsy Did Not Ask to Be in This Video About How to Draw Him from Tim Miller. Just a funny and highly-precise how-to (ie “medium-sized hot dog for the snout”)
#12: 2017 from Carter Higgins. So cool to watch her double-debut year unfold as she used the app, One Second Everyday.
#13: Tour Philip & Erin Stead’s Michigan Studio. Fun to see this pair in their home element.
#14: The Teacher Who Changed Everything with Patricia Polacco. If you’ve read “Thank You Mr. Falkner,” you know this story, but it’s incredible to watch Patricia share it herself!
#15: Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Thought Bubble: Kindness. It absolutely blew my mind to hear Amy’s conclusions on a life worth remembering years before hers was tragically claimed by cancer. Her legacy of kindness truly lives on in her books and videos.
#16: Matt de la Pena Author Video. I enjoyed hearing Matt’s “unlikely” story on how he became an author, and how that background helps him work to appeal to reluctant readers.
#17: Peter Reynolds discusses his books: Did you know he works with his twin brother, and has since they were tiny?
#18: Brendan Wenzel: Great to hear how “The Stinky Cheese Man” influenced him as an author/illustrator!
If there are any authors or illustrators on this list with whom you are not yet familiar, I encourage you to check out their stuff right away!
What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?
I mean, really look to the text.
Not some sterile passage from a basal.
Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.
Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).
I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.
Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).
Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?
Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?
Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?
I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:
I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.
Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.
We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:
Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?
A few weeks ago, our local library hosted Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen as they shared their newest book, “The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.”
It was a 3-generational fan-girl geek-out.
Hearing authors read their own stories is always a treat…
…but having an illustrator demonstrating their process, too? For my young aspiring author/illustrator, it was nothing short of magical.
As we waited in line to get our copy signed, my daughter grew a little nervous. But as soon as we got up to the front of the line, she told Mac and Jon all about her large box of books she has created, and they told her to never get rid of any of them, no matter what anyone ever says (and that they still get ideas from stories they made as kids).
What I love most about AuthorLinks is it gives kids the chance to see authors and illustrators as real people. Suddenly, the idea of making a book isn’t some abstract fantasy, but one with concrete choices and steps and possibility. For this gift for my daughter, and for the gift for my future students with whom you can bet I’ll be sharing these photos and videos, I’m grateful! Thanks so much Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and authors everywhere who take the time to connect with kids.