The Season for Giving Thanks and Reading Books

Thanksgiving is only two weeks away, so do you know what that means? Thanksgiving picture books! There is no better way to celebrate a holiday than with picture books in the classroom, I am a huge advocate for picture books at any age. Here are four books you need to keep on your radar this holiday season. 

A Turkey For Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting A fun story about woodland animals that get together to eat Thanksgiving dinner together, just to realize that their friend, Turkey, is missing! 

Thanksgiving in the Woods by Phyllis Alsdurf This book is based on a true story of a New York family who celebrates Thanksgiving in the woods with family. Not only is it a great book, but the pictures are also beautiful as well. 

Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano A story that will have your students laughing out loud seeing Thanksgiving from the perspective of the turkey. 

If You Were At The First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma This isn’t a picture book per se. However, it is a great book to keep around the classroom for the month of November. It answers common questions and some misconceptions you or your students may have about the first Thanksgiving. 

What fun books are you reading in your classrooms this Thanksgiving? 

Featured Image: deathtothestockphoto.com

Let’s All Remember Our Heroes This Veterans Day

Veterans Day is on Monday, and with any important holiday, a great picture book is a must. It doesn’t matter if your students are 2-year-olds in a daycare, or 18 years old in college, a powerful, informative picture book can always be applicable when used correctly. 

Veterans Day is now more widely known as, “Head over to our stores for our 50% off Veterans Day sale” It has become a commercial holiday used to boost sales and place the United States flags on their ads as if that honors the men and woman that served our country in some way. Veterans Day is so much more than a 50% off sale and needs to be treated that way as well. 

It’s a day to celebrate and remember those who gave their all, sometimes even their lives, so that we can continue to live in peace and comfort we have today. It’s remembering those families that suffered weeks and months without their dads, or the kids who attended their first day of school without their mom because they had parents serving across seas. It’s a chance to feel empathy for the families who have packed up and moved so many times in a year that they have lost track of what cities they’ve lived in. It’s a holiday all of us need to remember a little more. 

I have read multiple books on Veterans Day, and after all of my readings, one book sticks out to me because of the emotional pull it brought out as I read. America’s White Table by Margot Theis Raven goes through everything placed at the White Table, the rose, the lemon, the chair, and more, then explains what it represents and why. 

Katie, the young girl in the story helping her mom set the White Table, is told a story of her uncle who served in the war and ended up as a Prisoner of War (POW) but eventually was able to escape and help a friend escape as well. Hearing his emotional story helped Katie see the importance of the white table. 

“It was just a little white table… but it felt as big as America when we helped Mama put each item on it and she told us why it was so important.”

-America’s White Table

I was somewhat ashamed to find out after reading this picture book that I did not know what each of the items on the White Table was for, I just knew it represented a solider somehow. Let’s change this for our students that also do not know the purpose of the white table. Let’s not just teach out kids numbers and letters, let’s teach them about our heroes of this country this Veterans Day. 

A few other great Veterans Day books: 

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh

H Is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet by Devin Scillian

Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion by Jane Barclay 

How do you honor Veterans Day in your classroom? 

Featured Image: Pexels.com

The Powerful Purpose Of Books About Other Cultures

Let’s talk about different races and ethnic backgrounds. It’s something that is a growing topic in our schools, as it should be. Why are these conversations important for students? Studies have shown that kids as young as 3 years old can start showing signs of racism, which can stem from the TV shows they are watching, the toys they play with, and the books they read. 

A few of my favorite books to expose children to these different cultures do not explicitly teach how to be tolerant of others, instead, they give you a peek into their worlds and what makes them special. It can be so powerful. 

CROW BOY is a book about a young boy who attends school in Japan that walks to and from school by himself every day for years and years. By the end of the book, his classmates see just how special Crow Boy is and what a mistake it was to ignore him all of those years. 

I, DOKO: THE TALE OF THE BASKET a story told by the basket a family uses for various purposes over the years, from carrying grain to carrying a baby. This book can become confusing with the different generations of family members, it may be beneficial to write or draw a visual of the family tree to help students understand who is who in the story. 

TUKI AND MOKA: A TALK OF TWO TAMARINS this book is sure to capture your students’ love with two monkeys that follow a little boy around in Ecuador as they collect Brazil nuts to provide for their family. Later, the monkeys and other animals are captured by poachers and the protagonist must take action right away. 

Not only do these books explore the lifestyle of different races and cultures, but they also teach vocabulary words from their language. This can be engaging for students and fun for students to learn these new words and names. A word of advice, before reading these books out loud in class, practice a few readings out loud by yourself to know the words and names pronunciation beforehand. 

Books are powerful. Whether read aloud in classrooms or left for little hands to explore, having ready access to different ethnicities through text and pictures will benefit them, our classrooms, schools, and our society. Our students and teachers can make or break someone else’s school experience based on their cultural awareness. If you don’t believe me, watch this Ted Talk by Melissa Crum. 

What are books you use in your classroom that expose children to different races, whether directly or indirectly? 

Featured Image: pexels.com

How ‘Empowered’ Can Make You Feel….. Empowered.

Let’s talk about books that help us become better teachers. There are typical books like What Works in Schools by Robert Marzano. There is also Teachers And Machines: The Classroom Use Of Technology Since 1920 by Larry Cuban. While I’ve never read either of them, I am certain they are excellent at giving all of the information they are trying to get across in a very explicit way. 

After I read the book Empowered by Nathan Cureton, I realized that not all informational, inspiring teacher books needed to be direct learning. While I do recognize that there are a time and a place for the more straightforward books, I appreciated the different aspect that Nathan used while writing Empowered

The book is a fictional story about a school counselor that meets with and helps the teachers of the school, both new and old, work through their classroom management to create an ideal classroom culture. He uses the power of a fictional storyline to bring you into a world that is very realistic with common situations and problems that teachers face today, then helps you solve these problems by watching Kris, the school counselor, work with each teacher on improving their classrooms day by day. All of these tips Kris is giving to the teachers are tips that each of us can glean for our own classrooms.

It amazed me how powerful the indirect text was as I read it. Reading about that teacher who struggled with students blurting out made me feel like someone knew exactly what I felt like trying to manage a 9th-grade class for the first time. I connected with the book and those fictional teachers on such a personal level. I found myself thinking a few times in the book, “No! Paul! That’s not how Kris told you to handle your classroom!! STOP!” 

Nathan talks about how each classroom has its own unique culture, it’s own way it functions and runs. Each teacher’s room has a different culture from the next, and in the book he points out how students go from one classroom to the next, transferring into different expectations from different people. This is why explicit expectations need to be taught because one teacher is fine with a dull roar throughout the classroom at all times. The next has a strict “no talking while I am” rule. While Mr. Smith across the hall has constant chatter. It’s only fair to the students to explicitly let them know what you expect in your classroom. 

After reading this, I had a moment of, “Oh. Duh.” This is what I needed to read before I started teaching. Isn’t it funny how I spent four years during undergrad learning this, yet after I had some teaching experience and read this book, that’s when it sunk in? 

Whether you’re still in school, it’s your first year teaching, or you’ve been teaching for years and years, I highly recommend reading Empowered. Lose yourself in Kris’ journey, and maybe learn a little classroom management while you’re at it! 

A Quick List of Fall Books For The Classroom

We are now well into fall and a fall book list is a must. I always say if I could live in one season forever, it would definitely be fall, hands down. I’ve often wondered if there is a place that exists where autumn lasts all year, and then I recall the life cycle of trees and how it is not possible for them to forever be in this state. But of course, Anne says it best.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

-L.M. Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables

A few picture books that are perfect for any fall day in the classroom:

Fall Mixed Up! 

I will warn you. Only read this book to your students if you’re prepared for continual laughing. This book is wacky and silly and so perfect for when you just need a change of attitude in your classroom!

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves 

This cute story tells of a fox showing empathy for a tree losing its leaves. He is deeply concerned for the tree, up until he sees how beautiful it is on the first day of winter. 

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves 

We all love the old lady who swallowed a fly, but now she’s swallowing leaves! What is there not to love about that!? If you’re into felt storyboards, this book is perfect for one. 

Room on the Broom 

A fun Halloween based book about a witch that adds more and more friends to her broom. Again, another great felt storyboard book! 

Charlotte’s Web

This literary classic is a must-read in every classroom. The setting starts in the early fall, then reaches into early winter, making it a great read-aloud book for this time of the year. 

What autumn books have you read to your class this year?

What Are the Seven Habits? An Inside Look on How They Can Help Your Students

Many schools across the nation are using Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in their framework for better classrooms. Or more popular, his son Sean’s book centered around the same idea, but for kids. There is also a version for teens as well. Whichever you choose, these books hold the same idea that there are 7 habits we as humans can adopt to foster a more successful life. 

If you are not already using this book as a tool in your classrooms, I suggest you start. Not only creating these habits in yourself but also encouraging your students to use these habits as well. 

The habits outlined in the books are: 

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With The End In Mind
  3. Put First Things First 
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw 

The children’s version of this book is fun and playful, watching different animal friends carry out the seven habits, seeing how each can benefit their community. Not only is it an informational book that is a vehicle for great discussions with your students, but also fun and engaging with kids. 

They have a whole website of resources, plus a series of books to dive deeper into each habit. They are striving to create leaders at a young age- This is something all of us need to get behind. 

The teen version of the book is geared towards trials and situations those in middle and high school may face and how the seven habits can be applied to them, aiding in better outcomes. They have also created a workbook to go along with the original book. 

The key to these books is that they are habits, which defined by Oxford is, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
A regular tendency that is hard to give up. How powerful. These authors are implying that being proactive and thinking win/win can and should be a tendency, not something that needs to be thought about. Their books can help you, your students, your classrooms, and your schools accomplish this. 

Are you a 7 Habits or Leader in Me school? How have you witnessed it working well? Have the 7 habits become habits for you or something you still need to consciously make an effort to do? 

Cover Photo Credit: Goodreads 

My Students Gifted Me “The Darkest Dark” And It Brought Me To Tears

The first time I came across the book The Darkest Dark by astronaut Chris Hadfield was a gift from my second grade students during my student teaching in college. Reading the book to these students on my last day in their classroom made me emotional because discovering space was a topic I felt deeply about and spent a good chunk of time teaching them. 

The Darkest Dark is about young Chris, who is scared of the dark in his room at night. He tries hard to overcome his fear with his parents’ help. Finally, after watching the moon landing on TV, he realizes there is a darker dark to exist in space. He later becomes an astronaut himself, discovering more of space. 

This book hit so close to home for me because I grew up learning about space while my dad worked on the New Horizons space project. He and ten other people worked on the battery portion to power the rocket that would fly by Pluto, then continue further into the Kuiper Belt.

As a little girl, it was hard to understand why my dad had to work long hours and miss big events like dance recitals and sports that we participated in. He would leave early in the morning before we were even awake, only to come home late at night after we were in bed. In our house, we were constantly talking about planets, rockets, plutonium, and especially Pluto, because our dad’s life revolved around it, so ours did too. If you want to read more about my experience, I wrote about it on my personal blog a few years back. 

When I was ten years old, the rocket finally launched. The plutonium battery that my dad had spent so many hours building, shot into space to discover new territory. It would take ten years for the rocket to reach Pluto and send back the data and pictures it would eventually find. 

Fast forward to eleven years later after New Horizons had successfully flown by Pluto. I am sitting in a second-grade classroom during my student teaching doing a unit on space. Quickly, the students caught on that I was very passionate about this topic, making them just as excited as I. For weeks we slowly discussed more and more about the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. It didn’t take very long before one of the students asked, “What is Pluto like?” 

I wish someone had been recording me because the way my face lit up after that question was asked would have been priceless to see. I quickly jumped up to grab a computer and google the words “Pictures of Pluto” for my students to see. In my mind, I still couldn’t believe that this day had come, that I was watching history unfold before me.

I showed them the incredible images New Horizons had taken just a year before, giving them facts about Pluto that many people did not know about until very recently. I was slightly emotional telling these students about my personal connection with this project, how my dad worked on the exact battery that powered the vessel through space over a long period of time.

When it was time for me to graduate and leave, the kids knew exactly what parting gift they needed to give me. They brainstormed with their teacher to find the perfect space book to send me on my way. They each signed their names on the inside cover, to remind me about the time I was able to share with them a large portion of my personal life for their education. 

The Darkest Dark is an incredible book. It can be used to teach overcoming fears. It can be a resource for historically accurate information in a picture book. We can read it to make connections about achieving our dreams, even if it’s scary. It is a perfect book to connect with a real-life astronaut. However, for me, this book will forever have a deeper, personal connection. 

“Being in the dark can feel scary… but it’s also an amazing place. The dark is where we see the stars and galaxies of our universe. The dark is where we find the Northern Lights shimmering and get to wish on shooting stars. And it was quietly in the dark where I first decided who I was going to be and imagined all the things I could do. The dark is for dreams- and morning is for making them come true.”  

– Chris Hadfield

I’m certain everyone working on the New Horizons mission had their own dark to be scared of. Working on such a big job is scary, time-consuming, and can take away from personal lives. The smallest mistakes from them could have led to detrimental consequences. I hope everyone can see what a sacrifice these scientists make to the furthering of our knowledge, whether it be Chris Hadfield, my dad, or any other astronaut or scientist.

Photo Credit: goodreads and Kelly Williams