Nourishing the Seed

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).

Back to School Affirmations

It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down and students, teachers, and parents everywhere are gearing up for a new school year. This time of year can bring about many changes and stressors, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are many tools to combat those stressors, including positive affirmations.

“Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why: because today at least you are you. And that’s enough.”

Dear Evan Hansen

Positive affirmations are phrases or statements that are used to challenge negative thoughts. The concept of positive affirmations might seem hokey or awkward at first, but with consistent use, they can rewire and increase neural pathways. Not only can affirmations have physiological benefits, but they have been shown to reduce stress, boost self-esteem, aid in interventions, and increase academic performance. Our core beliefs are often formed during childhood and introducing affirmations to young children is an excellent way to instill a positive sense of identity.

Whether you are a parent looking to recite affirmations with your children in the morning, a teacher looking to incorporate them into her class routine, or a student who wants to practice them individually; here is a list of some affirmations to get you started!

  • I am smart
  • I am talented
  • I am kind
  • I am loved
  • I can learn anything
  • I always try my best
  • I am a problem solver
  • I am needed
  • I am valued
  • I respect myself
  • I am in control of my learning
  • I deserve joy and success
  • I can meet my goals
  • I do not compare my success against the success of others
  • I am proud of myself
  • I can do hard things
  • I am brave
  • I am important
  • My brain and/or body is powerful
  • I choose to include others
  • I can try again
  • I choose how I respond to things
  • I am responsible
  • I am prepared for my test
  • I can make a difference
  • I am creative
  • I am organized
  • I am capable
  • I see the best in myself and others
  • I listen to others
  • There is no one better to be than myself
  • I bring joy to others
  • I can adapt to any situation

I challenge you to choose two or three affirmations that resonate with you and apply them to your daily routine. If you need a little more inspiration, I highly recommend checking out this video:

Planting the Seed

Here is a brief list of book recommendations for early readers (PreK-2nd Grade). Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

A cult classic for many, Matilda might be daunting for your littles to read on their own, but it makes a GREAT read-aloud! Trunchbull is a bit intense for some, however, so teacher/parent discretion is advised. Rewards for finishing the book can include chocolate cake and watching the equally classic movie adaptation.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

This book is a perfect way to teach kindness and friendship. After Jeremy Ross (or “#1 Enemy”, as he is known to the young narrator), moves in down the street, our narrator turns to his dad for help. The father has just the solution! A recipe for a pie that gets rid of enemies. But as it turns out, this secret recipe is much more effective at turning a best enemy into a best friend.

Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea

While it might sound like a potty-training story, Who Wet My Pants? is actually a story about how embarrassment can lead to anger, accidents can (and will) happen, and kindness is the best response.

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

This book is required to be read aloud. No, really. The book starts off with, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. Side effects of reading this book can include uncontrollable giggles, choruses of, “Again, again!” from the kids, and not being able to take yourself seriously.

What books resonate well with your early readers? How do you encourage them to be excited about reading?

The Child Whisperer: Type Two

This post is part of a series on The Child Whisperer and using it in the classroom. To see more, head here.

Alright, it’s time to talk about Type Two of the child whisperer! For The Child Whisperer types, it’s important to remember that this is not just personality typing, it’s channeling in on a child’s energy and how they use their energy. Most everyone has all four types in them, but one or two shine through the most in the majority of situations. 

Type two is typically known as “The Sensitive Child.” A type two’s primary connection to the world is through emotion, and their primary need is for their feelings and emotions to be heard as well as feeling a connection to their family and loved ones. 

Words that describe type two: emotional, subtle, thoughtful, sensitive. 

Tips for teaching a type two: 

Create a good, lasting relationship with the student. It will be hard for them to learn from you without a good relationship first. 

Two’s need a plan and time to process everything going on around them. They may become anxious when last-minute plans come up or their regular school schedule is changed for the day. 

They are your students taking as long as possible on assignments, tests, and readings. They take all of the time possible to internalize what they are doing and the information they are given. 

They are also the students that like to ask you step-by-step how to go through processes they are learning. And not only that, but they may ask multiple times! 

Type two’s are little emotional chameleons. They easily take on the emotions of others, whether that’s pain, anger, sadness, or happiness, light-hearted, or excitement. 

Do you have a type two child in your classroom? What have you learned through teaching this type of student? 

Feature Friday: Isiah Wright

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Isiah Wright, a teacher in California specializing in arts and creativity. 

Tell me more about the arts and creativity initiative? What does it entail?

“Every year the department of education gives out grants for arts in education. These grants are meant to supply teachers with the knowledge and supplies necessary to integrate art into classrooms. I don’t mean like a single subject teacher that teaches art either. I mean multiple subjects K-8 and getting creativity to stay with our children and even fostering it. In the grant program that I’m a part of they have taught us many things but one of the first things is about increasing engagement and asking the right questions. We go through training employing VTS or visual thinking strategy, which turned my classroom from 5 or 6 of the same kids answering everything to building the confidence of every single child in the room so that they might try to answer also. Seriously since I started using this strategy, I can get in the ’90s for student participation and engagement. That’s %, it truly is a thing to behold. They teach us great skills in hands-on art as well. Something that I had never used was oil pastels, they taught me the proper way to use and teach their use. We went through training on collaboration in school. Believe it or not, most students don’t know how to work together. Teaching them to look past their short-sighted need to get what they want every time is difficult but essential to making well-rounded adults and it is one of my favorite things to teach them. My class in general is centered around this overarching statement: Contradictory elements can and should co-exist.”

Why do you feel like arts are so important to the education of our students?

“Teaching art appreciation does more than just look at pretty pictures. Observational skills, thinking critically, attention to detail, and respectful discussion are all elements of appreciating art. Guess what? Those are all also the key elements to Common Core. I am drawing a blank on who said it but at one of my training, someone was quoted saying “If you’re not teaching art you’re not teaching the whole kid ” I think this statement is dead-on, and the age I teach it makes teaching them easier if I integrate art into every lesson I can. I have even taken up sketchnoting science and social studies because of this training. Sketch noting is an amazing way for students to remember what they are being taught. Some studies I have seen put students being able to remember 6x more information when they are just writing traditional notes instead of blending words with pictures”

How do you incorporate art into your core curriculum?

“Art is everywhere and in every subject. If you think of how an NGSS (next generation science standards) lesson starts with an anchoring phenomenon, I teach every lesson I can with that basic format but usually using art in its place. We hold class talks, starting with art but eventually branching out to math, ELA, science, social studies, and everything else. Let me tell you how a lesson I just finished looks.”

“We look at a few pieces of art from a book, this book I’m talking about is called Blockhead, which is the life of Fibonacci. as we look at some of the pages of art we hold an art talk on 5 or so pictures from all over the book. This helps because everyone wants to participate in the art talk. This will also help when I go back and read the book because students will be looking for the pages they spoke on earlier. As I stop to discuss the reading periodically students remain engaged because they bought in at the beginning. We move into a fun patterns lesson using some kids ciphers that I loved as a child. Which could go on for multiple lessons and I love to end patterns with art from nature. That is a wonderful lesson where students create art from anything and everything, depending on what lesson I employ this, kids can make a paintbrush from random things, or collect and place colorful rocks or leaves. Art from nature truly is a universal assignment that I can end many units with. My goal is always increasing student engagement and understanding of core content through arts integration and I feel like I get that every time I integrate art into my lessons”

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“It really depends on the age. My kids in the upper elementary school range The Blue Witch by Alane Adams never disappoints. She is such an amazing advocate of literacy and does tons for kids in need. Most important though is it is a book that students actually want to read. I read the introduction of Odin riding Slipnir to collect a young witching and they are instantly hooked and relate to the female lead or her brainy male sidekick.  If we are talking about my personal children’s age, say 5 and under The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith. I have read it well over 200 times to thousands of kids. I have it down to a science you could say, refining my abilities over the last 8 years or so.”

How has Twitter helped and influenced you as a teacher?

“Teacher twitter is beyond the most helpful thing ever. Thousands of teachers on standby to help at a moment’s notice. Even if that help is just as simple as liking a “rough day” post. I have taken some of the best ideas in my classroom from a Twitter teacher’s bragging posts. You know what? My classroom is better because of Twitter.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen come from it?

“I’m an elected official so student’s voices and civics are very often at the forefront of my class. My kids’ collective wisdom is greater than my own and I recognize that. It is my belief that students have tons to teach us. I may be the most educated person in the room but their collective years of individual experience are powerful. I use that to my advantage as often as I possibly can. Every now and then we way in on current political problems and generate multiple answers to questions that adults can’t seem to figure out. Last year we had our writing prompt about solving the homeless issue in our community put in the newspaper. The kids were so excited and loved seeing their words published for all to see.”


Thanks, Isiah for your insight! He had some great thoughts on creativity and using art in the classroom. 

Feature Friday: Krystal Plott

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Krystal Plott, a K-6 technology specialist in Utah. She gives great insight on technology and how it can be used for student voice! Read what she has to say below. 

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why?

“one of my favorite children’s books that I used in my classroom every year was “Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This is such a simple and sweet (literally) book about cookies, but it’s a great way to teach vocabulary, kindness, sharing, and other essential social skills that elementary students need. The lesson always ends with cookies, of course, and serves as a great lesson and message that all students can take to heart.”

Tell me a little about your job, “school technology specialist”. What does it entail?

“As a school technology specialist, my job always keeps me on my toes. My primary role is to help coach teachers in the effective use of technology in the classroom, and I recently completed an endorsement in instructional coaching to help me be more effective in my role. I support teachers as they learn new skills, co-teach technology-infused lessons, and design educational technology curriculum and professional development. I love that I am still able to push into classrooms and work with students, while also reaching more students and teachers beyond a single classroom. In addition to teaching and coaching, I also provide basic tech support and troubleshooting at the school level.”

What is one of your favorite ways to use technology in classrooms? 

“One of my favorite ways to use technology in the classroom is taking a “good” lesson, infusing it with technology, and making it GREAT! Getting students excited about learning in new ways and connecting with others as they learn. I love discovering new tools and teaching in ways that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago. One of my favorite tools to use across all grade levels is flipgrid – students are able to make short videos and respond to others and are communicating with their teachers and peers in a different way. I have seen students come out of their shell and share their voice for the first time because it is a safe space for them to share. I love seeing the “ah-ha” moments with students as they learn something new and share that learning with others through technology.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it? 

“Student voice in the classroom is huge! They have so much to say and share but we have to give them the time and space to do so. I like to give students time to share how their weekend was or respond to current events. Sometimes students are reluctant to share their voice in a classroom setting, but if you give them tools and choices, they just might surprise you. One teacher I work with had a selective mute in her class a few years ago. She wouldn’t talk to her teacher, and only had a few friends she felt comfortable enough to speak to. One day, this teacher introduced Flipgrid to her class and they were all asked to record a video to respond to a question. Not only did this student respond (which was huge in and of itself), but then she went up to the teacher and pointed to the computer because she wanted the teacher to see her response. After nearly 4 months of school, the teacher heard her student’s voice for the first time!”

What advice do you have for teachers who are nervous about using technology in their classrooms?

“For teachers who are nervous, I say just jump in! Don’t expect perfection, and definitely be patient and flexible. Most schools have a technology specialist or digital learning coach who is eager and willing to help out, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you aren’t sure where to start, UEN is a great resource with lots of lessons and ideas to help you get started.”

What is your favorite part of teaching in an elementary setting? 

“Elementary kids are just the cutest! I love their curiosity and seeing them learn and grow. There is a fun curriculum at every grade level, and kids are just so eager to learn. There is an excitement in elementary that I don’t think you find anywhere else. I spent many years teaching second and third grade, and I love that age so much. They are starting to develop a sense of humor and can be so funny at times, but they are still just so sweet and love being in school. I feel lucky to get to work with kids in such a fun setting in a job that I love!”


Thanks for the words of advice Krystal! Come back next week for the next Feature Friday. If you would like to be featured on our blog, please reach out via email or comment on a blog post. We would love to have you! 

Feature Friday: Westley Young

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Westley Young, a Grade 3 teacher in Rome, Italy. Westley is our first international teacher on Feature Friday and we were excited to learn from him! Here’s what Westley has for us today.

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

“I thought long and hard about this question because I have discovered so many great children’s books every year since I became a teacher, but instead, I chose one which I loved as a child and which my own children are currently enjoying: ‘The Jolly Postman (or Other People’s Letters) by Janet & Allan Ahlberg. My 6-year-old daughter especially loves reading each of the letters/cards delivered to each of the fairy-tale characters.

Also, ‘The Refugee’ by Alan Gratz, which I read with my Grade 5 class a few years ago. It’s incredibly moving and a must-read, too. Sorry, I couldn’t just pick one in the end!”

What is your favorite part of teaching this age group?

“I have taught all elementary grade levels as an art teacher and grades 2-5 as a homeroom teacher. I enjoy all ages and don’t have a preference for any one group.”

Who influenced you most to choose a career in education? 

“I have to admit that my passion for teaching only began once I started in the profession. I needed a job when I first moved to Italy and used my art experience to begin working with children at a summer camp. This success led to a role as an art teacher at the same school and it snowballed from there. Since then, through extensive reading, help from colleagues, the sharing of resources and expertise on social media, and of course watching and learning with children, my interest in the way children learn has continually grown.”

What are some educational tactics used in Rome that you feel are especially important to teaching, or the education of your own children? 

“I don’t think there are any ‘tactics’ used especially in Rome that are different to others elsewhere, but throughout my own teaching experience and my children’s education, the Reggio Emilia approach, the Montessori method, and the IB PYP have all helped me consider how to respect children’s agency and use the whole community/environment to expose children to new experiences and support their learning. I have definitely picked up some pointers from these programmes when considering how to educate my own children.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year of teaching? 

“To go with the kids and not to worry if things didn’t go as planned. When I first began teaching, I needed to know exactly what I’d do throughout the lessons, especially if the activity had finished earlier than planned or hadn’t ‘worked’. It took me a while to realize being in complete control was completely counter-productive to the learning experience that I wanted to offer.

 (Oh yeah, I wish someone had told me about Twitter, too!)”

Do you feel like the educational world on Twitter or other social media sites has helped you as a teacher? And how? 

“Twitter has been my most helpful tool as a teacher. There are so many inspirational and supportive teachers and parents, who have helped me think deeply about my practice, offer better learning experiences to my students, and find resources and books to help me continue to learn and question what I’m doing, always searching for better.”


Thank you for your insight today Westley!