10 Books for our Earliest Readers That Are Actually Enjoyable #TeacherMom

Oh, the joys of earliest reading! Yes, they are reading, and yes, it is magical, but spending 8 and a half minutes painfully decoding “yellow” can also feel like a special kind of torture. When said book is also plot-less, or when there are so many words that it will take a discouragingly long time to complete it, it’s even less fun — for your reader and for you.

So where to turn? Here are some of my favorite books for our earliest emerging readers.

#1: Some Bugs by Angela Diterlizzi and Brendan Wenzel

The repetition and rhyming make the words more accessible, and the artwork by Brendan Wenzel are nothing short of delightful!

#2: Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett

With the exception of one use of “there,” only the 4 words in the title form this story. But they are played with in a variety of ways with the help of the illustrations (“orange bear.”).

#3: Freight Train by Donald Crews

A few of the words here get a little trickier (like “freight”), but there are still only a few words per page, making this doable a great shared read with your early reader.

#4: Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

The illustrations take the lion’s share of the story-telling here, and they do a marvelous job in making kids predict what will happen next to that fox. Pat Hutchins was a master at conveying an engaging story with only a few words per page, which is why I’ve also chosen…

#5: Titch by Pat Hutchins

Our very youngest readers will relate to the way it seems like only the big kids or adults get to take care of the big and important things. Until Titch is in charge of a very small seed…

#6: Up, Tall, & High by Ethan Long

Hilarious read that gets kids thinking about comparative terms and perspective. They will love lifting the flaps, too!

#7: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

Poor turkey just can’t get it together when it comes to getting dressed. And Sandra Boynton never fails to make us laugh!

#8: Sheep in the Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple

The classic adventure of these sheep is perfect for young readers as most of the words rhyme with sheep. Not to mention its hilarious plot!

#9: Cat the Cat, Who is That? by Mo Willems

Seems almost too repetitive, until you reach the twist at the end! Mo Willems has created a great series for our earliest readers here. I would recommend Elephant and Piggie next!

#10: The Mole Sisters and the Rainy Day

I’m a sucker for some good onomatopoeia, and the Mole Sisters really sell it in their adventures! Be sure to check out the complete collection!

These books prove that delightful stories can come in minimal packages. When books for our emerging readers are engaging for kids and adults, they build a powerful foundation for a lifetime of reading. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

“Boy/Girl Books:” Fighting Stereotypes While Honoring Book Access

Raise your hand if you have ever said, “There are no such things as boy/girl books.” 🙋

That’s why Leigh Anne Eck’s recent tweet resonated with me so much:

While it would be absolutely unfair to continue telling students that a book is only meant for girls or boys to read it, it would be equally unfair to ignore differences. After all, Scholastic’s Reading Reports repeatedly find that rates of reading enjoyment for boys lags behind girls. Other measurements of reading achievement also show boys consistently behind girls the world over.

In her book, Best Books for Boys, Pam Allyn shares this great anecdote:

“I once entered a classroom and saw a very unhappy eight-year-old boy reading Junie B. Jones. He looked miserable. Now, I love Junie B. Jones, but this reader did not look happy about this situation. I asked him what was going on, and he said: “Because this is my level, I always have to read this same book, and I don’t want to read books about girls! I don’t even want to read a book with chapters in it!” My heart broke for him. If his library had been stocked with books at every level in every genre, his choices would have been greater, and he would have been hooked. He knew exactly what wasn’t working. The problem was no one was asking him what choices he would have made for himself as a reader.

~Pam Allyn, Best Books for Boys

She also lays out a great rule of thumb for our libraries: “at least 30 percent nonfiction, 30 percent poetry, and 40 percent fiction” (with varied topics, levels, and author genders across the spectrum). When I first read this recommendation, I knew my classroom library was severely lacking. It was my second year of teaching, so my collection was limited anyway, but the limits were compounded by the sameness of my titles, like:

  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Once Upon a Curse
  • The Sisters Grimm
  • A Little Princess
  • Ramona the Brave
  • Ella Enchanted
  • Charlotte’s Web

All fiction. All chapter books. All female protagonists. All with some degree of fantasy. It was really as far away as you could get from diverse book access! Fortunately for my students, that’s when I received Pam Allyn’s aforementioned book, and we got to work.

I did not tell my students that most of our classroom library were “girl books,” but I did tell them that my collection was mostly based in my personal interests growing up. And I told them that we desperately needed more poetry and nonfiction in our library. Most importantly, I asked for their help. Between my book and my students, we ended up with a lot of new titles I never would have considered on my own, such as:

  • Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich 
  • Hi! Fly Guy
  • Skeleton Hiccups
  • How Much is a Million?
  • Horrid Henry
  • Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
  • I Survived the Shark Attack of 1916
  • Flat Stanley
  • Bone
  • How to Write Your Life Story
  • Love that Dog

More importantly, I started to sort my classroom library by genre and to be more mindful in general about which gaps I needed to fill.

What I want to emphasize here is that a more diverse classroom library benefited all my students. What may have started as a hunt for “best books for boys” certainly ended in a richer, more accessible library for everyone. Ultimately, that’s what matters most for building our classroom libraries and addressing those gaps we’ve overlooked.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Our Favorite Books of 2018

It’s time for one of my favorite annual blog posts: a review of our favorite reads from the year! While part of me just wanted to list every single book we loved this year, the rest wanted to stick with the curation approach I’ve come to love about blogging. But I hope you’ll check out my Goodreads profile if you are looking for more recommendations!

So with the help of my kids, here are our top 15 picture books and top 15 chapter books we read this year. Most of these were published this year, but there are a few that are simply ones we discovered this year. 

Picture Books

#15: The Eye that Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes. My little ones sometimes struggle with longer biographical stories, but the story kept them wanting to hear what was next! 

#14: Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell & Corinna Luyken. Right and wrong can feel so absolute for so many kids; I love the way this helps them expand their perspective a bit in favor of compassion. 

#13: Water Land: Land & Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale. Such a clever and simple way to depict various landforms and their relationships to one another!  


#12: a house that once was by Julie Fogliano & Lane Smith. This one especially tickled my sense of wonder because I have often daydreamed about the memories held by old houses and paths — who walked in the same spaces, what they did there, how they lived.  

#11: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe.  My ocean-loving 4 year old especially loved the illustrations of all things underwater. Kate Messner did a great job of weaving an engaging story of what has been done, and what we have yet to do, for our coral reefs. 

#10: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes. This tree-lovin’ lady adored everything about this read. The detail, the poetic flow of words, the imagination. 

#9: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld. Loved the way this book illustrates emotion, and validates the many ways we need to express it.   

#8: Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall. This beautifully captures change over time in several layers. My kids and I enjoyed studying all the detail of the fascinating life inside a lighthouse. 

#7: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. Teachers trying to convey word choice and story-loving children alike will enjoy this latest work from Peter Reynolds.  

#6: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. This book makes me think of a cross between “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Featuring Star Wars, of course. My whole family adored this hilarious read! 

#5: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Penelope has first day of school jitters. She has no idea what her classmates will be like…until she discovers that they are delicious children! Will she be able to get past her, um, sticky first impression?

#4: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin. I loved the folklore feel of this story. Little Star and her mother bake a big mooncake, but will she be able to resist nibbling a little more each night? A lovely way to imagine what makes the phases of the moon.

#3: Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost. I think this is the only book on our picture book list of books not published, but discovered, this year. My kids were fascinated by the magnified pictures of various surfaces, and the personified germs.  

#2: Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen. After meeting these authors last year, I don’t think our book lists stand a chance of not featuring work by these two. But we found Square every bit as delightful as Triangle. Everyone can relate to Square’s emotional turmoil when his friend Circle mistakes him for a sculptor–and he doesn’t want to let her down. 

#1: El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin & Crash McCreery. I loved getting to practice my high school Spanish in this delightful new rendition of an old legend. My kids especially loved the inflatable nature of the goats. 

Read Alouds/Chapter Books/Graphic Novels

#15: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko and Colin Jack. I sometimes struggle with books written from a dog’s point of view. But this duo did nothing but make me laugh! Follow their hilarious plot to save their child from a dreadful place called school. 


#14: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. With Russian heritage myself (though definitely not as close as Vera), I loved the protagonist’s struggle to feel like she fits in. My daughter and I enjoyed this graphic novel, though neither of us will likely ever look at an outhouse the same way again…

#13: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This haunting read will get students thinking about the issues of our day as it follows Jerome, who is killed while playing with a toy gun. I still find myself connecting back to the perspectives of this book, such as when I read these findings that show children who embody any of the 3 “B’s” (boy, big, or black) tend to be subject to harsher treatment at school. 

#12: Gone Camping, A Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger & Matthew Cordell. I love the way each poem perfectly captures typical moments of a camp-out, from fear of the dark to grandpa’s snoring. 

#11: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t heard of this one prior to reading Bill Ferriter’s recommendation this year. I absolutely loved the way this student/teacher relationship unfolded. Packed with unexpected twists, historical context, and relatable middle school humor. 

#10: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. A beautiful self-discovery kind of story, but with a faster pace than I was expecting, which I enjoyed. 

#9: Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. Despite the fact that I may or may not have gone to bed weeping while reading this, I have to recommend it. It tells the story of Amal’s descent into indentured servitude when she should be attending school with the other children in her village.

#8: Refugee by Alan Gratz. Three stories of families seeking refuge are masterfully woven together to convey universal principles of compassion and humanity.  

#7: The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan Paquette. When Marty loses a precious gift from his dad who is sick and has little time left, he finds himself on a magical train meant to collect all the things we lose. A beautiful story of loss and love.  

#6: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm. Beans is doing his best to help his family living in Key West during the Great Depression. Detailed, witty, and hilarious, this is a great candidate for a classroom read-aloud.  

#5: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend.  A new series that your fantasy-loving readers will devour. Everyone knows Morrigan is cursed — but defying her fate, she discovers a new land, a new organization, and a new chance to prove herself.

#4: I’m Just No Good At Rhyming & Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids & Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris & Lane Smith. Those who grew up loving Shel Silverstein as much as I did will not want to miss this one. My favorite part was the way one story that features a boy whose parents forgot to teach him the number 8 makes its way not only into other poems, but into the book’s page numbering and even acknowledgements–definitely appealed to this immature grown-up! 

#3: Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. Earth’s sun is about to go into a premature supernova, causing the human race to temporarily relocate to Mars until they can take off for a new home. Exciting and exceptionally well-researched science fiction read!

#2: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. The five Vanderbeeker children work to save their home as their family unexpectedly faces eviction. What I love most about this is the independence and problem-solving afforded to these kids. Just the right amount of spunk and tenderness!

#1: Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley. My 8 year-old and I listened to the audiobook of this together and loved every hilarious moment as Frederick Frederickson tries to find his social place, only to be unexpectedly swept downriver and into a disciplinary camp. Another great read aloud for upper elementary grades!

What were your favorite reads this year? Share in the comments!

12/15/18 update: Having just finished reading Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech, I feel compelled to mention it here, too. It reminded me strongly of what I love most about Brene Brown’s work on connection, vulnerability, and living from a place of love over fear. Absolutely a contender for a classroom read aloud as well!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

10 Books of Wishes

For kids, wishes hold power. So much of life seems beyond their control: where they live, what they wear, who they meet. Among so much uncertainty, it’s a comforting hope to hold tight to a wish.

In Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson’s latest picture book, “Carmela Full of Wishes,” Carmela doesn’t realize just how many important wishes she holds in her heart until she finds a dandelion. 

There are so many elements in this read that I found lovely. The details of Carmela’s neighborhood. The papel picado, Mexican folk art, that beautifully illustrates her wishes. The jingling bracelets that capture the essence of childhood joy (that can’t be diminished even by an irritable — and likely care-worn — brother). The way that it keeps readers wondering about Carmela’s wish and her life.

Also, I just have to share this gorgeous case design beneath the dust jacket!

I asked my kids if they could remember whose style it was, and they knew it was the same illustrator that created the video, “What is Music,” that they love so much (Funny coincidence: I included both Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson in my summer post, “18 Best Videos to Get to Know Children’s Authors & Illustrators”).

For your readers that are full of wishes, here are 9 other books of wishes I’d recommend!

#2: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

#3: When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano & Christian Robinson

#4: I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

#5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (I’m starting to wonder how this book somehow manages to get on just about every one of my lists…I regret nothing.)

#6: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller & Frank Morrison

#7: It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton 

#8: Mr. Rabbit & the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow & Maruice Sendak

#9: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales

#10: Pigeon Books by Mo Willems

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Is There Anything More Powerful than a Child Choosing a Book? #TeacherMom

My one word goal for 2018 has been power. It’s been an inquiry into questions such as…

…what is the connection between power & influence?

…how does comprehending our sphere of influence impact our lives? Our communities? 

…what is my sphere of influence?

…how can I be more intentional about directing and growing my influence to areas that matter most for me? 

Because I’m in the midst of this inquiry, I often find myself thinking about how & why certain sights, actions, and words carry power.

So when I come across my 2 year-old snuggling in with a book of his choosing, I’m fascinated by the implications for power.

Is there anything more powerful than a child choosing a book?

How does book-choosing, especially starting at a young age, give a child power?

How do books boost a child’s ownership over their learning? 

How does ownership over learning relate to an individual’s power?

Truly, helping children onto a path of choosing to read is a powerful endeavor, and we can all contribute:

Cultivating a child’s desire to choose and celebrate books is one of the most powerful things we can do.

featured image: Oliver Henze

Ever-Evolving Book Environment #TeacherMom

Our books have seen a lot of different kinds of arrangements. And most of what I’ve shared here has been of the pretty kind:

Bedside reading:

Display for our books from the library:

Spring cleaning sorting by author, size, and collection:

Variety is key, and it’s not always super pretty. It’s all about access. Which means it should be ever-evolving, based on our observations of our kids’ shifting needs. And access wins over pretty every time.

This might look like…

…pulling out books from our tightly-packed shelf onto the display area with the library books to remind our kids of gems they’ve forgotten.

…giving them their own shelf to organize favorite books (and to keep them safe from book-shredding little brothers for now).

…letting them go to town arranging their own personal “library.”

What are ways you help encourage book access with your kids at home? How does that shift over time?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry Into Symbiosis + “Friends Stick Together” Review

I still recall my surprise as a kid to discover how unlikely animals cultivate symbiotic relationships. Particularly the crocodile and the Egyptian plover bird (for the longest time, I had no idea Tomie de Paola’s “Bill & Pete” was based on science)!

As fascinating as these studies are of working relationships in the animal kingdom, I think their value goes beyond observational science. An inquiry into symbiosis is a great way to get kids thinking about concepts like collaboration, relationships, and problem-solving.

That was one of the reasons I was so excited about receiving “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison from Penguin Young Readers, along with the invitation to participate in its book tour. It finally gave me the push to share the following resources to help students inquire into symbiosis.

Resource #1: “Friends Stick Together” by Hannah E. Harrison

Beginning with a definition that introduces the way symbiosis isn’t necessarily as clean as we might think, Friends Stick Together sets the tone that it takes time to learn to work well with those around us.

I especially loved the zany Levi the tickbird (his “epic” air guitar solos were my favorite). His over-the-top behavior, especially when contrasted with prim Rubert the Rhino, definitely reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, Tacky the Penguin.

I feel like it’s easy for these kinds of books on friendship to get overly didactic, but I feel like Harrison struck a good balance, thanks in large part to her humor. Be sure to check it out when it comes out

Resource #2: “The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse” by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen

Ok, so this one is total make-believe symbiosis. But it’s still a fun way to get kids thinking about how we can rely on and help one another.

Resource #3: How Wolves Change Rivers by Sustainable Human

This resource is much more direct to the science of symbiosis; it’s a great launching point to discuss the complexity of relationships.

Resource #4: Symbiose by Rosalie Benevello, via The Kid Should See This

This beautiful stop motion is sure to spark a lot of conversation about the relationships between humans and nature.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How does symbiosis impact our world? Our communities? Our schools?
  • How does symbiosis in nature compare with symbiosis in humans?
  • How is technology impacting symbiosis?
  • What is our relationship to foster symbiotic relationships?
  • What are the different perspectives on what it means to have a symbiotic relationship?
  • How do our actions impact people around us?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto