Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines

I've been a fan of Adam Gidwitz for a while, even after a fifth grader (she's now in 9th) abandoned A Tale Dark and Grim because it was keeping her up at night. Oops.  But last year was when we clinched our fandom for him.

There was a small, but strong, Inquisitor's Tale Newbery book group.  We even scored a Skype with Adam before he was crowned with the Newbery honor.  We could say "we knew him when."  Incidentally, during that Skype he mentioned the new series he was working on about some unicorn society something or other....

Well, wait no more!  Finally, it's here and I can actually tell you the correct title:  The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Creature of the Pines. Yay!  So...Grab your gooey almond bars (no raisins, please) and a mason jar of sassafras tea and get ready for a fun, laugh out loud adventure with the new kid, Elliot, his friend, Uchenna and the weird teacher, Professor Fauna.

The first chapter had me hooked and will definitely get the attention of any middle grade reader.  Farting and nose picking?  Perfect. I'd bet Las Vegas that none of my students returning it before it's finished.

It's Elliot's first day at his new school, a few weeks into the new year.  Poor guy. Who starts a new school after the first day?  And to top it all off, they are going on a field trip to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens, home to exotic animals, and truthfully an unusual landscape.  I know from experience, as I camped out at "Scrubby Pines" (outside of Manahawkin) a few times when we couldn't afford a place on Long Beach Island.

After being warned NOT to leave the group, Uchenna does (and Elliot follows).  They end up getting pretty close to this blue creature (part deer, part bird with claws and hooves) later aptly named "The Jersey Devil."

"Danger is the greatest teacher." (Professor Fauna)  If this is the case, Elliot and Uchenna are armed to learn a lot! Not only do they need to keep their new found creature safe but they also have to fight off the Schmoke (which conveniently seems to rhyme with Koch???) brothers who are hoping to make the Jersey Devil the latest addition to their exotic collection.

This is a winner.  A winner for your Inquisitor's Tale fans.  A winner for your Tale, Dark and Grim fans (Oh! I've currently got one of those at school, who happens to wear a unicorn hoodie all the time!).  A winner for your Magic Tree House adventure fans. Even a winner for anyone (what?!) who hasn't heard of Adam Gidwitz. YET. And bonus? It's illustrated by the illuminator from Inquisitor's, Hatem Aly.

Just one question, well maybe, two: When's Book 2 coming out?  Book 3? And, where do I find a recipe for the almond bars? Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

The Castleton Elementary Tribute to Adam Gidwitz

I hope I get to meet Adam again! This is from ALA 2015.  He's going to be at TLA! I hope I see him there!

That's Mr. Chevrier, my former principal, now our Superintendent, 
with his small but strong book group!

Skyping with Adam last January before he won!

Right after The Inquisitor's Tale won the 2017 Newbery honor!

Monday, February 19, 2018


It's what we've all been waiting for! The prequel to The Crossover! Some spoiler alerts--Beware (especially, if you haven't read The Crossover)! No matter what, you will want to get your hands on this book ASAP--Comes out April 2!

To prep for the REBOUND ride:

Turn up your Michael Jackson (PYT, Man in the Mirror), LL Cool J, Miles Davis, Luther Vandross and of course, Horace Silver on your record player,
Search your local convenient store for a pack of Now and Laters (it wasn't too hard),
Grab yourself some KFC (or better yet, Grandma's fried chicken),
Slip into your Jordache,
Lace up your skates,
Indulge in a winning Krispy Kreme (and chocolate milk if your stomach can handle it),
Take a sip of sweet tea or grape soda,
Practice your free throws,
Root for the Washington Bullets (they don't exist anymore but pretend you are when you cheer for the Wizards)
And put aside a good few hours to read this champion of a book.

Jordan and Josh Bell of The Crossover fame are back but this time as their ancestors.  Yessir. We find out who each one was named after (Jordan, his great uncle and Josh, his grandfather) and even some other relations who I will opt not to mention at this time.  The visual learner in me had to sketch a family tree so I could get the whole Bell family straight.

Here is the story of Charlie "Chuck" Bell, Josh and JB's dad, as he is coming of age in 1988. Before.  Before basketball was his life. Before marriage. Before kids. Before it all.

March 9, 1988 Charlie's dad dies and he cannot shake the grief.  He had yet to learn to "own the sadness...[and not] let it own [him]." That summer, Mom decides to send him to stay with his grandparents in D.C. (pair this with Jason Reynolds's As Brave As You). At first this seems like an awful idea but when his basketball star cousin, Roxie, pulls him into a game, he hardly turns back. Basketball becomes his thing again. Then just as life is looking up, his game is on, he's gotta go back home.  With an ending that had my mascara running as I pulled tissue after tissue from the box, and had the need to get "all hugged up" REBOUND is a high ranking winner on the hardwood.

P.S. It's hard to believe that Kwame's still got game. I'm not sure how he does it with everything else going on but lucky for all of us and our students, he scored another one with REBOUND.  Book birthday is April 2. We are on vacation then so will be celebrating in Castleton a week later with all the aforementioned foods, basketball decorations and more.

PPS. There are even some comics in it, too!

PPSS. Oh, how I LOVE the orange cover!  You know there's a REBOUND bus, right?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ghost Boys

I can't stop thinking about the poetic, thought provoking, new middle grade novel, Ghost Boys, by Jewell Parker Rhodes.  I guarantee it will stick with you well after you finish it, too.

This is not just the story of Jerome, our present day 12 year old protagonist from Chicago recently shot and killed by Officer Moore.  It is also 1955 Emmett Till's story who comes back as a "ghost boy" and all the other "ghost boys" who have followed.

Told from Jerome's first person point of view alive and as a ghost, this is the chilling account of the day he was murdered and what follows.  The sadness his Ma and Pa cannot shake.  The relationship "Ghost Boy" Jerome begins with Sarah, Officer Moore's 12 year old daughter. The guilt Carlos, Jerome's new friend, carries with him. Grandma and little sister, Kim, moving forward. We witness it all.

I'm struggling with who I will recommend read this.  The publisher is suggesting 10 and up.  Will I feel comfortable reading it with my fifth graders?  I think so?  It is such an important book that can serve as a precursor for readers of anything by Jason Reynolds and the newly multi-medal winning The Hate You Give. This can get a very important conversation started between teachers, librarians, students, parents, administrators.

And it will encourage anyone to dive into further research, just as I did.  I hopped onto Britannica because I was curious about how the elementary level would address Emmett Till.  I was pleased to find the entry for him was appropriate and verified much of what was included in Ghost Boys.

"Everyone needs their story heard."  Thank you, Jewell, for writing Jerome's story for young people. His words will help to bring up the past with hopes of making a difference in the future.

"Only the living can make change."  -JPR

I'm now ready to find out what these rising sixth graders (we are past the 100th day of school) think.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Wow.  Twelve hours ago almost to the minute, my students were filing into our old gym to find out this year's Sibert, Geisel, Caldecott and Newbery winners.

The Pura Belpre Trifecta

As much as it is on my radar, it isn't.  Yet we read and loved all three books!  Now show me how to buy a lottery ticket.

Congrats go especially to Ruth Behar, the one who walked the same halls , took books out of the same library, and sang in the Glee Club on the same stage as I did just about 10 years apart at PS 117 in Briarwood, Queens.

We have a date to Skype with Celia Perez on Wednesday (rescheduled from our snow day) and can't wait to say "Congratulations!" The kids plan to share their zines with her.  


I gave the fourth graders a heads up on Friday that a book called, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers could win the Sibert Award and to not be disappointed.  It is too old for us.  So...when it actually did get recognized the kids were happy for it because they had been prepared.

We were thrilled for Grand Canyon.  So deserving--the research, the artwork, the details, the cutouts...



We love all the Geisel winners!  If you look at this video you will notice that there are fifth graders high giving each other when Charlie and Mouse won.  That's because Charlie and Mouse was on our Newbery list.  Honestly, I love Charlie and Mouse, but love even Charlie and Mouse and Grumpy even more. Would it ever be possible to win a gold and silver in the same category?


Congrats ERIN ENTRADA KELLY!  Here's the Animoto that Alex did for Hello, Universe last month:

A friend of mine immediately texted me after the announcement, "HELLO UNIVERSE WAS MY PICK!!!!"

CROWN was a big (but happy, surprise!) We love it but did not expect it to get covered in awards! Woohoo! It's actually a favorite of one of my Reading Ambassadors so all during the month of November for Picture Book Month he chose to read it aloud to younger kids.


I think I might have stopped breathing when the Caldecott Medal was announced.  MATTHEW CORDELL is visiting our school in May.  We have had this on the calendar since June! Too excited for words!

Check out what my superintendent tweeted:

Or if you want to watch a full video of the Caldecott announcement:

 AND Elisha Cooper. Remember this?

Overall, an exciting and surprising day!  BONUS we got to eat cake afterwards! Yippee!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

And the winners are...

While driving my daughter to ballet this morning I had butterflies dancing in my belly.  At first I was trying to figure out why.  We already saw Dear Evan Hansen last month.  I don't have any big plans for February break.  Hamilton is still too far in the future to be butterfly excited.  Even TLA is a few months away. Then, what could it be? Oh yeah...Youth Media Awards are MONDAY! That's gotta be it!

The cake is ordered. Two to be exact, since we are having so many kids at our viewing party.  The link has been tweeted and sent home with parents. Mother Nature is going to cooperate. Finally.  Mock Results are in (sort of) and Consensus Club came up with a, well, consensus.


The snow day and delays really threw us off with Mrs. Roe's Caldecott class.  The highlight, though, was Skyping with Mike Curato, illustrator of All the Way to Havana, yesterday morning after he walked the adorable Princess Leia.  The second graders stumped him as they fired off "What's your favorite...?" questions but he held his own quite well, especially for 9:00 am!  We will all be rooting for him on Monday.

Because we ran out of time, Mrs. Roe will be conducting the vote first thing Monday morning. On a side note: I do like the MST event--it gives us time to work out glitches, do a few things and not mess with specials in 4th and 5th grade. Thank you ALSC and Denver.


We didn't run a classic Mock Geisel this year with Mrs. Kosinski's first graders.  A "Read It-Make It-Take It" project morphed into a Geisel project as we ended up creating activities around all the Geisel contenders.  We did 13 projects and read 17 books!  And that doesn't include Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen, one of our first projects. No surprise that Ninja in the Kitchen was the favorite since making the pizza from scratch was pretty fun! My favorite? Charlie and Mouse and Grumpy by Laurel Snyder.  When I read that book aloud to them yesterday, I got a big ole frog in my throat.

My personal Geisel 2018 Analogy:

Jonathan Fenske is to laughing as Laurel Snyder is to crying.


No standout winner here except for ALL our fourth graders! WOW!  They were amazing! We read a lot of books.  They chose their favorite and alone or with a partner(s), they created a 3-D project (some included food--cookies are cool but check out the grape barbells!), shared ten facts and wrote a persuasive paragraph on why their books should win the 2018 Sibert award. We know not all of our books can and will win but we have a feeling one or two (or three) just might. How to be an Elephant maybe?  Dazzle Ships (for sure?) Grand Canyon, maybe?  What about Nic Bishop's Penguin Day? And to hear the kids exclaim how much they love The Youngest Marcher is the coolest ever.

(Agh...I just spent a whole hour trying to figure out how to put Google Photos into a photo album.  Please look at all of these if you can--I am so proud of our fourth graders!)


What can I say about Newbery?  I'm speechless. I look back in my book journal (yes, I do not use Goodreads) and have been reading, listening, discussing and scoring these books for the past 13 months. The final moment will come at around 10:50 EST. This is my sixth time doing this project and over the years we have experienced all different emotions from ecstatic, elated, happy, sad, disappointed, surprised, angry (yes, one year the kids boo'ed--we had a lesson on sportsmanship after that!) but always accepting.  It has taken me some time to realize that the decision comes down to fifteen librarians who may or may not have the same opinions, feelings, background as my students and I do and that's ok.  But it is a let down for me.  I still think about my "Kwame Kids" (2015) and last year screaming and leaping with Ashlynn in her footy PJs and even my first year with Ivan and the boys exclaiming, "Our book won!"  I love Newbery so much and wish we could be this intense about reading ALL year long.  You in, Mr. Reischer?

We did have our Consensus Club meeting yesterday after school.  It was one for the books, literally! The winner (but it was close!) was Orphan Island!  Honors went to: Beyond the Bright Sea, The Ethan I Was Before, Refugee and Chasing Augustus.

I must say that whatever books win on Monday, we are truly all winners for becoming critical, passionate and I hope, lifelong readers.  CHEERS.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


So much to blog, so little time...

My to-do list has dozens of things on it.  I have to stick things on there that are easy (Email X, Y and Z) and others that will happen no matter what (Take Zack to the orthodontist) otherwise I will be so overwhelmed that absolutely nothing will get accomplished.

So in the past week:

  • My students Skyped with four authors.
  • The Patriots won the Super Bowl.  I'm not a fan but Mrs. Kelliher is and I snapped a photo with her and as many other fans as I could find on Friday. Notice that I got her leaping now, too!
  • I attended a NYLA Council meeting.
  • I surprised myself and put the "E" and "M" into a literacy related STEM lesson
  • Sibert Smackdown projects began and will be ready to present tomorrow
  • We began Newbery debates.
  • I heard a second grade boy offer Matt de la Pena and Loren Long's LOVE to a fellow student when she expressed that she really wished she could check out the book (Why do I only have one copy?)
  • AND I had to reschedule THREE Skypes for today because of a snow day.
You will definitely hear my EXHALE in Denver Monday evening. This award season is exhilarating and as much as it is exhausting.

So who did we meet?

The Sweetest Sound's Sherri Winston was delightful Thursday morning.  We could have sat and chatted with her for hours. Mrs. Warland joined us (with fortune cookies) as she was the book group leader and was probably its first big fan since we received galley copies back in early 2016. "I wanted to make a story that felt like childhood to me.  You want something bad enough that you cave." Henry and Austin made a Lego book trailer and who knew that Sherri loves legos, too!

Ali Standish
Because Emma was sick the morning we Skyped with Ali Standish, the author of The Ethan I Was Before she couldn't come to school and cried.  When I shared this with Ali, she was kind enough to offer to answer Emma's questions separately.  How sweet!  The kids asked such detailed questions about the plot and characters and Ali happily answered them all.

Yesterday we met Karina Yan Glaser (and her beautiful cat), the author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. Mr. Reischer was that book group leader so I'm glad he was able to be a part of it.  Evan, who wasn't in the book group, stayed up till past 9 the night before just so he could finish the book for  the Skype.

Then as a totally last minute request, I contacted Jonathan Fenske, author and illustrator (and 2016 Geisel Honor winner) to see if he would be able to give a shout out to my first graders when I shared his 2017 Geisel contending books. He was up for it!  Jonathan's A Pig, A Fox and a Box is one of the funniest books and I can never get through a read aloud without laughing out loud!  I read A Pig, A Fox and Stinky Socks and We Need More Nuts then he read to us Please, No More Nuts! Yes, a week after World Read Aloud Day but my kids didn't know that! Thanks, Jonathan!

The "E" and "M" in STEM

I surprised myself last week when after we read Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen and then we designed houses for Triangle and Square using tangrams and legos.  Such a fun activity to do on a Friday afternoon, especially when the STEM Fair was that evening.

Sibert Smackdown Part I

This is just a preview of the Sibert Smackdown projects.  Fourth graders will begin presenting tomorrow and it's going to be awesome!  Kids exclaiming, "I love this book so much!" Group work, collaboration, creativity, passion, all for the love of nonfiction.

Newbery Debates

The final stretch of our Newbery project is our debates.  Kids pick  their favorite book, we come up with a bracket and then they go at each other.  Well, we hope for that and friendly, of course. Honestly, yesterday was the first day and we had one really intense debate:  Scar Island vs. Orphan Island.  I was biting my finger nails on that one.  It was so close.  I would almost put my money on Orphan Island going all the way.

Thursday, Friday and of course, MONDAY are going to be packed days!  Voting, debating, project sharing (with cookies!) and then the AWARDS! Needless to say, sleep is not on my to-do list.