A snag in my reading …

Over the past week I have actually started and abandoned three separate books – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (don’t ask), Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, and The Poisoner’s Handbook … by Deborah Blum.  It’s frustrating to me because I am typically not one to leave a book mid-stream, and have been very reluctant to do so. I’ve started and re-started, I’ve picked back up, I’ve tried something new to break up the reading, and I still cannot commit to any of these books.  All three books were either highly recommended, or I was reading for a specific purpose, and that has led to my determination to continue on.

This morning, however, I thought back to the lessons we teach our students on abandoning books and really started to question myself.  I know when I love a book everything else in my life tends to get pushed aside and I could stay up all night to find out more!  In these three books I have built no relationship with the characters or people described, I have no commitment to the storyline, and would do anything else rather than read.  But even greater than that,  I thought about all the other books in my T-B-R pile and all the intriguing book reviews and recommendations I read daily.  There are too many books out there for me to give these three books any more of my precious reading time, and for that simple reason I am letting go!

Darth Paper Strikes Back

I found myself engrossed in book #2 of the Origami Yoda series.  Not a personal genre favorite of mine, but highly recommended (and I needed a break from the civil war book!) I only wish I had the opportunity to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first so I would know the characters and the back story.

Thinking about my take-aways from The Book Whisperer, I know exactly the students who I would love to hand this book to.  Star Wars fans?  Absolutely.  Creative/artistic kids?  Absolutely.  Students who are overwhelmed with too much text on a page?  Absolutely. Students who love comics or graphic novels?  Absolutely.  I could go on, and on, but more about the book …

The first book in this series was about a 6th grader named Dwight and his advice-giving, origami, finger puppet of Yoda.  This book continues the story, but now it’s Dwight and Origami Yoda who are in need of assistance, and the students of McQuarrie have taken up the charge – all except Harvey and his origami Darth Vader, a/k/a Darth Paper.  Darth Paper is insulting, possibly evil, and the root cause of Dwight and Origami Yoda’s troubles!

Darth Paper Strikes Back is written as a case file, with more than ten different students offering his or her perspective on Dwight and Origami Yoda.  There are numerous entries from Tommy, and a few with Kellen, but it’s in the offerings of the other students where the readers truly see the story of Dwight and Origami Yoda.  Two case examples:  Lance writes, “Origami Yoda and Exploding Pizza Bagels of Love” while Cassie’s entry is entitled, “Origami Yoda and the Body Odor in Wonderland.”

For readers to successfully navigate this book, they must not only read the text, but also follow the drawings, diagrams, and comments written in the margins, all the while tracking which narrator is telling the story at any given point.  Also, if a reader isn’t familiar with Star Wars, it might be difficult to understand many of the references and innuendo – but for those Star Wars enthusiasts, and those up to the challenge of navigating the textual features, then this is the book for you!

Here is the Amazon link to Darth Paper Strikes Back, written by Tom Angleberger. (He also narrates this how-to on making your own Darth Paper.)

The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller has been on my to-be-read list for quite a long time, but only recently came into my hands. Mrs. Miller teaches 6th grade and is highly respected by all educators as a guru who remains in the classroom fostering a love of reading for her students!

I read this book in one night, but know I will return to it again and again. While valuable for teachers and other educators, I believe many parents would find it helpful in understanding upper elementary and middle grade readers. I actually found my copy on the shelves of my local library, so it should be fairly easy for you to get a copy of as well.

Mrs. Miller discusses many of her ideas about students as readers, including her worries about:

  • Developing readers (a/k/a struggling readers) and says, “…these students have the ability to become strong readers. They may lag behind their peers on the reading-development continuum, but they are still on the same path. What they need is support for where they are in their development and the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure.” (p.25)*
  • Dormant readers (a/k/a reluctant-readers) feel that “Reading is work, not pleasure. Without support for their reading interests and role models who inspire them to read, these students never discover that reading is enjoyable.” (p.28)
  • Underground readers are “… gifted readers, but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected from the reading they prefer to do on their own.” (p.30)

Donalyn Miller’s premise is simple … children will become readers if we give them ample time to read, help put interesting books in their hands, and model for them what a reading life looks like! She highlights how to recapture lost instructional time during the day** and how to repurpose a few “traditional” classroom activities with independent reading. Her book is practical, straightforward, and has challenged me to reflect on what literacy looks like across a school building.

(*)In thinking about developing readers, I keep coming back to this quote from Kylene Beers which I’ve happened on repeatedly over the past few weeks. “Do I think reading books is the only way to help struggling readers? Of course not! Sometimes I suggest reading more books.”

(**) In thinking about repurposing time I was reminded of this post by Howe Elementary School Principal, Matt Renwick. Matt is a true literary principal and has many ideas worth stealing!

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at Amazon


The term mandibulofacial dysostosis doesn’t often come up in children’s novels, but it is the heart of a fabulous book entitled Wonder.   This is the story of Auggie, a soon-to-be 5th grader who will be attending school for the first time at Beecher Prep.  Auggie has been home-schooled, due to years of surgeries and medical fragility, but that is about to change!   Check out this awesome video book trailer.

While this book is about Auggie’s 5th grade year, it’s certainly also a book about disability, human nature, and friendship!  Written from the viewpoint of multiple narrators, the story lives and re-lives various events through the eyes of those involved.  Wonder  is a book many parents should read alongside their children, as the perspectives are varied and the lessons are many.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway comes early in the book, but is repeated throughout …. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”  Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

Wonder is written by R.J. Palacio.  The Amazon link is here.

I read after I posted this morning that the July Twitter Bookclub will be based on the book Wonder, and there’s a free book giveaway today and tomorrow!

The Great Book Swap of 2012

This year Field Day will also serve as the kick off for our summer reading push!  During a break in the games, activities, and performances, all students K-5 will be able to attend The Great Book Swap.   This new event will take place on the grassy area outside the main office, and will be run by Mrs. Herrera and some literacy loving volunteers!

The rules are quite simple – for every book a student donates (up to ten) he or she will be able to swap for the same amount of new reading material.  Students can bring in books from Monday through Wednesday, and there will be donation bags set up in each classroom.

Families with overflowing bookshelves or personal libraries may donate excess books (that is – over the 10 book student maximum) at the main office!  If we have enough “extra” donations, we’re anticipating every student will be able to go home with at least one new book to read over summer break, regardless of participation.

Just a reminder that field day is Thursday, June 7th.  All students who chose to participate in The Great Book Swap should have books to their classroom teacher by Wednesday, 6/6/12.

Further Book Swap 2012 Information

What Are You Reading?

Reading, like piano, soccer, ballet, or chess, requires practice in order to learn the fundamentals and to get better at it!  Improvement in reading (as in the other activities), not only comes from practice but also from modeling by those who are already experts.

Parents know and do this for their toddlers.  The adults are rhyming and reading, teaching letters, sounds, and words along the way.  As students get into school, reading aloud becomes a bit more complex.  If you have a young student (K-1), this article, Seven Things You Should Be Doing as You’re Reading to Your Child, has some worthwhile tips you might not have thought of as you’re reading together.

As students become more independent readers, parents typically back off and let the student read.  This is great, but not enough!  The child still needs a good model, especially if the book is more challenging than the student is ready for.  Independent reading for elementary school students should not be frustrating!  Research has proven that it’s much better to have a student read and re-read easy books, as that is where automaticity and fluency are solidified, and comprehension built.  Think about Rajon Rondo practicing his free throws.  He’s shot them a million times, and makes them most of the time, but even he still needs repetition and practice!

Reading aloud with your child provides access to materials that are above his or her reading level.  Jim Trelease (author of The Read Aloud Handbook) says, “A consistent mistake made by parents and teachers is the assumption that a child’s listening level is the same as his or her reading level. Until about eighth grade, that is far from true; early primary grade students listen many grades above their reading level. This means that early primary grade students are capable of hearing and understanding stories that are far more complicated than those they can read themselves.”  So, if your child is anxious to read, The Hunger Games, before the movie comes out in late March (and you think they can deal with the subject matter) then that book becomes a great read aloud for you together, not something for him or her to tackle independently.

Need some suggestions?  The local librarians always know what’s new (and sometimes more importantly, what’s hot!)  Also, there are numerous sites on-line (including Jim Trelease’s website which I linked above.)  Others include:

March is typically one of those long, boring months where winter activities are winding down and spring things haven’t yet started. There are no holidays, no long weekends, and the weather is quite unpredictable. It’s a great month to choose a book to read together.  There is a time for independent practice, and a time for modeling, I hope you can fit in both!

Two weeks to go ….

I can’t believe there are only two weeks left before staff and students return to school. Hopefully, by now most of you have received your summer letter from your new teacher and are getting excited to come to school!

It’s not too late to catch up on your summer reading, or spend some time getting your brain used to learning again. Here are some tips:

  • Write a letter to me or your new teacher.  Email counts and we love to get them!
  • Ask someone at home to help you try a new recipe.  Do all the measuring yourself.
  • Play a game – try your own version of Hangman, or how about Scrabble, Bananagrams, or Pairsinpears?  I just learned that last one on vacation and am addicted to it!
  • Help make the grocery list and then go shopping.  Bring a pencil and paper to keep a running tally of how much you think it will cost.
  • Read, read, then read some more.  Books, magazines, the back of cereal boxes, e-readers, comics, etc.  It doesn’t matter what you’re reading, just that you are!
  • Send postcards to your family, friends, or to school from your vacation.  Be sure to use descriptive language so people can visualize where you are.

I said “two weeks” at the top of this post, but you really have 17 days.  What are you going to do with them?

The Hundred Dresses Success Story!

We had over 220 T.E.S. families participate in our first ever whole school read aloud of the Eleanor Estes classic, The Hundred Dresses. We celebrated the completion of the book with  activities and discussion at school on April 4th.  Look for the display outside the main office.

We also sent home a list of suggested readings in the form of a bookmark.  One side is a list of other books by Eleanor Estes, and the other is suggested books that have something similar to this one.  If you would like a copy of this bookmark, email me  (maryalise.herrera@tyngsboroughps.org.)

Thanks to all who participated and look for round two to start up in September.

Whole School Read Aloud

Next week over two hundred T.E.S. families will kick-off our very first whole-school family read aloud. I am so excited! When I first started planning this I hoped for 20-30 families. I thought buying 50 books was going way over the top. Wow, did I underestimate our community.

Reading aloud is one of my favorite things to do with children. I love finding a good quality book that keeps them hooked until the very end. I won’t give away my favorites – as I’ve left them in the very capable hands of my fifth grade colleagues, but I am always on the search for new titles. Right now, I’m re-reading “classic” children’s literature in the hopes of finding our next family read aloud.

Along the way, I’ve come across numerous website with tips for reading aloud. Some are great, some just okay, but all are worth checking out. Enjoy!

Reading Aloud

One of the best things families can do together is to read aloud. Too often, this practice stops as children begin to read independently and the parent allows the child to “practice.”  When you want to get “good” at something practice is necessary, but in reading it’s equally important for children to hear good reading modeled.

When a family member reads aloud a book that is too difficult for a child to handle independently, they impart background knowledge and build vocabulary for the child.  This is through overall exposure to the material, not from a question and answer session or deep discussion (i.e., don’t kill the book.)  A vast background knowledge and strong vocabulary are key components to building good readers!

Here’s a link to a great family read aloud article from Reading is Fundamental.  Booklists can be found all over the internet, and as always, I wholeheartedly encourage families to visit the Tyngsborough Public Library.  The library is open during vacation (Monday, 12/27-Thursday, 12/30) and the staff is always quite helpful when looking for new books.