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Nerdy Birdy
Author: Aaron Reynolds; Illustrator: Matt Davies
Published September 22, 2015 by Roaring Brook Press

GoodReads Summary: Nerdy Birdy likes reading, video games, and reading about video games, which immediately disqualifies him for membership in the cool crowd.

One thing is clear: being a nerdy birdy is a lonely lifestyle.

When he’s at his lowest point, Nerdy Birdy meets a flock just like him. He has friends and discovers that there are far more nerdy birdies than cool birdies in the sky.

Ricki’s Review: I absolutely adored this book. I don’t usually review books that are more than a year old, but my love for this book, compelled me to write a review. The book is about a nerdy bird whose physical appearance makes him feel lonely. He meets other birds who share his physical appearance, and he finds comfort in this. But then a very, very different bird comes along (a vulture), and Nerdy Birdy is forced to consider his values and whether or not the nerdy bird club might be just as exclusive themselves. This book provided an avenue for an excellent discussion with my son. We talked about his class and about how some of his peers might feel left out. I’d love to use this book in an elementary school classroom.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great book to read on the first day of school or at a time when students are leaving one or some students left out. It provides a great opportunity for critical discussions of cliques.

Discussion Questions: Why does Nerdy Birdy feel left out? How does he find solace in other birds that look like him?; How does the vulture differ from him? What does this teach him about friendship, groups, and personal appearances?

We Flagged: 

Image from: https://us.macmillan.com/nerdybirdy/aaronreynolds/9781626721272/

Read This If You Loved: Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt; Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob SheaThe Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield

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You’re All Kinds of Wonderful
Author and Illustrator: Nancy Tillman
Published: October 3, 2017 by Feiwel and Friends

Summary: We’re not all the same. Thank goodness we’re not.
Life would be boring, and I mean… a lot.

And so, when we’re born, we’re supplied at the start 
with our own bells and whistles to set us apart.

Think of your bells as the things you do best
things tucked away in your own treasure chest.

Part of growing up is discovering–and embracing–what makes us unique. From different abilities to different personalities, we are all wonderfully made with our own bells and whistles.

My Review: I love Nancy Tillman. Her book On the Night You Were Born is a staple in our bedtime routine. She has a way with words that is simply magical. This book does not disappoint. When I read this book to my son, I paused at the end and looked at him, and he said, “Can we read it again?” It was a great book to talk about how we all have different talents and strengths. This is a lesson that can’t be iterated enough to children. Parents will love reading this book to their kids and discussing how that particular shines and offers something different and beautiful to the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Teachers might ask each student to illustrate a page for a book that shares what their talents or positive characteristics. All of the pages could be combined into a bound book.

Discussion Questions: Look through each page. What makes each of the children special? How are you special? What do you add to this world?

Flagged Passage: “We’re not all the same. Thank goodness we’re not. / Life would be boring, and I mean—a lot. / And so, when we’re born, we’re supplied at the start / with our own bells and whistles to set us apart.”

Read This If You Loved: On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman; Little Tree by Loren Long, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Say Hello by Jack Foreman, The Cloud by Hannah Cumming, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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**Thank you to Kelsey at Macmillan for providing a copy of this book for review!**

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Tinyville Town Series
Author & Illustrator: Brian Biggs
Published by Appleseed, an Abrams Imprint starting in 2016

Brian Biggs describes the series as Sesame Street meets Fisher Price. 

I say it is Richard Scarry meets Mr. Rogers and Thomas the Train (but there are no talking trains).

There will be at least 8 books. 

Though hopefully more because I want one about every member of the town!

There are two kinds of books in the series: 

Board books about individual members of the society

Large-format picture books about how the whole town comes together. 

This set up is perfect because when you read the picture book, you can find all of the members of the board books in the picture book. They become friends that you recognize like a search-and-find within the story.

In the classroom, Tinyville Town would fit perfectly with Junior Achievement and early-ed social studies as students learn about jobs and communities.

Parents, your kids will love these books! It is a perfect combination of everything kids and adults want in picture books.

For more information:
Here’s an interview with Brian Biggs about Tinyville Town
Here’s Brian Biggs’s Blog Post about Tinyville Town

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Monday

The first week of school is scary for all students. And boring. It is filled with syllabus review and lunch room rules. I want my students’ first day to be filled with friendliness. This year, to do this I started the year with telling my students about me. I have a philosophy that if students see you as a human, they are more likely to respect you and your class. After sharing about me, my family, my history, and my life, we played a fun game of Kahoot about me.

On day one, I wanted to make my expectations clear: I want you to do your best all year. That’s all I ask. To start this conversation, I showed them one of my favorite TED Talks: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit in many different aspects. When finished with the TED Talk, I asked each class, “Why would I show you this on day one?” One of my 6th grade girls said it the best, “You showed it to us because you want us to do our best all year because effort and wanting to grow is really important.” Our district has been focusing on growth mindset in students and teachers, and the idea of grit fits this goal.

Finally, I also introduced my students to the idea of OneWord365–that instead of setting unrealistic and too many goals, pick a word that summarizes the path they want the year to take. Most of the students’ choices included words that fit the growth mindset. Once each student had turned in their word to me, we then picked One Word for each class that embodied everyone’s word. Our words are: determination, try, and happiness.

Sidenote: I did this activity on our first day of preplanning with my entire staff, and I only got positive feedback about it. Each teacher came up their own One Word then as a PLC (professional learning community) they came up with a summarizing word and a visual representation.

Tuesday

Tuesday was Code of Conduct and Syllabus day, so it was a bit boring; however, I fancied up my syllabus this year, so it was a bit more fun to look at:

I redid my rules this year to be called “Expectations” and to be short, sweet, and what I really see as important in humans:

  • Be kind
  • Be respectful
  • Be responsible
  • Do your best

Wednesday

Wednesday was all about getting to know my students. Each year I have my students fill out an interesting and reading survey to help me get to know them. Wednesday was also BOOK DAY! Students were so excited to be able to dive into my classroom library. As students looked for books and filled out their survey, I went around to help with book selection and make discussion.

Thursday

Each year in the first week, I make sure to read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson to my students. With looping students, I try not to duplicate from year to year, but this is a text that I read at the beginning of the school year no matter what. Why? Because it uses Chloe’s tough lesson of not being kind to Maia to teach us about the power of kindness ripples and how they can affect the universe.

When we finished the book, I point out that Chloe wasn’t “bad” nor a “bully” but what she did by excluding Maia was devastating. I asked them to think about something in their life that they could do just a bit kinder: either broad like smiling at strangers more or specific like being nicer to a certain person. They then set kindness goals for the year which I’ll post for the entire year.

Friday

Friday it was once again about getting to know my students. I introduced them to the idea of six-word memoirs. First, we talked about Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story (“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”) and the power of his six words and how Smith Magazine took the idea and turned it into people writing their memoir in six words.

To help them understand the idea, I showed them the Six Magazine You Tube video with teens’ six-word memoirs:

And I shared fiction characters’ six-word memoirs:

  • Cinderella: Sometimes the shoes you pick matter OR Sometimes fairy godmothers do show up.
  • Simba: Don’t believe an uncle with scars.
  • Alice: Down the rabbit hole yet again.
  • Romeo: Loving someone may very much kill

Then I gave them Smith Magazine’s six tips for writing a six-word memoir:

  1. It only works if it is personal.
  2. Limitations force you to be creative.
  3. Get inspired by reading other memoirs.
  4. Like any story, make revisions.
  5. Put the best six words in the best order.
  6. Publish your story to inspire others. (Though I made it clear this was optional)

And I sent them on their way, and the response has been phenomenal (shared only those with permission given):

  • Fear is my greatest enemy, always. -Amy, 6th grade
  • I fear an average human life. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Books are portals, go through them. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Music–the best thing that happened. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Sibling always wanted. Five years old. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Hospital. Diagnosed. Kept on living great. -Daniel, 6th grade
  • If you believe, you can succeed.” -Ian, 6th grade
  • Face what scares you most. -Lorenza, 7th grade
  • The great outdoors is my indoors. -Alexandra, 7th grade
  • Life is like a hard dream. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Who I am is not clear. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • You can die happy or unhappy. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Hufflepuff isn’t the same without me. -Vanessa, 7th grade
  • Family means nobody gets left behind. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • I said it was impossible. “Nevermind.” -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Stop being worried and live life. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Why do people tell unnecessary lies? -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Why do girls create unnecessary drama? -Emily, 8th grade
  • Don’t think twice, or never achieve. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Fake smiles, fake laugh, real tears. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • It is not just a game. -Christian, 8th grade
  • 2009: Plane ticket–Egypt to America. -Clara, 8th grade
  • Your separation made everything more difficult. -Amanda, 8th grade
  • See you later, Island of Enchantment. -Lucas, 8th grade
  • Dancing is how I express myself. -Ashley, 8th grade
  • Parents can never stick together forever. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Try your best; get better results. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Divorce can break a child’s heart. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Prepared to succeed; failed of hesitation. -Anonymous, 8th grade

It is through these activities that I show my students that I care for them. 

What do you do your first week of school?

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The Real Us
Author: Tommy Greenwald
Illustrator: J.P. Coovert
Published August 8th, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: Laura Corbett and Damian White are loners, and not by choice. Kids make fun of smart, sarcastic Laura for her weight and artistic Damian for his tendency to sweat through his shirts. Calista Getz, however–well, everyone agrees that Calista is the prettiest girl in the whole school. Maybe even the whole state. Let’s just say that she sits at the popular lunch table. Laura and Damian don’t.

But when Calista wakes up just before the school dance with the BIGGEST pimple she has EVER seen right in the middle of her face, and her attempts to hide it backfire spectacularly, Laura and Damian are the only ones who don’t ignore her. In fact, they seem to see not only past her pimple, but past her popularity, too. Together, they’ll challenge the school’s status quo in this hilarious, heartfelt novel The Real Us, by Tommy Greenwald.

About the Author: Tommy Greenwald has enjoyed reading all his life, which is why he’s appalled that his kids Charlie, Joe and Jack, would prefer getting a dental check-up to checking out a book. After years of pleading, threatening, and bribing, Tommy finally decided the only way to get his kids to read was to write a book about how to get out of reading. The result was Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading. And they read it! (So they say.) The Executive Creative Director at SPOTCO, an entertainment advertising agency in New York City, Tommy lives in Connecticut with his wife, Cathy; his non-reading sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack; and his dogs, Moose and Coco.

Review: Middle school is a time of finding one’s identity. In The Real Us, Tommy Greenwald explores three different examples of kids in middle school and their search for who they really are. Damian is like many of our students who has something to hide from his peers so is quiet and hidden. Laura is friendly and known, but because of her weight is still excluded from most social activities. Then there is Callie. Who seems to have the perfect life, but even she learns through a bump in the road that perfection is not always what it seems. All three of these characters will resonate with readers either as a mirror or a window.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is going to be loved by middle school students. Add it to your classroom and school libraries, and it will be read and loved!

Discussion Questions: Callie’s life seemed perfect, but it wasn’t. How was it not as it seemed?; Which of the three characters do you relate to the most? Why?; Why did Callie stop being friends with Laura? What does this tell you about the two characters?

Flagged Passages: 

Damian: “I wish they had assigned seats at lunch like they do in class. It would make life a lot easier.”

Callie: “Here is a math equation for you: Sitting in class + A bandage on your nose = Forever.

Everyone gets pimples, Patrick had said.

I don’t.”

Laura: “I start to walk away, since my work here id done. But Ellie has one last question for me.

‘Do you play goalie?’ she asks. ‘Because you kind of look like you could totally block the goal all by yourself.’

Ellie and Ella dissolve into hysterics. I look at Calista, who doesn’t seem amused. But she doesn’t seem mad, either. She doesn’t seem anything.

‘No, I don’t play goalie,’ I answer. ‘I play defense. And you better watch it before I defense your butt with my foot.’

That shuts them up. I walk away.”

Read This If You Love: Roller Girl by Victoria JamiesonInsignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti BowlingMoon Shadow by Erin Downing, Posted by John David Anderson, Real Friends by Shannon Hale, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

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7 August Ms. Yingling Reads | http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com — Review

8 August Maria’s Melange | http://www.mariaselke.com/ —”Why I Wrote The Real Us

9 August Log Cabin Library | http://logcabinlibrary.blogspot.com/ — Review

10 August Diary of a Happy Librarian | https://diaryofahappylibrarian.blogspot.com/ — Review

11 August Always in the Middle | https://gpattridge.com/  — “Make ‘Em Laugh”

14 August Randomly Reading | https://randomlyreading.blogspot.com/ — Review

15 August One Great Book | http://onegreatbook.com/ — Review

16  August Unleashing Readers | http://www.unleashingreaders.com  — Review and Giveaway

17  August Mr. D. Reads | https://misterdreads.wordpress.com — Author Interview

18  August Tommy Greenwald | http://tommygreenwald.com/blog/ — Giveaway

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Published September 5th, 2017 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: 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, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when 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. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

Praise: 

*“Aven is a perky, hilarious, and inspiring protagonist whose attitude and humor will linger even after the last page has turned.” —School Library Journal (Starred review)

“Connor’s Tourette’s support-group meetings and Aven’s witty, increasingly honest discussions of the pros and cons of “lack of armage” give the book excellent educational potential. . . . its portrayal of characters with rarely depicted disabilities is informative, funny, and supportive.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Bowling’s sensitive and funny novel . . . demonstrates how negotiating others’ discomfort can be one of the most challenging aspects of having a physical difference and how friendship can mitigate that discomfort. . . . [an] openhearted, empathic book. —Publishers Weekly

Review: From the very first page, you know that Aven is awesome. In the first paragraph you learn that she doesn’t have arms but it doesn’t matter to her. The only reason why she is upset is because someone else freaked out about her armlessness. She is brave and funny and resilient. The way that she is able to joke around about her physical difference to help ease the reader and the other characters is a true talent. The stories she creates about what happened to her arms just to freak people out truly cracked me up. And Aven’s awesomeness is followed closely by her parents’. I adore them. They are the pinnacle of parents. They are kind yet tough and are raising an independent, wonderful young woman. Then there is Connor who is also so well-crafted. His Tourette’s syndrome is dealt with in a thoughtful way and also doesn’t define Connor just like Aven’s armlessness doesn’t define her. This is a book of amazing characters coming together to find their place in the world.

You are going to love this book. Your students are going to love this book. Parents are going to love this book. Your fellow teachers are going to love this book. This is a book that is going to get a lot of love!

Check out Dusti’s “Spotlight on Dusti Bowling” feature in Publishers Weekly to hear more about her inspirations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Please add this title to your collection of read aloud and classroom library books that you share with students to promote empathy, kindness, and friendship with those with differences as well as facing hardship and stepping up to challenges. You will not be disappointed!

Discussion Questions: After reading Aven and Connor’s story, how has your attitude and future actions towards those with differences changed?; How was Aven’s story inspiring to you?; Why did you feel that author made the choice to have Aven’s family move at the beginning of the book?; Did you predict the connection to Stagecoach Pass?; How were Connor and Aven able to help each other?

Flagged Passages: “When I was little, a kid pointed at me on the playground and shouted, ‘Her arms fell off!’ then ran away screaming in terror to his mom, who had to cuddle him on her lap and rub his head for like ten mintues to get him to calm down. I think, up until then, I hadn’t thought about the idea that my arms must have actually fallen off at some point in my life. I had never really thought about not having arms at all.

My missing arms weren’t an issue for me or my parents. I never once heard either of them say, ‘Oh, no, Aven can’t possibly do that because that’s only for armed people,’ or ‘Poor Aven is so helpless without arms,’ or ‘Maybe Aven can do that one day, you know, if she ever grows arms.’ They always said things like, ‘You’ll have to do this differently from other people, but you can manage,’ and ‘I know this is challenging for you. Keep trying,’ and ‘You’re capable of anything Aven.’

I had never realized just how different I was until that day that horrible kid shouted about my arms having fallen off. For the first time I found myself aware of my total armlessness, and I guess I felt like I was sort of naked all of a sudden. So I, too, ran to my mom, and she scooped me up and carried me away from the park, allowing my tears and snot to soak her shirt.” (Chapter 1)

Read This If You Love: Wonder by RJ Palacio, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, The Honest Truth by Dan GemeinhartFish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny RorbyRain Reign by Ann M. MartinEmmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson

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**Thank you to Dusti Bowling and Sterling for providing a copy for review!**

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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
Authors: Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee
Illustrator: Susanna Chapman
Published June 15th, 2017 by Compendium Inc.

Summary: “She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.” When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set—she had to be a part of it. She trained hard, journeying across America to run on all kinds of terrain. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi.

In 1966, the world believed it was impossible for a woman to run the Boston Marathon. Bobbi Gibb was determined to prove them wrong. She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.

This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. Created in collaboration with Bobbi Gibb and the perfect gift for would-be runners, kids of all ages, and everyone out there with a love of sport.

ReviewRecently I was introduced to what happened to Kathrine Switzer in the 1967 Boston Marathon as it was the 50th anniversary. I thought she was the first woman to run the marathon (and officials attempted to stop her as she ran the race), but this story of Bobbi Gibb showed that the first woman stepped up the year before. Bobbi Gibb is such an inspiration. She trained and trained for the marathon, went against her parents’ wishes, and did something no one had ever done before. Gibb’s story combined with the beautiful lyricism of the text and freeness of the painted illustrations makes Gibb’s story run right into your heart.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Yet another HERstory that needs to be shared with students as it is a part of history that is left out. Gibb’s story can be added to other women’s rights texts to build a lit circle or jigsaw activity where students learn and share about the struggles and victories of women throughout time.

Additionally, the back matter of The Girl Who Ran has a beautiful timeline that can be used to teach this text feature.

Discussion Questions: What is the theme of Bobbi Gibb’s story?; What is the purpose of the timeline in the back matter?; How did the repetition of “She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.” add to the story of the first woman who ran the Boston Marathon?; What does the act of Bobbi’s mom taking her to the marathon show about her?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Book of Heroines by Stephanie Warren Drimmer and other books about amazing woman in history

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**Thank you to Angeline at Compendium for providing a copy for review!**

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