Rice & Rocks Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. Rice & Books by Sandra L. Richards and illustrated by Megan Kayleigh Sullivan is a phenomenal book about culture and tradition.

Giovanni is a little boy who has friends coming over for dinner. His grandmother is making rice and rocks (rice and beans) and he is afraid his friends won’t like the traditional Jamaican dish. He goes on a magical ride with his parrot, Jasper, his Auntie and her dogs, and discovers how the same dish is a tradition in multiple parts of the world. The illustrations are creative with realistic facial expressions. The attention to detail and the colors are breathtaking and help the text come alive. Rice & Rocks

As a reading teacher I have discovered the lack of diverse texts in classrooms. I have worked with students from all different cultures and it’s important to have books that reflect the background of every classroom. Rice & Rocks is a book that should be in elementary classrooms and libraries because it addresses important themes that impact all children.

Friendship

Kids of all ages always worry about what their friends will think about them. Giovanni demonstrates this by worrying if his friends won’t like his grandmother’s Jamaican dish because it is different. Children experience this every day and can connect to Giovanni on multiple levels.

Rice & Rocks last pageFamily Traditions and Culture

Every family has their own way of doing things. Whether it’s a special morning routine or having Sunday dinner to catch up. For many children the only family traditions they know are their own, so it’s important to expose kids to other ways whenever possible. Tradition often includes cultural foods and customs, especially if it is a celebration. Rice & Rocks does a beautiful job of introducing children to Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Japan, and southern American culture and cuisine.

I personally loved how Richards intertwined various traditions in an easy to understand manner that was fun and imaginative. By doing so, children learn about other parts of the world, languages, traditions, and food all in a beautiful picture book. The text is easy for young children to understand (Richards provides great explanations) and the illustrations also provide children with great visuals to help with comprehension. This book could be used for so many different concepts at home and at school.

Mad Libs in the Classroom and at Home

I recently teamed up with Brightly, an online resource from Penguin Random House, that helps anyone working with kids become lifelong readers. They have a fantastic FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for kids. I was beyond excited when presented with this opportunity because this is a fabulous resource for parents and teachers. This post is sponsored.

As a teacher and reading specialist, I have seen my fair share of student writing , including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many of my weak writers struggled with foundational writing skills, including parts of speech and grammar.

I spent four years teaching sixth grade language arts and realized that this was a make it or break it year for foundational writing skills. The curriculum expectations of students requires them to include more in the content of their writing (textual evidence, clear arguments) because by this time students should have mastered parts of speech and sentence structure. However, many students need a little more time in developing these skills, so incorporating grammar activities is extremely important at the upper elementary and middle school levels. Mad Libs

Kids see grammar as boring, so it’s imperative that educators (and parents) make the practice of these elements engaging. The use of technology is one of the most popular ways to engage students. Brightly has done this with the FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for kids. Check out the options

Downloadable Mad Libs in the Classroom

There are various ways to use this fabulous resource in the classroom, and below are some of my favorite ideas.

  1. Center activity. Centers are one of my favorite instructional activities for students at any grade level. It not only promotes independence and personal practice time, but it also allows teachers to create activities that students will benefit from completing. The FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids provides teachers with convenience. Any time teachers can avoid the copy machine is a blessing.
  2. Substitute plans. I think most teachers will agree that it’s harder to take a sick day sometimes because of the amount of work that goes into the sub plans. The FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids takes care of this stress. Simply leave directions for your students on how to access the activities and you’re good to go!
  3. Additional practice. This is the time of year for fall parent-teacher conferences. There are always parents looking for ways to help their children build their skills at home. The FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids is a great suggestion for parents because it’s easy to use, portable, and can be used for every age level.

Downloadable Mad Libs at Home

  1. Family activity. Life is hectic and crazy between soccer practice, violin lessons, and homework. It is important for families to come together during the week to reconnect and catch up. The FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids provides families with fun-filled activities for the whole family that will be engaging, entertaining, and educational.
  2. On the go. In previous posts I’ve discussed the importance of reading while on the go, and the FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids enables families to take writing activities with them wherever they go. While waiting for a doctor or driving in the car going, kids can have fun while learning.
  3. Extended school breaks. Many parents want their children to be constantly surrounded by academic activities all year round, even during school breaks and vacations. The FREE downloadable Mega Pack of Mad Libs for Kids supplies parents/guardians with an easy-to-use resource that is fun and exciting.

To learn more about Brightly their fabulous resources, go to http://www.readbrightly.com.

Anything But Pink Book Review

I am so excited to share my thoughts on this diverse book with you! Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. I received a free copy of Anything But Pink written and illustrated by Adelina Winfield. I recommend using this book in the classroom and at home for grades P-2.

I’m going to be honest, I broke one of my classroom reading rules with this book because I chose it for the title. I LOVE pink, so when I had the opportunity to review this book I jumped on it immediately. Here is a look at my favorite page :).

Pink

Anything But Pink is a beautifully illustrated story about a family who does not want their daughter, Starri, to wear pink as a baby because they want her to be different. As Starri grows up, she wants to wear only pink and her parents teach her that “variety is the spice of life” by encouraging her to wear all of the colors of the rainbow.

Since having my daughter I have become immersed in children’s books and have come to appreciate the overall themes these books often carry. Even though I am one of those moms that made Molly a pink nursery, I can appreciate the lesson the parents in the book are trying to teach Starri. The book teaches children to be open and try new things. Starri does this when she adds other colors to her pink outfits and finds she loves the changes. Some kids really struggle with trying new things, and this book does a lovely job of showing parents working together to teach their daughter an important life lesson. Anything But Pink Family

 

This book is also a great example of using diversity in children’s books by including a mixed family. As a reading specialist, one of the things I look for when choosing books for my students is that my kids are represented in what they are reading. This book does a flawless job of incorporating diversity on a level that young readers can understand.

 

Using Zinnia and the Bees in the Classroom

Last week I posted a book review of Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis. I really enjoyed this book, and while I was reading I had a bunch of different ideas go through my head about incorporating it into the classroom or homeschool curriculum. Today, I want to share my ideas. This post is for educators and homeschool families.

Reading the Text

Depending on your curriculum and classroom structure, this book may fit best as a whole class read aloud. I would try and pair it up with other texts that revolve around friendship, family, environment or nature since those are the biggest themes present.

Pairing Fiction with Nonfiction

Since the introduction of the Common Core, there has been a push for pairing fiction texts with nonfiction texts. Zinnia and the Bees provides a great connection for this with the concept of migratory bees.

After doing a little bit of research, I came across a perfect article to introduce and explain the importance of migratory beekeeping. The Mind-Boogling Math of Migratory Beekeeping is a fantastic article from 2013 that dives into detail about bees and the impacts they have on our food. This text is a little challenging because of all the math included, so I would suggest doing a partner or whole-class read with the article. Kids should also highlight the text for information they find interesting or important. After kids read and highlight, I would suggest having them complete reading questions (click here) to solidify their understanding of the material.

Some other ideas for infusing nonfiction with this text:

-online scavenger hunt about bees

-research project on current situation with migratory bees

-compare and contrast migratory bees in other countries

Discussing the Book

One of my favorite aspects about this book is the diversity of themes that it covers. You can do whole class or small group discussions about the following themes:

-Bullying

-Friendship

-Family

-Environment

-Death

-Trust

-Change

If you use this for a read aloud, try asking a theme related question each day (trust me there is lots of material) to help generate discussions.

Zinnia and the Bees Book Review

I recently joined a group of book bloggers to write reviews for children’s books. I am so excited to share my first one with all of you! Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way. I received a free copy of Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis. This book is definitely for kids ages 9-12 with the themes, problems, and vocabulary used, which is also why I really wanted to read it.

Zinnia is a young lady going into eighth grade who is dealing with a lot. She feels she has been isolated from her group of best friends, her mom is always working as a dentist or a community leader, a boy moved in next door for the summer, and her brother just left. In addition, she also has a hive of bees in her hair.

The book was really easy to read, the pacing was on point and the plot was entertaining. I read it in two sittings, but I am also a really fast reader. The chapters were a great length with cute little chapter titles. I normally read YA, so I am used to the structure and typical story patterns that authors use. I can honestly say that this one was a game changer.

The point of view is first person Zinnia, until it shifts every few chapters to the point of view of bees. I have read many books where there are multiple point of views, but this one is very different in a positive way. The author not only uses the bees to express their feelings on being insects, but infuses nonfiction facts into the thought process. “Not the ancestors who traveled across the Atlantic in 1622 in the straw hives of English colonists to become the first Americans of their kind, but the many who came after them.” (page 31). This type of writing puts a spin on delivering factual information to children. It is a great way for young readers to learn facts without trying to navigate through nonfiction text features.

Also, the author took it a step further. Not only did she share information about bees, she provided a different perspective on the treatment of nature in our society, which is a current trend. In the last six months, I have personally seen the concern about the bee population skyrocket. Davis introduces readers to the real life situation that many of these bees face. “We were commercial, migratory bees. In other words, were were not out there on our own, free. We were rentals. We were tended by beekeepers who employed us to pollinate food for humans.” (page 29). This different approach of incorporating an alternate point of view was a risk, but Davis really made it something memorable.

As a middle school language arts teacher, I tend to read books with the approach of how I can use it in the classroom. I constantly look for themes and this book has some really great ones for kids ages 9-12. However, I found that each theme was made up of multiple layers, which helped create complexity. This book could have very well have been an easy read, but Davis infused such intricate components that it made the reader think while reading. Some of the big themes include: friendship, family, trust, death, freedom and environment.

The complexity of Zinnia’s character is also something to be noted. It was incredible to watch her unfold and persevere through her struggles during her summer vacation. She did have a few vulnerable moments, which added to the realism of the story, but she continued to push through and keep going.

Zinnia is also a very different type of girl. She loves to knit and has a fantastic relationship with her brother. She is not obsessed with her cellphone or social media. She reminded me of a girl during the 90s and early 2000s who played outside and didn’t rely on technology to entertain her (my kind of girl). I think that when girls read this book it will encourage them to do something artistic (draw, sew, paint) and to get away from the technology.

Overall, this book touches on so many aspects of life for kids ages 9-12, but it also hits on different trends our society is currently facing. If this book was in my classroom library I know it would be a hard one to keep on the shelf.

 

Avoiding the Summer Slide

“What can we do over the summer?”

As a teacher, this is one of the biggest questions parents ask at the end of the year. Many times parents inquire about additional worksheets or websites to help their child get ahead for the following school year. However, what parents don’t realize is that unless children are actively engaged in some sort of educational activities they can regress in their academic careers. This is known as the summer slide.

There are lots of different ways to avoid the summer slide without making it seem like summer school. Today I’m going to give song ideas for parents that can be done at home to help kids stay up-to-date.

Outdoor Ideas

Summer is the time for kids to be outside, so take advantage of the outdoors.

  1. Sidewalk chalk. There are endless possibilities for how to use sidewalk chalk. Kids Sidewalk Chalkcan write their names in funky ways (squiggles, block letters, backwards, etc). Children can also draw pictures of what they see in nature and label them.
  2. Write outside. Some kids love to write stories or poetry, so encourage them to sit outside while they write. If they see a butterfly, have them write a story about the life of the butterfly and allow them to draw a picture. Allow them to use their imagination and have fun, since the writing is not graded they have total freedom about the style and content of the writing.
  3. Reading place challenge. Challenge your little reader to read in as many different Readingplaces as possible. They can read in a tree, on a beach towel in the back yard, on a slide, etc. Feel free to take pictures and share them with friends and family to make it exciting. If you have a reluctant or struggling reader, you may want to challenge them to 10 different places and then they can buy a new book.
  4. Go to parks. State parks often have historical information throughout the park which are full of interesting facts. Not only will kids get some exercising walking through a park, but they will also learn along the way.

Travel Ideas

Many families use summer time to travel, which often means hours of sitting in a car or plane.

  1. Play games. For younger children, games are perfect for practicing reading skills. The license plate game and the alphabet game are two great ones to help little ones with their letter and reading skills.
  2. Sing songs. Rhyming helps little ones with language development and reading skills, so feel free to use the time in a car singing songs. Depending on the ages I would suggest nursery rhymes or other children’s songs.
  3. Books on tape/audio books. These are fantastic for road trips. You can get them at Audiobookyour local library or download them from audible. If you have an beginner reader, I would suggest getting a hardcopy of the story for them to follow along with. You want to choose a book with some pictures to help with comprehension.
  4. Independent reading. Make a trip to your local library and let your child stock up on books they want to read.

Additional Practice

Some families opt to use the summer to help their child catch up if they struggled during the school year.

  1. Hire a tutor. There are many different options for tutoring, so you may want to consider all of the choices before deciding on which is the best for your family.
    1. You can hire a teacher from the school your child attends. The pros of this choice are that previous and/or future teachers can communicate with the tutor about expectations and student weaknesses. A con is often times private tutors are more expensive.
    2. Online tutoring is another option and there are always new websites. The pro to this is the convenience. You don’t have to worry about driving somewhere or having a tutor come to the house since the tutoring is aTutoringll virtual. A con is depending on the service you may not be able to talk directly to the tutor, but rather go through another person for progress reports.
    3. A third option is a tutoring center. Centers like Huntington and Kumon havetheir own curriculums they follow , and private centers often allow the tutor to determine what a child needs. A pro is that centers can give families assessments to track progress and communication is easy. A con is the expense depending on the program a child is enrolled in.
  2. Workbooks/online practice. I am personally not a fan of workbooks, but for many families this option is great because the work is done independently by the child. All the parent has to do is tell the child what pages to complete and check the work with the answer key in the back of the book. Online practice is even easier because the website will grade work and reveal the score. Barnes & Nobles is a great place to get workbooks because they have a huge variety. Ask your child’s teacher if there are any websites they suggest or that the school has access to.
  3. Summer school. Some schools do offer programs during the summer to help students. Sometimes it is only open to students who are struggling, so check with your school to see what the criteria is.

Summer Assignments

Many schools require summer work, mostly middle and high school students. To avoid the stress of summer assignments, sit down with your child and discuss all of the work their school requires. This will help determine the workload, what materials need to be purchased, and if a tutor is needed. Once all of the assignments have been reviewed, create a homework calendar with your child. This is a great tool to not only break up the assignment into manageable chunks, but it also helps with time management skills. This works really well for student athletes because they can schedule their homework in around practice, camp, and training.

If your child has summer reading assignments, there are a few different approaches in tackling the work.

Option 1: Just read the book first. Many kids like this option because they don’t have to worry about taking notes or answering questions, they can just enjoy the book. This strategy also allows kids to practice their reading skills without relying on a set of questions to guide them. After they read it, have them re-read the book to answer any questions or complete summer assignments.

Option 2: Read and work at the same time. Kids are used to this approach in school so they know what works best for them. Some stop reading when they find an answer to a question, and some answer questions after every chapter.

Regardless of which option they use, make sure your child re-reads the book right before school starts. Some teachers give an assessment or use the summer reading for a project. Your child will be better prepared if they know the material.

Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do- Book Review

A few weeks ago I posted about reading resources for parents and mentioned Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham. I purchased the e-book version because I was too excited to wait for Amazon to deliver a paper copy, which was a blessing because I read it on my phone and Kindle over the last few weeks. It took me much longer to read than I anticipated because I couldn’t stop highlighting and writing notes.

Since I started teaching I’ve been on a quest to find a book to help parents (and teachers) address reading concerns and I believe I have finally found it! This book is truly one of a kind. Willingham’s writing voice is superb. He speaks to the reader as a fellow parent/educator with a calm demeanor. He never makes the reader feel incompetent nor does he command or belittle the reader.

One of my favorite ideas from this book is to start now. The introduction states this and it is repeated many times throughout the text. I love that Willingham doesn’t make parents or teachers feel that it’s too late. Many feel that by the time a child is in middle school it’s too late to improve reading skills and motivation, but Willingham constantly denies this with realistic, supportive ideas for adults.

The book starts off with a great explanation of general reading information including: the role of sound, the role of knowledge in comprehension, and motivation. As an educator, I loved his clear explanations of phonics and the role of sounds in reading. I was one of the those children who struggled with phonics, which resulted in my reading struggles and repeating kindergarten. I think if my parents had read the excerpt below during my struggle period it would have helped them understand.

“If reading is a code between written symbols and speech sounds, it’s going to be hard to learn the code if you can’t hear those sounds. Lots of research indicates that this reasonable supposition is right. Children who have trouble learning to read often have difficulty hearing individual speech sounds. At the other end of the spectrum, children who more or less teach themselves to read turn out to hear them easily. This relationship between the ability to hear speech sounds and reading is not unique to learning to read English— you see it across languages. So we have our first clue about how we can help kids become good readers: help them with this auditory challenge.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (pp. 12-13). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part one of the text examines reading in birth-preschool age children. My interests the last few months have been on this age group because of my daughter and the two classes I’m teaching, Mommy & Me Literacy and Children & Literacy. The author’s main points in this section are to create a love of reading and to prepare children for decoding. He gives great ideas/suggestions for parents, educators, and child care providers. One of my favorites he mentioned was using word games to help students with speech sounds.

“Here are some examples of word games that help children to hear individual speech sounds: Some children’s songs and rhymes center on word play, for example, The Name Game (“ Dan, Dan, bo-Ban, banana-fana fo-Fan, fee fi-mo-Man. Dan!”) and Apples and Bananas (“ I like to eat, eat, eat, eeples and baneenees”). Classic nursery rhymes use much of this sort of word play. So do Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and other children’s authors. Sing songs they know, replacing the initial letter of each word with the letter of your choice, for example, “Mary had a little lamb” becomes “Bary bad a bittle bamb.” Find excuses for alliteration: “Great golly! Gobs of grapes!” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 33). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Before a child can read, he or she must be able to recognize letters, which Willingham discusses. One of the easiest ways parents can help children with letter recognition is what Willingham calls “letters in the wild”. Caregivers should interact with children daily with letters they see on billboards, logos, etc. “If you prompt interest in letters in these daily interactions, it’s that much more likely your child will show interest in letters during read-alouds.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 36). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Part two of the book addresses kindergarten-second grade. I really liked how Willingham starts off this section by discussing the different reading programs used in schools, phonics vs. whole-word, and balanced literacy. Each school district uses a different approach, so it’s important for parents to be aware of the program their school uses. It’s also important to keep in mind that each student learns differently. “Programs vary, and kids’ experiences within a program vary.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 83). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The author also addresses the hot topic of technology: “With all the power we attribute to technology, that seems like a pretty wimpy effect. But the modest impact is actually typical for educational technology interventions, no matter what the subject: math, science, or history. More disturbing is a point made by researcher John Hattie: when you try anything new in the classroom, you see, on average, this sort of modest boost to student learning. Why? It’s not clear. (My guess is that the excitement of trying something new makes teachers enthusiastic, and that excitement rubs off on students.) The conclusion I’m emphasizing is that educational technology interventions in general (and those targeting reading in particular) have been less successful than we would have expected.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 85). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

Willingham does go on to mention that technology apps and videos vary in quality and how they are embedded. On the flip side, he also does a great job of mentioning how technology can provide individual feedback and other positive ideas (I really appreciate how he can be so calm when discussing hot topic things).

I love that he follows up the discussion of technology with techniques and ideas parents can use at home with their kids. He includes ideas such as: reading with your child, choosing the right book, providing feedback and dealing with reading frustration. Reading is a challenging skill that takes lots of time to develop, so it’s only natural for children to get frustrated with reading while being at home with a parent. The author includes some great ideas for parents on dealing with this frustration.

“I can offer four suggestions if you find yourself frustrated. First, the habit of not talking much is not only good for your child (so she hears mostly her own voice, reading) but also good for maintaining your composure when you’re frustrated. Second, when you do speak, you can usually find an intonation other than frustration that carries your message in a positive way. When my youngest would look to me for help on the same word three times in sixty seconds, my inclination was to shout, “You KNOW this one.” I trained myself to say, “You know this one,” with the intonation of, “You sly dog.” I probably should have said nothing, but at least I used a positive tone. Third, remind yourself that the whole session is only five or ten minutes. Fourth, if you find that you just can’t keep it together, quit. Ask your child to read with you later. Grinding through the process gives a little practice in decoding, but it carries too high a cost in motivation.”(Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

The final part is third grade and beyond. Since I’ve taught middle school language arts for five years, I was really curious about his thoughts on motivating struggling readers at this stage. Fluency is discussed in great detail in this part of the book, and it’s fascinating how Willingham connects fluency to spelling.  “It would be nice to get kids to fluency faster, especially given that national tests indicate only about half of kids have reached desired levels of fluency by fourth grade. Is there a way to hurry the process along? Three techniques can help. First, explicit spelling instruction seems to improve fluency. Although the spelling knowledge you use to read is not identical to the knowledge you use when you’re thinking about how to spell a word, there is some overlap. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 137). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). I have worked in environments where administration feels that students don’t need to spend time on spelling after a certain grade, but it is evident that spelling does translate to an increase in fluency.

The next big concept Willingham tackles is reading comprehension. This is the number one struggle I see with struggling readers in middle and high school. The author addressing the importance to reading comprehension strategies which include ideas like activating prior knowledge, listening actively, summarizing, visualizing, etc.

However, it is important to note, as the author does, that texts become increasingly more challenging the older a child gets. By third grade students are starting to read more nonfiction texts (articles, textbooks) and they are expected to understand the material and then interact with it in some aspect. In addition to that, some schools have made the transition to digital literacy. Instead of simply stating a positive or negative stance, the author breaks down and examines the different components which include general tech savviness and the ability to evaluate information. He then follows up his thoughts with information about the digital revolution.

“One change wrought by the digital revolution is that kids are actually reading much more than they used to, even though reading is commonly thought to be in decline.” (Willingham, Daniel T. (2015-02-24). Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do (p. 156). Wiley. Kindle Edition.). If you think about what students today are doing, this makes total sense. Kids are constantly reading tweets, captions on Instagram, blogs posts, etc. They may not be reading novels, but they are constantly reading.

Overall, I am in love with this book. The ideas and suggestions are explained in a clear, concise manner that is extremely user friendly for those not familiar with the education or reading world. It is the perfect book for any parent because it addresses all stages of reading. It is the perfect book for an educator to use to provide parents with guidance.