Happy New Year!

As an educator, I always feel like I get 2 starts to the year.  One at the start of the school year and then at the traditional time of January 1st.  At the beginning of a school year, I set goals for what I hope I will be able to do as a school administrator as well as what I would like to see for my teachers and students.  My school goal this year was to create a reading community where every child would love books and reading.  After four years of watching children struggle with reading and state testing, I knew that if I could get them reading more and exposed to a greater variety of books that they would have more to draw from and be better overall students.

I am excited to say that as a school community, we are well on our way to becoming more of a reading community and I am very excited about all of the things we accomplished so far.  I will be writing some blog posts talking about what we are doing and how it is going over the next few months.

But January is the time that I think about personal resolutions.  And since this is a blog about books and reading, I want to share some goals related to reading.

Thanks to #book-a-day on Twitter, I managed to read around 380 books in 2010.  True many of them were picture books but there were also over 140 novels (MG/YA) on that list.  But I am going to stretch myself this year.  If I read a majority of the 380 books from June to December, then surely by starting in January I can reach a much higher number.  Here is what I am thinking:

Goal:  I have set a goal to at least double that number for 2011 or to read nearly 800 books (about 15 books a week).

Goal:  To read more non-fiction picture books particularly geared for grades 3 to 8.

Goal:  To read at least 12 non-fiction books related to professional growth and development.

Goal:  To read more early reader/chapter books.  I know that there must be more out there than Junie B. Jones or the Magic Tree House Series (no offense to either of those book series).  Yet, I don't feel like I have a good grasp of what is out there.

Goal:  To go back and either read or re-read older books that I have either never read or forgot about.  I love staying current but the nice thing about children's books is that there is a new group of children who haven't read one of those books that were published 5, 10, or more years ago.  Many are timeless and wonderful and should be pulled out and read.

In April, I branched out and started my blog.  It is still a work in progress but I want to see it take more shape.  How will I do this?

Goal:  To post more reviews of books that I am reading and how they are or could be used in the classroom.  

Goal:  Aim to blog/post at least 5 times per week.

Goal:  To develop some weekly or monthly features for the blog that will focus on books and the classroom.

I have truly enjoyed my on-line Professional Learning Community/Network (PLC/N) and don't plan to stop the interactions.  However, I would like to develop or participate in something more local or face to face. I am already on the Children's Literature Council of Southern California's Award Committee, but I think I need to branch out a little.  What will I do?

Goal: To research and identify local chapters of national organizations related to children and reading and determine the possibility of regular participation in one of these groups. 

I know that these goals are fluid and may change some over the year, and I can live with things shifting around.  However, I know that if I hadn't sat down two years ago and started to think about some changes I wanted for both the school and my life and then started to pursue those changes/goals I would never have discovered so many wonderful people and activities.

Here is to a Happy New Year to all and may this be the year that we conquer some of our fears or obstacles and see new growth and life in our lives. - Aly

Thoughts on The 2010 Debut Author Challenge & other Reading Challenges of the Year

The concept of a Reading Challenge is a wonderful one.  It hopefully motivates us to reach beyond what we would normally read and stretch ourselves.  However, most of the time, I find that life gets in the way and I am unable to actually complete a challenge. 

Here are some of my thoughts on the Challenges that I did participate in:

A to Z Challenge:
With the A to Z Challenge (on GoodReads as part of the Wild Things: YA Grown Up Group) this summer, I read 26 books but didn't really get to every letter in the alphabet (thanks @angelasunshine on Twitter).  It was a fun reading challenge, and I enjoyed the on-line interactions with the other participants.  Can't wait for the A to Z Author Challenge which starts on January 1, 2011. 

Twitter's Book-a-Day Challenge (#bookaday):
With the Book-a-Day challenge started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer (@donalynbooks on Twitter) this summer, I actually found myself reading more than the equivalent of a book per day.  I also expanded my reading greatly by the interactions I found with the other participants.  I explored Graphic Novels and Manga for the first time.  Discovered that my love for picture books could be considered "real reading", and explored books in all genres that were truly wonderful.  The on-line Professional Learning Network that was developed through this challenge is still going strong and one that I deeply value.

The 2010 Debut Author Challenge:
One of my favorite challenges was the 2010 Debut Author Challenge hosted by The Story Siren (Kristi).  The goal was to read at least 12 Debut Author books.  I managed to read 21 Debut author books (including 3 debut picture books and there are probably more that fit the picture book categories), currently in the middle of 3 more 2010 debuts, and have a full stack of a lot more 2010 debuts that I wanted to read but just ran out of time.  In addition to reading these books, I loved interacting with the Debut Authors on-line, supporting their book signings when possible, and creating a buzz for their books even if I didn't get a chance to read them, yet. 

The ones I managed to read on time:
James Burks- GABBY & GATOR
Jennifer Cervantes - TORTILLA SUN
Shannon Delany - 13 TO LIFE
Adam Gidwidtz - A TALE DARK & GRIMM
Christina Diaz Gonzalez - THE RED UMBRELLA
Judith Graves - UNDER MY SKIN
Teri Hall - THE LINE
Anastasia Hopcus - SHADOW HILLS
Jennifer Hubbard - THE SECRET YEAR
Heidi R. Kling- SEA
Lauren Oliver - BEFORE I FALL
Candace Ryan - ANIMAL HOUSE (*)
Jacqueline West - THE SHADOWS
(*) picture books

Currently debut novels in progress:
Kiersten White - PARANORMALCY

Wished I had gotten to sooner - but they are coming:
Alexandra Bracken - BRIGHTLY WOVEN
Kimberly Derting - THE BODY FINDER
Rachel Hawkins - HEX HALL
Karen Kincy - OTHER

So what challenges did you participate in and how did you do?

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 12

Though the Book-A-Day Challenge started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, officially ended for me last week, I a continuing with the weekly post to share what I am reading.

Picture Books:

Zen Ghost by John J. Muth - This beautifully illustrated story can be adapted for all ages.  Check out my review here.

Middle Grade:

Graphic Novel:
The Cloud Searchers (Amulet #3) by Kazu Kibuishi - This was recently released and my niece and I have been waiting to read it.  We nearly wrestled for it. Fourth and Fifth graders will love this series.

Early Chapter Book:
Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy book 1) by Maud Lovelace Hart - Not sure how I missed this series as a child but fans of Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie will love this series about two friends named Betsy and Tacy. 

Novel In Verse:
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Berg - I am learning to appreciate novels written in verse.  This is one that I would highly recommend.  It tells the story of Matt, who was airlifted out of Vietnam during the war. 

Unnamed Manuscript - Well it actually has a name but I can't reveal it yet but it will be out in 2 years.

So what are you reading?  Love to learn about new books.

Book-A-Day Challenge Weeks 9 and 10

The Book-A-Day Challenge was started by Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisper. Many of the participants have been doing their end of the summer wrap-ups as they have returned to school. It has been one of my favorite challenges and I have really enjoyed getting to know so many wonderful teachers, and school librarians. As a result, we will continue to use the #bookaday hashtag on twitter during the school year, even if we only read 1 or 2 books per week.

Though students have not returned to school yet, in my district, my reading has slowed down as I prepare for the new school year. I have read some great books over the past two weeks. Let me tell you about them.

Picture Books

A Long Piece of String by Willian Wondriska - Check out my review here.

Chicken Big by Keith Graves - Check out my review here.

Day and Night by Teddy Newton - If you saw Toy Story 3, this is part of the short shown prior to the movie. One time when I would say that the animated version is stronger than the book. I will be posting a review on this.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg - This is a great book about fear of the first day of school at a new school. A fun little twist. A definite read for teachers and students.

Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins - A fun picture book for toddlers and preschoolers. See my review here.

Swim! Swim! by Lerch - Check out my review at MundieKids

Middle Grade Books

Friends Forever? (Mackenzie Blue #3) by Tina Wells - Since I am posting a review on Monday, I will hold off on saying anything about this book for now.

YA Books

Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King - This story mixes pirates from the 17th Century, Caribbean curses, dog facts, and the present day life of a teen girl. Definitely for older teens. I had mixed feelings about this one.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - What do I even say? I am still processing the third and final book in The Hunger Games series. An emotional rollercoaster worth riding.

Professional Books

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller - If you look at my copy of this book, it has sticky notes in different colors marking pages, and stars and underlines on lots of others. Upon finishing it, I promptly emailed my teachers that we are going to be reading this book as part of staff development. Inspirational, practical, wonderful.

Feel free to leave a comment about what you are reading.
- Aly

Book-A-Day Challenge Week 8

The Book-A-Day Challenge hosted by Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisper) has been one of my favorite challenges.  Not only did it really help me focus on my reading goal for this summer, but using the #bookaday hashtag on twitter introduced me to some great teachers and school librarians and added a whole community feel to the challenge.  I just want to give a shout out to some of my favorite  Book-A-Day folks: Kathy (@thebrainlair), John (@mrschu81), Jamie (@fiteach), David (@tkslibrarian), Elisha (@elishakarr), Denise (@ddigiova), Paul (@paulwhankins), and Donalyn (@donalynbooks).  If you are on twitter, go follow them.

Now onto my update, I will preface this and say it was a big picture book week.  A bookseller friend of mine gave me free reign to go through her galleys for new releases coming out in late fall/early winter. The only thing that kept me from reading more is that I actually had to get to a meeting and ran out of time.

You will also notice a lot of books by Melanie Watt included below.  When I had admitted that I hadn't read her stuff before, my friend pulled everything off her shelves for me to read.  Just for references purposes, I have indicated below the release dates for the ones not yet out.

Picture Books

The Monster Princess by D.J. MacHale, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger - This is a debut picture book by MacHale.  Written in typical fairy tale style, MacHale tells the story of a little monster who really wants to be a beautiful princess.

Will It Be A Baby Brother? by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Beth Spiegel - A mom and her preschooler discuss the pending birth of the new baby in the family.  This big brother wants a "James" (brother).  Mother assures him that whatever he gets will be just right.

Grandma's Gloves by Cecil Castellucci, Illustrated by Julia Denos - A debut picture book by YA author Castellucci and a very wonderful one at that.  Get out your box of tissues.  There will be tears.  Castellucci does a beautiful job with telling one child's story of losing her grandmother and how she deals with her grief.

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt - Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of just about everything.  One day things don't go exactly as planned and Scaredy learns something new about himself and takes a risk.  Funny and wonderful.

Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watt - In a similar vein as the first book in this series, Scaredy is afraid of his dreams.  What will happen to him if he falls asleep?  As with the first one, Scaredy learns a lesson and conquers a fear.

Scaredy Squirrel At The Beach by Melanie Watt  - This may have been my favorite out of the three.  Scaredy tries creating the beach at home but he is missing something that he can only get by going to the actual beach.  Once there, things don't go as planned but then readers have learned that this is the best thing for Scaredy.

Chester by Melanie Watt - I love Scaredy Squirrel but I might even love Chester more.  Chester is a very fat, orange tabby who is snarky and difficult and loves to challenge Watt.  Chester, along with his red pen, is very funny but Watt usually has a surprise and Chester gets his comeuppance at the end.

Chester's Masterpiece by Melanie Watt - As if Chester couldn't get any funnier, this time he has hidden Watt's writing and drawing materials and is writing his own story.  But never fear, Watt has the last laugh or does she?

Have I Got A Book For You! by Melanie Watt - Though this book really is having a little fun with our "hard-sell" advertising world, I couldn't help thinking about all the teachers and librarians out there who spend hours trying to find just the right book for the right kid.

You're Finally Here! by Melanie Watt  Release Date: March 1, 2011 - Bunny (a new character) is so excited that the person he has been waiting for is finally here.  To make his point, he goes through all the agonizing moments leading up to the arrival.  But there is a twist.  Read it to find out.  As with her other books, readers will delight in her humor.

Cuddle Up, Goodnight! by Katie Cleminson Release Date: February 1, 2011 - A toddler picture book for bedtime.

Pirate vs. Pirate by Mary Quattlebaum, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger  Release Date:  March 22, 2011 - This one I want.  Two pirates compete to see who is better.  A fun book, great illustrations, and a nice lesson about what really make someone better. Boiger also  illustrated MacHale's The Monster Princess - equally well done but also very different.

What's Special About Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans, Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe Release Date: January 18, 2011 - Another one that I would like to have.  A nice addition to the category of books for preschoolers about "what is special about me?"

Before You Came by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrations by David Diaz  Release Date:  February 8, 2011 - Fans of David Diaz will recognize the artwork in this book.  Unfortunately, there are many books for preschoolers that deal with the theme of waiting for a baby's arrival and this one does not really add anything new.

Baby Says Moo! by Joann Early Macken, Illustrated by David Walker Release Date: March 1, 2011 - This one was a nice twist on the typical toddler/preschool animal sounds.  A young toddler learning to talk refers to all animal sounds as "moo" much to the parent's frustration.

Ten Little Puppies/Diez Perritos by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, Illustrated by Ulises Wensell  Release Date: March 1, 2011  - On each two page spread is a poem first in Spanish and then in English. This is a nice twist on the traditional "Five little ducks" where each verse subtracts one. Illustrations are lovely. A nice addition to a bilingual Spanish classroom.

A Lot of Beans by Barry Varela, Illustrated by Sebastia Serra Release Date: March 1, 2011  - I really loved this one.  Aside from the multi-cultural aspect of the story (representing the Latino culture), the theme is very well presented.  The main character places a white bean in a jar if it is a good day, and a black bean if it is a bad day. After a series of really bad days, the boy decides to count all of the beans to see if his life is mostly good or bad. Don't want to give away the ending. But wonderful resolution and ending.

Mama and Me by Arthur Dorros, Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez Release Date: March 1, 2011 - There was something about the illustrations in this book that made it stand out.  The story about the little girl and her mother - though not especially unique - is well constructed and offers a twist on others in this category. One that I will definitely find once it is published to see if I still feel the same way.

Non-fiction Picture Books

Miss Dorothy's Book Mobile by Gloria M. Houston, Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb  U.S. Release Date: January 25, 2011 -   This is a biographical picture book about  Dorothy Thomas who drove books to people all over the Appalachian during the 1940's.

The Great Migration by Eloise Greenfield, Illustrated by Jan Gilchrist  Release Date: December 21, 2010 - Some picture books do an amazing job of mixing text and illustrations to tell a story. I loved the combination in this book. The Great Migration tells of one African American family's migration from the south to the north. One that I will definitely look for upon it's release.

Early Chapter Books

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald, Illustrator Peter H. Reynolds - I'm not sure how I have avoided reading Judy Moody but I thought it was time to catch up.  Judy is not in a good mood.  It is the first day of school and things don't look like they are going to get any better any time soon.  Teachers will recognize the characters in the book.  The Judy Moody series is a great one for 2nd and 3rd graders and for fans of Ramona.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee - I am behind in my 2nd & 3rd grade chapter books.  Probably because many of them annoy me.  However, I loved Clementine.  I think I might love Clementine as much as or maybe even more than Ramona.

Felix Takes the Stage (The Deadlies) by Kathryn Lasky - I think all I know about brown recluse spiders I learned from reading this book.  A family of brown recluses live in a music hall.  Felix wants to conduct an orchestra but gets a little too close to the conductor in an after hours practice and the conductor gets a surprise.  What's a spider family to do when they are forced out of their home by exterminators?  A fun early chapter book which includes a reference about spiders at the end.

Two more Book-A-Day Postings for the summer and then I will be switching over to Book-A-Week during the school year.  So how's your summer reading going?

- Aly