Category Archives: Reading Strategies

Max Goes to Jupiter: A Science Adventure with Max the Dog by Jeffrey Bennett

Schema: space, rockets, explorers

Text-to-Self Connections: Studying the solar system

While looking for a good intermediate level read for 5th and 6th graders or a realistic fiction read aloud for 2nd and 3rd grade, I found this book about Max, a dog, who goes into an exploration of Jupiter and its moons. The story is for the younger and the “big kid” fact boxes share nonfiction information that will capture the interest of older young learners.

The captivating full color illustrations on glossy, large pages enhance the enjoyment of reading and sharing this book.

The series, Big Kid Science books aspire to educate, make connections with readers’ lives, and inspire further learning. Check out the website that accompanies the book.

Home by Adam Leitman Bailey

Schema: Think about what is a home. List some places that are homes to people, animals, and things.

Text-to-Self Connections: Visiting different homes such as relatives, friends, and neighbors

Theme: The author is sharing the message that home is where a person feels happy and loved as opposed to a particular place.

In this full color picture book, the main character, a small boy, feels discontented with his home and sets out to explore the world and the way others live.  He visits many places and tells what he does there. He doesn’t make any judgements about each place. Readers may see their own home in the book. Homes include a farm in a rural area, mobile homes, large homes with swimming pools, a bird’s nest, and an igloo.

Synthesis: Ask students what the author is telling them with this story. I think they will be able to synthesize the boy’s experience into their own schema and apply it to where they live and why it’s the best home for them.

Drawing Conclusions: The boy drew the conclusion that his best home is where he is loved. Each place he visited, he was alone. What was missing? His family was missing.

I recommend this as a read aloud for grades 2-5 for a discussion about homes.

 

Kindergarten Parent Tips for First Day of School

stop-crying-mom

Your baby is starting kindergarten or preschool. You’ve bought all the clothes, all the supplies, but what else can you do to make that transition into kindergarten a happy one for you and your child?

1. Visit the school before that first day of kindergarten and walk around the building with your child. Visit the cafeteria, the library, the gym, the office, and the playground. Come to the playground several times just for fun before that first day.
2. Read books aloud to your child and show them how to sit on the floor with their feet and hands to themselves while listening like kids do in kindergarten.
3. Write your child’s name inside their lunch box, backpack, and when it gets cold, their coats. At the end of the school year, the school will have about one hundred coats with no name and usually give them to the Salvation Army because the kids don’t remember they have lost them. Kindergarten kids need help keeping up with their coats.
4. Talk about how to eat breakfast and lunch, and how they will feel if they don’t eat it. It’s a long afternoon in kindergarten till 3:00 when you haven’t eaten. Get a school menu and talk about what food they will be serving each day so your baby will be ready to make those choices. When you visit the cafeteria tell them their class will all sit at one of the long tables by whoever they were behind in the line. The teacher will not stay with them during lunch, but will drop them off in the line, and then, after lunch, will be back to line them up. Make sure they know that they don’t need money to eat at school because you will have already paid for it or make arrangements. Some kindergarten students may worry about eating if they don’t know their food has been prepaid.
5. Talk about how to walk in a line, keep their hands to themselves, and to wait to talk until they get back in the room. Tell you child that kindergarten kids have to listen in the hall so that they know where to go.
6. Talk about how your kindergarten child will feel if one of the other kids is crying for their momma. Some kids really lose it and scream at the top of their lungs. It is an incredibly stressful thing to see. I feel so sorry for them. If you think this might be your child, try to comfort them ahead of time about how at the end of the day you or someone they know will be there to take them home.
7. Above all, do not cry in front of your kindergartener. They will sense fear and uncertainty that will make it very hard for them to cope without you, and it will set a pattern that may take weeks to overcome. During the week before school, teachers will be about decorating their rooms. If you feel your child may have a hard time being left, try to meet with your teacher before school starts. Many schools have a night to meet the teacher and see the room before school starts. Look on your school’s website to see when this is and don’t miss it. If you can go to the room, practice having your child stay in the room and wave bye to you as you leave. Then pop right back in and tell them that’s what the first day will be like.
8. Update your child’s contacts so that someone can be reached if your child needs you. Remember to do this when anything changes during the year.
9. Fill out the paperwork to be a school volunteer. During the year there will be times when kindergarten parents are needed for field trips and book fairs. Plan to volunteer a few times to help your child’s teacher or to help the librarian. Your child will love seeing you at school and you will feel much more at ease by seeing how the school teachers and principal interact with children. The school workers will all know you and will remember your child’s name and speak to them more often in passing.
10. Make it a best practice to never say anything negative about the school, other students, the teacher, or principal in hearing range of your child. This practice will help your child to see school as a safe and happy place. Make appointments to visit with your child’s teacher to make sure any misunderstandings can be corrected as soon as possible.

 Now What?

Keep your phone nearby, and get ready for tomorrow! Make a routine each night to be ready for school the next morning.

When you see your child after school or daycare take time to talk with them about their day. Ask them to show you their take home folders and look for notes or papers that have been sent home. Your kindergartener will be excited to tell you about their day. Be excited for their accomplishments!

For the second day of school, urge your kindergarten child to go in without you. Principals will be at the door directing the children to where they need to go.

It’s hard to let them go, but you can’t hold them back. You have to run into the future with your child, taking each step with them, then letting go and watching them run ahead into their future until the next new thing, when you will hold their hands again.

 

Old Wolf by Avi

Schema: hunting, playing video games
Text-to-text Connections: other books where the main characters are animals and the story is told from their point of view such as Charlotte’s Web.
Old Wolf, Nashoba, is challenged as pack leader to find food for his hungry pack.

Casey, a thirteen-year-old boy, loves his video game where he kills animals, and is so excited to receive a bow for his birthday.

The two characters’ stories run parallel to each other and converge at the end of the book.

Merla, a raven, is old like Nashoba, and tries to help him find a herd of elk, and ultimately gives her life to save him from Casey’s bow. When Casey sees that he hit Merla, it changes his way of thinking about killing. He is so changed that afterwards, he never played his animal kill game again. The reader concludes that his bow will be used as a sport in target shooting.

Avi tells the story in a very Zen fashion. Merla asks questions of Nashoba to get him to think about his goals. Merla tells Nashoba, “The bigger you think you are, the smaller you are.” p. 107 Then Nashoba shares with Merla, “There’s a old wolf expression: the smaller you think you are, the bigger you are.” p. 113 Both quotes would lend to an interesting expository paragraph assignment.

Characterization: Nashoba goes through such pain and pushes forward to serve his pack and to save his pride. We read that he is eight years old which is toward the end of his life expectancy. At the end, after he is helped by both Merla and Casey, he is able to push on and to accept what he is, an old wolf.

Theme: Respect life at all times and in all forms, both human and animal. The world is one and kindness can be found in the least likely places.

I enjoyed Avi’s book so much. The feelings that Nashoba feels are shared by leaders everywhere as our time to lead comes to an end.

Procedural or Functional Texts

Procedural texts inform the reader about how to do something. Sometimes it’s presented in a step-by-step format like how to make a recipe or put a toy together. The higher level procedural texts inform the reader about how to carry out goals such as how to begin a new career or learn or perfect a craft.

I often have teachers asking me for books to teach this skill. Here are a few that I have used that show the reader how to synthesize information from procedural or functional texts.

This one is good for kinder, first, and second and students will connect with learning to ride a bicycle.

Continue reading

Frankencrayon by Michael Hall


Schema: drama, acting out a play, crayons

The crayons were going to be in a picture book, but someone has scribbled in the book so the book has been canceled. Pencil is the narrator and the crayons encourage him to tell the reader about what happened. The book was about a mad scientist and his creation like Frankenstein. The crayons each had a part to play similar to a play. They had lines to remember. The three that made up Frankencrayon all practiced on their entrance. Suddenly the lights go out and a red scribble is seen on the next pages. It’s so horrible that the book is canceled.

This book is funny and creative. It can be used to teach drama elements, but also, it is a great example of how to care for books. The crayons try to erase the scribble by scribbling over the red, but only make more scribbles. The stage hand crayons are the ones that are trying to fix the scribbling.

The book characters find some notes taped in the book that say the book has been canceled because of the scribbling and because one of the characters is not in the story any longer. The pencil explains that he dropped the character of the mad scientist from the book because he was hard to get along with. Who could be scribbling and writing these notes in red crayon?

At the end, there’s other note. Students can conclude that the notes were written by the red crayon who was the one who was supposed to be the mad scientist.

Literary Nonfiction texts

Biographies, autobiographies, journals, memoirs, articles or picture books about true events, and diaries written in the form of a fictional story are part of the genre, literary nonfiction. The text should include story elements such as rising action, reaching a goal or high point and falling action. Years ago, I remember the librarians were told to update their biography sections by weeding all the biographies with dialogue that the author created to make the story seem more interesting. Now, in Texas, one of the genres on the STAAR is “Literary Nonfiction,” and we are having to hunt for elementary texts to fill this genre that are very much like the old style of biographies that were written in the form of a story.
Karen Barbour knew Mr. Williams as one of her grandmother’s friends. She interviewed him about what his life was like growing up on a farm in Arcadia, Louisana and has written his story in first person narrative as if he were telling it. This book is a good selection for African American History month as well as Mr. Williams is African American. He was born in 1929 and died in 2000.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
The author includes a historical note about the real Chinese-African-Cuban girl from Cuba, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who at the age of ten-years-old, was the first female to play drums publicly in a band. Before, the drums had been an instrument only for boys. An author’s note explains the history behind this story.

The Book Itch Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This book is based on the life of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976). He opened the first African-American book store in Harlem in the late 1930’s. The action in the story takes place in the 1960’s. His story not told as a true biography is a good one to use as literary nonfiction since the story has elements of a fiction story. Michaux had the grit and drive to sell books from a cart until he had enough to open a book store. The bank told him that they would loan him money for a food service business, but not for a book store because black people didn’t read. Micheaux believed knowledge is power and made his dream come true. One of his visitors to the store was Muhammad Ali. Michaux made up lots of verses and rhymes similar to the ones Ali was known for creating but they were all about reading and the power of words. Another of his visitors was Malcolm X. In the story, Malcolm X was planned to speak, and Michaux was supposed to sit right beside him. He was late and was not there when Malcolm X was shot and killed. This is a very good historical fiction picture book and a great read aloud. An author’s note explains the nonfiction inspiration of the story.

In this true book, we see a great plot, rising action, climax, and falling action. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg in Canada, rescues a bear cub from a hunter who has killed it’s mother. As he tames the bear, he lovingly decides he can no longer safely care for her while he is in the military service in WWI. It’s written in picture book format and works great as a read aloud.

Here’s another true story with the elements of literary nonfiction. The details are not provided about exactly how it came about, but an accountant discovered gum that would make bubbles.

In this story about how a school was built in a remote village of Pakistan The procedures are mentioned in the form of paragraphs. The story does have a beginning, middle, and end and fits the characteristics of literary nonfiction.

Friendship

The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea: This books guides young readers in this easy reader format book on how to get along with friends. Sparkles, the horse, is not completely fond of ballet and he finds a way to tell Ballet Cat without hurting her feelings.

The Curvy Tree by Chris Colfer: A lonely girl tells the tree her troubles. A sad little girl runs to the forest to cry under a tree which turns out to be the Curvy Tree. The tree talks to her. She tells the tree that children make fun of her glasses and her curly hair. The tree then tells her his story about how other trees made fun of his curvy trunk and loopy branches. Because he was different, the wood cutters left him alone. They didn’t see the beauty in him or how he could be used to make anything. He tells her that after he grew up, he was able to see lots of other curvy trees in the forest. The little girl climbs up and sees other children like her in the other curvy trees. The story is a good example of an extended metaphor comparing the girl to the tree, and how after they mature, they see the value in themselves and others.

Revenge of the Dinotrux by Chris Gall: This book shows how angry the mechanical dinosaur exhibit got after being mistreated by kindergartners on a field trip. They break out, but find their way to the school where the children teach them to read and to thank them, they build a playground for the children. They learn to help each other and become friends.

Finders Keepers by Will and Nicolas: When two dogs can’t get along and share a big bone, they ask the advise of several people and animals who make them decide that sharing is the best advice of all.

Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead: Ruby has never seen another bird like herself, but she does want to have friends. She sets out to introduce herself to every bird she meets. She gets to try things she has never tried before. This pattern book will delight young readers. There’s a text-to-text connection with Leo Lionni’s Swimmy when a flock of birds for themselves into the shape of an elephant to appear large. The last bird she meets takes her to a tree where a flock of birds like her are roosting. Friendship takes us places we may have never gone to alone.

Whose Shoe? by Eve Bunting


Told in rhyming text, a little mouse sets out to ask all of his animal friends if they have lost their shoe that he found in the bamboo. Elephant only wears heels to make her ankles look slim, and hippopotamus hates the mud between his toes, but hasn’t lost any of his shoes. The illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier are very cheerful and support the text well. The story is a great read aloud and will keep your children’s attention. I love the introduction of words in context such as catastrophe, dainty, pursue, and rare.

Schema: finding or losing something

Idiom: Finders Keepers Losers Weepers

Text-to-Self Connections: finding or losing something, throwing things away

Questioning: The main character, a little mouse, asks many animals in his community if the shoe he found belongs to them. Many examples of using the question mark.

Earth Day: The idea of the kangaroo throwing the shoe into the bamboo because it hurt his feet provides a great introduction to a conversation about littering, donating, re-purposing, and making good choices about how to get rid of something we don’t want. The shoe was used by the mouse as a wonderful king size bed.

Story Elements: Problem: The mouse finds a shoe and has been taught that finders keepers is not polite so he sets off to find its owner

Character Development: The main character, a mouse, has a good character in that he wants to do the right thing when he finds the lost shoe.

Firebird by Misty Copeland


Dancer, Misty Copeland, the first African American prima ballerina, writes from a young dancer’s point of view. The character believes she will never fly as a dancer like Misty Copeland. The author uses metaphors such as “you are the sky and clouds and air” to show the girl’s feelings toward her idol. After the dancer expresses her lack of self-confidence, Misty’s character tells her she is just beginning saying, “let the sun shine on your face your beginning’s just begun.” She shares with the reader that she was once like the girl with only a dream. This is a wonderfully inspirational story about practice and goal setting that students could relate to as they struggle to meet their goals and dreams. Students who struggle with confidence and self-esteem could gain a new perspective from Misty Copeland’s story. The author includes a wonderful note of encouragement to the reader at the end of the book. The illustrations are fluid and superbly depict the flying ballerina. This book would be a wonderful addition to any library.

Schema: dancing, learning

Story Elements: Problem, feeling like she will never reach her goal

Solution: practice and never give up

Metaphors and similes are used throughout the story to show the feelings of the characters.

Mental Imaging: The reader can imagine how high the ballerina is leaping with the help of the illustrations.