Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 books from the last 10 years of teaching that I can't be without....

Who am I kidding? 10 books? yeah...more like 100 books I can't teach without!  But that's not what our friends Mandy from Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy from Reflect and Refine are asking us to do, right? So, I'll play by the rules. This year. Next year, I might break it. :)

As I was moving my books to my new space in a new classroom and in a new district, I kept staring at the books I've decided to pack first. I stopped unloading my suitcase just for a minute to pause and reflect on what was happening at the moment. I was moving to my new space that day. I didn't pack pencils, erasers or crayons. I didn't pack folders or tags. Instead, the first thing I made sure I had were books. Because who I am without books? What kind of teacher would I be without my books? Books are my identity. It's who I am. Reading is my life whether I'm in South America, in the States, in my classroom, or on vacation. I'm a reader. That's who I am.

I'm blessed as a teacher. I know I am. I, not only get to teach children their first words in English but I also get to help them fall in love with reading. Ding Ding Ding!!!! Jackpot! So, as I kept unpacking, I looked at the books on my table that left a mark on me in one way or another. Maybe it was the story, or the author. Or maybe it was the moment in life when I read it. Maybe it was who I shared it with or who was the first one to deliver it to my hands. Regardless of the reasons, here they are. The top 10 books that marked my teaching life in the last 10 years. I'm not describing what the book is about. Instead, I'm explaining WHY they marked my teaching or WHY it's important in my class or my reading life.

The One and Only Ivan The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I know this is not a picture book. But it's a book I LOVE, ADORE & will continue to read aloud for the next 10 years!
Who didn't read this book and just fell in love with the characters? Who didn't drop tears with Stella? Who didn't feel optimistic and yet defeated at times? Katherine Applegate did it again. She brought a story that stay with readers of any age long after you read the last page. What I loved about this book? It made my students and I look forward to our read aloud time. It made us groan when we HAD to stop reading it for the day. It made us smile and feel sad at the same time. But we did it together. Because no matter how many times I've read this book, I felt it every time. Oh, Ivan...the One and Only Ivan.

I know you'll agree. All it takes is one read. All it takes is absorbing the story in one sitting and it leaves a mark. Henry and the Freedom Box is one of those books that have it all: descriptive, touching words and unforgettable pictures. The 5th graders in my last school would go to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati every year and every year they can't wait to see the replica of Henry's box. Another beautiful thing that happens once we get to the last page of this book is that children want to know MORE. They ask questions, they wonder about his wife, the children, how he started life again, how did he get over losing his family. Oh the questions...the burning questions. That's a sign of a story so well written-audience wants more.

Even though this book was published more than 10 years ago, I started using in my teaching about 7 years ago. I read Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Krauss every year  at the beginning of every school year. Why? Because we all have a Leo inside. We're all trying to get better at something. As teachers, as learners, as readers, as writers, we all have something we would like to get really good at. Regardless of our personal journey, Leo the Late Bloomer celebrates the Leo inside of us, knowing that with time, practice (and without being watched all the time), we'll bloom. Even if it takes time, even if we wish we could go faster. It'll happen. Eventually. This book is my reminder that every student in my class is on his own personal journey.

Ish by Peter Reynolds is a perfect companion to Leo the Late Bloomer. Both books are so optimistic in nature. Both books celebrate approximations and embrace imperfections. It celebrates "trying" versus just getting it accomplished. It emphasizes process instead of concentrating on product. It's a great story and one that I use to remind my students that as they learn the language, figure out the new culture and try to grow as learners, their "ish" is sometimes their best A game.

 As I'm writing this post, I realized how many of the books I'm choosing has a lot to do with building community, friendships, respect and growing. This book celebrates individualism at its best. In my opinion, every book Todd Parr writes is a winner. The children adore his books, his illustrations, his great messages and his beautiful language. Many young artists are born in my class because they want to draw just like him, and give their work colorful background "just like Todd Parr." Any of his books are great! You really can't go wrong.

Do I see myself spending a whole year in my classroom and not read a Piggie and Gerald book? NO WAY JOSE! I mean, come on! Mo Willems is a complete genius. He understands children's sense of humor. He creates lovable and totally unforgettable characters. He makes us fall in love with words, repetitions and silly rhymes. Regardless of my students' age, they all ask me for a Piggie and Gerald book. And of course, they all wish for a friendship like theirs.

 Everyone knows I'm a Lincoln fan. My friends, family and students all know I have great admiration for this US President. I often wonder if we'll ever have again a president whose values and beliefs are so grounded that nothing could shake them. This kind of loyalty to his own words, his actions and goals is an amazing characteristics found in few leaders. Even though there are many "kids biographies" out there about Lincoln, I never really found one that I thought children could connect, get intrigued and enjoy. Until....famous painter Maira Kalman published this book. And the crowd says, "Amen!" Amazing addition to the library.

  I've introduced Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst to several teacher friends because it's so good to keep it all to myself. There are so many things I love about Lulu:
She is wild, crazy, funny, and just spoiled.
She has a caring heart but you don't see it that often.
She loves to sing.
She thinks she can sing.
She has an amazing wild imagination.
I'd love to meet a Lulu in real life. It would provide hours of free entertainment.
Contrary to popular believes, she does learn (eventually).

You got to introduce Lulu to your students. That's all I can say. :)

 I love poetry. I'd like to believe that because I love poetry (we read tons during the year) that my students love it too. I love languages, words, patterns and rhythm. I love poems. Short and small. Long and detailed. Sincere and funny ones. In Spanish and in English. I just love them. So you can imagine my excitement when this book was published in 2011. Thank you Laura Purdie Salas for writing a poetry book about my favorite topic: books! This book illuminates my classroom every year as we talk about our identity as readers and writers. Like Dr. Seuss would say, "I can read it here. I can read it there. I can read it anywhere."

 The main character in this book is Jorge. And Jorge is actually every student in my class. You see, I teach English language learners, these hard working children who got to learn how to read, write, speak, be proficient and academically up to speed all while learning a foreign language. I have mad respect for all the Jorges in this world. We all have them in our classroom.  This book provides the voice to so many silent voices. Jane Medina does a beautiful work with language in this book! These voices are silent often because they lack the words to express themselves. It's so hard to be far away from home. I know that. I understand that feeling. Because of this and many other reasons, I admire all the Jorges out there who show up every day.