Saturday, July 5, 2014

"Reading, Writing, and Literacy 2.0: Teaching with Online Texts, Tools, and Resources, K-8"

            It’s a great day when a book falls into your lap just when you need it.  Sometimes I read professional development books and I think, “Well that would have been great last year” or “If only I taught 2nd grade, this book would have been perfect.”  Then there are times when the right book comes and the right time, and it is a good day for this 4th grade teacher.  Reading, Writing, and Literacy 2.0: Teaching with Online Texts, Tools, and Resources by Denise Johnson is one such book.

My sticky-note laden copy of Denise Johnson's latest book!
In order to be completely fair, I should probably disclose two things.  First, I know Dr. Johnson.  She’s been a professor of mine through 4 different graduate courses, and she’s been a great mentor to me.  Secondly, a piece of one of my kiddos work from a few years ago is in the book and so I got a copy sent to me (Hence it fell in my lap at the right place and time).  That being said, it honestly doesn’t affect my review.  The only difference is that I haven’t been reviewing books recently, and those two factors led me to actually do a review.  In every class I’ve taken with Denise Johnson, I have walked away with more knowledge and resources than I could possibly imagine.  Ask anyone who has ever taken her class, and they will say, “Oh my gosh, she’s just so wonderful.”  If you’ve never had her, that’s okay, because you can get a sense of her passion in her latest book.

            Reading, Writing, and Literacy 2.0 has a basic thought behind it—technology isn’t going away, and it has changed the face of literacy forever.  Johnson says that “The foundational premise of this book is that classroom teachers are perfectly positioned to build and extend the new literacies of the Internet within the literacy curriculum, since ‘New literacies will be required to function in this world.  In fact, the Internet might change the very notion of what it means to be smart’”(p.4).  Think about it: how many of us go to a book when we need information?  For most of us, the first place we turn is the Internet.  We, as adults, have learned to navigate a technological world that didn’t even exist when I was born. As teachers, we must rise to the occasion and change our own teaching practices to prepare our students for the world of technology. 

One quote that initially stuck with me is when Denise Johnson says, “Most students use the Internet to extend friendships or entertain themselves, but only a small percentage of children use the Internet to explore their interests or to find information beyond what they have access to at school or in their community”(p.4).  The more I reflect on this quote, the more I realize the truth behind it.  My students can tell me everything there is to know about YouTube and Minecraft, but could they tell me how to find information on a topic they love?  Can they effectively type up information once they find it?  Do they know how to make it into a presentable, engaging format?  The answer is no.  I think there is a misleading thought in education today that children just know how to use technology, because they have grown up around it and are using it constantly.  That is true, but the huge piece that is missing is the one where children know how to use it for meaningful literacy purposes and to expand their knowledge.  That’s where teachers, and the information in this book can come in.

This book is structured in a really fast-paced manner.  Denise Johnson starts by giving us the basic information—what is going on with technology and literacy in the world today, what does the research say, and why it is important for us as teachers.  After this, the reader is given a “framework for literacy 2.0 thinking.”  Basically, there are different models given about how to incorporate technology into the classroom, including Internet Reciprocal Teaching (IRT).  In most of the chapters, there is an IRT lesson plan for both younger and older students that you can tweak and use in your classroom for many different purposes.  After giving the reader a framework, Dr. Johnson takes the reader through connecting with communities and families, vocabulary and fluency, Ebooks, ETools for literacy, writing online, technology across the curriculum, and even assessment. All of this is through the lens of 21st century learning and authentic ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  The assessment piece really struck home with me—what if before we sent home all those papers, we were able to archive them digitally and have a span of information about our children to share with administrators, parents, and students themselves?

My favorite thing about this book is all of the resources listed.  I have 4 pages of notes, and that doesn’t even begin to touch upon all of the resources that we are given.  You cannot possibly walk away from this book without a bunch of resources.  I have been wanting to do a poetry slam with my kids, and one of the ideas in this book was using for voice recordings.  In the example, a teacher had students record themselves reading poetry, and then listening and changing the recording as they saw fit.  The teacher then listened, and responded to, all of the recordings.  What a great way for children to be able to hear their own prosody and to receive feedback from the teacher. 

Some of my notes on the book--seriously, doesn't even begin to cover it!
Other ideas in this book include using Wonderopolis, using news sites like and, having students create stories or memoirs online with websites like, creating WebQuests, using interactive posters with, allowing students to do virtual sticky notes with, and even creating electronic portfolios with the students.  My head is seriously spinning with all of the different things I want to try doing because of this book.  I can’t even begin to adequately explain all the wonderful things, because there is just too much!  Denise Johnson is a teacher’s teacher, and Reading, Writing, and Literacy 2.0: Teaching with Online Texts, Tools, and Resources, K-8 reflects all of the passion and energy she gives her students on a daily basis.  If you are looking for a book that will help you help your students learn and develop in this technology-driven world we have today, pick up this book.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  (And don’t forget to say “Awww” when you read the Dear Reader letter from Anthony on p.136.  That’s my boy!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame As Pieces of Art

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the fabulous people over at TheBroke and The Bookish.  Each week they offer up a topic, and everyone is welcome to join.  So here is mine for this week- Top Ten Book Covers I'd Frame As Pieces of Art.

I haven’t done a Top Ten Tuesday in forever, but I knew I couldn’t pass this one up. I adore book covers.  I will shamelessly buy a book simply because I love its cover.  I’m kind of judgy when a book doesn’t have a great cover.  I’ve dreamed of a bookroom that has one wall that is nothing but book covers. I warn you, I am a sucker for covers with people on them.  Especially girls looking off sadly/awkwardly in the distance.


 Fallen by Lauren Kate.  A few years ago, I literally couldn’t stop staring at this cover.  It
was really the beginning of my cover art addiction.  I don’t know what it was about it, I think something about her holding her face in her hands, but I was obsessed.

2.    The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan.  I was tempted to put every book in this sequence on my list. I adore every cover, but The Dead-Tossed Waves is definitely my favorite.  Aside from loving the title, the look of the girl lying in the water really gets me.  I really like it, too, because it is one of those books that makes you appreciate the cover more after you read it.  I could stare at it for days and think of all the things I love about this book.  Fantastic cover.

3.    Through to You

by Emily Hainsworth.  I liked this book more than most people, I think,
but the cover is really the shining star.  I like how the title takes up most of the page, and the reflection of the girl in the lake.  Since this book is about parallel universes, I think it is really fitting.

   4.    The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin.  I could just stare for days and days.  No words for how much I love this cover.

5.    How to Save a Life

by Sara Zarr.  Gosh, what a great book.  The cover is understated but after reading the book, it all makes sense.

   6.    A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  Illustrated by Jim Kay.  Every illustration in this book could be framed.  I just wouldn’t hang it up in a nursery or anything—it’s seriously dark.

7.    Anna Dressed in Blood

by Kendare Blake.  I do not read scary things.  I am opposed to all
things scary—haunted houses, scary movies, being alone by myself after dark.  I ate this book up, though.  I would never have picked it up if I didn’t love the cover, and the title, so much.

   8.    Where She Went by Gayle Forman.  On its own merit, I think the cover is okay.  After being through the emotional turmoil of reading If I Stay, though, this cover takes on so much more meaning.


9.    Juliet Immortal

by Stacey Jay.  I mean, look at it.  Is there any way in this world that you
cannot love it?  I think it is seriously impossible.

   10. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.  I did not like this book at all, but I actually bought a discount copy after I read the book because of the cover.  Yes, I am fully aware of how superficial that makes me.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


So here I am.  This is it, the last blog post I have to write for my children’s literature class.  I have a feeling there will be a short hiatus after this last blog, but I do hope I come back to reviewing books.  Sometimes, the books in this world are just too good not to share with other people.  This last book is a poetry book.  No, it is not a collection of poetry, but simply one poem that spans across an entire picture book.  I wish I could say that I saved my favorite for the last, but unfortunately, this book is one of the ones that has resonated with me least.

Harlem (Published 1997) by Walter Dean Myers and Illustrated by his son Christopher Myers, is, as the title indicates, a book about Harlem.  It is not really a narrative in the sense of it having a beginning, middle and end, nor is there any real problem presented in the book.  The poem starts with a page where “They” are traveling to Harlem because “Harlem was a promise of a better life, of a place where a man didn’t have to know his place Simply because he was Black.”  The poem then goes on to explain that they brought their sounds with them to this new place.  After this opening, however, I feel like the poem digresses into something a little more confusing, where there isn’t a connected storyline.  It goes from talking about the Abyssinian Baptist Church and the Apollo theater on one page, to talking about a train station on the next.  I think that Walter Dean Myers explains this confusion when he says towards the end, “Place, Sound, Celebration, Memories of feelings, of place.”  I feel that this accurately explains the poem.  The poem is not so much a story, but lines that celebrate those places, sounds, and feelings that the author remembers of his own childhood in Harlem.  For that end goal, I think the structure of the text works.  I should mentioned that this seems to be the Harlem from a few decades ago, the one in which Walter Dean Myers grew up.  The talk of jazz and hints of segregation and racism lead me to this belief.

            I think that this is a good poem.  I really like the way that Walter Dean Myers used backslashes between sets of nouns, like when he says “Yellow/tan/brown/black/red/Green/gray/bright colors loud enough to be heard.”  These backslashes serve to give the poem a sense of motion and of lots of things happening all at once.  I have never seen this technique before.  Aside from the backslashes, my next favorite thing he does is his use of nouns.  The poem is full of different nouns in the stanzas that paint the picture for the reader.  In one opening, it says,
            A carnival of children
            People the daytime streets
            Ring-a-levio warriors
            Stickball heroes
            Hide-and-seek knights and ladies
            Waiting to sing their own sweet songs.
I think this achieves the same thing that the backslashes achieves—a sense of a lot of motion and action going on in the story.  Harlem is a vibrant, thriving place and the poem conveys that.

             The illustrations in this story are also quiet nice.  This book was actually a Caldecott Honor in 1998.  They are collage with ink, and gauche.  Bryan Collier also does collages, but he uses watercolor.  Christopher Myers use of gauche makes the illustrations more opaque than Bryan Collier’s.  I had honestly never seen anyone else use this kind of illustrative style in a picture book.  Because I have read and loved so many of Bryan Collier’s work, I am sort of partial to his style.  Christopher Myers is not focused on detail as much as he is the use of bright hues to create the picture of a vibrant city that his father was able to do in the poem.   Christopher Myers’s illustrations are wonderful, but they feel almost clumsy when they are compared to the work of Bryan Collier.
Christopher Myer's illustrative work in Harlem.
            So far, I have given a lot of reasoning as to why this book is a good book.  In my opening, however, I mentioned how it didn’t really resonate with me.  Overall, this book just wasn’t a book I really enjoyed because it didn’t have any connection to me or my life.  When Walter Dean Myers talks about “Shango and Jesus, Asante and Mede,” or “The uptown A rattles past 110th Street,” it doesn’t strike a chord with me at all.  When he says “A weary blues that Langston knew and Countee sung a river of blues where Du Bois waded and Baldwin preached,” I really only know about Langston Hughes.  This simply isn’t a book that has any relevance to my life.  When I think of Harlem, the only thing I remember is hearing about the Harlem Renaissance in high school and knowing that it was an epicenter of African American culture.  I don’t feel like I learned any new information, and am just left with a bunch of questions that I have to go look up.  Of course, asking questions is a great thing in a book, but I just didn’t connect with it enough to even want to go look up questions.

            I am trying to think for whom I would recommend this book.  I think for children growing up in and around Harlem, this book is an obvious choice.  Also, for children with grandparents who grew up in that time period, like Walter Dean Myers, this would be a way for them to connect with their grandchildren and share their lives.  I can also see this book working in a class that teaches about the Harlem Renaissance.  Indeed, the Booklist Review of this book says, ‘It is Harlem as a visual experience that YAs will return to again and again, to admire and wonder at what is realized with truly extraordinary grace and power.”  Despite Amazon advertising it as a book for fourth grade and up, Booklist has said that it is recommended for children in 6-12 grade.  I have to agree.  I think that this book would provide a nice supplement to a teacher’s curriculum who is teaching about that culture and time period.

            Normally, my reviews are much longer than this, but I won’t try to force a review when I have nothing more to say.  Overall, I think that the book has strong literary merit and that it has very nice illustrations.  For me, however, it will not become a beloved text that I share with my students year after year.  From here on out, I will probably only be blogging about books I really love or really hate—after all, I’m a girl motivated by emotions!
Image Sources:


            I thought the penultimate book review for my children’s literature class would be easy.  (Please excuse my pretentious use of the world “penultimate.”  But I mean, when do you ever get to use it?  It’s just such an awesome word.)  Anyway, on blog 46 of 47, I convinced myself that it was nothing but smooth sailing.  The only two books I have left to review are a picture book about poetry and a memoir that is in graphic novel form.  I mean, I read Babymouse, so how hard can a graphic novel really be to read and blog about?  It’s not like they are serious or anything.  I was so wrong.  I would put my latest book review in the same category of The Book Thief due to its complex nature.

Stitches: A Memoir (Published 2009) by David Small is not a difficult book to read at the surface level—it is, however, a book that handles sensitive topics and a book that will leave the reader thinking about it for a long time.  Set mostly in the 1950s, David Small starts the reader with his life as a six year old.  His mother speaks only the language of silence and slamming cabinets.  His brother speaks the language of playing the drums.  His father speaks the language of a punching bag.  And David?  David speaks the language of sickness.  It is not the happy family dynamics that the 1950s wanted the world to believe was occurring—David’s family is a silent one filled with much resentment.  Not once in any of the pages of this book, does either parent tell David that they love him.

          David’s father is a doctor, and he works to make his son better by giving him X-Rays to help out with his sinus problems.  Like a lot of people at the time, David’s father thought the X-Rays would cure many illnesses.  David says, “They were soldiers of science, and their weapon was the X-Ray.  X-Rays could see through clothes, skin, even metal.  They were miraculous wonder rays that would cure anything”(p.27).  This is but one indicator of how different it was to grow up sixty years ago.  David’s mother takes him to visit his grandmother, and when he does something she disapproves of, his grandmother shoves his hands into burning hot water.  When he tells his mother that his grandmother is crazy, she tells him to never speak those words again.  He’s not a boy who gets much sympathy.

            The reader is then taken to when David is eleven.  When his mother is hosting a party, the wife of a surgeon notices a growth on David’s neck.  After taking David to a doctor, they learn that the growth on his neck is probably just a cebaceous cyst that needs to be surgically removed.  Instead of immediately getting the cyst removed, his parents wait three and a half years.  David Small takes us to when he is fourteen and is finally getting the cyst removed.  Instead of getting one cyst removed, the cyst is removed, as well as one of his vocal cords.  David is left with a stitched-up neck and is unable to talk like he used to before the surgery.  No one tells David why, but he eventually finds a letter that his mom wrote to his grandmother—David had cancer.  The child had cancer, and not a single person in the world— not the doctor, his father, his mother—took the time to tell him. 

            Next, David at fifteen.  David finds his mother in bed with another woman, the same woman who found the growth on David’s neck when he was eleven.  Then, David’s grandmother tries to kill her husband (the only family member who actually shows David any affection in this book, and he is actually his step-grandfather) by locking him in the basement and then setting the house on fire.  A neighbor sees his grandmother dancing around the front yard and calls the police.  His grandmother is taken to the insane asylum.  Later that year, his father wants to take him out to dinner.  After a meal full of their typical silence, his father takes him to the river and explains to him about the radiation treatments that he was given as a child, and tells him, “I gave you cancer.”  No apology or hugging session occurs.  David leaves home at sixteen, and he ends with his mother dying and a dream.  Since I’ve given you so much of the plot, I won’t spoil the end by explaining the dream.

This book is a dark book, both metaphorically and literally.  The graphics in the story are all shades of white, black, and gray.  David’s story is so incredibly sad, mainly because of the lack of love from his family.  One of the central issues in the book is David’s mother.  Throughout the entire story, David’s mother looks angry, except when she is at the party where other people are around.  When David catches her with another woman, he says, “After that awkward moment, while my own emotions ricocheted between extremes of betrayal and foolishness, anger and confusion, what stayed with me for the longest time was the look mother gave me, itself full of complex feelings, few of which, I’d guess, had much to do with me”(p.273).  It seems as though his mother was harboring this secret her whole life, one that was definitely not accepted in the 1950s.  Holding on to that secret made her bitter and angry.  When he catches her, there is no trying to explain or help him understand.  Instead it is more silence, more anger.  When David finally goes to a therapist, which of course his mother thinks is a waste of time, the therapist tells him that people have lied to him his whole life, and that he is going to tell him the truth.  That truth, as he tells David, is that, “Your mother doesn’t love you”(p.255).  A young boy has to confront the fact that his own mother doesn’t love him, and it is something that the reader and probably even David knew his entire life.

            The death of David’s mother does not offer much comfort.  David gets the call, when he is 30 years old, that his mother is dying.  He screams on his way up to see her.  He says, “I wasn’t screaming in anger or rage or at the thought of an impending loss.  I had learned that screaming thickens up the vocal cords.  Already this had given me back something of a voice.  So, I took every opportunity to be alone, to scream, or sing or tell myself stories as loudly as I could”(p.303).  His mother is dying, and he screams, but it is not out of any love for her.  When he finally does arrive, she has a tube down her throat and cannot speak, and he has made himself hoarse by screaming so much.  Their last interaction was like most of the interactions they had while David was growing up—soundless.

            The illustrations that are in this book add to the dark nature of the story.  The faces of the adults in David’s life are just down-right scary.  His mother and grandmother don’t own a happy face. 
          The doctors who go to take out the cyst (and as he finds out, the cancer) loom over him in their masks, sending him swirling into a dark hole reminiscent of Alice going into Wonderland.  David gives the readers a lot of close ups of faces and body parts, drawing the reader in and making them more a part of the story. 
          When David finally looks at his scar, David Small gives us a close-up of first his neck, and then to just the stitches going along his neck. 
          In a way, the illustrations in this book are graphic—with the close ups of the stitches, a fetus in a jar that repeats several times, not to mention the genitalia that his brother shows him in a book—but it makes it real.  When the reader is done reading the book, we finally get the notion of just how rough this man’s childhood was to overcome. 
         I’m sure that this dark nature can be achieved through words, but David Small’s ability to do this with both words and pictures is superior.  When David is afraid to go to sleep after his surgery, he begins to sleep underneath the kitchen table with the light on.  His parents find him.  His father says, “Isn’t that just g**d**n wonderful.” And his mother screams “Do you know what our utility bill is going to look like?  Do you even care?”(p225).  The words alone are powerful, but when the words are put with the illustration of his mother towering over him and his father simply walking away, the point really hits home for the reader.

Definitely David Small's style!
            With a tale this dark, one would think that the author/illustrator grew up to write novels full of dark, gritty, truths.  I did not read the synopsis of this book before I started my review.  About a third of the way through, I began to realize that these illustrations seemed familiar to me.  Namely, the wide outlines of things.  I finally read the book jacket and realized that this is not the author of gritty, adult realistic fiction.  This is David Small, the Caldecott Medal Winner of So, You Want to Be President?  He also wrote a beloved children’s book called Imogene’s Antlers.  This story is so far removed from those books that I don’t think I would have ever made the connection on my own.  Once you know that this is the same man, you begin to see the same wide lines like I spoke of before, in his work.  I really love the David Small wrote this book.  It is a great reminder that we can come from the most horrific circumstances and still become a wonderful person.

        Stitches: A Memoir is not meant for the children for whom his other books are written.  This is a book for teenagers all the way up to the elderly.  As I mentioned before, it was not an easy read or easy to write about.  Rarely do I read or recommend memoirs.  In this case, I am glad I was told to read it, because now I can recommend it to everyone I know.  If you are an elementary school teacher who is a fan of his other work, I strongly recommend you read this story and gain a deeper understanding of the man behind the pictures.
Cover Source: