A Very Special Relationship with a Grandparent

Grandparents can play an important role in a child’s life. My own grandmother was one of the strongest role models in my life. She taught me the importance of kindness and acting with integrity. She was an incredible, loving and independent woman. The grandmother in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, reminded me so much of my own grandmother. Creech brings to life the precious relationship between grandmother and granddaughter so beautifully. The time I spent reading Granny Torrelli allowed me to remember her and to smile. 

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Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (Guided Reading Level: S) is about the friendship between twelve-year-old Rosie and her best friend Bailey. Granny Torrelli serves as the voice of reason and experience throughout the story. Her actions and words are deliberate but subtle. She shares experiences from her own childhood with Rosie to guide her, rather than to tell her what to do. 

The role of food and cooking throughout the story, also reminded me of visits to my grandmother’s house. In Armenian households, much like Italian ones, food is essential to shared family experiences. Simply replace soup and pasta with dolma and bereg.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup is going to be our first read aloud this year in my 4th grade class. I can’t wait to share this book with my students.

There are Two Sides to Every Story, and Then There is the Truth

Everybody knows the story of the three little pigs. Each little pig builds its house out of a material sturdier than the last. One chooses straw. One chooses sticks. One chooses bricks. The big bad wolf blows down the houses of the first two pigs and is unable to destroy the home of the third.

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The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka presents the wolf’s side of the story. It provides a hilarious, new twist on a childhood classic. 

According to A. Wolf, he was baking a birthday cake for his dear old grandma when he ran out of sugar. He visited his neighbors, the three pigs, looking to borrow a cup of sugar. It just so happens that A. Wolf had a cold, which caused him to sneeze. He claims, blowing down the houses of the first two pigs was an accident.

The True Story… (Guided Reading Level: Q) is great for readers of all ages, from kindergarten to 5th grade. I’ve used this picture book with upper elementary students to encourage them to consider different perspectives in the texts they read, whether they are reading fiction or non-fiction. Near the end of the school year, we have a unit on Independent Writing Projects. Each year, inspired by this book, at least one student will try his/her hand at rewriting a classic fairy tale from a different point of view.

High-Interest Non-Fiction

During the school year, students are expected to shop for both “just right” fiction and non-fiction books to read during Reading Workshop and at home. As students level up in reading, different fiction books become available to them. A challenge I face is how to keep students engaged in non-fiction reading when they have access to the same non-fiction library all year. 

I am constantly on the lookout for new, exciting non-fiction texts that I think my students will find interesting. This year, I subscribed to Sports Illustrated Kids and National Geographic Kids magazines, which were a huge hit. When we were in research units, I supplemented the classroom library with books from our school’s library media center as well as the local public library.

Our literacy coach recommended No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Steward and Allen Young.

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The title alone captures the reader’s attention. Without monkeys there wouldn’t be chocolate?!? You simply must read on to find out the connection between monkeys and chocolate. This deeply scientific text with fabulous, detailed illustrations describes the interdependence of animals and plants in nature. At the same time, the book is infused with puns, humor and some disgusting facts that keep the reader engaged. 

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is great as an independent read for students in grades 4-6. I selected this text as a whole-class read aloud through which we analyzed how the authors’ craft moves brought out the deeper meaning of a non-fiction text. For example, how the book uses the much-loved topics of monkeys and chocolate to bring attention to the preservation of rain forests. 

Another high-interest non-fiction book is Mistakes that Worked by Charlotte Jones. 

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Like The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, Mistakes That Worked features 40 popular inventions that were the result of mistakes. This book includes the invention of donut holes, piggy banks, and even VELCRO. Descriptions of the inventions are accompanied by comical sketches and interesting facts. It teaches the reader that taking risks can result in amazing, never thought of before creations. 

Unlike No Monkeys, No Chocolate, Mistakes That Worked is the type of non-fiction text that does not have to be read from cover to cover. It encourages the reader to use the table of contents to identify the parts of the books that would be of most interest. 

What high-interest non-fiction texts do you have available in your home or classroom libraries?

Series and Sequels

You know that feeling you get when you’ve just finished an amazing book? You loved the plot and grew attached to the characters. The central problem has been resolved, though smaller ones may remain up in the air. Then you learn that the author has released a sequel or that the book you just read is in fact part of a series, and the fun does not have to end just yet!

Books in a series or sequels to books are a great way to engage readers at all levels, particularly reluctant readers or struggling readers. The familiarity of characters, setting, plot line, and the type of problems the characters face allow the reader to feel like they have already done some of the hard work and can pick up where they left off. 

In a post earlier this week, I wrote about Because of Mr. Terupt. I recently read the sequel Mr. Terupt Falls Again by Rob Buyea.

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After a challenging fifth grade year, the students in Mr. Terupt’s class have the opportunity to loop up to sixth grade together. The book follows the same lovable characters as they navigate another action-packed school year.  

As a sequel, this book did not disappoint. Same great, complex and realistic characters. Peer pressure is front and center. Overall the same important themes emerge, the importance of sticking together, standing up for what you believe in, taking time to understand the point of view of others, etc. However, it is important to note that this sequel features a lot of mature topics, including substance use, smoking. Also physical development in girls is also a topic that keeps coming up, as the characters in the story are in sixth grade.Based on the content of the book I’d recommend it for middle school students rather than those in elementary school.  

The third book in the series, Saving Mr. Terupt, was just released, and I am looking forward to reading it. Stay tuned!