Science Archive
BreakoutEDU Review

Hi everyone!  It’s been a long summer since I’ve written, but it’s been so busy around these parts!  The Teacher Anchor has been flying out of my office and into the hands of teachers who are ready to have their best year yet!  As of right now, we have less than 100 left until we are sold out for the fourth year in a row!  Yahoo!

Also this summer, I taught my 9th course at the collegiate level.  I taught Integrated Literacy at a local university within their pre-service/in-service teachers education program.  Over the four years that I’ve been teaching in higher education, I’ve continued to try to introduce my students to new ideas, new resources, and new ways to build community and present content within their classroom.

Earlier this summer, a colleague told me about BreakoutEDU.  It’s like the Escape Game, but for the classroom!  “Breakout EDU games teach critical thinking, teamwork, complex problem solving, and can be used in all content areas.”  I just knew that I had to introduce it to my students who teach every subject and every grade from kindergarten through 8th.  So, here’s what you need to know before trying it in your classroom:


BreakoutEDU provides two ways to get your hands on a kit.  1. You can buy directly from their website  2. You can order everything individually off of Amazon.  When I priced out both options (and yes, I have Amazon Prime, so that helped), I found that the open source option came in at $20 cheaper, strictly because I didn’t have to pay $20 for shipping.  Otherwise, the cost of the kit and the cost of the supplies were almost identical.

Once you have your kit, you find a game that matches your age level, group size, and content area.  The idea is for students to use their research skills to learn more about a topic in order to unlock various locks throughout the game.  Once all of the locks (usually 3-4) have been opened, they have “escaped”.  The catch is that there is a 45 minute time limit, so it’s a race against the clock!  Here are an example of some of the games.  My class played Time Warp (we had 12 students).

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So, once you have all of the supplies that you need to play the game*, you can literally play ANY game!  This was the biggest benefit that I presented to my students.  As a teacher, we are so strapped for funds and supplies.  It’s nice to know that once you have all of the materials for one game, you have materials for them all.

*You must sign up for a Beta account in order to gain access to the password to unlock the games.  But I’ll preview Time Warp here!

Time Warp Game

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As you can see, you get a brief synopsis of the game.  I read this “story” to my students before starting.  Also included once you choose a game, is how to set up the room (see below… FYI this is not the full instructions, just a sample).

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I liked how explicit they were.  Not to mention, it was so quick to set up!  The entire process took me less than 30 minutes to prepare the room before my students arrived.  Also included with each game is an overview video.  This specifically walks you through the entire process and allows for you to visually see how the game will work.  I’m a visual person, so this was so awesome.  I probably watched it three times!

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Once the room was set up, I let my students come in.  I gave them a brief preview of what exactly BreakoutEDU was (since this was a teacher education course) and then I turned them loose!  I left out 8 hint cards and let them know that they had the option to use them if they got stuck.  Unlike the Escape Game that we play here in Nashville, there is no time penalty for asking for a hint.  For our students, they should be encouraged to ask for help during times when they are at an impasse and I really stressed that it wasn’t punitive.  Another great thing I love about this game!

My students ended up breaking out with 9 minutes to spare!  Afterwards we had a discussion from both an educator and student perspective.  What went wrong, what could they do next time, what was hard/easy, how would we use this in our classrooms, when would we use this during the year, etc.


A few notes:

  1. My students did NOT communicate enough.  I think this was a breakdown in the sense of community in the classroom.  I had two different groups of grad students in class (pre-service and TFA) and they gravitated towards their own cohort and didn’t intermingle with each other, despite this being the 8th week of class. 
  2. Because their communication was poor, they spent a lot of time on mundane tasks in the game.  So when they asked for a hint, the one I gave was to “TALK TO EACH OTHER!” 
  3. Students need to have access to technology for this to work.  Elements of the game included Google searching, emailing, and can even include a digital lock option (should you choose).  In classrooms where tech is limited, you may have to allow them to use your own personal smart device(s). 
  4. Reading comprehension also needs to be high for some of the tasks.  My students were reading a lot of advanced web pages and Wikipedia pages, which we know have higher reading comprehension.  Although there are games for elementary, I’m sure all of them include some type of reading/researching.  This would be a great culmination of a research unit where you taught appropriate research skills and activities to your students.

Overall, I LOVED this.  I plan on introducing it to my next class at the beginning, instead of the end.  I think that will help build a sense of community and encourage more communication.

I hope you’ll think about incorporating BreakoutEDU into your classroom!  What a great way to allow students to control their learning opportunities and increase collaboration and fun!





Shine-A-Light on Research

If you’ve followed me for a little bit, you know I love student research projectsYou may have even heard how much I love the Shine-A-Light Series by Carron Brown.  After I Periscoped about it, I had a lot of questions about what it actually looked like in the classroom.  So with the help of my former colleagues (Sarah Svarda and Angela Bunyi) and their first grade team (Bunyi, Suzanne St. John and Julia Hudson), I bring you some research projects and ways you can incorporate it into your own classroom!

The standards covered in this post will be the same Common Core Anchor Standards from the research project I posted about here.

The first grade state science standards for Tennessee that I’ll be using in this post are based on living things and their habitats:

TN.2.0. Life Science Interactions Between Living Things and Their Environment: The student will investigate how living things interact with one another and with non-living elements of their environment.

1.2.2. Realize that organisms use their senses to interact with their environment. 688

1.2.3. Examine interrelationships among plants, animals, and their environment. 320

1.2.4. Recognize that the environment and the organisms that live in it can be affected by pollution. 372

Project Overview


Animal habitats are a big study in elementary school.  But it can be hard to find new and creative ways of teaching it every year.  Enter the Shine-A-Light books!  If you aren’t familiar with these titles, you can watch this neat video here.  But basically they are books about various non-fiction topics that give information on the front of the page.  But by holding a light up behind the page, you are able to see the hidden pictures.  “The clever see-through reading technique creates an experience of interactive learning. showing both the surface and what is hidden underneath at the same time.” (

The trick is that the back of each page is done in black and white, making the images easy to see when a light is shone on them.  This one is from Secrets of the Rainforest.


Your students will choose an animal and their habitat to research.  Once they’ve researched, they all create one page (or a whole book depending on the grade level) where they give clues about their habitat/animal on the front, and then sketch a hidden “answer” on the back.  Students write the text for both pages and the teacher will type them up.  Here are a few student examples:

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They are then gathered into a large class book and placed in the classroom library or school library next to the Shine-A-Light collection!

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What a fun and interactive way to incorporate non-fiction research in with your science curriculum!  And just as there is a wide variety of titles in the Shine-A-Light collection, you could do this with a wide variety of topics in your own classroom.

I’d love to see if you gave this a try.  Tweet me your class photos and I’ll share on Twitter!

Happy researching!



I’m trying to love… research projects.

Just kidding, I already love research projects.  🙂  But I’m always looking for new and wonderful ways to teach non-fiction in the classroom.  As we know, there’s already a strong non-fiction emphasis in the Common Core and local state standards.

In an excerpt from an Educational Leadership article (December 2012/January 2013 | Volume 70 | Number 4
Common Core: Now What? Pages 80-82), the author states that “one reason reading nonfiction may be so important is that it helps students develop their background knowledge, which itself accounts for as much as 33 percent of the variance in student achievement (Marzano, 2000). Background knowledge becomes more crucial in the later elementary grades, as students begin to read more content-specific textbooks (Young, Moss, & Cornwell, 2007) that often include headings, graphs, charts, and other text elements not often found in the narrative fiction they encountered in the lower grades” (Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009).

It’s important that we are incorporating non-fiction reading into our classrooms in an engaging and unique way, in order to capture the learners attention and get them interested in non-fiction for a lifetime!

One of my best colleagues, Sarah, came to me with this recent research project that she had done with her students during library time based off of the book, I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton.  This story is told from the narratives point of view as she learns new facts about spiders in an effort to convince herself that she likes them… to no avail!


As the readers goes through the text, he/she is constantly learning the good, bad, and gross facts about spiders… and in a playful way!  Barton uses lots of non-fiction features such as labels, captions, and comparisons to engage the reader.  For example, when I read this to my 3 1/2 year old, he was able to relate (and laugh) at the fact that spiders don’t chew well – and neither does his sister!


So let me set up the lesson for you and how you can do this with your elementary students (K-6)!

Lesson Overview

This research lesson encompasses many of the Core anchor standards for Reading and Writing:


Key Ideas and Details:


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Craft and Structure:

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.


Text Types and Purposes:

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Grades K-2 Implementation

This project was done in whole group for Grades K-2 and individually for grades 3-6.  In the younger grades, upon reading the mentor text, I’m Trying to Love Spiders, the students then voted on topics to research.


Anchor Chart to show student group brainstorm session for research


Circle Map graphic organizers for each class were hung in the library throughout the duration of the project.

Students were put into small groups and encouraged to research their topics using various print and digital sources.  Some of my favorite digital resources for research include the Internet Public Library, World Book for Kids, and Wonderopolis)  Each student published the facts that they thought were most interesting.  In first and second grades, those students then chose one type of nonfiction text feature to publish along with their fact (a “feature” meaning a comparison, diagram/label, timeline, table, graph, etc). And they were compiled on one large “page”.



Grades 3-6 Implementation

The upper elementary grades read the mentor text with the teacher.  They then chose their own topics and used  World Book Encyclopedia online as well as online periodicals on the Tennessee Electronic Library to research.  Each class voted on how many facts and text features they thought were appropriate for one published page in the book.  Most classes agreed that around six “dash facts” and three to four nonfiction text features (want to know what a “dash fact” is?  Check out my Wonder Bubble unit here).  Each of their individual pages were compiled into one published class book that will be barcoded and circulated in the library.




Other mentor texts to use


Barton only has published, I’m Trying to Love Spiders, but there are other non-fiction mentor texts that can be used in a fun and cheeky alternative to basic non-fiction fact research.  Here are some of my new favorites and tried and true favorites as well:

I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos

What If A Shark Had a Party? by Alexsei Bitscoff and Camilia de la Bedoyere

I (Don’t) Like Snakes by Nicola Davies

The Disgusting Critters Series by Elise Gravel

What If You Had Animal… Series by Sandra Merkle

Earmuffs for Everyone by Megan McCarthy

The Fly Guy Presents… Series by Tedd Arnold

Diary Of A… series by Doreen Cronin

I’d love to see your student work if you try this in your classroom!  Tag me on Instagram @cjayneteach or tweet me @CJayne_Teach!  Also catch the replay of the Periscope I did on this topic where I preview all of the titles listed above.

Thanks for reading!


[All images in this post are copyrighted by the Author/Illustrator/Publisher.  Images of student work are copyrighted by Sarah Svarda and C. Jayne Teach, 2016 and may not be used without credit back to this original post.  All Right Reserved.]

Empowering Our Girls
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*This is the second of a two part blog post.


It’s not a big secret that diversity in the world of children’s literature could certainly be better.  For years now, teachers, parents, and librarians have said that we need more mirror and window books in our schools and homes.  “Window” and “mirror” books are those that we can see characters like ourselves (mirror) in but also take a peek into the lives of other genders, races, and ethnicities (window).  There are lots of research and articles surrounding this cause and even a campaign entitled #WeNeedDiverseBooks that has launched on the internet and social media. I have a passion for this cause and wrote my graduate thesis on gender roles in award winning children’s lit.  And while female characters may have increased slightly, there is still a serious drought for multicultural books.  My last post shared 10 new releases to celebrate powerful and strong African-Americans (and most were about women!) but there’s more for you and your students!  Let’s break it down.

Taking down the gender stereotype, one book at a time!


I was already a HUGE fan of Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty.  Rosie Revere is the story of a young female engineer a la Rosie the Riveter, who inspires young females to follow their passion and their love for creating (the engineering field is also lacking female representation… but that’s another post for another day).  But this September, Beaty will do it again with Ada Twist, Scientist, a curious African-American girl who embarks on a fact-finding mission while conducting scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery!  “Like her classmates Iggy and Rosie, Ada has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose?  When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. But, this time, her experiments lead to trouble.”

Not only do I love to see strong female characters in literature, but I also love to see the “typical male” careers being portrayed by young girls!  We need more girls in the fields of math, science, and technology and allowing them to read these mirror books will surely plant that seed!



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I hope you are familiar with GoldieBlox, the construction sets that allow girls to tap into their spatial skills by giving them the tools to create and invent on their own!  “In a world where men largely outnumber women in science, technology, engineering and math, girls lose interest in these subjects as early as age 8.  Construction toys develop an early interest in these subjects, but for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered “boys’ toys.” GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”  Goldie even has her own collection of children’s lit that aims towards encouraging girls to enter into STEM careers.

GoldieBlox herself is a wild-eyed blonde inventor and engineer who embraces her quirky side, but now she has a new best friend in tow.  Ruby Rails is a spirited programmer and software engineer (and prize-winning photographer) who can write code faster than you can say “computer”.  She was released in 2015 and is “more than just a sidekick“.  She is the strong African-American protagonist that is helping solve the representation problem.


“In the hundreds of action movies that hit theaters every year, we see the same type of person saving the day: a big, buff, scowling man.  In movies across the board – G-rated, family films included – male speaking characters outnumber female speaking characters three to one.  It’s been almost twenty-five years since we’ve had a top grossing live action film that was led by woman of color. Our girls deserve action heroes with flowing hair and combat boots. Our girls deserve to see themselves onscreen as well as calling the shots behind the scenes. Our girls deserve more. #playlikeahero  Click here to watch the full campaign.

And yes, GoldieBlox also has a male friend too!  His name is Li and he’s a risk-taker and physicist.  You can read all about him and the rest of Goldies squad here.




Marley Dias is a pretty cool girl (pictured above in red).  As an 11 year old, she realized that she was unable to connect with the books that her teacher was giving her to read.  She said that most books were about “white boys and their dogs”, and it was extremely frustrating for her.  So she started the book drive #1000BlackGirlBooks in order to collect 1,000 books with positive black female protagonists!  She then plans to donate them to Retreat Primary and Junior School and Library in Jamaica, where her mother grew up.  Pretty awesome, huh?

Click here to see her full news segment and to see how you can participate and donate to her cause!


So, there you have it!  I hope that this combination of resources and literature will help encourage you to give your students the best opportunities to see all stereotypes squashed and representation of all cultures and genders in your classroom!  Your girls need it to start with YOU!

10 Common Core Aligned Texts To Use For Black History Month
*This is the first of a two part blog-post.  Come back Thursday for more!

I always loved February in the classroom.  I felt like the entire month was full of ways could celebrate love in the most purest of ways, especially during Black History Month. The teaching opportunities and stories of empowerment, bravery, and accomplishment are so rich and what better way to tell these stories than through the latest children’s literature!

I asked my best book friend, Sarah, to help me cultivate some of these titles and I want to highlight them here in this post.  All have a 2015/2016 publication date and some are even un-released yet!  I hope you’ll be able to incorporate them throughout this month and the rest of your school year.  I’ve added some relevant Common Core standards to tie in with each book too, just for the ease of lesson planning!  Oh and catch me on Periscope, this Thursday (2/18) at 7CST or you can see it here if you missed it.

1. Poet, the Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate


George Moses Horton was born into slavery in 1789.  He taught himself to read and began authoring poems before he even knew how to write.  He would recite them to local students at UNC Chapel Hill, becoming the first African-American poet in the South.  He eventually became a professional poet with a published anthology, funded by a politically-liberal journalist in 1829.

This book is inspiring for children and adults alike with beautiful illustrations and a poignant biography of a remarkable man.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


2. Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Blidner

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The true story about a New Orleans street sweeper, Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Sprit of New Orleans, is a beautiful story of resiliency.  When Hurricane Katrina hits Cornelius’ home, he was faced with the overwhelming task of cleaning up the beloved city with the other volunteers.  This book is filled with the spirit of New Orleans and is accompanied by happy and bright illustrations even in the midst of disaster.  See the book trailer here!  (Book trailers are the best way to get kids excited about upcoming literature you plan on sharing in class)

This book would be a great compliment to Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown (2015) and a good tie in to your social studies lessons that may surround the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


3. I am Martin Luther King Jr. by Brad Meltzer


Gosh, I love Brad Meltzer.  He writes for both adults and children, and I’ve yet to read anything bad from him!  His “I Am” series are some of my most favorite to share with my students and the Martin Luther King Jr. one is the latest addition, just releasing in early January 2016!  This book is no difference from the rest of the series of heroes and follows MLK Jr’s life in an appropriate and engaging way for young readers.  My students love the graphic novel style of this series and I think you will too.

It’s a must-add to your other Martin Luther King Jr. titles for this month and would be a great tie-in to writing workshop research projects surround MLK’s message and how it is poignant and relevant even today.

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

4. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

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A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book by a Caldecott Honored author… so, you know it’s going to be good!  “Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977.  Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats.” (Amazon)  She was famously quoted as saying:

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“Told in the first person from Hamer’s own perspective, this lyrical text in verse emphasizes the activist’s perseverance and courage, as she let her booming voice be heard.” (School Library Journal)  The illustrations are finished as multimedia collages and would also be a nice compliment to your writing workshop as your students research Americans involved in the Civil Rights Movement.  I would have them use Ekua Holmes as their illustrator mentor and imitate this art form in their own research projects.

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.


5. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul


Most of the titles that we accumulate in children’s literature for Black History Month, surround the topic of the Civil Rights Movement.  But it’s important to remember that we are studying all African-Americans who have made an impact on the betterment of our civilization.  And this story is a perfect example of that!

One Plastic Bag is a story set in Njau, Gambia, where people were littering an abundant amount of plastic bags.  They were accumulating on the side of the road and gathering water and attracting mosquitos, livestock were trying to eat them and choking, and they were strangling the local gardens.  Isatou Cessay was a woman determined to make a difference.  She began to crochet the bags into purses in order to recycle them.

This non-fictional story also comes with a timeline in the back and would be a great way to tie in to your study of timelines or even to revisit this book and the concept of recycling during the month of April, around Earth Day.  You could turn this into a PBL to encourage students to recycle something they see frequently littered into a reusable, functional piece.

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.


6. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


This story was originally written as a story for young adults in 2012, but the paperback was just released in early 2016, so I included it in my list!  Also the novel has been re-written in picture book form (above) for your young readers to enjoy too!

When author William Kamkwamba was 14 years old, his village was hit by a drought, everyone’s crops died.  William knew the answer to saving the crops was electricity, a luxury his village did not have, so he began to research how to bring this to his village.  William functioned a windmill out of recycled scraps (salvaged motor parts, a PVC pipe, his father’s broken bicycle, and anything else he could find) in order to harness the wind and generate electricity!  Talk about resourceful!  The windmill managed to light his family’s house, charge community cell phones for a small income, and pump irrigation water.

It would be fascinating to have your students compare the tales of William Kamkwamba and Isatou Cessay (previous book) in order to see how they compare and contrast in both of their perilous situations and hardships that they had to overcome.

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

7. Gaither Sister Series by Rita Williams-Garcia


This book series is the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. One Crazy Summer was published in 2011, with P.S Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama releasing in 2015.  One Crazy Summer won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.  This young adult series raises difficult questions of cultural and ethnic identity, personal responsibility, race, gender, and identity.

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

8. Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince


This is the memoir of ballerina Michaela DePrince, “a young dancer who escaped war-torn Sierra Leone for the rarefied heights of American ballet.

Michaela DePrince was known as girl Number 27 at the orphanage, where she was abandoned at a young age and tormented as a “devil child” for a skin condition that makes her skin appear spotted. But it was at the orphanage that Michaela would find a picture of a beautiful ballerina en pointe that would help change the course of her life.  At the age of four, Michaela was adopted by an American family, who encouraged her love of dancing and enrolled her in classes. She went on to study at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre and is now the youngest principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.”

This story is a great “overcoming the odds” tale and would be great for your middle grade readers.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.


9. Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen


*This book was published in 2003, however, I thought it would be a compliment to the previous book for your K-2 set.

For your younger readers who may also be interested in ballet, Dancing in the Wings is a sweet story authored by actress/choreographer Debbie Allen.  This is a story about Sassy, a young dancer who is told her legs are too long and her feet are too big.  Although she never gives up her dream of becoming a dancer and ultimately her persistence and passion for dance pays off!

This book could be used in the early grades to infer how Sassy is feeling as she is being treated unfairly by others.  There is certainly a teaching point here for being kind to those who are different than ourselves.

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

[Another sweet story that you could also use for your “ballerinas” in class would be Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock – being released in late February 2016]


10. Booked by Kwame Alexander


You probably know poet Kwame Alexander for his 2015 Newbery award winner and Coretta Scott King honor book, The Crossover.  But this April, he’s releasing the followup, titled Booked.  The story is about “twelve-year-old Nick who learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.”

This captivating novel is written in free verse and will certainly be one of this years hottest releases.  And it will be available just in time for National Poetry Month and will be a great edition to your classroom library/poetry unit.  A poet/author study of Kwame Alexander would also be a great activity during this time.  He recently penned a poem, available on Scholastic about his love of reading and books.

Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


So that’s the round-up!  I’ll be back on Thursday with my favorite new release for later this year, and some powerful African-American girls who are making a difference in our classroom libraries and the world of children’s literature!  Stay tuned!


[All images seen in this post are Copyrighted by the author and illustrator.  All rights reserved.]

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