My Favorite Summer Read

book cover

Do you ever get super excited when you finish reading a book, and it joins your “Favorite Books of All Time” list??? That is the feeling I had yesterday when I finished reading the Newbery Award winning book The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (yes, that name may sound familiar…she wrote the Animorphs series with her husband, Michael Grant). I read this book in about two days, as I sat at my daughter, Mari’s, state swim meet. Although the format of the book made me think the book would be a quicker read, I found myself frequently pausing to appreciate every part of the story, savoring each word. The fact that this story is based on the true story of a the Shopping Mall Gorilla named Ivan made me even more interested.

See this link for real images of Ivan.

This is a story about Ivan, an artistic silverback gorilla who lives in captivity in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He’s pretty happy with his life at the mall because he is surrounded by his friends Stella (an elephant), Bob (a dog), and Julia (a girl whose dad is the night custodian at the mall). When Ruby, a baby elephant, joins the animals at the mall, Ivan sees life through different eyes…and he begins to think that maybe a change is in order for everyone to find true happiness.

My Post-It notes sure got a workout on this read. I was continuously flagging words, sentences, and situations that grabbed and moved me. Mari’s Gramma Jan was at the swim meet with me, reading her own book (not Ivan, though), and noticed all the Post-It notes I was using. “Wow! That must be a pretty good book,” she said to me. It was more than pretty good, Gramma Jan. It was incredible and memorable! See more for yourself by visiting the official website at .


This book appealed to me on so many levels. I marked many well-written sentences and paragraphs which I felt were great for writing models (look out incoming 5th graders! You’ll be seeing many of these in class this year.) Parts of the story that I thought needed reflection, discussion, and extra consideration were flagged. Anything that I thought was worth a prediction, a connection, an inference were also flagged. As the picture shows, this book is packed with many amazing points to ponder…a perfect book to read, to learn from, and to love.

July Bloggers’ Challenge!!! Who Is Up for It???

Summer Reading

Hi, Summer Readers! I am finally settling into some great summer reads and reading routines…how about you? Every morning, after I go for my run, I come home, grab my bottle of water and my book, and I spend some quiet time reading outside in my favorite chair. That’s one of the best times of the day for me to steal reading! I hope you’re finding good times during your day to read.

I just finished reading a couple of fantastic books. The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley, “Magic and Other Misdemeanors” (Book #5). I’d give it a 5-star rating, especially because Michael Buckley gives us some more insight into the Scarlet Hand and its master. I have a great prediction as to who I think the master is…but I won’t be a spoiler and say. The other good book I just read was given to me by my very dear friend, Miss Shammas. It’s titled “Small Medium at Large” by Joanne Levy. I’d give it a 4-star rating, and I’d recommend it to girls going into junior high. I loved it because it was about a girl, Lylah, who can talk to ghosts…very high interest to me!!!

I have heard from many of you sharing what you’re reading, making awesome book recommendations, and commenting on what our other bloggers are doing…I can’t tell you how many smiles you have put on my face by telling me about your reading experiences. I know even more of you are out there having some great reading experiences, and I want to hear from YOU, too!

So…here’s your challenge! You can meet the challenge by doing one or more of the following:
1. I would love it if you could get a friend and/or family member to comment on the blog, sharing what they are reading or commenting on other blog entries.
2. Share some word games that you’ve played this summer…any will do! Are you playing word games like Scrabble, Bananagrams, or have you found any good word game apps that I need to try???
3. Spend some time reading to or with someone. (This is something I need to do more of…I have some great book recommendations I think my daughter NEEDS to read, and my son has to read “The Odyssey” by Homer this summer for one of his AP classes next year.) I promise to share if I get some reading time with them…will you share your experiences with me?
4. Have a Book Swap with some friends/neighbors. This is a great way to trade good books for other good books. It’s like a party where books are the guests of honor!
5. Have you been able to steal a little reading time each day this summer? Comment on when and where you are making time to read.
6. Keep reading and keep posting comments, recommendations, etc. You are the inspiration in summer reading for me and for others!

I can’t wait to see who’s up for the challenge…will it be you??? I HOPE SO!!! Happy reading:)

Some “Hot” Summer Reading Tips

Thumbs Up
You are all getting a big “thumbs-up” from me on your summer reading! Woohoo for you!!! I am so glad that I have heard from many of you already this summer. I am totally thrilled to hear about all the great books you are enjoying! Many of you have been using your Someday Lists to get new titles to read. Hopefully, if you need a new book to read, you’ll visit the comments sections of our blog to help get you some new titles.

I love how one of our SB friends mentioned that he and his mom are reading a book…together! I LOVE THAT!!! He has taken on a pretty challenging book to read. Have you ever done that? I know that when I’m reading something a bit more difficult or confusing, it really helps to talk to someone who has read or is reading the book, too. It gives us a chance to ask questions…Did you understand that part? What does this mean? What do you think will happen next? How did that happen? It’s like having your own personal book club…created by you! I noticed that another SB friend mentioned how he and his family are spending time reading together. That comment made me smile, because it’s a fantastic way to spend quality family time together. What cool ideas! Let me know if anyone else decides to do some of their reading with others. I’d like to hear about it!

I’ve been playing this really cool word game app on my phone. It’s called Word Search for Kids, and it was free to download. It’s pretty fun because it’s basically a word search game…which I totally love!!! I have been playing it when I have a few minutes here or there. My favorite part about the game is it tells me how fast I completed the word search puzzle. I’m pretty competitive, so I like to see if I can beat my best time on each game. Let me know if you try it out!

Word Search for Kids App

I just finished reading “Stranded” and “Ghost of Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen. I’d give both books 5 stars, for sure. If you like whales and animal rescues, you will really like “Stranded.” “Ghost of Spirit Bear” is the sequel to “Touching Spirit Bear,” one of my very favorite books of all times. I will probably do something with these books in my class next year, along with some other Ben Mikaelsen books. I’m even thinking an author study on him would be really cool. Did you know that he used to have a 700-pound black bear named Buffy? He’s a very fascinating author and man. That’s why I’m thinking we will learn more about him next year!

Summer Reading Gets Underway!!!

Well, friends, I’m happy to say that today is Day 1 of your summer vacation! It’s going to be a great summer, and I can’t wait to jump in and begin to read all the books that are stacked three-feet high on my nightstand.

I’m super excited because many of you have already contacted me about the books YOU are reading. That’s really KOOL!!!!! Here’s the scoop on what I’m reading right now…

The book is called “Stranded” by Ben Mikaelsen.
stranded_cover[1] I’m only about a third of the way through the book, but I’m completely hooked! It’s about a 12-year-old girl named Koby who lives by the ocean. She lost her foot 4 years ago in an accident, her parents are splitting up, and she goes out to sea everyday in her little boat because that’s where she is happiest. One day, when she is out at sea, she comes across an injured mother whale who gives birth to a baby whale. She ends up helping them out and names the mother “Lady” and the baby “Squirt.” I can’t wait to see what happens next. I have a feeling Koby is going to make a huge difference in Lady and Squirt’s lives.

Ben Mikaelsen happens to be the author of one of my favorite novels, “Touching Spirit Bear.” Check out this Prezi presentation I found on the Internet…it ends with a book trailer on the book.

Welcome Summer Readers!!!

Welcome to a summer filled with great reading and good times! To get you ready to read, check out these two YouTube videos on reading. The first one, “Reading in the USA,” was actually directed and filmed by a graduate of the masters program that Miss Shammas and I are in…we know him, so I guess we are almost famous! The “Gotta Keep Reading” is another favorite one of mine. I hope they get you in the mood for some excellent summer reading!

I am super excited to welcome all of the Shark summer readers and parents to my, or should I say our blog! This is going to be the place where we will share our great reads, make book recommendations, talk about some good reading websites to visit, and generally celebrate all of the great reading we are doing! I have included the Summer Reading Packet and the bookmark in case you need them.

Handout Packet

My Top Summer Reads Bookmarks

Do you have a library card??? If you don’t, be sure to stop in to the Oswego Public Library and get one…they’re free, you know! While you’re there, you can sign up for their awesome summer reading program! That’s free, too!

How great is it to be surrounded by books all summer long? I can’t wait to dive into my Someday List! Here are some of the titles on my list: Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder, Ghost of Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen (the sequel to one of my very favorites, Touching Spirit Bear), and I can’t wait to continue reading the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins! There are so many great books to read…summer can’t get here fast enough! Happy reading, Sharks!

Novel Study Workshop and Presentations

In reading this month, 5K has been engaged in, inspired by, and enthralled with our Schooled by Gordon Korman novel study. Schooled is a fantastic realistic fiction story about Capricorn “Cap” Anderson, a 13-year-old boy who has grown up on a commune. When his grandmother, Rain is injured and has to spend time in a hospital and rehabilitation facility to heal, Cap’s world is turned upside-down. Having no other family or friends to stay with, Cap must live with strangers in the “real” world, a world from which Rain has spent her whole life shielding Cap. For the first time, Cap experiences public school, TV, bullies, and many other firsts.

This novel serves as an excellent mentor text which I use to teach previewing and predicting skills, character development, and point of view (to name a few). As this book is character-driven, the culminating activity was to create a character analysis Power Point to be presented to the class. We checked out our school’s laptop computers for the week, learned how to use the Internet to search for images and information, discussed presentation skills, referred to our Reader’s Notebooks, and prepared some pretty incredible Power Point presentations.

Workshop Time

Cody Works Hard on His Presentation

Graci’s Final Presentation

The top question of the week, as we finished up our presentations: “Mrs. Kraus, are we going to get to read another novel, and can we do a Power Point presentation for that?” My answer: “Absolutely, and I’m thinking a podcast may be in order for the next novel study!” Stay tuned…

A Visit from Ruth Ayres

Last week, during our SIP day, Southbury was lucky to have Ruth Ayres, one of the authors of Day by Day, spend the day with us. I was able to observe her in one of our 4th grade classrooms, modeling writer’s workshop. Ruth was fantastic to watch! Her mini-lesson was on integrating dialogue into writing. As she conferred with the students, I was drawn to her personal style, her teaching techniques, and her overall comfortable, yet purposeful, presence in the classroom. The students who met with her gained a great deal of writing knowledge in a short conference time. As I am conferencing with my students my hope is that I will make a difference in my students writing knowledge in a similar manner.

Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres, Authors of Day by Day

Where I felt I learned the most was in the sharing time of the workshop. I was amazed at how many students were able to share during this time. Ruth started by asking, “Would you like to share what you learned today?” The students were encouraged to respond with a, “Yes, thank you.” Then the sharing began…each writer shared what he or she had learned in the conference time with Ruth, and brought the entire lesson full circle, as many of them worked on adding dialogue to their writing. Those who didn’t work on adding dialogue that day still added value to the share time. One boy had trouble finding something to write about because he was “stuck.” Ruth, very cleverly, had him share what he plans to do to get unstuck. Many of his peers related to this as they have all faced that problem at some point in their writing. I loved how the students were able to “teach” their peers during sharing and how Ruth’s differentiated lessons during conferences became something every writer in class benefitted from at this time. WOW! I truly left the classroom encouraged and inspired by what I had seen in action. I can’t wait to try it in my room starting tomorrow!

I was so excited to see that Ruth gave Southbury a “shout out” on her blog Two Writing Teachers! Thank you, Ruth Ayres! You’ve helped open my eyes even more to what writer’s workshop can look like…my students are in for a great year of writing.

Writer’s Workshop in Full Swing

This has been a very exciting month for me as I have worked to launch Writer’s Workshop in my classroom. The writers in my room are very enthusiastic and LOVE writing! They continue to add to their Writer’s Notebooks as we incorporate new ideas, mini-lessons, and grammar skills. I invite them to try any and all techniques, and, surprisingly, they are!

Our basic schedule is ideal. We have an hour block of Workshop. I have it broken into three parts: 10-15 minute mini-lesson, 30 minute writing block, and 10 minute share time. During the writing block, I have been working to conference with my students. This is where the differentiated learning occurs…and many great discussions occur! I have been using my Writer’s Workshop Record Sheets to help me track which students I have met with, what they did well, an area on which to focus, and when they have shared.

The other day, Alex and I had a remarkable conference. He had been writing a fantasy story about Zubas (zebra-tubas) who go to war over pizza. He proudly shared the map he created of the setting (as all good fantasies have…he’s truly reading like a writer!). As he was sharing part of his story with me, I was mentally making my “teaching point” about encouraging him to focus on incorporating more dialogue into his story. Before I could utter the words, my mouth dropped open and spread into a huge grin…Alex said to me that he had noticed, while reading The Hobbit, how J. R. R. Tolkien had used dialogue for his characters. Alex commented to me that when a new character spoke, he realized Tolkien started a new paragraph…he stole the words right from my mouth! I was so proud and amazed by his observation and desire for application in his writing, I about exploded. Last week we had a mini-lesson on reading like writers and looking for things they can emulate in their writing…Alex had done exactly that! I invited him to share at the end of class, but Alex chose to wait until his piece was further along. I can’t wait to hear him tell his classmates of his writing!

Although the following YouTube clip is not of Alex sharing his dialogue, it is of another boy who shared the pride of writing dialogue in his Writer’s Notebook.

A Very Early Field Trip

The second week of school, we took our 5th graders on our first field trip of the year to Harris Forest Preserve. What? Seriously? Yes, it’s true!  As a connection to our first science unit, Ecosystems, we used the field trip as the unit kick-off since we had not really begun teaching . I have to admit, I was less than thrilled at this trip being so early in the year; however, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise!

The weather that day was beautiful, considering it had rained heavily the two days prior to the trip. My class was excited and eager for the day to begin. We had two great parent chaperones, Mrs. Bryant and Mrs. Kuhn, and our awesome Teaching Assistant, Miss Carol, joined us for the day! We went on a nature hike where we learned a great deal about our local ecosystem. Something all the kids enjoyed learning was what poison ivy looks like. They also enjoyed seeing if they could spot it on their own, which they did!

Another fun experience we had was our prairie exploration time. The kids had a great time catching, releasing, and identifying dragonflies, butterflies, bugs, and other prairie critters. Katie found the inchworm very fascinating…she likes inchworms a lot!!!

Katie’s Inchworm

We ended the day at the pond, looking for signs of a healthy ecosystem. We found evidence that the pond was healthy. There were nymphs, tadpoles, and other signs of growing and returning pond life. It was especially muddy around the pond, so the students had to be very cautious so they didn’t fall in or step in a soggy spot. Unfortunately, Chris didn’t realize his foot had sunk into the mucky mud until it was too late. The muck swallowed his shoe! Mrs. Bryant and I had to dig into the muck to find Chris’s shoe (we couldn’t see it). Once we felt it we had to pull until it suctioned itself free of the gripping muck…SSHHLLOOOOOOOPPP! Success!

Catching Critters at the Pond

A Beautiful Day to Catch CrittersThe Boys Love the Pond!

Our class thoroughly enjoyed this field trip and learned so much from the events of the day. We also benefitted greatly because the trip helped bring us closer as a class. It was a terrific opportunity to get to know each other better! Although I was not excited about the trip being so early, it truly turned out to be a blessing for our class!

Freaky Fast First Week

The first week of school…exciting, exhilarating, exhausting! Exactly as I expected and so much more. After all the preparation and anticipation, the big day finally arrived last Wednesday. I welcomed 29 students into our fifth grade classroom. What a great group of kiddos they are!!!! I was amazed at how smooth our start-up was this year. Hopefully the smooth start is a good sign of what lies ahead. My class earns marbles for awesome behavior in our classroom and around the school. On the first day they had earned SIX marbles before 10:00 a.m. WOWEE!!!

Once we had settled in and gotten to know each other, the teaching finally began. I absolutely loved the first days of teaching. I felt like I was “home again.” I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was back in front of my class, doing what I love to do…aaahhhhh!!!!

My first week teaching highlights are many, but I’d like to share how excited I am about launching the Writer’s Notebook. Thanks to Dr. Biggs-Tucker for sharing all of these amazing ideas and activities with our masters class, this process has been very smooth! Both my students and I have loved all the start-up activities we have done. We started by reading from some mentor texts (I chose Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, and Wallace’s Lists by Barbara Bottner). Each of these books provided us with a hearty discussion about what writers do, where they might get their ideas, and how they capture those ideas. I distributed notebooks to each of my students and we talked about decorating them with items that are special to them. We watched a fabulous Writer’s Notebook video on YouTube by Ruth Ayres (author of Day By Day) on how she fills her notebooks. Then, we read the Introduction chapter from Ralph Fletcher’s book, A Writer’s Notebook, about what a Writer’s Notebook is and what it is not which lead to a great class discussion. And today, we completed our heart maps which helped us focus on the people/places/things we love most in the world. The enthusiasm toward writing in my classroom is inspiring! I can’t wait to reach new writing heights this year!

Heart Map


Notebook Covers