Posts Tagged ‘middle-grade novels’

Poetry Friday round-up is with Linda Baie at Teacher Dance.
I am reading poetry for Round One of Cybils. To see the nominations for 2021, click here.

This week I read the verse novel Starfish by Lisa Fipps. I’m amazed that this is her debut novel. She uses verse effectively; It’s not a prose story told with line breaks. I was drawn in by the story and by the character of Ellie, but I also enjoyed each verse as its own poem.

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

I sent this poem to my friend- Inkling writer Linda Mitchell. She is a librarian in a middle school in Virginia and I know she is the type of librarian who would create a safe place for kids like Ellie.

Below is my review on Goodreads:

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have never been a fat person until I read Starfish by Lisa Fipps. I became Ellie and felt every pain of the torture her family and classmates put her through. Reading this book, I was reminded of the bullying I endured as a skinny teenage girl with a flat chest. No bullying is pretty and it happens to lots of different people for lots of different reasons.

The way that Lisa Fipps can magically place you into the body and mind of Ellie through sparse, yet powerful verse is transformative. It made me as an adult examine the language that I use to talk to others. Like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I want to place this book into the hands of all my students in middle grades. There is an important message here: “I deserve to be seen./ To be noticed./ To be heard./ To be treated like a human./ I starfish./ There’s plenty of room/ for/ each/ and/ every/ one of us/ in the world.” You matter. Ellie matters. I matter.

View all my reviews

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I know, it’s summer and who wants to think about problems during summer?  I didn’t expect to, but I do enjoy having more time to read.  I’ve been reading Dynamic Teaching for Dynamic Reading by Vicki Vinton.  This book was chosen for the CyberPD book for July. To follow the discussions around this book, tune in to #cyberpd and Michelle Nero’s blog Literacy Learning Zone. 

In Dynamic Teaching, Vicki sets us up to think more about the complexity of and the authentic purpose for reading. She leads us into the problem solving process for students when reading.


It’s one thing to read theory in a professional book, but quite another to see the theory play out in your own life.  I started reading Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.  This book is intended for middle grade students, the students I teach. Immediately in the first chapter, I have to enter into the process of solving a problem.

Jinny heard the bell.  She threw down her book, rose from the stale comfort of the old brown sofa, and scrambled to the door.  When she burst from the cabin into the evening air, Jinny ran.

I can assume from the title of the book that Jinny is an orphan.  This first paragraph makes me think she is at camp.  A bell rings, and she runs from the cabin.  As I continue to read, though, I find clues that she is not at any camp I’ve ever known.

My purpose for reading is heightened.  I have to figure out why Jinny is at this camp.  Who else is there?  What happened to her parents?  Reading only this first chapter, I am full of questions.

It is time to honor this process of problem finding and problem solving with our students.  How could I set my students up to do this?

  • What do you think is happening?
  •  What are your questions?
  • Why do you want to keep reading?

My summer reading has taken on a different dimension.  I’m not only reading for understanding, but I am reading to find the problem.  Where can I apply this problem to my teaching?  How do my students find problems?  How do I present problems that will interest them enough to solve?

I have found a problem that interests me.  In fact, it came in the mail.  I think it’s from someone in the CLMOOC postcard exchange, but that in itself is a mystery. I received a postcard with a snippet of text glued to the back.  The instructions are to create a poem out of the text, black-out style.

As you may be able to see, I’ve started underlining words in pencil.  I haven’t committed to any of them yet.  The fact that I have to black-out and send the postcard back with some sort of meaningful text selected has heightened this problem from one of mere play to a serious thoughtful process.   How can I take this experience and apply it in my classroom?  I want my students to both play with language and see the serious potential of making meaning with words.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to send a postcard to each of my students with these same instructions?

Problem seeking leads to problem finding to problem solving.  This is the way of language in reading and in writing.  I invite you to contemplate problems in your own literacy learning and teaching and link up your blog post below.


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Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

Link up with Teach Mentor Texts

I am sporadically participating in this online book review meme for kidlit from Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey.

This summer I committed myself to reading middle grade novels. One, because I love reading them, and two, because I want to be better prepared to be a book whisperer for my students. (#bookaday)

absolutely almost

Donalyn Miller recommended Absolutely Almost saying that it was an important book like Wonder. I am a huge fan of Wonder and think everybody should read it, so I thought I should read Absolutely Almost. At first I was not too sure how I was going to like Albie. The voice of the character in my opinion is too young. After reading The Year of Billy Miller, I thought Albie sounded more like a second grader than a fifth grader. Eventually I fell in love with Albie. He has the coolest babysitter Calista who does anything to make Albie more accepting of himself. Calista makes up for the shortcomings of Albie’s parents. I was a bit frustrated by their shortcomings. His father does not even remember buying the A-10 Thunderbolt model and promising to help Albie build it. In fact, Dad buys him another one for his birthday. I know some real life parents are career minded, but would a dad really be this stupid and heartless? And Albie’s mother is not too much better. She does tell him again and again that he is caring and thoughtful and good. Which he is, but I can’t help but think that Mom doesn’t see her son for who he really is. And to top off his difficulty at home, he is bullied at school. I found myself becoming more and more empathetic with Albie. He is a hero, and students should read this book. They will learn to understand that not everyone is gifted, but everyone is valuable.

Lisa Graff crafts a lovely novel with word play beginning with the title of Absolutely Almost and continuing with crafted chapters using anaphora (a repeated phrase). My favorite is “rain in New York”:

When it rains in New York, no one knows where to walk…When it rains in New York, The playgrounds are empty and the buses are full. When it rains in New York, the garbage cans at every corner are stuffed with the twisted bits of broken umbrellas. I like it when it rains in New York.

An interview with Lisa Graff about Absolutely Almost.

Albie is slower than most kids in a lot of ways, and I wanted to explore what that would be like for him in a world that constantly expects him to be smarter, faster, better than he is. In a world like that, where does a kid like Albie fit? How does he find his own worth?


I am loving Cynthia Lord’s books. I finished half a chance, and I’m almost finished with Rules. In half a chance, Lucy’s family moves to a house on a lake in New Hampshire. There she meets Nate’s family and helps them track the habits of loons living in the lake. I love nature and the descriptions of the lake and the loons is beautifully done. Lucy is trying to prove to her photographer father that she has a talent for photography, too. She enters a contest that her father will be judging. For students, I like the ideas for the photo contest as metaphor. The contest calls for photos that reflect abstract words, such as secret and lost. I’d like to use these words with students as writing prompts. We could discuss how Lucy interpreted the words with her photographs and then make our own interpretations.

Song for Papa Crow

Schiffer Publishing sent me a copy of a new picture book, Song for Papa Crow by Marit Menzin. The story follows the common children’s book theme that you are special just as you are. Little Crow loves to sing until he is taunted by all the other birds who do not appreciate his “Caw! Caw!” So, a magic seed transforms Little Crows voice; that is, until he is in danger. In the end, Little Crow comes to appreciate his out of tune voice. The illustrations are made with collage. I love the art work. Marit Menzin personifies her birds. For students, they could make their own book using the common theme and use collage for illustrating. Song for Papa Crow is available at Schiffer Publishing.

Used by permission from Schiffer Publishing.  All rights reserved.

Used by permission from Schiffer Publishing. All rights reserved.

Marit Menzin, all rights reserved.

Marit Menzin, all rights reserved.

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