Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

January 8, 2018
by mnosal
1 Comment

It’s Monday and I’m Reading and Celebrating Jacqueline Woodson!

It’s Monday!

Thank, always, to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts  and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for hosting #IMWAYR.

I’m so excited about the news that Jacqueline Woodson is the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. This news has sent me running to my bookshelves to re-read my JW author collection. Her books have been so integral to my teaching life that I feel almost the way one feels when a family member reaches a big milestone and everyone is overcome with emotions. It’s a feeling deep within my heart, and I’m so grateful for her work and the recognition she’s receiving with this platform. The timing could not be better.

My very first introduction to J. Woodson’s work was at a workshop at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. One of the staff developers opened her session with a reading from From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun and we were all blown away. To this day, when I read the section of the book with “Alone” I am lifted up to my own reading rainbow!

From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun

When I was in the classroom, I loved reading Ms. Woodson’s picture books for a variety of purposes. Her books make fantastic Interactive Read Alouds, and when planned well, teachers and children can have the most profound discussions. If you are looking for Social Action text set material, look no further than Visiting Day, Our Gracie Aunt, and Each Kindness.

The first time I read Visiting Day aloud was with 3rd graders, and the experience prompted me to find more books that helped children deal with hard topics. So many of my students had family members who were incarcerated and what blew me away was how many of them had never talked about it in school and asked for “more books like Visiting Day.” This was way before the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and the experience led me on a book finding journey to make sure my classroom library reflected the students in my classroom.

One of my favorite books to read loud with 5th graders is Locomotion,

followed by Peace, Locomotion. My students always loved Lonnie Collins Motion and his sister, Lili.

Again, the profoundness of the writing comes through so beautifully when you are reading aloud to children and capture their responses in the moment. I can recall many students whose reluctance to read was obliterated by these books.

I’m going to revisit this post …..need to rush back to school this morning … to add more.

Jacqueline Woodson official inauguration as National Ambassador will be live-streamed on January 9, at 10:30 AM EST. See you there!

January 5, 2018
by mnosal

Poetry Snow Day Friday!

It’s Friday, what poem are you reading?

Thanks to Reading to the Core this week for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup

I always love the chance to read and share this Billy Collins’ poem on an actual snow day! I hope you enjoy it, wherever you are:

Snow Day

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
(Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation


September 18, 2017
by mnosal


It’s Monday!

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this great meme.

I cannot say enough about how great it was to be at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Social Justice Saturday this past weekend. I’m going to gather my notes and post more about the speakers and ideas shared at the event, but today will focus on the amazing opening keynote by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, #BooksBuildHope. Andrea called on us to “Wake up and get woke!” She talked about how she learned the difference between “empathy” and “compassion” and said that empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another, and compassion is empathy plus taking an action.

Andrea talked about what she calls her Page One Pact to her readers. It goes like this (from the first page):

Come with me on this journey ….

Stay with me ….

A few more pages, and you won’t even know you’re in a book…..

I loved her passion for her readers! As she read from a few of her books, she demonstrated how she hooks in a reader from the first page, and how she keeps her reader going in the book. These are some of her books I am re-reading this week:













Andrea talked about integrating words and images when teaching with her books. She also mentioned that, coinciding with the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day, with “brown sugar boy Peter” was making its way into the hands of children all over. #BooksBuildHope.

Brian talked about “hands as the messengers of the heart.” This theme is present in many of his books. In Max Found Two Sticks, Scholastic notes that “Max’s quiet introspection turns into an exuberant celebration of the world around him.” This book is from 1994, and I did not know it. It is a beautiful story, told in words and illustrations.,204,203,200_.jpg

There is so much more to share, but I need to get to school, so more later. Happy Reading!

August 21, 2017
by mnosal

It’s Monday! I’m Reading About The Great Migration

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

 It’s Monday…. here’s what I’m reading this week.

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this meme.

The past few weeks have brought a lot of necessary conversations about issues of race and history into the teaching community. It’s so important for us to understand the real history of our country, to understand from multiple perspectives, and to listen —- really listen —- to learn, and to be ready to change.

I was listening to one of my favorite journalist/authors, Isabel Wilkerson, on the events in Charlottesville, talking about people’s responses to her incredible book, The Warmth of Other Suns.

If you haven’t read this book, you need to. It changed my understanding of so much of what I thought I knew about our country. Wilkerson talked about how many people contact her after reading her book to tell her they never knew about the Great Migration. It’s not taught well in most history classes, but it is a phenomenon that has had a profound impact on our country. I will end this post with a companion book that is also important reading. Wilkerson got the title from Richard Wright:

“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”

With this in mind, I started to think about children’s books that address the topic, so what I’m reading today falls under the umbrella of the Great Migration.

First up:

This Is the Rope, by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by James Ransom. In a New York Times review of family stories, Valerie Steiker writes:

In “This Is the Rope,” the Newbery Honor winner Jacqueline Woodson uses a common household item to reflect one family’s experience of the Great Migration. “This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina,” the young narrator recounts. “This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.” Spare and evocative as a poem, Woodson’s refrain winds through the book, fastening us to the comfort of memories and the strength of family ties.

This Is the Rope is lovely as a mentor text for teaching family stories, memoir, and personal narrative. The generational context provides inspiration for lots of storytelling.


The Great Migration: Journey to the North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Of the book, Zinn Education says,

Here is a picture book that introduces the historic story of the Great Migration to young readers. Eloise Greenfield, one of the most important children’s book writers of the last 40 years, wrote about her family migration from Parmele, North Carolina to Washington, DC in Childtimes: A Three Generation Memoir for upper elementary school….

For everyone who was gripped by Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, you will be moved once again as you read Greenfield and Gilchrist’s story of the journey that transformed the lives of so many people and so many cities in this country.

This is a great addition to any classroom library. Who doesn’t love Eloise Greenfield, and this book is very accessible to a range of elementary grades and beyond.

Another beautiful book to add to this text set is:

The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence. From goodreads:

This critically acclaimed picture book suitable for a wide range of readers chronicles the Great Migration—the diaspora of African Americans who headed to the North after WWI—through the iconic paintings and words of renowned artist Jacob Lawrence. The New York Times praised it as “a compassionate and sensitive portrayal of history.”

Lawrence was just 23 years old when he painted his acclaimed Migration Series, striking tempera paintings evocative of the enormity of the migration. Children are captivated by the images in this book, and it is a great source for writing and discussion.

The Warmth of Other Suns taught me about events important to my understanding of the development of cities in the northern states. Another book, recently published, that is helping me better understand the way things developed and got us to where we are now is from Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.,204,203,200_.jpg

From goodreads:

In The Color of Law (published by Liveright in May 2017), Richard Rothstein argues with exacting precision and fascinating insight how segregation in America—the incessant kind that continues to dog our major cities and has contributed to so much recent social strife—is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.

So much is explained through these (very wrong) government policies. It was a feature, not a bug.

Well, that’s what I’m reading right now!






August 18, 2017
by mnosal

#Poetry Friday: Healing Maya Angelou

Poetry Friday!

Thanks to A Journey Through the Pages for hosting this week’s roundup. Check out a fantastic post there!

Words matter. Actions speak louder than words, sometimes. The events of the past week, month, six months require us to take stock of our lives and to think about ways that we can be our better selves. The responsibility to lead an examined life — a woke life — feels even bigger when our work is with children.

This week’s poem is from Maya Angelou. I was trying to find poems that I will share with children in the coming weeks, and always appreciate Maya Angelou’s beautiful and profound poetry. I’m sharing part of the poem below. Listen to Maya Angelou read her poem here and find the complete poem here:

Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man…..

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.


May the force of love be with you in these troubling times.



August 11, 2017
by mnosal

Poetry Friday: Changed

It’s Poetry Friday …. Inspire someone…..share a poem!

Thanks to Margaret over at Reflections on the Teche for hosting this week.

It’s that time of summer when thoughts turn back to the classroom and I am missing having my own classroom to plan and prepare. I’ve been organizing my books and notebooks and reading through old favorites. Feeling nostalgic.

Someone reminded me this week of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, and I thought it would be a good one to share for Poetry Friday:


by Naomi Shihab Nye

They said something mean about me

and didn’t notice it was mean.

So my heart wandered into the rainy night without them

and found a canopy

to hide under.

My eyes started seeing through things.

Like gauze.

Old self through new self.

My flexible body

went backwards

and forwards

in time.

It’s hard to describe but true;

I grew another head

with better ideas

inside my old head.


I like the message and think this is a good poem to help us think about choosing our words carefully …..choosing KIND whenever possible.

I realized that I shared another text by Naomi Shihab Nye earlier this week. Nye is one of my favorite writers, especially to share with students. I found an interview with Nye from one of my favorite podcasts, On Being with Krista Tippett. It’s a wonderful, inspiring conversation with the poet and you can find it here.

Happy Poetry Friday!

August 7, 2017
by mnosal

It’s Monday! I’m Reading ……

It’s Monday!

Thanks to Jen Vincent at TeachMentorTexts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers for hosting this meme.

While listening to the radio this week, I learned about a poet whose work I was unfamiliar with. He is Bao Phi, and you can hear the feature on NPR’s Code Switch  here. I was really taken by the interview and his life story. He reminds me that we have still so much work to do when it comes to diversity in children’s literature (although he is not considered a children’s author). Grace Lin and the late, great Walter Dean Myers remind us to think of books as both “windows and mirrors” selecting books for our children. It’s an ongoing and worthy process, and we need to keep growing the conversation, with our teaching communities, and groups such as We Need Diverse Books.

Bao Phi does have a children’s book recently published, A Different Pond.

Image result for a different pond

Here is the summary, from NPR:

As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.

Bao Phi said he wrote this book, based on his own childhood, for his 7 year old daughter in response to a dearth of children’s literature about Asian Americans, in particular Asian Americans who are not East Asian. I love the way this book addresses important issues with honesty, love, and hope. I am so glad that I happened to turn on the radio at the exact time that his interview was aired, and I invite you to listen to and learn about Bao Phi!


August 4, 2017
by mnosal

Poetry Friday: Under This Sky

Poetry Friday!

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Donna at Mainely Write

So many people shared Emma Lazarus’s iconic poem this week, The New Colossus. It was a reminder of the power of poetry, of words put together on a page with intention and passion. I was reminded of a favorite anthology of mine, This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems From Around The World, by Naomi Shihab Nye.

If you are looking for inspiration today, check out this podcast with Nye from On Being with Krista Tippett, Your Life is a Poem.

The poem I want to share this week comes from the anthology by poet Zia Hyder, and is a reminder of our likenesses and differences in this great, big world:



There’s an enormous comfort knowing

we all live under this same sky,

whether in New York or Dhaka,

we see the same sun and same moon.


When it is night in New York,

the sun shines in Dhaka,

but that doesn’t matter.

Flowers that blossom here in spring

are unknown in meadows of distant Bengal —

that too doesn’t matter.

There’s no rainy season here —

the peasant in Bengal welcomes the new crop

with homemade sweets

while here, winter brings mountains of snow.


No one here knows Grandmother’s hand-sewn quilt —

even that doesn’t matter.

There’s an enormous comfort knowing

we all live under this same sky….. (read the rest of the poem in the anthology)


Have a poetic weekend!

June 4, 2017
by mnosal

Reading Life After The Crossover

It’s Monday!

Thanks to Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent for hosting this meme.

So, our 5th graders are reading Kwame Alexander‘s brilliant Newbery winning novel, The Crossover, and I’ve been stressing about what to offer them as a follow up. Is there a follow up to this amazing book? What could possibly follow The Crossover? And be suitable for intermediate grade ….not quite YA … readers?

A little background ….. we decided to take two groups of 5th graders who are so called  “struggling readers” and give them a break from their Read180 routine. We wanted to get them really excited about reading. Their reading specialist and I decided to try The Crossover with them, even though it is technically “way above” their level. Honestly, I think it will become what Steve Krashen calls their  “home run book.”

Fast forward past some of the prep we did to tell you that the kids are loving reading and Kwame Alexander! Some of my favorite moments from the kids are in their conversations about the book, and their connections. One student even decided that his nickname is “The GOAT” and he actually is convinced that is his nickname. “For real, it’s my nickname, too. ” Some of the girls were not buying it, but he’s sticking to his story.

Another student demanded that we get more copies of the book for our school (full disclosure: I even thought about copying some books because we can’t afford hardcover copies for all the kids to have a copy at our school). He said, “We need to have the real book, especially when the book is this good.” Luckily, our neighborhood library rustled up enough multiple copies for us. Phew!

Our school is in a high poverty area (91% free lunch) and we are located in a book desert. It is not easy to get books into our kids’ hands, especially new books that provide windows and mirrors as advocated by #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Helping kids develop strong reading identities is often not a priority in high intervention schools, but it needs to be in order to make necessary change.

The Crossover has been a game changer for some of our kids, who are among the hardest kids to turn onto reading. So, my mind has been filled with ways to keep the reading momentum going for these guys, and luckily, I am happily haunted by Jason Reynold’s fabulous book, Ghost.

From the National Book Foundation:

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

The characters are believable, and the best thing about this book is that it is perfect for 5th and 6th graders (and their teachers) who are longing for a bridge to YA Lit. I am SO happy to have found Jason Reynolds for upper elementary, transition-to-middle grades readers. #thankful #bringonjasonreynolds. Check him out. Today. Like NOW. Don’t wait!


Some other books that we included in a text set for our readers are the following:

Rimshots by Charles R. Smith, Jr. – Great collection of basketball poems

Hoops, by Robert Burleigh

Kids need to find themselves in books, so that they can find themselves in life. We need to keep demanding more diverse books, and we need to make sure these amazing books get into the hands of the kids who most need to read them.

May 8, 2017
by mnosal

Save Me a Seat at the RI State House!

It’s Monday!

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.
It’s a great source to find new books to use with your students.

This week I am reading  Save Me a Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.,204,203,200_.jpg

This book has been selected for the Rhode Island Center for the Book’s Kids Reading Across Rhode Island (KRARI) initiative. The program targets readers in grades 3-6.

About The Book

From the KRARI website:

Veteran writer Sarah Weeks and first-time author Gita Varadarajan address common middle school fears of two young characters struggling to find their way.  Joe and Ravi are from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL. Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in. Librarians across the country recommend the book as a read-aloud forcing the listener to walk in someone else’s shoes. Save me a Seat, full of empathy and humor, explores issues of diversity, culture, assumptions and parenting styles.

I am looking forward to reading  this with kids and will be at our State House this weekend for the kick-off. I always appreciate the celebration of children’s reading and the push to create a statewide conversation about a particular book. This book feels like a good fit for a number of reasons. If you live in Rhode Island, I hope to see you there!

The Library of Congress promotes a number of literacy initiatives such as the “Kids Reading Across …” and you can read more about their work here. What’s your state’s book this year? Find out today!

Happy Reading!

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