Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

May 3, 2017
by mnosal

My “Bedside Stack” of Professional Books …. TBRs!

Hello Readers!

So many good books and summer is on the horizon, so I’m gearing up to read the books that I know are going to help me on my way to becoming the educator I want to be!

Here’s what’s in my nightstand pile, so far:

First up is:

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom From Young Children at School, by Carla Shalaby.

This book is first on my list, not least because I am lucky to know Carla and to have worked with her. Carla’s passion social justice for children is unequaled, and I am so ready to read this book. You can read an interview with Carla about the book in The Atlantic here.

Next up is A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth, by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz.

This is a great book to read with colleagues and think in new ways together about how we foster a growth mindset in our schools and classrooms. The term “growth mindset” is becoming a bit jargon-y, but rest assured that this book provides thoughtful ways to be very intentional about language and actions for teachers and children. I learned about this book from Rachel Rothman at last October’s Saturday Reunion @tcrwp and have been dipping in and out of it since. My goal is to read it cover-to-cover this summer!

Another book I recently acquired and am looking forward to reading cover-to-cover is Who’s Doing The Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More, by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. I love this book for it’s clarity and for addressing components of balanced literacy through the “Next Generation” lens. As a literacy coach, I appreciate the ways that Burkins and Yaris provide an updated look at tried and true components such as Read Aloud, Shared, Guided and Independent Reading. This is a great book to read with teachers in planning meetings. If you don’t know Burkins and Yaris, check out their eponymous  blog here.

That’s all for now, friends!

Happy Reading!




May 1, 2017
by mnosal

Celebrating Christian Robinson and Children’s Books This Week!

It’s Monday!

Thanks to Jen at TeachMentorTexts for hosting It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? I always learn so much about kid lit from this community of readers!

Celebrate Children’s Book Week this week by reading, exploring, and celebrating children’s books! Go to the link for all kinds of resources, posters, and bookmarks. Our school will read Christian Robinson’s book, The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, as our May Book of the Month. This book is a little gem and is on the recommended book list of books about bias, diversity, and social justice from the Anti-Defamation League.

Image result for The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade

I continue to fall in love with Christian Robinson’s books, as well as his own story. His collaboration with Matt de la Pena on Last Stop On Market Street is another treasure. I like to share a clip from PBS’s Brief But Spectacular segment with children and talk about how an artist’s early experiences shape their art and their lives. This book addresses important ideas about being an ally, not a bystander, and about taking a stand. It’s a beautiful book in beautiful words and beautiful pictures. By the way, Justin Roberts wrote the words.

Happy Monday, Happy Reading, and Happy Celebrate Children’s Reading Week!

April 25, 2017
by mnosal

More “What Are You Reading?”

Yesterday, I focused on kid lit I’m currently reading. Today, I want to share what I am reading for professional lit. I know many educators have fallen in love with Jen Serravallo’s work. I appreciate her practical applications of evidence-based reading and writing strategies, and her amazing compendium The Reading Strategies Book

The Reading Strategies Book

has quickly become one of my favorite “go-to” resources for small group, whole group, and one-on-one teaching. The teaching points are clear and easy to implement with integrity. I reflect daily on how much I appreciate this resource!

My brand new copy of The Writing Strategies Book

The Writing Strategies Book

arrived yesterday, and I cannot wait to put these strategies into play! Once again, Jen has curated 300 tried and true strategies for teaching writing that you can use no matter what your  school’s program is. As with The Reading Strategies Book, this resource provides many tried and true strategies for teaching at your fingertips. I have a lot of professional books, but Jen’s books are resources I can use in my daily coaching work. If you don’t have these books, you definitely want to check these out!

April 24, 2017
by mnosal

Windows and Mirrors On My Mind

It’s Monday!

Thanks to Unleashing Readers for this beautiful forum for sharing books. I continue to think a lot about Grace Lin’s inspirational TEDxTalk on The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Book Shelf . I’m also guided by Christopher Myer’s OpEd in the NYTimes a few years ago. My decisions about which books to bring into the classroom are very intentionally guided by current conversations about diversity in children’s literature.

I was visiting relatives near Saratoga Springs last weekend and stopped by the amazing Northshire Bookstore. I love a good Indie Bookstore, and if you are ever in this area, a visit to this book haven is worth your time. The children’s section is comprehensive and the staff is knowledgeable. I was especially struck by a display of books related to themes of immigration and diversity. One book new to me is Stormy Seas:Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale. I’m sharing a large copy of the cover because it is so powerful.

This nonfiction book is geared toward upper elementary and middle grades readers and presents 5 true stories from 1939 to today “about young people who lived through the harrowing experience of setting sail in search of asylum.” (Annick Press). I immediately grabbed a copy to include in my ongoing Immigration Text Set. Many of the immigration stories I have are more geared toward Eastern European experiences, and I am ever on the lookout these days for books that highlight different immigration stories. What I like about this book is that the author includes 5 different stories, from Europe to Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Ivory Coast. This book offers an opportunity to talk frankly and openly with students about the plight of refugees and is an important antidote to the xenophobic rhetoric so prevalent in our daily news lately.

Another book I am enjoying these days is The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes, by the Mexican-American self-described creator of images and stories Duncan Tonatiuh .









If you click the link on the title above, you can read about the story on School Library Journal. This book is a great addition to your folklore collection. Tonatiuh retells an Aztec legend and incorporates Nahuatl words that are defined in a wonderful glossary at the back of the book. If you have not discovered this amazing young writer you (and your library!) are missing out on an exciting contemporary author/illustrator.He first came to my attention with his amazing book, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,204,203,200_QL40_.jpg

I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his most recent book,,204,203,200_.jpg

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist, in collaboration with Susan Wood.

There are so many beautiful books and we need to be ever more vigilant about making sure that our students have opportunities to read and discuss them.

Happy Reading!


March 19, 2017
by mnosal

Interactive Read Alouds and Democracy

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?  is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

After an incredibly energizing weekend at @TCRWP Saturday Reunion, I am recommitting to my blog and trying, ONCE AGAIN, to make a habit of posting more regularly. Every workshop I attended was well organized and provided solid tips on strengthening workshop instruction. One workshop I found myself in was totally unplanned, as I was shut out of my first two choices. I wandered into Gary Peterson‘s interactive read aloud workshop, and was so glad I did. He reminded me of an incredible picture book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks:


A story about a dog, a magpie, and a fox, this is a provocative tale that fosters great discussion around themes of loyalty, friendship, and trust (among other themes). While reading this book aloud, Peterson encouraged teachers to be intentional about prompting students to synthesize and interpret the story through questioning. What resonated most with me, though, was his statement about interactive read alouds. He said, “Interactive reading is about the democratization of the classroom.” Merriam Webster defines democratization as follows:

to make (something) available to all people : to make it possible for all people to understand (something)

WOW! I realized that he actually helped me name one of my most fundamental beliefs about literacy instruction through reading aloud. I know from my 20-plus years of experience that reading aloud interactively is powerful for children. I considered my read-aloud time sacred, and referred to it as the heartbeat of my classroom. Now, I know that reading aloud is probably the single-most reason my students consistently made impressive growth in 5th grade. Not small group, not guided reading, but interactive read aloud and shared reading. With texts like Fox.

Interactive read alouds (IRA) give all kids access to the same high quality text. Well planned and delivered IRAs bring all kids into meaningful instructional conversations that have the potential to raise achievement of all kids, because the bar is raised for all kids.Our English learners and children who are not reading at grade level get a much needed exposure to vocabulary and concepts that they need. Teachers can level the playing field with IRAs.

If you are not reading aloud interactively regularly with your students, you are missing out on the most exhilarating component of reading instruction. What are you waiting for? Start democratzing your classroom today, with Fox!

(Although others may feel differently, I would recommend this book for grades 3-6).

September 18, 2016
by mnosal

It Takes a Village, PLUS!

More reflecting on student reading and writing as the school year begins. I am excited about the possibilities for curriculum work and building new relationships. I was lucky to have some wonderful opportunities for collaboration in my previous school, and one thing I know is that we get stronger and smarter when we teachers work together.

I love to knit and crochet, and have enjoyed learning new stitches and patterns in what is known as “CAL” or “KAL” projects…..crochet-along and knit-along, respectively. I’ve been thinking about “TAL” ….a teach-along, or something similar to the weekly participation projects a lot of bloggers enjoy. Any and all thoughts encouraged…. leave a comment!

Right now, I’m in a major “gathering/collecting” mode……trying to pull teaching resources together. Stay tuned!

September 18, 2016
by mnosal

Start the Writing Year with Heart Maps!

I am still basking in the glow of my 5th graders’ strong performance on the PARCC ELA test this past May. They rocked it, with a 37 percent increase in scores. As I reflect on the writing instruction we did last year, I am not remembering much in the way of “test prep.” In fact, my 5th grade colleagues and I focused on strengthening our Tier One instruction, and we started the year with heart maps and writing our hopes and dreams for 5th grade. As I get ready to work as an instructional coach in a new school this year, I am going to try to lean on the routines, structures, and resources that informed my practice for the past seven years. I just ordered Georgia Heard’s newest book from Heinemann on heart mapping. I will also be sharing my teaching experiences from Lucy Calkins and her brilliant colleagues at TCRWP. I also found that Nonie Lesaux and her colleagues at HGSE are involved in really smart work that supports academic language development.

Strong writing workshop instruction with units of study that are aligned to the standards can set the stage for joyful, rigorous learning. You just have to trust your teaching heart!


August 22, 2016
by mnosal

Tackling Tough Topics With Our Elementary Students


This Monday, I’m reading Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The book centers on fifth grader Deja, and her classmates Ben and Sabeen. Their teacher has decided to assign a project that requires the students to learn about September 11 and the Twin Towers. As stated on the cover flap, Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a story of resilience, hope, and finding yourself in a complicated world.”

Deja’s life is complicated. She lives with her family in a homeless shelter. She’s trying to negotiate her home life with her life on a new school that is very different from schools she has attended in the past. The book offers lots of opportunities to teach topics that can be hard to talk about in the classroom. Because of this, the book is an excellent choice as an anchor book in a text set. In fact, if you want great suggestions, check out Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller’s terrific post on Nerdy Book Club. She offers a great range of fiction, non-fiction, and picture books. A favorite picture book of mine is included: Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. I am a longtime fan of Maira Kalman, and this book is deceptively simple. It is actually great for upper elementary students, as well as younger children, as a springboard for talking about this difficult event.

As a teacher, I struggled with ways to talk about 9/11 with students who weren’t even born when this event took place. I absolutely wanted to steer clear of any type of sensationalism and tried to think about reasons why it would be important to address with 5th graders.  Jewell Parker Rhodes helps make sense of things with Towers Falling by helping children understand many changes in our world since 9/11. Here is a quote from Deja at the end of the book:

“School didn’t teach me everything about 9/11. Still, I understand a lot more now. I understand some of the enormous hurt to families, my family, and country.”

If I were going to add to Donalyn Miller’s list of teaching resources for 9/11, here are some texts I would add:

Messages to Ground Zero by Shelley Harwayne.

An excerpt from the National Writing Project provides information:

In the introduction to this anthology, Harwayne writes:

“On the morning of September 11th, 2001 many of our New York City students saw, heard, smelled, and felt things that none of the grown-ups were prepared to explain. Our students, as well as students throughout our country picked up their pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paintbrushes and attempted to make sense of this most incomprehensible of acts. Our children attempted to use their words and their art to wrap their arms around the tragedy that befell families in the New York metropolitan area as well as residents of Washington and Pennsylvania….Our children also used their writing and art to offer condolence, comfort others, and of course, bear witness.”

I also would include an essay written by self-described Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, entitled

To Any Would-Be Terrorists.

The current climate in our country as we head into our presidential election is filled with fear and hate. It’s a very hard world to navigate these days, and it is good to know that there are books and authors who can help us help children make sense of the senseless….or at least try. I will end with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that I would also include in the early days of the school year, called Kindness, as well as a poem by Mattie Stepanek that follows:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

To read the rest of the poem, find it here at The Writer’s Almanac.

Finally, a beautiful poem for young children:

For Our World by Mattie Stepanek:

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

Read the rest here.

Have a great week!


September 20, 2015
by mnosal
1 Comment

It’s Monday and I’m Reading Walter Dean Myers!


It’s the beginning of a new school year, which means new books for my classroom library. After moving a few shelves into place and rearranging some books, it is very clear to me that I need to do more curating and less hoarding  with my classroom library books(thank you, Donalyn Miller!).

This week, I am trying to find books that will appeal to my strong reader  tweens who are “on the reading cusp” between 5th and 6th grade. It’s so tricky, but I am happy to have rediscovered The Cruisers series, by the inimitable Walter Dean Myers. While it’s a little more middle school-ish than 5th grade, those kids who are pushing the middle grades envelope will be happy to have found this series.

Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

From Goodreads:

Zander and his crew are underdogs at DaVinci Academy, one of the best Gifted and Talented schools in Harlem. But even these kids who are known as losers can win by speaking up. When they start their own school newspaper, stuff happens. Big stuff. Loud stuff. Stuff nobody expects. Mr. Culpepper, the Assistant Principal and Chief Executioner, is ready to be rid of Zander, Kambui, LaShonda, and Bobbi—until they prove that their writing packs enough power to keep the peace and show what it means to stand up for a cause.

This book brings the past to the present by taking on the Civil War issues between the Union and Confederacy with a group of middle grades students who are exploring freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and identity. I think this book (and series) is a good “pre YA” transition type book. Let me know what you think!


Skip to toolbar