Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

August 6, 2018
by mnosal

Falling In Love All Over Again With Kate DiCamillo

August 6, 2018 – Here’s What I’m Reading!

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It’s Monday! What are You Reading? 


Image result for Kate dicamillo

If I had to make a short list of what to put in my lifeboat for teaching, Kate DiCamillo‘s books are at the tippity-top of my list. When I had my own classroom, one of my favorite read alouds with my 5th graders was The Tiger Rising. I have to admit, the very first time I read it, I did not love it. It seemed too sad and a little dark. However, my experience of reading this book aloud to children was transformational, and the interactions between me, the children, and the text, were pure reading magic. It’s a feeling that I always want to return to over and over again when I read aloud with students. It’s a feeling of love.

When you enter the world of a Kate DiCamillo story, it is sometimes hard to leave, to close the book. My students always asked,Where is Sistine’s book? at the end of The Tiger Rising. They’ve come to know and care about and love the characters.

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Kate’s newest book, Louisiana’s Way Home published by Candlewick Press*, (coming October 2, 2018) satisfies the young reader’s need to return to favorite characters. This is a book that I cannot wait to read aloud and share with kids. We first met and fell in love with the central character, Louisiana Elefante, (one of the Three Rancheros) in Raymie Nightingale. Now Louisiana has her own story, written in her own distinctive voice. (An added bonus for true aficionados is the reference to Lister, Florida.)

Book description from the publisher:

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return.

Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

There are so many beautiful moments to linger over in this book. One of my favorite lines is from Louisiana’s Granny in a letter that comes at a pivotal moment:

“And perhaps what matters when all is said and done is not who puts us down but who picks us up.” 

When I finished reading Louisiana’s Way Home, I started thinking again about some of the sadness and darkness that comes up in the book, and I was reminded of something I read earlier this year. Kate DiCamillo wrote a response to Matt DeLaPena‘s question about how honest author’s should be (about the world) with children. Her response was a beautifully written letter to him published in Time that you should read here, but I will share my favorite part:

And I think that you, with your beautiful book about love, won’t be surprised to learn that the only answer I could come up with was love. E. B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it — its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.

I think our job is to trust our readers.

I think our job is to see and to let ourselves be seen.

I think our job is to love the world.

In The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneKate DiCamillo writes, “You must be filled with expectancy. You must be awash in hope. You must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next.”   These words could easily fit into Louisiana’s story.

Louisiana’s Way Home is a book about many things; identity, hope, loss, determination, overcoming impossible circumstances ……but mostly it is a book about love and acceptance (and pink houses and cake). It is a book that will make you fall in love, again, with Kate DiCamillo.  <3 <3 <3

Have some cake while you read this book!

Heads Up: This book goes good with cake!

Purchase the book through Indie Bound:

*Thank you, Candlewick Press, for providing me with an ARC of Louisiana’s Way Home.

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!

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!

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 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

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!


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