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Looking for great Valentine's books? Come hang out with me on Teachers Who Love Amazon as I share some of my LOVES.


There is something magical about a well told story. Every word read is a sparkle in the air about to touch your heart. Memories of Rakestraw Books in Danville, California, multiple trips to the local library, and tons of nights laying in my parents bed as my mom read every picture book from the well loved stack has developed me into a reader. The story I just told isn't the gift that every child unwraps.

The strong push for complex texts, common core, non-fiction, annotation, AR tests, vocabulary development, fluency, phonics, dibels, standardized tests...the list could go on forever has diminished the love of reading all over the world.  While I understand the importance of former reading lingo, I am afraid the love of reading will continue to loose sight in the eyes of children.  Now, don't get me wrong; there are still plenty of students who love to read, but there are TOO many who are still on the side of caution.

Did you know as a kid I did not like to read? It was hard, the words jumbled, my head felt foggy, and I just wanted to give up. BUT! I had parents and teachers who modeled what reading does for a child. Read alouds, libraries, books all around, English teachers, book lovers, magazines, book stores, and book celebrations showed me reading a book can be a special gem. This is one of the main reasons I feel so passionate about opening the magic in a classroom.

OPEN THE MAGIC is my way of sharing with my students that reading is a magical gift that we all deserve no matter how many pages. There are many layers to my vision of Open the Magic. Any time I use a picture book we are opening the magic. My choice is to use picture books, but maybe in your classroom you use chapter books or magazines. You can create OPEN THE MAGIC how you see best fit for your readers. When my students see OPEN THE MAGIC on the schedule, there have been sightings of dance parties at their seats. Room 20 loves picture books. Why? Because I have made it a PRIORITY in my classroom to share that picture books can ignite magic inside a reader.

What is Open The Magic with some FUN?
It is my way of spreading my love for reading and picture books in hopes my students will in turn find themselves to be a reader. A special set time where Miss Hinshaw (that's me) reads a picture book to her class just because. NO strings attached. Just 30 fifth graders and me hanging out reading a picture book. Whether you believe me or not, THIS develops readers! THIS develops students who LOVE to read. The more your students see you reading, the more they will be intrigued to pick up a picture book, a chapter book, a magazine, an owner's manual, a recipe card or a textbook. Honestly, I use picture books for everything! When I am teaching adjectives, you bet I have found a picture book to help me guide the lesson.

What is the PURPOSE of OTM?
To spread my love of reading, I take this time to connect with my students. This is such a special time in my room where I reach all students.  I want them to see themselves inside each picture book that I read. Every picture book I select there is a lesson. Not an academic lesson, but a life lesson.

 As the kids listen to the story, I know they are creating connections inside their brains, filing away words for their next narrative writing piece, or remembering a favorite part to share with their families when they get home. If you are still on the fence about the power of a picture book, share this with your students, teacher friends, and parents. What can a picture book do is a blog post I wrote sharing a picture book can be for every human. 

It is not a time to make the students do annotations, take a test, ask a million in one reading comprehension questions, or write a reading reflection.Please know that I do believe annotating texts and learning from text is very important and crucial in today's world. I just worry (I seriously do) that the love reading is losing, lets get it to become an equal!  *Don't worry; I still do this with other picture books during academic lessons. Pretty much whenever I am reading a picture book for any reason, the kids and I call it Open the Magic. #Truth- One day I read a picture book for every lesson. It was epic!

If you are interested in how I use picture books in my academic lessons, click the following blog posts to learn more:

What books I use for Open The Magic:
Before you continue to read, check out my post on how to get books for free or at a reduced price! I know; I want all books too. {Where to get Books}. Below here are some of my new 2018 reads that I will share during Open the Magic....
There are many educators who share their love reading through picture books. Check how they open the magic:

 Jillian Heise, creator of the hashtag #classroombookoftheday, encourages you to read 1 picture book every day for 180. Yes, please do this!!! I think it is so awesome and a great way to OPEN THE MAGIC in your classroom. Check out her post! I love that we both think the power of a picture book for older kids is a must do!

Lauren from @happily.ever.elephants

Michelle from @the.book.report

Amazon Affiliate Links were used in this post to help me purchase more books to share with you!

Join Ramona Recommends and many educators all around the world to celebrate OPEN THE MAGIC day on September 25th. Picture books are for all readers. ALL READERS include every human. All you have to do is read a picture book to your class. The more we promote the love of reading the more students will celebrate with us. If you are on social media, snap a picture of this joyous moment in your classroom and use the hashtag #openthemagicday.

Hello teachers! I’m here to talk about how we, as middle and high school ELA teachers, can incorporate children’s books into our classroom.  Specifically, I am going to discuss five ways you can use BabyLit picture books to teach literary classics!  If you are hesitant, stick with me and you’ll find some simple tricks that can elevate these incredibly designed books into a learning tool for teens.

First, let’s talk a bit about these BabyLit books you’ll see in the photos throughout this post. The authors, Alison Oliver and Jennifer Adams, take literary classics and simplify them for younger ages.  Think of a classic and I’m willing to bet they have it! While at Barnes & Noble, I had the most challenging time selecting which ones I wanted to use, but I ended up with: Romeo & Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Sense & Sensibility, The Secret Garden, and The Odyssey.  I’ll definitely be back to purchase A Christmas Carol, Little Women, and a few of the other 26 options they have available, too! So, now that we have the books, how can we teach them? 

Reading some of these challenging classics can be difficult even for your most experienced readers. Therefore, using these children’s books to teach literary elements is a great way to help your students develop a better understanding of the events taking place throughout the story.  Some literary elements I would use include: theme, main idea, imagery, conflict, and symbolism.  For example, in the BabyLit version of Romeo & Juliet, the authors use numbers to describe key events in the tragic comedy. ACTIVITY: Ask students to describe the symbolism behind each of the pages using textual evidence from Shakespeare’s original.

Using the BabyLit novels to teach plot structure is probably one of the most effective ways to use these books! After reading the original classic, use the children’s version to recap the key events that occurred by labeling the pages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  For instance, in BabyLit version of The Odyssey, the characters and major events are all included! Students will be able to visualize the plot structure with the graphics and text on each of the pages.  ACTIVITY: ask students to fill in the missing pieces of the picture book by designing their own graphics and elements from the text.

If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or TpT, you know that I am a HUGE proponent of independent reading assignments.  As soon as I saw these BabyLit books in the store, my mind immediately went to assigning students individual classics based on their interests.  ACTIVITY: Choose 7 classics, split your class into 7 groups, and assign each group an original version of the classic paired with the BabyLit version of the classic.  Before reading the original, ask students to read the BabyLit classic and foreshadow the events that may occur throughout the text!

One of my favorite things about the BabyLit children’s books is the illustrator’s ability to capture the appearance of the characters and symbols of the original without appearing too childish.  They are actually quite accurate—specifically in Sense & Sensibility, Romeo & Juliet, and The Secret Garden.  You can easily use these books to teach characterization and quote analysis.  For example, in The Secret Garden, each page has an important quote from the novel paired with a visual.  ACTIVITY: Ask students to describe the importance/relevance of each quote provided in the BabyLit version using evidence from the text in the original!

This is my favorite way to use children’s books of any kind (not just BabyLit) in the classroom.  After reading a novel with your class, ask students to become authors of their own by assigning a DIY children’s book activity. Using this FREE resource I created, prompt your students to choose a literary element and design a children’s book based on the original text.  You can download the free DIY Children’s Book for Middle and HighSchool English here! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how creative your students can be and how simplifying a classic can truly impact the level of comprehension.  Be sure to use a BabyLit book as an example of expectations.
If you’re interested in more hands-on interactive resources for reading literature, please visit my Instagram, Facebook, or Teachers pay Teachers store! 

Learn how to use children's books in other grades here:

Looking for more engaging reading literature resources for middle & high school English? Check out The SuperHERO Teacher's blog, Instagram, and Facebook page! 

All the best, 
Brittany Wheaton
The SuperHERO Teacher

Hi y'all!  I am Katie King from Queen of the First Grade Jungle! I taught first grade for seven years and second grade for three years.  I am currently on a teaching hiatus to take care of two year old son, but this does not mean I have stopped loving #allthebooks!  In fact I think my obsession has only grown as I closely watch my three children partake in their journey with books and reading. Here is a peek at my at home library: 

And that's only about half!  Okay, enough chatter I would love to talk to you about five books that I think are essential to EVERY classroom!

Book #1Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles Illustrated by: Rod Clement

Why you need it: BE WHO YOU AREBesides having some of the best illustrations of ANY book I have ever read, I also love the message within the pages.  I chose to read the book on the first day of school every year for the last seven school years, because I want my students to know that who they are deep inside, is exactly who they are supposed to be! This book helps me to set that tone right off the bat!

Summary:  Edward envies the attention that other animals receive in the zoo so he hops from exhibit to exhibit trying to change who he is.  Students sit in suspense as they try to guess which animal Edward will imitate next. A surprise ending will send the kids into a fit of giggles.  If your kids fall for Edward, do not worry! There is a SEQUEL! 

Book #2Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson Illustrated by: E.B. Lewis

Why you need it: WORDS MATTER.  In a world where people type hateful comments or say things without thinking of the repercussions, we need to instill in our children that words are important and that they matter. While saying you are "sorry" can help things get back on the right track, we can't ever fully take away the pain we cause with hurtful words.

Summary: Maya is a new girl in the class. Her clothes are very worn and her toys are old.  She becomes an easy target for the girls at school.  After Maya leaves to go to another new school. Chloe realizes all too late the damage she has caused.  There is no mushy ending to this tale, and I think that was an excellent choice by Woodson. 

Book #3
Iggy Peck by Andrea Beaty  Illustrated by: David Roberts

Why you need it: STEM.  If you have not been living under a rock, you have heard the new push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) resources in the classroom.  Andrea Beaty is an absolute wizard with words and David Roberts' quirky drawings pull kids into the text.  After reading Iggy Peck, make sure to visit with Rosie Revere and Ada Twist as well! 

Summary: Iggy Peck LOVES to build.  He will use any and all materials to make the most amazing of creations.  He arrives to 2nd grade and immediately feels stifled by his teacher who hates architecture. The horror! She has a change of heart when Iggy uses his engineering skills to rescue his class from a sticky situation!

Book #4:  Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwell  

Why you need it: REPRESENTATION MATTERS.  For a long time I didn't pay attention to the skin color of the characters in my classroom library.  BIG mistake on my part. All of our students deserve to see themselves represented in the pages of picture books (and not just by athletes and social justice leaders either).  Taking that into account, I love the storyline as well! The lesson of the book would serve as a nice analogy about trying new things in life.  Just jump on in the water!

Summary: Jabari is SO excited about jumping off the high dive.  As he begins the long climb up the ladder he begins to doubt himself.  With encouragement from his dad he finds the necessary courage and doesn't regret it!  Cornwell does a wonderful jump off walking you through the range of emotions that Jabari experiences on his adventure. 

Book #5:  I Dissent by Debbie Levy Illustrated by: Elizabeth Baddeley  

Why you need it: ROLE MODELS.  Picture books allow our young students access to people who can serve as wonderful role models in their lives. I also love how the author highlighted Ginsburg's friendship Justice Scalia, who Ginsburg frequently disagreed with on big issues. 

Summary: In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish woman justice of the Supreme Court.  The author takes us on a journey through her childhood, college years, and marriage.   We learn that Ginsburg was very different from other girls her age and that that's not a bad thing!  

I hope you enjoyed by book selections and consider adding all five books to your classroom library if you haven't already!

"A picture book can be just what every human needs".- Ramona Recommends. I hope you can feel my passion for picture books for humanity because it feels so right to me. My 5th grade classroom is filled with picture books. Older kids need picture books just like Chocolate Chip cookies need milk.  I have teamed up with 3 other teachers to bring you an incredible blog series debuting picture books at all levels. Over the next couple weeks, you will be hearing from:

Primary Elementary (K-3)

Ramona Recommends- Courtney Hinshaw
Upper Grade Elementary (4-6)

The Whimsical Teacher- Jessica Martin
*blog update coming soon
Middle School (5-8)

The Superhero Teacher- Brittany Wheaton
High School (9-12) 

Picture books allow students to be kids again. Whatever happened to the sweet moments of mom, dad, grandma, or the adorable librarian sitting down and reading a picture book? Is technology wiping away those moments? My hope is that all teachers will truly take these posts to heart and dedicate time in their classrooms to OPEN THE MAGIC with picture books. 

I promise  your students will remember this more than a fractions worksheet. Like Jen Jones said, "Reading pictures IS reading." The book featured above is called How to Get Your Teacher Ready, by Jean Reagan. An adorable read if I say so myself. #informationalwriting

Below, I am going introduce 5 picture books that I love to use when teaching 5th grade. They can be read in any grade level, but this is how I use them in Room 20.

Are you having one of those days where your students just need something funny? We all get caught up in teaching to the test, but sometimes it is good for everyone's soul to read a picture book just for fun. While I say just read for fun, there is a always a lesson to be learned in a picture book. Lesson Learned- Be yourself and enjoy the little things. 
When I read this to my students, it is usually right after a boring lesson where they need some laughter in their life. Yes, sometimes I do have to teach boring lessons. #truelife
Want to see my nephew crack up while reading this book? Open the Magic --> HERE
I recommend reading this book before you read it in front of the students, because there are some "I don't really know what this says" moments.
 The Apple Orchard Riddle 
This read is great for when you are teaching your narrative unit. One of the first lessons I do is  from Miss Radka classroom website years ago. I have modified to pull in apples for September. The Apple Orchard is about a class that goes on a field trip to an apple orchard. As you progress through the story, we learn about the process of apples and what happens to them during the picking frenzy and upon finding a new home. I have my students pretend they are an apple. How does this apple feel? We brainstorm different feelings from which Miss Radka provides a great list. We talk about what does each feeling look like. This is hard for students, but with the help of picture books and the movie Inside Out they are becoming better at this skill. Once they have chosen their feeling, they draw their apple from the orchard and the feelings from the apple situation. For example, an apple going into a warm oven for apple pie. Feeling-Scared (sweating, red cheeks, big eyes, and nervous tummy).

All the close to my heart feels with this book. Thank You Mr. Falker is about a little girl who is dyslexic and can't read...yet. Her teacher sees the beauty in her and they work together to teach her how to read. I read this story on the second of school to introduce myself to the students. I am dyslexic and I want them to know you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to. School growing up for me was tough, but I have learned strategies and showed grit to fight through it all. I think it is important for students to know that we are human and that we too have challenges to overcome.  
I also bring this book out again when we do our character analysis unit. The students and I created a flow map that charts change over time with the main character. Did you know the main character of this book is the author Patricia Polacco? I can't tell you enough how much I love this book. It really is my jam.

I bet you love when students use words in their writing that clearly came from the top search of thesaurus. It is kinda one of my favorites; is that bad? I find it comical when they use a word that means the same as the word they want to change, but makes no sense in the sentence. Lexie The Word Wrangler shows the students how to correctly use "bigger" words when beefing up their writing. Writing is one area that I would like to grow in this year. I can't wait to use this book to help my students understand the power of word choice to make their writing lasso me in.

The Name Jar
Looking for another cultural diverse book to add to your bookshelf? The Name Jar is one of my all time favorites to teach students about acceptance of different cultures. Unhei has just moved to the states from Korea where she is worried the students will not pronounce her name correctly. I have this worry on the first day of school because many of students come from different backgrounds of my own. Here is how I handle this. I explain that I might say their name wrong, not because I want to, but because it is new to me. I have them say it to me 3 times very slowly and then practice all day. I ask them to share about their different holidays they celebrate. I love this time because they get so excited that I want to know. 

As always, OPEN THE MAGIC with your students this year. Use picture books to ignite or reignite the passion for reading. Lets keep the magic going and build leaders.  *Amazon Affiliate Links Used

Hello friendsies! 

 I'm so honored to be guest blogging for Courtney from Ramona Recommends, who I like to call the Madonna of Picture Books!

If you don't know me, my name is Jess, and I'm currently a middle school teacher (grades 6-8) transitioning into a digital literacy coach at my 1:1 middle school.  Before my middle school gig, I taught 5th grade for four years, and I subbed in grades K-12 for three years before becoming a bonafide teacher.  

I've always used picture books in my teachings, but I didn't realize that other middle school teachers didn't use them until I started the hashtag #picturebooksformiddleschool.  Since inventing the tag, I've received countless messages from middle school teachers, who are so excited to start using picture books in their lessons!  

If you're into picture books, but you aren't sure what will "fly" with sassy middle schoolers, I have a few recommendations for you down below.

Book 1: Blue Sky White Stars

written by Sarvinder Naberhaus
illustrated by Nadir Nelson

With just a couple words on each page and stunning Americana artwork, Blue Sky White Stars is a  good old fashioned picture book.  The statements are simple, but the pictures encourage the reader to look at America through a lens that ties its foundation to its growth.

Classroom Uses
Most middle schools have social studies classes which usually go over world history, current events, state history, and American history.  This book would be a great opener when discussing America and its changes or even the growth of a nation, patriotism, or diversity.

 Final Teacher Thoughts
I see every picture book as a journey, and this one takes me through a beautiful portrait of my America.  It also made me question the very definition of our United States.  I started to think that maybe I over-simplify what it means to be proud of one's country.  Perhaps being an American cannot be explained properly in words alone.
 I think it definitely needs a picture book.  

Book 2: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

written by Kwame Alexander
with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

A group of poets wrote poems about their 20 favorite poets from ancient times to modern times.  They are beautiful dedications to these well known poets, and each page contains rich, colorful, collage style paintings!

Classroom Uses:
Poetry is a difficult unit for some teachers to conquer as it gets a lot of eye-rolls from teenagers.  This book is written in a way that appeals to teens though.  The first line on the first page says "Poets love to make up their own rules about writing: that's what makes it so much fun".  Aside from a poetry unit, this book could pave the way for unconventional journal writing or sketch style notes.

Final Teacher Thoughts
While reading this book, I kept feeling like I was in the movie Inception because I was reading poems written by poets about poets.  The poems were short, clever, and thought provoking. The writings made me want to get to know these famous poets more and go read their poetry.

Book 3: Not Quite Narwhal

by Jessie Sima

An adorable sea creature named Kelp doesn't quite fit in with his Narwhal friends.  There's a reason why, but I won't ruin it for you.

Classroom Uses:
In middle school, I would use this book in advisory classes, study hall, or even writing classes.  Every student at some point feels weird and different.  These feelings are a part of growing up, and sometimes kids need reassurance that what they're going through is normal.  This book could also help kids stuck between two families due to divorce.
There's an important lesson at the end of the book:
once we figure out who we really are, we don't have to choose a "side" to be on.  

Final Teacher Thoughts
This book is quirky and unique for any age group.  I've read it several times as an adult, and I still find it enjoyable.  While the book has a happy ending, it wasn't the ending I predicted, so it made me like the story even more.

Thank you for checking out these amazing picture books for middle school!  If you have any questions, please email me at thewhimsicalteacher@gmail.com or send me a message to @the_whimsical_teacher on Instagram!

If you find any cool picture books for middle school, please use #picturebooksformiddleschool, so I can see them too!

Take care friendsies!


 whimsical blog

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