Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Favorite Books from 2016

I am often asked for book suggestions, so I am making my suggestions here. These were some of the favorite books I read in 2016. They may not all be from this year, but that's when I read them. Some of these were from friends and some were given to my by publishers, however, that does not impact my recommendation. If I don't love a book, I don't talk about it. These are my very favorite from this year and will undoubtedly grow as I realize I forgot to include some books, so check back.

Picture Books

Ida Always by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoro
   My friend Samantha told me to buy this book and she was so so so right. Beautiful illustrations and a very sweet (and sad) story.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael Lopez
     Another recommendation from Samantha and a perfect addition to my collection. That sticker on the front is not wrong!

Lucy's Lovey by Betsy Devany and illustrated by Christopher Denise
     OK, it's true, Christopher Denise could illustrate the phone book and I'd buy copies, but this is a lovely story from Betsy that is sure to win over your lovey loving friends.

Shy by Deborah Freedman
     Deborah Freedman has a style. I call it amazing. This is a sweet gentle book that needs more attention. 

A Friend for Mole by Nancy Armo
     Nancy Armo is an amazingly kind person, so of course her book reflects that. I read this to a class and they absolutely loved it. It's a very sweet story about finding your way when you're lost. 

Monster Trucks by Anika Denise and illustrated by Nate Wragg
     How many times do I have to tell you to buy this book???? It's super fun and the illustrations add to that. This is the first book that my Kindergarten class cheered, "Read it again, read it again" after I finished. My high school morning book club still mentions this book from reading it last year.

Hello, My Name is Tiger by Jennifer Goldfinger
     I picked up this book because I loved the illustration on the cover. It's a super new perspective and I loved the inside too.

Birdie's Happiest Halloween by Sujean Rim
     Yes, of course I love Sujean and Birdie, who doesn't. However, this is such a fun sweet book that needs many more readers. Check out all of Sujean's books.

The Water Princess by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, inspired by Georgie Badiel
     Peter's illustrations in this book make it worth the price. The story is simply told and amazingly powerful. It's an important book to shed light on a problem (clean water) that is found around the world.

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins
     Another recommendation from Samantha....this one literally made me laugh out loud.

You're My Boo by Kate Dopirak and illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
    We read this the other day in my morning book club and a girl said that this was the cutest book ever. She was right. It's sweet.

Hotel Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
     I love Bruce. This is awesome and very funny.

Snappsy the Alligator: Did Not Ask to Be in This Book by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim Miller
     Snappsy is quite the character. I have a funny story about the first time I read this, but I'll give you the short version. I saw it at NCTE in the Penguin book last November. I literally laughed out loud. VERY funny book. 

Before I Leave by Jessixa Bagley
     I loved Boats for Papa, so I was pretty sure this book would be something I really liked. It's totally different, but yet teaches a valuable lesson. Love love love!

Middle Grade and Above:

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley
     I saw this book everywhere online. My friends raved, so I bought it. So good and worthy of the praise heaped on it.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds
     I love Jason Reynolds' books. Pernille Ripp told me I HAD to buy this one, so I did. I loved it. Again, worthy of all the awards it has and will receive.

Moo: a novel by Sharon Creech
     There is something so warm and wonderful about the worlds that Sharon Creech spins out. Reading her books makes me happy and content. She truly is a master storyteller.

Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood
     Augusta really created a beautiful story with this book. You can picture the people and the places. Just wonderful.

The Thing About Leftovers by C. C. Payne
     Nancy Paulsen sent me this book and it sat on a pile for a while. Something about the cover didn't really speak to me. LUCKY FOR ME,  I picked it up and started reading it one day. It's one of my very favorite of all time. C.C. has a unique voice and this was an excellent book to show off her skills. I have recommended it to the elementary counselor for people with blended families, and also bought a copy for my school. Check this book out!!!

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder
     This is what I wrote on GoodReads,
"So many great moments in this book. It will remind you of a few other books in concept, but a unique voice comes shining through that makes you forget the others. It's about the power of love and redemption and things not being as they seem. See? You've read other books like that. However, this one will captivate you and you won't want it to end."

Wish by Barbara O'Connor 
The power of love and hope are woven through this story. It's an important book.

Liberty by Kirby Larson
     I have to be honest, my students and I were lucky enough to be able to help name some characters in this book, however, I love it independent of that. Kirby is the queen of historical fiction and this book proves why. Amazing storytelling.

Maxi's Secrets: or What you can Learn from a Dog by Lynn Plourde
     I didn't cry at this book, YOU cried at this book. OK, no, really, a stray dust storm went through my house.... OK, fine, yes, it made me cry.....but it also made my heart swell. It totally is worth the tears. I loved this so much!

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin
     This book is a love letter to kids with illnesses and the families that surround them. Love! This one has honesty and heart.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

International Dot Day Links to Share - 2016

International Dot Day started in a few classrooms in 2009 and has grown into a celebration celebrated around the world. I am constantly sharing links on Twitter and Facebook to encourage more classes to participate, adults may feel free to connect with me.

Official Page and Signup: http://www.thedotclub.org is where to send people first. There is a yearly signup and lots of resources and ideas to make your day (week, month, school year) successful. Please encourage people to check out the site and sign up!!

The amazing Celebridot Site: http://www.celebridots.com The site was inspired by Sharon Creech who sent me a dot on Dot Day 2011. I was so inspired by her graciousness that I decided to start asking other celebrities to make their mark. So many awesome dots are now on the site by the best people out there. If you know an author/illustrator/actor/sports personality, please invite them to participate. The determining factor on 'celebrity' status is if kids would recognize his/her name or work. There are now 220 dots up!

I have curated a group of Dot Day celebrations through Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/tjshay/international-dot-day/ I also encourage you to search Pinterest for International Dot Day as I may have missed some. Beautiful stuff there! I also have a newer board for Dot Day Ideas here: http://www.pinterest.com/tjshay/international-dot-day-ideas/

Shannon M. Miller, Matthew Winner, and Andy Plemmons have created a great Google Doc for help connecting with other schools on Dot Day. You can find the 2016 document here. Be sure to connect to Shannon, Matthew, and Andy because they are awesome! 
Andy Plemmons @plemmonsa
Matthew Winner @matthewwinner
Shannon McClintock Miller @shannonmmiller

This year people have wondered if 7-12 students can participate in Dot Day! I am very proud to share this site from my school: https://www.flickr.com/photos/106506195@N07/sets/72157636908020134/ In 2013, every kid in grades 7-12 (and the awesome teachers) created a dot on his/her tablet and we took a large picture in the gym and also created a Flickr online gallery of all the dots.

I also would encourage you to use and search the #DotDay hashtag on Twitter! The very best and most creative educators on the planet will be found there!

Another way to connect to the best people is to check and follow people from this great Superheroes of Dot Day post on the FableVision Learning Blog. 

Do high school kids want to make dots?? Check out this blogpost from last year where I asked my former high school kids what they liked about the day.

Happy Dot Day!!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Favorite Books of 2015

I am sometimes asked for book recommendations so I am going to list some of my favorite books of 2015 (and two that come out in January). I will undoubtedly add to this post with books I read before the new year and also the ones that should be on here but I've forgotten to add. Check back!

Picture Books

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner
     This is a really sweet book with really cool art. I loved the sweet story and the storytelling.


Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
      An amazing story told in perfect words by Laurel Snyder and absolutely stunning art by Julie Morstad. I can't say enough good things about this book. One particular spread literally made me stop and marvel for a long time. 

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
     No one tells a humorous story like Drew Daywalt. This book does not disappoint. The sheer amount of weeks on the NYT list should tell you something about this book. I can also tell you, Drew is one of the nicest people in the world. Love to see the good guy get ahead!

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
     There are times when there is so much talk about a book and you are disappointed... You will not be disappointed with this book. A great true story told with awesome art.

Little Elliot, Big Family by Mike Curato
     I love everything about Elliot. I have given this and it's predecessor away several times because it has a lot of heart. 

Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora
     Ame Dyckman is a seriously funny person. You get to see that shine through in Wolfie The Bunny!

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Joshua Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
     This is a fun book to read and to read aloud. The quest of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast is just plain fun.

Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares
     Inspiring story with the most stunning art. Matt has truly made a masterpiece with this book. 

You and Me by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
     Looking for a book about friendship? This is it. A very sweet message with Peter's awesome illustrations.

Birdie's First Day of School by Sujean Rim
     Birdie is a handful and this book is the perfect companion to the first days of school. I gave a copy to the Kindergarten teacher because I thought it was important to get this in the hands of kids! As a bonus, I love Sujean!

Snoozefest by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
     Another read-aloud classic, you can't help but love everything Samantha Berger writes. Take a trip with a lovable sloth and you will feel sleepy in no time. 

The Whale in my Swimming Pool by Joyce Wan
     Here is how I read every Joyce Wan book.... Open the book, look at every cute picture and wonder how art can be so cute, then go back and enjoy the story.  This is a fun book and the Kindergarten class I read it to loved it!


(New Additions)
There Was An Old Dragon that Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle
     Fun read aloud that will inspire kids to think of ways to change old songs into fresh and fun new songs!

Daylight, Starlight, Wildlife by Wendell Minor
     I am the world's biggest Wendell Minor fan (except maybe for Florence). Absolutely stunning art work contrasting day and night creatures.

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Goro Fujita
     Super story and really different (and awesome) illustrations. 

Middle Grade and YA

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
     A really smart adventure book. This book has it all from laughs to heartache. 

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
     I've probably already recommended this book....to everyone. But just in case, I had a two week book hangover from this book. I didn't want to read another book, I wanted to remain in this world. Read this, you will love it.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
     So much heart packed into these pages. A great story that might help you find your sense of wonder again.

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee with art by Christopher Denise
     I would recommend this book based on the Christopher Denise magical artwork alone. However, Alison has written a great story about love, friendship and fitting in.

The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
     This book is a great story which is told in such a way that little bits are revealed and you can't help but wonder how someone could write such a sweet and wonderful story. Included in this book are recipes and, you might just run out and buy your wife some Cherries in the Snow lipstick!


Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
     This book should be required reading for all teachers, administrators, and everyone who has struggled in school. This book is for the kids who struggle and everyone who helps the kids who struggle. I think of it as a love letter to teachers everywhere. I believe this book will change lives.


Coming Soon: 

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson (January 26, 2016)
     This is such a fun adventure story. I wasn't really sure what to think when it arrived, but I loved every single word. Kirby Larson tells an amazing story. I don't know many people who can make historical fiction so fun to read.

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton (January 5, 2016)
     If we have been friends for longer than ten minutes, you know I adore Elizabeth Rose Stanton.  Part of the reason is because she is a generous and kind person. The major reason is because she writes unusual and extraordinary stories. I have read hundreds of books and sometimes they all blend together, but Henny and Peddles have both struck a chord in me as unique and important. The message kids get from these books is so important. I read Peddles to the Kindergarten class and they loved every minute. See their review below.




Friday, August 21, 2015

What Do High School Kids Think of Dot Day?



Several people have asked on Twitter how to celebrate Dot Day with high school students. Since the very beginning, I've just set out art supplies and let them make dots. No special lesson. We do use canvas now and I hang the resulting dot art in my classroom for the remainder of the year. I decided to ask my beloved former students what they thought of Dot Day. At the risk of seeming immodest,  I am quoting them exactly as they responded. I believe their responses show exactly how amazing my students are:

As a student I enjoyed dot day. I remember the first time I saw the video, I wasn't sure what to expect and it turned out to be something very eye opening, motivating, and encouraging. I loved the idea of dot day, not only because I got to create my own dot, but because it was a great message that we were helping send out world wide. - Molly

I liked seeing the map showing all the countries that participated in Dot Day! I thought it was cool that my music teacher from Iowa had managed to reach kids that were hundreds of thousands of miles away.- Emma

I liked Mr. Shay.. He was cool and everyone respected him.. Maybe if more of the teachers were like him they wouldn't need to pry their students to make a dot that could change a life.. Not only change a life, but show that there are people who care and want to help out all over the world...Taylor

Dot day to me not only stimulates and shows the creative nature inside of everyone, but also being able to see a small group of people be able to reach out and affect thousands of lives for a day. It shows you can make a difference through hard work and inspiration.-Mitchell

Nowadays, we are pushing students to do more and learn more to try and help them find out what the future may have in store for them, but it is ALWAYS necessary to take a step back for a day and bring out your inner feelings and creativity, and what better way is there to do so than a dot! Dot Day is one of my favorite times of the year because I can forget about everything, and just focus on making a dot of my own that would be hung on Mr. Shay's wall. Your eye is always drawn right to them when you walk into his room, and it is really awesome to see everyone's creativity come together to form such a beautiful piece of art. I cannot wait to one day have a classroom of my own and get to encourage my students to partake in this great event each year! -Landon

To me. dot day is a day that not only celebrates creativity, but also emphasizes the significance that is held by each and every person on this Earth. It is a day that reminds us all that each and every one of us has talents to share, no matter how small we may think they are. It teaches that we never need to be anything more than ourselves; we are all great in our own ways. Just think, if a small town, Iowan, teacher can spread joy, creativity, and a sense of significance, to millions around the world, starting with something as small as a dot, what great things can you do? - Shannon


I always enjoyed dot day because I liked how it was something people from all parts of the world could share together. You were able to get creative with your dot and share a little bit of your personality with everyone that was able to see it. -Jackie

As I said, best kids in the world! Celebrate however you like, but don't think you need to do anything special. Watercolors, markers, crayons....whatever you have. High school kids just want to be creative...like all of us.

High School Canvas 2014




Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Finding Beauty

This summer has been one filled with travel. A few weeks ago I accompanied my wife to Florida as she attended a class for her school. The weather was so hot, it was hard to enjoy, but there were moments that were so incredible, it was hard not to be swept away. We walked on the beach near sundown every evening...feet in the water.

Currently, we are working our way back home from the longest trip we've ever taken. Our first night away from home, after a ten hour drive, was in Newark, Ohio. The city resembled Stars Hollow from the show The Gilmore Girls. Sweet and peaceful. There was a gazebo and a little band play in it. The stuff of TV shows. We fell in love s little.

Next we went to King of Prussia. Nothing beautiful to be seen. An outrageous mall. The people weren't friendly...and rain.....lots of rain...just a pretty unhappy time. However, by luck of the GPS, our trip into Philadelphia was outstanding. We somehow ended up on the scenic route. Beautiful old buildings and lovely colleges. (Plus "Insomnia Cookies" served warm)

Philadelphia is not a beautiful city. In fact, it ranks amongst my least favorite. But, if you know a little secret, you can find a stunningly breathtaking view. Floor 33 of the Loews after dark.


After the ISTE conference, we drove to New York City...where beauty abounds. The buildings, Central Park, Broadway theaters...a wonderful place to visit.




The final stop on our journey is Hannibal, MO. My wife is taking a class this week. Hannibal is a river town.....if you know what I mean. Somewhat dirty, gritty, and filled with the kind of places I don't usually go. Last night, I had to drive my wife out to the Tom Sawyer's Cave and  on my way back, I was a mile or so away from the town and, from above and a ways a way, it's a beautiful town. Even a river town can look beautiful from the right vantage point. Which leads me to my point....

Students are a bit like cities....sometimes you have to find the right vantage point in order to see the beauty. Sometimes, it's easy. Like walking through the gates of Central Park. Open and friendly, awaiting your arrival.

Sometimes, however, the beauty is not as easy to find....like in Philly. You have to know the right time and the right place. You have to search. It's there, it's just waiting to unfold. Often, however, it's not as easy as  a clandestine elevator ride. Sometimes there is a lot of searching involved. The thing is, with kids, most of the fortress around them was built through years of dealing with things you will
never know about....but the searching is important.

Finally, changing perspective. There is a famous scene in Dead Poet's Society where Robin Willams' character asks students to climb onto a desk and say something to feel a different perspective. Shortly after watching that film, I took a trip with students. We went to this beautiful but icy waterfall. I fell and hit my head really hard, busting my glasses. Of the five kids that were with me, only one made the effort to come and make sure I was ok. It was the student that I knew the least....the student I was not that close to. Message received. I had to look at them through a different lens (no pun intended). Like my trip back into Hannibal....seeing things from a different vantage point is helpful....and sometimes painful,

The takeaway from all of this......If you look for beauty, you find beauty. The opposite is also true.
What are you looking for?

Now, if you took all my words at face value, it would seem like I am the greatest teacher ever....like I have all the answers. I am not and I do not. This message is one that I continually work on. Last year, I had a student that was so difficult, I never found the beauty or the good. It was the hardest time of my teaching career. I never stopped trying, but that goodness was buried deep. I am ashamed that I couldn't reach that one. I am not ashamed that I didn't stop trying. One other confession. Kids get a million chances with me....adults only a few. It's a character flaw. I'm working on it. Lucky for me, I've found a group of friends who found the good in me.

So, what is it you're looking for?