Monthly Archives: December 2013

“Don’t Take That Away!”: Best of 2013

I thought about sharing what I thought were some of the best books of 2013, but, instead I decided to share with you opinions based on student response. After all, the books were written for them. Before I begin, I want to say that although I bought many, many new releases from 2013, I have not yet read them all to my students.

I set a special spot aside in my room-  a shelf where I put books we’ve shared together (ones that I’ve read aloud). It gets pretty full pretty quick, so I have to comb through it occasionally and take books away. I usually do it while students are there, and these are some of the books that got the biggest response of “NO! Don’t take that one away!” this year.

Before I begin, I have to admit that my students have great taste in books…

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown


This book won me over and when my students responded with as much enthusiasm for it as I did, I was thrilled. I used it as a lesson- it’s okay to be wild sometimes, but not all the time. The illustrations are stunning and I love the facial expressions on the animals.

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier & illustrated by Suzy Lee


This book was a hit even before Jesse visited our school in November. Students love carefully opening book after book after book, and after Jesse visited they added the expressions and dramatics she used when she read them the story.

Bits & Pieces by Judy Schachner


What can I say about this heartwarming story about Judy Schachner’s old cat Tink. We read the book and then watched Scholastic’s video of Judy reading the book, and the students wanted it read aloud again even after that. Tink discovers the outdoors during a trip to the vet and sneaks away one day.

Oliver and His Alligator  by Paul Schmid


I read this book on the first day of school to both sections of first grade and it was equally loved by both. It’s very interactive and students cheer on Oliver and his alligator.

Sophie’s Squash  by Pat Zietlow Miller & illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf


Sophie falls in love with her squash, Bernice, but as time goes on, Bernice begins to rot. Sophie must accept her loss when winter comes, and finds a surprise come spring.

Warning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lerhaupt & illustrated by Matthew Forsythe


Another great interactive book which begged to be read again and again. When someone tells you not to turn the page, what’s your natural instinct? To turn the page, of course!

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

fish-and-snail-cover (1)

Students found this text relatable on so many levels- disagreeing with a friend, trying something new, and more. Fish is adventurous and Snail is uncertain, but the two find a balance and a way to make their friendship work.

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


This very simple book conveys a powerful message. With its few words, it was perfect for my emerging readers and many wanted to take it home to read to mom and dad.

Ah Ha!  by Jeff Mack


Mack tells a story about a frog with bad luck using only the words “ah” and “ha.” A very clever story in which readers cheer the frog on to safety from its predators.

Tea Party Rules  by Ame Dyckman & illustrated by K.G. Campbell


Cub wants to join in on a girl’s tea party but he must first learn there are rules to be followed. This is a laugh out loud funny book which students enjoyed and read and re-read.



My students from last year are now in second grade, which is in a different wing of the school than my classroom. I only get to see them at lunch time and recess time, and most of them make it a point to come visit with me. We reminisce, joke around, and they tell me about what they’re reading and what they’re up to. It’s nice.

I have to say, the most frequent question I hear from second graders is,

Have you read them Stone Fox yet, Mr. Teut?

Not yet.

Now, at this point, I know some might shake a finger at me and disappointingly shake their heads because I read chapter books to first graders. It’s a practice I believe is highly valuable. Throughout the course of the day, we do about 5-6 (sometimes more) read alouds- as they fit in with writing, reading workshop, math, science, etc. My favorite time of day, however, is right after lunch. I pick a picture book to read, and then I read them a few chapters from a chapter book or early reader. I usually start the year with all of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. Most first graders have never read a chapter book before coming into my room, and DiCamillo’s series make a nice bridge between picture books and chapter books. This year we moved on to Roald Dahl’s The BFG

I do chapter books because it really provides opportunity for students to practice making mental images of what they read. It also is a great segue into discussions, and being able to retell the story and recall key points from day to day.

Now, back to Stone Fox. Why did that book resonate with so many of my readers? Why, almost a year later, does it still remain as one of their top first grade memories? 

Let’s rewind to January and February of last year. Each day I read about two chapters, and whenever I closed the book there was an audible gasp followed by a “NO! NO! NO!” John Reynolds Gardiner had these students in his grip. The book is so well written that it’s one that’s hard to put down. I probably could have read it all in one afternoon, and the students would be able to stay focused. But this was something I wanted to savor.

When we finally reached the end, and the tragedy that occurs in the book, I cried. For the first time, in front of my students, I cried. Their eyes got wide as they too tried to come to grips with what had just happened in the book. If you haven’t read it before, it’s something you don’t see coming. And they didn’t see it coming. For a moment, time froze in the room and there was silence. 

We weren’t in the room anymore- we were in the book. The classroom wasn’t there- there were no desks, chairs, books, or anything. The children weren’t there. The school wasn’t there. We were in the book- cheering on Searchlight in the race. 

When reality sunk in, many students got up and brought me Kleenex. A few put their heads down between their knees (they were sitting on the carpet) and cried. And when we had accepted the tragedy of the book, we soldiered through to the end.

When the book was over, and the tears were shed, many students started hugging each other. We talked about how this book had sucked us in, and really took us for a ride. I told them to just think about all of the adventures in books that were still out there waiting for them to join in. Doors to be opened. The key being reading. 

That remains one of my favorite reading memories. 

So today as I was planning for school to resume on Thursday, I scanned through the chapter books I have trying to decide what we should start next. Stone Fox stuck out. “I think we’re ready.” I assured myself.

Just a few weeks ago when I told a second grader we hadn’t read Stone Fox yet, he said “What are you waiting for??” I wanted to be sure we were ready. I think we are.


Passenger Side

I live about seven hours away from my parents, so I don’t make it back home very often. When I am there, I love visiting with them and the rest of my family back home, but I also love the unique reading atmosphere. When I am in my apartment in Illinois, I have too many distractions which often interrupt my reading time. The distractions are fewer at home, so I treasure any minute I have to read and relax.

When I pack a suitcase to go, I also pack a bag jammed with books. I usually know I’ll never have time to read them all, but it’s always better to be over prepared. As I prepared to leave for home last Thursday, I loaded my bag with a lot of young adult fiction, which I have sort of been neglecting to read. I’ve instead done a lot of reading of middle grade books. I thought the books in the extra bag wouldn’t be enough, so I also squeezed a few books in my suitcase before yanking the zipper shut.

I loaded up my vehicle with my suitcase, bag of books, and a pile of shirts still on their hangers- it’s the best way to avoid wrinkles, right? I laid those nicely over the front seat.

I enjoyed my break and my time with family, and I also treasured the moments I had to read. Books like Andrew Smith’s Winger, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, & A.S. King’s Reality Boy drew me in deep. They took hold of some of the emotions I hadn’t used in a while and shook them hard. They were so well written it was difficult to put them down when the time came. I left Eleanor and Park behind so my mom could read it and pass it on, but the rest I packed to take back with me, along with many other books.

I packed up my Christmas presents and arranged them in the back of my vehicle as if I were playing Tetris. I saved just enough room for my suitcase to go in back as well. When it was time to leave, I carried the suitcase out and my mom carried my bag of books. She put it in the backseat, hugged and kissed me good-bye. Before I got in the car, I noticed the passenger seat was empty. What did I have in the passenger seat on the way home?  I decided it must have been the books. I moved the books to the passenger seat.

I spent the next 7 hours driving back to Illinois, regretting not getting an audiobook or two to ease the lull of being confined to my vehicle for such an enormous length of time.

I arrived back in IL and began unpacking- and a few hours later I pushed the rewind button in my mind… Something else did belong in the passenger seat- my good clothes! I realized that all of my nice shirts were still hanging in a dark closet 400 miles away in Iowa. 

I realize that reading often takes the passenger side in my ride of life. Oh yes, I have my priorities- God, teaching, relationships, and so on and so forth, but often reading trumps anything else that follows.

When I have a few moments here, what do I wind up doing? Grabbing the nearest book.
If I’m not on lunch duty, how do I relax while I eat my lunch? Something related to reading.
I can’t sleep unless I’ve read at least an hour’s worth of a good book.

Someone from my family asked me, “Why do you love reading so much?” Quite a loaded question, but I can’t imagine life without reading. It’s more than a hobby. Sure, I enjoy it, but I don’t do it solely because I enjoy it. I do it because it makes me a better person. It makes me smarter. It challenges me. It pushes me. It stirs up feelings that would otherwise go untouched. It gives me something to talk about….

and the list could go on. Books and reading will always get to sit in my metaphorical passenger seat. I will take them with me wherever I go. Far better is the places that they can take me. Sure, I’m the driver of my life, but when books get the passenger side, they can bring me places I could only visit through the pages of a book.

The nice shirts can travel through the USPS this time. Books make far better passenger seat companions.