It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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I love going to conferences and workshops. They’re so invigorating. Sometimes an idea I have is confirmed, or I’m reminded of a strategy or activity I haven’t used in a while. But the best sessions are those where I learn something new that I can immediately use in my teaching and moves my thinking about a topic forward.

This happened on Saturday at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion. Carl Anderson’s session on analyzing informational texts for teaching points to support student writing caused a noticeable shift in my thinking about these books.

Anderson, author of the classic book on conferring, How’s It Going? (Heinemann, 2000), opened his talk by reminding us that using mentor texts is essential if we want our students to write well in any genre. They have to “imagine the shape of their drafts.” In order to do this, they’ll need lots of exposure to models of the genre before they write.

Teachers should look at possible mentor texts through several lenses, including meaning, structure, details, voice, and conventions. Anderson’s words came back to me a few hours later while I was browsing the shelves at Bank St. Book Store. Astronomy has always fascinated me, so Jessie Hartland’s new book, How the Meteorite Got to the Museum (Blue Apple Books, 2013), caught my eye. As I flipped through the pages, I realized I was reading the book differently that I would have just the day before. Many elements of the book’s structure and style popped out and grabbed my attention.

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Told as a cumulative story in the tradition of “The House that Jack Built,” How the Meteorite Got to the Museum combines scientific facts with the daily lives of the people whose path the meteor crossed, making the story more interesting and engaging to readers. Hartland infuses the story with humor with lines like “Your car was in an interstellar collision!”

The Peekskill Meteorite’s descent to Earth is described with vivid details that include all the senses. Witnesses’ reactions are chronicled with a variety of verbs each time they’re mentioned, as is the meteorite’s journey itself. Hartland’s colorful, engaging illustrations, which remind me of Maira Kalman’s work, include diagrams, maps and other typical of non-fiction features.

All of these touches give this book a depth that will draw kids back to it again and again, a depth I might have missed if not for Carl Anderson’s ideas about analyzing mentor texts. How the Meteorite Got to the Museum is an ideal mentor text for 3rd or 4th grade students who’ve been writing informational text for a few years and are ready to stretch their writing wings and try a new text structure. And they’ll learn a few facts about meteorites along the way.

Be sure to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

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5 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

  1. Good for you that you made it to the Saturday Reunion…AND that you happened into Carl Anderson’s workshop. I love this gem: “imagine the shape of their drafts.” Mentor text work is time consuming, but so worth it.

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  2. It sounds wonderful, as is that book by Anderson. Perhaps I need to go back & re-read, Catherine. Speaking of reading, I always learn so much when I read your posts. Thanks for this great explanation & book I know I will love. We have our bookfair this week, & I hope the bookstore has it.

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    • Thank you, Linda, for your kind words. Being part of this amazing PLN has taught me so much, and your blog is always so inspiring! The bookfair is one of my favorite parts of the year. Hope you find some wonderful titles!

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  3. I didn’t know Jessie Hartland had a new title out! I am so excited I have her books about The Sphinx and The Dinosaur Love these titles. This looks great. I think this book officially starts my Christmas wishlist list of books I should really probably buy myself! Love how you were inspired by your conference to read this with new eyes 🙂

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