Thursday, October 2, 2014

I wasn't able to read a Book-a-day, but I did have a great time reading as many wonderful novels and picture books over the summer as I could!

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff: I think this is my favorite book I read this summer. Albie, the main character, has a big heart, a heart that is often broken when he isn’t able to achieve as others think he should. He is generous and kind yet sometimes it’s easy to miss all the wonderful qualities he has when it’s only his deficits that are noticed.
Asking kids to “live in someone else’s shoes” is a hard task especially if they have never experienced the hardships that the others have faced. This book opens the possibility for kids to experience life through Albie’s eyes and heart, to see that a person’s strengths are much more important than perceived weaknesses. Great for intermediate and middle school.

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner: Circa Monroe has a gift. Like her father, she is wonderful at cleaning up (photo shopting) photographs. Her mother is a talented photographer too, but battles depression, so Circa and her father keep the family functioning. When her father is tragically killed in an accident, Circa begins to believe that things her father had shopt to entertain her as a child (adding a bit of fantasy to otherwise boring old photos) are actually coming to life. A young boy shows up at her doorstep that seems to have materialized from nowhere. Is he the baby in an old shopt photo her dad had recently included in a family reunion photo? Is this boy the answer to all of her problems?
Kids that like reality with a hint of fantasy will enjoy this read. It leaves you guessing right up to the end. Good read for intermediate and middle school.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora: Having lived with teenagers the past six or seven years, I am totally aware that often the “assigned” novels that middle school and high school kids are expected to read and revere- are never touched. I just heard it again on a long ride home from a youth conference. “I read the spark notes to answer the questions. I never read the book.”
So the fun in this novel is that three middle schoolers decide to create a frenzy for To Kill a Mockingbird using the law of supply and demand. If a book is suddenly gone from all the shelves, everyone will want to read it because it is so hard to get so it must be amazing! The narrator, Lucy loves To Kill a Mockingbird and thinks everyone should read it. It is an assigned book for the summer, so why not hide all the books in all the area bookstores and create a webpage to create a buzz about the disappearance of the books? Lots of fun for teens to read!!!

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson: A mix of voodoo and football. Our young protagonist Charlie Reynolds moves to the southern swamps of Florida and all the magic and mystery of the sugar cane fields. Will Charlie and his family be able to survive the evil that hides in the fields?
This book took a few chapters to pull me in, but it was worth sticking with. A great book for boys but girls will enjoy too intermediate and up.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: Miranda, a sixth grader lives in the heart of New York with her mom. She is used to coming home to an empty house since her mom has to work so they can live. But, her life gets crazy when she begins to receive strange notes from an anonymous person, a homeless man suddenly begins to hang out on her street corner, and strange things keep happening to her and her friends.
Kids that read this book will need to pay attention and not get too caught up in the confusion they may feel as they progress through the story.  If they stick with it, they will be rewarded at the end! There is mystery and time travel. Themes of friendship and small acts of kindness making a difference make this a great book for kids intermediate and up.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Juliet T. Lamana is a gripping story about Hurricane Katrina from the eyes of one family. Armani is about to have a birthday party and doesn’t want an old storm to ruin it. Soon everything she has known is taken away and birthdays seem pointless. Her family becomes split during the worst of the storm and she must become a mother to her younger siblings.  I recommend this book to fifth grade and up. There are raw moments which may not be a good fit for younger children, but readers will be swept into the storm holding on for dear life to the last page of the book.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: Wow – I was blown away by this gut wrenching story. Definitely a read for older middle school/ high school students, but the cast of characters in this novel become so real they are like family. TJ is a high school senior – a natural athlete that hates conformity. In fact, there is a lot in his life he hates, but somehow survives with the help of great adopted parents and a teacher that convinces him to become a part of the inaugural swim team for the high school. TJ agrees if he can bring alongside him a group of misfits to swim with him. Themes of racism, loss, friendship and sacrifice. Great read for guys but I think girls will be moved by it too.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm- growing old can be painful and lonely, but becoming a teenager can be just as terrifying. Ellie is eleven years old and life is about to change as she transitions to middle school- sixth grade. Her best friend seems to be finding a new group to hang out with, and a long lost family member about thirteen years of age suddenly comes to live with her family. He looks just like her grandfather, her grandfather the scientist… Could it be he has found the fountain of youth? Fun and fast, The Fourteenth Goldfish will entertain and also possibly ignite an interest in science and discovery. Great for third grade and up.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer- Sugar Mae has two parents that love her fiercely, but addiction and depression create family disfunction. So Sugar and her dog Shush must find help through new friends and the foster system. This is a story of inner strength that hopefully will resonate with children in similar situations to Sugar and they too can find courage to survive, love, and thrive in spite of life’s challenges. Great for intermediate grades and up.

Rules by Cynthia Lord –We don’t realize the importance of each word we say until we know someone that can only communicate by using index cards to talk- one word at a time. Twelve year old Catherine meets a new friend when sitting in a waiting room where her autistic brother receives therapy. Her new friend Jason can’t talk, he can’t walk, but he is funny and smart and desperate to get beyond his disabilities and fly. Will Catherine be the one to help him or will her own prejudices and challenges keep her from finding the courage to fly too? Another great read for intermediate and up!

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabstein- What a fun book. This is a mix of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Jumanji all taking place at the local library in Austin TX! The library should be an exciting place and Mr. Lemoncello creates a fascinating competition for a select group of students(winners of an essay contest) that includes animatronics, holograms, and other three-dimensional things all coming from characters and artifacts from beloved books. Readers starting in second grade through middle school will enjoy this one!

Picture books!

Found by Salina Yoon- Bear finds a lost toy, a stuffed bunny that must belong to someone else. Bear wants to find the owner, but finds himself falling in love with the bunny. Will he be able to give bunny back to the real owner when it’s time? Wonderful simple story of considering others before yourself. This would be a nice mentor text for elaboration and edge of your seat of story.

The Snatchabook Who’s Stealing the Stories? By Helen and Thomas Docherty-a delightful tale of Eliza Brown, a little rabbit, that must solve the mystery of who is stealing all the towns’ story books? Written in verse with interesting use of punctuation to create voice. This could be used to teach young writers how to make time move quickly, how to create tension through simple words and phrases, and how to write a “learned a lesson” ending. 

The Cat, The Dog, The Exploding Eggs, The Wolf, and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox- With today’s world of video games and super power heroes, a child may have trouble anticipating the plot of an old-fashioned fairy tale like Little Red Riding Hood. So when cat tries to read this fairy tale to dog, dog tries to bring his background knowledge to predict what will happen next, like Red Riding Hood will hypnotize the bad guys, or blow them up with exploding eggs! Will dog’s interruptions make cat quit reading? This is a great way to fracture a fairy tale and might be a nice mentor text for students in that use!

Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston illustrated by Jim LaMarche- Jim LaMarch’s  eye-catching illustrations of the changing season and Tony Johnston’s sensory filled text will delight readers of all ages! This definitely should be used for sensory details, specific word choice, purposeful sentence fragments, and use of repetition.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Spring is such a great time to bring poetry into the classroom…actually anytime is, but poetry in the spring brings a freshness, a new energy to reading and writing.  So I have a few poetry books and anthologies to share. These are not new, but maybe some of these books have been lost on your shelves as they were for a time in mine!

Been to Yesterdays Poems of a Life by Lee Bennett Hopkins- I just read this from front to back for the first time.  It has been sitting in my shelf and I didn’t realize it is truly a memoir of a difficult time during Hopkins youth.  The poems, a mix of free verse with some internal rhyming and chronologically ordered, speak of a family constantly moving to beat the rent, of a divorce, of a beloved grandmother passing. My heart hurt for the little boy so beaten down by life. My heart sored for the perseverance of a young writer’s dreams for his future.  This book is perfect for intermediate and upper grade classroom libraries and could make for very good close reading discussion.

Toasting Marshmallows Camping Poems by Kristine O’Connell George- This is a wonderful selection of poems about a very common Midwest activity- camping!  George includes a variety of forms- free verse, concrete poetry, poems for two voices to create pure pleasure for young readers.  I use poems from this book often as models for writing workshop with elementary classrooms.

Old Elm Speaks Tree Poems by Kristine O’Connell George- I think Kristine O’Connell George says so much in so few words! These poems bring a humanness to the trees and invoke memories of times past meandering in the woods or playing in the special tree in the back yard. Again her poems are wonderful for teaching poetic devices to our young poets!!

Moving Day by Ralph Fletcher- Actually any of Ralph’s poetry books are wonderful for showing kids that poems can be about anything.  In Moving Day, Ralph creates a series of poems that tell of all the drudgery involved in moving- packing boxes, saying good-by, leaving things behind…  He is so good at creating a story in a poem.

Poetry Matters Writing a Poem from the Inside Out by Ralph Fletcher- this is a practical book written for kids to help them see the wonder of poetry and to encourage them to write poetry themselves. Ralph explores poetry through three lenses- emotion, image and music. Simplistic yet a perfect entry into poetry!

That’s it for today.  Happy reading. Share the passion!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I have a few more books to share today.  Happy reading.  Share the passion!!

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies- This is a new series about sibling rivalry!  Evan is about to enter fourth grade and his brainiac sister Jessie is skipping a grade and will not only be in fourth grade along with her brother but in the same class.  Evan loves his little sister and in the past was her defender when she was bullied by a small group of girls in her class. But, what Evan has in street smarts, he lacks in the classroom so he fears his sister will make him look dumb.  The conflict centers around a war, a lemonade war- Will the winner take all or end up the loser? This book is great for grades 2-5. Each chapter leads in with a special word or phrase that includes a pronunciation and definition which is kind of fun!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- I know I should have read this last year, but I am trying to make up for lost time and books!! If you have students that are animal lovers, they will find it hard to put this book down. Ivan is a gorilla stuck in a small cage in a run-down mini-mall where he and several other lonely wild animals are kept to entertain and entice customers!

Ivan has a huge heart – a heart that will break if he is unable to save Ruby, a baby elephant from ending up just like him, lonely. Ivan seems more human than us, and teaches us lessons in love, determination, and sacrifice.  Great for third grade and up and younger strong readers!

I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis- Story is always at the heart of historical events and The Attacks of September 11, 2001 is no exception.  Tarshis creates a vivid image of this horrific day in New York City seen through the eyes of Lucas a young energetic kid who is experiencing his own personal crisis. He skips school to visit his Uncle Benny, a New York City firefighter and suddenly the chaos of the day unfolds.  I have to tell you, I found this a little hard to read. It brings back memories of that … well- it brought tears to my eyes as I read.  Lauren Tarshis ends the book explaining why she chose to write about this day and I do believe she handles it in a way that creates a clear picture of this significant event in our history but doesn’t sensationalize.  This is a very quick easy read. It is listed for grades 3-8 for interest level. This is part of an “I Survived” series about other noteworthy events in history.   


Friday, March 14, 2014

Ok.  I have finished three books that I believe belong on our shelves for students to read!,

1.         Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg.  Thank you Janelle Owens for getting this book in my hands!  Loved the characters.  They are quirky, nerdy- but in a way that I wish I was.  (I wish I could learn a second language in less than a month!) There is great tragedy in the book, but this leads to lasting friendships and new family ties. Willow is a middle school genius with a vocabulary that may scare students initially away from reading the book.  Encourage them to stick with it, because they will get caught into the story and hopefully have a hard time putting the book down. Crazy things just keep happening to Willow and her new family that will make you laugh out loud and sometimes tear up.  This book is for middle school and middle grades. (Be aware of a scene early in the book where Willow speaks of how babies come to be!)

2.        A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd- Love, love , loved this book. I saw a tweet from Colby Sharp saying he was reading this book and I realized I owned it! The story reminds me in some ways of Holes, of things lost, a curse that keeps a family from finding happiness.  The characters truly become your friends and your family! Felicity, the main character is a word collector.  She sees words form above people’s heads and she keeps a journal collecting words- trying to make sense of words and the world! She makes a new friend Jonah with the gift of “Know-How.” He is able to see people’s troubles and help fix them.   To me the book is really realistic fiction that hints of magic- maybe the kind of magic we all possess if we learn to persevere and live with HOPE! (Middle grade, middle school – but really anyone can enjoy this read.)

3.        The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson- Historical fiction based on a cholera epidemic in London in 1854. Hopkins weaves actual historical figures in with fictional children to create a tale the takes a young street urchin named Eel from a life of living on the streets to assisting a famous Doctor to find the cause of the spread of the “blue death.” All the while he is trying to hide from people in his past that could ruin his future.  This is a good book for grades 3 and up. It is a pretty easy read and a good historical fiction for kids that have never read this genre before. It has a nice author’s note at the end that gives factual information on this event in history.

That’s it for now!!  Hope you are all reading and sharing with your teachers and students!!!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Teachers ask, “How do I get my kids to read longer than ten minutes without distractions? How do I stop my students from fake reading? How can I teach reading when the kids don’t read?” 

What do we believe kids are capable of doing?  How long can we sit and read without being distracted? Are we creating a culture in our classrooms, in our schools that says to everyone around, “We love to read. It is our passion. It helps us to make decisions, to answer questions, to make sense of our world and we want to share that passion with you!”

We need to spend time reading kids’ books of all genres, searching for themes and interests, and characters we know will connect with the kids in our classrooms. We need to then share those books with our kids—selling the books, promoting the books, loving the books so our kids will come to love them too.  Books should be everywhere in the room, visible so kids can see them, and touch them and dig into them.

We need to have a climate where we talk about books all the time. What we are reading now, what we hope to read next and encouraging students to be that kind of reader as well. We want them to know what others in the class are reading so they can make suggestions to their peers, and know who to go to when they are looking for a new book to read.

We need to fill our rooms with rich new literature that speaks to this generation—graphic novels, picture books, mystery, fantasy, biography, informational … books that will pull even the most reluctant readers in, and make them ask for more. We can’t just have classrooms with only old reading series texts, and leveled books written specifically to teach specific skills.

And we must believe that everyone is capable. We must believe kids can read and read for lengthy periods of time because to not read is like not breathing!  Do we believe?