Sunday, July 30, 2006

My July Reading

We were having so much fun trying to think of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Lit that we almost forgot that we were supposed to be reading! So, I am going to review my month's reading. All in one post. I have read lots that I like. My favorite new book this month is THE THE PRICE OF PRIVILEGE: HOW PARENTAL PRESSURE AND MATERIAL ADVANTAGE ARE CREATING A GENERATION OF DISCONNECTED AN UNHAPPY KIDS by Madeline Levine. I picked it up on the new nonfiction table. It is a fascinating read about raising children in affluent communities. It was written by a mother in one of these communities so it is very respectful of the kids and the parents who are raising them. I didn't realize how at risk our kids are. This book gathers the research. Definitely a worthwhile read and one I would recommend to help understand our kids today. It helped me see the pressures they are under and ways to be more supportive as an adult in the community. Definitely one of the best books I've read in a while.

I already talked about STUDY DRIVEN by Katie Wood Ray. My current favorite professional book for teachers. Loved it! I have recommended it to lots of friends. It will hopefully get us back to a true writing workshop in schools.

I also read THE YEAR OF THE DOG by Grace Lin. Actually, this may be my number one pick for the Newbery as of today. I thought it was a great story. Her writing reminded me lots of Sharon Creech who is one of my all-time favorite authors. Lin creates a great character and has life stories from her parents sprinkled throughout the text. One of my current favorites by far. The characters have stayed with me and the writing was great. This is on several Mock Newbery lists now so hopefully, it has a shot at the prize! (By the way, I have heard that she is an incredible author visit in elementary schools for anyone looking for a good author!)

PHINEAS L. MACGUIRE...ERUPTS!: THE FIRST EXPERIMENT (FROM THE HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC NOTEBOOKS OF PHINEAS L. MACGUIRE) by Frances O'Roark Dowell is a fun book--light, but with great characters. I am looking for something like this for my first read aloud. I love this author so I usually try to read anything that she writes. This isn't my favorite of hers but it is meant for a different audience. It is a lighter read than others she has written. But, she is able to create great characters and a plot that will appeal to middle-elementary kids. It looks like it might be the first book in a series. This would be a great new series!

Speaking of new series books, I also read IVY AND BEAN by Annie Barrows. I am always on the lookout for new series books for my transitional readers. This is a fun new series that I'll keep in my classroom. I am looking forward to the second in the series which is due out this fall.

I am not having great luck finding a great adult read. Any suggestions out there? I am anxiously awaiting Anna Quindlen's new novel but would love to read something great before that one is available. I have started a few that I picked up but none of them have hooked me.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Back to the original mission

Time to talk about all the new kids' books we're reading that might be potential Newbery winners. Only problem is that my current read, for my adult book club, is A FINE BALANCE (600 pages), and even pushing for 100 pages a day, it will still be three days before I finish. Great book, though. I'm learning more about India (1947-1975) than I could have imagined. And the narrative style of Rohinton Mistry is amazing -- I love the way he loops off on side tangents or back into a character's past to give the story its depth and breadth.

So that leaves us with my to-read pile. Before starting A FINE BALANCE, I finished AT THE SIGN OF THE STAR (Katherine Sturtevant) so that I could decide if I want to read A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE. I do. What fun to find such a passionate reader and writer who lives in 1677.

I'm also looking forward to THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN. Fuse #8 and Bookshelves of Doom have already reviewed it, but I will wait to read their reviews until I've read it. It's by Karen Cushman. Gotta be good!

VICTORY, by Susan Cooper is next on the pile. Once again, Fuse #8 is ahead of the pack with her review. And once again, I'll wait.

I really didn't like KIRA-KIRA, so Cynthia Kadohata's WEEDFLOWER is down lower in the pile. Couple of reviews to read after I get around to reading the book: Fuse #8, and MotherReader.

Besides these possible Newberys (Newberies?) I'm looking forward to ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: EIGHT TRUE STORIES ABOUT WOMEN WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE, by Penny Colman. Can't ever have too many strong women role models. And THE CONCH BEARER, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Can't find enough good books with India-Indian main characters so that my classroom library will have books in which every reader can find "someone like me." And POND SCUM, by Alan Silberberg. Can't decide on a first read-aloud. This might be it.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Don't worry...

Lois Lowry has a new puppy.

I have a crazy dog.

Even though a whole pack springs to mind (Winn Dixie, Shiloh, the RED FERN duo, the great one in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, the Rottweiler in I AM THE DOG, I AM THE CAT, Old Yeller, Martha, and Clifford), never fear, we won't start another list of Cool________in (or peripheral to) Children's Literature.

Who would have thought?

So, I found this blog that has a Poetry Friday Haiku Contest on a theme/topic. Very fun. Maybe I would have liked Haiku in school had we had this much fun doing it. I am wondering how we can incorporate these little blog activities in the classroom. Kids would write Haiku if it was in a fun, playful way like this. I would love to have conversations with kids about which 100 Cool Girls, Boys and Teachers, in Books they would choose. If they are great conversations for those of us who love to read as adults, kids might have a ball with them too!

Poetry Friday--Moving Day

I just received a copy of MOVING DAY by Ralph Fletcher. It is a great book for elementary age students on anticipating a move to a new place. Ralph Fletcher does a great job of really hitting those feelings that you get when you don't want to leave a home and friends that you love. What I love about this book is the way that each poem stands alone but that it is also sequential so that it reads like a story. You go through the process of moving and accepting the move. There's a great variety of poems and moods to the poems. I think we'd have lots of students who could relate. It will also serve as a great model in Writing Workshop--for students trying to write poetry anthologies on a single topic, to look closely at a poem or at Fletcher as a poet. I think the book is due out in November. Definitely worth the wait!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Kids!

Have you seen the new EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES: WHY, COMMAS REALLY DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE by Lynne Truss? Beth at Cover to Cover recommended it to me. It is a kid version of the adult book on punctuation. It is great! Pretty funny too. Kids will clearly see the need for commas and what they do to the meaning of words. Amusing illustrations show the difference between two sentences like, "Becky walked on, her head a little higher than usual." and "Becky walked on her head, a little higher than usual." It is quite clever! Definitely a must-have for my classroom!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Flying Solo

How about Mr. Fabiano from FLYING SOLO by Ralph Fletcher? The teacher is clearly amazing based on the way his kids react to a no-sub day and the way that he responds when he finds out about their day without a teacher. He definitely fits the criteria!

Meditations On The Cool Teacher Project

I refuse to get an inferiority complex because I don't know all the books that have teachers who have been nominated for our list! And as long as we're trying to have read the Newbery and the majority of my kids' book reading time is devoted to the most current possibilities, I might not even get around to reading lots of those books for a long time to come. But it will be a great place to start someday.

Teachers who have elicited an, "Oh, YEAH! I forgot about her/him!!!" response from me include: Miss Honey, Ms. Frizzle, Merlin, and Mrs. Olinski. Maybe a parallel project should be re-reading some old favorites!

It is good to know that there is no shame in checking out your data on SiteMeter!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More Cool Teachers

Thanks for all the suggestions! I'll start a list on the sidebar so you can check for your favorites.

Meanwhile, here are some of mine. Now, I can't take all the credit for all of these -- this was a collaborative effort with Franki and Karen T. over breakfast, and with owner Sally at Cover to Cover (children's bookstore extraordinaire) later.

Mrs. Kempczinski in GOOD LUCK, MRS. K by Louise Borden. The whole book is a love letter to a beloved teacher who misses the last months of school because she has cancer. But she comes back!

Dumbledore in the HARRY POTTER books.

Ms. Clayton in SCHOOL STORY by Andrew Clements. He has lots of good teachers. Thank you, Mr. Clements! This one is the teacher who helps the girl get her book published.

I also liked Mr. Maxwell in Clements' A WEEK IN THE WOODS. We take our kids to camp, so I could appreciate his organization in preparation for the trip. He made some mistakes and bad assumptions, but he (along with the main kid character) changed and grew.

Mr. Faulker, in THANK YOU, MR. FAULKER by Patricia Polacco. That's just obvious.

Ms. Isabel Hussey in CHASING VERMEER and THE WRIGHT THREE by Blue Balliett. She is energetic and child-centered. Her teaching is rigorous and the work her students do is authentic. She follows the students' agendas and her own, and their studies go further and deeper than any curriculum developer or textbook writer could ever imagine. She's a light in the darkness of standards-based teaching.

Miss Stretchberry in LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech. You have to draw a lot of conclusions about Miss Stretchberry from Jack's poetry journal, but who wouldn't love to have a teacher who is so passionate about poetry, and so gently persistent in growing her writers?

Mr. Birkway in WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech. Boy does he screw up reading the kids' journals aloud, but he realizes it and back pedals. I can kind of relate to that sort of thing happening now and then...

Mr. Todd, JUDY MOODY's teacher. He'd have to be a saint to put up with Judy!

Mr. Slinger, LILLY'S (PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, by Kevin Henkes) teacher. I love him right down to his cheese puffs and Birkenstock sandals!

Monday, July 24, 2006

#3 Cool Teacher in Kid Lit--Miss Malarkey

Okay, so I was thinking, the Giver in THE GIVER is not really a teacher although he certainly serves as one. So, I am taking him off of the list and adding Miss Malarkey from MISS MALARKEY LEAVES NO READER BEHIND by Judy Finchler. I had to think hard about this one. I never like when kids are rewarded for reading. So, the principal dying his hair purple and sleeping on the roof was not my favorite. But.... then when I read the book, I decided Miss Malarkey totally makes our list. I never get the impression that Miss Malarkey really likes the purple hair reward. Instead it is clear that her goal is to hook each child into books by really knowing them as readers. She doesn't care how many books the kids read. She is all about turning kids into readers by finding books that they will love! So, Miss Malarkey becomes the third COOL TEACHER IN CHILDREN'S LIT.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

100 Cool Teachers in Children's Lit

Okay so I am totally loving the lists from Jen Robinson's Book Page blog--Cool Boys from Kid Lit and Cool Girls From Children's Literature. I loved reading over these lists and thinking about these great characters we love.

I soo loved the idea that I started thinking. Could we come up with 100 Cool Teachers from Children's Lit? What do you think? So many teachers in books are these stereotypic, mean, dumpy people who are worn out. So, let's start putting together a list of 100 Cool Teacher's in Children's Lit. I am going to start with Great Aunt Arizona from MY GREAT AUNT ARIZONA by Gloria Houston. I also think The Giver in THE GIVER is a cool teacher. I would also like to add Mrs. Granger from FRINDLE by Andrew Clements. She is cool in disguise. We're looking for thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work. Do you think we can find 100? We are taking suggestions from readers!

Check the list in the sidebar to see if your favorite is already there! As of today (12/31/10), we have ALMOST 150 cool teachers! Keep 'em coming!

One more reason why she's currently my favorite children's author

Shannon Hale is sharing chapter one of her newest book, RIVER SECRETS!



Two minutes faster than last year, thanks for asking! Next year I hope to break the 30 minute mark.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


The fourth Bone book, THE DRAGONSLAYER (Jeff Smith), is out. Phoney Bone has just about gone too far this time, tricking the villagers into fearing a non-existent danger, imposing strict security measures that are followed to the letter even though they don't make sense, ordering plowshares beaten into swords, taxing the villagers to cover the "crisis" situation he has created, blaming everything on the moral decay of the people, and almost killing the villagers' greatest ally when his scam doesn't quite play out the way he'd planned.

No, wait. Was that Bone I was reading, or today's newspaper?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Poetry Friday

This poem came to mind yesterday when I was doing a training swim at Alum Creek Reservoir. Tomorrow is my second-ever 1.5K time trial open water swim. It will certainly not be too cold, I don't plan to die, and I'm only occasionally too far out (in my life or otherwise).

Not Waving But Drowning
by Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On a lighter note...

Franki, you don't have to read the whole Series of Unfortunate Events. Here's a perfectly good ultracondensed version by Andrea M., age 13, one of the winners of a Muse Magazine contest:

Mr. Poe: Your parents died.
Orphans: Woe is us.
Count Olaf: I want your money.
Orphans: You can't have it.
(Count Olaf does mean things.)
Orphans: Things can't get much worse.
(They do.)


For more of this silliness, check out the website that inspired the contest, the Book-a-Minute site. You'll find ultracondensed versions of science fiction, fantasy (don't miss the two versions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), classics, bedtime stories (don't miss The Mitten), and movies. For the rest of the winners of the Muse contest, you'll either have to check out the July/August issue (Heather D., age 17, did such a good job with the Harry Potter books that I've been inspired to slog through #6 even though I'm a year late), or go to the Muse website.

It strikes me that these are only funny if you know the book or movie. And to get them right, you have to REALLY know the book or movie. Are there classroom applications here? Whaddaya think?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Events, current or otherwise

Newsphoto: Basra,
Collateral Damage

Our armies do not come into your cities and lands
as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.

—General F.S. Maude, commander of the British
 colonial forces in Iraq, 1914

Apparently the little girl is dead.

In Basra, bombed to rubble by the Yanks,

her stricken father cradles her small head.

Her right foot dangles, ghastly, by a thread.

Cluster bombs & F-16s & tanks.

That is to say the little girl is dead

whose fingers curl (small hand brushed with blood)

as if to clutch his larger hand. He drinks

her—sobbing—in, & cradles her small head,

& rocks her in his arms, the final bed

but one in which she'll lie. The father clings,

as if his broken daughter were not dead,

her face, as if in sleep, becalmed, but red,

bloodied, bruised. At bottom left, the ranks

of those still dying die beneath her head.

Legions of the Lords of Plunder: the dread

angel of empire offers you thanks!

Look, if you dare! See? The child is dead.

Her stricken father cradles her small head.

by Steve Kowit

Quote for the day

Wole Soyinka said, "A book if necessary should be a hammer [or] a hand grenade which you detonate under a stagnant way of looking at the world."

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Cosmic Again

Last book was TWICE TOLD, short stories inspired by original art. I just finished Elizabeth Winthrop's new book, COUNTING ON GRACE, which is historical fiction about a twelve-year-old girl in the early 18th century who doffs bobbins in a cotton mill in Vermont. And what was Elizabeth Winthrop's inspiration for this book? A Lewis Hine photograph in his collection which documented child labor in the early 1900's!! (There's also a one room school in this one. This is just getting too weird.)

I'm probably going to have to twist the arms of my literature circle group to read this -- they are avid NON-readers of historical fiction -- but they read both CASTLE IN THE ATTIC and BATTLE FOR THE CASTLE last year and vowed that they wanted Elizabeth Winthrop to write a new book. Well, this isn't quite what they had in mind, but I think they'll fall in love. Grace is a likeable character, contrary down to her stubborn left-handedness and her inability to sit still or concentrate. It seems that she'll fall into the trap of a lifetime of work at the mill, but because of the influences of Grace's teacher, a visit from Mr. Hine, her best friend Arthur's deliberate mangling of his hand to escape mill work, and her mother (as much of a sharp-edged, contrary character as Grace is), Grace winds up, at age 12, the substitute teacher in the mill school when her teacher is fired for her work with Mr. Hine against child labor. GREAT characters. SUPERB writing. EXCELLENT end notes about Louis Hine and the photograph that inspired Elizabeth Winthrop.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Twice Told

It's an interesting concept. Scott Hunt sent some original drawings out to authors, and two authors per picture wrote stories inspired by the pictures. It's definitely NOT a book for a 4th/5th grade classroom: the picture with a cake and an ax on the kitchen table inspired a tale of a semi-abusive father forcing a coming-of-age ceremony on his son, and in the other, the son kills his father with the ax. There's also homosexuality in one, and sexual abuse in another.

That said, I loved both of the stories that go with the picture on the cover -- an older woman in her robe and scuffs giving a bear what-for; shaking her finger at him so hard it's blurred. In one story, the bear is a stuffed animal come to life, and in the other, nature's tables are turned in quite a clever way.

There are some other good stories, and the notes from the authors in the back shed light on what it was about the picture that spoke to each of them, and how they went about writing their story for the collection.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Yet Another Cosmic Reading Event

First there was the time I was reading PRODIGAL SUMMER by Barbara Kingsolver and it was not just the same season, but exactly the same dates in spring in my world and in the book. Same wildflowers were blooming, everything.

Then there was ANGELA'S ASHES by Frank McCourt while I was cold, hungry, and uncomfortable (just like him in the book) the time I got snowed in at the Alamo car rental place at the (then) new Denver Airport. That was before the city and the airport had figured out who was responsible for plowing Pena Blvd. out of the airport to I-70.

Last week I was reading 1776 by David McCullough while home visiting Mom. I finished it the day before we sorted boxes of pictures of her ancestors when I learned that her grandmother had been a member of the DAR. So that means I, too, can trace ancestors back to the 1700's and Vermont and the Battle of Bennington.

Now, today's cosmic reading event: the very next book I picked after one room schools in Montana (THE WHISTLING SEASON) was a one room school in Nebraska! ROOM ONE by Andrew Clements.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Teacher Man vs. The Whistling Season

I was completely unimpressed by Frank McCourt's TEACHER MAN. The only saving grace was that I listened to it, and got to hear his wonderful Irish brogue.

Now, if you want a great story that also gives insight into the making of an inspired (and inspirational) teacher, read THE WHISTLING SEASON by Ivan Doig. It's set in 1957 and the state superintendent of schools in Montana is faced with having to close all the state's one room schools because of Sputnik. He himself is a product of a Montana one room school, and the book is an extended meditation on one formative year in his life and the teacher who made so much of a difference to him and his family. (That's a huge exaggeration, but you'll have to read it to find out.) Doig is a master story teller -- there's an interesting plot turn on page 327 -- and gifted in his use of language and creation of characters. Plus, you can read it with a teacher's eye and find differentiation, discipline strategies, integration, state standards, school board politics, and playground subcultures. You'll get a refresher/beginner's course in Latin, as well.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

STUDY DRIVEN and Response to Comment

After RETHINKING RUBRICS IN WRITING ASSESSMENT, I went on to read Katie Wood Ray's amazing new book called STUDY DRIVEN: A FRAMEWORK FOR PLANNING UNITS IN THE WRITING WORKSHOP. LOVED IT TOO! Katie is always brilliant but this book was another one that was exactly what I needed. She reminds us that we are the professionals, the people in the classroom who know our students best. She helps us to see how to bring inquiry back to the writing workshop while still having rigor and making sure we teach what is required by our districts/states. So often, we are losing the authenticity of our reading and writing workshops. My favorite thinking was about kids needing vision. I have really been struggling with writing workshop for the last few years. Trying to figure out how to make it work but with more rigor. Like Katie, I have a bit of an uncomfortable feeling when I assign a certain genre. So, I avoid it. But, I think I am uncomfortable because of the way it has been done and what I am seeing come out (published) lately. But STUDY DRIVEN clearly shows how to have the energy that a workshop should have and keeping the kids empowered and balancing the process and the product.

Someone on the blog asked me to expand about my comment about RETHINKING RUBRICS when I said I was happy to see this book because: "I worry that lately we have had lots of books that tell us what to do. But, this book really gets us back to the professional roles that we have--really thinking about what matches our beliefs about students and learning--the conversations that seem to have become lost over the last few years." I guess I am saying that so much of what is being published lately is very scripted or very planned and the teacher decision making is taken out of it all. As a profession, we are losing faith in what we know, afraid to question things that seem to be "what we are supposed to be doing". I am excited about RETHINKING RUBRICS and STUDY DRIVEN because both of these books open up conversations that need to happen. I don't think it is important that we all agree on practice. But I think it is critical that we talk and process and are free to question so that we can make the best decisions for our students. It seems that with the standards and testing and No Child Left Behind...teachers have less of a say about what goes on in our classrooms. So, I am glad to see books like these two that are helping us (teachers) to rethink some practices that may not necessarily be the best for our students and to give us better options.

My favorite book of 2006

My best book of 2006 dates clear back to April: THE BOOK OF STORY BEGINNINGS by Kristin Kladstrup. Nothing else has come close since then.