Wednesday, February 28, 2007

EGGS by Jerry Spinelli

Today, we have a guest review by Larry Swartz. This weekend, we had our Dublin Literacy Conference. This conference is a teacher conference put on by the Dublin City Schools run by a committee of teachers. We had lots of great speakers--children's authors, professional authors, teachers, and more! It was a great day. Larry Swartz was one of the speakers. 

Larry Swartz is an instructor in the Elementary Pre-service Program at OISE/UT and the Principal of Dramatic Arts Additional Qualifications courses at OISE/UT. He is frequently called upon to share his expertise with children's literature, classroom talk, and anti-bullying strategies. Here is his review of EGGS by Jerry Spinelli. I’ll start off by saying that I think Jerry Spinelli is one of the best authors for readers 10 – 13 years old. I would say that his books appeal to boys and girls. His characterization is always rich. The problems that he presents in his books connect to his readers because they can easily identify with them (i.e., peer pressure in Wringer, belonging in Loser, outcast in Star Girl, heroism in Maniac Magee). The stories have just enough of an imaginative twist to take readers into an imaginative world that is the stuff of fiction (Does a community exist that forces boys to wring the neck of pigeons?). Milkweed aside, there is a veneer of humour in Spinelli’s novel events, in the dialogue and in character quirks. A student teacher recently gave me an advance copy of his newest novel EGGS and since I was heading off on a plane, I was thrilled to have a new Spinelli to keep me company. A good read it was. As I was reading, I couldn’t help thinking about the novels that I recently read that featured characters whose parents have died. . Give me a fifth grade class and I would love to organize Literature Circles (when all titles are available in paperback) around THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE, WING NUT and EGGS, not only because one or more character has a missing parent, but because they get inside the skin and hearts of these kids who are coping with life’s rotten eggs and hoping to make omelets out of life’s dilemmas-large and small. Take David and Primrose. David lost his mother to a freak accident. His father is often away on business and so the young boy lives with his grandmother. Primrose only knows of her father from a photograph. She lives with a mother whose talent is telling fortunes and whose outlook on life is a little less mature than her daughter’s. David and Primrose are friends, despite an age difference of four years (Primrose is older). It’s very tempting to use an egg metaphor as a review of this book (hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, poached) but here I’ll pay tribute to the egg carton and offer a dozen reasons for admiring and respecting Spinelli’s new work. 1. Boy and girl protagonists. I’m a bit concerned about boy reads and girl reads. Yes, enjoyed the Newbery winner, but few boys are going to choose this book by the cover, by the title and because of its female protagonist. Spinnelli’s strength is in boy characters, but here he has a friendship between a boy and a girl. How clever too to make Primrose an ‘older’ friend. Without reading the book, can’t you imagine how a character named ‘Primrose’ might behave? 2. 224 pages. 42 chapters. Book is divided into sections (Eggs, The Waving Man, Nightcrawlers, Painted Windows, Who Cares, Only Children). I like / many kids like short chapters. 3. The “Ha Ha” factor. When David first meets, Primrose’s fortune-telling mother, she predicts his future by reading the soul of his bare foot. 4. The Gross factor. David and Primrose have a tug of war fight over a nightcrawler. Each wants to capture the twelve-inch worm to raise money. Primrose pulled. David pulled - Thp. Each then held six inches of flailing nightcrawler. Gross! 5. A moment to touch-your-heart factor. Memories of David’s dead mother linger throughout. On the day she died in a bad fall, David decided to never break any rules. David believe if he went long enough without breaking a rule. sooner or later his mother would come back and they would together see the sunrise, that she promised they’d see together. In one episode, David clings to Primrose, sobbing. “I’m not her you, she,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’m only me. Primrose.” He nodded against her. “I know.” (Goosebumps.) 6. Great dialogue… “Are we gonna be out all night?” “Yerp.” “You don’t even care. Do you? “Nerp.” 7. This-only-happens-in-books episode. David first meets Primrose during an Easter Egg Hunt. While on his search, he comes across the still body of a girl hidden amongst the leaves. He takes a yellow egg from the mouth of the body and asks, “Are you dead yet?”. The girl does not answer. Later we learn, that the body belonged to Primrose who was just playing a trick on the boy, just like Spinelli was playing a trick on the reader. This is not a murder mystery. 8. A quirky character (or two). Spinelli’s short descriptions of a character paint a wide portrait in a sentence or two. Refrigerator John, “who was neither as tall nor as wide as a refrigerator. “His own right leg had been withered since birth. When he walked, the leg flapped out sideways, as though he were shaking a dog loose. Madame Dufee. Her body was lost in a robe of flowers, birds, and dragons with flaming tongues. Golden hoops you could pitch a baseball through hung from her earlobes.” 9. Two characters, so different, so the same. They plot together. They argue. “What was with these two? The thirteen year-old girl, the nine year old boy. What brought them together? Sometimes they acted their own ages, Sometimes they switched. Sometimes they both seemed to be nine, other times thirteen. Both were touchy, ready to squawk over nothing.” (note to publisher: Terrific passage for a book jacket blurb). 10. The omelets-out-of rotten-egg factor. David and Primrose take the bad things that life offers and learn to make the best of them. They learn from each other. They need each other. They take care of each other. They’re going to be all right! 11. A touch of symbolism giving readers lots to think about. Eggs figure into the plot (early in the book, David goes on an Easter Egg Hunt, vandals splatter eggs against Primrose’s bedroom window, the sunrise is described as crisp and sharp and beautiful and smooth as a painted egg.). I would love to ask ten year-olds what the title makes them think about: Does it tell the truth of the story?Why six eggs on the cover? How are David and Primrose like eggs? What kind of egg dish might each character be? 12. Great cover. No boys. No girls. Just six eggs resting in a robin’s egg blue carton.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Censorship Revisited.....

Thanks to Pixie Stix Kids' post "Apparently it's not censorship if you don't like the book" for this link. A mother in Florida found her own way to get rid of books that she decided children shouldn't read. It appears that she didn't like the censorship process that was in place. So, she checked the book out and has decided not to return it...ever.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Next Read Aloud--Advice Needed

So, we are almost finished with RULES by Cynthia Lord. It has been a great read aloud. Lots of great talk around the book. Kids are doing great thinking in their notebooks as we read and chat. Many seem to be thinking hard about the characters in the book.

As I think ahead to our next read aloud, I am thinking maybe THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. I haven't read much of it and I have always struggled with reading aloud books with graphics. And the graphics are almost half of this book. But with all of the new technology, I think I can project the pages onto a screen and we can think through it all together. Has anyone finished it? I would love to hear what anyone has to say about the appropriateness for grades 3 and 4 and whether it is worth reading aloud using a screen for the graphic pages. I think it could be a pretty fun experience if it can work. I think the technology piece can really expand the kinds of books we read together as a class.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Poetry Friday -- Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew

by Ron Koertge

Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim.
And she got to say things like, "But, gosh,
what if these plans should fall into the wrong
hands?" and it was pretty clear she didn't mean
plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but
something involving espionage and a Nazi or two.

In fact, the handsome exchange student turns
out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches
Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he
has something more sinister in mind than kissing
her with his mouth open

Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house,
Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin.
Pretty soon the police show up, and everything's
hunky dory.

(Read on to find out what Nancy learned from this experience.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just Finished The Higher Power of Lucky

I just had my hair colored, weaved, cut--the whole thing. So, I had a little bit of extra reading time while I was sitting in the hair chair. What a lucky day! I was finally able to finish THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, this year's Newbery Award. It is sad that when we can finally get our hands on a copy of this book, the only publicity it seem to be getting revolves around the author's use of the word scrotum.

THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron is an amazing book. One of my favorite Newbery Award winners. When a book wins that I don't know about (which is pretty darn often), I am usually disappointed by the win, not seeing what the committee saw in the book. However, I am totally in love with THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY. What a great, strong girl character if we've ever met one. Lucky has some of all of us in her. She is unsure of the people that love her and is looking for that Higher Power that will make her whole. For me, Lucky was a combination of so many of the best females in great books--Claudia (FROM THE MIXED UP FILES), Comfort (EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS), Anna (SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL) Opal (BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE) Novalee (WHERE THE HEART IS). She is the best of so many characters that I love.

This story is a great story of hope and love and it is told brilliantly as we come to know, understand and love Lucky. The story is short but full of life. I don't want to give away the plot, but the plot isn't where the story is. The story is in Lucky and her relationships with herself and the other people in her life. It is about people and what they become for each other.

I am totally bummed that this book is becoming known for the word "scrotum" --which, by the way, is also a brilliant part of the writing--Lucky's curiousness and awe about life and the world around her. This book is truly deserving of the Newbery and I commend the committee for making such a wise choice:-) A book that children and adults of all ages can relate too. It is too bad that so many children could miss out on this book because of the decision of a few librarians. This book is one that is too good to miss!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lucky/Newbery Controversy

So, I have been thinking and reading about this controversy over the word "scrotum" in THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY. It is interestingly sad to think that this is where we have come as a country. I remember a bit with the small controversies surrounding other Newbery winners. But, I don't ever remember librarians as the ones doing the censoring. It is the librarians that we count on to protect our rights to have access to a variety of books. I am not blaming the librarians who refuse to buy the books--I figure it is a sign of the times and they are getting hit and criticized as we all are.

As a teacher, I read books like this, trying to decide if and how I might include them as read alouds, as part of the classroom library, or just titles to have in mind when a child is looking for a good book.

I think teachers and librarians have always had a dilemma when deciding what to keep in the library. I remember a time when a parent of a young child was angry about a book in the library. But the book was very appropriate for 5th graders. When you are the librarian in a K-5 or K-8 school, how do you make these decisions? I am always aware, as a teacher, of the words and issues that come up in books. It is my job. But deciding not to read a book aloud to a whole class seems different from not allowing a book to be part of the library at all.

Where do we draw the line? Have we come to the point that we cannot realize that we can never know how a book will impact an individual reader? Are we going to allow the parents of perfect families dictate what is on our library shelves? That idea terrifies me. I have only read the first 20 pages of the Newbery book as I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday. But, if it is a story about a strong girl who has had hard times, I am appalled that it is such a controversial book that it made the front page of the NYTimes. I can't believe that we can't admit that some of our children/students could see themselves in Lucky. Or understand the world better because of her. I think we have to trust that a committee of well-informed librarians, and lots of great reviews in other journals prove this book to be worthy of a spot on the shelf. To negate the book for a single word--one that is the correct term for a body part--seems ridiculous.

Where are the voices of other parents like me, who want our children to have access to good, quality books. I know many, many parents who want their children to read as widely as possible. Books are the place where many of us learned about people and life. We want the same for our children. I know that my children will read books that do not necessarily align with my beliefs about life, but that is part of the world of reading--to go outside of the world you live in.

I guess this move by some librarians scares me because it becomes a dangerous first step in taking away our access to good books. I worry about what might be next. If the reason was different, I might not be as bothered. But keeping a book out of libraries for a word like "scrotum" seems very self-righteous.

Sorry for babbling. Just my opinion as a parent, teacher and reader.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm Seriously Offended, and NOT by the Word Scrotum

Most* of what I've read about the Higher Power of Lucky "scrotum kerfluffle" (or "uproar," if you prefer, or "controversy") focuses on librarians** and book buying and censorship.***

Now it's time for an experienced (borderline old) career-long teacher of 9-11 year-olds to have her own personal tantrum about being lumped together with sissy teachers who are too afraid? modest? unsure of the meaning themselves? weak in the knees? to deal with a child who might ask what a scrotum is! (It's like a librarian being told, "The education and correct upbringing of a child is the responsibility of parents and teachers, and not of someone who merely knows what Dewey is and can sort books accordingly." Makes your blood boil a little, doesn't it?)

Teaching is not for sissies! We're an integral part of the team (team, not village, and yes, I would include the librarians) who raise the children of our world. We're important because we're NOT the parents. Kids can talk to us in ways they can't talk to their parents, and we can answer them with an honesty parents sometimes can't manage. Recently, sitting around the "coffee table" in my classroom playing Scrabble with about half-a-class worth of kids, A Boy turned to me and asked, "Can guys get breast cancer?" (I've had it, I talk about it. Could that be why a 10 year-old boy could say BREAST right out loud?) Not only could I answer his question without skipping a beat (yes, they can), I could also point out that men do have breasts, albeit undeveloped/non milk-producing ones, and they have the nipples to prove it. Yes, I said nipples, yes, they giggled, and then the conversation went on in other directions. Over the course of my career, I have always insisted that babies are in their mother's uteruses, not their stomachs. When asked if my dog, who was visiting the classroom and who was rolled over on her back when the question was asked, is a boy or a girl, I pointed out that she does not have a penis, so obviously, she is a girl. Breast, uterus, penis, nipple, scrotum. All words for human body parts. They are not "dirty" words unless we refuse to say them or explain them or use them in their proper context.

Okay. I'm done. Now I'm going to go read the book.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

*Do a blog search yourself. (I recommend you filter it.) There are pages and pages and PAGES of posts on the Great Scrotum Debate of 2007. I only read the ones posted in the last 8 hours.
**An author makes it clear that authors do not sneak. (Roger hates that part, too.)
***This is the smartest rant I found****.
****See * above.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book Lists and the Kitchen Utensil Drawer

Liz, over at Liz in Ink, has taken book lists and book categories to a whole new level: She explores which books are her forks, knives, and spoons.

Then, tantalizingly (is that a word?) she ends with:
Really, wouldn't it be torture to have to work with one single utensil for the rest of your days? (And I haven’t even gone into my chopsticks here, or egg slicers!)
Okay, Liz. Here goes:

Books that are my chopsticks:

No negative stereotyping intended. It's just that I'm feeling very clumsy (like when I use chopsticks) and ignorant (and OLD) as I try to make sense of these books (Kingdom Hearts). I used Wikipedia to help when my first reading fell flat on its face, and there I learned that I had a serious chunk of background knowledge missing: more than these are books, apparently they are video games. I'm going to try them again, and maybe with more practice I won't be so clumsy. Watch for a review in the coming days.

Books that are my egg slicers:
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell is my audio book in progress. This means I get to "read" it in neat, 20 minute slices during the commute back and forth to work. I LOVED Cloud Atlas (also by David Mitchell) as an audio "read," and I'm pretty sure there is no other better way to experience Black Swan Green. Kirby Heyborne, the reader, has the requisite (and I assume, authentic) British accent, but his Belgian accent for Madame Crommelynck ("...go to the hell!") is perfect!

Books that are my whisks:
Manga and graphic novels are stirring things up so much in my classroom, that they have to win the designation of whisks. I bought volume 2 and 3 of Hikaru No Go yesterday at Waldenbooks and asked to use my teacher discount. The clerk gently informed me that I could only use my teacher discount on books that I would be using in my classroom. "I AM going to use these in my classroom!" I informed her. "Really?!! WOW!" she replied, and I zoomed up to super teacher status in her eyes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cybils Ordered

Well, I just placed an order on Amazon. I usually buy books from my favorite independent children's bookstore, but I thought Jen Robinson had a great idea about making an impact in sales by ordering the winners online this week. So, I ordered PTOLEMY'S GATE even though I haven't read the other two. I also ordered AMELIA RULES #3 (and may love it so much, I'll get the others!). I ordered AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. I have been debating reading it but it has won so many awards, I can't resist. I also ordered FRAMED. I have already read the winner of middle grade fiction so I chose this one from the short list, based on Jen Robinson's review. Looking forward to reading all of them.

I highly recommend ordering some of the Cybils books. A huge support of the award and also a little gift to yourself. I think these are some of the best books out there this year and am excited to have such a list to shop from:-)

Has anyone been tracking the amazon numbers? Is the world buying lots of the Cybils winners?

If you haven't stopped in at the Cybils site lately, there are great links to all of the places that have been celebrating the Cybils with us! There are also some interesting facts about the Cybils.

Poetry Friday--BRRRRrrrrrr!

Walking the dog in the pre-dawn below-zero windchill the last few weeks, I've felt a bit like Sam McGee in The Cremation of Sam McGee (by Robert Service):
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;
And like Sam, there are some mornings (like today) when I think I won't warm up unless I crawl right into the furnace. This is what the speaker in the poem witnesses when he finally has the nerve to see how it's going with Sam's cremation:
I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked;" ... then the door I opened wide.
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm-
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Robert Service reciting The Cremation of Sam McGee
Johnny Cash reciting The Cremation of Sam McGee
Spooky reading on YouTube

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Support the Cybils Winners... your copies of the winning books by ordering via the Amazon link on the Cybils website!

And the winners are...

Fantasy and Science Fiction:
Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)
Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion: Miramax

Fiction Picture Books:

Scaredy Squirrel
by Melanie Watt
Kid’s Can Press

Graphic Novels:
Ages 12 and Under:
Amelia Rules! Volume 3: Superheroes
by Jim Gownley
Renaissance Press

Ages 13 and Up:
American Born Chinese
Gene Yang
First Second

Middle Grade Fiction:
A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press

Non-Fiction, Middle Grade and Young Adult:
Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
by Russell Freedman
Holiday House

Non-Fiction Picture Books:
An Egg Is Quiet
written by Dianna Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow
written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin

Young Adult Fiction:
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Valentines for Book Lovers

Our bestbestbest Year of Reading Valentine was received from Jennifer and Matt Holm: copies of BABYMOUSE HEARTBREAKER for each of us and for our school libraries! Thank you Jennifer and Matt!

In a close second place is the Chronicle Books Best Chronicle Children's Books of the Year Contest. This is not a one-time deal, folks! Visit their site often to check out the great books AND because the contests are on-going, with a different children's books-related theme (and prizes!) changing about every 6 weeks to two months.

Sharing second place is TokyoPop, who sent a fat package of review copies just in time for Snow Day, the Sequel!

Grand Prize, of course, comes this afternoon, when the winners of the Cybils are announced!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

What a great snow day it was! I stayed up late last night reading more of THE BOLEYN INHERITANCE and decided that I'd spend the morning finishing it. What an amazing read! If you've read Philippa Gregory's other books, this one is just as good, if not better. I always worry about sequels meeting my expectations. This on surpassed all that I hoped it would be. I have never been a huge reader of historical fiction but got hooked a bit with Tracy Chevalier's books. I somehow picked up THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL last year (after hearing about it from so many people) and loved it--bought it for all of my friends. 

This is the story of Anne of Cleves and of Katherine Howard--both interesting characters as portrayed by Gregory. The book follows both characters as well as the character of Jane Boleyn. If you read the first book, you get to know a bit of a different side of Jane. The book is told by all 3 of these women and goes back and forth between the three. The book is amazing on all accounts. Such a great study of character and such an interesting look at the times. The plot is based on much of what happened during the time period and it is gripping throughout. There isn't a point in the book where you wish it was over. Since morning, I have been in a half fog. Thinking of the court of England all afternoon. A great book that I am sad to have finished.

Decorating for the Holiday

I first saw the Cybils widget on Jen Robinson's blog and I knew it was only a matter of time before we would have one, too.

Since tomorrow is the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT DAY, it seemed only appropriate to decorate for the holiday.

Jeremy Fink Fan Club

Is there room for one more member?

I haven't read a book this good...this SATISFYING for I don't know how long! Thank you, Wendy Mass for Jeremy and Lizzy and for reminding me of all those things I already knew (especially the story about the two wolves), and thank you, Franki, for being so rabid about this book. It wouldn't have made it to the top of my to-read pile so fast if it weren't for your enthusiasm. What WERE the Newbery Committee members THINKing when they passed THIS one BY?!?!

One more thank you -- to the universe, for this snow day in which I have done nothing but lay about in my pj's and read. Quite a contrast to the person I was yesterday, all full of my important lesson plans and all the work we need to accomplish before the end of the trimester. Just goes to show...well, I'm not sure what it goes to show, but in case any of my students (or more likely, their parents) are reading this, I promise that I'll do some school work after we take dog and XC skis and snowshoes over to the OSU golf course Griggs Reservoir for a snowy romp. (A POX on OSU for closing the golf course to sledders and skiers! How unsporting of them! Afraid we'd mess up the precious greens? Grrrrr...) And in the extremely unlikely event that my back surgeon is reading this, no, I am not going to ski before I've even been cleared for PT. I'm going to WALK. You didn't tell me I couldn't walk with snowshoes on my feet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More Mom Fashion

Seems that the Kidlitosphere is not the only group talking about Mom Fashions. (There are several comments on 7ITBB after a comment by Jules about cool moms in Kelly's great interview) But, it seems that this year's Fall Fashion Week also catered to Mom clothes according to Lindsay at Suburban Turmoil. Between the fashions and Lindsay's captions, moms can't help but be in fashion this fall.

So, it's off topic but since so many comments on Kelly's interview connected to Mom jeans, it isn't that big of a stretch..and it is hysterical.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rethinking Old Books

So, my daughter had me watch this video on "Mom Jeans" this week. She wanted to remind me that my jeans are so out of fashion... Seems that the same thing can happen to books according to a great post at Miss Rumphius Effect entitled "When Books Fall Out of Fashion". A sad thing when an amazing book from our childhood is no longer one that our children or students love. I remember being appalled when they "updated" the Nancy Drew books a few years ago. Nancy Drew became hip--with a cool car and a cell phone. But, more importantly, as my students told me, the books were told in first person which made the mysteries far more interesting. I couldn't imagine it. Now, Nancy Drew is in graphic novel. I can't match the Nancy I knew to the illustrations in these books yet. How could Nancy Drew, the books I climbed to my grandmother's attic for each Sunday, be updated? I thought they were perfect! A few years ago, I read another of my favorite books from childhood to my 4th graders--FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. I was sure my students would love it. I could still picture almost every scene in my head--30+ years later. My husband, a child who chose not to read much, remembered and loved this one book from his fourth grade year. His teacher had read it aloud. So, I was sure my class would love it too. How wrong I was! The class could not get past the idea that the security cameras did not catch Claudia and Jamie on that first night. In their world, they could not imagine such a place without security cameras and metal detectors! There was nothing I could do to make the story believable to this one class. (So, I hooked them on E.L. Konigsburg with A VIEW FROM SATURDAY and THE OUTCASTS OF SCHUYLER PLACE instead--both were VERY well loved by this same group of students.) I am not the kind of teacher who expects all of my students to love every book I read aloud. But this one threw me and made me think about the ways I choose books to read aloud. I wonder if Konigsburg's newer books are more current for kids today? I can't imagine it but how would I know since I am reading from an adult perspective. FROM THE MIXED UP FILES is one of the best books I've ever read. How do we, as teachers, know if a book will be current and believable to our students? I have never been the kind of teacher to read the same books year after year to my students. But, I no longer choose the books I love from childhood to read aloud. I think I do it for selfish reasons. I want to protect these favorites for myself without the comments of the children of 2007. I don't want my love for the book to discourage their honest comments. These books define my life as a reader and as a person. Reading them to a group of students who do not love them as I do is a very difficult experience--for all of us! (I do hand these books to individual students who I am sure will love them as I did!) With all of the new, amazing books coming out these days, I have no trouble finding new books that I love. Very few of them make me feel like Nancy Drew did or like I did when I was in the museum with Claudia and Jamie. But, I love them in a different way. Do books fall out of fashion? Are there books that are too old (no security cameras) but not old enough to yet be classics? I'm not sure. I hate the thought of a new, cooler Nancy Drew just as I hate the thought of Claudia and Jamie escaping to a museum with security cameras. I don't want the times to ruin the books of childhood and I don't want my experiences as a child to rule the books I read in the classroom. I know that the students I have come to know as amazing readers relate far better to this new and improved Nancy Drew. I know that they love the characters in A VIEW FROM SATURDAY just as I loved Claudia. I am good with that. I don't think those books will ever fall out of fashion for those of us who read them at the perfect time in our lives. (Hopefully, we'll realize that the mom jeans have fallen out of fashion though!)

New Graphic Novels for My Classroom

Akiko Pocket Size, volumes 1-5, by Mark Crilley. In the first book, 4th grader Akiko goes to the Planet Smoo and helps King Froptoppit rescue his son, the prince. She is joined in her adventures by Poog, a floating alien, Mr. Beeba, a bookish sort, Spuckler Boach, an Indiana Jones type, and Spuckler's robot, Gax. Although these are done in black and white, Crilley is very creative in his use of panels, points of view, and cliffhangers.

Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures, volumes 1-2, by J. Torres and J. Bone. Alison Dare's mother is an archaeologist (female Indiana Jones), her father is the masked hero the Blue Scarab, and her uncle is an international super spy. No surprise, then, that even though she goes to a Catholic boarding school, she drags her friends Wendy and Dot into all kind of adventures.

Hikaru No Go, by Yumi Hotta. 6th grader Hikaru is possessed by the ghost of an ancient Go master. Even though Hikaru has never played Go, he is drawn into the game by Sai, the ghost. She plays through him at first, but it is clear that Hikaru has talents of his own. This book reads right to left in the Native Manga style, which is probably more of a challenge for adults than kids. The reader doesn't need to know how to play Go to enjoy this book, but it seems likely that anyone who gets into the series will wind up giving Go a go.

Bone: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border, volume 5, by Jeff Smith. This is potentially the hottest book in my classroom right now. A student in my classroom beat me to owning Volume 5. I haven't read it yet. I plan to hold it, and all these other new graphic novels, hostage until some of the other newish GNs come back home to the classroom. It's been weeks since I've seen any of the three volumes of Amelia, or The 12 Labors of Hercules. I love it that graphic novels are popular and responsible for turning some of my students on to reading, but that will all fall apart if every GN that enters my classroom winds up being nicked!

WRINGER Stands the Test of Time

I just finished re-reading WRINGER for the umpteenth time to be ready for the student literature circle discussion this week.

It continues to amaze me how Jerry Spinelli caught so perfectly the pain of peer pressure in this book.

It is not a pleasant story. I almost always have to convince students that it is worth reading about a kid who doesn't want to wring half-dead pigeons' necks at the town's annual pigeon shoot. Being a wringer is a right of passage for 10 year-old boys in Palmer LaRue's town. Palmer LaRue does NOT want to be a wringer. WRINGER is the story of Palmer's ultimate year of dread: from the day he turns 9 until he turns 10.

During the year of dread, Palmer is finally accepted into The Gang and given his very own nickname, Snots. He joins the gang in bullying his former friend Dorothy. And then he is "adopted" by a pigeon. Because of Nipper, Palmer is able to salvage his friendship with Dorothy, and because of Nipper, Palmer must extricate himself from the very gang to which he so wanted to belong. Because of Nipper, Palmer learns to think for himself and do what he knows is right.

There's no certain happy ending in this book. I already know (from reading response homework) that one of the students is a bit peeved about that. But there is hope. Maybe that's more important than a happy ending after all.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Online Novel by Wendelin Van Draanen

I am probably way late discovering this, but I just found out (from my IRA newsletter) that Wendelin Van Draanen is writing an online novel for kids called THE GECKO AND STICKY. Each week a new chapter is posted. They have posted 4 chapters so far. It will end in mid-May. The author, Wendelin Van Draanen wrote one of my favorite series--SHREDDERMAN. This is a cool idea from the Maricopa County Library district. I guess they've had other online novels in the past. I am going to share it with my class this week. There are several SHREDDERMAN fans that may love to read it weekly. A pretty cool idea.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Curious George

An interesting article about the racial issues in the Curious George books that I'd never heard (thanks to Fuse #8 for the link). For those of you that don't know the story behind Curious George, Louise Borden's great book, THE JOURNEY THAT SAVED CURIOUS GEORGE, is worth reading. It is a fascinating story and gives great insights into the authors of the book as well as the time period. One of my favorite nonfiction books. Not only is it a great story, but the illustrations are amazing. They mix some of the H.A. Rey type art with artifacts from the story (photos, passports, etc.). A fabulous nonfiction book for kids and adults!

The Poetry of Friday

First two days of the week too cold for school.
Really. And then we had late starts for the next two.
I'm feeling ahead of the game now? Hardly.
Do I regret all the reading I got done,
And the clean bathroom curtains?
You're kidding, right? Would graded papers give me the same pleasure?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Celebrate Mother Reader Week

Since we know that so many of our readers are Mother Reader fans, we thought you would want to know that this week seems to be officially (or unofficially) "Mother Reader Week". If you are a fan of Mother Reader, there is a great interview on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Mother Reader is also profiled on the CYBILS site. Mother Reader was mentioned in the School Library Article as a must-read blog written by Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy.

As our part in the celebration of "Mother Reader Week", we'd like to link you to one of our favorite Mother Reader posts.

So, if you are a fan of Mother Reader, join in the fun by visiting the sites.
If you are not yet a fan, visit her site and you will be hooked.
We promise.

(While you are out visiting blogs, Kelly at Big A, little a has a great new template--check it out!)

Required Reading/Viewing

Teachers serve at the pleasure of their school boards. Required reading for teachers who are bloggers from Doug, at the Blue Skunk Blog can be found here. (Link courtesy of SLJ blog.)

Many (most?) elementary school teachers who teach history are not history majors. If you teach your students that escaped slaves navigated the Underground Railroad by using code hidden in quilts, then your required reading can be found here at Farm School. More on this topic at Chicken Spaghetti.

Anyone who is not a digital native might need yet another way to get his/her head around the whole Web 2.0 concept. Required viewing below.
(Link courtesy of Making it Interesting.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Professional Books that Build Readers

I attended a daylong workshop by Kathy Collins today. The day was great. Kathy is the author of Growing Readers, published by Stenhouse. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book because it talks about teaching reading in the primary classrooms--she talks about the importance of not only teaching students how to make sense of text but to help them develop habits and behaviors as readers as well. Very clear that there is more to reading than level. 

I just picked up another book today. It is called Comprehension Through Conversation: The Power of Purposeful Talk in the Reading Workshop by Maria Nichols. I've only read the first two chapters so far but I spent an hour or so skimming and previewing the rest of the book. It is not a huge book--only about 115 pages. The author does a great job of pulling together research about the importance of talk and really showing classrooms where talk is meaningful. She talks about purposeful talk and shares several classroom examples and insights about them. Nichols raises questions for teachers and makes the case for more talk that builds new meaning. It is in line with lots of work by Allington, Johnston and others who have studied exemplary classrooms. The fact that there is a book on this makes me happy. I think it is a huge piece of education that lots of teachers are not allowed to make time for lately because of the standards, etc.

Kidlitosphere Is Her Cup of Tea

Liz of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has a great article about the kidlitosphere in School Library Journal.

Great article, Liz!

Saturday Playtime

Here are two sites that are great for the visual learner/thinker part of your brain:

Try out the search engine Quintera. Type in a search term and you get a cloud of related terms. Click on words in the cloud to narrow your search. You can search images the same way. Very cool.

Also cool is 10X10. This site collects the 100 most prevalent images and words appearing in online news outlets every hour—then arranges them into a collage. Click on the collage to enlarge it, and then roll your mouse over the list of terms to the right. Click on one of the terms and get the picture enlarged and links to the news stories.

Master List: Books about Books and Reading

Picture Books

How a Book is Made by Aliki
Read Anything Good Lately? by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman
What Are You Doing? by Elisa Amado
Souper Chicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer
The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom
The Best Time to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom
Wolf by Becky Bloom
Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don't) by Barbara Bottner
The Day Eddie Met the Author by Louise Borden
Across a Dark and Wild Sea by Don Brown
Arthur and the Race to Read by Marc Brown
The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng
But Excuse Me That is my Book by Lauren Child
Otto the Book Bear by Kate Cleminson
Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi
Petunia by Robert Duvoisin
A Bedtime Story by Mem Fox
Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland
Book! by Kristine O'Connell George
Check it Out! The Book About Libraries by Gail Gibbons
A Story for Bear by Dennis Haseley
The Gentleman Bug by Julian Hector
That Book Woman by Heather Henson
The Reader by Amy Hest
Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Jake's 100th Day of School by Lester Laminack
The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
Book by George Ella Lyon
Santa's Book of Names by David McPhail
Edward and the Pirates by David McPhail
Edward in the Jungle by David McPhail
Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
Amelia Hits the Road by Marissa Moss
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne
Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr
The Girl Who Hated Books by Manjusha Pawagi
Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Read Me A Book by Barbara Reid
Reading Grows by Ellen Senisi
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra
It's a Book by Lane Smith
The Hard Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
From Pictures to Words: A Book About Making a Book by Janet Stevens
The Library by Sarah Stewart
Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas
Free Fall by David Wiesner
We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
Library Lil by Suzanne Williams
The Old Woman Who Loved to Read by John Winch
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates
Baby Bear's Books by Jane Yolen

Chapter Books

Magic by the Book by Nina Berenstein
The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst
Seven Day Magic by Edward Eager
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford
Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
The Big Green Book by Robert Graves
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Fly By Night by Francis Hardinge
The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup
Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry
Summer Reading is Killing Me by Jon Scieszka
At the Sign of the Star by Katherine Sturtevant
The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


Wonderful Words: Poems about Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Good Books, Good Times by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine
The Bookworm's Feast by J. Patrick Lewis
Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis
BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas
Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater


Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller


Quotations for Kids by J.A. Senns

Books For Adults That Could Be Used For Exerpts

Life is So Good by George Dawson
Grand Conversations by Ralph Peterson and Maryann Eeds
The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby
Better Than Life by Daniel Pennac
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading by Francis Spufford

* * * * * *

Check this out, too: A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography of book-books by Wendy E. Betts.

Friday, February 02, 2007


I picked up a book at a workshop last week called CALL ME MARIANNE by Jen Bryant. It is a book about poetry and writing, a story about boy who meets poet, Marianne Moore. The boy, Jonathan, asks her what a poet does and much of the book is her explanation to him: "Jonathan," she says at last, "Your question about poets is not a simple one. For me being a poet begins with watching. I watch animals. I watch people. I read books and look at photographs. I notice details---little things that other people miss. I think it will be a great book to share with children about ways to pay attention to the world as writers. It is a great tribute to poets and poetry.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

CYBILS Discussion

There have been some great discussions on the CYBILS site. As we all wait anxiously for the winners to be announced on Valentine's Day, stop over and share your thinking.

Today's conversation is about whether the CYBILS judges should have more clear qualifications. Are bloggers really qualified to give an award like this?

Here is my thinking on the topic, in case anyone was wondering.

The thing I LOVE about the CYBILS judges is that they come from a variety of groups. We are not reading from a single perspective. I love all of the awards out there and I feel like they all have a different take on books based on the judges/group giving the awards. Some are given by librarians (ALA). Others by NCTE or IRA (teachers). Some are given by editors and reviewers. The thing I think that makes the CYBILS process greatly unique is the fact that so many perspectives come together to judge books. Because people who blog about books come from various fields, it seems to cover a span of children's book lovers in a way that other award committees can't.