Saturday, May 31, 2008


In April, I was invited to a dinner sponsored by Cover to Cover Bookstore where I got to meet Sarah Prineas, author of the new book--out this week--The Magic Thief. If you are a fantasy reader, you'll want a copy of this book right away.

THE MAGIC THIEF is the first in a trilogy. It is a great fantasy that I think lots of my fantasy readers will love. (I had one of my Harry Potter fans read the first chapter online and she was immediately hooked!)

Since so many people have reviewed it, I'll send you to their reviews and then let you know my thinking as a teacher--who might love this book.

There is lots to love about the book. It is a great story about wizards and magic. There are good guys and bad guys. The characters are quite fun and you come to know them quickly. There is humor. The setting is magical-as would be expected.

As a teacher, I love some things about the format. It is a thick book but the print and page set-up makes it very accessible to kids. I am thinking grades 4-6 is perfect for this book. It has lots to it--it isn't watered down like some fantasies for kids, but has all of the things we love about a good fantasy. I am thinking of lots of kids who might like it--those who are new to fantasy and who are pretty skilled readers could read this as a first fantasy. I predict that those readers who love Harry Potter and other fantasies will love to know of this new fantasy series. And I think those readers who can't yet handle Harry Potter will be thrilled with this book. So many readers who will love it.

Tomorrow, we'll post an interview with author Sarah Prineas! And, if you live in the Columbus area, she will be at Cover to Cover bookstore on Saturday, June 7th at 11:00 a.m. She'll talk a bit and then do a signing. It is coming out right in time for Mother Reader's 48 Hour Read!

A great preview of the book is up on the Harper Collins website. You can preview and read quite a bit of it online before it is available. You can also have all kinds of fun playing games, meeting the characters and more on this fun site.

(By the way, Sarah is a member of the Class of 2K8--a group that I love. So many great new voices in children's/YA lit. I pay close attention to them and have found some great books--like this one! If you haven't checked out their site, it would be a VERY good idea to do so!)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Imitation and (hopefully) Flattery

Wild Atrocity
by Mary Lee Hahn

Glory be to God for silly things --
For running-dives all in a pile of musky autumn leaves;
For rollercoaster rides in the first car alone;
Wet late-March snowball fights; frisbee flings;
Junk food caloric and sweet -- pizza, french fries, sundaes;
And all jokers, their plots and puns and funny bones.

All things humorous, playful, joking, tickly;
Whatever is unplanned, spontaneous (who knows why?)
With smile, grin; laugh, shout; giggle, groan;
They maintain sanity whose beauty is past lunacy:

Fried Beauty
by R. S. Gwynn

Glory be to God for breaded things--
Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings,
Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
That in all oils, corn or canola, swim

Toward mastication's maw (O molared mouth!);
Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry
On paper towels' sleek translucent scrim,
These greasy, battered bounties of the South:
Eat them.

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The roundup today is at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Experimental Read-Aloud


Maybe A Bear Ate It!
by Robie Harris
illustrated by Michael Emberley
Scholastic, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

(Exceedingly cute) creature loves book, takes book and toys to bed, "loses" the book (it's right there under the edge of the bed). Creature looks for it, imagines that a series of animals ate, stomped on, ran away with, flew away with, swallowed, or fell asleep on the book. Creature goes looking for the book and eventually finds it and curls back up in bed with the book and the toys.

Even kindergartners will see where the book is "lost" and will be able to infer that the animals the Creature blames for the book's whereabouts are actually the Creature's toys.

I showed the book to a couple of our kindergarten teachers and they said, ", Kinders probably won't be able to get that on their own."

I read the book to my fourth graders. They got it.

I read the book to a group of fifth graders. They got it, they got it remarkably quicker than my fourth graders, and they talked about it with greater clarity and depth than my fourth graders. Hmmmm...age is appearing to make a difference.

I read the book to a third grade class. They got it, but I seem to be letting them look at the pictures longer and I'm encouraging more talk and thinking as we read.

I read the book to a second grade class. Again, I supported them more as readers, but they got it on their own.

I read the book to a first grade class. We're down to about one student who sees the book under the edge of the bed, and one who comes up with the word "imagination" to describe what's happening with the animals. Is one who gets it enough to say that first graders get the book? I'm saying it is. That one kid ramped up the whole class and brought them along. (Thank goodness for The One, right, teachers?!)

I read the book to our special-needs/typical-peers preschool class. They loved it. They found the "lost" book with a lot of help. They were pretty sure the animals were real. Imagination didn't seem to be on their radar. In speaking with the teacher later, I found out that most of them, indeed, do not yet engage in extended imaginative play. Most of them are the oldest child in their family and they simply haven't had any role models for that kind of play/thinking.

Then I read the book to the kindergartners. They loved it. They found the "lost" book. A bunch of support got one child to the idea that the Creature was imagining that his toys were responsible for the "loss" of his book, but the rest of the class did not come along they way they had in first grade.

1. Trust Kindergarten teachers. (Corollary: Kindergarten teachers know their kids better than you do.)

2. Making inferences and using imagination are developmental.

3. It doesn't really matter if your audience doesn't "get" the book in the way you intended, as long as you all have fun reading it!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let Us Commence

Award-winning playwright Margaret Edson, a Smith College alumna who teaches kindergarten in the Atlanta public school system, was the speaker at Smith’s 130th commencement ceremony Sunday, May 18. This is a portion of the transcript; the speech was delivered without a written text. You can listen to her deliver it here.

I want to talk about a particular kind of love, this love: classroom teaching.

I have my posse of gaily clad classroom teachers behind me.

They like to be called college professors.
And we can’t all work for the government.

We gather together because of classroom teaching.
We have shown you our love in our work in the classroom.

Classroom teaching is a physical, breath-based, eye-to-eye event.
It is not built on equipment or the past.
It is not concerned about the future.
It is in existence to go out of existence.
It happens and then it vanishes.
Classroom teaching is our gift.
It’s us; it’s this.

We bring nothing into the classroom — perhaps a text or a specimen. We carry ourselves, and whatever we have to offer you is stored within our bodies. You bring nothing into the classroom — some gum, maybe a piece of paper and a pencil: nothing but yourselves, your breath, your bodies.

Classroom teaching produces nothing. At the end of a class, we all get up and walk out. It’s as if we were never there. There’s nothing to point to, no monument, no document of our existence together.

Classroom teaching expects nothing. There is no pecuniary relationship between teachers and students. Money changes hands, and people work very hard to keep it in circulation, but we have all agreed that it should not happen in the classroom. And there is no financial incentive structure built into classroom teaching because we get paid the same whether you learn anything or not.

Classroom teaching withholds nothing. I say to my young students every year, “I know how to add two numbers, but I’m not going to tell you.” And they laugh and shout, “No!” That’s so absurd, so unthinkable. What do I have that I would not give to you?

Bringing nothing, producing nothing, expecting nothing, withholding nothing –
what does that remind you of?
Is this a bizarre occurrence that will go into The Journal of Irreproducible Results?
Or is it something that happens every day, all the time, all over the world,
and is based not on gain and fame, but on love.

There are those who say that classroom teaching is doomed and that by the time one of you addresses the class of 2033, there will be a museum of classroom teaching.

Ever since the invention of wedge-shaped writing on a clay tablet, classroom teaching has been obsolete. It’s been comical. Why don’t we just write the assignments and algorithms on a clay tablet, hang it up on the wall, and let the students come who will to teach themselves from our documents?

Why, since the creation of writing with a pen on a piece of paper, do we still bother to have schools?

Why, since the invention of movable metal type, don’t we all just go to the library?

Why do we have to have class? Why do we need teachers?

Why, since the advent of the microchip, don’t we all stay home in our pajamas and hit send?

Technology is nipping at the heels of classroom teaching, but I perceive no threat.
How could something false replace something true?
How could a substitute, a proxy, step in for something real and alive?
How could the virtual nudge out the actual?

The other great threat to classroom teaching is the rush to data — data-driven education.
We must measure everything — percentages, charts, tables.

I’m not entirely opposed to this.
If data-driven education were a pie graph, I would have a piece.

But I was not educated and did not become a teacher to produce data.

I love the classroom.
I loved it as a student, and I love it as a teacher.
I can name every teacher I ever had:
Mrs. Mulshanok, Miss Williams, Mrs. Clark, Miss Bogan, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Muys, Mrs. Parker, Mr. Eldridge, Miss Bush — and that’s just through sixth grade.
I could go on, I promise.

I loved coming to class: the chairs, the windows, unzipping my book bag.
And I loved my teachers.
There was content, I suppose, but that’s not what I remember.
I remember my teachers.
I remember being in the room,
and no data and no bar graph will be assembled to replace that, or even to capture it.

This week my students worked on dividing a pizza between two people, and they realized that if you make the line down the center of the pizza the two sides will be equal. After much trial and error, they came to this conclusion on their own, and I welcome you to try it. I think it’s really going to take off, and let this be where it begins.

When they take a standardized test, they will be able to fill in the bubble next to the pizza that is cut exactly in half. Do they know that will be the correct answer? Yes. But I don’t care that much. What I care about is how they got there, how they figured it out for themselves.

This skinny little high school senior got herself into Smith College by writing an essay about Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s theme, “The journey, not the arrival, matters.” It worked for me.

Standardized tests measure the arrival, but they have nothing to say about the journey, about having wonderful ideas. Do you know it/do you not know it is second, and how do you know it, and who are you, is first.

The only way this knowledge grows inside a student is with a teacher, a classroom teacher. Of course, my students will insist they did it themselves, and I don’t try to disabuse them of that.

But the work you graduates have done was in the classroom with your teachers.
That’s the miracle of today.
Why don’t we talk about it?
Because it doesn’t show up.
There’s not a bar graph for classroom teaching. There’s no data for classroom teaching, and yet it persists this year and the next year and the year after that.

Telling tens of thousands of people what to do is not teaching, it’s shouting, and there’s a lot of that going around.

Showing somebody how to do something exactly the way you’ve always done it is not teaching, it’s training. And there’s plenty of that, too.

But the reality that is neither shouting nor training is classroom teaching.
Nobody can touch it because nobody can point to it.
You have it forever.
When it grows inside you, it’s doing its work.

We can disappear.
We’ll never see you again, probably.
The chairs will be folded.
It will be as if we were never here.
There will be nothing we can count after today.
But not everything that counts can be counted.
Not everything that matters can be put into a pie chart.

The Board of Trustees has set a very great challenge for itself:
to educate us all for lives of distinction.
You are never going to be able to make a bar graph out of that.
That is immeasurable, and that’s what makes it so real.
I admonish you — because that’s my job — to think about the things that float away:
your love for your friends,
the smell of the lilacs,
the feeling your families have on this day.
You will have nothing to take with you.
The diploma you receive will be someone else’s.

Everything meaningful about this moment, and these four years,
will be meaningful inside you, not outside you.

I’ve been a classroom teacher for sixteen years–as long as you have been in the classroom. We started the same year. And I hope to go on for fourteen more years.
That will make thirty, and I’ll be done.

At the end of that time, someone will bring me a box, and I will put in it a ceramic apple somebody gave me thinking it would be symbolic somehow. I will have nothing, and that will be proof of the meaning of my work.

If you can point to something, you might lose it, or you might break it, or someone might take it from you. As long as you store it inside yourself, it’s not going anywhere — or it’s going everywhere with you.

This day is a day of love.
It’s a day of your family’s love for you,
your love for each other and your teachers,
and your teachers’ love for you.

In time, the bar graphs may tumble,
the clay tablets may crumble.
They’re only made of clay.
But our love
is here to stay.

Thank you.

via Susan Ohanian

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Calder Game

The Calder Game
by Blue Balliett
illustrated by Brett Helquist
Scholastic, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

This is my favorite of the three art mystery books Blue Balliett has written (the others are Chasing Vermeer and The Wright 3) about Calder Pillay, Tommy Segovia, and Petra Andalee. I want the literature circle back that read Chasing Vermeer as their first book in fourth grade and The Wright 3 as soon as we could get multiple copies from the library when they were in fifth grade. They would love this book!

The Calder Game is packed, layered, and balanced with so many different elements. It is about art and the response to art. It is about balance, social class, finding patterns (especially of 5), symbols (ancient and modern), mythology, and language. Oh, the language! The ways Balliett finds to describe with words the way Alexander Calder's mobiles balance, turn, change, and affect the viewer. The word mobiles that the characters create -- five words that balance, turn, and change depending how you look at them (NO-MINOTAUR-ONLY-WISHES-HERE becomes NO-WISHES balancing along with MINOTAUR-HERE or maybe MINOTAUR-WISHES).

It's about how bad teaching kills a student's urge to learn and about how much trust good teaching requires. I didn't really believe that the three protagonists' teacher could go from such a bad teacher to such a good teacher, but the book is also about the power of art to change people, so okay, I'll believe it.

The book opens with a class field trip to an Alexander Calder exhibit of mobiles at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Then Calder Pillay is lucky enough to be able to accompany his father on a trip to Oxford, England. He and his father stay in the nearby town of Woodstock, which is near Blenheim Palace and a real hedge maze made of symbols. Lots for Calder to explore while his dad is at meetings. The biggest surprise awaits them, however -- a Calder sculpture in the courtyard in front of the bed and breakfast where they are staying. And then the theft of the sculpture. And then the disappearance of Calder Pillay. Tommy and Petra come with Mrs. Sharpe from Chicago to help find the boy Calder, but his fate is linked with the Calder sculpture, and all of the characters must shift and re-balance their relationships in order to solve the mystery.

Speaking of characters, the three kids meet a girl who is named after Georgia O'Keefe. Plans are made for her to visit Chicago and stay with Mrs. Sharpe. I'm certain we will be seeing more of her in Balliett's next book...which I am anxiously awaiting!

Shelf Elf has a review with some cool bonus links.
Bill, at Literate Lives, has a review with some cool Calder pictures.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Thank you, TadMack for a Memorial Day poem, a bit of information about the history of the day, a great photo, and a reminder that Colleen at Chasing Ray has invited bloggers to highlight books (for ages 4-100) that cover political subjects on Wednesdays this August:
August 5th - Race in America
August 12th - The environment
August 19th - Class divisions in America
August 26th - US foreign policy

Start gathering your titles!

Friday, May 23, 2008


I am a HUGE fan of Shelley Harwayne. She is the person whose work keeps me grounded in what is right for children. I have been a fan since before she became principal of The Manhattan New School in NYC and before she wrote LASTING IMPRESSIONS, GOING PUBLIC, and others. Shelley ALWAYS makes decisions that are best for children.

Anyone who has heard Shelley Harwayne speak to teachers in the last several years, knows that she is now a grandmother. Being a grandmother has Shelley thinking and learning about early childhood education. She has learned much from her grandchildren that she shares with us in her upcoming professional book LOOK WHO'S LEARNING TO READ.

In this upcoming book, Shelley does what she does best and reminds us all of the things that are best for children. This time, she takes a hard look at what parents, grandparents, day care workers--anyone who spends time with young children--can do to support literacy development in ways that make sense for the child.

LOOK WHO'S LEARNING TO READ is a huge resource for parents and teachers. Shelley talks about many things that are important in literacy development and gives authentic ideas for working with children age 0-6. She includes thoughts about reading aloud, rhyming, the alphabet, singing, writing, sight vocabulary, and more.

The book is also filled with great booklists--favorite read alouds specific to age groups. Shelley includes titles of books that will be loved by young children and recommends both fiction and nonfiction.

It is so nice to see someone who knows literacy and learning so well give us a book that focuses on this important time in a child's development. With these high-stakes times, many parents are buying crazy programs for even our youngest children. Shelley reminds us that the most authentic literacy experiences are the ones that are important.

This is a great new resource for teachers of Pre-K through 1. But is is also a great addition to any baby gift. It will be a book that parents will go back to over the first 6 years of their child's life--finding new books and new ways to help their young children fall in love with reading.

Keep your eye out for this one from Scholastic in July!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

SNEAK PEEK: 2 New Books by Louise Borden

Primary teachers are going to want to keep their eyes out for these two new books by Louise Borden. It isn't often that we have two new books about school released by Louise at the same time! This is quite exciting!

Off to First Grade is a new book focusing on the beginning of first grade. Louise has created a unique type of alphabet book focusing on different children in a first grade classroom on the first day of school. Each child tells a bit of getting ready for their first day of school (teacher, principal and others also give their take on this great day!) Children will be able to see themselves in the stories shared. The book begins with Anna:

At last,
it is August 26th
on our calendar.
It's a big day!
The day
I start first grade
at Elm School.
Mrs. Miller will be my teacher.

The story is great from A-Z! The illustrations by Joan Rankin are a perfect celebration of such an exciting day! I can imagine this being read over and over and over in first grade classrooms everywhere.

The Lost-and-Found Tooth is one in the series of school stories written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Good Luck, Mrs. K,, The Day Eddie Met the Author, The John Hancock Club, and others). Each book introduces us to great new characters and Louise always manages to write a book about school that matches the experiences that our children have. This new one, focuses on second grade and the losing of teeth! Such a great story for many ages, but it is always fun to have one that talks specifically about those things specific to the grade you are teaching.

Both are due out July 1--just in time for school!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I have been long awaiting this new picture book, The Sandman by Ralph Fletcher. He is one of those authors that writes a variety of things--poetry, picture books, novels, writing books for kids) so I always look forward to a new one from him.

This is a totally different kind of book for this author. It is a kind of fantasy that explains the story of the Sandman--the one that sprinkles sand over children to help them sleep. A dragon's scale is the key to this magical sand! A great story that is a very satisfying read.

You can tell by the cover that the illustrations are quite fun--the cover has a bit of a sparkle and the inside illustrations are just as perfect for the story.

As always, Ralph Fletcher uses great language in his work. Lines like "Looking down, he saw a gleam of light at his feet. A dragon's scale!" and "A great wave of sleepiness came over him." are found throughout the book.

I like this book for lots of reasons. First of all, it is a great story to enjoy as the great story it is. For fans of Ralph Fletcher's work, this is a great addition to the stack that kids already love. From a writing perspective, this is a great model for children-- a believable fantasy that could easily serves as a mentor text for some students. As always, Ralph Fletcher has written a book that is amazing on many levels. A great new fantasy that you'll want to check out!

This book is scheduled to be released on May 27!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

SNEAK PEEK: Keep your eye on this new author!

Amjed Qamar is the author of Beneath My Mother's Feet, a coming-of-age story set in modern-day Pakistan (reviewed here yesterday), which will be in stores on June 17. The book has received, and is very deserving of lots of early attention: a Kirkus starred review (May 15, 2008 issue), Junior Library Guild Selection (April-September 2008 catalog), a Book Sense nomination, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick (Fall 2008). How lucky for us that this rising star of an author lives in our very own community!

Tell us a little about your childhood in India and Columbus, Ohio.

I spent most of my childhood growing up in Columbus, OH. My parents immigrated from India when I was a baby. I attended school in Columbus during my elementary and middle school years and then went on to attend high school in Westerville when we moved there. I loved school and reading. I must admit I was a quiet child growing up and was more of listener than a talker.

How is your children's experience growing up in the U.S. different than yours was?

Interesting question. My children have a lot more opportunities than I did growing up. Mostly because I was limited in what I was allowed to do because my parents were quite protective. I never played sports or did after school activities; my children today are active in team sports, enjoy taking other classes, and doing things with their friends that I couldn't do at their age. Also, they have traveled around the world. Since the time my parents immigrated when I was a baby, I'd not been on a plane until after I got married. My kids have been on boats, planes, trains, rickshaws, horses, and camels!

What advice do you have for teachers with Muslim children in their classes?

This question was tough to answer because growing up as the only Muslim child in my most of classes, I can honestly say that I never had any issues in school or with the teachers. MY teachers were amazing, wonderful people. You have to understand I loved school and idolized my teachers. They were all supportive and I can't recall any instance where a teacher did not support me. On the flip side though, teachers are probably more aware that most issues that do arise, or any insecurities, or uncomfortable situations that come up generally involve your peers, friends, and fellow classmates. But I find that given today's climate, kids and people in general, especially in our community, are amazingly sensitive, aware, and open-minded.

Who were your female role models when you were growing up?

My mother was my biggest role model and influence. She struggled to raise five kids through a lot of adversity, economic issues, family issues, language barriers, her own education limitations, but she never gave up. She has been through a lot and she made me realize the importance of education.

Also my teachers, and yes, Oprah too. I watched that show nearly everyday after school since it came on. She was like the big sister I never had.

How typical in present-day India and Pakistan is your character Nazia's struggle to choose her future, rather than following the traditional path of an arranged marriage?

Most families in Nazia's situation just don't have the funds to send their daughters on to further their education. Generally, there are several kids in a family and the sons do get priority in this regard because they are the ones expected to gain employment and care for their families. As people pass on what they've learned from one generation to the next, and people are open to it, then the realization that educating women is vital does spread. Pakistanis are working hard to inform and educate people in this regard, opening more schools, creating more awareness, and generally providing more opportunities for women. Women who are educated in Pakistan hold high positions, are very successful in the fields of business, law, medicine, education, arts and media. When this success is filtered down to the less fortunate, then it has more wide-spread benefits. As a regular traveler to Pakistan, I have seen this first hand and am so proud!

Tell us the story of how this book came to be written and published.

This book took about a year to write, a year to edit, and it spent another year in line to be published. The story had been in my head for a very long time--I lived in Pakistan for five years, and I always seemed to remember the children the most. I saw such fortitude in their eyes, and such joy over the smallest things, and I wanted to honor that. I wanted to let the world know that in Pakistan I saw families who worked hard, women who were independent, and girls who were head strong. There females were capable, self-assured, and bold individuals living with dignity in a Muslim country, defying most western stereotypes and myths. If I conveyed even a small portion of this strength in Nazia, then I feel satisfied.

Can you give us a "sneak peek" of your next writing project?

The next book is set in the United States and deals with the balancing act some teens face when trying to align home life and high school.

Monday, May 19, 2008

SNEAK PEEK: Beneath My Mother's Feet

Beneath My Mother's Feet
by Amjed Qamar
Simon and Schuster
in bookstores June 17, 2008
Ages 12+
ARC provided by the author

We don't typically review YA books at A Year of Reading. We also don't typically meet authors of new and already highly-acclaimed books in the hallways of our school! When Amjed introduced herself to me and told me a little bit about her book, I knew I had to read it. I curled up on the couch with it on Mothers' Day and I was hooked immediately. It turned out a little ironic to read it on Mothers' Day (see review for details), but I am convinced that this book deserves every bit of praise it has already garnered. This is a book you must read, and Amjed Qamar is a new author to keep your eyes on.

Nazia is a modern-day Pakistani girl living in Gizri colony, a working class neighborhood in southern Karachi. She is 14 years old, loves school, and is promised in marriage to her cousin back in the village where her father's family lives. Nazia's mother is focused on preparing Nazia's dowry for her wedding, and Nazia's friends tease her for being "a good beti, a dutiful daughter." These traditional mother-daughter roles are soon put to the test when Nazia's father is injured in a construction accident and Nazia's mother takes her out of school to help earn money by cleaning houses.

Things go from bad to worse when Nazia's dowry is stolen, her father loses the rent money, and the family winds up homeless. This shift of fate gives Nazia (and the reader) the opportunity to meet strong and capable women whose lives expand her understanding of the power that women have, even in a culture that seems to be all about the fathers, uncles, and brothers.

Through it all, Nazia's mother works to keep her children with her and to keep Nazia's wedding on track. Nazia, in helping another servant child attempt to escape his fate, discovers the inner strength she needs to choose her own path as well.

This is a well-paced story filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of a variety of levels of status in modern Pakistani culture. However, Nazia's struggle to choose her own path in life is, at its core, the common story of every girl on the brink of her future, every girl who must break her mother's heart by choosing a way of her own and not the one her mother has hoped and planned for all her life.

Beneath My Mother's Feet has received much early acclaim:
  • Kirkus starred review (May 15, 2008 issue)
  • Junior Library Guild Selection (April-September 2008 catalog)
  • Book Sense nomination
  • Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick (Fall 2008)
This is Amjed Qamar's first book. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband and two children. Tomorrow, we will feature an interview with Amjed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sneak Peek Week

We had so much fun with Graphic Novel Week last week that we are going to do another theme this week:

Sneak Peek Week

The name says it all. New books and new authors every day this week.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Meme of Five

We've been tagged three times this week for The Meme of Five, but we couldn't fit it into Graphic Novel Week, so here are our fives. In lieu of tagging, we have included a bit of a roundup of the ones we've seen around the Kidlitosphere. If we missed one (especially if we missed yours) let us know!

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.


What were you doing five years ago?
Of course, Mary Lee has a diary that tells her exactly what she was doing on this day 5 years ago. I will just have to try my best! 5 years ago, I was just finishing up my first year teaching at Eli Pinney--we opened the school that year and it was a great year of teaching and learning. We were also in the midst of the adoption process and were waiting to bring our youngest daughter home.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
buy a few birthday and retirement gifts
get a few sets of handouts ready for summer work
pull a presentation together for this week
make cookie dough

What are five snacks you enjoy?
(I am going for the unhealthy ones--treatlike snacks)
My new favorite: DOVE Ice Cream Bars
chips and salsa
those really cheap vanilla cream cookies that you can by anywhere

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
(not in order of action folks!)
1. Buy books for kids and adults who don't have them and for children's hospitals
2. Put money into schools for girls in places where it is hard for girls to get an education
3. Do something to get rid of testing and punishment of schools for test scores..
4. Buy a house somewhere warm and calm
5. Hire a few people to live here (or close) to do the things I don't like to do (laundry, weeding the yard, etc.)

What are five of your bad habits?
1. I ask a lot of questions.
2. I overbook myself.
3. I don't exercise enough.
4. I eat junk food.
5. I make piles everywhere.

What are five places where you have lived?
(be careful--this may be just too exciting..)
1. Ohio--Youngstown
2. Ohio--Howland
3. Ohio--Bowling Green
4. Ohio--Hilliard
5. Ohio--Dublin

What are five jobs you’ve had?
1. Bob Evans hostess
2. Bob Evans waitress
3. Desk and Night Clerk (college)
4. worker at Hot Sam's Pretzels


What were you doing five years ago?
Five years ago on May 16, my students were baking cookies (5 groups, 5 different recipes) for the "World Premiere" of their multi-media project "Social Issues in the World." (I know this because I have a 10-year diary that I've been keeping for 7 years now.)

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
1. Walk in the Race For the Cure. (It did NOT rain!)
2. Get gas. (Found some high test for under $4/gallon!)
3. Pick up watches. (7 got new batteries and one got a new band. I now have 17 working watches! And now you know one of my obsessions. Other women go for shoes. I go for watches.)
4. Pick up my new glasses.
5. Grading, grading, and more grading, then maybe start report cards?

What are five snacks you enjoy?
1. Potato chips. Especially with onion dip.
2. Cheetos.
3. Hubs peanuts.
4. Jeni's ice cream.
5. Pam's cheddar popcorn. (I also like grapes, apples, veggies, Bill's guacamole with corn chips, Cheezits, dark chocolate, peanut M&Ms, Chex Mix...well, you get the idea...)

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Fully fund Ohio's Casting for Recovery program.
2. Buy enough lobbyists to get NCLB fixed or nixed.
3. Save the Arctic from oil drilling.
4. Travel.
5. Buy a house with enough shelves for all our books and enough wall space for all of our art.

What are five of your bad habits?
1. Procrastination.
2. Sloppy handwriting.
3. Taking laundry out of the dryer, laying it in a neat pile on top of the dryer, and then not folding and putting it away for a week.
4. Taking on yet another project.
5. Speaking before thinking.

What are five places where you have lived?
1. Burlington, CO
2. Denver, CO
3. Aachen, Germany (only six weeks, but that counts, doesn't it?)
4. Dallas, TX
5. Columbus, OH

What are five jobs you’ve had?
1. Babysitter
2. Lifeguard
3. Cashier at Ben Franklin's
4. Nanny
5. Teacher


Wild Rose Reader
The Miss Rumphius Effect
Welcome to My Tweendom
Read. Imagine. Talk.
A Wrung Sponge
Big A little a
Check it Out
Greetings From Nowhere
jama rattigan's alphabet soup
Jen Robinson's Book Page
My Breakfast Platter
Read Write Believe
Read, Read, Read
Shelf Elf
The Reading Zone
Two Writing Teachers
Wizards Wireless

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Graphic Novel Week--Learning to Read These Things

So, I have participated in Graphic Novel week because I think that these books are huge and important right now. I find them fascinating and I am pretty sure that we could do some amazing work with kids using these. I also think that this may be just the kind of book that those kids who have never bought into reading, may love.

But, I am not a reader of Graphic Novels. I have read a few--I am a huge Babymouse fan. I have read some great nonfiction GNs (To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel). But, really, I haven't stretched to many others. As I have been reading Mary Lee's reviews this week, I decided I needed to give them a better try. So I purchased HIKARU NO GO #1 after I read Mary Lee's review of it earlier this week. She said that three of her boys-who were very different readers-- were totally hooked. So I decided I had to see what made the series so addicting.

Well, I picked #1 in the series up last night and found that ML was right--it is Manga. It opens on the left side, you read from left to right, etc. Totally threw me. Wanted to take it back to the store immediately. I was talking to my friend and colleague Josie this morning--showing her the book, telling her how much I did not want to read it. We were trying to figure out why Mary Lee seemed to be able to read these, but we could not. (We know she is very smart but we thought that we should be able to figure out how to read books that her 4th graders were reading.) So, we emailed her to ask what her trick was. Here is what she said:

Slow down.
Read differently.
Spend time on the pictures.
Watch it like TV or a movie with subtitles.

Good advice, I must say. So, I tried again, listening to her advice. I think the "SLOW DOWN" and "SPEND TIME ON THE PICTURES" were the two things I was not doing. Slowing down is really not in my personality and I soon realized that I had just been speeding through the words and ignoring most of the pictures.

You will all be happy to know that I am now on page 41 of this book and am enjoying it a lot! There is really nothing about it that would have drawn me to it--but I put my mind to it and followed Mary Lee's advice. I think it was a turning point for me. I am pretty sure I am going to get through the book and I think I am going to like it. Then I think I will get through more Graphic Novels that are more complicated than the ones I have been reading.

I am writing this because I know there are a lot of us out there who are not yet comfortable with this medium. I am one of them. I am writing to share Mary Lee's brilliant advice--that seems very obvious, I know. And to tell you that it is worth doing. As adults, we get into reading the kinds of books we enjoy and are comfortable reading. As reading teachers, I always think that it is worth it to put ourselves in a position where our reading is hard--to experience what the kids often experience with new genres, etc. I think it is worth doing because it is a big thing and our students will be reading them. How can we recommend books and talk to our students about books that they love if we don't know them and have no experience with them? And people are talking about them and I hate to be left out of conversations about books!

But, what I am learning is that these books are pretty cool. A pretty interesting and different read. The most important thing I am learning is why people are so drawn to them. I am starting to understand and that is worth a post, I think!

I plan to add a few more titles with Mary Lee's guidance to my 48 Hour Read Stack!

Graphic Novel Week: New From Scholastic

Magic Pickle: The Original Graphic Novel!
by Scott Morse
Graphix, May 2008
already out in this series:
Magic Pickle and the Planet of the Grapes
Magic Pickle vs. the Egg Poacher

Dr. Jekyll Formaldehyde creates a superhero pickle who fights against the Brotherhood of the Evil Produce. Food puns abound and footies get fried off of pajamas. Kids who play with food and kids who believe that a magic pickle is operating out of a secret lab under their bedroom floor will enjoy this book.

(Detailed review here; Scott Morse's blog here.)

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles
by Frank Cammuso
Graphix, July 2008

Arthur King is the new kid at Camelot Middle School. His science teacher is Mr. Merlyn and he manages to open the "busted locker...that nobody can open. The one with the rhyming graffiti on it...this kid, Terry White, had that locker." A working knowledge of the Arthurian legend definitely adds to the fun of this book, but anyone who's been the new kid at school, the underdog up against bullies, or the victim of an evil school principal will celebrate the triumph of Artie and his new friends against the Horde and Mrs. Dagger. And you've gotta love a magical locker with a cute grin that produces sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

(Frank Cammuso's website here.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Graphic Novel Week: Hikaru No Go

Hikaru No Go, Volumes 1-11
by Yumi Hotta
published by Viz Media

Three boys in my classroom are completely absorbed by this series. All three are very different readers. One is a very capable reader who, up until Hikaru had been plowing through the Warriors series at an amazing rate. He is an avid member of our school's chess club. Another, a good reader, has had a hard time finding and staying committed to books this year. He is a beginning member of our school's chess club. The third is one of my reading success stories for the year -- now a pretty good reader, but one who still needs the picture supports that a graphic novel offers. Hikaru No Go has been the right book(s) at the right time for all three boys in three very different ways.

Hikaru No Go ("Hikaru's Go") is a native manga series -- originally published in Japan, it reads right to left. In the story, Hikaru finds a bloodstained Go board in his grandfather's shed. (Go is an ancient Asian strategy game.) The spirit of an ancient Go master, Sai, who hasn't played Go in a really, really long time (not since he possessed a Go player back in the Edo period in Japan) inhabits Hikaru's mind. Hikaru doesn't know anything about Go and, in the beginning of the series, has no desire to learn. It's the perfect set-up for the reader to learn about Go right along with Hikaru. At first, Hikaru lets Sai play through him, but eventually, Hikaru becomes a good player on his own.

Besides reading the books, this trio has started playing Go every chance they get. They began on a 9x9 board (a grid) that one of them drew on paper, using "stones" that he cut from two colors of scratch paper. They have progressed to using the grid of a checkers board and the half-marbles that previously were used for Mancala. Rumor has it that one of them is getting a real Go board soon, and they are looking into playing Go online.

In writing workshop and in enrichment time, two of them have been working on a detailed report about Go, and the third has created a very basic beginner's guide to getting started in the game. As they teach their friends to play Go, they are bringing new readers to the series.

These books were in my classroom all year last year and they never caught on. They may never be quite the hit they've been this year for these readers. But they've more than paid their rent for their shelf space in my classroom!

Graphic Novel Week: Interview with Terry Thompson

Yesterday, we reviewed Terry Thompson's new professional book for teachers, ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA: USING COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS TO TEACH COMPREHENSION, 2-6. Today, we have an interview with the author about the book and his work in this area. Enjoy!

FRANKI: Are you a comic book/graphic novel reader yourself?

TERRY: I get asked this a lot, and the answer surprises many people. The common assumption is that I have stacks and stacks of comic books and that's all I ever read. Though I'm a huge fan of DC Comics' Nightwing and Green Lantern series, graphica is only a small slice of what I read. This mirrors the theme in my book about how comic books and graphic novels should supplement (not replace) the variety of literature our readers experience. Graphica shuffles into the "to be read stack" on my night stand about every 4th or 5th book.
When I read graphica, I have to admit that prefer graphic novels over comic books. Since I'm not one who can wait an entire month to find out what happened after the cliffhanger ending of an issue, when I do read comic books, I prefer to have all the issues of one story arch at the same time. Since lots of plot lines in comic books span several consecutive issues, I have to wait a few months before my stack of issues includes the entire story.

FRANKI: Tell us about the word GRAPHICA.

TERRY: Funny you should ask. A friend of mine jokes that I made it up! When he first saw the book, he wrote me an email and said, "Is graphica even a real wordica???" In actuality, graphica is a rarely used industry term that does, in fact, refer to the comic/graphic novel format. I chose to use it for the book, because I felt the medium really needed a more definitive word that encompassed all that it can offer. Because the term 'comics' can refer to comedians or comic strips in the funnies, and 'graphic novels' limits us to only one type of format within the medium, I brought the word graphica out of hiding to give us a common term for the medium as well as a mutual frame of reference for the literature it refers to.

FRANKI: When did you start seeing the value in using graphica?

TERRY: In chapter one, I tell the story of my experience with Bradley and how a single comic book that I picked up at the local comic book store literally transformed him as a reader right before my eyes. That was the moment that I realized I needed to learn more about the medium and what it could offer my students instructionally. Between that research and trying graphica with other struggling readers, it didn't take long for me to realize that I'd landed on a potential gold mine of literature that - before then - had never dawned on me as a way to support my teaching.

FRANKI: Do you find that most kids understand graphica more easily than many adults? Or are there students who have difficulty with it?

TERRY: Yes. And yes. I think that one of the aspects that draw kids to graphica is that it inhabits a childlike world of art work, movement, and themes. Since many of our kids are used to being stimulated visually (videos, games, computers), the format seems to speak to them in a way that traditional literature doesn't - and they take to it with relative ease. On the other hand, while most of the adults I've worked with embrace graphica as valuable, they admit that they don't always 'get it' - it's almost like how the kids are the only ones who can hear the reindeer bells in the Polar Express. Almost. With that being said, though, we have to remember that graphica is just like any other literature we offer our students. Most of our students will take to graphica, but some won't - and we need to allow for that. It's just like working with other genres and mediums. Kids are different and they take to various types of reading differently. Whether they're finding the artistic representations of meaning difficult to navigate or they simply have a preference for more traditional types of literature, there are kids out there who will have difficulty with graphica. And that's ok. We don't live in Stepford.

FRANKI: What are the biggest gains you've seen kids make when graphica is part of their reading?

TERRY: When kids read a lot of comics and graphic novels, I've noticed their ability to describe their mental images in clearer detail and in a way that better supports their ability to make meaning. Because the artwork is such a clear example of what good readers do when they visualize, the act of visualization on the part of readers of graphica appears more precise and fluid. I'm also noticing that these readers seem to be making gains in stamina. Since the illustrations support the text and the students are interested and motivated, they'll read for longer amounts of time than they might read traditional text. The effects seem to be playing out in that they have an increased endurance for reading - even when they're reading traditional texts. However, the biggest gains of all have been in students' increased levels of motivation to read. I've seen tons of passive readers become active about the task of reading - simply because they had a sincere desire to read the medium.

FRANKI: You talk a lot about transferring skills learned in comic books and graphic novels to other types of text. Can you explain this?

TERRY: Certainly. I call this 'translating the transfer' and, to me, this is the most valuable payoff that using graphica instructionally can offer. Teaching with comics and graphic novels offers visual representations of many of the invisible comprehension strategies we use when we read. For example I mentioned earlier that the artwork in the panels of a comic book can be a terrific example of what it means to visualize while reading. For many of our students, this is an 'in the head' process - but seeing the skill visually on the page, accompanied by the text, can ground this important but invisible comprehension strategy. As we use graphica to make the invisible act of comprehension visible, we can 'translate' for students how they can 'transfer' this learning back to traditional texts. Continuing with our example of visualization, I might remind a reader of graphica who's struggling to make mental images in a chapter book to try to imagine the reading like a comic book panel in her head. What colors would you see? What action would be happening? What characters are present? Who would be talking? What are they saying? How are they saying it? What types of onomatopoeia might be occurring? How will your mental image change as you continue through the text and create the next panel. In this way, graphica can serve as a scaffold to make comprehension strategies more tangible to our students who might otherwise struggle with them. All we have to do is show them how.

FRANKI: How do you suggest that teachers who are not readers of this type of text become comfortable with it?

TERRY: I think it is so important that teachers of reading be readers themselves. If we expect our students to read graphica (or any other genre or medium), then it is important that we have had experiences with it as well. In the same way that I'd propose that someone new to teaching poetry explore some more grown up offerings of the genre, I suggest that teachers new to graphica take some time to read selections that are more geared to seasoned readers. In this way, their processes of making meaning will be more authentic. Jumping in feet first and having a personal experience with graphica is an excellent way to get more comfortable with it. In no time at all, navigating the medium will be second nature to them - and this will only fortify their instructional use of it. To adults who are new to graphica, I often suggest the classics like Will Eisner's groundbreaking graphic novel A Contract With God or Art Spiegleman's two part graphic novel series Maus. Sid Jacobson's graphic adaptation of the 9/11 report is amazing, and several adults I've suggested it to have contacted me afterwards to tell me what a life changing experience it was for them (and it truly is amazing). Additionally, graphica is written in so many different genres that new readers might also do well to find a selection that matches their favorite like romance, memoir, science fiction, and - yes - even super heroes!

FRANKI: Have you learned anything new about the topic since you completed your book?

TERRY: In the book, I talk a lot about how motivated kids are to read graphica and how just making them available will create readers out of many of our resisters. As the manuscript went into the final copyediting phases, I settled on a new and important understanding that I wish I could have included in the book. I've noticed that, while that motivation to read comics is powerful, it can wane if students aren't introduced to graphica that meets them where they are. First impressions are everything. If readers are given a selection of graphica during their first encounter with the medium that is too challenging or doesn't fall within their zone of interest, some readers will decide immediately that comics are yet another type of text that they can't enjoy. This seems doubly difficult when the student was really looking forward to reading the medium. In these cases, the reader's excitement isn't enough. If we want to ride that wave of enthusiasm effectively, we have match students with graphica that is manageable for them and encourage them to monitor whether the selection is just right for them or it needs to be abandoned for a better choice. The popularity and nuance of being a graphic novel isn't enough. If we don't meet the reader's enthusiasm to take on graphica with appropriately matched selections, we may see that wave crash all too soon and its potential to make a difference lost to us unnecessarily.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Graphic Novel Week: ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA by Terry Thompson

I just received my copy of ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA: USING COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS TO TEACH COMPREHENSION, 2-6 by Terry Thompson. I mentioned it a while back--looking forward to its release.

This is a much needed book--one I have been waiting for for a while.

One of my favorite lines in this new book is, "So, it all started with a struggling reader and a comic book, and I've been hooked ever since." Terry Thompson realized long before many of us, how to use graphic novels and comic books to meet the needs of all of his readers, especially those who struggle.

There is so much to love about this book. First of all, it is VERY comprehensive. Thompson includes everything from definitions of the types of graphica to classroom examples. This is by far, the most comprehensive book I have seen for teachers of reading on the topic. He has found ways to use graphica to teach so many important reading skills. He fits graphica into all components of the literacy block--guided reading, lit circles, shared reading and read aloud. He talks about the actual teaching and also gives ideas for making comics accessible to students and for helping keep them from getting wrinkled, ruined, etc.

Much of this book will help teachers use graphica with all of their students. But he does have specific tips and thoughts for working with boys, girls, and English Language Learners.

One of the things that I find the most powerful is the way that Thompson talks about comprehension with comics and graphic novels. He shares great ideas and strategies for using these to help students with higher level comprehension skills. Then he talks pretty specifically about how to use what they learn in this medium to transfer to other formats of text. He understands the draw of comics and how to use those well, but then to expand the learning to other types of text.

Another thing that makes this book so amazing is the resources that he helps us with. As an elementary teacher, and a non-graphica reader, it is hard for me to determine which books are appropriate for my elementary students. Thompson gives us many resources--websites, titles and publishers--that are appropriate for readers in grades 2-6. He also provides a selection guide to help teachers think through specific characteristics of this medium when selecting text for students.

Like I said earlier, this book is very comprehensive and I am thrilled to have it. This is an area that I have wanted to think more about lately. Before ADVENTURES IN GRAPHICA, I'd find a bit of info here and a bit more there, but I had trouble pulling it all together and figuring out how to best us these in my teaching. This book pulls it all together for me plus gives me so much more.

On a side note, rumor has it that this book is SOOO popular that it was seen on at least one runner at this year's Boston Marathon. See below:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Graphic Novel Week: Jeff Smith and Scott McCloud

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May, Mershon Auditorium was predictably only about 2/3 full. The mix in the audience was a little heavy on the 20-50 year-old "cartoonhead" men (Smith's term, not mine), with some kids aged 8-12 (mostly boys, parents in tow) mixed in, and a sprinkling of other
assorted artsy/librariany/teachery/
dragged-along-for-company types.

Scott McCloud tried valiantly to stick to his list of questions, but luckily the conversation was mostly free-flowing.

On Jeff's early years: Jeff Smith moved to the Columbus area in kindergarten, and lived in Worthington growing up. He never really wanted to make comics as a youngster, because that seemed as exotic as wanting to be a movie star.

When did he realize there was an artist behind the comics he read: He knew it all along, at least theoretically, because Walt Disney himself introduced The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday and we all knew that Disney himself was responsible for all the drawing of every Disney character in comic books and film...

How he got started drawing comics as a kid: "I tried to make up characters," as he believes all kids do. (I did. Mine were an ant and a snail.)

Jeff "really did roll up comics and stick them in my back pocket."

His first hero was Pogo.

His first drawing of the Bone cousins was when he was about 6. He drew a character that looked like a phone receiver (some folks in the audience could remember those). The name Phone Bone came later, borrowed from Mad Magazine's Don Martin, whose generic character name was always "Mr. Phone Bone." Smith has met Don Martin, who was pleased with the hidden tribute to his work in Phone Bone's name.

Interesting tidbits for writing teachers: Because the early Bone comics went back to print so frequently, he had (and took) the opportunity to change things he didn't like. By the time all of the Bone comics were collected in the 1300 page black and white book, he had done a ton of revision!

The inspiration for his characters can be found in his life: Thorn's gestures and mannerisms are those of Vijaya, his life partner, and the Bone cousins are all manifestations of different facets of Smith's own personality.

The serialization of Bone in the early years meant that Smith got lots of feedback from readers as he went. He saw that interaction with his readers as vital to the development of the plot.

How have things changed for him since Scholastic came into the picture: "Look -- there are women and kids in this audience." Smith talked at length about the acceptance of comics in mainstream culture in the last five years.

Insider trivia: Check for similarities between Smith's dragon and Doonesbury's Zonker.

What does he read besides comics? The Odyssey, Moby Dick, Huck Finn, Arthurian legends, classical fairy tales...stories that start off seeming like kids' books but that turn dark and complex. All of that reading took place pre-Bone, however. He doesn't read fiction now because he wouldn't be able to enjoy it. Now that he writes extended fiction stories, he feels he would spend all his energy figuring out how the author had constructed the story.

Who was his intended audience for Bone? None. There were no intentions. He wrote Bone "For myself. For adults. For grownup 'cartoonheads.' "'s the book he would have wanted to be able to read when he was 9 -- a "big story in comics." He's thrilled that parents and kids around the globe have claimed Bone for a new generation. And the reason Scholastic got the color version deal is that they really "got it." They knew it needed to be a book on the shelf. (Oh, btw -- book 8 will be out in July!)

The pivot question: Desert island. One collected works: Walt Kelly, Charles Schultz, or Carl Barks? After a bit of hemming and hawing -- Walt Kelly.

Boneville website
Jeff Smith on Wikipedia
Scott McCloud here and here

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Graphic Novel Week

Elsewhere in the Kidlitosphere it's all about Vampires this month, in honor of FirstSecond's Vampire Month.  

Here at A Year of Reading, we are going to veer off on our own tangent by celebrating Graphic Novel Week, with or without the vampires.  

Here's the line-up:

Saturday, May 10 -- Jeff Smith and Scott McCloud will give a talk at Mershon Auditorium as the opener to Smith's exhibit "Before Bone" at the OSU Cartoon Research Library.

Sunday, May 11 -- Mary Lee will report on Saturday's event.

Monday, May 12 -- Franki will review Terry Thompson's new book Adventures in Graphica: Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6.

Tuesday, May 13 -- Franki's interview with Terry Thompson.

Wednesday and Thursday, May 14-15 -- Mary Lee reviews several new graphic novels and ponders how graphic novels have impacted the reading of her students this year.

Friday, May 16 -- Will Graphic Novel Week and Poetry Friday converge?  Stay tuned to find out!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Pick My Chin Up Off The Floor


I have witnesses.
Eight teachers from Tennessee
spent the day observing
in my classroom.

They heard her say it.

They heard the fourth grader say
"Hypothetically speaking..."
as we discussed
the characters
Greetings From Nowhere.

I'm still dumbfounded.

But I have witnesses.
It really happened.

The roundup is by writer2b at Findings.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Fish Who Cried Wolf

The Fish Who Cried Wolf
by Julia Donaldson
illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Arthur A. Levine, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Awhile back we read a bunch of "cry wolf" variations, so I had high hopes for this book.

This is the story of Tiddler, a plain little fish who tells very colorful tall tales. He's late for school almost every day, but he has a great excuse each time. One day, he's so distracted thinking of his new story that he fails to notice the fish net that scoops him up. The fishermen throw him back because he's just a "tiddler." Tiddler is lost in the ocean, but he follows the trail of his stories to get back home again. Not quite a "cry wolf" story, but thought I'd withhold judgment and see what the kids thought.

They couldn't get over how similar the book is to the movie "Finding Nemo." The characters, the plot line, everything. I don't know the movie, so I asked, "Coincidence-similar, or plagiarism-similar?" Similar enough to feel like plagiarism was the verdict of the 10 year-olds on the jury.

And then someone said, "And there isn't even a wolf in it!" *sigh* We had to have yet another discussion about idioms and figures of speech. After we cleared that up, they went on to express their dissatisfaction that the story bills itself as a "cry wolf" story with the title, but it doesn't really follow the formula. (Whew! It wasn't just me!) Then we started brainstorming better titles. The winners were: Tiddler's Tall Tales, The Tale of Tiddler, and (although it was suggested rather sarcastically I think it does reflect their irritation with the apparent extravagant borrowing from "Finding Nemo") Lying Nemo.

So here's a book with great potential that was a bit disappointing, but still sparked a lively conversation!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What To Do About Alice?

What To Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt broke the rules, charmed the world and drove her father Teddy crazy!
by Barbara Kerley
illustrated by Edward Fotheringham
Scholastic Press, 2008
review copy compliments of the publisher

Barbara Kerley's website
Classroom activities for What To Do About Alice

Check out reviews at:
Big A little a
Becky's Book Reviews
Wild Rose Reader
the excelsior file

The topic of my minilesson in reading workshop was "Pay Attention to the Way the Character in Your Book Changes." I led off with Crash, by Jerry Spinelli, and my already-familiar story of staying with that book only because I knew Jerry Spinelli HAD to make Crash, one of the most despicable characters (my opinion) in children's literature, change by the end of the book, and I wanted to be there to see it.

Then I showed them the way Pam Muñoz Ryan clues the reader in to her main character's changes in Paint the Wind by making each section of the book a faster and faster gait of a horse, beginning with walk and ending with gallop. I told them that both of the main children characters in Ryan's book are not very nice to begin with, but that the author shows you their family situations and you understand why they are like that. And they both do change.

Next, I shared The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, which I was in the midst of listening to at the time. I told them about the annoying character Constance Contraire, whose very name even means "always irritating," and how the characters in the book are in the same place as the reader in wondering why she's that way and when she's going to change. (She never does change, and for myself and all the other readers like me who didn't put together the numerous clues we were given, the author explains why at the end of the book. Clever author!)

I ended the minilesson by sharing the story of an amazing, strong-willed, unusual character who doesn't change: Alice Roosevelt, in What To Do About Alice, by Barbara Kerley. We wondered at this remarkable woman's life-long resistance of the status quo, and were amazed by how fully she lived her life from childhood through old age -- always on her own terms.

Then I sent them off to read and to pay attention to the ways their characters did and didn't change.

Later that day, during read aloud (Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor), the topic of characters who change and don't change came up again. But that's another story for another post. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Cardboard Genius

Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius
Gravity Buster: Journal #2 of a Cardboard Genius
Time Twister: Journal #3 of a Cardboard Genius
all by Frank Asch
all from Kids Can Press
(2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively)
all copies compliments of the publisher

Alex is a genius inventor whose journals will someday be worth billions, or so he says. His inventions are all made of cardboard and silver duct tape and stuff he collects "from the street on garbage day" and keeps in plastic bins under his bed. Best of all, most of his designs require only the amount of energy in two AA batteries.

The most amazing thing about this series is that you completely believe in Alex and his inventions. How could you not? He throws around science facts about string theory, creates complicated equations, draws detailed diagrams of amazing inventions like a space ship, a duplicating machine, an oxygen generator, and an Atom Slider (so his cardboard spaceship can pass through the spaces between atoms).

It's almost as much fun to believe in two kids from Frogcreek, PA who have a Magic Tree House as it is to believe in Alex and his inventions. It's MORE fun to believe in Alex and his inventions than it is to believe in Harry Potter -- what's the big deal about a character who can learn spells and swing around a wand? That's pure magic. All fantasy. Alex is a character from our world who has a pesky little brother, a little bit of a crush on Zoe Breen, and, oh, yeah, the most incredible scientific mind in the history of the human race.

In the three books of the series so far, Alex has created Star Jumper, a spaceship; a new, improved version of the Star Jumper which includes a Gravity Buster anti-gravity device so it won't get sucked into black holes; and a Time Twister to take care of the space-time warp that Einstein explained in his Theory of Relativity.

What's next for Alex? Well, when we leave him at the end of book three, Jonathan and the castle he made have been Micro-Blasted and are sealed in a mayonnaise jar that has holes punched in the lid (and it appears that Jonathan was not making up an imaginary playmate named Merlin!). Alex has defeated the Time Cops of the future by using a time paradox to his own benefit, and Alex and Zoe (and Jonathan in his jar) have been in outer space for 9 days looking for a suitable planet on which to land the Star Jumper.

These books would be perfect for 3rd-6th graders who are doodlers and inventors and superhuman geniuses in the disguise of a normal kid. There are about 144 pages in each book, with words like "prototype" and "parallel universe" and "genius of my caliber," and small but important illustrations every few pages.

A Year of Reading in the UK

2008 is The National Year of Reading in the UK. Everything Starts With Reading.

Good ol' Google Alerts.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Poetry Friday -- Work

by Robert Frost

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the leveled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been—alone,

"As all must be," I said within my heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

"Men work together," I told him from the heart,
"Whether they work together or apart."

It's the season of change in our corner of the public school world: retirement parties, grade level changes, voluntary and involuntary transfers, next year's class lists. We've worked together; now we'll work apart.

After 8 years of looping from 4th to 5th grade, spending two years with each group of children, I have come to rest in 4th grade. I'm not quite sure yet how I feel about that: I'm not a sprinter; I do better with long distances and a slower steady pace. As "the looper," I've had an extraordinary amount of autonomy. I've always worked at the edge of my grade level. Together, but slightly apart. This year we tested a couple of models of instruction that required exceptional collaboration and cooperation. Intensely together. (And amazing results.) It was good to come in from the edge.

It's also the season of achievement testing. I can't seem to step far enough back from the testing to see whether the tests are helping us to work together or driving us further apart. I'm not even sure I know who the "us" is -- building? district? state? nation?

But most of all, it's Friday. And no matter what kind of chaos in my life has prevented me from blogging all week, I find that, increasingly, I always have time for a Poetry Friday post. Bloggers work so very far apart, and that, I think, makes the work we do together all the more invaluable. I am SO looking forward to the "tall tuft of flowers" your "scythe" will spare!

The round up this week is at Big A little a.