Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry Friday at the Summerhouse

Every year:
A rented pink cottage full of family,
sand and sun--
Summerhouse Time.
Morning trips to the donut shop,
fish fry dinners, swapping stories--
Summerhouse Time.
Mom and Dad, dancing on the beach.
Sophie and her cousins, riding the waves.
Every year:
Summerhouse Time.

Eileen Spinelli's free verse story of Sophie's family time at the beach has all of the features of a beach vacation with the ENTIRE family. Marital trouble, teen angst, babies, learning to swim, an orange cat, and a first love. Check out Read, Read, Read for another review, and here's another poem about what Sophie is looking forward to, and what you can expect from the rest of the book. Maybe the February weather has me in the mood for sun, sand and surf!

Orange likes
riding in the car.
She falls asleep
on my lap.
I'm too excited
for sleep.
Can't wait
to rent bikes,
to fly kites,
to tell scary stories
around a sparking
driftwood fire.
But mostly,
I can't wait
to see Colleen
and show her my spider necklace
and tell her about Jimmy Gabbiano.
Colleen won't say:
"You're only eleven."
Colleen will understand.

Look to Kelly Fineman for the poetry round up today.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Woolbur Refuses to Follow the Flock

Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? I saw this one on the new book shelf at my public library, and couldn't resist it. I took it home and immediately knew it would be making an appearance in THE PIT!

Since reading it I have seen several other reviews you may want to check this one out at Fuse #8.

Woobur is the proverbial black sheep of the family. He simply refuses to participate in any normal sheep behavior. He likes to run with the dogs, and not shear his wool. Woolbur cards his own wool, creating a newer, fluffier looking sheep, and when it comes time to weave, Woolbur sticks his head in the loom and weaves his forlock into some gnarly braids!

Of course his parents are beside themselves with worry for their son's need to express himself in very unsheeplike ways and it causes them to pull on their wool with worry every night. Woolbur's response to their questions about his behavior is always, "I know, isn't it great?" which only causes them more concern.

The grandfather sheep, who is always seen sitting in a yoga position on some sort of futon thing always responds to Mr. and Mrs. Sheep with a smile and "Don't worry!" Sometimes it's easy being the grandparent, even in the world of sheep.

In the end, instead of conforming to the ways of the flock, Woolbur encourages the flock to change to fit him. Great story, fun, colorful pictures make this an excellent read aloud. Each of the sheep show a different voice, and as I prepare to share it in THE PIT, I can already hear them in my head.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Necks Out for Adventure

When was the last time you read a children's book with wiggleskins as the main characters? I know, the word wiggleskins got my attention too! A new book by the illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux, Timothy Basil Ering, called Necks Out for Adventure is just plain fun.

The sub title of this book is The True Story of Edwin Wiggleskin. It is a story about not being afraid of taking chances, nothing ventured, nothing gained, be your own, and all of the other cliches that having to do with striking out on your own regardless of what those around you believe.

Edwin is a wiggleskin that lives in the bed with the other wiggleskins that live by the motto "necks out to eat, and necks in to hide." Edwin, though yearns for something more and asks the all important question, "What would happen if we flow with the current?" and all of the other wiggleskins laugh, all but Edwin's mother who, as good moms everywhere do, encourages her young Edwin to ignore the crowd, and "Stick your neck out for adventure like you always do!"

Who knew that clams possessed such wisdom and superb parenting skills! However, before you know it, the clam digger, or "a hideous hornly scratcher, a wiggleskin's worst nightmare" comes and takes the whole bed of wiggleskins leaving only Edwin behind. Of course Edwin is frightened, but knowing he has to do something, he shucks his own shell and sets off to find the other wiggleskins.

I don't want to ruin the rest of the story for you, but this is definitely a book worth getting and sharing with kids. They will love the story, the creative language that I've only given you a taste of, and especially Ering's illustrations. You can feel the current of the ocean and smell the hornly scratcher in them.

Flip over the Fuse #8 for a review and some of the illustrations.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Love Literacy Conferences!

This past Saturday was the annual Dublin Literacy Conference here in Dublin, Ohio. There was a wealth of knowledge to choose from – so many choices, so little time!

Sharon Taberski (of On Solid Ground fame, and most recently, A Close-Up Look at Teaching Reading DVD) was the morning keynote speaker. Her topic was “It’s Got to Make Sense: Comprehension Instruction Across the Grades”. Her point of how we must look at, and think about, comprehension instruction across all grade levels in developmentally appropriate ways, hit home with me. She stressed the need for us, as teachers, to make sure we give our students ample time and opportunities to read, to write, and to talk. Taberski really encouraged designing a continuum of comprehension instruction school-wide. How wonderful would that be?!

Then it was off to Session A. I was fortunate enough to hear Jennifer Roy (Yellow Star) speak. The double bonus here for me was that two of my students got to introduce her. They had read Yellow Star before, and were so excited to meet and introduce Jennifer Roy. The talk that Roy gave was both moving and informational. Yellow Star is based on her Aunt Sylvia’s life. I already thought this book was wonderful, and with all the “back” story she provided, it strengthened my appreciation for her storytelling ability.

In Session B, Bill (my Literate Lives buddy) and I presented together. We had a blast sharing picture books and chapter books from 2007, and even a couple from 2008. What was really important here is that we were able to share the many different blogs that had inspired our reading, and then we introduced our blog to the group as well. How fun it was to be articulate about what’s new in children’s literature! It was also fun to have Katie D from Creative Literacy with us in our session -- she's always looking for the best picture books to put in her young students' hands!
** Bonus: Mary Lee from A Year of Reading, presented in the room right before us, so I got to hear the tail end of her conversation about Blogging in the Kidlitosphere. I learned at least 2 new things that I can’t wait to try! Plus, double bonus: I got to meet Megan from Read, Read, Read, who was attending Mary Lee's session!

Next was lunch – the food was yummy, and I got to chat with Brenda Power from Choice Literacy.

Pam Munoz Ryan was the afternoon keynote speaker. Her talk was “Beginnings, Belongings, and My Journey to Books”. Unfortunately I missed her talk, but I heard she was wonderful.

For the last session of the afternoon, I first had to stop by the room Jennifer Roy was presenting in. Two more of my students were introducing her this time. They did a great job! After their introduction, I went to my session with Aimee Buckner (Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook). I had already read her book, and have read many of the articles she’s written for Choice Literacy, but it was fun to meet her in person, and hear her talk. What she shared was very practical, just like her book. I love how she uses the writer’s notebook both as a place for fluency, as well as a tool for learning craft and technique.

To show you how great this conference was, here’s who I didn’t get to see: Jen Allen, Jennifer Holm, Terry Thompson, Melanie Watt, and a host of teachers and educators who presented their best literacy practices.

You can see why I love literacy conferences! I am so invigorated by all I saw and heard this weekend! I am already looking forward to next year!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nonfiction Monday --Oldie but Goodie

I recently received, as a professional courtesy, a copy of the book, This is the Tree, A Story of the Baobab. It was written by Miriam Moss, and was originally published in Great Britain in 2000. Its first American edition was published the same year, but there wasn’t a paperback edition published in America until 2005.

So I chose this book not because it is current, but because it has so many intriguing entry points and can appeal to a wide audience in the elementary years. I also like this book because I learned about something new and fascinating to me – the African baobab tree (also know as the “monkey bread tree”).

The book is written entirely in free verse, and each page contains a picture of at least part of the baobab tree, and all the animal life that finds either food, shelter, or both, in the tree. The verse not only contains great facts, but the language Moss uses is beautiful:
“This is the tree that dances with monkeys,
alive with their leapings
at the end of the day.”

The illustrations are done by Adrienne Kennaway. She illustrates the boabab tree from a different perspective on each page. The tree comes alive in her illustrations – there is much to pause and notice. The animals on each page are a visual delight – kids will love them!

Back to my comment about multiple entry points: If your children are younger, and you would like to introduce them to a wide variety of animals, this is the book for you. If you are doing a unit on Africa, and its plants and animals, this is the book for you. If your children are 5th graders (like mine), and they are currently studying ecosystems, and the interdependence of everything in the ecosystem on everything else, this most definitely is the book for you. If you are teaching a nonfiction writing unit, and you want to have an example of how a writer can use beautiful verse and still share information, this is the book for you. For those of you who like your facts wrapped up in a nice, neat package in one place, this is the book for you – Moss has devoted the last two pages to identifying the critical points of the baobab tree, and gives detailed information about each. If you already own this book, but have just forgotten about it, this is still the book for you.

This is the Tree may be an “oldie”, but it definitely is a “goodie”.

Head on over to Picture Book of the Day for the Nonfiction Monday roundup.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Early Newbery Watch

With the shiney silver and gold stickers just barely attached to this year's award winners, I'm not sure it's appropriate to jump right back in to the Newbery watch fray, but what the heck. The reason I started down this "super reader" path in the first place was to find the winners before they were announced, so I guess it's really never too early. Afterall, if presidential candidates can throw their hats into the ring two years before the actual election, why can't we start throwing titles out a year in advance. Today I'm throwing Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor into the ring.

The main character Addie is from a very broken family. Her father died when she was young, her mother,Denise, is remarried and divorced after having two more little girls. Addie's step-father, Dwight, is the most stable force in her life, and he has custody of her half-sisters. Dwight takes a job in upstate New York and leaves Addie with her mother in a small yellow trailer, in a parking lot near a highway intersection and a train track. It is really the best he can do since Addie's mom has exhausted his savings to the point that he has to sell his home to pay the bills.

Leslie Connor does an excellent job of bringing the reader into Addie's world of a family with enough "twists and turns" to require a road map to find the way home. Addie has a gruff paternal grandfather that doesn't have any use for Denise, but cares for Addie in his own distant way. The neighbors, Soula, a cancer patient, and Elliot, her caretaker, become Addie's surrogate family as Denise leaves her alone more and more as the story goes along. Addie turns to them in their gas station mini mart for support in Denise's absence. Dwight meets a woman, Hannah, who owns the house he is remodeling and she becomes the catalyst for getting Addie out of her harsh environment.

Addie's character evokes sympathy from the reader without being a helpless victim. She is strong and refuses to let her surroundings defeat her. In the end, things turn out well for Addie but, Leslie Connor develops her story so well that it isn't corny or overly sappy, just satisfying.

The language in the book is full of phrases that keep coming back and tieing everything together. Addie is "waiting for normal" and wondering what that is. Her mom is an "all or nothing" kind whether it's her mood, the amount of food in the pantry, or the amount of time she spends in the internet, none of it adds up to normal. Addie and her little half-sister are waiting for the family to be "all to home" together again.

All in all, a great read. I'm still debating on the age level of the book, everything I see says 10 and up. Overall I agree with that, however, there are some themes that I'm not sure all 10 year olds would understand and be comfortable with. I will probably add it to our library and recommend it to the older readers.

For another review of Waiting for Normal head over to Kids Lit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Grand Discussion With Emma Jean Lazarus

Two years ago, our enrichment teacher came to me with an idea for the fifth graders at our school. She wanted to encourage parents to get involved in their children's reading lives using a book that was somewhat challenging and not something that the kids would pick up on their own. The child, and at least one parent, would read the book and we would all meet several weeks later to discuss it over cookies. I offered to help her select a book, and then was so intrigued by the idea of a book group made up of children and adults, I agreed to be part of the evening activities as well.

Our first selection was Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt. We had about 24 participants, and they all raved about the experience. The following year we did 3, one in each grading period. Our crowds have grown to close to 40 people at each Grand Discussion and it continues this week with our second book of the year, Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis, (for a great review go over to Fuse #8).

Although this book may not be as challenging as some of the other books we have chosen, the theme of adjusting to middle school life is one we felt our students and their parents could benefit from. Emma Jean is an extremely gifted child of a single parent due to her father's death. She is highly logical and approaches everything in life from that standpoint; there is very little gray in Emma Jean's world. When the girls in middle school begin to play their middle school girl games, Emma Jean tries to help by using very logical steps in the very illogical world of middle school. What follows is sometimes humorous, sad, confusing, but never boring.

Being the father of a now high school daughter, I could definitely relate to the three sides of middle school girls as the author portrays them. There is Emma Jean, bright and not at all interested in the games middle school girls play, she is way beyond all of that. Colleen Pomerantz who wants to please, and is easily frustrated to tears when she can't fit in with everyone all of the time and Laura Gilroy, the mean girl, who works behind the scenes to keep things stirred up. All three of these girls can be found in middle schools everywhere and Tarshis writes them to perfection.

Just for reference the other books we have used for our Grand Discussions are:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nonfiction Monday

How Strong Is It? A Mighty Book All About Strength
Written by Ben Hillman
Scholastic Reference 2008

The last time the Scholastic Book Fair came to my school in October, I found the book, How Big is It? A BIG Book All About BIGNESS, by Ben Hillman. I was immediately taken by both the setup of the book and the realistic looking photographs. This book could not stay on my current nonfiction book display – my students (both boys and girls) couldn’t wait to get their hands on it!

So, when our latest book fair was in the library, and I found a similar book by Ben Hillman, How Strong Is It? A Mighty Book All About Strength, I had to get it for our classroom library.

The interest for this book builds from the very front cover. On the front you see a photograph of a Hercules beetle holding a barbell, with a medal underneath proclaiming the beetle, “Winner”. Because the photograph is so realistic, I’m still wondering how Hillman superimposed/created two photographs together, but however he did it, it makes for a wonderful, eye-catching visual.

The layout and organization of the book continue to capture the reader’s interest. Since this is a book about strength, Hillman has cleverly put the Table of Contents on quite a fine-looking specimen of a bicep! There are 22 topics Hillman covers, and on the Contents page, each topic comes with a catchy subtitle, frequently using alliteration (example: Rope … Stringy Strands of Strength). These subtitles are not found later on the actual pages, so it’s fun to take a moment to browse the Contents page.

The book has interesting dimensions – 11 1/2 inches by 11 inches. Each topic is on a 2-page spread, with the photograph that Hillman uses/creates covering about 3/4 of those two pages and there is 1/4 left for actual text. The size of the book gives even more “punch” to the pictures. My students are very visually oriented, so this 2-page format quickly draws them in. Hillman uses the same technique with the inside photographs as he did with the cover – somehow he creates a very realistic looking picture for each topic that you know couldn’t have really happened, but it appears that it did. The first example of this on the inside is a Boeing 747 airliner stopped in midair by a spider web. My students see this, and then want to read the text to see how it corresponds with these intriguing pictures!

When the students go to the text, Hillman’s leads draw them in even further. Some examples are: “Gravity sucks” (first sentence about the Black Hole), “Chainsaws are for wimps” (first sentence about Shark Bite), “Don’t tickle that orangutan (first sentence about Primates), just to name a few. The facts that follow in the text are fascinating, and written in a very kid-friendly way.

This book is categorized as a reference book, but it is by far the most interesting reference book I’ve read in a long time!! If you want to encourage more independent nonfiction reading in your classroom or library, this book would be a wonderful addition to your collection. It covers a wide variety of topics, and has facts about the strength of each topic. Hillman uses great comparisons to help the reader understand .

And remember that fine specimen of a bicep I mentioned for the Table of Contents? The Index is also written on the same bicep. Enough said…

Anastasia Suen of Picture Book of the Day is hosting the Nonfiction Monday roundup.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Picks From the Pit

In my first entry I mentioned my Picks From the Pit! The time has now come to reveal my first set of picks, but before that, a little background on the title. Our library has a story area that you can see in the picture above. Previous librarians have referred to it as the "story steps." Those who know me, know that doesn't quite fit with my personality, a little too cutesy, and I began calling it the Story Pit. It has been shortened to just THE PIT! Now when it's time to share books, I tell the classes to "Hit the Pit!"

One of my goals when I took over the library was to be sure that I read to every class, every time they came in. I also knew that I didn't want to start anything that would need to be coninued from week to week. Our school operates on a four day related arts rotation so every fourth day, I pick a new picture book to share with each class. Usually I read the same story to all classes, K through 5, occasionally switching something for the younger kids. Whatever I read, I make a color copy of the cover, and staple it to the wall as sort of a timeline of our reading together this year. Periodically, I will share the titles here with brief summaries, and this is the first installment.

This is the Teacher by Rhonda Gowler Greene is a fun, noisy book with a "This is the House That Jack Built" feel to it. The noisy part of it allows for lots of audience participation, something I always look for in my read alouds. Yes, the Pit gets a little loud from time to time! I started the year with this one to set the tone of the fun we were going to have in the library!

I try to use my read alouds to introduce the kids to some possible Caldecott winners or as we call them, Caldecott Maybes. The first one of these I read was The Cheese by Margie Palatini. If you've ever wondered just why the cheese stands alone in the dell, this book attempts to answer the question. I love the rat in the story, and reading it with a cheese-head hat on my head made it even more fun. The illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are full of new surprises each time you read the book.

For some loud, read aloud fun, I shared Punk Farm on Tour with the kids. The farm animals and the kids in the pit rocked to "The Wheels on the Van." I mean it got LOUD IN THE PIT! and man was it AWESOME!! I just discovered a review of this book over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
and thought you might like to see someone else's opinion of this book.

The most recent Pit selection was Waking Up Wendall by April Stevens. The wake up call moves down Fish Street with each pig being awakened by a different noise, dogs barking (yes I did), tea kettle whistling like a train pulling out of a station (yes I did), a young pig playing his new harmonica (yes I did), and finally a singing pig (yes I did and they thought I was good enough for American Idol!) until Wendall finally wakes up! Simple, fun, noisey, great pictures the perfect formula for a read aloud in the Pit!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Intersection of My Book Club Lives

Recently, three events happened in my Book Club Lives that brought me to an intersection, and while at the intersection, I had an “aha!” moment.

Book Club Life Event #1: Last year, while in my new position of C.S.T. (Curricular Support Teacher), I was inspired by an idea in Jen Allen’s book, Becoming a Literacy Leader:Supporting Learning and Change. She suggested that literacy leaders in buildings should promote adult literacy among staff, and that Book Clubs are a good way to do so. I would get to do my job, and read – this idea was right up my alley! So, the Bailey Book Club began. We have an email group of eighteen, but anywhere from six to nine people show up on a regular basis. We discuss ahead of time what book we would like to read next (our most recent book was The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, and our next book will be The Kite Runner). Then, we all go out and get the book from a friend, a bookstore, or the library. We know what date we need to be finished with the book, and we all gather on that date to discuss the book. Before that date, there are also a lot of side conversations about the book as well – people are just dying to talk about certain parts earlier than the Book Club date. We have built a true community of readers.

Book Club Life Event #2: I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of Franki Sibberson’s and Karen Szymusiak’s latest book collaboration, Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. While the entire book is wonderful and I would highly recommend reading all of it, the section that really caught my attention was titled “Voluntary Book Clubs”. In her classroom, Franki encourages her students to choose books of interest to them, and form Book Clubs to read and discuss those books of interest. There is a large calendar posted in the classroom where each Book Club writes down when they will be meeting; the group is in charge of its own timeframes. This also allows students interested in more than one book club to plan their time appropriately. When each Book Club meets, they have rich discussions, and respond to books in many different ways. They are building a true community of readers.

Book Club Life Event #3: In December, we formed our first Book Clubs of the year in our classroom. I had just finished reading aloud Andrew Clements’ latest book, No Talking. The class had loved the plot of this book, and they especially loved Clements’ use of figurative language. We had many deep, rich conversations about the plot and the language throughout the read aloud. It seemed like a natural transition for me to suggest that they form Book Clubs using other Andrew Clements’ books. Think of all the text to text connections, alone! So, I chose some titles to offer as options, and had my students sign up for a title they were interested in. I collected the books for everyone, handed the books out, printed calendars of meeting times, and then sat back and waited for the lively discussions to begin. I was working very hard to build a community of readers.

Intersection of Book Club Lives: So, as I reflected on all of the above, I had an “aha!” moment. What if I modeled our class Book Clubs after the adult Book Club I belonged to and the Book Clubs in Franki’s room? What if I allowed the students to recommend different books that interested them for Book Clubs? What if they formed their Clubs based on both the book, as well as the social dynamics of the group? What if I gave them a timeframe (last 6 weeks of the trimester), but they decided what day they wanted to meet for their discussion? What if they were responsible for finding the book for their Book Club – using the reserve system at our wonderful Columbus Metropolitan Library, or borrowing the book from a friend, or buying a copy at a bookstore?

A wonderful thing happened when I answered my “what if” questions. My students took ownership of their Book Clubs, and therefore, the Clubs have much more meaning for them. The students come prepared, and their current conversations are rich, and the social dynamics are strong, further enhancing the discussions. Every student was able to independently (or with a parent’s help) find a copy of the book they really wanted to read and discuss with others. They were invested in what they were doing. They were building a community of readers within our classroom. Aha!!

(As a final note, I thought I'd give you an idea of the breadth and variety of the books that were recommended and chosen by students, and currently being read and discussed in Book Clubs: Touching Spirit Bear, A Cricket in Times Square, Tunnels, one of the Snarf Attack series books, The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy, Getting Air, and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. They are a community of readers!)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Barry Manilow and Me

Last Friday night, six friends and I went to see the Barry Manilow concert here in Columbus at Nationwide Arena. We went totally on a lark, but ended up having a suprisingly delightful evening.

As we entered Nationwide Arena, everyone was handed a flyer detailing the concert dates for Manilow’s show in Las Vegas titled “music and passion” at the the Las Vegas Hilton. During the evening, as I listened to Barry Manilow share personal stories, as well as sing a lot of his well-known songs, I couldn’t help but see the passion that he has for sharing his music with audiences. He most definitely is a performer, but he is really trying to share his love for music with people of all ages. The makeup of the crowd would indicate that he is doing his job quite well – male, female, young, old – all were there to enjoy what Barry had to share for the evening. At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with children’s books, and how I might use them in the classroom.

Here’s the deal – Barry Manilow and I have a lot in common (other than the facts that my facial features still have mobility and I can’t sing worth a darn). Both Barry and I have been working in our respective professions for a long time – I am in my 26th year of teaching. We both love what we do. We are both always looking at past material as well as the newest material available to decide what to share with others. And, last but not least, we both have the opportunity to share our passion with an audience on a regular basis. How lucky we are!

As I left Nationwide Arena with my “yaya” friends after the concert last Friday, still singing “Copacabana” (much to my chagrin, it’s Monday and I’m still humming it), I couldn’t help but reflect on my good fortune to be employed at a job I love, sharing books with my “audience” on a daily basis.

Maybe I’ll need to rename my classroom from Room 226 to “books and passion”. Somehow, it seems appropriate.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Gordon Korman Adventure Is Not a Swindle

We are in the middle of our second book fair for the year. As the librarian, I run the fair each day with the help of my aide. Ok, actually it's a team effort between Yvonne and me, just like all other days in the library. Yvonne is only in the library three and a half hours a day, but without her, the place would not run nearly as smoothly as it does. Library aides in schools are an invaluable resource to the kids and teachers. I am now stepping down off of my soapbox to continue with my entry...

We run our bookfair through Scholastic Books. As part of the set up kit we get a DVD of authors and illustrators talking about their books that will available in the fair. They are usually pretty well done and the kids enjoy seeing what the people behind the books look like. For each of the two fairs I have been involved in, I have made it a point to choose one title from the video, read it quickly and then talk it up. The selection for this fair was a new title by Gordon Korman, called Swindle.

I have been a fan of Korman's since reading his On the Run series featuring the Falconer kids. He is extremely talented in writing books that will keep your interest, filled with twists and cliff hangers. He has several series written for elementary kids, including Everest, Dive and Island. Kids love his sense of adventure, and most like a good series that keeps characters alive through more than one title.

Although Swindle is not part of a series, it has still proven to be a favorite with kids. Griffin Bing finds an old Babe Ruth baseball card in an abandoned house. He and his friend sell it to a card dealer who tells them the card is a reprint and only worth $120. Later Griffin discovers that the dealer, S. Wendle, thus the name Swindle, plans to sell the card for a million dollars.

Since he is known as "the man with a plan," and tired of adults taking kids for granted, Griffin goes into action. He recruits 6 of his eleven year old friends to help him break into Wendle's home and steal the card back. It's sort of a fifth grade Ocean's 11 collection of characters, and, as in most of Korman's books, strong male and female characters, making the story interesting to boys and girls. The girls include a mountain climber, a computer expert, and a dog whisperer. The boys include Griffin, the blow torch operator, his best friend who is good at fitting into tight places, and the school bully for muscle.

The book is full of excitement and is hard to put down. As I told the kids, just when you think you have it figured out, the story changes. Just when you think Griffin and friends are going to be successful, something changes and goes a different direction. In the end, there are consequences for their actions, and the kids do not get away with breaking and entering without punishment. As I was reading, I was a bit worried that the book might be glorifying the crime, and sending "the ends justify the means" message, but Korman does a great job of wrapping up and not enocouraging a life of crime.

I recommended this book to most third and all fourth and fifth graders. I did have some parents report that their third graders were having a bit of trouble keeping all of the characters straight. So you may want to keep this in mind when sharing it with kids.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

My very first post

Well, we finally did it! Bill and I met our good friend, Mary Lee from A Year of Reading today to launch our first-ever blog. We are both very excited about this adventure, and really appreciate all the time, effort, and patience Mary Lee used in helping us to get up and running.
So, now that we have a blog, let me tell you a little bit about myself so that you'll have a frame of reference when you read my thoughts and ramblings. I am currently both a 5th grade teacher half-day and a curricular support teacher the other half. When I'm in the classroom, my focus is language arts and social studies. When I'm a curricular support teacher, I help other teachers in my building with their language arts and social studies instruction. This is the second year I've had this job, and I truly love it! Being able to look at language arts and social studies from kindergarten to 5th grade all day long has been a wonderful learning opportunity for me!

Because I think about language arts all day long, it is a natural fit to always be looking at books to help with reading, writing, and word study mini lessons (at least that's what I tell my husband when he knows I've made another trip to Cover to Cover bookstore or another box of books from Amazon arrives at our front door!). The reality is that I truly just love books. I always have, and I always will. I cannot remember a time in my life where there hasn't been a stack of books just waiting for me to read them. I'm an equal opportunity reader, also -- newspapers, magazines, self help, action/adventure, romance, great new adult authors, favorite authors with new titles to read, recommendations from friends, books for Book Clubs, nonfiction, adult series books, professional books, professional journals, travel, and always, always lots of children's books.

I had this great reading life, and then, two years ago, my friends Mary Lee and Franki changed it forever when they started something called a blog, and they named it A Year of Reading. Their sole purpose when they started was to read a great quantity of new books each year with the hope they would have read one of the Newbery winners before the awards were announced in January. Well, they shared their website address with me, I went there, read it, and I was hooked!

Not only did I have access to Mary Lee's and Franki's thinking, there were actually links to other blogs they enjoyed reading. My reading life took on a whole new dimension. Now, not only did I lose track of time at the computer as I navigated from one blog link to another (who needs a home-cooked meal or clean clothes, anyway!), I always had a notebook at my side to write down book titles that seemed like a good read, or books that got a good review from a blogger whose opinion I trusted. So many books and blogs; so little time!

I'm proud to say that this year, because I read their blog and many others, I managed to read 3 of the 4 Newbery award winners (not, mind you, the Winner) and the Caldecott award winner. I owe it all to Mary Lee and Franki -- they got it started, and I wanted to join in on the fun. So, today is the day Bill and I will start sharing about our literate lives.

The best part of all of this is how it plays out in my classroom. There will be many specific posts later about how books play a huge role in my classroom, but let me say that I'm proud that my students are beginning to lead "literate lives" themselves. In addition, I will be sharing more of my own literate life -- thoughts and reviews about children's books and professional books that are having a big impact on my instruction, my thinking, and the learning that takes place in my classroom.

And So It Begins

I can't believe how far I have come as a teacher in the last 5 years! This first entry is the culmination to some incredible growth I have made as a teacher. Let me go back and fill you in, briefly, I promise!

I have been teaching for 24 years, I have been a book lover for a few more than that. My career has been spread between 3rd and 5th grades, the majority at 5th. I have always loved reading and have tried to pass that on to my students every year. About 10 years ago, I set a goal to read all of the Newbery winners from that year. The winner that year was A View From Saturday, by E.L. Konigsburg, one of my favorite authors. Since then I have added not only the winners to my reading lists, but as many of the honor books as I can finish as well. Then, about 2 years ago, I challenged myself to read as many possible winners, before the winners were announced as I could. I didn't get through too many and my success rate was pretty low. Last year I proudly claimed an honor book, Hattie Big Sky, as one I had read pre-awards announcement.

Also about this time I began team teaching with a great friend, Maria, who is one of the best teachers of language arts that I know. My need to read even more for kids was pushed and this year I have read about double what I read last year. I can proudly state that I read 2 of 4 Newbery winners, and 4 of 5 Caldecott winners.

All of this reading was in preparation for a new role I have taken on at my school this year, that of librarian. Some may call what I do media specialist, but I can't really do that, because that would indicate I use a variety of media. My focus is on books, and lots of them! When I began preparing for my new job I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish, you are reading one of them. I wanted to start a blog about books. My colleague Karen came to me asking if I was interested and I jumped at the chance to share the load with someone who knows more about good teaching than I'll ever forget! So on Groundhog's Day 2008, we sat down at a Panera with Mary Lee of A Year of Reading and got started.

Our goal as we write these blogs is two fold, one, we want to talk about good books, I may even throw a bad one in here and there, and two we (Karen mostly) want to help you with ways to use them with your students. Both of us share a love of reading and both of us have a passion for sharing that love with kids. We are both in the business of creating life long readers.

For my part in this adventure I will be reviewing as many books as I can, hopefully you will find my thoughts and opinions helpful in finding good reads for your students. Look for my "Picks From the Pit", a term I'll have to explain later.