Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Reflection as a Parent and a Teacher

A Problem

My youngest daughter, a senior in high school, recently brought home an “F” on a semester exam. She carries a cum well above 3.8, and her quizzes and tests in this class had all been A’s or B’s. That all changed when she took the semester exam, which was supposed to be a common assessment for the three high schools in our district based on state standards.

My first reaction when talking with her was a very normal, “What happened??!!” After a lengthy conversation, I discovered that half of her class failed this exam, also. That certainly doesn’t justify her bad grade, but it made me wonder how well this teacher really knew his students, including my daughter.

Being a teacher, I continued to ponder this situation for days and weeks – how can a teacher be at the end of a semester and just find out that the students’ learning was not where it needed to be? In my reflections, I realized that this is not an issue that my daughter’s teacher has alone. I can think of several colleagues, as well as myself, through the years, that were surprised at the end of a quarter by how low a student performed on an assessment

There has to be a better way to gauge a student’s growth.

A Solution

When I thought of a possible solution, it came to me in phrases. One word – workshop. Another word – conferring. Two more words – strategy groups. Two more words – ongoing assessment.

In my school district, we have a literacy workshop model. This is the structure through which literacy instruction happens on a daily basis. In broad terms, I think of it in 3 parts: 1) the focus lesson, 2) the “work”shop, and 3) sharing. The second part of the model is where I’d like to focus for the purposes of my problem.

During the workshop time, while the students are engaged in a book or writing piece of their choice, or a book club discussion, or doing partner reading/writing, I am quite busy as well. This is the time I check my students’ progress, and see where they are as readers or writers.

One of the ways I stay current with my students is individually conferring with each of them. Sometimes the conference is just a way of “checking in” to see how they are doing. Other times, my conference has a specific purpose based on what I’ve observed before, This conference is a great one-on-one opportunity to check on students’ learning, and to help guide them to the next level.

A key to all my progress monitoring of students is ongoing assessment. Rather it’s administering and interpreting DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessments), OR observing reading and writing behaviors, OR taking a reading/writing status of the class to see where each child is in his/her book or own writing, OR grading a quick check assessment of a strategy to see who understood the comprehension strategy we worked on and who still needs some more support, OR observing students in our read alouds and whole group lessons, I continually gather information about each individual student. This information is what then guides my instruction.

If, through my ongoing assessment, I discover that multiple students are having the same misunderstandings in reading or writing, I utilize my time as wisely as possible, and form strategy groups for additional focused instruction. A small group of students can usually grasp a concept easier than they did when it was presented whole group. This is a time for them to have my attention, and it allows them to really focus on the learning at hand.

I don’t know if my solution would have changed my daughter’s exam grade or not, but I strongly believe in this workshop model. I believe that it is what is in the best interest of our students. It helps both the student and the teacher gauge growth, and if the growth isn’t happening, we, as teachers, can step in and intervene immediately. Not at the end of the semester.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Picks From THE PIT Read Alouds

It's hard to believe, but we're in the last month of school. Things are beginning to wrap up all over the building, and the library is no exception. One thing that is not wrapping up is the fun we're having in THE PIT! I have sort of unofficially decided that Mo Willems may be my favorite read aloud author this year. Three of his title have been shared, enjoyed, and laughed at in THE PIT by all ages, pre school through fifth grade. I could easily add the Pigeon and Elephant and Piggie to Franki's list of books that I love every time I read them. Here are few from the last several months.

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems: The Pigeon is always funny and in this one he shares the spotlight and a hot dog with a very funny baby duck side kick. Mo Willems subtle humor and simple characters make me LAUGH OUT LOUD with my students every time. Check out the Pigeon's website where you can dress a naked mole rat, watch Elephant and Piggie dance, and put your favorite toppings including smelly socks and dirty underwear on a hot dog for Pigeon.

Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash: Roy the cowboy gets a saddle for his birthday. Since he's not really much of a cowboy, he doesn't know what a saddle is for, or even what a horse is. He sets out across the desert searching for a horse, asking everything he sees including a wagon, cactus, pig, crab, sloth and zebra, if they are horse. Each thing gives him another clue to what a horse is until he finally finds a horse for a funny surprise ending.

My Mom is Trying to Ruin My Life by Kate Feiffer: Even though she looks like a perfectly nice mom, the little girl in the story believes she is trying to ruin her life for and loving her! What a nuisance! So the little girl comes up with a plan in which both Mom and Dad end up in jail. Then she realizes how awful it will be without them around and the book ends right and all with a bit "I love you Mom and Dad!" AWWWWW, no, really it's not too sappy and the elaborate plan to rid herself of her parents reminds me of giving a mouse a cookie or a moose a muffin.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A River Ran Wild

I've owned A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry almost since it was first published in 1992. It is the perfect book to help students understand how the introduction of other species, man, and pollution can affect an entire ecosystem or environment.

The environment in this book is the Nashua River in Massachusetts. The initial two-page illustration shows a beautiful, clean river winding its way through lush forests. The text tells us that many, many, many years ago this area was home to bears, moose, deer, hawks, owls, geese, beavers, turtles, and many schools of fish.

On the next pages, we watch as a Native American group of people looks down on the river from atop Mt. Wachusett. The native people went down to settle by the river, and they used the resources of the area, being careful only to take what they absolutely needed.

Then traders came, and they started trading posts. The traders were followed by settlers who started to claim the river as their own, ignoring the rights of the native people.

Then came the great Industrial Revolution when many factories and mills were built along the river, and dumped their debris into the river. This "progress" continued for years as more and more people and more and more industries came to the Nashua River valley. Finally, there came a point where no animals could survive in, or nearby, the Nashua River.

Eventually, an activist named Marion (an ancestor of the chief of the Native American group), started to bring attention to the horrible conditions of the Nashua River. Because of her efforts and grass roots movement, eventually laws were passed and people had to stop polluting.

When people stopped polluting, the river started to get healthy again.

Okay, that is the short synopsis, but the power of the story isn't in just the words and events, but also in the way Lynne Cherry organized and illustrated this book. Each two-page layout represents another period in the "life" of the Nashua River. On the right side, is a beautiful illustration that represents what was said in the text. On the left side, she makes a border of pictures around the text. Each of these pictures reflects another event in how the Nashua River was changed. You could spend a long time just sharing the borders and their importance with students. The life cycle of this river is just amazing!

Another wonderful section of this book is the front inside cover pages. There is a map of what Massachusetts looked like in the 1500's and another map of how it looked in the 1900's. In addition, there is a timeline of the events that happened in the book, starting 7,000 years ago when Indian peoples came through the Nashua River Valley to 1979, when "bass, pickerel, perch, trout, bald eagles, osprey, and great blue heron return to the Nashua."

A River Ran Wild will be a powerful book, both in text and visually, to help my students understand the effect of humans on the environment (both in a positive and negative way).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Great Ecosystem Reading

The second in a short series about good books for my life science unit...

Butternut Hollow Pond by Brian J. Heinz is a book that has been out since 2000 (the Barnes and Noble website lists it as out in 2006), but a teammate introduced me to it several years ago. It is the perfect book for looking at a pond ecosystem, food chains, food webs, and the interdependence of living things within one particular ecosystem. It is a wonderful book to read aloud with students, watching their expressions as they get caught up with the predator / prey incidents.

This picture book divides the day at Butternut Hollow Pond into 5 distinctive times throughout the day: daybreak, mid-morning, noon, end of day, and night. The reader learns a lot about what animals are active at different times of the day.

The story line of this nonfiction narrative is sequential and easy to follow, as the predator on one page becomes the prey on the next. For instance, in one section a pickled frog catches a moth. On the next page, the frog is almost eaten by a water snake, but manages to stay still enough for the snake to pass. But right after that, the frog is eaten by a bass. That is followed by the bass being caught by a fisherman. Quite the food chain, indeed!

I think this book has many different entry points. Younger readers will be fascinated by the beautiful nature, and will be rooting for the five ducklings to NOT get eaten by the snapping turtle. Older elementary students will be able to enjoy the story (and I can testify that they will still be rooting for those ducklings!), but will also be able to analyze the life science aspect of this book. They will be able to find simple food chains within this ecosystem, and they will be able to stretch their thinking to discover possible food webs, as well. The conversation about the interdependence of the living things in this pond ecosystem is powerful.

Learning points aside, Butternut Hollow Pond is quite a lovely book! Starting with the title and front cover, all the way through the close-up illustrations of the animals inside, this is a book to be savored time and time again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Broolyn Nine is a Fascinating Read

While recently look at James Preller's blog, I found a post where he listed his favorite baseball books. He mentioned that he wasn't as familiar with kids' titles and readers began throwing out titles. I saw this book mentioned, and while at my local library in Hilliard found it on the new book table. I picked up and once I got around to opening it, I couldn't put it down. The concept hooked me from the first chapter...uh...inning.

The idea is that the story is told in nine innings instead of chapters. The book opens with the story of German immigrant Felix Schneider playing an early form of baseball in New York in 1845. He stowed away on a ship to come to America to make his fortune and bring his family over from Germany. Felix lives with his uncle, a tailor and runs materials to and from the buyers. He is fascinated with baseball and finds himself watching the New York Knickerbockers team of fireman playing ball wishing he could be part of their game. When fire breaks out he gets involved fighting it and is injured so badly he can't run and play ball any longer. As he recovers, Felix cuts apart what is left of his burned shoes and sews together a crude baseball.

The next inning has his son, Louis, fighting in the Civil War carrying the home made baseball as a good luck charm. The ball is traded for a bat owned by a soldier from Louisville, Kentucky...hmmm...I've heard of that somewhere. Inning three is the story of Arnold Schneider who meets one of baseball's early superstars King Kelly The family saga continues until 2002 when Snider Flint is given a box of baseball memorabilia that includes a crudely sewn baseball and a bat that may have belonged to one of baseball's great early sluggers. Since Snider is recovering from a broken leg experienced while escaping a house fire he has plenty of time to investigate the history of each item for his uncle, an antiques and collectibles dealer.

Alan Gratz does a masterful job of weaving the Schneider family tree into a baseball time line. He follows them through the years of discrimination against Jews in New York when the name changes from Schneider to Snider, through a grand daughter playing in the women's leagues during World War II and a little league baseball game in Prospect Park with a young man struggling to pitch a perfect game. The detail is incredible, and the reader is drawn into this human drama from the first pitch to the last. When I finished the book, I thought of the extra innings that I wish Alan Gratz would have included because I enjoyed his writing style so much.

When the story is over, there are historical footnotes about what is historical in each inning fascinating information, that is woven seamlessly throughout the story.

I'm not sure if I'll put this in the library, there are some themes that may be a bit mature for an elementary school, but I'll definitely recommend it to the better fifth grade readers for their summer reading lists. I completely enjoyed The Brooklyn Nine a Novel in Nine Innings.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Down, Down, Down

I'm in the middle of teaching a life science unit right now. The teaching points are biomes, ecosystems, food chains, food webs, interdependence of living things, and carrying capacity . We don't currently have a science textbook in our school district (which I don't mind), so it makes us focus on finding good quality trade books to share with our students.

In my next few posts, I'd like to share some of the wonderful books my colleagues and I have found that deal very well with this topic of life science.

I recently found Steve Jenkins' newest book, Down Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea. I was initially drawn to this book because of the front cover visuals -- I was familiar with this author/illustrator (he's amazing!), and also because the front cover is so vibrant with color.

Then, I looked inside at the contents and knew I had found another fabulous non-fiction mentor text. Jenkins has taken one topic (ocean), and with each turn of the page, he has us descend further and further down through the water. Each page also contains fabulous illustrations (done in several different mediums), all labeled to help the reader. Along the right side of the 2-page layout, is a bar, which serves as a yardstick for where we are in our descent -- surface, sunlit zone, twilight zone, dark zone, the abyssal plain, and the hydrothermal vents. This is a technique that students could modify to use with almost any topic of their choice.

Then there is the text on each page -- it has amazing facts. I learned so much as I read. And the text is in very kid-friendly language. It would make a great read aloud, but children from grades 3 and up will easily be able to sit down and read this independently. I can envision my 5th graders doing a partner reading, and yelling out repeatedly, "Look at this! This is amazing! Can you believe this?" The information is truly just that good.

At each turn of the page, Jenkins pulls the reader in visually. As we descend through the ocean, we find it darker and darker, yet each living thing just pops off the page.

But, the final reason I just had to buy this book -- Jenkins does a wonderful job explaining the different ecosystems that exist within the ocean. My students will make many connections with what they've already learned and what he shares in this book.

I can't wait to share Down Down Down with my students!!! And if it teaches them a little something in the process, all the better.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An Unnameable Grand Discussion

A while ago I posted this picture of my friend Joyce and I publicizing our third Grand Discussion of the year. Little did we know at the time that slapping a couple of Chipotle bags on our heads would turn into 30 bags of chips and a bunch of salsa, FREE, for our little get together! WOO-HOO, free is my favorite price! Thanks Chipotle!

I chose The Unnameables by Ellen Booraem as our discussion book. The book is one I picked from the Newbery List that Karen and I used for our Looking for Newbery series. I would never have picked this book from the shelf if it hadn't been on the list, and honestly, it took me some time to get into the book. This was a common feeling among students and parents in the months leading up to the discussion. I kept encouraging them to stick with it and about 30 did and showed up for our Grand Discussion. Lots of opinions were expressed as people gathered in the library, most of them were negative. As we began our discussion, I asked that we avoid discussing our opinions until the end after we had discussed the book. The group took a while to warm up, but finally the conversation picked up and it was GOOD! Topics of religion, power, politics, art, values, were all covered and covered equally by students and parents. The adults were very good at listening and responding to the kids with respect for their insight.

As the hour came to a close, I asked if anyone wanted to express their opinion of the book, but no one did. For the first time in Grand Discussion history, Joyce and I had to stop the conversation so we could get out on time. In the end, most everyone agreed that the book was difficult, (a good thing in my opinion), that it was written at many levels, that it was nothing like the kids literature that we grew up with, and that now that we had discussed it at length, it was a good book. All of these things gave Joyce and I a sense of accomplishment and success.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Falling Down the Pages

I love Georgia Heard -- I love her writing and I love her thinking. Her book, The Revision Toolbox, is what I consider a must-have for teaching writing workshop. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to watch her work with kids and then, the next day, listen to her speak to adults -- she is incredibly smart.

So, at a recent conference, when a friend pointed out a book Georgia Heard had recently edited, it immediately made my "must buy" pile. Falling Down the Pages: A Book of List Poems catches the eye at first glance. It is 10 1/4 inches by 5 1/4 inches, and the spine is on the short side. What you don't expect is that the spine is really the top of the book, so that the poems Georgia Heard has collected from various poets literally do "fall down the pages" -- 20 1/2 inches worth of pages, to be exact. There are a few exceptions, but the longer look is very effective.

This is a book intended for children to read. Even the introduction is addressed to them. Heard talks about how we all make lists, but can lists actually be poems? She introduces them to the idea that the poets in this book "meticulously craft their words to create list poems." At the end of the introduction, she invites the reader to jot down everyday things that they notice and try to make a list poem of their own.

She also explains the layout of the book -- it is roughly centered around the school year, from the beginning of the year to the end. Not all the poems are school-related, but they all center around typical occurrences that happen throughout the school year in the lives of children.

As the reader begins to read the poems, the layout of the page will draw them in. It will take a page or two for them to realize there are no pictures in this book. That's right -- no pictures. It is an amazing credit to the poets who contributed to this book that the layout of each poem is where the eye is drawn. The words just flow, and I was fascinated by each page.

Georgia Heard has collected writing in this book from some very talented poets -- Eileen Spinelli, Avis Harley, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Jane Yolen, Terry Webb Harshman, Marilyn Singer, Allan Wolf, Kristine O'Connell George, Elaine Magliaro, herself, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, Heidi Roemer, Kathi Appelt, J. Patrick Lewis, Bobbi Katz, Patricia Hubbell, Valiska Gregory, David Harrison, Sara Holbrook, Heidi Stemple, Lara Anderson, and Liz Rosenberg.

I knew many of the names, but some were new to me, and I will seek out more of their work. I think the same might hold true for children. In my classroom, we spend a lot of time using author's names. I can see that this book might be a platform for me to start to introduce poet's names as well. In our Poetry Friday celebrations, they are often drawn to the poem and don't pay as much attention to the poet who wrote the poem. I will start working on this next week -- I think it would be powerful to have poet mentors.

The list poem is a poetry format that children will be able to understand. I can see this book being a great mentor text for those children who are working on their own poetry in our writing workshop, and might want to try their hand at a list poem.

I'd like to finish by sharing one of the poems. Even though I didn't write it (the very talented Jane Yolen did), I am dedicating it to a certain student in my class who reads this blog regularly and is trying very, very hard to keep the insides of her desk in control this trimester ( you know who you are!!):

"In My Desk (by Jane Yolen)

They've canceled recess,
time to play.
Instead it's
Though all I've got
is junk
in there.
So let them clean it -
I don't care.

Inside they'll find
the insides of a broken clock,"

The poem goes on for a while longer and ends with:

"It's not just
that's old and stale.
I'll do that
cleaning out,
you see
each piece of junk's
my history."

Kudos to Jane Yolen for understanding the minds of those kids with the messy desks!

And kudos to Georgia Heard for compiling and editing such a wonderful book of poetry! Another must have this Poetry Month (and all year long!!) -- Falling Down the Pages.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Underwear Salesman

I have always been a fan of J. Patrick Lewis's poetry, but I didn't start collecting his books in earnest until I heard a colleague of mine (Mary Lee at A Year of Reading) talk recently about how she sometimes has her kids study books by a certain poet on Poetry Fridays or during Poetry Month. An immersion study of sorts, only with one author (or in this case, poet). She really hooked me with that idea!

So imagine how delighted I was to see one of Lewis's newest books, The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse, at a recent seminar I attended. I quickly snatched it up and started reading the poems to myself. As I read, I found that I was chuckling repeatedly, page after page. I knew this was a book I needed to add to my J. Patrick Lewis collection!

From the title page on, Lewis engages in play on words: "jobs for better or verse".

In the poem titled "Exterminator", Lewis writes:
"I come to de-bug
What's under de rug."
Funny stuff, right?!!

Then there's "Garbage Collector":
"Things to do
at work:
  • Smash trash
  • Squish fish
  • Wrap scrap
  • Bind rinds
  • Close nose
Things to do
after work:
  • Hose clothes
  • Lose shoes
  • Shower (hour)
  • Suds crud
  • Quench stench
  • Comb dome
  • Great date"
The succinct use of words (kids would love to try their own 2-word phrases), the rhyming, and the use of possible unknown words are all great reasons for kids to explore this poem.

And, that's just sharing two poems. Each of the other poems is equally delightful for a multitude of reasons.

The illustrations, by Serge Bloch, are done in a variety of mediums and greatly enhance each and every poem. He really captures the essence of each poem. There are 47 poems about very eclectic occupations -- the words and word play are wonderful, and Bloch delivers on each page as well. I've heard that writers and illustrators really never talk with one another about the book, but you would never know that to be the case with this book. Lewis and Bloch have created a well-blended book of poems and illustrations -- words and pictures intricately tied together.

Finally, the book starts and ends with poems talking about a variety of interesting, diverse, and unusual occupations (Bill will happy to know that librarian made the list!), and the fact that there is no hurry for children to decide what they need to be. All those jobs are out there, and just waiting to be found:
"Hey kid, what's the worry?
There's no need to hurry.
You've got your whole life to find out!"
A great message for children who are too often in the fast lane. The Underwear Salesman would be a great book for them to read, enjoy, kick back, relax, and imagine all the possibilities that might lie ahead...

I can't wait to share this book with my class!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Two New Early Reader Series

Last year we moved all of the series that are between a first grade an end of second grade reading level to a special section in the library. Since then, we have been watching the circulation to see if some of the titles need to be weeded out. Many of them are old and sort of dated and the kids just aren't reading them. Still popular are the Magic Tree House, Cam Jansen, Junie B. Jones, and Geronimo Stilton among others. Not so popular are The Secrets of Droon, the Olsen Twins and some Berenstein Bear chapter books. So I've been looking for some new series to replace them and I've found Roscoe Riley and Ivy and Bean two that have been flying off the shelves and have the kids, all ages, asking for more.

Recently I've found two more that I really like and have on order at Cover to Cover, my favorite bookstore.

The first is Andy Shane by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and there are four titles to date. Andy puts up with his friend Delores who is bossy and very smart. The most recent title is called Andy Shane is Not in Love. When a new girl moves into the class, Delores is hoping to get to be her assigned buddy, but instead Andy gets the call. Andy and Lark Alice Bell hit it off immediately and when Andy finds out Lark's dog has puppies, he wants one bad. The puppies are golden labs, and they are all Andy can think of, to the point that he writes LAB inside of a heart on his notebook. Delores thinks they are Lark's initials, and is very jealous. The chapters move along quickly and the vocabulary is perfect for first or early second graders. I've read two in the series and like both.
The second series only has one title out and the second is coming this summer but promises to be a lot of fun for kids. Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet takes place in Hawaii where the author Graham Salisbury grew up. Calvin and his friends are just regular kids living on the islands, but trouble seems to find them. They just happen to be across the street when an older bully character gets in trouble for shop lifting and Calvin can't keep his mouth shut about it so he becomes the target. Calvin's single mom agrees to allow her friend's daughter live with them, so Calvin has to give up his room and move to the storage room in the garage. Calvin's father is a singer who left the family after one hit song and legally changes their last name to Coconut. Lots of action and great characters, including an Army veteran who is Calvin's very cool teacher. I really like the multicultural themes in this book, especially when the new kid moves in and doesn't know anything about the local food like kimchi and shave ice. This book could easily serve as a jumping off point for some research into the Hawaiian culture. I can't wait for Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix this summer. I found this cool video with author Graham Salisbury addressing the children of Hawaii about his new books.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Baseball Great is Good Suspense

Last year one of my fourth grade boys, I'll call him Connor, asked if I had read Tim Green's novel Football Genius. I hadn't but I'm always on the look out for a new sports author so I checked it out. I have to give him credit, Connor found a good one, so I put I bought one and put it on the shelf and it's not in very often.

For those of you that aren't familiar with his story, Tim Green is a former professional football player from the Atlanta Falcons so he knows what he's talking about when he writes football. In fact, the plot of Football Genius involves the Atlanta Falcons. So I was a bit surprised when I saw a baseball book written by Tim Green on the new book shelf at my local library. Since March Madness is over, it is officially baseball season and I like to find at least one baseball book to introduce in the library each year and this one is it.

Baseball Great is the story of a 12 year old baseball phenom named Josh whose father has had success in the minor leagues, but never made it to the big leagues. Early in the book he is let go by his most recent team and the plan is to cover up the firing with a retirement celebration during the season. Due to his frustration, Dad pulls Josh from the middle school team saying it's not good enough and if Josh wants to develop into the pro that everyone predicts he needs to play for a better squad. Josh tries out for and makes the local travel powerhouse called the Titans, even making the team that is two years older than he is. It's convenient also that Josh's father gets a job working for the sponsor, a former body builder Rocky Valentine, that has all of the boys lifting weights and drinking his own supplement, Super Stax.

It's not long before some of Josh's older team mates are introducing him to the pills they take to get stronger, faster. Immediately, Josh is suspicious and invites his friend Jaden, whose father is a doctor, investigate what is going on. Torn between wanting to please his father by becoming the best player he can be, and doing what's right, Josh is forced to make choices that are not easy for an adult, let alone a 12 year old kid.

Tim Green writes sports novels in a way that make them tough to put down. Baseball Great has some exciting baseball action, but the suspense, mystery and drama will keep the reader's attention to the end. Just when I thought I had predicted what would happen, Tim Green threw me a curve to keep me interested.

I'm anxious to share this one with the fifth graders.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Fun Graphic Novel "How To"

I picked up Adventures in Cartooning this past weekend. At a quick, first glance, it looked like it was just another graphic novel. But, on closer examination, this book is much, much more. When I looked more carefully at the cover, I saw phrases like, "how to turn your doodles into dandies", "word balloon", "sound effect", "motion lines". I came to realize that this book was a "how to" for aspiring cartoonists / graphic novelists.

The delight in this book is that the authors/illustrators (James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost) use a very simple plot - knight fighting a dragon - to teach all we need to know to be able to do this ourselves.

The main characters that carry the story are a princess who is trying to draw a comic, the Magic Cartooning elf, a knight (really the princess in disguise), a horse (Edward), and a fire-breathing dragon, who just happens to love candy.

Sturm, Arnold, and Frederick-Frost very cleverly introduce us to the necessity of panels to separate the different ideas, the importance of words with the pictures to help tell the story, thought bubbles to share the characters' thinking, size of font to show different emotions, word ballons placed in order from left to right to show the order of conversation, and sound effects. And they do all of this within the plot of the story.

I think this book will appeal to many students in my classroom. The simple story line, the great illustrations, and the fun how-to for cartoons / graphic novels all add up to huge kid appeal! I anticipate that Adventures in Cartooning will be flyng off the shelf when I introduce it to my class tomorrow. It was a great find!

An additional bonus -- this book will be a great mentor text for students attempting to write/illustrate a cartoon / graphic novel of their own in writing workshop.

It just came out at the end of March 2009, so it is available now. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Carl Anderson, Great Colleagues, and Button Up!

I feel like I haven't blogged forever, but today was a fabulous day, and I just had to share it!

I was fortunate enough to hear Carl Anderson (Assessing Writers) talk today about writing conferences with our students. What an incredibly smart man he is! I took many notes, and can't wait to confer with my students next week -- I'll try to be better at finding the right entry point for a conversation with each person. (If you haven't had an opportunity to read his book, it really is a must read!)

But, not only did I get to hear Carl speak, I got to spend quality time with some other very smart educators, and whenever that happens, it truly energizes me! Franki (A Year of Reading) and Katie (Creative Literacy) were my carpool, and we all talked a mile a minute on our way there. Once we got there, we ran into Stella (My World - Mi Mundo) and Kristine (Best Book I Have Not Read), as well. In addition, three other people I had met at a Mexican restaurant a couple of months ago to discuss Assessing Writers were there -- Mandy, Rita (Katie's mom), and Lisa. We had had great fun having our book conversation with chips, salsa, and margaritas, and learned so much in the process -- it was wonderful to see them again (though the chips and salsa were missing!). Finally, I got to reconnect with an old friend/colleague (Molly) and met a new friend/colleague (Shelly).

The icing on the cake, though, were all the books available for us to peruse. It wasn't quite as good as a trip to Cover to Cover, but there were some wonderful books available, and a lot of new, good poetry. After all, April is Poetry Month! I haven't purchased a new book in over a month, so I was feeling the need to buy, and I did indulge that feeling. :) I'll be sharing some of my new titles over the next few weeks.

The first one that just "leaped" into my hands was a delightful book called Button Up! : Wrinkled Rhymes by Alice Schertle, and illustrated by Petra Mathers. With every turn of the page, we find an article of clothing some child might have: Emily's Undies, Joshua's Jammies, and Jack's Soccer Jersey, just to name a few. What delighted me so was that each article of clothing is telling their story of how the child they belong to uses them and wears them. Great mentor text for perspective and voice!!

We also learn a little about the history of some apparel items. For instance, "Hand-Me-Down Sweatshirt":
"I've been lost and recovered,
been torn and sewn,
been dribbled on, tumbled in,
rained on and blown.

I started out Wendell's
was passed down to May,
she passed me to Karly,
I'm Andrew's today."

As I read the poems out loud to myself, I could envision which students in my class will be drawn to this book when I introduce it to them, and will want to perform it in some way for our Poetry Friday celebrations. I can't wait to see what they they come up with as their share!

This book is a gem, and I will be able to share it with students for many different reasons, but the clincher for me was that one page is titled, "Wanda's Swimsuit". My mom's name is Wanda, it's not a common name, and she hates to swim -- I was meant to buy this book!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lucky Breaks Takes Us Back to Life in Hard Pan

I'll admit it I wasn't a huge fan of The Higher Power of Lucky. I thought it was ok, but I didn't quite get what all of the fuss was about, well, other than the word that launched a thousand controversies. I'll also admit, I was disappointed when it won the Newbery, my favorite that year was Hattie Big Sky, but then, I'm a sucker for historical fiction. So when I saw that the sequel, Lucky Breaks was out, I almost didn't read it, boy am I glad I changed my mind on that.

Susan Patron takes us back to Hard Pan and it's cast of "old desert rat characters" including Miles the boy genius, Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy the future president and Lucky's best friend, Brigitte, Lucky's adopted French mother and cafe' owner, Short Sammy the neighbor who owned the infamous dog Roy and a host of others, that after reading Lucky Breaks, I have come to love and want to read the next installment.

In Lucky Break, Lucky is turning 11 and has big wishes for her birthday. She wants a party with lots of people, she wants a best friend that is a girl, she wants her absent father to contact her, she wishes her best friend Lincoln would stop tying knots.

After getting stuck in a dry well, Lucky gets her big birthday which she shares with Miles and everyone eats stew cooked in Short Sammy's new bathtub.

She meets Paloma who stops by for lunch at the cafe' and they hit it off immediately. The problem is that Paloma lives two hours away with her over protective parents. The two girls figure out a way for Paloma to return to Hard Pan and a friendship is born. Paloma is a perfect sidekick for Lucky, a bit more refined, and less likely to take chances. Lucky brings out the adventurer in Paloma when they go in search of a Hard Pan historical figure with the same name.

Linclon actually uses his knot tying skills to save Lucky from the well and then stops tying them after Lucky is ungrateful. In the end, Lucky realizes that knot tying is part of what makes Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy who he is and who she likes and so he goes back to the tying.

I came to love Hard Pan in this book and may even be able to over look the word that launched a thousand controversies, which Susan Patron uses again...twice.