Saturday, October 31, 2009

CYBILS 2009 - The American Revolution From A to Z

When I agreed to be a panelist for the Cybils nonfiction/informational picture book category, I'm not sure I realized how much work it might entail. However, there is most definitely a silver lining to this extra work -- recently, I arrive home and find packages of books on my front door stoop. Talk about dying and going to heaven!!! Just today I came home after school, and found 3 packages (6 books) waiting for me. I truly appreciate the trouble to which the publishers of the nominated books have gone to make sure the panelists are all able to read each and every nominee. Thanks so much!

One of my finds today was The American Revolution From A to Z by Laura Crawford and illustrated by Judith Hierstein (this review copy is compliments of Pelican Publishing Company). I was immediately drawn to this book for two reasons: 1) I love to see how different authors organize their informational ABC books, and 2) as a 5th grade teacher, I spend some time each year investigating the causes of the American Revolution with my students.

Laura Crawford does a nice job sharing information with the reader. The American Revolution From A to Z is full of good details that will both reinforce concepts about the Revolution, as well as expand the knowledge my students already have.

I'm not sure whose decision it was -- the author, Crawford, or the illustrator, Hierstein, but I thought the lettering of "A is for ..." that introduces each new page was extremely well done, and tied the book together. For lack of a better description, I'll call it a colonial script - it even looks like it was done with a quill pen.

I'm impressed with the manner Crawford has chosen the essential parts of each topic to share, without making the reader feel either overwhelmed or under-informed.

The American Revolution From A to Z will be a great addition to other Revolutionary War picture books I've already collected. It will also be a great mentor text for student writers who want to take a nonfiction topic and write an ABC book about it. This book provides many great examples of how to combine informative text with detailed pictures.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

CYBILS 2009 - One Giant Leap

I actually blogged about One Giant Leap this summer, but since it has now been nominated for a Cybils nonfiction / informational picture book award, and I am one of the panelists, I thought it would be good to bring it to everyone's attention again. What follows is the blog post I published in July, shortly after receiving this book as a gift at a seminar on word study:

I was recently with Franki Sibberson ( Year of Reading) at a seminar she was presenting. During her seminar, she handed out a few mentor texts to support her topic. One such text was the picture book One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh and painted by Mike Wimmer.

This book is amazing on many different levels:
  • The book tells the story of how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in the Eagle while their fellow astronaut, Michael Collins, continued the orbit of the moon on his own in the Columbia. What a phenomenal moment in history!
  • For all of us who watched this unfold on our black and white TVs (and even for those of you too young or not born at the time), this book captures the feelings of worry (would they be ok landing and taking off from the moon), excitement (as Armstrong and Aldrin climbed down the steps of the Eagle and then bounced around on the moon), pride (that NASA has been able to accomplish this feat), and disbelief (how could man be on the moon, or even in outer space).
  • The story is told completely in verse, with amazing language for children to hear and read over and over. This is a book meant to be reread many, many times!
  • The paintings by Wimmer are breathtaking -- they capture the words of Burleigh perfectly.
  • The story gets inside the feelings and emotions of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, and lets the reader know what they were thinking during this monumental moment in history. That technique draws the reader in even more.
  • We are soon approaching the 40th anniversary of this event - July 20, 1969 - so this book is a very timely. One Giant Leap can bring this event alive for an entire new generation.
  • And, on a personal note, in addition to everything else I've listed, this will be a great book to add to the Earth and Moon study I do with my students.
This is a fabulous book, and I am so glad I have it! I have many excellent nonfiction books in my classroom collection, but only a few are like "magnets" to the entire class. I believe One Giant Leap will be another one of those "magnets". I can't wait to share this with my students!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

CYBILS 2009: What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World

If my math is correct, and keep in mind I haven't had to teach it for 2 years or so, there are three titles nominated about Charles Darwin. Now I know this is the bicentennial of his birth, and I know he shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, but I'm still surprised at the number of new picture books about Charles Darwin. He seems a much more complicated figure than can be covered in a picture book, however, What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosalyn Schanzer does a good job of bringing the subject matter down to a kid friendly level.

After a brief introduction to Mr. Darwin, the book begins to look like a graphic novel with short text, entertaining, action filled illustrations and most of the information takes the form of speech bubbles. The book is done in first person with Charles Darwin sharing his observations of his travels through the jungles of South America, Tierra del Fuego, and the Galapagos Islands.

I love the pictures showing his discoveries, especially the section called "The Mystery of the Big Bones." Drawings of his discoveries are shown and then drawings of what the creature may have looked like are superimposed over them. The animals are drawn sometimes in humorous caricatures, like a frightened lizard playing dead, and sometimes more realistic like black lizards and giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.

Overall, I like this one and think kids will too. The info is not too heavy handed and presented with enough humor that it should keep their interest. The fact that it is published by the National Geographic Society lends a good deal of credibility in my opinion.

You can find other reviews at:
Charlotte's Library
Great Kids Reads
Simply Science Blog

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CYBILS - Ron's Big Mission

Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden is the story of Ron McNair, a black man who grew up to be an astronaut, and unfortunately died on January 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded.

But this story is not about Ron McNair, the astronaut. It is far more about Ron McNair, the brave young boy who changed things forever in his town of Lake City, South Carolina. Ron was a youth that liked to frequent the town's public library. He would read everything he could get his hands on that dealt with aviation. But Ron was unlike most patrons of his public library. Because his skin was black, he was not allowed to have a library card and check out books from the library. His reading all had to take place at the library; not in the comfort of his own home.

One day Ron made a stand... literally. He gathered a pile of books on aviation, took them to the front desk, and asked to check them out. When no one would respond to his request, he jumped up on the circulation desk, stood there, and announced quietly to all within earshot that he would like to check out the books. People reminded him that he was black and only white people could check out books. He stood his ground, and eventually the Lake City police and his mother were called.

Despite many people telling him it was impossible to check out books, he stayed determined. He asked why he shouldn't be allowed to check out books like all the other students. In the end, we see Ron walk out of the library with a library card and a pile of books that were important to him; important enough for him to stick up for what he believed was right.

In the Author's Note at the end, the authors say, "This story is a fictionalized account of a real incident in Ron McNair's life." That being said, based on the interviews the authors did, I'm inclined to believe that this version is close to what actually happened.

The illustrator for Ron's Big Mission was Don Tate. The illustrations are reminiscent of some of Kadir Nelson's work, with the oversized heads and the large, expressive eyes.

Watching the Challenger explode is one of those tragedies that I'll never forget -- the disbelief something like that could happen. Ron McNair, along with his crewmates, is truly remembered as a hero. Ron's Big Mission is a little misleading -- it would appear that Ron McNair was a hero long before he ever became an astronaut. Being the person who paved the way for black children and adults in Lake City, South Carolina, to get their own library cards; taking a stand for what he believed was right -- that is when he first became a hero.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

CYBILS 2009: The Day-Glo Brothers

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton was a surprise for me. When I saw it on the list of nominees, I thought, REALLY!? I mean how much of a story could there be behind the neon colors that we all grew up using to make all of our school projects POP! Turns out, it's a pretty interesting story of experiments and accidental discoveries.

The Switzer brothers were opposites in many ways, Bob, the older brother, was a planner, a worker, a goal setter. Joe, on the other hand, liked magic and spent hours teaching himself new tricks to amaze his friend, he was also something of a problem solver.

The combination of Bob's planning and Joe's creativity they built themselves an ultraviolet lamp and discovered that some of the chemicals used at their father used in his pharmacy glowed in the lamp's light. This accidental discovery made them want to discover more, so they went to their local library (I love that part, by the way) and began exploring the glowing properties of different chemicals. All of their experimentation led them to a life of selling and improving their product. Eventually, in Cleveland, OH, they created the Day-Glo colors, tested them on a billboard in Sandusky, OH and VOILA! fluorescent paints were invented.

I like the story of the brothers' mistakes and accidental discoveries. I can see this book being used to teach scientific inquiry in upper elementary classes. It can certainly be used to encourage kids to not give up, but learn from failures.

The illustrations by Tony Persiani are black and white until the brothers start experimenting with the glow properties, and then the book gets brighter and brighter with the neon that seems to be making a bit of a comeback right now. I like the simple black line drawings that remind me of the educational and training cartoons from my childhood.

You can read other reviews at:
Cynsations (author interview)
Fuse #8
Abby the Librarian

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mermaid Queen

The picture book, Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History, by Shana Corey and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham is a wonderful story about Annette Kellerman, a very strong and determined woman. The very first line in the book sets the tone for the rest of the book:

"Annette Kellerman loved to make waves."

On this page, the illustrator, Fotheringham, shows Annette in a bathtub with water and waves splashing wildly out of the tub.

From this first page forward, the reader is guaranteed two things for each 2-page spread: 1) we will find out all the different ways Annette Kellerman "made waves" by learning about both her acccomplishments, as well as some of her failures, and 2) we will visually see the wave pattern on every spread, rather the waves are in the design of clothes, or in the sky, or in the background, or even in the illustrations of water itself. This "wave" theme that both author and illustrator continue is cleverly done, and is very appealing to the senses.

The fact that this is a book about a strong woman is even more reason to like it. Annette's accomplishments help define why she made "waves": overcoming what appears to be an early disability, becoming a strong swimmer, combining her swimming skills with the ballet she loved to watch, moving from Australia to England with her father, trying to swim the English Channel, earning the nickname the "Mermaid Queen", performing in front of royalty in a newly designed outfit considered scandalous at the time (a precursor to the bathing suit), traveling through Europe performing her water ballet, and eventually coming to the United States, where she first scandalized people who saw her in the suit she wore to the beach and performances.

The author, Shana Corey, gives the reader enough information to both educate and entertain during the course of the story. Then, for those readers who are intrigued enough to want a little more information about Annette Kellerman, Corey includes three extra pages at the end with more detailed information on Kellerman's life.

Everything about this picture book is appealing -- the front cover, the topic, the details, the illustrations, and the "wave" theme. Mermaid Queen is a must read!

Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and
Swimsuit History is also one of the books nominated for a Cybils award in the category of nonfiction / informational picture book.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CYBILS 2009: Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie

I read this book the first time several months ago, and really liked it. I was originally drawn to the title because I've been told I bake a pretty mean apple pie myself! OK, OK, I don't like to brag, but it's true, I bake a pretty mean apple pie if I do say so myself. Anyway...this book is about chef Edna Lewis who was a pioneer in the area of utilizing fresh fruits and vegetables when cooking. She was also one of our country's first famous African American chefs.

The book begins in spring when Edna was growing up in Freetown, VA and her family marked the seasons by what was ready to harvest. In the spring it was wild strawberries, wild greens, and sassafras. Then it was summer with honey, cherries, blackberries, peaches, watermelons and tomatoes. Fall brings apples, grapes and wraps up with wild nuts from the trees.

All of nature's treats are preserved and stored for the winter while they are at their freshest. This would be a hallmark of Chef Lewis' gourmet cooking. Ingredients freshened by the sun and nature. As the family eats the goodies through the cold months, the memory of summer and the harvest keep the family warm.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley is a wonderful story about a food pioneer. Done with colorful illustrations and a bit of poetry, the book finishes with some of Edna's recipes and an author's note about her life.

You will find other reviews at:
The Happy Nappy Book Seller

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Fundamentally Savvy Evening

My friend and former 5th grade teammate, Maria, told me this summer about this great independent children's bookstore / teacher store near her in Delaware, Ohio. The bookstore's name is Fundamentals. Tonight, Fundamentals hosted Ingrid Law, the author of Savvy, and Maria suggested that we go. I jumped at the chance to spend time with a friend, support an independent bookstore, and meet an author of a book I enjoyed very much. In my opinion, it was a win-win-win situation.

When I first got to Fundamentals, I was so taken with how bright and cheery it was. Then, I was introduced to Tami, the owner, and I was completely charmed by her. She has an infectious love of books and a need to share that love with others; it is hard to resist. That was evidenced by the young teens who were in the store asking Tami when the next book club would be and what would they be reading. Teenagers that desire to be in a book club -- Tami must be doing something right!

I also got to meet Ingrid Law and chat with her for a while. Another delightful person. She shared with us that she is currently working on her next book -- it is in the revision stage. Ingrid said that she was able to write Savvy in such a relatively short amount of time, that her editor assumed her next book would be done as quickly. Between being a mom and doing the meet and greet author thing for publicity, her time is a little more interrupted than the first time.

However, for all of you Savvy fans (and I admit I'm one of them), Ingrid shared some bonus information about her next book. I don't think any of them are spoilers; just interesting tidbits:
  • The next book is titled Scumble
  • There is a time jump from Savvy
  • Some old characters are back, but new characters are introduced as well
  • Gypsy is now 12 years old
And it wouldn't be an author visit, if I didn't get Ingrid to sign my copy of Savvy as well as take the requisite photo with the author. Since my friend, Maria, is the one that convinced to be part of this evening, she is also in the picture. Maria's in the tan, I'm in the purple, and Ingrid is in the middle, holding my copy of Savvy :).

I look forward to future trips to Fundamentals, and I also look forward to the next installment of the Savvy story -- this was a great evening!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Final Thoughts About KidLit Con

I'm so glad I went to Washington, D.C. for the KidLit Conference this past weekend. Like Bill, I will summarize the highlights for me.

The Library of Congress tour -- I only did the second part which involved spending time in the Children's Section as well as the rare book section. Looking at how children's books have changed over time was truly amazing.

The different panels of bloggers sharing information on Saturday -- So many great ideas were presented. Our good friend, Mary Lee from A Year of Reading, was on one of the first panels we heard (ML is on the far right). She was part of a panel with Melissa Fox (Book Nut), Jennie Rothschild (BiblioFile), and Tricia Stohr-Hunt (The Miss Rumphius Effect). Their particular panel made me think about participating more in Poetry Friday round-ups and Carnival of Children's Literature on a monthly basis. These seem like doable goals for me.

The attorney from the Federal Trade Commission -- She had much good information, but I can rest easier knowing that Bill and I receive very few review copies from authors or publishers, and when we do, we have been good about declaring where it came from. Whew!

Lunch -- Our group braved the rain, and went across the street from our hotel to Crystal City to eat. Our numbers were too large to all fit at one table. I got some great conversation time with Greg Pincus (GottaBook) and Tricia (Miss Rumphius).

Chatting with authors after lunch -- Such a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with authors. I spent time talking with Laurel Snyder. Bill was seriously drooling over one of her books, The Slidy Diner, as a book to read in his "pit". Then, there's the incredibly lovely Sara Lewis Holmes, whose latest book, Operation Yes, is now autographed and in my possession. (And as a side note, she wears the prettiest sweaters!) I also met Joan Holub of Knuckleheads and Groundhog Weather School. I got a mock-up of the latter, but can't wait to receive my actual bound copy. Jacqueline Jules who wrote Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, was there as well. The best part about this is that Unite or Die was nominated in the nonfiction/informational picture book category of the Cybils. Since I am a panelist for this category, I was delighted when Jacqueline gave me my own autographed copy at dinner. I can still be impartial, but I am so grateful for one less book to have to find on my own. Thanks Jacqueline!

After all the author excitement, it was so interesting to hear Greg Pincus (GottaBook) speak. He brought to the front and center how important connections and relationships are to us as bloggers. His story about "being found" is fascinating, and I won't ruin it for him because he has quite the nifty Power Point to go along with the story. He's funny, witty, and reminds all of us to thank people, notice them, and take part in this kidlit world. It all comes back to connections and relationships. I could only think on a small scale of how true that is here in Central Ohio. Without the gentle prodding of Franki (A Year of Reading), and the patient tutelage of Mary Lee (A Year of Reading), I know Bill and I wouldn't even have begun a blog of our own.

Dinner was great, and I will just ditto everything Bill said.

After dinner, we finally managed to have some conversation time with Jen Robinson (Jen Robinson's Book Page) and I coerced her husband into taking a picture of the three of us. Jen is someone I read and follow avidly so it was a delight to finally meet her and chat with her in person.

Sunday -- 7 hours in the car with Bill, my blog partner, reflecting on all we had learned and processing the conference. OK, we talked about other things as well, but that time spent together allowed us to bring some focus to where we want to see Literate Lives going in the near future.

Great weekend for me, thinking and learning, coupled with the opportunity to spend much time with my oldest daughter. The only thing that didn't cooperate was the weather.

Thanks to Pam Coughlan (MotherReader) for organizing such a wonderful event!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Quick Thoughts From DC

So after a day full of learning and a delicious dinner, I had time to process my weekend a bit. Since you heard from Karen already, I thought I'd fill you in on my quick impressions of the weekend.

The Library of Congress is one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen and standing in the middle of Thomas Jefferson's books that started it all was an incredible experience for this history and book nut.

Seeing the history of illustrated books in the rare books department beginning with a book from the 1490s was amazing.

MotherReader puts on a great conference!

I got to put a face to Jen at Jen Robinson and Tricia at Miss Rumphius, two blogs that inspired me to jump into this Kidlitosphere.

I had lunch with Laurel Snyder who wrote Any Which Wall, a very cool time travel book that I read and loved. I also got to see her picture book Inside the Slidy Diner which will be very fun in THE PIT.

Also at the lunch table was Sara Lewis Holmes, author of Letters From Rapunzel and her new book Operation Yes which I haven't been able to get from my local library but will keep trying, I hear nothing but good about it.

After watching over the shoulders of Mary Lee and Karen as people in the conference room tweeted on their Twitters about what was going on, I realized that I may need to involved in the conversation too, watch for me on Twitter soon.

I joined a very fun bunch of people for dinner including Mary Lee of A Year of Reading, my partner Karen and Lara Ivey and Julie Dauksys who have started a new reading consulting business called Grow Up With Books, they even had matching shirts! NO KAREN!

I met and talked with Joan Holub of the book Knuckleheads and picked up a galley of her new book Groundhog Weather School, a fun look at Groundhog's Day, weather, sun and shadows and many other science topics.

Now I look forward to the 7 hour drive home and the discussion Karen and I will have about the conference, Cybils, plans for Literate Lives and so much more.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hello From Washington DC

Well, Bill and I are both currently in Washington D.C., soaking up this city's history, as well as many raindrops! That's right -- it actually had the nerve to rain on us on our one sightseeing day. Good news is tomorrow is supposed to be worse, and Bill and I will be dry and inside attending our first ever Kidlitosphere Conference. We've met some wonderful people already today -- putting a face to Sara Lewis Holmes, and Tricia of Miss Rumphius, and Pam Coughlin, our wonderful organizer and the author of the wildly amusing MotherReader blog, just to name a few.

Actually, Bill is out with the group right now. They went to a restaurant close by. And, no I'm not ditching them. I just haven't seen my oldest daughter, who lives here now, for over 6 weeks, and she and I are headed out for a yummy steak dinner at Morton's instead. The "mom" in me just had to squeeze in every available minute I could with her while I was in town.

I flew out last night, but will be driving back to Ohio with Bill on Sunday. There will be plenty of time for us to plan how we will share about this fabulous weekend with you, as well as start to write some posts about the very wonderful nonfiction/informational picture books that have been nominated for a Cybils award in the same category. Can't wait to start reviewing the books and chatting with the other Cybils' panelists as we narrow the category down to 5 books -- quite the task, don't you think?

Stay in touch. We're going to be pretty busy around here in the near future!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Goblin Finds an Empty Chair in THE PIT

Mem Fox has created a wonderful fairy tale of confusing proportions. Just looking at the cover, the kids predict a creepy, scary sort of story, it is that time of year after all. Once the story is read, however, they are surprised that it is actually just the opposite. The scary green goblin ends up having a kind, caring, helpful heart and isn't creepy after all.

I wasn't familiar with this book at all when I showed up at Cover to Cover last week. Beth handed it to me and I loved it immediately and knew it would be awesome in THE PIT.

The story is fairly simple, really, a goblin who is appalled by his own looks, vows to not show his face to anyone to save them the horror. As he comes to the aid of a family who is experiencing some sort of hardship, he takes great care not to be seen. Of course, all three of them see him and appreciate what he has done for them. At their next meal they leave an empty chair with a place setting of food hoping he will join them.

Mem Fox's words and the illustrations of Leo and Diane Dillon lead the reader right to the edge before leaving them in suspense. The student's faces at the surprise ending are priceless! I wish you could be there to see them. This book is moving right to the top of my Caldecott list.

There is a great video interview with Mem Fox about her two new books here.

Mem Fox reads The Goblin and the Empty Chair.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Things are a bit crazy around here, and I feel like I've neglected Literate Lives for the past couple of weeks. Karen expressed her frustration earlier with the new tech stuff in our district, thank goodness I'm not involved with all of the new progress report stress, everything in the library seems to be working just fine (knocking on wood) but the schedule is pretty full. It's mostly good stuff, but it does take time away from my reading, so I've had nothing to review. The craziness includes taking another class toward my media specialist (really don't like that title) endorsement, planning my summer trips to Boston, the book fair opens Monday, headed to D.C. for the Kidlit Conference, and reading Cybil nominated books! WHEW!

Once the nominations are closed, I think we will be able to start blogging about the books we've read in the non-fiction/informational picture book category, but until then here's a partial list of what I've read so far:

Keep On: The Story of Matthew Henson Co-Discoverer of the North Pole
You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
The Secret World of Walter Anderson
Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau
A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student
Faces of the Moon
The Day Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors
Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals Are Big and Little Animals Are Little

Throw in all of the day to day, family stuff, and I'm whooped! OK, now I'll stop whining and get busy reading something. Thanks for listening!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Junior Library Guild Sale

How fortunate we are here in Central Ohio to have the warehouse for the Junior Library Guild in our community!! We are especially fortunate that the Junior Library Guild opens its doors for one weekend (this past one) in the fall for a big sale, and all books on their shelves can be purchased for $5.00 each -- that's right, $5.00 each.

Here's how wonderful this sale is: while I was there, there were teachers that had driven in from Michigan and Kentucky. There were also teachers/librarians from all over the state of Ohio, as well. Definitely worth the gas money!!

I went to this amazing sale on Sunday, and walked away with 18 fabulous books (I'll let you do the math on how much I spent). I walked up and down the warehouse aisles surrounded by books -- a book-lover's dream!! And, at these low prices, I was able to buy books for specific reasons. Let me give you a quick run-down of my purchases, and why I got them:

1) Purchases for specific students in my classroom -
  • Andy Shane and the Barn Sale Mystery by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (easy to read mystery)
  • Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels by Jamie Michalak
  • Scaredy Squirrel At Night by Melanie Watt (can't believe I hadn't gotten this one yet)
  • The Anne Frank Case: Simon Wiesenthal's Search for the Truth by Susan Goldman Rubin (I have a student who loves all things about Anne Frank and the Holocaust. This looks like a kid-friendly picture book, full of good details.)
2) Purchases for writing workshop -
  • Look at My Book: How Kids Can Write and Illustrate Terrific Books by Loreen Leedy (great mentor text)
3) Chapter books for me and for the classroom -
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (I've already read the ARC, but for $5, how could I pass this up?)
  • Slob by Ellen Potter (it has an Oreo in the title -- it was calling to me, what can I say?)
  • The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick (I have read several blogs about this book, but haven't gotten around to reading it myself)
4) Some great nonfiction/informational picture books -
  • The Fastest Game on Two Feet and Other Poems About How Sports Began by Alice Low (should be a big hit on Poetry Fridays!)
  • Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman
  • You are Weird: Your Body's Peculiar Parts and Funny Functions by Diane Swanson
  • How to Make a Cherry Pie and see the U.S.A. (thanks to my friend, Maria, for this suggestion)
  • Redwoods by Jason Chin (will fit perfectly with my life science unit)
  • Pippo the Fool by Tracey E. Fern
  • Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey
  • Butterflies and Moths by Nic Bishop
  • Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock
  • Ron's Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden

Look for some in-depth reviews of all these books in the upcoming weeks. I'm so excited to be able to add so many wonderful books, especially the nonfiction, to our classroom library. A huge thanks to the Junior Library Guild and their fall sale!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How Do I Deal With Frustration

You know that moment professionally, when you think, "I just can't take on, do, commit to, juggle one more thing? I hit that point 5 minutes ago when I tried to log into our district's new Progress Book to do interims, and it wouldn't let me. I'm home alone right now, so I said a few choice words out loud, and now I need to figure out what my next step is. Do I curl up on my comfy sofa, rent a great chick flick (preferably one that will make me cry buckets of tears) from our cable service, and just quit for the evening? Throw in the towel figuratively? OR, do I suck it up, and figure out what else on my huge laundry list of "to do" items I could tackle next??

I don't know about you, but I would much prefer the former choice. However, I think I'm going to choose the latter. I'm not happy about it, but I need to feel some success, so I am going to choose to move onward and upward.

This morning, I had a great meeting with Katie (Creative Literacy) and Mary Lee (A Year of Reading) about the presentation we're doing together at NCTE in Philadelphia in November. Without giving away the whole presentation, I will say that this moment of utter frustration, 5 minutes ago, made me reflect back to our conversations this morning. We were talking about some global topics, but a teacher's reality in the beginning of every school year is that we need to spend some time reflecting about what our students know, and what we plan to do with that knowledge.

Cutting to the chase, it means:
  • We will give spelling inventories to students and then analyze them to see how we can best help them with their spelling in their writing.
  • We will interview and observe our students in a variety of ways to learn how they interact within our classroom learning environment. If we discover that a student has a difficult time choosing a "just right" book that they are interested in, we need to plan how to best help them learn more about themselves as readers. There are multiple things we do each and every day; things we do because of our observations of students.
  • We will give Developmental Reading Assessments to each of our students and spend hours analyzing what the students' strengths and weaknesses are. This also lets us know how to help each child with his/her reading through strategy groups or individual conferences.
  • We will thoughtfully structure lessons in a way that starts to build a community of readers / writers / thinkers / learners in our classroom.
  • We will look at the data that was compiled before the students got to us. Is there a clue in that data that will allow us to help each student grow?
  • We will prepare interims to allow parents to know where their child stands in all subject areas half-way through the first trimester (**ok, I would do this if the system would let me in**)
  • We will prepare careful, thoughtful conference notes about each child because we know that a solid working relationship with the parents will only assist us in helping each child grow.
  • We will write detailed lesson plans, that will changed on a moment's notice, when we see that the group already understands a concept, or they just didn't grasp what we wanted them to learn. We need to figure out new ways to reach our students.
So, with that kind of list, I need to choose the latter choice from above. I have way too many important things, things that will help children in the long run, to do rather than sulking (and maybe crying) about how technology has let me down.

Thanks for reading my rant tonight. I just needed to get it off my chest.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Cybils and Us

Bill and I are very excited! It just was announced on the Cybils website that we will be joining a great group of people as panelists for the Nonfiction/Informational Picture Book category.

Here's a description of our category :

Kids love interesting non-fiction books. Kids love information books. And the sky is the limit for kids' interests. The Non-fiction/ Information Picture Book category is looking for stunning, visual nominees that capture the curiosity and wonder of children of all ages. From science to art, history to sports, or current events to biographies, if the book has a fresh approach, kid appeal, fabulous illustrations, photography, and will be picked up again and again, please nominate.

Nonfiction/information books will be 48 pages or less and should appeal to the younger reader. The committee will refer to the Library of Congress classification as a guide for determining non-fiction status. Previous winners in this category include Nic Bishop’s Frogs (2008), Lightship by Brian Floca (2007), and An Egg is Quiet by Diana Ashton (2006).

If you have any books you'd like to nominate that fit these criteria, head over to the Cybils website. Bill and I are greatly looking forward to reading the latest in nonfiction/picture books this past year. Stay tuned as we begin to blog about books in this category.