Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking for Newbery - The Dark Emperor

It's always fun to follow favorite books of others online. It helps me keep books in my TBR pile at all times. :) So, when Jonathan and Nina at Heavy Medal ran their mock Newbery, and Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman was the almost run-away favorite, I knew I needed to make it one of the books I read during the #bookaday challenge that was happening on twitter during the holidays.

Luckily, Bill and I were headed to Cover to Cover on Tuesday, and my favorite bookstore had one more copy of Dark Emperor. I snatched it up!

This book doesn't fit the picture I have in my head of the kind of book that wins the Newbery award for three reasons: it's poetry, it's nonfiction, and it's a picture book. But when I began to read Dark Emperor, I was overwhelmed by the genius of Sidman's writing, and the layout of the book.

On every left side page of the book, there is a poem featuring a creature of the night. The words are beautiful and leave the reader wanting to read the poem with the gorgeous language again and again. Then on the right hand side, Sidman writes a nonfiction text that further explains information about that specific creature. I'm not a total fan of the darkness of the pictures (however, how could the pictures not be dark when the books has "night" in its title?) , but I believe that to win the Newbery, the text is the only thing the judges look at. If that is true, Sidman's writing is impeccable.

I'm so glad I own Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night if for no other reason that it is one of the most amazing nonfiction mentor texts I have come across in quite some time. What a wonderful book to share with students! I will watch with great interest to see what the Newbery committee thinks!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking for Newbery Day 5: The Dreamer

So Karen and I tossed this one back and forth, and it landed on my stack of books to review for Looking for Newbery. I know it's getting a lot of very positive attention, Fuse #8 chose it as an honor book, and is making short lists everywhere. I know the writing is "beautiful" and even has, ok, I'll say it, dream like qualities. I know it's just the type of book that wins Newbery awards. It's the type of book that I don't like. I guess I just don't get it!

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan is a biography of Nobel winning Chilean political poet Pablo Neruda. I had to look him up to know who he was, so maybe that's part of the reason I didn't get it. The story begins with a boy by the name of Neftali, sick in his bed room, looking out the window dreaming of playing with the other kids and having friends. The dream is interrupted by the clomping of his father's boots and the fear that sound strikes in the heart of Neftali.

The book is a series of dreams being shattered by the father. Neftali's brother, Rodolfo dreams of being a great opera singer, but the father forbids him from singing anymore, even beats Rodolfo when he discovers him singing in the woods. Neftali has a love of words, developed by all of the reading he does due to his sickliness. It frustrates the father who wants his boy to be "robust" and playing futbol with the other boys. Nefatali' love of writing is an embarrassment to his father and culminates in the burning of all of Neftali's notebooks.

Thank goodness for the two characters who encourage the brothers to follow their dreams. Sadly, it's too late for Rodolfo, he succumbs to his father's wishes and becomes a businessman. But for Neftali, his step-mother and her brother, are the support every child should get. They encourage Neftali's talent and his uncle Orlando, who runs a small anti-government newspaper, even publishes some of Neftali's essays. This only serves to anger the father and leads Neftali to publish under the pseudonym of Pablo Neruda to save his father from embarrassment and to protect his own identity for safety.

Interspersed in the book are poetic questions posed by Neftali's imagination. They truly add to the dream like quality of the writing and help to bring the reader into the boy's world. Like I said, beautiful writing, dreamy and all that, but I'm not sure it's all that kid friendly. As Fuse #8 points out, that's not something the Newbery committee has to look at, but maybe they should.

Other Reviews:
The Washington Post

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking for Newbery - The Red Umbrella

I initially read The Red Umbrella this summer when it was recommended to me by one of the very smart ladies at my favorite independent children's bookstore, Cover to Cover. It was a great recommendation -- the characters, the setting, the problems and conflicts all kept me mesmerized from first page to last.

In addition, as I blogged this summer, The Red Umbrella has many layers which allows it to appeal to many audiences. I am amazed that the author, Christina Diaz Gonazalez, is a first time author. She writes about a topic that is close to her heart (the reader should definitely read her author's note at the end) which probably is why the language of the book is so beautiful and compelling, and the situations in the story are so real.

This book challenged my thinking about Cuba since I was born in the mid-50's and was aware in the 60's of our country's perception of Cuba. The Cuba in this story incorporates that thinking, but it is so much more -- it is a beautiful place where proud Cubans lived, willing to stand up to Castro's revolution.

The Red Umbrella got many favorable reviews this year, particularly in the GoodReads Mock Newbery group. It is a book worthy of being mentioned in these Mock Newbery conversations!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking for Newbery Day 3: Countdown

I reviewed this one back in April from an ARC that was making the rounds with the Central Ohio Bloggers and I couldn't say enough good things about it. It was my early favorite for Newbery attention. It got a little from some other places, but seems to have dropped off the lists lately. It's still on my list for a variety of reasons.

I love the way Deborah Wiles presented the subject of the story. She didn't just write a good story, she recreated the mood of the story's time period. I know that some people have been put off by the non-fiction portion of her story, but I loved it. Being a bit of a history buff may help in that regard, but in my opinion it just set the tone for the story of Franny and her family. If I were given the task of teaching about 1962 and the Cuban Missile crisis, I would look no further than this book.

The one thing I would change about my earlier post is the last paragraph where I said that it would be a tough sell in the elementary school. I could not have been more wrong. Once I got it into the hands of the right kids, the book was never on the shelf and the reserve list was always 5 students or so long. It clearly worked with the elementary students.

Other Reviews:
A Year of Reading
100 Scope Notes
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Abby the Librarian

Monday, December 27, 2010

Looking for Newbery - Out of My Mind

I read Out of My Mind last spring and absolutely fell in love with it!! In fact, as soon as I read it, I knew it had to be the final read aloud to share with my class last spring.

I liked so much about it, but I will admit it was mostly the characters that continued to draw me further and further into the book. Melody, with so much in her mind that no one knew about. Mrs. V, the next door neighbor who babysat Melody and was one of the first people to understand how much knowledge Melody had within her. Penny, the little sister who is born perfectly normal and adds a lot of drama to the story. Butterscotch, the pet dog who loves Melody unconditionally. Melody's mom and dad, parents who live a very real life with a less than typical child but who love Melody more than anything. Molly and Claire, the mean and unkind girls who make them so easy to dislike. Rose, the girl who is one of the first students to reach out to make Melody feel included.

The action in the story is equally compelling. The Whiz Kids quiz team and all its drama. Penny's accident. The first time Melody could "talk". Melody having a fit over learning ABCs again. Mom standing up to the doctor who wanted Melody sent away. Mom standing up to the teacher who hadn't bothered to find out what Melody was capable of. All the afternoons with Mrs. V, learning so many new things; the sky was the limit. Melody starting be part of "regular" classes in an inclusion model.

But, the part that "hooked" me from the beginning and never let me go was the lead; the first chapter. This past November, at NCTE, I got to hear Sharon Draper read this part out loud. I had goosebumps, it was so beautiful!

I blogged about Out of My Mind two other times this year. The first was my initial reaction to the book. The second blog post reflected my students' reactions to Out Of My Mind at the end of the read aloud.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Looking for Newbery Day 1: One Crazy Summer

As Karen said in an earlier post, we have signed on for another year of Looking for Newbery here at Literate Lives, and it's time for the fun to begin. Karen and I have been looking at lists and picking the books we need to read and the ones we have already read. At breakfast one morning we came up with a tentative list, but just like all of the Newbery watch lists out there, ours is fluid too.

One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garzia is set in one of the most dramatic years in our country's history, 1968. Three sisters being raised in Brooklyn by their grandmother are suddenly sent to Oakland to visit their mother who walked out on them 7 years before. There father thinks it will be a good experience for them to meet her and spend time with her. Grandma isn't so sure, but off they go, on an adventure that will change them forever.

Fern the youngest, Vonetta the outspoken middle, and Delphine, the oldest and designated caretaker arrive in Oakland and their mother's home. It's clear from the beginning that she doesn't really want them there. She doesn't cook for them, instead gives them money to walk to the nearby Chinese take out place. They are not permitted in the kitchen so they eat the food on the floor. Their first morning their mother puts them out of the house, sending them to the Black Panther People's Center for breakfast and the days activities.

During their daily visits to the People's Center, the girls are exposed to the militant 60s group. Activities include making rally signs and getting local businesses to display flyers for a rally. The girls are instructed in the ways of the Black Panthers. Interesting for me was the fact that in the midst of the indoctrination, the militant group, known for their violent ways, provided a safe place for kids in the neighborhood to hang out during the day. They made sure the folks at the center had breakfast and lunch and provided necessary services for the community. A side of the organization that most of us weren't aware of.

I wish I could say this book had a happy ending, reunion with mom and all that, but at the risk of spoiling something, let me just say it doesn't. The girls get a better idea of who their mom is and why she walked out, they get a lesson in the politics of the day and learn a lot about themselves. I enjoyed the story, I found it informative and fast paced, but I don't think it will make my top 5 for this year's award.

I have talked to several students that have read the book and they enjoyed it. Most were intrigued by the history of the time and it actually spurred their interest in reading more about this time period.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#BookaDay - Holiday Version

This past summer, Donalyn Miller (@donalynmiller on twitter) challenged people to try to read a book a day. Recently, Donalyn decided to bring back the #bookaday challenge, and proposed that she wanted to try to read a book a day over her holiday break and invited others to join in on the fun. I immediately decided it was an event in which I wanted to be a part!

Break and books - what is not to enjoy!! So, my task the past 2 weeks was to start gathering a TBR pile of books for over break. I am in school through this Wednesday, so I will be trying to read a book a day starting Thursday, Dec. 23 - Monday, Jan. 3. Eleven amazing days (not counting Christmas Day) to read to my heart's content.

My TBR pile is divided into 4 parts:
  • Books that were recent Book Fair gifts from some of my students -- Smile, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Human Footprint, Of Thee I Sing, Interrupting Chicken

  • Books recommended by friends: The House on Mango Street, Titanic (the first in a new series by Gordan Korman out May 2011), Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

  • Books that I received at NCTE -- The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester (1st to read), the 2nd book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series (out March 2011), True (... sort of) by Katherine Hannigan (out May 2011), One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (out April 2011), Junonia by Kevin Henkes (out June 2011)

  • Books that are the "hot buzz" when it comes to potential Newbery winners on January 10 -- The Kneebone Boy (this will be a reread), Dark Emperor, They Called Themselves the KKK, A Conspiracy of Kings

I'm so looking forward to my first book on Thursday. I'm starting with The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. What a great start with many wonderful books to follow! As you can see from my list, there's no way I'll get everything read, but I'll sure have fun trying!! And I'm actually going to try to throw in some fun adult books as well. :)

If you'd like to follow what everyone is reading over holiday break in the Book a Day challenge, go to twitter and type in the hash tag #bookaday. People will be listing their books as they read them. I imagine there will be some great titles I will want to add to my already too-large TBR pile.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking For Newbery is Back!

Two years ago, Bill and I started a little segment at the end of December that ran through the announcement of the ALA awards, and we called it Looking for Newbery. It was fun for us to start thinking critically about some of the books we had read that year, and whether we thought they deserved the Newbery Award. We either reviewed, or looked back at a review we already had written, each day for a month leading up to the Newbery.

We had so much fun the first year, we brought it back last year. Once again, we blogged about the books we thought were the best and the brightest of the year. What made last year especially fun (at least for me), was that the book I loved from the start won the award. When You Reach Me was a perfect choice for a winner last year.

So, with all that fun and thinking, Bill and I have decided to announce our 3rd annual Looking for Newbery. The ALA awards are quite early this year (January 10), so we won't have as many posts as the last few years. We will start our Looking for Newbery posts on December 26, and post daily through January 9.

With all the online chatter about the Newbery, it has been easy to stay current with the books that people believe have Newbery qualities. We have combined the thinking from the GoodReads Mock Newbery group, the Allen County Library's mock Newbery list, Heavy Medal's list, and Fuse#8's half-way list.

With only 14 days to post this year, we might not get to every deserving book, but we will sure be trying! :) We hope you will join us starting December 26th as we start our 3rd Annual Looking for Newbery.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ninth Ward Another Good Katrina Survivor Story

I have posted about two Katrina survivor picture books, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson and The Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson, both very well done books. I'm also excited to announce that Kirby Larson will be visiting Bailey for two days in March, she's done some of my absolute favorites, so I can't wait.

Recently as I browsed the Newbery watch lists, preparing for our Bailey Newbery Club and for the Looking for Newbery series at Literate Lives, I ran across a title, Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. It wasn't one I had seen before, so I was intrigued. My friend Maria managed to get her hands on a copy so I borrowed it and read it in between baking cookies this weekend. I liked it a lot!

The main character, Lanesha, an illegitimate child, scorned by her well to do grandparents, lives with the mid-wife, Mama Ya-Ya, who helped birth her. Unfortunately, Lanesha's mother died during child birth and there was no place else for her to go. Lanesha is able to see ghosts, and while she hasn't communicated with many of them, she is very aware of them. This gift, as Mama Ya-Ya calls it causes Lanesha to be an outcast in her school, kids sometimes make fun, but mostly they are afraid of her.

Mama Ya-Ya is a healer, a mid-wife, a believer in "black magic" and spirits based on beliefs held by the slaves from another time. Some may read this and struggle with this theme, but it's necessary to the story, it helps create the mood by revealing a culture that exists in New Orleans and a part of the character. You won't find to many more loving, caring people than Mama Ya-Ya who uses her beliefs and powers to care for Lanesha when no one else will. She begins to have visions, dreams of something bad happening as the hurricane moves closer. Her dreams tell her the hurricane is bad but all will be fine in the end. There's something else that she sees that she won't reveal to Lanesha, it's up to the 12 year old to figure it out on her own.

As the storm moves closer, Lanesha befriends another outcast, TaShon. A boy born premature with a disfigured hand and small stature. He is the target of every bully in school until Lanesha sticks up for him and a strong friendship is formed. The friendship is crucial to the survival of Katrina. As the storm grows closer and stronger, TaShon and his parents head for the Super Dome, which as we all know, was the site of some horrible things during the tragedy.

Author Jewell Parker Rhodes does an amazing job of building the suspense of the storm. It made it difficult to get my cookies finished because I didn't want to put it down. The reader is taken into the home of Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha as Katrina approaches. We are there when Lanesha decides that survival is up to her. We are there as the neighbors party until the last second, ignoring the mayor's call to evacuate either because they don't believe him, or because they don't have a way out. We are there as Lanesha plans to ride out the storm, boarding up windows, cooking chicken, red beans and rice, icing coolers and moving everything up to the second floor of the house. Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya ride out the storm together and come out the other side. TaShon, separated from his parents in the Super Dome comes home and joins them on the second floor.

As we all know, it was after the storm when the worst of the tragedy struck, the levees breaking and the Mississippi pouring into the Ninth Ward. We all saw the pictures of the tragedy that struck the city of New Orleans, Jewell Parker Rhodes spares nothing in her description of the events. I don't want to give anything away, the book needs to be read for that, but I'll just say that it is a story of sadness and hope, a well written survival story.

Other Reviews:
Welcome to my Tweendom
Charlotte's Library
Manga Maniac Cafe

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thinking About 21st Century Learning and Schools

I am currently taking a class that is a year-long commitment - it is sponsored by the smart folks at PLP. Throughout this year, I am reflecting with people all over the country online and in webinars, as well as with my own school cohort.

To prepare for our webinar next week, we have been asked to reflect on an article titled, "Preparing Students and Schools for a Radically Different Future: Ten Trends Will Help Determine Education's Role in the 21st Century." The article was written for USA Today by Gary Marx in March, 2002.

This entire article spoke to me in many ways, but I was probably most drawn to Trend #3 (social and intellectual capital will become the primary economic value in society) and Trend #8 (knowledge creation and breakthrough thinking will stir a new era of enlightenment).

The concept of how important social and intellectual capital is rings quite true for me for a variety of reasons:
  • The idea of collaboration and working in teams - when I look at our work here at PLP, I look at my thinking/conversations/learning with like-minded people recently at NCTE, and how I continually seek out others who are going to help me push my own thinking (and hopefully push their thinking as well) - these are the factors that make me realize how important collaboration is.
  • Using a variety of tech tools - just this morning, I read Franki Sibberson's final reflection on her web 2.0 librarian class. I'm going to need to come back to it multiple times, but my initial thinking is wow! I especially loved how she has now synthesized her thinking about these tools in a way that makes sense for her school - she and her principal have created an amazing plan for their school.
  • This trend also talks about making sure our students leave school with the ability for critical and creative thinking, as well as high levels of curiosity and persistence. So many times, with my own daughters, I watched them play the game of school - memorizing what they needed (I'm actually cringing a little as I write this since I just asked my students to memorize the 50 states because that is a standard), doing homework (that's an entire article in itself), but not having critical skills. I look at what my oldest daughter is required to do now, as a young adult, in her job at a PR firm, and it's all about critical thinking and problem solving and collaboration. How then, can we as educators, do a better job with this?
In Trend #8, the idea of knowledge creation and breakthrough thinking stirring a new area of enlightenment, I was struck by the phrase Marx mentioned, "Does what we learned today trigger any new ideas for you?" One of my cohort members remarked that question could profoundly change the learning of whatever group with which you were learning (students or adults). What a powerful statement!

Today, I also read this thought-provoking article about the purpose of daily lesson plans - the author questions why we aren't planning more globally. It really made me think of this trend as well.

How can we help students make connections across curricular areas to bigger thinking? It makes me think of the work Samantha Bennett is doing in Colorado - a big focus question guides all the learning for part of the year. Learning was far more global and designed to make the students more thoughtful citizens of the world in which they live. I'm sure the planning for that kind of learning is immense, but in education, our goal is to help students be life-long learners, so maybe it's worth the time investment. The only thing I would have to ponder for a while is how I could incorporate my strong belief in choice during workshop with a more global study like that. Most definitely food for thought...

So that is my off the cuff thinking about a very important article. Now I'm hoping you'll think along with me -- if the goals of web 2.0 tools are collaboration, communication, creation, and connecting , I would love to have you share your thinking about this post. We are most definitely smarter as a group!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Two New Funny Books

I've had two laugh-out loud funny books at my house for about the last three weeks; I just couldn't find time to blog about them. Shame on me, because these books really belong in my students' hands ASAP. So, tomorrow I'm taking them to school, and I expect a frenzy of voices telling me that they want to be the first to read these books. So with no further ado, here we go!

Big Nate is back in Big Nate Strikes Again and he is just as funny as the first time!! Between trying to avoid a partner project with his female archenemy, to finding all sorts of hiding places to avoid having Randy pummel him, to being named captain of a fleeceball team that someone names the Kuddle Kittens, to writing and trying to sell Poor Nate's Almanack, Nate is back with great flair. I think my favorite part about Nate is his stream of consciousness that Lincoln Peirce does such a great job of conveying with his thought bubbles and comics. This book will be flying from one person to another in our classroom!

Another recent find is just plain silly and a whole lot of fun -- Amazing Cows: Udder Absurdity for Children by Sandra Boynton. You want some great cow knock-knock jokes - check! You want to learn to speak cow - check! Looking for notes on cow fashion - check! You want to know the story behind the super-hero Amazing Cow - check! These things and much, much more made me laugh and groan, but I sure had a fun time! The play on words to make them "cow-like" will provide many a chuckle!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NCTE Notes - Part 2

So much thinking and reflecting after listening to very smart people present! I will try to touch on some of the highlights from the other sessions I attended.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis talked about inquiry in the literacy workshop. One of Stephanie's first statements and a theme throughout the session was: "We need to teach kids how to be curious and to wonder." What a powerful statement. Comprehension should not be about answering a bunch of questions; it should be about teaching kids to wonder and think. I'm thinking about how that will influence my own thinking in the classroom. My goal will not be to get students to a final answer per se, but rather to have them continuing to ask bigger and bigger questions in their pursuit of knowledge.

Listening to Brenda Power, Gail Boushey, and Joan Moser (friends from Choice Literacy) speak about how to successfully launch a literacy year was very inspiring. Their tips would be important whether you're starting a brand new school year, a new grading period, or even a new week. What are the rituals in my classroom that continue to build community which in turn fosters bigger thinking and risk-taking? I will also be playing close attention to how many minutes I might be talking before students start to exhibit "good-bye" behavior. Gail and Joan also quoted Aimee Buckner: "If conferences go longer than 5 minutes, what will the students remember?" Great quote and food for thought.

I went to a session that was advertised for primary teachers, but I found it very informative as an intermediate teacher as well. Katie DiCesare, Kathy Collins, Cathy Mere, and Ann Marie Corgill talked about the importance of picture books to help students as readers and writers.
  • Katie really got me thinking about how I can be more proactive with online tools in making books accessible to children.
  • Kathy C. had me thinking about how important wordless picture books can be. I loved how she called these books the "great equalizers" full of wonderful language opportunities, with a spotlight on comprehension.
  • Cathy M. opened up the question about what truly is a "just right" book. She also believes in the value of choice for readers. My favorite thing she said was that choice is important, even if students spend too long in a series or read a book with bad writing.
  • Cathy and Katie both impressed me with what they've done with their first graders in KidBlog. I had planned to start KidBlog this week with my students even before NCTE; this just reinforced how important an online community like this can be for children.
  • Last, but definitely not least, Ann Marie talked about how picture books can be the catalysts for academic and social growth. I love her thinking about how to get students to STOP raising their hand; how school is the only place that type of communication takes place. Ann Marie talked about how we need to intentionally teach students how to have meaningful talk.
Finally, Ann Marie ended this fabulous session by reading aloud a powerful picture book, The Little Hummingbird. If you don't know this book, you really have to get it!!

I was enroute to the Orlando airport when MaryLee Hahn, Aimee Buckner, Donalyn Miller, and Franki Sibberson presented about the importance of reading workshop and its components, so unfortunately I missed their session which I heard was just wonderful! However, the wonder of twitter is that many people in that session (including the presenters!) were tweeting prolifically. That made it easier for those of us who couldn't attend these ladies' session to take away some key points (140 characters or less :) ). I would strongly encourage readers to go to twitter and then type in #ncte10. This will show you everything being tweeted during the conference. Since people were tweeting about many sessions, you'll want to look at Nov. 21 and find these ladies' twitter names: @maryleehahn, @frankisibberson, @aimeebuckner, and @donalynbooks.

But, it's not just the sessions that help you grow professionally at a conference like NCTE. It's the conversations you have over breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks that help your thinking and help you stay connected in this incredible community of educators and authors. I had the good fortune to have both lunch and dinner with the incredible Louise Borden. I met with some of my friends at Choice Literacy several times, and Brenda Power who started Choice Literacy, arranged a lovely dinner for the entire group of us. I was also fortunate enough to attend a dinner sponsored by the Macmillan Publishing Company. The food was amazing, and I got to spend personal time with authors such as Barbara O'Connor and Ellen Potter. I name these two wonderful authors because my class started the year with The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara, and we literally just finished SLOB by Ellen Potter. I am delighted to now have in my possession Ellen's next book, The Kneebone Boy!! It might actually be my next read aloud, it's that good! (check back next week for a review ) Good conversations even happen when you're in transit from one place to another: I shared a cab with someone I wasn't following on twitter, but after our cab conversation, that will be changing! Paul W. Hankins is a very smart guy! And to cap off my convention experience, I ran into Barbara O'Connor and Kirby Larson having coffee as I'm walking to the convention center and it ends up being a fun photo op. :)

This is just a sample of the thinking that I've held on to even a week after this amazing event. For more samples of NCTE reflections, check out:

Katie at Creative Literacy (who is WAY more succinct than I am at capturing her thinking - something to which I can aspire!) :)

Cathy at Reflect and Refine (a colleague who always pushes my thinking!)

Julie at Raising Readers and Writers (who was also the winner of this year's Donald Graves writing award!!)

MaryLee at A Year of Reading (I have been learning with this lady since 1986 / what a gift!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NCTE News (part 1 of at least 2)

Being here at NCTE in Orlando has been an amazing experience. If there's one thing I've learned this year it is how important it is to share knowledge. That is the gift of the online community -- NINGs, twitter, FaceBook, blogs, wikis, etc. We need places to share and think together. The sharing and thinking help us all be smarter together. So as I share my experiences and thoughts of NCTE the last few days, please feel free to add your thinking as well.

Ok, I guess I need to back up a little and say that conventions are also a place to have fun as well. If NCTE was going to have a convention at the happiest place on Earth, far be it from me to not enjoy the Disney experience! :) So, the first night we got in, I went with some friends to Epcot to enjoy some rides, food, fireworks, Pooh, Tigger, and shopping for all things Mickey. It was a perfect way to relax, rejuvenate, and giggle a lot!

The first day of the convention, the highlight of my day was the Elementary Section get-together. One of our central Ohio blogger friends, Julie Johnson, from Avery Elementary School in Hilliard won this year's Donald H. Graves Award for outstanding work as a writing teacher. This award annually recognizes teachers in grades K-6 who demonstrate an understanding of student improvement in the teaching of writing. To receive this award in a year when educators are both mourning the loss of Donald Graves as well as celebrating his contribution to writing education is a true gift for Julie. I am soooooo very proud of Julie and this amazing achievement, and I feel so fortunate to have been there when she received this prestigious award.

There is much learning that comes outside the actual sessions that are offered here at NCTE, and dinner Thursday night was a perfect example. I sat at a dinner table with Katie DiCesare, Meredith Melragon, Franki Sibberson, Louise Borden, Mary Lee Hahn, Karen Szymusiak, Stephanie Harvey, and Anne Goudvis. To be part of the conversations at this table was very energizing, both professionally and personally.

I do want to mention at least one session that I attended. My first session was bright and early Friday morning. It was a session that talked about poets and bloggers. I was drawn to this because I have participated in Poetry Friday in the kidlitosphere VERY sporadically, but I truly want to do more. I got to listen to gifted poets like Lee Bennett Hopkins, Pat Mora, Jame Richards, and Marilyn Singer. I also heard some very talented bloggers who are very connected to poetry online -- Tricia Stohr Hunt of Miss Rumphius, Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader, adn Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children.

Fun little tidbit for me -- Lee Bennett Hopkins stopped by here on our blog to comment on my review of his anthology, Amazing Faces. So I introduced myself to him and got a huge hug! How fun! In addition, he introduced me to Pat Mara, the author of one of the poems in Amazing Faces. Marilyn Singer read some poems from her book, Mirror Mirror. I forgot how fun it is to hear a poet read her own words -- I sat there with my mouth literally hanging open as she read. Then, as each blogger shared their commitment to sharing poetry online, it renewed my resolve to be a bigger part of that community. One of my favorite take-aways was when Tricia shared how she believes that scientists and poets look at the world with the same eyes. A fascinating take-away for me as I look at the students in my own class.

What I've shared has not even begun to tap in to this NCTE experience. Stay tuned in the next few days for more!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

5th Grade Newbery Club Off to an Exciting Start

When I was considering moving into the library 4 years ago, I made a list of things I would like to try or accomplish if I got the job. You're reading the number one thing on the list, a blog, and today my friend Maria of Teaching in the 21st Century helped me accomplish another. Since the beginning of my library adventure I've wanted to start a Newbery Club or mock selection of some sort, after all, trying to read the Newbery winner before it's announced is what started me down the road to being a librarian.

Anyway, about two weeks ago Maria and I sat down and hammered out some logistics of the thing, I would take the lead on setting the expectations, communicating with parents, and organizing lists. Maria took the lead on showing the kids the wiki we set up, writing expectations and how comment on each other's posts.

I put together a packet with a parent signature form that clearly spelled out our expectations clearly spelled out, students must read a minimum of two books from assigned books, attend before school meetings roughly every other week, be ready to share what they are reading and write regularly on the wiki. It was stated very clearly that this club was not for everyone, it would involve lots of fairly high level reading and writing. After meeting with the whole fifth grade, I think they actually walked out of the library a little scared, they were very quiet. In fact Super Aid Yvonne even said that to me, "I think you scared them!"

I wasn't trying to scare them, but we only wanted the most serious readers to join us and I made it clear that if they failed to meet the expectations, they would be dismissed from the club. This was not a place to just "hang with your friends" this was a group who was going to be serious about reading good books.

The forms began coming back in and we ended up with 18 kids, a good number, most of them we had predicted would join, but there were a few surprises. Today we kicked it off, 17 of 18 showed up, one was sick. Just let me say this, IT WAS AWESOME! When we took a status of the group, every student had read one book on the list, most had read two and one had read three and is working on the fourth! All were excited about being there, and all worked hard on their first posts as members of the club. It was one of those moments that remind me of why I chose this profession, it was a Grand Discussion good feeling.

Later one of the kids commented that it was just awesome to be in a room of people who love to read, and I'll throw this in for my friend James Preller, it was a boy! WOO HOO!

I look forward to reading the posts and commenting on every one, I look forward to future meetings when we have time to discuss the books, I look forward to introducing Voice Thread to the group as another tool to discuss our reading.

Basically I have only one regret in organizing this group, I wish I had scheduled more before school meetings so we could get together more often.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Touch Blue Provides Another Succesful Grand Discussion

It really never gets old! My friend and colleague Joyce and I always leave the Grand Discussion with a sense of pride and satisfaction. We both agree that it is one of the high lights of our teaching, watching kids and parents get together to enjoy a good book. This time we chose Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord. The story of an island community that took in foster children in order to keep their school open provided engaging and interesting conversation.

Two points of real pride for us, we had between 70 and 80 people at our first discussion of the year, and two other schools have begun having discussions as well. My blog partner Karen wrote about the GREat Discussion at her school, and another school in our district, Wright Elementary, home of Mary Lee, recently hosted their first discussion. I've written about our discussions here several times even providing a "how to" guide which actually has led to a visit from Kirby Larson in the spring! If you've been inspired by posts to start a similar event at your school, let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

In honor of my friend James Preller's efforts to encourage boys to read, I took a picture of all of the dads who came, some with daughters, some with sons. It was great to see so many men there, hopefully our numbers will keep increasing! Reading, it's a guy thing!

Touch Blue Provides

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday Guyku

I spotted this one on the new book shelf and at first didn't really get the title. Then when I took it home and read it, I totally got the title! Guyku by Bob Raczka is a set of haiku written about things that guys like to do, divided by seasons. It's illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds and will be loads of fun for the boys in my library. Here are some examples.


With baseball cards and
clothespins, we make our bikes sound
like motorcycles.


Skip, skip, skip, skip, plunk!
Five ripple rings in a row-
my best throw ever!


Hey, who turned off all
the crickets? I'm not ready
for summer to end.


How many million
flakes will it take to make a
snow day tomorrow?

What great examples of haiku that boys will completely relate to and hopefully it will encourage them to try some of their own.

Poetry Friday at The Writer's Armchair

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sophie Simon Solves Them All

Score another find on the new book shelf at my local library in Hilliard! By the way, I hope all of you Central Ohio friends will support the Columbus Metro Library when you vote on November 2. We are so fortunate to have this great resource, voted number one in the nation, AGAIN, even with their budget cuts and we need to support them. My name is Bill Prosser and I approve this commercial. Now on with my review!

Lisa Graff writes great stuff for older elementary kids, The Thing About Georgie and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower are two of my favorites. I was thrilled to see that she has now written something for earlier readers, I'm thinking late second and third graders, and just like her other stuff, Sophie Simon Solves Them All is good!

Sophie Simon is a child genius, she can't be bothered with everyday kid things like third grade, friends, birthday parties and the like. She's so smart that she could say the alphabet backwards and forwards at age two, the Russian alphabet. She performed open heart surgery on a worm at the age of seven, all five of the worm's hearts! and the list of accomplishments goes on an on.

Her parents, on the other hand, get all of their parenting advice from a doctor on TV who encourages parents to not push their children, let them grow up "well adjusted." Imagine the horror when they discover a college calculus book in Sophie's backpack! They are appalled that their child may not be growing up "well adjusted." The parents are too funny with all of their little pet names for Sophie, all of them food items like wonton, apple crisp, lemon wedge, gum drop, each one funnier than the next.

As the story goes on we find out that all Sophie really wants is a graphing calculator, and we meet her classmates.

Owen Wuu who likes things quiet and orderly but his mother is overbearing and boisterous and always does the opposite of what Owen wants.

Daisy Pete who is constantly tripping over her own feet but is forced to take ballet lessons by her parents the pet store owners.

Julia McGreevy who aspires to be a journalist even though her math professor father wants her to be a mathlete and compete in problem solving competitions.

All four third graders have problems with their parents and all of them have thoughts that maybe they had been switched at birth. They all come together in sort of a perfect storm kind of way with their issues. Sophie, as the smartest person they all know, finds herself at the center of the storm and figures out the solution to all of their problems.

In the end, Sophie ends up with friends, something she doesn't quite know what to do with. It's fun story with twists and turns and humorous interactions. I'll be anxious to see what my younger readers think of it.

Other reviews:
She is Too Fond of Books (Great Blog Name!)
Reader Girls
Emily Reads (Haiku Review)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nonfiction Monday - great Cybils finds + one more!

Last weekend, was the huge Junior Library Guild warehouse sale here in our neck of the woods. Every book cost only $5!! The warehouse was packed with not only books, but librarians and teachers. It was great sport just to watch everyone try to wheel their massive amount of purchases up and down each aisle.

But, this year, I was a little more focused with my own buying. Since I am on the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Panel, and I know that is harder to get publishers to send copies to the panel due to economics, I was looking for some of the books on my category's nomination list. I found three that look very interesting, and then I fell in love with one other but I don't think it is on our list.

Here are the nonfiction picture books from the Cybils nomination list that I brought home:
  • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy -- Even the front cover makes you want to open it; great colors! As I read it, I actually wished I had owned this book two years ago when one of my students, who loved to chew bubble gum, decided to do research on it. This book would have been perfect for her! Factual text backed up by fun, kid-friendly pictures make this book a good fit for a classroom library!
  • Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise --I was hooked by the title and knowing the Klise sisters were at it again! This is a great book about a fascinating woman who led a very full life. A wonderful example of a biography for students, and I really liked that the whole story is told in first person.
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham: This story is told from Susy's (Mark Twain's daughter) viewpoint. It has a very unique layout -- quite a few times in the book, a journal has been inserted with actual words from the actual Susy. I am fascinated by how difficult those smaller journal pages that flip open must have made actually publishing this book. Kerley is such a reliable author, and once agian, Fotheringham's pictures delight -- they make an excellent team!
The final book I found at the JLG Warehouse sale was The Circulatory Story by Mary K. Corcoran and illustrated by Jef Czekaj. I loved the illustrations from the beginning - they made me chuckle, even while learning. When I realized Czekaj had illustrated Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, I realized why his style looked so familiar. This book shares how our ciruclatory system works with great illustrations and wonderful analogies that students will understand. I will definitely be using this text with my 5th graders this year when we study the circulatory in health. It's the best text I've ever seen to help students comprehend what could be a very difficult topic.

As you can tell, it was a great day at the Junior Library Guild sale -- I walked away with some great nonfiction titles to share with my class. What makes it even better is that I feel fairly certain that these are the types of titles that will fly off the shelf once they are introduced.

For more great nonfiction ideas, check out the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Write About Now. To see where the roundup will be each week, check the master list.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

SLJ Leadership Summit 2010

A while back I heard from my friend Franki at A Year of Reading that she was going to attend the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Chicago. She thought I should too, so, along with our fellow Dublin librarian, Beth, we flew to Chicago for the two day event. Adventures were had by all, Beth and I hadn't flown in some time and it took all three of us to navigate the train from Midway to downtown, especially since Franki brought along a suitcase full of books for her next stop, a presentation in Hershey on Sunday.

The theme of the conference of this year was The Future of Reading, which is a little confusing since most of what we discussed is already here and we may already be behind. Such is the world of technology, by the time I make a decision on the direction I should take, I'm too late and the moment has passed me by.

The presenters each had between 15 and 20 minutes and a lot of information went into my brain, in fact, I had to get up and walk around several times to try to process some of the ideas that had my head spinning with questions. All in all it was a productive weekend, the second day better than the first, the three of us from Dublin decided we had enough to talk about and keep us busy for a while. What follows is a list of questions and observations from my days in Chicago.

  • Should we really be investing much into eReaders like Kindles and Nooks, or are they just a transition that may be obsolete in a few years when something far better comes along?
  • Would our students be better served if we went to more up to date data bases and electronic versions of non-fiction books?
  • How does Franki keep track of all of that information on her iPad and iPhone and listen to the speakers!?
  • It's interesting how defensive advocates of electronic books are when someone mentions that they really enjoy the feel and smell of an "old fashioned" bound paper book.
  • It was interesting that the youngest among us, the high school student panel, had not switched over to the eReader yet and weren't sure it would serve their needs. A couple even mentioned that they liked the feel of an "old fashioned" bound paper book.
  • I agree with illustrator Paul Zelinsky that there is something about the art of a picture book that will be lost if the whole thing goes electronic. I also agree with Paul Zelinsky when he thinks that physically turning the pages of a picture book is part of the experience that young readers like.
  • Finally, being with a bunch of librarians in a room for two days is an interesting experience...'nuff said!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A GREat Discussion!!!

I reviewed Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord this summer and absolutely fell in love with the story, the setting, and the characters. A friend of mine from my former school left the comment that Touch Blue sounded like a perfect book for a Grand Discussion (a parent-student book talk). She and Bill (my blog partner here at Literate Lives) have been doing this for several years with great success.

Since being at my new building, the school librarian and I decided to set up similar student-parent conversations of our own called GREat Discussions (see how I know a good idea when I hear it? Thanks Bill and Joyce!).

Anyway, back to my point. Tonight was our first GREat Discussion of the year, and we chose Touch Blue as the book to discuss. Cathy (our librarian) and I brought the treats, and then waited for the people and conversation to come. We were not disappointed by either one!

What transpired tonight was amazing!! We had 33 students and parents totally caught up in all the conversations. Because of the large numbers, Cathy and I decided to pose some questions to everyone, have them talk at their tables, and then come back to the big group and share out the important thoughts and conversations. The students were eager participants from the very beginning. They really drove the conversations, but the parents became more active in the discussions by the end of the night.

Lots of big ideas in the book were covered. A few of the highlights were:
  • the concept of belonging that permeated the story
  • all the foreshadowing on the cover
  • the relationship between Aaron and Tess and the rest of the family
  • why Aaron was so angry
  • Eben's behavior and motivation
  • all of the superstitions Tess had, and how well Cynthia Lord tied them into the story
  • the significance of the Tess catching the blue lobster and the importance of her throwing it back into the ocean
  • what it would be like to be a foster child
  • lots of symbolism -- the Monopoly pieces on the front cover were discussed and it went from there
  • the fun part of the chatter between lobstermen out on their boats
  • Tess gunning the boat at the end
Such rich, rich conversations swirled around the room from person to person. We started at 7 PM and ended at 8:15 PM, but there were several parents and students who could have gone much, much longer.

The beauty of all this are the "take-aways"of the experience:
  • Parents and students sharing a reading experience together. I would bet that there was some conversation within families before we even met for the GREat Discussion.
  • Sharing a book with others makes you appreciate it in a much more deep and meaningful way.
  • Parents were amazed at the depth of the students' conversations. It was great for them to see what kind of conversations children can have in the presence of a wonderful book.
  • Students got to see their parents as readers and participants in a meaningful conversation.
  • Parents coming to us afterward to tell us how grateful they were that they took part in this book talk.
  • Students and parents alike begging to know what the next book for GREat Discussion will be.
As you can tell, our GREat Discussion tonight was a huge success!! I think I speak for Cathy as well as myself when I say that the participants in the discussion tonight greatly enriched our thinking about Touch Blue. We feel very fortunate to have had such a great response from our 5th grade students and parents. Will keep you posted on what the next book will be. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Marathon of a Different Kind

Today, my husband and I followed our daughter, Carrie, around the city of Columbus, watching her and rooting for her as she ran a 26.2 mile marathon. For months before this event, I know she's been in training -- following a course of actions that would allow her to accomplish her goal of crossing the finish line.

Now that I've had a few hours to celebrate her amazing feat, it made me start doing some reflection of my own. I made the connection that this year I'm learning with a team of colleagues in my own building, as well as colleagues across the country as we take part in the PLP (Powerful Learning Practices) activities. Because there's a plan for how we spend time learning this year, I'm engaging in a mental marathon training of my own.

Just like Carrie, there have been suggested activities that will help me achieve my own learning goals by the end of this school year. Like Carrie, I can choose to follow these suggestions or I can ignore them. I think I'll be following her example and actually stick to the game plan.

This month, our PLP group has been asked to utilize the web 2.0 tools that are accessible to us in a way that allows us to continue to connect, create, contribute, and collaborate with others.

Training item #1 - Since this blog is a perfect example of the ability to create, contribute, and connect with others, my first goal will be to a more active participant. I have been very "hot" and "cold" with my participation in the last few months. It's time for me to step up to the plate (I bet my blog partner, Bill, is happy about this goal!). :)

Training item #2 - I recently wrote about my RSS feed, and from that came a perfect example of how collaboration can happen via a blog. As I shared how far behind I am on the blogs I follow, Scott left a comment about how he is suggesting to others that they make their RSS feed their home page. Such a simple idea, but how powerful. Now, I immediately see my RSS feed when I click on Firefox, and I have been much better about reading (and even commenting) on others' blogs. So, by making my own thinking public, I learned from someone else -- a wonderful tribute to Web 2.0 tools!

Training item #3 - I need to figure out how to check in on my delicious account more frequently. I've bookmarked so many great articles; I now need to find out how to go back and spend some time reading those pieces. And to add to that, our small cohort group discovered how to "friend" each other's delicious accounts, so I just recently increased my ability to access smart thinking exponentially. Now, I just need to make the time to explore all these great sites.

Just three goals, but as I become more proficient at utilizing these web 2.o tools, I think it will help me get closer to the finish line for my own mental marathon with PLP this year.

(Thanks to Carrie for the inspiration for this post!)