Monday, August 19, 2013

#PB10for10 - 9 days late!! / Also #IMWAYR - on time :)

You know those guests you invite to a party and they perpetually show up late?  Well, when it comes to replying to memes or participating in online events this summer, that would appear to be me, more often than not.  My apologies.

On August 10, Cathy and Mandy hosted #pb10for10 and gathered many rich resources from educators all over the world.  I  had so much fun looking at other people's book lists, that I just had to join in, even though I'm more than a tad embarrassed I didn't make the actual deadline.  But a huge thank you to these ladies for hosting and organizing everyone's post!

The years before this, the 10 books I chose always revolved around one big idea.  This year is sort of the same, but with a small twist -- I have sub-categories of books as well.  The big umbrella my books fall under this year is "Books I Will Share in the First Two Weeks of School." There are 4 sub-categories for these books.  And the books are some old favorites as well as some amazing new favorites.

Picture Books that Help Set Expectations for Classroom Climate / Celebrating our Differences

1) Amazing Faces - poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  The students in my two language arts classrooms this year come from very diverse backgrounds.  Amazing Faces is a book of poetry that shares a variety of faces in different situations.  This will be a great springboard for my students to talk and write about their different ethnic and cultural experiences.  How much richer we will be as class as we discover and celebrate our differences.

2) This is Just to Say - poems by Joyce Sidman.  This book of poetry will be a humorous way to address how we talk to each other as individuals in our community.  Even though the apologies aren't always apologetic and the forgiveness is not really forgiving, through humor, we will be able to set some classroom norms about how we talk in our classroom.

3) Tara and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends - text and photography by Carol Buckley.  This book will be a triple threat: it is a book about animals which is sure to make it a fan favorite, it is non-fiction that is incredibly enjoyable, and it addresses the big idea of how two individuals who wouldn't appear to be the most logical choice for friendship, can really have each others' backs in time of need.  Many life lessons here that we can apply to our classroom community.

4) Crankee Doodle - written by Tom Angleberger. This picture book is just a hoot!  We have two main characters, and one is a huge whiner.  As Angleberger has fun with how the song, "Yankee Doodle Came to Town," originated, we as readers can learn a lot through humor about how not to approach problems and boredom.  The surprise ending is just icing on the cake!

5) Each Kindness - written by Jacqueline Woodson.  Children can be cruel to one another at times, and this book captures that cruelty in a vivid way.  More importantly, sometimes you can lose your opportunity to do the right thing.  This book deals with important issues that crop up in our classrooms, and there is a real feeling of being punched in the gut at the end when the reader realizes there won't be a chance for redemption in this specific instance.  I think this will be a book I come back to time and time again throughout the year.  The message of our actions have consequences is quite clear, and will provide for great conversations.

Picture Books that Tell a Story Through Poetry

6) Moving Day - poems by Ralph Fletcher, and

7) Oh Brother! - poems by Nikki Grimes

Both of these books tell stories through poetry, and would be a great introduction to the concept of novel in verse.  Equally important, both stories have beautiful language embedded within their poetry.  This will be a wonderful way to look at word choice in their own writing.

Picture Books That Promote Gathering Pieces of Life for Future Writing

8) The Matchbook Diary - written by Paul Fleischman.  What a gorgeous book this is!  The illustration by Bagram Ibatoulline are amazing!  But the real gift of this story is how a person can gather artifacts to tell the stories of his/her life.  So many ways to use this story, but my current thinking is that each student will bring in 3 - 5 artifacts of their own history to first orally share with the class and then to capture that same thinking in their writers' notebooks.

Picture Books That Promote Life Science and Word Study

9) How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships - written by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  Symbiotic.  I love that word, and it turns out with our new state standards, it is a word my 5th graders will need to know as well.  Steve Jenkins is a prolific writer of nonfiction so this will be a great way to introduce my classes to him as a nonfiction author.  More importantly, we will begin our word study with a word observation of "symbiotic."  We will notice many things together about this word, and after that, I will read the book.  After reading this book and sharing the unique ways animals form partnerships, we will revisit the word to add more thinking.

10) Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors - poetry by Joyce Sidman.  Joyce Sidman is another poet/nonfiction writer my students need to know.  As teachers, we do a nice job sharing authors of fiction; but I think it is equally important that students are aware of nonfiction authors as well.  In addition, I love how Sidman weaves poetry and nonfiction text together on each 2-page spread.  We will also be doing a word observation of "ubiquitous."  Another great word!  I want students to know from the beginning of the year, that words are important in our classroom.

So there you have it - my very belated #pb10for10.  I wish for you and your students many wonderful reading experiences this year!

Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers for co-hosting the kidlit version of the meme, It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Navigating Early Wonderfully Written

In 2011 Clare Vanderpool surprised most of us who Look for Newbery every year.  Her novel Moon Over Manifest sort of came out of no where to win the medal.  None of the students in our Newbery Club at school had read it because I hadn't included it on any of our watch lists for them to read.  I liked the book, but Clare Vanderpool's second book, Navigating Early, is even better in my opinion.

Set just after WWII Jack Baker is uprooted from his Kansas home after the passing of his mother.  His father, a captain in the Navy, returns home after 4 years at sea in the U.S. Navy and changes everything.  The biggest change is moving Jack to a boarding school in Maine.  Jack is put into a place where he has nothing in common with the other boys.  The students at Morton Hill Academy are not mean to Jack, but when you move in after all the groups and friendships have been formed, and you have very little in common with anyone, it's tough to fit in.

On his first day at Morton Hill, Jack observes Early Auden filling sand bags by the shore as if he is trying to hold back the ocean.  As the story progresses Jack always refers to Early as "the strangest of boys" but they become friends even though Early has some very special abilities.

When a math teacher goes into a theoretical speech about the numbers of pi ending, Early walks out of class, clearly frustrated.  Later when Jack finds him in his workshop room he learns that Early has a clear interest in the number pi and sees a story in the numbers.  He begins to tell Jack the story of Pi, a navigator on a quest.  Jack also learns the big secret about Early, he is the brother of The Fish, a Morton Hill legend and that fact makes the other boys uncomfortable.

Jack and Early come together through conversations about Pi, the music that Early enjoys listening to, and rowing.  Together they work to make Jack a better rower and even build a boat.  Through it all Jack is fascinated by this strangest of boys and reluctantly becomes his friend.

During a week long break Early plans to go on a quest to find Pi, his lost brother, and a 700 pound bear that is threatening hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  When circumstances prevent Jack from spending the week with his father, he joins Early on his quest.  The author alternates between the boys' quest and the adventures of the navigator Pi.  The two mirror each other and Early is sure they will find all of the things he set out to look for because Pi did. 

The set up for the quest is beautifully written giving the reader insight into all of the characters and why they do what they do.  When the boys set out on the quest, the writing becomes exciting and suspenseful with the reader wondering what will happen around the next bend in the trail.  Clare Vanderpool mixes in just enough of Pi's story to remind us where we are going and what we have to look forward to.  The ending part of the book brings it all together allowing all of the characters to discover what it is they needed to discover in order to be happy and have their lives return to order.

I like this book a lot.  I think it will be difficult for a lot of readers and will be recommending it to my best 5th grader readers.  I've been looking for our first Grand Discussion book of the year and I may have just found it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Quiet Ones Might Just Surprise You

As a teacher I've had my share of quiet students.  The ones that are great kids, do their work,  always give their best effort and are kind to others.  They don't really stand out as the leaders or followers, just really nice kids that I knew would be fine and successful in the end.  As the years pass I would hear things from other kids or parents about those quiet ones, how they had blossomed in middle school and were now the class leaders who were involved in everything.  The beauty of it was, in most cases, they were still the same person they were in elementary school, great kids who still were kind to others and took care of those in need.

Our son Steven fits this category.  As an elementary student Steven was a kind and gentle soul.  He followed the rules, laughed often and took care of others.  He wasn't the kid being chosen for the student council or the Choose to Lead program at his school.  He was chosen as student of the month several times and every teacher said the same thing, "He's such a nice boy, concerned for everyone and always happy."  In first or second grade he surprised us all by stepping up for a solo at the winter music concert, and he nailed it, not one bit of nervousness showed.

We saw a glimpse of what was to come beginning in fifth grade when, at the end of the year talent show, he did voice impressions.  The lovely Mrs. Prosser and I knew Steven was funny, in a quiet, witty kind of way, but we had no idea the level of confidence he really had.  He took the stage doing Mickey Mouse, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elmo and his specialty, Donald Duck.  The crowd went crazy and our Steven, our quiet Steven, commanded the stage.

He continued to branch out in middle school, playing various sports, participating in choir and drama and doing well in school.  As we attended events we began to have teachers and coaches begin to say, "Ohhh, you're Steven's parents, what a great kid!" 

It was in high school that we saw Steven really begin to show his true talents.  He continued his sports focusing on his new love, volleyball.  He continued performing in the choir and on stage in the Darby productions, but now he added a new wrinkle, he began taking a leadership role in all of these things.  He was chosen as a captain of the volleyball team, he was elected as an officer in choir and served in the freshman student council.  He began talking of his future plans as a leader at his school.  He had a real vision of what he wanted to accomplish in his four years at Hilliard Darby.

In his senior year, Steven could not have done anymore for his school.  As class president he lead the student body in a way that changed the culture of the school.  Now the lovely Mrs. Prosser and I had teachers and total strangers coming up to us telling us how much they loved Steven and what he had done for his school.  The beauty of it all is that it wasn't just Steven.  He maintained his humility through it all and gave credit to his fellow class officers and those around that helped create an amazing school year for all of the students.   He also kept his kindness, making sure that everyone felt welcome and included in everything,  he was till taking care of others, and laughing a lot. 

At his graduation party his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Cassell looked at the table set up celebrating Steven's accomplishments.  Shaking her head she said, "I never would have predicted this.  I knew Steven was a good boy and would do well, but I never would have thought he would have accomplished all of this.  You must be very proud."  Yes, we are.

On Sunday we will pack Steven up for his freshman year at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, he's moving in a week early as part of a leadership program.  I've known a lot of kids who say they will re-invent themselves in college, become the person they wished they had been in high school.  I don't think that's true of my son, I think he and everyone around him like the person he is.  That doesn't mean he won't try new things, he's never been afraid of that.  It just means that he will continue the progression he's been working on for the last 12 years, being all he can be, and taking care of others.  I know there will be lots of tears shed on Sunday, the lovely Mrs. Prosser, his sister, Meredith, and I will all cry for most of the 2 hour drive home, but in the end we will all be excited to watch what  he does with the next four years.

Watch the quiet ones, they will surprise you.  As my mother used to say, "Still waters run deep."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gordon Korman's The Hypnotists is Action Packed

Frequent visitors to Literate Lives know that I'm a big Gordon Korman fan, in fact, if there was a Gordon Korman fan club I'd be a card carrying member with the secret decoder ring and knowledge of a secret handshake, that's how big a fan I am!  I have liked everything he has written and I know when it has his name on it, kids are going to love it too.  His latest, The Hypnotists, is no exception, it gets you from the start and mesmerizes to the end.  It also leaves you wanting more, which I'm sure we'll get because that's how Gordon rolls.

Jax Opus seems to be just a normal 12 year old middle schooler, dealing with the usual middle schooler issues.  There is one small difference, people are drawn to him and want to do whatever will make him happy.  Oh yeah, and his eyes, his eyes which seem to change colors depending on his mood.  Two events lead Jax to start believing he might have some special ability.  The first is during a basketball game when the best player in the league seemingly does whatever Jax suggest he do.  The second comes during a school field trip when he controls a hypnotist on stage.

Turns out the hypnotist has connections to a man named Elias Mako and the next thing the Opus family knows, Jax is being recruited for a special school for special kids with special abilities.  Turns out, Jax is "mind bender" meaning he has the ability to enter another person's mind and control their actions without them knowing it.  As it turns out he comes from a long line of super mind benders on both sides so he is like a super mind bender.

All of this leads to trouble, with a villain who wants to use the power for evil world domination and the troop of misfit mind benders called the Sandman Guild who are trying really hard not to take advantage of their special gift.  Classic evil versus bad, but trying really hard to be good, stuff.  I loved it!

As usual, Gordon Korman writes in a style that is very kid friendly.  The kid characters in his books are all regular kids with a bit of twist, but the twist is done so that even that is believable.  The adventure and action keep you on the edge of the seat and just when you think you have it figured don't.  I'll be recommending this to all of my 4th and 5th graders and some better 3rd grade readers.  It's just good fun!