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Monday, September 5, 2016

Christmas in the Trenches - John McCutcheon

"Wars don't start on battlefields.  They begin in people's hearts.  And that is where they can be ended."

This book was recorded onto an accompanying cd.  I enjoy to hear a male voice read this book and the song that was written is lovely too. 

I liked the art work and the comic strip style of writing in panels and graphic novel style.  It's easy to read independently as students love this style. 

In researching this book, many reviews thought it was not appropriate for kids.  I disagree.  It's not great as a read aloud because of the style, but I think kids enjoy reading about war and will embrace this true story.  The fact that the truce happened in the midst of devastation is a great story and one that is important for kids to read about.

"We need to learn how to wage peace."

Ms. Bixby's Last Day - John David Anderson

As John David Anderson says in the Acknowledgements: this is a quiet book.  I have read other books by Anderson, but I totally agree.  What a great book to end the summer!  A book about one of the 'good ones'.  Everyone who reads this will wish that they had Ms. Bixby as a teacher.  Each of the main characters feels that she is so much more than a good teacher.  She is encourages when students need it most, is quiet where there is nothing to say and she is magically there when they need it the most.  The story is laced with poignant moments that show us Ms. Bixby's character; that she is much more than a fantastic educator that drops Bixbyisms almost on a daily basis.

"There is a long road yet," said Gandolf.
"But it is the last road," said Bilbo.
  The theme of "The Hobbit" is especially poignant.  Ms. Bixby leaves before she is finished reading her favourite novel.  The class is left wondering if the substitute will finish and if he/she will be able to use the same voices for all the characters.  Not likely.  Being a teacher who loves reading aloud and loves certain novels, I felt great empathy for these students.  So sad.  But wait until the end.  Your eyes WILL leak!

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be"

"You don't give up, Brand Walker.  That's what makes you special.  You need to show him that.  Show him what it means to be strong.  Teach him how to not give up."
Brand talks about Steve being brilliant and Topher being a talented artist.  He doesn't feel like he has anything special to offer.  Ms. Bixby helps him see his own special talents.

And finally, I don't think I'll ever turn my nose down at a carnation again, "Carnations get a bad rap, she said, because they are cheaper than roses, but she liked them better because they fight harder.  Roses are quitters - they give up and die before you can even get used to them being around"
I like that Anderson builds on the plot.  We know very little at the beginning, just that Bixby is a favourite teacher who is unable to finish the school year because of a very serious illness.  Through the 3 narrators, Steve, Topher and Brand, we learn the details of the illness and how this teacher had touched the lives of these boys.  Especially touching is Brand's relationship with Ms. Bixby.  His father is disabled and Brand is left to care for himself and take care of the household due to his Dad's accident and depression.  The boys, led by Brand set off on an adventurous day to make Ms. Bixby's dream 'last day' come true.  Chaos ensues.  It reads like a film.  I can totally imagine this becoming a movie in the future. 

I would use this novel as a read aloud at the beginning or end of the year and have students do readers responses.  I would ask students to write about how they would spend their last day. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Librarian of Basra - A True Story from Iraq - Jeanette Winter

Children need to know that fundamentally, people are all the same.  No matter where we live, humans have similar feelings, hopes and dreams.  This a wonderful book to share with younger children.  It illustrates that people in far away places may seem different; they may have different religions and traditions; we are actually all very similar.

This librarian exists.  I'm always interested in stories about librarians, which is why this book stood out.  Beyond the fact that it's about a librarian and she loves her books, its about a fear of war and hope for peace.  We sometimes lose sight of the fact that people in the Middle East do not want to be at war.

This book can also start a discussion about Muslims.  They value education - another universal belief and this too, is important for students to understand.

"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.'" - Alia Muhammad Baker

This book has simple text and pictures, but the content is quite serious.  I would read it to a group of mature grade two students and up.

Sitwe Joseph Goes to School - Twesigye Jackson Kaguri

This is a fantastic book.
We were invited by the school board to investigate African culture and then represent our learning through art work.  This book was listed as suggested reading so that students could be inspired and create.  Another resource listed was the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign.  The local chapter is called Grandmothers to Grandothers.  I invited them to talk to the students.  They were more than happy to come and talk to us.  It was a great visit! The ladies were so informed and passionate.  Their focus is to 'give of ourselves because we have so much to give - so many resources, such a relative abundance of time, so much access so much influence, so much empathy and compassion.'

Sitwe Joseph wants to go to school.  He is determined even though his grandmother can't afford it.  His job is to gather firewood for his family.  Sitwe Joseph wants to become a doctor so that he can care for his Mukaaka (Grandmother).  He hears about an AIDS Orphan School and through his determination he is allowed to go and fulfill his dream.

The Grandmothers brought us a wooden map of Africa with the word Ubuntu on it.  This now hangs proudly in my library.  Ubuntu describes 'compassion; a humanity towards other, a sense of one's own existence being enriched by those around us, and that a person becomes human through their caring and considerate interactions with others.' What a universal concept; one that I would like all students to embrace.  'A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole, and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished.'  This SHOULD be a universal concept, but is not understood as much in the west.  Through our study of these texts, I hoped to show students how Grandmothers in Africa work to provide for their grandchildren but often for other children in a village that may not be related.  Ubuntu is fundamental to the way Africans approach life.  Maybe we can show students in Canada how we can all benefit from this philosophy.

The campaign aims to:

Encourage awareness in Canada about Africa's grandmothers' struggle to raise children orphaned by AIDS, build solidarity amongst African and Canadian grandmothers in the fight against HIV/AIDS and actively support projects that help African grandmothers.

You and your students can learn more about the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Grandmothers to Grandmothers at:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Revisiting Global Communities

There are so many books out there right now that celebrate Global Communities in an easy to understand and respectful way.  We are teaching this way better than we used to with better resources.  Gone are the days that 7 year olds have to discipher text that is beyond their comprehension.  These books are easy to read and understand with engaging pictures and links to further information.  This entry will introduce some that I use in the library with small groups, for read alouds and books that can be a part of your classroom library all year long.

My Librarian is a Camel - How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World  - Margriet Ruurs

Students are fascinated by all the ways that children access books around the world.  Some favourites are books brought by camels in Kenya and by elephants in Thailand!  A great opportunity for students to see how other kids their age live in different parts of the world.

The Way to School - Rosemary McCarney with Plan International

Captivating pictures and short bits of text are the highlights of this book, making it a good book for your classroom library.  You could read it aloud as well and students could pick a mode of getting to school that they would like to investigate further.  That's inquiry!  Consolidate their learning by making a class book, iMovie, slideshow, greenscreen video or a blog.  An easy peasy inquiry project!

Ruby Tuesday Books
     The Food We Eat
     A Place to Call Home
     Time For School
     Time to Play
     Celebrations and Special Days
     The Clothes We Wear
     Everybody Needs Water
     How We Get Around 

Each of these books highlights information about communities around the world.  The text is grade appropriate for upper grade two and includes amazing pictures.  What I like about this series is that the books are set up identically using the standard non fiction text features.  When I use these books, students come with some knowledge of the text features (title, table of contents, labels, pictures, glossary, index) and we review them.  Then students are put in pairs with a books.

I created a booklet that goes along with each book.  All the booklets are similar so after one booklet, students may choose to read another book and their independence with the text grows.  I have found that this is a difficult task for grade two.  I was lucky that I had 16 kids in total working on the 8 books.  We usually pair a struggling reader with a strong reader and that helps a bit.  The booklets are good for following instructions, using non fiction text features as well as learning about global communities.

The reading strategy that I emphasize during this time is that readers usually do not read a non fiction from cover to cover.  The text features allow you to read parts of the book and still get a good understanding of the topic.

If you are interested in looking at the booklets I created contact me.  I'm happy to share.  I've just noticed that Ruby Tuesday Books has other titles.  I will have to check them out!

The Library Doors - Toni Buzzeo

Some read aloud sessions are better than others.  I've written before about my quest to entertain the Kindergarten classes.  This book I found soon after I started in the library and I have used it every year since. 

It is a book which explains a library very similar to our school.  There are parts that I leave out, but the thing that I love is that I sing it to the kids.  The tune is 'The Wheels on the Bus' which they already know.  By the end they are singing along with me.

It is a great introduction to what happens in a library.  We talk about being quiet, looking for books and of course, opening the covers to 'READ, READ, READ!'

It's a September kind of book.

Lifetime - The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives - Lola M Schaefer

This is a book full of treasures!
Kids LOVE books about animals.  Animal books are the most used and abused books in the library.  I'm always looking for and buying new ones because they are constantly being signed out.  This will be a very popular book for my animals lovers who enjoy a bit of math too.  There is a group of kids in every class who thrive on non fiction.  This is a book for them.  'Lifetime' is full of intriguing facts that I never knew before.  There's a math connection too.  It explains average to kids in an easy to understand way.

Apart from reading this book for pleasure, this book would be a great way to introduce an animal inquiry.  I have done animal inquiries with a few groups.  Instead of the generic things that 'teachers' often asked students to find out about animals (habitat, food...) students are free to find out things that THEY want to know.

After your student's animal inquiry projects are done, make a class book.  I love class books - they are a way to celebrate learning and an easy culminating task.  Each student can be responsible for a page about their animal.  On this page they will include the MOST interesting facts they discovered.