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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rain Shadow - Valerie Sherrard

I don't very often emote when I read.  The last time I can remember openly crying during a book is on a plane with my son beside me wondering why mommy was a blubbering mess.  Last night I finished Rain Shadow by Valerie Sherrard, nominated for The Silver Birch Award®.  It didn't take me long to read, but I was on the verge of tears and at times crying through it's entirety.  I'm not trying to be dramatic.  It's that sad.  What's the correlation between the two crying incidents?  The book on the plane was another Valerie Sherrard book, The Glory Wind.  Clearly this author has my number.

In Rain Shadow I literally felt like Bethany.  Yes, yes, we often feel for our characters.  Remember my earlier speech - if you aren't connecting to the book/characters, you either don't like it or you are daydreaming...blah blah blah.  This time I really really was immersed into the story.  I was sad, devastated, horrified and mad for Bethany.  I wanted to yell at the characters who mistreated her, dismissed her, blamed her - what right do they have to make her feel that way when she was clearly hurting all on her own?  I can't remember a time recently when I've felt so moved by what was happening to a character.  My character.  Bravo, Valerie Sherrard.  You've done it again.  I've been moved.

I also enjoyed the descriptions that Bethany uses in the beginning and how they take you through the entire book.  I even went back to them when I finished to go over them again.

Her sister told her she was a jewel and Bethany was a stone:

                    The truth is, I do not mind the idea of being a stone ...  Jewels are 
                         nice with their colour and shine.  But I think stones are
                         more interesting.  Holding a stone can make you feel peaceful and 
                         calm.  Some stones are mysterious, with lines and drawings in them.
                         It is a mistake to ever think a stone is not worth looking at.

Then her classmate Luke makes reference to a rain shadow:

                        ...the plants that grow on the rain shadow side are actually
                        stronger than the ones that get lots of rain...They have to
                        try harder to make it.  These plants never give up...They're
                        strong and brave, like you.

We all should aspire to be stones and rain shadows.  A great read!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Jesse Andrews

When I became an elementary school librarian, I inherited a collection of books that had been organized by someone else.  Books were put in YA based on someone's thoughts on what should be strictly for grade 7 & 8 students.  If students want to read these books, they need to be a certain age or they need permission from their parents to 'shop' anywhere in the library.

So while this book is BRILLIANT, the thought of putting it my library gives me anxiety.  I'm usually fine with some mature language and questionable content.  I feel like if a kid can find the f bomb or the adult content, I'm happy because they are reading!  However, the mature content and language is really out there in this book.  But the book is so great!  What's a librarian to do?  I feel like author, Jesse Andrews has perfectly captured the spirit of most teenage boys.

There is no searching for salacious tidbits, this book hits you over the head with them.  But did I laugh out loud?  Oh ya! It is so funny.  If you ever struggled socially at all during high school, you will identify in more than one way to the trials of Greg.

At it's heart, this book is revealing and touching even though Greg claims to be untouched by the sickness and eventual death of Rachel (not a spoiler, as per the title).  He claims over and over again that he is unaffected and learns nothing from the experience:

And then we sat and didn't say anything for awhile.  You're probably hoping I was sitting there overflowing with love and tenderness.  Maybe you should think about switching to a different book.  Even to, like an owner's manual to a refrigerator or something.  That would be more heartwarming than this. 

I politely and firmly disagree.  What Greg does is underline how difficult it is to deal with a friend who is dying, but in his discomfort and awkwardness we are drawn to his endearing way of befriending Rachel.  He doesn't say the right things and it's a little painful at times (actually it's hilarious) but the realness is refreshing.  We so often read about kids who do the right things and say exactly what needs to be said.  That's not real life!  Who EVER knows what to say in times like these?  There's nothing you can say to make it all better.  Thanks Greg Gaines for keeping it real and making me laugh out loud - Something that rarely happens in my reading.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Invisible Boy - Trudy Ludwig

"A story with heart and soul.  The Invisible Boy brings the power of kindness and compassion into focus." Mia Doces, Committee for Children

The power of one.  If we can truly teach children that they can make a difference, what power we can instill in each student!  Trudy Ludwig has written many books dealing with bullying and this one is great.  I read it to Abby, who is 7 and she needed a little bit of time to realize that the boy really isn't invisible, just quiet and outside of the action.  I think everyone can relate to this subject in some way.  Abby was thrilled to see that Brian's colour was beginning to show.  This is a book where kids will read the pictures as much as they will listen to the text.  It was very clear to my 7 year old that a little gesture can make a big difference to someone who feels that they aren't 'seen'. 

This book can start a great discussion.  For one thing they can try and remember to extend a little kindness to someone who seems to be on the outskirts of a group.  As well, it's so interesting for me to talk to kids about what makes someone popular.  Like Justin in the book, why do people gravitate to some kids and not to others?  It's not always obvious.  I clearly remember having a talk with some grade 6 girls recently.  Two new girls started the same day, one was 'cool' from day one and the other was not.  When I asked the 'uncool' one was this was so, she couldn't articulate the reason.  Just that everyone wanted to be the other girl's friend right away.

I love when authors add questions to their books!  I asked some of them to Abby ad would definitely use these in a class.  Group reading responses to this book would be a great activity.  Look for my blogs on Written Conversations or Placemat Reading Response and use one or a few of the following questions:

-Have you ever tried to join a group game or activity and other kids wouldn't let you?  If yes, how did that make you feel?

-Have you ever intentionally excluded other kids from joining your group game or activity?  If yes, why?

-When Madison and her friends talked about her birthday party in front of Brian, do you think they were just being thoughtless or were they being mean to Brian on purpose?  Explain.

-Which do you think is worse - being laughed at or feeling invisible?  Explan.  (Abby said being laughed at)

And I LOVE the recommended reading for adults and kids - a great feature!  See my Page about great anti bullying books to read to/with your students.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This Year's Must Read for All Humans!

Out of my Mind - Sharon M Draper
Probably not a coincidence that when you search this novel on Amazon, Wonder is directly below it.  This is a classic 'If you liked Wonder, you should read Out of my Mind'.  Not sure what novel came first, but I just read Draper's novel this summer.

If the cover is any indication, this novel is smart, thought provoking and emotion stirring.  You could read the first section and spend days just discussing the cover!  I might even venture to say we really get into the mind of Melody, more than we may have with Auggie?  Don't hate me for saying that.  I will be pushing this novel as required reading for the upcoming school year.  I know an adorable pair of kids (7 & 9) who would love this book as much as teens, parents and grandparents.

Melody is a child confined to a wheelchair and a life where she is unable to speak and therefore greatly underestimated in school.  She has so much to say and no outlet in order to speak.  She is brilliant and wise but sits in school learning the alphabet (and some crazy songs) year in and year out.  Her descriptions of these interactions are funny and sad at the same time.  We often say it takes the right teacher to light a spark in some kids.  Imagine if you (Question to pose to your students) had that spark already and no one knew?  How frustrating would that be?  Patience in the face of frustration is what Melody practices until she realizes what she needs in order to turn her life around.

Who doesn't love an underdog who comes out on top? Well you aren't going to have the problem all neatly tied up in this novel.  Real life is what you get with Ms. Draper's novel.  What a great lesson to be taught?  IT doesn't always end the way IT should.  There are ups and downs and highs and lows.  That's life.  You cheer for Melody but the ending is so appropriate and REAL.

Parents of special needs children, teachers and students will cry, laugh and shake their heads.  They will have more questions than answers.  It's just that great.  I have a firm belief that the kids of today will become better teachers of tomorrow.  Parents and teachers: read this novel to your kids, they will love you for it.

Mrs D recommends this as a GREAT September read aloud.  Read it first and refer back to it all year long!

The Best Story - Eileen Spinelli & Anne Wilsdorf

This book follows a little girl who wants to win a writing contest so she can go on a roller coaster with her favourite author.  The problem is, she doesn't have a great idea for a winning story.  Welcome to the issue for many authors, young and old!

When you announce to students that they are going to write a story, half of them are filled with dread while a small percentage is ecstatic.  This is for the dreadful authors.

I am in the camp of educators that think students need to read and write on their own everyday.  Kids who write will become better writers.  I can't tell you what smart educator told me that or what research journal it comes from, that's just what I believe.  However a very smart friend once told me that Ernest Hemingway would sit for days and not write a thing.  He kept it up (good for him!) and came up with some pretty amazing works of literature.  What if your sporadic 'creative writing time' falls on a day when a student has writers block?? Just let them write everyday.  Trust me. You can figure out how to fit in report writing sometime in the year - easy peasy.

If students are writing something of their own everyday, do we let the Hemingways sit and wallow in their writers block?  No!  They have to always be writing something.  The same smart friend would model writers workshop for me and insist that writing had to be happening.  For example, kids would be told to visualize their fridges at home and had to make a list of all the food in the fridge.  Perhaps an idea would come from that list.  Or maybe not.  Next day they would be told to write all the names of the people they knew.  Maybe a student would decide to write a story about one of these people.  These ideas are for the kids with writer's block.  You will always have kids who are feverishly writing the entire time.  You are not concerned those students.  Leave them alone.

Having students write something everyday on their own is so much better than just throwing a creative writing piece at them a couple times a year.  The ability to write is a muscle and it needs to be exercised.  Of course you need to explicitly teach the writing traits that are grade appropriate, but that can be done in conjunction with these open writing periods.

That was a wild tangent, but The Best Story can be read for kids to determine the main idea.  I use the main idea to support my open writing periods as well! The main idea is that kids have to write about what they know.  Wasn't this Gilbert's plea to Anne Shirley when she was trying to write a deeply romantic novel? ~desperate plug for Anne of Green Gables~  You can't write a funny story if you're just not funny.  You can't write a love story if you've never been in love.  You could write a story about how much you love your family.  Or maybe how your parents met or when you met your baby brother.

If you write about what you know, your audience is more likely to be engaged.

The Best Story - A good book for teaching writing.  Make Allow your students to write everyday. Please.

Sink or Swim - Valerie Coulman

This is a book that pops up on many lists for teaching character.  Simply put this is a book about life.  Life in a short picture book.  If that's possible.

Put these questions to your students:

Are you going to approach life with optimism?
Are you a pessimist at times?
Perhaps discuss the meaning of both of these words, regardless of age!
You can address so many character traits with this book.  Other than optimism, you can also discuss perseverance, caring, being confident...
For those of you who have a theme that you revisit throughout the year, I can see the phrase 'Not yet they don't' being a great mantra for your students who grow and develop through the school year.

For a class that is just learning how to do reading responses, this is a great first month read.  You can do shared responses on anchor charts and leave them up all year.  Revisit them to discuss how to do a proper reading response but also revisit the message of the book.  Not only will it be a good example of how to write a reading response but this story will underline what your students should say to themselves when they feel they can't do something

Not Yet They Can't!

My Pick for Best Summer Read - We Were Liars - E Lockhart!!

Yes!  This is my summer pick!  Best book/best surprise of my summer reading!  Unfortunately I purchased this last year and didn't read til this year, so I AM a year behind.  People have told me it's hard to start (even I had this problem last summer).  Don't give up, this book is so worth it!

First off, I love it because I was born to live by the sea.  Preferably Martha's Vineyard, but I would settle for a private island on Georgian Bay.  This need for water makes the setting of this novel perfect for my tastes.  I love the map that is provided at the beginning of the novel.  The description is great for visualizing and I have read many stories set on the East coast to aid my visualization.  When reading this book to young adults, I would definitely spend a time on the use of setting.

So I love a novel set in New England.  I also love a great family story.  Multiple generations with old money is great for romantics like myself.  This family is wonderfully dysfunctional and there's a whopping mystery to solve at the end. Check, check, check!  Teenage Mrs D is in heaven!  Who am I kidding?  Adult Mrs. D has never grown up! Oh, did I mention a love story?

An absolute page turner!  You have to find out what happens to this poor protagonist who is in love, feeling torn my her parents divorce, her family, her cousins - it goes on and on.

I would also spend a lot of time predicting during a study of this novel.  You don't know the truth until the very end, but some keen readers may be able to figure out what is going on.  I did not.

I took We Were Liars on vacation with me this summer (on the water).  I read it in less than 1 day and gave it to 2 others who were with me.  They read it quickly as well and loved it too.  More than anything I love sharing a great book and having them love it as well.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Shaken - Eric Walters

'When the earth on which you stand has been shaken, maybe all that is left is the faith from above' - (Eric Walters)

Walters never ceases to amaze me!  Shaken has a very different message from recent novels by Walters.  In Shaken we are introduced to a minister's son who is questioning his faith after the passing of his mother.  The minister and his kids are in Haiti helping to build an addition to an orphanage.  Here Josh (Joshua) is introduced to a country of people who are suffering loss of their own.

Big Question #1 - How do you measure personal loss against someone else's?

Josh meets a pastor who doesn't seem to mind that he has questions about his faith.  Pastor Dave lets Josh speak freely which is freeing to this boy who is mourning the death of his mother and trying to keep it together for his younger sister.  His world (the world) is literally shaken when an earthquake strikes.  Josh quickly takes on a leadership position to help those around him.  Will he have the courage to do what needs to be done to save his new friends, his dad and his sister?

Again, Eric Walters take an opportunity to teach a bit of history.  However in true a Walters style, we learn more about the human spirit.

Funny how you experience things at just the right time...I read this novel at a time when my own faith had been tested.

Big Question #2 - How DO people continue to have hope and faith when horrific things happen to them and the people they love most?

A timely read for me and I'm sure it will conjure up memories and emotions for the readers as well.  Thanks for encouraging us to keep the faith! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

My Love for Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

If I were a great Canadian authoress (and honestly, is there a librarian anywhere who doesn't dream of writing in some capacity?) I would reach out to my readers rather than becoming an author who is caught up in her literary prowess.  One of the most exciting things that has happened during my time as a Teacher-Librarian was having Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch seek out my lowly little blog and respond to some students who had read Making Bombs for Hitler, and blogged about it.  Marsha (I can call her Marsha because she's read my blog, that means we're friends) commented on their post and answered their questions.  Not only was this exciting for me, but think about how exciting it was for those students?  They had just finished reading this awesome Canadian novel, which by the way, won several awards that year, including the coveted Silver Birch Award.  They had been working towards earning a vote in the Silver Birch Awards that year and in order to 'prove' they had read the book, they needed to blog about what they enjoyed about the book.  Then I got a notice that I had a comment on my blog! Cool!  It was from Skrypuch!  She thanked the students for their kind words and let them know that she was currently writing another sequel so that readers would find out what happened to Luka from Making Bombs for Hitler.  This novel is called Underground Soldier and tells the story of what happens when Luka escapes the work camp where he and Lida meet.  The students were overjoyed and I doubt they will soon forget Skrypuch's gesture.  Any student who I have recommended this book to, has LOVED it and wanted more.  Thankfully, I can direct them to Stolen Child, which tells the story of what happens to Lida's sister, Larissa during the time when she is in a work camp.  I can confidently recommend this trilogy to all sorts of readers but especially students who love reading about WWII.  I can also tell students that this Canadian author truly cares about her readers.

True Confessions - I've Never Read the Harry Potter Series!

Can I even continue as a Teacher-Librarian?  I know this seems shocking, but remember: I'm new to the library (going on 5 years and I still feeling like a crazed newbie).  The summer before I went into the library I had a huge reading list.  I wanted to get a feel for what students were loving in the literary world.  I talked a fellow TL and asked what I should be reading.  She very wisely told me not to worry about reading the popular books, kids would be able to fill me in on those.  My task since that day has been to read the 'other' books and to share books with kids that they may not know about.  So I could've spent a summer reading the Harry Potter series, but I know they are great (I'm not that out of the loop) and I feel confident recommending them to kids who love adventure and fantasy.  I've found a new book that could go in the category, 'Read this if you love Harry Potter'.  It's called The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (a great author name btw).  I'm encouraged to see that there is a sequel, The Apprentices.  Could this be another series???  The Apothecary is a great novel on it's own, but I have to say that it has a lot of features that will appeal to the Harry Potter crowd.  The setting is London during the 1950's, the characters are teenagers, there is a little bit of romance and of course, a good dose of magic but with enough reality to make it accessible to a wide audience.  And - I liked it and fantasy is not my go-to genre.  I have another confession to make: students are fickle.  They want to read new books and they are not that excited to read Harry Potter.  Maybe Meloy's new series will be the next big thing??

Power Play - Eric Walters

I am a self professed Eric Walters super fan.  As teacher-librarian in my elementary school for 4 years, I've always pushed Walters on all sorts of readers with much success. He has a real talent for reaching struggling readers and avid readers with topics that are timely, relevant and intriguing.  Power Play does not disappoint.  I always tell kids I'm a s-l-o-w reader, especially if the text doesn't grab me.  This was a quick read.  I needed to know what happens to the main character Cody, a tough, rough, hockey player dreaming about becoming a NHL legend.  As gripping as the story is, this can be a difficult read.  It deals with sexual assault in a very real way, describing the confusion and shame in a way that will stay with a reader.  I would caution younger readers who think they can handle YA fiction about reading this sometimes upsetting and REAL story. If you have struggling readers who can handle the content, Power Play is a great choice.  Another home run for Eric Walters in my opinion!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Making Connections - It Sounds So Easy...

I have a little speech I say to kids when we talk about making connections while reading:

Mrs. D:     We are thinking all the time.  When you are reading you are thinking.  Reading IS Thinking!  You are thinking the plot is awesome, or boring.  You are relating in some way to the characters.  Maybe they are like you, maybe they are your complete opposite.  You are thinking that the setting is well described or you are struggling to picture it in your head.  You think that the dialogue is funny or interesting or bizarre - whatever!  Are these not all connections?

Student response:     Sure they are!  Absolutely!  As we read, we are constantly making connections!

Ok, maybe they don't respond this way, but I try and make the point that if they are not having these thoughts as they read, then the book is too hard or they are daydreaming.  It's virtually impossible to read a book and not have some sort of connection, because otherwise, why are we reading it?  We don't want to read about things we can't relate to at all.  Even the most fantasical of fantasy books have characters and situations we can connect to in some way.

Little kids shout out their connections during read alouds, but then as older students, they struggle to make connections.  Why?

I think teaching connecting is something that needs to grow with the reader.  You may have made friends based on your favourite colour when you were little but that doesn't cut it as you get older ("You like pink?  I like pink!  Let's be best friends).  More mature readers struggle to make good connections as they read.  I believe they are making these connections (see dialogue above) so why aren't they able to express them?

It's important that students make connections to self, text and world.  I would however start with text to self connections.  If they can master these, move on.  If they are struggling to make simple connections, there's no sense expecting them to connect to other texts AND the world.  They need to make meaningful text to self connections before the others.

Here are a few hints to help students make 'good' connections:

1.     Start the year off with lots of 'connectable' texts.  Do you like how I just make up words? ;)  One book I enjoy reading in September is 'The Relatives Came' by Cynthia Rylant.  Summer vacation is done, but many kids will have spent some time in a car OR had family visit OR had a BBQ, picnic...There are so many things that students can connect to in this book.  They may be surface connections (my family visited from wherever, just like in the book), but you can use these surface connections to dig deeper.  Have the students help each other, ask questions and try to make those connections more meaningful.  How do you feel when you have to share your space?  This could be with another family member in the house, not just a relative that comes to visit.  Have you ever had a relative or a friend break something of yours by accident?  How did you feel, for real?  How do you feel about long car trips?  Like them?  Hate them?  Would you rather be the relative that hosts or the relative that visits?  The talking may lead to more meaningful connections.

2.     Don't accept lame-o connections.  I talk about what makes a good connection and a lame connection.  If there is a dog in the story and they have a dog, this is a lame connection.  Think again!  Did they have the same feelings as the dog owner in the story?  Do they yearn for a dog, but can't have one?  Can they discuss their feelings as being the same as the character who does have a dog in the story?  Surface connections don't cut it, dig deeper!!!!

3.     Give students a stack of stickies while they read.  Stickies are magic, students for some reason have no problem writing on a sticky.  Maybe because they are small???  Have them write at least one connection per page.  They write them on a sticky and stick it on the page.  When they are done reading for the day, they review their connections and pick one really good one to write about.  Only rule? No lame connections!

4.     Read the books your students are reading and conference!  If you can't read everything (and who can, really?) make sure you are still conferencing.  You can usually drag something (a connection) out of student orally if you can't get it in writing.  If they make connections as you conference, write them down.  At least you can report that they can make connections, but struggle to express them in writing.  Students who does struggle to connect, need more conferencing!

Don't rush through Making Connections!  Do it well, Do it often!

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians - Jackie Mims Hopkins

I've been a Teacher-Librarian for 4 years.  If it was my 40th year in the library, I'm sure I would still be reading this book to kids of all ages.  It's an important lesson that I truly believe in as a reading mentor.  It's important for student and teachers to hear and practice.

For one thing, this book is a parody of a old classic - Goldilocks and the 3 Bears.  If you are studying Fairy Tales and discussing fractured Fairy Tales, this is a good one.  It also has good jokes and puns and I love to see what students 'get' the jokes.  I love it when one kid laughs out loud.  Librarians are very much like stand up comedians.  We are looking and waiting for a laugh!

I read this book mainly for it's reading lesson.  I firmly believe that reading is a very personal activity.  Students often feel like they need to be reading a certain kind of book.  A big book, a non fiction, a novel, a long book, a book with no pictures...  I stress during this lesson that they MUST look for a book that is just right for them.  I tell students what books I don't enjoy reading, but I also tell them that there are some books that are just too hard for me.

There is a very simple activity that I do with this book.  It is the 5 - finger test that Goldisocks talks about in the book.  Sometimes a book is too easy.  This is not ideal.  Readers become better readers by challenging themselves with harder text and words that they don't know.  If it's too easy, they won't become a better reader.

Sometimes a book is too hard.  If there is too many words in the book that a reader doesn't know, the book will not make any sense and will be hard to comprehend.  If they don't understand it, they won't enjoy it and will eventually abandon the book. Simple.  Young readers have to get over the fact that they may not be able to read the books that others are reading.  Another life lesson.

So when readers look for a 'Just Right' books they need to think like Goldisocks (and Goldilocks too).  She couldn't eat the porridge that is too hot, can't sleep in a bed that is too hard and can't sit in a chair that is too small.  The book has to be just right - not too hard and not too easy.  A couple words that are new on each page is ok, but the text has to be understandable.  The test is done on one random page in a novel or a couple of pages in a small picture book.  They hold up one fist.  Each word they don't know or can't pronounce means a finger goes up.  Five or more fingers and it's too hard, no fingers up and it's too easy.  A 'Just Right' book has 2-3 (at the very most) hard or new words.

During this lesson we also discuss that 'Just Right' books are meant to make them a stronger reader.  Does this mean that you should never again read a too easy book?  No way!  I make sure I tell students that revisiting those old favourites is so important and so much fun.  I still pull out my 'Little House' books, even though I can practically recite them by memory.  It's the easy books that give us comfort and confidence.  BUT when we want to improve our reading, we look for those 'Just Right' books.

Librarians!  Make sure you are teaching kids HOW to find a 'Just Right' Book!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Conversation with Abby

The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore By: William Joyce

I can't remember when I first learned about this beautiful, magical AND important book.  I do know that I learned about the short film before I read the book.  I was so happy that it won the Academy Award for Animated Short because usually I can't understand any of the films that are nominated each year!  There's so much to discuss in this story.  Good for all ages.  The things I discuss below can be simple or complex, depending on the group.  Your discussion can be as simple as the following conversation I had with my daughter after we read the book and while we watched the short film:

Me: Do you see how the people are black and white when they come to him and once they get their books, they turn to colour?
Abby: It's magic, the storm made everything black and white and the books are magic!

Books are most definitely magic.  This is what I try to show kids everyday in the library.  So if all else fails, this is a celebration of reading, books (real books that fall apart, become weathered and start to smell), LIBRARIES and LIBRARIANS!!!

Mr. Morris Lessmore makes books come alive but here are some other connections you can make and things you can discuss with this work of art:

-The story reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, UP, Mr. Holland's Opus, Our Town (Willy Loman), It's a Wonderful Life, The English Patient - discuss!
-There's a sadness to this story, a nod to times gone by, the good ol' days
-why the repetition of the music 'Pop Goes the Weasel'?
-Use of colour and lack of colour
-why the Tornado?
-why is the setting New Orleans-esque?
-Discuss the name Mr. Morris Lessmore
-What's the importance of Humpty Dumpty as a main character?
-Is his cane and hat important?
-why do we feel the need to tell our story?
-is the girl with the 'balloon books' a ghost?  Does Morris Lessmore become a ghost?
-Discuss 'sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days'
-Discuss 'Everyone's story matters'
-Isn't it wonderful that 'the books never changed. Their stories stayed the same.'

Another connection I made is to a Robert Service poem, 'Dolls'. In the book we read, "Then one day he filled the last page in his book.  He looked up and said with a bittersweet sigh, 'I guess it's time for me to move on.'"  Read the poem, "Dolls" and discuss the similarities and differences of the idea of being 'bittersweet'.  How is 'Flying Books' bittersweet?  What is bittersweet about Service's poem?

 Again, just enjoy this book, let the kids' conversation guide your teaching.  They can get so much from it, but the beautiful magic of reading is enough :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Wordless Books are a Language Dream Come True!

Who can spend a whole week teaching from a wordless book?  Me! Me!
There are endless opportunities for language in a wordless book.  It's safe because the text is whatever and however a reader interprets the pictures.  In it's simplest way a wordless book can be the starting place for a story.  A reluctant writer doesn't have to come up with an idea, the story is started for them.  The writer just has to inject his/her voice into the pictures.  I'm just sitting here thinking, what a great opportunity for really reluctant writers to 'speak' their thoughts as they go through the book.  Teachers could record their 'thoughts' as the students works out what is happening in their story as they flip through the pages.  Once they've gone through all the pages, they can listen to their thoughts and perhaps come up with their story on their own.  OR they could use their recording as the story.  See?  The possibilities are endless!

Today's wordless book is Journey - By Aaron Becker.  A wordless book needs spectacular illustrations and this one does not disappoint!  Each page could be a story on it's own.  You could assign a page to each kid and have them each write a chapter.  Or they could take inspiration from all the pictures and write their own story.  Again, endless.  No student can complain that they don't know what to write about!  Who wouldn't want to write about the adventures depicted in the illustrations?

What about a conversation about loneliness?  This little girl feels ignored and retreats to her room to occupy her day.  Can students make connections to how she is feeling?  What about connections to other books?  I'm thinking 'Where the Wild Things Are' or 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'.  Ask students to make and explain their connections.

Visual Art extension - Give students a white piece of art paper with one of the red shapes on the page somewhere.  What picture can they come up with?  Can they write a story based on their picture or another classmate's picture.  It could go on and on!

I know I've been using the word poignant too much...

But what a great word it is! Poignant.

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood made me a little sad and wistful.  What looks like a bedtime storybook for the very young (and it totally could be) can be used in many ways in the classroom.  Again, the illustrations are beautifully tied to the simplistic text!  This book will conjure up lots of memories and conversations.

How would Mrs. D use this book?

Reading strategy - Inference - My newly coined acronym WCB? WCA? is appropriate with the pictures in this book.  I can't believe I've come up with an acronym.  Please let me know if this is already out there.  I'm totally claiming it as my own until I hear otherwise!  Simply asking students, What came before this picture? and What came after this picture? is a great way to highlight what it means to make an inference.  There can not be a wrong answer, but there can be a great inference!  See what they come up with and let them choose the picture they discuss.

Reading Strategy - Connecting - This is such a basic strategy but actually hard for students to demonstrate well.  As readers, we are connecting all the time.  We don't realize the thinking we are constantly doing while reading.  I tell kids all the time, if they are not connecting in some way to the book (characters, setting, theme, plot) then they are either daydreaming or the book is too difficult.  Connecting are all the thoughts that are going through your head as you read.  What does the setting description remind you of?  What have you read before that reminds you of the theme? The plot?  I will allow a student to say that they dislike a book if they can prove to me that they can't connect with it in some way.

     For The Quiet Book, students will find a part that reminds them of something that has happened to them at some point.  There's their connection!  Was it a happy time?  What happened to them?  How was it different or the same from what 'seems' to be happening in the book?  The one page that resonated with me was, 'Top of the rollercoaster quiet'.  Who hasn't experienced that?  Can a student tell you about a rollercoaster experience?  How did it begin?  How did it end?

     After reading this book I'm convinced that there a numerous types of quiet!

Writing Form - Who wants to write a class book?  You may choose to do a Quiet Book or perhaps a Sad, Happy or Mad book.  Each student could pick an emotion and describe a few moments when that emotion feels different.  A great opportunity for students to practice paragraph writing!  Introduce the emotion in an introduction sentence, give a few examples and write a concluding sentence. Done.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Procedural Writing & Inference - together, it can be done!

Yawn.  Teaching writing forms in isolation can be such a bore.  This month reports, next procedures, after that you review recounts. Blah, blah, blah.  I think writers become better writers by reading lots and writing lots.  What if a student doesn't want to write a procedure?  What if another is only excited by poetry? Yes, exposure to all forms of writing is important.  They should be taught at some point, reviewed and revisited throughout elementary school.  But if you want kids to be excited about writing, let them have some power when it comes to what they write!

     When you NEED to teach a writing form, it's best to 'look in a book'.  I enjoy reading a book to get students thinking about the form of writing we are studying.  Call it an icebreaker.  Students may use parts of the book in their writing or it may trigger an idea for their writing.

     I love the book How to -  by Julie Morstad.  It is beautifully simple and the illustrations are hauntingly poignant (how's that for flowery description?).  Each of the illustrations show a vulnerability of the characters and an innocence of youth.  At it's simplest level, this is a book that kids will relate to and adults will enjoy sharing.

     How would Mrs. D use this book?
Every one of the pictures in this book can be used to teach inferenceSuch a hard reading strategy to teach and learn!  When using pictures to teach inferring I use WCB? and WCA?  What came before the picture? and What came after the picture?  There can be no right or wrong answer but there can be great inferences made with the beautiful illustrations in this book.

     For writing instruction, this is a great book to introduce Procedural Writing.  As I mentioned before, this can be a dry form of writing to teach and produce.  With this book you will leave the recipes and game instructions behind - wahoooo!  These are not your run-of-the-mill procedures.  Students may choose to write the procedures that are introduced in the book.  By doing this, they will be given the opportunity to make a much more creative procedure than if they were to write about how to make a ham sandwich!  Here are some of my favs: 'How to go slow' or 'How to see the wind'.  Then there's 'How to be a mermaid', which made me instantly think of my daughter who is famous for lengthy, luxurious baths.  Again, the pictures are what truly makes this book shine.  You must see for yourself, the pictures for 'How to make new friends', 'How to wash your face' AND 'How to wash your socks'. so.great. This is a lovely book to share.  Almost a shame to use it for introducing procedures!  You won't be sorry though and I bet the procedures your student produce will be creative and heart felt!

Mommy, am I Pretty? By Margot Denomme

I have the privilege of being able to raise a daughter.  Am I scared of the world she is entering?  Yes!  Do I worry that one day she will experience the cruel expectations that society places on females?  Most definitely!  Would I change any of it? Never!  I will accept the challenge of raising a young girl to be a responsible, kind and confident woman.  I also accept the challenge to make sure my son appreciates women with these qualities.  Conversations about societal roles are important.  We need to have these conversations as parents and as educators as well.

     Here is a lovely book which addresses a young girl's questions about what it means to be pretty.  What her very thoughtful mother responds with are all the 'right' answers.  It's nicely laid out with effective illustrations.  What do we mean when we tell girls that it's important to be pretty on the inside as well, because what's on the inside it what really counts?  This book is a good place to start. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reading Responses - Time Well Spent

There are so many discussions about how students should spend their time during Literacy periods.  My philosophy of reading has evolved over several years, many discussions, practice and courses dedicated to how students learn to read and write.  I believe students who read and write, learn to read and write.  Pretty simple.

     In my classroom, we spent the first few weeks of school 'learning' how to read independently.  It sounds crazy, but students need to practice this in a classroom full of kids.  There are interruptions and distractions.  My students eventually got used to reading for long periods of time.  I would, on occasion, read during this time as well; I believe that students need to see you as a reader just as they need to see their parents as readers.  As well, some of my time during reading periods would be spent reading with kids.  I would read with everyone, but more often with kids who had difficulty reading or difficulty accessing their thoughts about what they read.

     Whenever I talk to teachers about reading responses I hear a lot of reasons why students shouldn't do them and teachers shouldn't assess them.  I stand firm in my belief that reading responses are important to evaluate a students comprehension but more importantly, their ability to 'get' a text.  Teachers may think it's difficult to assess reading responses with a book that they haven't read.  Perhaps.  It's great if you've read the book, which is why my summer reading list is huge and is as varied as my elementary school library!  You can't keep up when it comes to what kids are interested in and reading, don't even try.

     You don't need to know the plot to know if a student knows the plot!  What is key to successful reading responses is effective and timely feedback.  How's that for throwing in a few buzz words?! A student who does not receive effective and timely feedback will soon learn that you are not supportive of the process and then having students spend time writing and/or talking about their reading really will be useless!  If the students believe that you are truly interested in what they are reading, they will respond - you have my librarian guarantee!  What kid (or anyone really) doesn't love telling a friend about a great movie they've just watched?  This is a reading response.  If we, as the friend respond with interested comments and thoughtful questions, the dialogue can go on and on.  If our friend has tuned out and doesn't respond to our excited descriptions of the great movie, the conversation fizzles.  Be that interested ear for our young friends!

  How Would Mrs. D organize a Reading Response schedule?  
     Give your students a set day that they are required to write you a 'review'.  They can discuss plot, author, setting, what they hate, what they love - as long as it is about the book they are reading or just finished.  Once a week is fine, but I really believe if you return their reading response the next day with comments and questions, your students will end up writing a response more than once a week!  Commit to marking each student once a week.  In my classes, this meant I read and responded to 6 students a day - max.

     Your responses do not need to be lengthy.  I always found they were longer early in the year as I established routines.  Eventually I got picky with my time.  As a very wise colleague once shared with me, 'You can't respond if there's nothing to respond to'.  So we would say, 'If you give me potato chips, I give you potato chips in return.  But you will get a better response from me if you give me a well balanced meal!'  Of course some students will struggle. These are the ones who you spend your reading periods with, reading and talking about what you are reading, helping them to respond appropriately.

     If you just can't stomach the 'letters' back and forth to students, a resource I love and recommend to anyone who will listen is: Lisa Donohue's 'Independent Reading Inside the Box'.  This book has endless examples of activities that students can do to improve their reading strategies.  I have used the activities in many ways.  Students sometimes have chosen to do 1 a week to hand in to be assessed or students can be responsible for doing 1 activity a day.  Whatever works for your individual students.
Reading Responses, they are worth your time!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wonder - R. J. Polacio

What should be the first book to be highlighted in my literary blog?  This has been a long time coming so I need to profile a really GREAT book and it should be one that many teachers can share with students.
So I'm going to showcase the best junior novel I have read since becoming a Teacher-Librarian.  Wonder by R. J. Polacio is the book that deserves the esteemed position as post #1 - This book, I believe, should be required reading for all students at some point during their junior years (grade 4-6).  I would even recommend it to classes and students in intermediate.  Great as a read aloud or as an independent read.  Not only will you fall in love with Auggie Pullman, you will never forget his spirit.  What I truly love about this book, is that you see the differing perspectives of all the main characters.  They all add layers to the plot.  Life is not always as simple as a single character describing the world and their interactions.  Many people are affected by August Pullman as he enters grade five having never gone to school before.  Fact: You WILL fall in love with Auggie.  Fact: You will NEVER forget his beautiful spirit.

How would Mrs. D use this book?

I would read this book as the first read aloud of the year.  Hopefully it will be new to everyone, but that is hard with such a popular book!  Reading a book all together, early in the year, will allow you to refer to the themes, characters, setting etc, if necessary for the entire year.  If you only do one read aloud (gasp!) make sure it’s early in the year.  Everyone will be on the same page when you make statements like: ‘Remember how Auggie felt when he was about to go on a class trip for the first time ever?'  And hopefully they WILL remember.  If they don’t – you will have your modeled and shared reading responses to remind them!

See future posts about how I would set up my reading responses. 
Enjoy Wonder!