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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!