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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.

I Dreamt...A book about hope - Gabriela Olmos

This beautiful book can be used around Remembrance Day but for so many other things as well.  As I was reading I thought about a scenario where kids may be talking about war, guns and drugs and seeming insensitive.  This would be a beautiful addition to a serious conversation. 

The book was created by Mexican artists as a fundraiser for the IBBY Fund for Children in Crisis.  Bibliotherapy is when books and reading is used to help children who have lived through wars, civil conflicts and natural disasters.  Using their reading they think and talk about their experiences.  Children who have not know disaster would also benefit from learning how children other than themselves use literature to cope.

You could use this book for an art project.  They could recreate or create their own work based on what they read.  The use of font style can be discussed for their own artwork and how the font style affects the feeling of the illustrations.

There are some hugely moving quotes that can be taken from this book and used individually.  I believe students can do a reading response from lines such as:

'I dreamt...that danger could be cut into confetti if only you could find the right pair of scissors.'
Oh my.
How about...
'When I woke up I remembered that for many kids life is more of a nightmare than a sweet dream.'

Where the  discussion can lead is dependent on how the students respond to statements such as these.

I love this book.

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Infidel in Paradise - S.J. Laidlaw

This book was free.  I got it at a book sale my first year as a Teacher-Librarian.  I remember reading the back and thinking it sounded good.  It was catalogued and onto the shelf it went.  I remember seeing it from time to time and thinking 'too bad no one will give it a chance'.  I do believe a big part of my job is seeking out those books that no one tries, giving them a try and sharing them with my young readers.  Summer reading marathons came and went and then this Spring I had a parent volunteer go through YA books that have not been signed out since I've come to the library.  'An Infidel in Paradise' was among the group on the outs.  I felt sad for this Canadian novel.  I refused to get rid of it without it being read.  I vowed to read it this summer.

So glad I did.  If I need to talk about abandoning books, I also need to spend some time talking to kids about giving books a chance.  It's ok to abandon, but some books just need a chance.

I've been on a fascination train with all things India.  Pakistan (Paradise) is another setting that I enjoy.  I'm trying to figure out why I enjoy the suffering of these harsh settings.  Is it so far removed from life in the west?  Does the fascination come from learning about a culture that is beautiful, steeped in tradition and one I know little of?  Probably.

Emma in this book is a Canadian who is trying to make sense of Pakistan.  I can empathize with her - I would have made the same blunders she experiences and has to live down.  Also, her family is in disarray.  Family turmoil and dealing with cultural differences are of the themes in this great Canadian novel.

Give it a CHANCE!

The Selection Series - Kiera Cass - Update

Loved it, No wonder young teens love it too.  I bought the next series where Maxon and America have a daughter and she picks her mate in the Selection.  I haven't read that yet.  After 3 books, I was done with this storyline.  I may return to it one day, but I wanted to make sure I had the next part of the story in the library.  Funny that in the Hunger Games, I felt like I was done with it by the last book.  Both these series could be two books instead of 3, in my opinion.

Kudos, to Kiera Cass though!  I was going to abandon 'The Selection' early on.  It was totally worth it to stick it out.

A great idea for a plot line that appeals to teens who will love the Bachelor-style competition, and the characters have enough depth for the discerning reader.  A good summer read!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Selection - Kiera Cass

This would be a good book for me to talk to students about why we abandon books.  And then I could discuss why SOMETIMES we need to just give a book a little more time.  The first 40 pages of this book I was literally rolling my eyes.  It seemed very much like another trilogy that I had read about 5 years ago.  See if you can guess which one I'm talking about...
-A female protagonist
-Setting - some sort of distopian/post war society
-Citizens are unfairly divided into a caste system read: districts
-A contest is announced and our protagonist finds herself as a favourite
-Her true love is in a lower caste who is worse off than her family
-Adorable sister whom our protagonist loves dearly
-Unnecessary opulence at the very top
-All the 'nation' watches the contest unfold
Puhlese! I couldn't take it.  I had decided to bring this trilogy home this summer because a student recommended it to me.  She often doesn't go for the fluff, so I was intrigued.  After my 40 pages, I put it down and honestly thought about abandoning it and blogging about my reasons.  I went a whole day in my summer reading marathon without reading!  This morning I had some time to myself and decided to give it another 40 pages.  Now?  I have to find out what happens!  America is a strong character who stays true to herself and Prince Maxon is an interesting character too.  The 2 have a connection and right now she is his inside source.  She is going to give him information and Maxon will let her remain so that her family will be taken care of at home.  I predict that he likes her already and is just waiting for her to fall too.  We'll have to see. 

I do allow kids to abandon books and tell them to do so if they have given a book a chance.  I will definitely use this experience as an example.  I will tell students that sometimes you just need to give a book another chance before you REALLY decide whether you are going to stick it out or not!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Guest Blog By Parker - Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Parker - Age 10
Me: So Parker, you have read all the 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' books this summer, correct?
P: Correct

Me: Was this the first time you read them all?
P: Yes

Me: But not the first time for some of them, right?
P: Yep

Me: Why do you like these books so much?
P: Cuz I like how there's pictures and words

Me: There are lots of other books around that have pictures and words.  Why do you think you (and lots of other kids) always go back to read these books?
P: Because the person in the book, Greg, is about the same age as me

Me: That's interesting?
P: Uh huh, he does stuff that I would do.

Me: Like what? What type of things would you do or think is interesting?
P: Ummm, that's a hard one.  He's always going over to his friends Rowley's house.  I like how he has a big brother and I like to read what he does.

Me: The big brother is a bit of a goof, right?
P: Ya

Me: Do you think you are ever going to try another book?
P: Yes

Me: When?
P: Well, I've already tried the villager book.

Me: Like, you've really tried?
P: Ummmm well, I read 20 pages, so ya, I guess

Me: Why don't you try 20 more pages and get back to me?
P: OK, later

Me: <<<<sigh>>>

Hurry, Freedom - Canadian Flyer Adventures - Frieda Wishinsky

Guest Blogger - Abby (Age 7, turning 8 next month)

Did you like this book?

Because I learned lots of new things and it was very nice.  It is a real story and people got to freedom.

What was your favourite part?
When they were getting to Canada off the raft

Tell me about the setting of the book
I thought about a house with no windows or doors at first but then one window with a lantern in it.  Around it would be forest and a horse and wagon.  But all around would be forest.  Then you would go farther into the woods (about 10 meters???).  You turn to your left and a cave would be there.  In front of you is a bridge and water all around the bridge.  After there is land and forest and a beach.

Why is this an adventure?
 Because you have to get across the water without people catching you.  And they were all around you at night.  And you were trying to get there.

What did you learn about the Underground Railroad?
I learned that slave catchers would try and catch black people.  There was a nice man and lady that were trying to help everyone who was slaves.  The slave catchers try to catch them.  They try to catch them to get money.  They get money because the slave owners set out people to catch them.  Emily and Matt are trying to help.

The Underground Railroad is how the slaves can get released to freedom.
Slaves run away from slave owners that make them work.
Nice people volunteer to help them get to Canada because Canada is a safe place

Thanks, Abby!  Keep up the summer reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - John Boyne

Adele's song, 'Set Fire to the Rain' was the song that randomly came on as I sat down to write this post immediately after finishing this book.  Bruno definitely set fire to the rain as he found himself inside the concentration camp that was run by his father.  I did not cry.  Instead, I was wishing that Bruno's father would find out what happened to his son.  And how many other sons died under his role as Commandant? 

In 2016 it is hard to imagine, but Boyne ominously writes at the end,

'Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again.' 


I've often felt that it's odd that I have a fascination with the stories of the Holocaust.  Reading Boyne's Author's Note has given me license to continue my exploration of this genre and to celebrate my fascination.  It is important to tell and retell these stories.  I love Bruno - his innocence and his honesty.  His childlike naivete is so refreshing with such a bleak backdrop that is the setting.  Bruno has no idea why he is at 'Out-With' and if he did know, he would not understand.  What he understands is that people should always be treated with respect and kindness.  Yes he is an innocent, naive nine year old and he is full of misunderstandings and misperceptions, but he knows what's right.  He knows the treatment of Maria, Pavel, Shmuel is wrong.  He knows that Kotler is an evil bully.  That's simple.  What Bruno doesn't understand finds hims on the wrong side of the fence.  If he ever does figure it out, it's too late.

The idea for the story came to Boyne through an image of two boys sitting on either side of a fence, having a conversation.  Fences and walls are a topic that could take you through an entire year of read alouds and reader's workshop.  The fence in this book could be seen as another character.  Again from Boyne's Author's Note, 

'Fences such as this one...still exist; it is unlikely that they will ever fully disappear.  But whatever reaction you have to this story, I hope that the voices of Bruno and Shmuel will continue to resonate with you as they have with me.  Their lost voices must continue to be heard; their untold stories must continue to be recounted;  For they represent the ones who didn't live to tell their stories themselves.'

Fences like are found all over the world and is the main reason Boyne never names Auschwitz outright.  He wants us to think about other issues where fences have been used to keep people out or in.   

There is one question you can ask a class during a discussion of the Holocaust.  It is the question that Boyne is asked most often,
Do you think a child raised in Nazi Germany could be as naive as Bruno is in the novel?

It's impossible to answer given that we have the benefit of hindsight, but it is a fascinating discussion.  Are we in 2016 as complacent as people seemed during this time?  Would we have stood up and done something?  Would you?  This is the question to ask.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Todd Parr

As a librarian I inherited a few Todd Parr books and I have used them endlessly with young students.  Often topics like Remembrance Day are too complex for little people to understand.  So books like 'The Peace Book', can explain what we really need in this world - to love each other and realize that we are different.

I love that Parr ends each of his books with a letter to the reader.  It makes the message very personal and in my experience, kids love to hear the voice of the author.

Another Parr book, 'It's OK to Make Mistakes', is great to read at the beginning of the year so that students know that you expect them to make mistakes.  The message is that through mistakes we truly learn.  Even big people!

'The Family Book' is one that I have just ordered, but feel it is necessary as we see so many different types of family in our schools.

My new favourite Todd Parr book is 'The Goodbye Book', how touching!  Todd writes at the back that this was the hardest book to write because it is hard to say goodbye.  This would be a great book to keep on hand for when your students experience loss.

Bravo, Todd Parr!

Vote for Me! - Ben Clanton

Being politically minded, I thought this was a great book.  I find it hugely American with the reference to donkeys and elephants, so I struggle to think of ways that I could use it for Canadian Government.  It would be a great resource for an American History course. 

You could definitely talk about how not to run a campaign for sure.  This election is getting ugly very quickly.  'Vote for Me!' could also be used to discuss persuasive texts.  How do you convince people that you are right?  For one thing, you don't act like the characters act in this text!

It's a fun text that is reminds me of 'Elephant and Piggie' books, purely for fun. 

Ten Birds - Cybele Young

Ten Birds starts off simply.  Or so it seems.  Birds are trying to cross a bridge.  One by one, they come up with method of crossing.

The solution seems obvious.

Or does it?

This can be a simple counting book, but I bet even little people will wonder why those silly birds just don't FLY.

I took to some good old research for this one.  I was thinking perhaps I wasn't smart enough to GET it

Simple counting book?  Sure.  A way of explaining creative thinking?  There's more than one answer! No one way is the right way?

I believe the author used birds for a very specific purpose.  We are left wondering.  If they are birds, first off, who says they HAVE to fly?  These birds don't want to fly.  They are not going to relegated to a certain role because they are birds.  Here's something that I found that sums up what I am horribly trying to explain: "A most unusual book for readers of all ages, one that brilliantly illustrates the inadequacies of labels and the idea that the best solution to a problem is often the simplest one."  Perfect. That's exactly what I was trying to say.

Of course, reading is thinking, so now I'm making a connection.  My son was recently diagnosed as LD in language.  He knows this and now we often have the discussion that even though he has difficulty with writing, he is smart in so many ways.  He is going to struggle, but I want him to see that just because writing is hard for him, he has strengths in so many other areas.

So while readers will go insane with these 'challenged' birds, wondering why they don't just spread their wings and fly, we are left to realize that perhaps there is another way.  This is a great questioning opportunity, a great way to recap a STEAM project or a math problem.  There is more than one way to approach a problem.  Bravo to those students (and especially TEACHERS) who see this as well!

Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters

Picture the scene... I'm into my very lofty reading goals for the summer.  I'm racing through some great books.  I'm half way through Eric Walters' book, 'Alexandria of Africa' and I LEFT the book at the neighbourhood pool!!! Argh! So frustrating.  And it's a library book.  Oops!  Good thing I'm the librarian.  I need to practice what I preach.

So I will start a post about this book and have to finish it when I locate the missing copy.

I've been wanting to read this book for a while.  It is popular in the library.  I try to read the unpopular books in order to broaden horizons of my students; but decided to see if this one was as good as the preteen readers proclaim.

I have to say Walters seems to have a definite theme wherein teens that are off the rails get payback through some very extreme punishments.  It can be quite satisfying.  Alexandria is another tough teen who is spoiled and has never had to account for her behaviour.  She is given an opportunity to serve 'time' in Africa, working for a charity.  Another Walters theme is novels which center around African communities struggling with lack of resources needed to provide the basic necessities.  Teens learning lessons in a different, eye opening environment is not only satisfying but educational for Walters audience.  We should be very thankful for these life lessons!

'Alexandria of Africa' teaches some great lessons.  Where I am currently, she has just visited the school which lacks many western touches, but makes up for this in the spirit of its students.  Literally, the middle of the book and our protagonist is starting to show signs of humanity!

Stay tuned for an update of the status of my lost library book and Alexandria's adventures.

5 hours later: Update!!! Book found! phew!

Finished this evening and it was a predictable ending.  It was satisfying to know that Alexandria learned that the excess that she enjoys at home is not even close to the norm in other parts of the world.  All people, young and old should have a similar experience.  It is so hard to teach gratitude on a daily basis when we do have so much and we are so lucky in many ways.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

With Love, Little Red Hen - Alma Flor Ada

This is a book for adults as much as children.  Kids will love it as it gives a different look at some classic storybook characters.  Adults, however, will appreciate the endless jokes and layer upon layer of meaning.

Too much for a single sit down read aloud, this would be a book that I would recommend to a teacher that is doing a classic fairy tale unit.  Characters such as Goldilocks, The Little Red Hen, The 3 Little Pigs, The Big Bad Wolf are all highlighted in this book in the form of letters back and forth between the characters.  It is a great way to discuss point of view; there is more than one way to look at a situation.  This book is a lot of fun!

Apart from pure enjoyment and an extension of classic fairy tales, this is also a great opportunity for readers to connect to their previous experience with these characters.  You could also discuss how you write a friendly letter.  The author's effective use of voice is another topic that you could introduce to young writers through these humourous letters.

The Keeping Quilt - Patricia Polacco

Along with a recent obsession with books about writing, I seem to be also thinking a lot about Grade 2 Social Studies (Ontario Curriculum).  When I'm planning, shopping for books and thinking about how I can assist teachers, I often think of a topic and/or grade grouping.  Maybe because my daughter talked a lot this year about what they were doing in Grade 2, I seem to have focused a lot of my attention lately to Global Communities and Traditions. 

Abby this year had to research her family and discuss traditions that we recognize as a family.  'The Keeping Quilt' is a lovely story to read aloud and can be a great way to introduce traditions to this age level.  Polacco often writes from her experiences.  Topics and questions that can be asked after reading this story are:

What is your family story?
Where does your family come from?
Have any recent family members had to immigrate to a new country?
What traditions does your family have?

Students can discuss and perhaps share traditions or heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation.  The activities shared in my post about 'An A From Miss Keller' would be great to do in conjunction with these traditions activities.

Kids love to talk about their families and love to share things that their families celebrate.  Another great activity at this age is to make a family tree.  It could be as simple as immediate family or as complex as going back many generations.

Strong to the Hoop - John Coy

The reason that I bought this book was my son.  He is a basketball player in a hockey community. So I am continually on the lookout for inspiring basketball stories.I'm also obsessed with him becoming a reader (it will happen).

This one is interesting because it is a story about a young kid who gets the opportunity to play street ball with the older kids.  He is given a chance to prove himself.  The setting is urban and the artwork is wonderfully realistic.

I go back to writing however!  This is an excellent example of describing in great detail a single moment.

Get your students to highlight a moment in their life - real or imaginary.  How does it feel, sound, smell, taste?  What dialogue accompanies this moment?  What a great opportunity to write your feelings!

Monday, July 4, 2016

An A From Miss Keller - Patricia Polacco

Someone reading these blog posts might think I'm a wee bit obsessed with the writing process.  I'm not!  Perhaps it is the authors we should be looking at for answers.  Perhaps so inspired, authors feel they need to inspire a new generation of writers?

Patricia Polacco - I've heard her speak and it was memorable, as are her stories.  She writes what she knows and what she has experienced.  This is the golden rule of writers!  Don't try to fake it, your readers will see right through you.

This is a newer book of Polacco's.  From my research it seems it is biographical.  I think every writer has inspiration and someone who held the bar high.  This teacher in this book seems to be quite hard on our heroine, but we know that she is going to be worth the effort in the end.

What I'd like to concentrate on with this post is how I would use this book as a language lesson.  The teacher in the book gives the same writing assignments as I would give although I would not give them entirely for homework.  I think a great first assignment is for students to write about their family and home life.  Not only is this in keeping with the rule, 'write what you know', but it's also great for you to learn something about your students early in the year that will help your instruction later.

I love this teacher's use of the thesaurus for her students!  I think teachers sometimes forget about these tools because of the influence of the internet, but there are online thesaurus's.  It is important for writers to research and use a variety of rich words.  I also love the assignments where the students have to use their senses in their writing.  They listen to sounds of nature and they listen to conversations.  One workshop I went to suggested that you take readers on 'field trips' to watch cars to by the school and to listen to students talk without them knowing.  The teacher's use of the senses reminded me of this workshop!  Great ideas!

The story goes on as well as the assignments.  More writing tasks are given, such as describing objects and their uses other than their intended purpose.  This reminded me of a conversation I had with another teacher who loved writer's workshop.  She would get students with writer's block to list all the things in their fridge from memory.  Writers can always write SOMETHING.

Finally,  I loved the assignment where they had to interview someone and an object that meant something to them.  This is when the story gets sentimental as Polacco is famous for her touching stories.  Keeping on with the writing theme though, I love this assignment too.  What a great opportunity for a community connection for your students.  You could assign them to an elderly person from the community and they could learn about a generation that they may not have otherwise had access to.  It could also be a family member which would be a rich assignment as well.

If all this writing process stuff has you bored, rest assured!  This is a fantastic story, a great read aloud for all ages AND a lovely example of the impact that one person can have on someone else.

Stones on a Grave - Kathy Kacer

I have written several posts about the Secrets Series and our school had the privilege of hosting the Secrets authors this past Fall.  I have just now gotten around to reading Kathy Kacer's contribution.  Summertime!  Time to catch up on all the reading I wish I could do all year long.

I knew I would like this book and I was looking forward to another Holocaust book by Kacer.  She is a fabulous writer of this genre.  Anytime I recommend a Kathy Kacer book, students usually enjoy them.  Last year, a group of students were so moved by her writing that they had a fundraiser and asked her come and do an author talk all on their own.

I was hopeful that 'Stones on a Grave' would be as great as 'Hiding Edith' or 'Clara's War'.  I was not disappointed.  What was interesting in this story is that Kacer writes about the aftermath of WWII.  It's so interesting to read about Germany in the 1960's and experience how Jewish people were treated then and to see how German people felt after the atrocities of Hitler and his armies.  It would be a difficult thing to have witnessed some of what happened, to have had some knowledge and have felt powerless, or scared to stand up against what was happening.  It's a question you can ask yourself and your students having the benefit of hindsight.

I highly recommend this to anyone interested in WWII and fans of Kacer herself.  You can read it on its own or as part of the Secrets series.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hush Little Dragon - Boni Ashburn

A constant battle that I have with myself is this: What will I read to the Kindergartens today?

Only librarians will be able to understand the complexity of this struggle.  A successful Kindergarten read aloud is a delicate balance that is hard to achieve.  You could have a home run book and they might have just enjoyed cupcakes for someone's birthday and you won't have a hope of having them pay attention.

So you need to be prepared.  You need a home run book every time they visit.  You must have an arsenal of appropriate books on hand.  Planning is so very necessary.

It can't be too long.  It can't be too simple.  It can't be complex.  A funny book is good but it has to be kindergarten funny.  The list goes on and on and is dependent on the day, time and weather. Coordinating with the kindergarten teacher is helpful because if you read a book on a topic they are studying at the very least, they will talk forever about what they already know.

So I'm going to start sharing some good Kindergarten Read Alouds.

This one I predict is going to be a home run!  Why?  Because I'm going to sing!  I love singing with the K's.  They love to sing, they love to hear me sing and I think most of them might know this classic.  Hush Little Dragon is written to be sung to the tune of Hush Little Baby.  This is a twisted theme because the mama dragon is looking for a bedtime snack for her baby dragon.  She finds princesses, soldiers, all sorts of things to give to the baby.  I think it's hilarious.  And it's kindergarten hilarious.  Sing it loud, sing it proud and I bet they'll sing along.

Lost for Words - Natalie Russell

Here I am writing about the writing process, again.  I really hope all this effort inspires teachers to embrace Writer's Workshop.  I seem to tell any teacher who will listen that, by doing Writer's Workshop religiously, you WILL develop writers who are inspired.  I truly believe this!  If I'm ever back in the classroom, I look forward to this part of teaching once again.  It can be truly magical.

This is an adorable story that will show kids that lots of people feel like they have nothing to write about.  One of the beliefs of Writer's Workshop is that, most times, students will write whatever they want, about whatever they want.  This means that like the story, some students may choose to write poetry, songs, narratives, procedures - whatever.  A kid who loves narrative may detest poetry and never choose to write that genre.  Totally ok.  When you get the chance to write, you write whatever inspires you.  It is an opportunity, a chance, a treat, something great, never a drudgery.  Ultimately in this book, the main character decides that he is an illustrator.  I think students should be allowed to tell stories through pictures as well.  It is another form of instruction.

There is a time when you have to learn all the different forms of writing.  I tell students that even I have to do writing that I wouldn't normally choose to do.  That's life.  Everyone has to learn about poetry even if they dislike it.  You have to learn how to do a procedure.  But when you get your chance to write whatever you want, then you get to choose.  In Writer's Workshop you teach all the forms of writing and students are required to produce at least one of each form that is taught, but free choice is free choice, no questions asked.

Please look up my entry on The Best Story by Spinelli where I started this conversation about Writer's Workshop. I'm sure you'll find a similar theme...

The big life lesson for kids after reading this book: Do what you are good at and feel comfortable with, don't worry about everyone else.  Be YOU!

The Butter Battle Book - Dr Seuss

This book is a blast from the past, but I had never read it!  I have just recently purchased this after several teachers asked if we had it in the library.  After reading it, I can understand why teachers want this book at hand.

Amazon states that 'this book's message is far from obsolete'.  I have to whole heartedly agree.

I don't normally enjoy Seuss books.  The are a bit too far from the ordinary for me, but I appreciate their popularity.  I had a few Seuss books growing up and I share them with young students often. This book is one of Dr. Seuss's cautionary tales.  Who would have thought that an author with such a silly sense of humour would also leave us with timeless messages of humanity?

This is a book for all ages.  Young students can be introduced to the age old question of why groups of people can never get along.  Older students can discuss allegory after reading.  This is an allegory of the Cold War but it can easily be an allegory of many global conflicts that are presently happening in the world today.

Remember!  An allegory is a story, poem or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or politcial one

All ages, however can learn an important lesson about respecting differences.  The Yooks and the Zooks do not respect each other and the reason is ridiculous.  The reasons for many global conflicts may seem strange to us in the West, but just like the Zooks and Zoinks, their way of life is deemed to be under attack.  Another discussion point would be to discuss the intolerance of each group and how they should have shown mutual respect.  The small issues in the story quickly escalate into some very serious retaliation that gets out of hand.   

Beyond discussion, this book could be a starting point to study groups of people in the world that are in conflict and why.  Also, The Butter Battle Book does not have an ending.  A writing activity could be for students to write their own ending.  Or students could discuss the significance of Dr. Seuss not writing an ending.  What was the author trying to tell us?  An inferencing opportunity.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Most Likely to Succeed - Professional Review what our students and teachers are capable of doing. 

This quote is taken from the website for 'Most Likely to Succeed', a documentary hoping to inspire an educational revolution.  We watched this film on a PD day recently.  As I was watching, I was inspired to write down some things I heard that stood out.  I also jotted down my thinking (I practice what I preach) I'm sharing my thoughts here in hopes of starting a discussion with educators, parents and students about education and how it is delivered.

To start off with I was super grumpy on the morning I watched this which may be the reason this sounds like a grumpy old school marm wrote the review...

Secondly, this is American.  Understand that their system is different, but not unlike the Ontario Education system.

1 - The opening sequence where we are introduced to the character who is 'bored' in school and is under performing - am I supposed to be motivated by this sequence or alarmed?  I do understand that the education system fails kids.  What I have a problem with here is that it becomes the teacher's problem that the student is bored.

Ok, need to be positive, keep watching.  Obviously this is not the only point of the film...

2 - Alarming that the modern education system was developed in the late 1800's and it hasn't really changed much.  Again, not feeling too motivated by this revelation.  And I do feel like students at some point need to learn how to sit and read and write and listen.  The high school/university/college system demands this of our students, so this revolution needs to occur in Preschool and go all the way through to post secondary school.

3 - Interesting point - School is an organization tool NOT an educational system
So how we organize students in school does not help to educate them?  I can understand that and then it makes sense that many students do not flourish within the organization of a school, yet are very successful in other aspects of life.  If we end  'school' as we know it, what would happen to the students who are successful in the current school setting?  I know, I know, they will have to learn perseverance, grit and resilience!  

4 - Interesting point #2 - Kids would learn if they felt it would help them do something.  Brilliant.  So teachers have the challenge of making sure that their lessons and students activities always show a real world connection.  That is challenging but an important part of education.  I believe this is what was lacking in the education system when teachers were in school.  We never 'got' how what we were learning was going to make any difference in our lives.  I believe teachers work very hard to make real world connections to their lessons.  This is why I would encourage high school students to pursue a trade in post secondary.  Learn something that is going to benefit you!  

5 - High Tech High - I loved this school but it also gives me anxiety.  Probably because it's so far from how I've taught and so far from the school I teach in.  How do you even start?  I know I'm supposed to be motivated, but it seems so far from where we are.  What I do love and tried to do as a classroom teacher is the public exhibition.  I believe having a deadline, after which you are responsible to an audience, gives a class focus and something to truly strive towards.

I also understand why parents might be nervous to have their kids attend High Tech High even though it is amazing.  They have to do the 'old school' stuff to get into a good college and get the job. Are these alternative schools going to do this for them when post secondary is still based on an old school framework?  Unfortunately here in Ontario our measure of success is still the report card and the standardized test.  Until we change this, we are handcuffed to these tools of measuring how our students are doing.  These things then dictate how students move through secondary school, post secondary school and then eventually the real world

6 - We must be teaching Soft Skills - confidence, dealing with criticism, independent work etc.  Students do not have these soft skills and then are blindsided in the work force when they can't work as a group and break down when people give them constructive criticism.  

7 - Real education is messy.  Any attempt to standardize education ignores the fact that we evolve.  Education is more like gardening that engineering.  You don't paint petals!  Growth comes with the right conditions.  

I feel like these film makers are preaching to the choir.  Teachers know the system has to change.  We are powerless to change the century old ways.  Do we need an education revolution?  Yes!  Has the world changed since we were in school? Yes!  Changing the education will be a huge undertaking.  It goes way beyond changing what happens within the walls of a school.  You have to change the ideology of a society.  It can't just happen at the school level.  It will definitely have to be a societal revolution.

Unspoken - Henry Cole

My school has recently begun the French Immersion program.  As an English speaking librarian, I've struggled with how I can service the French classes in a meaningful way.

My recent discovery for these classes...wordless books.

The grade 3 class is very fluent in french.  I recently shared Unspoken with them.  They are beginning a unit on Early Settlers and this book is a great one for asking questions and discussing how life was in the late 18th century.  The Underground Railroad is a fascinating topic and it's connection to Canada is great.  So much of pioneer stories are based in the United States, but I make sure I let them know about the Canadian connection.

After discussing what they already knew about slavery and the Underground Railroad, I had the grade 3's narrate the wordless book en Francais with their teacher listening so that she can translate for me if necessary!  This keeps the two teachers invested in the read aloud.

We had to split the read aloud between 2 library visits because the kids were so interested and had so much to talk about!  They were fascinated by the idea of someone hiding in the barn and looking for the clues in the pictures.  Just the right amount of 'scare' to keep 9 year olds intrigued!

A great book for many age groups especially if you are doing a unit on wordless books.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Cat at the Wall - Deborah Ellis

"…If people insist on shooting other people, they should do it quietly so that a cat can have a decent nap…"

I'm not a cat fan.  I like them, but they are too stuck up and moody for my liking.  Is this why the main character Clare has been reincarnated as a cat, because they are so unlikable?  I'm sure cat lovers would strongly disagree.  I mean no disrespect, but Clare is a bit of a jerk.  Now she is in the middle of a war between 2 groups of people who believe so strongly that the other side is fundamentally in the wrong.  

It's interesting that Clare the Cat is a character that can see both sides of this conflict and really has no vested interest in either side.  She just wants to survive and find something to eat.  Is she at the wall to do a good deed in order to gain entrance into heaven?  Is she in a coma having a crazy dream?  Is she being punished for all her bad behaviour back at home?  

Maybe I'm not smart enough to figure this out!  I did enjoy this very different novel and I believe the novel could be a good starting point for a discussion on Israeli/Palestinian relations. 

I also would welcome a discussion on Clare when she was a young American girl.  Fundamentally mean, I did not enjoy her at all.  I was glad she was starving and basically running for her life.  She was beyond the typical mean girl.  Was she just a girl needing her parents attention? (insert big sigh- am I going to end up liking her and ultimately become a cat fan?)

The Desiderata poem was an piece to the puzzle.  Does its presence in both the past and present mean that Clare is still alive?  Is she dreaming about the poem?  Has she been placed here to meet the young boy who recites this poem for comfort when it had been a source of angst for her?  It is up for interpretation in my opinion. 

A muli-layered read for sure! 

We're All Made of Molecules - Susin Nielsen

"There are two sides to every story"

What a relevant and current novel.  This is an important read for those who are the age of the 2 characters - Stewart and Ashley.  Whether you are on the side of the geeks or the popular crowd OR someone in the glorious middle, you can relate to these real and likable characters.

Funny and so realistic, I laughed out loud several times.  Stewart is my favourite, but I found myself cheering for Ashley as well, especially at the end.  She has the most opportunity for growth and she doesn't disappoint.  The popular girl sees the light!  The geek prevails!  It's all good.  You will enjoy this novel.  It's easy to read and will several events will definitely generate discussion in your intermediate class.  I'd want to know what my students would feel about what happens to these characters.

- death of a parent
- a parent 'coming out' to spouse and daughter
- bullying
- homophobia
- date rape

Any of these topics could be cause for discussion and opportunity to empathize with characters.  I would recommend this book as a read aloud to to an intermediate class, but know your audience before you begin.

Innocent - Eric Walters

My love affair with Eric Walters books continues.  They never fail to entertain.  This one I was reading at the bus stop with my kids.  I was reading standing up waiting for a class to show up at the library.  I finished it as I put on my boots to come home.  I have never done this ever with a book, especially not a YA fiction!  I had to find out what happened.

It is a compelling story about a likable young lady.  The Secrets series was the brainchild of Eric Walters and Teresa Toten and this one tells the story of Lizzie/Betty/Elizabeth.  She finds that her mother was murdered, leaving her orphaned.  Her father is in Kingston Penitentiary serving time for the murder.  He claims to be innocent.  Lizzie is torn between the father she just met, the family who is supporting her and a young police officer with romantic interests.  You want her to find love and belonging.  You also feel that it's not going to be that easy.  There is a 'Clue' like mystery woven throughout.  A whodunit to introduce kids to the murder mystery!  A great novel to teach mystery.

Eric Walters fans and mystery lovers will enjoy this one!