Sunday, December 31, 2006

Year in Review Meme

I found this meme at A Wrung Sponge a few weeks ago. It seemed like another fun way to sum up our first year at A Year of Reading.

The game is to list the first sentence of the first post of each month.

January: Franki and I have taught in the same school district (but never in the same building) for about 20 years.
February: I feel like I never have enough time to read, but I spend all day reading.
March: The folks who give the ACT are recommending that we continue to teach reading all the way through 12th grade.
April: No, it's not a LITTLE WOMEN kick, so much as it is my compulsion to read books "in order."
May: My 5th grade Indian cultural informant and I agree, BINDI BABES was fun, but nearly as good as BLUE JASMINE (out in paperback, I saw, in a recent trip to Cover to Cover).
June: This reviewer (Dave Barry) obviously doesn't know what it's like to be a teacher.
July: My best book of 2006 dates clear back to April: THE BOOK OF STORY BEGINNINGS by Kristin Kladstrup. Nothing else has come close since then.
August: OK, Shannon, here is my case study.
September: From the Don Marquis website: "Archy is a cockroach with the soul of a poet, and Mehitabel is an alley cat with a celebrated past -- she claims she was Cleopatra in a previous life.
October: A previously unpublished poem by Robert Frost has been found! The poem, entitled "War Thoughts At Home" was found handwritten in the cover of a book, and will be published in Virginia Quarterly Review this week.
November: Nikki Grimes is this year's winner of NCTE's Award for Excellence in Poetry.
December: I am loving the new book called THE BUMP ON SANTA'S NOGGIN by Jeffrey Schatzer!

Top 5-o-rama, Day 5

For today's FINAL Top 5 we feature:

Top 5 Book-Related Audio Experiences for 2006

Mary Lee:
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (audio book)
I listened to this during my "time travel phase" this year, and it was more satisfying, creepy, eerie, and possible...maybe than the others. First audio book I've listened to that has sound effects.

March by Geraldine Brooks (audio book)
This was from my "Little Women phase" this year. It was fascinating to get this rich back history on one of the most invisible characters in Little Women.

The Writer's Almanac, Garrison Keillor (podcast)
My daily dose of poetry and literary history.

PoetryFoundation.org (podcast)
My weekly dose of indepth poetry. This is how I found Kay Ryan, one of my new favorite poets!

The Princeton Review Vocab Minute (podcast)
These are brilliant nuggets that teach vocabulary in a funfunfun way!


Franki:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook)
A fascinating look at decision making and thinking.


Author Conversation: Peter Johnston
A great interview with the author of CHOICE WORDS about teachers and decision-making.

The First Annual CYBILS by Kelly and Anne
So exciting to be part of this!


Every Day: The Guatemala Song by Anna Huckabee Tull
A great song about a child born in Guatemala and adopted by parents far away. I've shared this one with many of our friends in the adoption community.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
(Okay so I listened to this one in 2005, but the audiobook was sooo good that I had to include it!)

100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature

On July 23, 2006, the idea to try to list 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature was born. Franki wrote,
"We're looking for thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work."

Here they are, in alphabetical order by author's last name. Most all of them were nominated by our readers, which you should take as a disclaimer that we haven't read all of these books, and we acknowledge that there may be (a very few, unintentional) errors in this list. If you see something that doesn't look quite right, be sure to let us know!

And by all means, as you encounter a teacher we don't have on our list, nominate him/her -- we'd love to collect MORE than 100 Cool Teachers!!!

1. Jo March in Little Men, Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott
Professor Bhaer in Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott
John Brooke in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Mr. P in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Miss Nelson in Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard
Ms. Bixby in Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson
Ida Bidson in The Secret School by Avi
Ms. Isabel Hussey in Chasing Vermeer and The Wright Three by Blue Balliett
Mrs. Thurston in the thing about jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Mrs. Kempezinski in Good Luck, Mrs. K by Louise Borden
Mrs. Morrow in The Day Eddie Met the Author by Louise Borden
the teacher in The A+ Custodian by Louise Borden
Mrs. Mallory in The Last Day of School by Louise Borden
Ms. Shepherd in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
Miss Hawthorn in Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan
Miss Parker in Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Miss Perry in I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brissom
Miss Temple in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Mr. Ratburn in the Arthur books by Marc Brown
Mr. Carter in the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge
Mr. Terupt in Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Mr. Magro in The SOS File by Betsy Byars, Laurie Myers, and Betsy Duffey
the P.E. teacher in The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales
Mr. Champion in Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley? by Rebecca Caudill

25. Miss Binney in Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Mr. Maxwell in A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
Mrs. Granger in Frindle by Andrew Clements
Ms. Clayton in School Story by Andrew Clements
Ted's teacher in Room One by Andrew Clements
Miss Pointy in Sahara Special by Esme Codell
Miss Frizzle in the Magic School Bus books by Joanna Cole
Miss Stretchberry in Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Mr. Birkway in Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Miss Hendrickson in I Know Here by Laurel Croza
Iqbal in Iqbal by Francesco D'Admo
Miss Honey in Matilda by Roald Dahl
Mrs. Hartwell in the First Day and First Year books by Julie Danneberg
Ms. Finey in The Cat Ate My Gym Suit by Paula Danziger
the teacher of "Law for Children and Young People" in Can You Sue Your Parents For Malpractice? by Paula Danziger
Mr. Foster in Kat & Mouse by Alex deCampi
Mrs. Bowers in The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola
Nicholas Nickleby in Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Mrs. McBloom in Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom by Kelly DiPucchio
Mrs. Howdy Doody in Dessert First by Hallie Durand
Madge Bettany in the Chalet School series (UK) by Elinor Brent Dyer
Miss Annersley in the Chalet School series (UK) by Elinor Brent Dyer
Ms. Sarah Melton in Mail Order Ninja by Joshua Elder
Mrs. Brook in Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Miss Malarkey in Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler

50. Mr. Fabiano in Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher
Juniper in Juniper and Wise Child by Monica Furlong
Rosalyn in The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Miss Lupescu in The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Miss Smith in Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland
Mr. Kowsz in Happy Kid by Gail Gauthier
Mr. Felix in Thursday's Children by Rumer Godden
Miss Tizzy from Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore Gray
Mrs. Coleman-Levin in the Zack Files series by Dan Greenburg
Mrs. Dunphrey in Don't You Dare Read This Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Olana in Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Miri in Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Ms. Washington in Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan
Miss Grey in the Betsy Brooks books by Carolyn Haywood
Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle in Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Mr. Slinger in Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Mr. Carey in Naked Bunyip Dancing by Steven Herrick
Miss Meadows and Mrs. Rossi in Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest
Miss Agnes in The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Mr. Beggs in Mountain Whippoorwill by Suellen Holland
Miss Loupe in Operation YES by Sara Lewis Holmes
Ms. Snickle in The Secrets of Ms. Snickle's Class by Laurie Miller Hornik
Great Aunt Arizona in My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston
Madame Lucille in Brontorina by James Howe
Mr. Blueberry in Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James

75. Mr. Lema in The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez
Anna in Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston
Mr. Meyer in Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley
Ms. G in Me and Marvin Gardins by Amy Sarig King
Erica's teacher in Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein
Guy Francis in the "Regarding the..." series by Kate and Sarah Klise
Mr. Sam in the "Regarding the..." series by Kate and Sarah Klise
Mrs. Olinski in The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
Mr. Theotocopolous in The Young Unicorns by Madeline L'Engle
Mr. Thompson in Trevor's Wiggly-Wobbly Tooth by Lester Laminack
Miss Fowler in the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace
Mrs. Pidgeon in the Gooney Bird books by Lois Lowry
Mr. Franka in Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
Mr. Rover and Mrs. Katz in Mr. Rover Takes Over by Grace Maccarone
Ms. Crowley in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Ms. Minifred in Baby by Patricia MacLachlan
Ms. Mirabel in Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
Sister Mary Louise in Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Mr. Todd in the Judy Moody books by Megan McDonald
Miss Farley in Caddy Ever After by Hilary McKay
Mr. Gee in Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton
Miss O'Grady in Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson
Mr. Ali in My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin
Miss Stacey in the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley in Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

100. Mr. Carpenter in the Emily books by L.M. Montgomery
Monsieur Noel in A Book of Coupons by Susie Mogenstern
Mrs. Willis in Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls
Mr. Boldova in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo
Mr. Scary in the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
"Mrs." in the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
Master Min in The Royal Bee by Francis and Ginger Park
Miss Edmunds in Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Mr. Clayton in Flip Flop Girl by Katherine Paterson
Miss Barbara Harris in The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Miss Dove in Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton
Mrs. Spitzer in Mrs. Spitzer's Garden by Edith Pattou
Mr. Collins in All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall
Miss Tansy Culver in A Teacher's Funeral by Richard Peck
Mr. D'Matz in the Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker
Ms. Raymond in Dotty by Erica S. Perl
Mr. Faulker in Thank You Mr. Faulker by Patricia Polacco
Mrs. Peterson in The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
Mr. Tripp in Justin Fisher Declares War by James Preller
Ms. Lilly in Noonie's Masterpiece by Lisa Railsback
the teacher in My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits
the art teacher in The Dot by Peter Reynolds
Mr. Brunner/Chiron in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riorden
Miss Plumberry in Totally Wonderful Miss Plumberry by Michael Rosen
Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

125. Professor Lupin in The Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Mr. Hon in Tofu Quilt by Ching Yeung Russell
Mr. Lee in Tofu Quilt by Ching Yeung Russell
Miss Jewls in the Sideways books by Louis Sachar
Mrs. Baker in The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
Ms. Hill in 4 Kids in 5E and 1 Crazy Year by Virginia Frances Schwartz
Mrs. Fibonnaci in Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
Mr. Newton in Science Curse by Jon Scieszka
Miss Bonkers in Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss
Miss Bindergarten in Miss Bindergarten Goes to Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
Miss Palma in After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
Kit Tyler and Mercy Wood in The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Mr. Duncan in White in the Moon by Gretchen Sprague
Mrs. Appletree in Mr. President Goes to School by Rick Walton
Miss Cribbage in My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells
Stuart Little in Stuart Little by E.B. White
Merlin in The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
Laura Ingalls in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Eliza Jane Wilder in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oliver's teacher in My Teacher for President by Kay Winters
Miss Lesley in Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop
(Miss) Alina in Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Mr. Isobe in Crow Boy by Taro Yashima

Saturday, December 30, 2006

CYBILS ANNOUNCED IN 2 DAYS!

I know we are all anxiously awaiting the announcements of the CYBILS finalists! On January 1st, the lists will be posted in all 8 categories on the CYBILS website! I can't wait:-)

I had a great time participating on the picture book committee. What a great group of people to work with. We had great conversations and I made new blogger friends! It was definitely a great experience! Thanks to
Jules,
Andrea,
Emily, and
Anne H.! I had a great time working with all of you talking about the great picture books of 2006!

And, of course, thanks to Kelly Herold and Anne Levy for pulling it all together!
Looking forward to seeing the lists on Monday!

Top 5-o-rama, Day 4

For today's Top 5 we feature:

Top 5 Favorite New-to-Us Blogs of 2006

Franki's
punditmom
librarianne
whimsy books
pixie stix kids pix
reading moms

Mary Lee's:

MangaBlog
Comics Worth Reading
Slightly Biased Manga
LibraryThing Blog
Visual Thesaurus Blog Du Jour

Friday, December 29, 2006

Newbery Readiness

As we start gearing up to think about the titles we hope and/or predict will win the Newbery Award in a few weeks, Nina at Nina's Newbery has a great post about how reading for the Newbery criteria is different than other kinds of reading. Lots to think about. Her Mock Nominations have been great too. Lots to think about as we get ready for the Newbery announcement in late January.

Top 5-o-rama, Day 3, Poetry Friday Edition

For today's Top 5 (in our countdown to the ultimate day of Top 5s, January 1, when the top 5s in every category of the Cybils will be announced) we feature:

Top 5 in Poetry for 2006

Mary Lee: Top 5 Year of Reading Poetry Friday Poems

In first place, with three comments: A Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low

In a three-way tie for second place, with two comments each:
Turtle by Kay Ryan
Confessions of a Reader by Carol Wilcox
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Six poems tied for third with one comment each. Here is the first Poetry Friday entry to receive a comment:
Moving Day by Ralph Fletcher

Franki: Top 3 Children's Poetry Books of 2006

Moving Day by Ralph Fletcher
Busy in the Garden by George Shannon
Tour America by Diane Siebert

...and 2 poems in picture book form:

Welcome, Precious by Nikki Grimes
My Mother's Voice by Joanne Ryder

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Resolutions

Instead of a bunch on December 31, how about "One tip every day to help you let go of all that crap in your way." Tonight is Open That Bottle Night.

Top 5-o-rama, Day 2

For today's Top 5 we feature:

5 Favorite Children's Books for 2006

(look for other favorites when the Cybils short lists are announced on January 1, 2007, and when we nail down our picks for the Newbery)

Franki (mine are 5 must-have books for classroom teachers):

The Last Day of School by Louise Borden
Nothing captures the feelings of the classroom and school like Louise Borden's do. This book is one that came out in the spring that captures that feeling of closing out the school year and starting summer. Just as the other books in this series (A+ Custodian, Good Luck, Mrs. K, and The Day Eddie Met the Author), the relationships are key to the story.

Babymouse (all of them!) by Jennifer Holm
I have never been a comic book reader, so graphic novels are hard for me. But, this series is a great "in" to the world of graphic novels! My students love it too. It has been a great series to invite readers into this new and popular genre that I used to avoid. The humor is quite clever!

A Coach's Letter to His Son by Mel Allen
It isn't often that you find an essay in picture book form--one that would be meaningful to children and adults. Mel Allen takes on the topic of organized sports and the way it has changed the way he plays with his son over the years. A great one for booktalk or as a great example of essay writing.

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference
by Lynne Truss
How could punctuation be so interesting? This book shows us all the difference a comma can make in a sentence. A fun way to look at this part of writing!

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall
I am always on the lookout for great new series books for transitional readers. I read the first Ivy and Bean book this summer and am so glad I added it to my classroom library. My kids are LOVING both books in this series. Someone is ALWAYS reading the copies we have in the room. It seems to be a book that lots of kids can relate to. Very fun and a good size. Best new series since Judy Moody in my opinion! You can read praise for Ivy and Bean here.


Mary Lee:

The Book of Story Beginnings
by Kristin Kladstrup

Corydon and the Island of Monsters by Tobias Druitt

Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop

The End by Lemony Snicket

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So Much Has Changed in One Year

Last year about this time, on the way to Cover to Cover to buy the last few books for 2005, Franki and I had a conversation that went something like this:

ML: I'm thinking about starting a blog.

F: What's a blog?

ML: Kind of an online journal. We could have our conversations about books we think might win the Newbery there.

F: Just set it up and tell me what to do!

This year we met over tea at Scottie's and I won't even try to transcribe our 2 hour coversation. We talked about Google Analytics vs. Site Meter, our work on our Cybils committees (ML-graphic novels, F-picture books), other favorite blogs in the kidlitosphere that are the same approximate age as A Year of Reading, our ages compared to the ages of other bloggers in the kidlitosphere (we're feeling pretty old, and VERY proud to be blogging when others our age have no idea what a blog even is...umm...kind of like us one year ago...), and our plans for year TWO of A Year of Reading (stay tuned, we're pretty pumped about 2007!).

Top 5-o-rama

With just 5 days to go before the ultimate Day of Top 5s (the announcement of the short lists in all the categories of the Cybils), A Year of Reading unveils...

Five Days of Top 5s

We begin today with our TOP 5 ADULT BOOKS OF 2006

Mary Lee's:
Oak: The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan
1776 by David McCullough
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
La Perdida by Jessica Abel

Franki's:
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Monday, December 25, 2006

Take Note, Publishing World

Fuse #8 has asked for Manga titles for kids, "Manga on par with Babymouse."

The silence has been deafening.

I wish I could list title after title that I have discovered in my reading for the Cybils nominating committee for the graphic novels section. I haven't seen Hikaru No Go (main character is a sixth graders) or Yotsuba (sounds like a cutesy child Amelia Bedelia) but I will say that Kat & Mouse is quite a stretch for "KIDS (not teens)." The two main characters are seventh graders and the book features a two page spread overview of the Expensive East Coast Private School cafeteria that includes scores (Brains, Evil, Cool, Sports) for each of the cliques.

I poked around Google a bit and found MangaBlog on Manga4Kids, a site which reviews Manga for parents of children 13 and under, and gives feedback on plot, character & morality, violence, sexuality/body functions, language, and substances in each title.

But clearly, the publishing world needs to take note of this niche and get busy!

First Must-Have Picture Book of 2007



I didn't think I'd post today but, since I found the most amazing new picture book, I had to share!
I think it could be our first CYBILS nominee in the picture book category for 2007! (Wonder when nominations open!?) It was a Christmas present from my older daughter to my younger daughter (who kept it a secret from me, knowing that I would want to keep it myself!) I would advise you to, "Run out and buy one today!" It is called 17 THINGS I'M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE by Jenny Offill. I fell in love with it immediately. It is a great, fun story of a little girl who has great ideas, that don't seem so great to everyone--especially not to her mother! ("I had an idea to staple my brother's hair to his pillow.... I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore.") The story is great and the pictures add so much! The pictures of the main character bring out her lively spirit and the backdrop illustrations are quite amusing. This book is a first (children's) for this author. It reminds me a bit of Judith Viorst's writing--a strong voice that I am excited to have discovered on Christmas morning. A definite must have. If you received a bookstore gift certificate as a holiday present, I would definitely recommend using it to buy this book!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Our First 2007 Book Review: KIMCHI AND CALAMARI

Can you believe that it is time for 2007 books!? I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of KIMCHI AND CALAMARI by Rose Kent. Since she had read that I am a mom by adoption, she thought I might like it. She was right!

KIMCHI AND CALAMARI is a book about a middle school boy named Joseph, who is part of an Italian Family. Joseph was born in Korea and adopted by his parents when he was a baby. He has two younger sisters. I loved this book for two reasons. It is a great coming of age story. Joseph is a character that you care about. He is going through the normal teen stuff (girls, school, etc.). I also loved it because of the adoption piece. Joseph is struggling a bit with his identity that becomes a bit more complicated after a school assignment that asks him to write about his heritage--is he Italian or Korean? I think that this book will be a great one for my daughter as she gets older and wonders about her own heritage and tries to figure out who she is. The thing I like most about this adoption thread, is that Joseph is still living his life--his issues about his birthfamily are one part of his life, but not his whole life. His parents are believable in the way they respond. I imagine the adoption community will give big praise to this book. I don't know of another book for middle grade kids that approaches adoption and birthfamily searches in such an authentic, yet age-appropriate way. Joseph is a teenager in the book. But as I read it, I realized that the span of reader age-appropriateness is broad. If a child needed this book when he/she was in elementary school, I think it would be appropriate. Rose Kent did a great job of writing an engaging story with a good plot. She wrote about a character that I loved and wrote about adoption as one part of a child's identity.

I feel so lucky to have read this book before it is actually in bookstores. I plan to tell all my friends who have adopted children about it. And I am looking forward to anything else Rose Kent may write:-)

I lucked out on my first 2007 read. Hopefully, this is a sign about how the whole year of reading will go!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Baby/Young Child Gift Idea

So I am LOVING the new-to-me blog Pixie Stix Kid Pix. It is taking me a while to catch up on the posts but I can tell this could become one of my new favorites! There is a great list on the blog that I wanted to share--it is the 12 essential board books. I often put together a basket of board books for new babies, baby showers, holiday gifts for young children. This list is invaluable. If you buy lots of board books for kids, it is definitely worth checking out. If not, the blog is worth checking out for all of the other great stuff!

Poetry Friday for Christmas

One of my family's most beloved Christmas Eve traditions was Mom reading us the Christmas story from the Bible and Dad reading us THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. I can still hear his voice when I read it.

Here are my favorite parts:

A Visit from St. Nicholas
by Clement Clarke Moore

.
.
.
The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave the luster of midday to objects below;
.
.
.
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
.
.
.

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
.
.
.
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gifts for Book Characters

Thank you Gregory at GottaBook for another fun holiday diversion -- gifts for book characters. (This, along with elfing yourself.)

My favorite recent read is CASTLE WAITING by Linda Medley, a 450+ page YA graphic fairytale. Here are gifts (too bad I couldn't think of cool office supplies for all of them!) for some of the characters in CASTLE WAITING:

Jain -- her very own happily ever after
Rackham -- a subscription to GQ
Simon -- a collection of early readers -- UNLEVELED, of course!
Chess -- a membership at Gold's Gym...as if he needs it!

And for the Solicitine Nuns -- nothing! They have it all already: intelligence, wit, cunning, compassion, beauty...and BEARDS!

(I hope that was enough of a tease to let you know you MUST read this book!)

Cool Office Supplies

I figure most people who read this blog love books AND cool office supplies. I just found a great site for fun journals, file folders, pencils and more. It is called See Jane Work. If you love office supplies, I would check it out. Also a great place for small gifts!

(Mary Lee, I know you are still home recovering--don't spend too much time on this site or you'll go broke!)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Levelmania Continues

So, as reported on Blog from the Windowsill, some kids are not allowed to check out books from the school library that are above or below their "level". UGH! I am trying to get the actual blog link because I really don't want to believe this craziness! The stories about the leveling disaster don't stop. Choice is so important to our newest readers. I agree completely with the title of the post about this: "as if I didn't feel enough like smashing my head into a wall". My feelings exactly. I will let you know if I get the link to the blog that reported this newest leveling disaster.

Boys and Literacy

Ralph Fletcher, author of BOY WRITERS: RECLAIMING THEIR VOICES and Tom Newkirk, author of MISREADING MASCULINITY: BOYS, LITERACY, AND POPULAR CULTURE were interviewed on New Hampshire's Public Radio. You can listen to the interview on the site. Such a hot topic these days.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Go Elf Yourself!

You know you want to be a dancing elf, and now you can!

Mary Lee's an elf! Franki's an elf! Bess the Dog is an elf!

Happy Craziness to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

DIBELS, Reading Fluency, and More

Doug at Borderland has a great post about DIBELS, fluency and more. I think for any of us who work with kids, we need to think hard about the messages we give our kids about reading. By administering some of these tests and then teaching TO them, what are our kids learning about what it means to be a reader and a learner? Doug has a great post about lots of this and links to much of the research that tells us what some alternatives are for more authentic, informative assessments. Ken Goodman's paper on DIBELS can be read online and shared with colleagues. His book, THE TRUTH ABOUT DIBELS is also a must read on the test and the harm it is doing. Several experts in the field are part of this book.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Merry Christmas: Graphic Novel Style



MANGA CLAUS (Honor, Loyalty, Tinsel): THE BLADE OF KRINGLE
by Nathaniel Marunas
artwork by Erik Craddock
Razorbill (a division of Penguin Books), 2006

One of Santa's elves, a disgruntled laundry room worker, wants to share some "cutting edge spells" with Santa. You've got to give it to Santa, he has made time on December 23rd to meet with Fritz, even though it's obvious that Fritz is not one of his top-notch elves. Their discussion is interrupted when Santa has to leave to attend an emergency on Assembly Line #47.

Fritz's eyes land on a Ninja nutcracker, a lightbulb goes "Bing!" over his head, and he hatches a plot to make Santa realize that he needs him for more important things than laundry.

Unfortunately, the magic that brings the Ninja nutcracker to life manages to spread to the teddy bears, and the Ninja teddy bears are on the brink of destroying the hydroelectric power plant that powers everything at the North Pole. Santa does indeed need Fritz now -- Fritz must bring Santa the two swords that the Samurai gave Santa a century and a half earlier.

The swords transform Santa into the buff Ninja teddy bear slasher seen on the book's cover, and as expected, he triumphs over evil, and the plant is repaired in time to complete orders for Christmas. In a surprise move, Fritz is promoted from laundry to Special-Effects Coordinator.

I won't spoil the ending, but after you read it, you'll understand why this book is paired with Jon Agee's SMART FELLER FART SMELLER on Amazon.

A fun holiday book for anyone who is a little over all the saccharine of the season.

(Too bad it wasn't a Cybils nominee. I would have definitely included it in my top five in the 8-12 year-old sub-category.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Poetry Friday--A Merry Literary Christmas

A Merry Literary Christmas

When Christmas shopping time
draws nigh.
And I am faced with gifts to buy,
I think about one relative
Who always had one gift to give.
And every year her present came.
And every year it was the same.
While other gifts were round and fat,
(Their secrets hidden) hers was flat.
Rectangular, the corners square,
I knew exactly what was there.
I'd pass it by without a look---
My aunt had sent another book!
I'd only open it to write
A "thank you" that was too polite,
But every year when Christmas went
I'd read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it's time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.

So---thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
And Papa Geppeto's Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad
King Arthur and Dorothy's Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling's Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

I loved them all, I'm glad I met them.
They're with me still, I won't forget them.
So I'll give books on Christmas Day
Though I know what all my nieces say--
I know it from the way they write
A "thank-you" that is too polite.

Alice Low

(I think this is from THE FAMILY READ-ALOUD CHRISTMAS TREASURY by Alice Low.)


For more great thoughts about giving books as gifts:
Mother Reader has a fun post about 21 Ways to Give a Book. Another favorite post about is on giving books as gifts on Alan Silberberg's site. I also created a list for Choice Literacy of novels I may give my reader friends.

(Or, if you'd rather give chocolate (another great gift idea), check out this list on Candyblog.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More fun than anyone should have on a treadmill

Synchronized treadmilling.

Teaching and Learning in a Digital World

It is hard, but not impossible, to be a tail-end Baby Boomer (a Digital Immigrant) teaching Digital Natives. It takes work, though.

I've already embraced multiple digital and nondigital tools for composing in writing workshop. I still have a ways to go (see sidebar for great writing tools).

I'm pushing myself to read and value graphic novels.

I am half-a-step behind Monica in moving towards blogging with my students.

Podcasts like these tantalize me with possibilities for my classroom.

And there's a whole world of E-books just waiting to become another option for reading, and teaching readers. (Thank you, Wrung Sponge, for these links.)

I'll never catch up to the Natives, but I'll die learning, and that's a good thing!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cats or Dogs?

What's your favorite metaphor for classroom management? Mine used to be "herding cats" until I read this.

Monday, December 11, 2006

My Christmas Wish List

All I have to say is, "Be careful what you wish for."

I'm the kind of reader/compulsive book buyer who doesn't need more books, just more time to read all the ones waiting on my shelves (and in piles at the ends of shelves, and in stacks by my bed, etc.).

Two repaired ruptured discs later, I got my wish: I have the next three weeks free and clear for nothing but reading while I recover from the surgery. (Yes, that's why I dedicated the snake poem to my spine.) Again, be careful what you wish for!

First, as a member of the nominations committee for the graphic novels category of the Cybils, I'm going to read as many of the nominees as I can get my hands on. The scope and breadth of the nominees is amazing -- from BABYMOUSE: BEACHBABE to Yaoi Manga and every possible variation in between! It's like there is a whole room in the library that I've never explored! To further my GN education, I am reading Comic Guru Scott McCloud's books UNDERSTANDING COMICS, REINVENTING COMICS, and MAKING COMICS.

I have some gift books that I'd like to read after the GNs: DEAD IN THE SCRUB by B.J. Oliphant, a mystery set in Colorado given to me by friends who know I'm not a mystery reader, so there must be something special about this one. My German "mom" sent me SNOW by Orhan Pamuk for my birthday. How timely, since the next book for book club is MY NAME IS RED, also by Pamuk. Last year at this time I was agog about listening to David Mitchell's CLOUD ATLAS. I got the print version for Christmas, as well as his earlier book NUMBER9DREAM. (I do suppose if there is one book Santa might send, it would be BLACK SWAN GREEN, if it's in paperback.)

I won't be able to swim for three months, but luckily I have HAUNTS OF THE BLACK MASSEUR: THE SWIMMER AS HERO, "a meditation on both the act of swimming and on its cultural, literary and psychological meaning," and GRAYSON, Lynne Cox's (of SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA fame) new book about her encounter with a baby grey whale while doing a training swim in the ocean.

And of course my to-read pile includes children's books: Penny Colman's ADVENTUROUS WOMEN, which I won in a drawing when I heard her speak more than a year ago; THE CONCH BEARER by Chitra Banerjee Kivakaruni, a book recommended by a librarian in my quest to have more books in my classroom library in which my Indian children could see themselves; IQBAL by Francesco D'Adamo, a novel based on the true story of a modern Pakistani child sold into slavery at a carpet factory; three to finish before I make my short list of Newbery nominations: YELLOW STAR by Jennifer Roy, BREAD AND ROSES, TOO by Katherine Paterson, and THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING by M.T. Anderson; and two that are intriguing hybrids of novel and graphic novel: THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznik, and THE FOG MOUND BOOK 1: TRAVELS OF THELONIOUS by Susan Schade and Jon Buller.

OK, Franki, you asked for it; there it is!

Christmas Books

Stephanie at The Children's Literature Book Club is reviewing Christmas books this week. I already found a new one to check out! It will be fun to read her site this week to get more holiday book ideas.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Gingerbread Cookie Cutters

Okay, so it is a stretch that this ties into my life as a reader. But, I do love some versions of THE GINGERBREAD MAN...so I think this is connected enough. Have you seen these very funny Cookie Cutters? I am quite amused. I have to buy a set. I always have several neighbor kids here decorating cookies with my kids. This could be fun!

I have ordered a few things from Kim and Jason's Lemonade Stand and have become kind of addicted. Really fun things and great service. They are one of my new, favorite companies. (You get a little free surprise every time you order!)

Leveled Books

Most of you know that I think we've gone too far with leveled books in our classrooms. Don't get me wrong...I think they are a great resource, especially for beginning readers. (I was just reading a few with my first grader.) But, too often, the thing that was meant to be a tool for teachers, has become a competition for our kids. By encouraging kids to move from level to level to level, they lose the purpose for reading and the love of reading. Not much different from the SRA's of my childhood. (I was stuck in the blue box for a LONG time!) Lisa Koch has a great new article about her son's experience with leveled books on Choice Literacy's website. I wrote one about my daughter a while back too, that talks about the variety of books that kids need in their reading lives. I just worry that we've gone too far and taken out so many of the great, quality picture books that don't "fit" the level formula.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Poetry Friday: Ode to my spine

The Snake
by William Matthews

A snake is the love of a thumb
and forefinger.
Other times, an arm
that has swallowed a bicep.

The air behind this one
is like a knot
in a child’s shoelace
come undone
while you were blinking.

It is bearing something away.
What? What time
does the next snake leave?

This one’s tail is ravelling
into its burrow—
a rosary returned to a purse.
The snake is the last time your spine
could go anywhere alone.

*****

I love those last two lines so much, here they are again:

The snake is the last time your spine
could go anywhere alone.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NCTE addresses NCLB

NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) has posted their recommendations for No Child Left Behind. You can read the statement on the NCTE website.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Holiday Wish List

I love that Liz B. at at "A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy" posted her book wishlist! What a very clever idea.

So, I got thinking about the books that I would like as Chrismtas presents. (My husband seems to find this idea amusing since he can't imagine that there are books out there that I want that I don't just buy! But, there are a few.)
I just realized that Philippa Gregory's new book is coming out this week. So, that is my number 1 book wish. I LOVED THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. So I am very excited about this new one--THE BOLEYN INHERITANCE. It is on the top of my holiday wish list.

It got me thinking that it would be fun for all of us bloggers to post a book or two that we hope to get as holiday gifts this year. It would be fun to read what everyone is hoping to read in early 2007!

Mary Lee, you can go first:-)

365 Penguins


Have you seen this new book? 365 PENGUINS by Jean-Luc Fromental. LOVE it! I actually purchased it before I had even read it. It was such a fun-looking book that I knew I had to have it. It is really big. There are fun penguins on the frong. It has bright colors--well one bright color (orange). The pictures are engaging. When I got it home, I read it. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fun, simple story. The story includes some math problems as the family tries to figure out what to do with all of the penguins in their house. A nice addition at the end is some info on global warming and the harm it is doing to animals. A great book and so many ways to bring it into the classroom. I read it aloud to my students for fun and they loved it. I think it is one of those books for all ages.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

New Holiday Book


I am loving the new book called THE BUMP ON SANTA'S NOGGIN by Jeffrey Schatzer! I didn't know the author but my daughter received it as a present. It is quite good and quite funny. Santa gets a bump on his head and can't remember what his job is. People around the community give Santa clues so that he'll remember his job, but he keeps making incorrect guesses. The pictures--photos of Santa dressed as all sorts of things--are pretty hilarious. Santa finally does get it right. I have favorite holiday stories and always have trouble finding new ones that I love. This story made me laugh. It would definitely make a great Christmas present. As a teacher, I can see young children jumping in to help Santa figure out who he is. It would definitely make for a fun read aloud. I don't know of his other book but I will certainlly check it out now.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Cybils Picture Book List

The Cybils fiction picture book list is up for anyone interested. 111 titles! Such a great year for picture books:-) Whether you are interested in possible award winners or just excited about great new books for kids, check out the link. Lists are also posted for other genres on the Cybils site. (I am just especially excited about the picture book category since I am part of the nominating committe!) Thanks again to Kelly Herold of Big A little a who has been coordinating so much of this! (The list is posted on her site too!)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Poetry Friday

Morning
by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

NCTE News

The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention was great! Like Mary Lee, I went to lots of great sessions.

According to Chicken Spaghetti, lots of us were there! It is a great convention for fans of kid lit!


We also heard Bruce Degan and Joanna Cole talk about the 20th anniversary of The Magic School Bus. It is pretty amazing that it is 20 years old! They were great speakers and the 20th anniversary book looks like it might be my favorite in the series. The Books for Children Lunch is one of my favorite sessions every year. We get a great speaker (children's author, we get to sit at a table with a children's author AND we get free children's books!

Sharon Taberski, author of On Solid Ground, was the opening speaker for "A Day of Early Childhood". It was a great talk about appropriate comprehension instruction in grades K-2.


Lots of talk about No Child Left Behind and the harm it is doing to children. I went to a session and heard Susan Ohanian. She has an interesting website that I would suggest visiting. Lots of interesting things going on around this NCLB stuff. She has several initiatives and lots of info on her site. In the name of children, lots of bad things are going on that are getting in the way of student learning.

My favorite adult author, Ann Patchett spoke on Thursday evening but I missed her. There were also lots of other sessions with children's authors. I tend to go to teaching sessions but for those of you interested in children's books, you could technically go to 3-4 days' worth of author sessions. I heard that the ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) sessions were amazing on Monday and Tuesday but I couldn't stay for those.

Next year, NCTE is in New York City! I would highly recommend it!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More News From Nashville

My brain is overwhelmed.

Instead of attending sessions that sounded interesting because the presenters were talking on topics near and dear to my heart, I've been going to sessions that are pushing me way out onto the edge of my learning curve. Because of that, I am drowning in information that needs to be absorbed and sorted and linked to what I know. In other years at this point in the conference, I would be giddy with the obvious possibilites for applying new ideas to what I already do in my classroom. This year, I feel like I need to go back and completely reinvent my classroom.

Examples: Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher), Bill Bass and Greg VanNest talking about blogging and podcasting with their students. How am I going to get started blogging with my 5th graders? Scott McCloud talking about comics/graphic novels/manga. A whole body of literature I'm just beginning to read. How will I ever catch up? An amazing 11 year-old speaking passionately and knowledgably about social networking on Club Penguin. What aspects of my students' lives are invisible to me?

Friday, November 17, 2006

News from Nashville

We're blogging this weekend from NCTE in Nashville, TN at Opryland. The hotel and conference complex is an over-the-top tropical theme park sort of experience, but we'll try not to let that get in the way of the important work of the conference -- learning from/sharing with others how we can become better teachers.

Last night at the Elementary Section Get-Together, Shelley Harwayne received the Outstanding Educator in Language Arts Award. Her speech was thought-provoking and inspiring. She talked about four things we need to reclaim in our teaching:

1. More playfulness and less formality. Teaching is an ART, not an industry; we need predictability, not precision; and we need to follow students, not scripts.

2. Follow students' leads. We need to adjust our teaching to fit the child's needs.

3. Treat children as children.

4. Remember we have an artful profession. We need to use improvisation, not indoctrinization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Big Time!

The Cybils have made it -- there's a mention (albeit at the bottom of the page) in the Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf e-newsletter!

Thanks to the folks at Finding Wonderland for the link.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Poetry Friday: Kay Ryan

Listen to Kay Ryan read and discuss her poem on this podcast.

Turtle

by Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Check it out!

Our interview with Amy Bowllan, the SLJ Blogger, is here and here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mish-Mash

I can tell that interims are out, parent-teacher conferences are over, and everyone has more or less settled into the school routine. How do I know? I have time to read again!

The literature circle/book club group of 5th graders in my classroom finished TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander last week. I can't count how many times I've read that book, but I'm always amazed at how much world history (and world history of the cat) Alexander weaves into a time travel story about the boy, Jason, and his cat, Gareth. I'm forever reminded of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE at the end because when he gets home, dinner is just being served. If you haven't read it, or if it's been awhile, you should read this book.

The literature circle/book club group's next book is THE LAST TREASURE by Janet Anderson. We had our first discussion today. This one I've only read once, so it's like that Billy Collins poem I featured on Poetry Friday a while back -- it's like a brand new experience for me! The kids are having a hard time keeping all the names straight (as am I), and we are all going back to the diagram of the sward and the family tree often as we read. It's pretty obvious that Ellsworth and Jess will go into the middle house on the south side of the square and find the treasure, but they know that it's going to take a whole book-worth of story to accomplish that. This is a great mystery for a reader who will have patience with a complicated plot line, flashbacks, and lots of characters.

My adult book club is reading RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER by Rachel Simon. This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but that's what book clubs are for -- stretching us as readers! It's a fun story of self-discovery. Simon uses flashbacks that start in early childhood and gradually become closer and closer to the time period of the story. They are like stitches that sew together the events of the story into a satisfying whole. Reading this book was like going along on the bus ride, and I was a little lulled by the ride, so I was surprised at the last "stop" (the end).

I'm still picking away at STUDY DRIVEN by Katie Wood Ray. I read just enough to jumpstart my thinking when writing workshop is at a crossroads.

And I have a HUGE stack of graphic novels piled up in preparation for my work on the nominations committee of the Cybils. If you've read a great 2006 GN, head over to the Cybils website and nominate it now!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

My Current Pick for the Newbery


A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE
by Katherine Sturtevant

I shouldn't be reviewing this book without having my copy right here in front of me. The reason I don't have it? As soon as I was finished, I handed it to an Amazing 5th Grade Girl Reader (AGR for short) who had snatched up and gobbled up AT THE SIGN OF THE STAR, which was in my New Books tub when school started. I gave A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE to her and told her that she had to read it, and she had to convince her very busy Amazing 9th Grade Girl Reader of a sister (who had been in my 4-5 loop) to make time to read it, too. AGR is done with the book, and I suspect that after this weekend, her sister will be, too.

AGR loved the book. When I glanced over her shoulder during writing workshop and saw her plotting out a story in which an apprentice plays a big part, I knew it had soaked in deep. You see, AGR is a writer, as well as a reader. She loved the themes of the power of reading and of writing that are in INKHEART and INKSPELL, themes which are recurrent in both of Sturtevant's books.

Meg Moore, the main character, lives in England in 1681. Her father is a bookseller, which at that time also meant that he was a publisher. Meg's mother died when she was young, so she has an unusual childhood for the time -- she grows up in her father's bookstore, reading, listening in on literary conversations, meeting famous authors, and even learning to write. In A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, Meg's passion for her literary life becomes the fulcrum upon which she must balance her affections for her father's apprentice, and for her friend Anne's brother Edward. The reader experiences Meg's passion for writing by looking over her shoulder while she struggles to write about Edward's experiences as a slave in a way that will capture the attention of her readers, and yet remain true to Edward's desire to describe the positive aspects of the Muslim culture -- a truth that apparently was as hard a sell then as it is now.

And that's another reason I like this book. It is historical, and it is simultaneously current. Meg is very much a girl of her times, and yet she is a girl for all times. Sturtevant is as masterful as Karen Cushman in the way she teaches the reader history by inviting us to live in the past in our imaginations while we read. (I was delighted to see a positive quote by Cushman on the home page of Sturtevant's website!)

Monica Edinger loves this book, and so does Nina, and Fuse8...but you'll have to dig for her review!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

BOY WRITERS by Ralph Fletcher: Author Interview



Ralph Fletcher's new book BOY WRITERS just came out from Stenhouse Publishers. It is a GREAT read. I have to admit that I am a huge Ralph Fletcher fan and he is a friend of mine, so I pretty much like anything that he writes, but I love this one. I think the boys and literacy issue has gotten much worse since the testing craze. There are so many books out there that address Boys and Reading but this one focuses specifically on writing and what teachers can do to help boys become writers. It really talks to teachers. I had an awful writing conference with one of my boys a few weeks ago. A few days later I read the chapter on conferring in BOY WRITERS. I immediately saw myself in the conference and realized where I had gone wrong. Somehow Ralph is able to talk to us, letting us know what we can do to support boys, without being critical of the mistakes we may be making. I learned a ton and it is an interesting read.

Here is an interview with Ralph Fletcher about the book.




A YEAR OF READING: What is the big message that you want readers to leave with in Boy Writers?

RALPH FLETCHER: Many of our writing classrooms are not meeting the needs of boys. They are not inviting, stimulating places for boy writers. We don't welcome the strengths, passions, and quirks of boy writers. No wonder test data show that boy writers perform far below girls. If we don't do a better job of engaging boys and pulling them into our writing community, well, we're going to lose them. We already are. Test results nationwide show boys performing far below girls on writing tests.

A YEAR OF READING: As the dad of 4 boys, how do you hope that classrooms will change to meet the needs of boys?

RALPH FLETCHER: It's probably too late for my sons. Joseph, my youngest, is in 8th grade. But there are other Josephs coming up. This book is for them.

There is a scene in the movie "Big" where the toy company executives explain a new toy to the character played by Tom Hanks and he frowns: "Well, that's not fun!" Boy writers feel something similar. They quickly learn the limits of the school writing game. Can't write fantasy. Can't write comics. Can't write stories with any fighting, hitting, weapons, farting, war. Can't draw illustrations. That's not fun! No wonder so many boys turn off from writing and see it as a "girl thing". I'm proposing what may seem like a radical idea: Each one of us should look at our writing classrooms from a boy's perspective and honestly ask ourselves: Does this environment engage boys? If not, let's make some changes. In BOY WRITERS I suggest many ways we need to alter our classrooms.

My friend Don Murray says "Do the writing only you can do." I'd like to see writing classrooms where teachers don't merely tolerate but encourage boys to do the kind of writing only boys can do. I'd like to see boys allowed to write stories along the lines of Jack Gantos' books and the Captain Underpants series, to name a few. Boys' pieces would include war, humor, adventure, danger, sarcasm and satire.


A YEAR OF READING: Do you see the same patterns in boys' reading?

RALPH FLETCHER: Well, I'm not a reading specialist but there are strong parallels between reading and writing. Writers like Jeff Wilhelm have pointed out that boys are drawn to texts we may not value: comics, video game guides, etc. It bothers me that my son Joseph would rather watch TV than read. Yet this morning before the bus came, he sat reading his Lacrosse magazine. Reading is reading, right?

Sadly, I think we often give kids MORE choice in reading than we do in writing. Many teachers allow students to choose their books but give them very little choice as to what to write about. If we believe young readers need to choose books that interest them, shouldn't the same thing be true for young writers?


A YEAR OF READING: What role do teachers play in helping boys become writers?

RALPH FLETCHER: It's huge! Every day we give kids explicit and implicit messages about themselves as writers. The boys may not show it but they are listening. They want our acceptance and approval. We haven't talked much about praise, but I think it may be more important than we imagined.

As a parent I used to take my 3 or 4 year olds to Chuck E. Cheese's. Did I like those places? No! I find them loud and frantic. The canned music is obnoxious. The food is pretty bad. But my boys wanted to go. Did I judge them, or criticize them for wanting to go to Chunk E. Cheese's? No, I took my kids there because I know that little kids honestly and sincerely like the Chuck E. Cheese environment. It engages them. It's a place tailor-made for their raucous energy. They feel at home when they're at Chuck E. Cheese's. In a similar way, we shouldn't judge boy writers negatively for their zany choice of topic, their earthy humor or violence. This is who they are. This is where they live.

Ultimately every teacher plays the role of host of the classroom. Will boys feel welcome, or unwelcome, at the party? If they don't feel welcome, they won't write. It's up to us.


A YEAR OF READING: What were your best and worst experiences as a boy writer in school?

RALPH FLETCHER: I'm a bit suspicious of globalizing my experiences. Whatever writing woes I may have had (especially due to my horrific handwriting), I eventually did become a writer. But as I reflect, two things seem worth mentioning. First, I wrote a great deal at home. That was where I discovered the fundemental pleasure of putting one word after another. That's where I found my stride as a writer. Interesting that at home I really didn't get encouragement from my parents; nevertheless it was a safe place where I could write for myself. Second, I must say honestly that I had many writing teachers who weren't very effective but they didn't deeply injure my psyche as a writer. Since I didn't have lasting writing scars, when I finally did encounter a few strong writing teachers (in high school), I was ready to bloom.

Blog Article for Choice Literacy

I just wrote an article for Choice Literacy that you might be interested in. It gives the history of our blog as well as info about some other blogs that help me keep current on children's books. I listed several blogs that I follow in the article. Choice Literacy is a great new website for educators. Check it out:-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Great article on Books for Gift-Giving

The new issue of The Horn Book has a great article by Roger Sutton on "What Makes a Good Gift Book?". Definitely worth reading, especially at this time of year. A fun read too. (By the way, Roger Sutton's blog is the first blog that I ever discovered and it totally hooked me to blogs and blogging.)

Poetry Friday--Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes is this year's winner of NCTE's Award for Excellence in Poetry. NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) gives this award every 3 years to a children's poet. It is for their whole body of work. I love her new book WELCOME, PRECIOUS. And I love all of her poetry.

Here is a poem from her website:

I stretch a map
across my desk,
find where X
marks the spot:
"New school" it says.
That's my destination.

Get the rest of the poem here.

Nikki will receive her award at the Books for Children Luncheon at the NCTE Annual Convention in November.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Madonna

Okay, so I am not a huge Madonna fan. I don't really pay attention to any of the gossip out there about Madonna. As a children's lit person, I am not a fan of her books. I don't really like many of the books published by celebrities or the fact that people think that "anyone can write a children's book". But, how can you miss all of the controversy about her recent plan to adopt a baby as a way to promote her new book? I am not sure what Madonna's adoption has to do with her new children's book. As part of the adoption community, I find it a bit appalling that people are accusing Madonna of planning to adopt a child in order to promote this new book. I think we can give our opinions about her book, but to negate her book because of something as important and unrelated as her adoption? What message does this give to children about adoption when we imply that she is adopting a child for this reason?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Book Collections/Habits

As part of helping my students think about their own reading identities, I always invite adult readers (parents, grandparents, staff members, etc.) to come to the classroom and talk about themselves as readers. It is quite fun. We spread it over the first months of school and it is a great builder of conversations. Every year I am amazed at collections and traditions people have around books. Over the years, we've heard from readers who buy a book in every city they visit for a collection of their travels. We've heard from readers who collect any version of Little Red Riding Hood that they can find. One mom collects Peter Rabbit books in every language. We've heard from people who buy books with their children's first names in them. This year we heard from a mom who buys a book for each child each year at Christmas. She picks out a special book for each child and writes the child a letter about their year in the front cover. Her thought is that when the children become adults, they'll have 21 books that chronicle their lives as readers, with a letter from mom in each one. What a gift! Last year, I started buying a few of my girlfriends my favorite book of the year as a Christmas present--what a better thing to share. And we all had so much to talk about! I love hearing about these traditions, collections, gift ideas etc. If anyone has others, we'd love to hear them. As a teacher, I love to share them with students--a vision of how readers live outside of the world of school. As a mom, friend, etc. I love the ideas--possibilities for my own life as a reader!

Comment if you have any great ideas. If we get enough, we'll compile them into a post.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Watch this film

Shannon Hale's books feature strong female characters. No surprise that I found this link at Sqeetus, her blog. Share this with all your friends, and not just the strong female ones.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Poetry Friday

Conference Comp Day Haiku

Teachers' holiday:
A one-day pause during the
Fall frenzy of school.

Fun Committees

Is "fun committees" an oxymoron? Not when the committees are for nominating or judging children's books for the newly conceived and unveiled Cybil Awards.



Here are the committees that are finalized so far:

Jen Robinson -- YA Fiction
Big A little a -- Picture Books (Franki's on this one!)
Fuse 8 -- Middle Grade Fiction

It appears that there is room left on the committees for Nonfiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels (I'm on this one!), Middle Grade and YA Nonfiction, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Poetry. Join in! If not to be on a FUN COMMITTEE, then to nominate a favorite in each category (following the rules, of course).

(Great logo, Stephanie!)

Newbery Ramblings

Nina, over at Nina's Newbery, wants to know if GOSSAMER is or is not an adult book.

Here's my two cents.

I read GOSSAMER aloud to my 5th graders. We had great conversation during the opening of the book about trusting an author and allowing yourself to revise your understanding of what's going on in a book as the author gives you more and more clues. Case in point: when you start reading, you have no idea what kind of creatures the Dream Givers are. Lowry gives the reader a character -- Gossamer -- who has no idea what kind of creature she is, and it's through her questions and explorations that she and the reader simultaneously learn what she is and what she does.

There were great connections between the fight of good vs. evil in GOSSAMER and in the BONE series, and between the somewhat flighty (pardon the pun), playful, simultaneously immature/deeply mature characters of Gossamer and Grace in COUNTING ON GRACE.

As early Tweens, my students really wanted to believe in the magic of the Dream Givers, but they could also talk about them in a very practical, no-nonsense way as well. This is where they're at right now in their development with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and The Great Pumpkin: they believe in spite of the evidence.

I did have to give them some background information on foster care (happily, there are no students in this class who have experienced this first-hand).

The day I was out with laryngitis so bad I could not make a single sound, my sub read the ending. After I returned, and as soon as I had enough voice to read aloud again, my students insisted I re-read the ending.

The idea of "gathering fragments" has become a metaphor in writing workshop for the kind of short entries we do in our writer's notebooks when we want to hold on to a moment (memory, scent, emotion, taste, etc.).

So is GOSSAMER an adult book? I say, "No." It's a great story for readers to connect to with heart and mind. It's a finely crafted short text for writers to study. I think it should be considered for the Newbery.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Okay, so this is my very favorite story of the year. JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE by Wendy Mass--LOVED IT! I decided to read it after FUSE #8 gave it such a great review. She was correct. It is a great book and I haven't heard much about it. I would highly recommend it. It would be a great read aloud for older kids. I got the same feel that I got many, many years ago when I was reading FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg, one of my favorite books from childhood. Jeremy Fink is a great character. His search for the meaning of life is one that is fun and one that makes you think. I've read the author's other books, but this is by far, my favorite! I don't think they give the Newbery anymore for a great story, but I would love to see this one win!