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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.