Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Froodle

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(see below for detailed rating)

Something to know about me: words make me laugh. And oh my gosh, did this make me laugh. Right away, I knew my son would appreciate it too. I called him over from his trains and said, "Seriously, you have to hear this book." I was right. His response upon reading it: "Can we buy that book? It's my favorite book ever!"

Watch the book trailer here.

This is a book (illustrated by the author of NOT A BOX) about bucking the trend and choosing to be an individual, and how the others in one's peer group might react to it. The crow resisted the longest, but even he decided words were awesome too.

There's a lovely connection to seasons here, and sounds animals make. The first grade teacher in me is clamoring for curricular connections, but the librarian in me is just saying, "They are going to ask for this one over and over."

Antoinette Portis talking about imagination in 2008.

Ratings start at 5 out of 10 (perfectly acceptable) and go up or down from there.

Awesomeness: 9. A great concept, fabulously executed.

Wordsmithing: 8. Quirky and clever, and full of puns and references that older readers will relish.

Personages: 7. Each bird has its own personality, which I love.

Mesmerizitude: 8. I will totally read this book again.

Illustrations: 7. Sweet and simple and beautifully balanced.

Other reviews: Waking Brain Cells | Pass the Chiclets | Jean Little Library | Books for Little Foxes | Books Books Everywhere

View all my reviews

Review: This One Summer

This One Summer
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The best thing about this book was the non-sequiturs. The dialogue and overheard conversations were totally believable. Tamaki nailed the awareness of a preteen of the experiences of both teens and adults - the fear, the fascination, the befuddlement and longing to understand. Reading it as an adult, it made me wonder what the target audience might be. I was thinking teenagers, even though the POV is from a preteen.

Graphic novels make it hard to get to know characters. This book solved that problem by developing strong visual exposition. I was able to write entire paragraphs in my head about the sensory experiences of being on the beach and watching horror movies.

The setting is perfect: ephemeral summer, never quite as good as you expect it to be, but when it's over, you realize how much you'll miss it.

Rating (they all start at 5 out of 10 (perfectly acceptable) and go up or down from there):

Awesomeness: 6. Disturbing, but still a light read.

Wordsmithing: 8. Turns of phrase will stick with you, especially the characters' awareness of sex.

Personages: 7. I felt for all the characters, even the ones I didn't particularly like.

Mesmerizitude: 5. I liked it, but it won't be one I'll read again.

Illustrations: 6. They were clean and simple, with great movement.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge: Organizing My Books

Thanks to Cover2Cover, I'm participating in a Bloggiesta mini-challenge to organize my books and conquer my TBR pile. Planning and organizing are skills I am good at, but prioritizing I am NOT. So finding time to organize my fiction collection has been very low on my list. I have culled my print book collection so many times, and I think it is time to do it again as I alphabetize my fiction for the first time in two years. (My library shelf, my professional shelf and my craft shelves, at least, are in good shape.)

I have three big sets of built-in bookshelves. The one upstairs in my middle room is all fiction. The one downstairs is the largest and is a conglomeration of a whole bunch of things, mostly books. I think I'll move my graphic novel collection upstairs and my fiction downstairs, and plan to alphabetize it as I cull.

This is my TBR shelf and professional shelf. Books on the upper left I'm using as reference titles for stories I'm writing. Upper right are library chapter books and audiobooks. Second and third shelves are professional books, library picture books (and chocolate). Fourth and fifth shelves are craft materials.

Below, with the two doors, you see the rest of my craft materials. I spent a couple days over the summer organizing them by topic. You can't see my beautiful Mowati tileworks on my front windowsill. Cookbooks are on the bottom right near the door. I haven't figured out what to do with the long shelf at the top of the room - maybe some ornaments can go up there eventually. In any case, that's outside the scope of Bloggiesta...

Now we get to the shelves that need help. My middle room is painted dark red. My son insisted on photobombing the second half of the shelves. I must say that when I moved into this tiny 460-square-foot home from my 1500 square foot home, I reduced my fiction significantly. Since then I've culled at least twice more. Here's what's left. The bottom couple shelves are kids' books, but the rest is a hodgepodge of fiction. It drives me crazy, so I'm grateful for this encouragement to reorganize.

I'll take all my fiction downstairs and bring the graphic novels upstairs -- they might fill this space, actually -- and if they don't, I'll fill the rest with children's books.

While I'm at it, I'll figure out which of my fiction I haven't yet read (lots of it) and put those on my TBR shelf.

I have a little shelf at the bottom of my stairs which has some canning stuff and some books. I can add books from my unpacked boxes of classroom books to the bottom couple shelves.

This is my giant wall of books, 8 feet floor to ceiling along my inside corridor downstairs. It's completely a mess. I just put everything up there when I moved in and never bothered to organize it. There would have to be some major sorting. It'll be too much for one weekend, but I can definitely switch the fiction downstairs.

Whew! Now, if I didn't have a full day of teaching tomorrow, a ceremony to attend on Friday night in another city, and house guests coming over on Saturday night, I might actually be able to accomplish other things in addition to this. =)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fall Bloggiesta, September 18-21

I'm mostly excited to be participating in the 2014 Bloggiesta this weekend. I've been such a blog slacker these past couple years, but I'm determined to get started again. So here are my goals:

• Clean up my tags.
• Unify my review structure.
• Review at least five of the books on my to-do shelf.
• Post all my draft posts, including the next part of my Easy Reader leveling post.
• Prep next week's posts.
• Do at least one meme.
• Catch up on my school blog.

I think that's probably enough. My hope is that I'll be done by Saturday.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Easy readers and reading levels, part 1 - why level books?

This is the first in a three-part post on leveling beginning readers.

"Easy" readers and reading "levels." The air quotes are thick here, folks. I'm primarily talking about those books published for kids who are learning how to read, with a few words on each page, controlled vocabulary and lots of white space. They are by no means easy for their audience. (And if you doubt me, try reading one in a language you are just learning.) Why, oh, why do we call them "easy" readers? I have seen many alternate names, but usually I just call them "readers" or "beginning readers," although in an article like this it's hard to tell if I mean the people or the books. Whatever the term, if I find myself working in the same library for more than one year, you can bet I'm peeling off every one of those big "Easy" stickers off the spine and replacing them with my own color coding system (which I address in part two).

Every publisher has their own way of presenting the level of a reader. Autonomy is fine, but I really wish there was some industry-wide convention for leveling books instead of the ubiquitious 1-through-4 (sometimes 5) levels that stymy parents and kids alike. How baffling to look at two different books labeled with a big colorful Level 2 and have them clearly be so different?

Public libraries sometimes use leveling systems for their readers, but cataloging and judging reading level are two very different skills. Unless the public library has a cataloger on staff who has experience teaching reading to beginning readers, they're mostly coming up with their own arbitrary categories of easy-intermediate-harder.

Let's leave aside for a moment the question of whether or not leveled books are useful for students, or if requiring students to read "just right" or "at their level" books (or, indeed, any particular books at all) is a good idea. My own philosophy about education skews far toward the unschooling side of the spectrum, and I have never once fell in love with a book anybody made me read. But one of my many goals as a media specialist is to help introduce my students to a large selection of books they can read independently. Luckily, along with the usual cartload of awful, painfully boring books like this on the market, there are lots of really good ones. Not all of them are shaped like typical 9" reader-sized books, either. Some books straddle the divide between formats. Others may be graphic novels. Regardless of their shape and size, I want these books to be easy to find -- without using a catalog -- so kids can spend less time searching and more time reading.

Students who are beginning readers may have a lot of experience with print, or none at all, but I have found that most of them are often overwhelmed by large collections of books. To meet the needs of these students, I have to help them narrow their selection down. This is why I label my books -- not because these are the only books these kids may read, but because it makes their process of selecting a book they can decode so much less stressful.

In the next post in this series, I'll talk about how I level my beginning reader books.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One Small Voice: Read-Alouds About People Who Made A Difference

This is a portion of a project video for a grant I funded in 2010. The purpose was to purchase a circulating collection of award-winning books and audiobooks for all elementary students on the topics of social justice, humanitarian assistance and courageous action. Students were informed, enlightened and entertained by sharing great children’s literature about significant people from recent history, as well as stories about children and adults (and one dog) who accomplish amazing things.

Here's a three-minute video booktalking the books in the program.  If anybody wants access to the complete video, including details about the program, leave a comment.

A Boy Named Beckoning by Gina Capaldi.  This story reveals the remarkable life of a Native American boy named Wassaja, or "Beckoning," who was kidnapped from his Yavapai tribe and sold as a slave. Adopted by an Italian photographer in 1871 and renamed Carlos Montezuma, the young boy traveled throughout the Old West, bearing witness to the prejudice against and poor treatment of Native Americans. Carlos eventually became a doctor and leader for his people, calling out for their rights.
Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman. Professor Ueno bids goodbye to his faithful dog before boarding the train to work every morning. And every afternoon, just before three o’clock, Hachi is at the train station to greet his beloved master. One day, the train arrives at the station without the professor. For ten years, Ha­chi waits for his master to return. Not even Yasuo, the young boy who takes care of Hachi, can persuade him to leave his post.  A novel inspired by a true story brings to life the legendary Akita who became a national symbol for loyalty and devotion.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull. The dramatic story of Chavez's 340-mile march to protest the working conditions of migrant farmworkers in California is the centerpiece of this well-told biography.
Mary On Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells. In 1923, there were no doctors or hospitals in the isolated mountains of Appalachia. Then Mary Breckinridge came. Trained as a nurse, she made the Appalachians her life's work-fording icy streams and climbing untracked mountains to bring medical help to those in need. These three stories, told in simple, luminous prose, bring to life the birth of the Frontier Nursing Service, which still operates in Kentucky.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  2010 Newbery Honor winner. In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents.  Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. A wondrous story of adventure, faith, and friendship.
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola. "The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai changed the world one seed at a time. Claire A. Nivola's lovely Planting the Trees of Kenya offers Maathai's story to a younger, wider audience.  No child, and surely no library, ought to be without Planting the Trees of Kenya." —Boston Globe 
Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa That Brought Them Together.  When he was in first grade, Ryan learned about countries without access to clean drinking water. His commitment to building a well sparked an international chain of events, but the most moving part of the book is the correspondence and friendship between Ryan and Akana Jimmy, a boy in Agweo Village, Uganda.

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Sometimes, even in the middle of ugliness and neglect, a little bit of beauty will bloom. Award-winning writer Paul Fleischman dazzles us with this truth in Seedfolks--a slim novel that bursts with hope. Wasting not a single word, Fleischman unfolds a story of a blighted neighborhood transformed when a young girl plants a few lima beans in an abandoned lot. Slowly, one by one, neighbors are touched and stirred to action as they see tendrils poke through the dirt. Hispanics, Haitians, Koreans, young, and old begin to turn the littered lot into a garden for the whole community. A gift for hearts of all ages, this gentle, timeless story will delight anyone in need of a sprig of inspiration.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges. A personal, deeply moving historical documentary about a staggeringly courageous little girl at the center of events that already seem unbelievable.   

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Looking at the trash and graffiti in the courtyard outside her inner-city apartment, a young African-American girl wishes for something beautiful. Back home, the girl cleans up her trash-filled courtyard and resolves to help make her own neighborhood into something beautiful. This moving picture book offers a shining testament to the ability of human beings to find "something beautiful" in even the most unlikely places.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made A Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway. Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a microloan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many.  In 2006 Muhammad Yunus, a Bangledeshi economist who pioneered microloan banking, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

You can download files related to the grant here, including a PowerPoint presentation on all ten books and the importance of reading aloud, two posters in PDF and Pages format, and my original grant. Also in the folder are a bunch of Jim Trelease's brochures on reading aloud, which I got from his web site; they are not mine, but you should definitely use them. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Library Loot: Caldecott 2015 hopefuls, plus one

This week's Library Loot are nearly all selections from my 2015 Caldecott long list. I seem to have terrible predictive powers, but I'll enjoy sharing them with my kids.

Baby Bear - Kadir Nelson
Abuelo - Arthur Dorros
Bad Bye, Good Bye - Deborah Underwood
Gaston - Kelly DiPucchio
Elizabeth Queen of the Seas - Lynne Cox
Gravity - Jason Chin
Following Papa's Song - Gianna Marino
Galapagos George - Jean Craighead George
Emily's Blue Period - Cathleen Daly
Some Bugs - Angela DiTerlizzi
Have You Seen My Dragon? - Steve Light
Tiny Rabbit's Big Wish - Margarita Engle
The Watermelon Seed - Greg Pizzoli
Ball - Mary Sullivan
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons - Jon Muth
Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship - Edward Hemingway
Nest - Jorey Hurley
Brother Hugo and the Bear - Katy Beebe
Extraordinary Jane - Hannah Harrison

The last book, pictured on the right, is my sole novel, Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein.  I have seriously fallen down on my chapter book reading in the past three years, but I'm determined to pick it up again.  What better choice that a book full of literary references and puzzles?

We already checked out a bunch of Caldecott hopefuls over the summer and read them, so I'll add them to my compiled list and share that in a few weeks.

Thanks to Linda at Silly Little Mischief for hosting Library Loot this week.