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. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Booking Through Thursday: Mystery Novels

Today's meme at Booking Through Thursday asks:

btt button

Do you read mystery novels? If so, why? Is it the mysteries themselves that appeal to you? The puzzle-solving? The murders? Or why don’t you read them? What about them doesn’t appeal?
My guilty secret is that I don't read adult books.  I never have -- except for science fiction and fantasy -- unless I was required.  I read tons of YA and children's books, and I still do, and that's about it.

However... my father hooked me on some mystery subgenre that really appealed to me.  One was the serial killer novel.  I read a whole bunch of those, starting, of course, with Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.  Anything where I could get into the brain of the killer, either from the perspective of the killer himself or the investigator, was awesome.

I also love mysteries when there's a little bit of supernatural built in -- which I would consider to be an urban fantasy variant.  The series I liked the most was the Pendergast books by Preston and Childs.

I'm a big fan of Sherlock, but it's not because of the mystery component. It's the characters.  So I think that's the key for me -- I like character-driven books, and the genre doesn't matter much.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Convincing adults to try YA/middle grade

My mother taught small children for a living for many years.  She and I have always talked children's literature as a matter of course.  My father, on the other hand, reads almost exclusively adult science fiction (not fantasy) and suspense/crime drama.  But he loved, loved, loved Harry Potter.  Since then, I've been trying to get him to try some other fantasy and kidlit, to no avail.  I personally think he's missing out.

Being involved with the Detcon1 YSF award has led me to think about my audience a little differently, but I have the feeling that I'm appealing to a whole roomful of my-fathers.  That is, men and women who are literary fans, but are very happy in their genre niche thank you very much, and asking them to read outside it is probably annoying them to no end.  

I see some of this in the comments section of blog articles about recommended or notable speculative fiction titles, such as this one from the I09.com blog.  What, no YA? the comment reads, to which there is a flurry of responses.  I don't like YA, some say.  Stop trying to make me want to read it.  Or, books written for children are just not as well done/complex/intense as books written for adults.  Or, often, what is this 'middle grade' thing of which you speak?  And then the rest of the comments devolve into arguments, and the goal of matching reader to book is lost.

So here's my quick Three Ways to Get Your Genre Reader to Try YA/MG Spec Fic:

  1. Give them some award winners.  Several fantasy books for young readers have won the Hugo.  There's also the Golden Duck awards, which are specifically science fiction with three age groups.  
  2. Find the thing they liked about the last book they read, and give them a YA/MG book that includes that thing.  Zombie Baseball Beatdown can hook your sports fans and your zombie fans.
  3. Show them a blurb on the book from an author they admire.  When Neil Gaiman likes a book, you can bet a whole bunch more people will read it. 

Oh my god, it's August.

August means a lot of things to me.  It means camping in the sandy woodsy wilds of Michigan.  It usually means a train trip to Minnesota to be eaten by mosquitoes in the national park, although this year I didn't do that.  And it means heading back to school, professional development, and setting up my classroom or library.  This year I'm in the media center at two schools.

In August I start redirecting my online reading from personal to professional.  I more carefully monitor my Twitter feed and Zite.  I check my professional email, which I have largely ignored all summer, more compulsively.  I start opening up my blog reader.

This spring I took a fantastic BER class on Literacy and iPads with Kim McMonagle. August is my time to review some of the apps she introduced in the workshop and try them out with my own kids at home before I attempt to teach my teachers how to use them.  A couple names in case you're interested: Notability, PuppetPals, Educreations.

I'm also always on the lookout for really engaging edutainment apps for my students.  Toca, MathDoodles and DragonBox are three I'm checking out right now.

Fall is a challenging time for me to ramp up blogging again, since I'm already so overwhelmed with other professional duties as I set up my classroom and get my curriculum moving again, but I have a goal to start a weekly blog on my school page this year.  I'm also learning to use Twitter professionally; it has always felt like a hit-or-miss tool for me.

Most fun for me, in August I begin to gather titles for my mock Caldecott and Newbery projects.  This year I'm focusing only on Caldecott hopefuls, since I'm teaching at a K-2 building.  My kids and I read a bunch of things over the summer, but I'll be posting later this week with my initial long list and beginning to write reviews.  I'm participating in the Good Reads Mock Caldecott this year.

What are your August activities?