Thursday, April 16, 2020

Where Am I?

This is an old blog, and I seldom update it. You can find me in these other places, in descending order of frequency:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Title Roundup: Middle Grade Novels in Verse

When I discovered verse novels, I felt like I'd found another piece of the elephant. This was going to be a hook to get more kids reading! Lovers of imagery and short fiction and, heck, rap could appreciate the meter and rhythm of poetic novels. I immediately put together a program for my fifth graders and applied for a grant to buy the very best middle grade verse novels out there.

That was five years ago. I haven't taught fifth graders since. There have been a ton of good ones published in the last five years, but consider that these titles inspired the newer ones. Amidst the buzz this year about Brown Girl Dreaming, Crossover, How I Discovered Poetry and others at the ALA Youth Media Awards this year, don't overlook these titles for your middle grade and young teen readers.


Cover pics from Goodreads, and they all link there.  Here's my complete Goodreads shelf of poetic novels. What favorites of yours did I miss?

Other lists of MG poetic novels (with some YA mixed in, because crossover):

Video: Sam and Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

This is one of those posts that has languished in my drafts since I wrote it in October, and by now everyone knows about the book, of course, so I'm just going to post it.

I had this video open in a tab in my browser for a week before pressing play. I actually squeed when I watched it. It wasn't because of the dreamy Mac Barnett/Jon Klassen combo. It was because of the Burl Ives music in the background. I spent my childhood listening to this album.

If you think that cover is trippy, check out the lyrics:

Saw a flea kick a tree
Fooba Wooba, Fooba Wooba
Saw a flea kick a tree
Fooba Wooba John

Saw a flea kick a tree
In the middle of the sea
Whoa, John, ho, John
Fooba Wooba John

It just gets weirder from there. There's a song about the sow getting the measles, too. Really catchy, though. Go listen. Maybe it doesn't age as well as I think it does, but if Jon Klassen thinks you should listen to Burl Ives, maybe you ought to give it a try?

Olé! Bloggiesta 2015

I look forward to Bloggiesta because I get so much more done when I have a community backing me up. This is really fun for me. 

I have been a miserable book blogger over the past three years, but this year I have made big strides back toward being involved in my reading and blogging life, so I'm proud of that. As part of this spring's Bloggiesta, I resolve to 
  • enter the books I've read this winter into Goodreads
  • sign up for one reading challenge for 2015
  • read at least one of the books on my TBR shelf.
Now I've begun setting up my site, which is far more complicated than I expected -- but I've done web hosting before and managed my own servers, so I know I can figure this thing out soon enough. I resolve to
  • sort through the issues around hosting and domain registration
  • transfer my Blogger site to Wordpress
  • create my blog banner using the art my mom created for me. 
I'm sure there are other things I could be doing, but that's a good start. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy 2015!

I'm returning to school with all kinds of new ideas. Which, of course, means less sleep for me, but... hey, I can sleep when I'm dead.

I was so excited to participate in the Cybils this year! This was my fourth year on the first round panels, but my first time as part of the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book cohort. We read over 90 books and narrowed it down to these fourteen. Good luck to the second round panelists, who have to decide which one is the winner!

Because of the Cybils, I already read more last year than I did in the three years previously. Good on me. In 2015, I want to get blogging about books again. One review post a week, I say! Can I do it?

Back soon with Mock Caldecott news.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Easy readers and reading levels, part 2 - how to level books

This is the second of a three part post on leveled readers. You can find the first one ("Why level books?") here.

A lot of schools are using lexile levels to level books, which look at statistical complexity of text, specifically word frequency and sentence length. There are a couple of issues with applying this to beginning readers. First, lexiles don't measure below a certain complexity, which means the simplest readers end up lumped into one "BR" category. Second, complexity isn't necessarily directly related to whether or not that reader would actually understand the text. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a higher lexile level than To Kill A Mockingbird. Lexile doesn't take subject matter, prior knowledge or reader interest into consideration. That makes it an inadequate tool, when used alone, for matching readers to texts.

I prefer to use the Fountas and Pinnell guided reading levels as a starting point. These were designed for teachers to use to select books to use with students, one-on-one for assessment or in small group instruction of reading. They are really not meant for use by students. I've taught kindergarten, first and second grade, and I find guided reading levels to be very helpful in my teaching.  They run from A through Z, but in the library, that level of precision is not necessary. Instead, I chose to use color codes to indicate a book falls within a range of levels.

Last week, while reviewing books during the Readathon, I came across a Penguin leveled reader that bore -- hallelujah! -- a meaningful set of levels. They are actually not unlike the ones I use, described below, but I was pleased to see them described so fully.

Red = guided reading levels A-D. There are few books published at this level that you can buy at the store. Some are phonics readers with words that can be decoded, like the BOB books, but most are repetitive texts with familiar vocabulary, since few beginning readers know enough about phonics rules to apply them consistently. I don't have very many red-labeled readers in my library, but there are some great picture books that fall in this category. Some of the Biscuit books fit in this category.

Yellow = guided reading levels E-I, or approximately the instructional level of an average first grade reader. This includes both Elephant and Piggie and Fly Guy.

Blue = guided reading levels J-L, or approximately the instructional level of an average second grade reader. Most easy reader books fall into this category. Frog and Toad is a good example.

Green = guided reading levels M-N. This involves some easy readers and some early chapter books. Most of the Magic Tree House books fall in this category.

After level N, I stop leveling books and focus on familiarity with series, authors and genre to classify books. Yes, a book may be a level R or a level T, but when reading for pleasure, by the time a reader can comprehend a level O book, they have usually learned enough strategies for figuring out difficult words. They can also open a book and read a page or two to decide if they can understand a text enough to enjoy it. Students who come in looking for "a level P" book usually end up with a whole range of levels in their hands when they leave my library -- and that's fine.

My students use the colors to guide them, but they are not required to follow them. I suggest they get one book they can read by themselves. This might be an easy book, a just-right book or a challenging book, as the student prefers. They can use the colors until they feel comfortable opening a book and reading some of it to see if it makes sense. This leads to confidence in using the library, as well as a better awareness of how and why books are easier or harder.

It took me a few years to get comfortable with leveling books. The best way is to start is by reading Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell's books. The act of leveling a library will teach you a lot, too. It's somewhat subjective, but it helps to spend time with students reading the texts and to watch them progressing through the levels. Here's a booklet describing each of the levels A-M.  Scholastic provides a Book Wizard, which you can search by level. I used this tool and lots of lists of leveled books when I was leveling my library, but I mostly used the Fountas and Pinnell database (pay subscription). Lastly, here's a very useful comparative chart with lots of different leveling methods compared.

The last post in this series will look beyond levels and more closely at what I've noticed about children as they develop into fluent readers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 Readathon finish line!

I made it! 24 hours minus six for sleeping (plus a few more for unscheduled naps during the day). Considering I had my kids the entire time, I'm very pleased with how much I got done. 
My goal was to read as many books as I could from my TBR pile from the library. Most of these were picture books; some were easy readers or graphic novels or short chapter books. I tweeted lots of them; I also posted every book on Goodreads, with a very brief review. I posted one long review here (Some Bugs). 
In 2011, I pretty much stopped reading. As in maybe five books total per year, down from 150 in previous years. Part of the reason for this is because I moved from the library to the classroom, but another big reason is that I started using all my free time to write. Since 2011, I've written almost three million published words. But a writer needs to be a reader, too, and I decided this was going to be the year I started reading again. This readathon was the opportunity I needed.
Sitting and reading a novel felt... really hard. I struggled to stay engaged. I skimmed, which is not the way I traditionally read.
End of Event Meme (from the Readathon web site):
  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? The middle hours when I got sleepy, and the dinner hours when I was most distracted.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Mine were short! I listed my favorites along the way during each check-in.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope! It was great!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The cheerleaders were super. I loved all the participation on Twitter.
  5. How many books did you read? Still tallying, but I'm pretty sure it was over fifty.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? All of them are on Goodreads.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? My favorite was Paul Meets Bernadette, but I had a lot of favorites.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? I read a couple early chapter books I didn't care much for.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? (I wasn't)
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I'll definitely do it again!

Where Am I?

This is an old blog, and I seldom update it. You can find me in these other places, in descending order of frequency: Goodreads @mama_libr...