Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Great article!

Laura B. sent me this link to a great article about school and classroom libraries.  Nice find!

The Ultimate Classroom Library: Your School Media Center

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book of the Week: The Higher Power of Lucky

Around Halloween, I reviewed the most recent Newbery Award winner, The Graveyard Book.  I thought that the holiday season would be a great time to review another Newbery winner, in case people are looking for last-minute gift ideas.  I'm not going to mention the 2008 Newbery winner, except to say that it was absolutely awful (which you will very rarely hear me say) and I firmly believe that the only reason why it won was because it was written by a librarian and the people on the Newbery committee were showing their solidarity.  So we'll go back another year to the 2007 winner, The Higher Power of Lucky.

Granted, Susan Patron, the author of The Higher Power of Lucky, was also a childrens' librarian (for 35 years, no less), but I don't feel that played a part in this novel being chosen for the Newbery.  This is a novel that has something for everyone.  There has been a lot of controversy over this book, and I can see both sides of the issue.  Yes, the word "scrotum" is in the book.  Yes, scrotum is 100% gratuitous.  Yes, Lucky's dog could have been bitten anywhere...on the foot, on the leg....it didn't have to be the scrotum.  But  someone smart once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  People were talking about this book.  "Scrotum" is apparently scandalous!  It created an uproar in the library community.  At the time this was happening, I had to wonder why all of these outraged people didn't have better things to do with their time.  I'm sure that if I headed over to my 612's, I would find the word "scrotum" in plenty of books, along with some even more colorful words.  But people were up in arms.

Despite the shock value, the book won the Newbery, and it deserved it.  Lucky is like a modern-day Ramona Quimby: spunky, inquisitive, and full of life.  After losing her mother in a tragic accident, her father's estranged wife, Brigitte, leaves France to care for Lucky.   Lucky is sure that her "higher power" will make her life less difficult.  In the meantime, she decides to always be prepared and carry around a survival kit, just in case.  This will come in handy when Lucky thinks that Brigitte is planning on returning to France, which prompts Lucky to run away, along with an unexpected travel companion.  Students will relate to Lucky and her unfortunate experiences--if they are like me, they will both laugh and cry.

Personally, I would not shy away from doing this as a read-aloud.  I have a feeling that if you read the infamous scrotum sentence and just kept going, students wouldn't even notice.  I highly doubt there would be any gasps of shock in the room.  And if anyone did ask, it could be easily defined as part of a dog's body. Don't let one word ruin the chance for a great read-aloud.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book of the Week: One Giant Leap

Fifth grade is studying the Moon, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to do a read-aloud about something that I love to read about, which is non-fiction.  Over the summer, I read Too Far From Home: a Story of Life and Death in Space, which is the nail-biting story of the Expedition Six mission to the International Space Station in 2003.  Their three-month trip turned into a five-month trip after the space shuttle Columbia exploded and NASA grounded all other space flights. (They did not bring enough food or supplies for an extended stay, so their return home was in jeopardy).  I was very happy to have read what life was like in orbit, because our reading of One Giant Leap resulted in many questions and discussions about what it is like to travel to space.

One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh commemorates the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's Moon landing. The text is accessible and the illustrations are beautifully detailed, yet dreamy at the same time.  The book discusses the feelings and fears of the astronauts and does a wonderful job of giving an inside glimpse of what the men were thinking.  In the future, I might pair this book with another that discusses day-to-day life in orbit (being strapped into bed so they don't float around all night, changing their clothes once a week), but we paired this book with an investigation of NASA's website.  This book would be a great piece of a non-fiction or space-themed lesson.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book of the week: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

Po Bronson's NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children was recommended in my favorite magazine, The WeekThe Week rarely lets me down, so I expected great things from this book, and I was not disappointed.  This book is a compilation of the latest scientific research about children and how modern parenting ideas are failing our youngsters.

Each chapter deals with a different aspect of parenting: praise (given way too often), sleep (getting less than ten hours per night takes the equivalent of two school years off of performance) and race (kindergarteners will notice race and come to their own conclusions, whether you mention it or not), to name a few.  This is a fascinating read for anyone who deals with children and challenges many of the rules that we have been taught to believe.  This title would make a wonderful choice for a school-wide book discussion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Picture Book of the Week: School Lunch

When I printed the statistics for my monthly report for November, I was suprised to see that School Lunch by True Kelley was the most popular picture book in the month of November.  It is a new title for us this year, but I hadn't taken the time to really look at it until  now.

Harriet, the cook at Lincoln School,  is tired from making healthy lunches for the students, so she decides to take a vacation.  The book consists mostly of letters sent from the students to Harriet, describing the horrible replacements that Mr. Fitz, the school principal, scrapes up.   While this wouldn't be one that I would do for a read-aloud, classroom teachers might consider it when talking about letter-writing.  Kids will enjoy the humorous meals that the various cooks serve up, and it could be tied in with a nutrition lesson, too.  You might have a hard time getting your hands on a copy, though...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If you can't beat it...appreciate it

I am blogging in my PJs on a weekday afternoon because we had a snow day today.  While I was out shoveling at 6 am, cursing the snow (out loud, I might add), I remembered that I wanted to post the website that I am using with third grade this week, snowflakebentley.com.  While most of us grumble and complain about snow, Wilson Bentley devoted his whole life to documenting the beauty of snowflakes.

A third grade teacher requested a non-fiction book for their lesson this week, so we disucssed nonfiction and biographies.  We read Jacqueline Briggs Martin's Snowflake Bentley, which is not only a gorgeous example of a biography, but it is also a Caldecott medal winner.  We then looked at photographs of his snowflakes online.  His life's work turns something that most of us hate and dread into a mystical work of art. Check out the site, read the book, and think about him the next time you are achy from shoveling and asking yourself why you don't live in sunny California.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chapter book of the week: The Van Gogh Cafe

I am a little ashamed to admit it, but I don't read fantasy books.  I would much rather read historical fiction or nonfiction, and I can't even remember the last fantasy book that I willingly read.  I picked Cynthia Rylant's The Van Gogh Cafe from the stack of new books, knowing nothing about it except for the fact that it got rave reviews.  Now I see why; this charming little book is a delightful fantasy.

The Van Gogh Cafe is housed in what used to be a theater.  Theaters are always magical, according to the main character, Clara.  And magical things do happen at the Van Gogh Cafe: breakfasts cook themselves, the owner, Marc (Clara's father) writes poems that predict the future, and cats fall in love with seagulls.  Each chapter highlights a bit of magic that occurs in this sleepy little Kansas town. This would be a great introduction to fantasy, or it would make a great classroom read aloud.  It is very short (53 pages), and contains many springboards for classroom discussions about writing, such as small moments, imaginative similes, and a person who wants to be a writer but feels that he doesn't have the talent.  This will be suggested to many a reluctant reader in the months to come!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Picture Book of the Week: The Three Snow Bears

Jan Brett is our Author/Illustrator of the month in December.  Not only do I love her illustrations and the way that she supports schools and libraries, but I also want to highlight some authors who are not old white men.  Since her birthday is in December, she seemed like a perfect fit.

We recently got one of her new titles, The Three Snow Bears.  This is a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with some differences, of course.  It takes place in northern Canada,  Goldilocks is an Inuit, and the bears are polar bears.  I have been doing a great lesson with first grade, comparing and contrasting this to Jan Brett's version of Goldilocks.  This would be a great story to support a lesson discussing arctic life.