Sunday, January 31, 2010

Picture book of the week: Groundhog Day!

Gail Gibbons is the queen of non-fiction books.  She has written books about every major holiday (and some minor ones, too), animals, places in the community, and planets.  If you want to introduce a new non-fiction subject to children between kindergarten and second grade, she is the author to look for.

One of her newer books is about Groundhog Day.  I have always enjoyed this American tradition, even if it doesn't logically make sense to me.  If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  So basically, if it is a bright and sunny day, we have more snow and cold weather to look forward to.  In my opinion, the reverse seems more logical; if Phil doesn't see his shadow, we can expect more winter.  But regardless, it is a fun American tradition that not all students are familiar with.

Groundhog Day! explains the history behind Groundhog Day, as well as facts and information about groundhogs and hibernation.  Amazingly, groundhogs can move 700 pounds of dirt in one day!  If you want to wow your students with other bits of groundhog trivia, look for this book.  It is accessible, informative, and has Gail Gibbon's trademark watercolor illustrations.

Book of the week: Gregor the Overlander

I can't even count the number of people who have raved about Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander.  If you read my blog, you know that sci-fi isn't my favorite genre.  But I am making an effort to read more books that are out of my comfort zone, so I checked it out of the local library.  It sat on my bedside table for a while, perpetually at the bottom of the stack.  I finally decided to give it a try when a friend compared it to Alice in Wonderland, which was my favorite book from childhood.

Gregor did remind me of Alice; Gregor literally falls into another world while doing laundry in his apartment building.  It also reminded me of other books; the creatures in the underworld sound like Yoda when they talk, large flying bats reminded me of Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing/Sunwing books, and the underground cave world reminded me of Rebecca Stead's First Light.  So I can't say that this is the most original book on the shelves, but I suppose that most authors borrow from other books.  In my opinion, it was just another adventure novel with a sci-fi setting.  Did I find it to be as remarkable as everyone said?  No.  Was it groundbreaking?  No.  Am I going to read the  next books in the series?  That is a great big no.  But at least now I know what all the fuss is about! And when all of the Gregor-lovers ask me if I have read it yes, at least I can say yes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chapter book of the week: Everything on a Waffle

I love waffles.  Who doesn't?  Waffles with blueberries, waffles with whipped cream, waffles dripping with butter and syrup.  Obviously I would love The Girl on the Red Swing, which is the restaurant in Polly Horvath's Everything on a Waffle.  Everything you order in that restaurant come on a waffle.  Spaghetti on a waffle.  Fish on a waffle.  Definitely for the adventurous eater.

Primrose Squarp spends a lot of time at The Girl with the Red Swing.  Her parents were both lost at sea (or perhaps not...), so she now lives with her uncle Jack in Canada.  He doesn't have much time to entertain her, so Primrose passes her time at the restaurant, learning to cook and observing the locals.  Recipes are even included at the end of every chapter (and  serving the meals on  waffles is optional).

This would be a great read-aloud--the descriptions are wonderful but not too Tolkien-ish, the book is both sad and funny, and all of the characters are memorable.  And if you need more convincing, this was a Newbery Honor Book in 2002.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Picture book of the Week: Dogku

It is haiku week in the library.  We have been invited to participate in a haiku-writing contest, so many of the classes are being introduced to this lovely art form with Andrew Clements' Dogku.  The very same Andrew Clements who writes the humorous chapter books.  This is the story of stray dog, Mooch, who finds a family to adopt him.  The story is told in haikus, but students don't have any trouble following the plot.  If you are looking for an introduction to poetry or haikus, check this one out!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Award winners announced!

On January 18, the Newbery and Caldecott Award winners were announced. These awards are given out once a year to the best chapter book (Newbery) and best illustrations (Caldecott). The winners for 2010 are:

Newbery Award: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This is a mystery/science fiction novel in one. Those of you who read this blog regularly will note that I reviewed this book and wasn't too thrilled with it, but it is a great read for you science fiction fans.

Caldecott Award: Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse. This is a wordless retelling of Aesop's beloved fable.

More infomation can be found at the American Library Association's website.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Picture book of the week: Miss Nelson is Missing

I chose Harry Allard as the Author of the Month for January.  January can be a month of blahs, and Harry Allard's books are humorous, made even more so because of his collaboration with illustrator James Marshall.  Harry Allard is one of those multi-age authors; I have read Miss Nelson is Missing to first graders and to fifth graders and both ages enjoyed it.

Miss Nelson is a sweet and loving elementary school teacher.  She is also a bit on the easygoing side.  Her class, the worst in the school, takes advantage of her sweet nature and is horrible.  They are even horrible during story hour, and this is the last straw for poor Miss Nelson.  She does not come to school the next day, and in her place is the wretched Miss Swamp.  Miss Swamp is ugly and yells and gives tons of homework and doesn't even believe in story time.  Not surprisingly, the class shapes up for Miss Swamp and begins to miss Miss Nelson, and appreciates her so much when she returns, they never act horribly again.

Are Miss Swamp and Miss Nelson the same person?  Will your students figure it out?  Maybe.  What if you came to school dressed like Miss Swamp?  Sounds like a great Halloween idea to me!

Book of the week: When You Reach Me

I was truly enjoying Rebecca Stead's latest book, When You Reach Me.  I had read her previous book, First Light, and hadn't been too thrilled with it, probably  because it was science fiction, and I am not a science fiction fan at all.  So I was happily surprised when I started reading When You Reach Me and found it to be a mystery.  I love mysteries!  I am not even embarassed to admit that I went though a little Lillian Jackson Braun phase (in high school, of course, when you are expected to experiment).  My mother and I refer to her as the macaroni and cheese of the literary world--pure comfort reading.

Anyway, I started reading When You Reach Me and I was instantly hooked.  Who is leaving Miranda odd letters in intimate places, like her jacket pocket?  And why aren't she and Sal talking anymore?  And what is up with her friend Annemarie's mystery illness?  And why does the Laughing Man hang out under the mailbox all day?  And will her mother win on the $20,000 Pyramid?  And what is that book that she is always reading with the broccoli garden?  So many mysteries!  I was loving it.

Until I came to the end of the book, and found out that this mystery is actually a science fiction book in disguise, and the book in question is A Wrinkle in Time (which of course, I haven't read, because I don't like science fiction).  Boo.  But if you like mysteries and science fiction, or perhaps you did A Wrinkle in Time as a read-aloud and you are now looking for a companion book, check this one out.  It will leave you guessing until the end.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book of the week: Joey Pigza Swallows the Key

I have loved Jack Gantos for as long as I can remember.  I have a soft spot for his character, Rotten Ralph, who reminds me of my naughty cat, Lucy.  This is the first of his books that I have read outside of the Rotten Ralph series.  As expected, it made me laugh, but there were times when I was on the verge of tears.  Joey reminds me of a few students that I have encountered through the years, but it made me stop and think what it is like to be them and constantly having people tell them to sit still and stop talking and pay attention.  Thankfully I have never had to wipe vomit off of a housekey that was intentionally swallowed by a student, but I feel quasi-prepared to deal with that situation, should it arise.  Ipecac!  Who knew?

Joey is wired wrong, as is his father and grandmother.  As a result, he has ADHD.  His mother abandoned him as a young child, and he was raised by his ill-wired grandmother.  She did horrible things to him, like making him act like a dog and trying to punish him by giving him time-out in a refrigerator.  These scenes, of course, made me wonder what home life is like for some of my students.  Luckily for Joey, his mother reappears, the grandmother disappears, and Joey is given the proper medication to control his body.  This would be a good read-aloud for fifth and sixth grades (and possibly a mature 4th grade) and is sure to lead to discussions.  And hopefully some empathy for the real Joeys of the world.

Picture book of the week: Martin's Big Words

We are discussing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his amazing accomplishments.  My favorite read-aloud biography about is life is Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words.  Is it accessible to young children and it has also won many awards, including the Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott Honor Award.  The illustrator, Bryan Collier, uses a variety of media, including collage, watercolors, and photographs; the result is stunning.  Students enjoy identifying examples of each on every page. This book has led to many wonderful discussions, including a first grader who told me that if he had one wish, it would be for a time machine to travel back in time to save Dr. King's life.  Another first grade student proposed that we add him to Mount Rushmore.  Reading this book, and the discussions that followed, has been one of the highlights of my year.  Happy birthday, Dr. King!