Hot Books!

As a teacher, I realize I have something different to add to the kidlitosphere. Like a librarian, I am surrounded by kids all day long. That’s right, real live kid readers!  I have decided to start publishing a monthly (or thereabouts) list of books my students are loving.  Hopefully, this will help others choose books for middle grade readers.Right now, here are the books that my “real live readers” are just eating up in the classroom: 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney- Boys and girls alike are reading this. They are booktalking it to each other, too! My single copy has been passed from student to student, along with the multiple copies they bought from Scholastic and the book fair. All my students are eagerly awaiting the next book.  I am asked at least once a week when the sequel will be out and usually another student (who previously asked the same question) will launch into an explanation about the title of the book and when it will be published.  Needless to say, I can’t get my hands on this soon enough!  

Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) (Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2) and Specials (Uglies) by Scott Westerfeld- I didn’t even have to booktalk this series. Two of my students came into school as huge fans and they spread the word. My classroom library has 3 copies of each book and they are rarely on the shelves for more than a day before being checked out by the next person. We have even had the media center order a few extra copies to make sure there is always one available.  Also, other dystopian books have become very popular once I explained that Westerfeld’s books are considered dystopian by many critics.    

Cirque Du Freak #1: A Living Nightmare: Book 1 in the Saga of Darren Shan (Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan) by Darren Shan- I briefly booktalked this series (seriously, for about 2 minutes before lunch one day). One student chose to take the first book home that night. Before I knew it, I was besieged by requests for the rest of the series! Apparently, the book was passed around and my boys are completely obsessed. Of course, there are 12 books and I can’t afford them all right now! The boys are getting pretty impatient. :) 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- When I booktalked this book, I knew the appeal to most students was the fact that it has a lot of pictures. However, at least 3 students have read it since and they all enjoyed the story.  They also enjoy the fact that such a ‘nice’ book is allowed to be taken home.  I think they are used to hardcover books, especially ones with gorgeous illustrations, having special rules.  Those rules usually involve keeping the books in school and not allowing them to go home.    

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis- This is our current read-aloud. My students all know that my goal is to read the Newbery before it is chosen and I told them this is one book I think has a shot at the medal. They asked to read it together and they are loving it! They beg to read it everyday and are definitely identifying with Emma-Jean and Colleen.    

These are the books I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll have to update this every so often and keep the blogosphere updated on my students’ choices.  Again, I hope that this post helps someone find more books for their children or students.

Harry in the Classroom

While reading some other blogs today, I found a great article from Britain’s Daily Mail today about a school in the UK that has experienced a significant turnaround in the academic performance of their students after introducing a Harry Potter curriculum this year. Apparently, the Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school was in the bottom quarter of schools in Britain. After introducing a student-designed curriculum, they are now in the top 5% of schools in the country!

At Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school, students are immersed in Harry Potter.

Year classes have been named Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, after the school houses at Hogwarts, the wizards’ school attended by Harry in the novels and hit movies.

Example lessons from the “Harry Potter curriculum”

•Maths: subtraction is seen as a “spell” which has been created by Harry Potter. Children have to say the magic words “numerus subtracticus” when they give an answer eg “58 minus 14 – numerus subtracticus – equals 44″.

•English: to learn about dramatisation, pupils create their own scripts for plays based on the text from chapter two of J K Rowling’s debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

•Art: imagine what Harry Potter would do if he painted a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece The Starry Night. The Potter-inspired versions featured witches, dragons and other beasties.

•History: the history of flight, starting with a discussion of Harry Potter’s broomstick, then discussing if that is real and tracing the real development of aviation, including the Wright brothers.

•Geography: comparing the children’s home town of Arnold, Nottinghamshire, with Goathland, North Yorkshire, where the scenes of Hogsmead Station were shot for the Potter films.

•Computers: take a virtual tour of Harry’s fictional school Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the internet, then create a map of Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery School using similar information.

•Science: put a stick of celery in a beaker of blue dye and see how it takes in the fluid, turning the celery from green to blue. Discuss whether Harry Potter could use this to turn one of his foes a different colour.

•Music: learn how to create a mood by performing a piece of music relating to the theme “Hogwarts at night”. Using percussion instruments, the children made appropriately spooky sounds.

•PE: balance and co-ordination is taught by getting the pupils to pretend they are Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger getting on and off their broomsticks (pupils used imaginary broomsticks).source

Wow! What a great idea on the part of the school! While some of this may sound silly to adult ears, I can picture primary students eating it up. How fun would it be to treat math as a magic spell, when so many students dread math? Or to treat science as a Potions class, coming up with magic experiments. And the music class sounds amazing. I’m a grown woman and I would have so much fun playing a piece of music that is related to the mood of the Harry Potter film music.

Part of me thinks that the whole “dressing the part, playing the part” aspect of a Harry Potter curriculum might become obnoxious. However, the students are only immersed in Harry Potter for the present term. Right now, the student body votes on a school-wide curriculum theme for each term. Past themes have included the Titanic, Africa, Princesses and Princes. According to the school head, choosing their own themes has had a dramatic “impact on their[students’] enthusiasm and motivation.” Well, of course it has! I see that on a much smaller scale in my own classroom. Whenever my students have the option of designing their own project or assessment they do much better. This is why the workshop format works so well, also. Student-directed learning is always the best choice.

I wish something like this would jump across the pond. The project-based learning taking hold around here has a lot in common with the topic learning seen in Britain. We haven’t yet made the leap to devoting our entire curriculum to a single theme or idea, but I would love to see some variation take hold here. I know it’s a big step and a huge jump away from NCLB, but it would serve students so much more than teaching to a test every year. Even if we only devoted one semester or marking period each year to a theme, it would be great. I know it would force more teachers to co-plan and work together to set up the term, but it would benefit students to much! Definitely some food for thought.

Novels vs. Movie Adaptations

Today I got a hold of Disney’s “Tuck Everlasting” movie, the 2002 adaptation of the Natalie Babbitt novel. Oddly enough, before tonight I had only seen the much older adaptation of the novel. I wanted to preview the movie before we watch it as a class next week, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I had to set aside my thoughts about the novel and view the film as a separate entity.

It should be very interesting watching the movie with my students. We have been analyzing the novel for two weeks now and will have completed our initial reading before we view the film. My students are very adept at picking up on Babbitt’s symbolism, and will notice when anything is changed in the film. Within the first 5 minutes I had already picked out 3 important changes from the novel (and I know they will immediately notice them, too).

The screenwriter has changed the timimg of the story from August to the beginning of summer. This upset me, as the metaphor about the Ferris wheel hanging at the top like August hangs at the top of the year no longer works! Also, Winnie is aged by about 6 years, making her closer to 16 than 10. Finally, her parents play a much more prominent role than they do in the book. While this is a departure from the novel, I didn’t mind that as much. Her parents are characterized as bossy, overprotective, and downright mean! It does make it more obvious why Winnie runs away- in the novel we only hear her grandmother and mother in the background, so to speak. Here they are much more in the forefront of the tale. Most importantly, the ever-present and symbolic toad is barely mentioned in the film. It does appear in a few scenes, but is never explained or pointed out.

Apparently, Natalie Babbitt gave her approval of the film and even participates in the audio commentary and extra features. If Babbitt approves of the film, I certainly do, too! However, I will look at it as a separate entity from the amazing novel. I do wish more people had seen the movie, though. It might have turned them on to the perfection of Babbitt’s novel!

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