Making Recommendations a Year Later

Last year was the first year I really felt I made a difference in my students’ reading lives.  They moved from being extremely reluctant readers to voracious readers between September and June.  While I attribute this mostly to the outstanding class I had, I am very proud of the work I did to promote reading to them.

The most rewarding part of all that work?  I have students emailing me this year, from the middle school, to recommend books to me!  What an amazing feeling!  And just today I received an email seeking some recommendations from me, and I was able to share book recommendations from one former student with another.  How awesome is that?  :)

Mary Pope Osborne Blog Tour!

Recently, I read Magic Tree House #40: Eve of the Emperor Penguin for the Cybil Middle Grade category. When the opportunity arose to interview Mary Pope Osborne, I jumped on it! Below is our interview.

 

Welcome to TheReadingZone!  Thanks so much for stopping by.  My younger sister is a fan of The Magic Tree House series, and she is dying to know how you get your ideas. Do you pick a topic (such as Antarctica) and then write the story around it? Or does the story come to you first?

After a lot of thinking and talking to kids, I pick a topic and start researching it. I scribble for weeks, filling notebooks with ideas and information. Then I organize all my notes and thoughts, and as I’m doing this, things start to swirl in my head, and I start writing little bits here and there. I grab more books and look up more things, and the next thing I know, Jack and Annie are saying this and doing that…and I’m running to catch up with them.

 

How hard is it to tread the line between including too much information about a topic and not enough? In other words, do you ever struggle with fitting in the information about a specific topic without hindering the story?

If I want to share more information and it doesn’t fit the story, I can put it in the notes at the back of the book. Or my sister Natalie Pope Boyce (who now writes the Magic Tree House Research Guides) can put it in her book of nonfiction that acts as a companion to the fiction book.

 

Where do you write? Do you have a special room, or a desk, or do you have to leave your house to write? Do you follow a special routine, like writing at specific times or a certain number of words per day?

The only routine I have is that I have no routine. You could catch me at work any time, day or night, writing a chapter or just writing a paragraph. No two days are ever the same. Now I mostly work in my study in Connecticut, as it overlooks a lake and has tons of bookshelves, a fireplace and 3 dog beds for 3 dogs. But for almost 30 years I wrote in New York City, and because our apartment was so small, I worked all over town, writing in libraries, parks, cafes and coffee shops.

 

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Did you start as a young child or was it a decision made later in life?

I didn’t decide to be a writer until my late 20’s. Once I figured out that’s what I loved to do more than anything else, I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.

 

And last, but not least, as a teacher I have to ask this. What is the best memory you have of a teacher in your life?

Well, I grew up going to many different schools, as my dad was in the army. So my memories about school are pretty jumbled. But my high school English teacher, Miss Davis, sticks in my mind. I mostly remember that she loved praised good writing and would talk passionately about books she loved. I was always glad to go to her class and be in her sunny presence; and I remembering feeling really sad when during the school year, she got married (for the first time, at age 50!) and moved away.

 

 

Wow, Mary!  Thanks for sharing!  

 

The Magic Tree House books are awesome early chapter books and kids eat them up.  If you are still looking for a holiday gift for a young reader in your life, Mary Pope Osborne’s series is a surefire winner!

 

 

Be sure to check out the rest of Mary Pope Osborne’s blog tour this week!

Monday 12/15: Big A little a

Tuesday 12/16: Here

Wednesday 12/17: Fields of Gold

Thursday 12/18: The Page Flipper

Friday 12/19: The Well- Read Child

Interview with Mary Pope Osborne!

Tomorrow I will welcome Mary Pope Osborne to TheReadingZone!  Stay tuned for a great interview.

In the mean time, check out the rest of the blog tour that Mary Pope Osborne is on this week!

Monday 12/15: Big A little a

Tuesday 12/16: Here

Wednesday 12/17: Fields of Gold

Thursday 12/18: The Page Flipper

Friday 12/19: The Well- Read Child

Lesson Plans……Blah!

I really should be doing my lesson plans right now.  Instead, I have done the following today:

  • made roasted pumpkin seeds
  • cooked dinner
  • went food shopping
  • went to look at puppies for my sister, then went back to the same house and watched as my sister bought a puppy
  • was extremely jealous
  • read a book
  • answered CYBILS email
  • blogged

Notice that nowhere on there did I mention my plans.  

 

Is it winter break yet????

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie!

Thanks to Betsy Bird for passing this news on!

There will be a Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!  “Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) will direct the movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid for Fox 2000, which is slated for a 2010 release, per The Hollywood Reporter. The movie is based on author Jeff Kinney’s eponymous book for kids/tweens 9-12.”

 

Well, I know a lot of kids who are going to be very excited about this news!!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Graphic Novels

Only recently did I get into graphic novels.  However, they work wonders for reluctant and struggling middle grade readers!  Even better, they force readers to use different aspects of their brain because the have to interpret the pictures and the text in a way that is very different from novels.  Plus, graphic novels have plots that are intricate fun!

  • Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and Nathan Hale- This is not your mother’s Rapunzel! Set on the Western Frontier, this Rapunzel is spunky and smart, far from the typical damsel in distress. Shannon Hale is a Newbery-winning author and this graphic novel is fun for boys and girls!

 

  • Laika by Nick Abadzis- This story broke my heart. It is a fictionalized account of the story of the dog Laika, the first living creature launched into outer space, aboard the USSR’s Sputnik 2 in 1957. Gorgeous and heart-breaking!

 

  • Into The Volcano by Don A. Wood- I just picked this one up at the last Scholastic Warehouse Sale. It’s quietly gaining steam in my classroom. Two brothers are told they have to travel to a volcanic island to help an aunt they have never met. When they arrive on the island, they are sent on an adventure that take them on a wild boat ride straight into an erupting volcano! Great for your adventure-lovers!

 

  • Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith- This was the first graphic novel I bought for my classroom library, when I knew absolutely nothing about graphic novels. It’s always a popular choice in my class and the entire series is great (and always available from Scholastic- a huge bonus). The story follows three cousins who have been thrown out of their town for cheating the citizens. Shortly thereafter, they are separated. Each Bone stumbles into a mysterious valley full of odd creatures that reveal strange happenings.

Persuasive Letter Writing

My students are working on persuasive letters right now in writing workshop.  In the past, I always focused the unit on letters to the editor and letters to our school principal regarding issues in our school.  This year, after reading Stacey’s posts and Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8, I decided to have my students write to various companies of their choice.  I shared Ruth’s post about Stacey’s awesome student and told my students that we would be writing to companies that they felt could help our school.  

WOW!  My students are doing an amazing job so far.  They are engaged, enthusiastic, and begging to write everyday.  Their letters are awesome so far.  They are asking for donations of books for our school and classroom library, improvements to our school bathroom, and so much more.  I promise to share some of their letters once they are completed, but I am just in awe so far.   Writing to Persuade: Minilessons to Help Students Plan, Draft, and Revise, Grades 3-8 has been a great addition to my arsenal of professional resources and I am using a lot of mini-lessons and ideas to shape the unit.  I highly recommend reading it!

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Science- Fiction and Fantasy Fan

The following are the most popular science-fiction and fantasy novels in my classroom this year.

  • Harry Potter- I have more than a few Potter-fanatics this year! What I love about the Harry Potter series is that the books lend themselves so easily to discussion. My fanatics are always coming up with theories and sharing them with each other, answering each other’s questions, and arguing about which book is the best in the series. I love it!

 

  • The Hunger Games by Suzane Collins- I wasn’t too sure how this would be received by my class this year once I added it to the library. Don’t get me wrong- I loved it! But the length of this novel really made me think my more reluctant readers would steer clear. Boy was I wrong! This is being passed around like hotcakes and I don’t think it has been back on the library shelf for more than a day at a time since September. Action-packed, this story is reminiscent of Survivor and American Idol, with a touch of love and friendship thrown in for good measure.

 

  • Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix- Haddix is like some type of elixir for reluctant readers. Even kids who hate reading can’t put her books down. This year, Turnabout has been extremely popular with my 6th graders. Dealing with the idea of living forever, Haddix keeps kids turning the pages, whether they are advanced readers or the most reluctant of readers. At age 100, Melly and a few other nursing home residents are injected with an experimental drug. The drug was supposed to make them age backwards until they reached a self-determined ideal age, at which point they would get another shot to stop the process. The second shot, however, proved fatal, and the participants of the project were doomed to continue unaging until they reached infancy and eventually zero. Now teenagers, Melly and her friend Anny Beth need to find parents who can care for them in their approaching infancy. But then a snooping journalist begins prying into their lives and they are forced to go underground.

 

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman- My kids love reading books right before a new movie opens. Lately, Coraline has been a popular choice for my horror and fantasy fans because the movie trailers and advertisements have started making their way into the mainstream media. Coraline and her family move to a new home where she discovers that there are 14 doors- 13 of which are unlocked. Late one night, the 14th door is unlocked and she steps through. On the other side is a world virtually identical to her own. At first, this appears to be perfect. There is even another mother and another father, who want Coraline to be their little girl. Then she learns that they want to change her and keep her there forever. And there are other lost children in this world, whose souls are trapped in a mirror. This is one creepy book and my 6th graders love it!

 

  • Into the Wild and Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst- These hysterical romps through the lives of fairy tale characters living in the modern world will leave your tween in stitches. You see, Julie is a regular girl. Except for one thing. Her mom is sort of embarrassing. You would be embarrassed too, if your mom was Rapunzel! And if it was your job to keep “the wild” under your bed and under control. Because if it escapes, it will take over your town, your state, and maybe even the world. And anyone caught in it’s bath will become a part of the fairy tale world, doomed to live the same story over and over again….FOREVER!

 

Check out all my posts here!

My Problems with Borders Bookstores

Last year, a Borders store opened up down the street.  Since then, I have had a few complaints from my students about them (see here and here).  But today, two of my students brought up separate events they had experienced at our local Borders which annoyed me a little.  Obviously, as a passionate language arts teacher I work extremely hard at getting my students to become readers (and hopefully lifelong readers).  So it really irks me when a sales associate who does not know my students makes a judgement about their reading. 

Case in point #1- One of my students is  having a hard time finding books that she likes.  We have been working very hard and she is being a really good sport about finding books and giving them a try.  She just hasn’t found that spark or connection yet.  Recently she went to Borders in search of some books, hoping to find that perfect book.  Apparently, a sales associate approached her and began giving some suggestions.  In theory, I LOVE this idea.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out for her.  When my student got up the nerve to say that she was interested in reading Twilight , the associate said no! According to my student, the associate said, “That’s not an appropriate book for you. That’s a book for girls who like romance. Why don’t you try and read that in a few years?”

Excuse me!? First of all, my student had her mother with her. I support telling the mother what the book is about, letting her make the final choice. But what right does a bookseller have to tell a tween that she shouldn’t read a book sold in the YA department? There is no sex, no cursing, and by all accounts Meyers wrote a pretty tame book by YA standards. And if a 12 year old wants to read a book, why discourage her?! My student was so upset she left without any books at all. The bookseller made her feel like she wasn’t mature enough to choose her own books. UGH.

 

Case in point #2- A different student is flying through the Cirque Du Freak series.  He is thrilled about the upcoming movie and comes in everyday to share news and tidbits with me.  I only have the first four books in the series in my classroom library, so he went to Borders to purchase the remaining 12 books.  When he couldn’t find them on the shelf, he asked for help from a sales associate.  The associate checked the computer and then told he, “No one reads those books so we don’t stock them.  We stock books that sell well and no one is interested in those”.  When he protested and explained that the movie would be coming out in 2009 and that a lot of kids in his class love them, the associate responded that the movie wasn’t going to do well and then turned away!  No offer to special order them, nothing!  Can you imagine?!  Who says that to a teenage boy who is reading?  And requesting books!  At a bookstore!

So he went to Barnes and Noble, who apologized that they were sold out and immediately placed a special order for him.  

 

It’s things like this that only further discourage tweens/teens from reading.  And it’s why I wish we had independent bookstores around here!

Light and Fluffy Reading

Ever have one of those days when you just need the book equivalent of cotton candy?  I have persuasive letter rough drafts to go over, it feels like it should be Friday already, and I am just plain exhausted.  There is a stack of Cybils nominees next to my coffee table.  Plus, my school district just passed a redistricting plan for next year that could put my job in jeopardy.  Thus, I just needed a fun book to read.  The result?  Me sitting on my couch, in sweatpants, reading Secrets of My Hollywood Life: On Location by Jen Calonita.  Fun, funny, and nothing too heavy!  

Just one of those days.  :)

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