Hot Books at the Book Fair

Today I visited the Scholastic Book Fair with all four of my classes.  I loved having that time to booktalk, browse, and help them find great books.  Want to know what the hottest titles were?

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) was completely sold-out thanks to my classes. My favorite? When one of my students walked in, picked up Catching Fire, paid, and proceeded to walk around the rest of the book fair with his head buried in the book. Amazing.

Almost as popular was Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. While most of my students had pre-ordered their copy through Scholastic’s book clubs, there were a few hold-outs who picked it up today. Many students also picked up the rest of the series. By the end of the day, the entire series was wiped out!

I have a lot of students this year who love, love, love scary stories. Because of this, Mary Downing Hahn was very popular. The most popular choice? All the Lovely Bad Ones. Many of my students added that one to their collections. And coming in a close second was Avi’s The Seer of Shadows. I haven’t read The Seer of Shadows but am looking forward to it now.

I also had a lot of students who bought A Curse Dark as Gold, which made me happy. Fairy tale retellings are always popular and I was happy to see them choosing such a well-written novel.

One novel that was very popular but that I wasn’t familiar with was Malice. Let me tell you- coolest 3D cover EVER! Two of my boys purchased it and are already halfway through. It’s a combination comic book/novel. Very awesome!

It was a lot of fun spending the day choosing books with my students, because I don’t always have the time I wish I could to booktalk individually. Today I was able to personally talk to all 100 of my students about their book selection.

Cybils!

You only have a few more days to nominate books for the Cybil Awards!  If you haven’t done so yet, make your way over to the nominating form and get going.

Not sure what the Cybils are?  Check this out from the Cybils website:

Our purpose is two-fold:

  • Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and “kid appeal.” What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.
  • Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.

We wouldn’t be a real awards if we didn’t have a whole bunch of complicated rules in tortured lawyerese. So maybe we’re not a real awards, because there aren’t any lawyers and only two rules:

  1. You (and you can be anybody, even you) may nominate any book published in the contest year in English;
  2. Only one book per category. We have ways of checking this, so play nice. Nominations open Oct. 1 and close Oct. 15.

After that, here’s what happens:

  • We place all the authors names into a hat and pass our magic wand over it. After the rabbit pops out, we eat him and announce the winner, whom we have selected at random;
  • Not really! Just testing you. We have panelists in each category who eat the rabbit. No, er, they read the books. They have until January 1 for that, which we hope and pray will be enough time. On Jan. 1 we’ll post the finalists;
  • From Jan. 1 to mid-February, a second group of judges will read all the finalists and pick the winners, which we’ll announce on Valentine’s Day.

See? Easy. And no actual rabbits will be harmed in the process.

To contact us:

Anne Levy, Contest Administrator:
cybils09 (at) gmail (dot) com

Kelly Herold, Director (on hiatus for 2009-10 season):
kidslitinfo (at) gmail (dot) com

Dessert First by Hallie Durand

Hallie Durand’s Dessert First is an adorable early middle grade novel about a spunky third-grader named Dessert. Now, who among us hasn’t been tempted to eat dessert first when sitting down for a meal? When Dessert’s new teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody tells her class to march to the beat of their own drummer, Dessert decides that she will eat dessert first from now on. She is even able to convince her family to join her in her new endeavor. But when she succumbs to temptation and secretly eats an entire box of her mother’s Double-decker Chocolate Bars, she is overcome with guilt. Even worse, it turns out that those rare treats were made to celebrate the life and birthday of her grandmother, who has passed away.

Dessert reminded me a lot of another fun early middle grade character- Clementine. She’s spunky, spirited, happy, and even a little “fresh” at times. Even better? She’s real! She reminded me a lot of the 3rd graders I student taught a few years ago- smarter than most adults give them credit for. Plus, readers will identify with her. Who among us hasn’t tried to be unique and only ended up getting in trouble in the process?

Oh, and I love, love, love the cover! The bakery string is a wonderful detail and has me craving some treats.

Highly recommended for elementary libraries.
*ARC copy courtesy of Kathi Appelt

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee is a fun middle grade novel for younger tweens.  The first in a series, it is a great read for younger tweens looking for a realistic fiction story that they can relate to.

Bobby is about to start fourth grade.  Third grade was an awful year, so he is looking forward to a new year with his best friend Holly.  While they’ve been friends for years, they aren’t friends in school.  You know, the whole boys and girls thing.  However, just knowing that Holly will be in his class and they will be hanging out after school makes Bobby happy.  But when he and Holly meet up at the annual town celebration a few days before school starts, he makes the startling discovery that she is turning into a G-I-R-L!

And what’s worse is that Holly seems to have chosen the worst, girliest girl of them all, Jillian, as her new best friend.  Jillian works hard to convince  Holly that boys are dumb and have cooties.  Bobby has lost his best friend!  Add that to the fact that he is stuck with a dumb goldfish as a pet instead of the black lab he yearns for, and it adds up to a pretty lousy first week of school.

When Bobby gets nominated to run for Student Council he doesn’t realize he will be running against Holly!  All of sudden, there is a full-scale war between the boys and girls in his class.

I enjoyed Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally). I think some of my 6th graders would be reluctant to read it because it takes place in fourth grade and they are too “cool” to read books about babies. However, I do have a few in mind that would enjoy the story. It is the perfect book for third and fourth-graders, though.

Bobby was a fun character, but I really loved his former football star father and his little sister. Both of them cracked me up in every scene! Lisa Yee really knows how to make her readers laugh out loud. I look forward to passing this one on to some of my dormant readers.

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

When You Need a Pick-me-up

Today was one of those days. You know those days that start off completely wrong and only continue to increase in frustration as the hours tick by? That was my day.  When I got home (after a long day at school followed by home instruction), I sat down to relax.  I decide to peruse the latest issue of NCTE’s Voices in the Middle. When I turned to Penny Kittle’s contribution to the journal, I breathed a sigh of relief.  There are lots of people out there who believe what I believe about reading and writing instruction.  Recently, I’ve been feeling like I am floundering, like there are too many people who think tweens and teens can’t become readers.  That those who don’t read by age 10 or so are doomed to never read for pleasure and we should just move on to helping them pass the test.  So thank you Penny Kittle.

Penny Kittle’s article, Mission Possible, can be found on the NCTE website (if you are a member of NCTE).  For those who aren’t members, I am going to share a few of the lines that really brought a smile to my face and firmed up my resolve to help my students morph into lifelong readers. But I strongly urge you to go seek it out and read it for yourself.  I’ve printed out a copy to hang in my room as a daily reminder that I’m not fighting this fight alone.

This is the most important work you will do as a teacher.

You get one year to make a mark.

You get one year to infect each child with a need to read, with a belief that it matters, with the desire to turn off the Celtics and pick up a book.

YES!  We can turn our students into lifelong readers when we show them the power of choice.  Empowering students to choose their own books, their own genres, their own authors opens up new doors.  How do I know?  It happens every.single.day in my classroom.  Today I helped students find new books.  One student just finished his first book since 4th grade.  Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden hooked him.  Now he is moving on to the entire series.  But when he came crashing through my door this morning, waving the book over his head and shouting, “I finished it, Ms. M.!  I did it!  And it was awesome!  You were right!  Can I have the next book?!” I just wanted to hug him.  He left today with a list of books he wants to read this year and I couldn’t be prouder.  Are we there yet?  Not completely.  But the door has been opened.  And when he completes his 40 book genre requirement in June he will be prouder than he can even imagine right now.  And I will smile.

Alan stopped reading in eighth grade. He remembers he used to read, but now he doesn’t have time for it. He loved war books because he was curious about his father’s service in Vietnam, but there weren’t any war books in English class. Novels and poetry and Shakespeare took over in high school, and it was all so far outside of his interests at 14 that he refused to try anymore. And really, who at 14 has the maturity to choose differently? It was book after book, month af- ter month, nothing that he wanted to read. He skimmed SparkNotes to pass his classes, but by 11th grade, he’d dropped to the lowest level in English. He wouldn’t read the classics, so they were read to him. Alan no longer saw himself as a reader because he wasn’t motivated to read within the narrow space we allowed.

We can not give up on these students.  Just because they don’t enjoy reading for pleasure, don’t pick up a book instead of “Call of Duty”, and would rather text than read doesn’t mean we can’t turn them on to books.  But if we want them to be readers we need to respect them and give them the credit they deserve!  A student who tells us they hate reading deserves to be heard.  Why do they hate it?  Could it be for the litany of reasons my students list every year?  Things like being forced to read only novels an adult chooses.  Or being told they can’t be trusted to choose their own book (usually they realize this through the actions of adults rather than their words).  Maybe it’s because they read below grade level and no one tells them they can do it.  No one works them.  Or maybe it’s because they are overwhelmed and don’t know where to even begin when trying to choose a book.  I hear all of this and more each year.  Yet in June, every student leaves my room having discovered something they like to read.  And most of them are readers who walk out the door grasping a list of books they can’t wait to read over the summer and following year.  So we can make them into readers.  If we see them as readers and provide them with authentic motivation.

As Kittle states in her article, providing a classroom library that is vibrant and static, ever-changing, is a tangible reminder that I expect my students to be readers and will accept nothing less.  They may not all read on the same level, and some may never reach grade level during the 180 days I have with them, but they will read and they will improve.

We need to give students time to read.  Yes, in class.  This means sharing read-alouds and allowing students time to read their independent reading novels without being forced to write inane summaries all the time and without being forced to constantly answer basic recall questions to “prove” to us they are reading.  Instead, when we show students that we value reading then they will value it.  Does that mean working even harder to make time for everything we are responsible for in English?  Sure it does.  But nothing else will make students readers.  And making them into lifelong readers is the greatest gift we can give them- academically, culturally, and in life.

Nancie Atwell (2007) said, “For students of every ability and background, it’s the simple mi- raculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it’s the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child’s hands.”

I believe you can make it happen.

This year.

Today.

Right now.

Atwell says it better than I ever can.  She  and Penny Kittle have helped relight a fuse that was beginning to flicker out after a frustrating day.  All it takes is getting to know our students as readers and then helping them find that one book.  THE book.  The one that will change their life forever.  I’d say that’s the most important standard we can cover, regardless of our curriculum.

Value of a Family Reading Interview

Last week I decided to add a new assignment to my “Getting to Know Ourselves as Readers” unit in reading workshop.  I paged through a few of my resources looking for inspiration.  While flipping through Beyond Leveled Books, Second Edition I came across the family reading interview. I took the idea and ran with it!

I adjusted the questions to fit my students/grade level and was very happy with the results. Students were required to interview one member of their family (high school senior or older) about their reading experiences. They asked about the genres they enjoyed, genres they don’t enjoy, how they choose books, and favorite childhood reads. The students were then required to put all the answers into paragraph form, with their own commentary, forming an essay. I was looking forward to reading some interesting interviews when I collected them today.

I had no idea how amazing the interviews would turn out to be! I’ve already graded 2 classes and they are awesome! My students really got to know their interviewees and shared so much. They learned that they might have a lot in common with mom or dad, or might be the complete opposite. A few students shared their relief in learning that mom or dad wasn’t always a voracious reader. They said it gave them hope that they might also “get the reading gene” at some point. (That’s what I’m hoping to cultivate this year!)

Students also enjoyed learning about their parents’ favorite books. Especially their childhood favorites. I saw everything from Flowers in the Attic and Forever to The Velveteen Rabbit and Peter Rabbit. Quite a collection!

I am so thrilled with the connections that occurred while my students held the interviews with their family members. I learned so much about their families and they learned so much about the person/people they interviewed. I would highly recommend doing a family reading interview in your class! It can definitely be adapted for any grade level!

Dublin is Growing Up

Please excuse this brief break from kidlit.  Dublin is almost 5 months old now and he is getting so big!  I just made this awesome mosaic on bighugelabs (a site I highly recommend for playing with photos).

Image hosted @ bighugelabs.com

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