Maze of Bones (39 Clues)

I was reading my YALSA- listserv today when I saw that someone had posted a link to the trailer for Scholastic’s new series, The 39 Clues. Not expecting much, I clicked on the link and was surprised to see that an entire website was already laid out…almost 7 months before the first book will be published!

The video is here. I have to admit- I am intrigued! I am a sucker for historical mysteries, though. I love the “National Treasure” movies more than any logical, intelligent adult should. And I do love Rick Riordan’s writing. Now, I am dying to get my hands on an ARC for “The Maze of Bones”, the first book in the series. I thought it was way too early for ARCs when i went to Mid-winter, but it seems like they must be out there somewhere. And while I am not a big fan of calling anything “the next Harry Potter”, I do like sound of this series and my students love any series books. They also love mysteries. I am hoping this will draw in a few more readers for my class next year.

While watching the video, I also had another thought. It seems that book trailers are becoming more and more popular. While they haven’t hit the mainstream too much, I do think I will show this trailer to my students. In the past, commercials for books seemed like a silly premise. Those were better left to movies and tv shows. However, kids today are inundated by media in all parts of their lives. Are book trailers or commercials the wave of the future? I think a trailer like this one would pull in a lot of students. I also think that trailers for many of my class’ favorite books would be great to watch. In class, we talk about the “movie in our mind” whenever we read our novels. Picturing what you read is a huge part of getting into the reading zone. It’s what makes you feel like you are in the story. So are book trailers/commercials a natural extension of that same strategy?

I hope we see more book trailers in the future. More book trailers that are professionally made and treated almost like movie previews. It’s a great way to get the word out about books and authors and also builds up buzz. Buzz is what sells books. Buzz is what makes my students go to the bookstore and choose a particular book. Right now, that buzz is usually from me or their classmates making recommendations. A perfect example is Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As more and more students read the first book, buzz kept building. Then, as we anxiously awaited the publishing of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, the excitement was palpable.  A perfect example of buzz building.  Then, as soon as the book was released I had students who raced to the book store to buy a copy.  Other students immediately placed an order for the book through Scholastic’s book clubs.  Without any buzz, this would never have happened.  And if book trailers will build that buzz, I think I have to be a fan!

This doesn’t mean I want every book trailer to proclaim “the next Harry Potter!” et al.  But a quick trailer that I can show after I booktalk certain books can really pull in my more visual learners.  It will be interesting to see if more series publishers go down this road and let us have trailers.  Any thoughts?

Last Minute Shopping

I was silly enough to venture to the mall yesterday to pick up a last-minute gift that my mother needed. Needless to say, I have sworn off the mall until after Christmas now! However, I know there are still people out there who have some more gifts to buy. If you are still looking for a gift for a teacher, bookworm, teen, or just that person who has EVERYTHING, may I suggest a gift certificate from Amazon.com? I know I have put this on my list anytime I have been asked what I want for Christmas. Everytime I look at my 15-page Amazon wishlist, I know I can never afford all those books on my own, so I look for gift certificates every chance I get. So for those of you who still have some shopping to do, get a gift certificate!

While at the mall yesterday, I managed to walk around the bookstore with Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels and Anna Godberson’s The Luxe for about 20 minutes. I really, really wanted to buy both of them but shouldn’t be spending the money right now. After wandering the entire store and stopping to read the first few pages of The Luxe (which I loved!), I managed to convince myself to leave them at the bookstore until after Christmas. Hopefully, I can spend some gift card money then and not my own! Eh, who am I kidding? I will definitely buy them, regardless. I just promised not to buy any gifts for myself until after the holidays. :)

Speaking of Libba Bray, I bought A Great and Terrible Beauty months ago. I read the first 100 pages or so, and just couldn’t get into it. I put it aside to read something else and never looked back. Last week I decided to give it another try after seeing blog after blog mentioning the forthcoming release of the third book in the series, The Sweet Far Thing. I picked it up on Monday and….well, I loved it! I couldn’t put the book down this time and need to read the rest of the series as soon as humanly possible. I also shared this story with my class, to show them that sometimes a book just isn’t right for us. However, when we abandon a book it doesn’t mean it won’t be right for us at a later time. It was a great lesson for my class and me!

Tuck Everlasting….continued

In class, we have been doing a close reading of “Tuck Everlasting” for the last few days.  We re-read the Prologue and Chapter 1, annotating when necessary.  It is so amazing to hear my students say, “Wow!  I didn’t even realize that circle had meaning the first time I read it!”  I think they are starting to understand the need to sometimes re-read parts of a book, especially when you want to clarify certain points or respond to the book in writing.  This is a skill they will need to hone as they move through the middle school and high school and one they aren’t explicitly taught at any grade level.  I am having so much fun with it! 

Today, we read an excerpt from “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt” from Horn Book in 2000.  The interview is wonderful and Babbitt shares a lot of great information with the readers.  My students loved that fact that Babbitt admits that Man in the Yellow Suit only wears a yellow suit because she needed a two syllable word and “nobody wears purple”.  Throughout the book, my students could not figure out why Babbitt has the man wear a yellow suit when yellow usually symbolizes happiness or sunshine.  Needless to say, they think it is hysterical that there is such a practical reason for the color of his suit.

They also loved the fact that Babbitt chose the last name Tuck because in the past, tuck meant life.  This information gave a whole new perspective to the book and the themes that run through it.  Most students noted that this was their favorite fact in the interview.   They had no idea that words sometimes gain and lose meanings as time goes on, and tuck is a word they were previously familiar with. Hearing that an author put that much time and effort into choosing a character’s last name really fascinated them.

It was great sharing Babbitt’s interview with my class.  I could see their knowledge growing and they admitted that even though the book started slowly, they are so glad they gave it a chance because, “It really is an awesome book, Miss M.”!  YES!!!

Reflections on Writing about Reading

For the past two days, my 6th graders have been focusing on writing about their reading. Before this week, they have been using stickies for the past few weeks and then using those to help them with their book conversations. This week, we graduated to writing off post-its and growing our ideas.

Yesterday, I started by modeling off one of my post-its from Tuck Everlasting. I decided to use a stickie that discussed a quote where Babbitt compares life to a wheel, always turning. With the class watching, I grew my post-it into a 6 sentence paragraph about my thinking. We reviewed some of Nancie Atwell’s sentence openers for letter-essays and then I set them off. I had the students choose one of their Tuck stickies, place it at the top of their desk, and then grow that thinking into a paragraph in their notebook. I was so impressed with the results! There was a lot of deep thinking and some great connections made!

Today, I wrote off of a personal thinking stickie, from Ch. 10 in Tuck. Again, I modeled for the class but this time I wrote 9 sentences (a typical paragraph that I expect from my students). Like the day before, I set them off to choose a stickie of their own and write at least 9 sentences about it in their letter-essays section of their reading binder. I thought they might struggle a bit more today, due to the length, but boy was I wrong! Most of my students (in both classes) wrote well over 9 sentences. In fact, a few wrote an entire page! They were all dying to share their thinking and we listened to everyone read their thoughts aloud. Again, I was impressed! The thinking had gotten even deeper, and they were writing about things they noticed regarding author’s style, literary elements, symbols, motifs, and predictions they had for the remainder of the book! I was so proud!!!

We will continue to work our way forward with our writing about reading, working our way up to 3+ paragraph letter-essays that they will write to me on a monthly basis. :)

Oh, and my students are LOVING “Tuck Everlasting”. I can’t get them to stop reading! Actually, their enthusiasm must be contagious, because I was never a huge fan of the novel before this year. However, I decided to do a close reading of the book, seeing as it is “the greatest children’s novel”. I was inspired by Monica over at Educating Alice, who was inspired when she read “Charlotte’s Web” critically for a children’s lit course. I went over the entire novel, writing in my book and responding in my own reader’s notebook. I also read every article, interview, and review of “Tuck Everlasting” that I could find through Ebscohost. I have a brand new appreciation for the novel and I absolutely love it!

Like Monica, I plan to spend the weeks after we finish “Tuck Everlasting” going back over the text with the entire class, looking with a critical eye, annotating and digging even deeper. From the response I am getting from my class so far, I know this will be a success. I will be sure to keep you all updated!

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.

Meetings

I have been thinking lately about the many meetings we have at school. A few of these meetings always focus on language arts and the “best” way to teach. Over and over I hear that while “independent reading is not a waste of time” it is not possible for students to read for any extended period of time. Just recently, I was told that students will read for 7-10 minutes, and then just stare at the page, pretending to read. I dare not tell these administrators that my current classes can read for 50 minutes, uninterrupted, and beg for more when we stop! While they read, I float around the room checking pages, holding conversations (which check comprehension without the student even realizing it), and looking over reading logs. While I agree that there are those students who we must work with very closely in order to build their stamina, I think it does our children a disservice to assume that reading for any length of time is an impossibility for them! Teaching is about expectations. I expect my students to read during workshop, they know my expectations, and they read.

Many districts seem to think that the average American child will only read short pieces of text and only with a specific purpose in mind. For example, we should give a 1-2 page piece to our students + a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer will ensure that they do the reading we ask of them while not staring at the ceiling. I fully support the use of graphic organizers as organization tools and guidance, but why are we making our students completely reliant on them? Why can’t a middle school child read a novel and actually enjoy it? It seems that student+novel+enjoyment just does not equal out for many administrators. Instead, we shortchange many students by giving them one page to read plus a one page organizer to fill out as they read. Too many teachers have removed independent reading and choice from their classrooms. Instead of spreading a love of books and a passion for reading, they are making reading a chore.

In my classroom this year, my students are readers. Everday they recommend books to each other, to me, and to their parents. I have had 3 parents approach me since Back to School Night to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are doing in that room, but my son is READING!”. The most telling sign? My two classes have the highest combined amount of Scholastic orders each month so far. Instead of the average $20-50 ordered in the other classes, my two classes order over $100 of books each month.

Somehow, we need to convince more administrators and superintendents that the workshop model is the way to go. Lectures and textbook readings are not grooming students to be readers. They are building a hatred of reading and books. It has to stop!

Blog Action Day

So I’m a little late…..

This is my contribution to Blog Action Day, an attempt to bring the global community of bloggers together to explore one issue: the environment. Today’s the day! If you have your own blog, why not join in?

Novels with an Environmental Theme:
-The Talking Earth (Jean Craighead George): Billie Wind is a Seminole Indian whose father works for NASA. She doesn’t believe in the legends and beliefs of the traditional Seminoles. Instead, she “wants answers”. Billie is punished by the elder council and sent to live in the Everglades until she believes in the little people and talking animals. Her journey takes her through the Great Swamp, meeting all sorts of creatures. Her perspective on life changes by the end of the book. A great book for dealing with over-development and endangered species.

-California Blue (David Klass): John Rodgers lives in a small logging town in California. While running in the forest one day, he stumbles upon a strange chrysalis. It turns out that an extremely rare butterfly makes its home in the redwoods. John is thrust into the middle of a vicious fight between environmentalists and loggers in his hometown- loggers that include his father.

-And Then There Was One: The Mysteries of Extinction (Sierra Club Books): While this is not a novel, I do love this book. A great non-fiction book, the author cites specific animals and explains how humans are impacting their lives. While it is a very serious topic, the information is presented in a fun and interesting manner.

-The Lorax (Dr. Seuss): This is my favorite book with an environmental theme. I read it aloud 5-6 times each year and also perform it as reader’s theater. The Lorax ties into my journeys theme, environmentalism, and so much more! Of course, I always use The Lorax with my monarch butterflies, and my students love it!

-Pond Scum (Alan Silderberg): Eleven-year-old Oliver enjoys tormenting insects, but his life takes a turn when his family moves into an old house which an assortment of animals do not want to vacate! A fun book, great for reluctant readers.

-First Light (Rebecca Stead): Peter’s father is a glaciologist and his mother is a geneticist. The family moves to Greenland temporarily so that his father can research the effects of global warming on glaciers. Thea lives in a secret world under the glacial ice. Their two worlds collide and Thea and Peter discover that their destinies are more intertwined than they ever could have imagined.

There are many more novels with an environmental theme out there. This is just a quick glance at some! Let me know if you want to add any more to the list!

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