The Gift That Keeps on Giving #sas2011


Welcome to Friday’s edition of Share a Story, Shape a Future!  Today’s topic is The Gift That Keeps on Giving.

 

Literacy is a gift.  It can’t be wrapped, it doesn’t fit in a box, and it doesn’t look fancy.  But it’s the gift that fits every person, regardless of race, creed, sex, background.  Literacy is the gift that keeps on giving.  Here at Share a Story, Shape a Future, we want to make sure that every child is given this important gift.

As a teacher, I share the gift of literacy with my students every day, and it’s my favorite aspect of teaching.  As a high school teacher, I have a huge bookshelf in my room, and a rotating display of books on the edges of my whiteboards.  I also have a shelf in the front of my room devoted to new books and ARCs that I bring in.  Whenever I have time, I booktalk- whether to individuals, small groups, or the class as a whole. And this year I am trying something new- digital booktalks.  I have been posting book trailers on our class Edmodo page, and students reply to the entry if they are interested in the book.  It’s been a great way to booktalk even when I am unable to do so in class.  Plus, my kids are very tech-oriented so the trailers really meet them where they are.

There is no better feeling than seeing a child connect with a book for the first time.  Except maybe seeing them reconnect as a tween/teen.  Both moments are very special.  Recently, one of my seniors stopped me as she walked out of class on a Friday afternoon.  “Thank you for reminding me that I love to read”, she whispered as she handed back a stack of books she had borrowed over the course of the semester.  Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day beaming.

That was her gift to me. I think was the one who got the better end of the deal.  There is nothing like sharing reading and writing with kids.  Nothing like it in the world.

How can you give the gift that keeps giving?  It doesn’t take any life-changing ideas.  It just takes time.

Maybe you don’t enjoy reading fiction, but you start every morning with the newspaper.  Take a few minutes each morning and sit down together.  Point out articles your child will enjoy.  Fill out the crossword puzzle together.

Or maybe you love to end each night by journaling.  Children of any age can journal, too!

Love to read magazines? Get your child a magazine subscription.

The possibilities are endless.  But literacy truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  Below, a few authors share their own gifts.

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Writer’s With Stories to Tell

“One of the most exciting moments of my life as a parent was when my son Josh (my firstborn) learned to read, because I knew that a whole world was opening up for him. We’ve shared so many wonderful books over the years, but here I talk about one of the first books he read to me.”

 

 

 

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

I will be up-front with you all- Kathi and I had coffee when she was last in NJ and I consider her a friend (albeit a friend who lives in Texas.  :) ) However, that did not affect my view of her latest book. (Kathi and I met after I reviewed The Underneath and I fell in love with her writing.)

I admit I was reluctant to pick up her newest novel, Keeper. I loved, loved, loved her Newbery Honor winning book, The Underneath; I was its biggest champion. When I received my review copy (courtesy of Ms. Appelt and the publisher), I put it on my shelf and kept moving it down in my pile. I was so afraid that nothing could live up to the beauty that was The Underneath.

Well there was no reason for me to worry- Keeper is a stunning book.  STUNNING.  It is poetry, prose, magic, fairy tale, and real life wrapped into one.  I think it will appeal to readers across the board.  The entire story takes place over the course of one short day, but with flashbacks to different points in the characters’s lives.  I love how Appelt doesn’t hesitate to toss perspective around like a beach ball.  Most of the book is told from Keeper’s viewpoint, but at times Signe tells the story, Dogie steps in, and even the animals get their chance to share.  The chapters are short, which kept me reading.  However, Kathi’s signature cadence is here, which may frustrate some readers.  The plot is not action-filled but rather ebbs and flows like the waves on the shore.  However, the story does take place over the course of one day, so it never slows to a stop.

This is a beach book.  As I was reading I could practically feel the sand beneath my toes and smell the saltwater in the air.  Appelt has drawn a world that readers immediately fall into, head over heels, like  Alice into the rabbit hole.  Reading this homage to the Gulf and Gulf coast I couldn’t help but feel sadness for what it is going through right now.  This book is especially apropos given the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right now.  I already ached for the people and nature affected, but Kathi Appelt made me fall in love with a place I have never even been and now my heart breaks even more.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, too.  They complement Appelt’s text perfectly and I found myself drawn to them. (And I am not an illustrations person at all.)  Hall’s illustrations matched my own visions of the characters perfectly.  Which leads me to the characters- you will fall in love with them all.  I do think there will be some shocked parents out there, though.  Old Mr. Beauchamp has spent his entire life missing his love.  He frequently sits back and remembers the 15 year old boy named Jack that he met briefly in France, before setting sail on the seas.  I admit I was a caught off-guard but only because the relationships I see are almost always heterosexual in mainstream children’s literature.  Mr. Beauchamp’s love is pure and beautiful and he brought a tear to my eye more than once…I am thrilled that a tale like this is being told in a middle grade novel and that it is presented without fanfare or shock and awe.

This is a book about nontraditional families and the importance of family.  It is about the Gulf and the nature that is a part of it.  It is about friendship and heartbreak.  It is about mermaids and legends of the sea, dolphins and stingrays.  But most importantly, it is a simple store about the complicatedness of love.  And it’s on my shortlist for the Newbery.

*There are portions of this book that I would pull out and share on their own, like the chapters devoted to the stingrays.  They are just that gorgeous.

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Coffee with Kathi Appelt

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Kathi Appelt, author of the amazing Newbery Award-winning The Underneath. Kathi is here for a few days doing a school visit and I was happy that we got to spend some time together. She is a wonderful woman and a pleasure to talk to. We chatted in a local coffee shop for almost two hours and the time just flew by.  It is so nice to be able put a face with the name finally!  The Underneath was one of my favorite books last year and meeting Kathi was a wonderful way to spend a Wednesday.  :)

We discussed some of our current favorite books, my sometime-desire to do some of my own writing, the large children’s lit community in and around Austin, Texas, and our own various travels.  If you ever get the chance to hear Kathi speak, I highly recommend it!

Class Newbery Watching and Reaction

(Stay tuned for my personal reactions to the awards today).

At 10am, my students walked out of Spanish class and into the library.  The librarian and I had been trying to get the webcast to work and were at that point desperately watching the mouse move around the screen as our computer tech managed a quick installation from the other end, which would hopefully allow us to watch.  My cell phone kept buzzing as it received Tweets about the Alex Awards.

Right in time for the second award to be announced, the webcast worked!  We all gathered around the laptop, too afraid to set up the projector in case we interrupted the connection and dropped the announcements.  My phone continued buzzing, as my tweets were bout 30 seconds ahead of the announcements.  We were thrilled when Laurie Halse Anderson won the Edwards Award, excited when i predicted the Geisel and one Caldecott Honor, and on the edge of our seats for the Newbery announcements.

 

Below, our reaction to the announcement that The Underneath won an Honor!
cimg3374

(They almost immediately begged me to send a congratulatory email to Kathi Appelt, so I obviously obliged!)

 

cimg3375(Please laugh at my hysterically excited reaction to THE UNDERNEATH)

Newbery Award Discussions

Last week I did a quick Newbery unit in my 6th grade class.  We reviewed the history of the award, the terms, criteria, and rules.  We also read articles about the recent Newbery controversy and discussed them as a class.  It was amazing to hear my students’ thoughts on the award and the recent controversy and I think we all learned a lot!  But my favorite part was the end of the unit- I had my students write me at least a paragraph explaining whether they thought Chains (our current read-aloud) or The Underneath (which we previously read as a read-aloud) deserved to win a Newbery or Honor on January 26th and why.

I was stunned by the responses I received!  Some of my students wrote over a page, expounding the virtues of one or both of the books.  They were extremely passionate in their opinions, so I wanted to share a few with my readers.

 

“I think that The Underneath should win because I like how it tells different problems happening with different characters.  If you don’t understand one problem that’s going on you may understand another one.  I also liked in The Underneath  how at the end all the characters come together.  “

“I think that Chains should win the Newbery because it is a good book with real info and sometimes you think Wow I have it good.”

“I think that both Chains and The Underneath should be honors.  The Underneath should not just be in the honors but it should win…It should win because it keeps you thinking and it keeps you reading.”

“I think that Chains will win the Newbery and The Underneath will be recognized as an Honor book.  Both books have great writing in them and the authors really did a good job with the character development.  In my opinion, Chains is written better, but The Underneath is good, too.  I can’t wait until Jan. 26th!”

“I think Chains and The Underneath both have a chance of winning the Newbery.  Chains is very interesting and seems like I am actually in the Revolutionary War.  I like this book because it is suspenseful and you don’t know what will happen next.  I like how bad things keep happening and Isabelle doesn’t give up.  The Underneath is a book that I liked but I thought it was hard to understand. “

“I really believe that Chains should win.  I believe there should be a change.  Since we now have an African-American president, we should have an African-American book.  This books is fantastic because because it has true facts about American history.  I feel this book should win over The Underneath because The Underneath is about imaginary things. “

“I believe The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it has lessons to teach the reader.  It tells the stories about the struggles of life and how to get through it.  When the animals in the story get into difficult situations they seem to find a way out.  It also shows the sacrifices we will make for friends and family.  For example, when the mother cat saves Puck from drowning. “

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it was a great book and made my class so emotional.  I saw and heard crying when the calico cat died.  I heard rage when Ranger was beaten.  I saw happiness when Garface died.  But most of all tears of joy for Grandmother helping Ranger, Puck, and Sabine and when they all ran away together as a family.”

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery- or at least an honor book- for many reasons.  One reason she should get the award is because her book is a page turner for children.  I am a child and I know I loved the book. “

 

Those are just a few of the opinions in my two classes.  Between all of my students, the votes are pretty evenly divided between Chains and The Underneath.  But every student felt that they both fit the criteria and deserved to at least win an honor on January 26th!  I just love how passionate they are about both books and how invested they are in the award ceremony.

2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:

 

  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “

 

  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.

 

  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!

 

  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!

 

  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!

 

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.

 

  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.

 

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”

 

 

  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!

 

  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!

 

I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Milford Sound in New Zealand To this day, I remember where I was when I finished reading Where the Red Fern Grows . I was in the car (my mom had run into Service Merchandise) and caught completely off-guard by the climax of the book. I remember the tears running down my face as I turned the pages, alternately shocked that my aunt had recommended a book like this to me and overjoyed that someone had managed to capture a love so deep and true between a boy and his dogs. While it broke my heart, it also became one of my favorite books of all time. It has been more than a decade since I first read Wilson Rawls’ classic novel and nothing has touched me the same way since that day. That is, until I read Kathi Appelts’ debut novel, The Underneath.

The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring.

The blurb on the back cover quotes author Alison McGhee as saying, ” Rarely do I come across a book that makes me catch my breath, that reminds me why I wanted to be a writer—to make of life something beautiful, something enduring.” While you may be ready to scoff (I admit I was!), reading just a few pages will convince you that McGhee is absolutely right. This novel is an inspiration to anyone who writes. Appelt’s debut novel is haunting, lyrical, and poetic. While the stories seem separate at first, they come together in a stunning conclusion that wraps up all loose ends.

Appelt is a master storyteller, and seems a natural heir to Natalie Babbitt, one of America’s foremost children’s authors. In fact, her use of symbolism and vivid imagery reminded me of Babbitt in many ways. I would love to use The Underneath in my class, as a companion to Tuck Everlasting.

It’s almost impossible to describe what the story is about. It takes place deep, deep in a Southern bayou- a place full of mysticism and magic. There is a bad man, an evil man. There is an abandoned calico cat- “There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road”. Heartbreaking, isn’t it? There is an abused hound dog, chained to a porch, fed sparingly and kicked often. Later, there is a family made up that abandoned calico cat, the abused hound dog, and two new kittens. One of those kittens ventures out from the safety of the Underneath and sets into motion a chain of events that changes their lives.

There are sentient trees, ancient shape-shifters, and myth and magic. Lullabies and secrets that only the trees know. Yet it all seems so real.

I feel like no review can do this book justice. It is magical and wonderful, sad and full of hope. There is so much hate but also so much love. Kate Appelt has written a new classic and I would be shocked if this was not given high honors by the Newbery committee in January.

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