When the Whistle Blows By Fran Cannon Slayton

Fran Cannon Slaytons’s When the Whistle Blows is a historical fiction novel set during the 1940′s. Sounds pretty typical, right? Wrong! This is anything but your typical historical fiction book and I think that is going to work in its favor when readers pick it up.

Jimmy is the youngest son of a railroading family in rural West Virginia. He and his two older brothers long for the day that they can join their father working on the railroad. But their father swears that will happen over his dead body- the railroad is dying he says, being replaced by the diesel engine. This is a book about life in a small town, about growing up with two older brothers, about dreaming and hoping, about scheming and causing trouble.

Where this novel rises to greatness is in the format. Each chapter is a small vignette, a snapshot in time. The chapters all take place on the same day, but in different years. The story begins on All Hallow’s Eve (Jimmy’s father’s birthday) in 1943 and ends on All Hallow’s Eve 1949. You are with Jimmy through events, both big and small, that shape his life. You watch him grow and mature, as you also watch his father weaken and grow smaller. Built like short stories, some of the chapters will leave you begging for more but Slayton effortlessly weaves the years into one another.

This is a novel that I think will appeal to a variety of readers. Dormant/reluctant readers will enjoy the chapters because they are small worlds unto themselves. They aren’t intimidating, which can often be a problem with novels on grade-level for dormant/reluctant readers. Underground/gifted readers will be able to dig deep into this story and analyze the changes that occurred during this time period. (In fact, I am going to booktalk this at the end of our Holocaust/WWII book clubs because it covers the same time period so differently). And this is a book that supports developing readers, because it allows them to bite off small chunks of the story at a time. Finishing a chapter can be a satisfying experience because it’s like finishing a short story. And for me, this was a fantastic read! I read it in bits and pieces this weekend (I just couldn’t find an hour to sit down and focus!) and had no trouble stopping at the end of a chapter because I knew I would be moving a year forward when I returned to the book. Of course, I was flying through the end of it, a bit choked up! *

Fran Cannon Slayton has written a quiet novel that will surprise many readers. Her prose is powerful, yet understated. Critics, teachers, librarians, and reviewers alike will love this one. But I also think kids will love it! Jimmy gets into plenty of trouble, causes a lot more, loves sports, and even manages to get some spying done. There is a secret society, a prank gone very awry, a graveyard hangout, and trains galore. I know When the Whistle Blows is going to fly off my bookshelf when I booktalk it!

When the Whistle Blows is a book that I think we will be hearing a lot more from when award time rolls around!

*This would also make a fantastic read-aloud. Teachers could share a chapter a day and not worry about missing a day here and there. The story is very strong, but the format allows for some time off without losing the momentum.

ALA Youth Media Awards (Or, I Read the Newbery!)

While watching the ALA webcast live today, my class kept laughing at me.  I would call out my predictions as the awards were introduced- for the awards besides the Newbery because I shared those predictions with them on Friday.  Of course, I was wrong more than I was right- but the kids didn’t care.  They thought it was hysterical that I yelled “Mo Willems!” before the Geisel Award was announced, and I was right.  I was wrong about the Morris Award (I predicted Graceling would get it).  I predicted one of the Caldecott honors (A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams), because I am a huge William Carlos Williams fan.  

 

And then we got to the big award- the Newbery.  The kids were on the edge of their seat.  And so was I!

2009 Newbery Award Winner:
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- I got this one in just under the wire! But I did love it. My review gives more information on my thoughts.

I do think this will be a popular winner.  It’s creepy, well-written, suspenseful, and oozing with kid appeal.  My students haven’t read it yet and I am contemplating making it a read-aloud in the coming weeks.  But I already know they will love it. I think the committee did a great job with this one!

 

2009 Newbery Honor Books:

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- YES YES YES YES! I was so afraid this would get shut out because it seems to be a “love it or hate it” book. When the announcement was made, I literally jumped into the air and so did my students. We were so excited! For those who think this isn’t a kid-friendly book, I say fie on you! It makes kids think and treats them like adults. While my students might not have picked it up on their own, they loved it as a read-aloud. This book screams to be read-aloud and shared. Yay Kathi Appelt!

Savvy by Ingrid Law- I own this one. Does that count? I never made it a priority to finish reading it, but now I will. And another bonafide fantasy? Kudos to the committee!

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson- I haven’t read this one, and I don’t own it. But I ordered it tonight.

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom by Margarite Engle- And this one came out of nowhere for me. I hadn’t seen it on any Mock Newbery lists. But isn’t that what makes the Newbery great? I can’t wait to pick it up!

 

I will admit, my class and I were shocked at the exclusion of Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. That was a heavy favorite in my two classes. And I had more than a handful of students who were upset that Diamond Willow by Helen Frost was left out, too. But all in all, I am thrilled with the list!  And the reaction of my kids as The Underneath  was announced was absolutely priceless.  Talk about being engaged with their reading!  And when Gaiman’s book was announced as the winner, there was a chorus of, “You read that, Miss M.!”  and “Wow!  They decided it was eligible!” (we had talked about the eligibility issues in our Newbery unit).  

Congratulations to all of the winning authors today and the amazing committees!  

 

 

*And to complete my bragging, I read and loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks back in the spring. And I own The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves, both Printz Honor Books. :)

 


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 Predictions 2009

When I first began blogging I was inspired by Franki and Mary over at A Year of Reading.  Like them, I wanted to be able to read the Newbery before it was announced.  Little did I know that this endeavor would lead me to the kidlitosphere and a broader blogging spectrum of reviews, middle school language arts, and teaching.  But deep down, I still compete with myself, trying to predict the Newbery winner.  So here is my annual list, my picks for 2009!

(In no particular order, as I feel these are all distinguished and could take home the medal or an honor).

Newbery 2009 Predictions:

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- Distinguished? Check. Gorgeous? Check. Phenomenal writing? Check. Appelt’s book absolutely stunned me when I first read it. With an unassuming cover, I figured it was nothing more than another animal story. I could not have been more wrong. The Underneath was my first read-aloud of the year and my 6th graders were totally engrossed in the story. Check out my review here.

 

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson-  Historical fiction that kids actually want to read?  What more could a teacher ask for!  When I first read Anderson’s latest middle grade novel, I knew I wanted to share it with my students.  We just finished reading it together a few days ago and they loved it.  Living in NJ, they had tons of connections to the battles mentioned and the Revolutionary War in general, so they loved the setting.  And Anderson’s meticulous research makes this novel even better.  Check out my review here.  

 

  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- If distinguished writing and a unique style are what the committee is looking for, then Diamond Willow is the Newbery winner for 2009. A phenomenal story and a style that I haven’t seen anywhere else! Another one that my students loved (and the one that seemed the most accessible to all levels of readers). Check out my review here.

 

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- For some reason, I never got around to this one. Then a few weeks ago I saw it at the library and decided to give it a try. Wow, am I glad I did! A creepy story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Check out my review here!

 

  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I know this is a title that hasn’t been mentioned on many prediction lists, but I am trying to be its personal champion! Tennyson is a lyrical, poetic story that is dark and gothic. I read it back in May and it’s still on my mind. I would be thrilled to see it take home a medal on Monday, because I think it so deserves one! Check out my review here.

 

I know where I will be on Monday morning.  My class and I will be listening to the announcements over the web, with my cell phone nearby (t0 receive the Tweets in case we have any technical problems!)  Regardless of who wins, there are a few authors across the country who will receive a life-changing call on Monday morning.  I can’t wait to find out who those authors are!

 

(And I still have more reading to do before Monday!  On my pile? Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, The Porcupine Year, and Bird Lake Moon.

Diamond Willow Read-aloud

On Friday, both classes finished reading Diamond Willow . They loved it! When we came to the twist about Willow’s past, they literally gasped out loud. Below are a few of their final thoughts on the book:

 

“More books should do the bold words thing.  It’s so cool!  They tell you what the character is thinking deep down.”

“It must have been really hard to write a whole book using the right diamond shapes and making sure you had all the words for the bold parts.”

“This was my favorite book that we read all year.”

“This was an awesome book!  

 

There was more, but I was trying to jot down their thoughts while they were all very excited and talking about the end of the story.  Needless to day, we are now extremely excited for the awards announcement on Monday!  We even moved our assembly schedule around so that we can all head down to the library and listen live.  My afternoon class can’t be there for the live announcement, so we have sworn the morning class to secrecy and will replay the recording for the afternoon class (trying to preserve some of the excitement)!  I will be sure to post our reactions on Monday!

Predicting the Newbery as a Class and 21st Century Literacy

We are almost finished reading Chains as our current read-aloud. Both classes have about 25 pages to go, and they were begging to read more today! We ended right after Isabel escaped from the potato bin. The greatest sound in the world is the united groans of 20 6th graders begging you to continue reading a read-aloud!

Seeing as the Newbery will be announced in a little over a week, we have slightly altered our read-aloud plans. I plan to finish Chains tomorrow, complete with an awesome discussion.  We then have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr., Day.  My class begged that we read Diamond Willow  beginning on Tuesday.  After considering the logistics for about a second, I said, “Of course!”  At 108 pages, and with a lot of white space, I think we can finish it before the announcement is made.  Then we will have read three books that are on numerous mock Newbery lists.

Diamond Willow will present some interesting challenges.  The diamond-shape poems and the bold words throughout need to be viewed to be appreciated.  I think I will show the book using my document camera.  This way the students can see the poems as I read them, just like if they had the book in their hands.  It’s the first time I will be combining technology and literacy this way, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!  Will the experience of reading the book on the board, via the camera, be the same as reading the book in your lap?  It should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to find out!

And now January 26th will be even more fun!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Bod, or Nobody Owens, lives in the graveyard.  He has been raised by ghosts since the night his parents and sister were murdered in their beds, and he has learned a few tricks of the trade.  He can walk through walls in the graveyard, Fade so that humans can’t see him, and even dreamwalk.  But he can’t leave the graveyard because the man who killed his family is still looking for him.

The Graveyard Book was an awesome book.  It is only the second Gaiman book I have read, but I loved it.  It’s certainly obvious within the first few pages why this book is being batted around as a possible Newbery contender- the story is frightening, the storytelling is complex and gorgeous, and the kid appeal is huge.  The entire book was just creepy, but without giving you nightmares.  I hate horror stories, but I loved this!  And Bod is just a great character, as are all of the ghosts in the graveyard who serve as his surrogate family.

This is a great book that will resonate with boys and girls alike.  It’s creepy, funny, and heartwarming all at once.  I would not be upset at all to see this one walk away with a medal on January 26th!

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