Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Bean lives across the street from Ivy, and she wants nothing to do with her. Ivy seemed like such a nice girl, and to Bean, nice is a synonym for boring. Ivy sits quietly on her front steps, her curly red hair neatly held back by a headband. She always wears a dress and reads big books. Bean is the opposite. She zips around her yard and her short dark hair will hold no headband. Bean wears a dress only at her mother's insistence, and reading makes her jumpy.

So what could possibly cause these two opposites to become friends? Desperation. When Bean faces big trouble with her mother for numerous iniquities (borrowing money, lying, leaving the yard, and wiggling her behind at her sister, Nancy), Ivy gives her great advice. "Hide," she says. Ivy had been watching, amused, as Bean antagonized her sister, and now she was offering Bean a secret place to hide.

Through the great escape and subsequent hiding out, Ivy and Bean's friendship begins. Ivy hopes to cast a witch's invisibility spell, but together they decide a dancing spell would be better, preferably cast on Nancy. Not that would help Bean get out of trouble or anything. "But it would be really funny," explains Bean. Their plan doesn't initially involve a mud pit, an angry neighbor, an entire bucket of worms, or no dessert, but all end up in the plan, and Nancy does indeed end up dancing.

Ivy and Bean's friendship goes from nonexistent at the start of the day to "See you tomorrow!"

"And the day after that."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Captive by Kathryn Lasky (Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book One)

In her back-of-the-book bio, Kathryn Lasky acknowledges a long fascination with owls and mentions her extensive research for an intended nonfiction book about them. Realizing, however, that photographs of shy, nocturnal birds would be difficult, she instead decided on fantasy.

The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, recently completed at fifteen books, begins with Soren, a barn owl, and his family awaiting the birth of a new sibling. The first book, The Captive, introduces readers to the owls' world, and Lasky's expert research is immediately apparent. The egg tooth of Soren's new sister breaks through the egg. Soren's brother, Kludd, is about to begin branching, which is the first owl steps toward flight, but must wait another month before his flight feathers come in. Readers learn about owl digestion and owl pellets, as opposed to all other birds who are "wet poopers." There are celebrations as young owls grow - ceremonies of first insect, first fur-on-meat, first bones, and first flight.

Don't let me mislead you. This isn't a textbook. Owl facts are woven into and throughout the history, way of life, and even the differing cultures within all owls.

And there's adventure. One night Soren mysteriously falls from his nest before he can fly. Soren suddenly finds himself facing the same fate of many young owls recently. He's been snatched. He is forcibly taken to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, an orphanage in name only. Young owls are stripped of what makes them truly owls. Flying is discouraged or prohibited. Feathers are plucked. Diets are restricted to mainly crickets. Young owls are intentionally moon blinked, a sort of brainwashing when owls are exposed to full moon shine.

Soren meets Gylfie, a small yet bold elf owl, and together they discover the evil secrets of St. Aegolius. With the help of a few friends within the orphanage, and through great sacrifice, they manage to escape, intending to journey to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree in Hoolemere in an attempt to stop the evil entering the Owl kingdoms.

At times The Captive moves slowly, but each time the pace creeps it is to explain another important part of owl history, legend, or culture. It's necessary and creates an incredibly complete setting. I haven't read past book one, but I intend to. Soon. I expect the pacing will quicken as less description is needed.

I also intend to give it to some fourth graders in the near future and get their opinions, which of course carry much more weight than mine.

And finally, thanks to Michelle who recommended the books to me in the first place. It seems her sixth grade son had been fascinated by the series for some time, so I guess I should probably thank him for his recommendation. Thanks!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo

Attention! Attention, readers who long for adventure. Readers who wish to feel the strong, fresh breeze of the sea. Readers with ideas of challenging pirates, following the the bright lights and loud music of the circus, and leading fellow prisoners to freedom.

And readers whose hearts, at the mere mention of adventure, beat fast within their feathered breast. Here for you, at last, courtesy of Louise the Chicken and author Kate DiCamillo, is true adventure!

Louise is no ordinary chicken. While life on the farm is good - there is a caring farmer and his wife, comfortable living quarters, and feathered friends like curious Monique - Louise sometimes longs to leave the farm, to leave the henhouse, and find true adventure.

Louise faces chicken-eating pirates and shipwrecks, chicken-eating lions and high wire acts. She faces imprisonment in a foreign country with other chickens deprived their inalienable right to peck and scratch. But Louise always makes it home.

After all, even the most adventurous chicken sometimes likes to be safe and warm in the henhouse, nestled deeply into fresh straw, sleeping the "deep and dreamless sleep of the true adventurer."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

2008 Ohio District Educators' Conference

Hello to everyone attending the 2008 Ohio District Educators' Conference. It's an honor to be asked to lead sectionals for your conference. Thanks to everyone in attendance. If anyone has any questions or comments or wants to follow up on something we discussed in any of the three sectionals, send me an email (address in the banner at the top or in the right margin) or leave comments at the bottom of this post.

I hope you leave on Friday with some great books to use with your students (Help Readers Love Reading!), some new ways to show others all the great books your students are reading and what they think about them (Your Opinion Matters, Jimmy! Share it with the World!), and some novel novel ideas to use with your reading and literature students (For Tomorrow Read Chapter 6 and Answer - Yaaawn! - Questions #1-10).

And thanks again for having me come to your conference!

UPDATE 10/25/08: Those of you who attended the Help Readers Love Reading! sectional only got to hear tidbits about some of the books I planned to share. It's too bad our time got cut short. Here's a list of the books I planned on sharing, some with links to more information.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Flush by Carl Hiaasen
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Mr. Chickee's Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis
On the Run (series) by Gordon Korman
Knights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

Knights of the Lunch Table by Frank Cammuso

When Artie King and his family move to a new town, that of course means a new school. Camelot Middle School. After missing the bus on the first day, his new science teacher, Mr. Merlyn, points him to a shortcut through the woods. There he hears the ominous howl of a mysterious sewer dwelling beast and meets his first new friend, Percival - just make sure to call him Percy.

Once at school, Artie is assigned locker #001XCL. It's the busted locker no one can open. A poem on the door even gives the combination and says that the one who opens the locker "a king to all the students be."

Sound familiar?

Okay, I can't resist one more. Artie meets the lunch ladies. There are three of them, and they speak in rhyme. When Artie first arrives: "Tomato soup ... bananas bunch ... who approaches the ladies' lunch?" After telling them his locker number: "Ham 'n cheese ... and onions ring ... 'tis the locker of the King." And in an effort to get Artie to sample that day's lunch: "True of heart a champion be ... drink of this ... the soup of pea."

Artie leaves quickly.

But your students will stick around. After making enemies with Joe Roman and his bully bunch, The Horde, Percy demands they settle it like creatively. Dodgeball. Except The Horde is the school's champion dodgeball team, and Percy only made the challenge because Artie lied to him saying he was a dodgeball legend at his old school.

Frank Cammuso, as described in his bio, is "a three-time recipient of the Wedgie. He has also received the prestigious Noogie and the Hurtz Donut." Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles is full of similar humor. Students will love the graphic novel format and the potential for more books. As it says on the last page:

The End ... For Now.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Arkansas Reading Recovery & Comprehensive Literacy K-8 Conference

Hello to everyone in Little Rock attending the 2008 Arkansas Reading Recovery & Comprehensive Literacy K-8 Conference!

I'm looking forward to speaking with everyone attending the Books for Content Area Mini-Lessons sectionals on Monday and the Help Readers Love Reading! sectionals on Tuesday. Hopefully you leave the sectionals with some great mini-lesson ideas and, even better, great books you can use in your lessons and classrooms.

I'd love to hear from you. If, after the sectionals, you'd like more information about a specific topic, drop me an email. The address is at the top of this page and in the right margin. If we discussed something in a sectional and you'd like to continue the discussion or you think others would also benefit from additional information, leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Then I can respond, and others can add comments too.

Thanks, everyone, for coming. And thanks for all you do to Help Readers Love Reading!

UPDATE: Some people who attended Books for Content Area Mini-Lessons asked for information about the songs I used. Here's a list of all the songs I mentioned in one sectional or the other:

Song - Artist - Album

C is for Conifers - They Might Be Giants - Here Come the ABCs
E Eats Everything - They Might Be Giants - Here Come the ABCs
Alphabet of Nations - They Might Be Giants - Here Come the ABCs
Why Does the Sun Shine? - They Might Be Giants - Why Does the Sun Shine? EP
Mammals - They Might Be Giants - Apollo 18
Bears - Andrew Peterson & Randall Goodgame - Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies
Post Office - Andrew Peterson & Randall Goodgame - Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies
Crazy ABCs - Barenaked Ladies - Snacktime

(Yeah, about that last one...I'm not the one that gave the band its name. Good thing I said you should only share it with your coworkers and not with your students.)

All songs are available on iTunes. Search the name of the song, artist or album. That allows you to purchase individual songs rather than entire albums.

Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

My initial thought after reading Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka was that it might be in my best interests to not share it with students. After all, the book could be taken as a how-to manual for wayward boys. Readers would learn how to sell their brother a shirt that already belongs to him, how to trick younger brothers into doing the less desirable household chores, how to make money by charging friends to watch the little brother eat gross non-food items, and just how much pressure it takes to break a clavicle.

And that’s just the family lessons. Readers also learn the finer art of playing war with dirt clods at construction sites. There are chapters about burning things, exploring storm sewers, swearing, puking, and what not to do when the teacher says, “What’s so funny?” There's also a chapter about sword fighting. (Men, you know what I’m talking about. Ladies, read the book. I’m not explaining it here.)

Then I realized that I already knew all this stuff, with a few exceptions, me being an only child. I didn’t read the book when I was a kid, yet somehow I did many of the exact same things as Mr. Scieszka. Which ones, specifically, will remain unnamed, however the truth is the truth: I lived many of the same experiences. Jon Scieszka wrote the book, for crying out loud. He didn’t learn from it!

It was an Hallelujah Chorus moment! I can give this book to any student. The boys already know all of it, and the girls won’t (or can’t…see sword fighting) try any of it. Every boy I know could take at least one of the chapters, change the names and places only, and make it their own personal narrative.

My wife and daughter stared at me every time I laughed out loud. When I shared what was so funny, they both just shook their heads and mumbled something like, “You boys. You‘re such…boys.”

You bet we are! We revel in it. We glory in it. And this book documents it.

Short chapters, mostly hilarious, and all boy friendly will make this book one that doesn’t stay on the shelf for long. Jon Scieszka (or Mr. Ambassador, which he may prefer, as he‘s been named the first National Ambassador for Young People‘s Literature by the Library of Congress) has a classic on his hands, and now your kids can have this classic in their hands too.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Newspaper Column

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. More recommended books are on the way shortly. For real. It's not like I haven't been writing anything, however. Here's a link to my latest column in the local paper.

Dad Carries the Load During Fall Family Outing.