Friday, September 30, 2011

Partnering with Parents - Week 4

It's Friday! You know what that means around here at Teach Mentor Texts- another insightful look at what some of our colleagues do to involve parents in supporting literacy at school!! Today we are thrilled to bring you some ideas from Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer. Donalyn is a 6th grade teacher in Texas.  She also blogs at The Book Whisperer blog and tweets at @donalynbooks. Kellee and I are extremely honored to have her guest post for us today because she is such a strong promoter of literacy and a role model for both of us. 

Donalyn outlines some key points that she shares with parents every week in an e-mail or a letter. She shares only one tip at a time allowing parents a learning curve and time to acclimate themselves to being a more active member of their child's reading lives. She describes each tip and provides resources that will support them, such as addresses, hours, and websites to local public libraries when she suggests visiting the library or websites when she encourages finding book recommendations. 

The Importance of Choice in Fostering Independent Reading
People who lose the ability to make choices become disempowered. This is true for adults and it is true for young readers.  When every book a child reads is chosen for them—by parents or teachers—children lose self-motivation to read and interest in reading. Children should choose their own reading material most of the time, but they need exposure to a book flood in order to determine what books they like and learn how to choose their own books. You can support your child by:

Introducing authors and books through read alouds. Select books by prolific authors or the first book in a series and read these books with your child. When your child enjoys the read aloud, locate another book or two by the same author, follow a series together, or read another book in the same genre. With older children, visit authors’ websites and book review sites like Take children to authors’ visits at the bookstore, library, or local university. Develop reading fans and you will develop readers.

Creating frequent opportunities for children to preview, share, and select books. Children need to become comfortable with books and feel growing proficiency in choosing books for themselves. Take children to the library or bookstore and discuss books that you might read. Talk about books that you read as a child and explain what you enjoyed about these books. Build anticipation for new books by counting down new book releases by your favorite authors or the newest book in a series.

Increasing children’s access to books by building a home library. The more books children own, the more they read, and the more comfortable they feel choosing books away from home. Visit e-bay, garage sales, book swaps, and library sales to locate low-cost books for your child. Give books as presents for holidays and birthdays, and encourage relatives to do the same. Purchase gift cards for bookstores and invite your child to choose a new book.

Above all, validate your child’s book choices even when you wish he/she would choose another book. We often complain that children do not read, and bemoan their less than high-brow choices when they do choose their own books. It is OK for your child to read comics, read the same book over and over, or prefer fantasy books. After all, adult readers have strong preferences in what they choose to read, too!

As a parent with two kiddos, one who is four and in preschool now, I am gaining some perspective into what it means to be a parent who gets notes from school and (so far) simple projects to do with my son. As a teacher, it's easy to send information home and expect students and parents to follow through. As a parent, it's tricky to keep track of where that letter is and to find time to fill it out while making dinner, giving baths, and folding laundry.  So, I love Donalyn's idea to share these great ideas one at a time and to provide as much scaffolding to parents by providing the resources to make it as easy as possible for them to follow through with our suggestions.  

A giant thank you to Donalyn for sharing her thoughts on working with parents with us today! If you don't own a copy of The Book Whisperer, you should take care of that right now because it is a great book that rewired my entire philosophy of teaching. Don't forget to come back next week for more ideas for working with parents!   


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award!

Wow! We have been nominated by Beth at Thinking of Teaching for the Versatile Blogger award! We are so excited! Our goal is to share our reading and ideas with parents and teachers and it feels awesome to know it's appreciated. Thanks, Beth!

Now we are supposed to: 
1. Thank the person who nominated us and provide a link back to their blog. 
2. Share 7 things about ourselves.
3. Nominate 15 other blogs that we've discovered.

You can visit Beth's amazing blog by clicking her Thinking of Teaching button!

We thought we would do a mini-interview for our 7 things!

Jen: Are you a sticky note or notepad kind of girl, Kellee?

Kellee: I am definitely a sticky notes kind of girl! You will find them all throughout my classroom with notes to myself and to do lists. Now, I do use notepads to actually take notes at conferences or such, but that is it. 

So, Jen, when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Jen: I actually wanted to be a teacher! I remember being in kindergarten and already knowing I wanted to be a teacher. I had a great kindergarten teacher and I think I wanted to be just like her but as I got older I still always loved school and working with kids so I knew I wanted to be a teacher! 

Here's a teacher-y kind of question: if you were going to write a book, who's (author's craft) voice would yours most likely remind you of?

Kellee: Hm.  This is a hard one because I’ve never thought about it.  But I think that if I was going to write a book it would be contemporary/realistic fiction and my author’s voice may sound a bit like Sarah Dessen (I’d hope at least :D).  Her books are so enjoyable, but also so beautifully written.  I’d be lucky to craft a book anywhere near as well as she does.  My author’s voice wish would be John Green because he can make you laugh with a single word and make you cry with silence.

Staying on the topic of books, if you could be any character in any book, who would you be? 

Jen: Wow, I've never thought about actually being a character before. first thought is not to pick a character who has anything horribly awful happen to him or her! Actually, a Harry Potter character comes to mind immediately because I would love to do magic. I'll pick Hermione then, she's also smart and brave - love it. 

I'm also thinking about being one of the Penderwick sisters from The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. I really enjoyed that book and I love the relationships between all the sisters. 

What kind of cupcake would you be?

Kellee: YUM!  This question makes me think of my favorite cupcakes from Sweet! down the road (and they have gluten free cupcakes Jen!).  Now I want to go there! Well, I think if I was going to be a cupcake, I’d be the Sweet! Plain Jane.  I am a bit predictable and like schedules and planning (white cake cupcake with vanilla butter cream icing), but I try to shake things up randomly to keep life entertaining (sprinkles!). 

I love cupcakes but to switch the mood-tell me about what bothers you. What is your pet peeve? 

Jen: Wait! I love cupcakes - go back - they have gluten free but do they have vegan cupcakes? ...just checked their site, I don't see vegan options. That's okay though. I'd love to see one of their giant party cupcakes at Sweet!

Back to your pet peeve question! I give up! I' ve been sitting here struggling to think of a pet peeve. I'm sure I have them but I cannot think of even one right now. I'm generally an easy going person and I try not to let things bother me too much. Not that there aren't things that drive me crazy...but I can't think of something I would consider to be a pet peeve unless, does being late or other people being late count? I get that people run late - and now with two kids, we're late from time to time - so it doesn't make me insane, but I do feel it's only respectful if you are where you are supposed to be on time.

What is your favorite flower? AND what color is you favorite for that flower?

Kellee: The orchid.  They are simply phenomenal flowers- doesn't matter the color, they are one of the most beautiful plants on Earth. 

And now our favoritest 15 blogs at the moment:

Colby can also be found on Twitter at @colbysharp.

Alyson can be found on Twitter at @alybee930.

John can be found on Twitter at @mrschureads.

Kathy can also be found on Twitter at @thebrainlair.

Abby can be found on Twitter at @abbylibrarian

Teresa can be found on Twitter @trkravtin

Mindi can be found on Twitter @mindi_r

YA Love
Sarah can be found on Twitter @yaloveblog

Heise Reads & Recommends
Jillian can be found on Twitter @heisereads

Lauren can be found on Twitter @lauren817

Basically Amazing
Ashley can be found on Twitter @basicallybooks

Kate and Kristen can be found on Twitter @TheBookMonsters

13. The Reading Zone
Sarah can be found on Twitter @thereadingzone

14. Lemme Library
Kathy can also be found on Twitter at @lemmelibrary

15. The Nonfiction Detectives
Cathy and Louise can be found on Twitter at @NonfictionDetec

Thanks again, Beth, for giving us the Versatile Blogger award!
We hope you check out some of our favorite blogs or join us on Twitter!!!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guys Read: Thriller by Jon Sciezka

Title: Guys Read: Thriller
Author: Compiled by Jon Scieszka; Stories written by Jon Sciesszka, M.T. Anderson,  Mat De La Pena, Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Jarrett Krosoczka, Gennifer Choldenko, Bruce Hale, James Patterson, and Patrick Carman
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September, 2011
Genre/Format: Thriller/Short Stories
Summary: The second volume of Jon Scieszka's Guys Read short story collections are filled with all types of mysteries and thrillers- from ghosts to monsters to life and death situations to bad guys to a train accident to other exciting stories. 
What I Think: This short story collection was touch and go for me, but we have to remember that I am not the demographic for this short story collection.  I think that all of my boys (and some of my girls) would truly love this collection.  When I gave my reading interest survey at the beginning of this year, so many of my students wanted scary books or ghost stories- this collection is right up their alley.

My favorite story in the bunch was Walter Dean Myers's story "Pirate" which is a thriller in a different sense than the other books in the collection. Myers's story is about Somalian pirates and is a true life and death situation that kept me on the edge of my seat. It is was also so beautifully written; most of my snatches that I marked in my Kindle were from this story.

I also truly enjoyed "Ghost Vision Goggles", "Nate Macavoy, Monster Hunter", and "Thad, the Ghost, and Me". The three of them are all such fun stories filled with mystery. "Nate Macavoy" even finishes with a cliffhanger and now I want another!!  Matt De La Pena's story "Believing in Brooklyn" is a touching story as well as a mystery.  I felt that Anthony Horowitz's short story "The Double Eagle has Landed" is a great introduction to the Diamond Brothers and it was the first Diamond Brothers story I've ever read and now really want to read some of the novels.  I'll also now be able to book talk the series and I think many students would love the mystery and humor aspects of these stories. 
Read Together: Grades 4-8
Read Alone: Grades 5-8
Read With: Pirates by Cecelia Rees (with Myers's "Pirate"), The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (with "Nate Macavoy"), Three of Diamonds and other Diamond Brothers stories by Anthony Horowitz (with "The Double Eagle had Landed"), All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn, City of the Dead by Tony Abbott, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac, Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison, The Seer of Shadows by Avi
Snatch of Text:"What would he do if something happened to his grandman? He couldn't even think about it without feeling a hole opening in his stomach." (Believing in Brooklyn)

"My mother, with a smile in her voice, called me a dreamer." (Pirate)

"'I don't know if there is a right thing that fits everybody,' I said." (Pirate)

"I will never know.  Each of us will live in the memory of the other for a little while, but we will fade away.  That is the human way, I think." (Pirate)

"Hatchetface Hutchinson breathing down my neck, scolding in her cackly voice, 'Now, where should that comma go?' and acting like she'll give me the death penalty if I answer wrong. (Thad, the Ghost, and Me)

"Niko has the kind of sturdy body that looks like it belongs on the ground, which makes his penchant for jumping even more surprising.  I am longer and leaner, but my feet never leave the ground." (The Snake Mafia)

(I apologize for not having page numbers, I read it on my Kindle) 
Reading Strategies to Practice: Predicting, Making Connections
Writing Strategies to Practice: Dialogue, Imagery, Figurative language
Writing Prompts:What are you afraid of?; Who is someone that you would do anything for?; Do you believe in ghosts, monsters or any type of supernatural beings? Why or why not? 
Topics Covered: Adventure, Challenges, Curiosity, Taking risks, Humor, Ghosts, Thriller, Suspense
Translated to Spanish:No

(Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins for allowing me to review this collection.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Book-Day Breadcrumbs!

Kellee and I are very excited, because Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu is finally in bookstores TODAY. If you are looking for a great fantasy book that has adventure and strong allusions to folk literature, this is a great book! It is truly a magical adventure that will grab readers from the beginning.  We are re-posting our review because we want to share just how much we loved this book!

Title: Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Illustrator: Erin McGuire
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Publication Date: September 2011
Genre/Format: Fiction-Fantasy/Novel
Summary: Hazel is Jack's best friend. He is the only person she can be truly herself around. As they are getting older, Jack seems to struggle with spending time with Hazel and spending time with some of the boys in her class. Hazel gets worried when Jack gets mad at her and then, all of a sudden, Jack isn't at school and isn't at home. Then she really gets concerned when Jack's friend Tyler says he saw Jack go into the woods with a woman made of ice. Hazel can't leave her best friend alone and sets out on a fantastical trek into a magical forest to find her friend.
What Jen Thinks: Hazel is so brave to risk everything to go and find Jack. She is a great character who is loyal and determined. I love that she's the one saving Jack when he has been taken into the forest by the ice queen. I've heard people say this is based off of the ice queen fairy tale but I'm not familiar with that story. I can definitely recognize elements of folk literature in this book though without knowing the ice queen story. Hazel encounters many magical beings in the forest, each with their own story that she has to outwit. I love how all these characters from stories are found in the forest. I kept imagining all the characters from other fairy tales I know roaming around in one magical forest. It's like a dream come true but also so scary at the same time. Readers will be drawn into Hazel's story as she navigates this enchanted forest to find Jack.
What Kellee Thinks: I was enchanted with this book from the opening pages when the descriptive language grabbed me! I could close my eyes and picture exactly what Anne Ursu was describing. Ursu also alludes to so many great novels and fairy tales throughout Breadcrumbs such as When you Reach MeA Wrinkle in TimeHarry Potterand The Little Match Girl on top of the main inpsiration for the story: The Snow Queen. Though I am not familiar with The Snow Queen either, it was easy to fall into Ursu's magical world.

On top of the language of the book, the protagonist is such an exceptional young girl. Hazel is someone that I wish I was friends with! She has the best imagination, but this also separates her from what is expected in "the real world" which is why she always navigates back to Jack- the one person who seems to get her. So, when Jack stops talking to her, you see Hazel having to mold herself to fit into a niche where she is not tormented- this devastated me! However, when she learns that Jack needed to be rescued, Hazel returns to her old self and knows that she must be the princess to save the knight (pretty empowering for a 5th grader!).
Read Together: 3 - 8
Read Alone: 4 - 8
Read With: A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness, Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and The Kane Chronicles, The, Book One: Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Snatch of Text: "There were some days, ever since the summer, when the whole feel of Jack seemed to cahnge. Like suddenly, instead of being made of baseball and castles and super heroes and Jack-ness, he was made of something scratchy and thick. Hazel could tell because he had been her best friend for four years, and you can tell when your best friend is suddenly made of something else. And all she could do was try to remind him what he was really made of." (p. 44)

“And then the whole class was out, and Jack wasn’t there. How curious, Hazel thought. How odd. The facts, as Hazel had observed them, were that Jack was not on the bus, was not as his desk, and was not at recess. The logical conclusion was that Jack was not in school today.
Hazel’s eyes traveled across the playgound and landed on the crew of boys. They were already running around, pushing each other into the slush. All except one-Tyler was staring at the quiet doorway, just as she had been.
His head turned slowly and his eyes met hers. He looked at her for three blinks, and then turned away.
Curious.” (p. 118)
**Page numbers are from the ARC so may not be the exact page numbers in the final printing of the book.**
Reading Strategies to Practice: Visualize, Vocabulary, Making Connections, Characterization
Writing Strategies to Practice: Dialogue, Narrative, Descriptive
Writing Prompts: If you were going to write a screenplay, what would your movie be about?; What is your favorite fairy tale?
Topics Covered: Integration- Math, Fairy Tales, Depression, Divorce, Adventure, Loneliness, Courage
Translated to Spanish: No

Many things to Walden Pond Press for providing us with an ARC of Breadcrumbs to review!


Monday, September 26, 2011

School of Fear

Title: School of Fear     
Author: Gitty Daneshvari 
Publisher: Little and Brown Company 
Publication Date: September 2009 
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction/Novel 
Summary: Four quirky kids, each with their own particular phobia, find themselves at Ms. Wellington's School of Fear one summer, hoping to overcome their fears. The kids are skeptical of her methods when their summer takes an unexpected turn of events and they end up on a wild adventure.
What I Think: This book reminded me a lot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because of all the different characters and their extreme fears. Because of their phobias, these kids are a bit eccentric. I love them maybe more because of their eccentricities. Either way, as I was reading about each character, I kept thinking back to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the cooky characters who tour the factory with Charlie. It's a great how the author does make these characters as intensely phobic as they are but still likable at the same time.
This book also reminded me of The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I think this will make a great read aloud.
The description in this book is great - there are definitely $100 words all over the place and who doesn't love $100 words? Also, I think Daneshvari does a great job with characterization. She's an expert at dialogue and at a using dialogue to bring out character's attitudes. Sometimes I feel like dialogue, and the idea of dialogue as a literary element that an author employs, is hard to explain to kids. I love how this book has so many different characters who are all unique and hysterical and endearing at the same time.
Read Together: 4 - 8 
Read Alone: 4 - 8 
Read With: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, We Are Not Eaten By Yaks By C. Alexander London
Snatch of Text:  
"A bell is not a bell. While undeniably constructed out of metal and heralded for its ability to ring, it is actually a great deal more than that. It's the taste of barbeque, the feel of sunburned skin from playing outside all day, and the smell of chlorine from freshly cleaned pools. It's the promise of football games, sleepovers, and video-game tournaments, all without the interruption of homework. In short, the bell is the gatekeeper of summer." p. 1

"'What do you mean Grandma's dead? How could you let this happen?' Theodore Bartholomew howled in the kitchen of his family's messy Manhattan apartment. The stout boy with alabaster skin, dark brown hair, and milk chocolate eyes framed by glasses stared at his mother in shock.
'Grandma was old, that's what happens. Old people eventually die,' Theo's mother, Mrs. Daphne Bartholomew, explained compassionately, placing her hand on top of Theo's.
'But you're old. Look at all those wrinkles. You'll be dead soon too!'
'I'm not that old.'
'All I see are liver spots and wrinkles,' Theo said as he started to hyperventilate. 'I feel faint - quick, get the smelling salts!'" (p. 22-23)
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Identifying Story Elements 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Narrative - Characterization, Dialogue  
Writing Prompts: Reread your story and look specifically at the dialogue you incorporate. How does the dialogue show the reader who the character is? Is you dialogue purposeful and does it help the reader understand what is happening in the story? Does the dialogue really sound like you would expect the character to talk? (Make sure a mom sounds like a mom...and a hyperventilating boy who is deathly afraid of dying sounds like a hyperventilating boy who is deathly afraid of dying. 
Topics Covered:  Fears, Family, Friends, Adversity, Loyalty, Taking Risks 
Translated to Spanish: No


Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Bit of Me(me) (9/24/11)

I just went to read Danielle's post for Bit of Me(me) over at There's a Book. I love the question for this week's Bit of Me(me), too...except I have a slight problem answering it:

What childhood toy, blanket, stuffed animal, etc. do you still have and cherish?

So here's my problem with this perfectly nostalgic question...I don't have anything! I can think of a stuffed doggie that I had whose name was Rolff and a Cabbage Patch Kid who I had named Willie. Sadly, neither of them is here today. My husband had a blanket he loved when he was a kiddo. My mother-in-law brought it over and it's been shredded to pieces. He called it "eehee". 

Peanut has several "eehees" of his own right now that he likes to have with him when it's time for bed. He sucks his I guess he'll always have thumb with him when he gets old! The same goes for Little Bean, but he prefers to suck two fingers - backwards. He's funny and so far hasn't found an "eehee" to love. He does like to rub his right can see Little Bean in action in this pic...can't find one of Peanut right now.  

The Bit of Me(me) will be back here at Teach Mentor Texts next weekend! Be sure to come back and link up!  Here's the question for next week:

Have you met or worked with any famous people? Who? Where? When?


Friday, September 23, 2011

Partnering With Parents - Week 3

It's time for another guest post in our series about working with parents! We have already had some great ideas! I love reading about what others are doing to get parents involved with reading in their classrooms. This week, we have a little different perspective. Our guest blogger is Alyson Beecher, she is a principal in Calfornia. I love reading Alyson's tweets about how involved she is in supporting literacy at her school. Alyson tweets at @alybee930 and blogs at Kid Lit Frenzy. Thanks you for these great ideas, Allyson!!

Helping Parents Connect with their Children’s Reading
When I think back on my childhood, I don’t ever remember my parents reading aloud to me.  They must have at some point when I was small, but I just don’t have any childhood memory of it.  What I do have are two memories that significantly impacted me as a reader.  First, my parents communicated to me that reading was important by allowing me the time and space to read, as well as, as much access to books as a limited budget would allow.  Second, my father – who was not a fast reader – read every book that I asked him to read when I was finished reading it.  Never once did he complain about reading probably 30 something Nancy Drew books.  (The man deserves sainthood.)  My father wasn’t much of a conversationalist and I don’t remember any in-depth discussions afterwards, but it still created a connection between us.  One that has lasted for decades and one where we still share books; pulling aside a favorite mystery to give to one another. 

As educators, finding the right way to engage parents in their child’s reading is critical but also a challenge.  But how do we do this effectively.  Here are a few ways of engaging families in reading with their child.

Teaching Parents to Read Aloud to Their Child
Early on in my career, I was naïve enough to think – “Of course, everyone knows how to read to their child.”  Then one day, while trying to do a literacy activity with a group of parents of young children, I realized they had no idea of how to sit with their child, or read the book in an engaging manner, or to ask questions of their child about the book.  Storytelling, oral storytelling, was a part of their culture but sitting down to read a book was not something they were comfortable with.  If I wanted parents to read with their child, I had to model for them as well as help them understand the importance of this particular activity.   

Family Storytimes
Every year, our Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) sponsors an evening storytime complete with pajamas and milk & cookies.  Sometimes teachers lead the evening and other times we have brought in local booksellers to book talk to parents and do oral storytelling.   This evening event is always successful.  Families who might never come out for any other meeting seem to show up dressed in pajamas and ready to read.

School-wide Literacy Events
Each year, our school looks for several literacy activities that we can do with all students and encourage our families to come and participate. Each year, we have held an annual celebration for Dr. Seuss’ Read Across America Day.  Last year, we did a school-wide Chalk festival inspired by the book CHALK by Bill Thomson.  This year, we are partnering with our local Children’s Museum during Art Night (a city-wide event) to promote literacy and a new favorite picture book, STARS by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee.  We also eliminated our annual catalog fund-raiser and replaced it with a Read-a-thon (structured carefully to allow for all children to participate).   This year we are also considering having children dress up as their favorite literary character as part of our Halloween Parade.

Mother & Daughter/Father & Son Book clubs
Any and all kinds of book clubs can be successful with families.  I have partnered with parents to lead small book clubs for 4 to 6 children, as well as, holding a summer reading club at a local park.  We have also explored ways to do a parent/child book club.  This seems to work quite well with tweens and teens. 

Guest Mystery Reader
At a friend’s child’s school, they ask parents to come in and read aloud to the class.  Each week, the children try to guess which parent is coming through the use of some clues and hints. 

Literacy Cafés
At our school, one of my parents (a former teacher) and I developed a program we call Literacy Cafés.  In order to make them successful, we need the support and help of parents.  Some parents make donations of materials and others have time to help set-up or participate in the Cafés.  The children’s enthusiasm for these Cafés has prompted further parent support. 
Wrapping Up
I realize that all of this can be overwhelming and I don’t recommend trying them all at once.  Start with something simple – one or two activities that seem manageable – and then grow into more activities or bigger things.  The critical thing is that you start somewhere and that you seek to create a culture or community of readers at your school.  Your enthusiasm for books will be contagious.   

Can you believe all these great ideas!?! I love the idea of organizing an event that brings students and their families together to celebrate reading. I'm doing an event for the first time this year and hoping to bring my students who are in seven different schools together. Has anyone else tried events like this? I would love to hear what you have done that works at your school!  Thanks again, Alyson!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Perfect (Impulse, #2)Title: Perfect
Author: Ellen Hopkins 
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: September 2011
Genre/Format: Fiction/Novel in Verse
Summary: It is so hard to be perfect.  Cara's parents have expectations for her that no one can live up to, Kendra pushes her body to the limit to reach beauty, Sean will do anything to be the best athlete he can be, and Andre is hiding his true ambitions from everyone.  All 4 teenagers just want to please those around them, but is it worth the risks and consequences?
What I Think: Perfect runs parallel to Ellen Hopkins's Impulse. While Connor is at Aspen Springs, the psychiatric hospital, in ImpulsePerfect follows his sister and some of their friends back home.  In Impulse sometimes I couldn't connect with Connor and the way he was feeling, but Perfect gives you the back story I wished for- and more! I now truly understand why Connor ended up where he did.  

One of my favorite parts of the book was whenever the point of view changed, the new section began with a very lyrical poem vs. the narrative ones that drive the story.  It set the emotional tone for the section and character. Also, they are truly beautifully written.

Because this book has multiple points of view, there are so many different issues that are dealt with: Abuse, Alcohol, Drugs, Ambition, Race, Eating Disorders, Depression, Sexual Orientation, Rape, Expectations, Stalking, Love, Abandonment, Steroids and more.  Although you may not be able to connect with all of the trauma within Perfect, everyone can connect to something.  It is also because of all of the trauma that Perfect truly draws out emotions and causes you to physically react.  If you have read Impulse, it is a similar experience.

My last thought is that I am glad that I don't live in the neighborhood/school district that Ellen Hopkins built for this book.
Read Together: Grades 10 - 12
Read Alone: Grades 10+
Read With: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, Perfect by Nicole Friend, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez, Boost by Kathy Mackel, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Nonfiction articles/books about whichever issue/character from Perfect you are focusing on (to make connections)
Snatch of Text: 
"You Might Even Say
We look normal.  Looks can deceive,
We've both had our share of emotional
trauma, though mine stems from
parents who really don't care..." (p. 53)

Is the perfect state of being.
Nothing inside to anchor
you. Nothing inside
to chain you down, keep
from living your dreams.
Empty, almost weightless,
you are an eyelash afloat
on a blink of breeze." (p. 301)

"Not Exactly True
That skin hate is dead.
There will never be color
blindness in a culture of
                                                      fear. (p. 325)
Reading Strategies to Practice: Figurative Language, Making Connections
Writing Strategies to Practice: Poetry, Figurative Language, Multiple Points of View
Writing Prompts: Write a poem using figurative language to describe your feelings; Write 3 poems about the same event from multiple points of view; Everyone at one time or another feels like they do not fit in- write about one of those times and explain how you stayed resilient.
Topics Covered: Ambition, Asking for Help, Blame, Challenges, Choices, Confidence, Death, Envy, Family, Fear, Fitting In, Gossip, Jealousy, Love, Loneliness, Passion, Prejudice, Self-confidence, Tolerance
Translated to Spanish: No

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Frankie Pickle!

Title: Frankie and the Closet of Doom (2009)
Frankie and the Pine Run 3000 (2010)
Frankie and the Mathematical Menace (2011)  
Author: Eric Wight  
Illustrator: Eric Wight  
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2009, 2010, 2011  
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction/Chapter Book-Graphic Novel Hybrid
Summary: In Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, Frankie loves his room messy and just doesn’t want to clean it up. His mom says it’s okay to leave it messy…as long as he’s prepared to deal with the consequences. Consequences?

In Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000, Frankie is determined to build a pinewood car to race. If he can win the race, he can earn points to become a Shrew Scout. When he crashes his pinewood car, he asks his dad to help him build a winning car for the race. Will Frankie take first place and finally become a Shrew Scout?

In Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace, Frankie’s brain goes blank when it’s time to take his math quiz. Even though he did the homework and studied, he just couldn’t take the quiz. Luckily, his teacher is giving him a second chance. Can Frankie get ready to take the quiz again and this time get a good score?
What I Think: I’ve heard people talking about Frankie Pickle all summer and now that I have read the books, I get what all the buzz is about. When I read these books, I instantly thought about Jon Scieszka’s devotion to writing books that appeal to boys because these books are totally geared towards boys. I think boys and girls will relate to this book, but I think boys especially will relate to Frankie’s hysterical daydreams. I’ve already both of these with my son and he can’t get enough of Frankie. I saw one of my 4th graders at the public library last week and showed him where to find Frankie Pickle. He checked out one of the Frankie Pickle books and the next day brought it to school. He was excited to tell me all about the book. He had devoured it in one night!!! I love it.

My favorite part about these books is the great job Wight does at developing Frankie as a character. He is a kiddo who likes to have fun and tries hard to do his best. Sometimes he realizes he needs help to get things done. Like I said, he is a daydreamer. The illustrations and the graphic novel that is infused in the books really makes it obvious when Frankie is daydreaming versus when he is experiencing something in real life. I’m not sure if I can think of other books that do such a great job of showing this. I love that this book makes it possible to so easily talk about what is happening with the character because of the chapter book – graphic novel combination.

In the snatch of text below from Frankie and the Closet of Doom, you can show students how easy it can be to introduce supporting characters while continuing with the story. I love how writer's can be sneaky and work description of characters in without having to stop the flow of the story.

Read Together: Pre-K - 7
Read Alone: 2 - 7 
Read With: Knuckleheads by Jon Scieszka, Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner, Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce, Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look 
Snatch of Text: 
Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom
“Frankie reached across the breakfast table to claim his prize: a goldenly delicious waffle. The only problem was, someone else got it first.
            ‘Leggo, bro,’ said Frankie’s older sister Piper as she snatched the last waffle. Piper was the sporty one in the family: softball, soccer, tennis, field hockey – pretty much anything that involved hitting or kicking.
            ‘Lurgle burgle,’ said Frankie’s younger sister Lucy. Lucy was the diaper-waering one in the family. Her skills included eating, sleeping, burping, and being cute. She was an expert at all of them.” (p. 7-8)

Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace
“Frankie turned and slowly approached Miss Gordon. His mouth was so dry, it felt like he had been snacking on cotton balls.” (p. 15)

“Nibbling on a peanut butter-marshmallow cookie, he cracked open his text book.” (p. 31)
Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000
“Humphrey’s Hobby Shop was like a candy store for your brain.” p. 19

Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Visualizing, Making Predictions 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Personal Narrative 
Writing Prompts: Think about a time when you didn't listen to what your parents asked you to do, how did things turn out? Did you change your mind about not doing what your parents suggested?  Think of a time when you wanted to do something by yourself but had to ask for help. Were things better when you asked for help? 
Topics Covered: Family, Friends, Listening, Independence, Imagination, Perseverance, Hard-Work, Having Fun, Pets 
Translated to Spanish: No

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)Title: Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have)
Author: Sarah Mlynowski 
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Publication Date: June 2011 
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction-Teen Issues/Novel 
Summary: When April’s dad decides to move to Cleveland with his new wife and bring her with them, April is not excited. She works out a plan so that she can stay to finish the school year with her friends and more importantly her boyfriend, Noah. April’s parents think she’s staying with her friend Vi and her mom but Vi’s mom is actually traveling. April and Vi are on their own…which leads to all the other things they do that they probably shouldn’t have!
What I Think: Of course, you can imagine the trouble teenagers could get into if left to their own devices! I always find myself wondering if these things could really happen. I’m not sure how easily a parent would let his or her child stay with friends if they never actually talk to or see the parents. April is able to create fake e-mail accounts to trick her dad and Vi’s mom. It seems crazy, but at the same time doesn’t seem that far from possible – especially if the parent trusts his or her son or daughter in the first place. While April gets into some not-so-great situations, she deals with those situations. The topic of teen sex is carried through the entire book. I like that she thinks a lot about having sex before she does – she still could have been more careful and does suffer the consequences of her actions.  Overall, there are lots of teen issues that come up in this book.  I love that it’s a fun book at the same time addressing issues that teens deal with all the time. I think any high school girl would devour this book. I would not recommend this to anyone younger than high school because of the focus on teen sex (just my opinion).
This is definitely a book that I wish existed when I was in high school. I wish there was more fiction like this about teenagers dealing with teenage situations and working through feelings and dealing with friends and boyfriends. There's one part towards the end that I wish I could share here with my snatch of text but it gives a lot away so I won't post it. I read it aloud to a friend and we were both cracking up. April is too much fun, I can see teenage girls identifying with her.
Read Together: 8 - 12 
Read Alone: 9 - 12 
Read With:  Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Snatch of Text:  

"saturday, march 28


I bolted awake. A siren.
     The police were outside my house. Ready to arrested for underage partying, excessive flirting, and an overcrowded hot tub.
     But wait.
     My brain turned on. No, not the cops. Just my phone – my dad’s ringtone." (p. 1)

“All my words were swishing through my brain, like dirty dishwater in the sink.” (p. 300)

Reading Strategies to Practice: Making Connections, Asking Questions 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Personal Narrative 
Writing Prompts: Think about a time in your life when someone told you something that surprised you or caught you off guard. Write about how you reacted when you heard the good or bad news and what went through your head. 
Topics Covered: Family, Divorce, Siblings, Friendship, Relationships, Sex, STDs, Love, Responsibility, Trust, Loyalty, Honesty
Translated to Spanish: No

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