Monday, February 19, 2018

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Thank you Scholastic for the copies
In walks an opera diva, a pizza chef, a clown, and an astronaut.  It sounds like a beginning of a joke, but it is anything but a joke.  These are new clients for a very special private eye.  No, the detective is not Cormoran Strike, but Baby Monkey.  Brian Selznick and David Serlin’s newest character. 

A couple weekends ago, was a literacy filled.  Thursday and Friday was the CCIRA annual conference.  The conference was wonderful, and just what I needed to rejuvenate me. It continued to get better because Denver was host city to the ALA Midwinter Conference.  On Saturday I attended the exhibit hall where I was able to pick up an advance reader copy of Baby Monkey Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin. (I’ll be honest I picked up two copies.) I was so excited to get my hands on this joyful book.  Back up a little bit.  It is not longer in my possession.  The students in my class got a hold of it and created a wait list to be fair.  The amount of laughter is amazing!

I love this book.  As usual Brian Selznick illustrations are breathtaking. The text the two created is engagingly funny to high third grade readers.  Looking at the changing details during each new chapter is fun.  I mean really Maria Callas and the first footstep on the money.  The creativity to come up with this is just…WOW!

Finally, anyone that has watched a toddler try to put on pants will love watching Baby Monkey try to put on his pants.  Again, the laughter of third graders reading this part is priceless.  This book reminds us that if we only allow kids to read books at “their level” most kids will miss out on the joy of a masterpiece.   

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt

I normally blog about books that have a male protagonist, but I loved Greetings From Witness Protection b
y Jake Burt so much that I am writing about it because I know boys will really enjoy it.

I am going to cheat a little with the summary and edit what is on the book cover. 

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a family on the run from a Mafia family.  The bad guys are looking for a mom, dad and a son.  Not a family of four.  Nicki is living in a group home when she is selected to help protect this family.  She has to move from New York City to North Carolina to go into witness protection. 

First off, WOW!  This is Jake Burt’s first novel.  Way to get a following.  On the surface the reason I enjoyed this book so much is that it is fun, and suspenseful.  Nicki is a funny character.  She is determined to do the right thing.  I, also, like that it is totally believable, but not really. I mean I hope the US Marshalls don’t put kids in this type of danger.  The suspense and humor is where I know I can easily get boys to read this book.

What really sets this book apart is the way Mr. Burt deals with trauma.  Nicki’s parents have abandoned her, and the only caregiver she has really known, Grandma, has died.  This is how she ends up in and out of foster care.  The hope of all the kids is that they will “STICK”.  This is where the foster kids get to stay with the family.  A FOREVER FAMILY. 

The friendship Nicki makes in her new school is special and shows how special she is.  Nicki, also, works really hard to form a loving bond with her “new” family.  Without giving away the ending there is a scene towards the end where Nicki actions make her “family” question her loyalty, but it is the scene that shows that Nicki has found her FOREVER FAMILY.  That she has stuck.

Friday, January 19, 2018

New Book Club and a Symphony of Armpit Farts

The discussion of Dog Man by Dav Pilkey was fun.  The boys spent more time than usual pointing out the merits of the graphic novel.    They were polite to each other, and when they disagreed with someone they would say, “I disagree with you because..”  I thought, “wow what a new civilized group”.  Well when 12 boys get together after school with food and beverages the civility doesn’t last long.  All it takes is one, third grade, boy to change the tune of the meeting.  As the last boy finished the symphony of armpit farts began.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the boys tried to play a song with their armpits.  I knew if I didn’t intervene it was down hill, and no way to get back.  “Hey what did you guys read over break?” I asked.  Luckily for everyone involved they quickly moved on to answering the questions.

A little background about this Guys Read Book Club:  I currently teach at a Title 1 school with a magnificent view of downtown Denver.  We can walk to the a few museums and Denver Public Library’s main branch.  We are, also, a school in which 60% of our students have been either homeless, or in some type of foster care.  It is a tough school.  Our achievement on the state’s test shows that we lag behind students from middle class schools.  There are about 14 boys this year that come to the monthly meeting.  Of the 14, 11 come from homes where English is not the primary language, and at least one parent is a new immigrant.  Four of the boys read significantly below grade level.  All 14 boys are your typical goofy boys.

After 10 years of doing a book club it is exciting and rewarding to see a group of boys come together and participate in a book club.  It is just like any “fun” book club.  We eat, drink, laugh, talk a little bit about the book, talk, laugh, eat… I am very fortunate that I get a grant to buy the books.  Each month the boys get to keep their books.  For some families these are some of the only books that are in the house.

January 2018
I have worked in Title 1 urban schools and in most of them there is a belief that “these kids won’t do that” or “these kids can’t do that”.  I know that if we don’t provide opportunities for kids in Title 1 schools we will never break the cycle.  Is it challenging? YES.  Is it worth it? Look at the picture.  The saying goes “A picture tells a thousand words.”  In the case of these guys the picture tells a million words!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Miles Morales Spider Man by Jason Reynolds

Miles Morales is just another teenager trying to get through school, talk to girls and not make his parents angry.  Miles is on scholarship to a boarding school in Brooklyn.   He plays video games with his roommate Ganke. (More about him later!)  While trying to fit in and impress a girl named Alicia he makes a bad choice and the consequences get him suspended for a few days.  On top of all the normal teenage issues he is Spider Man and his super powers are acting weird. 

As Miles tries to get he live back together he keeps having nightmares that he can’t shake, even when he is awake.  His nightmares force him to come face to face with an evil plot being carried out by his racist history teacher. That is enough of a summary.  You have to read the book to find out more.

I want to start with the fact that Jason Reynolds is a master storyteller.  Miles Morales Spider Man is an incredible book.  I had trouble putting it down, and I purchased multiple copies to give a Christmas presents. 

Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of characters of color in middle-grade books.  Many of the books that had been published were not that good.  Luckily, the last couple of years we are finally getting well written books that have main characters of color.  Jason Reynolds is one of the authors that writes books that kids enjoy, and make them think. 

I am always seeking books that will make great read alouds or a book for book club.  Unfortunately, this book won’t work for me.  HOWEVER, if I taught fifth grade or middle school it would be a FANTASTIC read aloud.  The same goes for book club.  As I said earlier it was hard to put down.  Mr. Reynolds sucks the reader into the pages.  At times I felt like I was on the subway with Miles.  It is definitely a book I would put in the hands of many kids and in classroom libraries.  Thank you Jason Reynolds.   

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Girls Who Code by Stacie Deutsch and Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani

I normally blog about books that will interest boys, but recently I was asked if I would blog about girls and coding.  Since both are extremely important in schools I jumped at the fact.

I just realized that I read the second book in the series first, oops!  The good thing is that reader doesn’t have to go in order.    The Girls Who Code by Stacia Deutsch is a new series about a group of middle school girls that are in a coding club.  Book 1 starts with the girls getting to know each other.  Book 2 involves the coders participating in hackathon.  It sounds sinister (I know whom and what I wanted them to hack) but it is coding competition with robots.  It sounds like a fantastic day. 

Thank you Random House
for the copy.
Sophia is the focus of book 2 titled Team BFF: Race to the Finish!  The girls are participating in the hackathon, but first Sophia has chores to do and a babysitter to find for her younger sisters.  When her team is a bout to compete her abuelita show up to cheer her on.  Sophia ends the day with such confidence that she asks a boy to the dance!

The books are cute, but I do know it will be a VERY tough sell to boys.  That is ok! Truth be told it is a REALLY tough to get girls to think about coding.  As a teacher I will take any help I can get to get them into coding. The series will get them thinking about coding, but our responsibility is to get them involved in coding.

I do the Genius Hour in my class.  For an hour a week kids can learn about anything they want to.  A girl in my class selected how to code as her topic.  She told me that she wants to be a coder when she grows up.  This student comes from a home where Spanish is the primary language.  Our Title 1 school and the neighborhood is in the shadow of downtown Denver.  We are just blocks from the arts center, the Capitol building, Denver Art Museum, etc. Here is a young lady that wants a challenge.  She is using another book Random House sent me.

Random House also sent me Girls Who Code by Reshma Saujani.  She founded Girls Who Code.  Her TED Talk is on raising brave girls.  I am attaching a link.  When I think about L wanting to code I get excited and wish I knew more to help her, but I know she is smart enough to teach me.

So why do I care about this.  Well it is simple.  I have to do everything I can to make sure my kids are ready for the world. (Don’t tell admin because they think it is to get them ready for PARCC!)  Ms. Saujani is providing an opportunity for this generation of young ladies to be the next tech masterminds.  I have seen over the years that a book can inspire kids in ways I never imagined.