Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen - BLOG TOUR

Thanks Penguin Random House for the copy.
I am very excited to participate in the blog tour of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen.  It has been awhile since I have done a blog tour, but the description of the book called to me.  It said, “Read Me!  You’ll Like Me!”  Given the trouble I have had over the past few months I’m glad I finally listened. 

One day the decrepit old house that all the kids played in was sold.  In moved a very odd man named Dr. Fell.  The small town children were not thrilled because they considered the hosue theirs.  Jerry, his sister, Gail and Gail’s friend Nancy mentioned to Dr. Fell why everyone was moping around.  Next thing you know the world’s best playground is built in the front yard. 

Soon after there is a huge increase in the number of injuries the kids are having.  The weird thing is that everyone heals quickly, so quickly that the trio of friends take notice.  They set out to figure out what the spooky doctor is up to.

I never like to give much away about a story.  It takes the fun away from the reader.  Anyhow I loved this book.  Right know it is on the top of the list for my second read aloud of the year. 

A couple of weeks ago I had to attend a weeklong professional development on literacy.  One of the sessions focused the importance of vocabulary in students writing.  I bring this up because Mr. Neilsen’s created the best names for the characters.  I can’t wait to use examples from the book to demonstrate how word choice makes a story so much better.  Here are just a few of the ones that really stood out: Nancy Pinkblossom (pink and flowers are not what pop in to the brain when thinking of Nancy.),  PTA Co-President Martha Doomburg, Leonid Hazardfall (he fell so badly they weren’t sure he survived.), and finally the name of the school McKinley Grant Fillmore Elementary School.  Every time a new character appeared their name set the tone for what was about to happen.  Brilliant in my mind.

As a person that looks for stories with strong and interesting male characters I really like when he is combined with strong and interesting female characters.  The balance of Jerry, Gail, and Nancy made the story very engaging.  Jerry was the youngest but was very thoughtful in how to solve the problems in front of them.  I have to admit from the get go I knew Nancy considered Jerry her younger brother as well and that is why she was always teasing him.  It would be fun to ready other adventures about the three of them.

Like I wrote earlier I don’t like to give too much away, so I will sum up why I can’t wait to share this fun, and creepy story with students.  The vocabulary used makes it interesting, but not too challenging.  It makes the reader think, but helps out on the really hard stuff.  Next the characters are ones you want to know more about.  That is good story telling for sure.  Everyone knows that too much of a good thing comes with consequences.  Hard fact but that is reality.  In Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom there is the worlds best playground, but the cost is something not worth paying for.
Like I said I can’t wait to read this aloud to my students.  Enjoy it.

We hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to My Brain on Books to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on Loving Dem Books.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker and My First Read Aloud of the Year!

Next month the new school year begins.  I am excited that I am at a new school, but more importantly I am thrilled that I found my first read aloud for the new year.  The first read aloud is vital to setting the stage for one of the most important times of the day.  Over the years I have found that the first book must be short, funny, and have a male main character.  I avoid books that deal with recent divorce, illness, death, etc.  Not because these topics shouldn’t be discussed or read, but I don’t know my new kids.  These books will come later.

The reason I find it important to start the year with a book with a male protagonist is because I want to lasso my boys into the world of books on day one!  The last couple of years I read Otis Dooda by Ellen Potter. It is a hilarious book about a family that moves from a small town in the South to an apartment building in New York City.  The book focuses on Otis’ first week getting to know his new friends.  I love this book, and I had planned on reading it this year.  It is a good fit since I will be new at the school this year. 

However, I read Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker and changed my mind.  In the book we are introduced to Waylon, a new fourth grader and classmate of Clementine.  Knowing that Clementine is in the class sets the tone that this is no quiet class.  Anyhow, Waylon soon discovers that the class “leader” is dividing the boys into two groups.  Arlo is the “decider”, and what he says stands.  Boys from opposing groups are no longer allowed to be friends with boys from the other group.

One day a new student arrives.  Actually, he was in the class briefly the year before; but left shortly after the school yea started.  Everyone is terrified of Baxter.  He shows up the first day with a scar and stubble on his face.  Waylon discovers that the scar is bubble gum.    Soon after Baxter’s arrival Waylon finds himself groupless, and not fearing Baxter.  As time goes on Waylon discovers that Baxter is not the person everyone thinks he is.

Waylon! One Awesome Thing has all the components of what I look for in a first read aloud.  Male main character, humor, and short.  With that said, the message this book has makes it perfect.  As teachers we work hard to stop bullying.  Not as easy as people think.  When one boy divides the class he is a bully, even if everyone things he is a nice guy.  The book will hopefully lead to discussions about kindness.  I, also, hope that we can talk about not judging people based on appearances. Finally, the book is very funny.  I think some of the funniest scenes are when Waylon is interacting with his teenage sister.  She has changed her name to “Neon” and constantly says, “What’s the point?”.

I can’t wait to share this book with my new class, and see what else we will read this year.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Recently someone asked me what a culturally responsive classroom looks like.  This is a loaded question because so many factors go into making one.  I gave a brief answer, and explained that often the choice of books in the classroom is the most powerful tool to address the diversity, or more often the lack of diversity in classroom.

I currently work in a school in Denver that is not like the majority of schools in my urban district.  During Spring Break I had kids that went to the Virgin Islands, Beaver Creek, Costa Rica, Disneyland, Disney World, Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere.  In other words, the families are very comfortable.  Poverty is not something that is discussed even though the community is surrounded by some of the poorest parts of the city.

As their teacher it is my responsibility to make sure that they experience the world around them.  This goes back to my statement that books bring to life the world around us.  Whatever that may be.

I thoughtfully select read alouds for my class.  I am not saying that they are always serious or filled with life long messages.  Our last read aloud was The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones.  Ok, maybe there is an important message in that book:  Don’t ear your boogers!  Anyhow, I read Crenshaw this past winter; and while reading it I knew it was going to be a read aloud this year.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a short novel about Jackson, a soon to be fifth grade, his family, and his very large imaginary cat friend named Crenshaw.  Crenshaw first came to live with Jackson when he was in first grade.  Jackson’s family and just become homeless and were living in their van.  Like many imaginary friends they just disappear one day.  However, Crenshaw reappears.  He shows up as Jackson is figuring out that his family is about to become homeless again.

Katherine Applegate is a master storyteller.  When I told my class what I was reading next T yelled out “Will this make me cry? The One and Only Ivan was so sad.”  There was a brief discussion about that book.  The class decided that she is a great author.

I know many teachers sometimes wonder if kids are really listening during read alouds because there aren’t always reactions we think we are going to get.  I knew that I would reactions from this book I just didn’t expect so many, and more importantly, so many thoughtful questions. We would have finished over a week ago if this hadn’t been happening.  My students have showed empathy for Jackson, and have asked questions about how does a family get poor.  Why don’t people help them?  One day someone asked; “Can you imagine what it must be like to be that hungry?” He really was interested.  In the book Jackson’s dad makes a sign before he panhandles on the corner to raise money.  The dad’s handwriting is so poor that the sign reads “Think You” instead of “Thank You”.  We discussed why did the author write that.  What is the message the first sign really says?

Crenshaw has been eye opening for my students and for me. Most importantly it is another example of why teachers MUST read aloud to their students.  If we want our students to be prepared for the 21st century they have to know that the world is filled with all different kinds of people with a variety of experiences.  More times than not the only way I can expose them to this is through the pages of a book.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I understand the importance of standards; but when they overpower what we believe, and know is good teaching I get scared.  Very scared.  It is very unlikely that many of the students I have taught over the years will end up as a published poet, but that doesn’t mean that poetry writing should be eliminated from the classroom.  Kids love writing poetry; especially, boys because writing rules can be bent and even broken.  In just a few lines their emotions are down on paper.  They feel successful, and engaged.  Would the following book been written if Mr. Alexander’s teachers hadn’t let him write poetry in class?

One of the books nominated for the Cybils is written in free verse.  Crossover by Kwame Alexander is a beautifully written novel.  It is about twins that are star basketball players.  Their mother is the vice principal of the school, and their dad is a famous ex professional basketball player.  The book is told in first person by one of the twins. Josh Bell, nicknamed Filthy McNasty.  He hates the nickname.  He and his brother are inseparable until a girl comes into the picture.  She causes great friction between the two.

Every once in awhile a book comes around and I start a list of whom I want to share the book with.  This is one of those books.  I can see my friend Carol using this book with a small group of fifth grade to middle school boys at her school.  I can see Liam reading it and sharing it with his friends at middle school.  I can see my friend Jennifer reading aloud to her fifth class.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

Thank you Random House for the copy!
My last school is probably the most diverse school in the city.  About 20 different languages were spoken in the home.  There were African refugees, the governor’s son and everything else in between.    It was an awesome place to teach because of the diversity.  My new school is great, but far less colorful.  However, there are considerably more students with same sex parents.  Over the past year there has been a lot of blogging on the lack of diversity in children’s literature.  The dialogue has been thoughtful and thought provoking.

Does the diversity have to be the main point of the story?  I can’t really answer that question, but I can say is that the story MUST be great.  I am not going to encourage a student to read a book just because of diversity, just like I’m not going to give a boy a sports book just because it is a sports book.  With that said, I just finished a book filled with a whole lot of diversity.  The thing is, that wasn’t the main focus of the book.  It was just a fantastically, funny, family story.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy follows the Fletcher family through the school year.  The four adopted brothers are:

  1. Sam age 12 and in the sixth grade.  He loves sports and is willing to take risks. 
  2. Jax age 10 and your typical fourth grader, even down to the procrastination of schoolwork.
  3. Eli, also, 10 but younger goes to a private school for HGT kids.  Hates it because it isn’t a place that encourages freethinking or collaboration.
  4. Frog age six and besides himself with joy of life.  Loves kindergarten and, well, just about everything.

The pack is led by Dad and Papa.  Who not always successful get to school on time with out a cat barfing, dirty clothes and an annoyed neighbor.  In other words they are like any other family.  The difference is that there are two dads, adopted boys that are different races and religions; but still a family worth reading about.

I am trying to put down on paper the thoughts rushing through my head about this book.  I really enjoyed this book.  Not the best book to read at night the first two weeks of school because I was either too tired, or stayed up too late reading it which made me too tired the next day.  Ms. Levy effortlessly (ok it seems like it was, but we all know how authors fret) sucked me into a family I wish lived next door to me.  Rowdy, loud, reckless, loving, caring, funny are important characteristics to have in a family. 

I am starting a reading unit this week on characters and the Fletcher family is a great book to do character studies.  What makes these boys tick?  What makes them so loveable?  It is, also, a book that shows how our country is changing and diversity is a big part of why.  I look forward to doing this as a read aloud and sharing with some families at school.