Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beyond the Station Lies the Sea by Jutta Richter

A few years ago I asked my friend Carol about finding a new read aloud for my third grade class. I wanted to read something different. I have nothing against the cannon, but I knew there had to be more. She gave me some suggestions (I would not be the teacher I am without her!) and recommended that I also look on line. This began my life in the blog world. It reached a new level this year when I was lucky enough to be a judge for Cybils. As I have written there were some wonderful books nominated.

As we know the read aloud is the soul of the reading day. Our voice (someone else’s words) can bring laughter and tears to a classroom of listeners. That is why it is SO important to find the perfect story. Beyond the Station Lies the Sea by Jutta Richter is one of the books nominated I would love to read as a read aloud. Jutta Richter’s language (or the translators) is full of beautiful imagery. I could not put it down. I am just not sure if it is appropriate for a third/fourth grade class. I am not afraid to push the limit with my kids. I know that kids can comprehend a lot more then they are given credit for. I’m not advocating reading Proust, Tolstoy, or Bellow but reading them books that push their thoughts is so important.

Beyond the Station Lies the Sea by Jutta Richter is stunningly written novella about a young boy that runs away from an abusive home. He befriends an older homeless man. They dream of moving to the sea, but to get the money to move Niner (the boy) must sell his guardian angel to a wealthy woman. She obtained her riches by being a prostitute. Here lies my dilemma, how does one explain to 9 year olds about some of these topics.

Abuse, emotional but doable
Rough language, doable

On line the book is listed as 8-12 but in my mind I am thinking 12 and above.

Book courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Last Newspaper Boy in America by Sue Corbett

When I was in the third grade we moved from Mexico City to Nogales Arizona. It was culture shock when we first moved to Mexico from Denver, but truly a bigger one moving back to the States. Nogales is a small border town about 60 miles south of Tucson. It was in Nogales that I had my first job. I sold the Nogales International in front of the Santa Cruz court house and library. Imagine a 9 year old toe head selling papers. I made pretty good money. My next endeavor in the newspaper business was home delivery of The Denver Post. To date myself it was delivered in the afternoon.
I can honestly tell you that even though the money was coming in it was an awful job.

I think my two experiences with newspapers influenced my reading of The Last Newspaper Boy in America by Sue Corbett. It was one of the books I read for the Cybils Middle Grader Fiction. In the story we learn that it is a family tradition to deliver The Cooper County Caller. When a member of the David family turns twelve they take over the delivery job. However, on Wil David’s 12th birthday he finds out that they are going to stop local delivery of the newspaper. Through determination, civic duty, and a HUGE need for a computer Wil sets out to change the newspapers mind. I really enjoyed this story. It is another story of kids taking control of their lives. There is a lot of humor in the story, often driven by Wil’s older brother, Sonny. He seems unconcerned with the world. Oh, who am I kidding, he seems like a dolt. But we find out a lot about the David family by Sonny’s action. Another great read aloud.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Cyblis Shortlist and The mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg and now a NEWBERY AWARD HONOR!

Before you continue The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg was just awarded a Newbery Honor. Well deserved.
The Cyblis shortlist for the Middle Grade Fiction is on the way to the judges for the final round. I truly enjoyed being a judge. It was A LOT of reading. There are great books out there. We did notice that death and war seemed to be a common theme this year. That’s not a bad thing, just an observation. My criteria for books that made it on my short list was:

  • Would this be a good read aloud book?

  • Would I use this as a guided group/literacy circle book?

The final list will not be posted until 2010. That is so far away. Well, not really; but it seems that way. I plan on blogging about many of my favorites.

FULL DISCLOSURE!!! All the books came from the publisher or library, so FCC or FTC go after the bonuses of Goldman Sachs etc. Leave this teacher alone. The few books I received doesn’t come close to what a Goldman Sachs guy pays for a pair of shoes. Another point: in the coming days, before the final list is released, the books I blog about are not necessarily on that list. I know, hard to believe but we didn’t all have the same top lists!

So here goes. (Possible story spoiler!)

The mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is the story of Homer’s quest to free his older brother from the Union Army. You guessed correctly. This book has war and death, but it is a humors. Homer’s older brother Harold is sold illegally to the Union Army. During the Civil War wealthy people could pay someone else to take their place in the army. Homer sets out to free his brother. He has a tendency to stretch the truth, so he gets him self into some funny situations. I enjoyed this book because the historical information helps carry the story, but what I really liked was the perseverance of Homer to save his family and the honesty that Harold has with Homer at the end.

Reading level is about 4th to 5th grade.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When is it too early to call?

Yesterday was our monthly Guys Read Book Club. We discussed Ark Angle by Anthony Horowitz. The guys enjoyed, but didn’t love it. There was not a lot of discussion during the month about the book. This is an easy way to tell the popularity of the book. Our next book is Cirque du Freak The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan. I have a feeling this will be much more popular. Here is one reason why. This morning a mom told me a funny story about the new book. She said that another student called their house at 7:30 AM to find out how far E, her son, had read. She answered that E was still asleep because he had stayed up to 10:45 PM reading the book. Hmmmmm, “ Late to bed and early to rise” seem to be signs of a popular book.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and Christmas

It’s Friday the 13th, but it could be your lucky day!

Autumn is my favorite season of the year. I love the colors of the leaves, the pumpkins, the colder weather, and because it leads to Christmas. WOW! A period filled with dazzling colors, joy, and magic. That is why I was excited to participate in this book tour. The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and illustrated by Jon J Muth and The Nutcracker and the Mouse King illustrated by Gail deMarcken are both a must for any library.

Over the years I have learned that the children’s illustrators are very important, so when I saw the names on these two books I knew I was about to read two special books.

I had the privilege to listen to Jon J Muth at a Teacher’s Night at The Bookies. It was fun and interesting to learn how he does his work. He ranks up there as one of my favorite illustrators. He does not disappoint with The Christmas Magic. Lauren Thompson’s story about how Santa prepares for the special day is charming and magical. I have spent the last few months emphasizing the importance of descriptive, rich and exciting language. I want students to use words like: snug, tingling, shaggy, creaky, gleams, and the list in this short books goes on. Thanks Ms. Thompson for a brilliant example. I am a very visual person so Jon J Muth’s magnificent illustrations bring the story to life. Who knew Santa had bunny slippers. Also, I know wonder what parsnips and berries would taste like.

One of my favorite read aloud books is The Giving Quilt. It is a beautiful story about the importance of giving to those in need. The illustrations by Gail deMarcken have made it a book I share year after year.

When I hear The Nutcracker I think of Russian Ballet with cute kids dressed up. I never really paid attention to the fact that it is an old German story. I admit the first thought I had whan i looked at The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was “OK, I blog about books boys will like. Will a boy like this book?” After reading I changed my mind. Boys will enjoy reading and hearing this story. The story has battles etc, but it is Gail deMarcken’s illustrations that will fascinate boys. The intricate illustrations of the tooth falling out of the nutcracker to the seven headed Mouse King will excite boys.

I look forward to sharing these books with my class and my nieces and nephew.

So here is how it is your lucky day. Two, yes two lucky people that comment (Can commenter be a new blog word?) will win both books. I am stealing this idea from the Shelf Elf. When you comment tell me what your favorite holiday book is, also, making sure I have access to your email address. US addresses only.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Billy Twitter’s and His Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

First, I want to say the Billy Twitter did not invent twitter. That was a question asked before I read Billy Twitter’s and His Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex. Secondly, it is a great boy book. Billy is not the most responsible kid. His parents tell him that if he doesn’t do his chores etc. he will get a blue whale. Let me think no work cool pet, what would anyone do? Well, you guessed right Billy Twitter does get a whale. He soon learns that it is a HUGE responsibility to care for a blue whale.

The humor in the book is non stop and at many different levels. Yes, adults will love it. What makes the book special is all the factually information about blue whales. It always helps to have non-fiction text wrapped up in a fun fiction book. Here is a question, how many skateboards does one need to haul a blue whale down the block?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Winter’s Tail How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff

I love dolphins. I always have. I remember the first time I touched one when I was in second grade. My dream is to swim with them, so when I was asked to be on the book tour for Winter’s Tail How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff, I quickly said yes. The story is about Winter, a young dolphin that gets caught in fishing net. He is rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida. (Don’t you like my very brief summary?)

My summary is short because YOU MUST read the book to find out all the special events that happen in the life of this young dolphin. I just started a unit on non-fiction reading and writing with my third and fourth graders and this book will come in handy. As a non-fiction text it has the features we are talking about: introduction, photographs, maps, captions, etc. However, it is the engaging story that will suck the kids in. This book is not just “The facts, just the fact!” It has soul. Boys and girls at many different reading levels can and will enjoy Winter’s Tail.

One last exciting bit of information. There is a give away. Stop by and comment and you will have a chance to win the book, a dolphin (not a living one!) and much, much more. The contest ends October 13, 2009.

Book for review courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lunch Lady and the First Book Club of the Year

The first guys read of the year met on Wednesday. Wow. 22 eager, loud, hyper….boys. My fellow teacher was at an IEP meeting, so I was left to control the herd. We spent most of the time getting to know each other and talking about protocols. Large group of hyper boys, so you can imagine that discussion. (Ha!Ha!) Our first book was Lunch Lady and The League of Librarians by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Most of the boys read the first Lunch Lady book last spring. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones with an advanced reader copy. It was a fun afternoon. What made it special was that four new members, that would not come last year because of reading levels, came. Because of the format of the book they were able to comprehend most of what was happening and felt safe coming to book club. One of the new guys, A, came up to me last week and quietly asked if he could come.

A is an African refugee. His mother speaks no English, and their native language has not written component. Verbally, he didn’t say much at book club, but the joy on his face spoke volumes. A few of the advance readers are going to trade off reading aloud to our new members so they can keep coming. It is going to be a great year in book club.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Multiage, DTR and Advance Reader Copy

I cannot believe what a whirlwind the beginning of this school year has been. I am teaching a 3/4 multiage in a district where only literacy aligns. Yes, trying to teach Everyday Math to third and fourth graders is like spinning plates on the Gong Show! (I, also, have three second graders join us for math!) I haven’t been gonged yet, but I'm still spinning! I have been able to briefly keep up on what my blogger friends are doing. A Year of Reading has a great entry on the importance of supporting new teachers and future teachers.

Franki and Mary Lee write about the importance of mentoring our future peers. I am fortunate this year to be part of a new teaching program that was developed between Denver Public Schools and The University of Denver. It is called Denver Teacher Residency, and is modeled after programs in Boston and Chicago. In a nutshell 26 “students” are getting their Masters in Education and certification at the same time. We have six in our school. My DTR spends four days a week in out classroom, one day a week in seminar, and one Saturday a month in classes. There is a slow release model, so they do not become overwhelmed. It is exciting to have some in the classroom, but daunting as well.

Daily a student will do something that reminds us why we teach. It can be a smile, a well written sentence, a look of joy on their face when they finished the book of their dreams, or making a new friend. However, sometimes they say or do something that makes us laugh so hard that we wished everyone could experience the joys of teaching. I looped with 8 kids from last year, so there is some strong background knowledge which can come in handy! The other day we were making a chart of Non-Negotiable in writing. We all know the drill “I’m done with my writing”, and their “finish” piece is lacking in the basics. Capital letters are not scary. Ending punctuation is not expensive. So, anyhow, we are making the list and N, a student, I taught last year raised his hand and said “Mr. Kimmal, can’t we just write Advance Reader Copy on the top so you know there are mistakes?”

Really, you can’t make this stuff up!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Poetry Friday

Forty years ago was a summer of firsts. It was the year Armstrong walked on the moon. It was, also, the year my dad moved my mom, me, and my brother from suburban Denver to on of the biggest cities in the world, Mexico City. It was a summer of first for me too! I had my first artichoke, pepino (sliced cucumber covered in lime juice and chili powder) from the street vendor, limón paletta (lime popsicles made with lime juice), earthquake (OK my only one!)and my first ride on a subway, El Metro del Cuidad de Mexico. Wow, this boy was hooked. I have never gotten over living in a big city. Our apartment even had an elevator as the front door.

As I thought of what poem to do for Poetry Friday I immediately thought of Subways are People from Lee Bennett Hopkins new book of poetry City I Love. Come on what boy does not love trains, and the metro is subterranean train? When I first read this poem the memories rushed by just as the Mexico City Metro rushes by the Aztec ruins. Enjoy.

By Lee Bennett Hopkins

Subways are people-

People standing
People sitting
People swaying to and fro
Some in suits
Some in tatters
People I will never know.

Subways are people-

Some with glasses
Some without
Boy with smile
Girl with Frown

People dashing
Steel flashing
Up and down and round the town.

Subways are people-

People old
People new
People always on the go
Racing, running, rushing people
People I will never know.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guilty Pleassure

Last February at the CCIRA conference Jane Yolan gave a potent luncheon speech. One of her points was that publishers “create” series to make money. I agree, but some of them are fun and do get kids to read. I read the fourth 39 Clues this summer. It is not great literature, and will probably not stand the passage of time, but they are fun. I borrowed the book from M. He emailed me four times to see how I liked it, and to tell me “Mr. Kimmal it is the best one yet!”

How bad can a book be if it keeps a nine year old reading during the summer?
Reading Level high 3rd grade and above.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lunch Lady

There was a mess up from the publisher, so mine just arrived! My students will be so excited. I got emails this summer asking "Mr. Kimmal do you have the second Lunch Lady?" Book talk on the first day will be FUN!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

THE CANDY SHOP WAR by Brandon Mull

One way I judge a great book is how involved I become with the characters. This summer I read City of Thieves by David Benioff. I wanted the book to end so I could find out what happened to the characters, but when I finished the book I was sad that I was done. I wanted to spend more time with the characters and I felt like two friends had moved away.

Another book I have the same relationship with is The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. I loved this book. The friendship between the Nate, Summer, Pigeon, and Trevor is real and interesting. Brandon Mull captures the scary way adults can manipulate kids. It was exciting to read about the risks these four were willing to take to save the world from evil. (I don’t want to spoil the book!) While I was reading the book, I thought this would be a great Guys Read book because of the adventures and the importance of a female character; but I am doing it for my first read aloud. Nate, Summer, Pigeon and Nate work well together to confront the bullies that torment them, (small spoiler alert!) but at the end they save them. I feel that it is important to share books with strong characters that have to deal with bullies.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull Shadow Mountain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SLOB by Ellen Potter

Recently I was talking with a friend about SLOB by Ellen Potter. She started reading it at the library, but passed it off to a student she had last year and I had the year before. It is funny how we can start a book and when we see a student we will pass it on and tell them “I think you will like this book.”

M (the student) is a great kid, but can be uncaring. My first thought is that M wouldn’t like this book, but after more thought I realized that it is a perfect book for him. Slob is about Owen Birnbaum, an over weight, smart 12 year old. He compares every day as being the first day of school in a new school. Not a great thought is it? Owen eventually befriends another outcast. This is the reason that this is a great book for M. First impressions can be very wrong, and we often end up friends with someone we would never expect. I hope that M learns from this book.

It is on the short list for first read aloud of the year

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Too Much Background Knowledge?

Background knowledge is an important part of comprehension, but what happens when there is too much background knowledge? Can it negatively effect what we read? I just finished Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford and my background knowledge made it a very hard book to finish.

Captain Nobody is about a boy named Newton Newman. Certain events happen in the story to turn him into Captain Nobody. I’ll discuss the story after a little information about my background knowledge and how it impacted my thoughts of this book.

Nineteen years ago my brother was hit on his bicycle. It was a hit and run. He was in a coma for nine days. Once he woke up he had to learn how to walk, eat, etc. He lives on his own now, but has a severe brain injury. During the time Kris was in a coma it tore our family apart. We all felt helpless, and, at times, hopeless. At the hospital I had time to spend with my brother and was present when the doctors spoke with my parents. This experience made it difficult to read Captain Nobody.

Let me start by saying that after I finished the book I realized how much I enjoyed it. Newton “Newt” is a skinny kid that happens to be the younger brother of the star football player. He is the son of parents too involved in their jobs to pay close attention to Newt. He is, also, best friend with two great kids. During the “big game” Newt’s big brother is knocked out and ends up in a coma.

There are many things I loved about the book, and some situations that bothered me. What I liked:

I loved the friendship between Newt and his friends. Newt is very self sufficient. He is a great care giver. Newt is funny, and aware of his short comings. Captain Nobody is Newt’s Halloween costume. The day after Halloween he realizes that he doesn’t have any clean clothes, so he wears his costume to school. The teachers think he is wearing the costume to deal with the family tragedy. A sequence of funny events turns Newt into a real super hero.

My dislikes have a lot to do with my background knowledge. After the accident Newt’s parents spend the rest of the book at the hospital. In their quest not to scare Newt they give him no information. A 10 year old needs the information. There is no adult staying with Newt, just the drive by sleep over by one parent. This is where I’m not sure if my experiences cloud my judgment, or if it is the book. I didn’t like that the principal and the counselor didn’t have any idea who Newt was, even after he met with them.

I am curious to see what others will think about Captain Nobody.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

Last autumn I was told about the most popular books in the UK. The second grader, that told me, had received a few of them from relatives that live in London. His mom said that they were wonderful and E zipped through them laughing the entire time. During my next trip to The Bookies I was told that they heard that they might be published in the US sometime in 2009. After making travel plans for my summer vacation in Scotland I knew what books I was going to bring back. Well, right before I left for Prestwick I received the first four Horrid Henry books.

In Horrid Henry’s Stinkbomb Henry’s feelings about reading sum up what most boys think about reading: “Reading was hard, heavy work, Just turning the pages made feel exhausted.” It is a challenge to find exciting and fun books for reluctant and struggling boy readers. There are the old standbys, but most have read them or are not interested in a boy with his dog.

When I opened the package and saw the cover of the series I laughed out loud. The titles alone are enough to get most boys interested in at least picking them up, but once word gets around about the stories the wait list will be long.

Here are few things I like about the series:

Horrid Henry isn’t too horrid. He is very likeable.
Perfect Peter is FAR from perfect as we learn in the first book. Other “P” words come to mind and they aren’t that nice.
I love the adjectives added on to all the characters. Moody, Acrobatic, Rude….
Great vocabulary. I could easily use it for ELL’s and showing the importance of rich language for higher readers and writers.
Tony Ross' illustration capture boys and make me laugh.
Short chapters/ stories.

The list goes on. Without evening thinking hard I know 20 boys that will eat these up. I am excited to share these books with the readers in my class.

Free books!!! The first two people that email me or comment and want a book will get their own copy of a Horrid Henry.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Wonderful Summer Afternoon Part 1

Imagine a summer day, a lovely old park, 18 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders discussing a book. It seems like an unbelievable scene, but it was how I spent a couple of hours yesterday. Last summer I was asked to continue the book club over the summer, so it just made sense to continue it this summer.

Last summer an average of 6 guys showed for book club, but this year WOW! The dynamics of the book club were interesting because there were a lot of new third graders, and the new fifth graders were used to me and the process.

At first I was overwhelmed with so many boys, but we quickly got into the groove and after awhile new friends were discussing the book like an adult book club. The book we discussed was The Mysterious Mr. Spines Wings by Jason Lethcoe. Some had read Mr. Lethcoe’s series The Misadventures of Benjamin Bartholomew Piff. We talked about how both series have an orphan and take place in California. There was an interesting bit about how he must be Lethcoe must be an orphan because writers write about what they know, but some disagreed that not every story is based on an authors experiences. Again, I say WOW what a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I have never read Jane Austen, but I have seen many movies based on her books. I laughed when I read about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. When I finally ordered the book it the back was backordered. It hadn’t, even, been released. It shows that early blog press can drive book sales. My copy finally came in during the chaos of end of year stuff! I put it on the top of my summer reading stack.

Reading is a very private activity, so when I decided to read it on the plane to Scotland I knew there would be comments. I mean really who can’t comment on the cover? I enjoyed the book, but wished there was a bit more zombies. There is a great “chic fight" between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine.

It is definitely not a book for the average Jane Austen fan or third graders, but I do have a couple of guys that will enjoy the challenge of reading a classic with a zombie twist.

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I entered the world of Kidlitosphere because I wanted to find different books for Read Alouds. Boy, what a wonderful world it is. I recently finished The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It was one of the best read aloud books I have ever done. It was fun to watch the faces of other adults when the book is described. Yes, the look of shock and “What are you thinking?” is not easily masked. A while back I was at The Bookies and we were talking about the book and someone said “It will be in the cannon of children’s lit!” I agree.

The Graveyard Book
is not your normal read aloud. It starts off with a gruesome scene, but what follows is what makes it a hit. When I finished the book the class clapped and said read it again. I had 29 third graders at the tip of my tongue. What power in Mr. Gaiman’s words. Here are just a few things my students had to say about this book:

“I like graveyards and dark stuff. The Graveyard Books is wicked!” OK, F is really into vampires!
“It was creepy.”
“My favorite read aloud this year was The Graveyard Book because Bod is able to see ghosts and I like to imagine that.”
“It always had a good ending of the chapter.”

My read aloud time is right before lunch. It is not long enough, but we make due. The book is full of cliff hangers which made it fun to stop at key points because it was lunch time. Towards the end of the book the suspense builds, but it was time for lunch. The reaction to me stopping was so loud that the art teacher came out of her room to see if there was a fight. They were ready to get me!

I read the book before I did it as a read aloud. I enjoyed it more the second time. I can’t wait to find another book that will excite us in the same way.

Last day of school tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A few Off the Summer Reading List

I just read Carol' s list of her summer reading list. Truthfully, that's her weekend reading list. I don't have mine in order yet, but thought I would share the beginning. My first goal is to finish Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, it is hard to do adult reading during the year! My first three, I am taking them on my trip, are:

  • The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
  • Time Was Soft There A Memoir, A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

P&P and Zombies took forever to come in. (Remember The Boy Reader!) The first printing sold out before it was released. I'm reading this one first on the plane to Scotland. As time permits I will add more. It is fun to see what others are reading. We never want our stacks to get small!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Inspiration from a Boy Reader

It has been way too long since I have posted. Sorry! I normally write about books I have read or what they boys are reading for book club, but this post is different. One of my boy readers is quite a young man. He is a bookaholic, an awesome soccer goalie, a spaz that can’t sit still, a swimmer, you get the picture. A normal nine year old, however, this one has a soul and since of justice far larger then most adults.

A few months ago he asked me if he could do his independent project on marriage equality and equal protection. Big issues for a third grader, but it is my job to support their passions. He wanted to plan a rally and do a report. Of course I thought he meant a little rally in front of the school for a few students and teachers. Nope! He wanted it at the State Capitol. This Saturday is the rally. He arranged speakers, obtained the proper permits, and even inspired a film company to do a mini-documentary on him. We have no idea what the turn out will be, but given that it is posted on many sites in the Denver area I imagine it will be bigger then a few students and teachers.
The picture is of Ethan asking Senator Bennett for support!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Three Investigators: Alfred Hitchcock Mysteries

When I was a kid one of my favorite series was The Three Investigators: Alfred Hitchcock Mysteries. The series is very similar to The Hardy Boys. Three friends, Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews, and Pete Crenshaw start their own Private Eye Agency. What was cool was that their headquarters was in a salvage yard. It was, also, fun to have the stories take place in California. The first book The Secret of Terror Castle still sticks out in my memory.

Yesterday Ethan showed me the book he is reading. He said “these were my grandma’s!” (I read them much later!). I got so excited. I told him how much I loved the series when I was a kid. I started to search for them on line, but it looks like I will have to order them as single books from many places. Wow, a new summer project. I will keep you updated as I reread these wonderful mysteries.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I waited until Opening Day to read this book to my class. (Usually, I go to the game, but they traded Holliday. It is my own protest.) Their first question was “Were you upset when the Dodgers moved?” They are mean! I’m not that old. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax by Jonah Winter is a beautiful and informative book about baseball. It is a brief biography about a legend. The “Brooklyn” English is fun. The kids loved it.

In today’s Denver Post there was an article about Evan Netzer. He is a third grade teacher in Windsor Colorado with a boys book club. He does it twice a month! How do you that? Here is the link to the article. It is exciting to see boys book clubs getting press.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Special Visit

Yesterday was an exciting day at my school. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Senator Michael Bennett came to see our little school. They spent time in my room having a round table discussion with some of my kids, and I got to give the Secretary the gift from the school.

I know my blog is about boys and reading, but I needed to write about this visit. Our school has worked very hard to be a part of school reform. We are one of two schools that have innovation status under a new Colorado law. It is risky, but important to have control over what we can control.
(My CCIRA chair is in the last picture! Thanks Pat.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Brimstone Network by Tom Sniegoski

Most of the books we get for our Guys Read Book Club are paid for by the A to Z Grant. It is part of the DPS Foundation. We are very lucky to get his grant. Last Wednesday people from A to Z came to see how their funds are being used. I called the guys in at the beginning of lunch to give them a heads up, and to warn them to be respectful. Something happened during the rest of the day. I, strongly, suspect that the real boys were taken and replaced with well behaved articulate cylons. They were skin jobs.

They still rolled around and fought over Dorritos, but what came out of their mouths was, well, not what comes out of 8-10 year old boys. Last year the conversation was “I like this book!” That’s it no more details. Wednesday as they were discussing The Brimstone Network by Tom Sniegoski there were comments like “ I like the symbolism of ….”, and “ I am having hard time deciding if this is better then The Lightening Thief because…..” They loved the book because to be compared with The Lightening Thief is about the highest praise a book can get.

Of course some of their favorite parts had to do with the end of the book and how the hero saved the day. I will not give away the ending, but the graphic retell of the demise of the bad guy had a big impact on our visitor. The expression on her face was perfect “Oh my god , they are such boys!”

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Book Store

OK, how exciting is this? A new indie book store is opening 5 blocks from my front door! I walked by and looked in the window of The Bookery Nook. It looks REALLY cool. New black book cases, comfy chairs etc. It looks like it will have a big kids section. I can even take, my dog, Gus. Their web site says opening April. Hopefully, by this time next week I will have an update.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight

Recently Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight was reviewed on A Year of Reading. As usual their reviews make me want new books. Well, I did get a chance to read it as well. For full disclosure I must admit that I love Westies. Eric Wight’s illustrations of Argyle are incredible. He captures every mood of the stubborn Westie.

I have an idea for a follow up with the kid with the world’s most amazing imagination. Frankie Pickle imagines Argyle is a dog that listens (not just when he wants to), that can go on a walk without a lead, comes when he is called, and does not look at Frankie with looks of contempt. Wait, that’s not a Westie that’s a Golden. What fun is having a Westie without the cute and the stubborn?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Gardening is very important to me. Last summer we were on the local garden tour, and when we plan trips seeing different gardens is always on the itinerary. That is why two of my favorite books are Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. Flowers and plants are important to the soul. A new book has taken their place, and the main character is a boy! The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a wonderful book. The story is about a boy named Liam that discovers the abandoned elevated train tracks. He finds dying plants and takes it upon himself to be their gardener. Tending the thicket always has joyous results. (There is aLiam in my class who's mother is a master gardener, and is responsible for Montclair's fantastic spring plant sale!)

Peter Brown’s story and illustrations give me goose bumps. As I reread the story I find more fun things that make me want to read it again. I do love the mysterious gardener. The message is similar to Miss Rumphius and The Gardener. Our little efforts at making the world a better place pay off. It may be cliché, but smiling is contagious!

Thank you Peter Brown!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Soccer or Book Club?

Soccer season has started. Many of the third grade guys are on the same soccer team, so there were fewer of us at book club. I am glad their parents are making them choose. Actually, I think some are saying you have to do soccer. For the couple of boys that are “picking” soccer over reading I am glad. One of the 3rd grade writing prompts was about having the choice to play outside or read for an hour and two wrote about playing, and not reading. L even wrote that he hates reading! Liar, liar pants on fire. L has read Here Be Monsters four times! I told them that at least their essays were well written even though they were far from the truth. Their grins told the real story. E wrote “I try to get in as much reading as I can every day.”

OK back to book club. Our book was Billy Hooten Owl Boy by Tom Sniegoski. The guys loved it. One even said that it is a great book to discuss because it is so well rounded and fun. He needs to help my book club get back on track. The guys love to talk about their favorite parts and for once they didn’t all have the same one.

Boys can be very silly. N a very quiet boy got the giggles and tried to stop, but that only made it worse. He finally ran out of the room laughing and crying. Now, you must understand boys are so sympathetic to feelings because when N returned they all said the same word that set him off originally. Yes, he lost it again.

Our next book is another Tom Sniegoski book titled The Brimstone Network. It looks good!

Happy Birthday Carol

For a dear friend, special person, loving mother, awesome teacher, and important mentor I say to you HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Recently I received the first two books in the Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate. My plan was to read them quickly during free time at school and write about them on my blog. Well, they vanished the first morning. Book 2 did reappear yesterday morning. It is hard to pry good books from 3rd grade hands.

The funny part is that the series is for lower reading level then the class that has the books. It is hard to tell if older kids will read books about younger kids, but they seem to love this series. One boy said he has them at home and rereads them.

We are dealing with bullying issues here at school (which school isn’t?), so I think most can relate to how Roscoe and his friend feel.

My goal is to get the book into the hands of struggling readers.

Books sent to me by the author.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CSAP Poetry

Today we start the Writing part of the CSAP. Lauren gave me a great poem.

The Toucan
Tell me who can
Catch a toucan?
Lou can.

Just how few can
Ride the toucan?
Two can.

What kind of goo can
Stick you to the toucan?
Glue can.

Who can write some
More about the toucan?
You can!

Shel Silverstein

Monday, February 16, 2009

A bunch of Knuckleheads

Last Wednesday we met to discuss Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka. Not a moment too soon. For some reason 3rd and 4th grade boys are not patient beings. Go figure! Jr. (other Kyle 3rd grade teacher) bailed on me. Something about tutoring kids for CSAP! Luckily Liam’s dad joined us.

The guys were SO excited to share their favorite chapters. Yes, Crossing Swords was a favorite! The guys with me started reading chapters. The funniest part of the entire evening was when Max A. read Chapter 36 “What’s so funny Mr. Scieszka?” I laughed so hard I cried and my face turned bright red. The guys made it funnier by asking “What’s so funny Mr. Kimmal?”. I had a great time that evening.

Our next book is Billy Hooten Owlboy. It is a fun book about a reluctant super hero.
Hopefully, no parents will be upset about this one!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The common thread of all the sessions I attended at the CCIRA Conference was giving students choice in what they read. Jon Scieszka, Matt Zbaracki, Patricia Polacco, Jane Yolen, Debbie Miller, myself, and even Nancie Atwell emphasized how important it is to let kids, especially boys, feel like that have a say in what they read. Ambassador Scieszka spoke about how his wife lets him choose between two ugly shirts. He said “they are both ugly, but at least I get to pick which ugly shirt I am going to wear!”

Too often many educational experts, even ones that are still teachers, discount what the practitioner is doing in the classroom. One of my best practices is to give them choices. For example, for Guys Read I bring in a stack of about seven books and let them pick.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I am cleaning up after the CCIRA Conference. My hands will be loaded tomorrow with books that need to be returned to kids and the classroom. I had to pry many books out of the hands of reading boys to use in my presentations on Thursday and Friday. They will be happy to get them back.

Thursday was wonderful day. I spent it with Jarrett J. Krosoczka. He is so charming and has a wicked sense of humor. He even let me read the galleys to Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians. What is it with librarians? Either they are the best or ……..

At the end of the day Jarrett introduced me to Laurie Keller. I spent Saturday morning with her. She is funny, and it is amazing how small her house is. On Saturday I had a cool conversation with Ambassador Scieszka about boys and reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lunch Lady and The Cyborg Substitute

A Vespa that shoots sloppy joes to stop bad guys. The laptop disguised as a lunch tray, and Betty with the spatu-copter. These are just a few of the fun parts of a new graphic novel that is coming soon from Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Last Friday I got to go to the exhibit hall at the ALA Mid-winter Conference. The bag of books I came home with is SO cool!

I laughed the entire time I read Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute. The humor is, well, right up my alley. I can’t wait to let students read it. The fun part is that next week at CCIRA I get to spend the day with the author. Someone that writes like that will be fun to be around.

ARC. On sale: July 28, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nothing to do with boys or reading!

The current (early spring 2009) Country Gardens Magazine has a piece on my parents and their wonderful green house. It is fun to see my parents in a national magazine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Video Games and Reading

Yesterday I did a mid-year DRAII assessment on one of my lowest readers. Marco is a wonderful boy that just isn’t reading. To back up a little, last week we were generating ideas for personal narratives. (Thank you Lucy Calkins for your great ideas!) I had the students make a list of things that are hard, easy, first time etc. Marco put reading down on his list. Then he wrote a personal narrative about how reading is hard, but he needs to know how because he can’t read the directions for his new video game.

Marco was a DRAII 8 at the beginning of the year and now is a DRAII 14. In the past he lacked confidence in his reading. I truly believe that his new sense of “I can do this” is because he now has a reason to read. I will take what ever reason I can get. I am proud of his growth, but more importantly he is. We are going to keep at it so that the directions are no longer an issue.

Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading have started a new discussion on 21st century literacy. I’m not sure if this fits into that discussion. Yes it is 21st century video games, but it is old fashion ya gotta read!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New York Times Style Section

I cross country skied all weekend, so I did not have a chance to look at the Sunday paper until yesterday evening. One of the first sections I look at is the style section. I was so excited to see the front page. YES! Diary of a Wimpy Kid is styling. Jeff Kinney’s series was featured in a great article by Jan Hoffman. There is also a piece on Jeff Kinney. As I read the article I kept thinking about all the things written about Captain Underpants and Bart Simpson. It is funny how similar it all sounds.

In the end it comes down to a quote from a mom, Debbie Drucker, “He (her son) knows the boys are naughty and not P.C., and he loves that. It’s not a big message books as opposed to the other stuff we try to cram down his throat. I’m just happy to have him read.”

That’s my goal. Get the boys to read! And, hopefully not eat cheese off the playground, no matter what the bet is!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Evan's Dad

Yesterday was the first Guy’s Read of 2009. They were very excited to attack the snacks and sing songs. After about 10 minutes we split up to discuss the books. This meeting turned out to be special because a dad participated in book club. Evan’s dad Mike joined us for discussion. Every month I invited dads to join us and this was the first time. It was fun to have the connection to home. He admitted that he had one chapter left. He was glad at the end of book club that no one gave away the ending. He was excited to go home and finish the book.

I am excited that there is a bigger home and school connection. I hope more dads will come in the future.

Our next book is Knucklehead Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka. Most have already read it and talk about their favorite parts. Hopefully there aren’t many electric radiators at home.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My New Look

So everyone is talking about resolutions, and as I wrote earlier I do NOT do them. At the beginning of the school year one of my goals was to make things simple. I played around with different layouts and found one that is simple. I hope you like the new look.

Now if I could just do the same clicking with everything else.

The Wrong Book

Picking books for the book club can be challenging. Finding a book they will all like is something that is in the front of my mind. One Small Step by P.B. Kerr is a great book about the Apollo space program (OK the secret ape space program), and a fantastic book for guys. I learned many things about space travel. For instance, pooping in space is not an easy chore! It is not a challenging read, but there are too many situations that are not appropriate for third graders. Carol wrote on her blog about a Maya Angelou book, and how it is not right for certain ages.

As educators we have to balance appropriate reading for our students without censoring what they read. CENSORING BAD, directing kids to the right book priceless!