Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

As I wrote yesterday, I know can you believe it two posts in a row; there were many wonderful books on the middle grade Cybil’s list. One of my favorites was The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter. It was the last one I read. I had to wait a REALLY long time for it to come from the library and the copy I ordered from The Bookies won’t be here until next week. It is so good that I am glad I will have a copy for my classroom. Accessibility to kids was in the front of my mind when I read books for Cybil’s. It may be a beautifully written book, but will the average kid pick it up t o read. The answer with The Kneebone Boy is YES, YES, YES. Note to the publisher don’t change the cover when you release it in paperback. You can’t always judge a book by the cover, but in this case the delightful cover sets the stage for a wonderful read.
The story revolves around the three Hardscrabbles siblings. Otto us the eldest that hasn’t spoken for years, but uses a sign language that he created. Lucia, pronounced Lu CHia not Lucy a, and the youngest brother Max. They live in a small town in England called Little Trunks. From the beginning the reader does not know who the narrator is because the siblings they want to make sure that the story belongs to all three of them. I think it is Max. Anyhow, as you can tell by the cover they aren’t your average 21st century kids. Their father is an artist that leaves for periods of times to paint portraits of dethroned royalty. Many years ago their mother disappeared. The children have no idea what happened. This sets the stage for the adventure to find out what really happened to their mother.

During their quixotic quest they learn about survival, their great aunt and that their siblings are important. Their journey is what I enjoyed most about this book. It is fun to follow these quirky kids. The longer I read the book the more I cared about them. It is so odd (but not weird odd) that I think boys will love reading it. I have many boys like Max and Otto. Know you may ask why is it called The Kneebone Boy. I will not add a spoiler to this post. In other words you have to read it to find out.

I’ve heard and read that there is Newbury buzz about The Kneebone Boy. Often the winner is not so kid friendly. In this case it is very kid friendly. Regardless of whether it ends up with a gold sticker on the cover it is a winner for the reader. Thank you Ellen Potter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

Done! I just finished my blurb for a book on the shortlist for the Cybil’s. It was a fantastic reading season. I read more this year then last. There were many great books and some not so good. It was an interesting list. It leaned older middle grade, boy and white. To get it out of the way the books I will blog about from the Cybil’s list express just MY views and not the fabulous Middle Grade category.

My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian was one of the boy books. (Since this is The Boy Reader it fits nicely into this blog.) It is a great book, so I ordered it for my classroom. (The copy I read came from the library.) I have a list of boys that will enjoy reading this book. Derek Fallon is a typical 12 year old looking forward to a fun summer until he ends up at Learning Camp. Derek is labeled a “reluctant reader” by his teacher, but as he says “I like to read. If everyone just left me alone with Calvin, Hobbes, Garfield, …”. Does he remind you of anyone you know? At the beginning of the book Derek finds a ten year old newspaper article about a girl that drowned. His mom refuses to discuss the article. Note to Moms when asked about something mysterious avoidance just leads to no good! Derek spends many hours trying to find out the answers to his questions. At one point he spent an hour READING on- line, but is afraid he will get in trouble because he wasn’t READING.

I enjoyed this book because Derek is a fun, lovable, and determined kid. The book is filled with little, fun illustrations (done by Jake Tashjian the author’s son) of vocabulary words. A strategy Derek is supposed to use to help him remember his words. I liked how Derek solved the mystery and to be honest I didn’t see the twist coming at the end.

Even though Derek is twelve I would say this is a third and fourth grade level book. A struggling or “reluctant” fifth grade would easily enjoy it as well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Poetry Friday

I am very excited about today’s Poetry Friday which is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Three years ago our district started a poetry competition for grade K to 5 and the winning poems are published in a poetry collection. Poems are submitted in the spring and in the autumn students, parents and teachers find out if the young poets will be published. Last night was the book reception and poetry reading. Two of my boy poets are now published poets. They did an awesome job reading to a packed auditorium. Below are their poems. I hope you enjoy them. The first one is on the Welcome Page.

Books are ways to escape reality,
ways to feel joy in times of pain
Books are portals to other worlds
      waiting to be opened
         waiting to be read
      waiting to be enjoyed
       waiting to be explored.

Ethan (currently a fifth grade)

The Full Moon

The full moon casts and eerie glow on the ground
Lighting the night for the horned owl to find its prey
Telling people it is time to turn into werewolves
It lures us to sleep with its glow
That’s the moon.

Nicholas (currently in fourth grade)

Both boys are very high readers. Last year there were many times when I had to say “Put the book down. Do something else.” Never thought I’d say that as a teacher.

Friday, October 29, 2010

because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea

The Cybil’s list of middle-grade fiction is full of 144 books. Our task is to read the first 50 pages of as many books as possible and then marrow it down. Not an easy endeavor, especially if they are like because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea. At page 98 I realized I was way past the 50 page minimum.


I don’t cry. Plain and simple I don’t cry. I have a good reason for not crying. It is too hard to stop. I don’t like the feeling of losing control. It took many years for this to happen. The event that put me to the point of no more tears happened 20 years ago. I spent too many days crying while my brother laid in a coma with a brain injury. For a long time I thought it was my fault. Why didn’t I just drive him to the bank? I was an adult so I realized that it wasn’t my fault. It was just an accident. This book made me cry and I didn’t care. Actually, I do care. It is such a special book that it deserves my tears and laughter. Thank you Mr. Buyea.

As teachers we read many books that touch us and more importantly we get to spend our day with children that touch us and make us better people. because of mr. terupt is a book that has both. It is a beautiful book about a class of fifth graders and a new teacher. The book is told by seven of the students. I love books like this because it is a graet way to teach voice and narration to kids. My spoiler gives away that someone ends up in a coma with a brain injury; but as Jessica, one of the students, tell Mr Terupt she likes happy endings. This book does have one.

I first I thought this would be a great read aloud. I’m not sure. The tears are still fresh. I will get back to you if I do. What I can say is enjoy this first novel.
Thank you delacorte press and Random House for the book.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cybils 2010

Teachers are an odd breed. We fill our plates and when we see something new and exciting we say "Wow, now I can fill my dessert plate!" That's what it is like being a First Round Cybils Judge. Even better is the fact that this year I came back for seconds. I am a judge on the Middle Grade Panel. It is a strange category because middle grade is an odd group. the range is beginning third graders to just shy of YA. Talk about a range. I have read some wonderful books so far. Stay tuned for updates.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's a Book by Lane Smith Part 1

A couple of weeks ago The Bookies had its yearly Teacher Night. As usual it was a joyful night. One of the employees even commented that it is fun to see so many familiar faces. It is fun to catch up with friends and colleagues and to talk about what is great in the kid lit world. I always look forward to what the great staff at The Bookies is going to share. This year was no different. There are so many wonderfully interesting books out there. I am excited about all the new books I got that night. One that stands out is It’s A Book by Lane Smith.

I love this book on so many levels. Recently there was a disheartening article in the New York Times that discussed the decline of the picture book because many parents feel they are TOO EASY. It’s a Book disputes that argument. NO FOUR YEAR OLD is going to get the true meaning of this book. However, they will still enjoy this book.

It’s a Book pokes fun at technology. At Teacher Night I did have an interesting conversation with Shelly. She’s a wonderful resource and a true book lover. We talked about young kids and how easy it is for them to use an IPad and other types of technology. She mentioned during her presentation how she watched a trailer of a book she had on her lap. Truth be told we don’t know the impact e-books and other forms of technology are going to have on books. I do know that if we challenge kids using them and tell them that they can only read from a book we will lose.

It’s a Book has three characters. There is the monkey that loves to read, his fellow soul mate the mouse, and the techno-lover Jackass. The morning after Teacher’s Night I read It’s a Book to a couple of teachers. They both were shocked that I would even consider reading it to kids. They were both concerned that a teacher would get in trouble reading the word jackass to a class. I was SHOCKED, so I read it to a couple of more teachers. One said he’d read it to his own kids, but never to his class. Their reactions scared me and my beliefs. (That’s never a good thing when a children’s book is involved.) It is impolite to call someone a jackass, but when did it reach the level of forbidden words. It was used often on the Andy Griffith show. I had my assistant principal read it. She said “Can’t you just say his name is Donkey?” I said should I just say Winnie the Bathroom?” Ok, I didn’t say that but I thought that. Now I am worried. What is happening? I leave the book for my principal. Later in the day she drops it off and says, “I love it. Any parents call I’m sending them to you.” She is very supportive. This was the answer I was looking for.

After she left I picked it up and said “There are many different names for a donkey. This book uses one of them. Its’ a Book by Lane Smith….” We laughed at the pictures, we laughed at the sentences and we laughed at Jackass.

It's A Book - By Lane Smith Part 2

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom by Stephen M. Giles

Does the amount of hair and the type of pet determine the wickedness of the villain? After reading The Death (and Further Adventures) of Silas Winterbottom by Stephen M. Giles I would argue that it does matter. I mean look at Dr. Evil, he has no hair and a tiny kitty. Silas Winterbottom, on the other hand has a full head of hair and a pet crocodile. He personifies evil.

Silas Winterbottom is dying and he needs an heir. He sends for his nieces and nephew to determine which unsuspecting kid will be his “heir”. There is Adele, a red head with a mad scientist for a mother. Dear Old Mom threatens to send her to an orphanage if she does get the money. Then, there is Isabella an uncommon criminal that will do “anything” to be picked as the heir. Finally, there is Milo. He parents were killed by a volcano. Milo lives with his grandfather and wants nothing to do with the fortune. The three are forced to join forces to stop Uncle Silas.

I loved this book. It was funny and suspenseful. I wish it was in paperback because it would be our next Guys Read Book Club book.

Thank you Sourcebook Publishing for providing the ARC.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Masters of Disaster by Gary Paulsen

It is hard to believe that I am two weeks into a new school year. My plan this past summer was to post numerous entries on The Boy Reader and comment on other blogs. Oops, that didn’t happen. I guess I needed a break. I am back with a fun book for reluctant readers that are proficient readers. I really want to focus on that. It seems much is written about reluctant boy readers that struggle and are below level, but not much on reluctant boy readers that read at or above grade level. They seem to be the boys that would rather go to the dentist then read.

Anyhow I received in the mail Gary Paulsen’s new book Masters of Disaster. It is a fun read. Three junior high boys set out to be “famous”. Actually it is Henry that wants the fame and adventures he just drags his friends Riley and Reed along for the ride and in Reed’s case literally and off the roof of the neighbor’s house. The short chapters make it easy for a teacher to read at night during the first weeks of school. This, also, makes it appealing to the reluctant reader. With many of Paulsen’s books the content is better for fourth and above.

Look forward to more posts. I really am back to blogging.

Thanks Random House and Knopf Delacort Dell

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Last summer when I was on vacation in Scotland I read in the Sunday Book Review what the best books were to take on holiday. The woman that wrote the article wrote about The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. She wrote that it was a wonderful prequel to one of the best books she had ever read, Shadow of the Wind. Now when a reviewer writes about their favorite book it must be good. She was right on. When I returned home I bought Shadow of the Wind and couldn’t put it down. I had to wait patiently for The Angel’s Game (Paperbacks reduce the amount of money spent on books!) to come out in paperback. It was perfect timing because it was right when school got out.

At the same time The Angels’ Game was released in paperback Zafón’s first novel was released in English in the States. Zafón states at the beginning of the book in “A Note From the Author” that the book had been trapped in a legal issue. Here is the exciting part it is considered a YA book. Even more exciting news it is not totally YA, and it is on my list for a read aloud next year.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a mysterious supernatural tale that takes place during World War II. The Carver family moves from the capital to a seaside village. It is on The Channel, but it is hard to tell exactly where. This adds to the mysterious nature of the story. It is very different from Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game where Barcelona is an important character. The story is about a family that moves to a house with a tragic past. The main characters are the son Max, his older sister Alicia, their new friend Roland and the Prince of Mist. The Prince of Mist goes by many names. His most recent is Dr. Cain. He grants wishes, but with a huge debt attached. A debt is still owed to him and he has returned to collect. The battle between good and evil is very clear. Max and Alicia risk their lives to help their new friend Roland.

As I was reading The Prince of Mist I could help but feel that Dr. Cain is very similar to Andreas Corelli from The Angel’s Game. Both are evil through and through! There are hidden identities in all three novels. The uncertainty of who someone really is makes all three books such wonderful reads. I love the feeling of wanting to quickly finishing a book to find out what happens, but once I am finished I miss the characters. Zafón’s beautiful use of language is hypnotizing. Of course, his wonderful translator Lucia Graves eloquently puts his words into English. No easy task. I end with a passage from The Angel’s Game:

I stepped in the book shop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling.

I cannot wait to share Zafón with kids!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Reluctant Trout and The Reluctant Reader

The angler enters the fly shop giddy with anticipation of what new flies will be found. The angler asks “What are they biting? What do you suggest?” The shop keeper replies with “Well, I hear that some are biting the streamers and wet flies on the rivers. The dry flies are working at the ponds, but you could also try the nymphs.” The angler ponders the choices. I do have some great streamers, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new. I always have luck with nymphs. Let me see what the hatch is. “Excuse me. What is the hatch? Any good nymphs I should try?”

After spending time and a lot of money in the fly shop the angler heads out to the find the perfect spot to try out the new flies. The angler spends time preparing the rod, putting on the correct strike indicator and weights. After getting into the waders the angler slowly enters the rushing river and prepares to catch a trout. After awhile the angler tries a different fly. You can see that the perseverance will pay off and a trout will be caught.

The teacher enters the book shop giddy with anticipation of what new books will be found. The teacher asks “What are they reading? What do you suggest?” The shop keeper replies with “Well, I hear great things about this new series by… These new non fiction books are engaging, but you could try the graphic novels.” The teacher ponders the choices. I do have some great graphic novels, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new. I always have luck with books by…. Let me see what the best sellers are? “Excuse me. Any good series I should try?”

After spending time and a lot of money in the book shop the teacher heads out to read the perfect book. The teacher spends time reading the books, thinking of the correct questions. After getting the plans ready the teacher slowly enters the classroom and prepares to catch a student. After awhile the teacher tries a different book. You can see that the perseverance will pay off and student will be caught.

Last week I spent a few days with my dad and brother fly fishing near Crested Butte. Truthfully, I spent most of my time reading. I think I used up all my patience during the year, so trying to catch a trout was very challenging for me. One morning we tried to catch some trout at the base of the Taylor Reservoir. It was a beautiful spot. The river had many crystal clear pools. It was easy to see and count the fish. As I stood there trying to get my line in correctly about six fish just stared at me. (Ok, not really but there were six fish right in front of me.) They had no interest in what I was doing. I realized that the angler is very similar to a reading teaching. We both spend hours trying to get the reluctant trout and reluctant reader to bite. We DO NOT give up. When they strike and take the hook we are elated. We can’t wait to share our successes. I can honestly tell you I would rather spend my day trying to catch the reluctant reader, but spending a few days in the Rocky Mountains with family and a good book is a great way to start the summer.

Now it is off to do more pre-painting prework. Fun times house painting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

OK really, in a decade far far away my life changed. It was the summer of 1977 and a 14 year old dork saw Star Wars 14 times on the big screen at the Cooper Theatre in Denver. (for the record I did see it one more time during the school year, and once in Mexico City the following summer when I studied abroad! The dubbing was awful!!!) I will never forget the opening text followed by the most important scene I could have ever imagined.

Last Sunday as I was reading the book reviews in The Times I read a review of a book I HAD TO HAVE. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger was immediately ordered. I emailed the Bookery Nook and it came in by the end of the week. Now I know some of you are saying “Kyle Yoda wasn’t in Episode 4. He doesn’t come until Episode 5.” Yes, I know. It even references that at the end of the book, but I knew that some boy out there will be greatly impacted by Star Wars.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger is about a group of misfit “friends” in the 6th grade. Yuck what an awful year. Tommy the main character writes the book with help from other people helped by Yoda’s wisdom. His friend Harvey comments at the end of each chapter pointing out that it was Yoda’s wisdom but just coincidence. Origami Yoda was created by Dwight the biggest misfit of all. He has little social skills yet seems deeply aware of what is happening around him. Yoda/Dwight give advice on what to do when it looks like you have a pee stain, asking a girl to dance and sharing. It is a really fast and fun read. I laughed out loud for an hour. Given the content I would say it is 5th grade and above. I am sharing it with a couple of Guys Read boys this Wednesday. Enjoy and may the force be with you.

PS. Can anyone help me on how to add a you tube video to my posting? I have a great on to put here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka

Book, TP, Breakfast cereal
and Tide courtesy of
Simon and Schuster.
Summer is here. I have spent the last few days (ok few weeks) reflecting on my challenging year. I spent most of the year feeling like a first year teacher. Luckily, I had one of the kindest classes I have ever taught. As a matter of fact it was the first time in all my years of teaching that I cried saying good bye to a couple of VERY special kids.

May was a whirlwind of a month. One of the many unique programs at my school is the multiple field trips we go on. However, as a teacher of two grades I went on double the number of trip. This included two wonderful overnight trips. The fourth graders spent two days and a night on the plains. It was a VERY COLD night in a teepee. The boys were excited because in the morning a little bunny had spent the night sleeping by my head. The other option would have been a rattlesnake. The third grade trip was an overnight in the basement of an historical mansion. The girls slept in the ballroom and we slept on the floor of the bowling alley. Two 8 year old boys had fun ALL NIGHT long. During the two weeks of the trips there was all the rest of the end of year teacher work and preparing my student teacher for next year. It was the best two weeks of the year.

When I returned home from the third grade trip there was a box from Simon & Schuster on the front stoop. Hurrah, a box of books. Well, I opened the box and the fun began. I laughed, laughed and laughed. I took the box into class on Monday morning and during Morning Meeting I shared the contents with my class. Throughout the year I have shared ARC’s with my students. Thank you publishers for bringing so much excitement to a group of third and fourth graders. This box, however, is different. The comments I heard came down to this “WOW a box of books. We can’t wait to read the new books.” I laughed because in the box were four items: a roll of TP, a box of Raisin Bran, and a packet of Tide all with a sticker that read SPHDZ, and one book by Jon Scieszka titled Spaceheadz Book#1! They laughed as hard as I did.

With any new book I try to make it fair to the readers. Which student gets to be the first? Sometimes I pull sticks, sometimes a lottery, etc. This time I decided to let S be the first to read it. S came to me a tall, gawky, no self confidence third grader. He started the year just barely at grade level and finished the year at an Independent DRAII 50. The expression on his face as I explained which student would be first made my month. He even wrote about how it was one of the best memories of the year.

S loved the book. I loved the book. It is a funny new series about aliens needing the help of a fifth grader named Michael K. They tell him that if they can sign up 3,140,001 Earthlings Earth will be turned off. It is great for reluctant readers. (Yes lots of humor!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pre-Poetry Friday or a Thursday Poem during Poetry Month

In honor of the Thursday before Poetry Friday I thought I would share a boy poem from a wonderful new book of poetry. The Wonder Book By Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Paul Schmid is a fun collection of poems and drawings. As a read the book I marked a poem that I thought would be fun to share with students and to blog about. When I got to the end I realized that I had marked almost every page. So here are a few tidbits about some of the other delightful poems: In Delightful Day we find the many bedtime questions asked my kids worldwide. In Clarification Ms. Rosenthal gives important pointers in regards to what one should or should not run with. Finally in Stop That! Be Quiet! Please Sit Still Mr. Schmid’s illustrations capture the boys in my room.

A Rose by Any Other Name

In Spain it’s called pedo
In Hungary you’d pass a fing
In Dutch you’d say en wind laten
When your bottom sings

In Japan it’s called he onara
In Germany you’d pass der pup
In Italian you’d say peto
When that small sound erupts

In Russia it’s called a perdun
In Hindu you’d pass a pud
In Polish you’d say pierdzenic
For both loud or quiet duds

No matter where you come from
Or what language that you speak
It’s really really funny
To hear a tushy squeak.
Thanks Harper Collins for the book.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Born Yesterday the Diary of a Young Journalist

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a fifth grade class. My colleague spent the afternoon with her student teacher planning the last unit. My student teacher taught my class, so I took a break from DRAII testing to spend time with students I had a few years ago. It was fun, but I am glad I don’t teach that age. I read them Born Yesterday The Diary of a Young Journalist by James Solheim. Last week I read it to my regular class. The story is about a little girl’s first year. It is told in journal from. It starts with her first entry written right before birth. She clearly states that had she know birth was so public she would have worn a tank top. The hilarious illustrations of Simon James capture the equally funny parts about older sisters and the importance of your reputation. Mr. James shows exactly what a baby looks like after it has bitten her ankle.

It is easy to fall in love with this story. It is amazing how a picture book with a baby on the cover can bring silence to a group of students. Off course the silence is filled with deep roars of laughter. I have learned over the years that this is the truest sign of a well loved story.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dull Boy by Sarah Cross

Last weekend I was at my neighborhood book store The Bookery Nook and I picked up Dull Boy by Sarah Cross. It was between the middle grade book section and the JA section. (As a 3/4 grade teacher this is a real grey area to be in.) The cover caught my eye. Bold letters, superhero power boy flying through the words. I was excited because I am in desperate need for books for E. He is a fourth grade that reads at an eight grade level. He was in my class last year and again this year. He has read about EVERYTHING in my library. Well, that grey area wasn’t so grey once I started reading Dull Boy. It is a huge reminder to read books before handing them out.
Dull Boy is a great story about Avery Pirzwick an average 15 year old that has developed superpowers. His parents don’t know and he hasn’t learned how to control them. He soon discovers that there are a few other teens in his town that have superpowers. The group soon discover that they have many things in common. I really enjoyed the book. I SO wished I could let E read it. It’s not the language, though there are some not age appropriate phrases. It’s not the situations, though there are some situations that he doesn't need to know about yet. It’s everything combined. Please understand I am not advocating censoring what kids read, but there are books for kids, books for teens, and books for us. Where does this leave me? I still need books for E!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Greatest Moments in Sports by Len Berman

Last night was the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. I thought it was a beautiful show. The First Nations of Canada part was incredible. I loved the kid that flew through the pictures on the changing landscape of our neighbor to the north. NBC finally got it right by showing the countries of the World. They even showed us the countries that marched while we were at the commercials.

I am not a big sports guy. I enjoy listening and watching baseball and it is fun to watch soccer at the local fish and chips joint. So, when I received The Greatest Moments in Sports by Len Berman I said to myself “Boy, are you out of your league!” As I started the introduction I soon realized this is a great book for my class. The author Len Berman writes about how historians can’t even agree on who invented baseball, so how is he going to be able to say what are the best sports moments. It is this line that hooked the teacher (me) “You may or may not agree with my choices, but for each moment, I’ll tell you why I thought it was one of the greatest.” YES!!! An author telling kids you have to have supporting details.

So to date myself I do remember the Miracle on Ice. I was at the Court Club in Denver. I had just finished having my dad beat me at racquet ball for the 8,000,000 time. It was exciting to watch the final minutes. Even further back in time I had a poster of Secretariat hanging on my wall in my room, so it was fun to read the chapter about the wonderful horse.

The book has all the components of a good non-fiction text. It has heading, captions, tables, the list goes on. There is also a CD that has recordings of some of the great moments. I imagine that when this goes in the new arrival basket it will quickly end up in a book bag.

Book Courtesy of the Publisher.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Unspeakable Crime The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank and Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America

I am not a huge non-fiction reader, but this year I have read two that I have really enjoyed. One is a grown-up book and the other is a young adult book.

A parent at our school recently published a book. Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America by Helen Thorpe. Many of us at school read the book and felt the same. We would come to school the next day annoyed and exhausted because we stayed up WAY TOO late reading the well written, thought provoking, and page turning book. The book follows the lives of four girls in Denver. All four attend college. Two have legal status so they are able to get grants, etcetera. Two do not and even though they have been in the USA for years, attended school, and graduated with honors they cannot apply for the same grants. The debate about immigration is bigger then this little blog, but it is one that impacts everyone. I could go on about his book, but for the sake of your sanity I won’t. I will say very simply this is a MUST READ!

The second non-fiction book, a young adult book, is An Unspeakable Crime The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin. Ms. Alphin writes about a Jew accused of killing a young girl in Atlanta in the early part of the 20th century. It is a fascinating story. Anti-Semitism and, more importantly, hatred of northerners led to this awful persecution of an innocent man. I found it interesting that the Anti-Defamation League was founded because of this trial. The story is about Leo Frank, a northern Jew. He moves to Atlanta to work for his uncle’s pencil company. He falls in loves and marries and soon after he is accused of murdering a 13 year old girl that works at the factory. Most southerners still resented the North. They hated the fact that many families had to work in factories owned my northern companies. This led to the police and media wanting to blame the gruesome murder on a non-southerner.

The book is engaging. The use of photographs, newspaper articles and layout of the chapters makes it difficult to put down. I like how Ms. Alphin explained how the lack of technology played a part in this story. There was no CSI or Law and Order SVU of find the real killer.

Both non-fiction books I have read spotlight the conceptions or misconceptions our society has on people that are “different” from us. As a teacher it makes me think about how I interact with children that are different backgrounds from me. I hope that I am able to provide a learning environment where they will grow to be responsible adults and not judge someone based on the color of their skin, the language they speak at home, the church they attend or the person they love.

Just Like Us was a gift from a student. Leo Frank was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thank You Jon Scieszka

Yesterday was our first day back to school. We spent the morning grading a district mandated writing assessment and the afternoon in our rooms. Oh, and lunch out with teachers. In my box was a Christmas card from a student that I had two years ago. Sadly, his family moved and he goes to another school. Fortunately, his mom still brings him to book club each month. In the card his mother had included a copy of a writing sample G had to do at his other school. I thought I would share a couple of sentences from the writing. They are appropriate in our days of thanking Jon Scieszka.

Here is a little background about G. He was at Montclair for just the year he spent with me. He had been at a private school and left there wounded from a bad year in second grade. He had VERY low self-esteem when he entered my class. He was reading a little below grade level and was very upset when he made mistakes. Over the year G grew more then any other student I taught. He found his voice and was willing to take risks. The writing his mom sent is about me and that year.

There is no better way to thank someone then by telling them the impact they have on your life. I met Ambassador Scieszka at the CCIRA conference a couple of years ago. It was after we had started our Guys Read Book Club at Montclair. So Ambassador here is what a fifth grader writes about the importance of book clubs:

“Mr. Kimmal announced he would start a book club for boys only….Mr. Kimmal handed out fliers to everyone. My friends and I decided to join. On the day it started, we walked up to Mr. Kimmal’s room. He explained how a book club would energize boys. Next he showed us some books that interested us, even though he knew none of us would read them, but after the second book, we got hooked. Mr. Kimmal knew how to make everyone crave reading…..Just by looking at the cover we knew our parents would hate it, and they did.”

I can’t remember the first book. I did know they would read the book. They often are true knuckleheads, but they come each month and the numbers keeping growing, so THANK YOU for inspiring me and my guys.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes

Happy New Year and Happy Cybils reading! The Cybils Shortlists are posted and two of my favorites made the lists (from categories I didn’t judge). The Curious Garden by Peter Brown made the fiction picture book shortlist and The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton made the non-fiction picture book shortlist. I love both of these books.

I contributed to the shortlist of Middle-grade fiction. It was hard to narrow down to JUST seven books. Good luck judges. One book that made the list is Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes. (The teacher in the story Miss Loupe is on A Year of Reading’s 100 Cool Teachers of Children’s Literature. She is a great first year teacher. One we would all loved to have had.) I truly enjoyed this book. It even made me cry. Here is my little blurb about the story that is, also, posted on the Cybils site:

Operation Yes is a story that revolves around cousins, Bo and Gari. Bo’s father is in charge of a military base in the south and Gari’s mother is deployed to Afghanistan; so Gari must relocate from Seattle to live with her cousin. They are both in the same sixth grade class and their teacher teaches in a box about the importance of life outside the box. What makes this story standout is how kids can overcome tough times and show adults what kids are capable of doing when they work together.
Book provided by the publisher.