Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Beast, by Walter Dean Myers

This book is a lot of things. It's a rich portrait of Harlem. It's a close look at how quickly drugs can ravage a young girl's life. But I think, more than anything, it's a powerful love story. Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon gets a chance to spend his senior year of high school at a private academy that is a long train ride from his Harlem home. When he returns to the city for Christmas break he finds out that many of his friends have changed. One of his best friends dropped out of school. A girl on the block that everyone was sure would "make it" is pregnant. And Anthony's girlfriend, a beautiful Dominica poet named Gabi, has started using hard core drugs. One of the hardest first steps Anthony takes with Gabi is understanding how this could have happened. How could someone so smart and strong, someone who knew how horribly destructive the "Beast" of heroin could be, (cuz she grew up surrounded by it), how could she have let herself become an addict? Everybody has changed so much, and so, Anthony realizes, has he.

What I liked about this book: the poetic language and the sadness; sometimes books that make you cry are good to read, cuz feeling something so strong can be healing. I also loved the descriptions of the people and streets of Harlem. So beautiful and sad and hopeful.

What you'll like: I think you'll like the amazing love story. I think you'll also like Anthony as a narrator---he notices so many details and has a way of seeing things that is very powerful and true.

This is absolutely one of the most challenging books I'm going to booktalk and have on my classroom library shelves, but it was really THAT good. Yes, I'd say it's rated PG-13, but I am certain I can at least defend having a copy in my classroom library.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Linking to Booktalks

Blogging isn't only about creating content, it's also about linking to other folks' content. That's the whole power of the web, right? I read and thought about the book Flush in my blog here, but instead of writing an original booktalk I'm just gonna link to the one here. Beg, borrow, and steal: the most valuable verbs in teaching.

So, after considerable deliberation I say, no, this doesn't count for my summer goal, cuz obviously I didn't write it. But I'm still quite happy cuz now I don't feel compelled to write one for a book which I don't really adore, but which I still suspect many students will enjoy. And, anyway, I'm not gonna be anywhere near the "too-many-booktalks-ready-to-go" number by fall.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Franny K. Stein, by Jim Benton

I am supremely delighted to introduce you to a girl who loves bats, dungeons, and all things gooey and gross. This girl enjoys mutating her dolls and conducting slimy experiments. Meet the Mad Scientist Franny K. Stein. This book begins when Franny moves to a new house on Daffodil Street. How do you think the other students in Franny's class react to their strange new classmate? Yup, she has a very hard time making friends. (Read selection starting on page 17--conversation with teacher, show pictures, of course.) So, Franny starts out by observing her classmates carefully and then experimenting with ways to fit in. I'm not going to tell you what happens, cuz I'm sure you'll have more fun reading if it's a surprise. But I will tell you that the kids at Franny's school accidentally concoct A Giant Monstrous Pumpkin-Headed Fiend.

What I like about this series: Franny. She's crafty, imaginative, and very much an anti-girlie-girl. My kinda kid.

What I think you'll like: These books are very funny. They have tons of great pictures. And they're also full of evil creatures, like Giant Monstrous Fiends, which means that all of these books are also full of great fighting and action scenes.

Think You Could Pass Eighth Grade Science?

Well, at least I got an A. I wanted a perfect A+, but I'm not gonna cheat and go back and take the test again. For some of my booktalks, like the one for All of the Above, I'm just going back to the post I already put up and adding a booktalking blurb to the end. So, I've finished five now. I need to remember to do several books that are easier to read. Also, I'm thinking that a really great goal for the fall months will be to write one booktalk with each particular student in mind, once I get to know them each well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins

Naima lives in a rural village in the country of Bangladesh. She is a talented artist who has been awarded prizes for the alpana designs she paints on the walls of her home. As she grows older, Naima begins to feel how unfair many things are for girls in her country. She has to drop out of school, for example, and there are many types of work she isn't allowed to do. Naima's father drives a rickshaw for his livelihood. (picture on page 16). And Naima's friend, who is a boy her age named Saleem, has started driving his father's rickshaw to help his family earn money. Naima's father is constantly exhausted from working too much, and so Naima decides to help her whole family by learning to drive a rickshaw, too. The first time she gets on her father's bike, though, she crashes and creates even more problems for her father and her family. But Naima doesn't lose heart---she continues to search for ways to help her family and she finds a surprising new way to earn money.

Why I liked this book: I was reminded of rural villages in the Philippines and the tricicads and tricicad drivers. Naima was a character I really loved and the whole time I was reading I felt like I wanted to put my arm around her, give her a little hug, and tell her how wonderful she is and how much courage she has and to keep it up. I also liked learning about Naima's culture, and about the ways some of the gender traditions are changing.

Why I think you'll like this book: Even though it takes place in a country that is quite different from the U.S., I think you'll relate to Naima. She loves her family and wants to help them, but also wants to be her own person. Sometimes she's excited to be growing older, but sometimes she wishes she didn't have the additional responsibilities and expectations. I think you'll feel strongly that there are some things in Niama's country that are unfair for girls and women and you'll want to know more about the injustices and ways they are being overcome.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

My Monster Mama Loves Me So, by Laura Leuck

My Monster Mama Loves Me So would make an excellent October read-aloud for five-year-olds. It also works as a fun launch for creating partner venn diagrams with older students during the first couple weeks of school. I like to read the book with a charismatic, brave example student standing near me in front of the class. We draw a big venn diagram on the board and write the student's name above one circle, and "little monster" above the other circle. We search for examples throughout the book of ways that our classmate and the little monster are the same and also for ways they are different. "Both of them have moms that love them" goes in the overlapping section of our two circles, while "three eyes" and "two eyes" go in the unique sections of the venn circles. This whole-class reading transitions seamlessly to partner work where students make their own "similarities" and "differences" venn diagrams with a classmate.

I'm a little nervous about pulling off this particular lesson with sixth graders. I've taught fourth grade for five years now and have developed a strong ability to predict the kinds of tricks and lessons that work well with a class full of nine-year-olds. I hope I don't stumble too much, transitioning to fifth and sixth graders. The point of the read-aloud with older students is to recognize the many types of variables that we can look at when searching for similarities and differences and to also begin to break through boundaries of self-consciousness. Listening to Mama Monster while searching for "ways we're the same" and "ways we're different", illustrates that many similarities can be found when we get past surface appearances. Maybe the only thing that will make it harder with my slightly older students will be that I'll feel far more self-conscious. All the eye-rolling and give-me-a-break stares will make me feel insecure. I'll be afraid that they're not enjoying the lesson and I'll wonder if this was really such a good idea. But if I've learned nothing else from parenting my own teenager, I have learned that all that adolescent angst is often just a protective shield and the worst possible response is to take it personal. Behind the slick veneer of "i'm too cool for this" are vulnerable little people trying to discover their own fledgling identities. They still crave relationships, especially with peers, but also with caring adults. With a class of fourth graders it's fine to evaluate a lesson right off the cuff---to notice their unguarded enthusiasm for an activity and to count that visible engagement as a sign of success. With sixth graders, however, it might be wise to let things ride a bit. For example, instead of thinking too much about their immediate reactions, I'll measure how successful this book and lesson are by the extent that it motivates them to creatively and respectfully connect with their peers through their partner venn diagrams.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Bethany's parents are over-protective. They've never left twelve-year-old Bethany with a sitter and they constantly go overboard making sure that their only child is completely safe. So, Bethany is shocked when one day her parents drive her across several states and leave her alone with a relative she has never met. Myrlie is kind and tries to make Bethany feel welcome, but her parents' odd behavior isn't the only mystery Bethany must solve. (EXCERPT, pages 38--39) Ending with If I were a director that's just how I'd tell an actress to look. If she saw a ghost.

Why I liked this book: I adore mystery books. I like trying to piece all the clues together and solve the mystery. In this story the main question isn't "whodunnit?" The questions that Bethany, and the reader, in turn, are driven to uncover are: Who is Bethany, really? And who are these people she's always called mom and dad?

Why I think you'll like this book:
It's the kind of book you don't want to stop reading. You keep thinking maybe you've figured everything out and so you'll want to read more to see if you were right. Throughout the book there are constantly new clues that will keep you puzzling and also keep you reading. Also, the story is told in a way that is quite realistic. Bethany gets very angry at her parents and she feels they've betrayed her horribly. But at the same time, she is scared that they may be in serious danger. Finally, I think most of you will like this book because the chapters are pretty short and most of the words are familiar. I wouldn't call this book too easy for anyone, but I will say that for many of you, it'll be a very quick read. If you've always wanted to finish a 200 page book, in just a few days, and you also love mysteries, give this book a shot.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Diary of a Fairy Godmother, by Esme Raji Codell

Hunky Dory's mom has always had big dreams for her only child. "You will be the wickedest witch wherever the four winds blow," she assures Hunky frequently. And Hunky Dory has a good chance of reaching her mother's highest expectations as she is at the top of her class in Charm school and has a knack for evil magic.

read excerpts from "spelling" test starting on page 9

But the truth is Hunky Dory isn't sure that a life of evil witchiness is really for her. During a venture with her Auntie Malice, a new possibility presents itself: why not use her powers to help folks? Maybe she'd rather become an FG---a Fairy Godmother, than a wicked witch. Hunky's coven friends, mother, and teachers are all horrified at this possibility, but how can Hunky Dory be satisfied and happy with her life if she doesn't figure out how to dance to the beat of her own drum?

Why I liked this book: I was constantly entertained and challenged by the reversedness of Hunky Dory's worldview. The book only makes sense if you remember that in Hunky's world bad is good and good is bad. The whole book is full of these surprising, funny, zany twists of reality. These twists kept my reading alert and active. I also liked this book cuz I had some strong text to self connections with Hunky Dory and how she desperately wanted to be her own person but also yearned to feel loved and accepted by her mom. (My connections were to my relationship with my mom and my relationships with my three daughters).

Why I think you, dear fifth and sixth graders, will enjoy this book: you'll like Hunky Dory's character. She's clever, smart, and a mixture of goodness and badness, just like many of you. You'll have fun making text to text connections with many different fairy tales. Hunky Dory's crush, for example, is Rumpelstiltskin. Her house is devoured by the hungry Big Bad Wolf (he's still hungry after Red Riding Hood escapes). And she first learns about FGs---Fairy Godmothers---at the birth party for Sleeping Beauty.

Give this book a try if you like fractured fairy tales, stories about witches, or characters that are funny and optimistic.

Yeah, (little jig-of-joy), #2 done! I just have to say, for the sake of remembering and passing along information: I'm concerned that all the tongue-in-cheekiness of this book (which I really enjoyed) would be hard for lots of my students to wade through. I hope I'm wrong about this prediction, but that is my single concern.

Also, the booktalking format that I'm following has one strength, that I'm beginning to appreciate: it makes me share slices of myself in very classroom-community-building and relationship-enhancing kinda ways. I'm excited to coach my kids through writing their own booktalks next year, too.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Units of Study, by Lucy Calkins

I'm still online! If I knew which neighboring apartment of my mother-in-law is keeping an open wifi network, I'd offer to pay them 20 bucks. Or more. Per day. The first book I finished here in Fargo was Anthony Horwitz's Scorpia. And the verdict is: I've found another cool series. The writing style is crisp and inviting, the plots are worthy of the best Mission Impossible or James Bond films, and the main character, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider, struggles with developing his own set of values and commitments. Nice adolescent identity fodder, but it isn't overplayed, really at all. When I get home I plan to read and write a booktalk for Stormbreaker, the first book in the Alex Rider series.

In addition to my goal to write 20 booktalks worthy of performing before my students next fall, I also plan on filling my own writer's notebook with strategies from Lucy Calkin's Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5. I dreamed, last night, about being a real student with my precious book full of my own stumbling writing efforts. Suddenly our teacher, who in my dream was the district literacy coach Chelsea, asked us to turn in our writer's notebooks. That anxious, vulnerable, heady feeling of sharing their writing with a trusted mentor is something I intend to give my students regularly next year. I didn't realize that collecting the notebooks and connecting with students through them often was so vital to the strength of writer's workshop. Duh.

Any other summer goals worth recording? Nah. I'll read the new 5th and 6th grade math cores and memorize the standards, but I don't need to set any goals around math, cuz my brain is sponge-like when it comes to math.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Imagine the most beautiful guy you've ever met and now imagine that he has a dangerous and possibly deadly secret. When Bella first moves to Forks, the rainiest town on Earth, Edward seems to hate her guts. But then suddenly, one day, he starts acting as if he likes her; maybe even as much as she likes him. Bella eventually learns that Edward has a thirst for human blood, for Bella's blood, in particular. What if it were you? What would you risk for love? Would you be blinded by Edward's good looks and sweet smile? Would you trust him enough to let his teeth near your neck?

Okay. Okay. that's my first attempt at a "hook" for a book-talk. How'd I do? And do I need to write more to prepare for a book-talk? My KidLit prof. gave us the following outline of elements to include: 1. a hook, 2. what I liked most when I read it, and 3. why I think you all might like it. I'm thinking I can improvise 2 and 3.

I know, even better, I'll make some bulleted lists.

The things about this book I liked most:
  • suspenseful
  • romantic
  • tension: between what Bella feels and what she knows
Now some reasons I think my fifth and sixth graders will enjoy it:
  • you'll imagine yourself in Bella's position and want to know if she and Edward survive
  • there's romance AND action, especially at the end
  • scary
There you have it. One down, 19 book-talks to go, before August 27th, 2007! There's nothing like getting right to work on summer goals.