Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Crooked Kind Of Perfect

This title made several splashes around kidlit land before I finally got the audio version and enjoyed it while commuting for a week.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect is contemporary realistic fiction with several zany, complicated characters and with many believable problems. With wry humor and tender self-awareness, Zoe tells the story of her family, her clumsy navigations of sixth grade social circles, and her adventures learning to play the Perfectone Organ.

As I imagined scenes from the last few chapters, when Zoe competes in the PERFORMARAMA, I kept remembering this great video, which I stumbled across a few weeks ago.

This book is a great bridge into more YA-ish titles, for our young, but very strong readers. The vocabulary and writing style are fairly high, but the themes and plot and events are still very appropriate for children as young as nine.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

The premise of this picture poetry book is that there's a sixth grade class who models their own poems on William Carlos Williams' famous apology poem about eating all the plums. The sixth graders come up with a wide variety of poems. Each character and poem is crafted with an attentive eye to the experiences, struggles, and personalities of 12-year-olds, and in my experience, I'd say Joyce Sidman has strung the various harp strings of this age group beautifully.

In response to each poem of apology, the second half of the book is full of poems of forgiveness. Yes, each problem is solved and the students are all valued and loved, but that's exactly the sort of world that kids this age crave deeply. A world where they can make mistakes, try on new hats, and still have friends and be loved.

Someone on Goodreads wrote that this book will most likely be read by students as part of school work. Yes. I, agree. But---that's okay. I'm always looking for great resources and just like this year's Newbery, I think many children will read and value this book as it's carefully knitted into their reading lives by many a thoughtful teacher.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

True Story

A science writer found out that his carefully crafted words had been cut and pasted directly into a trashy romance novel. The writer describes this experience in this hilarious account, and in the end he wants us to remember the real tragedy---the endangered meerkats. I couldn't help but also note the racist and sexist representations of American Indian men and 19th Century women in the culprit romance book. YUUUCCCK. Do people really read this crap?

So. Let's all do our part to teach kids not to plagiarize or stereotype. Yeh. Duh.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Frog Princess, by E.D. Baker

When she finally agrees to kiss the frog who swears he's a prince, 14-year-old Emerelda ends up as a frog herself. At least now she won't have to deal with that pathetic suitor with whom her mom's been making arrangements. With the help of some creature friends, including the still-a-frog prince she kissed, Em has to figure out how to become human again and how to survive as a frog in the meantime.

There are some solid, if rather predictable themes about friendship and courage, but the reason I really enjoyed reading this book is because the tone was very light-hearted. I hate fantasy books with narrations that sound like bible readings. The narrator, here, is simply an enchanting storyteller. Often funny, sometimes very dramatic, but never pretentious. The tone reminded me of Hunky Dory.

This is the first book in a growing series. The end of the chapter scene when Em kisses her prince and becomes a frog herself would make a great booktalk. Another Books of Wonder rec.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A question or two

I adore picture books and find that older kids, who actually read them, often enjoy them, too. But this year my big, beautiful, collection of picture books has been collecting dust. I desperately need some sort of plan to get those books off the shelf. I need a solid plan for some sort of picture book reading experience with a younger grade class. How might that look?

I went to the "transition" meeting this afternoon, where the middle school teachers come to talk with the sixth grade teachers from feeder schools. The talking was okay and I feel like my students will be in good hands, but the middle school library, where the meeting was held, was dismal. I worry that everything I've done this year to promote lots of choice reading will be wasted if they don't have a library brimming with excellent, high-interest books. The City Library here is fabulous, though, so I'm trying to think of a way to get them over there a few times before the end of the year. I want them see what a great place it is for finding great books. Getting over there isn't the challenge---it's making the visit positive and increasing the chances that they'll go back on their own. How do I do that?

Monday, January 14, 2008

And the winner---was on my DESK!

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz was sitting on my desk at school this morning with a stickie note on it that I'd wrote that said, "For Middle Ages unit." My student teacher is planning a sixth grade Middle Ages unit soon and I'd bought this book for us off of some highly reliable rec, that I can't remember now, so that she'd have at least one good book to work with for that unit. I'd trusted whoever rec'd the book, and I skimmed through enough of the poems to see that it was indeed strong writing, good information, and would make a nice resource. I was totally surprised, though, to get a text message from my library sister in Philly this morning, as I was driving to work, that said this book just won the Newbery . So, I haven't, in fact, read the darn book, but I did buy it! And was planning to use it with my students. So there ya have it.

I wish I had a better system for remembering or recording recommendations. I'd really like to know right now who I trusted enough to buy that book, skipping my usual library filter.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

TRIPLE 8 CHALLENGE

I really hate new year's resolutions and goals and such. I've just never been a very goal driven kinda gal. I love working hard to puzzle out interesting problems, but I hate diets, Stephen Covey, and self-help books. My book-related goals for the summer ended with a shrug, an "oh well, I tried" and a C-.

BUT--I am still a human and feel some weird thrill when looking up a steep slope. I read about this cool challenge out there in cyberspace somewhere. To read 8 books in 8 different categories in 08. The Triple 8 Challenge. I'm not going to officially enroll in the on-line challenge. I can't even remember how I happened upon it. But I'm going to do it---challenge myself to complete the 64 books before the calendar flips to 09. I like how it'll push me to read in new genres and broaden my repertoire of good choices for all my student readers. In addition to reading all the books, I'm also gonna try to write here about at least two of them from each category.

So, here are my 8 categories:
Kid Fantasy, Professional Development, Popular Kid Series, Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Science Non-Fiction (kid or adult), Sports Novels, and YA.

I know there is potential cross-over between my categories, but I don't want to double count any books. I have some ideas about some of the books I want to read, but I'd also love suggestions. And if this challenge sounds fun--let's do it together. Leave a comment. Join in!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex

Wowsers. This was book was such a rollicking read. An eleven-year-old girl journeys with a Boov alien in a flying car, all the way from Florida to Arizona---and together they save the planet from the Gorg aliens. The two main characters, Gratuity, the human, and J. Lo, the Boov, were amazingly well-drawn and believable. I can't think of any other non-human character that I've ever enjoyed knowing as much as J. Lo.

I also loved how deep questions regarding cultural imperialism, language, identity, and what it means to be human were all tossed around in very playful, yet thoughtful ways.

So--you've got great characters, a wild, gyrating, plot, and a style so funny and sarcastic and self-aware that the real life author Adam Rex, must have invented some sorta scientific contraption to actually channel the voice of a sassy, thirteen-year-old girl. (The book is Gratuity's entry, as a thirteen-year-old, into an essay contest titled The True Meaning of Smekday.)

I am amazed this book hasn't shown up on more of the blogs I follow. I wonder why. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there are illustrations---many polaroid camera shots of the characters and also a few comic book inserts that reminded me a bit of Dragon Ball Z. There was some PG-13 language. But not much.

Much thanks to the nameless booklover at Books of Wonder for this incredible find. And if you decide to "push" this book in your classroom, or if you just want some more info on the Boov invasion, here is a great place to start.

By the way, that's what I wanna be called: A Kid Lit Pusher. Watch out for me, all you not-yet-addicted children, once you get hooked, there's no turning back.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Books of Wonder

Last fall, somebody in Kid-Lit-Land blogged about Books of Wonder, an independent children's bookstore in NYC. My dear brother helped me find this amazing little store when I was in New York last November for the NCTE conference. I roamed around the shelves for a while and watched a guy reading a picture book to a group of six-year-olds who were having a birthday party.

I thought the store was pretty cool, but after about ten minutes I was ready to leave. As I was looking around for my brother, I happened to overhear one of the booksellers talking to a thirteen-year-old girl. The bookseller went on and on, recommending book after book and responding expertly to the girl's interests and responses. I was very impressed by the conversation and when they finished I asked the bookseller if she had any recommendations for two "teacherly" requests: easy chapter books with great fantasy stories, and good books for kids who read at a YA level, but appropriate for me to shelve in my elementary school classroom. We talked and chatted about many different books. I was thrilled to hear that she (like me) didn't like Twilight or its sequels that much. I told her some titles I love and she filled my arms with a huge stack of books, talking, in detail, about each fantastic title.

Forty-five minutes later I ended up buying over a hundred dollars worth of books and having a sack full of books for my second carry-on for the plane ride home. I'll write about some of them over the next week or two. For now, cheers to Books of Wonder, and a knowledgeable booklover who gave me the gift of many excellent recommendations.

It's most often the people (not the programs or even cool settings) that make places amazing and wonderful.