Friday, December 30, 2011

RI Mock Newbery 2012 - Straggler Reads

Toys Come Home: Being the Early Experiences of an Intelligent Stingray, a Brave Buffalo, and a Brand-New Someone Called Plastic (Toys Go Out)Toys Come Home: Being the Early Experiences of an Intelligent Stingray, a Brave Buffalo, and a Brand-New Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Delightful. From StingRay's confidence in her brilliance to Lumphy's "I have dread," I smiled through the entire thing in one sitting. Please know that you were puked on with love. And that we are here for each other.

WonderstruckWonderstruck by Brian Selznick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, so the plot was not the most earth-shattering genius of the world, but it was interesting and engaging. And after forcing myself to finish some other Mock Newbery nominees, it was so nice to WANT to keep turning the pages and find out what happened. I couldn't wait to see how the stories intertwined, and I kept going back to the picture of the special exhibit that Rose explored.

Also, the change in movies from silent to talkies made me think about the current sea change ... Red Boxes and streaming Netflix. You don't even need to wait for the DVD to be mailed to you anymore!

Waiting for the MagicWaiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was prepared to hate this book. Four dogs and a cat? And the dogs "talk"? Yuck.


It's Patricia MacLachlan.

Gentle, sweet, slightly unrealistic, but quality.

Choice quotes:
"If you don't talk about it, maybe it isn't there."
"If he wasn't here, he couldn't leave again."
"Can you forgive when you don't understand?" (actually, I think that is not a quote but a note I made)

HiddenHidden by Helen Frost

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If you're going to have two characters narrating, you really should give them two distinctive voices. I did like the message that sometimes you have to talk to the other person to find out that you were both wrong.

BreadcrumbsBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I liked all of the allusions, but they added up to ... what? The entire second part was random and unsatisfying. I had to force myself to finish it; the book had lost me at the chapter where adults around the world had glass shards poke them and reacted in depressing ways. If the rest of the committee could discard Sir Gawain for one sentence about economics, then I think we should discard Breadcrumbs for this. Or the wraith. Or the indication that for all of the stories Hazel knew, she wasn't familiar with The Snow Queen. Seriously?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RI Mock Newbery 2012 - December Reads

(I will be adding to this post as I make it through the list ... favorites at the top)

Hound Dog TrueHound Dog True by Linda Urban

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wowee. I loved it. Love love loved it. The way Linda Urban is able to make us feel Mattie's painful shyness and understand the way she thinks. The touches like Mama's piccolo fingers or Quincy "plunking" her words. That last line. So good.

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book reminded me of a Neil Gaiman offering, which is a good thing. It kept me wondering and kept me turning page after page. And made me think. "Stories are wild creatures" indeed ... and there really isn't always a good guy or a bad one. I also loved the notion that "You write your life with actions." This book was written beautifully with words, and the art was perfect for the atmosphere.

Camo GirlCamo Girl by Kekla Magoon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I felt like the voice was rather older than 12, it was also very true. Ella's confusion in different situations, her discomfort and wish that she knew what to say or do, was palpable. The ending suffered from the "dramatic event and sew-it-up-quick ending" ailment that many books do, but I still really liked it overall.

Between Shades of GrayBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When I got to the end, I realized that for all the WWII testimony I have read, I don't think that I ever heard witness from any deportees to Siberia.

The narrative pulls you right along from the hot, crowded train cars to the frigid steppe. I kept glancing at the thermostat and giving thanks for four walls and a furnace.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At first I was confused. Then charmed. Then appreciative of all the lovely verbs (creatures don't "say" anything; they "haroom" or "crow" or "admonish" or "shriek"). Then impatient. Then around p. 120, too bored to finish. Yes, Ms. Valente has an imagination. But I just didn't really enjoy what it came up with. Sometimes allegories make me fall asleep. The second star is for the verbs.

Bird in a BoxBird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. The three main characters' voices weren't distinct. They had no real growth or development. I feel like we missed something re: Willie's hands. I didn't buy the reverend finally opening up.

I expected a LOT more from a book with jacket blurbs from Linda Sue Park, Grace Lin, and Gary Schmidt.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tweeting re: Reading Aloud

Participated in my first #titletalk on Sunday night. I have GOT to get my hands on a copy of "I Want My Hat Back."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 R.I. Festival of Children’s Books and Authors Recap

What a great day. I spent a ludicrous amount of money on books … but I got them all signed! Highlights of the talks I attended:

Michael Emberly: What does he do all day? Make mistakes! He told a hilarious story of an elementary school art class when the teacher (complete with flowing hair and scarves) declared that there were no mistakes in art … he had to sneak in a contraband eraser. With which he proceeded to make a giant hole in his paper. Oops.

Purchase: An Annoying ABC. Planning to do some kind of cheeky class alphabet project based on this, Edward Gorey offerings, and The Z Was Zapped.

Steve Jenkins/Robin Page: I cannot wait to tell my kids about the disgusting crucifix frog. Learned that the couple does a ton of research before each project so that they can try and present concepts differently than what’s already out there. Also got to see some of the pencil sketches for finished illustrations; the sketches define the edges of each piece of paper that will be used in the final artwork.

Purchases: So many. Looking forward to reading Just a Second aloud. Kids love measurement.

Linda Sue Park: Learned about the Korean tradition of placing objects in front of baby at his or her one-year birthday party. The one they pick tells their fortune. Linda’s mom claims that she picked a pen, which meant she would become a writer. However, there is no photographic evidence, so she’s not entirely sure if this really happened or if it just makes a good story.

One story that she does know is true is that of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Salva Dut, and the work he is doing to bring drinking water to villages in his home country. You need to know it too.

Purchase: A Long Walk to Water. 97% of Sudanese girls and women are illiterate, in part because they are often assigned the job to walk miles and miles and miles to fetch water for their family; there is no time for school.

Gail Carson Levine: The auditorium was full of young girls clutching their copies of Ella Enchanted. She showed photos from the movie shoot, on which she was given “consulting rights” … and a hug from Anne Hathaway. If you hug her, you’re one hug removed from Anne!

Purchase: It’s not out yet, but I will be buying several copies of Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It in March. Check out a sample false apology poem.

Norman Juster: Influences include the Marx Brothers. He didn’t write for anyone but himself, even when told by publishers that fantasy would be confusing to children. He did put some details in The Phantom Tollbooth, however, just to annoy Jules Pfeffer, his friend and illustrator. Evidently, Pfeffer hates drawing horses.

Purchase: The Phantom Tollbooth for my brother, who recently revealed that it’s his favorite book ever. Can you believe that I’ve never read it???? It’s on my list to get to after RICBA and Mock Newbery.

Deborah Wiles:
My eyes leaked during most of her presentation. She encouraged us all to know, feel, and imagine; to pay attention and ask questions; to know that “every moment we live is our story.” She related her story that inspired Freedom Summer, when her town’s roller rink/pool closed rather desegregate. When she and her husband explored the ruins of the place recently, “I felt ghosts and I was one of them.” Everyone should have a life notice.

Purchases: Countdown for my mom and Each Little Bird That Sings for me. “I’m coming to SEE you!!!”

Chris Van Allsburg: When he wrote his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, most kids’ books “looked like kids did the illustrations.” There were messages, morals, and lessons, but no subtext. He went in the way opposite direction. He claimed that the style of illustration Abdul Gasazi was not a choice, but a reflection of his “limited” abilities.

Purchases: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. The new one with stories written by a variety of authors. I have to go back and pick it up, because I bought my copy before the official publication date and wasn’t allowed to bring it home!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

RI Mock Newbery 2012 - November Reads

(I will be adding to this post as I make it through the list ... favorites at the top)

Dead End in NorveltDead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I literally laughed out loud while reading this book. It lost some steam by the end, but I'm still giving it five stars. Loved the way he brought in this day in history. It's up there with Okay for Now. Except instead of sobbing my way through, I chortled.

When Life Gives You O.J.When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica S. Perl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a funny, sweet story. Cranky grandfather + fake dog + early adolescent angst = charming. And the touches of grief and understanding elevate it beyond quirky. Very nicely done.

Lucky for Good Lucky for Good by Susan Patron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book really grew on me. One of my favorite aspects is the way the community members' less-than-rosy life situations (disability, recovery) are presented in a matter of fact way. It's just the way things are. Ollie's insults about immigrants and Miles' confusion about there being no dinosaurs in the Bible were timely issues; I wonder if they'll cause as much of a kerfuffle as the scrotum did in book one of the trilogy.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True (Knights' Tales, #3)The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A lively retelling of several legends woven together neatly and with humor (see p. 37: "Things are different nowadays. Nations are not founded on keeping promises so much as on bleak and gloomy things called economies, which expect people to do whatever suits them rather than what they've said they would do.")

The book has action, mystery, and even a moral. I would prefer to have read this instead of the full Gawain and the Green Knight back in college!

The Grand Plan to Fix EverythingThe Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I did like the way that Dini thinks in terms of possible plotlines, and how the movie theme was carried through with cuts to other characters' scenes and lines like "Life doesn't let you save the bloopers for the archives." But overall, I didn't connect with any of the characters, and I didn't really care about Dolly. At all.

Queen of the FallsQueen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The narrative seemed a little flat. But I was still outraged by the way people, including audience members and managers, treated this woman.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Whisperer Challenge #2

I have a student who will ONLY read Junie B. Jones. This week, I put Clementine into her hands. Fingers crossed that she gives it a chance.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Want to be a Book Whisperer

I owe much thanks to Janice Griffin for recommending The Book Whisperer to me, and suggesting that I have my students fill out a survey about their interests as a kickoff to my first year of teaching. The kids were amazed that I wanted to know about what TV shows they liked, and thought it was hilarious that I watch The Regular Show.

Back to The Book Whisperer, which I read in two sittings and absolutely loved. It was so refreshing to read my thoughts in print! Although I guess now the book I would want to write about encouraging readers is already written … The following quotes pretty much sum up my philosophy.

  • "Children love stories, which offer the escape of falling into unknown worlds and vicariously experiencing the lives of the characters. Children’s attachment to the story arcs in video games and television programs bears this out.” (p. 28) YES. To me, it’s all about the story. I don’t care how it gets into their brains.

    Which is how I explained my TV question to the kids who asked why we were discussing shows in library class. And why I wish we had audiobooks in the collection. And why I told the high school kids during my student teaching that I personally would be ok with them using Spark Notes, as long as they knew who Lady Macbeth and Miss Havisham are.

  • “Are we teaching books or teaching readers?” (p.85) / “Teaching whole-class novels does not create a society of literate people.” (p. 123) Life is too short to read a book you don’t like. Students sometimes gape at me when I say this. But as someone who loathed The Scarlet Letter and avoids most 19th-century American literature, I don’t think everyone should have to read entire Shakespeare plays or Dickens novels (which I happen to enjoy).

    As I said above, you should understand a reference to Lady Macbeth (and you should probably cover some of the more famous soliloquies) but unless you’re planning to be a Brit Lit major, you shouldn’t be forced to struggle through the whole thing. It’s just going to turn you off to Shakespeare entirely.

    If, on the other hand, you are allowed to read, say, a graphic novel version of Macbeth, and end up enjoying the bloody murders and intrigue, then you may be more likely to want to know what happens in Hamlet. Or read Caroline Cooney’s spectacular Three Witches (I recommend the audiobook version).

    And you’ll get why this Sleep No More Crossover with Friday Night Lights is funny.

I panicked that doing a multi-chapter readaloud that spanned several class sessions might be violating my philosophy, but so far, so good. Lulu and the Brontosaurus is a huge hit with the fourth graders, and the fifth graders are now obsessed with making their own Origami Yodas.

My first Book Whispering challenge: One of my students asked for "a book like Lulu." I asked what she liked about it ... Lulu's brattiness? (thought: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) The narrator speaking to the reader? (thought: A Series of Unfortunate Events) The talking animals? (thought: My Father's Dragon) She couldn't tell me. She just wanted "a book like Lulu." Out of the stack of books I pulled for her, she chose Coraline. I'll find out what she thought this week!

Friday, September 2, 2011

2011 RILINK Conference Recap

Thanks to Sharon Webster with RILINK, several of us recent URI GSLIS grads were able to attend the group’s summer conference a few weeks ago. Here are some of the things I learned.

Collaborating by the Numbers
Toni Buzzeo was the keynote speaker, and since I forgot to bring my checkbook, I’ll have to get a copy of The Collaboration Handbook later. I did manage to take these notes:
  • Teaching by the numbers IS NOT the same as teaching to the test.

  • When doing data-driven instruction, you need to ensure that your data is legitimate. Unfortunately, Rhode Island doesn’t have a standard tool (e.g., dataMetnor, eduphoria) yet for crunching the numbers, but you can ask your administration for the info.

  • Start with achievement gaps: What can’t your students do? What don’t your students know?

  • When collaborating, assign specific roles at the beginning so there’s no question about who is supposed to be doing what.

  • Make sure to figure out how you will assess, then document how your project/unit impacted student achievement, and SHARE the results.

Instructional Partnership
In her second session, Toni Buzzeo described the levels of partnership:
  • Cooperation: Gather resources, respond to random requests … no instruction. Often includes some less than exciting tasks. Figure out which ones you can unload … can students/volunteers do some of them? To make your case, you’ll need to show how you would make better use of the time if you had it back.

  • Coordination: More of a working relationship, more time/headsup given

  • Collaboration: Interdependent relationship: team planning, teaching, and evaluation. Greer Monaghan of the Scituate Middle/High School Library suggested using online survey tools like Google Forms to gather assessment data. You can embed the surveys on your library Web site or email a link to the students.

  • Data-driven collaboration: Ask for four practices of skills that the data shows are lacking. (Marzano says that you need 24 practices to reach 80% proficiency, and the first four are the most important.)

Here’s who you work with:
  • Early adopters = oh yeah! They’ll try all kinds of new ideas/technologies/etc.

  • Wait and see = yeah, but … They want to make sure it’s been tried at least once already.

  • The rest = no way. Don’t stress about getting them on board; it’s the administrator’s responsibility. And you can get the kids into the library even if you can’t get their teacher.

Ask “so what?” and “what if?” questions. For example, don’t just ask the kids to do a report on a Native American tribe; ask them, “If the Wampanoag moved to the desert, how would their culture change?” Donna Good from Narragansett High School mentioned a lesson where students researched national teams’ mascot names, as well as the teams’ hometowns, and determined whether the mascot name was appropriate for the team/location.
Karen Mellor from OLIS showed us all kinds of incredible resources available FOR FREE to every Rhode Island resident, including test prep, homework help, World Book, Mango Languages, and EBSCO databases.

Destiny: Beyond the Basics
Dorothy Frechette of RILINK delved into some lesser-known Destiny features. One that generated some discussion was showing “Historical information access,” or a patron’s previous checkouts. Benefits: help with readers’ advisory, answering “what was that book I read?” questions. Serious concern: privacy/confidentiality issues.

Other topics covered:

  • Creating title records for your magazines and adding holdings under circulation type “magazine issues.” You may or may not want to catalog subjects when it comes to publications like Cobblestone.

  • One Search, which lets you add databases and Ocean State Libraries holdings

  • Resource lists …you cannot manually add random web sites; you would have to add them as a title record

Digital Resources
You can add any kind of digital content – PDFs, PPTs, sound files (not URLs … they can be added as an 856 record) – to the catalog as long as you have copyright approval. This includes student-generated book trailers, presentations, and mock interviews with characters. Make sure you know the policy for student work at your school before posting anything.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RI Mock Newbery 2012 - September Reads

(I will be adding to this post as I make it through the list ... favorites at the top)

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange StreetOne Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is something magical about this sophisticated, yet straightforward book, whose action is compressed into a 36-hours period (with some flashbacks). Rocklin often points out the contrast between the real and the wished-for:

  • "It was so hard to be a scientist when she kept hoping for miraculous things to happen." (17)

  • "Electrons buzzed, or angels giggled, depending on your theory" (28)

Orange Street took me by surprise and reduced me to a puddle of tears by the end. Loved it.

Okay for NowOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't believe Schmidt could do anything close to The Wednesday Wars. I was a mess. Outstanding.

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is how you do a novel in verse. Fuse8's review pretty much matches my thoughts about this lovely presentation of a feisty young refugee's struggle.

The Trouble with May AmeliaThe Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holm has definitely captured a VOICE with May Amelia. She reminds me a little of Anne Shirley in overalls.

The dangers faced in the woods make my recent 4.5 days without power (thanks, Irene) seem like paradise ... at least I don't have cougars prowling around or bulls chasing me; at least I can stay dry on my way to work and don't have to worry about a river of logs squishing me.

There are a LOT of characters to keep track of, which is one of the only things that popped out to me as indicating this book is a sequel; some readers will already have been introduced to everyone and won't be as confused as I was. Some readers may also think that Pappa is a complete ass for never accepting Uncle Aarno's help.

Overall, a memorable book. I laughed and I cried. And I was creeped out by the shopping trip for a hand.

Amelia LostAmelia Lost by Candace Fleming

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

VERY interesting. I didn't know much about Amelia before I read this, and now I'm not sure what to think of her. Let's just say that if she lived nowadays, she and her husband would have finagled her top billing on Dancing With the Stars.

The details of the search that were intercut with the chapters about her life were VERY stressful to me ... tragic and traumatic. At first I thought it was a case of Romeo & Juliet ... if modern communications equipment were around, there would be no story. But it turns out she skipped out on all the lessons on how to use her new radio.

Still, she was definitely an influential and inspirational woman to many, and I think this book does a nice job of presenting her strengths and flaws. It was lively and interesting and a much better read than Bylines.

The Romeo And Juliet CodeThe Romeo And Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What I loved: the writing, including Felicity's constant reminders of the superiority of British children's behavio(u)r and phrases like "eyes like bumblebees," "better to have the sky match how you feel," and "nobody faints; they just throw themselves on the ground to get attention."

What bothered me: some of the basic plot, including the mysterious family history issues. I can't say more without giving away spoilers.

What could be used for a lesson: the code, which is similar to one used in Trash.

Close to FamousClose to Famous by Joan Bauer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pleasant and engaging, but not sure if it's that "distinct," which is a Newbery criterion. Liked the sentiment of making your own breaks, and the way Foster practiced her future television cooking show patter (I may or may not do the same thing sometimes). And Macon could have his own show. "I need to find some issues. I need to push the envelope and get angry about things."

The cast of small-town characters has been done before, though, and the entire Duke situation was kind of weird and rushed.

The Mostly True Story of JackThe Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book began with promise ... lots of mysteriousness, hints of magic and strangeness, strong writing ... and then just turned into sludge that took me forever to get through. By p. 208, I still didn't really know what was going on, and frustration took over. Explanations started coming at p. 241, but they made no sense. I still don't understand the Lady's deal, and I don't really care.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Books Referred to in Other Books

So I have noticed that "To Kill a Mockingbird" may be one of the most referred-to books in other books, but I don't have any hard data. Yet.

I've started a Google spreadsheet to start tracking literature references when I come across them in children's and YA lit. Feel free to add to it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hark! A Vagrant

I hope to someday be able to use the literature and history comics for classes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mixmaster, mixmaster, make me a mix!

I miss mix tapes. But it's a hell of a lot easier these days to make a mix CD. Here's a playlist Flavorwire made about libraries and librarians.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


As much as I don't believe in forcing every student to read every word of "the canon" (and anyways, many of them will just read the Spark Notes), I do believe in cultural literacy and the ability to understand literary allusions.

Two from last week:

Allusion: Hoisted on its own petard
Source: NPR
Refers to: Hamlet by Shakespeare
Context: "Rashid Rahman, editor of Pakistan Daily Times, says the civilian government knows well the risks of ordering such an independent review of the powerful military. Rahman says having missed bin Laden at the doorstep of its premier training academy, the army has, quote, "been hoisted on its own petard," an institution that he says is Pakistan's most privileged and revered."

Allusion: Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Source: 92 PRO FM
Refers to: "Romeo and Juliet" by Shakespeare
Context: Daily recap of celebrity gossip; Lil Romeo had been kicked off of Dancing With the Stars the night before.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

D.E.A.R. Me

So today is Drop Everything and Read Day (D.E.A.R.) ... I think I can be excused from homework if it means reading a non-textbook book for the first time in months. No offense, library literature, but I kind of got sick of falling asleep to you while studying for the comps.
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