Journalistic Quest

Part VI: In which our heroine begins teaching in Federal Way, WA.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Alphabet Books for Intermediate Students

I undertook my first alphabet picture book read-aloud this year on a whim. My intent was to keep kids excited about our read-alouds, because I only read two letters each day. They loved it (and learned so much from it), that I tried another, which was met with even more success. Take a look:

The Skull Alphabet, Jerry Pallotta

Pallotta has written about a zillion alphabet books (he even signed a copy of the Spice Alphabet when he came to visit my elementary school!). For this one, he shows 26 different critter skulls. We used this during our unit on the human body. Students have to guess the animals, and the creatures range in difficulty from a dog, to a panda, to a narwhal. Fabulous. Additionally, Pallotta randomly hid busts of the presidents in some of his pictures, so this could be used in an American History class as well. You can see a few pages from the book here.

E is for Evergreen, Marie & Roland Smith

My favorite Michigan publisher is responsible for the enormous series of state alphabet books. If you teach 5th grade (or any other survey course on U.S. history that involves a state study), I would not be exaggerating to say that you need every book in this series. As a 4th grade teacher, I only needed the book for our state, Washington. It's fantastic because it includes all the basic information about the state -- state bird, flower, insect, etc., as well as some famous people and events. Imagine my shock when my kids opened their (terrible, boring) Washington State textbook and began exclaiming that they found a picture of Mother Joseph. What an invaluable resource.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rethinking Pam Munoz Ryan

I know last time I posted about Pam Munoz Ryan I was rather critical, but I have since then been introduced to her fantastic picture books and they made me rethink my first impressions. The art in both of these books is done by Brian Selznick, and it's gorgeous.

When Marian Sang, Pam Munoz Ryan

There is so much to talk about in this book. I used it for a lesson on inferences, but it also works great to show how vocabulary is chosen to develop plot or a certain character.

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride, Pam Munoz Ryan

I love that many of Munoz Ryan's stories are based on real events. This is the story of Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt ditching a fancy dinner party to go on an evening airplane ride through Washington, D.C. The art is fantastic.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Potter Approacheth

It's become my personal mission to revisit all of the Harry Potter books before the final installment arrives on July 21. Here's as far as I've gotten so far:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

If you're a die-hard fan and you want to read Rowling's original words before they put the American language spin on them, pick up this version of the first book in the series. There aren't any giveaway pictures at the chapter openings, and it's quite lovely. Harry comes to terms with his wizardness and heads off to his first year at Hogwart's. Unfortunately, it seems as though someone wants him dead?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling

In Harry's second year at Hogwart's, we meet Dobby the house elf, Ginny, Ron's smitten younger sister, Moaning Myrtle, and Tom Riddle. Threatening messages announcing that Slitherin's Heir has returned appear on the walls, and it seems as though Harry is a prime candidate. Could it be Harry, a Parselmouth just like Slitherin, who is paralyzing ghosts, Squibs, and Mudbloods?


Thursday, June 14, 2007

More on Delicious Library

A few points:

1. I graduated!

2. I'm going to be teaching at a fantastic school! I'll be in the Federal Way, WA school district, and I couldn't be happier.

Now that I know what's going to be happening to me come August, I've re-embarked on my mission to enter all my books into a database. I had originally begun this venture using, but I've switched to Delicious Library because I can upload my list to my iPod and bring it with me when I purchase new books. I utilized this perk today at Goodwill, and it proved invaluable.

I've had the week off, so I'll try to return to a more structured posting schedule next week.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Double meanings

There really are far too many new technologies for bookish people. I've been splitting my time between here, (find me under beforetoday), and my trusty Delicious Library, where I'm still valiantly attempting to catalog my entire household of books. Here are two new books I'm actually pairing in my classroom for our shared reading:

Amelia Bedilia, Peggy Parish

Yes, I teach 3rd graders, and yes, most of them have read this book before, but I used it as an anchoring experience so all of us were on the same page regarding words that have double meanings (I always loved "draw the drapes").

Regarding the Fountain, Kate Klise

This book not only works well with teaching double meanings and the hijinx that can follow, but it's a great way to discuss the different reasons why people use writing (this entire lesson was inspired by Regie Routman's work). A school needs a new drinking fountain, and the principal inadvertently contacts a fountain designer. The book is entirely made of letters, memos, posters, newspaper articles, and the like, and it's highly enjoyable (and relevant across a wide age range).


Saturday, February 24, 2007

On hiatus while I finish my literature unit plan. Juggling two dozen tomes is all I can handle of children's books right now.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Picture books for older kids

I've been reading a lot of teacher-books lately that cannot seem to recommend picture books enough for older students, even up through middle and high school. Here are two books to consider that I've just recently discovered.

Science Verse, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

The entertaining duo who co-authored/illustrated Stinky Cheese Man and the Time Warp Trio series have created a companion picture book for Math Verse. These are not simply new takes on "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star," that would never do. Instead, they revise such classroom classics as "The Jabberwock," "Hiawatha" and "Walking Through the Woods on a Snowy Evening." Of note: If your school district/parents is/are up in arms over origin of life, this book does mention evolution and the Big Bang theory.

Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History, Bryn Barnard

The book exhibits some pretty heavy bias towards global health and social poverty programs, and students should at least be aware that others hold different views or might not be as cynical as the author of this book. That said, it has some fascinating information about most of the big pandemics of history, and how each one wound up changing the social order in some way. Gloomy (but good!) illustrations, lots of uncommon facts.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Books using (sometimes creepy) dolls

These books use dolls, bears, railroad model figures, and other inanimate objects to tell a story. The first book (published in 1957) has been criticized in recent years, but the latter is relatively recent.

The Lonely Doll, Dare Wright

Older classroom libraries may still have copies of this book, which features a doll and other critters spending time together. The black-and-white photos have in recent years been interpreted as signs of abuse, and a new biography alludes to the author's troubled childhood. Students fearful of clowns might want to steer clear of this.

Ellsworth's Extraordinary Electric Ears and Other Amazing Alphabet Anecdotes, Valorie Fisher

This alliterative adventure takes model figures, animals, and scenery, and fractures them into absurd situations. My favorite two are a duck driving a pink dump truck filled with dice, and Walter, who wallpapers his whole house, including his wheelbarrow. There are also hidden items on each page that begin with the page's featured letter, and there's a helpful index in the back that lists all the S items one can find on the S page, etc.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

ALA Awards Announced Live

The American Library Association (which chooses the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King, etc. awards) will have a live podcast for their winner announcements TOMORROW.

Check it out here. You'll want to tune in at 7:45 a.m. on the West Coast, and thus 10:45 a.m. on the East Coast.

I can't wait to see what they piiiiiiick!!!


Diaries: One for them, one for you

This entry seemed rather timely, given the recent media attention to the latter book:

Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

You probably know all you need to about this book, but be aware that the new edition of Anne's diary (I don't know specifically what publishing date) now contains detailed information about her first period and about trying to physically understand her developing body. I offer this information not as a deterent, but as a piece of awareness. I learned about the modified edition (the changes were added after Otto Frank died) through The Curse, by Karen Houppert.

Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, Erin Gruwell

Both Anne Frank and my other favorite diary book, Zlata's Diary, are key to this book, written by L.A. language arts students and their teacher. This was just made into a movie with Hilary Swank, which I have not yet seen. Reviews have been mediocre, but the book is lovely. Additionally, if you live in the Puget Sound, Gruwell will make an appearance next month at Seattle University. Call the university to reserve tickets. (P.S. I hate movie book covers, don't you? That's why I chose to post the old cover of this book.)


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Back! With some books for developing young women

It took me a while longer than I had hoped to get over the holiday bustle and get settled in the new year. I'm hoping to backdate some entries so I can keep you up-to-date on what I've discovered. Today I'm going to share some books about girls on the cusp of puberty. Both of these books are frequently banned for their frank discussion of menstruation, so I suppose for the sake of covering my bases I should suggest that you take a peek at them if you're concerned about that sort of thing (although what makes menstruation any more scandalous than murder or graphic violence or any of the other reasons books are banned?).

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

Judy Blume's quintessential novel about the endless anxieties and confusions of growing up is still one of the only novels available for the mid-to-late elementary set that even mentions menstruation. Note: I know several gentlemen who have read this book and emerged unscarred, so don't think these books are only for women. The parts about sanitary belts are a bit dated, but the rest holds up surprisingly well.

What's Happening to My Body: Book for Girls, Lynda Madaras (There's also a boy edition, which I have read and is rather similar)

This book is much more technical and involved but still accessible by a variety of ages (the book itself says ages 9 and above). I read it in 3rd grade with my mom -- we sat side-by-side on the bed and silently read a page at a time, and this was a comfortable way of addressing puberty together without "the talk." Does a good job of addressing possible family or religious beliefs concerning puberty and sexuality, but still presents all options.

I haven't read the new edition, which apparently discusses the female athletic syndrome. Perhaps it's time for me to take another look, as I am not familiar with it at all outside of just discovering this article.


Friday, December 22, 2006

I neglected to mention that I will be in my homeland from December 17-27. I will resume my reviews when I return, but until then, check these books out:

2006 Global Reading Challenge

Many of these books were also used in the Kent and Federal Way, WA Battle of the Books last spring.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rhythmic Reads

I've been raving about this first book for a while, and the second was a pretty good follow-up to the rhythm of Tico Tango that my tutoring student enjoyed.

The Parrot Tico Tango, Anna Witte

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Tico Tango is a greedy parrot who snatches his friends' exotic fruit (the verses build like "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as he gets more and more food. Eventually, however, his body can't hold it all... The book is also available in Spanish, which might be fun for folks taking Espanol 1 in middle or high school. Witte herself is a Spanish professor at Seattle University, and I hear she's fantastic. You might have a hard time tracking this book down, but I promise it's worth it.

Chili Chili Chin Chin, Belle Yang

This is a tale of friendship between a boy and his donkey, who is named for the sound his bells make. The text is minimal and repetitive, which made it a good choice for our tutoring sessions (it was obviously good for our practice with the "ch" sound).


Monday, December 11, 2006

Books by people who have let me down

Once upon a time, there was a sports journalist. He was locally beloved for his wry and sometimes touching observations. Even some people who didn't like sports liked to read his column. (Note that here, he at least admits he's a hypocrite)

Then he wrote a bunch of books that are at a superficial level kind of heartwarming, until you realize that he's full of crap and producing his books with the sole intent of provoking emotion. It's not like he writes good literature and along the way it is touching because you feel so moved. It's like he took a course from people who were rejected from Lifetime Movie's writing team, then applied all he learned to his books, which include:

He's also a pretentious jerk, but that's another story. There is, of course, some irony in the idea that a lonely, rich, workaholic journalist writes "haunting tales" of love and the people who are important to us.

(I will note that when I did a Powell's search for Tuesdays with Morrie, they told me I might also like 1984. Take from that what you'd like.)

That rant said, I was similarly angered when I read Esme Codell's new book:

Sing a Song of Tuna Fish

which is inexplicably up for the Sasquatch Award. This book is far inferior to her 2003 book, Sahara Special, for which she won several deserved awards (but not the Sasquatch! Maybe they now feel guilty for their oversight?) Let it be known, lest you think I'm an Esme hater, that I loved this book, and my students did too.

In Tuna Fish, Esme shares stories of her life in fifth grade, all of which begin with the very "back in my day" phrase of, "Let me tell you something about..." It's a cute device, but the book definitely seems to be written to adults, not students. I admittedly haven't run into any kids who have read this book, so it'd be interesting to see what they think.

The other troubling thing about books related to Codell is that just like Albom, Codell seems to suffer from an inflated view of herself. The interesting memoir Educating Esme: A Diary of a Teacher's First Year is marred by the fact that there seems to be no educating going on -- Esme seems to arrive in the mean halls of a Chicago Public School with all her ducks in a row. She does just fine in her first year, which, I mean, great for her, but it causes her book to read like a tale of, "First I did this perfectly, then I did this perfectly, and some of my students didn't get me because I'm wacky and original, but eventually they all loved me." Good self esteem is nice and all, but I think it would have been nice to see her be a little more vulnterable. Codell also runs the modestly titled Planet Esme.

I think part of the reason why I'm so troubled by Codell is that I feel like ideologically, we share A LOT of the same views! I enjoy reading her book blog! I want to like her! I just worry that people will be turned off from her because they think she's pretentious.


Friday, December 08, 2006

LGBT-friendly Schools

These two books highlight school communities where being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi or transgender) isn't a big deal. They're both good stories, to boot! Both of these books are probably better for middle schoolers.

Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan

This is a fairly standard story of crushes and crossed communications, but played out from a gay student's perspective. The school is extremely LGBT-friendly and could pave the way for discussions about openness and acceptance. (From the publisher: "The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.") However, sometimes the book sashays and limp-wrists its way into the stereotypical.

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, Dorian Cirrone

At last! This is one of just a few YA books that deals with the woes of having large breasts. Kayla winds up with the role of an ugly stepsister in the big ballet because of her buxom bosom, and she wrestles with the possibility of having a breast reduction surgery to get a more traditional dancer's figure. (Her dance instructor encourages her!) Meanwhile, she deals with boy issues and threatening messages posted near her red slippers.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Books that Look Old

Vintage goodies and nostalgia have been popular for a few years now, and I think I'm beginning to see some books following this trend. Here are two of my favorites:

Agent A to Agent Z, Andy Rash

Done in the vintage style popularized recently by The Incredibles, this book follows Agent A as he makes sure his operation's 25 other agents are using their letters of the alphabet to spy and obtain top-secret information. There is a disproportionately small number of women spies, and the ones who are featured are beautiful and mysterious (one is even lounging on a bed, waiting to receive secrets!?).

The Spider and the Fly, Mary Botham Howitt and Tony DiTerlizzi

This Caldecott Honor book is one of two in recent years to be rendered in black and white (the other is Kitten's First Full Moon. The polylegged characters in this book are decked out in '20s duds. According to his Web site, his inspiration was the horror movies from the '20s and '30s. The images are great, but while we're talking about traditional gender roles, it's a shame the pretty fly is the one who gets suckered in yet again.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Velveteen Rabit, past and present

The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

This book came to mind when I was thinking about wintery stories, but then I questioned whether this was a Christmastime book or a springtime book (as it takes place during both times, correct?). Middle schoolers might scoff at reading a book like this, but I can't even attempt to give an unbiased review because a beloved comparative drama professor read it to a class of college kids and had us all weeping. Thus, I'd say it's appropriate and timeless. (Does anyone else get the covers of this book and of Rabbit Hill mixed up?)

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

I didn't want to like this book. I didn't want to find it charming or heartwarming, probably because I was still grouchy and disappointed with DiCamillo's Mercy Watson (more on that later). The illustrations absolutely make this and give the book an antiquey feel, which seems to make it a little more OK that it's cheesy -- kind of in the same way that it's OK for Prairie Home Companion to be a little cheesy.


Friday, December 01, 2006

One for the kids, one for you: Michigan novels

I was inspired to think about Michigan books because of the 5th Avenue Theatre's revival of White Christmas. One of the songs in the Irving Berlin musical is called, "I Was Born in Michigan," which I first heard at northern Michigan's Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

Bud sets his mind on tracking down his father, who believes is a famous jazz musician. This book is centered in Flint, Michigan (a town that was later the focus of Michael Moore's first film, Roger and Me), and it takes place during a time when the area was feeling the devastating effects of the Great Depression (Bud even stops in a Hoovertown). I admit, when I first encountered this book I thought it would be boring historical fiction, but it was an enjoyable plot-driven book that would be a good read-aloud. Your class will probably also enjoy Bud's wisdom sprinkled throughout the book, collectively known as, "Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself."

Middlesex, Jeffrey Euginedes

Middlesex chronicles the life of an intersex person living in Detroit as it crumbles in the middle of the 20th century. It also covers her family two generations earlier. This is an amazing story of family, culture, and Detroit's history of racial and ethnic relations. Please forgive my skimpy review of this book, as my copy was lost in my move from Michigan to Seattle.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Classroom audiobook tips

I am taking this from a conversation I had with a friend who teaches elementary school in Dallas. I hope she doesn't mind.

We had been talking about the beauty of checking audiobook CDs from the library, then upoading them to iTunes. I had been looking to just burn copies of the CDs and store them either with my classroom library or near my classroom library. Then she offered this advice:

"Load Itunes onto your classroom computers and use those as listening stations. I do that and I have 5 iPods that can be checked out (shuffles, mostly donated). Of the iPods I have 3 are from a collection taken up by the parents in my class (10 bucks a kid= $200) and the other two I bought with my own money."

I haven't talked with her about the possible downsides to loaning out iPods, but even if you only allow your students to use them in class, I think it's a fantastic idea. Take a look at the iPod Shuffle here, and check out the neat new ad.

I think this is an idea that can be used in classrooms at any level. To read more about how audiobooks had a huge impact on a middle school classroom, do yourself an enormous favor and check out:

Caught in the Middle, Susan Ohanian

This book spends a lot of time talking about crazy school bureaucracy, and it also has fantastic suggestions for language arts classes for students of all abilities.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One for the kids, one for you

It's a complete snow emergency in Seattle today, so I'm going to suggest a pair of books that will keep both you and any young folks satisfied.

Runny Babbit, Shel Silverstein

This is a funny way to approach the importance of using a correct starting sound in words. A mix-and-match word activity could easily be developed from this book -- at one point, flashcards of many of the book's illustrations were available from Barnes and Noble, you could probably find them on eBay.

Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, Shel Silverstein

I LOVE this book. Reader beware: despite what Uncle Shelby tells you, this naughty ABC book is probably most appropriate for older youngsters -- middle schoolers, perhaps?