Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Diamond Willow

Recently I read a review of Diamond Willow by Helen Frost and I just had to see for myself. It's about a twelve year-old girl named Willow who experiences all of the normal insecurities of adolescence. She lives in rural Alaska and wants her independence. Willow begs her parents to allow her to venture to her grandparents' house alone with the dogsled. When they finally give in, Willow is elated. She hooks up the dogs and is on her way. Willow makes it there okay, but on the way back home something terrible happens.

This story is told mostly in Willow's voice, and Frost wrote it in an interesting way. Each page of prose is written to look like a diamond, with a hidden message in bold print. Through the other voices that tell the story, Frost presents a whole new perspective about the intelligence and wisdom of animals. I loved this book, and can't wait to share it with my fourth graders!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This makes me smile

This is my friend Tessa's son. He is not quite four years old.

Teachers in Vermont, watch out!

Seeing a child this young reading independently brings about so many questions. The biggest for me is, how do some children naturally pick it up while others face so many hurdles? It helps that Tessa is a rockstar mom and she TALKS WITH HER KIDS. Their home is full of books, paper, crayons, train sets and dinosaurs and all kinds of toys that encourage creative energy... but so many homes have that in place and their children still struggle as readers. What are we missing?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

It took me a long time to pick up this book. I have to admit, it was because of its size!

But once I opened it, I was pleasantly surprised. This 500+ page book has over 200 pages of pictures! Chapter book? Yes. Graphic novel? Not quite. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick reads more like a silent film than anything else. A series of pictures, then some storyline, then more pictures. It's fitting, since old time movies play such a huge role in this book. But this beautiful tale is more about Hugo himself. Hugo is an orphan boy who lives in a train station in Paris and maintains the clocks. He makes his way through life the best he can, until an old man catches him stealing from his toy shop. Then things get much more complicated...

Friday, March 13, 2009


As a reader, I love books that are straightforward, honest, and gritty. In fact, I seek them out. I love historical fiction most of all, especially when it allows us to see the ugly, truthful side of humanity. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson does just that. Through Isabel's powerful story of struggle and survival, I not only found myself engrossed to the point of missing a couple of meals, but I also learned a great deal about New York City during the Revolutionary War. The realities of being somebody's property, the cruelties, the living conditions, the raging fire I never knew about, the human side of being a Patriot or Loyalist, the medical procedures... so many tiny details embedded in so much research. Wow!

As a fourth grade teacher, I might not add this to my public class shelf. I would keep it on my sought-after personal book shelf for the day when a child needs just the right book. A child who is mature enough, and interested enough to see slavery as it truly was, and war as it truly is.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jack Adrift

I love books of short stories. You can read just one story, or you can read cover to cover. Jack Adrift by Jack Gantos is such a fun book of short stories! Each story chronicles an adventure Jack Henry had in fourth grade, and each story easily stands alone. Even the title pages have their own stories (in cursive!) that stand alone. And yet, the entire book tells a bigger story about Jack's struggles and triumphs throughout that year.
In typical Jack Gantos fashion, the descriptions are stomach turning. On page 7, younger brother Pete gets carsick and Gantos somehow manages to describe the vomit as both 'pretty' and 'toxic' at the same time. This book will have you laughing at Jack's clever antics and cheering him on as he struggles to get out of sticky situations.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rechargeable batteries?

We are less than halfway through our state mandated test in my fourth grade classroom. The kids are working so hard, they are beginning to feel defeated, and their emotions are on overdrive. I realized this afternoon after consoling H and J (and nearly breaking down myself as I explained that it's ok that they ran out of time and said how proud I am of them), after G of all people sobbed twice before lunch and once after, after good friends J and F almost lost their cool on the basketball court...

They are completely drained, and they do not know how to deal with their feelings right now. We sat in a circle and compared our bodies to batteries. I identified the indicators of a draining battery. "If your brain is feeling tired, if you are getting upset or angry more easily than usual, if you are sleeping differently - those are signs that your battery is low." As they indicated their personal battery levels and they saw that their classmates also pointed to their shins, I could hear a collective sigh of relief. They opened up and talked about their nightmares, their jitters, and all of the other things they thought were abnormal. I told them to practice empathy toward their friends, and we talked about how to 'recharge' our batteries when we feel drained.

It was a great conversation, but I wish it didn't have to happen. I just don't think it should be 'normal' for a bunch of nine year-olds to feel this much stress.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Beauty by Bill Wallace was published in 1988, but it may as well have been written yesterday.
Luke's dad took off, and his mom was just trying to make ends meet. She got laid off from her job in Denver, and had no choice except to move in with Luke's grumpy grandfather in Oklahoma. Not the best situation! Luckily for Luke, his grandfather runs a ranch with horses and cows, and there is always something to do. Luke finds an unlikely friend in Beauty, a gentle old horse with a funny personality.
This is a story about friendship, but it is also the story of how Luke came to terms with his parents' divorce, and his father's absence.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Billy Hooten: Owlboy

The Guys Read book club at my school is reading Billy Hooten: Owlboy by Tom Sniegoski. I reluctantly borrowed the book from Kyle so I could talk with my students about it as they prepare for their next meeting.
I have to say, it was AWESOME! For anyone who has dreamed of being a superhero, this is your book. Last week I read chapter 1 to Paolo and Jordy as a way to introduce the book and help them get a feel for the author's voice. By the end of the chapter, I think the entire class was listening in, and they were clamoring for the book! The two boys were so excited to be the first to read it, and they are absolutely loving the book.
Billy is a normal kid who has normal problems at school and home... and everything changes for him once he answers a call for help coming from the cemetary. This book has such a realistic feeling to it, and yet it literally has an underground fantasy world! I'm so excited that it's part of a series, because once kids read the first book I think they will be hooked.

How to Steal a Dog

I just finished reading aloud How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor to my afternoon group. I had never read it before, and WOW. The students broke into applause when it was finished, and they were so impressed with Georgina's honesty in the end. They, like Georgina, didn't even care about the money after all was said and done.

How might I sell this book to kids? (She steals a dog; doesn't that sell itself?!)
Georgina is a girl whose family is going through some tough times. She, her mom, and her brother live in her mom's car and have to clean up at restaurants and gas stations because they don't even have their own bathroom. Georgina realizes that her family is in desperate need of money, so she cooks up this plan to steal a dog and collect the reward money. The reward money would be enough to get an apartment. Seems like the perfect idea, right?