Friday, December 21, 2012

Reading list of good intentions (aka Winter Break Reading)

I'm cleaning up my classroom, getting ready for our much awaited 2-week break.  The table that also functions as my desk (a horseshoe table -- great for group work with students) is quite the display.

The Arrowhead water bottles and bowls of grapes are leftovers from our class Christmas party.  The snowflakes are  part of our collection for the surviving students and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary (more details here).  I don't know why I have 2 boxes of Kleenex.

This is me fine-tuning my lesson plans for after the holidays.  My friends and co-workers claim that I am organized.  One has even labelled me as a "linear thinker." I beg to differ.  The picture says it all.  As I write this, I should really be focused on finishing up my lesson plans, cleaning up, and getting out of here -- but the urge to write came upon me, so here I am.

Anyway, a couple of my colleagues and I use the Daily 5 CAFE in our classrooms to teach reading and language arts.  I LOVE it.  Each student keeps a "book box" -- a collection of books he/she intends to read.  

I also keep a book box (for which my blog is named) - a collection of books that I intend to read. Emphasis on intend.  In the time I intended to read these books, I ended up reading a number of YA titles such as: Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth.  Not really titles I would keep in my 4th grade classroom -- though I enjoyed them IMMENSELY.   I devoured them after my children were tucked in bed, and many a late night was spent caught up in the "one more chapter" cycle.  At 43 years-old, I am not a young adult -- but I totally love YA literature.

This winter break, I am determined to pay more attention to my love for children's literature.  I've taken the books out of my classroom book box, and put them in my bag to take home and enjoy.

Here they are:

In case you can't read the titles, they are (from left to right)
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Book 2 of the Sisters Grimm:  The Unusual Suspects by Michael Buckley
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Di Camillo
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

The last book was The Guardians of Ga'Hoole #2 The Journey by Kathryn Lasky -- I want to read book one first, and have no idea how this one got in there.

Do you have any book recommendations for me?  I'm a fast reader, but don't think I can devour all these in 2 weeks.  I love reading, but I love spending time with my family more.  Luckily, some of that is easily combined for many of my family love reading, as well.   Send in your recommendations and I will be happy to add them to my list of books I intend to read....

More Christmas-themed Children's Books...

In my hunt for Christmas-themed Children's Books, I came across this one...

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto and Ed Martinez

Such a FUNNY tale of honesty!  I grew up in San Diego -- less than 12 miles from the Mexican border.  One of the ladies at church used to sell tamales every Christmas.  Currently, I live in a part of the SF Bay Area where there is a strong Latino community.  A few years ago, one of my neighbors used to give us homemade tamales every Christmas. Chile cheese tamales, pork tamales, chicken mole tamales, sweet corn and raisin tamales.   Best tamales ever.  EVER.

I read this book to my own children, and we laughed at the thought of eating a plate full of tamales, searching for a lost ring before your mom finds out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Deck the Bookshelves (or Kindle, or Nook, or iPad) With Tales of Christmas

As I perused the shelves of books in my home and in my classroom recently, I realized that, for someone who claims Christmas to be her favorite holiday, I am sorely lacking in the Christmas-tale department.  I used to have a book of Christmas short stories and poems somewhere.  With the couple of moves we've had in the past 3 years, I presume that book is safely stored in some box, somewhere in the house, packed carefully to ensure it would not get lost.  Right.

The Night Before Christmas (Little Golden Book Series)I miss that book.  It had 2 of my favorite stories.  The Night Before Christmas and The Gift of the Magi.  As a child, my dad read The Night Before Christmas to me every year.  It was one of those "Little Golden Books" with the gold binding like the one in the picture to the left.  The rhyme and rhythm of the story inspired so many poems of my own -- even as an adult.   As a teenager, I came across O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi in my English class.  I loved the acts of selfless-love and the irony of sacrificial-giving in that story.  Later, I read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  What a beautiful (if not a little scary) story of a man's broken and bitter heart, and his chance to make it all right.  If you haven't read these, I would totally suggest doing so.

This week, my class read and performed a reader's theater version of The Baker's Dozen, as told by Aaron Shepard.  He has a very cool website of free reader's theater script which I use very often.  Looking for a way to help students work on reading fluency?  Reader's theater is a very motivating way to do that.

What Christmas books and stories do you enjoy?  Send me your suggestions for young and old!

Active Readers and Other Oxymorons

Active readers.  That may sound like an oxymoron to some. You know, like "jumbo shrimp", "pretty ugly", or -- if you know my Filipino family -- "Filipino vegetarian" (you gotta know my family to really appreciate that one).

Active would most certainly imply the exertion of some sort of energy. Readers bring to mind those in a sedentary state -- pensive, but motionless. Take a look at this group of children:

They are all reading. Every. Single. One. Better yet: they are all actively involved in their reading. They read eagerly, discuss the events in their books, and share with each other their enthusiasm for what they've read.

I LOVE that my class -- my wonderful full-inclusion mix of a class with autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and typical kids growing all together --has learned to love reading in whatever manner they can. Some read through pictures, others retell stories we've read together, others practical inhale the books they read.  They didn't all start out this way. To be honest, many of the kids in my class were reluctant readers. Oh, I still have a few of them, but they have ALL learned to find a book or magazine in my class that they enjoy. And I'm ok with that. I feel like I've planted a seed, and it has started to grow before I expected it. I'm so excited!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strong Girls

A few weeks ago, while we were reading Holes, we came across the part where Stanley Elya Yelnats' supposed interest, Myra, must decide whether to marry him or Igor.  She chooses the "pick a number" method, and the class was in uproar.

One boy declared, "That's not a good idea at all!"
Teacher:  "Well, how would you pick a wife?  What would you do?"
Boy:  "I would pick her based on beautifulness, intelligence, and if she was a good fighter."

I've been pondering this conversation quite a bit in the month since it's happened.  Funny as it sounded, those weren't necessarily bad criteria -- especially for a 10 year-old boy who is still trying to figure out the social norms of a school playground, much less something only adults usually think about.  Still, I wondered if there was something to the traits he had chosen.

Beautifulness.   Of course that would be there -- our society and media push this on us all the time.  Luckily, the maxim "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" seems to hold true.

Intelligence.  While most would associate intelligence with academic knowledge, thanks to Howard Gardiner, we can view intelligence in a broader perspective.  Everyone has something they are intelligent in.

A good fighter.  Numerous questions came to mind:  Did he see it in a video game? Does he want someone to protect him?  Why did he, of all students, pick fighting as a trait? (He's one of the most passive, non-aggressive students I've ever met).  Regardless of the reason, it was enough for me to think, maybe he admired a girl who was strong.

With that in mind, I have a number of books I read to my class that feature strong girls as main characters.  Maybe they are strong physically, or strong in spirit.  I choose them because they are characters I admired.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
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The Report Card by Andrew Clements

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Sisters Grimm:  The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Dragon Slippers
I had to edit this post to add one more of my favorites (how could I have forgotten??)  This one was recommended to me by one of my students a few years ago.  He and I ended up competing, seeing who could finish the book first!

If you are a fan of dragons, castles, and all things fantasy, this one is for you!

Of course, Young Adult lit has some excellent titles.  While I will not read these aloud to my 4th graders, I have personally enjoyed these books immensely.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games (Hunger Games Series #1)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I know I've omitted so many.  Here is an article with a lively discussion on the topic.  I'm compiling my list.  What are your favorite books with strong girl characters (children's novels or young adult)?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some of My Favorite Read Alouds

Everybody loves a good book -- even kids.  One of the things we always talk about in class is how books are like movies in your head.  I love it when my students clap at the end of a good book, the same way we clap at the end of a good movie.  This happened recently when we just finished the book, Holes by Louis Sachar.  Before that, they applauded when we finished Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  And before that, they cheered, sighed, smiled, and clapped for Frindle by Andrew Clements.

I have a few books that are my "go-to" read alouds each year.  My goal is for all my students (those who already love to read, and those who struggle with reading) is to learn that books are fun!  Reading is fun!  

Here are some of the ones I use to get my students interested...

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1)

For the past few years, I have begun our read aloud for the school year with Harry Potter.  There are so many reasons I love Harry Potter:  the plot, setting, and characters are so vivid and rich.  Many of them have already seen the movie, so it is a great book to do a lesson on contrast and comparison.  The 2 main reason I love it is because 1) it is easy to get hooked, and 2) it is the beginning of a series book.  And in case you're wondering...I only read aloud the first book in a series.

Read about Harry here...

Frindle by Andrew Clements
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I am a HUGE Andrew Clements fan.  All his stories have a child who does something pretty incredible (with the minor help of an adult in some fashion).  He has captured the school experience from a child's point of view, and it is total fun.  Frindle is a great way to teach students about the power of words.  It is also one of the few books we've seen that explains cause and effect so clearly.  Every year we've read this, the kids laugh, question, create words, and cheer!

Learn about the power of words and Frindle here...

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Front CoverOne of the things I try to do is make sure I vary the genres we read from. I also try to make sure we read stories where a girl is the main character.  Until recently, that was not always easy to find.  Every year we have read this, I have had at least 1 student ask me if it was made into a movie.  Lois Lowry does such an amazing job of crafting this story in a way that you assume it was made into a movie.  I mean, seriously -- a girl who helps her family with a covert activity to hide her best friend from the Nazis??  The students are riveted the whole way -- and are even amazed to learn of the true events that inspired the tale. 

Read about Number the Stars here...and about the Danish Resistance here

Holes by Louis Sachar
Front CoverAs much as I love series books because they hook a student into wanting to read more, I admire stories that leave you feeling as satisfied with the one story as if you'd read a whole trilogy.  I stand amazed at the way this story is woven with a back story until it comes full circle.  Like I said above, my class clapped when we finished, and one girl said, "I have a new favorite book!"

Read about Holes here...

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Front CoverYes, that Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games).  I, personally, think the kids in my class are too young for the themes in The Hunger Games (just my opinion).  However, if you want something a little more appropriate for a younger audience -- Gregor the Overlander is it.  Think of it as Chronicles of Narnia with a twist.  We are reading it right now, and I'll let you know what they think when we're done.

Learn more about Gregor and his adventures here...

So this is by no means a comprehensive list. It pretty much takes us from the beginning of the school year to Winter Break.   I also realize that most of the books feature boys as the main character.  I'll post later about my favorite books with female protagonists.

 In the mean time, what are your favorite read aloud books?  Please feel free to share them with me!