Book Review: Fish in a Tree

posted by Beret.

Reading level:  4-6 grade. The protagonist is in sixth grade, however, and she wouldn’t have been able to read it. In fact, that’s the point. This book is for anyone who has ever struggled in school or felt like they didn’t fit in.

One rainy day last July, I wandered into a bookshop and accidentally left with a stack of five new hardcovers. Just what I needed for my suitcase.

The clerk was lovely. She agreed enthusiastically with all of my opinions–which is terribly charming–and I bought Fish in a Tree based on her recommendation and its adorable cover. So much for judging books by their contents…although, I finished it last night, and that’s what I’m set to do now.

I loved it. Here’s why… Continue reading

Misfit Lit: Counting by 7s

posted by Beret.

Age Range: Grades 5-8.

I’ve always had a soft spot for what I call “misfit lit.” Into this category I throw a few of the best books for young people I’ve read in the recent past: Loser, by Jerry Spinneli; Wonder, by R.J. Palacio; and A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass. A major appeal of these books is that everyone feels like an alien at some point in their lives–often and particularly in middle school. Delving into the brain of an outsider and seeing how they experience and cope with difference can be both comforting and empowering. It could also encourage young people to look for what they might have in common with others, no matter how different they appear to be.

Counting by 7s is no exception. What is unique is that we spend a good deal of the book inside the head of Willow Chance–a girl with incredible intellectual gifts and a penchant for botany, medical texts, and the number seven. The author, Holly Goldberg Sloan, does not water down Willow’s vocabulary or personality in any way to make her character easier to swallow. In fact, it isn’t important for the reader to understand everything the main protagonist says or does throughout the novel in order to grasp her emotional turmoil and her desperate need to cope and connect. Continue reading

Ridiculously Simple Single-Sheet-of-Paper Books

opening

posted by Beret

Here’s a little book I loved to make with my students. We used them for quick book reports and biographies, for poems, and as tiny sketchbooks or journals. They were perfect for outdoor writing, for science class, and field trips. They’re small, portable, easy, and cheap.   Continue reading

Early Onset Activism

posted by Gina

Let’s make this month a trifecta of book posts, shall we?

We’re approaching May 1st, and I was remembering the day of protests back in 2006, when I was teaching in San Francisco. My high school students, many first generation, took the protests incredibly seriously, and I remember being impressed at how many of them took the day to do thoughtful work, and how few looked upon the boycott as an excuse to just miss school.

I was lucky enough to be at a school that encouraged discussion with and support of our students, so we spent a lot of time talking that week – in advisory, in class, in the hall. We don’t often give our young people enough credit for their thoughts and ideas, particularly as they think upon the state of the world and the way in which they can make their voices heard.

I stumbled across this post recently. You know how I love lists of book recommendations – well, this one seems timely.

a-is-for-activist

Continue reading

Bookmaking: Theater Books

cover

posted by Beret.

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out a closet and discovered the instructions for making theater books. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked unsuccessfully for that sheet of paper over the years, but many. 

I promptly re-lost the paper.

Today–miraculously!–I’m holding it again in my grubby fist, so I will post these instructions posthaste in hopes that, in the future, I might relocate them at will. Hopefully, you will also be inspired to try this at school or at home with a child/glass of wine/tolerant spouse.

 What you need:

materials

  • A piece of 8 1/2 x 11″ paper.
  • A pair of scissors.

Think you can handle that? Continue reading

Life After Harry Potter – Part Two

posted by Gina

Let’s take a moment and talk about this woman:

julie-andrews-05

Julie Andrews. Actor. Singer. Movie Star. Broadway Star. Golden Globe, Academy Award, Emmy, and Grammy Winner. Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp. Also … author.  Did you know?

If you’re looking for fabulous fantasy, look no further than The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

9780060218058

Continue reading

Life After Harry Potter – Part One

posted by Gina

I know you’ll be shocked to hear me say this, but we will not speak of the films here. I am not a fan of books made into movies. I will not tire you with my various rants (way to take away all of Ginny’s awesomeness, movie people) or go on a teacher tirade (nothing’s better than a series that inspires struggling readers). We will merely discuss the BOOKS.

Now that that’s out of my system, let’s chat.

Not all readers embrace this genre, but for those who found themselves captivated by all that is wonderful about Hogwarts, let me help you out with what to give your magical reader next. Continue reading

Book Review: No Talking

From vvmsmedia.edublog.org

From vvmsmedia.edublog.org

posted by Beret

Age Range:  Grades 2 to 7-ish

Last year, Gina introduced me to Andrew Clements with her review of Frindle. I read it to my kids and we were hooked…but unfortunately, we found it hard to find the right follow up from Mr. Clements.

I found Room One and Extra Credit on the library shelves, but for some unknown reason, my girls refused to check them out. We tried Lunch Money, but gave up three or four chapters into it. It was too practical. In fact, it felt as if it were written specifically for teachers to use in math class.

Note: Gina completely disagrees!  Loves this book!  Thinks it’s delightful!

We tackled A Wrinkle in Time and a couple of Jerry Spinelli books instead.

It took months before we were ready to give another Clements book a go. Something about this one caught my eye, however. It has occasional entertaining illustrations. It is smart and funny. The type is generously-sized, and the chapters are short.

AND, IT IS FABULOUS.     Continue reading

Resources for Young Writers

posted by Beret

Seeing as I can’t grow a mustache this month (c.f. Movember), I’d like to focus on writing instead. November’s actually the easiest month of the year to do so.

Writing is often a solitary activity, and left to my own devices, I am easily mesmerized by videos of adorable animals frolicking, or meatheads having staple gun fights. Any time outside of teaching, parenting, and editing would be easily devoured by YouTube and Iron Chef.

Consequently, I am a huge fan of writing groups, writing classes, National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), National Blog Posting Month, and all of those organized writing extravaganzas. I thrive with structure and community, deadlines and systems of accountability. I like having someone looking over my shoulder–not annoying people, mind you, but the delightful, word-loving types.

The year I did NaNoWriMo was crazy and fabulous, with pep talks from Jonathan Franzen rolling into my inbox, videos to entertain and encourage me, forums, essays, and write-ins at local coffee shops. It was all designed help build and maintain my momentum, and I loved it. I wrote more that month than ever before or since. Some of it’s a load of crap, but nestled in there are nuggets I never would have created watching Maru.

There’s a lot going on for adult writers. But let’s say you have a non-adult or two around who likes to write. What’s out there for them?   Continue reading

Gina’s Favorite Halloween Reads

posted by Gina

It just doesn’t seem right to love books and to love Halloween and not post about Halloween books on Halloween. I realize nothing can top Beret’s Ghost Cake with Flaming Eyes, but as I spent much of today thinking lovingly of the picture books I proudly displayed in my classroom library each October, I thought, why not share? All contain little to no nightmare-inducing possibilities and are just as delightful for adults as for kiddos.   Continue reading