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1. Windows and mirrors book discussion

Lauren had her first adolescent lit class last night at HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education). For last night’s class we talked about How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I love this part of a course when the students go from names and faces on a roster to real people with opinions about books. Lauren gave an excellent overview of literature for adolescents: the history, the jargon, the genres.

oct27readings Windows and mirrors book discussion

For next Monday’s class the theme is Windows & Mirrors and they will all read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. For their second book, they have a choice between Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and Cynthia Kadohata’s The Thing About Luck. Tough choice!

Please join us as we discuss these books before Monday evening’s class. Things tend to pick up steam later in the week, but we like to put up the posts early for those who are reading ahead.

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2. Eleanor and Park

rowell eleanor park Eleanor and ParkRainbow Rowell’s nontraditional romance novel Eleanor and Park portrays a young love that is genuine in its intimacy and awkwardness, as well as the painful realities of life that are well beyond the control of the young protagonists. What are the entry points in the story for readers whose lives are very different from those of the two main characters, set in the 1980s? Why, do you think, has this book resonated so powerfully with young readers and critics alike?

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3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

absolutely true diary The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time IndianIn The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie tells Junior’s story with a lot of humor, but pulls no punches in depicting the brutal truths of alcoholism, poverty, and bigotry both on and off the reservation. Does humor have a place in a realistic novel about tragic circumstances? If you’ve had classroom experience with this book, how have your students responded to Junior’s story?

We are also reading Alexie’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why the Best Kid’s Books are Written In Blood.” Go ahead an comment on that article here, too.

share save 171 16 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

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4. The Thing About Luck

kadohata thingaboutluck 197x300 The Thing About LuckIn The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, Summer has important duties to fulfill as the daughter and granddaughter of migrant harvest workers, and she must also meet the daily demands of her traditional Japanese grandparents. Summer’s multi-generational family and their lives as agricultural workers are facets of contemporary American culture that may be unfamiliar to many young readers — or adults for that matter. How does Kadohata invite all readers into Summer’s story while maintaining her family’s distinct experience and perspective? What surprised, delighted, or intrigued you most about Summer, Jaz, Obaachan, and Jiichan?

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5. My International Book Tour!



Okay, I admit that's bigging it up a wee bit. It was international, in that I was visiting International Schools and it was in Spain not the UK, so that's international, right? And it was all about promoting and signing squillions (again, almost true) of my books... 


Anyway, it seems like ages ago, as I've been so busy since I got back, but in fact I only flew back about 12 days ago. I didn't want to come home and you can see why:


It was all arranged by the lovely Gary, from Bookbox International. He set me up with nine different schools across Barcelona and Valencia. Every day, he would pick me up at my hotel and drive me and a car-load of picture books to a school, where I would do storytellings, talks or workshops, then finish up with book signing.

Mostly it was little ones, the target audience for the books (so best from the signing point of view), but occasionally I worked with older ones. Here's a pic Gary took of me giving a lecture:


It was very like working in English schools, although the level of English spoken varied, so I had to speak slowly (yes, I know, not really my forte). My 'act' is very visual though, lots of acting the story out as well as drawing, so that helped. The children were generally less good as sitting quietly too, so there were some classes where I really earned my fee!!

One school had pets, so I did some sketching in the lunch break. The Y1 kids in the playground loved it (most the quotes are theirs):


It was a very long day though. For most of the time I was staying in Sitges, about half an hour from Barcelona, which as you can see is totally gorgeous and eminently sketchable:


...but that meant we were driving into Barcelona each morning, through appalling rush-hour traffic, so we had to leave every day at 7am (ugg) - too early even for breakfast! Then, because the Spanish have a siesta in the middle of the day, school often didn't finish until 4.30 - 5.00. By the time I done my signing, then we had driven home, it was usually around 6.30pm.


I didn't mind, I enjoyed myself and I always have oodles of energy when I am somewhere new. I had a lovely room in Sitges. This was the view from my MASSIVE balcony:


Each night when I got back from the school I would quickly shower then would walk into the old town at the other end of the bay, with my sketchbook of course, and have a couple of beers at a bar:


Sometimes people would spot me drawing and I would get chatting for a bit, which is nice when you're on your own, then I would quickly walk back to the hotel for a Spanish-style late dinner at about 10pm, then quickly to bed (usually feeling like a beached whale, full of all that dinner!) 


We moved onto Valencia after the weekend, which was slightly disappointing by comparison, as we were staying and working in the suburbs, so I never got to see the pretty bit at all. Never mind, I still had fun days with Gary at the schools, then he took me out to dinner each night. We struggled sometimes for restaurants in our area and one night, in somewhere very 'local', I ordered what I thought was tapas calamari (because it only cost 4 Euros) and I got this:


I did manage to eat most of it and it was delicious!

I will tell you more about my adventures at the weekend in Sitges later, as all sorts of stuff happened and I am running out of space and time here. In the meantime, here the sketch I did as I was leaving: 



See you next time!

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6. Sketch-Day at Huddersfield Grammar


It made a nice change for me on Wednesday, to do a school visit where I was not only working with Y10 Art GCSE students, but where the day revolved around sketchbooks, rather than illustration workshops. I had a very keen group of about 10 girls and, along with their lovely art teacher Mrs Davis, we embarked on a SketchCrawl around the school. 



I showed them some of the work I had done in Brazil and Sitges, to get them in the mood. They got just as excited as me about the concertina format I've got so into lately and Mrs Davis is quite keen to create some with them. I was also able to show them a couple of sketches I had done on my journey there (immediately above and below), which went down really well.


Mrs Davis had bought each girl a new A4 sketchbook and a 0.5 fine-liner so, armed with these and some black brush-pens, we headed out. It was a bit chilly. I was well wrapped in anticipation, but many of the girls were coatless and one or two hadn't even put on their woolly tights. Brrrrr.... They were very good though and set-to without any serious complaint. 


Huddersfield Grammar School is a bit different. They are about to open a new-build extension, which is rather lovely, but the main section of the school was built in the 1860s, when they knew how to make things truly sketchable. We were spoilt for choice: the gorgeous stone windows, the decorated pillars, the Gothic porch, the stained glass...


We each managed two sketches before break. The girls were really up for it and did some really strong stuff. Above are a couple. Remember: this is straight in with black pen, no pencils, no rubbers. I drew alongside them, just offering little bits of input where they seemed to need it.

After break we took pity on them and headed indoors, first into the library, originally built as a rather fancy Billiard Room extension, in 1893, and then in the hallway with its oak staircase with torchere statuettes on the newel posts, Art Nouveau windows and a bank of beautifully decorated, brass light switches, which took several people's fancy.


I did a few quick drawings (the 'sorry's below were because we were sitting on the stairs just outside the staff room and teachers kept needing to get past), but I spent more time going round offering tips and guidance this time. It all seemed to go really well and everyone worked really hard. I love the carefully drawn grain above.


We had a late lunch and then headed back to the art room to finish off with something a little different. As everyone was so taken with my train portraits and the Drink-and-Draw series from Brazil, Mrs Davis decided we would attempt something similar. We all sat round a long table and I started them off with a 5 minute contour drawing. They found that quite hard, so we made it worse, by asking them next to do blind-contour drawings! There was a lot of giggling at the results, but it's a great warm-up exercise and creates some strong line-work. This was my contour drawing:


Then we handed out watercolour pencils - just 3 colours each: a dark blue or purple, an orange and a lighter blue. It's a great idea to limit your palette with watercolour pencil sketching and I wanted to demonstrate how it's so much more important to stay true to tonal values than colour: mad colours are fine, as long as the tones are right, but the reverse isn't true.

I did a quick demo of how to use water: quickly and boldly, once the sketching is done. It's a technique that takes a bit of getting used to, but I think some of them were quite surprised at the strength of their results and amazed at how well the crazy colours actually worked.


At the end of the day, I was slightly early for my train and reckoned I had about 20 minutes sketching time. There are some lovely buildings around the station, so I stood in the entrance and drew the sketch below. I just got it finished in time but, as I headed inside for my platform, I discovered my watch was slow and the train was about to leave! I made it by a whisker.


below are sketches I did on the way home of course. The lady opposite was very obliging and dozed in about as many up-the-nose poses as was humanly possible:


Thank you to Mrs Davis for inviting me to be part of your project and to all the girls for your hard work and enthusiasm. I believe that some of the sketches we did are going to be made into a colouring book of the school - it would be great to see a copy of that!

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7. I wish I wrote that

sharkvstrain I wish I wrote thatEvery teacher I know is writing a book.

Okay, that is probably an exaggeration, but I would venture that there is a sizable percentage of teachers ranging from kindergarten teachers working on picture books to high school English teachers working on YA novels. Some may be writing as a hobby while others might already have a literary agent and publishing deal.

The reasons a teacher might choose to write a book vary as well. Those of us in the teaching profession most likely have a love of the written word and want to try our hands at contributing something meaningful. Of course, there is also the allure of money. It is hard to ignore the fact that it seems like every successful picture book or YA novel is being turned into a big budget movie. Writing the next Hunger Games could mean spending your vacation charting a yacht with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the Mediterranean Sea as opposed to taking the Blue Line train to Revere Beach. This leads us to the meat of this post: sometimes you encounter a new book and think to yourself, “Darn, I wish I wrote that.”

I remember a few years back first coming across the picture book Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton while looking through the stacks at my local library. In this book, a shark and a train battle it out for supremacy in a variety of tasks in different settings such as burping, basketball, playing video games, and skydiving.

When reading the book, two thoughts popped into my mind. First, that the children in my Pre-K class would love this. I was soon proven correct when the book became a favorite and resulted in often-intense debate between the children who rooted for the train and the children who rooted for the shark. My second thought was, “damn it, I should have come up with this.” As a Pre-K teacher, I knew that many children love sharks and trains. Why didn’t I think of combining the two into a funny story? I even had the nefarious thought of ripping off Barton and writing a book called Dinosaur vs. Spaceship or something like that.

The truth is, there is a reason that I did not come up with Shark vs. Train first. Writing a good and/or popular book is ridiculously hard, and getting it published takes tenacity and luck. But I think I will keep trying because it’s fun to write and the miniscule chance of hitting it big and having Jennifer Lawrence star in the movie adaptation of something I wrote is always a motivator.

I end with a question to the readers of Lolly’s Classroom. What books have you read that you wished you had written?

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8. Are you ready for some football…books?

I love the fall. I do not love people asking me, “Hey, how about that [insert-local-football-team] game?” I have nothing against the sport; it’s just not my thing.

Working at an all-boys school, though, I am surrounded by a mass of gridiron fans. As stereotypical as it may be, I think any of my coworkers would agree that the vast majority of our guys live for sports. They play them. They watch them. They passionately debate about them. And in the fall that means football.

Being a sneaky English teacher, I try to capitalize upon this interest to trick kids into reading. Here’s a list of books about football I find myself recommending to students time and time again.

wallace Muckers 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bradley CallMeByMyName 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   herbach StupidFast 200x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bissinger FridayNightLights 197x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   smith winger 196x300 Are you ready for some football...books?

Muckers by Sandra Neill Wallace
Based on a true story, Muckers follows a 1950s quarterback from a struggling mining town as he tries to lead his team to a state championship in the final year before the high school closes. A great look at a town on the cusp of historical change and the spirit of determination found in athletes.

Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley
Set in a slow-to-integrate Louisiana town, Bradley tells the story of two friends and teammates — one black, one white. It’s a well-told tale that explores the power and limitations of athletics to bridge the racial divide.

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
A growth spurt punts a once-runty kid into the world of the jocks. With a wonderful voice, Herbach tells a hilarious and real story about navigating sudden change. (My “reluctant” readers often tear through this one.)

Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
The source material for the movie (best soundtrack ever) and the TV series (one of the best TV shows ever), Bissinger spends a season with the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas. It’s a great look at what happens when gifted high school athletes are treated like throwaway gods.

Winger by Andrew Smith
Winger tells the story of a 14-year-old high school junior and rugby player as he tries to navigate life and girls at a boarding school. Smith’s hilarious and soul-crushing novel perfectly captures both the real and tenuous bonds that exist between teammates. (Yes, I know that rugby is not football. But I don’t foresee myself making a “books about rugby list” anytime soon, so here it is.)

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9. El Deafo

eldeafo El DeafoThis week, I was lucky enough to have a thirty-minute window when I could pop into my favorite independent bookstore in Los Angeles. They have a large children’s section on the second floor that I love perusing because they do an excellent job at getting new books.

On one of their displays sat El Deafo by Cece Bell. Intrigued first by the illustration of a superhero bunny and second by the title, my immediate thought was “What is this book about and who is this written for?” As if by fate, a children’s book worker looked up from her task of stocking new books and said “Oh that’s a really cute story. I highly recommend it.” I inquired about the reading level and she said it could be from fourth grade to middle school. Opening it, I was stoked to find out it was a graphic novel. Sold. It may be one of the best impulsive $20 I’ve spent of late.

I read this book in two days. It follows the author’s childhood experiences of being deaf, and specifically highlights her experiences in school. What captured me was the depiction of how people treated her and, since it’s from Cece’s point of view, how she felt. Her emotions come through strongly in the text and illustrations, and made me stop and think about how I treat people even if my intention is good. I connected with Cece’s superhero persona, “El Deafo.” Cece uses El Deafo to imagine the ideal way to handle tough situations, even if that doesn’t play out in real life (something I did as a kid too). What I really loved about this book was how the author depicted her friendships with the other kids (the good and the bad). It reminded me that children can sometimes do really mean things but that most of the time they mean well and can be really amazing friends to each other. It’s a lesson I need to carry for the school year.

Cece’s journey starts at the age of four and ends in fifth grade, so as a fifth grade teacher, I’m very excited to bring this graphic novel to my classroom. I think the students will enjoy this book and learn a lot from it. I believe that it will carry lessons of tolerance and respect for those who are hearing impaired, and prepare my students with tools (Don’t cover your mouth while someone is lip reading! Don’t assume all deaf people can sign!) to create meaningful and comfortable experiences with someone who can’t hear well.

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10. Same theme, different level

It’s a new year with new kids! I’m working with the same population, but the way this school deals with the social and emotional components of learning is amazing. With that said, I have a group of 8th graders who are very low-level readers. It was a bit surprising because most of them are articulate and fluent, but it turns out that academically, their language level is quite low.

Right now, I am preparing my literature circles and have been looking through books that hit relevant topics, such as bullying, abuse, and coming of age. Unfortunately, it looks like the books I had last year are a bit too high for this year’s group. Last year, I had a few of my kids read Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life. Both the boys and the girls were understandably thrilled by the titles and read them avidly. It led to many interesting discussions.

flake skin 199x300 Same theme, different levelWith this year’s group, however, I am not certain about being able to introduce those books. Or at least, I’d have to wait until the end of the year. However, our interests were piqued by another book that addresses the same issue of bullying, but has a lower reading level: The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. This book centers on Maleeka Madison, a middle-school girl who is the target of widespread bullying. Although the reading level is low, the subject matter is not, and Flake’s way of deftly introducing us to the key characters and issues is both satisfying and quick!

I know there are other books about bullying and peer pressure (many by Jerry Spinelli and Walter Dean Myers), but I think something about Maleeka really resonated with my students. Perhaps they are better able to relate to the context and issues that arise in The Skin I’m In than in the others. Regardless, my students and I are definitely huge fans!

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11. The kid-friendly, kid-maintainable classroom library

If you’re a teacher reading this blog, you likely devote significant attention to carefully selecting literature to add to your classroom library. And, if you’re like me, you want your students to have access to these books, but also to not spend hours after school reorganizing and looking for titles that have mysteriously disappeared. Last year, I found a solution to keeping my classroom library well-stocked and maintainable, but before I share it, let me explain the rationale behind it.

When I was in elementary school, there were always books out on display in my classrooms, but there were also many, many titles hidden away in cupboards and closets that my teachers would search through after exclaiming, “Have I got just the book for you!” This practice always struck me as odd and restrictive — I loved going to the library precisely because the number of titles was overwhelming and it seemed that there were treasures to discover as I explored the shelves.

In my own classroom, I am committed to making sure that my students have constant access to as many titles as possible. However, it is essential to me that the books can remain organized without much effort from me — which is something of a challenge when you work with second graders.

The solution that I’ve come up with for my own classroom library is pretty simple. I started by drawing up a list of categories into which I could sort all of the books in my classroom library. Current categories include biographies, world cultures, biology and chemistry, and, my favorite, “Books Miss Hewes loves.” Next, I assigned each category a specific color-code, using dot and star stickers. For example, biographies have a yellow dot with a green star, while easy readers have just a silver star. Then, I bought bins and clearly labeled them with the proper codes and category names.

photo 1 e1409716191871 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 2 e1409716078349 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

The next step was the most labor-intensive — putting the proper labels on each and every book in my library. While I was doing this, I also used the free tools available at Book Source to create a digital catalog of my library, which came in handy during the year as I wondered whether or not I actually had a certain book. (You can check out the organizer at  http://classroom.booksource.com/). Finally, after labeling the books, I put them into the appropriate bins and then put all of the bins on display in my classroom.

photo 3 e1409715975770 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 4 e1409716039837 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

This system proved to be an overwhelming success last year. It allowed me to saturate my students in books without needing to go find a perfect book that I have tucked away somewhere in my room. Additionally, when I looked through the bins over the summer to check on them — something I faced with trepidation after having seen my students’ cubby area — I only found four books out of place. Most importantly, I am confident that my students found books to treasure as they independently navigated the bins — something I hope helped steer them towards becoming lifelong readers.

photo5 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

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12. Blasting the canon

As a new English department chair, I’ve already been faced with decisions about book orders. Our high school opened in 2007, but our middle school just opened with a sixth grade class last year. This means it was time for us to create a seventh grade curriculum.

I believe in leadership through structured freedom, so I decided that I would create a list of texts and let the seventh grade English teacher select the books she wanted to use for her class. My instinct, like usual, was to turn to Google. I searched terms such as “books all middle schoolers should read,” “classic literature for middle school,” and “best seventh grade texts.” I scoured random syllabi and reading lists from all over the country.

Though there was variation, by and large the books I kept coming across could be considered part of the literary canon. You could probably guess several of them, and chances are you read many of them if you attended middle school in this country over the last century.

I know I have a habit of blogging about old questions, but here I am with another: how important is it that our students read canonical works?

Do our West Philly middle and high schoolers really need to study Red Badge of Courage or Call of the Wild? Why not The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, or Copper Sun by Sharon Draper?

crane redbadgecourage2 225x300 120x160 Blasting the canon     london callofwild 197x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

graveyard book 107x160 Blasting the canon     yang americanbornchinese 204x300 108x160 Blasting the canon     draper coppersun 198x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

I’m not saying that the newer texts are better. Some are. Some aren’t. However, I do think that many of us—especially those of us in the position to put books in front of kids—need to question our unquestioning allegiance to the “classics.”

I suppose there are two arguments in their defense: 1. These books represent the very best writing in the English language; 2. Students will gain cultural capital from familiarity with these stories.

Yet, neither of these sway me.

I think it’s more accurate to say the canonical works used to represent some the best writing, but times change. Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list.

As for the cultural capital argument, that seems to me just a straight fallacy. The true value of a book comes not from the power to impress others but from whatever that book impresses upon its reader.

So instead of automatically turning to the canon because of faulty assumptions, let’s trust ourselves to find stories that will speak to our children.

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13. Books that inspire community

Lately — and by accident — I’ve been reading Spanish versions of many French-authored children’s picture books. For some reason, most of the books I’ve recently bought from bookstores in Lima and Buenos Aires to use for storytelling in Spanish were translated from French authors. I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I started to read them together I realized that they shared a strong message about the “we” instead of the “me.”

pedro y la luna Books that inspire communityThis prompted an informal search for other books that would have the same underlining message. For example, Pedro y la Luna by Alice Brière-Hacquet and Célia Chauffrey is about a boy who wants to bring the moon to his mom. To do so, he has to involve his entire community and beyond. Then there is the Portuguese story O Grande Rabanete by Tatiana Belinky. In it, a grandfather decides to plant radishes and progressively needs help with the harvest because of the radishes’ large size.

 Books that inspire communityI then tried to think about other books that send the message of doing things together for a common cause and couldn’t think of many other than the classic stories “The Pied piper of Hamelin” and “The Little Red Hen.” In the 1990s there was The Rainbow Fish by Swiss author-illustrator Marcus Pfister. A fish with the shiniest scales in the sea refuses to share his wealth and then becomes lonely. He rediscovers community only once he shares his scales. And of course, there is also The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, a book published in 1971 that depicts what happens to a verdant land when the “Once-ler” chops down all the truffula trees and drives the (Seussian) animals away. The last hope to rebuild the environment — and the community — is for a boy to plant the last remaining truffula tree seed.

shannon nodavid 224x300 Books that inspire communitySo much of children’s literature, especially today, is about common things that happen to kids, such as the boy a lost his bear and found it swapped in the forest in Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough, or the boy who misbehaves with his mom in No, David! by David Shannon, or the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, no Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. The list is endless.

All this made me think about the often repeated phrase, “literature is life.” So, are these books a reflection of our society? Are children’s books in other societies a reflection of a more “communal” (we) society instead of a more self-centered (me) society? Or is it that younger children relate better to stories that have more of a personal narrative tone? Can anybody think about books that transmit this message in their original languages?

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14. Getting up Early to Visit Woodhouse West Primary School


I've had a lot of sleep to catch up on, after my adventures in Brazil, not just from the looooooooonnnng journey home (3 different planes, 2 cabs and a train to get back), but from all the late nights while I was there (one night we didn't stop dancing until 4.30am - yahoo!). 

So, it was a bit of a struggle to get up at 6.15 on Monday morning, to get myself to a primary school. Although Woodhouse West is a Sheffield school, I needed to be there early, to set up for a pre-school book-signing session in the library. Before the children arrived, the Y1 teacher told me that they had been working from my website and had all done a portrait of me. Here are a couple of my favourites:


What do you think? Should I be worried? 

I had a lovely time, working with the two Y1 classes, reading Bears on the StairsClass Two at the Zoo and Class Three all at Sea - all books written by my friend, the lovely Julia Jarman. 

We were rather silly (I do enjoy reverting to being a child during these session with littlies). I did my Bear on the Stair poem and gave out badges to the best burpers and growlers in each group. Then we designed monsters. I had a new idea at the end. I got them to think about what kind of noise their monster might make. Then we formed a circle, facing in and holding up the monster drawings so everyone could see and, on the count of 3, made our noise - hilarious!

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15. 187 Reasons Why a Teacher Needs Books

Today’s guest blogger, Sarah Kilway, wrote to us after receiving hundreds of new books for her students. We couldn’t resist sharing her story with you.

Davis 9th grade center 7_croppedI teach 187 kids at Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center in Indianapolis, IN. The majority of my students live in poverty. Most have only one parent at home.

Not many of my kids own books, nor were they read to as children. Even as 9th graders, they lack basic common knowledge of fairy tales, fables and iconic book characters.

Our school has many great resources, but when something is lacking, my colleagues and I step in. This often means spending my own money on books and other items for my students, but it’s totally worth it. I also have First Book.

Davis 9th grade centerThanks to First Book, I was recently able to give a new book to every single one of my students – all 187! A few told me it was the first book they’d ever owned. Some said it was the first book they have ever finished. Such a proud moment for me and them – one that I wanted to share with you.

My students now ask me to go to the library on a daily basis.

Please give to First Book today so I can continue helping them discover and enjoy reading, and so other teachers can too. Your support puts a whole new world within their reach.

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16. Here we go again!

backtoschool 300x296 Here we go again!By now, I’m guessing all the teachers out there are fully back in school — not just in meetings, but standing in a classroom in front of new students. Those of you in southern US states have been back for nearly a month while here in Boston students had their first day last week.

I’d like to thank our diligent bloggers who kept writing all summer, as well as everyone who is reading and sharing this blog. The way I see it, commenting is what breathes life into a blog and allows it to live up to its full potential. In the same way that we want picture books to make full use of their medium — trim size, dust jackets, page turns — blog posts ought to start an online conversation. Since we started in February, we have accumulated 90+ posts and 400+ comments. Excelsior!

I’ll keep putting up posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a few more weeks, but if Calling Caldecott changes to a T-Th schedule, I might move us over to M-W-F.

Lauren Adams, my colleague at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, will be using this blog for her adolescent lit class book discussions just as I did for my children’s lit class last spring. We hope you will stick with us during that time (Oct. 20 to Dec. 1) adding your opinions in the comments and making our class discussions that much richer.

I’d like to ask all of you to spread the word about the Lolly’s Classroom blog to all your teacher friends. And when you use the blog, be sure to explore the “tags” found at the bottom of each post. Clicking on one of the tags will take you to more posts covering the same ages — e.g. middle school, grade 2 — or topics — common core, ELLs, picture books. (Actually, this post won’t have any tags because it’s not about anything useful. But trust me, all the other posts have them!)

Finally, all of us here wish all teachers everywhere a successful year full of exciting connections between books and children.

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17. Writing Multiple Points of View | Writing Tips

The main challenge in writing multiple points of view is helping the reader keep everybody sorted out.

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18. My Kids Need Books

Today’s guest blogger, Adara Robbins, is 8th grade teacher at YES Prep Southwest, a public charter school in Houston, Texas.

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My students and I during after school study time.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a tough question. But imagine trying to answer if you didn’t know what your life would look like tomorrow – much less years from now. This my students’ reality.

My 8th graders at YES Prep Southwest face the constant stress of poverty. They can’t be sure where they will sleep tomorrow. They have to take care of younger siblings, leaving limited time for homework. They have few, if any, books at home. With so much uncertainty, it can take a lot of work for them to visualize a future where they will succeed and attend college.

But they will. By the time my students finish high school, 100% of them will be accepted to a four-year college – it’s a graduation requirement.

Many of my students come to me up to five years behind their peers academically. As their teacher, I guide them through a demanding curriculum that brings them up to grade level and inspires a genuine love of learning. Neither could happen without having great books to give them.

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In the gym with some of my outstanding female students.

Because of First Book, my kids have the books they need to become strong, confident, enthusiastic readers. They’ve grown academically. They get along better with one another. They love and constantly ask for more books. My students are simply happier when they start their day reading.

They also work extremely hard. They attend school from 7:30am to 4:30pm, often staying late for extra help. Their tenacity and determination inspires me to do a better job every day.

All over the country, teachers like me face the challenge of helping kids living in poverty read, learn and succeed. Your support of First Book gives us the resources we need to help kids change the course of their lives. Please consider making a gift today.

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19. What’s the media Feeding us?

feed Whats the media Feeding us?For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)

Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.

The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.

Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.

Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.

While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.

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20. Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day

Today, August 19th, the U.S. is celebrating National Aviation Day. This day was first established by a presidential proclamation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate advances in aviation. The date was chosen to coincide with Orville Wright’s birthday to recognize his contribution, together with his brother Wilbur, to the field of aviation — but it is a holiday meant to recognize all aviators who have advanced the field through their efforts. While the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart come to mind as the premier pioneering pilots, there are many unsung aviators. The books below highlight the stories of some of the most famous early female aviators and are the perfect way to celebrate National Aviation Day!

Burleigh NightFlight 300x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayNight Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor (K-3)
This book tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic on May 20, 1932, which made her the first woman to complete a solo flight across that ocean. The flight was a dramatic one, including both mechanical difficulties and fierce weather and both the prose and the paintings of this book capture the tension of the flight and the elation when Earhart touches down in Ireland. The book also includes a brief biography of Earhart, a list of additional sources on the subject and a fascinating collection of quotations from Earhart’s speeches and publications.

Moss SkyHigh 300x272 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DaySky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Carl Angel (K-3)
Maggie Gee knew from a young age that she wanted to fly planes. It was a dream that stayed with her throughout her childhood and when World War II started, she leapt at the chance to serve her country by flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. Despite stiff competition for a limited number of spots amongst the WASPs, Maggie succeeded, becoming one of only two Chinese American pilots in the organization. This book traces her path from her childhood dreams to her work as a WASP. An author’s note at the end fills in more details about her life after World War II and includes pictures of Maggie and her family throughout the time covered in the book.

Cummins FlyingSolo300x294 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFlying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins with illustrations by Malene R. Laugesen (K-3)
While many know the story of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, fewer people know that Ruth Elder attempted to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic years earlier in 1927. Though her attempt was cut short by a malfunction over the ocean, she nevertheless became famous, not only for her attempt but also for her later aviation exploits. This book tells her life story, focusing primarily on her attempt to fly across the Atlantic and her participation in a cross-country air race in 1929. Ruth’s story will excite fans of planes and flying and the illustrations will transport readers back to the 1920’s through their vivid details. The book also includes further sources of information about Ruth’s life as well as a final illustration that highlights a number of other important female aviators.

Borden FlyHigh 238x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger with illustrations by Teresa Flavin (4-6)
This book tells the story of Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who grew up in the south in the late 1800’s with a dream to get an education. When she moved to Chicago in 1915 for a chance at a better life, she discovered aviation and decided to head to France to pursue an opportunity to learn to fly. Once she had her license, Bessie returned to the U.S. where she flew in air shows and gave speeches encouraging others to follow her path. Though the book ends with the tragic tale of her death in a flying accident, the story is sure to inspire those interested in learning to fly.

Tanaka AmeliaEarhart 300x298 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayAmelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka with illustrations by David Craig (4-6)
Illustrated with a combination of paintings and photographs from Amelia Earhart’s life, this book is an impressive biography of a woman who is arguably the most famous female aviator in American history. Starting in her childhood and continuing until her disappearance in 1937, it offers a look into Amelia’s entire life, including aspects that are often glossed over in other books, such as her time as a nurse’s aide in Toronto and her work with two early commercial airlines. Both the pictures and the illustrations bring Amelia to life for readers and a list of source notes and other resources at the end of the book provide lots of options for further reading.

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21. Happiness and high school humanities

I got a request this past year from my friends at Boston Green Academy (BGA) to help them consider their Humanities 4 curriculum, which focuses on philosophies, especially around happiness. This was a tough request for me, and certainly not one I had considered before. There aren’t any titles I can think of that say “Philosophy: Happiness” on their covers to pull me directly down this path.

But as I thought about it, I got more and more excited about how this topic is tackled in the YA world. The first set of books I considered were titles that dealt with “the meaning of life” in a variety of ways. Titles like Nothing by Janne Teller, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and one of my personal favorites, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp give lots of food for thought about where we expend our energy and the wisdom of how we prioritize our attention in life.

 teller nothing 213x300 Happiness and high school humanities    maas jeremyfink 201x300 Happiness and high school humanities    tharp spectacularnow 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities

This, of course, led to stories about facing challenges and finding happiness despite (or because) of the circumstances in our lives.  So we pulled texts like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, which all deal with characters finding ways to deal with and even prosper alongside difficult circumstances.

green faultinourstars Happiness and high school humanities     vizzini kindofFunnyStory 204x300 Happiness and high school humanities     stork marcelo 195x300 Happiness and high school humanities

Then we happened upon a set of titles that raise questions about whether you can be “happy” if you are or are not being yourself. We pulled segments of titles like Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Tina’s Mouth by Keshni Kashyap, American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and Rapture Practice, which I’ve talked about here before.

openly straight Happiness and high school humanities     saenz aristotleanddante 199x300 Happiness and high school humanities     keshni tinasmouth 234x300 Happiness and high school humanities     hartzler rapturepractice 203x300 Happiness and high school humanities

And then there were a world of nonfiction possibilities, those written for young people and those not — picture books by Demi about various figures, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about work and play, and any number of great series texts about philosophers and religions and such.

So I guess the (happy) moral of this story is that it was much easier than I thought to revisit old texts with these new eyes of philosophies of happiness. I left the work feeling as though every text is about this very important topic in one way or another, and I can’t wait to see how the BGA curriculum around it continues to evolve!

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22. Absolutely Almost (2014)

Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff. 2014. Penguin. 304 pages [Source: Library]

I loved Absolutely Almost. I think I loved it at least as much as Umbrella Summer. Maybe even a little bit more. I don't know. Time will tell. I don't actually have to choose between the two, right?! I can LOVE two GREAT books by one very talented middle grade author, can't I?!

Albie is the protagonist of Absolutely Almost. His narration gives the book a just right feel. It's a satisfying read about a boy who struggles with meeting expectations: his parents, his grandparents, his teachers, his own. He's never good or great, he's always only almost. Almost good at this or that. Almost ready for this or that. And this oppressive almost gets him down now and then. Not always, mind you. I don't want to give the impression that Albie is sad and depressed and unable to cope with life. Albie is more than capable of having a good time, of enjoying life, of appreciating the world around him.

I really appreciated Graff's characterization. Not only do readers come to love (in some cases I imagine love, love, love) Albie, but, all the characters are well written or well developed. Albie's parents at times seem to be disconnected, out of touch with who their son is, what life is like for him, what he wants, what he needs. But just when I get ready to dismiss them as neglectful or clueless, something would happen that would make me pause and reconsider. Readers also get to know several other characters: his nanny, Calista, his math teacher, Mr. Clifton, and his friend, Betsy. For the record, he does have more than one friend. But Betsy is his new friend, his first friend that he makes at his new school. It is their friendship that is put to the test in the novel. It is his relationship with Betsy that allows for him to progress a bit emotionally. If that makes sense. (So yes, I know that his best-best friend is Erlan. But Erlan has been his friend for as long as he can remember, probably since they were toddlers. He's completely comfortable in that friendship. Their friendship does come into the novel here and there. But for me, it wasn't the most interesting aspect of the novel.)

I loved the setting of Absolutely Almost. I loved how we get to spend time with Albie in school and out of school. I loved how we get to see him in and out of his comfort zone. I loved that we got to see his home life. We got to see for ourselves how he interacts with parents. I love how Albie is able to love his parents even if they don't really make him top priority. Especially his Dad. Albie's need for his Dad's attention, the right kind of attention, can be FELT. Albie held onto hope that one day his Dad would find time to spend with him, that one day his Dad would see him--really see him. There were moments that hope lessened a bit as Albie gave into his emotions-of-the-moment. But Albie's love for his dad always won out at the end. His hope would return.

The writing. I loved it. I did. I think the quality of the writing was amazing. There were chapters that just got to me. Their were paragraphs that just resonated with me. The writing just felt TRUE.

Absolutely, Almost is set in New York City.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. The Cockroach Invasion, by Dr. Sherry L. Meinberg | Dedicated Review

Here is book for both girls and boys that not only teaches kids to work together but introduces them to a world of knowledge about a very specific insect that typically does not get the opportunity to star in a children’s book, the cockroach.

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24. Frankly, tired of reading Anne Frank

frank diary of a young girl Frankly, tired of reading Anne FrankI’ve hit an academic dilemma at summer camp this year. For the past three years at this gifted students’ camp, my lead instructor has chosen to teach The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank). Yes, the book provides an entryway into a very difficult historical topic; yes, it’s pretty amazing to watch Anne’s growth; and yes, she is a role model and a hero for multiple reasons. But I’m so tired of reading and teaching Anne’s diary year after year. Though it’s new to my students every time, it’s become monotonous to me. I’m bored!

I encountered the same problem with another lead teacher during the school year, except she couldn’t stand Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.  Having been raised in California, I read this book in elementary school because the narrative explained so much about Native American daily life in California. My lead teacher had used the text for over ten years, so it was understandable why she was simply sick of the book. As her assistant now given the task of teaching Island of the Blue Dolphins, I asked her why she didn’t switch Island of the Blue Dolphins out for another book. Her reasoning was that she saw the value in teaching it despite her feelings.

inside out back again thanhha lai hardcover cover art Frankly, tired of reading Anne FrankMy solution so far is to find suitable replacements (Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, in case you were wondering) but recognize that this isn’t feasible for most teachers on a regular basis. To choose a replacement means taking the time to find a book that matches what you find value in the original (now boring) book, write a whole new curriculum, and figure out how to teach it. It’s much easier to pull out familiar curriculum.

So what to do about Anne Frank? I still haven’t decided if I want to say goodbye to her forever. But the question still stands: what do you do when you have a book of value and you don’t have the passion for teaching it anymore? Do you continue to teach it because of its merit, or shelve it?

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25. Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome

This summer, I was asked by a parent whose child had attended our reading tutoring program in the spring, to work one-on-one with her daughter, a rising middle schooler with CHARGE syndrome. CHARGE syndrome involves a number of developmental and medical differences (see www.chargesyndrome.org to learn more), and for this particular child it means profound deafness in addition to other factors. Her signs could at times be challenging to understand, and it was not always clear when you asked her a question whether she understood the answer or whether she was repeating what you last said to her. So what was my approach in teaching reading with this student? Pull out all my favorite picture books, naturally.

When my undergraduate student who had been tutoring her in the previous semester pulled out The Red Book by Barbara Lehmann, she was at first confused and later delighted to find this rich story told entirely through pictures. Over the summer, in addition to many others, we have been reading a great deal of Mo Willems (the Knuffle Bunny books and the Elephant and Piggy books) and Jon Klassen (mostly of the hats-being-stolen-by-fish-and-rabbits genre). Halfway through Knuffle Bunny Too, she had the whole story figured out, excitedly signing to me, “Wrong rabbit, wrong rabbit!” The language and understanding that came through when presented with engaging literature was a delight to see.

lehman redbook 300x300 Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome    willems knuffle bunny too Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome    klassen thisisnotmyhat 414x300 Engaging literature and students with CHARGE syndrome

We do more than read picture books, of course. We work on building vocabulary, we develop American Sign Language (ASL) skills and compare how concepts are conveyed through both languages, and we even examine word order through mixed-up sentences. But these lessons are always underpinned with  marvelous books that are clever and engaging. It is through these books that her abilities come shining through. And although reading tutoring during the summer months would not be the favorite activity of most middle school students, her mother told me that she actually begins laughing and smiling as they approach my building. The joy of reading!

Has anyone out there worked with children with CHARGE syndrome or those with multiple disabilities? I would love to learn about strategies you have used to support their reading!

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