9.15.2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA


It appears I didn't fulfill my reading plans again ... I didn't read one word of The League of Seven or The Walled City. I got distracted by new picture books at Politics and Prose, and several graphic novels. Oh well, it was all good reading and I have no regrets!


[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:


An Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola

A Good Home for Max by Junzo Terada

Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty

Little Elliot, BIG CITY by Mike Curato

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light

Meet the Parents by Peter Bently

Pig and Small by Alex Latimer

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Telephone by Mac Barnett

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

WHAT I'M READING NOW:

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

WHAT I PLAN TO READ THIS WEEK:


The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

9.08.2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA

A little bit of a slow week. I mentioned I was reading a "grown-up" book, right? That took a bit longer than I anticipated, and then I dove right in to another nonfiction book, The Family RomanovMurder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. I love re-learning history in my old age; it's much more fascinating to me now than it was when I was in my teens. I say "re-learn" as if I actually learned about the Russian Revolution, presumably in my AP European History class, but I really couldn't recall much. The history, in the context of the Romanovs, was eye-opening. I was simultaneously revolted by Nicholas and Alexandra's cluelessness, anti-Semitism, and blind faith in Rasputin, and touched by their genuine love and devotion to each other. And the devastation the Russian people went through, especially after the start of World War I, was heartbreaking. It's rather gut-wrenching that I see parallels to that time in history and what's happening in Russia now.

I'll be back to reading fiction this week. Besides trying to finish The Walled City and The League of Seven, I have quite a few library books to get through before they're due.

[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:


The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, Issue 1 written by Eric Shanower and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

Loula is Leaving for Africa by Anne Villeneuve

The Sandman: Overture, Issue 3 written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by J. H. Williams III

Spike the Mixed-up Monster by Susan Hood

WHAT I'M READING NOW:

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

WHAT I PLAN TO READ THIS WEEK:


The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

9.07.2014

What do you do when you're a parent who knows too much?

There's something that has been bothering me since my daughter started fourth grade. I complained and got worked up about it in front of my husband, but I wasn't going to say anything publicly. But it continues to bother me two weeks later.

Then, an online book buddy of mine posted a link to Donalyn Miller's blog today. What Donalyn had to say kind of encapsulated what was bothering me. Even though what I was railing against isn't exactly the same as what Donalyn is talking about, the Big Picture point is.

So, what's been bothering me so much? The fourth grade team of teachers has outright banned comics and graphic novels from their classrooms. They don't consider it appropriate literature for in-class reading, and my guess is that part of the reason is because they don't think it fits in with what they want to teach for Common Core. You cannot even begin to imagine how much this irked me and strengthened my resolve to provide access to more graphic novels at home.

Here's the thing ... having worked and volunteered in school libraries, I know there are kids who only want to check out comics and graphic novels. I also know that teachers want to expand those students' reading range by making them check out "real" books with chapters and few pictures. I want to believe that their hearts are in the right place and that they want to help their students. But I also know that when you dictate what kids can and can't read, it often backfires.

I don't know a single comics enthusiast who isn't an avid reader; they read a lot. Do teachers consider them "real" readers? That's a good question. The teachers I know do consider those students real readers, and promote graphic novels and comics enthusiastically because they themselves read them. I wouldn't be surprised if the fourth grade teachers haven't read many comics or graphic novels, and look at them negatively because they have preconceived notions and they don't want those kinds of books taking time away from the kids reading "quality" literature.

This idea about teachers not reading goes back to what Donalyn was saying:
A line divides parents who know a lot about reading and their children’s less-knowledgeable teachers. What can we teacher-parents do when our children have poor reading instruction at school? I may not have my own classroom this year, but this reading war front line cuts across my lawn. It stretches across my dining room table—limiting and defining my children’s reading lives.
I'm not a teacher but I feel like I have enough work and personal experience to have a qualified opinion. Teachers who haven't read all-ages graphic novels written within the last ten years have no idea how high the literary quality is, and I personally believe they're not in a position to value them lower than some of the chapter books they approve of.

Donalyn goes on:
Last week, Emma [her granddaughter in first grade] and I re-read three outstanding wordless picture books, Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, and Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo, a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Filling out her reading log, Emma said, “We can't write those books down, Mimi. We didn't read any words.” 
These books are standouts—amazing pieces of storytelling. Award-deserving. Emma recommends them, too. 
Sadly, they're not reading log worthy.
I feel the same way about how these teachers view comics and graphic novels. They're not classroom reading worthy. They're not literature-with-a-capital-L label worthy. Yet, some of them are amazing pieces of storytelling that range from fantasy to history to memoir.

The idea that teachers don't read enough also hit home when my daughter's teacher sent an email basically stating that the kids didn't know how to choose books from the library at their reading level that weren't graphic novels, picture books, or magazines [emphasis is mine]:
Although these types are entertaining they are really not helping them progress in building their reading fluency and comprehension. I tried to direct many of them today to authors like:

Judy Blume
Andrew Clements
Matt Christopher – boys really seem to like this author
Louis Sachar
Roald Dahl
Katherine Paterson
I have nothing against these authors; in fact, they write great books for fourth graders. But, really? These are authors that many parents know because they read their books as children. To the student population at my daughter's school (i.e., upper-middle to upper class with highly educated parents), they are names that are all-too-familiar and their books are probably already on their bookshelves at home.

It made me sad that her teacher (who is quite young; this is only her second year of teaching) couldn't come up with different authors or recent award winners and starred review-earners, but she has the Twilight series in her classroom library.

At this point, I was getting really upset. And I was having doubts about the reading instruction my daughter was getting at school. I never had this worry with my son because reading came very naturally to him, but my daughter is my competent-but-reluctant reader and I need her reading world expanded, not limited.

After a moment of pulling my hair out in frustration, I took a deep breath and decided this is where I can help solve the problem, not make it worse. I offered to come up with a suggested reading list. The teacher enthusiastically replied that would be really helpful to the entire fourth grade team. She mentioned the school uses Fountas and Pinnell levels so they were looking for books within a certain range. (Please don't get me started on reading levels ... that's another rant altogether!) So I obliged and came up with a list of 60+ fiction and nonfiction books. I included picture books because there are some great ones for older elementary kids that are contextually and linguistically complex. I plan to expand the list as I find time ... and to sneak in some graphic novels, too! I mean, c'mon, you can't convince me that you couldn't use Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales for history, Raina Telgemeier's Smile to teach narrative writing, or Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust to teach not only history but human empathy.

(This is where I would complain about the school's media specialist but I won't get into that. Suffice it to say, when I was an elementary media specialist and teachers needed a reading list, I was the one they turned to to help with that.)

It's easy, as a parent, to get frustrated with teachers, especially when you feel they're not meeting the needs of your child. And when you know a lot about something (whether it's literacy, math, or history), it's hard to understand why teachers aren't always getting it right. I've worked in public education, I see the amount of work and effort teachers put into educating their students, and I still get frustrated. What we have to remember is that teachers have to work within certain parameters dictated to them by the district and the state; they have to prepare their students for testing, whether they want to or not; they have 20+ different students, which means they have 20+ different needs to meet; and, guess what, not all teachers are readers!

I'll let Donalyn's words close out this post because there is something we can do as parents without undermining teachers:
Share what you [the parent] know. Learn as much as you can. Build relationships. When we remain silent—afraid to rock the boat, offend a teacher, or question an administrator, it’s a choice. What choices do our children have? 
We must advocate for children’s reading lives, or they won't have reading lives. 
If we don't speak up, too many children will make the only reading choice they have left. They will choose not to read.

[Here's a basic primer on the benefits of graphic novels and comics.]

9.03.2014

The Reading Connection, CAMPING Read-Aloud


I discovered a volunteer opportunity late in the spring when I attended a symposium at the Library of Congress. One of the attendees mentioned that she's part of The Reading Connection, a nonprofit that creates environments that encourage reading for at-risk children. Part of what they do is send volunteers to read aloud to children at shelters, transitional housing, and affordable housing. The organization was expanding into Maryland and I jumped at the chance to do read-alouds for kids again. It's a once a month, year-long commitment, which is manageable compared to the 18 read-alouds I did per week for four-plus years!

I'm on a team with five other people and we read-aloud at the same location every month. We're still trying to figure out how to plan our read-alouds, if there's going to be a team captain, what the themes will be, etc. Our first read-aloud was led by an experienced volunteer from another location. She helped us decide the theme and the crafts, and the day-of she was our captain. 

We chose a camping theme and I took it upon myself to get the books. I knew the age range of the kids was going to be from toddlers to eight or nine, and possibly older. Not having worked with this demographic before, I wasn't sure what it was going to be like in terms of attention span, background knowledge, and general level of interest. I chose a variety of books, hoping to find something that would work. I've included the notes I sent to my teammates as we were trying to decide which books to read. In the end, the experienced volunteer chose the three titles in bold and they worked out well (the oldest child was in third grade).

NONFICTION:

The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock
I like this one quite a bit and I think it would be a great selection for the whole-group read-aloud. It is a bit on the longer side, but it's informative and pretty entertaining.

REALISTIC FICTION:

Into the Outdoors by Susan Gal

Ladybug Girl and Bingo by David Soman
The storyline incorporates not only what families do during a camping trip, but blends in some humor. I think the key to this one is that it tells the story well from a child's perspective (for example, she thinks she's wandered far away from camp, but she was really within view of her family).

Stella & Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff

When We Go Camping by Margriet Ruurs
This is a good one for small-group reading. There are hidden animals on each page blended into the background, and you're supposed to look for a squirrel as well.

HUMOR:
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish
Word play is always fun, but it can be hit or miss with the younger kids. Having to explain too much about the double meaning of words/phrases takes away from the humor. Maybe 2nd or 3rd grade and up?

Camping Day by Patricia Lakin
This would work for the younger kids because it's rhyming and the text is pretty short.

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt
Another good choice for small-group reading. There's a lot of detail in the illustrations so it could take awhile to get through it.

CAMPING AT HOME: All three books are geared towards preschool age children.

Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes
This book and Lucille Camps In deal with a younger sibling being left behind while their older siblings go camping. But the young one finds things to do at home that are camp-like and just as fun. I think we should read one of these so the kids can get ideas of what they can still do indoors even if they can't go camping themselves. 

Duck Tents by Lynne Berry

Lucille Camps In by Kathryn Lasky

To set the mood, we brought in a real tent to read in, which got the kids really excited since most of them had never gone camping before ... maybe a bit too excited. It took a few minutes to get them to settle down, but once we separated a few of the kids they all listened attentively. The toddlers grew tired of the books pretty quickly and came out of the tent, drawn by the allure of markers and blank pieces of paper. Another volunteer and I kept the little ones occupied while three volunteers read whole-group. So, unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to read to the kids this time around but I'm hoping to get a turn next month. We also have the option to read in small groups after reading a book or two as a whole group, so we may pursue that option in the future, especially if we have some really young kids and older kids.

After the read-aloud we made a couple of crafts: campfire art and a camping lantern made out of a peanut butter jar. I also created camping-theme bookmarks for them.


Coincidentally, while I was working on compiling these books, CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece about surveying species among California's Redwoods. That made me think about how the DC area is has lots of National Parks, including Rock Creek Park. Re-reading The Camping Trip That Changed America reminded me of my family's brief visit to Yosemite a few years ago. 

[Yosemite Valley and Half Dome]

[Tenaya Lake]

9.01.2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA


You'll notice a theme to the picture books I read this week: camping. I'll elaborate on this more in the next couple of days, but I'm going to be volunteering for The Reading Connection, a group that "is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk children and families by helping them create and sustain literacy-rich environments and motivation for reading" through read-alouds. The team I'm on will have its first read-aloud tomorrow and we chose camping as the theme. 


Other than that, the two books I read were YA and on the complete opposite side of the spectrum! I'm currently reading a "grown-up" book (The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean, which I'm finding much more readable than his The Disappearing Spoon) so that's eaten into my kidlit reading time.

[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:



Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish

Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes

Camping Day by Patricia Lakin

The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock

Duck Tents by Lynne Berry

Into the Outdoors by Susan Gal

Ladybug Girl and Bingo by David Soman

Locke & Key, Volume 6: Alpha & Omega written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

Lucille Camps In by Kathryn Lasky

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

Stella & Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

When We Go Camping by Margriet Ruurs

WHAT I'M READING NOW:

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

WHAT I PLAN TO FINISH THIS WEEK:


The Walled City by Ryan Graudin