Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Fabulous Fair Alphabet

by Debra Frasier
Beach Lane Books (publisher)
Copyright June 2010
Recommended Age:  5 and up
Review copy purchased for my classroom library

I am always looking for new picture books that I can add to my collection of alphabet books.  Yesterday when I was at our local independent book store, Nonesuch Books, I stumbled upon this new book by Debra Frasier.  I am a huge fan of her book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster so I was certain this book would be another good buy and I was right!  Debra talks about how the idea for this book came as result of her fascination with the distinctive lettering found in photographs she had taken over the years during annual visits to state fairs.   Bursting with  bright, bold illustrations of favorite fair elements like dill pickles and Ferris wheels and midway games, she as succeeded in creating  an alphabet-exploring adventure like no other.   This is a concept book with quite a bit to offer and will encourage many re-reads just because there's so much to look at. Young readers can spend lots of time on each picture counting letters, naming all the different items and pointing out the colors. Older readers will enjoy recounting their own visits to the a state or county fair.  The letters depict not only the hurly burly -- F is for Ferris wheel, R is for roller coaster -- but also the food -- L is for large lemonade, C is for cotton candy -- and the exhibits -- Q is for quilts, J is for judging. In addition to the single word, every page is also arrayed with extra letters (A has over 80, X over 100) to study and enjoy. And what is Z for? Why Zucchini, of course, and also for zzzzzzz . . . at the end of a very busy day.   

Not everything matches up.  For example, letter E stands for "Eat Everything" but features pictures of corn dogs, popcorn and pretzels just to name a few. The letter K stands for "Kids" and features two kids showing an animal and winning a ribbon.  However, because I like the use of environmental print and depiction of so many different font forms of each letter, it wasn't hard to look past that and see the great potential this alphabet book has.  

Check out the A Fabulous Fair Alphabet web page for a fun game card you can print and take with you when visiting a fair near you this summer.  There are also color pages, a song, and  a fun 3 minute video by Debra about the fun of exploring words at the fair! 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

City Dog, Country Frog

This poignant tale about unlikely friendships by Mo Willems and Jon Muth opens when City Dog joyfully welcomes Spring by running without his leash in the countryside. He soon meets Country Frog and the two become great friends,  sharing  their talents: splashing, croaking, fetching, and barking as the seasons of the country pass by.    I  found Willems' spare, repetitive word selection was well-matched with Muth's extremely expressive watercolor illustrations. Each illustration is displayed on the right side of the page with the exception of one double spread page with City Dog sitting all alone on Country Frog's rock. No text is necessary for the reader to understand City Dog's thoughts and feelings.  The story ends the way it began with Spring, and new friendships,  in full bloom.   It was interesting to read the story behind the story at Booklist about how this fantastic partnership came to be!  City Dog, Country Frog (copyright June 2010) is a wonderful reminder that while loss and change can be difficult, and at times lonely, the promise of new beginnings is always right around the corner.  While the age recommendation is ages 4-8, I think children of all ages (that means you adults too) will find meaning and enjoyment in this fantastic picture book.  I bought the title to use as a read aloud and mentor text with my 5th graders next year.  I can't wait to share it with them!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Word After Word After Word

Jacket Description (from The Book Maven's  copy) Every school day feels the same for fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms. Mirabel comes to their class—bringing magical words and a whole new way of seeing and understanding. 

There are so many things I like about this book by Patricia MacLachlan.  Sometimes our students have to know that they are capable of great things before they can attempt great things...and they need adults who can show them what they are capable of.  Guest author Ms. Mirabel does exactly that!   At the beginning of her six week residency in Miss Cash's fourth grade classroom, she is asked why she writes.  As a hush falls over the room, Ms. Mirabel tells the students she writes "to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to.  But there are other reasons: to see more closely what they are thinking about...what they may be afraid of...to solve problems...to answer their own questions.  These are all good reasons to write. That is the most important thing I will ever tell you."   The power of words is demonstrated as she reads from different books (mentor texts) in hopes that something she reads aloud will "whisper in [their] ear." She uses student writing to show how figurative language can be used to create magical words, both "real and unreal".  I love that the message of writing what you know...your own life experiences... is sprinkled throughout the story as each of the five characters writes about what they are dealing with in their own lives.  I also love the poems that are woven thorough out the book.  The impact of bringing authors to schools, something my school as started doing, is well depicted in this story as well. 

While I really did love this book, there were a couple of things that got in my way.  First,  I had a hard time believing that any parent would allow their fourth grader to carry the baby brother, and I mean baby,  around when meeting with friends.  But Russell does just that.  Also, because of the length of the text, some of the characters' issues seemed to be resolved too quickly, especially Evie's. 

That being said, Word After Word After Word  is very accessible to young readers with its large font and packs so much in it's 128 pages.  I plan to use it as a class read aloud and in  Writer's Workshop.   I think pairing  it with Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer and Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within by Ralph Fletcher will make a winning combination that will truly inspire my writers next year.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Book A Day Challenge

Anyone who knows me, I mean really knows me, knows that I love a good challenge!  I don't always have to be successful at the challenge...although it's nice...but trying to conquer something really motivates me.   I make all kinds of  'challenges' with myself.  Since moving from the kindergarten classroom three years ago, I always feel like I am  playing catch up when it comes to being well read for the fourth/fifth grade classroom.   So when I received Donalyn Miller's latest blog post in my inbox, I was more than excited!  I won't go into the benefits of helping your students make summer reading plans. Donalyn does that superbly in her post and I couldn't agree more!   I am a firm believer that modeling for your students is key so as I help my students make plans for their reading this summer, I plan on rising to the challenge of reading a book a day this summer...and blogging about what I am reading.  My plan is to tackle some the Newbery Award titles I haven't read, keep up with the latest 2010 publications, and really focus on some graphic novels (a blog post about my recent learning on that subject is in the works) that I will be using to teach comprehension strategies with my fifth graders next year.  You can view my TBR shelf here.   It's not too late to join the challenge...blogging isn't required!  You can read picture books, middle reader/YA books, professional books, or adult books.  It really doesn't matter...the point is to read!  Did I mention I am also challenging myself to write  everyday this summer?  More about that to come.  Told you I love a challenge!  Here is my first contribution to the Book A Day Challenge!

Jacket Description (from The Book Maven's copy)  As Hare races through the day, poor Tortoise can barely keep up.  But when it's time to bounce into bed, Hare is no longer in such a hurry.  What could possibly make Hare want to hurry up, then slow down?  Some things just are not meant to be rushed.

Children who are familiar with the classic fable The Tortoise and the Hare will see the same characteristics in the two friends in this whimsically illustrated picture book by Layn Marlow.  A story that highlights the differences between the energetic Hare and the more cautious Tortoise made me smile as I thought of the parallels to children I have had the pleasure of working with over the years.   The illustrations are very kid friendly with terrific details. I love the message the ending brings...to slow down and enjoy the experience of reading together.   With limited text on each page, Marlow manages to tell a simple, solid story with extremely different, yet very likable characters. This book makes a wonderful read aloud or bedtime story.  It could also be used with older children as a mentor text for teaching dialogue or could be written as a Reader's Theater script for fluency practice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Nest for Celeste

Description (from Amazon.com) A beautifully illustrated novel about a mouse, her friendship with Audubon's apprentice, and her search for home.

Beneath the crackled and faded painting of a horse, underneath the worn and dusty floorboards of the dining room, lives Celeste, a mouse who spends her days weaving baskets, until one day she is thrust into the world above. Here Celeste encounters danger—and love—unlike any she's ever imagined. She dodges a hungry cat and witnesses the brutality of hunting for the first time. She makes friends with a singing thrush named Cornelius, a talkative osprey named Lafayette, and Joseph, Audubon's young apprentice. All the while, Celeste is looking for a new home. Is her home in the toe of a worn boot? Nestled in Joseph's pocket? Or in the dollhouse in the attic, complete with mouse-size furniture perfect for Celeste? In the end, Celeste discovers that home is really the place deep inside her heart, where friendships live.

I am in book love!  Really...I am gushing over this fantastic story.  I wish I had enough time left in the school year to read it aloud to my students!  The cover illustration is what first drew me to this title.  I was not disappointed with the charming pencil illustrations that appear throughout, sometimes filling whole pages and really bringing the story...and characters to life in much the same way as Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret did.   Besides the beautiful sketches this is a story about friendship, trust, loyalty and adventure.  In his debut novel, author/illustrator, Henry Cole,  does a wonderful job of weaving  fantasy (Celeste can talk to other animals and weave baskets) and history (Audubon and Joseph did live at Oakley Plantation) into one delightful story.  Readers who enjoyed the animal friendships in Charlotte's Web or the adventure found in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane will be equally enthralled with this book.   While I think this story just begs to be read aloud, it is also a perfect choice for readers moving into longer chapter books.  Add it to your summer reading list...you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The 48 Hour Finish Line

My official end time for Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge was 6:30 p.m. EST this evening. Even though 'life' got in the way today and seriously impacted my reading time, I stand at the finish line feeling pretty good about what I accomplished!  I was able to knock 4 more titles from the 2010-2011 Maine Student Book Award list off the TBR list and listen to 2 CDs of another.  My finished pile also includes two 2010 copyright titles and one older (but new to me) title.  Of course I can't neglect to mention the fun I had reading/commenting on other participants blogs!  All in all, not a bad first time out for this newbie! 

Here are my final totals:

Time started:  6:30 p.m. Friday
Time now: 7:44 p.m. Sunday  (Official end time was 6:30 p.m.)

Total pages read:  1,389 (listened to 2 CDs)
Time spent reading 19 hours

Time spent blogging/commenting: 4 hours 30 minutes

Total time spent on Challenge:  23 hours 30 minutes

Books read: Killer Pizza, The Chosen One, Each Little Bird That Sings, Alive in the Killing Fields, The Blue Shoe, The Birthday Ball, 2 CDs of The Indigo Notebook and 147 pages in A Nest for Celeste

It's been fun!  Thanks to those who stopped by to cheer me on!  I hope you will continue to visit!  And a huge thank you to Mother Reader for all the hard work you put in to hosting and making this Challenge a success!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

24 Hour (ish) Check In

6:30 p.m. EST was the 24 hour mark for my participation in Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I haven't knocked off as many books I had hoped by now but will continue to plug away.  I finished Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles, Alive in the Killing Fields: Surviving the Khmer Rouge Genocide by Nawuth Keat and Martha E. Kendall, and The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes by Roderick Towney.   I also listened to one CD of The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau while running some errands today. 

So here are my stats so far:
Time started:  6:30 p.m. Friday
Time now: 7:41 p.m. Saturday
Total pages read:  1,056 (listened to 1 CD)
Time spent reading 15 hours
Time spent blogging/commenting: 2 hours 30 minutes
Books read: 5
Currently reading:  The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry
On deck:  As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins

Friday, June 4, 2010

Check In #1

I have been reading for 4 hours and 30 minutes so far as a part of Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge

Finished Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor two hours in.  While not my usual genre of choice it was in my pile because it is on the 2010-2011 Maine Student Book Award list.  In his debut novel Taylor provides some fantastical horror that fifth-eighth graders will love.  Fifteen year old Toby Magill , a Top Chef want-to-be, gets a summer job at a new pizza joint in town, Killer Pizza. Hoping to learn some cooking skills, Toby believes  his new position will lead to bigger things but soon discovers that the establishment is actually a front for a secret monster-hunting organization, and he, along with two co-workers,  are the newest recruits. Their job shifts from making pizza to weapons training and stakeouts as they try to uncover the leader of a pack of grotesque monsters that can transform into human shape and are preying on innocent people.  I have to say, I did end up really liking this story...even though I started reading kicking and screaming!   I can see the book drawing in those reluctant readers in grades 6 through 8.

I also started and finished The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, another title on the 2010-2011 Maine Student Book Award List.  (Description from the book jacket) Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much---if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.  But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle---who already has six wives--- Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

While I found this book to be an extremely well written, riveting read, because of its' content, I don't think this was a good selection for a 4th-8th grade reading list. I won't be including in my classroom library but I am glad I read it and would definitely recommend it to students in grades 9-12.

So here are my stats so far:
Time started:  6:30 p.m.
Time now: 11:30 p.m.
Total pages read:  427
Time spent reading 4 hours 30 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting: 45 minutes
Books read:
Currently reading:  About to start Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles

On Your Mark...Get Set...GO!

And so the challenge begins...as soon as I finish this post. My official start time will be 6:30 p.m.   I am really excited to be participating in Mother Reader's 48 Book Challenge.  I listed my books yesterday but have made a few adjustments.  A couple of my titles didn't come in to my public library yet.  I also added two titles just in case a book isn't holding my interest.  Not pictured are The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau and A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck which are both on audio in my car so I keep "reading" while running errands tomorrow or Sunday!  I will be back around 10:30ish to blog about my progress!  Wish me luck as I work my way through this pile!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

48 Hour Book Challenge

With the school year winding down, I am looking forward to a relaxing summer, which of course I hope will include lots of reading!    I have a very large To Be Read (TBR) shelf that I am hoping to make a dent in!  I came across Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge a few weeks ago and thought it would be the perfect time to get started.   I have been wanting to participate in something like this for a few years and have learned that there is no "good time" so I am just jumping in with both feet and will see what happens!  My plan is to start tomorrow evening at 6:00 p.m.  and end on Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m.  I know there will be some interruptions...I mean I will need to sleep and eat at least! 

Here are the books I plan to tackle  during the Book Challenge:

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry
Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook by Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer
Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor
The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villiany, Sorcery, and Shoes by Rodrick Townley
The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau
A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home by Henry Cole
As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Alive in the Killing Fields: Surviving Khmer Rouge Genocide by Nawuth Keat and Martha Kendall
Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
The Capture by Kathryn Lasky
Artemis Fowl #1 by Eoin Colfer
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) by Maryrose Wood

That's 15 books I hope to move from the TBR pile to the READ pile this weekend!  Have you read any of the books on my list?  Do you have a title you think I just have to add?  I would love to hear from you!