I spend my days pouring over books, book reviews and book lists. Sometimes titles and covers seem to blur together and it feels like I will never be able to keep them all straight. Other times there are books that I seem to see everywhere. They pop up on everyone's list, on different blogs and, ultimately, end up on my shelf. This is a list of my holiday "must reads" that have moved to the top of my pile:
I'm sooo excited!
Happy reading. Happy Holidays. Happy New Year!
I will never forget the first time I saw the images from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. I was co-teaching at the time and I walked into the reading classroom to find these beautiful over-sized prints posted along the chalkboard. The students filed in as usual, set down, and Ms. Snyder began to read from her copy of the book. A hush fell over the room. It was magical. After she finished with the introductory letter the students got to move from station to station and examine each of the images. Their task? To craft their own story inspired by the Burdick drawings. An assignment that I imagine has been repeated throughout the country in classroom after classroom over the past 17 years.
I can also remember when I saw the marketing ad for The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Honestly, it felt a bit like Christmas morning (I may have even jumped up and down in my seat). Finally, a gift to teachers and readers everywhere whose imaginations were sparked by those original fourteen drawings. Fourteen stories by fourteen different authors--all inspired by the haunting images I fell in love with 15 years ago. I could hardly wait to purchase a copy for the library. And now that it's here, I can hardly wait to pour over each page and lose myself in someone else's magical world.
There's nothing quite like reading a book with a setting that feels familiar. I thought today I'd share books in this library that are set in Illinois. Some are classics, some are silly, but all are set right here in our very own state.
"10 (JMS) Books Set in Illinois"
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt The story of a young boy, his family, and his neighbors who live in a backwoods Illinois community during the period of the Civil War.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett When seemingly unrelated and strange events start to happen and a precious Vermeer painting disappears, eleven-year-olds Petra and Calder combine their talents to solve an international art scandal.
Deliver us From Normal by Kate Klise With a mother who buys Christmas cards in August and a younger brother who describes the Trinity as a toasted marshmallow on a graham cracker, life for eleven-year-old Charles Harrisong is anything but normal in Normal, Illinois.
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros A young girl living in a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago ponders the advantages and disadvantages of her environment and evaluates her relationships with family and friends.
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer Weighed down by guilt, Joel searches for the courage to tell the truth about the disappearance--and apparent drowning--of his best friend Tony while the boys are playing near the treacherous, and forbidden, Vermillion River.
Project Mulberry by Linda Sue ParkWhile working on a project for an after-school club, Julia, a Korean American girl, and her friend Patrick learn not just about silkworms, but also about tolerance, prejudice, friendship, patience, and more. Between the chapters are short dialogues between the author and main character about the writing of the book.
Ridiculous/Hilarious/Terrible/Cool: A Year in an American High School by Elisha Cooper Emily has big goals. Like leading her soccer team to States. Maya is the best actor in school. She doesn't have a boyfriend ... yet. Diana has big worries. Things are happening at home. Daniel is class president. Naturally, he's applying to Harvard. Anais just wants to dance. Anthony is failing almost everything, and then there's The Girl. Aisha is the only new student in her class, and the only Muslim. Zef can't stay awake in class - all this and prom -- a year in the life of a high school.
Rissa Bartholomew's Declaration of Independence by Lynda Comerford Having told off all of her old friends at her eleventh birthday party, Rissa starts middle school determined to make new friends while being herself, not simply being part of a "herd."
Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino Longing for a sibling in 1966 Chicago, fourth-grader Rosa is delighted with her mother's pregnancy, until tragedy strikes and her family struggles to deal with its grief.
I am just so excited to announce Jefferson's first Kindle Club. I ordered our first batch of Kindles today and hope to have the club up and running by January 2012. The club will be 10 students at first, but if it proves to be successful I will happily expand the group to 30 (10 per grade level). Be sure to listen for announcements about how to become part of this club!
Sometimes, if you are really lucky, you finish a book with a sense of gratitude. These are books that I cherish because the characters are so clearly written they feel like friends or the story itself shifts my thinking or simply because the writing moves me. Here's my top 10 (but for the record, this list could have been much longer).
"10 Books I'm Thankful I Read"
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
I love the way the author weaves together Sal and Phoebie's stories. I used to read this story aloud to my 7th grade students at Franklin and it always made me cry. Every year.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Let's be honest. Bullying has always plagued children throughout history, but it seems like lately it's gone to a new level. Everyone should read this. Parents. Teachers. Students.
A Child Called "It" by David Pelzer
I read this during one of my first years as a teacher. Chilling. I found myself peering at my students, fearing that I might be missing a silent cry for help.
Luna by Julie Ann Peters
Biggest surprise I ever read. I was transformed by this powerful, perfectly written story. My consciousness expanded with each moment.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I've read plenty of books about WWII and the Holocaust, but this one from the perspective of Death is by far my favorite. I listened to the audio book and the memories of the story linger still.
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
I knew about Japanese Internment. I knew about Indian Reservations. But the displacement of Indians to intern the Japanese? Sigh.
God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant
You have to read it to understand.
Mockingbird (mok' ing-burd) by Kathryn Erskine
It's like taking off the top of the head and peering into the inner workings of a child with Asbergers. Plus, the book is dedicated to the students killed at Virginia Tech. Austin Cloyd, one of the victims, was one of my former students. The end (and the epilogue) made me cry.
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Even though I read this 25 years ago, this story of a brutally injured soldier has clung to me.
Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza (adult novel)
I was left with such admiration for people who experience the worst horrors imaginable and maintain unwavering faith in a higher power. In this book people are amazing and amazingly horrible.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (adult novel)
If I could say one book transformed me as a reader, this would be it. Like Left to Tell, this book examines the wonders and horrors of man. I was a better person when I finished this book.
So I thought I would start posting a list each Wednesday (I actually got the idea from a blog I follow called "I Swim for Oceans," so thanks!) on something related to reading. This week's list is "10 Books I Can't Wait to Read." These titles are all brand new in the library and I can hardly to take them home (my summer list is certainly building rapidly). Here are the titles and a brief reason why (in no particular order...).
"10 Books I Can't Wait to Read"
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness--I love the dark cover and striking artwork thought the book. I'm also excited to read this because our school board just donated a hard copy and Kindle copy to the library. Thanks Unit 4!
Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah--I just got a list of Notable Social Studies books from my good friend Ms. Adrian and this was one of the titles on the list and new to our collection.
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison--Well, I loved Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and the Georgia Nicholson diaries (also by Rennison) so I can hardly wait to crack this title open. Perfect for a reading holiday!
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly--I loved Donnelly's writing in Northern Lights, so I'm already looking forward to this read. I'm also interested in the fact that the cover art has already changed...
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien--I'm still a sucker for dystopian novels.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt--Curious about all the great press. My friend, Ms. Parmer, just finished it and can't stop raving about it.
Between Shades of Grayby Ruta Sepetys--I want to read this because it is getting great reviews and is a bit outside my comfort zone.
Small Person with Wings (they hate to be called fairies) by Ellen Booraem--I feel like a kid when I look at this book. It's cute and sparkly and begs (me) to read it.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor--Just died my hair pink and Karou (the main character) has blue hair. Maybe a kindred spirit? Plus, I love the cover. Just being real.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente--Honestly? This title just rocks.
And 8 remain after talking to an 8th grade class about writing this post. I love my job.
It all started innocently enough. I was at the public library searching for an audio book. As I was flipping through my choices I stumbled across the most beautiful cover. I thought I remembered reading a positive review for A Great and Terrible Beauty, but my decision to check it out was really about the cover art. I was entranced by the great and terrible beauty of it. Maybe because it reminded me of Horst P Horst's MainbocherCorset photo? Anyway, the story did not disappoint. Libba Bray wove a captivating tale and Josephine Bailey brought the characters at Spence Academy to life. I loved Gemma Doyle's frank talk and tendency to be outspoken (probably because my friends would say we share these traits). I also loved how Bray wove a supernatural tale full of rich details while simultaneously paying close attention to the development of complex and realistic relationships between the girls. It's part fantasy, part mystery and part realistic fiction. For me, a perfect blend.
In the end I loved Bailey's narration so much I actually made the conscious decision to listen to her read the next two books as well. Finishing the series was one of those bittersweet reading moments. The last tape finished and I was struck by melancholy. I missed the characters like old friends, but I was already looking forward to Bray's next tale.
Okay, so if you had asked me to predict what Bray's next novel would be about I can almost guarantee it would not have included Mad Cow disease, fairies or garden gnomes. And yet these ingredients made for one of the most memorable stories I've ever read. Going Bovine centers around, Cameron, an unlucky teen who contracts Mad Cow disease. The narration of Cameron's descent into madness is a literary world away from the Spence Academy that I loved so much. In the beginning, I wasn't really a fan of Cam. I didn't find him likable or sympathetic. But as the story developed I started rooting for him and hoping that somehow the fantasy would resolve without the end that I was dreading. I worried that Bray would not confront his death in a way that I would find believable or acceptable. I mean, no one knows what happens when you die so getting me to believe an account of the death of a character I'd grown attached to was a huge test for me as a reader. Did she get it right? Absolutely. I can certainly understand why Going Bovine was the 2010 Printz winner.
And then there is Beauty Queens. This was the title that moved Libba Bray from an author I love to my favorite YA author. I listened to the audio book which is narrated by Bray. Now I've listened to other stars and authors do narrations before and I've been disappointed (sorry Mr. Pitt), but not this time. I was quite literally laughing out loud, repeatedly, as I drove down the road. I cannot remember having so much fun listening to someone read a story to me. One of my favorite voices was the Marilyn Monroe inspired, breathy voice of Tiara. It wasn't long before I was looking forward to the start of each chapter so I could laugh at whatever ridiculous assocation Tiara made to the next number (Seven. That's how many calories I have for breakfast!). I also thought the commercial breaks and footnotes were a fresh and funny addition to the story. But seriously, Bray manages to address nearly every woman's issue in this book without being didactic. She creates charming characters who handle absurd situations with strength and ingenuity. Each beauty queen manages to be more than just a pretty face, but there's still enough sparkle ponies and twirls to bring a smile to every girl or guy who has watched a Miss (fill in the blank) pageant. I would not be surprised to see Beauty Queens a the top of the Printz list this year making Libba Bray a virtual YA Literature Queen.
Last week was Banned Books Week, an opportunity for students and adults to practice intellectual freedom. Here at Jefferson we practiced this by having a bookfair. (Thank you to everyone who made a purchase!) This week I want to spend a little time thinking about, or actually having you think about, what intellectual freedom means. Why is it important? Why have a week dedicated to celebrating the freedom to read? What does it mean to ban a book? Who decides? How does this impact you, the student? Last week Huffington Post published a few interesting articles. The first, "Who Decides What Books Teens Read?" discusses the controversies around some titles published for Young Adults. The other two articles articles are specific lists of banned book, The 11 Most Surprising Banned Books and The Top Ten Banned Books of 2010. Please take a moment and read these articles. What are your thoughts? Who should decide which books are right for teens? Is there a line? Is there ever a situation in which books should be banned from a school library? Why or why not? Are there any books on either of the lists that you would read or have read already? Consider these questions and post a 5 sentence response on this blog. Happy Reading!
I cannot count the number of times I've created a display for "Books to Big Screen." And kids typically get excited and the circulation of the displayed titles increases, which is my goal, right? That said, you can't imagine how excited I was to read about the ReadIt1st initiative. What's the deal? Students (or adults) sign a pledge vowing to read all books prior to watching the movie. No more spoilers! I feel like I need to sign a pledge vowing always discourage kids from watching the film before they read the book. No more. Now I can just start a conversation the proper way. Why ruin it? The movie will never capture the magic of the story anyway...
This week in the library it was all about simple improvements at no cost. First, we created three new circulation stations.
In the past, the computers dedicated to checking the library's catalog were always along the south wall of the library. The stations looked nice, but they were inconvenient. Students had to sit down, log on, and then find the right website. Regardless of how often I did mini-lessons the reality was that students rarely used the online catalog.
And then an idea...
What if I took one of the computers and created a stand-alone station? Then the computer would be eye level and the library's catalog is already loaded. We thought the idea had potential, but were unprepared for the student response.
Our pilot station was directly over the book return. Since the book return is right by the entrance I figured students wouldn't miss the change. I was right. With little prompting a line formed to use the catalog. Could it really be this simple? I could hardly contain my excitement!
So we created another station near the circulation desk. This time I paired the move with book talks and a mini-lesson on how students could use the catalog to put books on hold. The lines at both computers told me this was no accident. In two days the catalog had gotten more use by students than the entire year before (and that's probably no exaggeration).
Flush with our success we dismantled the wall of computers (which only had one working computer left anyway) and put up our third station. Students (and staff) couldn't be happier. I have more time to do reader's advisory and checkout goes faster because Ms. Green doesn't have to put books on hold. In fact even teachers noticed the change. Yesterday Ms. Morris mentioned how much she liked the improvement, "It's something so simple but so effective!"
Since we were in the spirit of improvement I tried another cheap fix. We have a whole class set of computers in the library now, which I love.
My only complaint was the monitors hindered my ability to see the students while I was teaching. Some of my 6th graders couldn't see over the screens! My first fix was just having students lay the monitors face down while I was instructing. This was a huge improvement, but a recipe for disaster. I knew it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened to our flat screens.
Instead we tried a configuration...
We moved the monitors to the side of the computer instead of having them on top. The few inches made a world of difference. We even tried it out on a student and she could see me and the SMART Board from the back row.
Now students can see me when I'm instructing, I can see them when I'm teaching and they have a new sense of independence when they use the catalog to search for and hold items. That's a good day's work. Now if only all of my problems were so quickly remedied.
My first year at Jefferson I had the most spectacular practicum student, Amy, from GSLIS. While she was here we got into a discussion about how best to advertise the book that I was currently reading. She created my: A.T.M--What I'm reading At The Moment. It has been a hit for five years (kids are only mildly disappointed when they learn money will never shoot out). This year I expanded my impulse checkout display. In spite of the success of my A.T.M, I always felt that it was a bit limiting. What about books that I just like or want kids to try? So this year I created my REC--What I RECommend every student read. And you know what? It's another keeper. They sit side-by-side right at the circulation desk just begging to be grabbed by one of our students.
Yesterday in the library I had a chance to booktalk a number of this year's Golden Jaguar nominees to a group of 8th grade students. While I was talking I mentioned how excited I get as a reader when I stumble across a book that has a fresh plot (to me). A couple of books came mind.
The first book, Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zavin, is one of this year's GJ nominees. It is a circle-of-life story turned inside out. Liz, the story's main character, dies almost immediately (no spoiler here) and finds herself in an afterlife called Elsewhere. As a reader my imagination was sparked by the notion of being reunited with loved ones, and then the catch is revealed. People in Elsewhere age in reverse until they become infants and are reborn in this world. What the!? My mind was spinning at all of the complications this would create. I could hardly wait to finish reading so I could start talking it up to my students.
The second book, A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, is a melodrama that stars an orphan (so typical) and the swindling, seance old biddies that adopt her. Hello! I couldn't stop giggling at the depiction of these old women who bring this little girl home only so she can "play" the ghost they bring back to life at their staged events. Talk about a unique storylines! I can always get excited about talking books with students, but some authors sure make it easier than others.
Welcome to the JMS Library blog. I'm excited to use this forum to highlight the activities taking place in the library. On this blog I will talk about books, reading, activities, websites, and all things library. Talk with you soon!