Friday, April 18, 2014

Authors and their influence.

I was so lucky last weekend. I got to volunteer at the April is for Authors event in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Here's a link to their website. This amazing group invites nationally known authors to come and speak to our kids. The great part is, it's a free event. This year, the event got a giant boost from a local guy who is a pretty well known author-James Patterson, who was the keynote speaker. One of the things he said that really got me thinking was that parents aren't taking enough responsibility in making sure their kids are good readers. He said he thought if you could get your kid to the dinner table or get them to take a bath, that you should also be able to get them to read. I thought that was awesome and I also thought I really needed to do more to get my students reading!

I was also lucky enough to get to meet Chris Grabenstein, who is my newest hero.  Here's a link to his website.  His book "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library" is SO MUCH FUN and so stuffed with literary references that it's hard to imagine that ANYONE wouldn't like it.  On his website, you can find a funny little book trailer.

I also got to meet Lisa Graff.  If you haven't read her books, you need to drop everything right now and go and find some!  She is the master of the plot twist.  Some of my students suggested that I read the Candymakers, but I couldn't grab it quick enough on our book fair (the kids bought them all before I had a chance to read one!).  Here's the book trailer for that one.

I also loved "Sophie Simon Solves Them All" and "Double Dog Dare".  My favorite one, though, is her latest one, which is called "A Tangle of Knots" 

 I loved it because of the complicated plot (many characters, who at first appear to be unconnected, but as you keep reading you find all sorts of amazing connections).  I also loved the really interesting characters who have Talents although at first you wonder if this really is a talent (like one character's talent is spitting and one is hiding but the main character's talent is making exactly the right cake for each person.  And it includes recipes.  Loved it!

I read two of her older books this week too.  I read "That thing about Georgie" which is about a boy who is a dwarf and is trying to figure out middle school and friends and that kind of thing.  That's going to be a great one to pair up with "Wonder" by R. J. Palacio and "Out of my mind" by Sharon Draper.  I also read "Umbrella Summer" which is about a girl coping with the loss of her brother.  The book is a lot more fun than it sounds like it would be.

Anyway, I love Lisa Graff's writing and I hope you'll run out and buy some of her books!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Online book sources

So we all know that books are totally awesome and there is NO BETTER way to enjoy a book than curled up with someone who loves you reading to you.  But let me tell you, there are some completely awesome online reading sources that you can use, if that someone you love has a sore throat and can't read, or is away on a business trip...  Here are a couple of my favorites.  The first one is Tumblebooks. Tumblebooks is available through our district webpage and is on the learning tools for kids menu.  There are BUNCHES of books available, some are popular titles that you'll recognize (like Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo and How I Became a Pirate by David Shannon) as well as other less familiar titles.  The narration is good and what's really great about it is as the text is read, the sentences light up, allowing struggling readers the opportunity to connect the text to the spoken word.  That's really important for developing readers.  

The second one is called Storyline Online. This one is sponsored by the screen actors guild (SAG) and when you listen the stories, you can hear why these people make their living acting because they are completely amazing!  We've been watching one this week called "I Need My Monster" by Amanda Knoll.  It's read by Rita Moreno (who I remember from West Side Story AND the Electric Company, but I'm pretty old).  She is a completely gifted actress and in this story, she reads about different monsters who are trying to get a job scaring a kid into bed at night.  Each monster has different sounds and accents. It's spectacular. Watch it here.
The third website for books is called We Give books. This terrific website is all about getting books in kids' hands and to that end, they have this website where there are lots of beautiful fiction and non fiction books posted.  You do have to sign up (it's free, but you have to give your email address) and I liked that it allows you to make the books go full screen (I was viewing a non fiction book about the ocean and the pictures really knocked me out).  The only big disadvantage is that it doesn't read to you.

So, haul out your computers and start reading!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

New biographies

I got two great new picture book biographies last week. I hadn't read either one of them, instead relying on reviews from the School Library Journal and the Non-Fiction Detectives. It turns out, having someone give you a good recommendation can save you a lot of time and money. Here are three that I really loved.

 The first one is called "Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table" by Jacqueline Briggs.  It's a beautiful and vibrantly illustrated story about Will Allen, an urban farmer who is trying to make sure that everyone gets fresh, healthy food.  Here's a short interview with him.

The second biography is actually less of a biography (it doesn't tell her whole life story) but tells the story of a pivotal event.  It's called "Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist makers' Strike of 1909" by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.  It's the story of Clara Lemlich, who was an immigrant to NY in the early 1900s.  She was the one in her family who was able to find a job (young girls were allowed to work in the garment factories) but under completely horrific conditions.  Girls were fired for being late more than once, for bleeding on the fabric, given few breaks and were locked in the building where they worked during the day and searched before they left.  Clara, along with others, organized strikes to gain better working conditions, in spite of being terrorized by thugs and factory owners.  It's a great story about the empowerment of women as well as an opportunity to talk about working conditions and how they have changed over the years (and maybe connect to conversation about the minimum wage?)

The last one is called "On a Beam of Light" by Jennifer Berne.  It's a biography about Albert Einstein and it's surprisingly accessible, even for little kids.  The pictures are energetic and the text moves well.  It's a great introduction to the idea that it's good to ask questions and try to find the answers.