Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book fair - picture books

We just finished our Scholastic book fair.  I love the book fair.  I love how exciting it is!  Brand new books!  Lots of colorful displays!  Books I've never heard of before!  Shopping!  But as much fun as it is, I'm always happy to pack it up and go back to the regular media center where its peaceful and fairly quiet and I know where (most) everything is.  And I don't have to handle money.

One of the best things about the book fair is getting to read all the new books.  I had a head start this year since I've been using Netgalleys. is a free website that allows you to register and then read books (using an electronic device) before they are published in exchange for reviewing them.  I'm always happy to give my opinion (just ask anyone around me!) so for me, it works out pretty well!  But at the book fair, there were several books that I hadn't seen (in book stores or on Netgalley).

The first one is by one of my favorite authors, Eric Kimmel.  Eric Kimmel writes folk tales and uses all different illustrators depending on the folk tale.  The stories are amazing and the art work always matches the stories so the books all look really different.  The one that was in the book fair this fall is called "Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale".  It's about a boy named Simon who is sailing from Poland to New York by himself.  His mother and sisters are back in Poland (he's going to send for them as soon as he makes enough money) and his dad is gone.  The trip is not easy but suddenly, the ship hits an iceberg and starts to sink.  Simon is lucky enough to get into a life boat when suddenly a man in a huge fur coat comes and wants to get into the boat.  There isn't enough room so the man gives Simon his pocket watch to give to his son in NY.  Simon decides that he should give up his place in the lifeboat so that the man's son will not have to be without his father.  The man gets in the lifeboat and sails away and Simon ends up on an iceberg with his Hanukkah menorah and some candles.  The rest of the story is about courage and luck and the miracles of Hanukkah.  The pictures are beautiful and it has a very happy ending.   You are going to love this one!

The second one that I found at the book fair that was a big happy surprise was "I know an old lady who swallowed a dreidel" by Caryn Yacowitz.  There have been a large number of riffs on the "I know an old lady" theme, some more successful than others.  This one is awesome.  First of all, if you need a little background information on Jewish culture, this is a nice, easy place to start.  There are references to the foods (like bagels, which aren't typical for Hanukkah as well as latkes and brisket, which are) as well as the games (the dreidel and the geld).  What really makes this one amazing is the art work.  Each part of the song has a different famous piece of art that goes with it.  For example, when the grandmother swallows the dreidel, the artist puts her in Edward Munch's famous painting "The Scream".  There are also references to Andy Warhol, Rodin, Andrew Wyeth, and Henri Matisse, just to name a few.  Art teachers are going to LOVE this one and it should work great with the new Common Core standards where kids are expected to make connections to art (as well as video and sound).

There is also a new version of "My Grandfather's Coat" by Jim Aylesworth.  This is a folktale about a man who has a coat that keeps getting recycled.  It was first made famous by Simms Taback in a version called "Joseph had a little overcoat".  This version is nicely repetitive with interesting vocabulary and lovely pictures.  It would make a good addition to your library, especially if you wanted to compare and contrast to the Simms Taback version.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MORE non fiction?

When I talk with other elementary school librarians, they are often concerned about the amount of non fiction their students are reading.  The Common Core puts more emphasis on reading non fiction, which is what most adults read (like newspapers and professional documents) so it's important that kids learn to read non fiction as well.  The funny thing is, at my school, which is a public Montessori school, my shelf of books that needs to be put away is ALWAYS heavy on non fiction.  I like to think it's because the Montessori method encourages the teachers to teach from scientific concepts and tends to minimize fantasy, it's probably because it's more complicated to put the non fiction books away and with the amount of time I have to shelve books (the five minutes between classes doesn't allow for a lot of contemplation!)

Anyway, I've been reading some really great non-fiction as advanced readers copies through a group called Netgalley.  It's been an awesome opportunity to read some of the newest books!  I read one today called "Arctic Thaw" by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson.  This one is scheduled to come out October 1.  It's all about what's happening in the Arctic.  Did you know that countries are basically jockeying for position in the Arctic?  That some countries are staking claims to the Arctic, even though there's really no political precedent for that sort of thing?  That because of global climate change, the Arctic is changing faster than any other place on the planet?  That small communities in Alaska are being wiped off the map because of erosion?  It was fascinating and the information was in small enough bites that elementary teachers could easily use this as a read aloud or a mentor text and some elementary school students will find this very interesting.

When Whales Cross the Sea by Sharon Katz Cooper is a beautiful book about whale migration.  The text is very accessible to even fairly small kids but the pictures are what will bring the kids back over and over again.  The pictures have really interesting points of view and allow the viewer to get into places that photographers probably couldn't get.  I can't wait to put this one in our library.

The last one is called " The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery" by Sandra Markle.  These little brown bats are dying off and scientists aren't really sure why.  The book gives background information on why bats are important as well as describing the process the scientists used to try to figure out why the bats are dying off.  I think the kids will really like this one.  The photographs let you see those adorable little bat faces as well as the places where bats live (like caves) and the scientists that are trying to find out about what's killing them.  I thought it was great.  The text is in small enough chunks to make it easy to use as a read aloud.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Teaching vocabulary

I've been noticing that my students have been struggling with vocabulary for many years.  When I did my master's degree (through Walden University back in the last century), I did my master's project on effective vocabulary instruction, so I read a lot of vocabulary research back then.  It turns out, things haven't really changed.
In "Young Children" July 2010, Tanya Christ and and X. Christine Wang tell us

Some children come to school know- ing far fewer words than others. Hart and Risley (1995) studied young chil- dren’s vocabulary development and found that when children from families with low incomes were 3 years old, they knew 600 fewer words than children the same age from families with upper incomes. By grade 2, the gap widens to about 4,000 words (Biemiller & Slonim 2001).
At my school, they are so concerned about the gap that they've purchased a new amazing vocabulary instructional program that only takes 10 minutes per day and should add 6-8 words to kids' vocabulary each day.  However, it's my opinion that the school day is not enough time to give kids all the vocabulary they need.  Schools need help.  It turns out the help isn't as hard or as scary as you might imagine.  There are two ways big ways kids learn vocabulary.  One is from conversation and the second is from reading.  So if you want to help your child (or children you care about) build their vocabularies, talk to them and read to them.  Many parents stop reading to their kids when their kids learn to read.  BIG MISTAKE.  When kids are learning to read, they have to read easy books, parents can help build vocabularies by reading the kids books that are too difficult for them to read by themselves.

So here are a couple of new books you can look for that might give you some great topics of conversation with your kids.

For the littlest kids, one of the new Caldecott honor books is a wordless book called Journey by Aaron Becker.  Although you might think kids can't learn new vocabulary from a book that doesn't have words, let me tell you, this one will take you places and offer you vocabulary you never even thought of discussing with your child.  This is a book you can look at over and over again without ever tiring of the illustrations (they are amazing) and the more you look at it, the more you'll see.

For slightly bigger kids, or if you really MUST have words, consider poetry.  Usually poets have an amazing sense of word choice.  One of my favorites is Douglas Florian.  He's written several books that have super short poems on a variety of topics including mammals (Mammalabilia), insects (Insectlopedia), and dinosaurs (Dinothesaurus).  Here's an example of one of his poems.  It's called "The Fox"
A fox composed this poem
Not I.
See what I mean?  Amazing vocabulary... little bitty poem.  Anybody has time for that!

For bigger kids, think about some of that old fashioned stuff... those books you enjoyed as a kid have some remarkably great vocabulary.  Also consider non-fiction, that has tons of specific vocabulary (think about all those dinosaur books, talk about specific vocabulary!).  Think about cookbooks or newspapers or instructions for putting things together.  All of those offer great opportunities for vocabulary.  Even the grocery store is a great place to work on vocabulary!