Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Grown up books

Since it's winter break, I've had a chance to do some reading and I actually got to read some grown up books in the last few weeks!  I love the end of the year lists of best books.  I figure if someone is bothering to make a list of the best ones, they've read more than one or two and so it's worth at least looking at what other people are reading.  This past week I read a couple that were highly rated this year.

The first one (and my favorite) is called "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.  This is a great story.  It's about two kids growing up during World War 2.  If you think you've read enough about World War 2 (I think I have), don't skip this one.  It's told from the perspective of two different characters.  One is a girl in Paris who is blind.  Her dad works in a museum and loves puzzles and models so he builds a model of their neighborhood so she can navigate the neighborhood by herself.  They end up fleeing Paris and going to live with a distant relative in the Brittany region.  At the same time, a boy is growing up in Germany.  His father was killed in a mining accident and the boy is told over and over again that he will have to go and work in the mines too (which panics him to no end) but he's really smart and learns to make radios by himself.  He ends up at an exclusive German boarding school when the war breaks out.  This one is exquisitely written and I kept putting it down so that I wouldn't finish it too soon.

The second one is mystery.  It's called "The Farm" by Tom Rob Smith.  It's about a young man living in London.  His parents have moved to Sweden to pursue a retirement project of a farm.  They have grown somewhat distant since the move.  One day, the son gets a call from his dad, the mom is very sick and has been committed to an asylum.  The son is understandably concerned, books a flight to Sweden but as he's getting ready to board the plane, gets a call from his mom saying she has been released from the hospital, she's coming to London and the dad has committed crimes for which she has evidence that she wants to show him because he is the only one she can trust.  This one was really hard to put down  and I loved how it made me think about how well I really know my own parents.

The last one was also highly rated on the year end lists, but I didn't really like it.  It's called "The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters.  It's set in post World War 1 England.  Frances is living with her mother in a big house.  They have many debts because of her father's poor investments and her brothers were killed in the war.  They decide that they should take in tenants to help with expenses.  The tenants are much lower class than Frances and her mother so there are questions about how friendly they should be with the tenants but (unsurprisingly) Frances becomes closer than is necessarily appropriate.  There was a lot of heaving bosoms and pretty graphic sex.  I felt like the author took too long to tell about the action and so I ended up skimming quite a bit and I HATED the ending, which felt like the way my students some times end a story "THE END".  Not my favorite.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Previewing new books

I've been busy enough with the books in my hands so I haven't been looking at Netgalley but now that school is out for a few weeks, I had a little extra time to look.  I found a really great one that will be published in March and if you like books that make kids think about global issues, this is going to be one for you.  It's called The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella.  It's about a red bicycle and what happens to it after the boy who buys it in Canada is finished with it (he outgrows it).  He donates it to charity that takes bikes to Burkina Faso and donates them to charitable organizations there.  I loved how it showed not only that the bike went to a girl who really needed it, but how she used it to help her family.  When she was finished with it, she donated it to another charitable organization which used the bicycle as an ambulance.  The pictures are cheerful and simple but evocative enough to make you feel a part of the story.  It also has information in the back of the book for making connections to some of the charitable organizations in the book.  I can't wait to get this one into our library, I think our kids are really going to like this one.

Another one I read is called One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul.  It tells the story of a girl living in Gambia that suddenly notices how many plastic bags there are blowing around her village.  At first the bags seem helpful but they don't break down in the soil the way the traditionally made baskets do.  They look ugly laying around.  They blow into the gardens and damage the plants.  The goats eat them and sometimes get sick or die.  The girls of the village come up with an ingenious idea for recycling the bags.  At first the people ridicule them for picking things out of the trash, but when they start making money, people change their minds.  In the author's notes, it appears that recycling effort is working.  I think my students will love thinking about ways they could recycle the bags that we have floating around our community too.  

And here's a video about how to do the recycling from the author.  

The last one I read was called School Days around the world by Margriet Ruurs.  It shows lots of different schools around the world.  I liked it because it showed a variety of different kinds of schools-public schools, private schools, boarding schools.  It had a good range of school but it also raised a lot of questions for me and I guess that's what would make it good starting point for research about different kinds of schools around the world.  It has nice engaging pictures that are cartoonish but show how the schools are the same and different without actually having to show real kids or real schools.  I didn't find this one as engaging as the other two, but it was ok.  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Great new books

It's winter break here, but the day before our break started, I got three boxes of brand new books, many of which I'd never read, so yippee!  It's winter break, I have tons of free time AND lots of new books to read.  Does it get better than this?

The first one I read is called Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed.  It's about a little pig named Pete that lives a quiet, orderly existence.  One day his order is disturbed by a runaway elephant named Pickles and really, things are not the same after that.  It's a funny and a little strange ride, but as with most friendships, it's totally worth the weirdness.  I think this would be a great book to match up with some of the other unlikely friendship books like Amos and Boris by William Steig, Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant, Mr. Putter and Tabby also by Cynthia Rylant.

I also read "Spoon" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  It's also a picture book.  It's about a little spoon who is feeling like maybe his other friends have it better than he has it.  He thinks about what a great life the fork and knife have but his (very wise) mom reminds him about all the cool things that he can do because he is a spoon.  It's a great reminder to think about things in a positive way-there are always things you can't do, but there are lots of things you can do too.  

The last one I read today was also a picture book, but this one is a graphic novel.  It's called El Deafo by Cece Bell.  It's sort of a combination of memoir and autobiography in graphic novel form.  The author lost her hearing at age 4 and uses a comic strip format (with rabbits as the characters) to show us what it was like to grow up with limited hearing.  She comes with the idea that she is a superhero called El Deafo and I think really, she is a super hero, as she takes us on her ride and shows exactly what that was like.  It's a great story.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

SEFLIN workshop

A few months ago, I was approached by one of my colleagues to see if I wanted to help her teach an all day class through an organization called SEFLIN.  If you don't know it, SEFLIN is a group that supports libraries in Southeastern Florida by providing training both online and in person.  I've taken some really great classes with them and so I jumped at the opportunity to teach one, especially face to face.  Our topic was "Using Technology to support the library program" and we had a blast putting it together.  My colleague, Michelle Cates, is the media specialist at Freedom Shores Elementary, and this girl has got it going on.  She is doing some really amazing projects with her elementary students so it was fun to think up new projects that I'm going to do with my own students.  One of my favorite things that Michelle talked about were brain breaks.  My brother is an occupational therapist in eastern NC and this is something he's been supporting in his schools too, so it was great to get some ideas of how to implement this.  It COULD NOT be easier.  If you don't want to sign up for anything, you can go to YouTube and search for brain breaks.  There are tons of fun little short videos that pop up that you can use for free. Like this one.
 If you don't mind giving out a little personal information (and I DO mean, just a little-it's free but they want to know who you are).  There is a great website called GoNoodle. It's put together by Miami Children's Hospital and these are SO much fun.  Michelle showed us one called Hug it out, which is a little yoga and a lot of entertainment in a 2 minute and 40 second video.  My favorite one is called "Happy Merry Everything" which is perfect for this time of the year.

We also talked about using author's websites as ways to incorporate technology.  Many authors have amazing websites and a lot of them have videos with interviews or book trailers on them.  In particular, Jan Brett, has a spectacular website with TONS of videos and things you can download.  Mo Willems also has a great website with lots of fun things to do.  He actually has two different sites, and this one, Pigeon Presents, which, in my opinion, is more fun.

Lastly we talked more about application... how can you apply the technology in your library.  One of the things that both Michelle and I use is book trailers.  We've been using iMovie to create book trailers.  I upgraded my iPads over the weekend and showed the kids how to use iMovie today and if I had offered them cupcakes, I doubt they would have been any more excited.  It was also pretty interesting to show them a few trailers that other people had made and watch them start making connections to the mood of the book and the mood of the templates and really think about which one would work the best.  We also made an audiobook today with first and second graders about Kwanzaa (we did research using a really great online database called PebbleGo, it's perfect for the younger kids).

One of the best things about the workshop was getting to meet librarians from all over our tri-county area.  It isn't often that you get to talk to a room full of librarians and I count myself lucky that I got to!  They are amazing people with great ideas and passion for sharing books with kids and adults.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stupendously lucky

Thanksgiving just passed here and I've been thinking about gratitude.  You know the kind I mean, the lump in your throat, tears in your eyes kind of gratitude that you get once in awhile (thankfully, I only get it once in awhile, because the tears are often a little embarrassing and hard to explain).  Anyway, I've been having a few more of those moments this week, I think the holidays sort of bring it out.  One of the things I'm really grateful for is my family.  I have a kind and loving husband who has a job that keeps him busy enough without draining him completely and allows him to pursue golf as much as he wants.  My parents are healthy and love where they live and have enough things to keep them busy without making them any crazier than they already are.  My brother has a great job and a wonderful partner and because of the completely amazing political system we have, is going to be able to get legally married in his state (which we are all pretty shocked about, as the state where he lives had just past legislation to make gay marriage illegal and then the Supreme Court decision overturned it-YAY Supreme Court Justices!).  My sister and her family are healthy and happy and able to take an extended trip around the world which they are blogging about here.  And in addition to all these blessings, I have a job that I find interesting, challenging, and most of all fun in addition to being healthy and strong.  So how lucky are we?

I'm also grateful for electricity and specifically air conditioning and refrigeration.  I'm grateful for communication systems that allow us to connect to people all over the planet effortlessly and I'm immensely grateful for the opportunities of education.  As part of that education, I've been reading quite a bit.  The last two weeks I read a brand new book called The Royal Institute of Magic by Victor Kloss.  This is a really fun new book (which I hope will be a series) about a boy named Ben who's parents are missing.  Ben and his best friend Charlie are following clues about their disappearance since the police don't seem to have a clue.  They find a piece of mysterious fabric and then a note which takes them to a building in London, the Royal Institute of Magic.  It feels a bit like Harry Potter or Charlie Bone but the characters are so interesting and so compelling, you'll stop making comparisons pretty quickly (I know I did).  I can't wait to get this one into my school library.

I also read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  She is a completely amazing writer and has such a gift for being able to show us what someone else's life is like.  In this case, the main character is a girl named Cather who writes a blog of fan fiction (which, I'm sorry to say, I'd never heard of).  Fan fiction (if you are clueless as I was) is where people write stories about characters from books you know and love and take them places they want to go.  Cather is struggling with many things in her young life-a twin sister who she adores but who wants her own identity, a manic depressive dad, boys, a very strong and powerful roommate (who scares her), freshman year of college.  It was a great story and really hard to put down.  Here's a book trailer about it.  

And right now I'm in the middle of "I am Malala" which fills me with gratitude, that I live in a place that offers religious and educational freedom.  More on that one later...