Friday, March 18, 2016

The NCRA and some middle grade fiction

This week I had the opportunity to present at the NCRA (the North Carolina Reading Association).  I've been looking at ways to market my database (The Booksearch) which lets you search for books based on the skills you want to teach.  I was presenting about finding just right books and boy, did I have a lot to think about!  I've presented on this topic a few times, but on Monday, I listen to Tim Shanahan, a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago.  (Here's a link to his blog.)  He was talking about teaching reading and he explained that most of the reasons that we work really hard to get books on the right levels for kids is based on a research study done in the 1940s and IT'S WRONG.  Holy cow.  Talk about mind blown.  But I thought it made a lot of sense.  I often have the feeling that when I'm teaching reading that it's mostly my job to show the kids how and then get out of the way.  That's kind of what Shanahan was saying too-that we should be giving kids harder materials than they feel confident with and then help them get confident.  I also had the opportunity to listen (and talk to) Donalyn Miller, who I've admired for quite some time.  She is as charming and wonderful in person as she is in print.  (here's a link to her website). She talked about how important it is to give choices about what they read so that fit in perfectly with my presentation about how to find just right books for kids. I also got to meet two amazing professors from East Carolina University - Alan Bailey and Dr. Anne Ticknor.  Alan Bailey talked about two different awards-the Caldecott and the Coretta Scott King Award and Dr. Ticknor talked about cultural diversity in books.  All of the sessions were interesting and thought provoking.   It was a wonderful conference and my parents are already hoping I can come back (me too!).

I got to read a bit too.  My flight from Fort Lauderdale to Raleigh included a stop in Atlanta (always a highlight) so I had plenty of opportunity.  I read two good ones this weekend.  The first one is called "The Inn Between" by Marina Cohen.  It's about a girl named Quinn who is having a hard time.  Her best friend is moving away.  They've been friends since they were in kindergarten so Quinn is going on a car trip with Kara and her family to see their new place and then she will come home.  The trouble is, home isn't as awesome as it once was.  Quinn has been struggling with school and one day when she had to stay after school because she'd lied and not done her homework, her little sister, Emma, had to walk home alone and disappeared.  Quinn's parents are struggling too and everyone thought the trip would do them all good.  Except when they stop for something to eat, they end up at a really strange diner (they only serve grilled cheese sandwiches) and then end up at an even stranger hotel called "The Inn Between".  There appears to be a man following Quinn and then people start disappearing.  The story is kind of scary and creepy and I think a lot of kids are going to like this one a lot.  It was a very quick read and it was hard to put down.  It would be great paired with "No Passengers Beyond This Point" by Gennifer Choldenko.

The second one is also a mystery.  It's called "Click here to Start" by Denis Markell.  It's about a boy named Ted who comes from a multi-racial family.  Ted's dad is Jewish and his mom is Japanese-American, by way of Hawaii.  Ted's sister is a very high achiever and he really likes playing computer games, particularly escape the room games.  Ted ends up meeting his great uncle (also named Ted) who is a World War 2 veteran.  Great Uncle Ted tells Ted "The box is only the beginning." and changes his will to leave Ted all the possessions in his apartment.  When Great Uncle Ted dies, Ted goes to investigate (with his best friend Caleb) and end up meeting a girl, Isabel, who has just moved to the area (her dad is Ted's dad's boss).  As Ted starts digging through the things in Great Uncle Ted's apartment, the kids start to realize that there is a puzzle to be solved, treasure to be found, and villains to be avoided.  There are also some very funny cultural references as well as references to Henry James novels and the Maltese Falcon.  I loved this one.  I thought the characters had great voices and I wanted to be friends with them.  It was also suspenseful enough that it was hard to put down!

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