Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Speech Delay and ESL – Making Progress

Posted on March 27th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

cover art for Breakfast for JackFor the past six weeks, I have been working with a four year old girl who is learning English as a second language and who has a speech delay. We meet once each week for one hour.

I have been using a variety of materials and techniques to support her learning. Today I thought I would highight a few of them.

Wordless Picture Books
During each of our sessions, we read one or two wordless picture books. These are books that have little or no text. Readers use picture clues to decide what is happening in the story. Wordless picture books invite discussion because, as you turn the pages, the story unfolds and there is plenty of opportunity for meaningful talk.

Although we have read several wordless picture books together, Breakfast for Jack has been our favourite. The book is a good size for sharing one on one. The story is relatively simple and yet the illustrator has included many interesting details. It is morning, the sun is rising. Jack wakes up and stretches. Soon Boy is awake. He and Jack go downstairs. Boy feeds the black and grey cat but, each time he starts to get Jack’s breakfast, he is distracted. Poor Jack is very hungry.

When my young student and I first started reading Breakfast for Jack together, she was only able to talk about small snippets of the story because of her speech delay and limited vocabulary. Now she explains that Jack is orange and white, the cat is black and grey, Boy wears purple pyjamas. We talk about the family’s breakfast of toast and cereal. We also talk about the cat enjoying a bowl of milk and then snoozing under the telephone table.

Breakfast for Jack is engaging. The illustrations ensure that the reader understands exactly what is happening. The story and illustrations draw young readers in and keep those same readers involved in telling the story.

Puppets
Since Breakfast for Jack has become a favourite, last week I added dog finger puppets to our session. You may be aware that hand puppets and finger puppets are frequently used for play therapy because children often feel safe using a puppet to express themselves. In working with a child with a speech delay, it seems very logical to include puppets and encourage her to play with them. On Thursday, our three little dogs played together, they talked and raced at the park.

Illustrated Vocabulary
Keeping in mind that my student is not only dealing with a speech delay, she is also learning English as a second language. Each week I prepare one page of vocabulary that is related to a theme. The page introdues nine words that are illustrated and related by theme. We have done ‘Weather Words,’ ‘Things Families Do,’ ‘Clothing Words,’ ‘In My Neighbourhood,’ ‘Valentine’s Day,’ etc. We review all of the vocabulary each week. As well, she reviews the vocabulary at home each week. Her progress with these words has been quite dramatic.

Rebus Poems
Each week we add a new rebus poem to our program. Usually the poem is related to the vocabulary we are learning. For example, when I introduced ‘Weather Words,’ I created a rebus version of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ When I introduced ‘Things Families Do,’ we learned ‘Grandma’s Glasses.’ I like using rebus poems with young children very much. We track the text with our fingers (reinforcing that we read left to right and top to bottom). When reading rebus poems, we use picture clues to help us remember the poem / chant, we hear rhyming and we learn new vocabulary.

My young student’s mom and I are thrilled with the progress she has made to date. She is an enthusiastic learner and she is happy to enjoy stories, chants and learning new words. Next week, I will write again about our session together.

Breakfast for Jack at Amazon.com

Breakfast for Jack at Amazon.ca

Spring Break and Winter Break – An opportunity for homework?

Posted on January 10th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

Spring Break and Winter Break - An opportunity for homework

Last year we visited the Mohave Desert on Spring Break

My sons’ school district is currently conducting a survey about Spring Break and whether it should be two weeks (or one). This year and last, the students have been afforded a two week Spring Break. When the change to the school calendar was initially approved, it was subject to review every two years.

I completed the school district survey. I love spending time with my kids and I feel that we usually manage to use these breaks well. I am solidly in favour of a two week Spring Break.

After answering three “yes” and “no” questions, I was asked if I wanted to share any comments. Those who know me well, will understand that I could not let an opportunity to express my opinion pass. This is what I said about homework assignments while high school students are on Winter Break and Spring Break:

I would like to point out that “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” should be considered “breaks” for students as well as for administrative and teaching staff. I do not expect my children’s teachers to be working during these breaks. Having said that, I feel strongly that these breaks ought to actually be breaks from school work for my children. My eldest works (almost full time) when he is not in school and my younger son is involved in Rep hockey. Neither boy benefits from homework assignments over so-called breaks. “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” homework assignments create pressure and defeat the purpose of taking a break.

It is one thing to ask students to do reading while on holiday – mine would do that anyway – but asking for lengthy reading responses is ridiculous and counter-productive. One does not instill a love of reading by forcing students to write responses after every chapter they read. For goodness sake, just let them read for pleasure and have a break from “making connections” and analysing everything they read.

My eldest son had a group project to work on over Winter Break. Fortunately for him and his group, we had not planned an out of town holiday. I do, however, wonder what might have happened if we had gone away for two weeks. Would he have lost marks? Or, would his group have had to do his share of the work?

We never “waste” breaks from school. We travel to interesting places, we like to go to the theatre or sporting events and we enjoy family time together. Teachers do not need to add onerous homework assignments to the mix.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on whether students should be given homework assignments to complete on Winter Break and/or Spring Break.

A new year to set an example in my classroom

Posted on January 7th, 2013 by Jody

I always feel some apprehension when returning to the classroom after a break. I wonder how I’ll go back to planning lessons, implementing them, assessing student growth, understanding, and engagement. I think about what I haven’t taught yet (a lot) and what I have. I ask myself what it is I really want the students to know. Then, because thinking about all of this causes apprehension, I distract myself by reading online, playing on my iPad, or writing. Over the break, I have read a variety of truly awesome articles and blogs. Fantastic words by a selection of online and print authors, by psychologists, teachers, and parents.

image of  cover art for Don't Give Me That AttitudeI have spent most of my life writing in some form or another. It’s my outlet, solace, hobby, one of my very favourite things to do. Yet, reading some of these articles, I was truly enlightened. I read about writing and publishing, about motivation, engagement, and other topics that I feel like I should be somewhat of an “expert” in. After all, I teach with the intention of motivation and engagement. Also, I write constantly and have published numerous online articles so one would think, that I have some prior knowledge and understanding. And I do. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface. The common thread in the articles I read was that you can always be better. You can edit more, add more, do more, learn more; always. This morning, while on Twitter, scanning more blogs and articles, I came across a quote from Jim Henson, tweeted by Dr. Michele Borba. For those of you that don’t know her, she is a psychologist, an author, an educator and an expert. Of all of the experts I’ve explored since I picked up my first What to Expect When You’re Expecting, she has been my go to in the classroom and my home. Her books, and now her blogs and posts, make me feel like not only am I normal, but for all those things that feel overwhelming, there’s solutions. My admiration of her is making me digress but I strongly recommend her to any parent, educator, or person who has social interactions.

The quote was this: [Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. (Jim Henson). She then adds that ‘how you live [your] life is the best kid lesson.

This is how I will ease my apprehension about returning to the classroom tomorrow. I will remember that kids learn best from the examples they see. This means the good and the bad. By being my best, I encourage them to be their best. That means I have to be ready to learn, grow, and adapt, just as I expect them to. I need to show them that just because we feel like we are really good at something, we always have room for improvement. Likewise, I have to model feeling good about the successes that I have but show them that even so called experts are always growing and learning and that is what makes them stronger in their fields. As well, I have to show them how I am accountable for the mistakes I make if I want them to step up when they make mistakes. I have to show them it’s okay to make mistakes (I show them this quite often). I have to remember that five years from now, those same kids are unlikely to recall which novels I read them but hopefully, they will remember how we worked together as a class to make our school and the world a better place. I think what we often forget is that we are teaching people, not curriculum. The content of what we teach our kids is not as important as our delivery. Are we teaching them strategies to apply to reading problems in later grades? Are we teaching them how to deal with the first bully they meet in the work place? Have we taught them how to put others first but know when to step up for ourselves? Have we taught them to not only accept others as they are, but themselves as well? There’s so much more to teaching our children and our students than just making sure we’ve loaded them with specific knowledge. As parents and educators, we teach them to greet the world, face challenges, and be a positive member of society.

As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve increased or decreased my apprehension. It seems a tall order to fill and there’s the risk of mistakes. But, as I will tell them, we’ll all do the very best we can, for ourselves and for others. We’ll try to remember that people will remember US, not the books we read. They will remember how we, as people, impacted their lives. Hopefully, that impact will have been genuine and positive.

Happy New Year everyone!

Interviews with Two Reluctant Readers

Posted on December 10th, 2012 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Conducts Interviews with Reluctant ReadersThis year, I have a few students who don’t love to read. They and their parents have been honest about this. Of course, when a nine or ten year old tells me they don’t like to read, I wonder “How is that possible?” For those of us who love to read, or find it easy, it seems impossible. It’s not; if reading is difficult for you, it becomes a chore. For parents, it becomes an argument with your kids because you know they need to be reading, but it’s hard to make them. Over the years, the students in my class that haven’t enjoyed reading are not being denied the opportunity to read. They have access to books, loving parents (who enjoy reading and model it), they live in print rich environments, and have capable oral language skills. So, it is not for any of these reasons, necessarily, that they have become reluctant readers.

Engaging students in conversation is a very simple and easy way to learn more about them. They like conversing with their teacher; telling stories and sharing information. I asked two of my reluctant readers ten questions on Friday.

1. Did you like reading when you started the school year?

2. Why or why not?

3. Do you like reading now, at least more than you did? Why or why not?

4. What makes you not like a book?

5. What makes you like a book?

6. Do you think reading is important?

7. Why or why not?

8. What makes you stop reading a book?

9. What makes you not want to put a book down?

10. Do you have any particular books you enjoy?

I asked this of one boy and one girl who I knew had some reading struggles but in the past month have increased their time spent reading considerably.

The answers were surprisingly similar. Obviously, the sample size is small and the conditions are not “test worthy” but I found the results made me wonder “Are they really reluctant?”Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Interviews Reluctant Readers

1. They both admitted to not liking reading in September. It wasn’t something they wanted to do when they had free time.

2. Answers ranged from it wasn’t fun to it was boring.

3. In the last month, they have both started to enjoy reading and said it was because they’d found books that they liked and enjoyed.

4. A book disengages them when the story isn’t good or it’s hard to follow. If they aren’t interested in the topic, they don’t want to read it.

5. Much like myself, one of the first things that draws them is the cover. Then the story and what’s inside. Are there graphics? Is it fast paced? Is it funny?

6/7. They both agreed that reading is important because you learn things and need to do it for school. Sadly, neither of them said that it’s important because it can transport you to a new world or because it can change the way you look at someone or something. Or because it is important to do things you enjoy. We’ll get there.

8. A boring plot line and a lot of words are enough to make them silent stare rather than silent read.

9. They both found books that appealed to them individually, which revealed a bit about who they are. The boy loves hockey and has recently discovered books like Rink Rats. The girl is a curious sort (though she’ll admit to the term ‘snoopy’) and has begun reading through Carolyn Keen’s graphic novel version of Nancy Drew. She has read seven in the last two months. This is proof that we read what appeals to us as people; what compels us personally.

10. As mentioned, books on hockey, mysteries, and graphic novels are on the list. Books that are long can be intimidating. A series, such as Nancy Drew, keeps them hooked because they know there’s more on a character they’ve already connected with.

It’s not exactly a research-based understanding of what makes kids turn away from or toward reading, but it gave me valuable information. I don’t want to overwhelm them. I gauge their reactions and am honest about it being okay to not have a book appeal to you. I share my own reading struggles (I read painfully slowly) and tell them what makes me want to read. I know, now, that I’ve opened a doorway and we need to go through it now, while they’re engaged.

How does this transfer to reading the science text book and getting valuable information? If they’re reading for their enjoyment, they’re reading! They’re practicing and decoding and comprehending. This is powerful and will eventually transfer. In addition, the skills we learn as readers (to question, predict and connect) will hopefully transfer too. Once they are not stalled at the actual process of reading, they are free to move forward, enjoy, and learn.

 

 

 

Our School Book Fair – A winning opportunity

Posted on December 2nd, 2012 by Jody

Cover art for Line ChangeToday was the end of the Book Fair at our school. I love the Book Fair (perhaps a little too much). I love walking in and just browsing the tables, running my hand over the covers (I’m sure the librarian loves that), reading the backs of the novels, flipping through the picture books, and seeing all of the different books, just sitting there, waiting to be chosen.

I had already made several purchases this week and had promised myself I would not buy anymore. Luckily, I was able to keep that promise because at the end of every book fair, one student wins $25.00 worth of books for their family and $25.00 worth of books for their classroom. That student was in my class this year.

I’m sure it was mostly amusing to the students to see how excited I was over the books, but it was genuine, so it’s okay. Winning something always feels good; winning books felt great. I took two students with me and we chose a ‘boy book’, a ‘girl book’ and a ‘class book’. Truthfully, I think all three books will be enjoyed, regardless of gender. It was very gratifying to have students pick out books they thought we’d all like. Was it just the cover that appealed? Was it the synopsis? The author? In the end, I think it was a combination. An inviting cover always gets your attention. A good summary of what the book is about will make you want to know more.

Cover art for Genius FilesWe chose Line Change by W.C. Mack, The Genius Files by Dan Gutman and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Having two students help me choose made me realize how much they are learning about each other. It’s one thing for me to know them and find ways to help them achieve success, but it was very powerful for me to realize that they know their classmates as well. They chose Line Change because they know a couple of the boys are reluctant readers but love hockey. They chose Breadcrumbs because they thought we might all enjoy it as a teacher read aloud. We also started learning about fables and morals in fairytales today so it was very fitting (Breadcrumbs starts with Hazel and Jack, best friends, who meet some trouble in the woods. It is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story). The Genius Files was a rather amusing pick; it does sound like a funny story but really, they chose it because the main characters are named Pepsi and Coke. I may have a slight addiction to Diet Pepsi that my students like to tease me about. They decided it was a must have for our class. I guess they know their teacher pretty well too.

Cover art for BreadcrumbsBack in the class, we excitedly shared our choices. The student who actually won, shared his $25.00 with his brother. This boy had fun picking out his book, even though reading might not be his top choice activity because he was caught up in the class excitement. Both he and his younger brother chose a novel and some fun scholastic trinkets.

So, because of my natural enthusiasm for 1) winning anything and 2)  reading, the students had the opportunity to get caught up in the simple pleasure of books. They took part in adding to our classroom library after considering our class needs. As most of the class had to stay behind while we visited the Book Fair, I left with the expectation that I would return to a quiet room. A bit surprisingly (they’re ten year olds), I did! They were quietly, and patiently, waiting to find out what we bought. I know that on Monday, when the students who were away today return, they will relive that enthusiasm and want to share our new books.

It’s good for kids to see us enjoy something and be excited. Having it be related to reading is a bonus.

 

A reader’s dream…

Posted on October 21st, 2012 by Jody

Imagine if you didn’t just love to wrap yourself up in a book and all of its characters; imagine if you loved the simple look and presence of books; if you loved the different sizes and shapes and the different graphics on the covers. If you just loved the feel of sliding your hand over a brand new cover.

I’ve missed these things because I am bound to my Kindle. And I do LOVE my kindle. It’s got just as many positives for reading as my library of books, but because I spend so much time reading it, I forgot the simple pleasure of walking amongst stacks of books. I relived that pleasure this weekend at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. But there’s a second part to the amazing dream I described above; what if, surrounded by these books you love, you were also surrounded by the authors who wrote them? Well, that was just over-the-top incredible. Truly. I sat across the room from Diana Gabdalon, Chris Humphreys, Michael Slade, and Sam Sykes. I walked by and got to smile and head nod at Eileen Cook, Sean Cranbury, and Linda Gerber. I got to sit down and talk to and share work with Tanya Lloyd Kyi, whose books I had not read but bought two of before the end of the day. I got to shake hands with literary agent Michael Carr and talk with Carly Watters. As I said, it was a reader’s, but also a writer’s, dream.

What amazed me, as I wandered past the various tables and sat waiting my turn in a room full of authors, agents, and publishers, was that I don’t read nearly as much as I thought I did. I’m a 3-4 books at a time kind of reader; I can’t help it. I currently have 5 books on the go. I jump back and forth and depending on my mood, might even backtrack and reread a favourite in the middle of all of these. Fair to say, I read a lot. And despite popular opinion, I read a wide variety of genres. But looking around the conference, seeing all of these authors or the lists of authors to later appear, I realized how much is truly out there. There were, literally, dozens of authors I had not heard of before. Prior to this weekend, I felt like I had a good grasp of current authors and the latest fiction; our librarian introduces new books several times a month. I expect there to be many authors and books I’m unaware of in different genres, but since I spend a fair amount of time immersed in fiction for children and young adults, I was blindsided by how much more there is available.

Attending professional development workshops is an important part of being a better teacher; staying current and being on top of what propels student success is vital. Sometimes you walk away from a conference with useful strategies and tips for the classroom or ideas on how to further engage your students. Even if it adds one small positive to your teaching, it is time well spent. For me, this weekend was incredibly valuable but one of best parts is knowing how much MORE there is for the kids. Reluctant readers, powerful readers, and those in between have so many more choices than I ever could have imagined. It goes beyond our school library and the Scholastic catalogue and it’s important for us, as teachers, parents, and as readers, to know what is out there.

What I will take back to my classroom next week, is the new author I had the pleasure of speaking with, Tanya Lloyd Kyi. As I browsed the stacks of books, several of her titles caught my eye; Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood, 50 Underwear Questions, 50 Poisonous Questions
and Rescues! (True Stories from the Edge). Blood, underwear, poison, and danger? That’s right up the alley of a fifth grade boy. The boys in my class will be happy to learn about the first autopsies performed and the girls will enjoy the graphics and facts in 50 Poisonous Questions. They will be excited, once again, to get their hands on new books, by a new author, and for a little while, they will forget reluctance or the idea of ‘having to read’ and just lose themselves in stories and facts and fascinating tidbits of information. They will get lost in a book and really, what could be better?

Another new start…

Posted on October 9th, 2012 by Jody

Still searching for “my” reluctant reader this year…but I have a plan

Unbelievably, we are already six weeks into another school year. I enjoyed writing Journey of a Reluctant Reader last year, but like to switch things up. I am still looking for “my” reluctant reader this year, but so far, seem to have a very enthusiastic class when it comes to reading (even if I happen to be teaching at the time).

After a great workshop by Cindy Strickland last summer, I used Reading and Writing Bingo in my classroom last year. I used it term by term and the students had a goal to work toward. This year, I am focusing on the Reading Bingo as a preemptive strike against anyone showing signs of becoming a reluctant reader. Each of the Bingo squares has a specific reading goal that, when met, will introduce the students to different types of writing, different authors, and different genres. For example, some of the goals include reading a novel by Andrew Clements (that you have not read before), or reading a book of poetry by Shel Silverstein. The goal is to expose the kids to new styles and authors that they may not have tried otherwise.

And yes, my preemptive strike involves bribes. We all work a little harder with incentives and I see nothing wrong with showing appreciation for hard work in different ways. So for one Bingo line (which is necessary for their reading marks for each term) they receive a small prize from the prize bin. For an X, they receive a “get out of one assignment free” card. For a 7, they get a Scholastic book. What surprised me, and pleased me, was that when I asked the kids what they thought would be an awesome reward if anyone got a Blackout, they didn’t say Slurpees or movie days. Instead, they suggested that if they get a Blackout, they get three more of the prizes they already received. So if a student does get a Blackout, they basically get 2 prize bin items, 2 get out of one assignment cards, and 2 books from Scholastic.

I’ll see how this works this year and maybe do it again, or maybe not. What I love is that the kids (and I know there’s at least one reluctant reader there, even if they’re quiet about it) are already excited about reading. They know they have to read, most of them love to read, but those that need a little nudge will be more inclined to do so, even if it’s just to achieve the line. Those that are enthusiastic about reading by default, have the added opportunity and challenge of working toward a harder goal, like the Blackout.

My focus this year is getting the kids to understand themselves and their own learning. This will be a great opportunity for me and the students to see what motivates them. We are all motivated by something. Intrinsic motivation is essential and I am in no way suggesting reward for meeting expectations, but I think that extrinsic motivation has its place as well. I’m going to make them read. They know this. I’m going to make them do Math and Science, tests, reports, and research. They will do this because they undersand their jobs as students. But if providing a bit of fun, entertainment, or challenge gets them reading even more, perhaps their journey will be one with less reluctance and more enjoyment.

Story People by Brian Andreas

Posted on September 22nd, 2012 by Jody

On a trip through an airport, Jody discovers the work of Brian Andreas and his Story People

While passing time at the Sea-Tac airport, I wandered into one of those everything-and-then-some stores. In between the hand-crafted cards, joke gifts, and eclectic jewelry, an interesting and colorful print caught my eye. Really, it seemed more like a scrawled version of a stick person. But it was the words that accompanied the image that grabbed me. It said:

I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.

Just like that, I was fascinated. Along with dozens of prints, all showing oddly shaped figures and sketches and sharing beautiful words, there were books. I had never heard of the author, Brian Andreas before. Flipping through his books, I was amazed at the power of his words and the fact that he could be so moving without truly defining characters. Somehow, without even giving them names and using, what seem like, pieces of conversation, he pulls you in and makes you feel like someone understands. I used all of my “mommy-needs-a-few-minutes-to-look-around-by-herself” time standing at that small shelf reading everything I could and trying to decide which print was my favourite. It’s not often you can read a few paragraphs that have the power to make your heart skip or your eyes tear; well, for most people, anyway.

As I read these little snippets of conversation between unidentified characters, I felt completely drawn in and captured by them. Some of the conversations had an almost “Time Traveller’s Wife” feel to them. Then there are sketches that accompany the words; sketches that should be amusing, but with the words, just seem beautiful. There’s so many times in life, as kids and adults, that we feel alone, that people don’t ‘get it’. It’s part of what makes a good book so important~connecting to characters makes us feel validated, understood, accepted, and “normal”. Reading through Mr. Andreas’ book Trusting Souls, I felt that way. It was so compelling that I bought it for my husband, who I’m sure would have rather had something else, from another store entirely. However, sometimes someone else has already written the words we feel we can’t express properly. When that happens, as adults and as children, it matters. It stays with us.

On his website, Mr. Andreas says “we are all story people”. I like that. Because we are. We’re all just trying to do our best, make connections, and make sense of what we see and think and feel.

His books and prints show the power words can have and I think that, in the classroom, that’s a strong message. Words matter. How we say them or write them or think them. The words we hear or see can leave a lasting impression on us. This is why it’s important to choose wisely what we say and what we read.

Here are a few pieces that will stay with me; that matter:

“Is there a lot of things you don’t understand? she said and I said pretty much the whole thing and she nodded and said that’s what she thought but it was nice to hear it anyway and we sat there in the porch swing, listening to the wind and growing up together”

With this phrase, he draws an interesting picture and scribbles that it is a “doorway that only lets some stuff through, but you never know what it’s going to choose so it’s hard to plan for the future”.
“Remember to use positive affirmations. I am not a dork is not one of them.”

This one is called “Anxiety Break”:

“things have been going so well that she’s taking an anxiety break to keep centered”

One more, from “Mostly True” :

“We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”

Story People at Amazon.com

Story People at Amazon.ca

Trusting Soul at Amazon.com

Trusting Soul at Amazon.ca

Mostly True at Amazon.com

Mostly True at Amazon.ca

Young Adult Fiction – Different worlds…or not

Posted on July 21st, 2012 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at the Morbid Storylines in Young Adult Fiction

I brought home 5 young adult fiction books from the Scholastic Book Fair to read this summer. It is always difficult to make a choice and I could easily get into serious financial trouble if given free rein in a book store. But since I’m fairly fond of my marriage, I limited myself. While making my choices, I was struck by the rather morbid story lines.

The selections included plots that dealt with the afterlife, ghosts, sibling deaths, parent deaths, autism, disease and similar horrible afflictions and topics you can think of. Most of the books sounded excellent, despite the rather grave subjects. More than that, the books were definitely capturing interest; many of my students chose stories that I had decided against because I wanted something lighter.





Young Adult Fiction title Heaven by V.C. AndrewsI started thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be exposing the students, our kids, to these topics. I don’t really want my daughter reading or asking about the afterlife, wondering what terrorism is, or thinking about the dangers that exist for kids trying to find themselves in middle school. It’s one of those balance issues again because if my kids ask me about things, I’d rather be honest. I don’t want them completely unaware or in the dark, but a little unaware until they’re older seems okay with me. But most kids aren’t; unaware that is. They have access to far more information through social media and technology than I ever did at the same age.

Young Adult Fiction title Sweet Valley HighIt was this thought that made me think about what I was reading at their age. Surely it wasn’t about disease, terror, and end of the world chaos! I had to have been reading something that protected my unjaded 12 year old view of life. Only it wasn’t. I didn’t watch the news or have access to high speed internet at 12 so maybe I wasn’t as “aware” as kids are today. However, I was reading Heaven by V.C. Andrews and vividly remember reading it over and over again. No terrorism there. Just a girl growing up dirt poor, in a shack, hated by the father that eventually sells her, forcing her to go out into the world and discover the truth about her past. Nope. No terrorism there. Of course, I was also reading Sweet Valley High. What could be more innocent than Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield? The perfect Wakefield twins and their friends who experienced drugs, death, kidnapping, and a whole host of other over the top tragedies. I say that fondly, as I remember being completely addicted to the series. Just as, I would imagine, today’s young adults are addicted to the engaging plots and twists found in Hunger Games, Speak, Twilight, Abandon, Sold, Stargirl, Slob, and so many other well-written, attention-grabbing, heart-twisting young adult fiction titles on the best sellers list.

I didn’t take enough Psychology courses to truly dissect why, as both kids and adults, we are  drawn to stories that present that edge of darkness. Having said that, you don’t need Psychology courses to recognize that each of these books have common elements. The main characters are flawed, allowing the audience to connect with them. The crisis or darkness that each of them must confront seems overwhelming but they manage. They don’t escape the darkness without scars but are stronger for what they have faced. They aren’t perfect, but they survive. So maybe, the solace we all find in the dark is actually hope. Hope that we are strong enough to face what comes our way. Strong enough to be the people we want to be, despite the obstacles in our way.

In light of recent real-world tragedies, it seems to me that hope is never a bad thing. We can’t control real life and we can’t predict the outcome. But there’s a comfort in knowing that when the darkness comes in the book, somehow everything will be okay. I wish we could make the same assurances in life. I wish that in life, like in books, we knew, in the end, that the boy will get the girl, justice will be served, and good will trump bad. But life’s not like that. And sometimes, the only way to deal with that reality is to fall into a good book, with amazing characters that maybe remind you a little of yourself, and know that, in the end, things will work out.

Artificial Food Dyes, Behavior and My Son

Posted on July 3rd, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

Artificial Food Dyes, behavior and my son - StorytimeStandouts.com





Carolyn shares details of her son’s sensitivity to artificial food dyes

About five years ago, I managed to figure out what was “wrong” with my youngest son. Some of the time he was a happy, relatively polite, relatively well-behaved, active kid but (and this was a huge issue), some of the time he was unpleasant, miserable and defiant.

We were at a loss to understand what was happening with him. It was completely illogical and sometimes scary. Frankly, at times, my husband and I worried it was a mental health issue. We consulted our family doctor and attended family counseling.

After one particularly miserable evening, I sat at my computer and started searching “kids and anger”. I think the first website that gave me hope was that of The Feingold Association of the United States. My son’s symptoms couldn’t be described as ADHD but there seemed to be “overlap” in some of their descriptions and our experiences.

Anyhow, we decided to try a one week elimination diet. We removed all coal tar food dyes from the foods he ate. Although we had planned to experiment for seven days, we knew in three or four that we had identified and solved the problem. He was a completely different boy when not consuming artificial food dyes – especially those derived from coal tar.

Now, fourteen years old, happy and healthy, he does not eat any artificial food dyes derived from coal tar or petroleum and he also avoids Annatto (which is technically considered “natural”).

Red dye derived from coal tar can be called Red Dye 40, Red Dye #40 or Allura Red. In addition to eliminating Red Dye #40 from his diet, my son also avoids Yellow Dye #5 (also known as Tartrazine) and Blue Dye #1 and #2.

Basically, if a food, medicine, toothpaste or beverage has an artificial dye or Annatto as an ingredient, he does not ingest it.

Interestingly, after we figured his intolerance out, we had one professional say to us that kids who are sensitive to artificial food dyes are likely very sensitive to alot of things. It is part of their “make up.”

On the “good news” front, the issue of sensitivity to color is now much better known than it was five years ago. President’s Choice (Real Canadian Superstore) has recently announced that they are eliminating artificial dyes from their products by the end of this year. McCain also seems to be moving in this direction. Some products, especially in the United States are now specifically labeled “No Artificial Colors.”

We have also discovered a few rather interesting differences between Canadian and American products. Miracle Whip produced in Canada has artificial food dye in it, American Miracle Whip does not. Jug chocolate milk, sold in Canada, has artificial food dye in it, American jug chocolate milk usually does not.

We don’t trust anything – we have found artificial dyes in vanilla ice cream, in chocolate pudding, in French fries, in cheese, in salad dressing and in snack crackers. I read every label before I put a product into my shopping cart or before he eats it. We have even asked to see labels when eating in restaurants.

We are very fortunate because he is equally committed to avoiding the artificial food dyes. He never asks to eat anything with dye even when tempted by cupcakes decorated with sprinkles or the cherry on top of a milkshake. Obviously, artificial food dyes and Annatto make him feel terrible.

There is not a day that goes by without me feeling grateful that we solved the mystery of my son’s behavior. What once seemed illogical and frightening is now completely understood and avoidable. We wonder, how many other children and their families are unknowingly dealing with sensitivities like his. We wonder how many children are having difficulty sleeping or managing their anger because something they ate was made to look “pretty” by adding an artificial food dye. This desire to create a more attractive food at less cost is unnecessary and is hurting our children. I continue to advocate for (at minimum) better food labeling but I would much prefer an outright ban of coal tar based artificial food dyes.

Some products we purchase (in Canada) because they don’t include artificial food dyes or Annatto:

Cavendish Farms frozen potatoes, Fanta soft drinks, Colgate regular toothpaste, (some) Sudafed cold tablets, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes but not Kellogg’s Vector (seems crazy), Smarties, Bryers’ Natural Ice Cream, Powerade Clear and Kirkland Organic Chocolate Milk, available at Costco.

Our Artificial Dye Pinterest Board

Websites with helpful information about Artificial Dyes and Behavior

Red Dye 40

Center for Science in the Public Interest – Urges FDA to Ban Artificial Food Dyes

Artificial Dyes and Behavior on YouTube

Tiffany Kenney’s report

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. It is one that I am passionate about.


Middle Grade Students and the Power of Poetry

Posted on June 7th, 2012 by Jody

The Power of Poetry - Storytime Standouts Guest Contributor writes about exploring poetry with middle grade students

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor writes about exploring poetry with her grade five students.





I often save Poetry until the end of the school year. The students have learned the mechanics of writing at this point; form, conventions, organization. Poetry allows them to start adding voice to their writing and I want to send them to grade six ready to use that skill. Though I focused on writing about reluctant readers this year, I actually have more reluctant writers. They are hesitant to justify, embellish, or go out on a limb with their writing. I’m glad that I didn’t forgo Poetry this time, in light of that. I can teach metaphors, similes, and idioms without teaching Haiku and Limericks, but generally, pairing the instruction makes it more engaging. I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm for their Poetry projects, which I suppose, I shouldn’t have been. Through Poetry, the students can express themselves in a very unique way. They have to conform their own work to the “types” of poetry they were learning, but essentially, the topic, the ideas, the tone, and the message are theirs. It’s not a Science Report or a Socials Essay. It’s not a Journal or a paragraph.

The students definitely have favourites when it comes to types of poetry. While they learned about Haiku, Limericks, Quatrains, and Couplets (the favourite), I was saving the best for last. As we approached the end of the unit, I introduced the students to Lyric and Found poems. There were so many questions regarding these two types. I think it surprised some of them that they could just choose a song…”Any appropriate song? Whatever we want?”…and explain their reason for liking it. More surprising to them, I think, was that I recognized and knew many of the songs they chose. That, alone, is a powerful thing. I shared the song “Stop this Train” by John Mayer. One of my favourites. I was impressed by how well they “got it”. It encouraged them to find their own songs and share why they were drawn to them. It’s a unique way to see another side of your students and vice versa.

The Found Poems were equally enjoyable to explore with the kids. I learned about this type of poetry in University and it stayed with me as one of my favourites. Take a regular passage of writing, from anywhere, and blacken all of the words except the ones that stand out to you. This was a very engaging process for me. I loved watching them choose words they found powerful. I liked seeing their surprise when, at the end, this jumble of words that they had chosen, actually represented something to them. Their job with the Found Poems was to find a passage, blacken out unnecessary words, and then name their Found Poem. The process of finding a name for the words they found made them responsible for identifying the tone and impact of the words they felt belonged together. As an example, I chose a passage from the beginning of one of my favourite novels, Tuck Everlasting. I knew many of them had read this in grade four, so that was important. When we went through the words I’d left, I asked them to give them a name for my poem. They chose titles like “Alone”, “Homeless”, “Lonely”…names that identified the sadness and sorrow of the words I chose. They were very surprised when I revealed the whole passage. They recognized the beginning of the book, where Natalie Babbitt describes the road leading to the main character’s house. The tone of the passage is empty and they picked up on that, just from the words I left visible.

Perhaps the poetry unit was more powerful for me than for them. I love words and writing and poetry and music. I love when an author conveys amazing amounts of emotion and feeling just through carefully chosen words. Seeing the students recognize this, utilize their abilities to choose powerful words, and show understanding of their significance, was very powerful for me.

I think, maybe, for them, the powerful part of the poetry unit is the freedom they have to express themselves. They simply can’t be wrong. That allows them a freedom other types of writing may not. That, in and of itself, makes Poetry a powerful tool for engaging students as writers.

A common greatness…. Journey of a Reluctant Reader

Posted on May 12th, 2012 by Jody

Looking at a reluctant reader’s experiences with books and reading

Magic Johnson. Albert Einstein. Cher. John Lennon. John F. Kennedy. Hans Christian Anderson. Orlando Bloom. Tom Cruise. Johnny. These people have a few things in common. They have presence, they made a difference, and, for a variety of reasons, didn’t love to read. For some, Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise, reading was difficult. Learning Disabilities affect not only a child’s ability to read, but their confidence in doing so. Though it may be true for many of these well known individuals, it is not always a learning disability that affects a child’s desire to read. For Johnny, it was lack of interest, not ability. For others, it’s lack of time or exposure. Though he’s not a basketball player, a singer, or an inventor (as far as I know) Johnny has something in common with all of these people. Though he said at the beginning of the year that he would rather do anything other than read, he made a great effort. He will be remembered by me and by his classmates because, despite his aversion to reading, he stood out in the class. He embraced his own attitude and felt good about himself. He was also open minded enough to try new books and authors. He had enough presence in our classroom that the other reluctant readers were willing to try as well. That matters.

It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of the road for this school year. This will, in fact, be my final entry about Johnny. I’ve enjoyed watching him unfold as a student and as a reluctant reader. I don’t know that we turned him around entirely. He claims that he still does not love school or reading and would much rather ride his bike. However, with less and less prompting and suggestions each month, Johnny has managed to read more than a half a dozen books since September. Not only that, but two days ago he came to me and showed me his latest library book: Lunch Money. I had no part in him choosing this book. In fact, when I told him that I had some other students who LOVED Andrew Clements, he said, “Well my friend told me it was good so I’m reading a book he liked and he’s reading one I suggested”. And I thought, wow. Johnny and his friend, two hockey boys who like to goof around and have fun, had a conversation at some point that entailed each of them sharing their thoughts on a book and recommending one they enjoyed to each other. To me, that seems like an excellent place to “part ways” on this journey. I say that rather than “conclude” the journey because Johnny is going to wander a different path now, one toward grade six and I am going to get a whole new group in September. But I hope that Johnny’s path will continue to include reading and that he feels good about the reading accomplishments he made this year. I hope that he becomes less and less reluctant over time to pick up a book and fall into it. Even if he doesn’t I hope he thinks back about this year and realizes that his willingness to try regardless was stronger than his reluctance to read. That too, matters.

A Text Connection

Posted on April 23rd, 2012 by Jody

As a want-to-be writer, I find it fascinating that some authors can slip back and forth between genres and age groups. It shows a wide range of talent when an author produces a best selling thriller and then follows it up with a highly entertaining graphic novel. James Patterson and John Grisham are powerful examples of authors who show this flexibility on a regular basis. What really shows their strength as writers, however, is that the books they write for their younger audiences are so appealing to adults as well. Aside from providing more great reading material, authors such as these are also providing a unique way for parents (or teachers) and children (or students) to connect.

Patterson’s latest young adult novel is Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. The quick and fun chapters, along with the sketch graphics and the humor of two friends trying to get through their first year of middle school make it a great read. I laughed out loud at parts, remembering my own middle school days. While it connects with many of the students in the upper elementary grades, it definitely reaches out to boys.

Finding things in common with our kids (and students) is extremely important. They live in a fast-paced world of texting, Facebook, and instant messages. They are “connected” in ways that we never were. We need to jump on the opportunities to share meaningful conversations with them whenever we can. Taking an interest in what your kids are reading can be a way to start these conversations.

I had a Teacher on Call come in for me last week for a half day. I showed up right before the lunch bell and we were discussing how the morning went. I asked about a few students in particular and she made a comment that got me to thinking about this post: she had brought in the book The Mocking Jay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, so that she could read it while waiting for a friend after work. When a few of the students noticed she had it, they began asking her whether she liked it, had she finished it, did she like the others. The fact that she was reading a book that many of them are absorbed in right now created an instant connection, which is not always easy to do as a teacher on call.

Kids always find it a bit surprising when they realize that you may enjoy some of the same things they do. I have had wonderful conversations about Harry Potter, Holes, Twilight, Hunger Games, and a variety of other books that kids are hooked on. My enthusiasm is real and the kids respond to that. They want to know what you think, what you liked, and if you got to a certain part yet. I tell the kids how I feel about the books that we have in common and they feel open to sharing their thoughts. My class knows that even though I really liked Hunger Games, I stopped reading the trilogy because, for me, it was too sad. We ended up having a conversation about what makes us put down a book, what makes us go back to it, or what makes it so we absolutely cannot put it down.

I believe that connecting with kids strengthens our relationships with them and makes teaching them more successful. Try reading something your child is reading; aside from connecting with your child, you’ll likely find yourself reading a great book as well.

Ten Great Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Child

Posted on March 27th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

10 Great Reasons to Read Aloud to Your Child

Storytime Standouts shares ten great reasons to read aloud to your child





Reading aloud to my sons has been one of the highlights of being a parent. My boys are both teens now and have pretty much outgrown picture books (Christmas Eve is always an exception) but shared memories of trips to the library and hundreds of great bedtime stories read aloud will remain with us forever. Having said that, reading a couple of bedtime stories aloud, every night for seven or eight years is hard work. There were definitely nights where I would have happily ‘skipped’ and had a little more time to myself. I clearly remember, on more than one occasion, my younger son being wide awake at his bedtime while I was falling asleep as I attempted to read aloud to him. He would say, “Mommy, your voice sounds really strange.” I would rouse myself enough to finish the story and then head off to my own bed.

image of Curious George by H.A. Rey

Curious George written and illustrated by H.A. Rey shows us that bold, uppercase letters mean the words are loud.

Let’s take a look at ten great reasons to read aloud to your child(ren)

When we read aloud to children, they (1) get to know books. They learn that books have front covers and back covers. The covers can be hard or soft/flexible. Books have spines and sometimes they wear jackets.

Sharing stories with children also helps them learn (2) how to hold and manipulate a book. When we read aloud to children, they discover how a book “works.” They come to understand that a book written in English is read from front to back and that we (gently) turn the pages as the story unfolds. They discover that, if we want, we can go back and reread a page, we can also skip a page.

Occasionally running a finger along the printed text will also help children learn that (3) pages are read from top to bottom and the text is read from left to right. With a little help from us, children will discover that bold words are often important to the story and usually we think of bold words or words shown in uppercase letters as LOUD WORDS.

If we read lift the flap books or pop up books, children will learn that (4) sometimes books have flaps or other features that hide the solution to a riddle or some other surprise.

Reading aloud also exposes children to the (5) beauty and richness of our language. Children will also gain (6)phonemic awareness as they discover how to play with words and sounds through rhyming and alliteration.

When hearing books read aloud, children (and adults) learn (7) new words and all sorts of wonderful (8) facts (especially when the children are wild about dinosaurs!)

Hearing a selection of books gives children an understanding of (9) what a story is , how a fairy tale is different from a fable and how tall tales exaggerate.

Hearing picture books read aloud can also enable children to (10) safely explore worrisome or difficult topics like going to the hospital or coping with illness, disability, bullying, or even the death of a loved one while safe in a loving and comfortable environment.


Reading for Reward – Are Extrinsic Rewards Good or Bad?

Posted on March 21st, 2012 by Jody

Reading for Reward - Are Extrinsic Rewards Good or Bad?Whether it’s reading, math, science, or socials, there is conflict over rewarding children for meeting goals and expectations in the classroom. If we reward them with tangible “prizes”, do we diminish their intrinsic motivation? An argument can be made either way. We need, and kids need, to understand intrinsic motivation. Not every accomplishment deserves a prize, just like not every misstep deserves a consequence.





I think that we can create a balance in the classroom that reinforces intrinsic motivation but allows for concrete rewards as well. Let’s be honest: we all like rewards; take out on Fridays, a trip to Starbucks, a special purchase. So while we need kids to know and understand that reading in and of itself is a reward, I’m okay with giving a little more every now and then. At my school, we do Accelerated Reading which allows kids to read books at their level then take a test to check their comprehension. Each book is worth a certain amount of points (harder book = higher points) and your points are based on how well you do answering questions about the book. The teachers at our school take various approaches when deciding how to utilize those points as motivation. I have seen (and borrowed) some incredibly creative ideas. Depending on the grade level, the teacher, and the goal, kids have earned computer time, tours of the office and staff room, buddy time, time with the principal, lunch with the teacher, and a host of other special rewards.

So does this add to or diminish the academic and personal reasons for reading? In my experience, it adds to both. Students who are academically motivated already, will enjoy the extra rewards and bonuses that come from doing something they were going to do anyway. For the at risk, unmotivated, or uninterested readers, the reward might provide a hook to get them started. The key, for me, is knowing your learners and knowing what would be a reward for the individual student. It might not be a prize from the ‘prize bin’ or an extra ten minutes on the computer, but if you can know your students, you can find what their motivation is and use it to help them move forward.Reading for Reward by Jody Holford

I’ve noticed that once you start a ‘system’ with students, they become attached to the routine as much as anything else. In my class, every AR point goes up on a chart. From there, every 5 points gets a sticker and every 5 stickers receives a prize, which could be a new pencil, sharpener, eraser or bookmark. Most kids are going to meet these goals anyway, so the ‘prize’ is just a little bonus for effort, time, and achievement. The students are very particular about the routine, even at the grade 4/5 level. They put their AR quizzes in the folder, remind me to tally points, let me know when they’ve reached personal and/or class goals. Recently, my class walked to the store as a reward for achieving the class goal of reaching over 500 AR points. Every student in the class contributed to that goal. It didn’t matter by how much, but it mattered that together we worked towards it and together, we celebrated it.

I can teach without giving rewards. I can implement curriculum and engage my students without giving them prizes or anything more than verbal praise. The 21st century learning goal is to motivate and engage all learners. I like to think that I can meet this goal without the bonus incentives. If my objective is to do just that, to motivate and engage without incentives, then, for me, offering the incentives only enhances the experiences and the enjoyment for my learners.

Journey of a Reluctant reader…Re-evaluating Reluctance

Posted on January 20th, 2012 by Jody

I’ve realized a few things about reluctance this year: 1 is that it can be subjective; 2 is that it exists in all of us; and 3 is that it can tell us a lot about ourselves, as readers and as individuals.

My reluctant-but-not-really-reluctant reader, Johnny, informed me the other day that he LOVES Gordon Korman. So much so, that he has read a number of Korman’s books. Based on this, he decided to try Titanic. He actually ended up returning the book the next day because he didn’t like it, but it was at this point that I realized his reluctance applies less to reading and more to WHAT he is reading. He’s more than willing to read (or try) Korman books, anything by Sachar, and books recommended by myself or friends. So while he says he doesn’t like to read, I think that really, he doesn’t like wasting time reading books that don’t pull him in. His reluctance is an ever changing thing, based on what he happens to be reading at the time. This led me to realization number 2.

If reluctance applies to what we are reading and not reading itself, then it exists in all of us. My best friend often reminds me, when she’s trying to get me to read a great book, how long I resisted reading Harry Potter. She has read the books more times than I can count and had praised them repeatedly for years. All 7 were out by the time I finally opened the Philosophers Stone. I couldn’t put it down and was very grateful to have 6 more to read when I finished it. But, I had definitely been reluctant. What makes us, and students, so sure that we won’t enjoy something? What makes us want to give some books a chance and not others? I continue to be a reluctant, or perhaps choosey, reader. This same friend had a hard time convincing me to try Hunger Games, which I also loved. However, when it came to book 3 of that series, my reluctance once again surfaced and the reason, I believe, is linked to my third realization.

My reluctance to read Mockingjay, and even my approach to Hunger Games and Catching Fire, reflects aspects of my personality. I think that if we look at what hooks students and what doesn’t, we can get some insight into their personalities as well. While reading Hunger Games, I needed verbal reassurance from my friend that things were going to be okay; that Katniss was going to be okay. I couldn’t truly invest myself in the novel if she wasn’t. Though she was okay, both in this book and the next, I still couldn’t read the third because there was too much sadness for me. There were so many powerful aspects of the books; the characters, the fight for a better world, the relationships, the physical and mental challenges. But in the end, it still involved losing people and making horribly difficult choices. For me, it was too emotional. This relates to who I am as a person and made me realize that the books our students choose, likely relate to who they are as people.

If I take a look at Johnny’s choices this year, I can definitely find links to his personality. Some of the books he has chosen are Lemonade War, Lemonade Crime, Holes ,and Small Steps. Each of these books has a strong male character, humor, struggles and challenges for the male character to overcome and interesting interactions between the characters. In my class, Johnny has the ability to take a ‘lead role’ in classroom activities. The other students enjoy working with him and playing with him. He’s a people person, much like Evan in Lemonade War. He has a good sense of humor, which likely makes it easy for him to relate to books such as these. The strongest link I recognize however, is that each of the male characters in these books feel comfortable with the decisions they make. They know right from wrong and though they don’t always make the best choice, they look for ways to please the people around them because they care.

Over the next little while, I’m going to watch the book selections of my students more closely. I’m going to try to find links between what they choose and what I see in them. Does the choice for fantasy and magic tell me something about them or link to their writing style perhaps? What about the students who choose books about power struggles and facing fears? Do they back away from books, like I do, that pull out too much of themselves or are those the books they seek? It’ll be interesting to track what books some of my other reluctant readers are choosing or avoiding. The more we know about ourselves as readers, the better we can teach our students to get to know themselves through their choices.

Organizing a Personal Library

Posted on January 15th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

This year I am determined to find the best way to organize my personal library. At the same time, I hope to “weed out” a few titles. After all, there is only so much space I can devote to picture books – especially as my boys are now fourteen and sixteen.

But going on a “book diet” is no easier than reducing carbs or eating low fat. Most every book I pick up has a memory attached or has some redeeming qualities: I love the illustrations or the narrative promotes diversity and acceptance, the animals are charming or funny, the rhyme is clever or the lesson imparted is an important one.

After careful consideration, I finally think I have arrived at the perfect measuring stick for picture books: ‘Will I want to read this book to my grandchild?” Of course, grandchildren are unlikely for the foreseeable future so the books that are permitted to “stay” need to have a timeless quality. Also, since I have no idea whether my grandchild will be a boy or girl, I will have to keep books for boys and books for girls as well as those that appeal to both. Since I don’t know whether my grandchild will be an only child or one of many, books about family life and siblings are definite “must haves.” Anything, anything that hints at a loving relationship between grandparent and grandchild will definitely stay.

At the moment, my personal library includes close to three thousand children’s books, chapter books and young adult titles. I have it organized as follows:

Picture books (excluding seasonal) arranged alphabetically by author
Concept picture books (alphabet, counting, time, etc.)
Wordless and almost wordless picture books
Poetry
Seasonal and holiday picture books – arranged by month and then by title
Chapter books and young adult novels – arranged alphabetically by author
Easy Readers and books for emergent readers – arranged according to difficulty

Of course, this sounds really quite well organized but it fails to include the various “piles” that dominate my office floor, waiting to be read. It also ignores my “workshop” books which are always “at the ready” in easy-to-transport Rubbermaid totes.

This month, I am hoping to reread about one hundred of the picture books and decide which of them should stay on the picture book shelf but, then again, maybe I ought to tackle one of the “piles.” At least the former books are currently on a shelf! If I deal with a “pile,” I will have more floorspace and will feel just a tiny bit better about my ability to organize. I might actually “reduce” my library footprint.

Stay tuned as I work on this project throughout 2012 and post about it monthly.

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…Small Steps

Posted on December 10th, 2011 by Jody

We found another book this week and once again, I found myself being thankful for sequels. My reluctant reader, Johnny decided to give Small Steps by Louios Sachar a try this week. Knowing that he loved Holes enough to read it twice made it an easy suggestion. He easily agreed to give it a try. I find that even as an adult, I love books that connect and carry on. When you really love a book, chances are you really love the characters. When you love the characters, you want more. You want to know what happens to them and to their friends. Sequels make this possible. There’s a comfort, for me at least, knowing that even if the end of a book is coming (which always makes me a little sad if I’m really enjoying it) there is another one to follow that will update me on what’s happened to those characters.

Though every series can’t be Harry Potter, which allows us to follow much beloved characters for years, it’s wonderful when there’s at least a second. Lemonade War offered this with Lemonade Crime. Holes is followed by Small Steps. Then there’s other series, such as Ramona, which is followed by many books about her family, adventures, and friends. Series of Unfortunate Events, Fudge, Warriors; there are too many to list.

I think for “reluctant readers”, like Johnny, sequels are a critical component of ‘keeping them hooked’. His willingness to read allows for him to get attached to a character and the sequel keeps him coming back and keeps him reading. Often, it’s what keeps me reading.

So for now, I’m really happy with how Johnny’s journey is going.  He may be reluctant to choose the activity (although this is becoming less true), but he’s reading. In the end, whether it’s sequels, Harry Potter, comic books, or the newspaper, we just want them reading.

We’ll see where Johnny’s journey takes us in the new year.

The Butterfly Circus

Posted on December 5th, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

Set during the Great Depression, The Butterfly Circus encourages viewers to rethink disability, stereotypes and assumptions.

The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph

When Mendez, a showman from the renowned Butterfly Circus discovers a limbless man being exploited at a carnival sideshow, the showman sees ability and courage rather than disability. He sees a magnificant man.

A multi award-winning short film, The Butterfly Circus will soon be made into a full-length, feature film.

The Butterfly Circus – HD from The Butterfly Circus on Vimeo.

The Butterfly Circus
Directed by: Joshua Weigel
Written by: Joshua Weigel & Rebekah Weigel
Produced by: Joshua Weigel, Rebekah Weigel & Angie Alvarez
Starring: Eduardo Verastegui (Bella, Chasing Papi), Nick Vujicic (Life Without Limbs) & Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Fantastic Four – Rise of the Silver Surfer, Hellboy)

Journey of a Reluctant Reader…apparently, “it’s on”

Posted on November 21st, 2011 by Jody

Maybe reluctant reader is not the term I’m looking for…

I’m beginning to think that reluctant is not the best term to define my reader. While some synonyms of this word, such as wary or opposed, might apply to his overall attitude toward reading, this last week assured me that he is not, as the definition states, unenthusiastic or unwilling.

Many of the kids were very excited by the arrival of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Cabin Fever this last week. Some had ordered it as far back as September, myself included. I was quietly happy when Johnny asked if he could borrow my copy to read. When I commented about the fact that he was asking to read yet another book, he ammended his request to, “Actually, can I just borrow the book to look at the pictures?” He’s clever.

But so am I. On Friday afternoon, I asked Johnny if he’d like to borrow my copy of Cabin Fever.

Johnny: For the weekend?

Me: Yes, but I haven’t even read it yet. It’s brand new so you have to promise to be extra careful. And you have to promise to return it.

Johnny: Ok.

Me: You have to bring it back Monday. Even if you’re not done.

Johnny: Oh, I can finish it by Monday (he was only a chapter or so into it at this point)

Me: The whole book?

Johnny: I totally can! I bet you I can!

Me: Ok. You want to read the whole book this weekend?

Johnny: I will. I’ll be finished by Monday. I bet you.

Me: Ok. You finish it by Monday and I’ll give you a bonus AR sticker (I give one sticker for every 5 Accelerated Reader points and every 5 stickers gets a prize)

Johnny: Okay!!! It’s on!!

Me: It’s on?

Johnny: Yup~it’s on!!!

Me: Okay then. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Other students: It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong! It’s on like Donkey Kong!

This morning, five minutes after walking in, Johnny returned my copy of the book, in perfect condition, telling me that he had, just like he said he would, finished the book. He even offered to tell the class about it, which I may let him do tomorrow.

If you remember my earlier posts about Johnny, you’ll know that he had once said he’d rather sleep, or do anything else, than read. So I can’t help wondering if he realizes that he not only chose to spend his free time reading, committed part of his weekend to the activity, but met a self-issued challenge that may cause him to lose his ‘reluctant’ title. I won’t tell him just yet, that he may gain something far more valuable.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at Amazon.com

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever at Amazon.ca


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