Posts Tagged ‘middle grade readers’

Top Ten Literacy Highlights of My Year

Posted on June 12th, 2013 by Jody

Image of cover art for SlobWe all have our strengths in the classroom. Mine, as you may have guessed it, is Literacy. It’s because we are good at what we know and love. This is my area of passion so it translates well to most of the kids. That doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing all the time or effortless; but when you love something so much, even the struggles can seem engaging. So, to recap another year that has gone by incredibly fast, I’m sharing my top ten literacy moments from this school year.

10. Almost every student in my class of 30 improved their reading level.

9. Several students recommended books they thought I should read and told me why.this

8. Forgetting the first book I read this year and having a student bring it up while making a connection the other day. Ellen Potter’s Slob left a lasting impression on them.

7. Starting a blog site where the students talked about their favourite books, questions, predictions, and started writing a group story.

6. Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper.

5. Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

4. Writing Every Day. Especially on the days where I say I’ll give them a break and they say “NO! We want to write.”

3. Listening to the creative ways students express themselves. One of my students made a list called: Ten Reasons I hate to write. Another wrote a Wanted Ad for a perfect teacher.

2. Our class did a write and pass. So each student wrote one sentence then passed their sheet. The next person read that sentence, added a new sentence that made sense and continued the story. We did this in two groups of fifteen.

1. One of my two main reluctant readers (the boy) asked me if he could skip the free time they’d earned so that he could read (**insert teacher doing cartwheels here**). My other reluctant reader (the girl) came to me and said I need a book. I said, ‘Okay. How about this?” She’d read it. “This?” She’d read it. This? Read. This? Read. This went on for several books. She’s read over a dozen books since September.

There is absolutely no better feeling as a teacher than knowing you helped a child connect to books. Books open doors, minds, hearts, and worlds in a way nothing else can. These journeys are powerful and I feel so grateful for the ones my students took me on this year.

The same but different: Sixth Grade Secrets

Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Jody

image of cover art for Sixth Grade SecretsSixth Grade Secrets written by Louis Sachar

Chapter book for middle grade readers republished by Scholastic

One of my favourite read alouds is Louis Sachar’s Sixth Grade Secrets. The main character, Laura, starts a secret club. This leads to a variety of themes including: inclusion, exclusion, friendship, crushes, and cliques. To sum it up: it’s sixth grade as all of us knew it. The thing about Louis Sachar’s writing is that it is laugh out loud funny. The things his characters say and do make you laugh because you can imagine yourself doing them. This is true of adults and kids. When you can see yourself in characters or their situations, you connect.

What surprised me this year, was how aware I became of language, tone, and subject matter. I read the book for the first time about six years ago. I didn’t read it last year or the year before so when I went back to it this year, I just remembered that it’s this funny book about two clubs that get started in a school where no clubs are allowed. The characters are quirky and endearing and draw you in. All of this still holds true. The book has not changed. This means that we, or I, have.

There are parts in the book that I now won’t read out loud that I’m sure I would have before. I don’t know if that is because of my teaching, my audience, the parents of my audience, or a societal change. When the girls start talking about being “flat-chested”, I omitted it. When they collect insurance for the secret club so no one will talk, I found myself uncertain if I wanted to say the word “underpants” (which is what they make one girl give to insure she keeps quiet. What really hit home I think, is the hands on bullying behavior that I worried about reading out loud. At one point in the novel, they “mustardize” Gabriel, the main boy and the Laura’s nemisis/crush. In the past, certainly when I first read it, I found it quite amusing. This time, however, I used that moment to talk about the bullying that was happening in the scene. How did they feel? How did the characters feel? What would be the result of actions like that?

I realized that times have really changed. The book came out when I was in grade seven. At that time, you probably could have ‘mustardized’ someone and feared only the retaliation of a similar sort. Perhaps getting egged or ‘nicky-nine-doored’. Whether it’s kids growing up faster, technology, increasing levels of bullying and awareness, and/or school violence, I couldn’t just read this funny book and glaze over the deeper issues. Where in the past, the book was about reading a light and easy end of year book before sending my students to grade six, it has become a teaching tool.

There’s actually an ongoing issue in the book where Laura says she never tells a lie. Laura has very unique and creative ways of looking at the definition of ‘lying’. Gabriel sees Laura as a chronic liar. This was an excellent opportunity to talk to my students about things like lying by omission, telling the truth, and how others perceive you. Big themes from a book that I’d always kept light. But as time changes, so do the needs of our students. We need to communicate with them and connect with them. What an interesting opportunity to get to know my students in a new way, just by asking who considers Laura to be a liar and who does not.

In closing, it’s a great book. I no longer feel comfortable with some of the language, though it’s not necessarily bad, but I just skip or adlib what I don’t want to read. Regardless of those few spots, it is an engaging tale that the kids love, laugh at, and listen to. If it sparks conversation and debate, that’s a bonus.

Sixth Grade Secrets at Amazon.com

Sixth Grade Secrets at Amazon.ca

Sixth Grade Secrets was published as Pig City in the UK.

Pig City at Amazon.ca


Freckle Juice – a fun chapter book for children aged 7 and up

Posted on April 22nd, 2013 by Jody

Storytime Standouts Looks at Freckle Juice by Judy BlumeFreckle Juice written by Judy Blume
Chapter book for children aged 7 and up originally published by Four Winds Press, a Division of Scholastic. Now published by Ingram Book & Distributor.

I received a free copy of Freckle Juice, by Judy Blume, as part of a Scholastic order that I placed for my classroom. I had not read this yet and when my seven year old asked to borrow a book from my classroom library, it seemed like a safe one. She read it on her own and then asked if we could read it together with her sister who is ten. All of us enjoy a wide variety of books and have different tastes. All three of us, however, were in complete agreement that Freckle Juice was, as Blume typically is, funny, charming, and cute.

Andrew thinks that if he had freckles his life would be a lot easier. A classmate offers him a solution to this problem for fifty cents. This evoked some conversation with my girls, as Andrew tells us that fifty cents is FIVE weeks of allowance. Little details like this made the girls connect to the story and talk about things like: Would you give up your allowance for someone to share a secret with you? Do you think the classmate really knows a secret? Why do you think fifty cents was a lot of money then but isn’t now? Pretty interesting and driven forward by the girls. I love book talk so I enjoyed listening to them and talking to them very much.

What we didn’t talk about but a connection that I made was to a favourite series of picture books; If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Dog a Donut, and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. I loved the opening of Freckle Juice where Andrew deduces that if only he had freckles a series of events would take place. Also, because he doesn’t have freckles becomes his explanation for a variety of issues, such as paying attention in class. If he had his own freckles, he wouldn’t have to count Nicky’s and then he would be able to pay attention in class and then he wouldn’t get in trouble. I love that chain of cause and effect rationalized by the main character. It’s the same cause and effect that we see in the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books. It’s such a creative way for kids to look at all the different places one simple choice can lead. It creates a great discussion about whether or not you really think something would or would not happen as a result of one tiny event or detail.

I also loved that the teacher in the story plays along when Andrew decides to teach Sharon a lesson and gives himself freckles. The teacher could have just told him to wash them off but she, instead, uses it as a teachable moment and manages to boost both Andrew and Nicky’s self-esteem.

It’s typically Blume: sweet, relatable, and simple in the message it delivers to children. Often, I get caught up in the newest series, struggling to find away to pull in those reluctant readers, to hook them. We forget the treasures we grew up with and the timeless pull they have on readers. Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl…these books still hook children the way the used to, with their characters and stories of friendship, choices and childhood. Whether freckles, curly hair, or crooked teeth, every person has something they wish they could change about themselves and Blume finds a way to tell readers that we are all perfect, just the way we are.

Freckle Juice at Amazon.com

Freckle Juice at Amazon.ca

Freckle Juice Comprehension Questions from Gigglepotz

Comprehension Questions from Leaping Into 5th Grade

Mini Unit from Easy Fun School

Elizabeth Messick’s Website



Is there such a thing as too much reading?

Posted on April 1st, 2013 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' guest contributor asks Is there such a thing as too much reading?  We all want to see our children reading. Even parents who don’t love to read, (such as my own dad who refuses to) like to see their children enjoying reading. We know that it’s part of what makes us successful in life. Reading and comprehension open not only figurative doors, but literal ones as well. Having your child be able to read and understand what they are reading is a necessity. However, having your child read just for pleasure and the magic it provides, is a gift. As much as we try or don’t try, we can’t always determine whether our children will love the act of reading; of falling so far into a story that you feel like you’re part of it.



What if, however, your child is falling so far into the story that they refuse to come out of it. For those of you that struggle to get your children to read their 15 minutes a night, this might not sound like a problem. However, I’m facing a dilemna that I don’t know how to solve. My husband, myself, and our children LOVE to read. We read constantly. Both of our children read far above their grade level and while I would love to say that’s our influence, (and, in part, it might be) I don’t think that’s the only factor. I say that because I know parents who foster a love of reading and it’s still a chore to get their kids to read. So, I’m very grateful that my children love their books. They are more likely to choose a book for a long car ride than their iPods. They’d like the iPods too, but are content with a pile of books. So how can this become a problem?

This morning, my oldest daughter, who is caught deep in the trenches of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Lightning Thief saga, came downstairs, hugged me, went straight to the couch and crawled back into her book. When we spoke to her, she didn’t hear us (most likely because of how loud the cyclops and strange animals in the book are), when her sister asked her to play, Polly Pockets seemed a ridiculous choice over the half man-half dog that she was reading about. When we made her put down the book, she was less than impressed, in the way only a preteen, emotional girl can be.

Cover art for The Lightning Thief

Now I’m hovering between pride, that she loves this book so much, and irritation because she won’t do anything else. I felt absolutely ridiculous telling her to put down her book and spend time with her family. I told my husband that I felt like I was punishing her for reading, which is the very last thing I want to do. How can I be irritated that she’s reading?

Then I started to think about the books that I have on the go; several, as always because I can’t read one thing at a time. Also, I currently have two manuscripts I’m working on open on my computer. I’ve got cleaner on the table because my plan is to spend some, much needed time cleaning. There are waffles on the counter because my youngest was desperate to have them. It would have been nice to stayed tucked up on the couch reading my own book, but the youngest is rather persistent. The point is, even though we want them to love reading and know that it will give them so much pleasure as they get older, balance is still the key. We have to still be able to attend to our lives, even in the midst of a great book.Reading and Comprehension open not only figurative doors but literal ones as well.

I understand my daughter’s obsession very well; she gets it from me. When I get into a book, reading or writing, it can consume me. If my characters are unhappy, my mood is affected. Likewise, if they are happy, so am I. It’s wonderful to feel this much a part of a book and a great cudos to an author that they brought you into their world so completely. Still, we cannot forget the world around us that inspires and creates these stories. We cannot lose ourselves so completely that we miss out on what is right in front of us. It bothers me to tell my kids to put down a book but I have to sometimes, the same way I’d tell them to put down their DS or iPod. Okay, maybe not the same way; I’m far more likely to let hours go by just reading than I would be to let hours go by on the electronics. All the same, the world is still going on around us and it is very easy to forget when we aren’t paying attention.

I don’t think I’ve solved my quandry because I still feel both guilty and justified over making her put down the book. Plus, now I have to see what’s got her so hooked. She has not loved a set of books like this since Harry Potter. Anyone who knows how obsessed my daughter has been with Harry Potter knows: that is saying something. She has decided that Rick Riordin is her favourite author and is reading anything she can get her hands on by him. She talks about his characters as though I’ve read every page with her; she starts telling me about something and only when she mentions half-animal bodies do I realize she’s not telling me something about her friends at school. She is IN those books. I love that; more than I can possibly say. But I still need her to be IN our life; playing with her sister, helping around the house, laughing and talking with us, and being a part of our day.

I suppose, like anything else, we have to teach her how to employ that balance. If the author didn’t come up for air sometimes, hadn’t had the experiences he did, if he hadn’t loved mythology, or had a desire to share stories with his own kids, she wouldn’t be reading these books that have her so captivated. Living our lives is what makes for great stories. While it’s an amazing treasure to get lost in the stories that someone else has created, we have to remind ourselves that real life is pretty cool too.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians website

The Lightning Thief at Amazon.com

The Lightning Thief at Amazon.ca


Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Posted on March 22nd, 2013 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Young adult fiction published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House

I swear, I’m not the Paula Abdul of book reviews; I do not think that every book I read is amazing and moving and captivating. It just so happens that, this year, I have been incredibly fortunate to choose book after book that is amazing, moving, and captivating. Eight Keys, by Suzanne LaFleur, is beautiful. It weaves together the themes of finding yourself, knowing yourself, experiencing loss, friendship, bullying, acceptance, and family. Elise is a young girl who lost both her parents. She lives with her aunt and uncle, who I wish I lived with because they’re real and tangible characters. She has a best friend who she thinks she may have outgrown. She gets bullied mercilessly by the popular girl at school.

In the midst of all this, she is turning 12, which in itself can be life changing. She discovers a key and eight doors in her uncle’s workshop. The key opens one of the doors. The book follows her journey, as she unlocks each of the doors and discovers something about who she was, who she is, and who she could be. Each room also gives her insight into where she comes from. The most touching and heartwrenching part, for me from my parenting perspective, was that, knowing he was going to die, her father spent his final days putting each of these rooms together for her. As she explores all of them, she gets to know the mother and father she doesn’t remember. She also gets to learn about the people who have raised her.

Elise is such an honest and real character. There are parts of the book where we didn’t like her very much (my class and I) but the honest part comes from the fact that we know Elise doesn’t like herself very much at those moments either. The class had great discussions around different topics, such as: what do you do if you think a friendship is over? Do you always have to get along with a friend? What do you do when you are bullied? Has a friend ever changed on you so that you felt like you didn’t know them anymore? These are real things that I can remember dealing with in my teen years and I think they are things we still deal with as adults. Life is about change and it isn’t easy. People come into your life for different periods of time. We don’t always know if they’re in our lives for the long term. Even as adults, we can struggle to make and keep friends because we change.

I love how Elise came to her own conclusions. Her aunt and uncle guided her and supported her. They didn’t like some of her choices, but they were firm and fair with her and, as a result, she saw herself more clearly.

Eight Keys is a beautiful book. It is the kind of book that an author should aspire to write. It held the audience captive, created discussion, allowed for introspection, and connected us to the main characters. At the end of the book, I found myself wanting to know Elise ten years from now. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her and neither did the kids. When I read the last line of the book, one of the students said, “What? There’s no more?” I felt exactly the same.

Eight Keys at Amazon.com

Eight Keys at Amazon.ca



Anti bullying; different approaches for different ages

Posted on February 25th, 2013 by Jody

image of album cover for Mean by Taylor SwiftAs an avid lover of picture books, and a writer of them as well, I have to remind myself that this isn’t the only way to connect with kids, especially as they approach that pre-teen stage. I tend to lean toward using picture books as a way to teach reading skills, such as inferring, predicting, connecting, and visualizing because I find them very powerful. Also, when you pull out picture books in grade five, the students think the lesson isn’t going to be as difficult. They love listening to stories and books that they would no longer pick out on their own in the library.

So while it may be a go-to strategy for me, I know that I have to reach out in other ways too. Especially when the message we need to convey becomes more and more important with every day. We talk about bullying frequently in the classroom because it’s an always present subject. The discussions take many forms: ignoring, taunting, teasing, standing up, bystanding, taking action, cyber bullying, verbal vs physical, and how to deal with the different types.

This week, we made a group poster that we hoped would appeal to the victims of bullying. All of the slogans and catch phrases offered encouragement and support: “stand up”, “believe”, “brave”, “don’t give up”, “strong”, and many more. The kids did a great job coming up with things they could say to other students that would help them feel better about themselves and the situation they might find themselves in. Sadly, many of them have likely been in that situation and they need to know that how they feel is important.

Another very powerful resource that we don’t turn to as often, is music. Lyrics are an incredibly powerful way to connect with students and help them explore issues that are current and real. Just like they enjoyed the nursery rhymes and songs when they were little, contemporary music can also leave a lasting impression. There are a wide range of artists that deal with issues like isolation, being different, standing up for yourself, not being alone, and believing in yourself. Of course, there are many with inappropriate lyrics that can’t be shared at school, but there are also others that can help you connect your students to the issues at hand. Think: Mean by Taylor Swift, Firework by Katy Perry, Who Says by Saleena Gomez, and even Loser Like Me by the Glee Cast. It is yet another avenue to explore that offers us the opportunity to connect with kids at their level, with something they already feel strongly about; music. In addition to the lyrics, the students appreciate the artists that sing them. These artists write about being different and unaccepted, making the kids realize that even people they admire may have felt this way too.

The truth is, bullying happens in every walk of life, at every age. Teaching compassion, acceptance, empathy, and understanding at every age is essential. It needs to be something that continues to be emphasized throughout all stages, both at home and at school. Kids, and many adults, need to know that the choices they make, whether in words or actions, affect the people around them. This never stops being true. Sometimes I worry that we get lost in all of the details without remembering what’s most important: people. We are teaching more than Math or Language Arts. We are teaching students how to engage and intereact and resolve conflict, how to accept differences and celebrate being unique.

The connection between home and school is an important one because these types of things cannot be taught in a 45 minute Personal Planning lesson. It has to be part of us so we can encourage it to be part of them. So next time you are listening to your favourite artist, think about the message that they’re sending. Better yet, put on Taylor Swift and sing along with them; ask your kids why they think she would write a song like Mean. Ask them what they think it means, do they see bullying at school, how do they deal with it? We need to talk to our kids and communicate with them. We use resources like books and lyrics, but in the end, it is us sending them the message of what is important by what we choose to share with them, by how we act and interact.

Wear pink on Wednesday, read some of the great books out there on bullying (Enemy Pie, Juice Box Bully, Eight Keys, Slob, The Recess Queen– I could go on and on), or listen to music that empowers your kids to find their voice. Talk to your kids about why you’re doing it and what it all means. Even if they know the reason behind why we wear pink on February 27th, talk to them, read with them, sing with them. Just find a way to let them know that we are all in this together.

Mean at Amazon.com

Mean at Amazon.ca

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.

 

Slob by Ellen Potter …not what you think

Posted on November 9th, 2012 by Jody

Storytime Standouts' guest contributor writes about sharing Slob by Ellen Potter with her grade five class.Slob by Ellen Potter
Middle grade chapter book about bullying published by Philomel



Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

It’s risky, but I like to start my school year out by reading a book to my class that I have not read. I look for a book in the right age range with topics that are current and important. This year, I started with Slob by Ellen Potter. It’s about a 12 year old boy, Owen,  who is known for being the fattest kid in the school. You can easily predict, at this point, that a central theme is bullying. But there’s more to it than that; Potter weaves the themes of finding yourself, teenage relationships, and heartbreak into the overarching theme of bullying.

I found that there were parts that were a bit ‘technical’, for lack of a better term; Owen is building a machine to view an event that happened two years ago. We don’t know what and we don’t know why, but we know that building this machine he calls Nemesis, is what drives him. There were times when the character was trying to stream video, capture signals, and pinpoint specific moments according to satellite images. As a read aloud, I found myself having to break these things down for my grade 5’s because they couldn’t re read on their own to increase their understanding.

Having said that, the author included a number of twists that I just did not expect. One of the conversations we had, as a class, was about what surprised us most; there were many things. She did a great job weaving the themes together, keeping us hooked, and connecting us to the characters. We were invested. The kids wanted a resolution for Owen. The book also taught them that sometimes the outcome we want is not what we get, but we need to learn to live with that, as Owen did.

An interesting story line was about Owen’s sister. Her name is actually Caitlin but because she is part of a group called GWAB (Girls who are boys), so she is called Jeremy throughout the book. It’s not entirely clear why these girls want to be boys; they dress like boys, protest, and change their names, but the issues they’re fighting are not the forefront of the book. As Jeremy shows us though, it’s not just about an identity crisis; it’s about finding a place for yourself during those years when you feel so out of place. Added to that feeling, for Jeremy and for Owen, is the night two years ago that defines who they are right this minute.

As a teacher, the most disturbing part of the book was the bullying that occurred at the hands of Owen’s PE teacher. He was a horrible person and their are some truly cringe worthy moments in the book. And yes, the students asked if teachers would ever do some of those things. While I’d like to believe that such terrible things never happen; we know they do. So what I told them was, yes, adults can be bullies too. Adults can make poor choices and bad decisions. But there’s always an adult you can trust and turn to. Regardless of who is bullying you (and Owen is bullied by many), it’s essential that you get help. A bully is a bully. Just because that bully may be old enough to truly know better, doesn’t mean they make the right choices. Owen stood up to Mr. Wooly in the end. He should have asked for help rather than facing this alone. I hope the students in my class know that there’s always someone who will stand up for them. A parent, teacher, friend…anyone; just someone who will stand next to them and have their back. Ellen Potter did a really good job of navigating the relationships of the main character, showing that sometimes the people you can rely on, are not  the ones you thought they’d be.

Slob at Amazon.com

Slob at Amazon.ca

Anti Bullying Chapter Book – Song Lee and the “I Hate You Notes”

Posted on November 7th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

Song Lee and the “I Hate You” Notes written by Suzy Kline and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
Anti bullying chapter book (reprint) published by Puffin

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

Suzy Kline has written many books for young readers. She writes about school life, family life and social situations in chapter book series that feature Horrible Harry, Song Lee and
Herbie Jones.

In Song Lee and the “I Hate You” Notes, Mary has been staying up late. She is tired when she arrives at school and she is grumpy for most of the day.

Everyone laughed but Mary. She was too busy biting and chewing on her braid. Her rotten mood was as mean and angry as the dark clouds gathering outside our classroom window.

I could tell something bad was going to happen.

I hoped it was just a storm.

Doug’s intuition is correct. Not only is a storm brewing outside, there is one developing inside Miss Mackle’s classroom. Mary is upset with Song Lee and leaves two notes on her desk. Harry and Doug see Song Lee open the notes. They quietly retrieve the notes from a garbage can and read them. They are reluctant to “tattle” but they can see that Song Lee is upset. Harry speaks quietly to Miss Mackle and she is grateful for the information he provides. She has the perfect solution: she reaches for a picture book. Lovable Lyle by Bernard Waber has just the right message for Mary and her classmates.

Best suited to children in grades two and three, Song Lee and the “I Hate You” Notes realistically depicts both the bully and her victim and encourages bystanders to get involved and enlist the assistance of an adult.

Song Lee and the I Hate You Notes at Amazon.com

Song Lee and the I Hate You Notes at Amazon.ca

Lovable Lyle at Amazon.com

Lovable Lyle at Amazon.ca


Anti bullying graphic novel, Babymouse Queen of the World!

Posted on November 5th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

Babymouse Queen of the World! Created by Jennifer L Holm and Matthew Holm

Anti bullying graphic novel

published by Random House Kids

Be sure to check out our page about anti-bullying picture books for children, our page about anti bullying chapter books, graphic novels and novels for children , and our Pinterest anti bullying board

Babymouse burst onto the scene in 2005 in Babymouse Queen of the World. Since then, enthusiastic readers have flocked to the series of fifteen graphic novels for middle grade readers.

Babymouse Queen of the World introduces a strong female character. Babymouse has a vivid imagination, she loves cupcakes, reading and scary movies. She longs for adventure, glamour and excitement and hopes for straight whiskers and no homework. Instead, Babymouse is stuck with chores, tons of homework, a locker that sticks and some very annoying curly whiskers.

When Babymouse hears about an upcoming slumber party to be hosted by Felicia Furrrypaws, she is willing to do almost anything to secure an invitation. When Felicia fails to complete a homework assignment, she acquires Babymouse’s book report in exchange for an invitation to the her party. Babymouse ditches her best friend, Wilson the Weasel, misses their scary movie night and goes to the slumber party.

In a case of “Be careful what you wish for” Babymouse discovers the party is quite what she had envisioned

This is so boring.
We’re out of popcorn. Go make yourself useful, Babymouse… And bring extra butter.

Middle grade readers will be drawn to this boldly illustrated anti bullying graphic novel. They will connect with Babymouse’s dreams and identify with the frustrations and challenges she faces.

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World! at Amazon.com

Babymouse #1: Queen of the World! at Amazon,ca


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.

Remembering Harry Potter’s Magic

Posted on August 13th, 2012 by Jody

Remembering Harry Potters Magic A Guest Post by @1prncs

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor takes another look at Harry Potter and the magic delivered in J.K. Rowling’s wonderful series.





I am reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my oldest daughter this summer. I have read the series once after a friend, who has read it, literally, dozens of times, insisted that I could not put it off any longer; I had to read it. So I did. And I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when it originally came out. I remember listening to how much everyone loved it and the movies are among my favourites. Waiting did have one advantage, however; by the time I read the books, they were all published so I could read them all back to back.

Now, as I reread Harry Potter with my daughter, I’m remembering all of the things I loved about the books. I am completely absorbed in the story once again and so is she. Lately, all of her playing is geared around wizards and wizardry. All of their dolls are currently attending Hogwarts. As I’ve watched her get wrapped up in the story of Harry and his friends, I realized that only one of my students was reading Harry Potter this year. This could be because the kids have read it when they were younger, but it seems unlikely that they have read all seven books by grade four or five. I am hoping that with series such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, Warriors, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter is not being forgotten in this age group. I think grade four is a great age for the first book. I think I will have to poll my class in September to see how many have read the series or at least some of them.

Harry Potter came out 12 years ago. The Deathly Hallows came out in 2007. It’s entirely possible that with the hype of so many new books over the years, that Harry is not the most sought after character at the library. It would be a shame to forget how magical and amazing JK Rowling’s books are. Unlike the Twilight series or The Hunger Games, children get to grow and mature with Harry. As he becomes older, the conflicts and challenges he faces become more involved and difficult. The intensity builds with each book. Not that the intensity doesn’t increase with each of the books in the other series, but the intensity is there from the beginning. Katniss* is fighting for her life from chapter one. Bella and Edward** are drawn to each other immediately.

In Harry Potter, we meet a young boy poorly treated by relatives that do not want him. The first story captures our hearts and interest by letting us connect to him and feel the same amazement that he does as he learns about his wizarding background and accepts his future at Hogwarts. Harry has an innocence that Bella and Katniss do not. Of course, they are entirely different books, but I know that they were the central focus of my grade five classroom not that many years ago. Now, based on what I’ve seen my students borrowing from the library, that focus has shifted.

I don’t actually read Harry Potter in the classroom. But this year, I think I will make an effort to see how many kids have read it on their own or with their families. It will be interesting to see how many of this year’s class, who would have been born in between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Pheonix, are familiar with the novels. Since they became readers, the “Harry Potter Hype” has lessened, as all hype does. Regardless of which books are grabbing the most attention today, we need to remember that there are some books (many) that should always be on a person’s “Must Read” or “Have Read” list. The Harry Potter series should definitely on those lists.

*The Hunger Games
**Twilight


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.

I hate when things are over…summer reading beckons

Posted on June 28th, 2012 by Jody

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor reflects on the school year and looks forward to summer reading



One of my favourite lines from the song Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something is “And I hate when things are over/ when so much is left undone”. At the moment, it sums up how I feel about the end of the school year. Though I look forward to the summer, the break, the rest, and the, hopefully, nice weather, I know I’ll spend time thinking of all the things I didn’t manage to do this year.

Rather than think about all of the things I could have done better or more of, I thought I’d recount some of my favourite books from this year and share my summer “to read” list. The books I like most from this year are the ones that excited the kids. So while they may not have been MY favourite books, the following is a list of books that engaged my students, hooked my reluctant readers, and caused many classroom discussions.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

Warriors by Erin Hunter (actually a pseudonym for a number of contributing authors)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein

Wayside Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The Fire Ascending by Chris D’Lacey

There were others. Many, many others. My students from this year loved to read. They read a variety of genres and authors and tried books their friends loved or that I suggested. They were open to new books and different types of writing, such as Poetry.

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to this group and in September, I will have a new class. I look forward to the reading adventures they will take me on and the books they will introduce me to. Of course, I have a few of my own that I plan on introducing them to as well. Some I have read already, such as Riding Freedom, but others, I will read over the summer. My “to read” list for this summer includes:

My life as a Book by Janet Tashjian

Slob by Ellen Potter

United We Stand by Eric Walters

Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson

The Little Prince by Antoine de Sainte-Exupery

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (I’ve read this one but am looking forward to reading it to my nine year old this summer).

I could go on…and on…and on because there are so many different books I’d like to read before the summer ends. However, in addition to Children and Young Adult fiction, I plan on reading a number of other books as well. So here’s to a summer of reading, re reading, and relaxing.

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.

Anti Bullying Chapter Book – Joshua T. Bates in Trouble Again

Posted on February 28th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

You may also be interested in our page about anti-bullying picture books and novels for children, our page about anti bullying web resources or our posts tagged “anti bullying”.

Storytime Standouts looks at an anti bullying chapter book by Susan Shreve, Joshua T. Bates in Trouble AgainJoshua T. Bates in Trouble Again written by Susan Shreve and illustrated by Roberta Smith
Anti bullying chapter book published by Knopf Books for Young Readers | Random House





The day after Thanksgiving is extra special for Joshua T. Bates. It it the day he will move to a grade four class. Joshua had a tough time in grade three and he was not ready to move to grade four with his friends. He spent the first three months of the school year working to catch up. He spent hours and hours with his grade three teacher and now he is ready for the academic challenges of grade four.

Dealing with the other grade four boys will be a big adjustment for Joshua. He chooses his wardrobe carefully and takes great care to style his hair properly but, despite this, he lacks confidence about how he will manage.

“Maybe I won’t have any friends at all,” Joshua said.

“You have friends already, darling,” his mother said. “In a flash things will be back to normal, just like it was when all of you were in the third grade together.”

“Maybe,” Joshua said.

But he was sick with worry.

Joshua’s fears are not unfounded.Tommy Wilhelm and Billy Nickel are feared by all of the grade four boys. They are bullies and Joshua knows it. Joshua hopes he can avoid trouble with the bullies if he appears “cool.” It is not long before he makes more than one poor choice in order to impress the bullies. It is no surprise when he finds himself in trouble at school and at home.

A one hundred page anti bullying chapter book for middle grade readers, Joshua T. Bates in Trouble Again will have special appeal for boys. It will also appeal to reluctant readers.

Joshua T. Bates in Trouble Again at Amazon.com

Joshua T. Bates in Trouble Again at Amazon.ca


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