Tag Archives: grades 5-8

[N] No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman

16 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Wallace Wallace’s policy has always been to tell the truth. In No More Dead Dogs by Gordan Korman, when Wallace is assigned to write a book report about Old Shep, My Pal, he won’t pretend he likes the book just because it’s his English teacher, Mr. Fogelman’s favorite book. This results in detention, and he is banned from football until he writes a satisfactory essay. Instead of warming the bench at football games, he has to spend time after school with the drama club, run by Mr. Fogelman, as they put on a play of Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace’s suggestions make the play a whole lot more interesting, but someone wants to frame him for sabotaging the play.

This book asks the question: Who are your real friends? As Wallace Wallace goes from being a popular jock to a drama nerd, he reevaluates the people around him that he considered his friends. The “villain” of the story is underdeveloped, but it comes off as more realistic this way–all of Wallace’s friends have their good and bad parts, just like real people do.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter N.

[L] Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

14 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

By Newbery Award-winning author Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy is an unconventional mystery that follows Georges on his adventures with his neighbor, Safer, as their spy club tries to uncover the mystery of Mr. X, who lives in their apartment building. After Georges’s father loses his job and they have to sell their house, Georges moves into the apartment building Safer lives in with his family. At school, Georges is a loner who is bullied by the other kids. At home, his mother, a nurse, is working long shifts at the hospital, and his dad, an architect, is busy trying to get new clients, so Georges is left to explore his new home on his own.

Georges’s life starts improving as he spends more time with Safer, learning to observe the world around him. He begins to see the things around him differently, which leads to seeing himself differently, as well. Even once the mystery of Mr. X is solved, there is still more for the boys—and the reader—to discover, and at the end of the book, readers will want to read it again from the beginning to find the clues Stead deftly weaves into the whole novel.

Things get a little uncomfortable near the end of the book as the reader joins in Georges’s confusion about the revelations that come seemingly one after another. Like in Stead’s other books, astute readers will be able to guess at the surprise ending, but even so, it is satisfying to follow along as Georges finally sorts out fact from fiction.

Teachers reading the book in class may want students to keep a graphic organizer or a chart of facts about Georges’s life to compare what is known to the reader at the beginning of the book to what is known by the end. Students should also be encouraged to explain the changes with clues and evidence from the text, in line with Common Core standards for reading comprehension.

More firmly rooted in reality than Stead’s Newbery Award-winner, When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy is an engrossing mystery that deals with real-life issues. Tweens will relate to the struggles Georges faces and can find courage in his triumphs in helping Safer overcome his fears and in facing his own reality.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter L.

[E] Explorers of the World: The Vikings (DVD)

5 Apr

(Part of this was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

The Vikings found on the Explorers of the World DVD are not the pirates of legend, but rather the farmers and explorers who found the New World 500 years before Columbus did. The teacher is the narrator that guides two students as they explore the history of the Vikings and talk with Leif Erikson in this DVD from Schlessinger Media’s Explorers of the World series. It uses a combination of live action sequences, illustrations, animations, photos, maps, and aged film footage to draw the viewer into the past.

The students in the DVD ask questions that viewers will be wondering, and a timeline helps viewers keep track of when major events occurred. The DVD includes discussion questions with the option to review related video clips, and English and Spanish language tracks are available.

This can be paired with a book about Vikings or with characters based on Vikings (Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, some of the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan) or used with related social studies units.

This DVD isn’t as exciting as I was expecting from the name, but I’ve always liked learning about vikings (I’ve even translated old viking sagas before in my Old Norse class in college). I don’t know how much I can recommend the DVD, but the books that go with it are pretty good!

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter E.

[D] Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

4 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Award-winning author and illustrator Allen Say wrote Drawing from Memory, a half-narrative, half-graphic novel about his childhood in Japan, where he first started working on his artistic skills. Richly illustrated with both photographs and drawings in different styles, the narrative focuses on his relationship with his art and with his teacher, Noro Shinpei. The different styles used throughout the book may feel disjointed at times, but readers will enjoy the little mini-narratives in the comic strip asides and in his commentary.

Although this book is set in Japan, it deals with struggles that many Asian Americans face today while following their dreams, including the cultural stigma of becoming an artist. Tweens may also be familiar with his picture books, which have earned him a Caldecott medal and honor. This book was a 2012 Sibert honor book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D.

[C] Confetti Girl by Diana López

3 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Apolonia Flores, or Lina for short, loves socks, is tall, and is good at science and sports. However, she does not share her English-teacher father’s love of books, which he has been withdrawing further and further into since the death of Lina’s mother a year ago. Lina just wants her life to be back to normal again, but with her best friend Vanessa’s boyfriend and her own crush, Luis, not to mention failing grades in English, it will be a while before she can settle into her new normal.

Lopez writes about a girl dealing with the loss of her mom in a very real way, describing how she works through the grieving process in order to come to a new acceptance for her life. The struggles she has along the way are also very realistic, and the dichos (Spanish words of wisdom) at the beginning of each chapter add an extra layer of meaning and feeling to the book.

More information about the book can be found on the author’s website, and an educator’s guide with discussion questions and activities can be found here.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter C.

[B] Bluffton by Matt Phelan

2 Apr

(This was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Bluffton is a graphic novel inspired by the life of Buster Keaton. It tells of a boy named Henry living in near the city of Bluffton, where Buster and his family spent their summers with the vaudeville friends, and how those summers with Buster changed his life.

The soft watercolors create the perfect mood for this idyllic but moving story about becoming who you were meant to be, not who you are expected to be. Phelan uses almost a black and white palette for the vaudeville scenes to depict a world that is not quite real to Henry and reflect how clips from that era are preserved today.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter B.

[A] Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

1 Apr

(Part of this was first written for my Materials for Tweens class.)

Although Meggy Swann’s alchemist father sends for her to live with him in London, she soon realizes that her father doesn’t want her after all. Meggy is left to find her own place in London and make her own fortune with the help of her new friends who look past her walking sticks to discover who Meggy really is.

Cushman tackles disabilities in the Elizabethan era with a sensitivity that leaves the reader hopeful despite the harsh circumstances of Meggy’s life. The book includes a bibliography and author’s notes on printing, disabilities, and language in the Middle Ages (refers to the eBook).

I also read The Ballad of Lucy Whipple for my class and taught Cushman’s Newbery winner, A Midwife’s Apprentice, a couple times with my book club students, and she hasn’t let me down yet :).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter A.

[W] Wonder by R. J. Palacio

26 Apr

(#65 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012. Part of this was originally written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

“The universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is about Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to school with other kids. The book follows him and his friends, family, and classmates as they struggle with how to incorporate him into their lives. Palacio tells the stories in parts, shifting the point of view from one character to another so that we can see how each character reacts to Auggie. For the most part, it’s pretty effective (although I had a little trouble when one of the teens decides to write with bad grammar after the younger characters are portrayed so eloquently. It seemed like Palacio was taking kind of the easy way out with that character’s voice).

It is an inspiring story about overcoming differences and being kind to each other. I don’t know anyone who read this book who didn’t love it.* It was one of those books that I had checked out because it was on the Top 100 and I hadn’t read it before, but I had actually planned to do Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin for my “W” book instead. (I had to keep myself from reading it so I could do “W” on this book because I have different book by Grace Lin coming up!)

I loved this book so much that I’m reading it in my 6th grade book club class now. This is probably the first book I’ve chosen that I didn’t choose just because it was a good story at a good reading level. It’s both of those things, but I also chose it because I think there are a lot of themes about bullying and friendship and just being kind in this book that are important for middle schoolers to learn.

*Apparently a lot of other people in L.A. want to read this book, too, because it was the only book of the six Top 100 I’d checked out that couldn’t be renewed, which was why I was “forced” to read it before the others… Our library system needs to get more copies of this book!

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter W.

[E] The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

5 Apr

(#66 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (2009) is set in 1899 and is about a girl who would rather observe the world around her than act like the lady that she is expected to become. It was a Newbery Honor Book for 2010.

The first time I read this book, I thought that it had a catchy name that sounded familiar, but I suppose that was because the author was trying to evoke the historical fiction of the time. Ever since then, I’ve had a hard time figuring out if I’d read the book before or not. I checked it out this semester because it was on the Top 100 list of books we could choose from for our final project. After re-reading the first few chapters, I realized that I had in fact read it before, but that I’d read it on my iPhone when I was checking out tons of books from OverDrive. Although I’m pretty sure enjoyed it, I guess it wasn’t particularly memorable for me. ^^;

Nonetheless, it is an Honor Book for a reason, and it would be a fun read for girls who want to read about smart girls who go against the norm and/or for those who enjoy historical fiction.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter E.

Poetry for Kids

31 Jul

Summer has gone by really fast, and some of my students are already starting to get ready to go back to school. Between work, class, and volunteering, I haven’t had much time to read, but I have been reading a lot of poetry lately for work.

Last year, I noticed that my students didn’t get to do a lot of poetry at school with their teachers, but upper elementary students always have at least one or two poetry passages on the CST. Some of them are naturally good at understanding poetry, but others have a hard time wrapping their heads around the figurative language. The kids who have a hard time can identify the different types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.), but they just have a hard time understanding the big picture of the poem.

I totally understand where they’re coming from. Growing up, I always preferred reading novels and stories to reading poetry. I didn’t come to appreciate poetry until I learned how to analyze the different literary techniques in high school and college, but by then, I was just scrambling to finish all my papers, so I couldn’t savor the words.

I was looking for old poetry books on my bookshelf to bring to class yesterday, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have very many. The one book I did have on my shelf with poetry for kids was my sister’s. I did have a couple of picture books written in verse by Graeme Base that I bought in sixth grade after reading Animalia in class (so I didn’t have Animalia because I’d read it already at that point, but I would want it now…).

I’ve done Shakespeare with my 5th graders, and compared to that, poetry is much easier for them to grasp on their own, but I want them to be able to discover the connections in poetry on their own so that they can start enjoying poetry while they still have time to savor it.

Poems that I’ve done with them in class that they have had fun with include:

  • “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll (teaches portmanteau and understanding vocabulary in context)
  • “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” by Shel Silverstein (alliteration, repetition, and lots more)
  • “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (for symbolism and inspiration)

It’s also fun for them to try writing their own poems in different styles. A Google search for “National Poetry Month resources” will return a lot of great resources for teaching poetry to kids in any month. I also really like some of the printables and activities found on Shel Silverstein’s official website.

One thing that’s fun for students is to go on a poetry scavenger hunt for different literary devices that they already know the definitions for but may not have seen “in action” very much. My list is adapted from the literary terms in one of the standard literature textbooks my students already use. The idea is to get them to find examples of literary terms on their own, either in books or online.

Some great places to find poetry for kids include:

  • The Children’s Poetry Archive – a UK site of poems for kids (part of The Poetry Archive) with author readings, interviews, and background. I especially like the poems by Valerie Bloom that I found on this site.
  • Poets.org – the American counterpart of The Poetry Archive. It’s a great place to find classics to teach, but harder to find material for younger readers.
  • Bartleby.com (section on verse) – great for if you want to browse through all the poems by a specific author. Indexes by title and by first line so you only need to know one or the other. I used some of Emily Dickinson (life and nature poems) and Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods) for my students.

I gave my students these sites so they could look through them on their own for the scavenger hunt. I especially love the first one because it’s made for kids and has a mix of classic and modern poetry that is easier for the kids to understand.

I had only been planning a cursory look through poetry so they could practice their reading comprehension, but I kept dragging the unit out longer and longer so that they could keep exploring (and I could explore with them!). I’d love to do some of the Canterbury Tales with them next, but that may have to wait until the school year starts.

I’ve still got lots of books in my to-read list (that needs to be updated), but I think my old English poetry textbooks are getting added to the pile… (Once I find them, anyway…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers