What the Dickens was going on in the LMS Media Center last Monday morning? Our superintendent of schools walked through my media center and not a single child noticed him (unusual as he is 6’ 6” tall). They were all engrossed in reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol using Padworx Digital Media’s A Christmas Carol app on iPads. The superintendent was so intrigued; he stopped to peer over the shoulders of a few of the children to see what had so completely captured their attention. Steampunk Charles Dickens, who would have guessed?
Students in this seventh grade language arts class had just completed a novel study of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Today’s lesson centered on each child re-reading a section of text in the app and exploring the interactive features. Each child was randomly assigned a stave so that the entire text was explored. After reading, students wrote about the interactive features and how that feature enhanced the reading experience. They were then were asked to design an additional interactive feature they would like to see in the app and explain how it would deepen others’ understanding of the story.
I was so impressed with the ideas that were batted around the room. Students were reluctant at first to share, but once the first one or two shared, suddenly many hands were up and I could hardly keep order. The discussion included the imagery of the language and how students wanted to see certain pieces of it illustrated. Mood, tone, emotion, and period language were all brought up and dissected. The sound effects and music were lauded for adding to the “creepiness” of certain passages. I learned quite a bit about how my students approach reading a story and that, in truth, they do not want to see every last bit of the story illustrated – a refreshing surprise!
I know it's early, but I needed to get started on this. Hopefully these will help me enjoy the month of December and all the fun it holds.
I resolve that in 2014...
1. I will regularly post to my blog with the goal of at least one new blog post per week.
2. I will post one picture a day to my 365 Project account to create a visual record of 2014.
3. I will keep a record of the books I read on Goodreads including a written review of some sort not just stars.
4. I will not feel compelled to join every social media site on the planet just to try to keep up with the teeming hordes. I will just use the media which make sense in the context of my personal and professional life.
This is probably enough. A realistic and manageable list. What are your resolutions?
What strikes me about Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson is that it presented so much information that I had not read elsewhere. There were many pictures shared that I had not seen and facts that were intriguing (e.g. - the information about the radio operators). The story of the voyage was told from several different perspectives: objective narrator and the point-of-view of survivors from each travel class. The first person accounts were fascinating and even though I was aware these were survivors, their stories were riveting and the manner in which they were woven together made me feel as though I was there watching the voyage unfold.
This book is set up in a way that makes it incredibly accessible to middle school students. The pages of text are written in a clean, crisp font and are interspersed with large pictures with easy-to-read captions; instead of sidebars there are shaded pages that describe incidental information that helps the reader in understanding the main text; follow-up information on prominent passengers and the survivors quoted in the book, charts on the lifeboats, glossary and quotes from the final investigative report are included as part of the main text, but in a way that makes the them easy to locate.
I can't wait to share Titanic with my students. Some of my 8th graders do research on disasters and our 7th grade just took a field trip to see the Titanic exhibit at the Franklin Institute as part of a cross-disciplinary unit - I'm sure this book will be in high demand.
Max is throwing away his picture books. As he explains why these books have caused him nothing but trouble, Max has a slight change of heart - you'll have to read it to find out why.
After reading the NetGalley ARC of I Hate Picture Books by Timothy Young I couldn't wait to order a copy and share it. I have always been a reader and I loved this book with its sweet, clever journey through several of my childhood favorites. The illustrations add to the fun, giving hints before each book is revealed. I can imagine pulling out copies of the stories mentioned for a reading-fest with someone small or sharing it with my middle schoolers and talking with them about their favorite picture books. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.
Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg is a modern-day Cinderella story set in the midst of Toddlers & Tiaras with a dash of Mean Girls. With a mother who regards her as a personal assistant and a 7-year-old beauty pageant diva for a sister, Lexi is mired in the role of the smart, ordinary-looking, obedient daughter. She spends her weekends traipsing to pageant after pageant and though she does get to spend time with her secret crush, feels lost in her sister's shadow. After undergoing a makeover at the prompting of her best friend, Lexi suddenly finds herself being noticed. Reactions to this change are mixed and Lexi tries to discover her true self.
Eulberg has written an engaging story of self-discovery and friendship. As I read I laughed, steamed with anger and quietly cheered. Lexi and her friends were well-drawn and I wanted to know what became of them. There were some characters, such as her father, that I felt were not as well fleshed-out and I was left wondering about a few things at the end of the story. That said, I finished the book in one sitting as I did not want to put it down and would recommend it to my 8th graders or to high school readers.
I freely admit that I was not a huge fan of James Patterson's Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. With that experience in mind I started reading Middle School, Get Me Out of Here! with a bit of a skeptical eye. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this sequel.
Rafe, his mother and sister are moving in with Rafe's grandmother. Thankfully, through the intercession of a teacher from his old school, Rafe is given the chance to compete for a slot at a school for the arts near his new home. Life has never been easy for Rafe and though he is hopeful for a fresh start, his new school is challenging in many ways and the mystery of his father's disappearance also becomes a focus of his attention.
The format of this book, both prose and graphic novel interwoven, adds depth to the mood of the story as well as well as allowing us additional insight into the character's mind. The style of the pictures captures the emotion of the story in a way that words would not. This story will reach kids in its raw, yet accurate account of the struggle that is 7th grade. Though this will first be picked up by the Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans, I foresee its appeal being much broader.
Put brain-teaser strength puzzles, mystery, music and middle schoolers on a page, mix well, enjoy.
The Puzzler's Mansion by Eric Berlin is a good read from start to finish. There is an interesting mix of characters, the storyline moves along at a good pace and the puzzles add an extra dose of fun. This is by far my favorite of the Winston Breen series.
In Puzzler's Mansion Winston, along with his best friends, is invited for a weekend of puzzles at the home of a world-renowned musician. The games begin and are almost immediately interrupted by a crime. Winston, Mal and Jake spend the rest of the weekend solving puzzles and attempting to solve the mystery of the theft, both as victims and suspects.
The premise of this novel is original, the characters are fairly well-drawn and the puzzles are definitely challenging. The story is also nicely paced and unpredictable, which kept me reading. And though this book is written for ages 8 and up the puzzles will challenge even adult readers, something not lost on this age group. Thankfully Berlin weaves puzzle solutions into the text for the puzzles whose answers are critical to the storyline, as solving all of them would have slowed me quite a bit and I was anxious to know what happened next.
Though some of the characters are a bit stereotypical and there are a few gaps in the story, the action and intrigue make this book well worth reading. I could envision using it as a read-aloud, pausing where the puzzles are inserted to allow students time to solve them. (The puzzles from the story are available for free download at http://winstonbreen.com/). One of the most common queries I get in the media center is for mysteries and action/adventure stories. This book combines the best of both worlds in a novel that will appeal to fans of both genres.
What did I love about Hold Fast by Blue Balliett?
My only concern with this book is that in weaving the puzzle, some middle school readers may not hang on until the plot really begins to move. Definitely adding this to our collection.
Over the course of ten days this month, my family lost two strong and beautiful women. The grief was shocking and deep, making it hard to concentrate. Much as we lean on our friends in hard times, I retreated to a book from my past to help occupy my mind and soothe my heart. How better to spend sleepless nights than lost in the pages of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice? Longbourne, Netherfield and Pemberley were places I could go and exist in a world where everyone, save Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the nefarious Mr. Wickham, got a happy ending. This re-reading inspired me to go in to school and get our copies of Pride & Prejudice into the hands of some 8th graders who had recently come in to research life in the 19th century.
As a librarian, I have told my students many times that looking through the bookshelves at school is sometimes like being among old friends. The titles and covers evoke fond memories of characters, stories, and reflections of who I was and what I was doing at the time I read the book. Some of my most successful book talks have been impromptu conversations at the bookshelf, inspired by the sight of these old friends.
Middle schoolers are keenly tuned in to sincerity and they seem to zero in on anything related to a teacher's personal experience. My students will often argue over a book that is "old" over something with a shiny new cover simply because I expressed how important the book was to me at a certain point in time, or how it made me laugh, cry, or long to do something. So while we promote and review all the wonderful new books being published and celebrated, let's not forget to share our old favorites with the next generation of readers.
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