Readicide-Kelly Gallagher

Standard

The last two books I have read for teaching are “The Book Whisperer” and “Readicide”.  What do I read next?  These two books have validated my teaching while at the same time challenged my thinking.

While reading “Readicide” I kept thinking about storming a board meeting and demanding they let mandate time for pleasure reading in our high school.  As my first year of teaching fourth graders get closer to high school, I know they are in the beginning stages of readicide.  Readicide is basically the destruction of the love of reading.

In my district high school blocks are 90 minutes. If they just took 5 minutes away from each block students would be able to read for 20 minutes.  Before reading this book I was talking to a high schooler who gets bused to my elementary school each day after school (his mom is the principle).  He said that kids would never read if they were given the time.  Mr. Gallagher talks about how for 10 minutes students could get by not reading, but once it is extended to 20 minutes they won’t be able to help reading.  If we provide students with time and high interest books we can help them keep the love for reading that they develop as young readers.

The most interesting point that he makes is when he says that we are doing the only thing worse than turning students off from reading, we are teaching them to hate it.

Thank you Mr. Gallagher for writing this book.  I am going to do everything I can to get others to read this book, and to try and implement your suggestions.  Hopefully, I can get these changes to occur before my students, and eventually my own children, enter high school.

The Last Invisible Boy-Evan Kuhlman and J.P. Coovert

Standard

“It was good,” is what all my fourth graders that have read “The Last Invisible Boy” have said to me.

“What did you like about it?” I almost always reply.  Usually they can do a nice job answering this question, but for some reason this book was different.  After reading the book I began to understand why.  We work so hard at trying to become part of the story and immagine that we are one of the characters when we read, and I don’t think that my fourth graders were able to do this in this book.

“The Last Invisible Boy” is about a boy that loses his father.  The entire story takes place in the month following his death. I guess the reason my students were unable to relate to this book is because it would have been too depressing. By placing themselves in the main characters shoes they would have been forced to think about life without one of their parents.

I was able to put myself into the story.  The entire time I read this story I thought of only one thing: the life of my three small children and my wife if I were to suddenly and unexpectedly die.  It may sound kind of depressing and it was.  The feeling of misery was so strong that many times I just wanted to abandon the book, but I’m glad that I didn’t.  It was important for me to see what the boy saw in the end.

I am always amazed at how challenging children’s literature can be for me at times.  Reading this book was a struggle for even though it is written for elementary students, but I am so glad that I read it.  It has helped me see how valuable our days on this planet are.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda-Tom Angleberger

Standard

At our spring book fair I casually picked up a book that caught my eye: “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” by Tom Angleberger.  The love for Star Wars in fourth grade is as big now as it probably was back when the movies orignally came out.  These kids have grown up watching the movies with their fathers and playing Lego: Star War video games.

I bought the book and after a long night of conferences I sat down and read the whole thing in a night.  Dwight has got to be the funniest character I have met in a long time.  Visualizing him digging holes in his front yard, sitting in them, and then filling them back in, is an example of an author using characters actions to describe a character, that I will always turn to when teaching fictional writing.  That image always pops into my head when a student starts talking about Dwight.

The book took off like a wild fire in my classroom.  Within a week 12 students had flown through our 3 copies.  I emailed Mr. Angleberger to let him know the hit he had become and he very kindly agreed to Skype with my class.

Knowing that we would be Skyping with Mr. Anglebeger took the reading of this book to a whole new level.  Kids read and reread the book.  I could hear them talking at recess, “I can’t wait to ask Mr. Angelberger about how he came up with Dwight,” or, “Do you think Mr. Angelberger will tell us how he comes up with topics?”  Having recess talk move from video games to author’s craft was crazy awesome.

A week before spring break (two weeks before our Skype visit) a reluctant reader in my class decided to take home a copy of the book and make the entire class of 25 their very own origami Yoda.  The smile on his face when he was showered with compliments was magical.

The class left for spring break with their Yodas actually looking forward to coming back to school, so that they could Skype with their new favorite author.  Over break I was flooded with pictures of Origami Yoda visiting various places throughout the world from our local library to the Coliseum in Rome.  All in all I about 75% of my students sent me pictures of Yoda on spring break.

Between emailing, Tweeting, and Skyping with Mr. Angleberger I really started to realize how technology isn’t  killing the novel, but when used correctly opening up doors to the novel that may have been closed to many readers before.

By the time we Skyped with Mr. Angleberger, four weeks after the book was introduced to the class,  21 out of 24 students had read “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda”.  We started with the one copy I purchased, and we ended up with seven floating around the classroom.   I wonder if teachers that require students to read books ever have 88% of their students read the entire book, and half of them read it multiple times.  What do you think?

Adventures in Cartooning-Strum, Arnold, and Fredrick

Standard

Adventures in cartooning is a super cool book that shows you how to read and write comics, cartoons, and graphic novels. With all the buzz around graphic novels, and chapter books including illustrations, this book helps kids learn how to write their new favorite genre. It may even help a teacher, ME, learn how to better read this unfamiliar genre.

In late January I left school with during lunch with a struggling reader headed to the local book store. This student struggled the first half of the year to find anything that he was able to read, that he was also interested in reading. It seemed like nothing I did got him excited about reading. Everyday he would pick up a different book, act like he was reading it, and then put it back at the end of independent reading time. Some very smart people at my school suggested that I take him to the book store and let him pick out some new books for our classroom library.

At the book store this young man was very timid at first, but once he got going he had about $200 worth of books that he really wanted to read. We discussed his titles and he decided on about $70 worth of books. The books included many graphic novels, and a couple of comicy looking books.

Our little trip was a huge success. The gains he has made as a reader the second half of the year are double his growth from the first half. I really think a lot of it has to do with our little trip to the book store. In that trip I feel that he saw the value I put in not only reading, but also the value I placed in him. He learned that I wasn’t going away, and that I wan’t going to give up on him.

My little friend has taught me so much about comics through his reading of this book. Not a week goes by when he doesn’t pull out this book to help him with his writing, or to reread a favorite section. His best writing this year was a fictional story that he wrote as a comic. The story was about bullying and standing up for yourself. “Adventures in Cartooning” was always by his side as he wrote that story.

I am still waiting for “Adventures in Cartooning” to make it into our library. It probably never will. When the year ends I suspect my young reader will ask me if the book can leave his desk and head home with him. I guess I’ll have to buy another copy for my classroom library. That will be $7 well spent.

I always hear talk about helping students find books that meet their interest. In this situation I learned how important that was, but I also learned how powerful showing interest in our readers as people can be.

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z-Kate Messner

Standard

You know a book has “it” when 24 fourth graders are so mesmerized by a scene, that none of them realize that we had read through half of recess.  That was the case this week when we read the “wake” scene in the book “The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z”, by Kate Messner.  My students love to be read to, but to get that lost on a book when the sun is shinning and we have 14 days left of school made the hair on my arms stand up.

I love this book.  This school year I have read a ton of wonderful new children’s books, but this book is without a doubt takes the cake.  The first time  I read it I was blown away with all of the issues that this book covered: bullying, loss of a loved one, grandparents memory loss, an overbearing parent, procrastination.

It wasn’t until I started reading it to my fourth graders that I realized how much they would be able to relate to the characters and issues.  I swear they were all thinking of the same girl in our school when Bianca was introduced (myself included).

We are about half done with the book and I am feeling myself anticipating different parts of the book as I see the students start to fall in love with some characters, and start to dislike others.  The scene in the locker room is the part of the book that I am dying to get to.  The class is going to flip out.

I’m not sure if you’ve read this book or anything else by Kate Messner, but if you are looking for a book that will make you and your kids think hard about some challenging issues this is a book you might want to put on your summer (or fall) reading list.