Friday, June 14, 2013

Senior Superlatives

It's graduation season around the nation and in honor of our country's most recent graduates, I thought it would be appropriate to award this year's Senior Superlatives.  I plan on doing my best to avoid my own glory days (yes, I am now attempting to sound like Bruce Springsteen as I belt it out) of high school as I award superlatives to a few favorite titles.

Class Couple

By the time readers come across the part where Byron gets his tongue stuck on the side view mirror, they're hooked on Christopher Paul Curtis' writing style and with his characters in The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963.  As students become more familiar with the setting, as the Watsons head from Flint, Michigan to Brimingham, Alabama, they will naturally have questions and a desire to learn more about the time period.  Diane McWhorter's A Dream of Freedom is a perfect informational text to pair with the Watsons when students need to know more about the Civil Rights Movement.

Best Dressed

Tom Angleberger is hilarious.  My students and I first became hooked on his Origami Yoda series, and were excited when Fake Mustache was released.  Lenny and Casper enter a novelty store where Casper decides to purchase a fake mustache.  Now, armed with the fake mustache, Casper gradually becomes more sinister and attempts to take over the world!  Oh, all while sporting a man-about-town suit; and who doesn't look better when they're wearing something so dashing?

Most Likely to be Famous

The Goodreads description of Close to Famous deems it "full of heart."  This is certainly accurate as Joan Bauer takes the reader into a small town and introduces us to a quirky cast of characters who quickly become so important to Foster's life that they are almost family.  Foster's dream is to one day have her own cooking show and if she can overcome some major barriers, she may just be famous one day.

Best Smile

Could it be any more obvious?  I would like to thank my mom for giving me the giant teeth and mouth that my sister and I both have.  It is those giant teeth and mouth that actually did allow me to win Best Smile way back in the day.  However, it was not without A LOT of work beforehand.  My journey may not have been as extensive as Raina's, but her story definitely hit a nerve (pun intended, sorry!).

Favorite Teacher

The award for best teacher goes to Mr. Browne in R.J. Palacio's Wonder.  As teachers, don't we all hope to motivate and inspire our students?  We hope to help them learn and grow from a variety of different experiences and really just to leave a positive impression on their lives.  Mr. Browne and his precepts encourage his students to think about life with a wider lens and he has the same impact on our own students. Mr. Browne deserves a standing ovation because, in the words of Auggie Pullman, "Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

If you give a boy a dinosaur book

I just finished reading Donalyn Miller's post, "Let My People Read", on the Nerdy Book Club blog and while I do not have any children, I was certainly able to connect to her frustrations.

I was at our public library the other day browsing the picture book section when I couldn't help but notice a father and son.  Now, first of all, kudos to this father for bringing his son to the library.  It seemed as though they were frequent visitors and that is definitely something to be celebrated.  The boy, I'm guessing about five years old, wanted to find books about dinosaurs.  After finding a couple that the boy wanted to bring home with him, I heard the father respond with "Let's find something else.  Those are below your level."

At any point in the year, are we really that concerned about reading levels and Lexile levels (please don't make me say something about AR points....UGH!)?  Shouldn't we always, especially during the summer time, be more concerned with building a passion for reading and encouraging our students or children to continue to read because they want to read.  I wanted so badly to give this young man a couple dinosaur books to take home with him and hope that the next time this boy and his father are at the library, they decide to check out a couple dinosaur books (even if they are below this five year old's level) in addition to whatever else they bring home.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Throwback - Respecting History

I'm not exactly sure what I was doing throughout the 1980s, but I do remember rockin' some Jams (ridiculous shorts that apparently you can still buy online) while balancing my dad's love of the Beach Boys with my sister's new fondness for some guy named Jon Bon Jovi (I also remember my dad claiming that Bon Jovi wouldn't even make it into the 90s).  I also remember sitting down to enjoy many different sporting events with both of my parents and listening while they shared story after story about the greats of a particular sport.  I believe, as do many others, that it is incredibly important to respect those that have blazed a trail previously to truly understand where we are today.  I've recently heard numerous authors speak about the impact that Cynthia Rylant has had on either their careers or their children.  After continuing to hear Ms. Rylant's name, I realized that it was time that I respect the history within Children's Literature and study her work.  I returned from the public library yesterday with many of her books in my arms.  After working my way through them today, a common theme arose: beautifully chosen words within a simple, yet elegant story.  While I enjoyed each of her books that I read today, one particular story stood out in my mind.

I recently heard an author speak and she mentioned that she always like to include "old people" people in her stories.  She said this in the most respectful of ways, appreciating the stories that older generations had to tell and often the lovable quirks that may accompany these individuals.  I was reminded of this as I enjoyed The Old Woman Who Named Things.  I was also reminded of the stories my dad would share with me about the beauty of the '57 Chevy; my best guess as to what Ms. Rylant used in this text and affectionately named Betsy.  Often, it is difficult for older generations to make changes to their lifestyle, but I was happy to see that "the old woman" in this story had enough room left in her heart.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Least Likely To Be Found On Our Shelves

It's graduation season around our country and today's blog post is dedicated to superlatives.  I'll avoid the typical senior superlatives of "Class Couple" (however, that makes me want to write a post about pairing novels and picture books) or "Best Smile" (but I bet you can guess which book I would vote for from my list).

Side Note - I'm definitely going to have a create another post using other various superlatives.

For today's post, however, I will focus on the books in our classroom that spent very little time on our bookshelves.  These are the books that students were constantly asking for and the books that had name after name on the waiting list.  They were most often passed from reader to reader as our students' passion for reading continually grew.

Before presenting the list, I do need to disclose some pertinent information.  R.J. Palacio's Wonder was our first extended text (think read aloud on steroids) of the year.  I'm confident it would have made this list, but it was too good of a story and a character kickoff to not use.

In no particular order and without further ado, I present to you our Top Nine (come on, we all know Wonder would have made it!)...

Our girls found it hilarious that Jeffery and Tad were continually distracted by the beauty of Lindsey.  Sonnenblick's middle school voice is incredibly authentic and he is the master of drawing the reader close to the characters.  Anytime I find myself laughing and crying in the same story, I know it's a winner.

I purchased the first book in this series last summer, but didn't pick up the others in the series until late this spring.  I already spend a decent amount of time at our county public library, but this graphic novel series caused me to stop many times to pick up the other books in the series.

Magical cardboard comes to life and tries to take over the town?  That was already enough said, but then I find out that Doug TenNapel was the creator of Earthworm Jim.  Mind blown.

Lynne Kelly's Chained entered our classroom in January after most of our students had already read The One and Only Ivan.  Kashmira Sheth's Boys Without Names was also a popular text this year.  All we had to do to sell students on this book was tell them that it reminded us of Boys Without Names meets The One and Only Ivan.

I almost feel selfish because I enjoyed that our students had not read this one before entering 5th grade.  It absolutely hooked so many of our students on reading at the beginning of this school year and they cheered and celebrated when they later found out that it won the Newbery!  Now that Ivan has that shiny sticker on it, I don't think there will be too many 5th graders that have not read it before coming to us.  I'm okay with that.

Locomotion is a relatively quick read, but students who are diligent in getting to know Lonnie Collins Motion will truly begin to understand his emotional journey.  This text is written in verse and a wonderful entry point into poetry for students who may have already experienced tough times.  

First of all, I am completely biased in regards to One for the Murphys.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt, although I do not know her personally, is as nice as can be.  I will say that my students and I loved this book before we knew how nice she was.  After reading great things about this book online last summer, we actually borrowed One for the Murphys from a co-worker and returned it at the end of the school year.  We now own multiple copies.

As previously mentioned, Wonder was our first extended text of the year.  It was very natural to say to students, "Did you love Wonder?  You'll love this one too."  Out of my Mind was released before Wonder and ever since I finished Wonder, I've been trying to figure out which book I like more.  I'm perfectly content continuing to be unsure of this. 

So many graphic novels seem to appeal to boys more than girls and while our girls.  I love that our girls have something with which they can now connect (and our boys also loved it).  This book will always remind me of multiple different students coming in bright and early in the morning saying one thing: "Mr. O'Neill, I couldn't put Smile down last night and I finished the entire thing!"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

History of a Reader

I suppose that in order to start fresh in my blogging life, it is important to come clean in regards to my life as a reader.  Growing up, I wasn't much of a reader.  There, I said it.  I'll most likely go into more detail about that in another post, but in this particular post, I would like to spend more time on how that all changed.  I graduated college a (clearing my throat) "few" years ago and received a gift from my sister, a teacher herself, that has greatly impacted my teaching career and my own reading life.

If I remember correctly, I set this gift to the side throughout my first year of teaching.  Entering my second year of teaching, I was moved to 5th grade and I picked up Al Capone Does My Shirts.  It didn't take long that year to realize that students were much more interested in reading and discussing the books that I have read.  I know that this may not be mind-blowing and that there are multiple professional development texts available to support this idea, but as a (once) young teacher, nothing is more powerful than learning that firsthand.

Lastly, you'll be happy to know that this book was not in this condition when my sister gave it to me. The current condition of the book is a result of it being passed from reader to reader without ever spending much time on the shelf.  It's the result of 5th graders learning about autism, Al Capone, and Alcatraz; and it's the result of readers developing their passion for reading while also working to find themselves.