Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 45: Beginning of the year books for K-12

Great books for the beginning of the school year (or any time really).

Picture Book Resources

A Perfectly Messed up Story by Patrick McDonnell
Louie's story is not going as planned. It keeps getting interrupted by a very sloppy and inconsiderate reader. His story is ruined he's sure, because who wants to read a book that's less than perfect?

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Proper Book Care: Whether you teach Kindergarten or Seniors, you probably at some point of the year have to talk to the students about how to take care of their textbooks and other class books. This is the perfect book to make that discussion a little more fun. The "reader" of Louie's story does a HORRIBLE job of taking care of the book. Food gets onto the pages, things get torn and scribbled on (it's the stuff of nightmares for librarians). But the negative example provides the perfect opportunity to talk about how best to care for books so that they last.
  • Perfectionists: I definitely sympathize with Louie's perfectionist sentiments as a perfectionist myself, and I know lots of students are in the same boat. This is a great book to talk about when it is ok to be less than perfect or how to deal with those times when things just aren't meeting your standards. It's a very real stressor for many students, and it's good for them to talk about when to let the perfectionist strive for perfection, when to tell it to take a chill pill, and how we can be our own worst critic. Louie thought his book was a disaster, but ask students if they still enjoyed it.
  • Interactive Books & Setting/Characters: This book adds another dimension to the normal story, in that the reader supposedly enters into the story and the character starts interacting with the reader. If you want to challenge kids to think outside the box while talking about setting or characters, ask them to identify the setting and characters in this book.

Magnolia's teacher told the class to bring in something from nature for show-and-tell, so naturally, Magnolia brought an alligator. At first, the teacher was upset, but Magnolia promised that the alligator would behave and not eat anyone. Well, the alligator doesn't eat anyone, but boy does he find other ways to cause problems which all seem to get Magnolia in trouble! By show-and-tell time, she's oh so ready to be rid of the alligator.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Class Rules: This is a great way to lighten the mood when talking about class rules or before brainstorming class rules. Magnolia's alligator gets her into all sorts of trouble (and not the kind you'd expect). It's a good opportunity to talk about why we have rules. Also, it's a great time to talk about what is appropriate to bring to school and what should stay at home (or in the swamp). By the end of the story, Magnolia is super sorry she ever brought the alligator to school. 
  • Who's Influencing You?: This story also provides a fantastic opportunity to talk to kids about who they choose to spend time with and how those people influence them. Magnolia's hanging out with the alligator gets her into all sorts of trouble. Obviously, he's not a good influence on her, and she eventually sends him away. Discuss with students some strategies for avoiding bad influences.
  • De-stress Fun Read: There are just those days when everyone's tired and needs a little break. This is a humorous read that can help bring a little joy into a stressful day that needs a bit of fun.
  • Humor in Art: 2/3 of the humor in this book are in the illustrations. Teachers can have students evaluate how Parsley achieved this and how the story changes if you take either the words or the art away.

Once upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
A short story for each letter of the alphabet. Some humorous, some tragic, but all very alphabetical.
This book gets better the farther you get into it as certain characters from previous letters' stories start popping up in later letters. Of course, some stories are fun all on their own too. Overall, a very enjoyable waltz through the alphabet (don't be scared by the 112 pages, they go by fast), with some fantastic vocabulary introduced along the way too.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Alphabet: Of course, if you have students learning their alphabet, this is a good book to spread out and read a story for each letter that's introduced. You can also have them find every time the letter appears in its story.
  • Observation Skills: As the book goes on characters from previous letter stories start appearing again. Challenge the students to see how many reappearances they can notice.
  • Concise Writing: Jeffers manages to tell stories in about one paragraph for each letter. If you're trying to teach students to write concisely, there are some great examples in this book.
  • Writing Prompt: Emulating Jeffers' book, challenge students to write their own little stories for each letter of the alphabet. This could even be an opener activity for a whole month, prompting students with a different letter each day.
  • Foreign Languages: You can adapt the writing prompt idea for a different alphabet or language. 
  • Fun Short Filler Activity: If you need a book you can pick up and read short snippets of aloud to fill in random minutes of the school day, this is a good one since all the letters are individual stories (though some eventually start to overlap).
  • Vocabulary & Dictionaries & Semantics: Jeffers includes some excellent vocabulary in the stories. And given the short nature of the stories, you can easily take time to demonstrate how to find out what a word means without disrupting the flow of the story much.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 44: Books for K-12 classrooms

Here are three books I enjoyed right after school got out for the summer. Two would make great read-alouds, and the third is a novel starring TCKs.

Nonfiction Resource

Unusual Creatures: a mostly accurate account of some of Earth's strangest animals by Michael Hearst, ill. by Arjen Noordeman, Christie Wright, and Jelmer Noordeman
Michael Hearst (with the help of his friendly designers and artist) takes readers on a humorous tour of some of the world's most unusual creatures, from Axolotl to Yeti Crab. The weird and wonderful illustrations will grab younger readers, while older readers will appreciate the humor and interesting facts. Each page includes the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus and Species for the critter, plus normal range, and average size. The pages are just jam packed full of good information. The critters picked span a broad range of types. Most are quite rare, endangered or threatened so Hearst also includes a section in the back for ways readers can help conservation efforts. But the biggest win of the book is that Hearst makes it so entertaining I couldn't help but stop quite regularly to share tidbits with my husband. Spontaneous impulsive sharing is a big sign to me that a book is a winner.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Nonfiction read-aloud: When I think of a read-aloud, I don't often picture a nonfiction book in my head. But the humor, fascinating facts, and appealing illustrations of this book are sure to suck in even the most die-hard fiction fan. Teachers and parents will also like that because of its structure, you can read as little as two pages at a time in little moments where you need a filler activity.
  • Classification: Just memorizing Kingdom, Phylum, etc can be a little boring. Science teachers going over the classification of living organisms could easily use this book in liven up their classification lessons with some unusual creatures. Each animal has its full classification listed.
  • Environmental care: Several of the animals in this book are endangered because of environmental factors and Hearst provides suggestions of how ordinary people can help the environment, from recycling to other less-frequently mentioned activities. Students can easily pick one way to make sure they are helping rather than hurting the Earth.
  • Fun nonfiction read: If you're trying to help a child find a nonfiction book to read for fun (or even an assignment) this is a great pick. Who says nonfiction has to be boring?
  • Animals: For classes studying animals or looking for ideas for animals to report on, this is a good resource as it introduces many beyond the average bunny and bear. 
  • Nonfiction writing: Hearst accomplishes two important things in his writing: he conveys interesting facts clearly and he makes his readers laugh. You could read just one or two page spreads with students and discuss some of the ways Hearst does these things well before students launch into their own writing.
Fiction Resources

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
Morty, a reporter zorgle ends up chosen to go on a quest to find the missing zorgles of Zorgamazoo. Sounds great, right? But Morty feels a bit in over his head. That adventuring stuff is something his Dad did, it’s not really his thing. Katrina Katrell is all for adventure, which is a good thing because she is forced into running away from her guardian when Mrs. Krabone decides Katrina’s imaginative brain must be stopped with some good ol’ brain surgery by the lobotomy doc. Katrina gets away from Mrs. Krabone only to fall into the clutches of an unfriendly street gang. It’s looking quite bad for her until Morty stumbles in and saves the day. It’s only right that Katrina should then help Morty on his quest. So the two of them set off for Zorgamazoo and find plenty of adventures awaiting them.
Oh, and did I mention this entire novel is told in rhyme? Yep, it's 128 pages of rhymed and metered text that creates an adventurous story.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Read-aloud: This is a book that just begs and screams to be read-aloud. In fact, if you tried to read it quietly you might accidentally find yourself reading it out loud. The story and the format combined will make this a quick, exciting read aloud that will appeal to a diverse audience.
  • Poetry: If you are doing a poetry unit, this is a good pick for those who love the genre to read further. You could also use it for examples of rhyming patterns and meter. Like Dr. Seuss, Mr Weston isn't afraid to make up some words if he can't find one that rhymes. Perhaps these two can inspire some creative new words in young poets.
  • Compare/Contrast: Have students read some of Zorgamazoo and some of a Dr Seuss book and compare/contrast the two authors. OR have students compare/contrast some of Zorgamazoo and some of The Crossover by Alexander. Both are books in verse, but The Crossover uses a whole variety of poetic forms while Zorgamazoo is pretty consistent in poetic form throughout. 

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
At first Black Dove and White Raven were a pair of women flyers who did stunt flying at air shows. Delia was Black Dove and Rhoda was White Raven. Both were American but had met in France where they also learned to fly and had children with foreign flyer husbands. Delia’s husband was from Ethiopia, and died on duty not long after Delia and Rhoda had gone to America to do air shows together. Rhoda’s husband is Italian, and his duties take him all over the place. So Delia and Rhoda raise their kids, Teo and Emilia together and take them all over on tour. And when Delia dies in an accident, Rhoda takes in Teo as her own. Eventually, Rhoda decides to fulfill Delia’s dream of going to Ethiopia with the kids. She gets a job flying around Dr. Ezra for clinics and takes photographs to sell to magazines. Though Africa is their third continent in their short lives, Teo and Em seem most at home there. They learn the local language from Dr. Ezra’s wife Sinidu, get lessons with another expat family, and help around the village as they can, and in their free time make up stories about their fictional characters, Black Dove and White Raven who have all sorts of adventures. But their idyllic life starts to become threatened by rumblings between the Ethiopians and neighboring colonists, the Italians. Only because of this, Momma starts teaching both teens to fly, a skill they’ve dreamed of since their earliest memories. As war becomes more and more eminent, the family will have to figure out what to do, stuck as they are in a tricky position with ties to both sides.
Note: If you've read some of Wein's other women aviators books, this isn't linked story-wise at all; also it is calmer, less bloody, and has less swearing. (The other books are set in the heat of WWII and are much more intense. I would be ok handing this one to a middle schooler, but I'd only give Code Name Verity and Rose under Fire to high schoolers or older. They are very good, but have more mature content.)

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Book Club Book: There's lots of great discussion points in this book from historical perspective, to racial issues, to the third culture kid experience, to what all is going on in Momma's head. I see too many students get turned off by long books they're forced to read as a class so I wouldn't recommend this for that, but in smaller or less formal settings like free reading discussions or book clubs, this would be good.
  • Third Culture Kids: Give this book to your favorite TCK and allow them to share with you how they identify with Teo and Emilia. Or read it yourself to better understand TCKs. I certainly found many commonalities myself, and I'm technically just an expat, not a TCK. Wein absolutely nails the full joys and trials of being a third culture kid in her depictions of Teo and Emilia. Emilia is Italian/American, born in France, spent her childhood traveling frequently all over the US but never fitting in, and then fully adapts to life in Ethiopia as a teen. She goes around barefoot and can speak the local language so well she could pass for a native if it weren't for her white skin. Teo is Ethiopian/American, born in France, spends his childhood traveling frequently all over the US where he is treated poorly because of his skin color; he loves being invisible in Ethiopia but that only works until he speaks because he can't fully get the language as well as Emilia even though he's the one with Ethiopian blood. Both characters struggle with figuring out where they belong.
  • Debate/Discussion: Teo and Emilia are an interesting and moving example of a pair of kids/teens who culture said shouldn't even be friends let alone family. But despite prejudice and cultural pressures, they love each other like brother and sister. A great class discussion would be to debate who it would have been harder for, Teo or Emilia and why. Or why readers think they didn't succumb to the pressures of society. Was it their own personality, the example of their families, something else, or all of the above? Who is someone your peers may discourage you from being friends with, and how can you apply Teo and Emilia's strategy to your own life?
  • African history: There aren't a whole lot of books for young adults set in 1930s Ethiopia or that explore the conflict between the Ethiopians and Italians at that time as rumblings of WWII roll in. 
  • History through multiple viewpoints: Wein keeps things very balanced as we view the Ethiopian/Italian conflict through the eyes of people who know and love both Ethiopians and Italians. She also explores what it was like for someone with black or white skin to live in America versus Europe versus Africa in the early 1900s. 
  • Multicultural read: Wein does a fantastic job of bringing small town village life in turn of the century Ethiopia to life. It's an interesting peak into a culture not often highlighted in English literature.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Brainstorm Vol 43: Books for K-12 classrooms

It's our school's first week back to school, so it is back to posting more regularly on the Brainstorm! Enjoy these books that can be used in multiple subjects and grades.

Picture Book Resources

Pirates vs. Cowboys by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by David Barneda
When the pirates stroll into town and come head-to-head with the local rowdy cowboys, there's an inevitable catastrophe of miscommunication. It looks like the town's about to witness an epic showdown as both sides misunderstand each other and take offense, that is until Pegleg Highnoon -fluent in both cowboy and pirate - sidles in to save the day.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Cultural Understanding: Our school is international, so like the Pirates and Cowboys, there are inevitable language and cultural differences among the students. This book provides a great opportunity to open up a discussion about how different cultures do things, similarities and differences, etc. and hopefully, develop appreciation and understand so these clashes of cultures can be avoided.
  • Peacemaking: If not for Pegleg Highnoon, this book could have gotten very nasty very quickly. It's a great opening to talk with students about how they can be peacemakers in the school and at home. There are several great organizations out there with further resources on peacemaker training and peer mediation. Our school has done training in the past with resources from Peacemaker Ministries and I've also worked at schools who've used Peer Mediators.
  • Career options: Interpreter is not a career option that often comes up on career days, but it is a growing field. This is a great book to illustrate the need for people whose work is to bridge languages and cultures.
  • Creative Writing: Pitting pirates against cowboys is not something you often see. Have students brainstorm other fun mashups and possible humorous results for short story writing.

Have You Seen My Monster? by Steve Light
A little girl is enjoying the fair while looking for her monster who snuck in before her. As she hunts around the fair (and her monster has a grand ol' time himself) readers will get to learn names to all sorts of shapes found in the fairgrounds attractions.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Geometry/Shapes for K-12: I've never come across a picture book with such a wide variety of shapes introduced. Of course there's the expected circle, square, and triangle, but there's also every other polygon's name with sides from 3-10 plus petrafoil, rhombus, trapezoid, and trapezium. I remember memorizing a list of shapes for high school geometry class. This book would make learning those shapes a whole lot more fun (and probably more memorable). Not to say littler ones couldn't learn the shapes too. I'd be quite impressed if I ran into a 7 year old who knew what a nonagon and a petrafoil were, and this book could create just such a child.
  • Visual Acuity: For students who need to work on giving their eyes a workout (such as those with lazy eye), the hide and seek aspect of this book is a really good exercise. Not only is the monster hiding on each page of this book, but Steve Light has a tendency to hide things in his pictures without really telling readers. I noticed stars on just about every page of this book though star was one of the few shapes not highlighted. Challenge readers to find all the stars. Or play I-spy with the pages of this book (they are incredibly detailed, almost all in black and white except for splashes of color to highlight the shape for that spread). 
  • Descriptive Writing Exercise: Because each page has a lot going on, this would be a good challenge for writers to describe a page spread in words. 
  • Sequencing Exercise: The girl and her monster meander all over the fair. Have students see if they can put the places of the fair visited in order after reading. (You may want to read once for fun, and then a second time with kids focused on remembering the order.) Sequencing is a good mental workout for everyone, not just kids.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light
This was the first Steve Light book I became aware of. In this one, a little boy is looking for his dragon. He starts in his apartment building and works his way all over New York City while his dragon is never too far away. At each stop, only one type of object appears in color and a box on the upper right counts these things from 1-20.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Counting: Obviously, this is a nice book to work on counting, and it stands out because it goes on beyond the normal stopping point of 10. The way Light illustrated the book in black and white with just splashes of color to highlight the items to be counted on each page makes it easier for young ones to find the items to count.
  • Foreign Languages: If you're practicing numbers in an introductory foreign language class, you could read this book and have students count the items out loud in the foreign language.
  • Point of View & Bending Rules in Art: Light does some very interesting things with point of view in his illustrations. He bends the rules at times to make everything fit. It's a good example of thinking outside the box in art.
  • Visual Acuity: Like in the previous book, the main point is to find the dragon in each spread, but if you hunt around online you can find interviews with Steve Light about other things he's hidden in the pictures of this book. For example, there are mice hidden on every single page. See what other hidden items you can find.
  • New York City Geography: The boy and his dragon manage to make quite a tour of New York City in their escapades. There are maps on the endpapers showing their route all over the city. This is a fun pick to read before you visit New York, or if you're studying the city and want to highlight some of the different areas.
  • Geography & Community Study: Students could make a map of their own city. Pick places where a dragon (or another visitor) may want to explore, and then develop a route and maybe even transportation that could be used to get from place to place.
  • Sequencing Exercise: Like in Have You Seen My Monster? you can test how well readers are paying attention by asking them put places visited in order of when they appear in the book.
  • Compare/Contrast: Read both of Steve Light's Have You Seen... books and have students compare/contrast them.
Chapter Book Resource

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
If you asked me to pick next year's Newbery winner right now, this is the book I'd give that special shiny sticker to. It's a fantastic example of beautiful writing and incredible story weaving. One could argue that it really isn't one book, but four woven into one big, moving story. That said, it's a little hard to summarize, but here goes:

Once upon a time, a little boy in Germany becomes lost in the forest where he meets three strange young women and finds a book that tells an odd tale about them, a witch, and a harmonica that must save a life for the women to be freed. 

Friedrich is a boy in 1930s Germany. Life isn’t easy for him due to a birthmark on his face, making him easy prey for bullies and teasing. It’s for this reason he works as an apprentice at the harmonica factory during the morning and spends the afternoon in private tutoring with various men of the factory. During hard times Friedrich finds solace in music, playing the cello or a special harmonica he finds in the factory. Things start looking worse and worse for Friedrich as Hitler’s policies begin to spread and all those who have differences, including birth marks, fall into ill-favor. And those who don’t agree with Hitler’s policies could be in just as much danger, like his Papa.

Mike is an orphan in 1930s Pennsylvania. When Granny was getting to ill to care for him and his little brother Frankie, Gran found them a boys’ home with a piano and left them with the stipulation that they should be kept together. But Ms Pennyweather seems more concerned with what kind of money she can get out of the boys in the home than honoring last requests of relatives. She begins threatening to send the boys separate ways. Mike’s one solace is in music. One day a man comes and asks to hear the piano played. He is enthralled with Mike and Frankie’s music, and takes them to live with a Mrs Sturbridge. But though the house is beautiful and they get new clothes, great food, and even things like harmonicas, the new place feels too good to be true, and it seems that Mrs Sturbridge doesn’t want them.

Ivy is perfectly happy with her life in 1942 in Fresno, but the new year promises to bring changes. Her father gets an offer to go work at an orange grove in Orange County with a chance at a permanent house and land if the job goes well. Ivy is crushed that they have to move right then. Her class was going to be on the radio and she had a harmonica solo. The move has some happy surprises, like her own bedroom and a nice girl her age who lives next door. But to her shock, because of her heritage, Ivy has to go to Lincoln Annex school instead of the main school. It seems grossly unfair. Injustice seems to run rampant in the area. The land her father is working belongs to Mr. Yamamoto, who, along with his wife and two daughters, has been put into an internment camp because of his heritage. His son, Kenneth, alone escaped the camp, only because he had already enlisted with the Marines. Other neighbors want the Yamamotos to sell the land and be gone for good, but if that happens, the job for Ivy’s father disappears. Still, there are bright spots in Ivy’s life here. She has her new friend Susan, and she gets to start learning the flute, which greatly excites Ivy because she loves music.

One thing unites all of the stories, a single harmonica that moves from one person to the next and brings hope, and eventually to one owner, a saved life.

Activity Tie-ins:
  • Actually, don't mess this one up by tying it to other assignments. Just read it. Read it yourself and then rave about it to your students. Then hopefully, they'll do the same and the book will just find it's way into numerous hearts. If you need further selling points here:
    • It blends fantasy & historical fiction. I have trouble getting historical fiction off the shelves, but fantasy won't stay on. It's a good way to sneak in some history to fantasy lovers.
    • It has several cultures tied together: German, Hispanic American, midwestern American, and Asian American.
    • It addresses prejudices and those who overcome difficult circumstances in every story.
    • Music and its power to help heal and build bridges is celebrated.
    • It's a really, really, really good read. Just go pick up a copy for yourself.