Parts of this post are cross-posted at the brand new Nonfiction Monday group blog! Please stop by to see what great nonfiction bloggers are reading this week!
In November, we talked about Nonfiction at our monthly Reading Wildly discussion and it was a really great topic. Nonfiction is a genre that some of my staff thought they had no interest in and I think it can definitely be a weak area for many librarians. We started our discussion by talking about the article I had passed out last month:
"Making Nonfiction Accessible for Young Readers" by Sue Christian Parsons (Reading Today, October/November 2012).
While this article is definitely geared towards teachers, we found lots to discuss. We talked about why teachers and librarians may not be as familiar with nonfiction as with fiction - because when we were kids nonfiction may not have been prioritized and a lot of what was being published was textbook-y and dry. Within the past 5-10 years, narrative nonfiction has exploded and there is a lot more available today then there was when we were growing up. Our job as librarians is to stay on top of what's being published and be ready to recommend engaging nonfiction to teachers and to kids.
Outside of the classroom, some readers naturally gravitate towards nonfiction and we owe it to them to include nonfiction in our readers' advisory arsenal. We talked about other uses for nonfiction, too. Adults may be looking for a brief overview of a topic, something they might find in a children's book. And so much great narrative nonfiction is being published for young people that adults may be missing out if they skip over the children's section altogether.
And, of course, as more and more of our schools are moving to adopt Common Core standards, reading narrative nonfiction is going to become more and more prevalent in classrooms. Nonfiction picture books can be great tools, even in upper grades, to give students an overview of a topic. Keeping on top of nonfiction is essential! And my staff discovered that there are great, readable titles available if we look!
We also spent some time at the end of our meeting deciding on genres and topics for next year's Reading Wildly (and I will post about that soon). My staff is getting a lot out of the program and we'll continue meeting monthly and discussing books and genres. They have really enjoyed having the articles the past couple of months and the articles have given us a good starting point for talking about genre. I'm really excited about the year to come!
Last year, we had a ton of fun at our Mock Caldecott party and I'm really hoping to make this an annual tradition. In January, I'll once again be inviting my staff and our neighboring youth librarians over for food and picture books! Taking into account what I learned last year, my staff and I have been looking over picture books for the past couple of weeks to decide what our Mock Caldecott nominees will be for this year's party.
To get started, I pulled a ton of picture books - checking out other Mock Caldecott lists and scouring our New Book shelves for eligible titles. Here are some of the sources I used:
Staff had time to look through all the books I pulled (and add additional books to the shelf) and each of us was allowed to nominate up to 10 titles. Some were voted for by two or three people, someone only nominated by one. I ended up included every book that was nominated by at least one of my staff members, giving us a list of 21 books - maybe a tiny bit more than I had originally wanted, but I think it's still a manageable number.
Here are the books we'll be looking at in January:
I'm really excited for an excuse to get everyone together again and to discuss these great picture books. This year, I will be attending the Midwinter Meeting and the awards ceremony is scheduled to start before our typical work shift begins. I still plan to arrange for any staff members who want to come in early to watch the webcast to do so. We had a lot of fun with it last year and I think it generated a lot of interest in the awards process and in the books that won medals or honors.
Anyone else doing a Mock Caldecott (for staff or the public or kids/students)? What's on your list? Any favorites this year?
"[His teachers] said he would never amount to anything unless he learned to behave like all the other students. But Albert didn't want to be like the other students. He wanted to discover the hidden mysteries in the world."
If you're looking for a basic biography of Albert Einstein with names and dates and places and accomplishments, you may want to look elsewhere. BUT if you are looking for a book that illuminates exactly why Albert Einstein was so important and why his way of thinking was revolutionary, do not miss this book.
It starts with Albert's childhood and the fact that he was late to talk and he got into trouble at school. Albert didn't think like other people, so many people thought he was strange. He wanted to teach after he graduated from college, but he couldn't find a job as a teacher. Eventually, the very qualities that disturbed people - questioning the universe, thinking deeply about many things - would lead to some of the most important scientific discoveries in our history.
The more I think about this book, the more I love it. The picture book format obviously limits the number of words the author could use to get this big, huge concept across and she does it beautifully. Vladimir Radunsky's illustrations pair perfectly to the text. I didn't like them at first! I thought they were strange and a little disturbing....... much like Albert Einstein himself (light bulb!). I especially like the spreads that illustrate some of the theories that Einstein proved (everything is made up of atoms and wonky time if you traveled at the speed of light).
An author's note makes up the back matter, providing some additional facts and anecdotes about Einstein's life. Berne also provides a short list of recommended further reading. I do miss a timeline, but okay this really is more about a big idea and less about dates. Okay.
This would make a perfect pairing with any Einstein biography and has a place in every science classroom.
Happy Nonfiction Monday! This week's roundup is hosted at Jean Little Library, so make sure to stop by and check out what the bloggers are reading this week.
Here's what I shared with my Afterschool groups this month:
Animals Should Definitely NOT Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1970). This story is short and extremely silly; it's great for a broad range of ages. The Barretts examine many different reasons animals should not wear clothing - it would be disastrous for a porcupine, a mouse would get lost in it, it would be messy for a pig. Each spread features an amusing illustration - my kids are particular fans of the hen. The illustrations definitely make this book, so it'll work best if everyone has a good view.
Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (Chronicle Books, 2013). I totally flubbed this book when I read it to my first group because I didn't practice it beforehand. I had read it, thought it was really funny, and stuck it on the Afterschool shelf. When I picked it up a couple of weeks later, I made a big mistake by bringing it along without practicing the readaloud! When I did it for my second group (after practicing!), it went a lot better and the kids enjoyed it. This is a good choice if you have older kids; I think a lot of the humor went over the heads of the younger kids in my groups. I introduced the story by asking if someone could tell me what a carnivore is and we talked a little bit about that before I read the story.
'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, 1990). This rhyming story is a little silly with a lot of heart and it's perfect for the school-age crowd around this time of year. In the cadence of "Twas the Night Before Christmas", Pilkey spins the story of a class visiting a turkey farm on a field trip, realizing what's going to happen to their new turkey friends, and smuggling the turkeys out under their jackets to enjoy a veggie Thanksgiving dinner at their houses.
This month's craft was a paper mosaic leaf and we debuted our new glue sponges! These have been all over Pinterest for elementary school classrooms and they're great for libraries, too. We've replaced the glue sticks at our make-and-take craft table and we've started bringing the glue sponges along to our Afterschool outreach. They last way longer and are way less messy than glue sticks (or glue bottles) and the kids got the hang of them quite quickly.
All Scientists in the Field books are not created equal. Yes, this is a series we've come to depend on for solid scientific information and stellar back matter. Yes, it's a series that I collect at my library without question. But in terms of readability and kid-appeal, titles vary. And this, my friends, is a surefire hit.
Pamela S. Turner, author of The Frog Scientist (another SITF hit for me), accompanies scientists in Australia who are studying a group of dolphins who are really doing something cool. Some of these dolphins have been spotted using tools - collecting sponges from the ocean floor and using them to protect their snouts while rustling up dinner at the sandy, rocky bottom of the bay. Now, maybe it's a little easier to bring the kid-appeal when you're talking about dolphins, animals already well-known and well-loved by children. But author Pamela Turner treats these dolphins as characters in a story, allowing readers to get to know them and their distinct personalities and family structures.
While the scientists and their work is certainly central to the book, readers will also come to care about the dolphins of Shark Bay. Outstanding photos give us a closer look at these extraordinary animals using tools, hanging out with their families, frolicking, and so forth. Readers also get a strong conservation message and we learn how tourists feeding the dolphins was actually very harmful to them. This is important information, especially because Shark Bay is a real place with a a dolphinside resort.
Of course, this being a Scientists in the Field title, the standard extensive back matter is provided, including additional information about dolphins and further research about dolphins, resources for further study, an update on the dolphin clan, and an index.
This is one not to miss, folks! I'd press it into the hands of middle-graders interested in marine biology or who have enjoyed the following Scientist in the Field titles:
Horror's not normally my thing. While I enjoyed it as a young adult*, it's not a genre to which I gravitate anymore. Which is why I was a little surprised to look up and realize that the past four books I've read have been ghost stories. What's been in that stack?
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper. Grades 5-8. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013. 328 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.
Too much plot summary is going to get all spoilery, so I'll just say that Ghost Hawk is the story of a Native American boy in Massachusetts around the time of the first white settlements (think Plymouth and Puritans). There's a good deal of adventure and historic detail (which may or may not be accurate, unfortunately).
First of all, I have to say that I enjoyed reading Ghost Hawk. I knew it was coming under some controversy on the Heavy Medal blog, so I avoided reviews and reading through the comments until I had read it. Even though I enjoyed the read, I take Debbie Reese's comments about the portrayal of Native Americans seriously and even if you play the fantasy genre card, a book that's based on real people needs to be accurate. End of story. In her author's note Susan Cooper claims that this is not a historical novel but a fantasy in a historical setting. If you're using real people (and Susan Cooper is), you owe it to readers to be as accurate as possible. I honestly don't even see why this is a debate.
I read Ghost Hawk and then my next book finally came in at the library:
Oh my, this one was a blast! Set in an alternate England where hauntings are viciously real and children are the ones who can sense the Visitors, this is the story of Lucy Carlyle and the ghost busters who hire her. Lockwood & Co. is fairly unique among ghost disposal agencies because they don't have any supervising adults. They don't need them! Lockwood and his staff have everything taken care of. And if a house gets burned down once in a while, well, at least it's not haunted anymore, eh? But Lucy and her colleagues will face the biggest challenge of their career when they're approached by an eccentric millionaire with the most haunted house in all of England.
This is a believably creepy mystery story that puts kids logically into the center of the action. There are enough scares to please your horror fans (especially that climax!) and a solid mystery that will keep readers guessing. Lucy is a likeably imperfect heroine; her gifts give her an edge, but she doesn't always make sensible choices (much to the chagrin of her colleague and boss). This is the first in a trilogy and it wraps up enough while still definitely paving the way for following books.
On audio, I'm working through:
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, narrated by David Aaron Baker. Adult (teen crossover). Bantam/Random House Audio, 2003. Review copy provided by my local library. (I'm an Audible affiliate and if you purchase items after clicking links in this post, I get a small commission!)
This one is a recommendation from The Boyfriend who recently read and enjoyed it. I'm enjoying it well enough, though it feels like it's overwritten. (Sigh. I often feel that way about adult novels after reading so much slim and tight youth lit.) Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short order cook who sees ghosts in his small California desert town. When he spies a strange, repulsive man being followed by masses of shades (a good indicator that this man will be committing a very violent crime soon), Odd must figure out what's going to happen and how to protect his friends.
The narration is solid and fits with the character, though there are pronunciations I don't agree with every now and then.
And I just now picked up:
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. Grades 7 and up? Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. 384 pages. Review copy from my local library.
This one is for the Bill Morris Seminar, which I'll be attending in January**. We have a list of books to read, which we'll discuss at the seminar. The ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, that Jacob Grimm) is following a teenage boy in the town of Never Better. Jeremy is the only person Jacob has met who can hear ghosts and Jacob is charged with protecting him from an evil that will befall him at some point.
I'm only halfway through at this point, but I'm having some trouble figuring out who the audience is meant to be. Really, the main character is a 150-year-old ghost and Jeremy's story is told with a distance that keeps the reader from connecting to him. I do like the modern fairy tale tone, but I also have some other issues that I won't get into quite yet since I haven't finished it yet.
So that's the state of my haunted reading pile! Have you ever unintentionally found yourself reading a bunch of books in a row that had a running theme?
* MOAR VAMPIRE BOOKS, PLS ** Oh yeah, I was selected for the 2014 Morris Seminar! I'm super excited!!!! Wheee!
I just finished the amazing professional book Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller, a.k.a. The Book Whisperer, and Susan Kelley. Having read and loved The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child a few years ago, I was very excited when I saw that Donalyn Miller had another book about reading coming out. You may know Donalyn from her monthly #TitleTalk Twitter chats or her fabulous blog. She is a reading teacher in Texas and reads voraciously in order to advise her students and create lifelong readers. This book examines five habits of lifelong readers and what teachers can do to instill these habits in their students.
Lifelong reading habits include:
Dedicating time to read: making reading a priority and finding spare minutes in our busy days to dedicate to reading.
Self-selecting reading material: not relying on a teacher or boss to dictate reading, but knowing what we like and how to find our next read.
Sharing books and reading with other readers: whether it's a monthly book club, casual conversations with friends, or contributing to social media like GoodReads or Twitter.
Having reading plans: knowing what we're going to read next and/or setting reading goals.
Showing preferences: being aware of what we like in a book so that we can find other books that we might like.
Each section is a mix of explaining the habit, suggesting activities to do with students, and showing supporting evidence from her classroom. Yes, the main audience for this book may be teachers, but librarians have a lot to gain from this book, too! Here are some ideas:
Readers' Advisory Training
Miller's introduction is a smorgasbord of research-based information about why reading matters. Part of the librarian's job is to match readers to the right book at the right time. If you're making a case for starting a readers' advisory training program (possibly like the Reading Wildly program I'm doing with my staff) or bringing in a trainer or attending a conference or webinar to develop your readers' advisory skills, you definitely need to check out this book. I highlighted many sections to share with my staff about the importance of reading teachers (and anyone in a readers' advisory capacity, definitely including librarians) reading widely themselves. Over and over again, Miller emphasizes the importance of reading widely, of valuing students' choices, of the readers' advisory interview (what she calls conferring and providing preview stacks).
Books to Read List
One of the five habits that Miller discusses is making a reading plan, and she includes the "Books to Read List" that she uses with her students. This is something we could easily provide in the public library, leaving blank copies for patrons to take or distributing them when we visit for booktalks. The Books to Read List enables patrons to keep track of the titles that have piqued their interest so that they have a reading plan, somewhere to start when they finish their current read.
Summer Reading Goals
Miller emphasizes the importance of student choice in reading over and over again. She also asserts that students who have a reading goal over school breaks tend to read more. Some public libraries allow patrons to set their own reading goals for the Summer Reading Club. Even if you don't want to take that plunge, maybe encouraging families to set their own informal goals for the summer before school ends might encourage them to follow through and join the Summer Reading Club. A child might want to finish a series he's started, read a certain number of pages, or try a genre outside his comfort zone. If kids have thought about where they might start, it makes those trips to the library more manageable.
One very cool idea Miller suggests is talking about and writing down "reading resolutions" for the new year. This could make an easy and fun interactive display or self-directed program. Provide large post-it notes for patrons to jot down their own reading resolutions for the year and post them up on a bulletin board or designated space. Writing down a goal and posting it for the world to see may help patrons reach their goals, too! And patrons' reading resolutions might give you a better idea of your community's favorite genres and series or recommend programming ideas to you.
Help Struggling/Reluctant Readers
Of course, Miller has seen struggling readers come through her classroom, and she suggests techniques and resources for helping these kids develop a love of reading. Kids who struggle to finish books might enjoy collections of short stories because finishing a story can give them a goal they can meet and a feeling of satisfaction at completing something. Miller also recounts her journey towards acceptance of graphic novels as legitimate literature (not just a gateway to "better" novels).
These are some of the ideas and inspirations I got from Reading in the Wild. I'm sure every reader will glean something different from this wonderful book. If you serve school-age kids, don't let yourself miss it!
This month was a little crazy with a 2-week Fall Break in the middle of the month and then our community's annual Lights On Afterschool program taking the place of one of my Afterschool visits. Here are the books I shared with my group this month:
Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012). I wanted to share something slightly scary, but not really Halloween-y and this fit the bill nicely. The ending is a funny twist and the color scheme really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the story.
Shark in the Park! by Nick Sharratt (Corgi Childrens, 2000). Timothy Pope goes to the park with his telescope and keeps thinking he sees a shark at the park... but does he? While reading this one, I have the kids make telescopes with their hands and look up, down, and all around with me.
The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat (Putnam Juvenile, 2012). This martial arts twist on The Three Little Pigs is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The rhyming text makes it a fun read and the martial arts details hold the interest of the kids. They asked me to read this one again, which NEVER happens with this group!
For this month's craft, we did leaf rubbings, which I love because it is so cheap and easy. And if the kids enjoy it (which all of our kids did), they can very easily do it again at home or with their Afterschool group.
We also visited the YMCA Fall Break camps twice this month and read to very large groups of kids (70-80 each visit). Their camp theme was superheroes, and here's what Miss A and I brought:
Bark George by Jules Feiffer (HarperCollins, 1999) - I brought the felt story