My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.

August 10, 2011

August 10 for 10 Picture Books

I had my arm virtually twisted by Cathy Mere to join the fun of August 10 for 10 Picture Books.  I'll admit, I love to read  picture books, but I usually look to others to recommend them.  This is my top reason for participating - I can't wait to read everyone's posts!

I've picked the ten picture books that I hold near and dear to my heart.  You'll notice that none of them are new.  I came back to teaching when my now-teen daughters were in K and 2nd grade.  They helped me develop my read-aloud voices and styles, and I asked them to help pick great picture books they remember reading to add to my pile of school-read-aloud favorites.

Here are my 10 faves (at this moment... I'm quick to change my mind!) that I love to read aloud, in order of publishing year:

The Mitten by Jan Brett (1989) 
This is a favorite book of my 15-year-old daughter, as well as my students.  We love Jan Brett's detailed illustrations, and how she previews the story within each page's inset.  Other favorites written by Jan Brett include The Hat and Armadillo Rodeo because my students love the similarities between the stories and the characters.

Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom! by Bill Martin, Jr. (1989)
If you've never read this book with kindergarteners, you are missing out on a great experience.  I've managed to memorize this book because I've read it aloud millions of times over my 10 years of teaching and 15 years of parenting.  I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Martin, Jr. at a literacy conference.  He was a great man, completely invested in children's literacy.  In his many books he loves to play with words.  "Skit skat skoodle doot, flip flop flee, everybody running to the coconut tree!"

Owen by Kevin Henkes (1993)
Everyone can relate to Owen.  He treasures his fuzzy yellow blanket and carries it everywhere.  Mrs. Tweezers, his nosy neighbor, keeps insisting that Owen's parents break him of his blanket habit.  I love Owen's great imagination (Captain Plunger!) and his devotion to Fuzzy.  Cheers to Owen's mother for having an "absolutely wonderful, positively perfect, especially terrific idea" that helps Owen keep Fuzzy in a covert way.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting (1994)
I am a HUGE fan of Eve Bunting books.  She has such a way with words and descriptions, and her stories are not shallow.  This book is about a family searching the woods for a Christmas tree.  I usually avoid holiday books in my classroom, but this one has the family connecting with nature.  I can't go through December without reading this gem.  My favorite pre-reading activity for this book is to give students a list of words found in the story (lantern, hoots, thermos, popcorn) and ask them to make predictions about the setting and plot.
Duke the Dairy Delight Dog by Lisa Campbell Ernst (1996)
I was introduced to Lisa Campbell Ernst's books during a professional development session on vocabulary.  This book is the adorable story of Duke, a stray dog, who just goes "ga-ga" when he sees the Dairy Delight ice cream shop.  He refuses to leave, much to the chagrin of Darla, the owner of the shop, who can't stand anything unclean.  This book is a longer read aloud, but it's a great story with a sweet ending.

Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller (1998)
Kansas is bored.  He doesn't like to live in the middle of the United States.  He'd rather switch places with a state in a more exciting location like....Hawaii!  I love this book because the states have great personalities, there's excellent dialogue, and it's just plain funny.  The follow up book is The Scrambled States of America Talent Show.  Your intermediate students will get a big kick out of this book.

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin (2003) 
My 13-year-old daughter picked this book (and it's sequels, Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Fly) as her favorite picture books.  Our copy is falling apart as it's been read and reread many times.  The idea of a worm keeping a diary is funny enough, but the entries are so clever.  Our pick for best entry is June 15, "My older sister thinks she's so pretty.  I told her that no matter how much time she spends looking in the mirror, her face will always look just like her rear end."
Take Me Out of the Bathtub by Alan Katz (2003)
My coworkers tease me about this book (and it's sequel, I'm Still Here in the Bathtub).  I love a book you can sing!  As a kid, I would change the words to songs to be silly or complain.  This book is meant for me!  The students love it, and they beg for more every time.  Don't worry about your musical ability - the kids won't mind!

A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech (2004) 
Sharon Creech is a fine, fine chapter book author, and here is one of her three picture books.  My students usually hear this book at state testing time.  We're all so stressed and wanting to fit everything in, and I joke that the principal has decided to make us go to school on Saturdays (you should hear them complain!).  My insightful students feel bad for Tillie's brother, and we adore her dog, Beans (wait until you see him knitting!).  This is a fine, fine read! 
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2004)
I couldn't leave out the Pigeon.  If you haven't read a Mo Willems book, you are missing out!  The Pigeon really wants to drive the bus, and your job (as reader) is to make sure he doesn't.  This read aloud calls for lots of audience participation, and I've seen even 5th graders chuckle when listening to this book.  Don't miss Mo's other great books about Piggie, Elephant and Knuffle Bunny.

Thanks for reading all the way through my list.  I'm sure I'll read more books (I saw one today - Dear Teacher by Amy Husband - that is completely adorable) and I'll add them to my list.

Happy reading!

August 9, 2011

Your Child's Writing Life by Pam Allyn

I was pleased to have an opportunity to read Pam Allyn’s newest book, Your Child’s Writing Life:  How to Inspire Confidence, Creativity and Skill at Every Age.  This is the second book I've read by Allyn (see my blog post on Best Books for Boys), and I found some wonderful inspiration inside. 

While reading this book, I took extensive notes and jotted down my favorite quotes.  This book has lots of tips and encouragement for parents, and I wish a book like this existed when my teenage daughters were younger.  Allyn’s style is that of gentle coach.  She writes with the busy parent in mind, yet there is no preaching in this book.  Allyn provides a plethora of ideas, tips and solutions for helping your child to develop as a reader, writer and thinker.

In the introduction, Allyn makes a case for “why your child needs a writing life.”  She explains that children need a writing life in order to grow emotionally, develop critical thinking skills and improve their academic achievement.  Allyn writes that students won’t have any stamina “if they haven’t been writing steadily and persuasively from a young age.”  I agree that many students would love to write if they had the tools and the encouragement when they were young, both at home and at school.  Unfortunately not every parent or teacher provides positive writing experiences.

I loved the title that Allyn gave to the first chapter of her book, “New Dimensions for Parenting:  Cherishing Your Child’s Writing Life.”  Ah, cherish.  I still have little books my daughters made from folded paper.  Allyn successfully convinces the reader that a main reason to have your children write (starting at a young age) is to preserve their writing as a keepsake.  Parents are encouraged to create a special place for writing and reading for their children, and then spend time each day, writing and reading together.  Allyn asserts “A child who reads regularly is a better writer.  A child who writes regularly is a better reader.”

Throughout the second and third chapters, Allyn explains the Five Keys to keeping your child writing as well as ways to cultivate writing in your child at any age.  The Five Keys are easy to remember (they spell WRITE):  word power, reading life, identity, time and environment.  As a reading teacher, I appreciate that Allyn insists that children be given access to a variety of texts.  She recommends parents keep a notebook in the car and “give your child time to write and the freedom to write as she pleases.”

Allyn’s book turns to reference guide during chapters three through five.  To begin, Allyn notes writing elements you will see, great writing activities and great books for children during each year of development.  She focuses on each year of a child’s development and gives specific information and tips, from birth to ten years old to the teenage years.  I think parents and teachers alike would devour this information.  Next, Allyn shares her ideas in “The Writing Doctor is in the House.”  This chapter compels parents to compliment their child’s writing and “parent with compassion.”  Finally, Allyn shares her twenty favorite mentor texts, with extensive information about each text and how to connect it to real-life writing.

As if I didn’t have enough notes and quotes from Allyn’s work in my own journal, the final chapter is all about curing writer’s block.  Aha!  I loved this chapter.  Allyn gives specific ideas for emerging, developing and maturing writers.  My favorite activities for emerging writers were using alphabet cookies (yum!) and writing a story on the pavement.  For developing writers, Allyn suggests a book swap, creating a restaurant menu and writing a “worst case scenario” to deal with anxiety.  Technology is a big topic when working with maturing writers as Allyn encourages these writers to create a blog, create a fictional Facebook profile for a character, or write a letter to their future self.

Although this book is written with parents in mind, I would also recommend this book to teachers of preschool through junior high students.  It’s a great resource to help children of all ages find their voice.

* eBook provided by NetGalley