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Rescued
Ape Quartet #3
Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published April 26th, 2016 by Scholastic Press

Summary: They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja—a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

About the Author: Eliot Schrefer is a New York Times-bestselling author, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. In naming him an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times has called his work “dazzling… big-hearted.” He is also the author of two novels for adults and four other novels for children and young adults. His books have been named to the NPR “best of the year” list, the ALA best fiction list for young adults, and the Chicago Public Library’s “Best of the Best.” His work has also been selected to the Amelia Bloomer List, recognizing best feminist books for young readers, and he has been a finalist for the Walden Award and won the Green Earth Book Award and Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. He lives in New York City, where he reviews books for USAToday.

ReviewI think out of the three Ape Quartet books published so far, this is the one that is going to hit closest to home for many. It will make many readers uncomfortable and want to make a change. First, it takes place in the United States unlike Africa like the first two. Second, it really digs into an issue that is still very much prominent here–animal injustice.

I find Schrefer’s writing to be so beautiful yet so easy to read. He can pull you into his stories and makes you feel for not only his human characters but also his animal characters. He does such a tremendous amount of research for all of his books and with this one it brings the injustice of Raja alive.

I am a sucker for ape books. I find apes to be the most fascinating animals, and orangutans may be my favorite because they have these amazing eyes that just show me that they are so intelligent and deep thinkers. They are also introverts; I think I just relate to them in that way. This book brings orangutans to life through Raja.

As evident from Schrefer’s status as a two-time National Book Award finalist, his books can be used as a mentor text for just about any aspect of writing that you are looking for: characterization, imagery, voice, conflict, etc. Read any of his books, and you can pull out so much to discuss and use within the classroom. Additionally, there are some amazing ape books, including Schrefer’s other Ape Quartet books, that would make for an amazing lit circle opportunity or text set.

Review originally posted here on May 13, 2016.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last year, our whole-class novel unit was done using Hurt Go Happy and included a trip to Center for Great Apes. This year, I had a completely different type of novel planned, but my students begged to read more about apes (and visit CFGA again). After looking at all of the available ape books, I decided that Rescued was perfect for the standards I wanted to teach and also included orangutans instead of chimps, and orangutans are the other great ape at CFGA. After setting up a Donors Choose and getting funded (THANK YOU ALL DONORS!), Eliot Schrefer also so kindly contacted me and offered to send even more copies of Rescued to my students–wow! So much kindness! Now that we had a plethora of copies, I wanted to share the love, so I contacted my South Carolina middle school teacher friend, Jennie Smith, to see if she wanted to read Rescued with us and collaborate some how. I was so happy that she said yes!

The Unit

Because I do love whole-class novels, but I also don’t like how a whole-class novel can also ruin a book with too much time spent on one book with way too many assignments during the unit. To try to fight this, I planned the unit quite simply:

  • Each week the students were given a focus question on Monday that they could think about all week then answer on Friday.
    • These focus questions are how we collaborated with Mrs. Smith’s class as well. My 1st and 2nd period posted their answers on Padlet and Mrs. Smith’s students would also post. The kids would then respond to each other.
    • Focus questions:
      • 1. What’s a big idea that’s emerging that’s worth talking about?
      • 2. Is there a passage that struck you as important in developing a character or a conflict in the reading so far? Share the passage and explain.
      • 3. What incident up to this point has had the most impact on the plot? How so? What did the characters’ response to this incident teach you about them?
      • 4. There are many who argue that Great Apes are human-like, including the lawyer who will take apes as plaintiffs to demand rights. What are some examples in this section of Raja showing how close to humans he truly is?
      • 5. How did the characters (specifically John’s mom, John’s dad, John, and Raja) change throughout the book? What other narrative elements helped shape their final persona? Find a piece of dialogue and a specific incident in the book that is evidence for your analysis of the character.
    • The idea of focus questions was something I got from a talk by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle at NCTE 2017.
  • Because of one of the standards the unit was focusing on, we also looked at narrative elements, specifically dialogue, setting, and conflicts. Here is my scale for the unit:
  • Throughout the unit, I would also stop to have students think about certain text-dependent questions. I tried not to do this too often to not slow down the narrative; however, I loved seeing my students’ thinking. We would then discuss these questions, but I like allowing my students to write answers first before discussing because it allows them to get their thinking organized. (I shared some of these text-dependent questions and an example of a student’s answers below.)

The Field Trip

Once again I was lucky enough to bring my students to the CFGAs. All students were able to attend this year, and they were so kind to donate to the Center goodies for the Apes–it always fills my heart to see the empathy in their hearts!

I have gone to the Center for Great Apes for years, and sadly this is the first year it rained. Luckily, we were able to get in a 90-minute tour to see the amazing animals who inspired Schrefer’s novel. To see more about the Center, the apes they’ve saved, and the amazing work they do, please visit http://www.centerforgreatapes.org/.

Author Virtual Visit

After reading Rescued, I was so happy to be able to give my (and Jennie’s) students an opportunity to interview Eliot Schrefer about the book. Each student wrote down at least one question they had for Eliot then in groups, the students chose their favorites, then based on these choices, we broke it down to 5 per class equaling fifteen interview questions altogether:

  • Why did you start writing about apes in the first place? And how did you decide on the order of publication for the Ape Quartet? 
  • Do you like writing realistic fiction like Rescued or fantasy like Mez’s Magic better?
  • Will you continue to write about apes now that you are done with the Ape Quartet? 
  • While the titles of your other books, Endangered, Threatened, and Captured, inspire a feeling of fear, the title Rescued inspires hope. Did this change in connotation of your title mark your different opinion about orangutans?
  • Were you ever stuck in between two decisions while writing the book? When? 
  • Who do you think the antagonist of the book is?
  • How did you come up with the whole “Raja bites off John’s finger” scenario? 
  • How did you come up with the concept of Friendlyland? 
  • How did you come up with the character traits for each character (Ex. Gary being a bad father)? Did you base them off people you know or knew? 
  • Can you tell us more about the corruption happening in Indonesia which allows palm oil companies to be able to keep burning down forests even though it is illegal? 
  • Do you feel that apes should be treated like human beings and given the same rights such as due process, land, etc. like the lawyer in the book? 
  • Was it hard for you to decide what would happen to Raja at the end of the book or did you know that you wanted Raja to be released into the wild instead of being kept at the sanctuary?
  • Do you have a favorite sanctuary or zoo you’ve visited? Have you visited the CFGA?
  • You used the word “merantau” which means “hitting a dead end and leaving one life to live another elsewhere” which pretty much sums up the theme of the book. Where did you come across this word? 
  • What writing tips can you give to students who want to be a writer?

We then did a Google Hangout with Mrs. Smith’s class and Eliot Schrefer on May 25th after school:

Some of my favorite answers/quotes from the visit were:

  • Realistic fiction allows for a shifting antagonist.
  • Wanted to help people realize that orangutans aren’t stuffed animals come to life.
  • I don’t have characters first. I have stories first then make the best characters for that story.
  • Apes should not be kept against their will.
  • I used the idea of merantau to develop the plot.
  • Advice: For any artistic pursuit, I encourage you to think of the long range range view. It is risky to put all expectations of self in one basket. Focus on the joy you feel when doing the art. Remember what brings you joy! And do research, take advice, and read.

Discussion Questions: These were the first five of the text-dependent questions I asked during our reading of Rescued as well as an example of a student response (color coded for RATE. R=restate, A=answer, T=text evidence, E=elaborate/explain).

  • What can you infer about John and Raja’s relationship based on the first section?
  • Why does John feel like he needs to go see Raja before he leaves?
  • In the Q&A, the author says he “realized that a captive ape’s situation was similar to the plight of a kid during a divorce, getting swept along by the needs of powerful parents, at risk for being seen for what he represents instead of as a child with his own needs” (p. 251). How are John’s and Raja’s situations similar after the divorce? How are they different?
  • Do you agree with the choice John and his dad are making? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe the author is beginning each part with a memory of Raja’s?
  • How did the author foreshadow this scene (on pg. 99) earlier in the book?

Flagged Passages: “My telltale heart, the one I’d left behind.” (p. 38)

Read This If You Love: Eliot Schrefer novels: Endangered and ThreatenedHurt Go Happy by Ginny RorbyHalf Brother by Kenneth Oppel, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegatePrimates by Jim Ottaviani

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Where’s Halmoni?
Author: Julie Kim
Published October 3rd, 2017 by Little Bigfoot

Summary: Where’s Halmoni? is a picture book in a graphic novel style, which follows the story of a young Korean girl and boy whose search for their missing grandmother leads them into a world inspired by Korean folklore, filled with mischievous goblins (dokkebi), a greedy tiger, a clever rabbit, and a wily fox.
Two young children pay a visit to Halmoni (grandmother in Korean), only to discover she’s not home. As they search for her, noticing animal tracks covering the floor, they discover a pair of traditional Korean doors, slightly ajar, new to their grandmother’s home. Their curiosity gets the best of them, and the adventure begins when they crawl through and discover an unfamiliar, fantastical world. As they continue to search for their grandmother and solve the mystery of the tracks, they go deeper into the world of Korean folklore and experience their cultural heritage in unexpected ways, meeting a number of Korean-speaking characters along the way.

Translations to Korean text in the story and more about the folktale-inspired characters are included at the end.

About the Author: Julie Kim is an author and illustrator living in Seattle, WA. She has published with Cricket Magazine, Scholastic, and Mondo. Where’s Halmoni? is her authorial debut.

Praise: “Julie Kim has created a visually stunning world that effortlessly infuses Korean text (Hangul) in rich, expressive art.”Cybils Awards, winner

“For its jaw-dropping art, encouraging bilingual attitude, and conscientious portrayal of Korean culture, Where’s Halmoni? is a perfect choice.” —School Library Journal, starred

“A sophisticated mélange of urban households, traditional Asian landscapes, vibrant color schemes, cultural details, subtle visual jokes, [and] pitch-perfect dialogue… This book is an excellent choice for either the picture-book or graphic-novel collection.” —Booklist, starred

“Kim’s bright, expressive illustrations are a delight…an accessible, diverse title for a broad readership.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“The sibling banter is believable and delightful, [and] Kim’s panel sequences teem with energy.” —Publishers Weekly, starred

ReviewThis book is a piece of art. The way that Kim combined traditional Korean folklore characters, including giving an explanation about each of them in the back; realistic sibling relationships; an adventure with beautiful settings; and her amazing artwork lent to the creation of a very special book. There is so much to unpack including homage to traditional Asian art styles, inferring opportunities, introduction to Korean folktales, and inclusion of Korean language. This book will be perfect as a read aloud with discussions, lit circles looking at folktales, or as an independent book for your adventure or graphic novel fans.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Where’s Halmoni? and its back matter are a perfect addition to a folklore unit including a discussion on how authors fracture/retell/modernize folktales in all cultures.

And P.S. a whole discussion/lesson could be done around the end pages!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Kim intertwine traditional Korean folktale characters into her story?
  • What do the end sheets tell you that the rest of the story did not?
  • What clues were there at the beginning of the book that ultimately they would encounter a tiger and a fox?
  • How could you infer that Halmoni was their grandmother?
  • Before reading the translations of the Korean in the back of the book, use the context clues and try to guess what the characters are saying.
  • Would you consider this book a picture book or a graphic novel? Why?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Retellings and new takes on folktales

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**Thank you to little bigfoot for providing a copy for review!**

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A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
Author: Atia Abawi
Published: January 23, 2018 by Philomel

Guest Review by Rachel Krieger

Summary: In a country ripped apart by war, Tareq lives with his big and loving family . . . until the bombs strike. His city is in ruins. His life is destroyed. And those who have survived are left to figure out their uncertain future.

In the wake of destruction, he’s threatened by Daesh fighters and witnesses a public beheading. Tareq’s family knows that to continue to stay alive, they must leave. As they travel as refugees from Syria to Turkey to Greece, facing danger at every turn, Tareq must find the resilience and courage to complete his harrowing journey.

But while this is one family’s story, it is also the timeless tale of all wars, of all tragedy, and of all strife. When you are a refugee, success is outliving your loss.

Review: This book is astonishing. In a world where people like to avoid talking about awkward things or situations that make us sad, this novel is completely, unapologetically honest. With every horror that Tareq experiences, you will find yourself crying with him, hoping with him, and loving with him. You will wish you could be with Alexia helping these people to find new lives. It is impossible to read Abawi’s story without reflecting on your own life, wondering what destiny would write about you.

If you know nothing about the refugee crises happening all over the world, this story will give you a glimpse into the lives of people struggling every day. Although it only looks into the lives of a few refugees, it gave me an idea of how different the life of a refugee is to my own. Atia Abawi’s story will make you reflect on your own humanity and actions, changing the way you think about the world and your own privilege.

Teacher’s Tool For Navigation: This is the perfect book to start a discussion about the situation in Syria. Since it is so essential to address current events regardless of the sensitive nature of those events, teachers should start conversations about this war-torn region. There are many young adult novels that address immigration, however, this one specifically follows the process of that immigration. It would be very beneficial to have students read a book like this and a book like American Street to look at very different stories of immigration with a few similar characteristics. This book in conjunction with others about immigration could be the perfect opportunity to discuss the idea of the danger of a single story.

This novel also offers a very interesting twist on narration. Since destiny is the narrator of this novel rather than one of the characters, there are small parts of the story that reflect broadly on war and humanity. It could be interesting to have students think about how this odd source of narration changes the story. They could even experiment with their own unique narrators, discussing how these odd points of view add or detract from stories.

Discussion Questions: What does the perspective switch add to the novel? Do you think a book like this is likely to encourage people to support this cause? How does Destiny as the narrator change this story? How would this story change if Tareq was a woman?

We Flagged: “Making it to Germany ended Tareq’s crossing and escape from war, but his new life as a refugee is just beginning. There are millions of Tareq’s, Susans and Fayeds, all in search of safety and kindness. I hope you will provide that warmth, be that helper, do what you can to make that world a better place. Because when I meet you—and I will—there will be reckoning. There always is.”

Read This If You Loved: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Supetys, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: David Small
Published May 6th, 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Newbery Honor (2009), National Book Award Finalist (2009)

Summary: There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the Underneath…as long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten’s one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love, and its opposite, hate; the fragility of happiness; and the importance of making good on your promises.

Author: Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Review: Anyone who has read a Kathi Appelt book knows that she is amazing at two things: weaving a story together in a way that only she can & pulling at heart strings causing definite mood swings while reading. The Underneath is the epitome of her excellence, and I am sad it took me so long to get to this book. Once done, I was very excited to ask Kathi about this masterpiece, and my questions and her answers show more about what makes this book the award winner that it is.

Interview: 

Kellee: How do you work to weave different elements into your story such as mythology, the natural world, and contemporary stories? 

Kathi: It’s always interesting to me to learn what sets a story off. Some authors swear that they start with characters. And I would say that characters are definitely a good place to start. But when I reflect over my many years of writing, I feel like I mostly start with place. I ask, what is it about this place that lends itself to story? What is the history of it? The social and cultural importance of it? Who has lived here? Who was here a thousand years ago? What were they doing? How did they survive? What impact did natural forces play on this place? What is the flora and fauna? Are there ghosts? Are there particular features of it? So, it seems to me that place creates the basis for most of my stories.

In The Underneath, one of my story lines occurs a thousand years ago, which means that my mythological characters (who were interlopers), would have encountered members of the Caddo/Hasinai nation. Theirs was a sophisticated, highly organized society. But a couple of things happened. One was a massive earthquake that caused a devastating flood which wiped out an entire city, thousands of people. Another was the encroachment of European settlers who brought in disease and ultimately drove the Caddo/Hasinai out of their ancestral lands.

The Caddo were—and still are—known for their pottery, so it made sense to feature a significant jar in my story. That way, I could more clearly link the characters to each other across time periods. One thing leads to another. But in the end, it goes back to place.

Kellee: The Underneath has multiple stories that are interwoven and meet at the end. How do you plan writing a novel like this? 

Kathi: Extended narrative has always been difficult for me. I started my professional writing life as a poet and picture book author. As a result, it seemed like everything I wrote tended to finish at the bottom of page three. It was why writing a novel eluded me for such a long time. I always thought that a novel meant writing long chapters, strung together chronologically, and moving from point A to a final point Z. But it wasn’t in my nature to write like that. Long chapters weren’t the way I rolled. Finally, after many failed attempts, I figured out that if I was ever going to write a novel, I would have to go with my grain as opposed to going against my grain. So, I adapted to “writing by snapshot.” In other words, I write in small, significant scenes—I call them SSS’s. I can get a lot done that way without worrying about word counts or chapter lengths, or even transitions. Plus, they’re easy to manipulate. A small scene can be moved hither and yon until it finds the right place in the story.

I think that one of the reasons that writers fail is because they haven’t found their own natural way of working. Long narrative passages aren’t my strength. I’m not saying that I can’t write them, only that they’re not where my strengths lie.

So, finding the form that fits both our natural strengths and that suits the story, is one of the keys to unlocking a book . . . and a writer. Not all of us are meant to be poets. Not all of us are meant to be soaring prose practitioners. It could be that I’m a little ADD, and the short scenes suit me.

At any rate, making this discovery was how I finally finished a novel.

I also want to say in regard to planning, I do make very loose outlines when I embark upon a new project. Those outlines tend to flex as I move through the draft. But I always try to at least have a vague idea of how the story will end. Otherwise, I’ll just write myself right off the cliff. If I can see the destination, I can get there eventually.

Kellee: Personification allows the setting to become its own character in the story. How do you plan this and implement it well when you are writing? 

Kathi: I spend tons of time researching the plants and animals that populate the setting. And to me, a living organism, such as a tree, is just that—living. If you spend enough time around trees, it seems like they each have their own personalities, their own needs, and their own ideas. I’m just saying. So, unless something is inanimate—like a rock, say—I can usually find the heart of that living organism. That is always my goal.

Kellee: What about The Underneath do you think resonated with readers 10 years ago and still remains today? 

My true hope with The Underneath is that my young readers can see the value of making a good choice. In my story, both the hero Ranger and the antagonist Gar Face have similar experiences, similar fates if you will. They’ve both been badly treated, both been isolated, and yet only one of them turns towards love. Grandmother too, finally, at long last—after the longest time out in history—chooses love. I think that young readers are tuned in to this. I think they’re built for love. What I hope my story does is to give them the courage to make that choice.

Kellee: What feedback have you gotten from readers over the years about The Underneath? What stands out about what the book means to them? 

Gosh, it’s hard to say just one thing, but it seems to me that mostly what I hear over and over from them is how much they love the relationship between Ranger and the kittens. That small sweetness seems to be the key that opens the story up. To me, it’s proof that we don’t all have to be the same or look the same or smell the same or whatever to become best friends. And no matter how small we are, we can make a difference for those we love.

Book Trailer: 

GIVEAWAY!

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

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Thank you, Kathi, for your thorough and beautiful answers to my interview questions, and thank you to Blue Slip Media for the giveaway and trailer!

 

 

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I Love You, Michael Collins
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Published June 20th, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut who will come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship.

After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

I Love You, Michael Collins was a Best Book of June 2017 on Amazon; a semifinalist for the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards; and a pick by the Planetary Society for Best Science Children’s Books of 2017.

ReviewThere is so much I really enjoyed about this book!

First, I adored looking into the experience of the moon landing. I cannot even imagine witnessing it happening! What an amazing feat it was and completely unimaginable. (And I hope to at some point see it happen again.) And I thought Baratz-Logsted did a good job showing all the different types of feelings towards the moon landing and space program. But I’m glad that she focused on its amazingness and the excitement.

Second, I think the author did a fantastic job with the character’s voice. With a book of letters it is essential that the writing sounds like the character because it is actually the character writing all the words. I loved seeing all the techniques she used to write like Mamie while still keeping her writing to a literary level.

Third, I loved that the book was not just a reenactment of the moon landing and a family’s celebration of it. The story has so many layers within it: Mamie’s introverted personality and the look into what makes a kid like this happy; her family’s conflicts and issues; and the power of one best friend.

Overall, I Love You, Michael Collins is a fun historical fiction middle grade book that is perfect for so many readers!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The first thing I went to when I thought about this book from a teachers point of view was the idea of letter writing. Mamie writes Michael Collins originally because it is a school project. Mamies letters could be used as a starting point on how to write letters, parts of a letter, etc. And students could even write a letter to someone in the news that is doing something amazing.

Next summer is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and at the end of next school year, I am definitely going to do a cross-curricular unit about NASA and the Apollo missions along with a read aloud of excerpts from this novel. It is so engaging as a story and will also be a great way for students in the 21st century to have a window into the 1960s.

But even without this amazing anniversary, Baratz-Logsted’s title is one that middle grade students will find enjoyment in and should definitely be in classrooms and libraries!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did the author help make her writing seem like a ten-year-old was writing the letters?
  • Michael Collins is not a household name like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. Why is that? Do you think we should all know his name in the same context as the other two astronauts?
  • Which character do you think changed the most throughout the book?
  • What do you think is going to happen next with Mamie’s family?
  • How did Buster’s friendship help Mamie keep her positivity and sanity during this tough time in her family?
  • If you were going to have a moon landing party, what would you make?
  • How would the story of Mamie’s parents’ separation have been different in the 21st century?

Flagged Passages: 

“Dear Michael Collins,

I finally figured out why you never write back. Can you figure out how I figured this out? If not, I will tell you. I did the math.

Okay, I didn’t really do the math, since I don’t have all the information. But it struck me that I might not be the only person writing to you. I though, if every school in the country has just one class that is writing letters to the astronauts and if in each class there is just one kid like me writing to you, then that is still a lot of mail.

It’s no wonder you can’t write back to everyone. And of course you do have other things to do right now.

I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of you getting more mail than I originally thought you did. On the one hand, I’m really happy for you. I’m glad you’ve got more than just me. On the other hand, it was kind of nice when I thought I was the only one. It felt special. Like I was the the only one who knew about you. Which of course isn’t true. The whole world knows about you. It’s just that most of them don’t seem to appreciate you very much.

Does it ever bother you that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get so much more mail than you do? I hope not. It certainly wouldn’t bother me. There was a time I thought it might be nice to be popular–you know, to have a lot of friends. But then Buster came along, and then Campbell, and I realized that that is quite enough for me…” (p. 30-31)

Read This If You Love: Space! I recommend Space Encyclopedia by David A. Aguilar and Moon Base Crisis by Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson. Also check out Planetary.org’s list of recommended books from 2017: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2017/1115-space-books-kids.html and 2016: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2016/emily-lakdawalla-space-book-recommendations.html

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On Gull Beach
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Bob Marstall
Published March 27th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: Together again! On Gull Beach reunites bestselling children’s author Jane Yolen and award-winning illustrator Bob Marstall for the third installment of the acclaimed On Bird Hill and Beyondseries of children’s books written for the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In On Bird Hill, Yolen and Marstall took readers on a surreal journey with a boy and his dog as they see the natural world, ultimately witnessing the miracle of a chick emerging from an egg.

On Duck Pond continued their journey, this time at a serene pond filled with birds, frogs, and turtles who are suddenly disrupted by their intrusion, but soon settle back into a quiet equilibrium.

On Gull Beach brings us to an idyllic shoreline in Cape Cod, where gulls hover, dive, and chase with pitched acrobatics in pursuit of a seastar. This enchanting sequel in a brand new habitat will delight readers young and old.

As with all Cornell Lab Publishing Group books, 35% of net proceeds from the sale of this title goes directly to the Cornell Lab to support projects such as children’s educational and community programs.

Our review of On Duck Pond from May 4, 2017.

Kellee’s Review: What I love about this series of books by Yolen and Marstall are the way they have combined the beauty of Yolen’s lyrical words with information about the birds and other animals and their habitats that the books focus on. In this one we follow a young boy as he takes a walk on the beach and tried to say a starfish from the birds on the beach. Yolen’s rhythmic writing takes you on the journey while Marstall’s illustrations make them come to life. 

Ricki’s Review: I am still waiting for the day that I read a Jane Yolen book that I don’t love. Today isn’t that day. As Kellee said, Yolen’s words are lyrical. She rhymes, but it isn’t a cheesy sort of rhyme. Instead, it’s quite beautiful and urges readers to keep turning the pages. Marstall’s illustrations are realistic, and they pull the reader into the story. The back matter provides clarifying information about gulls (see the page spread that we feature below). As a New Englander, I smiled at the variety of gulls that the authors feature. The book features photographs along with informational text to teach readers all about the “So many gulls!” This made me long for the summer, and I am looking forward to identifying these gulls on our next beach trip! 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Each of the books Yolen and Marstall have done focus on a different bird in a different habitat. What a great way to combine reading, writing, and science! In an elementary classroom, have students jigsaw to each of the books and come together in a home group so share what they learned about each habitat and the animals that live there. Then students can research a bird of their choice and its habitat to write their own poem about a visit to see the bird.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The habitat Yolen and Marstall were focusing on is a New England Beach. If you have been to a beach in another area, how is the New England beach in the book different and similar to the beach you have gone to?
  • What other birds other than gulls live on beaches all over the world?
  • What parts of the beach habitat did Yolen and Marstall highlight in their book?
  • How does the structure of poetry change this nonfiction book to make it different than other books about birds and habitats?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the three habitats and three birds that Yolen and Marstall have focused on?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Yolen & Marstall’s other ornithology books, Books about birds like Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! by Kristyn Crow, The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle, Elwood Bigfood: Wanted Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum, Birds by Kevin Henkes, Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Seabird in the Forest by Joan Dunning

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Recommended Books for Lit Circles/Book Clubs in the Middle School Classroom

As a teacher, I am always working to grow professionally to give my students the best possible instruction in the classroom, but one practice that has been a common theme throughout all twelve of my years teaching is literature circles or in-class book clubs. Although the way I implement them have DRASTICALLY changed over the years, the idea of CHOICE of text, COLLABORATIVE discussion about the text, and COLLECTING thoughts about a text have been consistent.

Over the years I moved from calling what we did in class lit circles to in-class book clubs because I no longer assign students jobs and the students in general have more freedom. Here is how our in-class book clubs go now:

  • I book talk the options for book choices and have students list their top 3 on an index card with their name.
    • I have this process be completely silent because I really want students to pick the book they want to read not what their friend wants to read.
  • I then take the index cards and group them into groups of three to five depending on what books were chosen.
  • The next day, I have the students sit in their book clubs, and I give them the task of determining their reading schedule.
    • I give them the time period and ask the to come up with a schedule of pages to read by each book club meeting. Most groups then come up with a daily reading goal too, but they don’t have to.
  • I then give reading time every day, but we also do other class activities every day except on book club day on Mondays (I like to give the weekend before our meetings).
  • One thing I didn’t like about lit circles in my classroom was the unevenness of “jobs” during lit circles and how only one student was responsible for the ongoing conversation during meetings. So because of this my students have one simple task while reading: Come up with 5 open ended discussion questions or topics that they want to talk about during the meeting.
    • I also like to make a student-created word wall, so I ask them to write down any words that they find that they don’t know and figure out what they mean. They then share those in their group also and discuss them then put them on our word wall.
  • Some groups have a harder time chatting during group meetings, so I also have generic questions that will work with any book.
    • I also read along with them, so I can help with some chatting as well.
  • At the end of the unit, I will have them answer a few standards-based text-dependent questions about their specific book.
    • I share the standards ahead of time, and they are what we are working on and focusing on during class when we’re not doing book clubs.

Today, I want to share with you seven titles that have also been consistently successful for my students and eight new titles I added over the last couple of years that were hits. I highly recommend any of these for middle school lit circles or in-class book clubs (or classroom libraries!):

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

Flight #116 is Down by Caroline B. Cooney

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

Dark Life by Kat Falls

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Trino’s Choice by Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

Do you do lit circles or in-class book clubs in your classroom?
What do they look like for you and your students?
What books do you recommend? 

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