Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Misfits

Title: The Misfits
Author: James Howe
Type: Novel
Grade Level: 4-7
Rating: 5 out of 5

The Gang of Five is a group of four misfit students at Paintbrush Falls Middle School.  Addie (the tall, outspoken one), Joe (who is learning to live with being gay), Skeezie (the resident tough guy) and Bobby (the quiet, overweight boy) have all been targets of name-calling.  Addie decides they should run for student council against their more popular classmates just to make a point.  Little does she know that they would evolve into the "No-Name-Party" who stand up for anyone and everyone who has ever been called a name.

This book was amazing!  It was tremendously powerful and I was left blown away when I was finished reading it.  The characters were so strong and the language so precise.  It was not just the core four characters but every person created by James Howe and placed into the story that made an impact.  Every person had a purpose and they weren't just one dimensional.  From Daryl Williams who has a stutter and is the catalyst for the "No-Name-Party" to DuShawn Carter who represents more than just his black skin, each and every person brings a different dynamic to the story that is key to what the "No-Name-Party" represents.  The language used by James Howe is so powerful.  This is a touchy subject but with his word choice he just blows the whole thing up.  He doesn't dance around the names and taunts but attacks them and uses them to the book's advantage.  The quick wit, humor and deliberate word choice give the story its strength.

If I end up teaching upper elementary or middle school I would definitely love to use this book in my classroom.  It addresses something extremely important and relevant to students at that age. Name-calling effects the victim, aggressor and outsider and by reading this story it is made clear to the reader.  I don't think many students realize the power their words can have.  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will break my spirit."  The book shows that everyone is different, even those in the "popular" crowd and that we are all effected by such negativity.  I can imagine the classroom discussions would be highly interesting and passionate by the students.  Whether or not I read this book with my classroom I would still want to participate in No Name-Calling Week.  I think it would be a great experience for the students, teachers and parents to first hand see how just one week of no name-calling can be like.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor

Title: The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor
Author: Joanna Cole
Illustrator: Bruce Degen
Type: Picture
Grade Level: 1-4
Rating: 4 out of 5

Miss Frizzles class is at it again! This time it's an underwater adventure!  The class is working on their ocean science projects when they are taken on a whirl wind field trip with Miss Frizzle and her Magic School Bus.  The students get first hand experience of ocean life as they travel all throughout the ocean.

I remember loving the Magic School Bus series as a child!  They were always funny and really interesting!  Miss Frizzle's class was always traveling to exciting places like the ocean, space and even inside the human body!  The books have all sorts of facts that are interesting and at the level of the reader.  The students in Miss Frizzle's class were asking questions I myself was wondering.

Miss Frizzle is such an eccentric character!  She is very intriguing to the reader with her wacky outfits and crazy adventures.  Everybody in the book has a unique personality (even the bus!) and with them we are taken on all the class adventures.  We are given a view into their crazy classroom experiences which we would not normally have the pleasure of gaining access to (Tunnel & Jacobs).

This book (and the whole series!) is great to have in the classroom.  Yet because of all the things happening on each page it would not be the best read aloud book.  It is more suitable for small groups or individual reading.  You could pair the book up with science units you are working on in class.  If you are feeling ambitious you could take a step into Miss Frizzle's funky shoes and take your kids onto your own version of a Magic School Bus adventure while still in the confines of your own school (or take them on a real field trip!).

Addition Lesson Ideas

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Title: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Type: Picture
Grade Level: 2-4
Rating: 4 out of 5

These "fairly stupid tales" are the classic fairy tales with a whole lot of twists.  Jack and the Bean Stalk, Cinderella, Princess and the Pea, and many more are all changed and combined to create these hilarious stories.

When we were younger, my sister and I had difficulty reading this book because of laughing so hard.  The story plots, characters, and all sorts of literary devices of familiar fairy tales are mixed and matched and swirled around to create the assortment of silly tales that had us uncontrollably laughing.  One problem I could see with this book is that it uses the word "stupid" in the title and throughout the book to describe the stories.  I could see parents objecting on the book based on the use of that one word.  In a time when name calling and bullying are in the news all the time using a book that advocates a word like "stupid" as a description can be seen as questionable.  As a teacher you might want to be careful with this book.  Maybe not read it aloud but rather just have it available in your classroom library.

If you were to use this book in your class you could pair it up with the original stories that it is based on.  Show that stories are not always written the same and can be altered.  They also do not need to be written in the "conventional" way we are so used to.  Different styles spice up things and make students question norms and how they themselves choose to write.

Princess Grace

Title: Princess Grace
Author: Mary Hoffman
Illustrators: Cornelius Van Wright, Ying Hwa-Hu
Type: Picture
Grade Level: 1-3
Rating: 3 out of 5

In the town parade this year there will be two princesses chosen to represent Grace's class.  Grace has always wanted to be a princess so she is very excited about this possibility.  But on planning her costume she is not exactly sure what princesses wear or what they do?  With the help of her teacher, Grace and her class learn there is more to a princess than just "pink, frilly dresses."

I really enjoyed this book.  It had me thinking about things I've never considered before.  Like Grace and her classmates, I've always associated princesses with the pretty dressed in pink ones of fairy tales but princesses are all over the world with different customs and duties.  As a reader you follow Grace along as she learns about princesses and also learns about herself because of who these women are.  You see her grow and become a more conscious person.

Although this book is mostly aimed at girls it does reach out to a boy (prince!) audience as well so it can be used for a whole class without leaving the boys in the cold.  The book highlights princesses in different cultures and how they all differ despite having the same title so you could use this book to cover different cultures.  Another option is to use this in a unit on stereotypes.  Most everyone in the U.S. has the same image of the "Christmas tree fairy in a pink and floaty dress" but this books shows that there are all sorts of princesses (and princes!).  You could use this book along with others to tackle stereotypes.

Real Princesses of the World

To Be an Artist

Title: To Be an Artist
Authors: Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko
Pictures: Global Fund for Children (Organization)
Type: Picture
Grade Level: K-3
Rating: 4 out of 5

Children across the world are artists.  Their cultures and the supplies available to them may differ but they are all partaking in the universal language of art.  Travel to 35 countries and see what art looks and sounds like to the children living there.

I always enjoy learning about different cultures.  It is interesting to see how they differ and yet how they are similar.  For the most part this book was a window for me.  It offered me views of completely different worlds with their different cultures. The book shows the children doing the same kind of activity but in different ways.  We all love art and it comes in all shapes, sizes and sounds.

This would definitely be an interesting book to have in the classroom.  It opened my eyes to several things and I'm sure it would do the same with my students.  You could open up a unit on art around the world with this book.  Each student or group of students could be assigned one of the countries from the book.  They would do further research and then present their findings to the class.  Then as a whole we would do an art activity from that country.  The students would learn about other countries and gain an appreciation from the differences and similarities.

A Cool Drink of Water

Title: A Cool Drink of Water
Author: Barbara Kerley
Photographer: National Geographic
Type: Picture
Grade Level: K-3
Rating: 4 out of 5

A National Geographic book showing through photographs how people around the world acquire their water.

This book really got me to think about how I take advantage of the availability of my water.  All I need to do is turn on the faucet or grab a water bottle and I'm good to go.  It's amazing what people must do to get such an important thing.  As Americans we forget what a necessity water is because it is always at our fingertips.  This book gave me a different perspective and it was a window to different cultures and how people must get their water.

This book would be interesting to use in the classroom.  I'm sure the students would have an eye opening experience like I did on how people get and use their water supply.  This book could be matched up on units about natural resources, conservation or simply just water.  The class could read the book, write about their own experiences, research and make plans for water conservation.  You may want to emphasize the fact that people from different cultures should not be pitied or looked down upon because of the differences in their circumstances.  Rather this is an educational way to see how others live and how their cultures may differ from ours. 

Jacqueline Woodson Experience

Jacqueline Woodson is a very daring writer.  She likes to tackle all sorts of controversial issues.  Common themes throughout her work are gender, African American society and history, economic status, sexual identity and sexual abuse among other things.  Her books range from picture to young adult to adult books all with the same purpose of addressing universal questions that surround the reader.

Although many of her books end sadly there is still a feeling of hope.  When the characters are dealing with split families, divorce, death, desertion, loneliness, racial conflicts, violence, etc. the reader is left to wonder can this book end happily?  But all her characters have such strength.  They may not start out that way but with the help of a friend you see them grow.  Woodson shows the harsh realities of life and doesn't dance around the truth.  She does such an excellent job of portraying her characters, settings and struggles so realistically that as a reader you can see everything going on in your mind's eye.

 The topics that Woodson address in her books can be seen as very controversial.  She covers all sorts of uncomfortable issues like child abuse.  Many do not believe this should be read by school age children but Woodson defends her work by saying that these are the realities of the students' lives.  They may not be dealing with these issues themselves but they may know someone else who is.  She chose content she experienced and saw around her which is similar to many students.  "[I wanted] to write about communities that were familiar to me and people that were familiar to me. I wanted to write about communities of color. I wanted to write about girls. I wanted to write about friendship and all of these things that I felt like were missing in a lot of the books that I read as a child."

Woodson's website