Sunday, October 16, 2016

Full of Beans: Building students' knowledge of a story's setting, helping show the movie in our minds (ages 9-12)

The images that you form in your mind--I describe it as a "movie in my mind"--are key to developing students' understanding of a story. This personal movie also hooks them into the excitement of a story. I put together a short presentation to help my students visualize Jennifer Holm's delightful story Full of Beans, as part of our Mock Newbery Book Club project (see my full review here).
When a story takes place in a different time or place, it's especially important to help kids get a sense of the setting of the book. Historical fiction can bring alive distant time periods, but we also need to remember that kids may not have the same frame of reference that adult readers do. While the Great Depression conjures many images for me, I doubt that it does for many of my 4th and 5th graders.

Sharing this slideshow helped right away! It made kids interested -- we started talking about why the streets might have been full of garbage, and what it would be like if the city didn't have enough money to pay garbage collectors. We talked about rum runners and what they were, why they had to smuggle rum into Florida.

It also helped students visualize the story right from the beginning. That afternoon, Kalia came to me to tell me how she understood why the streets in Key West were full of garbage. Right on page 8 (see this passage in Google Books), it describes the houses as "weathered gray wooden houses, set close together." Holm describes them as "decrepit"--a word that might be challenging for Kalia.
Because we looked at these pictures before reading, Kalia was able to get a sense of the story right from the beginning. Isn't that terrific?! Now, difficult vocabulary isn't a stumbling block, but instead she's building her own vocabulary.

Here are two short articles all about building movies in our minds as we read:

How do you help your kids make these movies in their mind? What do you find helps? I'm excited to get my students working together to make slideshows like this -- helping share the movies in our minds about the books we love.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 10, 2016

Latina girl power! Chapter books with Latina characters (ages 6-9)

Latino students are the fastest growing group in American schools. I was particularly struck last week by a new report highlighting this (see this NPR article), and how much it matches my own experiences as a teacher and community member. The report by The National Council of La Raza finds that Latino students are making significant gains, increasing high school graduation rate, but that challenges remain--especially with reading.

How can books help change this? Latino students need Latino role models, especially in the stories they read. This is especially important for girls. We must provide stories that include and share their voices. So today, I'd like to share five chapter books full of Latina girl power.
These new short chapter books feature strong, lively Latina girls. They are energetic and fun, with a modern sensibility. These girls solve problems, tackle challenges and embrace the love that their family and friends bring them. Most of all, they bring joy to our students, making reading a joyful, meaningful experience.

Chews Your Destiny: The Gumazing Gum Girl, by Rhode Montijo -- When Gabby Gomez realizes that a piece of special gum gives her stretch-tastic superpowers, she’s thrilled, discovering all sorts of ways to help out those in need.

Big News: Emma on the Air, by Ida Siegal -- Emma Perez dreams big and bold. She wants to be FAMOUS! When she sees an investigative reporter on the TV news, she knows that this is just the career for her.

Juana and Lucas, by Juana Medina -- Juana is an energetic, opinionated Colombian girl, who loves drawing, reading comic books and playing fútbol. but learning English is muy hard. Readers will enjoy Juana's high-spirits, zest for life and sense of humor, even as she struggles with one disaster after another.

Lola Levine Is Not Mean, by Monica Brown -- Lola's personality shines through in this series opener, as she apologizes to a classmate after fouling her in a soccer match. Although some kids tease her, calling her Mean Lola Levine, she shows them that she can be a Soccer Queen. Her bicultural family--Jewish, Peruvian--is an important source of humor and delightful inspiration.

My Family Adventure: Sofia Martinez, by Jacquline Jules -- Seven-year-old Sofia likes to stand out in her family. She does all sorts of things to get noticed -- from wearing a huge hair bow to making her grandmother a piñata for her birthday. This early chapter book is full of charm and kid appeal.

I must say that I have had a much harder time gathering a collection of books with young Latino boys as the central characters. I'd love any recommendations you might be able to share.

Many thanks to these publishers for kindly sending review copies: Disney-Hyperion, Scholastic, Candlewick, Little Brown, and Capstone. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Want a Monster! by Elise Gravel -- monster crafts & stories (ages 3-8)

I love how books can inspire kids' creativity--whether it's informal play (creating forts and reenacting favorite books), doing crafts inspired by a story, or making a Halloween costume based on a favorite book. It's especially fun when an author includes direct encouragement for kids to try making a character at home.

My kids loved making monsters when they were young -- big, scary monsters and goofy, silly ones. Elise Gravel's newest book would have delighted them and led to even more monster creations.
I Want a Monster!
by Elise Gravel
Harper Collins, 2016
Your local library
ages 3-8
Winnie wants a monster for her very own, so she does what any kid would do--she begs her papa: "Please, please, pretty please?" At first, her father is quite reasonable and wants to know exactly who's going to take care of this monster. But he quickly gives in, falling in love with a cute monster himself.
"Papa has a crush on this little guy. Isn't he adorable?"
Elise Gravel combines bright illustrations and expressive, energetic characters with lots of dialog bubbles to really draw young readers right into the story. Young readers will love chiming in, adding sound effects or interjections. Best of all are the monsters--which one will your family want?!?
"They have hundreds of species" at the Monsterium
Winnie ends the story by asking readers, "Would you like to adopt a monster?" After you draw a monster, of course you'll need to name it, describe it and decide just what it likes to eat. Here are some delightful monsters that Carrie Gelson's class drew--read all about their inspiration at Carrie's blog There's a Book for That.
If you're looking for more crafts inspired by stories, definitely check out Betsy Bird's post in the Horn Book Family Reading Blog. And here's a monster that my daughter made 10 years ago in her first sewing class. I wonder if the cat thinks it's a friend or foe...
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, October 3, 2016

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin: lyrical, magical storytelling (ages 9-12)

"I never wish for you to be anyone except yourself," Amah said, looking into Pinmei's eyes. "I know that when it is time for you to do something, you will do it."
Young Pinmei often feels frozen by fear, caught in the moment when she is so afraid that she cannot act. Yet her grandmother (Amah in Chinese) has the upmost faith in her, knowing Pinmei will step forward, bravely taking action when she needs to.

Grace Lin's magical, lyrical new novel When the Sea Turned to Silver captivates and enchants readers, as Lin draws us into Pinmei's adventure. This companion to Lin's award winning book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a perfect read aloud for families.
When the Sea Turned to Silver
by Grace Lin
Little Brown, 2016
Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
As the novel opens, young Pinmei lives high on Never-Ending Mountain with Amah, a famed storyteller. Winter has a firm grip on the mountain, and their rice is running low. Suddenly, Amah tells Pinmei to hide and soldiers burst into their home. Pinmei watches in horror as the Tiger Emperor and his soldiers sieze her grandmother, taking her captive.
"The soldiers growled in unison, the sound swelling into a snarl. And then, in a swift, brutal motion, like a monstrous snake swallowing its prey, the men swept Amah into the blackness of the night." 
Throughout the story, Lin's descriptions enchant the reader, drawing us deeply into Pinmei's ancient Chinese world. Her story is full of figurative language, yet the exciting action and drama keeps readers focused on what will happen next.

Pinmei's trusted friend Yishan pulls her to safety, and together they set out on a quest to find the Luminous Stone that Lights the Night, the one treasure that the emperor has said will set Amah free. As they travel, they encounter kind strangers who help them, in exchange for hearing Pinmei tell her grandmother's stories. Lin's beautiful, full color illustrations highlight key moments in the story.
Pinmei and Yishan spy on the emperor
Pinmei's stories, based on ancient Chinese folklore, intersperse the main narrative and weave into the main action as well. As Kirkus states, "Elements and characters from these folk tales feature in Pinmei’s own quest as she encounters such evocatively named figures as Nuwa’s Tear, the Paper of Answers, the Starry River, the Ginseng Boy, the Red Stone, the Iron Rod, the Green Tiger, the Black Tortoise, and the Sea King."

Short chapters and dramatic action will hook young readers, while those familiar with Lin's previous stories will revel in the recurring themes and motifs. This is a companion to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Night; unlike traditional series, these stories can be read in any order.

The recognition is just starting to accumulate for this masterful story: nominated the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, starred reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, Publisher's Weekly and Booklist. I am looking forward to hearing our students' thoughts as they start reading and responding to this magical story.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown, and we have bought multiple copies for our school libraries and classrooms. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reading IS Thinking: Developing our readers' skills with Judd Winick's HILO (ages 7-10)

I have been having so much fun reading aloud Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth with 3rd and 4th grade students. The kids are loving the laugh-out-loud moments, and I'm loving how much active thinking they're doing. Comic books are terrific fun, but they also engage readers as they build a sense of the story, the characters and the author's voice--just like readers do with any type of fiction.

A parent recently asked me what questions I ask while we're reading aloud, so I thought that I'd share a little here. I start before we even open the book and ask: What do you notice on the cover? I wonder what this story's going to be about? Do they notice Hilo's hands and think he might have superpowers? Do you think all three kids fell to Earth? This sort of wondering is important to start kids thinking, to start making predictions, to hook them into the story.
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
by Judd Winick
Random House, 2015
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 7-10
DJ's story starts right in the middle of a chase scene, the first day he meets Hilo. My students love Hilo's energy and his optimism--and they totally love Winick's jokes about how Hilo doesn't know anything about life on Earth, because he's just fallen from another world.

After we read the first two chapters, I pause to ask my students: What do you already know about the characters? What are you noticing? This helps them pull together some of their ideas and set some groundwork for predictions. Here's some of what they said:
  • Hilo is funny! He shouts, "Ahhhh!" whenever he meets someone and loves burping!
  • Hilo has superpowers in his hands -- he absorbed DJ's vocabulary.
  • DJ misses his friend Gina--he said that the only thing he was good at was being her friend. I think that Hilo is going to be DJ's new best friend.
  • DJ seems like a good friend, because he offers to help Hilo right away -- reaching his hand down to help him out of the hole.
"Do you need a hand?"
At a few points, we stop to talk about specific language that Winick uses. For example, Hilo says that his memory is like a "busted book" with pages ripped out. This helps readers understand why Hilo is so naive, why he doesn't remember his name or where he came from.
"My memory is a busted book."

It's important to acknowledge when kids are inferring, or reading between the lines to build meaning. When Hilo has a dream, the story quickly switches to the lab with Dr. Horizon. We pause, and I tell my students: Wait, I'm confused. Who is this new character? Why is he wearing a white coat? Why does the border look different here? What's happening?

As we build the story in our minds, it's important to retell parts of the story. Today, we looked at the first page of the chapter and then actually turned back a page to look and think. I asked: What just happened here? How is DJ feeling? Why? Empathizing with a character helps readers keep tuned into the emotional elements of a story. Sometimes we do that with our voices when we read the dialog. Sometimes we sigh when a character looks like they're sighing. Sometimes we shout, "Whoa!" when a character is surprised.

As we get into the story even more, we develop a more complex understanding of the character. We ask ourselves: Why is Hilo doing this? What is he feeling? I wonder if DJ and Hilo are changing at all? We pay attention to what the characters are trying to achieve, and what gets in their way.

When we read aloud with developing readers, we need to give specific signals that it's time to pause and think. Building meaning is even more important than figuring out what the words say.

Parents often share their worries that their children are only reading graphic novels. I want to encourage parents to read the comics their children are reading, and dig into some of the deeper, layered meanings in graphic novels. Merle Jaffe said it so well in her article, "Using Graphic Novels in Education: Hilo by Judd Winick",
What is so compelling about Hilo, aside from the bold art and humor, is that with each page and installment we learn more about DJ, Gina, and HiLo through the combination of text, art and page/panel design. We also grapple with deeper issues of facing responsibilities, facing painful truths, and determining right from wrong as HiLo wrestles with his nemesis Razorwork and the role they each play in protecting humans versus protecting their fellow robots from “evil.”
The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House, and we have bought multiple copies for our school library and classrooms. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz -- serious fun, terrific storytelling (ages 9-14)

In a recent interview in The Horn Book, Adam Gidwitz talks about his teaching days as being filled with "serious fun" -- I love that concept. Yes, kids love having fun, laughing, sharing silly or gross stories. They also love to dig into serious topics and want us adults to ask for their opinions.

Gidwitz has legions of fans for his exciting, engrossing retellings of Grimm's tales. In his newest book, he tackles medieval life, religious intolerance and the power of deep loyal friendship--all with a healthy dose of fun, adventure and brilliant storytelling.
We begin our tale at a travelers' inn, hearing about three children fleeing for their lives from Louis, the powerful king of France (for history buffs, this is Louis IX, commonly known as Saint Louis). Each child is ostracized, isolated in their own way, until fate brings them together. Jeanne's neighbors worry that her seizures and visions mean that she's possessed by witchcraft. When her dog Gwenforte, who saved her life as a baby, comes back to life, Jeanne escapes into the forest.

illuminations by Hatem Aly
Jeanne meets up with William, a young African oblate (a monk-in-training), and Jacob, a Jewish boy whose village was burned to the ground by an antisemitic mob. Each child is wary and full of fear at first, but they grow to trust each other.

In the High Middle Ages, life was defined by class and religion--completely different from today. And yet, was it? It was a time full of intense distrust of "the other," people who belong to a different religion or social group. And at the same time, a time marked by rapid social changes, spurred by urban centers, economic development and trade across boundaries.

What will draw children to this story? They will love Gidwitz's storytelling as William battles the fiends in the forest, or Jacob cures the farting dragon by realizing stinky cheese is setting his farts on fire. They will love the way Gwenforte the greyhound is loyal to the children, guiding and protecting them.

Young readers will also connect emotionally to Jeanne, William and Jacob--feeling often as they do, that no one understands them except for their loyal friends. Hatem Aly's illustrations provide both humorous relief and concrete grounding for this complex story.
A portion of the famous Unicorn Tapestries depicting a hound on the hunt. This dog partly inspired Gwenforte the Greyhound, the holy dog.
Just as importantly, children will be drawn into this story where young heroes decide to take a stand for what's right, fighting against ignorance and intolerance, proclaiming that collaboration and friendship is not only possible across social groups but thrives among different social groups. Society is still struggling with these very issues today.

One early reader told me, "I'm loving this story because it's full of so many different people. Most stories I read have characters who are all the same. Here, everyone is different and that's so interesting."

Serious fun. Brilliant storytelling. Fascinating history. And an opportunity to wrestle with important social and religious issues. Friends, this is definitely a must-read, must-share story.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books