Book review #263: Three Bears in a Boat

by David SomaThree Bears in a Boat by David Somann
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.4
4 out of 5 stars

The illustrations in this book are absolutely amazing! You could take any one of the pages, frame it, and hang it on the wall. The story features Dash, Charlie, and Theo, three bear siblings who break their mother’s prized blue seashell. They set out on an adventure to find a replacement before Mama finds out — I loved the line, “Afraid of their mama, who, after all, was a bear…” The three set out in their boat on a grand adventure that reminds me of some of the more classic stories in older picture books. I won’t give away the story, but the ending is perfect!

This is a longer story, but it would make a great read-aloud.

Book review #262: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamilloby Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Beginning chapter book
Interest level: K-3
Independent reading level: 4.2
5 out of 5 stars

There are so many things that I love about this book! This is the first book in a new Deckawoo Drive series that Kate DiCamillo is creating to follow up her wonderful Mercy Watson series. This new series features longer books and a higher reading level, and acts as the stepping stone for young independent readers as they venture from picture books into chapter books. I also love that Kate never underestimates young readers, and throws in challenging and less-known words that can expand vocabularies.

Kate’s characters are always colorful and have unique personalities, and such wonderful names — Leroy Ninker, Beatrice Leapaleoni, Patty LeMarque, and Maybelline, for example. Overall, this is a truly charming story about a cowboy and his horse, and I think kids will love it!

Book Review #259: Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt; illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Picture book
Interest level: grades K-3
Reading level: 3.7
3 out of 5 stars

This is a fun story about a young boy who is preparing for his first day of kindergarten. He is a huge space fan, and he envisions all of his preparations as if he is an astronaut preparing for outer space. This would be a great story to share with a youngster on the first day of kindergarten, but it could definitely use extra time and discussion to help young children make the space connections. A reference to NASA would probably be meaningless to most kindergarteners. The illustrations are vibrant and engaging.

Book review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene YelchinBreaking Stalin’s Nose
written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
140 pages
Historical fiction
Newbery Honor award: 2012
Young Hoosier Book Award nominee: 2014-2015
Interest level: grades 4-8
Reading level: 4.6
5 out of 5 stars

This is one of the only books for youth that is set during the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, 1923 to 1953, which makes this a very important work. When I polled 3rd and 4th grade classes, no one had heard of Stalin, nor could they tell me what communism was. This historical fiction work, appropriate for grades 4-8, lets us enter the life of 10-year-old Sasha, a boy who loves Stalin and communism and prides himself on having a father who is in Stalin’s State Security. Suddenly, all he knows is turned on its head when his father is arrested and he is alone on the streets.

Kids don’t need to have an understanding of communism or Soviet history to get pulled into the story. Concern for the main character will grip them, and it reads like dystopian fiction — think The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games. My hope would be that after reading the story, they also read the author’s note at the end. Yelchin has crafted this story after his own experience growing up in Russia.

Additional material
The book has a website that accompanies it, and provides further experiences into communist life and the Soviet Union.

A special, personal message from Eugene Yelchin about Breaking Stalin’s Nose.

The professional benefits of social networking

Mention social networks to someone and, for most people, their first thoughts will go to Facebook and Twitter, and how those sites are used for personal interaction. Unless you specifically mention LinkedIn, there isn’t much perceived professional value to social networking.  At one time, I might have felt the same, but as I started to really embrace the idea of returning to college to get the credentials needed to be a school media specialist, I began to use social networks for professional development purposes.

I was made aware of a group called the Nerdy Book Club. This club is an online group of educators who strongly believes in the value of reading and developing that love in children. They have a blog, and they also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Many individual members have their own blogs, and are avid Tweeters. Membership in this group has meant as much to me as a membership to the American Library Association or Indiana Library Federation — the professional development I have received has been priceless.

The Nerdy Book Club provides information on authors, recently released books for youth, using technology in school libraries, and educational practices that they have found to be successful in encouraging a love of reading in students. Many of the members have served on book award committees, such as Caldecott and Newbery, and they have usually earned awards and citations that target them as the best and brightest in the fields of reading education and school media specialists. By following these amazing individuals on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest, I have increased my knowledge of best practices in my intended library field.

I also use Facebook to provide reviews to my elementary school colleagues. Many times, teachers have used my reviews to select read-alouds for their classroom or to supplement another curriculum area, such as social studies. I once shared a video that featured Kate DiCamillo talking about never giving up on your writing, and a friend I went to high school with used it in her 4th-grade classroom in Georgia.facebook

While I love to keep in touch with family and friends using social media, I equally value the professional networking and sharing that is possible.

This screenshot captures the professional networking opportunities on Twitter. Someone needed book suggestions and the group members responded with many ideas.





Neil Gaiman speech: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

Neil GaimanExcerpt from a lecture posted by The Guardian explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

There were so many parts of his speech that spoke to my heart! Here is one that I try to live every day:

“The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.”

Make the real world more like a game

minecraft-characters-creeper-wc67m46zIf you spend any time with youth, you know how much of an impact technology has had on their lives. Young people today have grown up with interactive technology. At young ages, my kids started playing Webkinz and Club Penguin, virtual gaming worlds that have safeguards built in to protect children. They moved on to Animal Crossing, Minecraft, and sports games, like FIFA and Madden. These worlds let them meet and interact with other people from all over the world. They learned about managing money, contributing to society, and collaborating with others to succeed in a task.

In her 2010 TEDtalk, Jane McGonigal said, “we need to make the real world more like a game.” For teachers, and teacher librarians, we must learn to use technology to reach youth today. We must transform learning experiences so they can be as exciting, vibrant, and engaging as the interactive worlds children submerse themselves in almost daily. If you want to convince a child to study their multiplication math facts, don’t hand them a set of flashcards. Give them an app. Learning about the Underground Railroad? Reading about it can be interesting, and there are some okay videos…but set them loose on the Pathways to Freedom website, and they can view primary source materials while immersing themselves in an online, interactive learning experience that will make the things they are studying come to life.

One of the major collaborative efforts that should exist between teachers and the media specialist in a school is the sharing of resource information. Teachers are not able to go out and discover every book, video, or website that can transform what they are teaching, so I see it as the responsibility of the school media specialist to search, experiment, and make recommendations. We can also use these available resources to build our relationships with students, moving us out of the realm of irrelevant adults, into someone who can understand them and reach them where they are. If there is a chasm between you and the child you are trying to teach, you will not be the most effective teacher for that student. If you don’t know the literature they are reading, the games they are playing, the social apps they are using, or latest fad to catch their attention, you are irrelevant in their world. You can build a bridge to that child though. Through understanding. You will have to make Rainbow Loom bracelets, fight Creepers in Minecraft, know what it means to like a photo on Instagram, and laugh out loud at Captain Underpants.