Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh Captain, my captain

Do you know who inspired you to read more? Think more? Challenge and question the world? I do. Mr. Jack Nuthall was my high school English teacher and History teacher. He taught me to love Beowulf, Shakespeare, John Donne, and William Blake. With Mr. Nuthall we studied the poetry of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet while wearing Hawaiian shirts and sipping on fake margaritas. He inspired my love for movies and movie trivia.

He is why I became a teacher and why I strive to challenge my students to think in ways they never knew possible. I am sad that he will never read Owl Moon in my bookstore or to his grand-children.

Today the world lost one of the good ones. Rest in peace, Mr. Nuthall. You have inspired so many people and your story will live on with us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Now THAT's what I'm Talkin' About!

Magic.  Heart-tugging.  Inspiring.

Oliver Jeffer's The Heart and the Bottle is all of these things.  My friend let me read her copy this weekend and I immediately went to my local bookstore and picked up a copy.

This is the story of a girl who has an imagination much like young Alice.  But one day she witnesses sadness so she decides to put her heart in a bottle to protect it from ever feeling that way again.  The only problem is with her heart protected, she no longer sees the magical world she once did.  Until, that is, she comes upon a young girl who still sees the world with imagination.

A beautiful book with an important message and vital reminder to us grown-ups.  Don't forget about those things which once inspired you to see the world in a different way.  Mr. Jeffers out-does himself by even creating an I-Pad app that brings the story to life.  Read by Helena Bonham-Carter, this story takes it to another level.

This is exactly the kind of creativity I hope my store will inspire.  A book that makes your heart leap, and the technology to create your own vision of that feeling.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Very Merry Birthday Alice!

For those of you who are familiar with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (the real title of the first book), you will probably know the song, "A Very Merry Un-Birthday."  Well, as I was perusing some of my favorite blogs, I noticed the Children's Book-A-Day Almanac mentioned that TODAY, November 26, is the birthday of the story!  I love that the new blog was born the day before the story's real birthday!

Follow this link http://childrensbookalmanac.com/ to get some great information about Alice, Ever After's namesake.  Happy birthday to Alice, the White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, the Queen of Hearts, and the rest of the crew!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

To Be Thankful

I just spent most of Thanksgiving day with two wonderful friends.  We celebrated with the oh-so-traditional meal of waffles and coffee.  Ok, so maybe not so traditional but we DID watch the parade. One of my favorite parts of the day, besides the amazing company, was that we spent about 5 hours brainstorming ideas for the bookstore!  I am really excited about the creative ideas we came up with and the direction in which things are moving.

This is, of course, why the blog has changed names.  I hope you all found it here without any trouble!  The new name, Alice, Ever After, reflects the mission of the bookstore and it's whimsical nature.  As a future bookstore owner, I have to come to terms with how technology will change the way we read books.  Instead of fighting it, Alice, Ever After will embrace digital media and seek to create a culture of book reading we have yet to imagine.  Just like the Red Queen in Alice believed in "at least six impossible things before breakfast," we will seek to imagine a children's bookstore that is adventurous, imaginative, and groundbreaking.  I am excited at each new step in the process. So, in addition to reviewing books, I will also catalog the process of the steps toward starting my own business on this blog.  So far, the website is reserved (www.AliceEverAfter.com is mine!), business cards have been ordered, and a concept is brewing!

Tell your friends and comment often!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Taking the Time

I have been slowly making my way through The Red Pyramid, one of the latest books by Rick Riordan.  (Rick Riordan is the author of The Lightning Thief.)  In fact, the school librarian asked me today if I still had the book because it was waaay over due.  So I decided to take the time and finish.

Cue the Chinese take-out and glass of red wine.  Mr. Pumpkinhead and I curled up on the couch to finish the last 150 pages of the book.  Here ya go, folks, my opinion on one of the latest trends in young adult lit.

I would like to start by giving major props to the author.  What I love about Rick Riordan books is that they get kids to love mythology and that boys love to read these books.  These are two incredible feats and as a teacher I say - Thank you, Mr. Riordan, for making my job easier!

The Red Pyramid explores the world of Egyptology, something I know very little about.  The book almost reminds me of a kid version of those, in my opinion, awful Dan Brown books and this actually makes me sad to see a similarity. The difference I see is that Dan Brown books are written for adults, but at an 8th grade reading level.  These books are written at an 8th grade reading level, and children as young as 8 are reading them!  What reminds me of Dan Brown, and the one redeeming quality I found in the DaVinci Code series, is Rick Riordan's ability to pique your curiosity about a subject that is intriguing, full of mystery, and just barely public knowledge.  The book welcomes you into the world of Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and other pharaohs and gods that I would never have heard of before reading.  As Carter and Sadie Kane (the inter-racial siblings leading the way in this book) learn about the world of Egyptology, we are brought along with them  They learn to read heiroglyphics, come head to head with an army of ancient Egyptian gods, discover important buildings and structures (did YOU think that the Washington Monument was a portal into the ancient Egyptian world that is still alive below us??) and even learn a lesson or two about how to be a good sister and brother.

I am not someone who was looking to know more about the world of ancient Egypt but the book soars through some amazing adventures and made me, as it will you, want to google some names.  I can see why all my kids love these.  If I were to recommend this or The Lightning Thief, I would probably go with this one, just because I had more background knowledge of the Greek gods in LT and I feel like this book taught me more.

Big thanks to Tommy (one of my third grade students who left me the post-it note, "Read the red peramid) and my nephew Josh for the book recommendation!

P.S.  Now I can finally start The Hunger Games series without feeling guilty!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Joy of Reading

One of the dilemmas I have faced as a teacher is the notion of leveling books.  For those of you who don't teacher, or who may not be aware of what leveling exactly entails, I will give you a brief introduction.

On the most basic level, as might be expected, the "level" of a book labels a book's difficulty.  There are different leveling systems but the one that I have used most often is that of Fountas and Pinnell, two reading gurus from Cambridge.  They level books on an alphabetic system from A to Z, A being the easiest level.  A new movement in reading instruction is to make sure that teachers match a book's reading level with a student's ability.  As you can imagine some the whole notion has sparked discussion.

I worked in one school where levels were used as a way to help students make significant progress in reading.  In this school, students were encouraged to read books only on their level and the teachers also met in small groups to read with 4-6 students at a time.  (Of course, the whole process is much more complicated than I am describing, as all you teachers know...)  The idea was that this was the best way to close The Achievement Gap. (cue scary music.)  I felt very conflicted about telling my students their reading level.  I felt that there was a certain joy in reading that would be taken away when a child was prescribed books.

I moved on to a new school that was just starting the process of leveled books and no policy had been set.  So my partner teacher and I took the stance that we would not tell kids what their reading level was.  These incredibly brilliant children soon realized that all of our assessments, despite our silence, were our way of finding their reading level.  So my students actually asked if they could know what their level was.  I told them my philosophical dilemma, they took a vote, and all but one decided they wanted to know.  That one student said he wanted to determine this on his own but would appreciate my guidance if he was way off...I told you they were brilliant.

So I told them.  One student was a much lower level than he thought he was.  His eyes filled with tears as I let him know.  It felt terrible. But then he wiped the tears away and said, "Miss Howe, I am going to make it to level ___."  Amazing.  This group of children actually went beyond what I would expect 4th graders to understand about leveled books.  Was this a fluke?

This year I am in a school where we have a pretty strict policy of NOT letting the students know their levels.  As I walk around the room I see kids engrossed in a lot of books, loving reading time.  It is true, however, that many are reading below or above what they should be reading.

So what is the proper balance?  As a teacher, a large part of my job is to create a literate future.  Some students can pick up a book that is too hard, too easy, just right, or somewhere in between and they will be ok.  But some students will not make the progress they need to make.

All of this has been on my mind as I have been teaching and now as I consider how I will organize my bookstore. On Friday, as I was reading The Magician's Elephant to my students, a single line in Kate D's beautifully written book made one student's eyes widen and he gasped with a smile on his face as a secret in the story was revealed.  Love.  For reading.  He had it.  I thought about the eyes of the student from my last school as they filled with tears and then determination.  I believe there is a balance to be had.  We need engaged, passionate readers.  But we also need readers who are determined to be readers, regardless of the challenge.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sick Day!

I am home today, sick. I remember a loooong time ago when I was home sick from school. For a brief period in my life, my sister and I de-bunked the bunk beds and had two twin beds side by side in our room. They were covered with quilts and afghans (the blanket, not the people) that my grandmothers had made. It was here that I would rest and flip through my stack of sick day reading material. Back then it was mostly Highlights magazines. It was the perfect day to find all those hidden pictures before one of my three siblings did. I could catch up on all the good jokes, find the mistakes on the back cover, and enjoy the easy reading of a magazine.

Today, 20-something years later, I have decided on two books. For my first pick, I am trying to catch up on The Red Pyramid. But my true choice for today is one that my best friend and I are reading, Knuckleheads by Jon Scieszka.

This book, written in just about 100 pages, tells 1-2 page short stories about the author's childhood growing up in the midwest.  I loved it the first time I read it and it is the perfect type of reading for a sick day.  I still laugh so hard I get tears in my eyes. (p.s. that is the author with me in my profile picture!)

What is your favorite sick day book?