Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: The Park

Like many families with small children, mine spends a lot of time at the local park. Though the park is a lot more fun than the elevator, you can still make your time even more fulfilling by sharing some early literacy activities with your child.
  • Teach your child the words “stop” and “go.” Little Miss Muffet is still a bit young for most playground equipment, but she loves to swing. To make it an interactive experience, I stop the swing periodically, calling out, “Stop!” and then begin pushing again when I say “Go!” You can also play this game using the ASL signs for stop and go to reinforce their meaning.
  • Sing on the swings.  There is something about singing and swinging simultaneously that makes both activities more fun. Once you get your child started, don't be surprised if other kids join in and start suggesting songs to add to your repertoire.
  • Draw letters in the sandbox. Using your finger, or a stick, help your child practice recognizing letters by drawing them in the sand and asking your child to name them. Also encourage your child to write letters - or even his name - on his own. 
  • Read the playground’s posted rules. Most of the local parks I’ve visited have at least one sign about safe use of the playground. As you enter the park, take a look at this sign. Are there letters or words your child recognizes? Are there new words you might want to learn? Your child will delight in finding familiar pieces of print and may recognize them in other contexts later in the day.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Guys Read True Stories by Jon Scieszka (ARC)

Guys Read True Stories
Edited by Jon Scieszka
2014. Walden Pond Press.
ISBN: 9780062316523
In the latest anthology from Jon Scieszka's Guys Read series, the focus shifts away from short stories and onto short pieces of non-fiction. Contained in this collection are essays and articles on history, nature, the arts, science, survival, danger, and adversity from a host of expert authors. Each piece is completely different from the next, but all focus on high interest topics likely to appeal to middle grade boys.

There are so many wonderful selections in this book that would make great read-alouds and that would easily support lessons based on the common core standards. Douglas Florian's simple poems defining scientific principles would make wonderful posters for a science classroom and great memorization exercises for kids who are learning about time, gravity, etc. Thanhha Lai's descriptions of her childhood in Vietnam help contextualize the Vietnam War and provide concrete glimpses into Vietnamese culture. A biography of Muddy Waters easily connects to lessons about civil rights, sharecroppers, and jazz music, while the story of Jumbo the elephant's close relationship with his keeper highlights the remarkable sensitivities and behaviors of animals.

All educational possibilities aside, however, this book is also just plain fun to read. Boys and girls alike will enjoy each author's unique voice and the heartfelt, gross, funny, and surprising details each one uses to relay his or her story. Readers who believe that non-fiction is flat, boring, or difficult to read will find their outlooks dramatically changed after reading this book. An absolute must-buy for all libraries serving middle schoolers.

I received a digital ARC of Guys Read True Stories from Walden Pond Press via Edelweiss.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

8 Funny Middle School Series for Boys

Today's list is a collection of series books for middle school boys which are guaranteed to make them laugh. All of these titles are recommended for grades 5 to 9.

Kevin Spencer

by Gary Paulsen

Kevin Spencer is determined to win the affections of his classmate, Tina, even if he has to lie, steal, and run for office to accomplish his goal. Highlights of this series include a spot-on narrative voice, a hilarious four-year-old supporting character, and Kevin's relationship to his older brother and sister, and his aunt.

To date, there are five books in the Kevin Spencer series (links are to my reviews): 

Middle School 

by James Patterson

James Patterson is a prolific writer, and not all of his books are of high quality, but his Middle School series is a notable exception. This series follows Rafe Katchadorian (and in one volume, his sister) through some trying times as he struggles to acclimate to middle school and runs into some discipline problems. These books are great for visual learners, as much of each story is told in illustrations. Patterson seems to be publishing two of these a year, and there are six so far:

I Funny  

by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein

The I Funny books are not  related to the Middle School series, but they share the same fast-paced, straightforward style of storytelling and the same theme of overcoming hardship through laughter. Jamie is confined to a wheelchair, but dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. In order to realize his dream, he must face his fear of bullies and perform on stage. There are only two books in this series:
  • I Funny (2012)
  • I Even Funnier (2013)

Origami Yoda 

 by Tom Angleberger

Dwight, who is probably the strangest kid in his class, claims that his origami version of Yoda can tell the future. Is it true? These case studies done by Dwight's classmates try to find out. Each book in this series introduces a different origami creation based on a Star Wars character, and instructions for folding each of these can be found on Tom Angleberger's website. These books are a great blend of day-to-day middle school social drama and imagination. There are currently seven titles in all.
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (2010)
  • Darth Paper Strikes Back (2011)
  • The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee (2012)
  • Art2-D2′s Guide to Folding and Doodling (2013)
  • The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett (2013)
  • Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue! (2014)
  • Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus (2014) 

Star Wars: Jedi Academy

by Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown has also latched onto the tween Star Wars craze with his new series about Roan, who wishes to become a pilot but is sent to jedi school instead. Unlike most readers, Roan is unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe, and he is constantly bewildered by everything from the force to Yoda to his Wookiee gym teacher. Since these books are told in diary format, they will appeal to Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans as well as Star Wars enthusiasts. There are two titles so far:


The Fourth Stall

by Chris Rylander

The Godfather meets middle school in this trilogy about two boys who run a mafia-like business out of the fourth stall in their school's bathroom. Mac and Vince have always been able to solve any problem brought their way, until a high school kid named Staples starts making more trouble than they know what to do with. Realizing that adolescence comes with a whole new set of problems, the two friends struggle to decide whether to keep their business going any longer. This series is complete, and three titles are as follows:

Odd Squad

by Michael Fry

Cartoonist Michael Fry brings together three outsiders to form an unlikely friendship in this set of illustrated novels. Nick, Molly, and Karl become allies when they are assigned to safety patrol together, and they eventually figure out how to overthrow the school's worst bully. These books poke fun at the everyday trials of middle school life while also providing hope for students who feel ostracized or powerless. There are three books in the series so far: 

The Classroom

by Robin Mellom

In this documentary-style series told in interview transcripts, Trevor finds himself completely unprepared for the transition to middle school, and things get worse when his best friend, Libby, unexpectedly stops speaking to him. These books are very much tween soap operas, with a large cast of characters and many unlikely events, which make them both easy and fun to read. The series so far consists of the following: