By Elizabeth Wroten
On 30, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entirehenhouse….
And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Okay this one checked boxes for what I’m looking for in building my chapter book collection. But to be honest I read it and will be purchasing it because CHICKENS! We have our own backyard flock and adore our girls so I’m a sucker for any book with kooky chickens in it. Fortunately this was not just a fluff book. It had substance and was a great read.
Surprisingly this is a epistolary novel which I usually find forced and irritating. Not so here. For whatever reason it worked. Sophie is lonely and doesn’t have friends. She feels more like writing to her dead uncle and abuela than a diary. It just kind of made sense. Of course she remembers things in pretty vivid detail, but I’m willing to let that stuff slide.
Race comes up in the book since Sophie is half white, half Latina and she moves to a small California town from the greater LA area. I liked that that element was woven into the story (although I’m not sure Kelly Jones is Latina so I’m not sure if that detracts from this part of the story) especially since I have a number of kids with mixed backgrounds including Latino/a. I also loved that she’s clearly a city kid uprooted and plopped into a rural community. Her mom makes her wear a whistle that was meant to be blown for protection in the city, but seems pretty useless and silly in the country (who’s going to hear it?). She has no idea how to care for chickens or animals, but she is determined to learn.
Goodreads or the publisher suggest this to fans of Polly Horvath (particularly Mr. and Mrs. Bunny) and I totally agree. Also anyone who liked Charlotte’s Web, but wants a bit of an update and a little more humor. It is a higher Lexile, but I think the story is compelling enough that kids who are struggling a little bit will want to get through it. The format with the letters also make it easier to pick up and put down.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Cécile Rey can’t wait for Mardi Gras–New Orleans’ dazzling season of parties and costume balls. For the grandest event of all, the Children’s Ball, Cécile is determined to come up with a fantastic costume like no one else’s. Everyone will notice her And after Mardi Gras, Cécile beloved brother, Armand, will finally come home after two long years in faraway France. But Mardi Gras season turns out to be even more exciting than Cécile expects when she meets a new girl named Marie-Grace Gardner. Together they form an unlikely friendship . . .and share a daring adventure.
I don’t usually like books that are tied to selling stuff (in this case the American Girl dolls), but I had a request for the American Girl books and was surprised to learn through another blogger that this character existed. I figured if I was going to consider buying any of these books it would be the books that had non-white characters because if there is one thing our transitional chapter book section does not need it’s more white characters.
As far as the story goes it was probably a perfect little historical fiction for our second, third and even fourth graders. The back matter was very interesting talking about free black people in New Orleans and how they enjoyed a certain amount of freedom while the city was under French control, but lost nearly all their rights and respect when the Americans purchased the territory. The story does not make it out to be totally rosy though. Cecile encounters an American that is rude and racist and it is clear through the Children’s Ball that the blacks and whites were not considered autonomous or equal.
The big adventure Cecile and Marie Grace have is switching places at the ball. Cecile dances once at the white ball and Marie Grace visits the black ball. Cecile makes it out to be a bit of a lark, but she does recognize that had their switch been discovered it could have meant disaster. It might have been nice to see her understand the consequences a bit more, but the American Girl books aren’t known for being gritty social commentary. Is that problematic? Probably. To that point, though, American Girl books are not great literature in general, but I think they can have a place in a library collection. If I add this book to our collection it would be one of maybe three or four that show a black family who is not poor and missing a parent which I think is a step in the right direction.
Out of curiosity I looked up the author and discovered I knew some of her books, most notably Finding Someplace. Thankfully she is African American (I know many of these books are written by white authors, I’m looking at you Josephina: An American Girl) and familiar with New Orleans which gave the book more credence for me at least. Check out her website here: Denise Lewis Patrick.
As far as adding this to the collection, I think I will. I want more books like this on our shelves. My only hesitance is that we don’t have a lot of historical fiction readers so I wonder if our funds would be better spent on something I know will circulate (realistic fiction). I think this would make a fine addition to a library collection that is looking to add titles with black characters, but it wouldn’t be the only book I would add.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 17, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Lexile: approximately 650L (only the first three are in the Lexile system and they range from 630-680)
From Goodreads: Epatha knows she’s the perfect pick for the lead in the new Sugar Plum ballet. But her dream role isn’t as fabulosa as she imagined. When she tries to spice up the choreography with her free-spirited style it’s up to the rest of the Sugar Plum Ballerinas to keep Epatha’s toes in line. Will Epatha listen to her friends or can she convince the other ballerinas that her way is the best?
I have to admit I DNFed this one largely because I was feeling pressured to get a stack of books back to the library. It wasn’t my cup of tea as an adult, however if you have girls that love ballet and dance this would be a great series. I accidentally picked this one out not knowing it’s the sixth book in the series. It made sense without having read any of the others, but there were a couple small references to things that had happened in other books. I suspect each book features a different girl and I think none of the girls are white, which is great for a ballet series.
The plot, for an adult, was a bit predictable and I was able to flip through the last half and catch the drift of the story line. But I don’t see this as drawback for the intended audience who doesn’t have nearly as much experience with reading and books. I also found Epatha bit irritating because she was so full of herself, but I think kids will find her annoying and be glad for her reform at the end. She isn’t all bad, but sure of herself in a cocky little-kid kind of way that can be really exasperating to parents.
I still think kids who are mad about ballet will love the book or series. There’s a lot of friendship involved in the plot and some drama. It’s all very compelling. Perfect for third graders and even up into fourth, again if you have ballet fans. There’s also some funny family drama between Epatha’s two grandmothers (one Puerto Rican and the other Italian).
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: What do you want so badly that you can taste it—and can you persuade someone to give it to you? That’s the subject of a writing assignment Calvin’s fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Purdy, gives the class. Calvin wants a dog! He reads what he’s written to his mom to see just how persuasive he can be. No way, Mom says: Stella, their babysitter, might be allergic, and Calvin is too irresponsible to care for a pet.
Luckily, Mom’s boyfriend, Ledward, is on Calvin’s side. He takes Calvin to a place he calls dog heaven. There Calvin meets the dog of his dreams—Streak. Now Calvin’s got to convince Mom he’s dog-responsible, because he and Streak belong together!
I chose to review this one today because it fits with what’s going on at home right now. We may have gotten a dog, so this story suddenly resonates a lot more with me. Calvin is desperate for a dog, but his mom doesn’t want the responsibility and the friend living with them is allergic. Then Calvin meets Streak at the animal shelter and he’s just got to find a way to make this work.
Calvin is such a boy and these books would make great stories to hand to reluctant boy readers. They are surprisingly easy reads, but look very sophisticated with few pictures, normal-sized print, average feeling chapter length, and a fair number of pages. Perfect for those low readers in third and fourth grade and high readers in second.
Dog Heaven was actually not the first in the Calvin Coconut series, but it made perfect sense without having read any others. Calvin’s home life isn’t traditional, but whose home life is? His father appears to have left, they have a friend’s daughter living with them and his mother is dating someone. I think some of this is explained earlier in the series, but it was pretty easy to grasp. As a side note, I like seeing other family situations reflected where the parents aren’t dead (and wish I had seen more growing up in divorced family).
I was a little uncomfortable with Ledward, the mother’s boyfriend. I think he was meant to be native Hawaiian and he spoke with some kind of slightly stilted English. I suppose it’s possible people talk like that in Hawaii (I’ve never been), but it felt a little weird coming from a white author. Maybe I’m off about that, but maybe not. I just don’t know.
As I said, hand this one to reluctant boy readers and any reader who loves dogs. Also give it to any kids you know who are just dying to get a pet- be it a hamster, guinea pig or puppy.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 10, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Dyamonde Daniel may be new in town, but that doesn’t stop her from making a place for herself in a jiffy. With her can-do attitude and awesome brain power she takes the whole neighborhood by storm. The only thing puzzling her is the other new kid in her class. He’s awfully i grouchy – but Dyamonde’s determined to get to the bottom of his frowning attitude and make a friend.
I liked this one so much I went out and bought the first two books in the series to put into our library collection. These are great little friendship stories perfect for that late second grade age and into third grade.
Dyamonde is such a fun character. She’s new to the neighborhood and still doesn’t have any friends. So when a new boy shows up, despite his frown and grumpy disposition, she is determined to make him her friend. It’s just a fun story and quick read. Kids will really like Dyamonde because she’s a bit quirky. Nothing too deep here, and for those kids working their way through chapter books that’s fine.
I would also say if you have any new students, particularly ones that are having a harder time adjusting, this would be a great addition to your collection. They may really identify Dyamonde and how she feels about switching neighborhoods and schools.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 09, Nov 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
While I run the makerspace in a classroom after school one day a week I also like to hold pop-up makerspaces in the library. They aren’t quite as free as my after school class simply because the space isn’t set up for it and all of the supplies aren’t stored in the library, but I think that’s okay. Having a makerspace allows the kids to come to the library and play and see it as more than a book museum or place to get out of the cold and I like that. I am also way less concerned with them making something to take home or “show” what they did. Makerspaces of all stripes should be about exploration and process. I think it’s refreshing for the kids to have that during the school day.
Last week I held a weather makerspace for my second graders. Our second grade spends the first half of the year studying weather for their science curriculum and I really wanted to find a way to tap into that unit. My overall plan is to have the kids research about a weather topic they are interested in and then create a poster that showcases five facts they’ve found. Within this we practiced brainstorming, looking at the parts of a book (index and table of contents), talked about what a fact is, and learned how to take notes on notecards. All of the units I design for my library program involve introducing a library skill, giving several lessons that allow the kids to explore it and then creating something. The product is not important to me at all, though. I am interested in observing their process to see if they use the skills I’ve just given them, how they use them and how well they use them. I have tried hard to tie these lesson cycles in with their curriculum so it’s more meaningful.
Second grade has just started a new unit with me where we are beginning to examine the research process and I decided to tie it to weather. To explore weather, get some ideas, and help them explore topics they might be interested in we had this makerspace. Working with the second grade teachers we chose eight stations for the kids to rotate through. We decided to have them center around the components of weather: temperature, air, and water. Most were just basic weather experiments. Things you’ve seen on Pinterest a million times. They were messy and and fun and not particularly complicated. They also asked the kids to think about what they were seeing.
As I said before, these makerspaces in the library aren’t as free as a true makerspace so during this one the kids rotated through in set groups. We combined the two classes so we had a large group. Because of the group dynamic plus personalities we decided set groups was the best approach. This gave the kids an hour explore a ton of messy experiments that they would not have done in the classroom. I was then able to remind them of the things we had done when we sat down to brainstorm possible weather topics to research the next week.
And the kids were over the moon. If anyone wants my lesson plan with the stations, supply lists, and set up please let me know and I will gladly share.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 05, Nov 2015 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
So things are chugging along in my after school makerspace. There’s always a lot of banging and glueing and pandemonium. There is never enough duct tape. Or wood scraps. Or wheels. I am constantly reminding them to stop wasting water or stop stabbing each other with their creations. Every time I say something I thought I would never say. We are working on leaving the room as we found it (so I don’t have to spend a ton of time after they leave cleaning and sorting), but other than that it’s great.
I read a blog post today, though, that talked about a librarian hesitant to jump into makerspaces. She got some good inspiration and is off looking for more inspiration and ideas. I want to share how I recently worked a makerspace into my library and library curriculum in case any one out there is wondering about one way to approach this concept and I will in my next post, but what I want to address today is something this librarian mentioned that had kept her from really looking into them: a malaise around or fear of needing lots of technology and also not knowing how to teach coding. I want to get this out there before I even start talking about what I did. Technology is not essential or necessary to have a makerspace. The only technology I currently have in my makerspace is broken down computers and appliances for the kids to harvest for parts or explore the innards of.
The other important thing to know and understand is that makerspaces are about letting the kids make discoveries and learn on their own. You do not need to provide the content, only the space and supplies. You can certainly answer questions and point them in the right direction, but I think the most important part of makerspaces is how they are student inquiry driven. It’s a place for teachers and parents to step back and let their kids go.
Kids will ask you for what to do next and what to do, but if you refuse to tell them they eventually come to rely on themselves. My line is “That’s not my job, that’s yours. Take a look around and see what you can use.” This looking to adults for what to do and fear of making mistakes is something we have taught them in traditional schooling and it takes some unlearning, but I can tell you from experience all kids come along and start figuring things out for themselves. They stop needing you except to remind them that the glue is in the same place it’s been in for a year.
I do occasionally put out some set activities for the kids, but they never do them (except the slime kitchen which they LOVE with a fiery passion). They have their own ideas that need expression and they go for it. It’s amazing to see what they can create with some cardboard and tape. It’s amazing to see the stories they create to go with their inventions. And it’s most amazing as an adult to realize they don’t care if their broken computer with a speaker glued on top that they call a state-of-the-art sound system doesn’t actually work. It does in their mind and in the narrative they have created. (This really happened last week.)
None of this is limited to the preschool set either. I have fifth graders who are just as into cardboard and tape and imagination as my second graders. And there’s a makerspace elective in the middle school that’s come to this point too. The teacher used to give them a challenge or task every time they came to class, but one day he gave them a loose challenge that involved cardboard boxes and their enthusiasm and creativity EXPLODED that day. He was so amazed he’s stepped back a lot and simplified even more and gives them a lot more freedom. And those kids are all the way up into eighth grade.
So sure, makerspaces are nifty if they have technology in them, but only if it allows kids to get creative and helps them bring their ideas into being. It’s by no means necessary. And please, please, please do not make it seem like you are the one giving them the ideas or that you have all the answers. They get plenty of that everywhere else in their lives. Give the kids the tools, space, and knowledge to figure things out themselves and find their own creativity, intelligence, and strength.
As a side note, I do teach the kids how to use our tools (drills, saws, hot glue guns) if they don’t already know. I will help them do things like cut large pieces of wood or whatever that it would be too time consuming, physically taxing, or developmentally inappropriate for them to do. I also do some front loading with new students where I step back gradually from helping them find what they want to do in the space and think about how to solve problems. I am, though, always intentionally vague with ideas I give them. It’s a process and some kids come along faster than others, but they all get to a point where they see me as an interference.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Nov 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Amazon: Follow 7-year-old Sofia Martinez as she deals with her family and daily life. From a missing class pet to her grandma’s birthday, Sofia’s fiery passion for everything she does makes every day an adventure.
Fiery passion seems like a bit much, but Sofia is definitely a spunky girl. This is the antidote to Emma on the Air. Sadly the Lexile is fair bit lower, but I really enjoyed this book. Enough to buy a copy for my library.
Sofia always seems to be getting into little scrapes and they always lead to some funny scenes where she has to enlist the help of her sisters or cousins. This particular book is a compilation of three smaller, shorter chapter books, but they’re so short otherwise it doesn’t make the book daunting by any means.
What I like most about the book from the standpoint of needing to strengthen my collection was how natural her cultural background felt. She speaks some Spanish and the phrases are a bit more complex and varied than the Spanish in Emma on the Air. It’s also more naturally woven into the dialog. It never felt like, “Oh I should slip a Spanish word in here and then quickly translate it for the white audience I’m really writing this for”. Sure the words are very easy to translate in context or are translated (although not always verbatim) right after, but it just felt so much more integral to the story.
Really Sofia is just funny. She’s always up to something and even though she has great intentions things don’t really go as planned. Like when she wants to make a piñata for her grandmother’s birthday and the flour she and her cousins are going to use to make the paste gets dropped on the floor. Then the cat runs through it and around the house! They end up having to lure the cat into the bathroom with treats where they try to give her a bath. How can you not laugh at that? It’s perfect kid logic.
The pictures in the book are great too. They don’t feel too childish or dated which I think is really important when trying to get kids into chapter books that are really at the right level for them. I’ve seen many a fine chapter book passed up for something that is just too hard because the chapter book looks too much like a “little-kid” book and not enough like that slick tome they think they want to read.
It’s never actually said what Sofia is. Mexican? Guatemalan? Peruvian? (It’s possible you can tell by the Spanish phrases she uses, but I can’t.) I am glad she’s brown and ON THE COVER looking cute. No whitewashing or obscuring her. From my perspective the book does a good job of walking a fine line of being a book like we see for white kids all the time, where culture is there more in the background and not as an Issue with a capital “I”, and being a book that makes a point of calling out the character’s culture and background. Will it be the right book for all library populations or families? No. But I think would be a great addition to many collections.