Monday, October 29, 2007

News from The Library--October 29, 2007

How Spooky Should We Go?

Halloween stories are lots of fun. For the younger students we have stories of funny witches, and pumpkins, and costume contests. But for the older students there are several books with what are considered "scary stories." Is this valuable literature for children? The debate goes on. Some of the most read are the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series by Alvin Schwartz. While some of these are collections of tales from American folklore, personally I feel they may be a little intense, especially for children who are living in a world where the overall environment is more than a little frightening. Couple this with their exposure to the media and I have begun to wonder if reading scary stories is the right thing to emphasize on Halloween. So this year I spend the early weeks in October doing research with them on spiders and reading stories with a spider "theme." I liked this. Here we are, however, nearing Halloween and I admit I love reading those stories, but I have chosen stories for fourth, fifth and sixth grades that, while a little spooky, are somewhat humorous. I also chose them to illustrate the style of writing where a writer uses the length of sentences and the rhythm of sentences to create tension and mood so after we were done being "spooked" we "de-constructed" the scary part and looked at those literary devices. The story I read for fourth grade is a Spanish folktale Esteban and the Ghost by Sibyl Hancock. For fifth grade I read "Duffy's Jacket" by noted children's author Bruce Coville, and for sixth grade it's "The Surprise Guest" by none other than R.L. Stine.

Also in the library this week.....

Kindgergarten--Kindergarteners loved the rollicking rhyme of Room On the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffle. What happens when a witch lets too many passengers on her broom and it breaks? She has to face a scary dragon with half a broom, but her friends come to the rescue at the last minute. And her new broom? Well, let's just say it's the Mercedes of brooms!

First Grade--One of the worst things that could happen on Halloween is to have the wrong costume, and in Trick or Treat Smell My Feet by Diane Degroat, Gilbert and his sister accidentally switch costumes for their school's Halloween parade. To make matters worse, Gilbert has to wear the costume in the parade....a pink ballerina tutu! The best part of this story is how he handles it all with aplomb by dancing his way to the food table---a good lesson for us all!

Second Grade--Poor Dr. Smart Pig. He's all alone without a friend on Halloween since his brothers were eaten last year by the Big Bad Wolf. But since he's a scientist he comes up with an ingenious plan to create a friend. After a few missteps, he creates.....a monster pig who eats him out of house and home (literally). But when the Big Bad Wolf appears dressed as granny to trick or treat at his door, Porkenstein saves the day. His insatiable appetite actually comes in handy! Porkenstein is by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated with wonderful humor by David Jarvis.

Third Grade--Chris Van Allsburg is one of my favorite children's authors and I must say The Widow's Broom is my favorite of all his books. The story is mesmerizing and funny at the same time and the illustrations are exquisite. Third graders loved the twist at the end and got the subtle but powerful message that we should not judge without information.

Happy Halloween (and don't get spooked!)

Monday, October 22, 2007

News From the Library--October 22, 2007

Balancing Books and Laptops

It's very tempting when doing research to simply "google it" but this week in the library third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders found that when doing their spider research, a book was the best source of detailed information. After each team of students picked the name of a spider out of a hat, we started our research with our online encyclopedia. Some students found the answers to their research questions quickly, but others realized that the encyclopedia article was simply too general. The books about individual spiders that we have in our collection provided not only detailed information but had incredible illustrations and photographs as well. At the end of our hour, student agreed that the books were a better source for this kind of information and that they could trust that the information was accurate.

Just to make a final point I "googled" tarantula and showed the students that there were 1,390,000 web sites returned!!! Although the internet is a fantastic resource, it requires careful evaluation and quite a bit of time and patience to find the same information that was in the books. One of my goals this year is to provide students with a balance between books and computers and to help them understand that each "venue" of information has its unique and valuable characteristics.

Also in the Library this week...

Kindergarten--Kindergarteners are on the way to the pumpkin patch tomorrow so to get read ready we read Big Pumpkin, by Erica Silverman and S.D. Schindler. This delightful tale reads a little like This is the House That Jack Built, only this time it's a witch, a ghost, a goblin, a vampire, a mummy and a little bat all trying to get a huge pumpkin off the vine in order to make pumpkin pie. Great messages here too....the value of team work and the smallest might be the one with the solution to a large problem!

First Grade--We all remember the song "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly." In Lucille Colandro's and Jared D. Lee's There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat the progression goes from a bat, to an owl, a cat, a ghost, a goblin, some bones, and a wizard until finally she shouts "Trick or Treat!" and ends with a burp! This delighted the first graders as you can well imagine.

Second Grade--One of my personal favorites for reading at Halloween is A Job for Wittilda, Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner's charming tale of a witch who has so many cats to feed she has to find a job. The perfect one? Delivering pizzas on her broom. The story is complemented with wonderful illustrations and the chance to find a spider on every page. There's even a little sub-story going on with a cat chasing a mouse at the bottom of each page. This book is always a hit with this age group and I never get tired of reading it.

Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth graders---see opening post.

Until next week.....

Sunday, October 14, 2007

News From The Library--October 15, 2007

EEEK! Spiders in the Library!!!!

This week, in preparation for Halloween, we had lots of fun learning more about spiders. Thanks to a generous donation we now have a huge spider web on our window to go along with other spiders (and books about spiders) lurking in the library. Each class viewed a Keynote about spiders and then either heard a story with a spider as the main character or did a little online research about spiders.

Kindergarten--After viewing the Keynote, we read Eric Carle's The Very Busy Spider. This classic picture book tells the story of a little spider who floats into a barn yard and begins to spin her web. As each farm animal entreats her to play, she doesn't answer. She's too busy spinning her web. The charming repetition continues until at the end she falls asleep (after catching a fly, of course). Repetition coupled with a simple narrative is an excellent way for pre-readers and early readers to learn to read and comprehend the flow of a narrative. But above all, Eric Carle's magnificent illustrations make this book one to read again and again.

First Grade--Poor Miss Spider....she is all set to have a tea party but one by one her invitations are greeted with fear and dread. Finally after saving a rain-soaked moth, her intentions are seen as only friendly and she has her tea party after all. We had lots of fun counting her eight legs and her eight tea cups, one for each leg. Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk gave us the chance to compare what we had learned in the Keynote with the ideas in the story and in the end we agreed most spiders aren't that scary at all!

Second Grade--While they were viewing the Keynote, second graders had a great time telling me what they were learning in their classroom about spiders...especially that they are called arachnids! We read Diane Cronin's hilarious Diary of a Spider and our favorite part was the Vacuum Drill. Stop, Drop from the web, and Run like crazy. This really tickled their funnybones.

Third Grade--After viewing the Keynote, we read our wonderful adaptation of Mary Howitt's 1829 cautionary poem The Spider and the Fly. Third graders loved the spooky illustrations by award winning artist Tony Di Terlizzi. Set on black paper with white lines, the drawings have the feeling of a silent movie and the spider, complete with a pencil thin mustache, does make a wonderful villain. The unfortunate demise of the fly serves as a little lesson on the results of falling for flattery, and in one of the best features of the book the villainous spider gets his own special afterword. There he is, sitting at the table, wiping his mouth delicately with a napkin and looking full, while the fly's pretty little hat rests on the plate in front of him. As he points out that all spiders are trappers, even the beloved Charlotte from E.B. White's classic book, we had to sadly agree that the fly should have known better!

Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grade--We set up our online version of Encyclopedia Britannica on their laptops this week and they had time to do a little exploration (including a look at spiders, or course). Next week, we'll be doing more research on spiders using both books from our collection and the online encyclopedia. Mr. Orr's class did the set up last week, so this week they heard Jane Yolen's interesting book Encounter which tells the story of Columbus' arrival from the viewpoint of a Taino Indian boy. This is an interesting way to discuss different views of history as well as the literary device point of view.

See you next week!

Monday, October 08, 2007

News From The Library--October 8, 2007

Genre Scavenger Hunt

Sixth graders had a lot of fun this week learning about different genres of literature. First we viewed a Keynote that explained the common genres and gave examples from our library. Next we divided into 3 teams and each team was given cards with the genres written on them. Students had to go out into the library and find an example of each genre, put the card in the book, and make a stack on the table for their team. Lots of fun was had trying to be the first team to finish and learning how to find different genres in our library was accomplished as well!

Also in the Library this week...

Kindergarten--This week we worked on a very important skill--how to turn the pages in a library book! We sat in a circle and I gave each student one of our ABC books. (We have a great collection) I showed them how to carefully turn pages, both forward and backward, by starting at the top right hand or bottom right hand corners respectively. Then they carefully found the page in their book that corresponded to the first letter of their name. With our newfound skills, we had a good time finding the first letters of other things from fish to zebras.

First Grade--When George the puppy's mother asks him to bark, the strangest thing happened. He quacked, mooed, meowed....everything but barked. Bark George by Jules Fieffer is hilarious and always elicits great belly laughs from the children. We had a lot of fun coming up with other sounds that George might make.

Second Grade--We finished up our "study" of the 3 little pigs this week with The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. This is one of the most popular read aloud books I use in the library. Something about switching the characters makes it inherently funny and the ending is such a surprise. I use these books to teach students about plot, character, and point of view and by using a familiar tale we can focus on learning about those literary devices.

Third Grade--This week we read Carol Otis Hurst's charming book Rocks in His Head which is the true story of her father's passion for rocks and how during the Depression he kept that passion alive and ended up a curator of minerology. This inspiring story shows the value of perseverence and the value of a true love of learning.

Fourth Grade--For the first time, fourth graders brought their laptops to the library and we set up their online version of Encyclopedia Britannica. After a quick tour, they drew topics from a hat and did some research. You are welcome to use this at home as well. You'll need a user name and password and if you give me a call, I'll be happy to give it to you.

Fifth Grade--This week we studied a touching and important picture book written by renowned children's book author Eve Bunting. The book is called So Far From the Sea and is the story of a Japanese American family in present day who is moving from California to Boston. They travel to Manzanar one last time to pay tribute to their grandfather who lies buried there. Their story is woven with facts about Pearl Harbor and the ensuing imprisonment of Japanese Americans in internment camps. Prior to reading the book to the students I showed a Keyote slideshow I made incorporating some present day photos I took when I visited Manzanar with historical photos I obtained from the internet and from a wonderful new site created by the state of California and UC Berkeley called Calisphere. After seeing the slide presentation, the students had a context for the story and later we had an interesting and lively discussion . One of the most interesting comments centered around the care we should take not to overreact to fear, and understanding that this historical part of California's history is not an easy "black or white" issue with one side right and the other wrong, something that is very touchingly told by the father in the story who was himself a child at Manzanar. Students also had a chance to see the other books we have in our Library about this subject including a non-fiction book with excellent historical photos, two other wonderful picture books, and two novels.

Sixth grade--see opening post.

Until next week....