Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel by Diana Lopez

Tomorrow I attend the memorial service of a young woman who died of breast cancer. Yes, I said young woman. A young woman who had her life ahead of her.

Breast cancer is the focus of the book I finished reading a couple of weeks ago. In Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, Chia's mother is diagnosed with the disease. Chia want to help, but doesn't know how until she comes up with the idea of a promesa to God in exchange for her mom's health. Initially, she decides to run a 5K in her mother's honor, but she realizes that's too easy. She determines that she will get 500 sponsors to sign up to support her in the race. Unfortunately, she forgets about homework, friends, watching her little brother while her mother is ill, and dealing with her precocious, very intelligent little sister. Her mood ring gauges how she feels throughout the ordeal.

Cancer does not just impact the person with the disease, but the family as well. Chia, like any child, worries that her mother will die and leave her. She's forced to assume adult roles in the household as the oldest child. Her sister, Carmen, internalizes her feelings in other ways such a counting inconsequential things and showing off her intellectual superiority. Jimmy, their young brother, acts out worse than usual. The kids' dad also acts on his stress and worry, often taking it out on the kids.

Unfortunately, there are a number of kids who must travel the same road that Chia does. I appreciate that Diana Lopez dealt with a tough topic honestly and realistically. There's no sugar coating here.

I only hope that some day books like this will not have to be written.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell a couple of months ago, but I didn't have time to blog about it after I read it. Having read and loved Eleanor and Park, I was anxious to see if Ms. Rowell could replicate the excellence of the previous book. While I didn't like Fangirl as much as E and P, I still thought it was a great read.

Cath and her twin sister Wren are freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Cath is an aspiring writer, having a great following for her fan fiction of a popular book series somewhat like Harry Potter. Cath falls for her roommate's "boyfriend," Levi, while her sister becomes a fan of alcohol and partying.

This is a coming of age tale. Cath grows from a insecure child living in the shadow of her much more popular sister only to find that she is the stronger, more sensible twin. She also realizes that her mother's rejection and her father's fragility do not define her.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Sometimes I think the closest I'll come to an adventure is lying across the bed with Thor Heyerdahl, reading Kon-Tiki. Nobody knows I took if from the school library on the last day of school.  I just slipped it into my book bag while nobody was looking. I took it because I had read it three times already, and I needed it near me. Sometimes you just need a book near you and you can't explain why.

The second installment in Deborah Wiles' The Sixties Trilogy, Revolution, tells the story of Freedom Summer in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964. The events of that summer are related through the eyes of Sunny who looks forward to a summer of swimming in the city pool, watching her stepbrother play baseball and dreaming of the Beatles. Things change rapidly, however, when her town is "invaded" by people from the North who are starting Freedom Schools, organizing nonviolent resistance to the Jim Crow laws, and most of all, registering people to vote. Not only must Sunny deal with these changes to her world, she grieves for a mother she has never known and resents that her father has married a woman with two children and another baby is on the way.

As Wiles did in Countdown, the hefty (500+ pages) volume is filled with primary source material in the form of quotes, song lyrics, images, etc. to lend authenticity to the story. Because the events are seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, the action is personal.

In many ways, the story reminded me of Glory Be which was discussed earlier in this blog. The audience for this book seems to be for older students, however.

While I was a nine-year-old child when Freedom Summer occurred, I really don't have much memory of what went on. I guess like Sunny I was more interested in swimming, playing, and reading. I also lived in an extremely segregated town where I never really knew how people's rights were repressed. Every time I read about the Civil Rights Movement, it shocks me how some people thought Western Civilization would no longer exist if society was integrated. I wonder what some of those people think now.

I've been a fan of Deborah Wiles for a long time, and she doesn't disappoint in this book. I just hope that the sheer length of the book doesn't deter some readers.

I took Kon-Tiki back on the first day of school. I didn't tell on myself, I just slipped it back on the shelf, where it belongs. I can check it out any time I want.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

6th Grade Summer Reading

Earlier in the year, debate coach, tutor, and mom extraordinaire CindyTimmons asked if we would make a presentation to the 5th Grade Parent Book Club regarding summer reading. Wow! How exciting! I was delighted to say, "Yes!!"

On May 2, a number of moms and one brave dad showed up in the library, had breakfast, and listened attentively as we discussed the importance of reading 20 minutes a day, the library web site, eBooks, the library app, NoodleTools (yes, we got off the topic some), and a book talk of several of the titles. Katie Beth also compiled a list of "Beach Reads" for those of us who enjoy a certain type of summer book. Of course, we were preaching to the choir. These are the parents who actively encourage free reading, take their children to the library, and purchase books. Many had read a number of the titles with their child/ren. Also, they are big readers themselves.

Above is an Animoto movie that I made to highlight the titles on the rising Sixth Grade list. Because we used a "beach" theme, I was able to echo that in the video.

Below is a picture of the terrific parents that showed up last Friday. Hopefully, we can make this an annual affair!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Research, Research, and Even More Research

I haven't posted much this spring. I have been bogged down in research. While I love working with the students and teachers, it's difficult for me to focus on anything else. I find that I cannot read for pleasure when I'm in the midst of a research project. It's hard for me to also do the library work that I need to do. Having four to six classes a day involved in heavy research totally encompasses my time and thoughts.

I wrote earlier of the Holocaust unit that the seventh graders research each year. After we returned from Spring Break, the seventh graders began their Civil War research. This is even more challenging because two of the teachers have the students researching topics about the Civil War such as spying, advancing military techniques, music, women, etc. and the other teacher focuses on the battles. I continue to teach the same skills, but the topics are very different. In four of the classes, we also focused on the students writing an essential question and then turning that question into a thesis. This was quite challenging for the students, but I think it helps them to focus their research and keeps them from writing "reports."

After I finished the Civil War unit, I started a longer unit regarding 20th century China, India, and Africa with the eighth graders. This is the pinnacle research project in the middle school. After reading through a variety of sources, students select their own topics of interest. They prepare an essential question, and after collecting information, write their thesis statements. They also must use a primary source in their research. For the first time, the students are using Chicago (Turabian) Manual of Style and creating in-text citations with endnotes. This proves to be challenging because the kids must determine if something is common knowledge or something to be cited. (What's common knowledge for an adult is very different to a twelve to thirteen year old student.) Some also use much more sophisticated sources that they have used in the past which causes challenges in the citing process. As with the seventh graders, I taught the students to create annotations for all of their sources. The students end with a formal paper including a title page, notes, and annotated bibliography. That's a lot to ask of an eighth grader, but many really rise to the challenge. My colleagues, Paige Ashley, Peggy Turlington, and Monsie Munoz, are such outstanding teachers to work diligently with the students to ensure that this project is accomplished.

At this point, I thought research would be finished for the year, and I could start inventory, work on curriculum, and finish the final book order. That was not to be, however. The fifth grade history teachers had other plans: a unit about famous Romans. This was a personal challenge for me. I had to go from working with eighth graders who are at the pinnacle of their middle school knowledge base to fifth graders who are beginning the research process. Fortunately, the fifth graders were terrific to work with!

In a way, it is good to see the difference in the two grades. It makes me realize how much the students learn in four years. While the fifth graders are beginning to learn how to avoid plagiarism, the eighth graders have a firmer grasp on the techniques for avoiding it. The fifth graders still have difficulties determining the difference between a database article and a web site. The eighth graders, on the other hand, rarely make mistakes regarding the type of article being cited and are locating and using much more sophisticated sources. Eighth graders are learning to construct arguments while fifth graders learn what should be in a paragraph. There's much more, of course, but progress is being made.

I just hope both groups remember what they learned as they progress through their academic careers!

These are the classes that I've taught this spring (from NoodleTools). I've checked hundreds of citations!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Texas Library Association Conference

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio. I LOVE to go to TLA! Each year there's an amazing number of sessions to attend, authors to meet, friends to reconnect with, and tons of "stuff" to learn. I've never been to a bad TLA. Some years are better than others, but this year was really stellar.

On Tuesday I went to Tech Camp. Set up like a "real" camp, we all met in the mess hall to listen to keynote speakers such as Dr. Bruce Ellis, Library Girl Jennifer LaGarde, and Tech Ninja Todd Nesloney. There were terrific breakout sessions as well. We had a "boxed" lunch and even s'mores! I can't wait to try out some of the apps that I learned about as well as all of the features of Google that I didn't even know existed.

Tuesday evening the exhibits opened. I swore I wasn't going to pick up any books, but somehow I ended up bringing about 20 home. More on that later...

Author James Patterson on the big screen. I was sitting so far
back at the Lila Cockrell Theater, my phone wouldn't take
a decent picture of him!
Wednesday morning was the first general session with author James Patterson. I loved how he stressed that it was the parents' job to stress reading in the home. He shared how he got his reluctant reader son, Jack, to read.

I learned about Library Makerspaces, moving the library to the Learning Commons model, and great research ideas from Debbie Abilock. I heard from some terrific Lone Star authors and had a great time at the Nerdy Book Club session. (It was the most fun I've had in a session in a long time. Want to learn to make an Origami Yoda?)

Unfortunately, I had to come home Thursday afternoon because I had classes to teach on Friday. When I checked in at the airport, my suitcase that weighed 37 pounds when I left, now weighed 52 pounds! I was even carrying about ten books in my hand luggage already! Ouch!

It was great seeing some of my great library friends - Walter, Janet, Jane, Trumanell, Renee, Debra, Kim, and more.

Even though my shoulders are sore from carrying so much stuff, my feet are swollen from walking so much, and I had a killer headache most of the time I was in San Antonio, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat!

Can't wait for TLA15 in Austin!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

"Postcards are overrated anyway."

"Oh, yeah?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Yeah, I mean, what's the worst thing you can say to someone who isn't on some beautiful beach with you?"

Lucy shrugged.

"'Wish you were here.'" He rapped his knuckles against a scene from Greece, which was hanging near the bottom. "I mean, come on. If they really wished you were there, they'd have invited you in the first place, right? It's king of mean, if you really think about it. It should say: 'Greece: Where nobody's all that upset you're not here.'"

Lucy and Owen live in the same building in New York City but may as well be a world apart as far as their respective social statuses are concerned. Lucy's parents are wealthy jet-setters who travel around the world leaving Lucy at home. Owen's dad is the building's super and they live in the building's basement.

The two would probably never get to know each other except for a failure in the power grid. While on the elevator, the entire east coast goes into a blackout and the two are stuck together. After a rescue, they inevitably escape to the building's rooftop where they talk and spend the night. It's a night they never forget. While the kids don't know very much about each other, they DO know that they want to know more about each other.

 Lucy's parents send for her to visit London, her mother's hometown.

Finally, she came to an aerial shot, the city spread out from a distance, the River Thames woven through it like a gray ribbon, and there, written on top of it all in bold blue letters, were the words: Wish You Were Here.

Later Lucy's family moves to Edinburg, and Owen and his dad go on a cross-country trip landing in Lake Tahoe. Lucy meets gorgeous Liam and Owen meets Paisley, a girl at his job. Later Owen and his dad stay in San Francisco for awhile and he meets Lucy again when she attends a family wedding.

All is not good, however. When Lucy finds out about Paisley and Owen learns of Liam, things go terribly wrong. It looks like things are over between them. Owen and his dad finally settle in Seattle where his dad finds steady work. Their house in Pennsylvania finally sells, and Owen gets accepted to every college to which he applied.

"In London, Lucy thought of Owen.

And far away in Seattle, Owen was thinking of her, too."

When Owen and his dad travel to close on the house in Pennsylvania, they filter through months of mail.

"He was nearly to the bottom when he spotted it: a postcard of Paris. Without thinking, he snapped the phone shut, hanging up before anyone could answer, and then he sat there staring at it in the faint light of the kitchen: the cathedral at the very center of the city.

Even before he flipped it over to find the note, he was thinking the very same thing: that he wished more than anything that she was here, too. And just like that, his heart - that dead thing inside of him - came to life again."

When Owen emails Lucy, he breaks the silence that has kept them apart. Then they can't keep from emailing over and over. They plan to meet in New York in the summer. Their plans, however, do not mesh. Owen goes back to the rooftop and who should appear?

You're early," he said., but it didn't feel that way to Lucy.

To her, it felt like it had been forever.

 I liked The Geography of You and Me. Lucy and Owen are very likable characters. I was rooting for them to get together even though the distances between them seemed insurmountable. The book was an easy, quick read. It's not Eleanor and Park, nor does it need to be. It's like a summer "Feel Good" movie. It won't win any awards, but you leave the theater with a smile on your face.

(This would also be a great book to use with Google Lit trips. Lucy moves all about Europe and Owen moves about the United States. )