Thursday, August 28, 2008

Madeline is Back!

If you are a fan of the Madeline books, you will be thrilled with this news I just received!

You may remember the classic children’s book series, Madeline, from your own childhood. The Madeline books, written and illustrated by renowned artist and writer, Ludwig Bemelmans, told the story of a young schoolgirl in Paris and her adventures throughout the city. This September, Ludwig’s grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, will be releasing the first Madeline book in 50 years, the eagerly anticipated, Madeline and the Cats of Rome. The Madeline titles have already sold over 11 million copies worldwide.

The Paris skies are grey and rainy, so Miss Clavel and the twelve little girls set out for Rome, where just like in Paris, Madeline manages to get herself involved in some tricky predicaments. Allowing a whole new generation to experience Madeline’s adventures, Madeline and the Cats of Rome combines a lively story with luminous gouache and watercolor illustrations. Marciano, a self taught illustrator, carefully studied the materials and techniques his grandfather used to create the original series and spent three years living in Italy painting and researching the book.
The book will be available in early September nationwide.

Around the Blogosphere: Rock Star Edition

One of these men is a rock star, one thinks he's a rock star, and one is a rock star illustrator of children's picturebooks. If you picked Lane Smith in the picture to the far right as the rock star illustrator, you're right! (You decide between the other two which is the rock star and which thinks he's a rock star). The blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a wonderful interview with Lane Smith and his wife Molly Leach along with illustrations from many of his books including his two newest books, Big Plans and Madam President.

Listen to an interview with the fabulous Lauren Child on NPR as she talks about her latest book in the Clarice Bean series, Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now, and about her successful "Charlie and Lola" books and their television spin off.

Cynsations has a wonderful interview with author Joseph Bruchac in which he talks about four of his books that he considers his favorites and about his newest book Buffalo Song.

Neil Gaiman's Coraline has been adapted to an stop-motion, 3-D animated film directed by Henry Selick and will be in a theater near you on February 6, 2009. See the trailer here. For me, Coraline is one of the few really scary books for younger children, so I'm hoping the film will do it justice.

I've always thought Oprah should have a book club for children. Now, Oprah has a kid's reading list as recommended by the American Library Association. The 100-book list is mostly composed of titles published in the last two years, with about 25 percent classics, categorized by age group: birth to two, three to five, six to nine, 10 to 12, and 12 and up.

That's all for the rock star round up this week. Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Classroom Reading Areas

This post is dedicated to teachers who are working very hard this time of year to create beautiful reading spaces in their classrooms. The photos featured to the left are of the reading "corner" in Wendy Melzer's second grade classroom. I was so lucky to have Wendy in my children's literature course and then doubly lucky that she let me observe in her wonderful classroom. What a treat!

Wendy has created a classroom that from the moment you walk into the room, you know she is a book lover. It is part of who she is and how she teaches. Just look at the wonderful Caldecott bookcases! These books are prominently displayed to show their award winning illustrations and to entice kids to read them. Wendy's students learn all about the importance of illustrations to reading comprehension early in the year. By then end of the year, they are artistic connoisseurs! Last year, the students decided to have their own award, "The Melzercott" that they awarded to the books they thought should have won awards for outstanding illustrations. You've gotta love it!

These are additonal shelves and cases for the hundreds of other picturebooks of all genres from which children have the opportunity to read during independent reading time throughout the year. Wendy includes books she has read aloud, books that fit within a particular unit of study such as science and social studies, and books by a particiular author the students have studied. Of course, the area in the middle makes a nice little place for kids to read.

Some people believe that when children reach a certain age, they should no longer be allowed to read picturebooks. There are several reasons why this should never be the case. First, picturebooks are not written at any particular level. Their vocabulary and sophistication spans the ages. Second, many students (as well as adults) are visual learners. Picturebooks can convey very difficult content in a format that accommodates visual learners. Finally, picturebooks delight! When students are turned off or struggling readers, a picturebook can go a long way in engaging students with reading in an undaunting, fun way.

The second graders in Wendy's classroom love series books! Here you see that she has many sets of series books in a case all of their own. Students are given a divider with their name printed on it to slip into the spot from where they pulled their book so they can easily find the spot again when they are ready to return the book. Pretty slick, huh?

Though some series books are not quite the quality we would like to see our children read, they are just what students need who are starting to read chapter books. Subsequent books in a series provide familiar characters and settings so students feel like they are revisiting old friends. They also provide background information so that students can make predictions about what might happen based on the first book (i.e., based on the first book in the Judy Moody series, students can easily predict that the main character might be mischievous or inclined toward getting into trouble in the second book).

In this picture, you can see how Wendy has created ambiance with the pencil lamp and the little characters/books across the top of the book cases. You can't really see it, but the book cases come together to make another nice little reading area. The poster in the back has the "5 Finger Rule" displayed. The 5 finger rule is one way of helping students decide if they can read a book they have independently chosen. The child opens the book to any page and starts reading. While reading, the child holds up one finger for every word they don't know. When the child has finished the page, if all five fingers are up, the book is too hard. If two or three fingers are up, the book is probably just right, and if no fingers are up, the book might be too easy. Of course, Wendy had previously taught her students how to use the 5 finger rule during mini lessons before placing the chart in the reading center.

Creating warm, inviting, well stocked reading centers in the classroom doesn't have to be expensive. Wendy is a garage sale guru! Many of the books and other items in her room were "fabulous finds" at garage sales or other bargain stores. What made it all come together is the love she put into the design and the careful thought process she used to organize the space she had available.

I really enjoy seeing how teachers create, design, and organize their classroom libraries. You can see how Karen organizes her fifth grade classroom at Literate Lives and how Franki organizes her fourth grade classroom at A Year of Reading. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

And do it like this...

I am a huge fan of Mem Fox, not only as a children's author, but also as a teacher educator. I remember feeling validated and impassioned by Radical Reflections: Passionate Opinions on Teaching, Learning, and Living (read Mem's thoughts on Radical Reflections here). When Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, came out in 2001, I wasn't surprised to find it just as affirming and inspiring. Mem Fox came to my area on tour for the book and I was lucky enough to attend. She is everything you would hope a read aloud guru would be and more! I was so thankful to have a book by a famous children's author that conveyed, in no uncertain terms, the importance of parents and other adults reading aloud to children from birth on. I emphasize ON because we should never stop reading to our kids, whether our own children or the students we teach. Reading aloud is the single greatest gift we can give them (besides our love and attention) and they are never too old to benefit from and enjoy the experience. I give Reading Magic to every expectant mother as a baby shower gift, along with Koala Lou! However, it should also be required reading for every teacher.

On July 7, an updated and revised version of Reading Magic was released by Harcourt. New chapters on boy readers and phonics and a list of "Twenty Books That Children Love." I love everything about this book, but I particularly love the chapter titled, And Do It Like This (p. 39-52) in which Mem talks about how to read aloud well. I have a treat for you...Mem actually reads this chapter aloud on her website!!! Hearing Mem read aloud a chapter on how to read aloud is brilliant. And there's more. She also reads aloud three of her books: Koala Lou, Sleepy Bears, and Tough Boris. There's nothing like learning how to read aloud by the master. Pure joy!

In The Joy of Children's Literature, I discuss using information from Mem's website with children. It is a plethora of information on herself and each of her books. I especially enjoyed reading Mem's description of the complicated process of writing Green Sheep. Those of us who love picturebooks know their creation is not simple, but Mem's reflection on the process shows us why.

I encourage you to read the updated and revised version of Reading Magic along with all of Mem's children's books and share them with as many people as possible.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Studies of Popular Reading Texts Don't Make Grade

From Education Week, reported by Kathleen Manzo:

"Two well-known commercial reading programs, which have been adopted by some of the nation’s largest school districts and have met the strict requirements for research-based programs under the federal Reading First initiative, failed to earn ratings from the What Works Clearinghouse because they do not have any studies that satisfy the agency’s rigorous evidence standards.

Reports on Open Court Reading and Reading Mastery, both highly structured texts published by the Columbus, Ohio-based SRA McGraw-Hill, were released Tuesday by the clearinghouse, a program of the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, to vet effectiveness studies on educational programs and practices."

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Welcome Back to School" Poem

Welcome Back to School

by Kenn Nesbitt

“Dear students, the summer has ended.
The school year at last has begun.
But this year is totally different.
I promise we’ll only have fun.

“We won’t study any mathematics,
and recess will last all day long.
Instead of the Pledge of Allegiance,
we’ll belt out a rock ’n’ roll song.

“We’ll only play games in the classroom.
You’re welcome to bring in your toys.
It’s okay to run in the hallways.
It’s great if you make lots of noise.

“For homework, you’ll play your Nintendo.
You’ll have to watch lots of TV.
For field trips we’ll go to the movies
and get lots of candy for free.

“The lunchroom will only serve chocolate
and Triple-Fudge Sundaes Supreme.”
Yes, that’s what I heard from my teacher
before I woke up from my dream.
From: Revenge of the Lunch Ladies published by Meadowbrook Press

Monday, August 11, 2008

Around the Blogosphere: Back to School Edition

The start of a new school year has sparked quite a few organizations, groups, and individuals around the blogosphere to post back to school resources. Take a look at these juicy tidbits!

The Big Fresh from Choice Literacy offers teachers and literacy coaches ideas for classroom organization.

Reading Rockets Back to School Newsletter features a plethora of ideas including: Back to school night, 90 minute literacy block, creating a welcoming classroom for ELLs, looking at the literacy coach, and a nice selection of articles on graphic novels which includes a video by Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese, on the making of a graphic novel. offers practical advice for parents on cultivating a child's love of reading in the age of Internet, television, and video games. This would be a great article to send home to parents during the first week of school.

Looking for ways to find out about great books to bring into the classroom or for your students to connect with other book lovers? Online Education Database offers: 100 Places to Connect With Other Bibliophiles Online.

All About Adolescent Literacy or is a relatively new website designed to provide resources for grades 4-12. The site provides information on comprehension instruction, book recommendations for teens, video interviews with authors of teen books such as David Lubar and Brian Selznick, and much, much more.

You might be interested in podcasting this year with your students. An NCTE Inbox post provides lots of resources on what it is, how to get started, and ideas for podcasts. The article point out one particular podcast you might be interested in watching by ReadWriteThink titled: Chatting About Books: Recommendations for Young Readers and Text Messages: Recommendations for Teen Readers. Both have current podcasts on back to school books.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

First Day of School Read Alouds

I absolutely love the first day of school! I love everything about it...from the smell of new school supplies to the anticipation of meeting a new teacher and classmates to the joy of seeing old friends again. Teachers spend a great deal of time prior to the first day of school arranging their classrooms into inviting spaces that reflect their joy and expectations for learning. This carefully crafted environment sets the tone for the rest of the school year.

Just as the clasroom environment must be intentionally arranged, the first day read aloud must be intentionally selected. Why? What's the big deal about the first read aloud? Just as the classroom environment sets the tone for learning, the first read aloud sets the tone for creating community. I think Mem Fox says it best,

As we share the words and pictures, the ideas and viewpoints, the rhythms and rhymes, the pain and comfort, and the hopes and fears and big issues of life that we encounter together in the pages of a book, we connect through minds and hearts with our children and bond closely in a secret society associated with the books we have shared. The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn't achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who's reading aloud--it's the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.

Simply put, reading aloud to children is giving them the gift of time, time to read aloud together, to talk to each other, and to bond.

Below are a few of my favorite first day read alouds:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and Judith Love

Sarah is afraid to start at a new school, but both she and the reader are in for a surprise when she gets to her class.

I have read this book aloud on the first day of classes for the past several years. It sends the message that sometimes teachers are just as nervous and excited about the first day of school as the kids.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum loves her name, until she starts going to school and the other children make fun of it.

You've gotta love Kevin Henkes! He adeptly captures how much kids (of all ages) love their name. Reading this book on the first day of school allows the teacher and students to talk about how names are special and no one likes to be teased.

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, pictures by Gabi Swiatkowska

Disliking her name as written in English, Korean-born Yoon, or "shining wisdom," refers to herself as "cat," "bird," and "cupcake," as a way to feel more comfortable in her new school and new country.

Another wonderful book about the importance of names.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Lilly loves everything about school, especially her teacher, but when he asks her to wait a while before showing her new purse, she does something for which she is very sorry later.

Lilly is such a diva! Children will laugh at Lilly's escapades even though they have such items at home as Lilly's purple plastic purse that they would love to bring to school.

David Goes to School by David Shannon

David’s activities in school include chewing gum, talking out of turn, and engaging in a food fight, causing his teacher to say over and over, "No, David!"

A great book to invite children to laugh with you at all of David's crazy antics and to discuss why there are rules at school.

Wow! School! by Robert Neubecker

Izzy finds many things to be excited about on the first day of school.

This book is full of full page, colorful illustrations of all of the wonderful things kids get to do and learn at school. Makes for a wonderful introduction to the school curriculum and schedule.

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison, Kevin Hawkes

Velma starts first grade in the shadow of her memorable older sisters, and while her newfound interest in butterflies helps her to stand out, it also leads to an interesting complication.

Most children have siblings and can relate to Velma's plight yet illustrates how we all are different and unique.

First Day in Grapes by L King Pérez, Robert Casilla

When Chico starts the third grade after his migrant worker family moves to begin harvesting California grapes, he finds that self confidence and math skills help him cope with the first day of school.

Another great story for older students that conveys that everyone has strengths.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

A schoolboy tell his class about his summer vacation, during which he joined a group of cowboys and stopped a cattle stampede.

This imaginative tale is just the ticket for avoiding the dreaded "what I did on my summer vacation report." Children will crack up at the story Wallace tell's his class about his summer vacation.

What is your favorite first day of school read aloud?