Monday, June 28, 2010

Hear yea! Hear yea!

A well told story is worth listening to regardless of the age level it was written for.

I’m talking about audio-books and what a boon they are.  Besides making long road trips to and from Saskatchewan fly by, they have definite advantages for students who struggle with reading.

Whether students are learning a second language or struggling with their first one, having students following along with books in-hand, listening at the same time, will garner results.

Several good reading strategy books also suggest that listening to good, fluent reading with proper pronunciation of words and following rules of grammar are more beneficial than having struggling readers read-aloud to each other.

So, with summer road trips nigh to commence (and to help avoid the reading slump), here are some of my favorite books on CD to take along:

Because of Winn-Dixie (by Kate DiCamillo), read by Cherry Jones. (823 D547B CD)

Bucking the Sarge (by Christopher Paul Curtis), read by Michael Boatman

Bud, not Buddy (by Christopher Paul Curtis), read by James Avery. (823 C941B CD)

Elijah of Buxton (by Christopher Paul Curtis), read by Mirron Willis. (823 C941E CD).

The Watsons’ Go To Birminghan, 1963 (by Christopher Paul Curtis), read by LeVar Burton. (823 C941W 1996 CD)

(You might have guessed that I really like Christopher Paul Curtis’ stories. They have such likable characters with strong voices that make them easy to engage with. And then, to boot, the readers of the audio versions are all fantastic, too.)

Love that Dog (by Sharon Creech), read by Scott Wolf. (823 C8616L CD)

Knucklehead : tall tales and mostly true stories about growing up Scieszka (by Jon Scieszka) read by the author. (823 SCI27ZK 2008 CD)

The House of the Scorpion (by Nancy Farmer), read by Raul Esparza. (823 F2294H 2008 CD)

Ender’s Game (by Orson Scott Card), read by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison & cast. (823 C178E 2994 CD)

Hana’s Suitcase : a Documentary (produced by Karen Levine), told by Fumiko Ishioka and George Brady. (940.5318 LeHa 2004 CD)

Most of these are appropriate for ages 8-12 with the exception of Bucking the Sarge, Ender's Game and The House of the Scorpion which I would recommend for ages 12 and up.   Hana's Suitcase for ages 10 and up.  All are great for adults, too, as my partner, Bob (a non-children's literature aficionado) can attest.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It could have been so different

Strictly speaking, this posting is not so much about resources and connecting them to teaching but rather about a curriculum subject that throws me and a good many people into bouts of the heebie-jeebies – math.

A recent case of the aforementioned heebie-jeebies was just this past year when I was asked to develop a workshop around resources for teaching science and math.  Science, no problem. But math – OMG!!  Even the idea of just talking about math resources was enough to cause me to break out, toss and turn at night and develop a nervous tick over my left eyebrow.

So, whenever I run into a situation where I feel totally out of my comfort zone, I break it down and start to read.  And, man, did I read.  I had six weeks to prep and every moment I could, I read about math.  Egad! But I did learn an awful lot mostly about how my own math experiences in school were all too common and could have been very different.  All those seemingly random rules could have been placed in contexts that would have helped develop my understanding and shown me connections with the real world.

(If you’d like to know what I read, here’s a link to a short bibliography of some of the most helpful resources:Recommended Reading for Teaching Elementary Math and Science.
Read The Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart (510.71 LOM 2009)  for a short, interesting discourse on math in schools today and practical strategies on how to make it different.)

Now, to my real intent with this posting - I would direct your attention to the following TED talk by Dan Meyer, a high school math teacher who also provides some insights into teaching math, but just as importantly about developing thinking and problem solving skills with students.

As to my enlightenment, well let’s just say I really do wish the way I learned math had been different but I'm not looking to do it all over again, either.  Oh, and the tick over my left eyebrow – hardly ever shows when the subject of math comes up now.  Baby steps…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

National Aboriginal Day (Canada) – June, 21, 2010

This is a day that celebrates the cultures and contributions of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

And so, to celebrate, I’d like to highlight a few Canadian First Nations authors that contribute to the canon of children’s literature with wonderful stories that have drawn me in and told me something I didn’t know.

The first two books I recommend are historical:
Shi-shi-etko by Nicola Campbell (823 C1532S PIC BK) about a young girl leaving her home to go to residential school. Over the last few days she takes in all the wonderful details of her home that she loves, the beauty of nature, and her family. This story has a quiet, reflective quality. But there is sorrow, too, which I think as a reader, we layer on, as many of us know that life at residential schools often resulted in irrevocable changes for its students and seldom for the better.  But would children feel the same? Wonderful illustrations tenderly look at Shi-shi-etko’s world. (Suggested for grades 1-4)

My name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (823 St458M FIC) is also about the residential school experience.  This is based on the author’s own experiences that introduce us more fully to the hardships and cruelty that was often the norm for Aboriginal children.  (Suggested for grades 5 and up.)

I love Thomas King’s writing and recommend A Coyote Columbus Story (823 K598C PIC BK).  This is a Christopher Columbus story with a twist. Coyote is creator of all things and for the love of baseball she cooks up schemes to find people to play with. Columbus and his crew come along looking for India and stuff to sell, like gold, computer games, videos.  Nothing is as it should be and it gets crazier as the story develops.  The illustrations by William Kent Monkman add a lot to the whole wildness of the story. (Suggested for grades 3 and 12.  Lots to work with.)

Also, check out Dreadful Water shows up and The Red power murders, also written by Thomas King.  These two detective/mystery novels (with another in the works) would be suitable for grades 10 and up.

A contemporary, coming-of-age novel that just crossed my radar is The lesser blessed by Richard Van Camp (823 V2767L FIC).  It deals with a lot of common adolescent issues, school, complicated social scene, love, sex and family trust issues told from the perspective of a Dogrib Dene young man. I don’t usually go for stories with a lot of teenage angst but this one pulled me through with the writing.  (Suggested for grades 11 and up).

PaperTigers  also recently highlighted First Nations writers including lists of favorite children's books, interviews with authors  (including a very interesting one with Richard van Camp - must be read!) and online support resources.

I would also direct your attention to a blog that I recently found
Twinkle's Happy Place,
written by Starleigh Grass, gives us perspective about integrating Aboriginal content into classroom teaching as well as recommending some very worthwhile resources for teachers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Refugee Day – June 20, 2010

The U.N. Refugee Agency has chosen the theme of HOME – “They have taken my home but they can't take my future”, to mark this year’s World Refugee Day on 20 June.

I’ll take any opportunity to make recommendations for some of my favorite books, especially those that touch on social issues.  This June 20th, the United Nations is looking to increase awareness about the plight of refugees, centered on the theme of home.

The first book I’d strongly recommend is Home of the brave by Katherine Applegate (823 Ap53H FIC).  It’s told using narrative verse, about Kek, a young Sudanese refugee, who has just arrived in the United States with few possessions but, nevertheless, carrying a lot of baggage.  His primary concern is finding his mother who remains missing in Africa.  By nature an optimist, Kek begins to redefine and rediscover his sense of home, as he makes friends, finds a place in the community and takes on the care of sad and lonely cow who reminds him of his community in Sudan.  Humorous, touching, and downright sad at times, we learn a lot about the meaning of home in this novel for ages 10-13.

Four feet, two sandals  by Karen Lynn Williams (823 W6733F PIC BK) is a picture book relating what the daily grind in a refugee camp is like for two Afghani girls, brought together when they each receive one of a pair of sandals.  By sharing the sandals, their friendship grows and we discover what stories and hopes they bring to their new lives.  A really wonderful partnership between story and illustrations.  I recommend this for grades 2-6.

My last suggestion is The Arrival by Shaun Tan (823 T155A FIC) which I recommend every chance I get.  I love the potential this book embodies.  Because this is a story told without words, a graphic novel, kids of varying ages (grades 3/4 and up) and reading abilities can ‘read’ this book.  Topics and themes that could be discussed are: refugees/immigrants, home, family, daily life, relationships, kindness, compassion, adapting to new circumstances, resiliency, community fantasy, storytelling - the list can go on, I’m sure.  The illustrations are incredibly detailed, giving us a sense of a very different place and time that allows for multiple interpretations by individual readers.  Did I mention that I love this book?  Really…

All three books look at what home means, especially when it is threatened and taken away.  All three books give hope that the lives of the books’ characters will change for the better.

To read more about World Refugee Day, please go to The UN Refugee Agency website.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Black-Canadian history - Nonfiction Monday

Nothing like poking around on the internet on a Friday afternoon and coming across a ‘new’ favorite website.  Which is exactly what happened when I found Black History Canada .

I got sucked in but good!  Tons of fascinating stories (see Profiles section) are to be found here. Some are told in short movie clips, others as informative, written narratives that tell of Black experiences in Canada from the early 1600s to today.  Check out the teacher’s section which shows how this topic ties into school curriculum across Canada plus, a list for a multitude of online resources.

This is also one of those cases of serendipity as I had recently been discussing with a colleague a few exceptional books about this facet of Canadian history.  Living in Canada after escaping slavery, certainly did not a guarantee an easy life as the following three books attest.

Read on:

Season of Rage by John Cooper (323.1196 COS 2005) was a real eye-opener for me as I hadn’t realized the extent of segregation here in Canada.  Weren’t we Canadians supposed to be a whole lot ‘nicer’ than the Americans?   Not necessarily so.  This book tells of a small slice Black civil rights movement in Canada. Suggested for grades 6 and up.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (823 C941E FIC) (one of my all time favorite authors) is a fictional account of the first free-born child born in Buxton, Ontario, a settlement established by ex-slaves.  Funny, sad, and suspenseful, which adds up to an excellent read. Suggested for grades 4 to 8.

5000 miles to freedom : Ellen and William Craft's flight from slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin (973.6 FRF 2006) also reads with a great deal of suspense that had me gripped from the start.  Though only a small segment of the Crafts’ story takes place in Canada it was still illuminating to see how they were received in eastern Canada.  A fascinating true story.  Suggested for grades 5-10.

Though I’ve only listed three books I could have included many more.  Please send in other suggestions.

One last resource to check out is the blog, Fledging written by Zetta Elliott.  She has compiled an interesting list of books published in Canada since 2000 that are by and about black people. Well worth a look.

Join Nonfiction Monday Roundup by clicking on the box below to go to Books Together blog and see a list of recent blogs dedicated to highlighting nonfiction resources.

Nonfiction Monday

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summertime reading pile – Update: No. 1.

My blog posting of April 20th listed a few oldies, and hopefully goodies-books that I had missed as they arrived in the Doucette and had slated for my summertime reading pile.

I’ve been a reading, mad woman the last while and have mostly gone through the aforementioned list plus some.

Here are a few observations.  Take them for what they’re worth.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
Recently reissued from the 1960s book, it does have an old-fashioned sensibility in the storytelling which I did enjoy.  The book differs significantly from the movie I remember seeing as a kid but still had a good sense of adventure if not entirely realistic. I had hoped that the story would have relevance to the science curriculum with the father being an inventor and the car needing to be rebuilt.  Not such a strong science connection.  Would recommend it as a read aloud for elementary grades as good, gentle family fair.

The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli
As it takes place during the Italian Renaissance, I thought this might be one I’d recommend as a tie-in to the social studies curriculum.  Though I did like the book, it probably wouldn’t be the book I’d recommend first.  I think the book, Leonardo’s Shadow by Christopher Peter Grey (823 G8687L FIC) works better.  Both show some of the same political scheming of the time period though the books take place in different cities, one in Florence and the other in Milan.  Leonardo da Vinci is in both, though more significantly in Leonardo’s Shadow, and we get to ‘know’ his complex character and brilliant mind better in it.  Suggested for grades 7 and up.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Wow!  I really liked this one.  I really liked Jenny’s last one (see blog April 26th) Finding Violet Parks.  She comes up with such interesting premises that draw you in and leave you wanting more.  About half way through this one I could see where this was going and still enjoyed the journey.  It is about relationships between family and friends with a little coming-to-terms-with-grief thrown in.  Recommended as YA.

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going
Quite liked this, too. It’s one of those “quiet reads” where you get to know the characters, where there’s not a lot of really, big action but lots of everyday occurrences that add up to something meaningful and special.  Takes place around the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. with best friends Gabriel (white) and Frita (black) helping each other deal with big and small fears alike. Suggested for grades 4 to 7ish.

I’ve just started into The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.  Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

World Environment Day – June 5th, 2010

This is a great opportunity for me to mention a couple of resources that tie in with the environment and how interconnected things are.  Getting kids to do their part to conserve (recycling) and preserve (turn the tap off while brushing your teeth) the Earth is one thing, but do they really know why they do these things? Part of the challenge of getting kids to buy into why they should care about the planet is that some have very little to do with the great outdoors (see Last child in the woods (155.4 LOL 2008)).  It’s possible the next couple of resources will provide a little more substance for addressing the ‘why’.

First is Suzuki speaks (304.2 SuZ 2003 DVD).  This documentary film gives us insight into where Canadian scientist and environmentalist, David Suzuki gets his passion for the natural world.  By looking at the world within the framework of the Northwest Coast First Nations (humans, as with all living things, consist of four scared elements; earth, air, water and fire) he realized,

 “…we’ve framed the environmental problem the wrong way. There’s no environment "out there" for us to interact with. We are the environment, because we are the Earth. For me, that began a whole shift in the way that I looked at the issues that confront us and the way we live on this planet.”

This is a fascinating journey with stunning computer graphics and visual effects, moving us through the four elements, linking us and all things over time and space.  Who wouldn’t be tickled to know that the air we breathe today is the same air inhaled by the dinosaurs?  Cool, eh? Watch to find out how scientists figured this out.

The next resource, When a butterfly sneezes: a guide for helping kids explore interconnections in our world through favorite stories (003 SwW 2001) is taken from the idea that a butterfly sneeze can change the weather thousands of miles away.  Stories such as If you give a mouse a cookie, The cat in the hat comes back, Zoom, A river ran wild, Tree of life plus seven more, looks at cause-and-effect relationships, unintended consequences of actions, perspectives based on assumptions and other elements of systems thinking which allow children (and adults) to find patterns in the world and see important interrelationships.

Take A river ran wild by Lynne Cherry a true story about the Nashua River and the impact of industrial development on the river and First Nations people.  This real-life example allows kids to look at how rivers are used and sometimes abused and to prevent the degradation of this natural resource.

To know more about World Environment Day go to the United Nations Environmental Programme website, WED2010.

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