Monday, December 17, 2012

Guest blogger - View from the School Library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

The book club idea sounds like a great idea.  Janet's list reminds me of a couple of titles that I've been meaning to read for long time like Queen's Own Fool and Sara Pennypacker latest title which has just arrived in the Doucette.  Good thing the Christmas break is just around the corner...

Once more with feeling….

So the teacher that I worked with last year to pull together a list of books for her grade 6 class arrived in the library earlier this month with another request. Still trying to encourage “spontaneous reading”, Jane is now starting a monthly book club. She is asking the students to read a book, any book, really, as long as it is age suitable and one that they have not read before. Then they will have a discussion (with cookies). She had brought down her list to me to see what on her list was in the library.

I was pleased that the library had many of the books on her list – but of course, I could not help but add my own two cents to her list.

So here are some of my choices:

Countdown by Deborah Wiles. Tammy has recommended this before on her blog, but I think it bears repeating. It’s a time that I remember vaguely (being very young, of course), but the story of family is timeless. And the inclusion of “artifacts” from that time period makes the book visually interesting as well. There is apparently going to be a second book of an intended three sometime in the future. And her other books are also excellent choices for grade 6 girls (Love, Ruby Lavender etc.)

Queen’s Own Fool and Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen . These are the first two books in the Stuart trilogy. They can be read separately (I read Girl in a cage first), but they both tell of events during the Stuart reign in Scotland. Yolen’s characters are strong young women, in a time when it was very tough to be one – and that is only one of the reasons why I like her books. I think they are historically accurate – not being a historian, I can’t say that with complete authority – but they feel true and are rich in the detail that matters.

Jerry Spinelli  - Stargirl , Loser and other such titles by him. I read Stargirl and even though my elementary and high school years are looong ago, I connected with his story of non-conformity and the challenges it brings, both to those who are “different” and to those who are their friends. This might more correctly be called a teen book – but its innocence makes me wish that more teen books took this style, instead of some of the current trends. Ditto for “Loser”, another of his books.

Scat by Carl Hiaasen – or Hoot or Flush. These are great mysteries, written by an adult mystery author and (successfully, in my view) incorporating an environmental message that is neither preachy nor boring. 

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay. I was first introduced to this book in a mother daughter book club that Tammy facilitated. Since I read it, there have been 4 more books written about this wondrously quirky family. In this book (the first one), we are introduced to the Casson children, all named for paint colours and all with their own endearing charms and quirks.  This is gentle fun writing and I have since read the following titles – and I still like the series.

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. Many of the students are familiar with Pennypacker’s Clementine books and this book is a natural transition for readers who loved those books, but require a book with a little more meat in it. The premise of the story is not completely believable (at least by adult standards) but I enjoyed the interplay between Stella and Angel and I kept reading mostly to find out when they would be “found out”.

I could go on and on. One of the reasons that I love this process is that it keeps me reading books with a view to the question “Who would like this book?”.  Jane’s book club has led both of us into a whole other realm of reading and a new project for her students – but more on that later.


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