14 April 2011

In Camelot

Isaac brought home a Magic Tree House book from the school library last week. We have been working some chapter books into our nightly ritual, so we have been reading a couple of chapters at a time. This series has gotten a mixed reception from our family.

Matt prefers Junie B. Jones, while the main character in those books makes me want to tear out my hair. Isaac loves Junie B., just like his dad. I, however, prefer this series. They are fantasy adventures, that also provide some information depending on where the current story is taking the main characters. Isaac will listen to them, but not with the same enthusiasm as Junie B. Jones.

The premise of the series is a Magic Tree House filled with books that connects Jack and Annie to Morgan le Fey, who is (according to these books) the librarian of Camelot and a sorceress, who then sends them on adventures, or quests, using the books found in the tree house. Throughout the series, the children travel to real and mythical places. Now, my college roommate who has a Ph.D. in medieval literature would take offense at the twisting of the Arthurian legends, but I have a less academic connection to these myths and am attracted by the use of popular stories to frame a children's series.

There are also research guides to accompany some of the titles which can further the reader's study of something that was mentioned in the book. We are just about finished with our first foray into "The Magic Tree House" adventures and I hope that Isaac will continue to be interested in them. Matt can read Junie B. Jones, but these will be my domain.

Books to Make a Mom Swoon

As the mom of a boy, I am having to deal with my disgust of all things creepy and crawly. I don't swoon if I sight a spider or other small, many-legged creature. But you may see me visibly shudder if one comes too close. I am not enthralled with slimy and slithering animals either, and prefer to stand back in the amphibian and reptile room at the zoo or science center. Isaac, on the other hand, makes a beeline for the sharks and snakes and revels in my aversion to the moray eel.

I can usually handle seeing pictures of these animals. Unlike the second grade girls that I teach, I will not scream when confronted with a color photograph in a book. But Nic Bishop's photographs in Spiders put my fainting response to the test. If the pictures were of flowers or fuzzy animals, I would rave about how gorgeous and life-like they are. I can say they are definitely life-like, as attested by my full-body shudders when I was reading the book to Isaac.

But, as much as I prefer less realistic pictures of anything creepy, crawly, slithery or slimy, I know that Bishop's books are great for boys. He has provided photographs for other authors and written his own books, and many of the books that he has worked on are highly regarded. He does take photographs of animals that evoke more warm and cuddly responses, but I think his books focused on the smaller, harder to capture animals are the best. Even if your boy only peruses the pictures while you read the captions to him, they are well worth the time.

13 April 2011

Spring Reading

It's time for another composite post. We have been reading library books and I have been listing titles that I wanted to write about, but the list keeps getting longer and I never seem to have time to sit and write about each book. So here is a recap of a few that Isaac has enjoyed this month.

Late for School by Stephanie Calmenson was Isaac's favorite of the pile we brought home a few weeks ago. In this book the teacher breaks his own rule about never being late for school when his car won't start and every other means of transportation he tries falls through. The illustrations are colorful and the text is fast-paced. It's a great book for talking about modes of transportation and time, or even having a discussion about good or bad rules. But it is also funny, which will appeal to most kids.

The Show and Tell Lion by Barbara Abercrombie was one Isaac really liked, as well, and it was one of my favorites, too. Isaac brings something to school every week to "show" his class. It's a big deal to a kindergartener to be able to share. In this book, a little boy has nothing to show or tell, so he makes up a story about having a pet lion. His classmates are fascinated and ask him every day for news about his lion. His story gets out of control, when his friends want to see his pet. He finally has to admit to his lie, but he ends up writing his lion stories down and adding new ones that he shares with his class every week.

How Do You Wokka-Wokka? by Elizabeth Bluemle was my favorite of the pile. Isaac liked it, but I had more fun reading it. In it a little boy has his own way to wokka-wokka (dance, walk, move, etc.). As he wokka-wokkas through his neighborhood, his friends show off their unique moves. It is a great book for celebrating individuality. The text is written in rhyme, so the rhythm of the dancing comes through in the beat of the words. On the last page, everyone is wokka-wokkaing in a big block party. Isaac and I talked on this page about which were our favorites and why. He liked the boy who moved like a fish. I liked the girl who stood like a flamingo. This book has been mentioned on many "best" lists in recent months.

If you are looking for non-chocolate treats to add to Easter baskets, these would be great additions.

12 April 2011

Book Fair Maybe Not So Fair

It is book fair week at my school. I simultaneously look forward to and dread the coming of this week. It is a break from a class schedule and routine that by mid-April has become draining. Book Fair week gives me a chance to see the students at different times and in a different environment. But it is also the week I dread the most each year and threaten to never do again when I am in the middle of it. My school is a Title I school, and most of our students are from impoverished homes. We do not have a functioning PTA and parent involvement is very low, so book fair falls to me to plan and pull off. I like to think I have streamlined the process to the point that I have it down to a science and I try my best not to stress about it too much before hand. But it is still exhausting, and I wonder if I make enough money during the week to make it worth while.

The students, for the most part, love Book Fair, but times are hard for our families. They are always hard, it is not the recession that has caused their poverty. This year, only a day into the week, I have already heard many students comment that their moms don't have money to give them for books or their moms will be mad if they ask for money. I am really questioning if it is fair to have an event like this when so many students are left out.

When I read this blog post that is circulating among educators and librarians, it hit me harder than it may have at another time in the school year. I am already feeling vulnerable and unsure about what my job really is, and just plain tired of the political wrangling that threatens our students as politicians debate what is best for education. The blogger makes points that I whole-heartedly agree with. We are doing our children, especially the students at my school and others in similar situations, an injustice by focusing on testing to the extreme that we do. There is so much that affects their achievement and most of it happens outside the classroom.

We have a well-stocked library at home and we visit our public library regularly. Isaac brings home books from his school library to read each week and he and his daddy make semi-regular visits to the comic store and the used book store. Isaac is not one of the children that the blogger is referring to. He is healthy, well-fed, taken care of and read to. He will succeed in school because he has the support of his parents and his family and his church. But I see so many students everyday that do not have those advantages, that have experienced or are experiencing just about every scenario the blogger mentioned. It becomes overwhelming, especially when teachers are told, through actions if not words, that everything we try to do isn't good enough.

Right now, in the middle of Book Fair, I am again feeling that maybe this should be the last one for a while. Not because I don't make enough money to make it worthwhile, because as one of my colleagues said yesterday, even the little bit I get helps. But because I don't like the pressure it puts on the children who already carry enough burdens around with them. Of course, there is the argument that some children do get books from Book Fair who wouldn't otherwise be taken to a book store or even the public library and any effort we make to get books in children's hands is worthwhile. It's not a decision I will make now, I am too emotionally caught up to be practical about it. And, to be perfectly honest, I am probably kidding myself that I will seriously consider not holding the event next year. But I have some thinking to do.

Now to make it through the rest of the week.

Live and Let Spy

What is it with little boys and all things spy related? The sense of adventure? The appeal of having secrets? The guns and other cool spy "toys?" Probably all of these, I would guess. And I don't think it is just boys -- I am sure there are many girls who get caught up in spy games. I myself find the culture fascinating. When we were in DC a few summers ago, the one place my husband insisted we visit was the Spy Museum and I think I was more enthralled than either of the boys were. Isaac has not escaped the spy bug, though he was too young to really appreciate the Spy Museum. But he does love spy toys. He bought a small nerf gun on one of his yard sale expeditions with his father recently and he will walk around the house, sneaking around corners, trying to catch one of us unaware.

Since spies are a hot topic at our house, I picked up Agent A to Agent Z by Andy Rash at the library a few visits ago. Each agent is on a mission to complete an assignment that begins with the letter of its name and Agent A is supposed to find the spy who is not carrying out the assignment. As an alphabet book the concept doesn't hold up real well. Some of the associated jobs are not linked well to the letter. But as a spy book it is fun. The 1960's looking art makes me think of "Mission Impossible" and Sean Connery James Bond movies. The last page of the book depicts all of the Agents at a Spy Dance. Isaac enjoyed looking through and picking out which were his favorites and remembering what their mission was.

I don't know that there was much Isaac could learn about spying from this book, but he is still working on his stealth approach and peaking around corners waiting to ambush an unsuspecting parent. Visitors beware.