Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

This spring when educator friends went to IRA in Chicago I was jealous. As tweets came out about the advanced reading copies they found, there was one in particular I was dying to read, Capture the Flag by Kate Messner.

See when I first joined Twitter almost three years ago, I somehow found Kate then. Her new book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z was coming out that September. I knew she was a teacher. I still remember going to Barnes and Noble and seeing the book on the shelves, taking a picture and tweeting it to her after I bought it. She said it was the first viewing of it in the wild. J

After reading and falling in love with Gianna, I shared it with my school librarian. She decided to base our family reading night around it and Kate agreed to Skype with our school. It was wonderful and cemented me forever as a fan of Kate Messner.

Along the way she has written more amazing books – Sugar and Ice, the Marty McGuire series, Eye of the Storm, Sea Monster’s First Day, and Over and Under the Snow. I have purchased and loved them all. So now you can understand my jealousy of the wonderful friends who were reading Capture the Flag!

Flash forward to yesterday.  John Schu had Kate visit his blog to discuss the new book. Kate even posted on the Nerdy Book Club discussing her love of reading and researching. (There is a giveaway of the book on both blogs!) I was quickly checking again to see the release date for Capture the Flag, had they miraculously moved it up to June 1st? Nope, still July 1st. Then someone tweeted gratitude to Kate, Capture the Flag had been delivered to their mailbox today. The seed of hope was planted. Sometimes Scholastic sends me copies of her books ahead of time, but they are delivered to school. I raced to school, said hello to our wonderful secretaries, and turned to my mailbox. I let out a loud, “WOO HOO!” which made them jump. A package! It was here!

Quick goodbyes all around and I drove home. I told their boys they were on their own for a bit and dove onto my bed to read.

How to quickly summarize this book is difficult. It reminded me of the National Treasure movies (and one of the kids even said that in the book.) Three children; Anna, Jose, and Henry, meet at the start of the book. All of them are from Vermont but are in Washington D.C. at an event their parents (or aunt) has been invited to at the Smithsonian. Once the event is over someone steals the famous flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner”. This is announced on the news the next day when the kids and their families are at the airport trying to fly home. However D.C. has been hit by a blizzard and all flights are cancelled. The children at this point meet each other and then eventually decide that if they are stuck, the culprits might be stuck too. At first they are only casually trying to solve the crime. But as they get personally involved, and the stakes rise, they race against time (and flight departures) to finish the job.

I loved the story. It was a fast paced adventure. There were small lessons woven in throughout the book that would make this an excellent read aloud to a class. My only disappointment was at the end of the book. I had grown attached to these characters but I was still wondering what was going to happen to them. To my great delight Kate tweeted yesterday that yes, there is a sequel. So thrilled about that. I could see this as a wonderful series. I think if you have students who enjoy this they would also like C. Alexander London’s Accidental Adventure series or Tom Angleberger’s hilarious Fake Mustache. I highly, highly recommend this book. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Slice of Life - Practicing Gratitude

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers.

As I sat on my porch after a run yesterday I looked up at the trees and thought of what simple things can make us happy. I snapped five pictures of random items throughout the day (and one from the day before) that I am grateful for.

This one is actually from Sunday. We drove over to a nearby town to stop at the bookstore. I had several graphic novels that were not returned to my classroom library this year. I wanted to replace them before reading camp began and the boys wanted to read them. This makes me happy for many reason but the one that stands out is the happiness my boys have when I say we can go to Barnes & Noble. That and the fact that they both adore Babymouse. J

Monday was a running day. And while the run wasn’t pretty, to say the least, I fell into a chair on our porch when I got home and sat there to cool off. When I looked up at the trees and sky I remembered my trip to Colorado last year. I loved looking at the sky and the view in the morning. I wondered why I don’t appreciate my view here at home more, it was just as peaceful.

The boys asked for bagels for breakfast when I got home. Our daily dishes are fiesta gathered from my mom and great-aunt GG’s collection. I’m always happy when I get the light blue one, my favorite color, and the same color as our tile in the kitchen. Today I got the light blue one. A sign of a good day.

Finally, our pool opened today. That makes me blissfully happy. As a kid I spent a lot of time at our pool. I went to double swim team practices from 7-9 am because my friend and I enjoyed it. Then we went from the moment it opened, 12 pm, until close, 7pm. So although I don’t love putting on a swimming suit, I love going and so do my boys. I probably saw thirty students today. We talked about what they were reading. I gave out some book recommendations to some parents. And then I got to do my favorite thing – read poolside. The makings of an amazing day.

I know on Katie Davis’s podcast, Brain Burps About Books, they talked about gratitude last week. They mentioned that the research shows people who practice gratitude are healthier, happier, and often reach their goals. So this summer I’m going to attempt to slow down and pause, reflecting on what many things I have to be grateful. 

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I’m joining Jen & Kellee (and many other bloggers) in discussing what we are reading this week. Join us! Go to their site and link up your own blog.

I didn’t get a chance to post last Monday because I was hosting a book tour. So here are the books I’ve read in the past two weeks:

My favorites would have to be The Knife of Never Letting Go and Squish #3: The Power of the Parasite. Two very different books but wonderful in their own way.

On a side note, we had #titletalk last night and the topic was graphic novels. I took screen shots of some tweets from Colby Sharp and John Schu:

Truly, I could not agree with their statements more. I just wanted to put that out there for all parents and teachers that are concerned about their children/ students reading graphic novels. They are reading! And graphic novels are amazing. The amount of work you have to do to infer between panels is unreal. The pictures help the students visualize but they do have to read the words as well. My heart breaks when kids return graphic novels to me and say their parents said they couldn’t read “comics.”  And as teachers if we say we value choice in our reading programs, you cannot take away graphic novels from your students.

Beyond that my husband is an excellent example of what I see in my students. He was an excellent student in school, graduated from the College of Engineering at the U of I. He reads almost daily and a steady stream of comic books. The occasional book slips in but he devours comic books. He was the first person to recommend Bone by Jeff Smith to me, and that is where my purchasing of graphic novels began. Please give these books a chance. Your students will amaze you!

If you need a resource for teaching graphic novels, Terry Thompson’s Adventures in Graphica is wonderful. I plan on reading it again this summer.

Finally, I am beginning my summer #bookaday. My school got out for the summer May 25th and we start back up August 20th. By my count that is 86 days or 86 books. (My actual goal is 100). Here we go!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Some time ago on Twitter Donalyn Miller was raving about one of her favorite series, The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. I mentioned that I hadn’t read those yet but had read Monster Calls, which I adored. Teresa Kravtin offered, kindly, to send me the first volume, The Knife of Never Letting Go. It arrived and I kept meaning to go read it but it fell to the bottom of my “to do” list.

Fast forward to last month. Several friends in town expressed interest in a “Young Adult” book club. I set one up and our first book is The Knife of Never Letting Go. How to describe this wild ride of a story? It is to do the impossible, but let me try.

To begin I need to say, Patrick Ness, you’re a cruel, cruel man. You break my heart with these books. I don't know how in the world I missed this series when it originally came out but am so grateful that I have found it now.

This book starts with Todd who lives in a settlement called Prentisstown in the New World. In this New World your thoughts are spoken out loud in what they call "noise". It's really loud and confusing. Todd and his dog, Manchee, are forced to flee Prentisstown and discover the truth about themselves and this society.

The first 60 pages or so I was constantly asking myself, "What the heck is going on?" I was so confused and so much didn't make sense. I persevered and am so glad I did. I think this is an excellent lesson for my students. They often want to understand the story immediately, or don’t recognize that they are confused. I was very conscious of that as I read. I’d find kernels of information that I would file away and figured they’d all come together in the end. (And boy did they ever.)

This is a book that will stay with me long after I have finished. However, I would recommend having book two and three close at hand. I threw this one down in frustration on the last page - a bit of a cliffhanger you could say. Todd, Manchee, (and other characters I won’t name here) are characters you won’t forget. This is an amazing series not to be missed.

Finally, I think Teresa Kravtin said it best when I tweeted her that I finished. She sent me these two tweets back, and she is so right. 

Raising Readers

Each summer I look forward to the uninterrupted days that stretch before me. When I first began teaching I would spend my summers in solitude, picking the things I wanted to do. My summers were shaped by times of leisure, working on my classrooms, reading, and more. Then I had Luke, followed by Liam. Summers became less about me, more about them. I had to change my routine to fit the needs of growing children.

Fast forward to the beginnings of summer 2012. Luke is nine, soon to be ten, and will be entering fourth grade in the fall. Liam has just turned seven this spring and is entering second grade in the fall. When we’ve talked about this summer together we’ve discussed little league practices and games. Swim lessons, swim team practices and meets. Vacations, play dates, and sleepovers.

Throughout all of our conversations about summer, one item has remained consistent, reading. We’ve talked about the summer camp I am running on Tuesdays that they will both be a part of. We’ve talked about my summer reading goals – #bookaday. We’ve talked about what books they are eagerly waiting to purchase and add to their collections.

I think this is one of the things I have most look forward to in being a parent - helping my children love reading. Developing that addiction could be tough. Looking back at my own life, where did it come from? I had parents who love reading. Both have books on their bedside tables. Both read before bedtime each night. Books were always given freely and were frequent gifts at Christmas. The library was a place of worship. While my sister and brother aren’t as obsessed with reading as I am, I would still consider them readers. (Even though my brother is not enjoying Hunger Games – how is that even possible?)

So with my own children I’ve read to them constantly. Their rooms are overflowing with books. We discuss books, attend author events, make frequent trips to the bookstore. More importantly, I think, Chris and I are reading role models for them. I expect them to read but also support them where they are. Luke has always been a good reader. Liam had to work hard at it, but that work has paid off. 

So, as I sit here and type this morning the house is filled with silence. At 7:30 on a Sunday morning, four of the five of us (counting the dog) are up. I’ve been reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. (Wow, an intense book that I’m adoring.) Liam is sitting next to me on his fourth Babymouse book since yesterday afternoon. Luke is stretched out in the living room reading Babymouse as well. And Bally (our dog), well she’s just being lazy on the floor. To me, this is the perfect picture of summer. Endless reading days stretched ahead of us.