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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Finding a "Just Right" Book

One of our first graders is eagerly awaiting the day when her name comes to the top of the waiting list for Purplicious.  This book recently joined Pinkalicious and Goldilicious as very popular items in our picture book collection.

The students in our school are enthusiastic readers.  They are learning to read, and they are also learning how to select books.  There are many things to consider in choosing just the right book.

Reading Level:  Our school uses the Fountas & Pinell reading test, so it is possible to use those levels to match students with books that they will be able to read independently.  F&P has a website for looking up books by title and finding out the level, so I find that handy if I am wondering whether a book might be on a suitable level for a certain student.

Five Finger Rule:  There are thousands of books in our school library, and many of them do not have reading levels easily available.  There are many other situations (other libraries, book stores, etc.) where children choose books without knowing what level the book is. To make matters more confusing, many publishers assign their own leveling system (e.g. Step into Reading - Step 1, 2, 3 or 4).  Without knowing a specific level, students can easily check the degree of difficulty of a book by using the Five Finger Rule:  Read a page of the book, and hold up one finger for every tricky word.  Just one finger? The book may be too easy.  Two or three fingers? The book may be just right.  Four or five fingers? The book may be a bit of a struggle.

Length of the Book: Check the number of chapters.  Check the number of pages.  I tell students to figure out how long it would take them to finish the book if they read 1 chapter per day, or 10 pages per day.  Using some of their math skills, they can figure out how long it would take to finish the book.

Interests:  When students find books that are interesting to them, they are much more excited about reading and engaged with what they read.  I see many happy faces when students choose books that they are excited to read, and many happy and proud faces when the book is returned having been read from cover to cover.  Students then tell their friends about the books, and the word spreads so that many books become popular and have waiting lists.  When new books arrive, I know that books by certain authors, in popular series or popular formats (e.g. graphic novels) will be checked out of the library as soon as they hit the New Book table.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Kids' Turn to Talk: Fourth Graders Tell About Their Favorite Books
Our Fourth Grade students have been thinking about their favorite books.  They were asked to write a few sentences using this format:  Reaction (how did the book make you feel?), Detail (tell one thing that happened in the book), and Recommendation (who else might enjoy this book?)  Here's a sampling of what the students had to say:

Holly: The book Princess Academy by Shannon Hale made me want to own it myself.  In the book, girls who know nothing about academics might be a future princess, but bandits come and only Miri can save them!  This is a book for someone who likes thrilling adventures and romance.

Geogia:  Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan impacted my life by making me realize how lucky I am.  Koly (main character), like many girls in India, will leave home forever when she gets married.  I recommend this book to girls who like a touching story.

Sebastian:  The book Chomp by Carl Hiaasen made me unable to put it down.  It's about a boy named Wahoo, his father named Mickey, and others who get offered a job from a celebrity.  I'd recommend this book to adventure lovers. (Note:  Chomp is on 2013-2014 DCF Reading List).

Megan:   The book Bluestar's Prophecy by Erin Hunter will wow you.  It's about a cat that is blessed with a prophecy about fire that can only be destroyed by water.  I recommend this book to someone who likes cats and a little bit of mystery.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Eyes on: Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood  
The OQS DCF Lunch Group held its first meeting recently.  The featured book was Glory Be, a work of historical fiction set in Mississippi in the early 1960's.  The students found it dificult to believe that in that time and place, there could be "public" swimming pools that were not open to everyone.  The book's main character, Gloriana -- or Glory for short, is disappointed when the community pool closes days before her 12th birthday party.  Over the course of the book, Glory learns that there is much more at stake than just her hoped-for pool party.  We talked about how easy it is to accept the status quo, and how difficult it can be to fight for change.

Two students at our lunch group had read the book already, and several others signed up to be on the waiting list to check the book out.  This book is also available through FollettShelf on our school website:

Students need to read at least 5 books from this year's DCF list in order to vote for their favorite book in April.  See the complete list at:

The next meeting of the DCF Lunch Group will be on November 1.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Where do authors get their ideas?
Rosemary Wells (author of the Max and Ruby books, the McDuff books, and many others) gives some excellent answers to this question in her video A Visit with Rosemary Wells.  While watching this video with our first graders as part of an author study, I was struck by three things:

  • Authors get ideas from their real lives.  We could see Rosemary Wells walking her dogs (Westies) that look just like McDuff.  She also says that the expressions on these dogs' faces helped to inspire the characters of Max & Ruby (that, and the behavior of her two daughters).
  • Sometimes ideas just come to us and we do not know where they came from.  Rosemary Wells says that when she first wakes up in the morning and is still half-asleep, ideas just come to her like birds landing on the railing of a ship in an active ocean.  She says that it is then her responsibility to take care of those "birds" (or ideas) so that they can become stories.
  • Everyone has stories in his/her life, and they don't always seem very special at first glance.  In her video, she shows a bunch of plastic beads and clips that she found in a junk drawer in her house.  They do not look like much, until she puts them into a kaleidoscope and then all sorts of wonderful patterns are revealed.  Part of an author's job is to look at ordinary things in a way that makes them interesting to readers.