Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Ineffable: unutterable, inexpressable

Mellifluous:  sweet sounding

Susurrous: whispering, hissing

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Diversity in Children's books: Books as Mirrors

"the books I offer must be both mirrors that reflect children’s lives and windows that open up new worlds. This is a challenge when the small percentage of children’s books in English showing people of color is largely restricted to stories of oppression far removed from my students’ daily lives of homework, soccer, and wishing for a puppy. Of course it’s important to be aware of injustice, but it sends a powerful message if we only show racial diversity in settings of suffering and conflict."

This is exactly what I run into when trying to select resources for my elementary school libraries!  Our populations are diverse in ethnicity, language, religion, socio-economics, and family structures.  Why is it so difficult to locate books that reflect this as a matter of fact and not as only a focus of social justice.  Where are the illustrations of kids with different skin tones in the average picture book? Must there be a lesson specifically related to diversity in the story for the visuals to reflect the beautiful variations I see in my students?  I covet books where " if you were to read the text alone, you would never know that the illustrations in their books showed characters of many races"

Check out this article about Sweden's "effort to publish works of artistic and literary merit, free from heavy moralizing, that express a child’s perspective and tear down the walls that segregate people of color into a few categories: civil rights hero, the downtrodden, and token exotic friend."

The following are excerpts from Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors by Rudine Sims Bishop, The Ohio State University. 

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. 

For many years, nonwhite readers have too frequently found the search futile. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication, in the Saturday Review, of Nancy Larrick's landmark article, "The All-White World of Children's Books." "Across the country," she stated in that piece, "6,340,000 nonwhite children are learning to read and to understand the American way of life in books which either omit them entirely or scarcely mention them." A quarter of a century later, census data indicate that about 30% of the school population are members of so-called minority groups-Latinos, Afro-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans-and where will they find their mirrors? 

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors. 

Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but they, too, have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others. They need the books as windows onto reality, not just on imaginary worlds. They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves. If they see only reflections of themselves, they will grow up with an exaggerated sense of their own importance and value in the world-a dangerous ethnocentrism. 

Both those voices are authentic, and their authenticity makes the characters believable and identifies them as members of a particular social group. Changing their voices to Standard English would take away a large part of their distinctiveness. 

Those of us who are children's literature enthusiasts tend to be somewhat idealistic, believing that some book, some story, some poem can speak to each individual child, and that if we have the time and resources, we can find that book and help to change that child's life, if only for a brief time, and only for a tiny bit. 

Why is it so important to have books that reflect the reader, all readers? 
 On the other hand, we are realistic enough to know that literature, no matter how powerful, has its limits. It won't take the homeless off our streets; it won't feed the starving of the world; it won't stop people from attacking each other because of our racial differences; it won't stamp out the scourge of drugs. It could, however, help us to understand each other better by helping to change our attitudes towards difference. When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human. 

Source:  By Rudine Sims Bishop, The Ohio State University.  "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors" originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no. 3. Summer 1990.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Meme

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Coming Home series by PJ Gray

Will has left his troubled teen years behind. He's stayed out of trouble. Traveled. Worked odd jobs. Matured. Now he's coming home. No one could be more thrilled than his mother, Nia. But old family secrets keep them apart. And one shattering event may destroy their relationship for good and ruin everyone's shot at happiness.
The "Coming Home" series is a high interest/low vocab trilogy that manages to combine tension and a mystery with a family drama in very few words.  Each book is less than 65 pages and the illustrations and layout are attractive, specially for reluctant readers. The themes are mature including a murder, adult relationships, and revenge although very little is explicit and there is nothing graphic. 

This is a series I will be introducing next September to the intermediates in my school library. It is an attractive option for my reluctant readers who shy away from thicker tomes but are tired of having limited options for their combined age and lower reading level.  This three-book series keeps the tension tight and the interest high. 
Titles include: Coming Home, Searching for Answers, and The Truth.

Coming Home by P.J. GraySearching for Answers by P.J. Gray

Coming Home
Will has matured.  Traveled.  Worked odd jobs.  Can he stay out of trouble now that he's back home?  Or will pride keep him from making the best choices?

Searching For Answers
Will is obsessed with the murder he witnessed, which terrifies Karyn.  She's afraid he'll get hurt.  But it's not Will who ends up in the hospital.

The Truth
A chance encounter brings Will closer to the truth.  But at Karyn's urging, he leaves justice to the police. With the lies exposed, Will emerges even stronger, bolder, and more confident.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Gift's Reading to Our Children Brings

Life is not easy, nor is it fair, or always fun. But stories are always there, waiting to comfort you, to excite you, and to let you imagine a world which works the way you want it to.

-Robin Jeffrey from her blog post "Inspiration - Storytime with Wind in the Willows" about the gifts she's been given from her parents, especially her father, reading out loud to her as a child. Click the link to read her post.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Meme

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Is This the Future of Reading Books?

Software is eating the world. It's also eating the book.

For years, traditional book publishers have hoped that standalone e-readers — Kindles, Nooks, and the like — would be their salvation, replacing paper-and-ink books as the diversion of choice for a new generation of readers. But several new data points suggest that's not happening. In fact, it seems clearer than ever that the future of reading isn't on reading devices at all. 
It's on your phone.

Article by Kevin Roose from (June 27, 2014)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Books for Reluctant Readers: Scarlet Thunder; Disconnect

Scarlet ThunderTrenton Hiser is trying to walk in the footsteps of his uncle, Mike Hiser, a successful Hollywood director. During Trenton's summer vacation, he goes with his uncle to film the inside story of Scarlet Thunder, a top-level stock-car racing team. As they film the action, too many things go wrong, deadly mistakes are made and Trenton finds out that much more than the race is at stake.

Quick facts and tidbits of trivia about both racing life and the work of filmmakers bring this mystery to life. It is easy to slip into the story beside Trent and gather clues while explore these two worlds. This entry in the Orca series focuses more on the action than on the inner turmoil of the main character - a nice change from that focus in the last few series titles I read. Brouwer delivers a lively action tale.

DisconnectSince moving hundreds of miles to a new school, Daria has become increasingly dependent on her cell phone. Texts, Facebook and phone calls are her only connection to her friends in Calgary, and Daria needs to know everything that is going on at home to feel connected to her old life. Her cell phone habit looks a lot like addiction to her mother and to her new friend Cleo. Daria dismisses the idea of technology addiction as foolish until her habit puts a life in danger.

Peterson addresses the growing reliance on staying connected that I see everyday at my schools.  This story is told from the viewpoint of Daria, who doesn't realize the affect her obsession with being online all the time has on those around her.  It dares to show how not looking up from our electronic devices impacts everything from common courtesy, missing out on the face to face connections we need as humans to the dangers we face ourselves and bring to those around us.  The common response of feeling that we need to stay connected and the panic when that connection is taken from up is recognized as is the cost we face because of it.  While Daria is a young student, the lesson is one that everyone can benefit from.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Beleaguer:  To exhaust with attacks

Redolent Fragrant

Ephemeral: Short-lived

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Books for Reluctant Readers: Living Rough; Caching In

Living RoughIn most ways, Poe is like the other kids in his school. He thinks about girls and tries to avoid too much contact with teachers. He has a loving father who helps him with his homework. But Poe has a secret, and almost every day some small act threatens to expose him. He doesn't have a phone number to give to friends. He doesn't have an address. Poe and his father are living in a tent on city land. When the city clears the land to build housing, Poe worries that they might not be able to find another site near his school. Will Poe have to expose his secret to get help for himself and his father?

The fear, shame and prejudice face of being a homeless family are explored in Living Rough. This is a great read for leisure, but also to introduce social justice issues and challenge our assumptions about what it means to be homeless and how people can end up in this situation. The ending was a bit abrupt and could have use some more followup, but felt realistic. It definitely provokes conversations as to how Poe's circumstances were and could have otherwise been dealt with.


Caching inEric and Chris are avid geocachers who stumble into a very strange search for a series of geocaches. At first they are merely curious, but as the stakes rise and the challenges become more trying, the boys get truly hooked. Convinced they are indeed on the trail of treasure, they become consumed with the search, and though their quest tests their strength, intelligence, courage and even their friendship, they don't give up.

The popularity of urban geocaching makes this novel a great addition to the series.  The lingo and rules of the hunt are easily woven into Eric and Chris' adventures as is the excitement of deciphering clues.  Despite the somewhat cheesy twist and a convoluted ending, the action of the hunt for caches carries the novel most of the way.  The captivating subject matter will attract young readers and may even inspire a new hobby.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Meme

Friday, July 11, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Books for Reluctant Readers: Chat Room; Reckless

Linda is shy and avoids getting involved at school. But when her high school sets up online chat rooms she can't resist the urge to visit them. Fuelled by interest in a student with the nickname Cyrano, Linda participates in online conversations using the nickname Roxane and gains a reputation as the queen of one-liners. Soon Linda starts receiving gifts from a secret admirer who signs his gifts, "C." She is certain that her life has taken a turn for the better until "C" reveals his true identity.

Delving into the online world of chat rooms, this novel touches on the benefits and dangers of internet anonymity and the consequences of taking a 'safe' online relationship into the real life. There is still a lot of room  in the Orca series to take this theme further. Linda displays the lure of being able to speak to others, free of your public identity. The resulting confidence to express oneself is contrasted against the threat of no really knowing whom you are speaking to.  That threat was not portrayed as well as it could have been. The aggressiveness and unrealistic tunnel vision demonstrated by Linda's friend when giving her warnings had a minimizing effect. The ending also glossed over the dangers of meeting people from a chat room in person.


Book Cover
Josh knows he's riding recklessly when he knocks down the old man he suspects is the hermit of Loggerman Creek. But he is shocked when the hermit walks into the forest with his bike after the accident. Being without his beloved bike for a week motivates Josh to hike into the woods and confront the crazy old man. The hermit, Jonathan, has fixed Josh's bike, and Josh learns that he has more in common with the old man than he ever imagined. When Jonathan needs help, Josh has to respect the old man's choices in order to save his life.

The characters of Josh and Jonathan were well written, evoking understanding and empathy that connected  their different story lines.  The inclusion of PSTD and acknowledgement of the effects of war on an individual was poignant and thoughtfully handled.  This is not a topic often see in young adult fiction. Full of action and angst, Reckless is an adventurous ride into growing up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Books for Reluctant Readers: FaceSpace; Spoiled Rotten

Danny McBride is not the coolest kid in school, not in his wildest dreams. And if the other kids knew he spent his Saturday nights playing Parcheesi with his mom and working on a city made of Lego, he'd be even less cool. Danny wants more than anything to be popular. He creates a fictional British rocker named James and befriends him publicly online, hoping his make-believe friend's cool will rub off. It works. Danny starts making friends and feeling like part of the crowd—until people start wanting to meet the imaginary friend, and Danny's plan starts to unravel. 

Great topic. Less than great execution.   The fake profile that was made and the supporting characters reaction to it was not realistic. Also, the lesson was learned to easily and with very light consequences. The ending was too abrupt.  As a teaching tool for the reader, watching an episode to MTV's show Catfish would provide a much better understanding of the affects and consequences of fake profiles for the creator and viewers. 
Jessica loves her yearly backpacking trip with her father, but this year everything has changed. This year Jessica has to share her vacation with her new stepmother and her spoiled new stepsister, Amy. Jessica tries to salvage her holiday by sneaking off for a day hike alone, but Amy follows. Jessica is certain that Amy will ruin the day. Amy rises to the challenge of the rigorous hike and Jessica learns that Amy is not as spoiled as she thought. When Amy is injured and night falls, Jessica must face the challenge of hiking through bear country in the dark. 

Good story for expressing the hurt, betrayal and  frustration she felt at her dad's remarriage and having a new family to deal with.  Jessica wasn't written as perfect or as the wronged party, which easily could have happened. Instead she too behaves according to her emotions and we get to see both sides of what she is going through and what she puts the other characters through. At times I wanted to tell her to get a grip and see that she was not the victim, which means the character was convincing got me. 
As for the writing style, I appreciated how the author balanced condensed storytelling with adding enough details about the environment to make you feel like you were there.  The descriptions were tangible without overbearing the plot and characters. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Meme

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Absent has been...absent

We're now into July and that means that I am nearing the middle of inventory season.  The last few weeks have been filled with the sound of the scanner beeping, the air filled with disturbed book dust and the annual aches of shoulder and tricep muscles as I plod through the endless rows of library books.  Every year I become convinced that the books multiply on the shelves ahead of me. This year is no exception.  I currently have 6 school library inventories  in progress, one finished, and one untouched.   

As I am exhausted at the end of each day (and likely will be until all my schools have been inventoried) I have decided to ease my reading load by choosing 20 or so books from the Orca Currents series to review. 

Orca Currents are high interest - low vocabulary books designed for intermediate students who are currently reading below level. What's great about the series is that the topics are current and timely. The books are quick reads for more advanced readers, but are designed to grab the interest of my 5th to 8th graders with subjects such as flash mobs, chat rooms, geo-caching, parkour  and more. The characters are easy to identify with by those going through those early teen years and by those of us who have survived them.  This is a collection of realistic fiction with everyday situations that lead to moral dilemmas complete with emotional responses and consequences, good and not so good, for the decisions made.  The writing is clean and detailed enough to draw in the audience without becoming lost in in a volley of excessive adjectives. This simple style invites the self proclaimed non-reader to test the literary waters and enjoy an adventure for a hundred or so pages.