Why "The Search for..."?

I got my title from the book The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt. where there is a wonderful quote--

" 'Of course it's silly,' said the Prime Minister impatiently. 'But a lot of serious things start silly.'"

This particular quote stuck out for me as I was reading The Search for Delicious to my kids this past fall, and I put it aside knowing that I would use it somewhere, sometime. It seems like the perfect subtitle to this blog as many of my musing probably are silly, but may turn serious at any moment!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Titles for Chapters

One of my favorite assignments for helping students summarize chapters in a novel is having them create titles for chapters. The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman does that brilliantly and humorously. While the story itself was intriguing as it was about a boy who faded into the background, like so many teens feel that they do, I just loved the chapter titles. Some good examples:
"Manny Bullpucky gets his sorry butt hurled off the Marine Park Bridge"
"As if I didn't already have enough annoying things to do every day, Now I gotta do this"

and a personal favorite

"Maybe they had it right in France because getting my head lopped off by a guillotine would have been easier..."

Who wouldn't want to read to find out what that's all about?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If you liked Inkheart, you will like...

...Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton. The two books have so much in common. They are both fantasies that are firmly based in our real world. They both have books as a central motif. They are both adventures. Both are my kind of book. Endymion Spring is a book for Anglophiles as half of it takes place in one of England's most famous spots, the Bodleian Library at Oxford. It also takes place in Mainz, Germany during the time of Gutenberg. This is one of those wonderful times that I could perfectly picture the setting of these books. I remember vividly walking in the cathedral at Mainz and being astounded by its Medieval character; I also have fond memories of taking my children to see the dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History Museum of Oxford University and having dinner at a local university hangout/pub after walking by the spires of the different famous colleges. Two such wonderful places...maybe that's why this book really came to life for me.

Besides which, it is a book about books...always a favorite for me...the story starts as Blake finds a book on the shelves of the library that has blank pages. Or does it? Why do messages appear on these pages? Why do they appear only for him and not for his more academically minded sister? Why does the message appear so sinister?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Homeless Families

I should have paired today's book How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor with my entry on Finding Stinko since they both deal with homelessness. However, Newboy in Finding Stinko is a runaway, on his own in the streets. How to Steal a Dog is the story of a family who loses their home when the father and main provider walks out. Georgina's family lives in the family car while her mother works to earn enough for a deposit and rent. Georgina hates this new life and hits on the idea of stealing a dog, then "finding" it to claim the reward. I can't say that I liked this book; I just hated the idea of a child feeling like she had to commit a crime to put a roof over her head. Still, it is a book that older children could really benefit from reading. It raises all kinds of important questions about morality and values like, is it ever ok to commit a crime?

I did love the beginning. O'Connor quickly hooks her reader with, "The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car." It doesn't get much better than that!

Penny From Heaven by Jennfier Holm

I made my son read this book. It is definitely not the typical book that I recommend to him, not enough action, but I think he enjoyed it anyway. I had him read it, because I thought it might give him a glimpse of what his grandfather's life growing up in New Jersey as an Italian American might have been like as Penny is a young girl caught between the worlds of her Italian father's family and her more traditionally "American" mother's. The book also hints at a small piece of our family history lore...Because my father-in-law and his parents were born in Sicily, they were not allowed to own radios during WWII. That little piece of history comes up in the story as well. My son brought up another book from the era of WWII after reading Penny from Heaven, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee. Not that the two books have enough in common to be read as a pair, but they both document injustice against ethnic groups during the war.

Penny is one of those books that will bring up conversations about what life used to be like for children. It is a particularly good read for Italian American children...and we have plenty of those in RI!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

New Job, New Slant

I have been offered a job teaching 7th grade Language Arts in a small Catholic school here in RI! So, my reading and my blogging will naturally take on a slightly different slant. I am thinking of the books I read in terms of how I can use them in the classroom. Can I read them out loud on Friday afternoons? can I use them in a book group to meet once a month? can a picture book be used as a way to introduce a lesson? how can this poem augment a unit on that genre?

With this in mind, I just finished two books that would fit very well in a seventh grade classroom for a book group as they both are fairly easy to read, have some "meat" to them for discussion but they don't present any themes that are too racy for this highly transitional age. Sixth and seventh grade are ages where students are beginning to wean themselves from the "children's room," but they aren't mature enough for free and unchaperoned access through the wonderful world of young adult literature. Both Finding Stinko by Michael de Guzman and Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate fit the bill for this age group.

Finding Stinko is about Newboy, born into the foster care system that routinely fails to nurture him beyond the basic necessities, and one day, he simply quits speaking. When he lands into a particularly abusive and hypocritical household, he decides to take his chances on the streets.
He discovers a ventriloquist's doll that he names Stinko who begins to speak for him. He discovers a whole society of children on the streets and some of the issues they might encounter. I enjoyed this book, but I wondered if street life wasn't a bit whitewashed for the audience. The end is very hopeful if unrealistic. I would use it as a jumping off point for asking students to finish Newboy's story.

Home of the Brave tells the story of a young boy newly immigrated to the United States from the Sudan after spending time in refugee camps. Kek's brother and father are killed in the fighting, but his mother is missing. This book is brilliant at showing students how refugees might view the United States. However, students will learn almost nothing about the troubles in the Sudan. Since the Sudan is not a big news item, it would be important to introduce this book along with some information about life and current events there.