Monday, December 14, 2009

Non-fiction reading list for 5th grade

In January, 5th graders will be doing a report on a non-fiction book for Ms. Russell. If you're having difficulty finding something to read, check out the following authors, some of my favorite writers of non-fiction for young people:

Rhoda Blumberg
Russell Freedman
Sy Montgomery

Also take a look at the Sibert Medal, an award for exceptional non-fiction given by the American Library Association (which also gives out the Caldecott & Newbery Medals).

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 offers detailed annotated lists for those who enjoy science.

Books for Boys (which is also great for girls, of course!) has a section with books organized by subject - just be careful, because some of these are fiction!

The Cooperative Children's Book Center has numerous reading lists, many of which focus on non-fiction. Select first by grade level, then by topic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter break reading list

Here are a few reading suggestions for you to explore over winter break. Take a look at past vacation reading lists on the OWS website and also explore my profile on Goodreads where I've sorted nearly 500 recommended books by genre and age level.

Picture books:

Albert by Donna Jo Napoli (A man learns from two birds what it really means to be alive.)

Cannonball Simp by John Burningham (An endearing story about a homeless dog.)
The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket (Love clever word play? There are puns galore in this delightful orchestral mystery!)

Forty Fortunes: A Tale of Iran by Aaron Shepard (Good fortune comes to a clever man who outwits a band of thieves.)

The Ghost Catcher by Martha Hamilton (A humorous Bengali trickster tale about a barber who fools a passel of ghosts.)

Shin’s Tricycle by Tatsuharu Kodama (The deeply moving true story about a young victim of the bombing of Hiroshima.)

Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis (A delightfully wry tale with a surprise ending!)

Chapter books:

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell (Magical rodents help save a young girl from the clutches of her wicked nanny!)

Brendan Buckley’s The Universe and Everything In It by Sundee Tucker Frazier (By a local author and set in the Seattle area, this is a heartwarming family tale with a strong boy as the main character.)

King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo (Exciting wilderness adventure story about a boy who is rescued in the Himalayas by a tribe of Yeti.)

Elementary/middle school
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis (In her second book, quirky and original middle school student Emma Jean Lazarus tackles the concept of love.)

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages (Dewey Kerrigan joins her father in Los Alamos, where he is working on a secret gadget that will end World War II in this tale of friendship, family and secrets.)

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (This, the third Grandma Dowdel story, brings more hilarious hijinks from life in small town Illinois.)

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (Moving tale based on the actual experiences of the author's mother-in-law who was one of only 12 children to survive the Holocaust while hiding in the Lodz ghetto.)

Middle/high school
Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (Boys, love, friends, school, family... Auden tackles it all during the summer after high school graduation in this engrossing work of chick lit for teens.)

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (What if time were really running out? A boy bargains with the fairies after he heads to the land of Tír na n'Óg in this wonderful Irish fantasy.)

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (Historical fiction based on the adventures of the author's great-grandmother. A 16-year-old orphan girl sets off to homestead all on her own in the Montana wilderness.)


Ain’t Nothing But a Man by Scott Reynolds Nelson (An historian explains how he unraveled a real life mystery in this gripping tale of detective work!)

Four Pictures by Emily Carr by Nicolas Debon (A beautiful cartoon version of the life of a noted Victoria, BC artist.)

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka (Imagine growing up in a house filled with six boys! Read this laugh out loud funny memoir by America's Children's Laureate and you will never again wonder where his wacky sense of humor came from!)

My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs (The titles says it all! Filled with color photographs and fascinating tidbits, you won't look at your local library the same way again!)

Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller (Who knew teeth could be so much fun?)

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen (Ahoy, matey! If you love pirates and adventure on the high seas, do not miss this collection of stories about some courageous and infamous women.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fun with folktales

Each year from September to December, children in grades K-3 focus on a different part of the world and learn about it in-depth through hearing a variety of fiction, non-fiction and folktale stories written by or about people from that culture. In past years we have learned about West Africa, Japan, Scandinavia and Latin America.

This year our focus is Germany, which naturally makes the Brothers Grimm a major area of study! Folklore forms a significant part of the rich cultural heritage of every culture around the world, and it has been interesting for students to understand how these precious tales are passed down through generations, travel around the world with traders and adventurers - and sometimes end up on our bookshelves or movie screens!

If you would like to explore more folktales at home, check out:
  • Grimms' Fairy Tales - a National Geographic site
  • German Fairytale Route - information about the settings of many Grimm tales as well as a link to a page where you can read them online
  • SurLaLune - a wonderful site with many basic European tales and their variations

Also, you can go to the public library and browse in the 398.2 section, where you will find many wonderful folktales from around the world to delight readers of all ages!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Award books

Fifth graders will be reading a book that is an award winner for their next book report for Ms. Russell. She shared a very useful link to the Database of Award-Winning Children's Literature.

Meanwhile, there are a few great awards that are not listed on that site that I would like to share:

  • Children's Choices (the only national children's choice award, co-sponsored by the International Reading Association & the Children's Book Council, chosen by kids ages 5-13)

  • The Cybils (Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards)

  • The Sasquatch Award (Washington state children's choice chapter book award)

  • The Young Readers' Choice Award (Pacific Northwest children's choice chapter book award)

Happy reading!

The Big 6: Your guide to research!

Fifth grade students recently learned more about the Big 6 approach to research by doing an exercise in library class. They had already reviewed this technique in class with Ms. Russell, and by finding a way to apply it to information needs that come up in daily life they became more comfortable with actually using it.

Fifth graders came up with a variety of creative personal information needs such as finding out how to improve their playing in a particular sport, investigating their family's history, and learning more about an upcoming vacation spot.

People's information seeking behavior is a major area of study in the field of information science (i.e. library schools)! In this information age we are generally bombarded with too much information rather than too little and this can become overwhelming. A simple tool such as the Big 6 can help make looking for information - whether for school, work or personal use - a lot more manageable regardless of your age.

For children in grades K-2, there is the Super 3. The steps are:

1. Plan
2. Do
3. Review

Visit the website for more details!

For older students, there are two sites, both linked to the main kids' page, one for grades 3-6, and one for grades 7-12. The six steps are the same for both age groups, but the explanations and examples are given in more complexity for older students.

Virtually all information needs - from deciding which washing machine to buy to writing a report about the life of Jefferson Davis to choosing the perfect breed of dog for your family - can be broken down into manageable steps using the Big 6.

Many people procrastinate because the task facing them seems so large as to be daunting! If you notice this behavior in your child, you can help him or her by first taking a few minutes to break down the task into the following six steps:

#1 Task Definition: What needs to be done? (Being crystal clear about what you need to do is crucial before you get started! This will help keep you on track.)

#2 Information Seeking Strategies: What resources can I use? (Think creatively! Resources go well beyond books and the Internet to encompass people, organizations, periodicals, etc.)

#3 Location & Access: Where can I find these resources? (The library may have the perfect book for your project but unless you place a hold on it right away you may not get it in time. Or Aunt Mildred might be an expert in the area you need advice in, but you'd better call before she leaves on her 6 month trek around Nepal!)

#4 Use of Information: What can I use from these resources? (This is an area where many people get distracted by interesting but irrelevant information. Remember step #1? If what you read or hear doesn't apply to what you need to do, disregard it for now. Stay focused - and you can always go back later and follow up on that fascinating tangent.)

#5 Synthesis: What can I make to finish the job? (In the case of a school assignment or work project this may be determined by someone else. If it is a personal information need, you can define it for yourself: how about a list of characteristics your new digital camera should have? Or a cookbook of your family's favorite recipes to give as holiday gifts?)

#6 Evaluation: How will I know I did my job well? (Was that llama the perfect choice of family pet? Were you satisfied with your playing at the last chess tournament? Did everyone ask for second helpings of that new casserole you tried? This is an area where you can decide for yourself what the criteria for a job well done will be.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Muumibuumi, or the delights of Tove Jansson

Bewildered by the number of children's books out there? You are not alone. The Guardian column The Book Corner devoted the last year's worth of articles to "building a brilliant children's collection." Dip into them for paeans to forgotten classics as well as more modern delights.

I would particularly like to highlight the latest entry which explores the pleasures of the Finn Family Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson. A Swedish Finn, Jansson wrote her timeless and entertaining series primarily during the 1940s and 50s. It is ideal for readers in the middle and upper elementary grades, though younger children can enjoy it as a readaloud (she also created a comic strip version for teens and adults).

Moomins are gentle, lovable creatures who resemble hippos. They inhabit an idyllic, pastoral world that evokes Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood with a Nordic twist.

While these books are not widely read in the United States, they are a beloved staple in Sweden and Finland and the cartoon version is popular in places as farflung as Poland and Japan. The Moominworld theme park has a website with activities for children!

If you haven't yet visited the whimsical world of the Moomins, go find yourself a copy of Comet in Moominland and by the time we're in the midst of our next snowstorm, you should be able to bury yourself in Moominland Midwinter, one of the most evocative wintertime books I know.
Oh, and what is "muumibuumi"? It is my new favorite Finnish word that refers to the huge worldwide surge in popularity the Moomintrolls experienced in recent decades!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Diversity: read your way to better understanding!

As members of the Diversity Council, second grade teacher Mrs. Palmer and I spent yesterday at a PNAIS conference on Co-Creating Inclusive Communities. We heard amazing speakers and picked up a lot of practical tips and new information to share with our colleagues and students. Inspired by the conference, today I would like to share a few thoughts on diversity and reading, followed by a list of links to get you started.

When it comes to exploring diversity through books, the selection of multicultural English language children’s books available today is richer than at any time in the past, though certain groups are still sadly underrepresented relative to their numbers (for example, Filipino Americans). Even so, if you are a looking for a book that reflects your own family’s background, you are more likely than ever to find high quality materials!

If you are looking to find books to enhance your family’s knowledge of other cultures, it can be difficult to know where to start, as it is often hard to gauge the accuracy of individual books when you are reading about unfamiliar cultures. The main guideline I would offer is that the more widely and deeply you read, the better able you will be to spot information that doesn’t ring true as well as to absorb the nuances of other cultures.

Limited exposure is your greatest enemy! When a child reads a book in which a negative character happens to be a white American, he is not likely to generalize from this character to all white Americans because this is just one portrayal out of thousands this child regularly encounters in books, on television and in the movies. But when a character comes from a group of people a child rarely encounters, there is a risk he will assume that any notable traits are typical of that group in general (“This is what they do in…” or “All people from this place are like this…”).

One way to think about it is to consider all the group affiliations each of us has, through citizenship, ethnicity, religion, profession, generation, neighborhood of residence, civic or extracurricular memberships and activities. We each play multiple roles in our lives, and we each to a greater or lesser extent may represent a “typical” member of each group we belong to. Still, there will be great variations within regions, linguistic groups and individual families so we need to remember that any one book or character should not be accepted as completely representative of an entire group of people. Instead, a body of quality materials will together help form a clearer picture of the mosaic that makes up every culture.

Open Window and Vista students and their families continually impress me with their thoughtfulness and curiosity about the world at large. Have fun as you go forth and explore and remember to take note of and celebrate the great cultural heritage in your very own home!

Here, in no particular order, are a few good places to start looking:

- Lee & Low Books – publishers of multicultural children’s literature
- The Batchelder Award – for children’s & young adult literature in translation
- KCLS children’s multicultural reading list
- Kahani – a South Asian children’s magazine (we subscribe to this in our school library)
- History & culture magazines from Cobblestone
- Intriguing article by South African reviewer Hazel Rochman, author of Against Borders, a guide to multicultural children’s & teen books – read the article & then check out the book from the library!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back from Charlotte & a great series resource!

My trip last week to the American Association of School Librarians' conference in Charlotte, North Carolina was a great success! It was so inspiring to get together with about 2500 school librarians from around the US (and even Taiwan and Poland!) to share best practices, learn from one another, and attend fascinating programs on a huge range of subjects from Web 2.0 to using the Library of Congress' online historical documents to support student learning. Thanks to the American Library Association and Bound-to-Stay-Bound Books for the travel grant that made my attendance possible! Thanks to their sponsorship I now have dozens of great ideas I can't wait to try out with our students!

The resource I'd like to share this week is a great online database from Kent District Library called What's Next. Many people love to read series and one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "What's next?" Now you can search online and instantly find out the correct series order. Give it a try sometime!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

AASL: It's not just for librarians!

Tomorrow morning very early I will take off to attend the American Association of School Librarians conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. This division of the American Library Association supports the work of school librarians through its professional journal, conferences, etc. I am excited to have this opportunity to meet school librarians from around the country, attend workshops by some of the top names in this and related fields, and pick up a lot of tips that I can use to improve our school library program.

You may not realize that AASL also has many resources for parents on its website. From the drop-down menu you can access information about Internet safety, reading with your children, information literacy and other important topics. Check it out today!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Antonio Sacre & the Tapestry of Tales

Last spring Cuban/Irish American storyteller, author and actor Antonio Sacre came to our school to tell stories to all our students, talk with grades 5-7 about the writing process and host an evening event with parents. It was a special opportunity for us to learn from and be entertained by an internationally recognized performer.

I'm pleased to announce that Antonio will be performing at the Tapestry of Tales storytelling festival which takes place in Portland from November 17-21. He will give an evening adults-only show on the 20th, and a series of performances for families on the 21st. See the schedule of events for more details!

Antonio said he would love to see anyone from OWS, so if you make it down there do introduce yourself!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Suggestions for beginning readers

One challenge for beginning readers is that their comprehension far outpaces what they can read independently. This is naturally frustrating! To help keep them engaged with books, use audio books. You can borrow them on CD or download them as eBooks from the public library.

It also helps to make reading as social and interactive as possible! Sit together to read, alter your voice and expression while reading, and talk about the story (predict how the plot might develop, discuss why the illustrator made the choices he/she did, describe alternate endings, etc.).

It is difficult to write works of gripping literature using a limited vocabulary of phonetically spelled words! However, beginning readers can be made more engaging with parental involvement. If you take turns reading sentences, that will also help minimize the mental fatigue (think back to your own experiences trying to express yourself or read something complex in a foreign language...).

Two of my personal favorite beginning reader series are The Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems and the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik. However, I think the best strategy is to go to the public library, settle in for awhile, browse the shelves of beginning readers, and choose together a few titles that appeal to your child and that he or she can read without too much of a struggle. After all, there is nothing quite like the thrill of picking out your very own books!

Here are some other resources to check out:

Books for Beginning Readers from the Cooperative Children's Book Center.

TumbleBook Library and BookFlix – Databases of video storybooks and read-alongs for children. You will need your KCLS card to log in.

Book lists for various ages from the public library.

The Geisel Award - A beginning reader book award given out by the American Library Association (which also gives out the Caldecott & Newbery Medals).

Beginning Readers: Overview from the International Reading Association - Check out the Teachers' Choices and Children's Choices Booklists, which include beginning readers!

Read Kiddo Read - Reading lists for all ages.

Ready to Read - Resources for parents of infants to 3rd graders about supporting reading.

How to Read with a Beginning Reader - Tips from Reading Rockets.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Multicultural reading list for 7th grade

Ms. Iverson's 7th grade Humanities students will be reading a book set in another culture. Below are a few particularly good titles to check out! We have most of them in our school library but you can find them all at KCLS. Parents, please note that some titles are are recommended for grades 7 and up and may contain mature content.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (A powerful book based on the Seattle author’s actual experiences growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.)

  • Alabama Moon by Watt Key (Set in the deep South, this follows Moon, a boy raised by a survivalist, anti-government father who must cope with reform school following his father’s death.)

  • Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (A girl living under a dictatorship in the Dominican Republic confides her fears in her diary.)

  • Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac (Follows the experiences of a Navajo recruit in the Pacific theater of World War II.)

  • Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline B. Cooney (A refugee family from Sierra Leone is taken in by an American host family.)

  • Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (An Australian Muslim girl decides to wear the hijab full-time and her decision sends ripples through the lives of her family and friends.)

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan (Poverty and violence send a Mexican family fleeing to the United States in search of work.)

  • A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (A Shona girl in contemporary Mozambique flees to relatives in Zimbabwe to escape an arranged marriage.)

  • Go and Come Back by Joan Abelove (Two American anthropologists enter a traditional village in the Amazonian jungle; told from the point of view of a teenaged girl from the tribe.)
  • Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye (A Palestinian American girl moves to Jerusalem and befriends an Israeli boy.)

  • Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff (LaVaughn, an inner city girl, tries to hold onto her own ambitions as she reaches out to help a formerly homeless single teen mother.)

  • Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee (Maya's Indian heritage makes her stand out in rural Canada, but praying to Ganesh helps her find her path. The author will be visiting our school & meeting with Vista students in March 2010!)

  • No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War by Anita Lobel (A moving Holocaust memoir based on the childhood experiences of a noted children’s author.)

  • Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins (This story follows a 16-year-old girl living in Calcutta, rebelling against family rules and considering her own ambitions.)

  • A Stone in My Hand by Cathryn Clinton (Told from the point of view of a Palestinian girl living in Gaza City in 1988.)

  • Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata (Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Sumiko’s family must leave their farm in Southern California for a prison camp in the desert.)

  • The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Contemporary story set among the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand.)

The importance of independent reading choices

Many parents feel concern over the reading choices their children make. However, independent reading - reading purely for the joy of it - is a crucial part of a child's overall academic development. Intuitively, I believe we all know that children (and adults!) are more likely to find pleasure in reading if they are able to choose the books that speak to them. Fortunately, there is sound evidence showing that letting children read what they like is beneficial.

I highly encourage parents and children to keep reading logs. These can be in a notebook or online, using a site such as Goodreads or Library Thing, or even in a simple Excel spreadsheet. If you track your reading over time, you will likely notice it going in waves as your interests change. Perhaps you'll go through a phase of Civil War fiction followed by books that help you plan your next summer vacation followed by contemporary Irish fiction followed by spy thrillers.

Similarly your child may be in the midst of a reading phase you don't particularly like right now - but if you keep track, odds are it will soon be succeeded by another and then yet another... the main thing is to keep alive that passion and excitement about reading in whatever form it takes!The latest issue of Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians has an article called “Anything but Reading” by Stephen Krashen (professor emeritus from the University of Southern California in linguistics & education). He is a well-known advocate for children and reading. This article surveys 19 controlled academic studies of children and reading. The following quotes summarize it well:

“[The] studies show that those who read more read better. They also write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies and have better control of complex grammatical constructions.”

“The research literature also contains a number of case histories, cases in which self-selected voluntary reading resulting in unmistakable improvement in reading and other aspects of literacy. These studies are ‘scientific’ in that there was no other possible source of the improvement other than reading.”

“Even more convincing are experimental studies in which students who do self-selected reading for a given amount of time are compared to students who devote the same amount of time to ‘regular’ instruction. Self-selected reading has been a consistent winner in these studies…”

“In all studies time was set aside for self-selected reading, and readers were compared to similar students who did not have reading time included as part of their English program… [W]ithout exception, the readers did better than those in the comparison group.”

“[A]vailability of a school library is a very strong predictor of reading scores – nearly as strong as the effect of poverty…” [Laura’s note: the school library is a place where children have a source of books they can self-select from!]

“[T]he consistent winner in all the studies discussed here is self-selected reading. Nevertheless, self-selected reading is still a hard sell. People seem to be attracted to nearly every possible means of improving reading ability other than the most obvious…”

Of course, this is not to say that reading instruction is unnecessary – far from it! Rather, we must not underestimate the crucial importance of allowing children to self-select reading materials to supplement instructional time. Model a wide-ranging love for books and give time for reading prominence in your family's life and everything else will follow.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fiction set in Colonial America

In November 5th grade students will be reading fiction set in Colonial America during the years 1600-1740. We have some titles in our school library that students may choose from, however you may also browse through various online lists.

Remember to check the exact time period that your novel is set in! Much Colonial American ficion is set around the time of the Revolutionary War, which is too late for Ms. Russell's assignment.

You can also search the public library by entering the following subject headers:

United States History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 Juvenile Fiction


United States History Colonial Period Ca 1600 1775 Fiction

The second subject header will yield more results, but you must check the call number to be sure of the intended age group. If the call number begins with a J, the book is intended for elementary-aged students. If it begins with a Y, the book is intended for young adults (teens). However, if you click on the "reviews" button in the book's record you can find more detailed information about recommended ages.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seattle Bookfest: something fun to do this weekend!

Seattle Bookfest is taking up where the Northwest Book Festival left off 5 years ago. Head over to the Columbia City Event Center this weekend, October 24-25 to buy & browse for books, attend talks by authors, participate in workshops for book lovers and aspiring authors, enjoy vendors' exhibits and much more!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finding foreign language materials at the public library

Today I taught Ms. Vernon's advanced Spanish students from Vista how to search for Spanish language materials at the public library. This information may be useful to those of you looking for other languages as well!

1. If you just want to browse, you can go directly to the list of foreign languages offered. (Or, start from the main page, click on BOOKS & READING, select Browse Books, click on Browse Books by Format, then choose Other Languages.)

2. If you know exactly what you're looking for, you can do an advanced catalog search, enter the subject, title or author search terms, and then choose your language in the drop down menu. From the main page or any other page in the catalog, you can also select Advanced Search.

Foreign language learners should also remember that KCLS subscribes to two language learning databases (byki and Mango) that are available to all KCLS card holders. Just choose DATABASES from the main page, then click on Language Learning to select one. You will need your KCLS number to log in.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mystery list for 6th grade

In the coming weeks, Ms. Iverson's 6th grade humanities class will be reading and reporting on mystery books. To help you out, here are a few of my own favorites as well as links to some online lists.

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams – This first book in the Echo Falls series follows 13-year-old Ingrid, cast as Alice in her town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, as she attempts to unravel a suspicious murder and the mysterious past of the play’s creepy director. Will the police chief find out Ingrid was lying about being at the scene of the crime? Will the murderer find out she was there? Read and find out!

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd – The late Siobhan Dowd created a memorable hero in Ted, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who uses his special way of seeing and thinking about the world to locate his missing cousin Salim just in the nick of time. The cliffhanger ending gets my heart racing even to this day!

Masterpiece by Elise Broach – Who says a boy and a bug can’t be friends? When Marvin the beetle and James the boy combine their talents they become an unstoppable force as they recover a valuable painting taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a dastardly thief no one else suspects.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt – International intrigue and adventure are the name of the game as two friends take off from school to go on a globetrotting quest to foil an international art forger in this first book in the Kari and Lucas series!

The Postcard by Tony Abbott – Here’s one for those who like their mysteries on the hardboiled side. Instead of hanging out with his best friend over summer break, Jason finds himself in hot, humid Florida, helping his dad clear out his deceased grandmother’s house. But a strange phone call, a series of postcards with clues and a cast of bizarre circus stars soon add up to more excitement than he thought boring St. Petersburg had to offer!

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. BeilNew York City, watch out! These Catholic schoolgirls (plus their middle school English teacher and a certain very cute boy) are teaming up to find a valuable lost treasure – with sleepovers, math problems and their favorite coffee shop along the way. If you can’t have this group of girls as your best friends, reading this book is the next best thing!

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach – Sixth grader Hero (named by her Shakespeare-loving parents but not so thrilled about the teasing she gets for it) finds herself starting a new school, befriending the eccentric old lady next door – oh, and trying to find a missing diamond. It’s not just any old diamond, however. It’s one that might hold the secret to a centuries-old mystery surrounding Shakespeare’s true identity…

Websites with reading lists:

Mystery books from KCLS’s Teen Zone (please note: some of these are more appropriate for high school students)

Mysteries for Teens from Seattle Public Library (books recommended for middle school students are labelled "MS")

Ms. Simeon’s blog post for 5th grades mystery & suspense book report

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OWS & Vista Academy Library Program, 2009-2010

This post and the ones below offer some information for Specialists' Night (tonight, Wednesday, October 14th)! Please feel free to email me if you wish to receive a copy of the library benchmarks.

A brief overview of our library program:

Libraries are exciting places because they are both archives of past treasures as well as gateways to the riches of our current information age. This dual purpose underlies the major goals of the OWS & Vista Academy library program; we hope that students will cultivate a love of reading and literature and that they will become effective users and seekers of information. We want students to leave our school with the understanding that libraries are important community institutions that will serve them in many capacities throughout their lives.

Library classes build on each other over time, from reinforcing basic literacy skills in the lower grades to developing more advanced research techniques in the upper grades. During storytimes we sample some of the best children’s literature, both old and new. Many storytimes are based on a theme or are part of a larger ongoing unit.

OWS/Vista Library resources

In addition to the blog and my Goodreads page (which has recommended books sorted by subject and genre) we subscribe to a number of databases that are useful for homework and just for fun. We cannot publish the passwords here, of course, so email us at library @ ows dot org (without the spaces!) if you need that information. It was also included in the curriculum night handouts you received from your child's teacher.

OWS/Vista Library policies

Borrowing & returning books: Please help your student remember to return his or her books on or before the date they are due (see back of book for date due stamp). Books should be returned to the library bin in your child’s classroom.

Lost or damaged books: If your student loses or damages a book, please notify me via email at library @ ows dot org (without the spaces). Please do not purchase a replacement! If you later locate a missing item, you will receive a refund, which cannot happen if you bought a replacement copy. We may also choose to use fines to purchase titles that are more urgently needed or more up-to-date than the lost or damaged item.

Gift book donations to our school library

Our school library has a long-standing tradition of families donating books in honor of students’ birthdays and other occasions. A special book plate with the donor’s name is placed in each book, and the honored individual is allowed to take the item home first.

If you are interested in donating, please go to Amazon*, click on “Your Lists” at the top of the page, select “Wish List,” and search for “Open Window School” or “Vista Academy.”

If you would like to donate a title that is not on either wish list, please consult with the librarian before making a purchase, to avoid disappointment if the title is not needed in our collection. Thank you!

*Of course you may also purchase items at your local independent bookstore - in fact, I highly recommend that! If you choose that route, please let me know so that I can remove the book in question from the Amazon wish list.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month!

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor the many contributions Latino Americans have made in a wide range of arenas. In the realm of children's literature there are abundant riches as proven by the Pura Belpré Award, the Americas Award and the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award.

A few books by Hispanic American authors and illustrators that I particularly love are Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan (a moving chapter book about family ties for grades 4 and up), Sugar Cane: A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace and illustrated by Raúl Colón (among my very favorite illustrators), and A Gift of Gracias by Julia Alvarez (a beautiful legend from the Dominican Republic).

İLeer es divertido! Reading is fun!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Percy Jackson Readalikes

Last week a parent asked for reading suggestions for her son, who is a big fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Below are a few of my suggestions followed by lists put together for Riordan fans by different public library systems.

If you haven't yet tried this fast-paced, Greek-mythology-inspired adventure series, go pick up a copy of The Lightning Thief and get ready for some fun!

Cronus Chronicles series by Anne Ursu
Hercules by Geraldine McCaughrean
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville
Odysseus by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Odyssey by Homer - various retellings for young people by Robin Lister, Adrian Mitchell and others
Perseus by Geraldine McCaughrean
Theseus by Geraldine McCaughrean

Friday, September 25, 2009

Citations 101

This weekend our 5th graders will be busily writing up their solar energy papers for Ms. Stivers's science class after doing research during library classes. One of the less exciting aspects of the research paper process comes next: creating the bibliography!

Fortunately things have come a long way since I was a student flipping through my Turabian guide. You can take some of the pain out of this process by using the following sites:

Simply fill in the boxes, click on "submit" and voila! Remember, we use the MLA format at Open Window & Vista Academy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Celebrate your freedom to read: choose a banned book!

September 26-October 3 is Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. Although the majority of book challenges go unreported, bans and challenges occur all over the United States, a fact which surprises many.

If you check out these lists of the most frequently banned and challenged books arranged by year, author, type, etc. you are likely to find some beloved favorites. In fact the list of top ten most challenged authors of the past 8 years includes such stellar talents as J.K. Rowling, Kevin Henkes, Katherine Paterson, Gary Paulsen, Maurice Sendak, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Philip Pullman.

So, take this opportunity to talk with your family about first amendment rights and what they mean. Then head over to the library and pick up a great banned book to read!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Letters about Literature

Students in grades 4-12 can enter the Letters about Literature contest run by the Washington State Library (outside Washington, check out the Library of Congress' site for how to enter). One winner at each grade level (4-6, 7-8, 9-12) in each state will be entered at the national level. The deadline is December 12, 2009.

Interested entrants should "read a book and write a letter to the author about how the book changed their view of the world." Check out the links above for more information!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A memorable encounter

Last weekend my daughter and I were thrilled to attend a talk by Jane Goodall at the Theo Chocolate company in Seattle. She was promoting her new book, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink. This book, co-written with Gail Hudson and Thayne Maynard, outlines remarkable environmental successes as dedicated people around the world work to improve their local habitats and actually revive species that many had given up for lost. It is written for adults but would be accessible to strong readers of younger ages.

Dr. Goodall, who at age 75 travels 300 days of the year spreading awareness about conservation, gave an inspirational talk and then patiently signed books and chatted with her large crowd of admirers. She spoke about the organization she founded for children, Roots & Shoots, which allows young people around the world to actually make a positive difference in their communities.

What particularly tickled me was her emphasis on the impact books had on her as a child. She grew up in the age before television and the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting and the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs filled her with a desire to one day go to Africa and write books.

While the Lofting books may seem dated in some respects to modern readers, I remember as a child being similarly excited by the world of adventure they promised! Every time Dr. Dolittle closed his eyes and stuck a pin in a map of the world in order to determine his next destination, I felt a thrill! To this day I would love to plan my next holiday in that manner, but haven't quite had the nerve...

If you, like Dr. Goodall, are an adventurous animal lover, I would recommend the following:

  • The Chimpanzee Family Book by Jane Goodall
  • The Chimpanzees I Love: Saving Their World and Ours by Jane Goodall
  • Light Shining Through the Mist: A Photobiography of Dian Fossey by Tom L. Matthews
  • The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery
  • Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery
  • The Case of the Monkeys That Fell from the Trees by Susan E. Quinlan
  • The Case of the Mummified Pigs by Susan E. Quinlan
Happy reading!

Friday, September 11, 2009


In October, Ms. Russell's 5th graders will be writing book reports on mystery and suspense books. There are few things I enjoy as much as a good whodunnit! Here are a few clues that will lead you to a great mystery in case you are feeling stumped...

A few fiction series to try: Hannah West by Linda Johns (set in Seattle!), Gilda Joyce by Jennifer Allison and Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen

A few fiction authors to try: Margaret Peterson Haddix, Willo Davis Roberts, Peg Kehret, Blue Balliett, Roland Smith and Elise Broach.

A few non-fiction titles:
  • Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson
  • The Bone Detectives: How Forensic Anthropologists Solve Crimes and Uncover Mysteries of the Dead by Donna M. Jackson
  • Little People and a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery by Linda Goldenberg
  • Looking for Life in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Ellen Jackson
  • Search for the Golden Moon Bear by Sy Montgomery (note: she's written two versions of this book, one for adults and one for kids)
  • Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes against Nature by Donna M. Jackson
Reading lists:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Book Got You Hooked?

What Book Got You Hooked? is a charity initiative by the literacy non-profit First Book. Check out the website to see which books various celebrities named as the ones that first really got them hooked on reading - you might be surprised at what Mo Willems, Kate DiCamillo or Judy Blume picked!

You can also browse favorites chosen by regular people just like you. Even better, with your parents' permission you can submit your own pick and also vote for the state that should get a donation of 50,000 new books for needy kids. The state with the most votes wins! Stop by before September 30, 2009 to make sure your vote gets counted!

As for me, I would have to give credit to A.A. Milne and his eternally delightful Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems for turning me into a lifelong reader. If you haven't yet experienced the rich delights of the original stories, it is not too late to go off on an adventure with a friendly bear and his favorite little boy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Suzanne Collins fans, take note!

If you enjoyed Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, here is your opportunity for a sneak peek at a chapter of the second book in the trilogy, Catching Fire, scheduled to be published on September 1st!

The Hunger Games, in case you haven't read it, is a gripping dystopian novel for middle and high schoolers set in a post-apocalyptic world in which reality television takes on a deadly new twist... Among upper elementary readers, Collins is popular for her series that begins with Gregor the Overlander.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The last books of summer

I recently read an article in the New York Times about choosing your last big read of the summer. Until that point, I think I'd been in a bit of denial about summer coming to an end! However, teachers and staff will be back at school full-time as of next Monday, and students will be back just over a week later - hard though that may be to believe!

I'm looking forward to hearing about everyone's summer vacations including, of course, what great books you've been enjoying. Right now I'm listening to a wonderful audio version of King of the Cloud Forests by former British children's laureate Michael Morpurgo. It's an absorbing work of historical fiction with a highly imaginative twist: while fleeing China as the threat of Japanese invasion looms, our young protagonist is separated from his Tibetan caregiver and rescued by a group of yeti. Fans of Roland Smith's Sasquatch as well as wilderness survival stories will enjoy this tale of an extraordinary encounter in the Himalayas.

I've also just started reading Deep and Dark and Dangerous, a deliciously creepy ghost story by Mary Downing Hahn, master of spooky fiction, which is one of this year's Sasquatch Award nominees. My daughter loves scary books, but I'm much less brave than she is and need to avoid reading these kinds of stories too close to bedtime!

Remember to check out my Goodreads profile for more recommended books! I look forward to seeing you back at school very soon!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Children's books about Ramadan & Islam in general

With the holiday of Ramadan beginning next weekend, I wanted to share a few sites that have reading lists with Muslim religious and cultural themes. As yet there are relatively few titles available in English, but fortunately the list is growing with new publications coming out every year.

Also check out the online index for Book Links, a great publication for parents, teachers and librarians that offers reading lists for K-12 on a wide range of subjects. Search this site by keyword (e.g. Muslim, Islam) and then pick up the relevant issue at your local public library. If you have Book Links in your life, you will never wonder what to read next!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Photos of Forks & some great end-of-summer-vacation reading lists!

I'm just back from a fun vacation on the Olympic Peninsula - and of course no trip to that part of the world would be complete without a visit to Forks! Famous as the setting of Stephenie Meyers's Twilight books, you will find the friendly guides at the visitors' bureau ready with a map showing highlights around town. I've pasted in a few photos below - but do go see for yourself if you can! The beaches and forests around Forks are full of atmosphere, making it easy to see how Meyers was inspired to set her vampire and werewolf adventures in that gorgeous part of the world.

Meanwhile, as we contemplate returning to school in just a few weeks, there is still time to enjoy some relaxing time with a good book that you are reading purely for the fun of it. Right now I'm in the middle of a great young adult novel, perfect for grades 7-12 or so, called King of the Screwups by K.L. Going. It's about a boy who, no matter how hard he tries, just never seems to get things right. After his latest debacle, his father kicks him out one week before the start of his senior year of high school and he finds himself living in a trailer with an uncle he barely knows. Liam is an engaging character and the book is surprisingly full of humor considering the basic premise!

Below are two great websites where you can find reading suggestions. We'll be voting for books nominated for these awards at school next spring, so start reading now and you'll be eligible to choose your favorites!

Of course even if you live elsewhere, you can still enjoy browsing these lists and finding some great books chosen by school librarians for literary merit and appeal to young people!

Dr. Cullen's reserved parking spot at the Forks Hospital!

The home of the Swan family: Bella and her father.

My daughter and my best friend from high school in front of the Twilight display case put together by Forks city hall employees. It is located in the police station/city hall building.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Meet Hena Khan & Julie Paschkis!

Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story is a gorgeous picture book by Hena Khan, the friend of a dear friend of mine. I'm excited to announce that Khan (a Maryland resident) and local illustrator Julie Paschkis will be appearing at the Ballard branch of Seattle Public Library from 2-3pm on Saturday, August 15th. You can hear them read their book, learn about Ramadan, and ask them any questions you might have.

Author and illustrator events are always great fun as you get to peek behind the scenes and learn more about the process of creating books. Mark your calendars and maybe I will see you there!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Can't get enough of vampires?

Twilight fans looking for similar reading matter should take a look at this list of Twilight Readalikes.

If you enjoyed the first movie and are curious about the one coming up, you can see the stars of the film at this year's
Comic-Con panel.

Given the heatwave we're experiencing in the greater Seattle area, the rainy forests and beaches of Forks sound most appealing right now, vampires or no! Remember your local public library is air conditioned. Apart from hanging out and reading indoors, look at the
library website to find fun events and programs for all ages!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Join the University Book Store book group!

If you are between the ages of 9-13, come to the downtown Bellevue branch of University Book Store on the third Sunday of every month from 2-3:15pm for snacks and a fun discussion! August's book is A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (a personal favorite of mine) and September's book is Ghost Canoe by Will Hobbs. If you attend a meeting, you'll also get to help pick future selections! You can also find book groups for all ages at your local library.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Settle down in the sun with a great comic!

Comics and graphic novels make perfect summertime reading. For some fun reading suggestions for ages 4-18, check out these lists:

Comics That Celebrate America's Cultural Diversity

Good Comics for Kids Summer 2009 Reading List

Parents, remember that there are plenty of wonderful comics and graphic novels out there for you too! For recommendations of great works for all ages, take a look at Graphic Novel Reporter and No Flying No Tights.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Magic & Medicine

Sadly the traveling exhibition, Harry Potter's World, is not coming to the Seattle area. However, even if you won't be near any of the libraries that are hosting it, you can still enjoy a lot of the information on the website, including a suggested reading list and online activities! Learn about Nicolas Flamel, mandrakes, unicorns, and more! This is a rich site for Harry Potter fans to explore.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why not listen?

Summer vacation often brings road trips, long plane flights (not to mention waiting in airports) and other stretches of time when you crave entertainment but want to take a break from focusing on a book. Audiobooks may well be the answer! I listen to audiobooks while driving, cooking and pottering about the house. My daughter and I often sit together peacefully knitting, weaving or doing other crafts while an audiobook plays in the background.

There have been books I had trouble sinking my teeth into in traditional text format that have come to life in the hands (voice?) of the perfect reader. You can find audiobooks read to you by notable actors such as Lynn Redgrave, Simon Jones and Michael York. Some books are even performed by an entire cast of actors.

Research has shown that children's vocabulary is enriched nearly as much by listening to books being read aloud as they are by actually reading. In addition, listening to a book can be the ideal bridge for the child whose comprehension far outstrips his or her reading level. Sharing an audiobook together as a family can also be a great way to spark discussion.

How do you find audiobooks? There are certainly services you can rent them from, however the local public library has a wide selection of books available on cassette, CD or as a downloadable audio file. Locate them this way:

Home > Books & Reading > Browse Books > Browse by Format

Or, in the regular catalog, click on "Limit To" and select "Book on CD/Cassette" or "Player."

Happy listening! Now I'm going back to disk 5 of Carl Hiassen's "Scat" read by Ed Asner!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Publishing young people's writing

Many students are thrilled at the possibility of seeing their work in print! Here are a couple of links that offer suggestions:

For more ideas, check out past blog posts tagged with the label "publishing"!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We have a new database!

Our suite of databases that includes Culturegrams and the ProQuest products (eLibrary, eLibrary Elementary & ProQuest) now also comes with World Conflicts Today. This database explores protracted, unresolved world conflicts that have global implications. Regions include Afghanistan, Basque Country (Spain and France), Chechnya, Colombia, Darfur and Sudan, Iraq, Jammu and Kashmir, Korean Peninsula, Northern Ireland, and the Palestinian Territories.

Log in as you would for Culturegrams. Check your class website, your child's library research project handouts, or email Ms. Simeon at "library @ ows dot org" (without the spaces!) if you don't have the login and password handy.

This database could not be more timely or more valuable for our older students and their families. Please take advantage of it as well as the others we subscribe to.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sites for teens

Are you a teen looking for summer activities or suggestions about what to read? Look no further than your local public library!

KCLS (the King County Library System) has TeenZone, a page that offers reading lists for numerous genres (Eragon-Read-A-Likes, Twilight Read-A-Likes, Survival Stories, Tearjerkers...), contests such as Read.Flip.Win, video game nights, and more!

SPL (the Seattle Public Library) has Push to Talk, a blog for teens with book reviews (by teens as well as librarians), book lists, and events on a wide range of topics, including a comic workshop.

Now get out there and have some fun! Make the most of this summer!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Let's hear it for Anthony Browne!

I was very pleased to learn earlier this week that Anthony Browne, one of my favorite authors and artists, is the new British Children's Laureate. This quote from him expresses a sentiment I believe in wholeheartedly:

"Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older," said Browne. "The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words,a gap that is filled by the reader's imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book. Sometimes I hear parents encouraging their children to read what they call proper books (books without pictures), at an earlier and earlier age. This makes me sad, as picture books are perfect for sharing, and not just with the youngest children."

If you're not familiar with his work, look for Voices in the Park, The Tunnel, The Shape Game and so many more!