My list of 10 Picture Books I Couldn't Teach Without is posted at
Cathy Mere, author of MORE THAN GUIDED READING and blogger at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community, in cooperation with Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning, invited/challenged members of the Kidlitosphere blogging community to come up with ten picture books they couldn't teach without. Please visit my other blog especially for educators to see which titles I chose...and to devise your own "if I were on a desert island" collection! You can also use this wonderful "Jog the Blog" feature to easily browse ALL the top ten lists of ALL the participants! What fun.
Meanwhile, the schoolbell's ringing! Readers, please line up for some middle-grade novels that will really stretch your thinking.FICTION
ME AND ROLLY MALOO by Janet S. Wong (Charlesbridge, 2010)
Jenna Lee is a smart, math-loving fourth grader, but is frowned upon by the more popular girls in her class (and their mothers) for being slightly shabby and idiosyncratic. Queen Bee Rolly Maloo concedes to some limited friendship with Jenna, though, when it means she can ask for an answer on a high-stakes test. When Mrs. Pie busts them in the act of cheating, it is the beginning of a turn of events that can send Jenna Lee into a downward spiral...unless a few loyal classmates speak out, and a teacher in a compromising position can solve the mystery behind the misbehavior. Cheating makes for an engaging subject, but beyond that, many complex issues are addressed here with honesty, age-appropriateness and aplomb: economic class prejudice, the pressures and impact of high-stakes testing on school communities, the difference between tattling and protecting, and the effect of parental gossip. All of this is done in a completely fresh format, a hybrid of straight prose and graphic novel that wholly compliments each other; thought balloons and conversations in illustrated form sometimes alternate with the prose, other times run parallel, always offering insights, contradictions and inner thoughts of the children (of both genders), the teacher, the principal and the parents, each informing decisions that move the plot and begs the question: what would you have done? Moreover, the author does something that is very rare in children's intermediate fiction: she includes the grown-ups. Children in real life overhear what adults say, and their lives are impacted daily by the decisions large and small that adults make. Likewise, in this work of realistic fiction, young readers can see what the grown-ups are thinking, and why they do what they do...whether right or wrong. Ultimately, the conflict is resolved believably to the reader's satisfaction, even happily and hopefully as Jenna's mom finds a new start with a baking business, and manages to "stick it" to the woman who thought the worst of her daughter. At no point is the young reader underestimated here, and this is a book about decisions that is sure to be widely enjoyed for its format and widely discussed for its content. While challenging to read aloud, it's sure to create conversation, making it a a stupendous choice for book clubs and classroom sets, and an engaging read for individual fans of classroom stories and realistic fiction as well. Ultimately a tool for the empathetic imagination, in turning her talents toward the middle-grade novel, this versatile poet and picture book author has turned out the best work of her career. (8 and up)
Also of interest:
MARY MAE AND THE GOSPEL TRUTH by Sandra Dutton (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)
"Them stripes in the hills," I say. "Shows all the different ages of the earth. You can't see it now. It's way back."
Now Mama's mood just gets worse. "Ain't no different ages."
I don't know what she's talking about. "Why not?" I say.
Mama don't answer right away. She says to Granny, "I swear, them teachers ought to stick with spelling and numbers."
Mary Mae's teacher is not sticking to spelling and numbers, but instead, presents an enthusiastic unit on the Ordovician age, fostering an interest in trilobites and archeology well-matched to Mary Mae's budding curiosity about the natural world. But this fifty thousand year old history doesn't jive with the evangelical view of the world as six thousand years old, and from Mary Mae's mother's point of view, threatens her eternal soul. Mary Mae's tendency to ask "why?" trickles over into Sunday School, and when her fossil collection and essay titled "Interview with a Trilobite" are discovered, Mama reacts with a decision to homeschool, even though teaching is definitely not mama's forté. Mary Mae is frustrated, and wonders, is there any way she can find a balance between what she must believe and what she longs to learn? Perhaps her participation in the church's Noah's Ark puppet show will give voice to the balance that is in her heart. Dutton does a fairly brilliant job of respecting both sides of a prickly argument. The church's loving embrace of its congregants, eager to celebrate and give thanks for good news conveys a great warmth ("Jonathan Safer jumps up. 'I got a B on my history test.' ''Praise the Lord!' Everybody yells. 'Amen!'"), as does her secular teacher's desire to accommodate ("I'm sorry,' says Miss Sizemore. 'I wish I'd known. You know, I could have given you different assignments, the why I do Shirley Whirly.' 'Nope,' I say. 'I like science. I want what everybody else gets.' Then I get a lump so big in my throat I can't even talk"). Both are sensitively drawn, and the character of Grandma, who sees the wonder of her maker in all things, serves as a central pillar to both ends of the scale. The detail, lack of cynicism and inherent contemplation of this novel could have only been written by somebody who has experienced both sides of the coin. As the daughter of two Sunday school teachers in Ohio, the author says, "I wrote this book for kids like me who love discovering things, whether the Bible, the backyard, or a history book. I want them to have the courage to ask questions." In a storm where sometimes two grown-ups sides rage, the likable, high-spirited child character remains central. Teachers: the only thing I balked at in the book was a linguistically colloquial reference to a woman's breasts, which I chalked up to regionalism, worth being aware of but not a deterrent for collection development. Readers of all faith backgrounds and educational backgrounds will sympathize with and like Mary Mae, and find plenty to discuss. Provocative in the very best way, this is a brave and timely book that leaves you the better for having read it. (10 and up)
THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS by Rhonda Hayter (Dial, 2010) It's hard to resist a good witchy-poo story, and Abbie makes for quite the endearing heroine, with the focus on magic instead of malice as she tries to survive school among her regular human classmates, from whom she must hide her unusual skills and identity. Pros of being Abbie: with a special talent for time travel (and freezing time, when necessary), she is able to do her history homework using primary sources. Cons: little brother is a pain (and uses his magic powers against his teacher when given a time-out), keeping secrets from best friends is no fun, auditions for a school play is causing jitters, and, yes, the kitten her father brought home as a pet is actually Thomas Edison under a spell. Normal stuff like that. The author's background in movie production is apparent in this debut, each chapter episodically framed in thirty-three short chapters that move cinematically through the story arc. The real magic of this book is that history is woven through the novel absolutely painlessly, and just as Abbie's many interesting relatives make appearances throughout, this is a book the whole family can enjoy. The breezy pace, believable preteen voice (and vulnerability), good humor, eye of newt and toe of frog will work a spell of confidence-building success for reluctant readers. Of all the varied problems Abbie Adams might have, finding friends in contemporary readers should not be one of them. My favorite witchy school story since DIARY OF A FAIRY GODMOTHER. But of course, in that case, I was biased. (10 and up)
Also, please check don't forget one of my favorite school stories of last year, EXTRA CREDIT by Andrew Clements, a great story and a springboard for international learning and activities! I would like thirty copies, please (along with a classroom set of Mitali Perkins' RICKSHAW GIRL). Click for reviews, and many more solid intermediate picks.
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More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.