Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Eleven Recent Books (and Graphic Novels) for Fourth and Fifth graders

One of my former students, who has just taken a new teaching position, sent me this question:
I need to beef up my book collection for 4th/5th readers.  I have a small assortment of middle school appropriate books, but realized I should at least start thinking of book suggestions for kids, if not buy a few for my own collection.  I keep thinking of the books I read in those grades, but have grown to realize many of them have some veiled racism that I'm not okay with.  Got any good suggestions?

I'll list some of my favorites below (with links to reviews).  If anyone reading this blog would like to add a few feel free to comment below.

1,  George O'Connor's Pantheon series of graphic novels (published by First Second) includes books about Zues, Hera, Athena, Hades, Hades, Poseidon, Aphrodite, and more on the way.  They are well researched, sneak in a fair amount of history and literature, (along with some humor) and are a blast to read. 
2.  Taylor, Sarah Stewart; Towle, Ben (2010)  Amelia Earhart:  This Broad Ocean  New York:  Hyperion
This graphic novel is kind of half non-fiction, half fiction.  It is about a girl reporter who lives on an island in Newfoundland which is the starting point for Earhart's attempt to fly across the Atlantic  A lot of biographical data hers, and extensive end notes provide some sourcing.  Good for fourth and fifth grade girls who maybe are still coming into their own as readers.
3.  Telgemeier, Raina (2010) Smile  New York:  Scholastic.
Raina is about to get braces when she falls and knocks out her teeth.  This graphic novel, though, is less about her orthodontic adventures and more about how she ditches her middle school friends (who ridicule her a lot) and finds new friends in high school that she can feel comfortable around.  This sounds like a middle school book, but my daughter (who is going into fifth grade) absolutely loves this book.
4.  Selznick, Brian (2011) Wonderstruck  New York:  Scholastic.
This book is partly told through pictures and partly through regular text.  This makes it ideal for struggling readers who have never had the experience of making it through a big book.  The story involves two deaf children who are separated by decades, missing parents, Minnesota, New York, family, community, and other stuff -- but you really ought to just get hold of it and read it.  (Selznick is the same guy who wrote the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)
5.  Holm, Jennnifer L.  (20ll)  Our Only May Amelia;  The Trouble with May Amelia.  New York:  Athenaeum. 
May Amelia and her five brothers and gruff father and kind mother try to start a farm in the northwest where no one speaks their language and everything seems to be going against them.  Girls who like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books will like this series. (I think there is maybe a third book out but I haven't read it yet).
6.  Patterson, Katherine (1977) Bridge to Terbithia.  New York:  Scholastic.
Okay, I know, this one really isn't recent.  But it is a great story and perfect for fourth and fifth graders.  You probably remember the story.  A boy and a girl forge a friendship, invent an imaginary kingdom, and then tragedy strikes.  There is a death here, but it is a death that means something in that it changes the community.  I may have gotten a bit sniffley toward the end.  This book rocked.

While I am on the topic of classics, Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy is perfect for fourth and fifth grade and is a good way to broach the topic of race.
7.  Palacio, R.J. (2012) Wonder.  New York:  Knopf
8.  Springer, Nancy (2001)  Rowan Hood:  Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest.  New York:  Penguin.
9.  Larsen, Hope (ill.)  (2012) Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time:  The Graphic Novel.  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
10.  Funke, Cornelia (2007) Igraine the Brave New York:  Chicken House.
11.  DiCamillo, Kate (2013) Flora and Ulysses  Somerville, MA:  Candlewick.
I hope that is a good start! 

A Graphic-Novelish Memoir About Growing up in China

Liu, Na; Martinez, Andres Vera (2012) Little White Duck: A Childhood in China  Minneapolis:  Graphic Universe
     On the one hand, I don't suppose that No Liu's childhood, growing up in China, was that much different from any other Chinese child's life at that time.  She remembers waking up on the day that Chairman Mao died and how there was no school and they spent most of the day at a memorial rally.  She remembers finding a recently hatched batch of chicks behind her neighbor's house and wanting to save them like the People's selfless hero Lei Feng -- so she and her sister made sure the chicks had enough water to drink on that hot day by forcing them to drink water one by one (and inadvertently killed them all in the process).   She remembers celebrating New Years, travelling to the village of her father's birth (and encountering some anti-city prejudice). 
     And yet, on the other hand, what makes this graphic novel memoir so amazing is the interaction of the words and the beautiful images.  The beginning of the book features a breathtaking illustration of Na Liu's recurring dream where she and her sister would ride a giant crane over the rooftops of the city. During a rather pedestrian description of the New Year's celebration , a cut-away illustration lets us see the layout of a typical home.  And throughout the book, little Liu and her sister are drawn in such a way that he reader becomes quickly attached to them.  It is a wonderful way to give kids a glimpse into life in another country (with some history and geography subtly thrown in for good measure. 
     This book might be especially helpful for teaching visually-oriented ELL students who might find some common ground with Na Liu.  Little White Duck would be good for strong third-grade readers and up through middle school at least (I think any high school history classes studying China could benefit from it too. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eight Excellent Read-Alouds for Middle School and High School

Hello Dr. Boerman-Cornell,

I am teaching summer school to freshman and want to use a novel you read aloud to our class. Unfortunately, old age has kicked-in and I cant recall the name. The class was  "Reading In The Content Areas". The main character is a high school Freshman boy .It's about his life and his friends'. I think his mom, was having a baby...or just had a baby girl? His friend ended up moving....or maybe he did? You used different voices for each character (another awesome technique I use to engage my class!) as you read. 

 Im sorry I don't remember the title but I will never forget how you engaged our class. When you get a chance, please let me know the title. Thank you.

(A Former Student)
Dear Former Student,
The book you are thinking of was called Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie and it is by David Lubar.  As long as I am giving you this title, I hope you don't mind if I give you a few more suggestions.  In fact, here are my top eight read-alouds of all time for middle school and high school:
Bloor, Edward (1997) Tangerine, New York:  Scholastic.

Paul Fisher and his family just moved up in the world -- into a gated community in Tangerine, Florida.  They moved mostly for his older brother, who Paul's father is convinced will win a football scholarship.  Paul plays soccer and is excellent at it, despite his bad peripheral vision (due to a childhood accident).  When his mom, hoping to get him the best possible education, signs and Individual Education Plan for him, she doesn't realize that it will exclude him from playing soccer.  Paul is unhappy until it rains for a week straight and a sinkhole opens up and eats several of the portable classrooms in his school, forcing the school to allow kids to transfer to Tangerine Middle School.  Paul transfers and makes sure that the IEP gets lost on the way.  Tangerine Middle school is filled with largely Hispanic students from working class families.  Paul need to find a way to fit in and make the team.  Along the way he learns some interesting things about the gated community and his brother.  This is an exciting book full of twists and turns and plenty of interesting themes to talk about.  Even though it is about a middle school kid, I read it to high school seniors for about five years and they loved it.

Lin, Grace  (2009) Where the Mountain Meets the Moon  New York:  Scholastic.
Minli's parents are poor villagers.  Her Ma is always unhappy, so Minli decides to go on an adventure to change their fortunes.  On her journey, she meets the Old Man of the Moon, Dragon, Buffalo Boy, and the evil Green Tiger.  With the help of her friends and a remarkable amount of courage and good sense, Minli changes the world (or at least part of it).  A summary doesn't do justice to this story, which tugs on the heartstrings of even the most cynical high school senior.  (The book is also a nice read-aloud for any classroom all the way down to fourth grade or so -- but don't tell your older students that.
Lubar, David (2005) Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie  New York:  Speak
Scott Hudson has problems.  He is beginning high school and trying to make sense of it, the girl he likes doesn't know he exists, his Mom is having a baby, a thug he met outside the principal's office keeps giving him rides to school in what may be stolen cars, he is trying to negotiate the narrow line between nerdy and cool, and he can't figure out the goth girl who lockers near him.  Scotts mistakes and sideways successes are funny, but a short time into the book you realize you really care for him and want him to succeed.  I find the ending of this book particularly satisfying.
Myers, Walter Dean (1999) Monster  New York:  HarperCollins
I don't care whether you teach African American boys or not.  Get this book.  Read it.  Then read it out-loud to your class.  It is a good one.    Walter Dean Myers, rest in peace. 
Preus, Margi (2010) Heart of a Samurai   New York:  Abrams.
14 year old Manjiro and two other Japanese fisherman are caught in a story.  Their boat is damaged and caught in a current that carries them far from their homeland.  They are eventually rescued by a British whaling ship.  Manjiro overcomes the suspiciousness that both groups have for each other, learns English, and eventually takes his place in the crew.  He later finds himself living in New Bedford as the adopted son of a whaling captain and as the first Japanese person to set foot on American soil, attending school, heading west for the gold rush, and eventually, returning to his homeland.  This book has a lot to say about prejudice and overcoming prejudice.  If you read it straight through, it isn't until the afterward that your students will discover that Manjiro's story is true.  It really happened.  (Because the story opens when Manjiro is 14, you might think it is ideal for 14 year olds.  The story, however, covers most of his life and really would work well for high school too)
Louis Sacher (1998) Holes  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 
Let's just forget that horrible Disney movie version ever happened, okay?  The book is wonderfully written.  We follow the journeys of Stanley Yelnats and his various relatives as we unravel the story of a crime Stanley didn't know he was committing, a curse his family doesn't know they are the victims of, an injustice that no one remembers, and a friendship that almost doesn't happen.  My favorite part of reading this out loud is that when I get to one of the many twists, I stop reading and watch my students facial expressions and they make the connection.  This book has gotten typecast as a middle school or lower read aloud.  I can't figure out why.  I have read it to high school seniors to great effect.
Schmidt, Gary  (2011) Okay for Now  Boston:  Clarion
It is a great story.  There are wonderful themes in here of community and resilience and more.  But the thing that makes this novel a wonderful read-aloud is the slightly angry and defensive voice of the main character, Doug Swieteck.  The opening sentences:  "Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap.  I'm not lying."  Doug, the narrator, doesn't trust his readers -- which is understandable as we start ot find out how horrible his life has been.  And yet, he is a likable character and this is a hopeful book. 
Sonnenblick, Jordan (2004)  Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie  New York:  Scholastic
You know how we joke about some movies and say that they make us laugh and cry.  This book really does both of those.  I am not going to summarize it for you because it really won't help.  You are just going to have to trust me.  You will love this book.  So will your students.
So anyway, Former Student, those are my top eight.  Maybe other folks who read this will have some suggestions to add. 
Best Regards,