Thursday, February 07, 2013

Curious George by H. A. Rey, A Classic Revisited

According to old family tales, I requested that my parents read Curious George  to me so many times that they resorted to accidentally on-purpose "misplacing" it for a while--just long enough to get a chance to read something else to me. (I think it backfired, because then I wore them out with Richard Scarry's Great Big Schoolhouse. That said, as a bookwyrm librarian, I have struggled with how best to share this story with my students. As a kid, I loved all the craziness George gets into and how the man in the yellow hat loves him regardless. Now, I find myself cringing at so many things-George being stuffed into a bag and taken from his home, George smoking a pipe, George being put "in prison" for "fooling" the firemen. That said, I'm finding that many of my students (so far, the K-2 ones) love this story. There are usually giggles when George thinks he can fly, gasps when George goes to prison, and big grins when George shares his balloons with the other animals at the zoo. So, this is how I am reconciling my adult-cringe-factor with my childhood love of this classic.

To begin, I introduce the concept of copyright date as a book's birthday and where to find it (on the back of the title page--aka the "verso"), and how to use that date to tell how old a book is. Then, to put it into perspective, I tell them the story of my parents hiding the book, (some of them have already asked if I knew Ben Franklin, so they already think I'm ancient), how their parents, their grandparents and probably their great-grandparents probably read this same book when they were kids. Then we talk about what it might have been like 70+ years ago--did people dress the same, did cars look the same, did they have cell phones--you get the idea. We spend some time looking at the illustrations as we discuss this and the kids seem to be fascinated with the idea of a dial-phone (need to find one and bring it in). As we read, we spend some time discussing some of the things in the pictures that might not be familiar to the kids now. Other things that we end up discussing? Why the words say they row out to the big ship when the rowboat looks bigger than the ship (they love pointing out that it only LOOKS small "cuz it's far away").  (I take this opportunity to introduce a new vocabulary word--perspective--with the added bonus of appealing to my visual learners. Then we talk about whether this story is "made up" or "informational" to lead in to reading a non-fiction story. I've been pairing Curious George with Chimpanzees  by Helen Frost or Jane Goodall by Jo S. Kittinger.

I gotta say, I'm having fun all over again with this story.  Maybe growing up (a little) isn't so bad after all.  ;D

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Unwilling Witch Goes to Ballet School by Hiawyn Oram

Rumblewick's Diary:  My Unwilling Witch Goes to Ballet School, written by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Sarah Warburton is a hilarious romp into the world of Rumblewick, witch's familiar to one very unwilling witch.  It reminded me a little of Roald Dahl (The BFG, Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Peggy Parrish (Amelia Bedelia), two of my favorites, largely because of the word play and humor; however, this could be a problem. The book LOOKS like an early chapter book, which may tempt many of our younger readers.  The problem with the younger (emerging) readers is that there are several made-up words and some unusual sentence structure (it is, after all, a diary written by a cat), which will make this book really frustrating to some of them. Some of the older readers who would really enjoy this book might pass it by simply because it looks too young. That said, I suspect that some good book talking will solve that issue for the older students, and selling it as a read aloud to the younger students would solve the difficulty issue with the younger ones. Overall, I recommend this book with the caveat -- "know your reader".

As a side note, I read this as a ebook edition on the iPad, and found the e-format to be frustrating. It was hard to tell if I was skipping pages, or if my iPad was glitching. I think this one would be better read as a real paper book.

Neil Armstrong by Dana Meachan Rau

I have recently been introducing my second graders to the biography section of our library and pulled three lower-reading level titles for them to choose from:  Benjamin Franklin, Wilma Rudolph, and Neil Armstrong.  (I love giving them a choice--and they seem to appreciate it too.)  After a brief intro to biography* in general and the mechanics of the biography section (ABC order by last name of person its about. . .), I introduced the concept of copyright date--how to find it in a book and why it is important.  This book was published in 2003.  When we found the date, I told them to remember it because it would be important.  (*Most of my students have already been introduced to biography in their classrooms as early as first grade, so this is largely a chance to ask them to tell me what a biography is and fill in some blanks if necessary.) 

For an intro to biography, this title has been one of the better ones for my younger readers.  The facts were interesting, the pictures good (for large group read-aloud, some of the pictures would be too small for them to see without a document camera), and the title included a title page, a glossary and index. That said, I would not want to use it without an appropriate lesson about the importance of copyright date and using multiple sources when researching for reports.  I led the students in a discussion to think about how much can change in a person's life in one year, two years, or ten years and asked them if they thought that some things might have changed.  They seemed to think on that for a moment or so and then agreed that things could have indeed changed.  Then I turned to the page that mentioned that Mr. Armstrong lives in Ohio (present tense).  Putting the ball in their court, I asked the students if they thought it was a good idea to use only one source for a research project.  I just hope that they remember this example.  What I liked about this title is that it gave pertinent information that many biographies for younger readers tend to leave out--specifically, when and where the person was born.  (Come on publishers--when teachers ask a young student to do a biography report, those are two facts that they would usually like to have, and too many of the bios written for the younger reader leave that info out.)   

Interesting to note, one of my 2nd graders wanted to know why the book did not include the famous quote about "one small step for man."  I was tickled that he knew the quote in the first place, and it led into an interesting discussion about how authors choose what to include and what to leave out.