Everyone enjoys a warm and fuzzy dog book (unless of course you don’t, which might suggest your soul is black and hardened). Pair adorable dog with a spunky girl like Opal and a fierce librarian like Miss Block, and you have an award winning book like Because of Winn-Dixie.
My students were on the edge of their seats last week when I book-talked Because of Winn-Dixie. From the first page, I could see nods of identification with Opal’s frustration at being uprooted and moving to a new town, having to meet new friends, and finding allies in the unlikeliest of places. Kate DiCamillo offers a heartfelt respite for students dealing with alcoholic families and abandonment (both issues that are near and dear to my heart) and approaches these themes with care. The major motion film is a nice companion when students are finished reading.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than one out of every five (20.8%) students report being bullied. Students report that they are most often bullied for their looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%). Book-talking Poppy, book one in The Dimwood Chronicles, immediately spurred discussion among students about balance of power and bullying.
Poppy, a scraggly field mouse, and her family have been terrorized by Mr. Ocax (a great-horned owl) for years. They cower in fear of him, until one day, with help from Ereth the porcupine, Poppy decides to take a stand. The illustrations by Brian Floca are mesmerizing and naturally acquaint readers to Poppy’s world. Fans of animal fantasy such as the Redwall series and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH will likely enjoy The Dimwood Chronicles.
In keeping with animal adventure stories, I decided to book-talk Appleblossom the Possum with a third grade class. To my surprise, before I even began the book-talk, they were teaching me about possums.
In this coming of age tale by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Appleblossom – quite possible the cutest possum ever – must leave her mother’s pouch to make her way into the world. Her momma instructs her to stay away from the three monsters: cars, dogs, and humans. Being the runt of the liter, she is a little too keen to show her bravery, and when she falls the down the chimney of Izzy’s house, her family must formulate a daring plan to rescue her. Mama’s three rules may not have saved Appleblossum from danger, but there were several lessons to be learned and middle grade readers will have no problem picking them out. This book has many science connections begging for further research as the animal behavior of possums is accurately depicted and fascinating.
Every month I receive three new books in the mail from Junior Library Guild. This is not an endorsement, but if you aren’t familiar with the company, they are a library subscription service. Libraries pick topics of interest (levels) and they receive processed library books monthly highlighting those issues. This saves time on ordering, and their books are often at the top of award lists and receive good reviews. For the past several years I have worked to update the Chapter Book Series section of my library. We do have the classic series like Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and Captain Underpants, but we needed something new and fresh. When I receive these new chapter books, I knew I had to book-talk them!
I shared Marty Frye, Private Eye with a second grade class, and by the day’s end the first two books in the series were checked out. Marty, dubbed the ‘poet’ detective because he speaks in rhyme, solves crimes in three short stories. In The Case of the Stolen Poodle Marty sets out to find Emma’s diary, misplaced toys, and a bag of flour that has gone missing. Marty is determined to crack the case even when he makes many mistakes along the way, so I found this series encouraging for teaching a growth mindset. The short stories and illustrations are perfect for students who are just beginning to explore chapter books.
I was equally excited to receive and book-talk the first book in this new chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen. Jasmine, 8 years old and the youngest in her Japanese American family, is frustrated that she is the last to learn everything. Her older sister chides her when she makes up her mind she will help pound sticky rice into mochi, a task normally reserved only for boys. Again, it came as no surprise when this book flew off the shelves as soon as I book-talked it. Students find the theme of sibling rivalry and family traditions relatable, and this new series fills a gaping hole in chapter book series with diverse characters. This book will encourage discussion on the many ways people celebrate holidays around the world, including the Japanese New Year.
I knew I would be out on Friday for the long weekend, so I doubled up on book-talks on Thursday. My brother came to visit me from Kansas – more on that next week – and this coming week I will share books about brothers.