Friday, November 21, 2014

Stratford Zoo Presents: Macbeth - a graphic novel review

There is no shortage of amazing graphic novels in the world these days... but this one is now on the top of my 2014 list. 

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth
by Ian Lendler (Goodreads Author), Zack Giallongo (Illustrations)

Paperback, 80 pages
Published September 30th 2014 by First Second
ISBN 1596439157 (ISBN13: 9781596439153)

Goodreads Summary:
The Stratford Zoo looks like a normal zoo... until the gates shut at night. That's when the animals come out of their cages to stage elaborate performances of Shakespeare's greatest works. They might not be the most accomplished thespians, but they've got what counts: heart. Also fangs, feathers, scales, and tails, in The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth.

My Thoughts:
This may be my favorite graphic novel so far this year. Yes, I've always been a huge Shakespeare fan, but it's more than that. It's the combination of art and words and the fact that it is an effortlessly fun way to introduce this story and rather sophisticated themes to upper elementary students.

The pictures are just packed with details and fun little bits that you may not notice until the second or third reading. A poor fox wants to move so he doesn't have to sit next to a skunk. Two rabbits are clearly aggravated at being seated behind the giraffe. The tantalizing scent of temptation glows as it hovers and leads the kingly lion toward the witch's cauldron.

The panel design is easy to follow, even for students who are new to comic formatting. Even with that easy style, there are plenty of details to keep the eye from boredom. Inset panels with a different color scheme show what the audience is thinking as the play progresses. Not all pages have just simple rectangular panel shapes.

Okay, so it's Macbeth. You know what the plot will be. There is murder and guilt. Temptation and hubris. Greed and punishment. Yet Lendler manages to make it his own with lots of humorous asides that break up the tension. Ketchup substitutes for blood to keep it kid friendly. It's a tragedy, but with an ending that keeps the message but lightens it up for the younger crew.

Classroom Applications:
-- Just let them read it because it's awesome.

-- Okay, it would also be a great tie in with any novel studies that relate to universal themes like greed, temptation, and punishment.

-- Want to do a Shakespeare competition? Using this graphic novel would be a wonderful way to show how to creatively alter a traditional play to make something unique and entertaining.

-- With older kids, partner with the Gareth Hinds Romeo & Juliet.

Book two will be Romeo and Juliet. Do you think I could plug a request for one of the comedies to follow? Let's get this zoo crew on Midsummer Night's Dream! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Little Kindnesses - Slice of Life

It's been a while, hasn't it? I haven't been blogging very frequently for ... well... too long.

I'd like to take a moment to reconfirm my dedication to words. To taking the time to notice the little things and write them down. To living a writer's life and cultivating my writer's eye. I took a deep breath this evening and revisited my day, looking for something that should be committed to writing.

Okay, so time for my return to slicing. 

Today I was sitting at my desk, gathering up my things before I had to run down to lunch duty. Fifth graders were filing out. I'd love to say they were leaving quietly, but that's just not how we roll. A few were checking out books from the Lair Library.

Just as the last echoes of the final voice began to die out in the hall, I saw a head peek back into the room.

"Mrs. Selke, can I show you something?"

"Of course! Come on in."

She had a little slip of paper in her hand. Biting her lower lip, she handed it to me.

"This looks really mean," she said. "I thought you should see it."

Relief flooded through me as I realized what she held. It was a scrap of paper with some really mean things on it, that was for sure! But instead of being an unkind note meant to hurt someone's feelings, it was a bit of a script another child had written. One of my groups is working on creating their own TED talks, and two students chose to write about combating bullying.

I smiled at this fifth grader who had taken the time to try to stand up for her friends.

"Thank you for showing this to me," I said. Then I explained the situation. The little wrinkles of worry around her eyes smoothed out as she realized that the note wasn't written to wound.

"You did the right thing, you know. If this had been what you thought it was, it would have been so important that someone came forward so we could fix it."

She darted back out of the room, her steps already looking lighter. Maybe we can't completely end the culture of unkindness in one giant leap, but even small steps take us closer to the prize.

Come join the writing community at Two Writing Teachers. Someone is there Slicing (writing personal memoirs and reflections) every Tuesday. Let's Write! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's Monday November 10th

Don't forget to visit our lovely hosts - Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to get more book ideas for YOUR pile!

Mostly a Picture Book Stack this week!

Some I grabbed for my Mock Caldecott but I have already read - like Julia's House and Noisy Paint Box.

Some were new but for the Mock Caldecott (Quest, Kid Sheriff, and Extraordinary Jane).

Clink and One Big Pair of Underwear were suggestions based on other people's blogs last week!

All were excellent!

I'm working on a Mock Caldecott list for my 5th graders. I am trying to choose about 20. Some are from other Mock lists I've found, and some are on the list because I liked them and already have a copy. I have 18 so far.

Other Books This Week:

Some awesome stories and some just okay (as is normal in an anthology). Some are great for Notice and Note strategies!

I've been reading this one with a group of colleagues. I've taught the first two signposts and will be teaching a third this week.

(Graphic novel - T+) So odd. Excellent premise but I had a lot of trouble following some of the battle sequences.

Hysterical! I need to find a group to use this with this week!

I also managed to blog a picture book review this week! It was Carl Sagan's birthday this past weekend, too!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan biography - NFPB 2014 Review

Searching for a way to ignite the minds of young scientists and explorers? I have just the book for you...

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 1596439602 (ISBN13: 9781596439603)

Goodreads Summary:

For every child who has ever looked up at the stars and asked, "What are they?" comes the story of a curious boy who never stopped wondering: Carl Sagan.

When Carl Sagan was a young boy he went to the 1939 World's Fair and his life was changed forever. From that day on he never stopped marveling at the universe and seeking to understand it better. Star Stuff follows Carl from his days star gazing from the bedroom window of his Brooklyn apartment, through his love of speculative science fiction novels, to his work as an internationally renowned scientist who worked on the Voyager missions exploring the farthest reaches of space. This book introduces the beloved man who brought the mystery of the cosmos into homes across America to a new generation of dreamers and star gazers.

My Thoughts:

The narrative begins by sharing the galactic address of a little boy who "was curious about everything". We watch Carl fiddle with electricity, examine caterpillars, and daydream about rocket ships. We see him attend the World's Fair and get hooked on robots and the night sky.

This is what I want kids to see. I need them to see how their young lives and fascinations can fuel a life of curiosity and discovery.

We see Carl explore the world through books and science fiction. Yes! I am a huge advocate for getting kids hooked on science fiction so they can begin to ask their own "what ifs" about the world.

The book is filled with a delightful mixture of illustrations. I love how Sisson uses all the available space on the pages. She uses diagramming style to add in little details. She adds in some comics style panels. She has pages that are tilted and pages that are designed to be unfolded and viewed vertically. Even the color scheme fits well to showcase Sagan's early 80s style. Overall, her style reflects the childlike wonder and awe about the universe that Sagan seemed to hold onto for his entire life.

Classroom Uses:
-- allow students to pick something Sagan describes to learn about in more detail (robots, stars, space travel, science fiction, theories about alien life, Mars, the other planets in our solar system, and more).
-- explore the excellent back matter
-- view old episodes of Cosmos - or watch some of the new ones with Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Carl learns, grows, and teaches. He explores, experiments, and dreams. Let Carl's journey inspire the young scientists in your life! 

Check out Kid Lit Frenzy every week for more nonfiction picture book recommendations!

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's Monday November 3rd

Okay, seriously this time... it's time to get more consistent with the blogging again. I apologize to those who have come to visit my posts and not gotten a return visit from me. I am back on the horse and planning to do better.

Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for more great It's Monday posts... and check out the #IMWAYR tag on Twitter!

Graphic Novels:

 Not completely sold on this one. While the story was interesting, it felt a little busy. I did like learning new Spanish phrases, but all the asterisks to tell me the meanings got in the way of the story sometimes. Interested to see what kids think.                                                                                                                                               This one is AMAZING! So incredibly funny. A fabulous adaptation of Macbeth that I think will also appeal to kids who don't know the original. 

Picture Books:
Lovely tale with beautiful illustrations. So nice to visit with Ivan again! Excellent back matter, too.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I really loved this one. I have a student who is currently fascinated with Franklin, and he enjoyed this peek into Franklin's younger years.
Middle Grade Novels

Look for this new book by Kate Messner in January!                                        Messner captures the life of a high-anxiety kid perfectly. Coping with school, friendship, and family problems makes Ava anxious. Is it worth it to have something that can give you all the answers? Does knowing make life less stressful? I have so many students that jumped into my head as needing this book right now. Time to start spreading the love!

A short and simple historical fiction novel with a huge soccer focus. I had a student in mind for this one, too, and I didn't even need to hand it to him. He spotted it on the shelf and devoured it in one sitting. His evaluation? Five stars. There seem to be few books set in this time period in Soviet Russia, and this is a perfect introduction.

Wow. Just amazing. How had I not experienced this story before? Impressive as an audiobook, powerful as a narrative of Germany in World War 2. 

What have you been reading lately? If you do the It's Monday posts, go ahead and leave a link to your post in the comments!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Must Read in 2014 Third Quarter Update

Third Quarter Update!

I had 36 books selected as my "must read in 2014". In the first quarter of 2014 I completed 17 of those titles. Since I finished almost half of my choices in the first quarter, I added a few more titles (I'm now at 44). As I finish out the third quarter, I'm a bit concerned that I might not actually finish all 44.... but I've already started to collect books for my Must Read in 2015 list! Maybe a few 2014 will have to migrate. I guess I'm okay with that. 

You can view the whole list on my Goodreads page here.
Check out my First Quarter Update (some really amazing books!)
Check out my Second Quarter Update (more great books!)

While I did feel like my pace slowed, I ended up completely a decent number of titles this last three months. 


Only 2 (that we know of) creatures with Y chromosomes survived a mysterious plague.. 
Graphic novel collecting some very odd events. It didn't feel very well wrapped up for a story arc, but I'm curious to see what happens next. 

Totally amazing. I loved all the palace intrigue and book love. This series is fabulous. (Though Graceling will always be my favorite)

I'm not gonna lie - sports books aren't really my thing. Still, this was a great addition to the Guys Read series, and my students love it.

I wanted to love this one... I really did. It has a fascinating premise and I wanted to know more about the end of the world and the Unstoppable Soldiers. The story, though, was told in a way that made me feel more than a little whiplashed - jumping back and forth as the narrator told me about old events and new all at once. 

I love Batgirl, even though this series is quite dark. Gail Simone is a master storyteller, and the art is FANTASTIC.

Another amazing series. I ADORE the idea of taking fairy tales and transporting them into science fiction. BRILLIANT! I'm a Thorne fangirl. 

I loved this book. The friendship between the two women was so refreshing. So glad I made the time for this title. (wish I'd written down more notes about my impressions.... but heck, I read a lot?)

Got this through a kickstarter. Definitely dark, and the art is great. The story felt a bit rushed, though. 

SEPTEMBER - yep, this was where I seriously slowed my progress.... still, it was a great one to complete..

I LOVED this historical fiction, set in the same time as BOMB. Great friendship between the girls (though I wanted to throttle the one for quite a while). I also loved the "maker" emphasis as both girls are true creators. Definitely get this one for kids who are interested in the time frame of the creation of the atom bomb.

I have SEVEN remaining titles.... and it's halfway through October. Hmm...

September Girls
The Gate to Women's Country (a reread of an old favorite)
Period 8
Queen Defiant: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Tigana (another old favorite)

Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Monday October 6th

It's Monday! Time to share what I've been reading. Today's post again represents several weeks of reading, not just one. I still haven't gotten myself back to a regular blogging schedule.

Be sure to check the Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers sites for more great books to add to your TBR list!

Science Fiction

Well, SON is on my "must read in 2014 list, so I had to make time to read the whole series. I've read The Giver enough times that I didn't reread it, but I did need a reread of Gathering Blue before I went to Messenger. Lowry is a true master. I was in a bit of a book slump, picking up and putting down books one after another. These two captured and held my attention completely. I just started SON yesterday and I'm already hooked.

Delivery of Doom is a silly, fun science fiction for the younger set (third and fourth grade?). Lots of punny humor. The beginning really hooked me but the plot felt like it slowed down mid-book. Still, I think kids will enjoy all the pizza and cheese humor.

Middle Grade - Realistic Fiction and Mystery

Beautiful story of a girl who loves homonyms and her dog, Rain. Follow her struggles with her family, her challenges fitting in at school with autism, and the storm that changes her life forever.  (I won an ARC of this one)

Another great mystery by J.E. Thompson! My students loved the first one. The friendship of the girls is so fun, and I love how adventurous and curious they are. Thompson came to my school last year and the kids learned so much!

Graphic Novels
Phelan weaves a truly unique historical fiction here. Does the boy in the Dust Bowl really see a mysterious figure in the nearby barn - or is it a symptom of all the dust he's ingested? Lovely, haunting illustrations.

It was good - but doesn't top my list. I thought the storyline was interesting. The idea of a godling going through his coming of age test was cool. 

But many of the pages felt frantic while others were slow. I was a bit confused at the beginning. And I know it's the start of a series but the ending point didn't make me feel like this volume was complete.

Picture Books
Beautiful story and very pretty illustrations. I loved how Emily is inspired by Van Gogh to make her own art. This "maker" inspiring book idea seems to be a trend. I have a shelf on Goodreads devoted to the ones I've found so far. 
Not sure why my formatting is wonky - but here are my thoughts on those last two books:

Hello, My Name is Ruby - sweet, simple story. I think I like the illustrations more than the actual storyline, though.

Herman and Rosie - this is a gem. Two lonely city-dwellers find each other through serendipity and music. Another "maker" inspiring book? (though this time the making is music)

Here's my shelf on Goodreads that shares the creativity and artistic inspiring books I've found:

I'm counting titles where the characters in the story create - make - and are inspired. I didn't include biographies of artists or musicians, although I suppose I could...

Have a great reading week!

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