Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Favorite Books Right Now

What's been flying off my shelves lately? I always like to take a breath at this time of year to think about which books my students have enjoyed, which books I'd like to encourage them to read, and where I want to go in the last few months.

Everything I get for my classroom library is either purchased with bonus points or on my own. For this reason, I'm very choosy--I only buy what I really like! Or, usually, what my sons really like. My oldest is a voracious reader, and many of the books in my classroom were originally bought for him.

Bad Kitty
Bad Kitty is definitely a hit! Kids love the mix of comics and text. I like that the author, Nick Bruel, weaves in real information about cats. My only complaint is that my copies are never on the shelf! I had to buy a whole new set at the book fair so that I could take two home to share with my cat-obsessed son.

Kitty is very expressive, which makes this a nice book to look at character emotions. The books also encourage readers to look at all of the elements on the page--often, the really funny bits are in side notes, the glossary, or the illustrations. These additions make reading all of the text rewarding for young readers. And yet, with the sly humor and the mischief of Kitty, they can't help but feel that they are getting away with something.

I've had several volumes of this graphic novel series for the last few years, but none of my students ever showed much interest in it. Well, things have changed! Several boys have passing these books around, keeping track of which teacher has which volumes and which are available in the library. I have to admit that I haven't gotten much further in my appreciation of graphic novels than Rapunzel's Revenge, so I haven't really read much of these. Any suggestions for what I should have kids look for?

Tuesdays at the Castle
The girls who attacked the Dragon Slippers series at the beginning of the year quickly read this newer book by Jessica Day George. I loved the way that the castle changes and moves. It's a nice bridge kind of fantasy book. There is peril and danger, but it is not quite so dramatic as some of the more complex fantasy series.

Speaking of fantasy series...
Kids are still reading The Lightning Thief! I wondered if this series would continue to attract readers even after the Last Olympian. But there is just something about these books! While none of my students have stuck with any of the Harry Potter books for more than a few chapters, I have two students right now who are on the second and fourth books respectively.

Note to all teachers who are stuck with state testing: Never, never tell students that they can read a Rick Riordan book "when they are done with the test". I made the mistake of doing this when The Sea of Monsters came out many years ago, and I'm convinced the kid rushed through the test just to get to my copy of the glossy hardback book. I can't blame him--I would have done the same thing! And doesn't it really show good reading instruction, that a student would rather read a real book than spend hours looking over a test? However, with the tests mattering so much these days, I think I might just hide The Last Olympian until all of the bubbles have been neatly filled in. No sense in tempting fate.

Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, Diary of a Fly
I wrote about these at the beginning of the year. I have some chalk trays that I use for book displays. Because we're heading into testing, I set these books out again as light reading. I was a little curious to see how my newly mature fourth graders would react. Would they pretend that they weren't even there, like when I set up my beautiful display of habitat books? (Yawn!) Or would they swoop in and take them with such ferocity that I would need to appoint someone to make sure that they were all returned by the end of class, as when I put up the Mo Willems display? The real truth is somewhere in the middle. There is a core group of kids who are still drawn to these books. They still pass them around to read and re-read. And it's not just the struggling readers, either. I really want to figure out why the kids like these so much, so that I can find others along the same lines!

Random House Book of Poetry for Children
I got my first copy of this book when I was in third grade. Now, I'm thrilled that it has a measure of status in my classroom! Over the last few years, I've worked hard to collect enough poetry books so that I could have every kid in the class reading a poetry book at the same time. The used book store at the library and the nearby discount bookstore have helped me immensely in this quest.

One day, as we were studying poetry, I handed out the books. Well, word got around that the Random House book was the book to get. Now I have kids ask for it whenever we have some free time. If you were looking to add one book to your library this spring, this is the one to add!

What's not popular
I don't have any kids reading Andrew Clements this year, which is surprising. When we start literature circles in a few weeks, I'm going to introduce Frindle to try to build some interest for this favorite author. As I mentioned before, Harry Potter is not very popular, nor is Margaret Peterson Haddix. I've decided to do The Magic Thief as a read aloud for my reading class to build their stamina and interest in longer, more complex books. While I do have some kids who are happily still reading The Magic Treehouse books, A-Z Mysteries is not popular this year.

It's always interesting to take stock and see what this year's kids have liked! Every group is so very different, and every group teaches me more about watching kids and suggesting books.

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