Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Bookish Kind of Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  We're still celebrating in the Margocs household, in the midst of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The tree, nativity, and Santa collection will remain in place until January 6th, when they'll get replaced by a bevy of snowmen to lessen the blow of the post-holiday letdown.

But back to Christmas Day--and the bevy of books left behind by Santa, as well as gifted under the tree!  Here's what the jolly old elf left for our enjoyment:
The Gift of the MagiThe Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, so beautifully illustrated by P.J. Lynch that my teen daughter was "oooh-ing" before she even read the text--which she did read, before the end of Christmas Day.  A true classic.

Garrison Keillor's A Christmas Blizzard had me rolling with laughter, especially reading half-page-long sentences.  I'm going to have to ask a North Dakotan friend of mine if this is really how the natives converse--and if it is, it will make it that much funnier.  A predictable ending, but a funny, unpredictable way of getting there.  A talking wolf, undercover FBI-agent-cousin, vital organs in a plastic bag, and a touch of Dickens-style second-chances--interested yet?

A Christmas Blizzard: A NovelA just-for-fun book that Santa left behind was a "Prep & Landing" sound button book.  Couldn't find a picture of it, but if you're not familiar with the Prep & Landing Christmas movies, here's a link to the website:  Santa also left a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth , a 1961 book that seems to be enjoying a resurgence.  Who can resist a search for Rhyme and Reason, with a watchdog named Tock? The Phantom Tollbooth  
The 50 Funniest American Writers*: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The OnionUnder the tree, there were more books to be found!  For high school senior daughter, there was Adam Borowitz's new release--signed to her, by the author, courtesy of Oblong Books, an independent bookstore in New York.  It's his collection of the 50 funniest American authors and samples of their work; what's interesting is that many of the authors are not those widely viewed as humorous.  I can't wait 'til she's done, so I can take a crack at it.  I bought it after hearing him speak with Evan Smith on PBS' "Overheard":
There Is No Long Distance Now: Very Short StoriesShe also got a book by Naomi Shihab Nye entitled There is No Long Distance Now, which I thought was apt, since she's about to go off to college in a few months.  And since she's now braved APUSH (that's Advanced Placement United States History for you non-high school parents/kids) and AP Government, I thought she might enjoy a graphic novel based on government intrigue: The Homeland Directive

WonderstruckDon't worry, my middle school son didn't get left out of the book fest!  He got his own copy of Wonderstruck, which he's been pining for since it was published.  This is Selznick's work, incorporating some of the same techniques from The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  My son also got Anya's Ghost  by Vera Brosgol, a graphic novel which he promptly read and pronounced good, but sad.  Anya's Ghost

As always, we have PLENTY to read around here....hope we get enough time in 2012 to put a dent in our reading piles!  Happy New Year to you and yours, and here's to great reading in 2012!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grad school semester is done--more time to read!

I turned in the last of my assignments yesterday, and applied for my internship today.  All that is left to prepare for spring semester is to have my internship approved, add that class, and make my final payment.  In the meantime, here are the books on my current to-read pile.  Wish me luck--I've got baking to get done, too!
Brain Jack

Out of My MindA Tale Dark and GrimmLeviathan

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Books!

I've posted pictures of our bookshelves at home before, but I don't know if I mentioned that fully one-and-a-half shelves are dedicated to Christmas books.  Santa brings at least one holiday book a year, and between his gift-giving, and my own collection from childhood and teaching, we have quite a selection!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Auntie Claus and the Key to ChristmasAuntie ClausAuntie Claus, by Elise Primavera, and the sequel, Auntie Claus and the Key to Christmas.  Both are wonderfully refreshing stories of believing in the magic--and meaning--of Christmas.  The illustrations are so festive!

 Speaking of illustrations, Mary Engelbreit's version of The Night Before Christmas is a visual feast.  We also have E.T.A. Hoffman's Nutcracker, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.  Another classic from my childhood is Santa Mouse, Where Are You? , by Michael Brown and illustrated by Elfrieda deWitt.

The Night Before Christmas
Nutcracker. translated by Ralph Manheim. Pictures by Maurice SendakSanta Mouse, where are you?

Librarian's Night Before Christmas (The Night Before Christmas Series)A Pirate's Night Before ChristmasLast year, the book theme seemed to be alternative versions of The Night Before ChristmasA Pirate's Night Before Christmas, by Philip Yates and illustrated by Sebastia Serra, and from my family to me, Librarian's Night Before Christmas, by David Davis, illustrated by Jim Harris. 

I'll end this post with my two favorite "quiet" books for Christmas:  Margaret Wise Brown's On Christmas Eve, illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder, and Bright Christmas:  An Angel Remembers by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Kate Kiesler (a special gift from a friend). Both stories are illustrated in the smoky, hushed tones of a winter's night--perfect for sending little ones, and not-so-little-ones, off to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Bright Christmas : An Angel RemembersOn Christmas Eve

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book pairing on a sensitive topic

I have been a reading fiend this week, in a mad dash to complete an assignment for YA Lit.  One of our selections this week was Inexcusable, by Chris Lynch.  The book was very hard for me to read, as the narrator is a young man who just can't seem to accept responsibility for his misdeeds, which includes the rape of a long-time friend.  One of the rave reviews for the book came from Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Speak, another reading assignment from a previous discussion.  Since Speak is the story of a teen girl's recovery after being raped, I thought this would be an excellent pairing.  Both books are fairly quick reads; I could see using them in a two-week high school English unit focusing on different perspectives/ voices from the same type of event.
Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionFor our last discussion in YA Lit, we are looking for books similar to the ones Dr. Lesesne has assigned to us.  Hopefully, I'll come up with some more great pairings to post!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My first book festival!

Yesterday, I attended my first book festival:  the Jan Paris Book Festival, sponsored by Sam Houston State University (the school I'm "attending" online to pursue my Master's Degree in Library Science).  The bookfest was held in San Antonio, and featured an illustrator--David Diaz--and two authors, Naomi Shihab Nye and Jeanne Birdsall--as keynote speakers.  I was blown away by their passion for their work, and their love for libraries and librarians as well.  One workshop I attended was presented by the Texas Scoundrels and Sweethearts, a group of Austin-based children's book authors.  I purchased a couple of their books just from hearing them talk about them!  Another workshop was all about running the library on a shoestring budget; we got a free felt puppet and lots of advice on fundraising/ costsavings. 

Since this blog is all about the books, here's what I bought, and what I've had to read lately for my YA Lit class that I've enjoyed:

Brains for Lunch and The Emerald Tablet were written by authors from the Texas Sweethearts group.  The first, I'm sharing at home and at school; the second is for my own son, who likes fantasy novels now and then.

Brains For Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?!The Emerald Tablet (Forgotten Worlds)

Smoky Night was illustrated by David Diaz, and won the Caldecott Award.  We got to watch him paint while he answered questions and talked about the illustrating process.  After hearing Naomi Shihab Nye speak, I just knew I had to read at least one of her Habibi is all mine!

Smoky NightHabibi

The Tequila WormThe Tequila Worm is a required read for my YA Lit class...but don't let the title fool you.  It is not about teenagers drinking tequila after the football game.  This book is about a young girl from the Valley who gets a scholarship to attend a private high school in Austin.  There are lots of beautiful vignettes of life in the barrio, and the customs and rituals that bind the families there together.  I really enjoyed this book.

I have to get back to reading--this week, I have to make the time!  Keep reading!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yes, I've been reading!

A month since my last post....oops!  At least I can say that I have actually read some books this past month--some for my classroom, some for my Young Adult Literature course, and of course, the neverending slew of magazine, catalog, and online reading that I do on a daily basis!  Here are my newest faves...

Athletic Shorts: Six Short StoriesFrom my YA Lit class:  Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher, and Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan.  The first I did not expect to like at all--a teen read about high school jocks?  Really?  But the stories are more about the young men, and less about the sports they play.  The first short story had me laughing, and the last had me in tears.  Enough said!

Tales From Outer Suburbia

Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan, is a must -read for middle school to adult folks.  Just about every single entry in this collection of stories leaves you hanging with more questions than answers.  Not to mention the fact that the illustrations are awesome as well!  I liked this book so much, I'm thinking of adding it to my personal book shelf.

As for my classroom reads, it's all about fall and Halloween right now.  I've loaded my school bag with the following books:  When Autumn Comes, by Robert Maass; The Teeny Tiny Ghost, by Kay Winters; Halloween Pie, by Michael O. Tunnell; and Five Little Pumpkins, by Dan Yaccarino--I understand there's now an app for iPad for this one!  My own personal children had these books read to them, and now my students will get to hear them as well.
The Teeny Tiny GhostWhen Autumn Comes 

Five Little PumpkinsHalloween Pie

On a personal note:  I am halfway through my fifth semester in my Library Science program!  I'm applying for my spring internship soon, and will graduate with my Master's Degree in May.  Then I'll have even more time to read and share books with you.
Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reading more than books

One of the benefits of teaching students with special needs is getting to work with small groups.  This can also be a problem when most of the group is absent, and a whole-group lesson was on the schedule.  Such was the case last week, when three out of five students in my afternoon class were otherwise engaged in library time and a readers' theater production. 

I had planned on reviewing the why and wherefore of reading anyway, so that's how the discussion started.  I was focusing on reading outside of school, and was disheartened to find out that neither of my students read books at home.  We then talked about other avenues of reading:  computer use, video games, cereal boxes.  I brought up magazines, and remembered that I had purchased one that morning at the grocery store on the way to work.  Aha!  Instant environmental print lesson for two!

A visual literacy lesson came next.  "What do you see on the cover?"  "Cookies."  "Good!  Where is the word 'cookies'?"  "What colors do you see?  When do we usually put those colors together?  Find the word Christmas!"  My students learned that the "p." in "p.6" stood for "page."  We perused the table of contents, discussed reading ingredients and instructions in recipes, and found lots of compound words:  cutout, shortbread, gingersnap, butterscotch, peanuts, thumbprints, gingerbread, cheesecake, checkerboards, and snowflake, to name a few.  One of my students told us about seeing ginger for the first time in a grocery store with his mom, and was able to point out the cookies that looked like they had ginger in them.  Cookie and candy likes and dislikes were exclaimed, as well as wishes for the baking season to hurry up and arrive.

Alas, we ran out of time before we could discuss the usefulness of the index, or the importance of the sequence of instructions for making sugar cookies.  Maybe I'll just keep the magazine at school for awhile, just in case I have another sparsely populated class some afternoon.  :-)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teaching reading--a personal history

My career in education has been a twisty road with sharp turns.  When I graduated from college in 1987, I landed a dream job teaching in a special education resource classroom.  I say "dream job" because that first year, there were three resource teachers on campus; we each had two grade levels, and my assignment was K-1.  I started off with four students and an assistant!  By the end of the year, I was up to ten in my caseload, but I was still able to truly give them the individualized attention they needed and deserved.

Fast forward four years:  my fifth year of teaching, and I was the only special education teacher on campus.  My caseload was up around sixteen students, teaching thirty-five subject-levels, and running a content mastery center with an assistant.  To call me frazzled was an understatement.  I made it through year six only because they hired a wonderful teacher to partner with me, and we became good friends in our shared classroom--and we're friends to this day.

I used many reading strategies during those years; with students receiving special education services, you find what fits!  Books on tape (a few of which I recorded!), recorded vocabulary words (does anyone remember those machines that read sentence strips embedded with recording tape?), Stevenson, multisensory (shaving cream, salt, AlphaBits cereal), read-alouds, music, magnetic letters and words, trade books, whole language, phonics, highlighting, pre-teaching, basal readers...we did a lot of literacy instruction in that room.

Then I quit teaching to be a mom.  Well, to be a mom AND a tutor, and then a mom AND a neonatal unit assistant/desk clerk.  (Told you there were sharp turns.)  And when I finally went back to education, it was as an ARD facilitator.  (For those readers outside of Texas, an ARD stands for Admission, Review, and Dismissal meetings, otherwise known as IEP Team meetings in your neck of the woods.)  I enjoyed facilitating ARDs, so much so that I did that job for eleven years....until my job went away.  I was put in the district surplus pool, and rescued by my children's elementary alma mater, where I currently teach.

After seventeen years outside the classroom, I'm having to familiarize myself with the latest professional reading vocabulary.  Guided reading, reading workshop, Daily 5, read to self, independent reading, levelled readers, making connections.  Sure, a lot of it is the same:  inference, comprehension, cause and effect, fact and opinion, sequence of events, characters, plot, setting.  But even in my second year back behind the horseshoe table, I welcome any help I can get in navigating these new literacy waters.  So when I come across a website like Rachel Lamb's Reading Resources, I'll take it!  Our school is currently using the Reading Workshop model, but a lot of the strategies and skills are common.  I'm still going to try some Stevenson and Edmark programs with my students, and I'll keep learning from my colleagues, inservices, and websites to get me up to speed.  After all, as a librarian wannabee, literacy is pretty much my focus!

Here are a few links I like that have to do with reading, books, authors, illustrators....just like the piles of books in my house, there is so much great stuff out there in cyberspace, and not enough time to browse them all !

Readers are Made On the Lap of a Parent                            

Cynthia Leitich Smith


Children's Book Almanac

David Wiesner

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My first chapter book read-aloud of the year....and book debt

The Ghost's GraveI've already mentioned my afternoon man-cave:  my all-boy class that keeps me searching for just the right book to share.  I think I've found one, courtesy of one of my students, who checked it out from our library and asked me to read it aloud.  I knew it would be a hit from the first chapter, since it opens with a boy's first night at his aunt's house, in which she shoots a bat in the kitchen with a shotgun.  Young male main character, wild animals, guns, and blood; what more do you need to hook pre-adolescent boys?   Once my schedule settles down, we will be settling into this book!

We had the good fortune to spend two hours in a Barnes & Noble this weekend, with nothing else to do but browse...yeah, right.  Like I can ever just browse at a book store.  First,I had to go buy a paperback copy of The Ghost's Grave for the classroom. Then I bought two required books for my YA Lit class:  It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief graphic novel by Rick Riordan.  I bought both, rather than borrowing them, for their personal usefulness.  With teens in the house, health education is paramount, so the former will stay at home.  The latter will be a welcome addition to my classroom library, especially with my male caseload.  I also had to get the 'baby version' of Lane Smith's It's a Book, one of my all-time favorite picture books (though I hesitate to bring it to school, due to the use of the word "jackass"!).  The board book is called It's a Little Book, and it's worth checking out the links on both just for the book trailers alone.  I also got Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, which my son insisted on my reading and had to be added to my owl book collection.  And finally, because I can never say no to book requests from my children, my son added to the basket Pokemon Adventures:  Volume 3, Disney:  Epic Mickey, and Brain Jack, which he's reading for an independent book choice, and I'm waiting to read it when he's done!  My daughter declined any additions; her AP English Lit and birthday book are enough reading fodder for her right now.  Needless to say, Barnes & Noble got a chunk of my paycheck this weekend--but it was money well spent.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A different kind of remembering...

So a friend reminded me about Phillipe Petit, the man who walked a tightwire between the Two Towers...which then reminded me of the picture book I added to my classroom library last year:  The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.
The Man Who Walked Between The TowersFor little ones who don't remember the events of 9/11, or are too young to experience more documentary-type books about that day, this is a way to connect them to that place in a less traumatic fashion.

14 Cows for America

For more mature children, those who are able to make emotional connections with people and events beyond their home communities, I recommend 14 Cows for America.  This truly speaks to the worldwide impact of September 11th, 2001, as well as to the sympathy and generosity of a tribe halfway around the world.  This book reminds me that 9/11 may have started off as an ugly act against humanity by humans, but it evoked so many more  acts of kindness, compassion, and bravery--and who doesn't like to be reminded of the better, more beautiful side of our species?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Another birthday, another book! And a look at our home's "stacks"

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend
Number one child had her second "almost 18" celebration tonight (her real birthday is tomorrow), and of course, there was a book among her gifts.  I've been holding on to it for two months already, can't wait to hear her reviews for How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend.  She is a huge Johnny Depp fan, and a reader like her mother, so I'm hoping this book is a "good fit". 

Books are pretty customary gifts in our family.  Santa brings a new holiday book every Christmas, occasionally Seamus the Leprechaun does the same on St. Patty's Day, and there's usually a book among the birthday gifts--or a gift card to a nearby book store.  I am thankful both of my children are happy to spend hours looking at and shopping for books.  We've got "print-rich environment" covered in spades in this house!
When my husband had these shelves built, he
 thought it would take years to fill them. 
Yeah, right!

Coffee table in living room

Daughter's Nancy Drew collection;
she prefers the pre-1980 editions

My bedside reading


Floor next to bed

As you can probably guess, I'm a "scanner reader".  I tend to start a lot of books, and sometimes manage to finish a few in the process.  I'm also likely to skim a book and even read the end if it seems to be going slowly, to see if it's worth reading all the way through.  That famous "Rights of a Reader" poster validates my reading style!

Does your family receive books as gifts?  What kind of reading styles do your readers exhibit?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Books about fires and firefighting

At this very moment, we have wildfires being fought to the west, north, southwest, and southeast of Austin.  I can smell the smoke in the air when I step outside, though it's lessening a bit--hope that means we can avoid an evacuation.  Texas Storm Chasers is predicting a bad day for fires tomorrow as well, thanks to the dry conditions and the winds being stirred up by the "cold front" and Hurricane Lee. 

My children are old enough to talk through this situation, but if you have young ones who are asking questions about the fires, Los Angeles Public Library has a page of books that might provide that information: .  Worth checking out!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another day, another Amazon box!

There are so many good reads out there (and so little time), that I sometimes forget what I've ordered.  (Is that when book collecting becomes addiction?)  After attending a face-to-face meeting in San Antonio for a Library Science class, I came home to ANOTHER box from Amazon!  What present might await in this brown cardboard container of all things good?

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's BookA copy of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book, edited by Anita Silvey--who just happens to be celebrating her birthday today!  (I found that out on Twitter, another tentative step into the digital age for me .)  So I started to browse the pages, and was delighted to find contributions from people renowned for their pursuits in the arts, technology, sports, science, literature, and even a bookseller.  They each write about a childhood book that inspired, motivated, entertained, or taught them something.  Excerpts from the books are included, and would make for great read-aloud teasers.

Ms. Silvey also includes short bios of the contributors, other books they recommend, and then goes one step further in organizing the recommended books by genre, subject, and reading/age levels.  I can use this book to introduce authors, stories, and help students make the connection between books and future success in adulthood.  I see my classroom library growing from the book recommendation list (and my wallet shrinking a bit!).  It may be an addiction, but is it really so bad?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yippee! Another box from Amazon!

And just in time, too!  I joke about having my "man-cave" in the afternoons, my group of boys who test my choices of read-alouds and the contents of my classroom library (since I am of the female persuasion, and tend to pick books from that perspective).  Note the inclusion of I Stink in the list of books I've read more than twice....getting the picture?

So I was rummaging through my classroom books, trying to come up with a read-aloud choice to stretch the listening ears of my testosterone-heavy afternoon classes, and pretty much coming up empty-handed.  We settled on a mini-chapter-picture book, and I was able to elicit some responses on character identification and rhyming words before the bell rang.  After crosswalk duty, a team meeting, some desk clearing and prepping for tomorrow morning, I came home to:

Hey! Listen to This: Stories to Read Aloudand        The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition

waiting on my table!  Well, that and another book that I can't divulge just yet as the gift recipients may be reading this blog....But I'm so excited about these books!  I have The Read-Aloud Handbook from my undergrad literacy class (read:  Dark Ages), so I thought it was time for a newer edition.  And Hey!  Listen to This is going to work so well in my classroom, with its background information on authors, short stories and chapters from classics, and related-reading suggestions following each entry.  I may even be able to entice my teens at home into a bit of read-aloud time before the lights go out tonight!

I also need to remember to visit this website more often:  Guys Read, at .  I just love the way they categorize their reading suggestions at the bottom of the home page:  "Outer space, but with aliens"; "At least one explosion"; "Outer space, but without aliens"; "How to build stuff".  With all these resources at my disposal, I should be able to come up with some good-fit books for my men-in-training.

P.S.  For you non-teacher/librarian types-with-children reading this post, The Read-Aloud Handbook is worth getting for the "Treasury" contents alone.  Jim Trelease provides an annotated bibliography of hundreds of books, as well as lists of hundreds more, by category, and includes their "listening levels" (which are often higher than children's reading levels).  The holidays are almost upon us, and what child doesn't like a new book being read to them by mom or dad?  (Insert Hallmark/ Kodak moment for family photo album here.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Books to blogging

So it seems my love of reading, and desire to support others' reading habits and need for information, has led to my pursuit of a master's degree in Library Science.  Exposure to librarians' blogs through class requirements and classmates' attempts at blogging are gentle hints to join them in the twenty-first century.  I am a digital immigrant, so please spare harsh criticism!

I am an avid reader.  I read e-mails, tweets, school memos, syllabi, teachers' manuals, student records, blogs, magazines, catalogs, Facebook updates, textbooks, and journal articles.  However, in the interest of full disclosure on the topic, I have not indulged in reading books as often as I would like, due to time constraints and an unusual need for at least six hours of sleep each night.  That will have to change, of course, with my enrollment in Dr. Lesesne's Young Adult Literature course at SHSU this semester, and I'm proud to say I've actually completed reading a whopping two books from the required thirty-five for the semester.  It will be quite a feat to bring my fluency up to speed to complete the list before December, especially since (again in the interest of disclosure) YA lit is not always my first choice of material.  I'm counting on this semester to change my mind (insert smiley here)!

I'm uncertain of where this blog is headed, but be assured that I plan on "keeping it clean" and focusing on the topic, in the hopes that one day, in the very near future, I will be adding a link to this very blog from my own school library webpage.  And a Twitter feed, and a scrolling update on popular books, and annotated bibliographies....