happyface is a wonderful mixed genre book, perhaps this mash-up now has a name but it is part drawings, part comics, and part prose. happyface is the nickname for a young man whose life has taken some tough turns. He is working hard to give himself a social makeover from lonely geek to mysterious charmer. happyface is not just his nickname, it is his new persona. This novel helps the reader to get inside the head of a young man trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to be. Stephen Emond looks at under-age drinking, alcoholism, death, grieving and affairs of the heart through his character’s eyes. A hidden and critical event in the plot line will make this a challenging read for some students. Definitely worth purchasing for a high school, it is also a decent addition to the YA section within a K-8 or middle school.
Category Archives: boys
It was a little intimidating to pick up a book by Stephen Hawking and hope that I would get it but I knew this one was for kids so I had a little hope. Written by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking George’s Secret Key to the Universe is an entertaining and fun story. This is a book for your solar system and adventure girls and boys. George is a young and sheltered boy. His parents believe in living a simple lifestyle without electronics and marooned from popular culture. George is starting to wonder about the limitations when he follows his pet pig into the wilds of his next door neighbour’s back yard. Soon George and his new friend, Annie, are on adventures exploring the realm of outer space. Mixed in with the story are facts about outer space, the nature of matter and other astro-physics for kids. The tone and humour of this story are spot on for grade 3-5. A good addition to the K-8 library with possibilities as a read-aloud.
Rating #1 (Highly Recommended) #2 ✓ #3 #4 (Not acceptable)
Interest Level: grades 4+ Reading Level: 4+
Curriculum Area: Language Arts, Science
Themes/Topics: space, family, values, adventure
Jenny Nimmo has a great set of characters and adventures in the Children of the Red King series. As a lover of fanatasy, I’m an easy sell and this series has me searching out the next one to see where it goes. I find Charlie, the main character, likable and hopeful without being cloying or irritating. He makes mistakes and tries to correct them. He accepts the consequences of his behaviour and is always on the look out for the welfare of his friends and family. It’s too bad his mother is such a weak person. I’d like it if his mother had a bit more spunk but I suppose that would get in the way for the story plots. It’s been somewhat confusing to find my way through the naming and renaming of these books. The original series has a wonderful set of names which have been altered to reflect the Harry Potter franchise, “Harry Potter and the…”, now “The Blue Boa” is “Charlie Bone and the Invisible Boy”, but publishers have to do what publishers have to do.
I would recommend this series as an addition to the K-8 library. I wouldn’t add them to a 9-12. Charlie is 10 and although he ages as the series progresses, he doesn’t age as fast as Harry. The books are written for a younger audience and keep a more consistent tone than you see in the Harry Potter series. They are also a more consistent length. I believe these books would make an excellent read for the child who can’t yet manage the Harry Potter books both in maturity or reading level.
Rating #1 (Highly Recommended) #2 ✓#3 #4 (Not acceptable)
Interest Level: grades 3+ Reading Level: 4+
Curriculum Area: Language Arts
Themes/Topics: fantasy, adventure, magic, family, losses, good and evil
This is a book aimed squarely at the 8-12 year old boy niche. Part gross and disgusting, part humour, part revenge of the loser; it hits the mark. Charley Maplewood is turning 10. Thanks to a inappropriately timed birthday greeting, he decides it really is time for him to have a birthday party. The complication is he has no friends. It’s a shame the publisher didn’t see fit to add some drawings, a la Judy Blume’s Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing or Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I believe pictures by someone like Quentin Blake would take this book from very good to terrific. Still it’s an engaging read worth adding to a K-8 collection.
Rating #1 (Highly Recommended) #2 ✓#3 #4 (Not acceptable)
Interest Level: grades 3+ Reading Level: 5
Curriculum Area: Language Arts
Themes/Topics: growing up, friendship, fitting in, family
First a disclaimer, this is a book intended for boys, I am not a boy. I did not enjoy this book and I don’t think it should come close to your library. I think Mike and Steve missed the boat on this one. Raymond and Graham are entering grade four. They are looking forward to ‘ruling’ the school. It all goes down hill from there. The lead up is Raymond’s fear of having a particularly nasty teacher but this doesn’t end up being the central story line at all. I feel like I bought orange juice and then it was grapefruit. The main story revolves around the Christmas play and the boys’ crushes on a couple of girls. Boys in grade four, in my experience, do not have crushes on girls. They are still pretty sure girls are disgusting and want as little to do with them as possible. The story is set in an American elementary school which finishes after grade four, in my neck of the woods, elementary school ends in grade eight so the story line fits for a grade eight group of boys but these guys are 9 years old. I’d be interested in reading a different installment of this series. If Raymond and Graham stuck with body humour and inadvertent insults, I expect it would appeal to boys but not this one.
Rating #1 (Highly Recommended) #2 #3 #4 (Not acceptable) ✓
Interest Level: grades 3+ Reading Level: 2 or 3+
Curriculum Area: Language Arts
Themes/Topics: growing up, school, overcoming challenges
Author: Anna Kerz Copyright Date: 2009
Jeremy and his mother have moved from rural Nova Scotia to Toronto. Jeremy has some major adjustments to make in life and in school. Funny and poignant, this story is a marvelous read. The text is relatively simple but not over simplified. Short chapters will appeal to struggling readers. Jeremy and his classmate are wonderful and diverse characters. A truly multicultural Canadian classroom is represented. I appreciated the portrayal of an excellent and with-it teacher. Boring and incompetent teachers are easy characters to include for a few laughs but this teacher is genuine, helpful and professional. Yeah, I have a bias, I want to like the teachers in the books.
McNally Robinson Review – caution it’s a bit of a spoiler
Rating #1 (Highly Recommended) ✓ #2 #3 #4 (Not acceptable)
Curriculum Area: Language Arts
Themes/Topics: Moving, Changes, Growing up, Grief, Death, Frienship, Realistic Fiction
This book would be suitable for ✓ Lit Circles ✓ Kit Materials ✓ Read-Aloud (Gr.) 4-6
Title: Juvie Three
Author: Gordon Korman Copyright Date: 2008
Another book by Gordon Korman, again it is great fun. Three boys from Juvenile Detention are moved into a group home with an unconventional group leader. No one thinks it will work and one of the boys is determined to find trouble. The relationships and antics of this group make it well worth reading. Excellent character developments, well-told story, interesting sub-plots. Recommend this one to your middle years boys. They will not be disappointed.
Many chapters would make great stand alone read alouds. Chapter Eight shows the introduction to one of the characters and would be particularly good on its own. The book offers possibilities for teaching predicting and inferring.
Rating: #1(Highly Recommended) ✓ #2 #3 #4 (not acceptable)
Interest Level: Grade 7-9 Reading Level: Grade 7+
Curriculum Area: Language Arts
Theme(s) Topic(s): Justice, Reform, Crime, Punishment, Honesty, Friendship, Change, Growing up, Realistic Fiction, Gangs
This book would be suitable for: ✓ Lit Circles ✓ Kit Materials ✓Read-Aloud (Gr.)
I’ve continued some of my background reading in the area of boys and literacy. I must admit it starts to sound like a broken record after awhile. Boys like reading for information. Boys develop their literacy skills later than girls. There are fewer male role models for reading behaviour. More boys consider themselves non-readers. Boys aren’t as keen on poetry. More boys prefer fantasy and science fiction. Boys in my class seem to prefer humour (of the bathroom variety particularly). Boys are less free to take on female roles than girls are to take on male roles.
The role thing is interesting to me as I have a son who loves to dance. In the last edition of Chatelaine, a women reflected on her experience of enrolling her son in ballet classes (at three years of age). It’s a pretty pink world folks. Girls can play hockey, soccer, run marathons… Boys dancing is still on the subversive side.
So my reaction is now what? What is to be done with the gender specificity of reading? or dance for that matter.
In Booth’s Even Hockey Players Read, he highlights some of the possible solutions. This list too seems familiar to me now. Use popular culture texts, use a wide variety of texts (diaries, biographies, encyclopedias, atlases, memoirs, mysteries, fantasies, adventures, picture books, legends). I would add to this list graphic novels, comic books, magazines.
I have the great privilege of having a fairly large classroom library and a well-stocked school library. Choice of materials is not a huge issue, although having enough magazines and comics is sometimes a challenge. I was able to purchase a set of Bone books and a set of Captain Underpants for my classroom this year. It is a challenge to find quality non-fiction titles for my age level. They are beyond simple reading and prior to encyclopedia reading. Hitting the right level and having them attractive and interesting and not hugely expensive seems to be difficult.
Knowing these things about reading and reading engagement doesn’t seem to giving me the magic bullet to help the boys in my room. Once they have finished Bone and Captain Underpants (which they did in about two months of DEAR time), how do I keep them going. Re-reading only engages them for a time. I need to know which titles might keep them going and take them from classroom reading to at-home reading. Being engaged in reading during DEAR time at school doesn’t seem to necessarily translate into reading time at home. Is that important? I think there is need for practice of reading skill and school can’t provide all of the practice time. Or should it? I wonder how much reading was done at home by the boys in my classroom in 1977? I wonder how that has effected their ability to find their way in the world. How did it effect their ability to navigate high school?
I know reading is important and I know that doesn’t necessarily translate that only reading books and literature is important. I know reading a variety of texts is important. I know that the boys in my class would be interested in reading and creating texts which relate to their video gaming experiences. I know they play games which I think are inappropriate to their age level (Halo and World of Warcraft are popular). If I set up the situation where they could read and write with these kinds of texts, would that be positive or negative for them? for their reading? for the school?
I’m not sure where I would like to go here. I know if I wanted to I could do a doctoral thesis on these questions. But I’m not going there right now. Right now I’m doing personal professional development which I have to squeeze in between my planning for the week’s activities, an interest in improving my students’ writing as well as their reading, an interest in improving my students’ critical and creative thinking as well as their reading. I know these should hang together but I’m not sure how to weave the threads.
I think I have the background in the reading realm scanned. I think I might benefit from some reading in the psychology realm. I think I need to look at my running record information again, although this tells me more about their reading skill and not their reading engagement. I teach grade four and five. My students are generally reading at and above grade level. (So you ask what’s the problem?) It’s not that they can’t read. It’s that they don’t choose to read. Here is a couple of “I wonders” which I think might be a practical thing to try. I wonder if I can improve at-home reading and sustained at-school reading if I look at social reading skills. Social skills are a challenge in my room. I wonder if reading discussion time might facilitate reading engagement. I wonder if the missing piece is not reading choices but a reading community. I wonder how you create a reading culture which extends beyond the classroom.
I know this is a strange and rambling post. I’m going to post it anyway as evidence of my thinking.
My division has this very cool professional development going on in which we choose a topic within a set agenda to research ourselves based on our own burning question. I think my question began as “Who are boys in the 21st Century and how do we meet their needs as literacy learners?” Grand intentions.
I’ve done some background reading on motivation and engagement, as well as a little on the effect of gender on literacy experiences. Just a smattering as yet, but I know already I need to narrow things down and I am also driven in this research much more practically than I was in my Master’s work. I want to change and adapt my current practice. I want to meet the needs of these particular students and it’s February. So now what?
I’ve chosen to prioritize the place of non-fiction in my classroom for the next unit. I am making sure that there is more non-fiction in my room and trying to increase the opportunities for conversation and shared reading-writing experiences. I am a part of a team of teacher in my school looking at developing some exemplars for writing so that students have a visual, concrete guide after which to model their work.
In some ways this work is much more fluid than that of my formal research experience. I am already changing my classroom to reflect my findings. I wonder if I need to be more deliberate and strategic or if the ebb and flow of read, try, reflect is sufficient. By sufficient, I mean will it meet the objectives of my overseers? Come to think of it, I don’t know if we’ve talked about that. Hmmm. Maybe one them will drop by and answer my question. Honestly, I don’t know if they know exactly where things will go.
I think I need to read about the boys. More gender stuff. Long ago in a land so far away, I had a wonderful textbook I thought I didn’t need and sold back to the university which had marvelous psycho-social descriptions of children in various age groups. It was a wonderful book in the way that is rare with texts and I have often regretted selling it and not retaining at least the title for future reference. If I had it, that’s where I would start. I wonder how hard it would be to find. I wonder if I still have some EdPsy notes somewhere. (I’m a tosser by nature, isn’t likely).
Inspiring, Motivating, Engaging…I am looking at what the research says about getting children hooked on reading. I read three short pieces, two articles and one book chapter. Each of them saying remarkably, or perhaps not, similar things. So what gives, what makes a child want to read?
1) a literate environment – lots of stuff to read, time to read, vocabulary building, writing, guidance and talk (Gerald Duffy, Explaining Reading, 2003 Chapter One)
2) motivators a) intrinsic sources – personal interest, choice, search for knowledge
b) extrinsic sources – teacher referrals, family member referrals, peer referrals, having their own books or books to share (Kathryn Edmunds, Kathryn Bauserman, What teachers can learn about reading motivation through conversations with children, IR, 2006)
3) strategies that work – teacher read alouds and student own choice reading time, shared reading experiences (Susanna Pflaum, Penny Bishop, Student perceptions of reading engagement: Learning from the learners, Nov 2004 Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy).
As always I am looking for the implications for my classroom, the ‘now what?” I like the practicality of the Duffy book. I think I will look to read more of it. It also re-assures me that I’m on the right track with the work I am doing already. There are worse things than a little reassurance.
I want to work on contextual vocabulary development activities as mentioned by Duffy. My students love games and I think this might be a good spot to play some. Any suggestions are welcome. I just added a more regular writing component to my schedule. I really like it and I think I’ve gotten better at preparing them for it and following up from it. I think I’d like to play some more with integrating it more fully but for now I’ve had more writing and more sustained writing behaviour than in the rest of the year in the last two weeks. Cool. I want to add some choral reading experiences and some guided reading experiences. I think we need to read to our carepartners more and I think it would be very nice to write with some older buddies. I’ve had more guided writing opportunities in the last two weeks too. Ahh, conversational talk… we’re working on it. How do we do this without pandemonium? I like the idea of more work done in pairs. You only have one person to talk to, this reduces the random shouting part which drives me crazy. I really haven’t been to excited about “turn to your partner”. I haven’t taught it well I guess. They can’t seem to break into talk and break off of talk in a meaningful and controlled way.
So I’m on the road to a literate environment, time to look at where to do now.