Category Archives: literacy

Making Thinking Visible – Ritchhart, Church, Morrison – Part One

How can we help students to become engaged and independent learners?  Ritchhart, Church and Morrison contend we can help them by Making Thinking Visible.

Students develop understanding, engagement and independence when they are taught well but what does teaching well look like.  We, the teachers, can first think about the work which students are doing in our classrooms.  What kinds of actions do the students in our classes spend most of their time doing?  Now think about the actions which are authentic to the discipline of study which the students are engaged in, that is, what writers, artists, or scientists, for instance, actually do when they are engaged in their work.  Comparing the actions your students are doing to the actions authentic practitioners do will help you determine whether students are learning about the subject or doing the subject.  This is a key aspect in creating good learning environments with engaged and independent learners.

Some ways of thinking are helpful across subjects and disciplines.  Ritchhart et al, give a list of eight ways of thinking which are important to develop for independent learners:

1) Observe and describe

2) Explain and interpret

3) Reason using evidence

4) Make connections

5) Consider a variety of viewpoints or perspectives

6) Find the main idea and form conclusions

7) Ask questions and wonder

8) Get below the surface

This list reminds me of the main strategies for reading comprehension which have been a focus of mountains of PD in the past few years.

(Find the main idea, synthesize, infer, connect, conclude, question).  Good thinking and good thinking about reading are not different.  Cool.


Leave a comment

Filed under learning, literacy

Snow Willows 2012

Accomplice by Valerie Sherrard

Devlin Mather was a charming high school star and Lexie Malton’s boyfriend but now he is a heroin addict and pestering her for money. Valerie Sherrard’s novel about an average teenager living in trying circumstances is gritty and effective.

Written in simple, unadorned prose, this book will appeal to young adult readers of realistic fiction. While the content is intended for a mature audience, the writing will not intimidate struggling readers. Suitable for the YA section of a K-8 library and for high schools.

Ashes, Ashes by JoTreggiari

Ashes, Ashes was an enjoyable read.  It’s a teen ‘Year of the Flood’.  The world has been torn by global warming and plague only a handful of people have survived. One of them is Lucy.  She is surviving on her own living in the remains of Central Park.  Her life is hard.  She is dirty, hungry and tired.  She has to be on the look out for vicious dogs, S’ans and the Sweepers.  She has a tent, a backpack, a hunting knife, survival book and a yearbook from her last year at school.   She is driven from her base camp by a tsunami and from there finds a band of survivors.  Should she join them?

Lucy is an enjoyable character and I’m a sucker for the romantic triangle which proceeds when she arrives at the camp.  The cover is a mis-representation of Lucy, who is a grittier, dirtier and more ragged heroine.

A number of pieces from the Ashes, Ashes puzzle get left on the floor as the story proceeds.  Enough of them have been left there, that I finished the book hoping for a sequel.

Is this one worth reading?  If you read quickly and don’t mind things feeling half-done when you’re finished, go for it.  If you read slowly and want things to tie up when you are finished, try something else.

Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret by Vicki Grant

Betsy Wickwire has been part of the popular crowd with a popular boyfriend, popular best friend and all the advantages of being rich, smart and pretty. Her life takes a nasty turn when she finds her boyfriend and best friend have betrayed her. She feels her only choice is to run away and start again somewhere else so she starts to look for a way out. On e way she learns about friendship, loyalty and what’s important.

Vicki Grant’s story of love, friendship and self-discovery revisits some familiar tropes from romance literature but does it without feeling too trite or repetetive. She creates characters with strong personalities and takes them to realistic places and through recognizable emotional landscapes. An enjoyable read with an engaging plot suitable for readers in grades 6-12. Something to recommend to your fans of realistic fiction and romance.

Rating: very good

Dust City  by Robert Paul Weston

Henry Whelp is the son of the Big Bad Wolf. He’s a good wolf living in trying circumstances. In and out of foster care his whole life, he is now in detention at St. Remus’s Home for Wayward Boys. Robert Paul Weston uses the cast of a variety of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to populate a story of magic gone wrong.

This modern take on the classic tales is a wild and entertaining adventure. Weston explores what it means to find happiness, to fulfill your destiny and to chart your own path. Well-written and thought provoking, this book will appeal to avid readers of fantasy. Excellent recreational reading for gr. 7-12.

The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong

Maya Delaney is a teenager growing up in a secluded village on Vancouver Island.  When her best friend dies in a freak swimming accident, she is left with some questions. The questions keep growing in the next year as she meets a sexy new student at her school and begins to have regular encounters with a cougar.

This book starts a new sci-fi\fantasy series for young adults.  The beginning is a bit slow to take shape and the ending is completely unsatisfying. It’s main problem is that it seems to just be providing set up for the series so it has all kinds of information and questions but doesn’t allow for a satisfying contained plot line.  Ideally, in a series book, the question which starts our protagonist on her hunt for truth should lead to two things, a partial answer and new questions. This book leaves out the partial answer for the initial question. I am interested in reading more from this author as she is exploring some mythological and cultural ground which is new to me and her characters are engaging but I hope the author does a better job of contained plot lines in the future books.

Recreational reading 7-12.

Held by Eddet Ravel

When Chloe decides to visit a secluded temple in Greece alone, she never imagines that her life will be completely changed. An unidentified man captures her and takes her hostage. After living the first several days in despair and fear, she slowly recovers and takes stock of her situation. Her captor is calm and watchful but never attempts to harm her.  He is young and good-looking which surprises her.  In her loneliness and fear, she reaches out to him as her sole companion.

Eddet Ravel explores the world of a hostage as she struggles to survive mentally, physically and emotionally. Written as part diary, part news article and part Facebook updates, this book will appeal to young adult readers interested in crime fiction and suspense, with a side of romance. Suitable for the YA section of a K-8 library and for high school.

Shot at Dawn  by John Wilson 

Allen McBride wants to follow in his neighbour’s footsteps and fight in the Great War. He has heard stories of heroism and courage, fun and freedom.  When he arrives at the Front, things are not what he has been lead to believe. He needs to re-learn what  bravery and loyalty mean and find his own way to survive.

John Wilson’s story of a soldier’s experiences during the First World War is richly-told and riveting. It captures the futility and pain of war and the humanness of the people struggling through it.  A fine book for lovers of historical fiction and war history.

Rating: very good

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

Victor and Konrad are identical  twin brothers. They are alike in physical appearance and love of one another but have different temperaments. Victor is passionate and determined. Konrad is calm and kind. Victor feels he is less lovable, less intelligent and less athletic.  They do everything together – school, athletic pursuits, dramatic presentations. They have no secrets, so it seems. Konrad is suddenly taken ill and doctors are unable to help. Victor is determined to save him by whatever means are necessary. He is helped in his endeavor by his friend, Henry and step-sister, Elizabeth. Along the way, he realizes his love for Elizabeth is growing and mirrors the love his brother has for her. His love for his brother and his competition with him for Elizabeth’s affection divide his heart.

Kenneth Oppel writes a vivid tale of love, loss and temptation. His re-interpretation of Shelly’s Frankenstein is a gothic adventure perfect for young adult readers. Suitable for K-12 school libraries.

Tori by Design  by Colleen Nelson

Tori can hardly believe her family is moving to New York for the year. Tori has dreams of becoming a fashion designer and knows that  New York is the center for fashion. When her father, a primary school teacher, decides to take a sabbatical, she convinces him that a move to New York will be just the ticket. The reality of life in New York isn’t quite what she envisioned but things may just come together.

This realistic fiction offering is entertaining and will appeal to teenage girls who enjoy fashion and romance. Worth adding to the K-8 fiction for recreational reading.

Rating: very good

Undergrounders by David Skuy

Jonathan, called Mouse, has been living on the street since his mom died. He is scrapping by hawking change and stealing. He is on the lookout for food, money and a warm place for the night. One particularly cold Sunday, he finds a sportswear store door open to the alley and slips in to warm up. He can’t resist taking some equipment and he finds doors opening for him in a way they haven’t before.  The question arises how can a street kid hope to play hockey?

David Skuy explores the world of a street kid as it collides with the world of a suburban hockey family. This realistic fiction story will appeal to your hockey fans. Suitable for grades 4-8, Skuy keeps the language pretty clean and the violence fairly tame to allow for younger readers to enjoy the action and suspense of this short novel.


Leave a comment

Filed under children's lit, library, literacy, reading

Reading the Willows 2012

I have been on road trip and was working as I travelled from Saskatoon to Yellowknife.  Reading the Willow Award nominated books is one of the pleasures of my job. The Willow books are a juried set of books for Saskatchewan students to read and vote for their favourite. I will highlight the different categories through separate posts:

Shining Willows – picture books suitable for students in K- grade 3.

Diamond Willows – early chapter books suitable for students in grades 4-6 .

Snow Willows – more extensive and adult themed books suitable for students in grades 7-9.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's lit, library, literacy, reading

Book of a Thousand Days – Shannon Hale

Dashti is a determined young woman.  In becoming the maid of a distracted and frightened princess, she unwittingly becomes a prisoner with her in a darkened tower.  Dashti remains positive and industrious during her confinement.  Her mistress is unpredictable and unhealthy but Dashti remains devoted and trust-worthy.  In addition to the confinement and darkenss of the tower, there are plenty of other difficulties and joys.  Dashti’s service takes her from the tower to the kitchen of a great king and then on as a scribe and healer.  Hale throws in enough excitement, romance and tension to keep you guessing.   This book will appeal to your young adult readers of fantasy and fairy tale.
Even if You Have Strawberries
Rating ✓ #1 (Highly Recommended) #2 #3 #4 (Not acceptable)

Interest Level: grades 6+  Reading Level:  6+

Curriculum Area: Language Arts

Themes/Topics: self discovery, dreams, becoming, identity, fantasy, fairy tale

This book would be suitable for ✓ Lit Circles ✓ Kit Materials

Leave a comment

Filed under children's lit, library, literacy, reading

Torrie and the Dragonslayers

Author:  K.V. Johansen Copyright Date:  2009
Stained Glass
Torrie is not the prince or the princess, not the sorcerer or witch.  It takes a bit to figure out what Torrie is.  Torrie is an Old Thing, a furry, short creature, more human than animal, quite a likable creature and the narrator of Torrie and the Dragonslayers.  Torrie and the Dragonslayers is told as a family or clan  campfire story and we are included around the campfire.  I love KV. Johansen’s treatment of female characters in her knights and wizards settings.  The women are strong and intelligent.  They have influence and tend to need to fight a bit to be heard.  These are great stories for girls and boys.  Fantasy stories which take a shot at our gender roles of imprisoned princess, valiant knight, and trusty sidekick are a great addition to a library.  We still have princesses and knights and sidekicks but the knights can cook, the princesses can wield swords and  sidekicks are, well, sidekicks.  Johansen has a flair for descriptive language and character development.  The plot moves well and has sufficient mini-conflicts to carry interest forward.  An enjoyable read worth recommending to your fantasy or medievalist fans, definitely worth adding to the K-8 library.

Rating  #1 (Highly Recommended)   #2    ✓  #3    #4 (Not acceptable)

Interest Level:  5-8  Reading Level:  5+

Curriculum Area:  Language Arts

Themes/Topics: Magic, Fantasy, Wizardry, gender roles

This book would be suitable for   ✓ Lit Circles   ✓ Kit Materials    ✓ Read-Aloud (Gr.)  5

From a review copy, full distribution pending.  Torrie and the Dragonslayers is a expanded and adapted retelling of Torrie and the Dragon.

Leave a comment

Filed under children's lit, library, literacy, reading

GPS: Website Gold

Today I ran across an astonishing blog of book reviews, Becky’s Book Reviews. What makes this website gold? Becky read. She reads a whole lot. She reads everything and then she writes about it. I feel I am reading a bunch and I’m reading for work most of the time. I like it but I don’t hold a candle to this.  She has genre search, she has favourite lists, she has different blogs for children’s literature.   If you want to lose yourself in books or you need to find something for a friend, child, niece or nephew or for yourself. I recommend Becky’s Book Reviews.  This blog is definitely Gold Standard.
READ with final feather

1 Comment

Filed under children's lit, gps, library, literacy

House of Many Ways

Author:  Diana Wynne Jones Copyright Date:  2008
Cotswold Cottage, Greenfield Village
“A chaotically magical sequel to How’s Moving Castle” quoth the cover of this book.  It is exactly as it says magical and chaotic.  It vaguely reminds me of Piers Anthony in its apparent randomness.  Things come together in the end for the great climax of the novel but it is hard to follow at times or maybe I’m just tired.  This book demands a skilled reader with a love for fantasy. A bit complicated for a K-8 library a better pick for 7-12.

Rating  #1 (Highly Recommended)   #2    ✓  #3    #4 (Not acceptable)

Interest Level:  7-12  Reading Level:  8+

Curriculum Area:  Language Arts

Themes/Topics: Magic, Fantasy, Wizardry

This book would be suitable for    Lit Circles    Kit Materials    ✓ Read-Aloud (Gr.)  6

Publisher Website

Reviews – Zubon, Becky’s Book Reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under children's lit, library, literacy, reading