Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Scavenger & All the Answers - Quick Reviews

On Friday, April 10th, from 9:30 - 11:30 am, we're hosting a materials review. There will be books to look at, giveaways to enjoy, and a panel of Bear Pond staff, plus our rep from Candlewick Publishing, talking about particular Titles Of Note. The focus will be on middle grade and YA fiction. We know from our fall review that there is not enough time for everything everyone wants to say. . . so we've got some preparatory blog posts to start the conversation.

The middle grade books Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and All the Answers by Kate Messner share an interesting quality: they draw readers almost effortlessly into the game of parsing out how the authors might have invented their stories. Plenty of creative writing lessons instruct students to study texts for clues to the writer's craft; these books make that investigation fun and almost irresistible. They generate a sense of shared excitement at creating stories and the thrilling thought "maybe I can do this too."

All The Answers tells the story of what happens when Ava Anderson finds a magic pencil that answers her questions. Kate used this book as a basis for a school tour teaching about the creative writing process.

The story began with a wish from real life - for a pen that contained all the answers.

From that starting point, Kate began to ask basic questions:
  • What would the rules be for a pen like that? In this case, the questions need an actual answer - anything involving future events and humans' freedom to change their minds is unanswerable.
  • What sort of character might find this pen? A girl with a lot of anxiety, who is scared of uncertainty and what might happen in the future.
  • Where is the tension / problems created by a pen like that? There are a lot of these problems related to the questions the main characters ask, but first off the pen became a pencil so that it kept getting shorter whenever anyone sharpened it, meaning the answers couldn't last forever.
  • And how do these conflicts get resolved? Let's not give anything away here.
Kate talks about All the Answers and writing lessons more in this previous post.

In Book Scavenger, the legendary Garrison Griswold is critically injured en route to launching his newest game. His most famous game, Book Scavenger, engages players all over the country who hide books, find books, and solve clues to get to the next book. Now, only one copy of an unusual book remains to give the clues to what he had planned. Needless to say the heroine (Emily) finds this book and must race against the bad guys to solve Griswold's puzzles.

Book Scavenger has echoes of some favorite childhood books. Garrison Griswold is a Willy Wonka-ish character for the book loving set. The world full of ciphers is reminiscent of The Westing Game (oh boy I wish I could read that for the first time as a kid again). There are more modern strands, too. The game framework is similar to geocaching or to the site Book Crossing. Closer to home it could be compared to Valley Quest, which uses clues and treasure hunts to bring participants on an exploration of their communities.

Book Scavenger offers a lesson in taking inspiration from books and other creative activities that spark our imaginations, then running with it. If you read The Westing Game and love the idea of a world full of ciphers, why not build your own world that continues in that spirit? If you try out a game like Book Crossing and imagine something much grander where thousands of ardent fans race to find the hidden books, why not build your own world where that happens?

These types of questions, and this book, would be a great pairing with Kate Messner's World Building virtual workshop.

If you want to fill your imagination with not only the stories an author has written, but also all the possibilities for stories you (or your students) could write, take a look at All the Answers and Book Scavenger.

For more reviews, ideas, and discussion, come to the Materials Review in the Bear Pond Books children's room on April 10th at 9:30 am. This event is free, open to the public, and comes with certificates of attendance for teachers who can apply it to continuing education credits.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dorothy Canfield Fisher List & Materials Review on April 10th

We're back for another Materials Review next Friday (April 10th) from 9:30 am - 11:30 am. This time, we're focusing on middle grade and young adult fiction.

This materials review in some ways replaces our Dorothy Canfield Fisher list review (see notes on last year's event here). Jane, who was on this year's nominating committee, will do a quick update on what's happening in the DCF world then we'll move on to new titles. If you're worried you won't get enough DCF (and really, it's a common worry) here are some resources:
  • Two of the authors on this year's list are graduates of the Vermont College of Fine Arts (our apologies if we missed any others, please tell us):
  • Some authors provide a lot of additional information to go with their books online, like:
    • Jordan Romero, his blog is full of mountaineering resources
    • Lynne Rae Perkins has a blog and site of extras, largely related to her illustrations
    • Laura Marx Fitzgerald provides complementary resources for her novel (including separating the facts from the fictional elements)
  • From 2014 - you can see Tanya Lee Stone and Linda Urban speaking at the 2014 DCF conference here.
We will provide DCF list order forms at the April 10th review, or e-mail jane@bearpondbooks if you'd like to order from us. We'll be posting some more middle grade and young adult book materials over the next two weeks. In the meantime, mark your calendars for next Friday's materials review!

Post-Review Update: At the Materials Review we had a request to identify DCF books on the new list well-suited to younger readers, including those interested in DCF but not yet in a voting grade. Here's the list:

  • Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy - A "day in the life" snapshot of three boys, plus their Dads, in the style of the Penderwicks books.
  • El Deafo  by CeCe Bell- Graphic novel memoir recognized by the Newbery Committee this year.
  • 14th Goldfish by Jennifer Holm - A science caper after the narrator's grandfather reverses aging and becomes a teenager. Possible pairing with Tuck Everlasting.
  • Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson - The story of Becky Thatcher loosely based on Mark Twain's books, a good teaching book for origin stories.
  • Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder - A bit of time travel helps the narrator understand her grandmother.
  • Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins- A fun read aloud in the world of squirrels, possible ecology tie-in for classroom.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Another Look at Fairy Tales

Yeah, we'll start this post by typing the words: Frozen Two.

Also, Cinderella.

Upcoming movie re-tellings of very old fairy tales are part of the context that's inspired authors to hold forth on the relevance (or not) of fairy tales today. For example, Alan Cummings last week in the Globe and Mail "Great Stories, Like Cinderella, Need to Be Rebooted"and recently on NPR "A Girl, A Shoe, A Prince: The Endlessly Evolving Cinderella". The Guardian noted this fall that retelling fairy tales for different audiences is "very much in vogue".

Of course, it's not only the world of cinema and in vogue retellings that prompts us to ponder these stories that have lasted for generations. The essay "Strange Birds" by Kelly Barnhill, posted on Nerdy Book Club, discusses how fairy tales formed her as a writer and reader. The Scottish Book Trust, a source of many interesting resources, posted these 5 Reasons Why Fairy Tales Are Good for Children over the summer. Scholastic has brought together contributions from multiple authors in their Myths, Folktales and Fairy Tales project for educators.

Last spring local librarian Meg Allison gave us a tour of France, Italy, and Fairy Tales in her workshop Why Fairy Tales Still Matter. Check out this Pinterest Board of fairy tale books that we made to go with the workshop. The books are also below (they link through to a full page that's easier to read).

We'll keep our eyes open for more fairy tale discussions.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Writing Teachers' Guides with Katy Farber

Katy Farber is a local sixth grade teacher who has written two previous nonfiction books on education, Why Great Teachers Quit - And How We Might Stop the Exodus and Change the World with Service Learning, along with the e-book Eat Nontoxic: A Manual for Busy Parents. Her first novel, The Order of the Trees, comes out from Green Writers Press this May. It tells the story of sixth grader Cedar, found under a cedar tree, whose life is intrinsically tied to the story of the forest and ecosystem health. As a current teacher, and instructor of graduate-level education courses, we were interested in how Katy approached the process of writing a teacher's guide for her new book. It turns out, the guide is a collaboration between Katy and a local high school student. Here's what she had to say:

1. How did your own experience with using teachers' guides in the classroom shape how you wanted to approach writing one?

I have used various guides and resources for books read in the classroom and always appreciate when I can get my hands on a teacher's guide. I particularly like when they are included within the book so teachers (and students) can have them right there in the book and don't need to track down an additional resource. 

All teachers (myself included) want to inspire students to think deeply about their reading, to connect, make inferences, explore their perspectives and look for themes. I am always looking for or crafting questions that help students learn reading strategies, to practice critical thinking, and to think about biases, new perspectives, and diverse narratives about life and humanity. When [Green Writers Press] intern, Lindsey, shared her questions, they had an authentic young adult's voice and curiosity, so I knew they would work well.

2. How did you and Lindsay connect? How are you collaborating?  

My publisher, Dede Cummings of [Brattleboro-based] Green Writers Press put us in touch. . . she took it from there. Lindsey [a High School Junior in Townshend, VT] said she wanted to read The Order of the Trees and work on the reader's guide questions. She took off with it and wrote many thoughtful questions. Honestly, I wasn't sure how to limit the quantity of them because she shared so many great questions. They were thought provoking and engaging. 

We collaborated on some of the environmental issue questions in the guide. The book deals with deforestation and we played with some of the wording around that issue. She was responsive and completely engaged. We connected via email for our collaboration.

3. What have you learned about the student perspective from this collaboration? How would that shape your approach to future similar projects?

It reminded me of what topics strike a chord with young adults. They are astute observers of the world and can critically analyze text. I found her questions interesting and unique and would likely have not thought of them myself-- I'm too attached to the work and it is harder to objectively look overall and write these questions. I would be interested in teaming with another young adult to create a relevant reader's guide that is usable.

4. Do you have any advice you would give to authors who are not themselves educators on writing teacher's guides? 

The advice I would give would be to try and picture an organic, authentic book group conversation about your book. What would they talk about? What would you want to hear fellow readers explore? Let that be your guide. Go for the juicy, deep and personal elements of the book. These will likely be the ones your readers will want to explore and discuss. In addition, with teachers and students in mind, think of overall themes, character development, setting, and descriptive language. These are concepts teachers must show students how to explore through text and questions-- and so questions about these can be helpful for student learning. 

You can find out about the launch of Order of the Trees and places Katy is appearing at her website http://katyfarber.com

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