Maeve Visser Knoth: 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Picture Books For a Five-Senses Unit

There are plenty of serviceable non-fiction books for elementary school age children that explain the five senses. These will give scientific information about the human body, but teachers hoping to engage their students in further discussion will want some great stories as well. Some of the most effective stories are ones about the absence of one of the senses. For example, books about blindness will help children understand sight. Books about deafness will enrich a conversation about hearing. Below are some of the books I would share with elementary school age children.

Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin
Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young
Apartment 3 by Ezra jack Keats
Do You Remember Blue? and Other Questions Kids Ask About Blindness by Sally Alexander
Mom Can't See Me by Sally Alexander


I Have a Sister, My Sister is Deaf by Jeanne Peterson
Handtalk by Remy Charlip
Silent Lotus by Jeanne Lee
Dad, Jackie and Me by Myron Uhlberg
Moses Goes to School by Isaac Millman (and the other Moses books)
A Place For Grace by Jean Okimoto


My Five Senses by Aliki
You Can't Taste With A Pickle in Your Ear by Harriet Ziefert


Ears Are For Hearing by Paul Showers
What Can Rabbit Hear? by Lucy Cousins


Arthur's Eyes by Marc Brown
Glasses...who needs 'em? by Lane Smith
Look at Your Eyes by Paul Showers


Nosy Rosie by Holly Keller
The Smelly Book by Babette Cole
Stinky Smelly Feet: A Love Story by Margie Palatini


My Hands by Aliki


The Boy Who Ate Around by Henrik Drescher
I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
Bread and Jam For Frances by Russell Hoban


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Books for a four-year-old

Hi Maeve,

I need some recommendations for books for my daughter!!!! I think she's ready for chapter books...she just turned 4, is quite smart, but very sensitive to anything slightly scary, bad guys, and things that make her uncomfortable. (She turns Clifford off if it's a story about Clifford doing something that gets him in trouble...)

If you can recommend anything off the top of your head, I'd really appreciate it!

Hope all is well with you,


Hi Anne,

I wouldn't really start yet on what I call "chapter books" since those are short novels. I would instead look for some transitional kinds of books to get her used to listening longer and having fewer pictures. No need to rush especially since she is sensitive. The thing about longer books is that they address more complex ideas and situations as well...

Try some of the Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant. You will find them in "easy readers". Also in that area are the books about Little Bear by Minarik and some of my daughter's favorites are the stories about Amanda and Oliver Pig which are written by Van Leeuwen. Let me know how these go and I'll have more ideas.

Please don't neglect picture books as you move on to longer stories. There are so many kinds of picture books that you should be sharing them together long after she is reading on her own. I read picture books to classes of fifth and sixth graders all the time and they love them. When you are in the picture book section, look for stories by Shirley Hughes and Amy Schwartz. Both of these writers tell great child-centered stories. The picture books of Harry Allard and James Marshall are wonderful for 4-year-olds because although the stories are short, they have a wry wit that appeals to older preschoolers. Bernard Waber and Robert McClosky's picture books have sustained, sometimes complex stories and rich language to appeal to a child who is ready for something of substance. Margaret Mahy's picture books are often absurd, very funny adventure stories. Try The Great White Man-Eating Shark and The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate.

Have fun,

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Extracting themes from THE EGYPT GAME: A lesson plan

Lesson Plan for teaching THEME related to The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Once the students have finished reading Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, and have discussed the literary elements including tone, setting, character development and the shape of the plot, they are ready to pull these elements together and uncover the theme.

Start with the class all together so you can introduce the literary definition of THEME : A general truth about life or what the author is trying to say.

Explain that each of the story elements (tone, setting, character development, plot, writing etc…) should feed into the author’s theme. Compare the story elements to strands of bread dough in Challah- the finished loaf bakes into more than any individual element.

*Brainstorm together some possible topics that might develop into a theme (a book is not about “love” or even “love is good” but the author may be saying that “often, love between parent and child can provide a child with the support he needs to try something new.”)

Remind your students that there is not one right theme, but the theme they come up with must be supportable with examples from the text.

I like to tell students that if they get stuck, they can usually get a hint if they look at the last pages of the book. This is the author’s last chance to tell the reader what she believes so the theme is often tucked into the last pages.

Suggest students begin with “oftentimes” if they are getting stuck making generalizations. Students may want to come up with a heavy moral from a book. When discussing The Egypt Game I have heard students suggest that the theme is "don't play in a stranger's backyard" or, even worse "don't judge a book by its cover." 5th and 6th graders are mature enough to understand the difference between a moral and a theme and I work to get them to see that the author is too smart to write a whole complex novel just to teach a narrow lesson. She knows that not all strangers are frightening, not all friendships between unlike children will work out. But she might write a book in which some friendships between unlike children do work out and some strangers are frightening.

Students will likely suggest that The Egypt Game is about friendship, Egypt, imagination, imaginary play, growing up, and judging people one doesn't know. Keep their list of topics on the board where they can see it for the next part of the lesson.

Once you have finished brainstorming possible topics, allow students time to work alone.

*Individually, students try to write a sentence stating the theme of The Egypt Game.

*Once most students have hammered out a draft theme, share ideas for themes with tablemates or in small groups and polish up one or two themes to share with the whole class.

*Back together as a class, have each table share one theme. Discuss the themes and see if any are more supportable than others. Encourage the kids to PROVE that this is the theme by giving examples from the text. This is the time to lead students towards the stronger themes by asking lots of questions. They may begin a sentence with "oftentimes friends are good." I'll ask them to tell me why. What does the author say about friends? How do you know? Can you develop this idea a bit more fully...

In one session with 6th graders, the students saw that all the relationships in the book fed a larger theme about making judgements about people. April and Melanie could not have become friends if they had accepted their first judgements of each other. The children are willing to accept judgements of The Professor and for months are willing to believe that he might be a murderer. It is only when he saves April and they learn the facts of his life that they accept him as a friend. "See," one student said, "she is writing about 'don't judge a book by its cover'". As the discussion went on, I helped the students reword their sentences so they avoided cliches and wrote themes that were closely tied to this book rather than to what they expect the book to be about.

* For follow-up homework assignment after this extensive class discussion, ask students to polish up their favorite one sentence theme to hand in the next day.

When I look at these sentences, I am looking for signs that the students are beginning to understand this process, are beginning to delve deeply into the literature and are listening well to their classmates. 5th and 6th graders are often loath to change their first writing sample. You may have to collect their draft statements of theme in order to get them to bring a fresh mind to their next attempt.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Recommendations for a hard-to-please 4th grade girl


My daughter's birthday is coming up and I'd like to buy her some books. I'm finding that she is much tougher to buy books for than my son. I spoke with her teacher, and she suggested I contact you. She thought that since you see her in the school library each week you'd be familiar with my daughter's reading level and interests. I'm looking for classics as well as "just plain fun" books. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


-- 4th Grade Mom

Hi 4th Grade Mom,

I really appreciate your asking me for recommendations. Your daughter is rather hard to please right now and I don't know why. Each week she asks me for recommendations but may or may not follow them. I think she likes to hear me talk about books more than she likes to take my advice . Have you ever taken her to a children's specialty bookstore? Every independent children's bookstore that I have ever visited is an amazing community resource. My children receive gift certificates to Linden Tree in Los Altos, CA each year as a Christmas gift and love to go and make their own choices from the thousands of books available.

There are a few authors I will suggest for your daughter. The British author Hilary McKay is just amazing. The book DOG FRIDAY would be a great choice. Also much of Polly Horvath's work would be great for your daughter. I would not choose THE CANNING SEASON because it is too sophisticated for a fourth grader, but anything else she has written would be good, especially THE TROLLS. The series of books which begin with THE GREAT BRAIN by J.D. Fitzgerald would be fun reading too. They are real classics and your daughter can relate to the narrator who has a brainy older brother.

She might also be interested in a magazine subscription. Take a look at The Cricket Magazine group has wonderful magazines for kids and a magazine does not require the same commitment as a thick novel if she is going through a stage of not knowing what she wants to read.

Let me know if you want more ideas.


Friday, October 06, 2006

And more recent fiction for 2nd-4th graders

There are so many books out there for 2nd-4th graders but not many of them are really special. Much of the writing is really formulaic, especially when you get into a long series. The very thing that appeals to young readers, the predictability, the stability of characters, can bore adults to tears (and even bore the readers once they have made it through a few books in a series). So, what can you do if you have just a few dollars and want to add some special, new books to your classroom, school library or bedroom shelves?

First, I want to suggest the article published in the recent issue of the Horn Book Magazine titled "What Makes a Good Second Grade Book? A Letter to Parents" by teacher Robin Smith. The article is in the September/October 2006 issue of the magazine and spells out the particular needs of young readers as they move from "easy readers" such as Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant to longer books such as The Chalk Box Kid by Clyde Robert Bulla.

I agree with many of Smith's recommendations. If I were purchasing fiction for 2nd-4th graders, I would start with Owen Foote, Soccer Star by Stephanie Greene and add the rest of the books about Owen Foote to my shelves as well. I love Owen (and as a parent, I love Owen's mom- she reminds me of the parents I hope I am most days). Owen is adventurous and kind. He is curious and thoughtful. He cares deeply about the things he gets involved in- building a fort, becoming a spy, protecting his friend from teasing. Girls and boys both like reading the books about Owen Foote. Stephanie Greene has an equally lovely book for readers in this same age range starring a girl Queen Sophie Hartley.

I enjoy recommending the books about Martin Bridge just about as much as I like recommending the books about Owen Foote. Martin Bridge: Ready For Takeoff by Jessica Kerrin and the subsequent stories about Martin are full of humor and look at everyday life with a fresh view. I know a child who was dropped off at a birthday party on the wrong day (the mom drove up and dropped her off, not staying to check in) but when this very same thing happens in Martin Bridge: On the Lookout the small disaster becomes a full and very satisfying story.

Have you seen Jennifer Holm's books about Babymouse? Babymouse: Queen of the World and its sequels are graphic novels that appeal all kinds of readers, shy girls who dream of heroism, girls who already see themselves as heroes, and boys who love the action-filled format. I am not usually attracted to graphic novels. Tintin books leave me cold but Jennifer Holm has created such an appealing character that I was won over.

Now I'll think about non-fiction for the same age group....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Books for a Third-Grader

A friend's third-grade daughter refuses to read anything except pulp series books. The mother asked me for some recommendations, so I sent this email to her daughter.

Dear Kaitlin,

I just reserved four books for you. They will arrive at the City Library in a couple of days. Each of the books is part of a series so if you are interested in any of them, you can find at least a couple more books about those same characters. Here are the books you can look forward to finding:

The Cat Who Got Carried Away
This is a crazy mystery about a cat who disappears, a strange substitute teacher and twins who have to solve everything.

Sideways Stories From Wayside School
Have you already read this one? This is a book about a school that is 39 stories high (one story for each classroom) so when the recess bell rings the kids on the top floor start walking down the stairs but they never make it to the yard...the bell rings for them to go back to class before they are down.

Elisa, Bigger and Better
I have read a lot of the books abour Elisa and her brother Russell, but I haven't read this one. Please tell me about it. I thought you might like it because you have a good sense of humor and you have a brother too.

Amelia, Write On!
A very spunky girl (like you!) gets a journal for her birthday and tells the story of her life.

Have fun with these stories.