Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The music behind Clayton Byrd: developing students' background knowledge

I'm continuing my celebration of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground today, sharing videos of the music infusing this story. Yesterday I shared my full review of this outstanding new novel. Later this week I'll share students' reactions, and then I'll finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Whenever you start a new book, you begin by building images and a framework for the story. The author brings much of that, but as a reader you add in your own experience and knowledge. This background knowledge helps readers develop a fuller picture of the story.

Today, I started reading Clayton Byrd Goes Underground with our 4th grade classes and I began by showing the book trailer. I specifically wanted students to get a feel for the music, the characters, the tone of the book. I asked students to focus on Cool Papa and his electric blues guitar, and on Clayton with his harmonica. This was a fabulous way to plant the seeds for them, activating knowledge they brought and giving others a sense of the story before we began.

As we continue reading this story together, I will want to share a few more videos to give students a sense of the blues music that means so much to Cool Papa Byrd and Clayton. "What Is the Blues" from Music Maker Relief Foundation captures the heritage, the feelings, the history behind the Blues--and what it means to folks still today.

"The Blues is essential, man, to life." "Look where you coming from. And look ahead."

I'd also like students to develop a little more feeling for the harmonica, or blues harp as Clayton calls it. I'd like to share this video of Sam Frazier, Jr., a harmonica player and country singer from Edgewater, Alabama, a small mining camp outside of Birmingham.

As we get into the second half of the book, I want to celebrate beatboxing. In her author's note, Rita Williams-Garcia specifically mentions seeing a video of Doug E. Fresh playing the harmonica as he beatboxed. This is a great clip of him that will help students hear how Clayton used his blues harp with the boys on the train.

This is Doug E. Fresh beatboxing on harmonica at the Old School Hip Hop at Wolf Creek Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA. Rita Williams-Garcia writes in her author's note:
"Years ago I saw a video of rapper Doug E. Fresh alternately beatboxing and playing the harmonica in his live show. I was used to hearing the harmonica played in blues and in country-and-western music, but this mash-up clicked instantly for me! Of course, the blues and hip-hop!" 
I want to help students hear the blues cries when they read the book, and so it's important to share some of the music with them as we read. We can't assume that all students will bring this background knowledge to the book. Likewise, I want to celebrate hip-hop, a musical style that continues to speak so directly to younger generations.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia -- moving story of love, grief and finding your way (ages 9-12)

Clayton Byrd loves his grandpa Cool Papa Byrd mightily and fiercely. Blues music ties them together, and their love runs deep and true. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, young Clayton must grapple with his loss and find his own way. Rita Williams-Garcia's new novel will touch readers deeply, as they connect with Clayton and journey with him.

This week, I'd like to celebrate Clayton Byrd Goes Underground in a few different ways. Today, I'll share my review. Later this week, I'll add videos that will help build Clayton's world for students, share a student's comments, and then finish with a musical playlist that ran through Rita Williams-Garcia's mind while she wrote Clayton Byrd's story.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad / HarperCollins, 2017
book trailer with Rita Williams-Garcia
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues through each fiber of her story, writing with the same "rhythm and slow-burning funk cooked into the blues" that she describes. She riffs on the lyrics of blues, but keeps it focused on young Clayton's story. This passage from the first chapter shows how she weaves in the feel of the blues, with repetition and patterns. But it also shows how she keeps the focus on developing Clayton's character and feelings.
"Instead of drowning out Clayton's plea with Wah-Wah Nita's full-bodied cry, Cool Papa answered back as only Cool Papa would. Cool. Clear. But sharp.
Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Then louder. I SAID, Not yet, Little Man, not yet.
Softer--Not yet, Little Man, not yet.

Even thought Cool Papa and Wah-Wah Nita had answered, that didn't stop Clayton Byrd from hoping, and waiting... His lungs and soul were ready to pour out his own story through the ten square holes of his blues harp. He just needed Cool Papa Byrd to wave him in for a solo." (pp. 3-4)
When Cool Papa suddenly dies in his sleep, Clayton must cope with his grief all alone. Clayton's mother is consumed with anger toward her father, still resentful that he left her as a young girl for months at a time to follow his music.  When his mother sells all of Papa Byrd's records and guitars, Clayton feels betrayed, angry beyond words and completely alone. And so he sets off in search of the Bluesmen -- going underground on the New York subway to find them in Washington Square Park where they played with Cool Papa.

Clayton runs straight into trouble when a pack of boys recruits him to help them make money, playing his blues harp as they danced and beatboxed on the subway. Their hip-hop beat is infectious, and will resonate with many young readers who love the vibrations, clicks and thumping of beatboxing.

This novel finds its groove as Clayton struggles with doing the right thing, stepping out on his own, but getting right into trouble. Many of my students who loved Jason Reynold's Ghost will find much to love here, with nuanced family relationships, well-paced plot and descriptive, dynamic writing.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, and I have already purchased several more copies. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Funny Girl: Terrific collection of stories to make you laugh (ages 9-13)

Laughter and happiness is so important to share and foster with our children. Children love reading funny books and they thrive when adults can share their joy. And yet how often do we promote truly funny books, much less read them aloud with our kids? A terrific new collection fills this need: Funny Girl, a selection of 28 short stories, personal memoirs and comics that will tickle your funny bone.
Funny Girl
edited by Betsy Bird
Viking / Penguin, 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 9-13
Betsy Bird, an outstanding children's librarian and blogger, has collected women writers and comedians to share their humor and advice to young readers. As television comedy writers Delaney and Mackenzie Yeager explain in their opening entry, "Joke-telling is the greatest superpower a gall can posses." Being a comedian takes confidence--a combination of audacity and courage to put yourself out there.

Short personal essays are among my favorites. In "One Hot Mess," Carmen Agra Deedy shares about the time her mother set a bathtub on fire to get rid of the germs, unwittingly melting the fiberglass tub in their new apartment. One of my students loved Ursula Vernon's story "Grandma in Oil Country." She loved the outrageous, over-the-top situations and the silly illustrations. Just look at the note that Maya wrote:
"SUPER FUNNY!" writes Maya about
Ursula Vernon's "Grandma in Oil Country"
The short format is great for these funny stories because they get to the humor quickly. There are plenty of relatable situations, helping readers laugh at the crazy things in their own lives. I appreciate the diverse range of authors. In "Brown Girl Pop Quiz," Mitali Perkins draws on her experiences  and shows how "all of the above" so often applies to our multiple identities.

The collection ends with short biographical entries for each author. With this great range of stories, you're bound to find new authors you'd like to explore. I was so excited talking with Maya about this story that I grabbed some other books by Ursula Vernon. I think she'll have fun with the Hamster Princess series:
Funny Girl editor Betsy Bird blogs at Fuse 8 and is a good friend and colleague. I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, May 22, 2017

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham: navigating the stormy seas of friendship (ages 8-12)

As parents and teachers, it can be hard to watch our children navigate the difficult waters of friendship. I have a clear memory of watching my oldest daughter wander the playground by herself in kindergarten, just watching other children play. It can be hard to give our children advice, and even harder still for children to figure out what's really going on.
Real Friends
by Shannon Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First Second / Macmillan 2017
Amazon / your local library
ages 8-12
*best new book*
Real Friends, Shannon Hale's graphic novel memoir, focuses on the trouble she had figuring out friendship issues throughout elementary school. The format is perfect for this audience -- blending images, short text and visual storytelling to help young readers see just how hard these friendship issues really are and understand some ways through them.

Shannon struggles with anxiety from the beginning, not wanting to leave her mother's side. Making a best friend makes her early school years happy, but when this friend moves away Shannon is left feeling all alone. As social groups at school become clearer and the popular group asserts itself, Shannon copes with feelings of inadequacy. She compares herself to other girls and feels resentment as they leave her on the edges of their group.

If you'd like, check out this book trailer to get a sense of the energy and flow between Hale's story and Pham's artwork.

I am so very glad that Hale chose to write this memoir as a graphic novel. So many more students will read and relate to her story precisely because they'll try it. Pham's artwork is full of energy and she excels and communicating the emotional upheaval that Shannon goes through. I especially love the way she brings Hale's metaphors to life, whether it's her older sister turning into a savage bear or the queen bee at school holding forth with her royal court.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by a wide range of young readers--girls and boys. Many students struggle with friendship issues, and graphic novels have broad appeal. I especially appreciate what LeUyen Pham told the School Library Journal:
"I know as many if not more boys who have read books from Raina Telgemeier or Jenni Holm, without questioning whether it’s written for them. A good story is a good story, and especially books that are reveal the navigations of elementary school relationships are necessary for either boys or girls."
Young readers will appreciate how nuanced and flawed Shannon is--she doesn't show herself as a perfect friend--but I wonder if they'll yearn for more fully developed secondary characters. I do know that my students will appreciate how Hale does not preach or lecture about how to be a friend, but rather she shows how you can work at being a good friend. As she writes in her author’s note:
“If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”
I have purchased this review copy for our home collection, as gifts and for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dory Fantasmagory -- terrific series for family listening (ages 4-9)

Are you looking for a chapter book to share with your family that works across a range of ages? Hook them with the humor of Dory Fantasmagory. This audiobook will have the whole family laughing along with charming six-year-old Dory and her siblings.
Dory Fantasmagory
by Abby Hanlon
narrated by Suzy Jackson
Dial Books / Penguin, 2014
Recorded Books, 2015
preview on Google Books
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-9
Dory (called Rascal by her family) wants to play with her big brother and sister, but they just complain that she's a pest. Her brother and sister tell her that a witch, Mrs. Gobble Gracker, is going to kidnap her if she isn't careful. While they want to scare her, they just end up encouraging her. She is full of playful imagination, whether it's talking with her imaginary friend or pretending to be a puppy dog.

Abby Hanlon knows just how to balance outrageous humor with empathetic characters. She taught first grade for many years and Dory's voice rings true. Whether it's when Dory declares that time-out is too much fun, or it's how she wants to stay in her nightgown all day instead of getting dressed for school--you'll find something to laugh at.
"It's Luke. 'Mom said you can come out of time-out now.'
'No thanks,' I say, and shut the door. Time-out is turning out to be way too much fun."
Narrator Suzy Jackson captures Dory's 6-year-old voice, with a full range of enthusiasm and emotions. Families will recognize themselves in Dory's attention-getting strategies, her mom's exasperation or her siblings' bickering. As the AudioFile review puts it,
"Jackson mirrors Dory's boundless energy as she pesters her older siblings with endless questions, irritates her mother to the extreme by pretending to be a dog at the pediatrician's office, and rattles off a list of terrible things Mrs. Gobble Gracker might do when she whisks Dory away."
Dory was a favorite read-aloud with our first grade classes this year--students came to the library asking for more Dory books! Listen to the full series, for a real treat:
1. Dory Fantasmagory
2. Dory and the Real True Friend
3. Dory Dory Black Sheep
I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Friday, May 12, 2017

Congratulations! Margarita Engle named Young People's Poet Laureate (ages 5-14)

I am so happy to celebrate poetry this beautiful Friday morning. Many congratulations to Margarita Engle on being named Young People's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. This award "recognizes a career devoted to writing exceptional poetry for young readers" and Margarita embodies all that this award stands for.
Margarita Engle has written so many books -- these are just a few of my favorites. Much of her verse highlights her Cuban-American ancestry, influenced by her childhood summers spent visiting her mother's homeland. Her poetry also reflects her background in botany and is filled with vivid descriptions of setting. As Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, said,
“Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike.”
Here are just a few of her books that I love to share with children:
Bravo: Poems about Amazing Hispanics
Drum, Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings -- A Memoir
The Wild Book
In honor of this, I'd like to share two poems Margarita wrote as part of her long collaboration with Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.
In "Discovery," which is part of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science, Engle captures the quiet waiting of explorers and the joy when you finally find the treasure you were looking for. Much of her poetry is also available in Spanish translations -- as it is here. Share this poetry video with students to show how photographs can combine with poetry reading to bring it alive.

Many thanks to Sylvia Vardell for sharing this via Poetry for Children.

Much of Engle's work speaks directly to teens. In "Who Am I?" she captures the confusion created with forms and tests that ask students to categorize themselves. This powerful, accessible poem kicks off the terrific collaboration in Just You Wait: A Poetry Friday Power Book, with prompts to encourage students to write their own poetry.
I am thrilled that Margarita has been awarded this prestigious position. She does so much to encourage the love of poetry in our children. Bravo!!!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Audiobooks on the #Road2Reading: Sharing student stories

I’ve seen first-hand how audiobooks bolster students’ confidence and reading skills. They enjoy reading, and this makes them want to read more. This volume and positive attitude is essential to their success. I don’t differentiate reading and listening to a book. They’re the same thing. One supports the other.
When he was in 3rd grade, Shondrick struggled with reading fluently and became easily frustrated. His teacher suggested that he used some of his reading time to listen to audiobooks. After listening to Horrible Harry, he proudly told me, “I just read it faster on my own!” Rereading the book he just listened to built his confidence, helping him integrate vocabulary and fluency skills.

Audiobooks can build on young readers’ feeling of success, especially if they listen on a consistent basis. Here are a few recent comments from 3rd graders:
  • “They (narrators) read the book really fluently so it’s easy to understand what they are saying. They are really expressing the story, they don’t just talk.”
  • “Sometimes you forget real quick about a story. When you read you have so much in your head, when you listen it’s easier.”
  • “Even if you aren’t reading the book at the same time, you’ll want to go grab the book later because you have a taste of it.”
  • “The sound effects help you envision what’s going on – you get a picture in your head of the story.”
These students listen during reading time in the classroom and at home using Tales2Go, a streaming audiobook service that Berkeley Unified School District provides. They listen on Chromebooks in the classroom, save a bookmark for listening later, and then listen on personal devices at home (phones, tablets, or computers).

My 3rd graders love to read series like I Survived and Goosebumps. This is because series build their reading confidence, immersing them in a predictable world with engaging stories and familiar characters. Here's a selection of my 3rd graders' favorite audiobooks:
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, by Lauren Tarshis
Horrible Harry and the Missing Diamond, by Suzy Kline
Revenge of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps), by R.L. Stine
Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins
EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken, by Sally Warner
Some of my students actively choose to listen and read to a story (paired listening/reading), while others prefer just listening. I find that this is partially a personal preference and partially dependent on choice of book.

Children’s listening comprehension is typically two years above their reading comprehension, meaning that we can understand more complex stories than we can read. If a child wants to read a complex book and their eyes can’t keep up, trying to read and listen will just frustrate them. Just listening will allow them to focus on building a story in their mind, understanding the vocabulary, plot and character development.

I'm happy to join friends Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy and Michele at Mrs. Knott's Bookshelf in celebrating the #Road2Reading. As they write,
"All journeys have a starting place. This is a weekly place to find books and tools that you may use with readers at the start of their reading journey."
The formal research about the impact of audiobooks on children’s reading development is important (see this post for more details), but my personal experience lets me understand this more deeply. This post comes from a webinar I gave yesterday; come listen to the whole webinar if you'd like to learn more:
Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks
via, sponsored by Tales2Go
I'd like to give special thanks to the community at Emerson for going with me on this #Road2Reading, especially showing me the power of audiobooks. I'd like to thank Tales2Go for helping us reach so many students and for inviting me to participate in this webinar.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Audiobooks: Benefits as children develop reading skills

What happens when we read a book? In early elementary years, there is greater emphasis on decoding skills. But the importance of broader comprehension skills is crucial in these early years and plays an even more important role as students transition into late elementary and middle school. How does the work we do as teachers support students developing their understanding of what they read?
Simple view of reading (based on Gough & Tunmer, 1986)
Listening comprehension plays a crucial role in developing students’ ability to understand what they read. As Hogan, Adlof and Alonzo (2014) explain, this ability to understand what you hear is an essential underpinning to building a mental model. Vocabulary recognition, background knowledge and story structure familiarity are all part of this process. The question becomes: if these are the elements that impact comprehension, how do we support students developing and maintaining these skills?

Audiobooks allow children to focus on the key skills of understanding words and the overall story, and this helps develop their deeper comprehension skills. This happens when children listen to audiobooks on their own, not just when they listen and read. As a third grader told me last week, “The audiobook reads the book really fluidly, so it’s easy to understand what they’re saying. They’re really expressing the story. They don’t just talk.” One of her classmates added on, saying,
“When you read you have so much in your head. When you listen it’s easier.”
In 2015-16, WestEd conducted a research study in Berkeley that examined the impact of audiobooks on literacy skills for 2nd and 3rd graders. Students listened to a selection of stories each week, without reading the books at the same time. They were just listening and enjoying the stories. The results were clear and remarkable.

Students who listened to audiobooks on a regular basis, developed stronger reading skills -- attaining 58% of their annual reading gain in just 10 weeks. Students who listened to audiobooks increased their reading comprehension skills three times more than their counterparts. Their vocabulary gains outpaced their control group counterparts by seven times. All of this made students want to read more. We see this in their increase in reading motivation by four times, relative to their control group.
Results from WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.
As a teacher and librarian, this study confirms exactly what I’ve seen with my own eyes. When students listen to audiobooks, they are more engaged, they understand stories better and they WANT to read more. This is because audiobooks help them develop their vocabulary, give them access to more complex text and help them create a fuller mental picture of stories. The power of this study is remarkable. It shows that listening to audiobooks provides essential support to the development of reading comprehension.

If you'd like to learn more about audiobooks, I'd like to invite you to listen to a free webinar: Preventing the Summer Slide with Audiobooks. The webinar will broadcast live on Monday, and it will also be available as an archive. I will share this research, my own experience, and ways school libraries can take action.

Preventing the Summer Slide with AudiobooksMonday, May 8, 2017 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDTvia, sponsored by Tales2Go
This live, interactive session is designed for PreK-12 librarians as well as reading coaches, ELL specialists/teachers, Title I teachers and administrators, district librarians, and classroom teachers. Join us to learn how to prevent the summer slide with audiobooks!

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Works cited:

Gough, Philip B. and William E. Tunmer (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education. 7(1): 6-10.

Hogan, Tiffany P., Suzanne M. Adlof and Crystle Alonzo (2014). On the importance of listening comprehension. International Journal of Language Pathology. 2014 Jun; 16(3): 199-207.

WestEd (2016). How Listening Drives Improvement in Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley -- intriguing mystery & outstanding audiobook (ages 9-12)

Mysteries are great fun to read -- the suspense keeps you turning the pages. You have to read a mystery pretty carefully to pick up on the clues. Pretty soon someone is whisper-shouting, "I got it! I know who did it!" Many of my students love complex mysteries, where many threads come together in the end.

The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley, is an intriguing mystery my 4th and 5th graders are thoroughly enjoying. I highly recommend the audiobook, with narration by one of my favorite narrators.
The Harlem Charade
by Natasha Tarpley
narrated by Bahni Turpin
Scholastic, 2017
preview on Google Books
Amazon / Your local library
ages 9-12
*best new book*
A school project brings 12-year-olds Jin and Alex together, but they are initially wary of each other. Jin spends most of her time in her Korean grandparents' bodega; although she likes to observe and collect information quietly, she longs for adventure. Alex is strong-minded and assertive, yet she hides the fact that her parents are wealthy.

When Alex and Jin meet Elvin and learn that his grandfather has been attacked, they set out to help their new friend. These three begin to trust each other and learn that they'll need each other's help to figure out who attacked Elvin's grandfather. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover that Elvin's grandfather was a member of a Harlem artists' group in the 1960s that was committed to representing and creating a voice for the community. A real estate mogul is threatening to convert much of the community to a theme park in a bid for redevelopment.

Tarpley creates a complex mystery that pulls readers in deeper and deeper, winding many threads together. While one might argue that some coincidences enable her to move the plot forward at some key points, the diverse characters, textured setting and intriguing suspense lead to a richly drawn novel. It will automatically draw comparisons to Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer, but it also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, with its focus on community activism.

Narrator Bahni Turpin conveys these complex characters, showing how their lives intersect. I know it's cliche, but she really does bring them to life. As the Audiofile Magazine wrote,
"Turpin excels at accents and emotions... She ensures that listeners comprehend the story's historical figures and quick-paced, suspenseful events."
I finished this book wanting to learn more about the art world of Harlem in the 1960s and the exhibit at the Met called "Harlem on My Mind." Tarpley effectively conveyed how important art and local voices are to creating a vibrant community. This message is both timely and persuasive for readers just beginning to understand larger political events and social pressures.

I listened to the audiobook on Tales2Go. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books