Bark, George

10 06 2012

Bark, George is a funny little picture book about a puppy named George.  His mother asks him to bark, but he meows, oinks, quacks, and moos instead.

His mother takes him to the vet to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon, and pretty soon we understand why George makes the sounds of different animals.

The book is drawn in a familiar style by Jules Feiffer, who illustrated one of the greatest kids’ books of all time – The Phantom Tollbooth.  The illustrations, especially the expressions on George’s mom’s face when he meows, quacks, moos, and oinks, are priceless.   The best part of the story is the last page, which will prompt some great questions that will foster some great conversations with your little brothers/sisters/cousins/or kids.

My kids all enjoyed this one.  Jake and Josh asked my wife or I to read it a dozen times, and Andy probably read it to them another 5 0r 6 on top of that.  I’d highly recommend this one for any kids 1st grade or younger.

This is book #23 in my quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

10 06 2012

There really should be a picture book Hall of Fame.  Books like Where the Wild Things Are, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, and The Snowy Day have been around so long that the kids that read then when they were new are now reading them to their grand kids, and they don’t seem old – they’re just as good as ever.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is on that list for me too.

I hadn’t read that book since I was probably 6 years old, so reading it now, with my 6 year old son, gives me a whole new viewpoint of the book.

The story is simple.  Alexander is having an awful day.  A really, really awful day.  Not in the same way that a teenager or an adult can have a bad day, in the way that a 6 or 7 year old can have a bad day.  He wakes up with gum in his hair, his brothers get better prizes in their cereal, the carpool mom makes him sit in the middle seat, his teacher thinks someone else’s project is better than his, his brothers call him a crybaby, dinner is full of things like lima beans…

You get the idea.

As a 6th grader or an adult, you can look at Alexander’s problems and see how small they really are, but for a little kid, those problems, especially when they’re piled on top of one another, over and over and over… Well, it becomes a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.


More From Andy

8 06 2012

He’s suddenly a reading machine, my big guy is.  He’s flying through books faster than I can update this page.

His goal is 90 books this summer, but I think he’s on a pace for 150!

I don’t know where he got it, but he came out of  his room yesterday with Let’s Read About… George Washington, a kids biography of our first president.  He got stuck on a few words like revolution and presidency, and had a lot of questions like “why were we fighting England” and “why did they pick George Washington to be president,” but that’s the whole point of reading, isn’t it?  The best part was that after reading it, he told his mom all about George and she told him that George was such a good person that he can not tell a lie.  Andy was having some issues with lying recently, but now he says he wants to be like George Washington and won’t lie again. We found Bark, George on a list of “must read before the end of kindergarten” books.  He finished kindergarten 2 weeks ago, so he’s a little late on that one, but he loved Bark, George so much that he read it to me, to his mom, to his brothers, and a few time just for himself.  I understand why, it’s a fun book.

That list of 50 must read books had a few others on it, so we got Caps for Sale out of the library, and even though he’s read it 100 times already, he pulled Green Eggs and Ham off the shelf to read again today.  Both are classics, and should be read by every kid at some point and time.

Wiggle was a book that we got out of a Cheerio’s box about five years ago.  Andy loved it so much as a little kid that we probably read it to him 100 times.  Then, when the twins were about a year old, they went through a phase where we had to read Wiggle every single night before they’d go to sleep.  Then, one of them would always sleep with it.  That phase lasted almost an entire year.  I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I’d read that book over 200 times.   I think I know most of it by heart.  Now, the little paperback copy from the cereal box is long gone, and the hardcover one is more tape than paper, but Andy wanted to read it this morning.

  Finally, Let’s Go Cubs is a fun little book about a family going to a Cubs game.  I think they made the same book for almost every team, but change a few words and a few of the pictures, but it was one of the first books Andy ever got from his grandparents, so it’s always been one of his favorites at bed time.  I think today was the first time he read the whole thing on his own. That’s a total of 25 books for Andy so far this summer.  I think he’s easily going to reach his 90 book goal.

Boys Should Be Boys

8 06 2012

Even though I teach kids and read lots of kids books, I do enjoy reading some grown people books sometimes too.  While I’ve been working on all these awesome books for middle schoolers like Squish, Babymouse, Smile, and The One and Only Ivan, I’ve also been slowly working on Boys Should Be Boys.

I don’t think this one will interest any of my students, but I enjoyed it.  Written by Dr. Meg Meeker, it’s kind of an owner’s manual for having a son.  No matter what I do in my life: teaching, writing, traveling, coaching, cooking, drawing… I like to read more about those subjects to get better at things.  I read a ton of books about teaching.  I read a lot of blogs written by authors to get ideas and tips.  I have stacks and stacks of travel guides and travel essays in my room.  I have a whole shelf of books on coaching young actors, baseball players, and basketball drills.

So why not read about how to be an even better parent to my sons?

Another teacher at school who also has boys about the same age as my sons recommended this one, and I’ll definitely be passing it on to a few other parents that I know.  Hopefully it really does help me become a better dad.   Maybe it will even make me a better teacher.

This was my 20th book this summer.  My goal of reading 90 books in 90 days over break looks like it might be a real possibility.  

Andy Update 6/8

8 06 2012

At the end of the school year, I challenged all my students to read 90 books in 90 days over the summer.  I have no idea if anyone took me up on the challenge, but my 6 year old son, Andy, overheard me talking about it and decided he wanted to too.

He’s still being a normal kid – 2 baseball games this week, a trip to the forest preserve, and playing superheroes in the backyard with his brothers have taken up most of his time, but it seems that all the time he used to spend watching TV is now spent reading.  It’s awesome.  Today is Friday, and the TV hasn’t been on in our house since Sunday night.

Since I last updated the world on Andy’s 90 book progress, he’s finished 13 more books!  That puts him at 23 books read so far this summer!  Some of them are easy, some are pretty challenging, some he reads on his own, some he wants to read to his brothers or to me.  None of that matters as long as he’s reading.  I hope all my students are too.

First, he read Ten, Nine, Eight a Caldecott winning counting book to his little brothers (Jake and Josh, both 3 years old).  They seemed to like it, and can’t stop pointing out numbers everywhere they go now.  Yesterday, at Andy’s baseball game, they told me all the kids’ jersey numbers – except number 11 and 12, because those weren’t in the book.
Next was Robots: Meet the Robots an early reader book book that Andy found at a library book sale a few years ago.  It had big words like technology and industries that I was pretty impressed that he was able to handle on his own.

His second dinosaur book was Gigantosaurus and Other Big Dinosaurs. Thanks to Dino Dan, Andy knew how to pronounce most of the dinosaur names better than I could.  We both learned a lot about prehistoric plants and animals from this book, so I’m sure when we make our next trip to the library, we’ll pick up another book from this series.

Last summer, in our home town of Plano, a whole bunch of Hollywood people showed up to film a new Superman movie.  Ever since then, the whole town is a little Superman crazy.  The sign that welcomes people to town mentions the movie, there’s a big Superman/Smallville mural in town, the hardware store has a big picture of the hero to advertise their super savings, the local ice cream shop has a Superman flavor…  Superman is everywhere, even at the local dollar store, where I found a bunch of Superman board books.  Andy just read Superman: Secret Superpowers to his brothers the other day.

One of the cool perks of being a teacher is that every once in a while you get some free stuff.  Whenever students order from the Scholastic book order forms, the teacher gets some “points” that they can use for free books.  Usually I get books for the classroom, but sometimes, when I see something good, I get some books for my kids.  Last year I got them the Fly Guy books.  Andy loves them because their gross and hilarious.  This week he got on a little Fly Guy kick and read three of them: Hi! Fly Guy, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy, and Shoo, Fly Guy!  

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten is a fun little book that Andy’s grandma bought for him about a year ago, as he got ready for kindergarten.  I think he’s getting nostalgic for his kindergarten classmates, because the other day he read this one three times, then paged through his school yearbook for about an hour.

All of these books put Andy at 18 for the summer.  I’ll update on the next bunch later on.

How many books have you read so far this summer???

Squish: Super Amoeba

7 06 2012

Cartoons left a void in my life when Bill Waterson retired Calvin and Hobbes. Nothing quite worked for me after that.

Then I found Amelia Rules, really, Amelia Rules found me, because the author, Jimmy Gownley, visited our school a few years ago. In the weeks leading up to his visit, I read every single Amelia book he’d written. It turned out that Calvin was gone, but I’m pretty sure that Amelia is his daughter.

Recently, I found Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm. I’m fairly certain that Babymouse is Calvin’s rodent niece or something. She’s fantastic.

Now I’ve got my hands on Squish. This book is ridiculous. Ridiculous is good.

The main story is great. Squish is a fantastic character, with real middle school problems – except that he’s a single celled organism. He’s dealing with unfair principals, goofy friends, strict teachers, and, of course, the school bully.

That’s all well and good, but what makes Squish brilliant is the subtle science lessons kids will get out of reading Squish – I really wish I could convince the science teachers at my school to do a novel study. However, the brilliantest parts (yes, I’m an English teacher, so I’m licensed to make up words like brilliantest) are the little asides – big green arrows that point out funny little observations (my favorite being the arrow pointing at Squish’s bedroom dresser, asking “what’s in there anyway? It’s not like he wears clothes.” – see that’s funny, because he’s an amoeba with a dresser. It’ doubly funny, because it’s not weird that he has a hat, his dad wears a tie, or that he lives in a house, but it’s weird that he has a dresser – that’s brillianterester).

Visually, the book is awesome. It resembles Babymouse stylistically, black and white, bold ink drawings with bright green highlights (Babymouse has pink). The characters are single celled organisms, yet the art gives them emotion and personality. If I

Really, one of the best comics/graphic novels in a long, long time.

Squish is my 19th book this summer.  I’m on a quest to finish 90 books in the 90 days of summer break.


7 06 2012

There are folks out there that think comic books or graphic novels aren’t “real” books.  Smile by Raina Telgemeier is one of the books that will change their minds.

It’s got everything you want out of a middle grade level novel.  There’s comedy and drama. Laughter and tears.  There’s the emotional heartbreak of being a teenager, and the excitement of youth.  Family troubles, obnoxious little siblings, too much homework, friends that just don’t understand, and that boy/girl that you like that just doesn’t seem to realize you exist…  Raina went through all of that, just like every teenager, but she also had to endure the years and years of dental procedures after knocking out her two front teeth in junior high.

Smile is drawn in a friendly cartoonish style that reminds me of Jimmy Gownley (Amelia Rules!), and written in a friendly tone that feels like it really is 12, 13, 14, and 15 year old Raina telling you her story.   She’s a deep character, and she really lets us inside of her thoughts, feelings, and fears, which makes for a fantastic read.   The story is pretty much an autobiographical memoir of the author’s life during her middle school and early high school years.

What’s amazing to me is how real she gets.  Even though it’s her own story, and the character is her (even the same name), she doesn’t pull any punches.  She shares the intimate and embarrassing parts of teenage life, so author Raina lets us squirm and wince alongside cartoon Raina.  Honest, flawed characters, who we really get to know on a personal level are the best characters in the world – Raina is able to make Raina one of those.

Smile is one of the 20 books on this year’s Rebecca Caudill list, so it’s really cool to see such a great book (yes, real book, not just comic) that happens to also be a graphic novel get recognized like this.   When Mrs. Sergeant, the school librarian, gives her little speech about the Caudill books this fall, I will definitely be chiming in to recommend Smile to all the kids.