Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rhopalic Sentences

Until ran a contest for a rhopalic newspaper headline a couple weeks ago, there is no way that I could have defined "rhopal" for you. Now I know that it is a sentence or poem which either grows or decreases by one syllable or one letter as it progresses.

This kind of writing is not easy. Students in a couple of library class know this very well because they attempted to write rhopalic sentences. They did a great job, but ran into the same difficulties that I did with getting a great idea only to realize that the next word I wanted did not fit the rules.

Here are some of the sentences that students in grades four and five created in under 30 minutes, many with time left over to look for books they wanted to read.

With increasing/decreasing number of letters:

I do not like candy.

Is dog love enough?

Is cat love enough?

Special winter night--ever!

People fight lots for it.

Birds sing for it.

I do not like crazy people.

A no tow sign makes people quickly withdraw.

I am not good after dinner, Chicken Annelore.

I am the cool super person.

Why am I?

I am Jen Mood.

I am not nice.

With increasing/decreasing number of syllables.

Some person vomited Technicolors disastrously.

What lovely butterflies.

I played Mancala.

Kids-- skiing, snowboarding, outrageously extraordinary!

If you rearrange the sentences you can create some amazing poetry, especially if you stick in a couple of rhopalic sentences of your own. Let me know what you can create.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Holidays

The holidays can be a tricky time for a school librarian. While it seems impossible to not mention the holidays, it is important to attempt to give equal emphasis to the various practices of my students. This year I headed for the safety of the connection of light that in some way ties the major holidays of this time of year. We touched briefly on Divali despite the fact that came very early this year. The other holidays we discussed were the winter solstice, St. Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings Day. As you have noticed, that still tips the balance toward Christianity. I try to include other religious and secular holidays throughout the year and hope that this offers a better balance by the end of the year.

In sharing books with the students, my goal is to offer those with little religion and lots of holiday customs. The library owns books that describe the religious stories of the holiday. I put these on display and hope that families will find the books that best serve their own beliefs and practices.

There are hundreds of books about Christmas. Some of them are good and some are just plain awful. Here are a few of my favorites for sharing with my students or personal enjoyment. All of the books on this list are picture books.

When I was a child, the Christmas Eve ritual was for my mother to read Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas. I still can recite long portions of it from memory. Bookstores abound with different illustrations for this classic. What appeals to you may be all wrong for someone else. Jan Brett did some beautiful illustrations a few years ago, but I have heard people grumble that they are too busy. You will have to be your own judge.

Another classic is How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. This is not as much fun to read to children any more because they all think about the movie and think they know the story. They do not relax and enjoy the rhyme as well as the true scoop on the Grinch.

Also affected by the movie is the beautiful Polar Express by Chris Van Allsberg. Don't think you know the charm of this book if all you have done is watched the movie. This is a good book to read with a child snuggled on your lap.

The favorite book for my youngest listeners this year was clearly Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve by Janet Morgan Stoeke. If you have not met this very literal chicken, Christmas may the best time for an introduction to the many books with this winsome protagonist. Minerva Louise sees fancy fireflies on the tree outside her farmers' house. Then she spies a farmer in a red hat on the roof. He falls down the brick well up there so Minerva Louise follows to offer help, soon finding herself inside the house. There are many more confusions as Minerva Louise tries to understand things through the eyes of a chicken. The illustrations are bright and bold and the simple one or two sentence per page text draws even very young listeners into the book as they eagerly correct her mistakes.

Alan Say always uses beautiful illustrations to convey a cross-cultural story. Tree of Cranes takes the reader to Japan where a young boy's mother is remembering Christmas when she lived in the United States. The boy doesn't understand exactly what is happening but appreciates the beautiful tree that his mother makes.

A familiar message is conveyed in The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Pat McKissack. We all remember that perfect gift that we wanted so desperately that we were willing to make all kinds of deals for it, like promising to never ask for anything else ever again. The young girl in this story wants a doll that is beyond the family's budget but she is very convincing and her mother acquiesces. Her sisters want to play with this perfect doll, too, but she is not about to share. That is when she learns the lesson of this story. Adults with laugh and cry with this story and most children will find themselves nodding knowingly at the conclusion.

The surprise ending is just a small part of the fun in Three French Hens by Margie Palatini. Three French hens are sent to a true love, but get lost in the mail and end up not in Paris but in New York City. These three girls want to fulfill their duty so they seek out Phillippe Renard, settling for plain, old Phil Fox whose only friend is the cockroach who shares his apartment. When the hens arrive Phil sees breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but these hens are too kind to ever be eaten. Palatini is a master of puns. Read this and laugh.

For sheer goofiness around the tree, try Where Did They Hide My Presents? by Alan Katz which sticks some new words into familiar Christmas songs.

Books about Hanukkah are not as easy to find. The best stories for this holiday seem to be all be written by Eric A. Kimmel who also writes great picture books about many other topics. Three of my favorites by Kimmel are The Chanukkah Guest in which a grandmother thinks that the Old Bear who comes to her house is the rabbi, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins which is full of magic and trickery, and Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm which presents the humorous tales of Chelm in a very accessible format. The last of those three books is not a picture book, but an enjoyable story collection with a few illustrations.

Another Hanukkah story that my first and second grade students enjoy is The Inside-Out Grandma by Joan Rothenberg. Rosie notices that her grandma is wearing all of her clothes inside out and asks why. This leads to a long list of memories that finally lead to remembering to buy enough oil to fry latkes for the entire family. My classes follow up the story with good discussions of how to remember things and what is important things to remember.

Kwanzaa has even fewer good books. There are only a handful of books that I have found that explain this uniquely American holiday. Of the ones in our school library, the best is Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Because there is so much to explain about the holiday, the students are soon bored with all of the wordiness required. This would be great to read one night at a time so that the new Swahili words as well as the difficult concepts are fresh in the reader's mind.

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medaris is a good story from Africa that makes the principles of Kwanzaa more easily understood. The story is one of the few that I have had older students come back to re-read. They are impressed by the cooperation of the brothers involved in the story and clever solution to their problem.

Whatever holidays you will be celebrating this year, my best wishes go out for them to be happy for one and all. My holidays will include travel, family, and friends and several good books.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting Susie to Read

A friend recently asked me for reading suggestions for a friend's daughter. It seems this six year old girl was not reading as much as her older sister had at that age. The parent's wanted to "fix" this problem. The six year old was able to read; the teacher said she was reading and comprehending as well as any of the other students in the class. The problem, as the parent's saw it was, that she was not reading for fun. They wanted to books to give her that would make her enjoy reading and start to be an avid reader like her big sister.

This is a problem that is often not really a problem. If Susie, as I will call her though I don't know her real name, is not falling behind in class, perhaps she just has not found the right book yet. Unfortunately for her parents, having them push books on her may well make her withdraw from books even further. The worst thing to do may be to tell her she has to read "for fun" every day for a certain length of time. I sometimes wonder if I grew to dislike physical exercise because my gym teacher used exercise as a punishment. Being forced to read seems like a punishment, though it will be hard for Susie to understand why she is being punished.

While I gave my friend several title suggestions for the most interesting and enjoyable books that I could think of, I am now wishing that I had added more instructions for the parents. I would tell them to any or all of the following:
  • Find some good books--perhaps from my suggestions, perhaps from a favorite librarian or bookseller, or perhaps just things that looked interesting to them--and leave them around the house where Susie will see them. Don't make an issue about them. Just have them around where she will see them when she is bored. The bathroom is one good location. Somewhere near her bed is another.
  • Read to Susie. When she is totally engrossed in the story, find an excuse to leave her alone with the book. If she is enjoying the story, she may well finish it before you have another chance to read it. Some parents even say, "Please don't finish this without me because I want to know how it ends." You have to know your child to try this, because she may put your request above her own interests.
  • Have her see her parents read for pleasure. Some studies suggest that seeing the father read for pleasure is the most powerful impetus for children to read. It is important that this be reading for pleasure. If parents read only work related things or child rearing books or anything that may make them sigh or groan the idea of reading as work or punishment will be re-enforced.
  • Don't stress. I have seen so many kids who did not read for pleasure in the early grades suddenly become avid reason for no apparent reason. Just a few weeks ago a young man who used to hate--he would have put it in capital letters, HATE--to read. I don't what it was that changed all that, but now he is reading at a very high level and willing to have good discussions about the books he has read. (Last week we discussed Moby Dick.)

I hope that Susie soon finds the joys of reading. It seems likely that at this point, though, that the best route is for her parents to make books convenient and enjoyable companions for her and then let nature take its course.