Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Giver Movie Announcement

Recently on her blog, Lois Lowry gave more insight into the process of making a movie for The Giver. The on-again/off-again movie adaptation of The Giver is totally on. Again.

I'm not against movies being made from children's books. Really. I understand that books simply cannot be translated to film exactly as they appear in text. I'm not one to stand up and scream, "That's not the way the book goes!" in theaters. (As one student did when we saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. "Where's Giant Rumblebuffin?!?!" he screamed. "I love that part! How can you cut Giant Rumblebuffin?") In her announcement Lois Lowry says that Jonas and Fiona and Asher are all older teenagers in the film. Certainly a major change, and Lowry states she has no problem with it. So who am I to complain? (Note: I'm not.)

I will admit that I generally like the books better than the movies, and more often than not, it's because the images in my imagination don't match what's on the screen. But what annoys me is this: In my experience the movie has a tendency to take the book out of the hands of students.

During the 1999-2000 school year (I remember it distinctly because it was my first year in a new school) I had students reading Harry Potter books like crazy. Siblings were reading Harry Potter. Parents were reading Harry Potter. For the entire year no fewer than half of the students in my class would have Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, or Prisoner of Azkaban on the corner of their desk awaiting even the slightest moment of downtime.

This past school year I can name two students school wide - two - who read Harry Potter books. And it's not for lack of trying. The books are in classroom libraries and the school library and I recommended them often enough, but they didn't get read. "Why? I've seen the movie," is the overwhelming response I hear. You and I know plenty of legitimate answer to "Why?", but it's an uphill sell to kids.

It's happened with Holes and Because of Winn-Dixie and The Lightning Thief and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about The Giver. Go-to books that can motivate readers, books that are attractive across demographics, no longer work like they once did because kids have seen the movie and therefore feel there's no need to read the book.

At least we know that books come out before the movies, and that Hollywood can never adapt every book for the screen. There's always a steady stream of great books that can take the place of the ones movies have taken away. And of course I can name plenty of kids who read plenty of books who still had various favorites sitting on the corner of their desk awaiting a minute of free time. It's not like five movies get made and suddenly we're out of good book options.

Probably it's . . . I just miss my favorites.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Importance of Stories

In November I'll be giving a presentation called "The Importance of Stories" about how books and stories can be used outside reading class. The main focus will be in content areas, but it will also include how to help students relate to characters, situations, events, and topics using books and stories.

Without going into the entire presentation, I'll just use a quote from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: "Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"

And that's the gist of the presentation. If we let loose stories in Social Studies or Science class, if we allow students to experience history through narratives, if we encourage students to make judgments about a character's words and actions, if teachers can hook students on something like potential and kinetic energy through the story of two boys rolling down a hill in a barrel, then who knows what other havoc stories might wreak in our classrooms?

This is where I need your help. I want to sprinkle quotes about stories from children's books throughout the presentation. What quotes about stories (or about words or books or literature) do you know from children's books, either picture books or novels? Quotes can be funny, inspiring, hopeful, or encouraging - anything to do with stories.

Leave your favorite quotes in the comments below, email them to me at HelpReaders at gmail dot com, or tweet them to me at @HelpReaders. I will compile all the quotes I receive and put them into one post in the future.

"Stories are important," the monster said in A Monster Calls. "They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth." So thanks, everyone, for your help, it is greatly appreciated. And that's no story. That's the truth.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Really? A New Post? Seriously . . . Yes, and Here's Why

It's been a while. And by "a while" I mean "a stupid long time." Like two years, eleven days since my last post on this blog. So what brings me back to this nearly forgotten site? Is it something vitally important, something of such major significance that I simply must post about this immense issue? Well, um . . . no.

Last summer a number of us teachers and librarians on Twitter had a little problem. If you are enjoying a good book, and you are enjoying a good snack, how does one eat said snack without getting sticky, melty, powdery, chocolaty, and/or juicy fingers all over said book?

Ah, the answer is obvious - or it was to us after some thought. And a little silliness.

So there it is. Tweet pictures of your book, your snack, and your chopsticks, or #chompsticks as the case may be. Here's the official rules, copied from Mr. Etkin's blog:

  1. Include chopsticks and any type of treat! Include your current read, and anything else you want to add your own flair to the fun. 
  2. Tweet a photo with the tag #Chompsticks and be sure to mention @davidaetkin 
  3. If you are on Instagram (use #Chompstick and post to Twitter) or tumblr or another SM service, feel free to share your photo there, too! Maybe we’ll get more folks to join in the silly. 
  4. If you are not on Twitter and want to get involved (or know someone else who does), you can send your pic to the extra special email address: 
  5. If you are feeling super ambitious, gather up all your photos at the end and blog ‘em! Hey, there are more serious things you COULD post on your blog – but sometimes silly needs to win out. Help yourself to the #chompsticks badge above. (And let us know when you post–we’d love to see.)
Oh, and one more thing. Happy Birthday, Harry Potter, today on July 31. Amazing that I just happen to be rereading the series now.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars

Like many children's literature enthusiasts, I read and loved Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, and my review says as much. Okay for Now is a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, which I also liked. So after reading Okay for Now for a second time, I went back and reread The Wednesday Wars as well.

I quickly fell back into Holling Hoodhood's story, but numerous times I found myself thinking "Doug Swieteck" instead of "Holling Hoodhood" as I read. I thought the books shared the same tone and pacing. Both books feature a smart, somewhat sarcastic main character who often holds back what he really wants to say. Why the similarities? I wondered. Is it just the author's style? Was Doug so memorable that I'm transplanting him into someone else's story? [Spoilers Ahead]

But when Holling said, "Do you know how it feels...?", a phrase used repeatedly by Doug Swieteck, I started paying more attention to the similarities. Here's what I jotted down as I read:
  • Holling shares a "brand-new bottle of Coke" with Meryl Lee and Doug shares "a really cold Coke" with Lil.
  • Both refer to people as "chumps."
  • Running is important to both characters. Holling runs on the cross country team and Doug runs when he skips gym class.
  • Holling and Doug both might lose their girlfriends. Meryl Lee might move away because of her father's job, and Lil fights a sickness.
  • Both speak to the reader using the phrase "You probably remember..." or a similar phrase to recall significant events.
  • Doug's father is physically abusive. Holling's father is emotionally abusive, ignoring his children or quickly dismissing their feelings and opinions. 
  • Both Doug and Holling fear they will be forced down their father's path, whether it's as an abusive drunk or a career-obsessed architect.
  • Both families have stressful silent dinners.
  • Both Holling and Doug have antagonistic older siblings who show their true feelings in the end.
  • Both stories feature soldiers who return home.
Reader Mike left a comment on my original review of Okay for Now and asks an interesting question. He said that while Okay for Now is like The Wednesday Wars, he describes it to his students as sadder. He comments, "The Really Bad Things happen around Holling, but not necessarily to Holling. In Okay For Now, The Really Bad Things happen to Doug. Is it because Holling's life is almost a charmed life? And Doug is just charming?"

That's an interesting question that seems to fit my comparison. No, Holling and Doug are not exactly alike, and Doug's life is certainly more difficult, but there are similarities. Could it be as Mike suggests, that Holling lives a charmed life where things just seem to work out and Doug is simply a charming character?

Finally, on a completely different note. Whose hat did Doug get? In Okay for Now he insists it belonged to Joe Pepitone, but in The Wednesday Wars it's not so clear. After Horace Clark and Joe Pepitone play catch with Doug, Danny, and Holling, it says on page 98
"Afterward, they signed our baseballs and signed our mitts. They gave us each two tickets for Opening Day next April. And they gave Doug and Danny their caps."
It could go either way. However, two days after Opening Day, Mrs. Baker, Doug, Danny, and Holling have their picture in the Home Town Chronicle surrounded by Yankees players. Then on page 198 Holling tells readers
"I wore Joe Pepitone's jacket to school, and Danny wore his hat, and Doug wore Horace Clark's hat."
That seems pretty clear, unless Danny and Doug decided to trade hats for the day. I'm curious why Horace Clark was switched for Joe Pepitone, especially when it's Pepitone's jacket, not the hat, that plays a role in Okay for Now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give This Christmas Away - More Information

Thanks to everyone visiting the site for more information about Give This Christmas Away by Matthew West and Amy Grant.  Here are a couple videos, a couple links, and to prove it really took me a year to hear the song's message, a bonus video featuring Matthew West's 2010 Christmas song.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to learn more about the song.

Here is the original video.  Give This Christmas Away was written for the children's video VeggieTales: Saint Nicholas - A Story of Joyful Giving, which, for those of you new to VeggieTales, will explain the tomato with a stocking cap and the cucumber wearing a wool jacket.

This next video features interviews with both Matthew West and Amy Grant.  They tell the story behind the song including how Matthew West was initially approached about writing it, how Amy Grant came to involved with the performance, and what the song means to them.  Near the end of the video, Matthew West says, "If somebody is out there asking that question, how can I make December look different this year, you don't have to look very far to find somebody who's in need."

To go with the song, Matthew West also wrote a book entitled Give This Christmas Away: 101 Simple and Thoughtful Ways to Give This Christmas Away.

As I searched online for more information on Give This Christmas Away, I discovered that I really was a year behind.  Matthew West has written a new Christmas song called One Last Christmas.  At first glance it may seem very different from the first, but both songs show how simple, thoughtful actions can make a gigantic impact on the lives of those around us.

For more information about Matthew West and his music, including the incredible true story of his latest Christmas song, you can click here to visit his website.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Katherine Paterson on Censorship

I've spent a bunch of time recently talking, thinking, reading, and writing about It's a Book by Lane Smith over on the main site, Help Readers Love Reading.  Should the book be read in classrooms?  Should teachers edit the book when reading?  What could happen if a teacher uses a book and a parent or principal or concerned citizen disagrees with the teacher's decision?

I had additional thoughts, but I can't say it nearly as well as Katherine Paterson did in Places I Never Meant To Be: Original Stories by Censored Authors edited by Judy Blume.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lite-Brite, Love, and DC*B: An Explanation

So, yeah.  Lite-Brite.  Anyone who ran across the previous post on my minuscule piece of the blogosphere are probably muttering one of several, simple questions or phrases:
  1. What?
  2. Why?
  3. How?
  4. Are you serious?
  5. There's no way they actually plugged all those pegs into a Lite-Brite to make six frames per second for over three minutes of music just because they thought it would make a good video.  These people are certifiably insane.
Most of the above is answered in David Crowder's blog ... located here.  After posting a video like that, I thought an explanation was only fair.  (And I'm thankful Mr. Crowder posted one.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lite-Brite, Love, and DC*B

I was thinking that I generally don't post stuff not book related, but then I remembered that Help Readers Too is for miscellaneous posts at infrequent intervals.  Posts certainly have been infrequent, and the combination of Lite-Brite, Love, and David Crowder*Band is nearly the very definition of miscellaneous.  So here's another post.

David Crowder*Band is one of my personal favorites.  In addition to making music, they apparently are skilled music video directors, as evidenced below.  Watch closely for a couple of my favorite parts like the band and the rice at the wedding, the water flowing out of the Lite-Brite, and the piano mysteriously playing itself.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Will Earth Be Conquered by ... the Boov?

We may or may not be facing a good, swift conquering at the hands of the Boov in 2013.  Just in case, it'd be good for you to read this review of The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex and watch Human Training Video #42, kindly created for us by the generous and mighty Boov.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What I Learned This Summer - Wrigley Field Edition
New newspaper column today all about the education my kids got at Wrigley Field this summer.  We've been to numerous Brewers games at Miller Park, and when the Cubs are in town, we (eh-hem) generously welcome our (cough) friendly guests from the south.

This summer we decided to be the ones cheering the visitors, so we planned a trip to Wrigley Field when the Brewers were in town.  And let me add, for the record and for all the Cubs fans who may read this, it wasn't our fault the Brewers won 18-1 the night we were there.

So what did our kids learn?  Read here.

Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Flower Garden Wiffle Ball Field

Welcome to readers visiting Help Readers Too from the EXCURSIONS Journey To Health Wiffle Ball Newsletter.  I hope you enjoyed reading Two Boys at the Bat.

Here’s a quick tour of The Flower Garden, the backyard field where the story took place, as well as a challenge for careful readers later in the post.

Here's the view of home plate from the pitcher's mound followed by a close up of the batter's box.  There used to be a fire pit where home plate is, but we replaced it with landscaping bricks for the batter's box.  (You know ... priorities.)  Now we have a portable fire pit, so the bricks serve as both batter's box and a campfire location.  The backstop is a bit off center since pretty much everyone who plays here is right handed.

Here's the view from the batter's box down the right field line.  Off the back wall of the house or in the landscaping is a triple.  On the patio or roof is a home run, but woe to anyone who messes up the DirecTV dish.  Too bad we don't have more lefties.  It's a short porch wasted.

Now here's the left field line.  The home run line is at the bottom of the ditch.  The swing set is foul, but the slide is in fair territory and just behind the doubles line which runs behind both trees.  Any hit ball that touches either tree is playable, but if it drops it's only a single. The telephone pole, wires, and cables are also in play.  Every once in a while a ball will reach the road.

The pitcher's mound is just an eight foot piece of leftover particle board, and I'm open to suggestions for a more aesthetic solution.  We don't want anything permanent in the middle of the yard so the landscaping bricks aren't an option ... yet.

Here are three pictures from the patio in right center field.  The second and third images show the triples line which runs from the patio around the telephone pole and the home run line in the ditch.  The home run line is very deep in dead center field, then runs down the lowest part of the ditch.  It's been raining a lot lately, so most of it is under water.  Not good for seeing the line, but great fun for outfielders on deep fly balls, sort of like a squishy warning track.

So that's the field, but here are a couple other parts that make it unique.  We named the field The Flower Garden in honor of Mom.  It originally was going to be called The Brickyard because years ago there used to be a brick factory across the road.  We decided on The Flower Garden instead since Mom has some awesome flowers around the house and to honor of moms everywhere who tell their kids, "Stay out of the flower garden!"  At least we won't have to.

The ball bucket was decorated by neighborhood kids.  We hang it on a shepherd's hook simply because there are flowers like that around the house and we thought it would be funny.  The scoreboard is home made.  In this picture it shows no outs in the bottom of the seventh with the score 15 to 8.  The green clothes pin used to mark the inning is kind of hard to see.

We keep all the bats in a plastic tub along with all the ropes used to line the field.  We always used regular bats before this summer.  We knew Wiffle Ball bats would be light, but when they arrived we were surprised just how light they really were.  We knew that taping them up makes them heavier and more durable, so we decided it we might as well have fun with the taping.

All the kids in the neighborhood have their own bat, and when people from outside the neighborhood come over to play, the kids take great pride when their bat is chosen by someone else.  Here's a close-up of a couple bats.

Most of the bats have a color pattern or design of some sort, basically whatever the owner felt like at the time.  This Fourth of July bat is the only one intentionally designed around a specific theme.

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by after reading Two Boys at the Bat in the EXCURSIONS Journey To Health Wiffle Ball Newsletter.  If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear them.  Leave a comment below or send me an email.

And here's the challenge.  Did anyone notice the inconsistency between the poem and the pictures?  Leave a comment or send me an email if you think you know, and I'll post what it is - along with picture evidence - sometime in the near future.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Where's the Continuity?

Last month I wrote a newspaper column about going outside. Getting the kids from the neighborhood together, running around, making up the rules as you go, faking injuries to trick Dad. You know, playing.

I just realized that the topic of this month's column might be the exact opposite of last month's. How can a writer focus on the joys of playing outside one month and follow that up with video games the next?

Let's just blame winter in Wisconsin. I did shovel snow three times the other day. Does that count?

Let me know. In the meantime, here's the column and here's the printable version.