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The Affective Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program

I was given a copy of Affective Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program Grades 4-5 through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers. This was my first exposure to this particular reading curriculum which was developed by the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary. There are many grade ranges in the series, but this book appears to be the first that aims to broaden a student’s affective/social-emotional intelligence whilst also increasing reading comprehension (as appears the sole target of other books in the series). As full disclosure warrants, I must mention that my scholarly experiences do not lean toward the gifted/talented student; I have MUCH more experiences with struggling comprehenders. However, I must argue that many of the strategies employed by teachers of such labelled students are good strategies for ALL students, and I found that to be the case with this curriculum.

 This is a very mixed review. I liked the curriculum, found it to be a useful tool, but there always seemed to be a qualifier as I was writing what I liked about it.

I particularly liked that the authors used a variety of genres and mediums, as well as mixing classic tales with modern interest pieces. HOWEVER, I think students could also enjoy a little cross-analyzation of how those writings and mediums differ yet all seek to do similar things (perhaps I missed this in the book, but I saw mostly that each ‘lesson’ was tied to only one particular story).

I am also excited, in today’s test-driven world to see ANYTHING written with social-emotional growth in mind. Call me an old-fuddy-duddy, but I think we better get back to making schools more than utilitarian factories, churning out robotic test-takers. HOWEVER, I also think that many of the prompts/lessons could be stretched a bit further even (and probably will be by many a teacher).

The authors included a handy and interesting pre and post assessment, BUT where I come from, the assessments students take are prescribed so there would be little time in the mandated scope & sequence of the year to add them. This leads me to my two criticisms of the book (and probably the whole series): lack of alignment to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the presumption of “giftedness.”

Public school teachers make up the largest group, by far, of humans educating the future citizenry. And while I am located and have only taught in test-insane Florida, I am also aware that most public schools in the entire United States are tied to a standardized test, measuring specific standards (oh, the horror stories to be told there). This curriculum 100% covers many, if not all, of the CCSS. YET, the teachers I know are required to list those in their lesson plans. Therefore, they would have to sit with each lesson and decide which of the CCSS each lesson taught/practiced/assessed, etc…. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you consider that the teacher probably has 3-5 different lessons going in just English-Language Arts alone. Start adding that up and you can see why having the authors make a simple footnote of standards aimed at each lesson would be so helpful (instead wasting paper on a blanket appendix of standards that every public-school teacher in the country knows like the back of their hand).

 Lastly, I’m going to get on a high horse. I was a remedial reading teacher and a remedial reading coach. These lessons would have been fabulous with my students too! Why must we always label things? I raised two “gifted” kids and one “average” kid. My “average’ kid is a doctor. Again, it’s my soapbox and probably doesn’t have anything to do with the merits of this curriculum.…….

I think this is a worthy school/teacher purchase. I just wouldn’t delegate it to the “talented” few.

For those further interested... Click HERE for a Powerpoint that explains the overall curriculum in more depth:

Even more can be found on the program by clicking HERE 

And here is the publisher's synopsis: "The Affective Jacob's Ladder Reading Comprehension Program uses a model approach to scaffold student learning and promote inquiry-based discussions of texts. This series of Jacob's Ladder focuses specifically on supporting advanced students' social-emotional needs through the discussion of reading selections in the following genres: short stories and media, poetry, and speeches, essays, and biographies.

Using the same critical thinking ladder framework, students move from lower to higher level skills of self-awareness, metacognition, and goal setting. The books include high-interest readings, poems, and connections to videos and songs that integrate reading comprehension and analysis skills with affective and social-emotional needs, as students are asked to apply themes, character or real-life experiences, and lessons from texts to their own lives. New ladders were specially designed for this series and derived from relevant theories about empathy, risk and resilience, achievement motivation, and mindsets and practices for cultivating talent.

The Affective Jacob's Ladder guides provide teachers with an explanation of the nature and substance of the theoretical constructs for each ladder. Also included are an overview of the goals and objectives of each ladder and suggestions for how to implement the ladders in the classroom in a way that supports students' academic and social-emotional needs at the same time."

-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com

Toaff's Way by Cynthia Voigt

Publisher's Synopsis: "Meet Toaff: a lovable squirrel, and new standout character, searching for a place to call home in this gem of a story by a Newbery Medal-winning author. Toaff is a small squirrel full of big questions. Why must I stay away from the human's house? Why shouldn't I go beyond the pine trees? Why do we fight with the red squirrels across the drive? His sister shrugs--that's just the way things are. His brother bullies--because I said so. And the older squirrels scold--too many questions! Can Toaff really be the only one to wonder why? When a winter storm separates him from his family, Toaff must make his own way in the world. It's a world filled with danger--from foxes and hawks and cats to cars and chainsaws. But also filled with delight--the dizzying scent of apple blossoms, the silvery sound of singing, the joy of leaping so far you're practically flying. Over the course of a year, Toaff will move into (and out of) many different dreys and dens, make some very surprising friends (and a few enemies), and begin to answer his biggest questions--what do I believe and where do I belong? Master storyteller Cynthia Voigt offers readers a rich and rewarding story of finding one's way in the world."

My Two Cents: I think maybe Kirkus reviews hit the nail on the head best when describing Toaff's Way as, "A brilliant, bushy-tailed bildungsroman." This coming-of-age story has A LOT of great stuff going for it: inviting chapter transitions, suspense, new and interesting creature characters, changing seasons to change the setting, cute little drawings, and an extremely likable protagonist. It is a super read-aloud choice for 1st - 3rd grade, but I think strong 2nd grade, and average 3rd - 4th grade readers will also enjoy this title for independent reading very much.

Animal-Tales aren't for all kids, but Toaff's Way has enough going that I think both typical animal-tale readers, along with a few new to animal-tales readers will stay with it.  Toaff's Way might be the book to get those adventure genre kids into a new genre as it has adventure and humor, done craftily subtle compared to the typical in-your-face humor attached to children's literature of late (sorry, showing my age and my reluctance to embrace all those potty-humored stories!).

My favorite part of Toaff's Way is the hidden in plain view themes on prejudice, othering, and elitism. Voigt shows absolutely no preachiness about these deep subjects; my favorite kind of non-didactic children's tale (oh, how I hate books that preach at kids!), instead making it integral to the tale itself.  Steering classroom conversations about these tough subjects would be made easy and non-threatening when led by examples of furry, little, sharp-toothed creatures instead of big, mean, orange-hued, sharp-toothed Tweeters. In fact, it would be much more effective (in my humble opinion) than trying to get young children engaged in any sort of discussion on the current political state of othering people. I believe Toaff's Way would be a great introductory story to gift students with conceptual knowledge on these difficult themes for when they are later confronted with their ugliness. That, after all, is what great children's literature does.

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Genre: Animal Tale
Age: Publisher says grades 3rd - 7th, but that is really stretching it. I'd say closer to 2nd - 4th  grade
Pages: 272
Lexile: 790
ISBN: 978-1524765361 Knopf Books for Young Readers

Themes: Bravery, Self-Determination & Belief, Coming-of-Age, Prejudice, Elitism, Bias
Character Development: Toaff is what it's all about and though a few character's develop a little, this is a story all about a spirited, inquisitive, brave, and impulsive little squirrel
Plot Engagement: The chapters are short and end with either cliffhanger or foreshadowing so as to very much make the reader want to keep going.
Believability: Yep. Toaff has an excellent voice penned by a master writer
Thank You to NetGalley for my advanced digital copy and to Publisher Random House Children's for making it available there :-)

It should also be noted that Toaff's Way is part of a larger series called: The Davis Farm Books that all take place on the same farm. If a kid likes this one, they'll surely enjoy seeing some of the same characters in all three books!



 


 You can read more about author Cynthia Voigt on her website: HERE




-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl S. Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com

The Other Dog by Madeleine L'Engle - a tiny book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "Reissued in hardcover to coincide with the movie release of A Wrinkle in Time, here is a true tale of dog-meets-baby from Newbery Medal–winning author Madeleine L'Engle! Based on Madeleine L'Engle's own poodle's experience coping with a new baby in the house, this sprightly picture book presents a familiar domestic drama with an utterly charming new twist. Tongue-in-cheek wit, endearing illustrations, and a revealing author's note make this a publishing event to celebrate!"

My Two Cents: Popping it's little head back into publication on the heals of L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time movie hoopla, The Other Dog is a simple and sweet tale of a dog's jealousy when Mom & Dad bring home another dog (aka: baby). Although the book is a exaggerated look at sibling feelings with the addition of a new baby, I think it has a wider appeal. Lots of kids will enjoy doggie Touche L'Engle-Franklin's affronted tone and eventual love for the new family member.

Some quick teaching thoughts:
  • Compare the dog's character traits to humans (anthropomorphisms).
  • Examine the narrator's point of view compared to what the reader knows (it's a baby, not a dog!). 
Note: Third grade standards listed, but can spiral down to 1st & 2nd, of course :-)(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events / CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.6 Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.)
  • Examine how the illustrations help the reader know more than the dog.                        (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.)
  • Discuss rivalry and jealousy - vocabulary meanings, as well as feelings
  • As an added bonus, the author includes a true tale of Touche L'Engle-Franklin, which is as interesting as the story itself. This would be a great addition for older students reading A Wrinkle in Time in order to learn a little bit more about the author herself or as a great way-in book to compare writing styles (very different) from the same author. 
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Genre: Picture Book
Age: 4-8
Pages: 48
Themes: Sibling Rivalry, Family, Point of View
Character Development: Love the sassy dog narrator
Plot Engagement: Decent, not super engaging, but sweet and slow win-over of the dog brings a smile
Originality: More just a sweet tale of the author's real dog, not meant to be super out-there like her other works
Believability: The protagonist's voice, along with the true-tale, gives it strong believability
Thank You to Chronicle Books for my lovely copy.
Date: New issue = May 2018
ISBN: 978-1452171890

BUY The Other Dog HERE

Most people know Newbery winning author Madeleine L'Engle from her Time Quintet series that began the fabulous, and one of my all-time favorite novels, A Wrinkle in Time. Please don't ever see the movie before you read that book! In fact, just skip that movie (sorry, Oprah). You can read more about her HERE. She was a fabulous lady!
Teachers can find lots of resources and information for her many books there also.
----------------- That's all folks! -----------------
© 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com

The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark - book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "The Graveyard Book meets Hatchet in this eerie novel about a boy who is stranded on a mysterious beach, from debut author Samantha M. Clark. A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home. This gripping adventure will have readers hooked until its jaw-dropping and moving conclusion. Samantha M. Clark’s first novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice.”

My Two Cents: To pigeonhole  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast as an "adventure" or even a "mystery" is way too simple.  To call it "horror" might be a bit closer; to call it a "coming-of-age" tale, still closer yet. Here's what I do know about this new book... kids are going to love the mystery and the adventure and are going to be gobsmacked at the ending not really being a mystery adventure at all.

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast has wide appeal for many readers. In fact, strong third grade readers all the way to deep-thinking middle schoolers are going to be passing this one around to their friends.  I can't tell you too much specifically without giving away the ending, but the story begins with a single character - a boy with amnesia, washed ashore on an island. Then, the internal monologued "bully," seems to take on it's own character and the once narrator reveals himself a character. There are also various setting inhabitants, either real or imagined by the boy; it's all very mysterious and all very other-worldly. I'm not certain that every kid will 'get' that there is something much bigger going on here as early as adult readers will, but when they do.... well, I expect quite a few shocked and puzzled faces thinking back and saying aloud, "oh!".

This title is recommended for classroom shelves from 3rd - 7th. I imagine most libraries will need at least a couple copies once word of mouth impacts circulation.

Just a few quick teaching thoughts:
With regard to that narrator that becomes part of the story........
The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast would be excellent as a mentor text for teaching point of view and how that narrator influences the plot/story.
(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.6 Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
Or for 6th: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.6 Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.)

In 7th grade I would spend more time thinking about how the story unfolds, analyzing the developments that lead the reader to "knowing" the ending.
(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text. and/or CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.3 Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact)

Note: The book's Lexile is coming in at a very low 500L, but all of these standards fall within the 5th, 6th, 7th range. Without getting into a reading war debate, let's just leave it right there and sigh.
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Genre: Mystery? Adventure? Horror? Coming-of-Age?
Age: 8-12
Pages: 256

Themes: Being one's own hero, Overcoming self-doubt, Making difficult decisions, Family Dysfunction

Character Development: If you've seen Tom Hanks in Castaway or Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, you'll get the idea... excellent character development for protagonist

Plot Engagement: One Boy. Alone. An Island. Could have easily been a dud.... But we have bully voice, and narrator, and memories, and imagination. So much going on here; readers won't want to put it down!

Originality: Here is where this book has a chance to win a prize. I cannot think of another tale like it; hitting so many genres, playing with complex emotions and psychologies....

Believability: While I feel the majority in this age demographic will be fine, I also think many adult readers will figure this one out pretty quickly. Not to say the writing isn't good, it is, but I did find myself popped out of the story a few times.

Thank You to NetGalley for my advanced digital copy, along with publisher Simon & Schuster for making it available.
Date: June 26, 2018
ISBN: 9781534412552

BUY The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast HERE

You can read more about Author Samantha Clark on her website: HERE 



-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com

Ready to Ride by S├ębastien Pelon - very mini review

Publisher’s Synopsis: “A funny, feel good book with a can-do attitude for anyone who's ever tried to ride a bike, about freedom, friendship, and the joy of cycling without stabilisers for the very first time.


A little boy is told to play outside by his mum and bumps into an imaginary friend with whom he goes for a bike ride. At first he finds it difficult to keep up, but with the imaginary friend’s help he takes off the bike’s stabilisers and learns to freewheel – all the way home.


Stunning illustrations and an imaginative design make this a really special picture book gift for little bike riders everywhere.”

My Two Cents:   Ready to Ride is a simple little book about the joy of learning to ride a bike without training wheels and the feeling of becoming a “big boy.” The imaginary friend is endearing and helps the boy overcome his fears and increase his tenacity. The illustrations are fun, going back and forth between traditional picture book style and graphic novel style. It would be a nice introduction to that type of print for young ones. 

That being said, there’s really not a lot educational ‘stuff’ to opine about. Therefore, I will just quickly say that limited budget libraries might want to make sure they have a demographic for it and parents who are teaching kids to ride a bike might find a place for it as it is a limited-in-scope title.
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Genre: Picture Book
Age: Preschool -2nd Grade
Pages: 32
Themes: Learning to ride a bike, imaginary friends, tenacity,
Thank You to Quarto Publishing Group and NetGalley for my digital copy!
Date: June 19, 2018
ISBN: 978-1910277737

Click to buy >>> Ready to Ride
----------------- That's all folks! -----------------
© 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr - a book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "Grisha is a dragon in a world that's forgotten how to see him. Maggie is a unusual child who thinks she's perfectly ordinary. They're an unlikely duo—but magic, like friendship, is funny. Sometimes it chooses those who might not look so likely. And magic has chosen Grisha and Maggie to solve the darkest mystery in Vienna. Decades ago, when World War II broke out, someone decided that there were too many dragons for all of them to be free. As they investigate, Grisha and Maggie ask the question everyone's forgotten: Where have the missing dragons gone? And is there a way to save them? At once richly magical and tragically historical, The Language of Spells is a novel full of adventure about remembering old stories, forging new ones, and the transformative power of friendship."

My Two Cents: This is a tough one because this book has all the elements present in my perfect kind of story: dragons, coming of age friendship, a quest, and deep themes. I expected to LOVE The Language of Spells, and I did really enjoy some of it, but it was so uneven and slow to start that it misses the mark for its intended middle grade audience. Therefore, as a reviewer focused on children's experience with a book and/or teaching implications, I have several misgivings.

The Good Parts:  The writing has a fairy-tale lyrical quality to it. Good for read-alouds and some readers can appreciate the singsong style. The characters are charming. There are beautiful themes in there… all about friendship, magic, coming of age, and something about imaginary friends and letting go of childhood. I really like the idea, like Mr. Potter, that magic is happening around us muggles and we miss it. The setting is beautiful and I think it has potential for some readers to want to learn more about Europe after reading it. adore the (next-to) ending line, “After all, even when you can’t see it, magic is still there, tucked into shadows and corners.” 


The Qualifiers: The writing has a fairy-tale lyrical quality to it, but it tells instead of shows. Average middle grade readers will be yawning. 
The characters are charming, but it takes over sixty pages for the quest characters to even emerge. Again, average middle grade audience will be yawning. 
There are beautiful themes in there, but it gets lost in all that telling. 
The setting is beautiful, but why set a story in a very particular time and place if you are not going to explore the particulars? Adult readers get the point that postwar Europe is devoid of magic and that war has costs, but most children do not have this background knowledge. 
I adore the ending line, and though I am prone to throw books across the room with bad endings, I did not throw this book. I actually shed a small tear because adult me thinks I got the point, but again, I do not believe every kid will get the ending point. I think a good deal of them will throw the book or expect a sequel - which I do not believe to be the author's intent at all. 

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Genre: Fantasy

Age: 8-12

Pages: 308

Themes: Coming-of-Age, Friendship, Costs of Power,  Costs of Doing the Right Thing and Being Older (loss of childhood eyes)

Character Development: Strong likability and sweet personalities, a little uneven

Plot Engagement: There is supposed to be a quest, but it's not really much of one. More telling is stuff than showing any actions

Originality: Great idea!

Believability: Although the idea is beautifully original, the believability falters under the un-plotted possibilities that were not explored 

Thank You to NetGalley and Publisher Chronicle Books for my advanced eBook copy.

Date: Out June 26, 2018

ISBN: 9781452159584 

BUY The Language of Spells HERE 



You can read more about the author on her website: HERE


----------------- That's all folks! -----------------
 © 2007-2018 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at www.ReadingRumpus.com
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