Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Dunderheads movie in the works

Paul Fleischman's 2009 picture book The Dunderheads (wonderfully illustrated by David Roberts) is apparently being brought to the big screen by Paramount Pictures. The book got quite a bit of award season buzz last year. Over at the SLJ's Heavy Medal blog Jonathan Hunt made a strong case for the book. Read his analysis here and here. His co-blogger Nina Lindsay chimed in on the book here.

While the Newbery committee didn't see to listen, someone in Hollywood did. Thanks to a leaked internal Paramount email acquired by we can start to speculate on what a big screen adaptation of The Dunderheads might look like. The leaked email lists 33 different film projects under consideration or early stages of preproduction. You can see the whole article and a picture of the email here.

The Dunderheads film is categorized as "Priorities/On Deck". Here's what the email has to say:
DUNDERHEADS: This is a $15m movie they're making w/Montecito later this year. Lana Williams wrote it -its a heist movie w/middle-schoolers (Oveans 11 year old"). They will likely put a commercials/video director on this.

A quick imdb search comes up blank for Lana Williams the screenwriter, so either Lana Williams the stunt safety supervisor is writing the script or Williams is a previously unproduced screenwriter.

The email mentions Montecito Pictures as the production company. They have previously released films such as: Up in the Air, The Uninvited, I Love You Man, Hotel for Dogs, Eurotrip, and Disturbia.

Can't wait to see who might be cast in the various roles. There's really only one adult role in the book but hopefully they'll get a great actress for the teacher role. Who do you think would make a good Miss Breakbone? Paramount is a Viacom company, whic also owns Nickelodeon. I am hoping synergy won't be at work here. I would hate to see any/all the kid roles assigned to Nickelodeon's TV series actors.

Exciting news. You should probably run out and get your copy of The Dunderheads now if you don't already have one, because pretty soon they'll release it with an ugly movie tie in cover.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Picture Book of the Year?

Is was wondering through my local Borders yesterday as I waited for the Wholefoods next door to bake my pizza (sorry I feel the need to rationalize not being in my exceedingly wonderful and prize winning local independent bookstore). While browsing the picture book section I came across Jeanne Birdsall's new picture book Flora's Very Windy Day (illustrated by Matt Phelan, of last year's The Storm in the Barn). I was surprised to see it on the shelf as I didn't think it had been released yet. An amazon search shows the release date to by August 23, 2010 (the day before Mockingjay!). Anyway, I picked it up and gave it a thorough reading and WOW what a fantastic book. The illustrations are top notch. Phelan's figures remind me of Tricia Tusa's watercolors but with even more energy.
With relatively sparse text, Birdsall conveys the familial affection that she accomplishes in the Penderwick novels. Flora situation is one universally understood by any older brother or sister.

The story opens with Flora clearly fed up by her younger brother's bothersome mayhem (he, likely unknowingly, ruined Flora's art work). Flora's mom suggests that Flora go outside even though it's a very windy day. Flora begrudgingly takes her brother into the yard where the wind steals him away. Flora sets off to rescue her brother and discovers that though he might be a pain in the rear, he's her pain and she loves him all the same...

When I first learned that Jeanne Birdsall was coming to speak at the Decatur Book Festival in September I was super excited to get a chance to meet the author of the Penderwicks, but sort of upset that she had spent time on a picture book when there are still more volumes of the Penderwicks to be written. After reading Flora's Very Windy Day I am regret ever doubting Birdsall and cannot wait to hear her discuss this most recent masterpiece.

On a completely unrelated note I reread The Hunger Games this weekend (while simultaneousness helping my team win the AFDC summer league end of season ultimate tournament). Tonight I'll start Catching Fire. Less than 8 days until Mockingjay, a.k.a. the best birthday present ever! I couldn't be more excited!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August 10 for 10: Picture Books I couldn't live without

My list for the 10 picture books I need to survive my life as a second grade classroom teacher. I choose the ten books I find myself referring to throughout the school year. Sometimes I refer to these titles during a writing mini lesson or while making connections to other stories during a read aloud. Other times the situations and characters in these books serve as cues to inside jokes that we share as a community of readers/learners. To see more lists check out Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

1. Pierre: a Cautionary Tale by Maurice Sendak

We read this short little masterpiece all the time. My students buddy read it. They read it during SSR. They read it to their former teachers' classes, and they beg me to read and reread it during read alouds. We also watch the Carol King animated version of the Scholastic Sendak DVD anytime we eat breakfast or lunch in the classroom. Anytime anyone dares to say "I don't care" some other student is bound to throw out a line from Pierre such as "Don't pour syrup on your hair."

2. Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch

I know Munsch's infamously awful Love Me Forever stops some from exploring his other stories but I really think if you give his funny stuff a chance you'll love it. As a child I read Purple, Green and Yellow to my younger brother all of the time. Now I read it to my class at least a dozen times a year. I always read it the first day of school (I say read but at this point I have the entire thing memorized). Anytime we get a new student, which is very often at a school like mine, I read it to the class again as a way of initiating/welcoming the student to our class. By the time the fourth or fifth new kid joins our class, the rest of the students understand the importance of th book and quickly remind me that we need to reread Purple, Green and Yellow right away (sometime before the new student even finds his desk). Munsch's storytelling features repetitive language and outrageous adults. Students are often found cracking up while reading this book as well as others like Stephanie's Ponytail, David's Father and Show and Tell during silent reading. Listen to Munsch read Purple, Green and Yellow here at his website. The site is a favorite destination on our classroom computer.

3. Fortunately by Remy Charlip

I usually save this one for about midway through the school year. Inevitably the first reading is followed immediately by the second and third reading as my students can't seem to get enough of this book. We of course use it to inspire writing, but primarily this is a fun fun book made to be enjoyed for the sake of itself. A few weeks ago Elizabeth Fuse#8 Bird featured Fortunately as a storytime suggestion. See Fuse read the book read and her thoughts here.

4. Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming

I use this one every year for math. It's a wonderful story with super great illustrations by G. Brian Karas. Very interactive and very rereadable. After reading Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! I do all sorts of math with rabbits and gardens. In second grade I use it primarily for breaking apart numbers. During my year in third grade I used it with great success for area and perimeter. I was lucky enough to get Candace Fleming to sign a copy for my classroom when she was here in Atlanta for IRA a few years back. There is also a sequel titled Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Hide! which is also wonderful. Hopefully Fleming will step away from middle grade nonfiction for long enough to give us another wonderful Mr. McGreely story soon!

5. The Signmaker's Assistant

I picked up this Tedd Arnold book at a Goodwill a couple of years ago because the illustration on the cover reminded me of Arnold's No Jumping on the Bed. I didn't read it before reading it aloud to my class and had to stop myself from laughing too much as I tried to read. This book is hilarious. Basically Norman, a sign painter in training, decides to make a bunch of ridiculous signs and hang them all over town. Surprisingly people follow all the signs including ones that tell people to "Knock Heads", detour through a house, a bring Norman presents. Norman of course see the error of his ways and repents, but the great thing about this book is Tedd Arnold great depictions of adult characters doing the stupidest things imaginable. After a few readings phrases like "knock heads" are used throughout the classroom when someone doesn't think for themselves.

6. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

What hasn't been said about Cooney's masterpiece. I am ashamed to say that this book sat on my shelves unread for the longest time because of the less than inviting cover. Once I sat and read it however I became as big a fan as everyone else. Great and inspiring story. Students always respond so well to it too. I think Roxaboxen and Emma are better books but I couldn't imagine not reading Miss Rumphius during that first week of school, in fact I think I'll read it tomorrow!

7. Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg

My go to Earth Day book really opens my students' imaginations. I love seeing their expressions as they slowly piece together what's happening in the story. Like all Allsburg's stories the ending resonates so strongly that you want to immediately reread the story.

8. Solomon the Rusty Nail by William Steig

Frequent readers of this blog know that Steig is my hands down favorite author ever. I love all of his books completely. I would have had trouble making a list of just ten Steig books for this post so picking just one was incredibly difficult. I went with my personal favorite and the title that I most enjoy reading to my class. I save Solomon the Rusty Nail for near the end of our Steig month because this book incorporates so many of the themes and ideas found in Steigs other works. I love listening to my students as they connect Solomon's captivity to Pearl's or Roland's or Zeke Pippen's. Each year a student finds another connection or concern that ties into a Steig work I had not previously thought about in that way. They recognize the transformations we previously encountered with Sylvester as well as with The Toy Brother as well as the family reconnection at the conclusion of the story that occurs in Zeke Pippen, Sylverster, Spinky, Gorky, Pearl, Irene, etc. To see seven and eight year old students making strikingly asstute observations a teacher cannot help but want to repeat the exercise annually. Sometimes in the winter months I am looking forward to summer vacation, other times I am impatiently looking forward to the month of Steig still to come.

9. Traction Man is Here! by Mini Grey

I had never heard of or seen this book until it was featured in Fuse#8 Top 100 picture book countdown (it was #62). Once I tracked down a copy and saw my students' reactions I started pushing it into the hands of every teacher on my hall. This beautiful testament to the power of imagination is not only laugh your pants off funny (favorite line: "Traction Man is guarding some toast"), it is the BEST mentor text for young writers I know. Once students understand that playing make believe or playing with their toys is a form of storytelling they quickly embrace fiction writing. Before Traction Man student writing is often about themselves or what they did the day before. After reading Traction Man is Here! the students begin to open up and their creative juices begin to flow onto the page. For this I owe Mini Grey more thanks than I can offer. The sequel is great and in just over a month Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse, and Was Eaten by a Lion will be release here in America (it's going to go great with Pierre!). I might actually be more excited about this 2010 release than Mockingjay!

10. Someday a Tree by Eve Bunting

Because sometimes I like to see them cry. Most of the books on this list are funny. I don't like using books to teach lessons or character traits. Books are fun and should be used for fun. The minute we start using book to teach kids how to be better people or what ever else we risk turning kids off from books and this is unacceptable. I don't read this book to talk about pollution or about death and dying, I read it to show students that books can make us feel things deeply. Not only can they make us laugh, they can also make us incredibly sad.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thoughts on the Start of a New School Year

Monday marks the beginning of my fourth year in the classroom. Last week we had three work days to get prepared, scrutinize our class lists and most importantly come to terms with waking up before 11am again. Before getting into my plans for the new school year I'll recap my summer reading.

This summer I only managed to read 32 books (not including rereads), which is significantly fewer than last summer. Assuming the weather holds up I should finish Love, Ruby Lavender at the pool today to bump the total to 33. I did a lot more traveling for ultimate this summer and it's hard to get any reading done on those trips. Of the 32 books I did read 10 were 2010 titles. Going into the summer I had high hopes and big plans. I wanted to finally read some series I had never gotten around to such as His Dark Materials, Little House, Gregor the Overlander, and Prydain (I read High King a few years ago and loved it but for some reason I haven't read the series in its entirety). The only series I did complete was the Pullman one, which is another reason my numbers are low for this summer, those suckers were l-o-n-g. I also read the first Gregor the Overlander book and I'll probably complete the series at some point.

The best new book I read this summer was Clementine, Friend of the Week. Sapphique is next on the list of favorites.

Preparing my classroom was a pretty painless experience this year. The biggest task is always putting my classroom library back together. Every May I remove all the books from the shelves and place them inside closets and cabinets so that the janitorial staff can move the bookcases when they re-wax the floors. This year I managed to create enough space so that I could keep most of the books in their baskets when storing them so that all I had to do last week was but the baskets back in their spots on the shelves. Below are a few slightly blurry pictures of my classroom library.
On the left is the overflowing Caldecott Honor shelf.

I organize most books my reading level. A through F are in red baskets. G, H and I are in the yellow baskets with G on the top yellow shelf, H on the middle shelf and I at the bottom. Simiarly J, K and L are in blue baskets and M, N and O are in the green baskets. The top of the self holds mostly "I Can Read" and other early reader books of that size again leveled by color. The tall bookcase contains a basket for class favorites. There is a basket with all of Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie books, a basket for all the ToonBooks and a basket with various other graphic novels like Lunch Lady, Owly, Babymouse, Bone, etc, there is an overly stuffed basket of Dr. Seuss on this shelf as well. Above that is my poetry shelf including all the thick Silverstein, Prelutsky and Lansky collections as well as stand alone poetry books and some verse picture books. The top shelf is were I store my teacher's hands only books. Hardcover jacketed favorites like Traction Man, Lion and the Mouse, Curious Garden, all the Van Allsburgs and autographed picture books. Also on the top shelf is my complete William Steig collection since I don't introduce Steig until April his books can stay out of reach (expect of some copies of Pete's a Pizza which reside in the yellow baskets).

The two left most cases on this wall contain chapter books organized by series or author. Again the blue baskets contain series that are easier than the green baskets. The middle bookcase contains baskets for our favorite authors. There are baskets for Ezra Jack Keats, Kevin Henkes, Robert Munsch (don't worry LYF is not in there!), Cynthia Rylant, two baskets for Arnold Lobel and two baskets for James Marshall. On the far right of the picture is the Caldecott Medal shelf.

Behind my guided reading table is one last book shelf that houses student book boxes. My students use these blue plastic boxes to hold store the books they want to read during Sustained Silent Reading that day. Every morning and afternoon students have a chance to swap out books always maintaining seven books in their boxes. I use the book boxes so that when it's time for SSR the students simply have to retrieve their box and they are ready to read.

The classroom library is the center of my classroom. We spend time on the mats reading, listening to others read and participating in discussions about what we read (as well as what we write). Monday I will read some of my favorite books (there is nothing I enjoy more than the first time I get to read Munsch's Purple, Green and Yellow to a class) and discuss our classroom library procedures. We will talk about how it is important to carefully return books to their proper baskets and how to choose "just right books" for our independent reading. The students will design name tags for their book boxes and begin filling them for our first SSR. I usually start with 5 minutes of SSR the first day of school and slowly build up to 20 minutes by the beginning of September. Unfortunately our schedule doesn't really allow for us to do SSR for longer than 20 minutes.

Monday we will also vote for our first chapter book read aloud. I usually preselect 3 titles and after a short book talk on each title the students vote for the book they want to hear. If the vote is close I make sure to include the runner up title in the next vote. The last couple years my class choose Patrick Catling's The Chocolate Touch (a book I remember my second grade teacher reading to me!). I like starting with novels that have very short chapters (less than 1o pages) at the beginning of the year so that students who may not have a lot of practice sitting and listening to pictureless books get a chance to get used to this kind of listening without having to sit for too long (remember they're seven year olds).

I hope to use this blog to write a little about how my class reacts to the books we read together this year. I will try to post weekly about the classes reception to both old favorites and new releases. I'm really looking forward to getting Mini Grey's Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten By a Lion which I predict will be a big time favorite. I'm also looking forward to reading Jacqueline Jules' chapter book Zapato Power with my students. Last year's class loved making fun of my horrendous Spanish when I read Patrick Jennings Faith and the Electric Dog.

I welcome any and all read aloud suggests you may have as I am always searching for that next great book. My goal as a second grade teacher is simple. I want to create life long readers. I firmly believe that one positive reading experience (the proverbial "homerun book") is all it takes to make someone a reader. My task then, is giving my students a chance to find that book. So if you know of an amazing but little known picture book or chapter book that you think my second graders would get a kick out of please let me know. And if you're an author or publisher and want to get a galley into some potentially receptive hands I'd love to have the opportunity to help make that happen. So please leave a comment or shoot me an email.