The Graveyard Book (Due 4/19/12)

The Graveyard Book was truly a unique reading experience.  I must admit, I picked it up once, read for a few days and put it down.  I had quite a lot going on, and I knew that in order to really understand what was going on in the plot, I’d need to take the time to focus a little more clearly.  This past weekend I had to opportunity to finish The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  The story is centered on a young boy, Bod, “Nobody” Owens who was missing from his crib the night that his entire family was murdered by the man Jack.  Bod is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens in the graveyard and Bod learns about life from multiple non-living souls.  He takes his academic lessons from these non-living souls.  He has a care-taker or a guardian named Silas.  Silas guides Bod in the life of a ghost, providing him with the tools to which he needs to live life without traditional parents.  Eventually Bod gets curious about the “outside” world and tries his hand at being a “regular” kid.  He has trouble handling bullies and other students’ questions about where he was from and who his parents were.  In addition to dealing with issues of being an abnormal child in a “normal” society, Bod is in danger of being found by the man Jack.  In transition of coming back to the graveyard Bod learns of Scarlett, a friend from the past who Bod feels he can be himself with.  Unfortunately, Scarlett is used by the man Jack who pretends to be Mr. Frost, offering missing pieces to Bod’s family’s murder.  Bod and Scarlett escape death by tricking the man Jack to be taken away.  However, Bod loses his friend Scarlett, Silas taking away her memories of what happened with Bod.  Bod decides at the end that he wants to try living in the outside world on his own, and is released from the graveyard by Silas and his parents to travel on his own. 

After finishing The Graveyard Book, I felt somewhat confused.  I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of one chapter to the next.  I tried to keep the flow of the story, and was able to understand a couple of themes.  One theme that I picked up on was finding oneself.  Bod tries to find out who he is and where he is from in the entire story, and finally, at the end begins what he calls “life” as he leaves the graveyard to embark on journeys as a mortal human.  As I read, I got lost sometimes in the names of the dead in the graveyard and their roles in Bod’s life.  I knew of Bod and Silas’ relationship the best, because they engaged in multiple instances of dialogue throughout the story.   Bod and Scarlett had a special relationship because Scarlett was the only mortal who seemed to “get” Bod when others did not.  She showed interest in him when he was known as the “weird” kid in school.  She had a special place for Bod in her heart.

I imagine if I brought this book into my classroom, I’d use Neil Gaiman’s read aloud from his website:  However, I think I might introduce this story to my students and let them take this one and run with it.  I had such a hard time connecting to the story that I would guide them the best that I could, but the scary, gory parts might be better served through students’ personal reading than my descriptions.  If, in fact I had some students who were interested in The Graveyard Book, I would use Scholastic’s learning tool: Book Wizard.  When using Book Wizard I found a few texts that were two grade below The Graveyard Book:

Circle of Secrets

by Kimberley Griffiths Little


The Orphan of Ellis Island

by Elvira Woodruff


Dunc And The Haunted Castle

( Culpepper Adventures )

by Gary Paulsen (A personal favorite!)

 Renee Hennings 4/18/12

Read Aloud Post! Due 4/19/12

Fisher, D., Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practice . The Reading Teacher, 58(1), 8-17.

Lane, H., & Wright, T. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of read aloud. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 668-675.

I’ve always taught 5th grade.  I’ve read aloud at least two to three novels each year to each of my groups, because they have always seemed to enjoy it!  Up until this point, I have never read any research on read alouds, but because I’ve always had a pleasant experience with them, so I’ve continued to do so.  According to Lane and Wright’s article Maximizing the effectiveness of read aloud, read alouds provide students with strong vocabulary acquisition and can increase reading comprehension.  It seems that the key to effective read alouds lies in the time for read aloud, selection for read aloud and methods of read aloud text.  I took all of these into account when I chose my read aloud for my 5th grade class for the purpose of my post.  It was suggested by Dr. Frye that we read aloud Mo Willems’ latest book, I Broke My Trunk.  On the first day of read aloud, I did not have access to Willems’ I Broke My Trunk but did have access to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  I chose this piece of literature because it was different than what I usually read aloud to my students.  Currently, students hear me read aloud novels such as Bud, Not Buddy or The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963.  Although they have enjoyed both of these novels, I wanted to go with a different piece.  I personally had read Don’t the Pigeon Drive the Bus back in undergraduate school, and loved the story. Since Mo Willems was suggested to read aloud, I thought it would be fun to showcase Willems in this way! I felt that this particular book was a nice example of a read aloud because it held my students attention just long enough that they didn’t get lost in the plot.  The point of view of the Bus Driver makes it an enjoyable text to think about who is telling the story.  Students loved the simple mind of the pigeon, and could relate to his character, because as we read and discussed, they wanted to share stories of when they wanted something so bad they would throw a fit, or try to get their parents to buy them something.  Because the pigeon wants to drive the bus sooo bad, I could change my voice to mimic his determination. This story was a great way to predict the next steps in the story.  According to Dickson and Tabors (2001) it is important to choose text that addresses both immediate and nonimmediate talk.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a wonderful tool that addresses both of these pieces.   Because I had such a great response to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus I decided to read aloud Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.  I read more about selecting the correct books to read aloud, and through the research of Beck and McKeowen suggested using meaningful text to create classroom discussions.  I was able to connect Trisha’s dyslexia to my students because they were old enough to understand what this disorder was.  I shared with them some photos of what text might look like to one who was dyslexic and we discussed what life could be like for someone who is, but never received the help needed to cope with the disorder.  My students made comments that they felt bad for Trisha, and some said that they had been bullied before because of something that they couldn’t help.  Others mentioned that they had seen bullying happen, and could connect Trisha’s feelings to the feelings that others had shared with them in the past.  I am glad that I was able to choose such a book that connected with my kids so well!  In fact, one of my students was so moved that she brought in another Patricia Polacco book the next day called Babushka Baba Yaga.  This story was set in a Russian village where an elderly woman wanted nothing more than to have a baby or a grandchild.  Her name was Baba Yaga.  She was not welcome in the Russian village, so she had to dress herself as a Babushka in order to gain access to a child.  She becomes the caretaker of a young boy named Victor.  When Baba Yaga overhears other townswomen speaking of her and her supposively “dangerous powers” Baba Yaga is hurt, and flees to the forest.  She makes her face known again once Victor is lost in the woods and is threatened by wolves. She saves Victor’s life from the savage wolves, and the village people learn that Baba Yaga is not as threatening as they had made her out to be.  This became an excellent read aloud for my students because it taught a lesson that you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  Again, just like with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, students at the age of ten and 11 truly enjoyed the story, and understood what it was trying to convey.  After reading Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practice?  I read through the research based essential components to an interactive read aloud.  Fisher, Flood Lapp and Free suggest that teachers always preview their selections before reading aloud to students.  Even though to me, this seemed like “common sense” I can recall times that I have looked through a read aloud, like Babushka Baba Yaga and mispronounced words.  Had I not previewed my read aloud, I might have stumbled over words that would take away from the interest of the story and would have interrupted the flow and fluent reading of the story.  One piece of this research that I know that I need to beef up on is allowing students to write or respond to text after read aloud.  I typically open the floor for students to discuss their ideas with me, but we either get too deep into discussion, and I lose track of time and we must move on to another activity. It was suggested that in the article, Shiloh was read aloud, and the teacher had put together an activity on the Internet much like an internet workshop or a small research project after the read aloud.  As I reflected on this information, it is true that our class has participated in this activity!  After reading The One and Only Ivan students participated in an Internet Workshop that focused on silverback gorillas! I am setting goals for myself in the future to make time for written response to read alouds for my students.

Overall, read aloud in my classroom has been a big hit!  My students have truly enjoyed listening to me read stories aloud, and much to my surprise, they loved picture books.  I think the use of picture book read alouds for my students was great because they don’t tend to look through them as often as they “should.”  By providing my students with picture book read alouds, I think I have offered my students an open door to a new way to enjoy text without feeling “odd” because the books are “baby” books.  Students have responded to these texts so much more deeply than they would have before as younger readers.  I am contemplating looking for resources in the new future to text EOG test taking strategies with picture books and read aloud so that students may find enjoyment in getting ready for the state test, but also to enjoy great literature!  I know that I will continue with my novel read alouds in the future, and won’t forget my favorite titles to share with my students, but reading aloud with picture books will become a part of my instructional day!


Renee Hennings 4/14/12

How to Cope…(Due 4/19)

“Sometimes fiction is a way of coping with the poison of the world in a way that lets us survive it.”—Neil Gaiman

It wasn’t until I was older that I truly understood the personal meaning behind this quote from Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal.  I can say that my childhood wasn’t terrible.  In fact, looking back and comparing to others, I had it good.  I had supportive parents.  I always made the ball teams.  I always earned the A’s and B’s.  I never quarreled with friends.  Life sure was perfect, when I was little.  It wasn’t until I turned 25 until I truly knew what it was like to feel lost.

My parents’ seemingly (un)perfect marriage had started to tumble.  My mom left our family, in search of herself, and I felt lost an abandoned for the first time in my life.  I had no one to turn to for advice, because no one really knew what it felt like.  I thought I had played the parts right, done my “job” as the “good kid” and it all literally blew up in my face, and all in the one day that she left.  I turned to friends for help, but felt a nuisance to bother them with such a complex and troublesome problem.  I tried talking to family, but I felt pushed and pulled from one side to the other.  I finally found solace in one thing: reading.  I can’t always say that I’ve enjoyed reading.  It was fun, but growing up, I’d be more apt to flip on the TV or boot up the computer to entertain myself.  Once my family began to re-form to what it is now, being on a computer didn’t erase the pain.  I’d find myself on Facebook, looking at pictures of “happy” families, wishing mine weren’t so confusing.  Flipping on the TV didn’t make me feel any better.  There, I’d see shows that I’d watch with my mom, and feel angered that she weren’t with me, sharing the laughs of The Golden Girls.  I found that the only therapy was to read.  I could put my nose in a book, and escape.  I could escape the words I heard my parents say to me about each other.  I could escape the problems that I had dealing with my mother’s missing link to her family, and the words that I wanted to share with her, but couldn’t place.  I escaped the day-in and day-out nightmare of “what has happened to my family?”  I picked up a series of books called Pretty Little Liars by Sara Sheppard, and literally finished the series in a matter of weeks.  Next, I focused on kids’ books.  Of course I read for my required readings in graduate school, but moved on to other genres that I’d never picked up before.  I read Scat by Carl Hiaassen, The Giver (again) by Lois Lowery, Rule  by Cynthia Lord and other titles that I can’t put my finger on.  It was like I could open a book, a work of fiction, and lose myself, lose my problems.  When I was so angry, I could cope, by using fiction.  When I was melancholy, I used fiction to help me gain my happiness again.  When I was feeling good, fiction kept me going.

So now, as a 27 year old adult in a Reading Education program, I’ve felt that I’ve taken away many things that I can provide for my students.  I know some tricks to teaching kids how to pick a novel.  I can guide a student through a word study.  I can convince kids to work together to discussion literature.  I can make suggestions for students who want to read a certain type of genre.  But now, after truly appreciating the magic of getting into fiction, I can survive the world.  I can be what I want to be, and I can make it.  I can provide my students with this authentic feeling through my instruction of literature, with hopes that one day, when they are having a tough time, no matter what age, they too, may survive.