Sunday, 3 March 2019

Lucky's Book Chat

Over the summer holidays, I had a good think about our Library Llamas Youtube channel.  This is something I set up last year, with the aim of connecting our students with books by taking advantage of a format they enjoy i.e. videos.

I decided to film a new segment for the channel called "Lucky's Book Chat".  I developed this for a number of reasons:

  • I wanted a way to share my own book knowledge.  Not surprisingly, I read quite a lot, and I wanted a way to recommend books to students myself.  Having an adult share books is not as exciting as a Llama though, so, spoiler alert, I became "Lucky the Llama".
  • I wanted to improve the regularity with which we upload videos to the channel.  In terms of establishing a bigger audience, from what I've read it's important to start uploading on a regular basis, preferably at least once a week.  By having a segment that I produce, I can increase the number of videos we upload (although even one video a week can be difficult when I have other work/family commitments).
  • I wanted to broaden the range of students who contribute to the channel.  By not having students commit to being in a Library Llamas Book Club, and instead have them agree to make one video with me, I hope to be able to entice a larger number of students to participate in the channel.

    The Format

    In order to make it easier to be able to regularly produce the segment, I decided to create a general format for the video, which gets tweaked from week to week.  At the start of the video, I have the students tell Lucky a joke.  They pick the joke, the only criteria being that they'd have to be comfortable telling it to Mrs Fraser (our acting principal).  Then both Lucky and the student talk about a great book that they have read.  I try to have some kind of prop that leads into the discussion about the book that Lucky has read.

    After the book discussion, Lucky says that they have to go and do something a bit unusual - parachuting, skiing etc.  Then, while the student is doing a voice-over asking for subscribers and comments, there is a green screen, stop motion or other creative scene with the student interacting with their book in some way.  This part is something I really enjoy, but it's stretching my film and editing skills!  I'm learning a lot from YouTube tutorials :)

    What I've Learned so Far

    • To keep the chat conversational, I don't have the students learn a script.  I ask them to think about a joke, and what they want to say about their book, and what they might want to do creatively at the end.  What I have found is that I need to go over with them a bit more about what they've decided to say about their book.  At the moment they also need help with the creative side, although once I tell them a general idea then they build on that really well.  As they watch more of the Lucky's Book Chat videos, and see more of what can be done, I imagine they will have more ideas of their own.
    • I have a half hour slot in which I film, and that means things need to move quite quickly.  I do this during class time, and not at morning tea like we did last year, as it means there is much less background noise.  Having a different child each week means that the teachers have been happy for me to take them out of class for this, as it is a one-off.
    • I do the filming myself, which means I turn the camera on and then go and hide behind the chair.  The problem with this is that I can't see what the students are doing, and I am always scared that I'm not hidden properly behind the chair!  It has been working fairly well though.

    If you like this video then please like and subscribe!  Even better, leave a comment if you like the books we discuss.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2019

    Top 15 Books of 2018

    I haven't ranked my favourite books before.  In previous years, I've just listed my five star reads in different categories (picture book, fiction, non-fiction etc).  One thing I've noticed from putting the covers of the books I've read on my door is that I've had a fair few students ask me to name my top five books I've read, or even worse, my top three!  It's hard!  But I am up to the challenge, and this year I'm going to be strong and decisive and choose the top 15 books I've read (I can't possibly choose any less than that!).  

    15.  How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

    Bren MacDibble won a number of NZ and Australian book awards for her story about a future where real bees are extinct and children must pollinate flowers by hand.  It wasn't surprising to find out that Bren had grown up on a farm, as her descriptions of life on one are particularly vivid.  This book isn't all about farms though, as Peony's mother takes her from the home she lives in with her grandfather and sister and brings her to the city to help her earn money.  Domestic violence, poverty and agoraphobia are all part of this impactful and compelling book.

    14.  Boy Underwater by Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

    Cymbeline Igloo has never been swimming but somehow manages to boast that he's a brilliant swimmer just before his first school swimming lesson.  He's borrowed a pair of his dad's old swimming togs, and let's just say that size does matter when it comes to togs!  This book has an amazing combination of laugh-out-loud humour and heartbreaking sadness.  It deals with some big issues - like death and mental health.  The nine-year-old protagonist, Cymbeline Igloo, is a lovely character, whose voice shines through as being really authentic.

    13.  The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins

    This is a hilarious story about Mabel Jones, who commits "The Deed" and ends up on The Feroshus Maggot (a pirate ship).  I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because the narrator, Toby Jones, is marvellous with voices.  I love the characters' names, like Omynus Hussh and Captain Idryss Ebenezer Split, and the use of the narrator (who stops in the middle of the action to eat a pickled onion!).  One of our Year 5 & 6 classes read this book and we got to Skype with Will Mabbitt, which was a lot of fun.

    12.  Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

    I loved "Mighty Jack" and this sequel is just as fantastic.  Ben Hatke, who also wrote the "Zita the Spacegirl" series, is one of my favourite graphic novel author/illustrators.  In this book, there's lots of action and drama, with both Jack and Maddy getting to fight the bad guys.  The story is interesting, the art is great, and the last!  I can't wait for the next book.

    11.  The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

    This was another book I enjoyed listening to in audio form this year.  Pacy, also known as Grace, is Taiwanese-American and this book gives a nice glimpse into what everyday life for her is like.  I really appreciated this beautifully written insight into the life of someone with a different culture to me.

    10.  Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

    Julián is riding the subway with his grandmother when he sees women dressed up as mermaids.  He is captivated and on his return home, he sets about creating his own costume made from a curtain and a fern.  It is the grandmother's reaction to Julián's outfit that makes this picture book so heart-warming.  The illustrations are also special, with many of the background characters unique and memorable.

    9.  The Sloth Who Came to Stay by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Vivienne To

    This is a lovely story about the importance of slowing down and taking the time to appreciate things.  Our Year 5 & 6 students loved it, it came runner-up in our Picture Book World Cup.

    8.  The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

    Jacqueline Woodson's poetic text combines with the striking art of Rafael López in this wonderful picture book.  It starts with "There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you" and goes on to encourage children to share their stories and find friends that are "a little like you - and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all".  Beautiful.

    7.  Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick

    The Hilo series of graphic novels is one of my all-time favourites and this, the fourth book in the series, did not disappoint.  The artwork is superb, especially the giant robot monsters that are intent on squashing towns.  Izzy's inventions - a tiny, floating rhino that sneezes and keeps bugs away without hurting them, a skunk that makes popcorn, a parrot that sings in Italian, made from a microwave oven - are hilarious.  Yet the book doesn't shy away from some more emotional storylines.  The backstory about why Razorwark is fighting humans is very poignant.

    6.  Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

    This book is told from the perspective of an oak tree called Red.  This immediately made me apprehensive, because it didn't sound like the kind of book I'd enjoy (trees can't move, how was this book going to be interesting?).  However, I'm a fan of Katherine Applegate's "The One and Only Ivan" so I gave this book a go.

    I was pleasantly surprised - this book gave me the feels!  There are lovely interactions between Red and his friend, a crow called Bongo, as well as the other animals that call Red home.  Humans are part of the story too, with the arrival of a new family to Red's neighbourhood making his role as "wishtree" even more important.  Add to that the lovely dashes of humour in the book (I love the way the animals name their children!) and this turns out to be a small but perfectly-formed book.

    5.  Dear Sister by Alison 

    This story is a lovely exploration of a brother/sister relationship when there is a large age gap between them.  It is told via a series of letters and messages from the brother to his sister.  The book is short and filled with excellent illustrations, making it instantly appealing to students.  It is a fun, sweet book that manages to make you go "awwww".

    3=  Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

    Morrigan Crow is cursed, blamed for all the misfortunes of those around her, and due to die at midnight on Eventide.  Instead, she is whisked away in a giant metallic spider to a magical city named Nevermoor.  

    There are some wonderful characters in this book, and author Jessica Townsend has done a fantastic job of making the world come alive in your imagination.

    3=  Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

    Wundersmith is the second book in the Nevermoor series, and it was, thankfully, just as good as the first.  Which is why I have made them both 3rd equal!  I tried very hard to read Wundersmith slowly so I could remain in Nevermoor as long as possible!  

    Jessica Townsend avoids overly long descriptive passages and yet I could still see Nevermoor really vividly in my mind.  I really enjoyed Morrigan's new adventure and now it is on to waiting impatiently for the next one.

    One of my highlights of 2018 was being able to hear Jessica Townsend speak at Southwell School.  I took a carload of students, the first ones who read her book, and as soon as she walked in they went "ohhhhh" and were starstruck.  "She's my dream author," said one.

    2.  Restart by Gordon Korman

    Chase falls from a roof, hits his head and loses his memory.  When he returns to school he realises that while some kids like him, others appear scared of him, and he doesn't know why.  Those two sentences are all that's needed to entice many students to read this book!  

    I love that this book is told from multiple perspectives as it really adds insight into the impact of the actions of the bullies in this story.  There's some great humour in the book too, making it a lot of fun to read. 

    1.  Front Desk by Kelly Yang

    Mia Tang is a Chinese immigrant to the United States.  She lives in a motel and she manages the front desk while her parents clean the rooms.  Mia experiences bullying, racism and poverty and both her family and other immigrants in the story are taken advantage of and treated poorly.  Despite these circumstances, Mia shows tolerance, hope, perseverance and love.  

    This is an important story that will hopefully encourage children to understand the experiences of new immigrants better and to feel more empathy with them.  It's a book that I've been recommending to anyone who will listen!

    NB: Make sure to get this cover, we got a second copy with a different cover that was far less appealing to our students (we ended up copying this cover and pasting it over the other copy).