Category Archives: book review

Dream Weaver: a Mentor Text

Sometimes it is the simplest books that pack a powerful punch.  When I started to consider a recommendation for the #113texts Mentor Text Challenge so many books came to mind.  I expect to add more than one!

dream weaver

Dream Weaver by Jonathan London is one of those simple books with beautiful language.  The verbs create an orchestra of sound and movement.

A sudden wind, and the trees hum, the branches creak, and Yellow Spider’s web shimmers, like wind across a pond.  But she hangs on and you stay with her.  The whole world is in these leaves.

Besides the language, there are two other features of the book that I love.  One is the way the books uses the space on the page and draws you in close to feel the insect view and then pulls back to give a human perspective.  I also love that the back of the book includes facts about spiders.  (The fiction/non-fiction mix is one of my favorites!)

This year we used this book as one of several to teach beginnings.  Here’s the text of the first page:

Nestled in the soft earth beside the path, you see a little yellow spider.

This beginning takes the reader directly to the “place” in the book.  Our students wrote a piece where they highlighted the qualities of our local community–exploring ways to share their opinions with evidence from their own experience.  But like most young writers, they are still working to build effective beginnings.  So they studied this beginning from Jonathan London and many tried their hand at making this structure work in their own writing.  (Nestled did become a favorite word in our class!)

Here’s a couple of examples from students:

“B” , a second grader wrote this opening

Nestled between the blue beach and the desert there’s a small town called Cardiff-by-the Sea

Okay–I’m not sure that the beach and desert are quite close enough to “nestle” this little town, but she definitely got the idea!

“K”, a third grader tried this version where the setting is revealed in a similar way without using the word “nestled.”

A little town called Cardiff lies between two other towns in Southern California: Encinitas and Del Mar.

There are many ways to use this book as a mentor text.  I highly recommend it, especially for students in grades K-3.  I’d love to know how you’ve used this book (or others like it)!

Neverwhere and more: a book(s) review

In the last few weeks I read two books written by Neil Gaiman.  I finished Neverwhere last night and read The Ocean at the End of the Lane a few weeks before that.  I read Coraline a few years ago…and remembering some picture books I bought last year, I reread The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish today.  In some ways I’m surprised that I like these books, they are a little bit fantasy with some parable-type qualities woven in.

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So what do I read, you might ask?  That question seems to become more and more complicated.  If you follow me on Goodreads you may notice that I have binged on several YA series.  I’ve read the Hunger Games series followed by a number of dystopian novels including Blood Red RoadDivergent and InsurgentThe Water Wars, and the Maze Runner series (that was not my favorite series).  I’ve also read some series more in the fantasy category including The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas FlamelThe Mortal Instruments (City of Bones…), The Infernal Devices, and Graceling Realm.  Interspersed were murder mysteries by Gillian Flynn and Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen…and then there were the 4000+ pages of The Game of Thrones (haven’t gotten to A Dance with Dragons yet).  I’ve also read other odds and ends, novels and plenty of books for kids, especially graphic novels for the younger crowd.

But back to Neverwhere.  I read a lot.  Fiction and non-fiction, fantasy, mystery, realistic fiction, historical fiction and everything in between.  And some books stay with me longer than others. I liked Neverwhere.  Some reviewer described it as an urban fairytale.  In some ways I think that most of Gaiman’s books are fairytales of sort…maybe in the Grimm tradition.  When I think of Richard (of Neverwhere) and the unnamed narrator in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, they are both those anti-heroes who learn powerful life lessons as they interact with supernatural beings from somewhere other than the world of humans that you and I live most of our lives in. They are flawed, often seen as weak pushover types as the story begins.  They find their strength in unusual ways.

These are stories about overcoming difficulties…in many cases difficulties that the adults around them just don’t get.  When I think about Gaiman’s books I find myself thinking about the qualities of grit and resilience that we look to cultivate in our students…and that teachers need too in our current educational climate.   Neverwhere is a story about trusting your gut, learning from close observation, and hanging in there even when the going gets tough and things are scary.  It’s about feeling invisible and doing what is right anyway and finally about realizing that what you thought you needed and wanted for your life might not really be what you were looking for.

Gaiman’s books are richly layered, both readable and complex.  There are books for kids (The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish), for older kids (Coraline) and stories for adults.  And I haven’t read them all yet.  I think The Graveyard Book is up next for me.  What’s your favorite Gaiman book?  What else do you recommend?