200px-TheThief2ndBook Review: The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner

I recently read The Thief by Megan Whelan Turner, the first book in a series that a friend of mine has been trying to get me to read for quite a while.  It’s a Newberry Honor book, and I can honestly say that I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner!  The DRA for this book is about a level 50, and it’s a terrific book for elementary students.  It has action, political intrigue (kids: think of this as government secrets), and the barest amount of romance.  More importantly, parents and teachers would be hard-pressed to find anything inappropriate in this book.  It was clearly written with its audience in mind.

The Thief starts off from the point of view of Gen, who’s in jail.  A pair of guards appear to escort him to a nice room upstairs where the king’s scholar, called the magus, is waiting for him.  The magus reveals why Gen was put in jail–for stealing the Sounisian king’s seal–and the reason he was caught–he was bragging about it to anyone who would listen.  The magus then offers to release Gen from jail only if he helps to steal a sacred stone from a neighboring kingdom, Eddis.  The stone, the magus says, grants the right to rule in Eddis; so the king wants to use it to convince the queen of Eddis to marry him.

Gen has no choice to agree–and he’s already boasted that he can steal anything.  The rest of the book reads much like a quest-story.  Gen must learn how to get along with his traveling companions: two knights, the magus, and a bodyguard.  Throughout the journey, the magus is responsible for educating the two knights, quizzing them on trivia and telling them myths of old. It’s implied that Gen is a commoner and no one expects him to retain anything he hears, but Gen surprises everyone when he corrects a tale the magus tells…and then tells a few of his own.

There’s a twist near the end, but I won’t give that away.  For students who know their mythology, this is a great book to use as a comparison; the mythological stories used here are clearly based on greek mythology.

The second book in the series is titled The Queen of Attolia, and only gets better.  I highly suggest this series for students.  Aside from being great for the classroom, it’s just fun to read.  And isn’t that just what we want reading to be?

Our Library is Leveled!

Mrs. Luttke's English Class

Mrs. Luttke’s English Class

A couple weeks ago, I contacted Mrs. Luttke and her high school English class about helping me with a project–I wanted to level the library.  Unless you are a librarian or a teacher, you may be unfamiliar with the phrase, “leveling the library.”  In fact, you probably don’t use the word “level” as a verb.  But in a school–particularly a school that holds grades 3rd through 5th–leveling is a process that is very much needed.

So what does it mean to level a library?  Basically, we divide books into reading levels (our school uses DRA) and we use color coded stickers to indicate these levels.  3rd grade students typically read blue, 4th grade students read purple, and 5th grade students read black.   Most classroom libraries and the Title I library have their books sorted by level…but until now the library didn’t.

From what I’ve read, most librarians don’t like marked reading levels on library books.  Why?  It’s almost like putting a ban on all the other books, it’s like saying “you are not allowed to read books that are not on your level.”  It discourages students from reading books that are challenging and easier books that are just-for-fun.

Despite this conundrum, reading levels are perfect for so many kids at the elementary age, because it helps them target “good, fit” books.  I once had a student tell me that he didn’t like reading at his old school because it was hard.  Knowing what books are going to be manageable for him makes it easier to read…and that makes reading fun.

The DRA levels can also help teachers.  A sticker on the spine of a book can tip off a teacher as to whether or not a student is on-target.  And the stickers can remind kids that instead of checking out Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the tenth time, they need to choose more challenging books.  According to Kristie Miller, a school media specialist who wrote an article for LMC May/June 2013 edition, “One of the many functions of a school library is to give students books that they can use to practice their reading skills…Yes, students need to pick books that interest them to further their desire to read, but they also need experience reading books at their level.”

I hope everyone will benefit from this project, and I want to give a BIG THANKS to the high school class that helped me to do this.  It would have taken me over a month to do this one my own, and the high schoolers got it done in just over a week.  I’m so grateful for their service and enthusiasm–and I hope they know they have made a difference in their school district.