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Help me fill my school's library

by Zwackus Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 05:51:52 AM EST

As those of you who helped out with my last request, regarding graphs, may remember, I am a teacher at an international school in Japan.  Once again, I'm asking for help, but this time with books.

As those of you who helped out with my last request, regarding graphs, may remember, I am a teacher at an international school in Japan.  Once again, I'm asking for help, but this time with books.

Our department bills itself as the special international department, where Japanese students can come to learn and practice English from real life foreign people who can speak English.  The cornerstone of our program is intensive English, focusing both on grammar and reading/composition.

Yet, somehow, we don't have a proper library.  Our library is a joke.  Right now, it consists of two tall metal bookshelves, that are only about half full.  The principal has made it known that he wants us to build a proper library.  I've been doing my best to help out with this, compiling lists of both fiction and non-fiction that would be useful for the teachers in our various classes, and that the students might find generally interesting and useful.

So, are there any books you remember from your childhood or young adulthood that you'd like to share with a new generation of young Japanese students with marginal English abilities?  Any interesting reference books you've run across, with lots of big pictures?  We may have it, or it may be on order, but I'd still like to know what you can recommend.  As much as possible, please!


What age group are you aiming at?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 05:59:22 AM EST
Our age group is 12-18, middle school and high school.

English level varies, from very low to native.  

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:25:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right. So if it's really kiddie it needs to be quirky enough to entertain them without patronising them?

Garth Nix's "Keys to the Kingdom" series is entertaining and aimed at a young teenage reading level - 10+, apparently, which feels right.

The Hobbit, obviously. Sure, it's aimed at the bottom of the age range, but it's still entertaining enough.

T. H. White's "Sword in the Stone" is good, though the later books get darker and more adult.

Harry Potter series.

Heinlein's young adult books. "Space Cadet", "Farmer in the Sky", "Red Planet", etc.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 01:48:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neil Gaiman's stuff aimed at children. "Wolves in the Walls", "Coraline", "Graveyard Book". etc.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 01:57:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The tiger who came to tea - Judith Kerr.  I adored it, even if I did cry at the tigers in London Zoo when I was 4.  

Rather more basic would be The Very Hungry Caterpillar, another classic. What about Beatrix Potter books?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 07:18:19 AM EST
Are there Graphic Novels/Comics in that library ? they could be useful, and of interest to Japanese students already used to the medium.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 07:37:15 AM EST
I'd love to, but the school prohibits comics of any sort, for any reason.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:30:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stoopid regulations...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 07:42:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
McGraw Hill - The Wright Group offers a wide ranging series of books "levelled" for readers along the developmental continuum.

The Sunshine Series offers collections of books - both fiction and nonfiction. There are a variety of classroom collections also available. You might be able to get the Wright Group to send samples.

The "Emergent Level" books have minimal words with a repetitious structure, heavily supported with illustrations. They are often humorous. Most important - they are "good reads." For example, a book I recall from this type of literature is "Shopping." The pictures show a child with an adult and a shopping cart going through a store. The text corresponds to each item added to the cart: "The bread." "The rice." "The beans." At the conclusion, the cart tips with the text being, "The mess."

As I understand it, the Wright Group materials came out of the literacy research of New Zealand - readers become readers by reading.

It is a bit disheartening to see the Wright Group has been gobbled up by McGraw Hill.

Scholastic is a good source for library collections.

As to specific books, Arnold Lobel(Frog and Toad series) and Else Minarik(Little Bear) are two authors I enjoy.

by tampopo on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 10:08:14 AM EST
We have a few graded readers (Cambridge), and have been looking into ordering some of the McGraw hill books.  Thanks for the other tip.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:31:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If so:
Bill Bryson - "A Walk in the Woods" - humor and environmentalism.
James Michener - "Hawaii" or "Chesapeake" - excellent writing and neutral viewpoint.
Howard Zinn - "Peoples' History of the U.S." - reality-based U.S. history.
J.R.R. Tolkien - anything - western mythos.
P. Wodehouse - "Wooster (sp?) and Jeeves" - the real deal on British 'upper class', except for the bloodthirsty bits.

paul spencer
by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 03:44:51 PM EST
by poemless on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:01:00 PM EST
Google, in general, hates me.  I've always had no luck when it comes to computer searches.  Thanks.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:32:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here are some political/economic books that may be useful.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins
The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman
Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 04:42:33 PM EST
These are books I'd recommend for young to middle readers, ages 6-15, depending on maturity, reading skill and comprehension. The list is probably overkill, but even so, it is not exhaustive and I know I've forgotten titles that I like. I've concentrated on books that I think have stood the test of time.

I think the children's books written by E.B. White are examples of some of the finest American writing available for children. The best, in my opinion, is Charlotte's Web a story about a pig and his spider friend. His other books are Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. A few movie adaptations of Charlotte's Web and one film adaptation of Stuart Little has been made.

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett are about a boy who rescues a dragon. The books are My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. There is also a 1997 Japanese anime film based on the first book.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander are an American retelling of Welsh mythos. The books are The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King. Disney made a film about The Black Cauldron, which wasn't very good.

The Great Brain series by John Dennis Fitzgerald are about growing up in Utah in the last part of the 19th century. The many books in the series. Here are the first few: The Great Brain, More Adventures of the Great Brain, Me and My Little Brain, and The Great Brain At The Academy.

In a similar vein, the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are popular with American girls. There are many books in the series, but here are the books I liked the best: Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, and By the Shores of Silver Lake. There is an American television series loosely based on the books from the 1970s or 80s.

Also popular are Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books. The stories, while fictional, draw upon her childhood on Prince Edward Island. The CBC did a great adaptation of the books in the 1980s starring Megan Follows.

The Tripods trilogy by John Christopher are an account if aliens invaded and took over the earth. The books are The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire.

The Paddington books by Michael Bond tell about a bear from Peru's adventures in London with an upper class English family. There are many books in the series, the first five are A Bear Called Paddington, More About Paddington, Paddington Helps Out, Paddington Abroad, and Paddington at Large.

The Rescuers series by Margery Sharp are about mice who rescue orphans and poets imprisoned by wicked people. I think there are nine or so books in the series and the language and views may be dated, which may be why they went out of print. Anyway, the first four books are The Rescuers, Miss Bianca, The Turret, and Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines. Disney also made a film about the first book, which wasn't very good either.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg tells about a brother and sister stealthily living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City after having run away from home.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle is about the gifted Wallace children, led by Meg, searching through space and time for their lost father. The story is challenging to understand for younger readers, but rewarding.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is about a boy named Milo who is bored and his adventures in lands of numbers and words. A film was made from the book sometime in the 1960s, I think.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien is the tale of a mouse in need and her encounter with rats who know too much.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater tells what could happen if you kept penguins in your house. It is set in early 20th century America and is quite funny.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is the story about a boy, a mouse, a cat, and a cricket's musical ability to transform the mundane into the sublime.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic story about a little girl, Mary, who helps transform a household and a garden with her curiosity and love.

The children's books of Roald Dahl are wonderful, but some parents do not like them. He has written many titles. Some of the ones I like the best are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG.

The books by Beverly Cleary are great for children who are starting to become comfortable with their reading skills. She has many series with popular characters including Ralph the mouse in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Ramona Quimby in the Ramona books, starting with Ramona the Brave, and her friend Henry Huggins, starting with Henry Huggins.

The Bunnicula books by James Howe are good for children who like "scary" stories that are more funny that spooky. The first book in the series is Bunnicula.

As noted in another comment, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are good reads, but I think The Hobbit mostly appeals to younger readers while the LOTR appeals to more mature and skilled readers. The book has been adapted many times to film; however, the best adaptation of the LOTR was done by BBC for radio.

Watership Down by Richard Adams is another book for mature and skilled readers. The story tells about rabbits and their epic voyage to find a new home. An animated film was made from the book.

I hope you find this helpful. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great works of children's literature. These are my suggestions, but really any book that a child wants to read is good. For example, I helped teach a child to read using the great Tintin comics because that was what he was interested in reading.

For your own research, I suggest that instead of Google you use Amazon's feature "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought". It is possible to enter in a title that I've suggested and find other books that are just as wonderful.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 05:54:10 PM EST
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was my favorite book as a kid.  But I didn't really read a lot of kids' books.

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
by poemless on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 06:11:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to run away to a museum?

There wasn't a big enough museum where I grew up, so it put a big crimp on my scheme.

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 06:54:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a life-long dream I've not yet fulfilled.

One day...

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

by poemless on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 06:55:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I loved that book.  I still think of it when I visit the decorative arts rooms at the museum here.
by Maryb2004 on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:35:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Check it out, my parents want to take me to some new movie theater in St.L.  Do you know what it is?  There are couches and coctails and such.  I'm not too into movie theaters, but they dig it.

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
by poemless on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:41:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's probably The Moolah (that's the only one I know with couches).  

Yep, it has leather couches.  (Also regular seats in the back).  And a full bar.   And you can take your drink in with you to watch the movie. :)

It's on Lindell over by St. Louis University.  There's a bowling alley in the lower level.  

by Maryb2004 on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:59:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great list.   I haven't thought of Mr. Popper's Penguins in years.
by Maryb2004 on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:36:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd recommend going to Amazon and browsing these authors and pick books that you think will capture your students' interest. Here are some of my suggested picture book and early reader authors and illustrators. I've put a suggested title by each name.

Harry Allard - Miss Nelson Is Missing!
Verna Aardema - Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears
Mitsumasa Anno - Anno's Journey
Judi Barrett - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Jan Brett - The Owl and the Pussycat (by Edward Lear)
Margaret Wise Brown - Goodnight Moon
John Burningham - Mr. Gumpy's Outing
Virginia Lee Burton - Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Eric Carle - The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Doreen Cronin - Click, clack, moo: Cows that type
Bruce Degen - Jamberry
Tomie dePaola - Strega Nona
Lois Ehlert - Top Cat
Marjorie Flack - The Story about Ping
Kevin Henkes - Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Russell Hoban - Bread and Jam for Frances
Syd Hoff - Danny and the Dinosaur
Ezra Jack Keats - Whistle For Willie
Steven Kellogg - The Mysterious Tadpole
Munro Leaf - The Story of Ferdinand
Leo Lionni - Fish is Fish
Arnold Lobel - Frog and Toad Are Friends
James Marshall - George and Martha
Bill Martin Jr. - Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Robert McCloskey - Blueberries for Sal
Kate Mcmullan - I Stink!
Patricia Newman - Jingle the Brass
Laura Joffe Numeroff - If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Graham Oakley - The Church Mice and the Moon
Helen Oxenbury - We're Going on a Bear Hunt (by Michael Rosen)
Bill Peet - The Caboose Who Got Loose
Peggy Rathmann - Ruby the Copycat
H. A. Rey - Curious George Rides a Bike
Richard Scarry - Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever
Jon Scieszka - The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
Maurice Sendak - Where the Wild Things Are
Nancy E. Shaw - Sheep in a Jeep
Lane Smith - John, Paul, George & Ben
William Steig - Rotten Island
Mike Thaler - The Teacher from the Black Lagoon
Chris Van Allsburg - Two Bad Ants
Ellen Stoll Walsh - Mouse Paint
David Wiesner - The Three Pigs
Brian Wildsmith - The Owl And the Woodpecker
David Wisniewski - Golem
Jane Yolen - Owl Moon
Gene Zion - Harry and the Lady Next Door

by Magnifico on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 06:52:51 PM EST
Thanks, these lists are perfect.

I'd always sorta realized that being a librarian was a pretty specialized field of endeavor, worthy of more respect and far better pay than they usually get. (Librarians in the US typically earn somewhere around minimum wage.)  However, being asked to put together a library from scratch is a huge task, the enormity of which one only realizes once begun.

by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 10:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The "Swallows and Amazons" series by Arthur Ransome was my favorite at that age (and still is). The best ones are "Swallows and Amazons" and "Coot Club," but they're all very good. All about kids sailing in the English Lakes District in the 1930s, don't you know.

I suspect that the Lord of the Rings is going to be too hard for that age group...just my opinion...

by asdf on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 10:56:07 PM EST
Never heard of those, so thanks!  We have a few students who might like LOTR and whatnot, but most don't have the English ability.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 11:00:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They are great books on many levels...literature, almost, and at a good reading level for a 12 year old. Also there's a lot of technical stuff in there about sailing, just sort of incorporated into the story--you could almost learn to sail a boat just by reading them carefully...
by asdf on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 11:56:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, if anyone has recommendations for relatively easy books targeted at teenage girls, that would be great.  The whole staff here is male (a serious problem acknowledged by all the staff, but unfortunately not by management), and thus are not really too well informed about young adult books targeted at that demographic.  We're mainly interested in getting the kids to read ANYTHING, and thus it pays to cover all the bases.
by Zwackus on Wed Dec 10th, 2008 at 11:04:49 PM EST
I never read a whole lot of that sort of stuff: Enid Blyton's stuff is all that comes to mind immediately. The "Malory Towers" and "St. Clares" series might appeal in a retro-western romantic sort of way.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 01:54:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sam tells me "Sweet Valley High" was popular when she was that age.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 02:53:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I grew up in the '70s and '80s, and haven't worked in a bookstore (and thus seen the trends) since 1993, so my list is, well, oldish.

Much of Magnifico's list, such as the Little House series and books like Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, would be good considering the language levels in question.

I hesitate to recommend the Sweet Valley High series, but when I worked in bookstores in the late '80s, this was insanely popular, mainly with pre-teens. I'm trying to keep the language level in mind.

Unfortunately, most of what I read as a teenager were comics, horror stories, and VC Andrews novels. Oh, and books about The Monkees. I don't think any of these would be welcome at your school, except for maybe the Monkees books.

I did read Paula Danziger; has anyone mentioned her? The Pistachio Prescription, Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. Also Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers.

And back in the realm of general books, Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Both very dated but fun.

Michael Ende's The Neverending Story and T.H. White's The Once and Future King are excellent but involved.

Some nonfiction, such as Edith Hamilton's Mythology, might work.

If subject matter is not a major concern, books such as The Chocolate War, Killing Mr. Griffin, and Ordinary People. The Bell Jar is always good, but again, language level and subject matter....

Students into puns might like Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures series.

by lychee on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 02:34:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Killing Mr. Griffin, and Ordinary People. The Bell Jar is always good, but again, language level and subject matter....

I should also emphasize that these books would be for the older kids, like those getting ready to graduate. Subject matter includes suicide, accidental death, murder.

It's been a long time since I've read The Chocolate War; I don't remember anything particularly shocking about it, but memories fade after 20 years.

by lychee on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 02:42:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's two.  Both are historical fiction - I remember reading them at about age 13-14.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George.  It's set in the 1600's in the Massachusetts Bay colony.

Mara Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw - set in Ancient Egypt.

by Maryb2004 on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:40:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Witch of Blackbird Pond! Eek! I loved that book, how could I have forgotten about it?

Also, Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell.

by lychee on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 07:22:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And of course don't forget the Nancy Drew series.  
by Maryb2004 on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 05:41:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't know if this is part of your plan, but my wife teaches 7th grade and has a "free read" period pretty much every day. Everybody has to read a book for 20 minutes. Any book (not comics, but otherwise pretty much open). She models how to do it by reading herself (wish I could get paid for that!), and has also re-invigorated her school's library by taking the kids to it so they can get books and do research.
by asdf on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 12:01:40 AM EST
This is one thing we're trying to start doing.

In my mid-level reading/writing class, this semester we read one book together, "How to be a Perfect Person in Three Days," slowly, with worksheets.  Then I had the kids pick out a book themselves.  They read in class, and at home if dedicated, and then in class work on either word lists or chapter summaries.  It's going pretty well.

by Zwackus on Thu Dec 11th, 2008 at 07:11:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Animal Farm, 1984 and Brave New World should all be readable by beginning to intermediate readers, although the subject matter of the latter two restrict them to high school and up (at least when you're dealing with other people's kids).

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a series that no library should go without.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld is great value for your time, regardless of age.

Twilight is supposed to target the relevant demographic and I have a friend who heartily recommends it, but I don't know it myself.

I got hooked on H.P. Lovecraft in high school, but that may not be for everyone.

In the non-fiction department, I'd suggest Jared Diamond. He is easy to read (as non-fiction goes) and his points are well thought out.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Dec 13th, 2008 at 11:21:38 AM EST

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