Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Macdonald Hall

Most of the summer, my son has been absorbed by the Macdonald Hall series, by Gordon Korman.

Set in a Canadian boarding school, it's all about the antics of Bruno Walton and Boots O'Neal, who share a dorm room - and get into a lot of mischievous fun.

The MH books are real page-turners, with lots of action and just enough character development so that you get to know the quirks about the kids who live and study at Macdonald Hall, but not so much that the book gets bogged down.

For instance, there's the clumsy kid who can always be counted on to stumble over his own feet and smash everything to the ground (think Lucille Ball carrying a big chocolate cake); Elmer is the smart one, who can hear a bird in the forest and instantly name it; Bruno is the guy who's never met an adventure he didn't like - and will do anything for his school; and Boots is Bruno's long-suffering best friend who tries to talk sense into Bruno but eventually gets dragged into all of his schemes. And of course, there's Fish (Mr. Sturgeon), the strict but lovable headmaster.

While it's set in a boys' school, Korman also has two feisty female protagonists who attend the girls' finishing school just over the highway. Not only do they assist in many of the boys' schemes, but they start up a few of their own.
What kind of things do the MH kids get up to? In one book, they want to buy a new pool for the school so they hold all kinds of massive fundraisers - without the knowledge of the Fish. In another one, a major movie star (think Justin Bieber) shoots a movie at the school and Bruno tries to get himself into every shot possible.
And in others, the boys try to thwart a new dress code and a change in dorm-room assignments. These may sound like pretty tame plots, but Korman makes them exciting and interesting. Boys, especially, will giggle out loud.

Here's something really cool that you need to know about the first book in the Macdonald Hall series (This Can't be Happening!). Gordon Korman wrote it when he was 12.

Yes, he was 12. As in, at 12 years old he wrote his first book - but not only that, a book that would become an award-winning series. But not only that... a series that would endure to the present day, when it's still every bit as funny and interesting and relevant as the day it was written.

Scholastic has revamped the Macdonald Hall series, giving them new covers and updating some of the information. For instance, the boys use computers and e-mail - something I'm quite certain they didn't do in the original books. But they haven't changed too much (in fact there are still some anachronisms in the books).

The one thing my son and I were a bit miffed about - and I think it's kind of a major error - is that Scholastic listed the books out of order in the frontispiece of each book. For instance, on the back of Beware the Fish! it says it's "The third fearlessly funny book in the Macdonald Hall series." But it appears as number four in the list - in every MH book.

Now, it's not all that important to read them in order, but my son and I both went by that list and we read them out of order when we didn't have to. Just sayin'...

So here's the correct order:
1) This can't be happening!
2) Go jump in the pool
3) Beware the Fish!
4) The wizzle war
5) The zucchini warriors
6) Lights, camera, disaster!
7) The joke's on us

Incidentally, want to know how my son found out about the Macdonald Hall books? They were my husband's favourite books when he was growing up. From father... to son. Way to go, Gordon Korman.

I have to send a shout-out to Scholastic's awesome Nikole Kritikos (who I'm quite certain had nothing to do with the frontispiece mix-up), who just sent me Gordon Korman's latest book, Swindle. My son and I will be gobbling that one up in no time - as soon as he's finished Schooled, by GK.

By the way, did you know that Gordon Korman was named after Gordie Howe? He was.
Lots more information on Gordon Korman's

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to school 2010

By Julia Mohamed

It’s nearly back-to-school time! Time to go from running wild and free to becoming a studious student once again. Here are a few ideas to help make the transition as smooth as possible:

Goal Journal
Have your kids contribute to a nightly journal. Begin now, with their anticipations and goals for the upcoming year, and continue to use it as the year progresses. It will help get them into the routine of writing again, and it’ll be great to look back on it later in the year. They can do all of the writing, dictate to you, add some pictures or make it a combination of everything.

Great sites
School means reports and essays. Here are great, kid-friendly websites where kids can search for the answers to questions on just about anything.

Homework Helper
This site offers categories like “Science, History, World, Sports and exercise.” From there, kids can drill down until they find answers to questions they have on just about anything. Includes facts and information on Canada, plus a “World” category.

It’s a non-profit website and each category uses a specialist in the field to write the information and answer kids’ questions. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the site, you can ask their experts a question and they’ll e-mail you back. They'll also send parents links to kid-friendly websites.

Published by Pearson publishing, this site offers information and facts on lots of different subject areas, for kids K to 8. It also has an online atlas, dictionary and encyclopedia and some online games and quizzes (for instance, hangman, Star Wars quizzes, an interactive periodic table, Sudoku, how to write a book report and much more.)

Funschool Kaboose
Funschool Kaboose is a Disney site with great information, games and crafts for kids from preschool to grade 6. It also features sections for parents and educators.

Stock up on school supplies
Before heading out, prepare a list of the school supplies you need. Why not make it a scavenger hunt? Be sure to be specific when you’re writing your list: Number 2 pencils, blue and red ballpoint pens, a calculator, white erasers, a one-inch three-ring binder, etc. Refer to our article, Supermarket Scavenger Hunt for details on how to create the perfect hunt!

Reading - every night
Keep reading to your child every night. Create a reading log for your kids. A simple chart with headings including “Date,” “Title,” “Author,” “Number of Pages Read,” and “Amount of Time Spent Reading” can help keep track of how much they read. For every milestone, give your child a reward. Here’s a past GKR article on Reading Reward Charts.

If you only get a chance to do one thing from this article, check out the websites Julia found - they have a great wealth of information your kids will appreciate when they start getting into essay writing time.

Julia Mohamed is a freelance journalist.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keeping kids reading

My son reads a lot.

Erm... well, he used to.

It appears that I've been resting on some laurels that have deserted me while I was looking the other way. (To use an overly complicated metaphor.)

Over the summer, I started to notice that my son has been playing more video games and going to bed later and reading less and less.

What got me thinking about it was a book I picked up recently that had a chapter entitled, "Good readers: How to keep your child reading."

I realized that I have been assuming that once he became a good reader, my son would always turn to books. And now I think that isn't necessarily the case. The bond between a boy and his books might actually be more tenuous than I thought.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that lately video games, baseball and TV have been winning - and books are going unread. Like, for weeks.

So here's what I did. First of all, I started reinforcing a more normal bedtime. I told my son when he has to be "in bed," and when he has to be "asleep." There's a half-hour difference in those times - and that's for reading. So he goes to bed before he's completely exhausted and then he gets half an hour to read.

Next, I asked him why he's not enjoying reading. It turns out he been waiting for the next book in the series he's working on (Macdonald Hall by Gordon Korman). It was sold out at our local bookstore and no one had gotten it for him for his birthday. So he's been waiting.

We could have ordered it online, but when you only buy one book you have to pay shipping, so we tracked it down and then went really, really far to a bookstore that had it. And we bought it for him. All of that seemed a bit crazy at the time, but it paid off: he started reading the book in the car on the way home. Sha-zam!

The third thing I did was start reading to him at bedtime again. As he'd begun reading more and more by himself, I realized I'd been reading to him less and less frequently. My husband bought another book by Gordon Korman (Who is Bugs Potter?), and I started reading that to my son out loud - while he was in the bath. I took advantage of a captive audience, I admit it - but again, it worked. Who is Bugs Potter? is a pretty awesome book. (I'll blog about it soon.)

It piqued his interest and now I'm happy to report that my son is reading again. A lot.

I figure we're good until he runs out of the Macdonald Hall books and finishes Bugs Potter. So Rick Riordan, if you're reading this, could you please hurry up and finish the next book in the Kane Series? Type, darn you! Type!

I've got tons of stuff I want to blog about in the upcoming weeks... great books. A few products I've ordered from Hasbro that look like they'd be great at promoting literacy. Some research I've been reading up on. The results from that study we all took part in. And I'm hoping for a few more articles by Julia. So stay tuned!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Supermarket Scavenger Hunt

By Julia Mohamed

The next time you go grocery shopping, make it a more educational, enjoyable and literate experience for your kids with a Supermarket Scavenger Hunt!

1. Give each child a list of items to gather. Be as specific as possible (include a brand name, size, etc.) For instance, you might put:
□ One 18 oz jar of Kraft Crunchy peanut butter,
□ Three small green zucchinis,
□ One loaf of Dempsters 100% whole wheat bread.

It helps if your list is divided into categories, such as produce, meat, canned foods and, of course, snacks. That way, the kids will be in one specific area of the store at a time and you can keep an eye on them more easily.

For older children, throw in a few challenging items, such as ethnic foods. For instance, One jar of Red Shell Teriyaki sauce.

2. As each child brings you items, check to make sure they’ve picked out the right ones. If not, send your troops back out into the field.

3. Reward your kids with a healthy treat!

You can continue this activity when you get home. Include them when you’re making dinner by asking them to read out the ingredients in your recipe to you.

You're going to have to go grocery shopping anyway, and you know it's always a hassle. This great game is fun, it gives the kids a bit of freedom, and it gets them reading. A win-win! (Just do keep your eye on them, eh? I don't want to be getting any letters from parents saying their kids were lost for days in the zucchini aisle...)

Julia Mohamed is a freelance journalist. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.