Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Miss Brooks' Story Nook, by Barbara Bottner

Title:  Miss Brooks' Story Nook
Author:  Barbara Bottner
Illustrator: Michael Emberley
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Year: 2014
Pages: 40
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Reading, Imagination, Bullying
Age Range: Kindergarten through 3rd Grade

Summary: from Goodreads

Missy loves her librarian, Miss Brooks. And she loves to go to Miss Brooks’ before-school story time. But to get to Story Nook, she has to pass Billy Toomey’s house—and she does not love Billy Toomey.  Billy always tries to steal her hat and jeers, “I’m going to get you!” It’s vexing. Then one rainy (and hatless) day, Miss Brooks changes story hour to storytelling hour. She teaches the kids about characters and plot and action and satisfying conclusions and encourages them to make up their own tales. 
And that’s when Missy has a brainstorm. She sees a way to use her made-up story to deal with her real-life bully. 

Barbara Bottner is the author of some really high-quality books for primary grade readers, including Bootsie Barker Bites and Marsha Makes Me Sick.  She has a knack for writing fully rounded characters, mostly little girls, who are not just sugar and spice and everything nice.  Girls who have their flaws, but who learn and grow throughout Ms. Bottner's imaginative stories.

I found this book at a small bookstore in Lelan, Michigan, and was immediately enamored.  I think that part of the reason that I  love this charming picture book is because I was Missy when I was a child.  I loved stories, books, and teachers with a passion that bordered on reverence.  I was also the kid that was likely to get picked on in my rough-and-tumble blue collar neighborhood.  Of course, I am also Miss Brooks.  I see one of the major goals of my role as literacy coach at an elementary school as fostering a love of stories, both reading and writing them, in the students at my school.

The story of Missy and her annoying neighbor Billy is one that should resonate with lots of children. I appreciate that Missy finds a way to solve her Billy problem using her imagination to come up with a story that definitely makes him think twice about giving her a hard time again!  I think that we do a disservice to children when we don't acknowledge the agency they have over their relationships with peers.  While adults must obviously get involved when there is real physical danger to children or repeated patterns of abuse, we must also teach children how to navigate their own conflicts in a way that is assertive but not aggressive.

What makes this a good book for use in the classroom aside from the massage about bullying is the way that it guides young readers through the creative process behind story writing.  Miss Brooks continually asks Missy questions to guide her storytelling, and offers her suggestions about what readers want in a story, such as a satisfying ending.  Without getting too technical about the writing process, Missy learns that all it takes for a good story is an idea and her imagination.  The story also gives teachers a chance to teach their students the importance of writing for an audience.  Not every child in Missy's class appreciates the scarier parts of her story, but all along the way there is an acknowledgement that authors tell/write stories for readers to read-they are not squiggles on a page disconnected from context.  It is the interaction of the written word and the reader's interpretation where the magic happens!

Apparently this is actually the second book about Miss Brooks.  The first is Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don't), and I suspect, though I haven't seen a copy of the first book, that they would work as a pair to introduce both reading for pleasure and writing.

Teacher Resources
Barbara Bottner's Website
Miss Brooks' Story Nook Book Trailer

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