This Week in Reading

  • Discussed Stand-Off by Andrew Smith with 8th grader. We both loved this book.
  • Read chapter 2 of Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry to second grader. She lost interest, I really liked it. (She might still need more pictures to hold her interest)
  • Continued reading Notes From A Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko. She mentioned she finds the book very sad. I had suggested Spy School last week, which she started and almost finished. She explained it wasn’t upsetting because it didn’t seem very realistic.
  • Thoroughly enjoyed a read aloud by second grader of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I had read Tacky The Penguin at the Winter Games and Morris, and Boris But Mostly Delores
  • Did a close reading of “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner with a college student

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Please stop using Fancy Fonts

Dear Picture Book Publishers,

You seem to have taken to the idea that fancy fonts, in curly cursive and beyond, make your books every so much more appealing. In reality, what they do is make the words unreadable for many elementary school students.

Many students don’t study writing cursive until about 5th grade and that, it seems, might soon be a thing of the past. Kids certainly aren’t taught how to read it. Picture books should be accessible to all readers.

Stop being fancy and start being practical.

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The Unreliable Internet

A few months ago, one of my 8th grade students wrote a short essay for me. He has an unexplainable obsession with Dartmouth and ask to write something comparing it to Columbia. In the first sentence he read aloud to me he had written, “Dartmouth University….”

I said, “Stop.”

I sighed.

I said, “I told you not to use Wikipedia!”

Yesterday I was trying to find information on President William Howard Taft’s relationship with African Americans. I had read a few things that had made me very uncomfortable. I googled. The first site I clicked on seemed legitimate. It’s title was something like, “African Americans and the Presidency.” It had numerous scholarly articles and a page with an essay on each President. I clicked on Taft. The first sentence said, “Vice President Taft…” I shook my head and glanced through the rest of the page. It made several references to Vice President Taft. Fortunately for my research, I already know that Taft was never Vice President.

If I hadn’t known this, I probably would have taken notes from this site. It’s hard to believe that someone who spent so much time on the appearance of their website could spend so little time double checking its contents. But there it is. Over and over again. Double check. Better yet, triple check.

 

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Choice from a Good Heap

This summer, I am lucky to have the opportunity to read a book one-on-one with several of my students. It’s been widely written about how choice can significantly effect a student’s interest in reading. I concur wholeheartedly and yet I understand how overwhelming it can be to choose with absolutely no direction.

I consider it my job to offer them choice from a good heap. I collate a diverse offering from books I like, books other students have liked, and from what I know of their past likes and dislikes. If from this heap they can find one or two that they truly seem interested in reading, I happily declare success.

Here’s an example of a heap I created for a rising 8th grader.

  • The Outsider
  • The Thief
  • The Lost Years of Merlin
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • The Pearl
  • Winger
  • The Chocolate War
  • The Port Chicago 50
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Sabotage. The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb
  • A Northern Light
  • The River Between Us

 

After about an hour of reading and discussion, my student chose seven of these as books he would like to read!

Ultimately, he chose Winger to take home and read on his own and The Port Chicago 50 as a book we would read and discuss in depth together. Hopefully, both books will be read and enjoyed with more to follow. I’ll provide updates as the summer progresses.

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Summer Reading

I’ve been trying to catch up on my kidlit and would like to continue to do so through out the summer. My TBR pile is quite large and yet it’s sometimes frustratingly hard to find something that fits just right in the moment. Last night I tried five different books and none of them satisfied. I’m not often of a like mind with books that have the biggest buzz or the most recommendation. But last week I read the much talked about Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard and I’ve already recommended it to a few students. Here’s hoping at least one of them will read it so we can can about it. Non fiction hasn’t offered me the respite it usual does as of late. The last nf I read that I really liked was Jim Murphy’s latest called, Breakthrough! How Three People Saved Blue Babies and Changed Medicine Forever. I don’t know if it’s the overly title, the odd cover photo or the subject matter, but I can’t convince a single kid to read this book. It’s quite a good story, well told. I’ll keep pushing it.

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Award Winners

I rarely agree with the Newbery selection, but today they did something somewhat different and interesting. They chose a picture book, “Last Stop on Market Street”, that is short and powerful and nails the beauty and pain of city life, poverty and the importance of intergenerational relationships. Congrats to Matt de la Pena, who writes mostly YA, for his contribution to children’s literature.

I was also really happy to see “Roller Girl” as an honor winner, a great graphic novel with a delightfully snarky and imperfect main character.

As for the Sibert,  I was happy to see Don Brown get an honor for pushing the envelope, yet again, with his graphic novel “Drowned” about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

I’m currently in the middle of YALSA winner Steve Sheinkin’s “Most Dangerous.” Steve keeps winning awards and deservedly so. The real question is how to make his books as accessible and widely known as the Newbery winners.

http://www.ala.org/alsc/2016-alsc-book-media-award-winners

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Favorite Audio Books Listened to in 2015

 

  1. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Narrated by David McCullough. Fascinating story of how two nerdy brothers  figured out how humans could fly.  Brilliant Leonardo Da Vinci tried most of his life and failed. These two quirky guys, not for money or fame at all,  for the love of  playing around with things and ideas,  spent all their free time on it.  They tried and failed and tried and failed until finally, in complete obscurity, one day figured it out.  Completely changed the course of all of human history. It’s quite an emotional story, skillfully told.
  2. UnBroken (YA version) by Lauren Hillenbrand. Fascinating story masterfully told, even this shorter, less harsh version aimed at teens packs a very strong punch. One of my students read it and loved it so much that he decided to tackle the longer, adult version and asked if I knew of any books similar to this one.
  3. The Speechwriter by Barton Swain. Remember the esteemed Governor of South Carolina who claimed he was hiking on the Appalachian trail when he was really in Argentina visiting his mistress? According to his speechwriter, that was not his only moment of crazy. This is a really interesting look inside the political world through the eyes of a smart writer who is forced to write stupid stuff for a guy with little brainpower and big ambitions.
  4. Heat by Bill Buford.  The world of top caliber chefs is not something that has ever particularly interested me, so it’s even more surprising that this narrative is totally compelling. I think it’s his curiosity and description of the levels of obsession possible over the tiniest nuances of slicing, dicing, and tasting that drew me in.
  5. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. Rita Morena does a stellar job of narrating this one in a strong, bilingual voice. Hard not to feel both affection and admiration for her after listening to her life story.

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