My reading list in the past week was pretty short, but I spent some time with some great literature. I only have a couple of books left on my bingo sheet, so we’ll see if I can finish those before the end of the semester!
First up, Anya’s Ghost. I had heard about this book through a few of my peers, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was definitely not what I was expecting. It had quite the plot twist in there! I’m not usually a fan of horror/ghost stories, but this one was a good way for me to step outside my comfort zone.
Second, this book had caught my attention for weeks in the college library, so I decided to give it a try. We obviously have mixed opinions in this class about classic rewrites, but I thought Romeo and/or Juliet was excellent and hilarious. Students could spend anywhere from five minutes up to a few weeks reading and re-reading this book. I really thought the format of the book would bother me. I’ve never read a choose-able book, and this one was actually really fun. The blurbs were all very short and it felt like I wasn’t reading at all, even thought I did get a lot of words in. It’s kind of different know that you can’t ever really “finish” a book like that. It was a refreshingly different way to read. Highly recommend!
One parent talked to this particular teacher saying, “I wish my daughter was in your AP Lit class. She has to decorate shoe boxes in her class,” to prove that she was “reading.” I’m sure the teacher of this student had a plan that was probably elaborate and meaningful to her. However, when you take a step back, you notice that she may have lost sight of the purpose behind reading.
This was a quote from a student: “I was an AP Lit kid, and an Honors English kid. I SparkNoted The Scarlet Letter, Beowulf, Iliad, Catcher in the Rye, and the rest. I never read a bit of it.” This was absolutely my experience as a high school student. That was all English class ever meant to me – SparkNotes and last minute skimming of the text. I was never learning and never reading, only striving for the grade. I could do this by memorizing study guides and gleaning big ‘themes’ from SparkNotes without ever having to do much work.
It was also mentioned that many people’s experiences after high school was to revisit the classics. It turns out that many actually enjoy them when they can choose to be reading them. This was my experience exactly! When I didn’t have to butcher The Great Gatsby for meaning and could just enjoy Fitzgerald’s wonderful language and writing, it was a magical experience for me.
My biggest takeaway from this article was this: You can’t put a price on reading, or it’s immediately devalued.
“Anyone can fake it on a book report but it’s hard to fake a reading conference,” the article said. Mr. Bailey’s school had caught the Accelerated Reader bug, which was something I also went through in elementary school. It was quite easy to simply take the AR tests without having read the book and teachers were taxed with the responsibility of ensuring that we were being honest about it – an impossible job on top of all their other responsibilities. Reading conferences provide the social aspect to reading and naturally bring about an intrinsic motivation to read and share what you read.
Bailey also said, “I am convinced there is no better way to motivate students to read and write than to have authors visit your school. We celebrate them like the rock stars they are.” What a great observation! I had never thought of this. It is worth remembering as a future teacher to help administration organize these events.
Restrict screen time: It’s actually the most merciful thing one could do for children. I’ve limited my own screen time since the start of the year and my life has been more rich and enjoyable ever since.
Put books in the bathroom: This was hilarious! As long as they don’t have their phones with them, I could definitely see this working well.
Classroom libraries in every classroom. I have definitely heard the concept of having an English Language Arts classroom that has books spilling over students, but never made the connection that they should be in ALL classrooms. I’m very intrigued. I could see students interested in history class being more inclined to pick up books from the classroom library in a social studies classroom! This could have many positive effects.
Pushing books into hands. I think I am guilty of this already, but could always be more pushy 😉 I have to remember that it’s not a bad thing to be a great example of a reader for my students. Being slightly obsessed is part of this.
Let students shop for books. There is nothing I love more than ordering new books and getting that package in the mail. What a genius idea to have students be a part of this process – especially the hesitant readers!
I had a little celebration for myself last week, as I reached the 50 Book mark! I’ve read 50 titles since January 1st, which includes the reading for this class, required reading for other classes, professional reading, and picture books (shared reading experiences). I finished quite a few titles last week and I’m so excited to share them with you!
Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds
I had heard so much about this verse novel and so was excited to dive into it for our book club meeting last week. My first Jason Reynolds experience (Ghost) was not very good. I gave him another try and was surprised to find that his verse is much better than his fiction writing. Long Way Down was reflective of the gang issues in our country and had really impactful themes of family and death. The idea behind this book was fresh and unique.
Maus, by Art Spiegelman
Again, I had heard much about this book, especially from a peer that really enjoys Holocaust literature. The author told two narratives throughout the book – the one of him interviewing his father and the actual narrative of his father being pursued and incarcerated alongside his wife. At first, I really didn’t understand what Spiegelman was doing while telling both stories (I was confused at times) but I eventually understood him to be reflecting on the lasting effects of what his father went through. It was fascinating how he made Jews mice, Germans cats, the Polish pigs, and another nationality dogs. It makes one really reflect on what he was trying to do there. I’ve heard that the second book is better than the first, so I look forward to reading it!
Shared Reading Books:
I read three picture books and listed them in order of least favorite to favorite, in my opinion. I do have to say that the art in all of these books was absolutely fantastic and worth looking at, no matter the story.
Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox was a cute little story for those days that you may not want to think about story very much. It would be great for wintertime!
The Emperor and the Nightingale is an ancient Chinese tale. This adaptation was my first time reading about it, and the historical value of the story would be wonderful to share with any classrooms. The art is absolutely fabulous!
Finally, Dazzle Ships was my gem for the week. I actually had a bookmark with this book featured on it. I was so happy to have found it in our library. I love strange bits of history, like this book features. During WWI, British ships were painted with outrageous patterns to throw off the enemy and prevent attacks. How cool is that! What’s more, the story is only half the fun – the illustrations were, well… dazzling!
Usually during rodeo weekends, I’m too busy with horses, events, friends, and watching the rest of the rodeo to find time to read, but I actually this weekend! I finished two books in two different formats, and I’m nearing finishing the third book.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I found the audiobook for The Great Gatsby on YouTube, and I had to listen to it. I had never read it before, only seen the movie, so thought I’d give the short book a try. Even though this book won’t count for any of my bingo squares, I think it’s very valuable to be familiar with the “classics” as well as contemporary novels. Penny Kittle asserts that contemporary reading can be a bridge for students to get to those classics. By increasing their confidence in reading “easier” books, they can eventually keep challenging themselves until they get to the point where they CAN enjoy the “classics” as much as adults do. After listening to that enchanting novel, I believe this so much more now.
Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
Though I’d heard lots about this author, this was my first book by Walter Dean Myers. Monster was such an interesting read, mostly because of the format, but also because of the subject matter. A 16-year-old boy was framed in a complex murder case. The story begins when his court case begins. Since his interest was in making movies in his drama class in school, the narrative is written as if it were the rough draft of a movie – his movie. It’s so unique in many ways, and a very quick read. I invite you to check it out!
Keesha’s House, by Helen Frost
This verse novel is incredibly powerful in its own right as well. It brings to light the many sides of teenage struggles such as pregnancy, foster homes, scholarships, sexual assault, and many more. The poems are so beautifully written and tied together in a very genius way. I really enjoy a good verse novel, and this shot to the top of my favorites list.
The final rush before spring break is in full swing for me. I am reeling and stressing for all the homework I need to get done in a short amount of time, so I’m thankful for my coffee pot and oddly enough, the cold weather. When it’s brutally cold like it is, at least I won’t feel as guilty for not spending time outside 🙂
Last week was pretty slow for my Adolescent Lit. reading, as I didn’t finish as many books as I’d hoped. However, the quality of books I read make them worth sharing with all of you!
What the Night Sings, by Vesper Stamper (illustrated novel)
First, our book club read a phenomenal novel by Vesper Stamper. This up-and-coming author hit it out of the park with this book, in my opinion. She has such an inspirational story of her own, overcoming a paralysis in one of her arms as an artist. Stamper re-learned how to create art and illustrates her own books. Furthermore, the story in this novel is incredible. It’s unique in Holocaust literature, as the timeline begins with the liberation of a death camp, which is much different than most Holocaust stories we are used to reading. It brings many new aspects of the Holocaust to light, such as those who were Jewish by heritage, but not religiously; the role of music as a saving grace; the twisted psychology used by Nazis, the politics existing in Germany after liberation; immigration to other countries after the war; and even harsh physical truths as a result of severe starvation, such as the question of being able to give birth or the loss of one’s voice. The experience of this book is indescribable, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Peace, Locomotion, by Jacqueline Woodson (verse novel, written in letters; sequel to Locomotion)
I am currently reading Peace, Locomotion, as well. This book will cross off my “verse novel” slot on my bingo sheet. I had a hard time deciding what kind of book this was, as every page is written as a letter, but I decided that classifying it as a verse novel would be acceptable. It’s the “companion” to the book Locomotion, which was a National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Honor book. It’s a very quick read (I should have it done in an hour, once I get to sit down and read for pleasure) and the format is very interesting. Woodson has done some amazing things in the way of Language Arts and creating diverse literature for students to read. The narrator, Lonnie, is relatable and a great writer, even in his letters. This pair of books has great value in our future classrooms, as students can have something to look forward to reading after finishing the first book. Woodson is a must-read author this semester!
I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to loads of diverse literature in my experience so far at Chadron State. I now realize the importance of reading and spreading the knowledge of its importance to others. I was ignorant to the big piece of my reading life that I was missing so I hope that through the We Need Diverse Books movement, other teachers may find value in the voices of the voiceless in our culturally unique country.
I have a hard time remembering everything that I read in high school, but after reflecting on the racial diversity of the books I read (as these articles prompted), I can see that pretty much everyone would look like me.
However, I don’t remember finding very many books that reflected my own culture and background. When I first read the readings about the missing literature from our classrooms, my first though was, “So what? None of the books I read were about kids from rural areas, and I survived.” Then I came to the realization the consequences of this. To prove the importance of diverse reading, I’ll explore my own view of the world with my rural/agricultural lens and how it’s been affected by our lack of diverse literature. This is only one, small example of an unrepresented culture in literature to help me express my belief in the cause of We Need Diverse Books.
I’ll lay out a few quick facts to put the efficiency of American agriculture in perspective: 2% of Americans are responsible for all of the textiles, food, and other agricultural production used by Americans and the world. Another fact is that Americans produce enough food to feed the entire world (distributing restraints prevent these goods from reaching the starving populations of the earth). In this respect, ag. producers are the “minority” of Americans. Here’s why this is important and applies to this lesson on representing all cultures and demographics in literature:
We live in a country that produces an incredible amount food/textiles so efficiently that the majority of Americans have been able to distance themselves from ag. production. This is both good and bad. The efficiency achieved is astounding, but the separation between rural and urban lifestyles have made room for loads of misconceptions and misunderstanding.
For example, many Americans hardly know where their food comes from. This study shows that almost half of Americans don’t know the origin of flavored (chocolate) milk. Many consumers also live in fear of farming practices they don’t understand, such as the use of GMO’s, the purpose of pesticides, or the need for antibiotics. They fear the consumption of hormones in beef (1.9 nanograms per serving) while often ingesting 2,000 nanograms in cabbage, 51 million in tofu, and 35, and 35,000 in one single birth control pill (see more). Farmers and ranchers are continually accused of mistreating land and animals, which couldn’t be further from the truth. All of the misinformation and anxiety has many negative consequences, including unjust, restrictive laws, the spread of false information, and unnecessarily tarnished reputations.
I use my view of the world to reiterate that literature representative of all demographics is so crucial to understanding someone different than yourself. If there is this much misinformation about agriculture due to a lack of familiarity, think of the vast number of cultures that aren’t represented in our mainstream literature in classrooms in America. This unit has really opened my eyes, and I do hope that my peers will not forget agricultural literature in their future classrooms, in addition to their plethora of other diverse reading 🙂