It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 2.27.17

This week’s reading was based off our discussion about diversity. When I got started looking at my own reading I realized that it had mostly been books that featured similar characters. There wasn’t anything diverse about reading, so I started off by going in search of a Coretta Scott King Award winner. As I was browsing the shelves at the library I discovered a book that caught my eye, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. The story line was different than anything else that I had read this semester, and it not only was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, but the Printz award as well. I figured it would be a good book, and boy I was right.

The book itself focuses on sixteen year old Bobby who has just found out that he will be a father. The book is told in a sort of backwards order, however. As the title suggests the Image result for the first part lastbook is wrote end to beginning, not beginning to end. We also travel back and forth between present and past with each chapter. Those marked then tell the story of Bobby and Nia learning about their pregnancy, and those marked now tell the story of Bobby with his new daughter Feather. Throughout the story there is this sort of mystery as to where Nia is, but it is finally revealed at the end of the book.

Pros: This book deals with the heavy subject of teen pregnancy. We see Nia’s hardships with staying in school, and the two struggle to decide whether they are going to keep their child or not. There is a lot of education about the decision surrounding giving your child up for adoption, or keeping it. Bobby has to grow up fast. The book does a great job of showing how Bobby has to adapt his life style as he becomes a parent. He is on the journey pretty much by himself, and that makes things even harder. He comes from a family with divorced parents that lives in one of the more poverty ridden areas of Brooklyn. I think the book does an adequate job of portraying just want it means to have a child at such a young age, and the lessons that have to be learned pretty darn fast.

Cons: As I have expressed before I really hate when books jump back and forth. This book was no different. I struggled with the whole past and present thing because it was often hard to keep track of where I was at. Also, the chapters were small, so that didn’t leave a lot to happen in each one. I also felt like I was trying to solve a mystery about Nia the whole time. The book leaves you with a lot of questions right, and the beginning and you have to find the answers as the story unfolds.

Overall I enjoyed this book. It was eye opening not only as an experience in teen pregnancy, but also in experiencing what it means to come from a lower class African American family in the big city. It was definitely different.


Equal Pieces of the Pie

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As a child I never really questioned my place in the world. I read lots of books, lived in the world of literature, and learned that I didn’t have to fit a specific mold. I had Nancy Drew and the Bobsey Twins who showed me that women, and even teens, can be totally badass. There were stories about women who took on the wild west and tamed it. There was Katniss Everdeen who started a revolution. I’m sure you get the picture. My books were constantly filled with people that were reflections of myself. I never had to worry about not relating to the characters in my books. Unfortunately,this isn’t true for every student and that’s because somewhere along the way we forgot what diversity really means. We try and say things are diverse, but are they really? This doesn’t mean we just sprinkle in some characters  of a different race here and there. It means that there are books where these people are the main characters. Where are the books that tell African American child that he can be anything he wants? Where is the book that gives a Native American child the hope that she can be more than the stigma that has been attached to her race for years?

People may we need these books? Aren’t we doing well as it is? A. Just doing well isn’t good enough, and B. if you don’t think there is an issue you need to take the blinders off. Books about diverse people are so important for children. Think about your own life as a child? Didn’t the books that you read shape you? As we are growing up we pull from things like books, the media, and the people around us to shape our identity. Books are a part of how we see ourselves. As a child what if you had picked up book after book and discovered that there was no one like you within it’s pages. What would that have told you? I think I would have been discouraged. I feel like this would have hurt my dreams as a child. It’s because of the books that I read that I developed this idea that I could do or be anything I wanted to be. Every child deserves that. Every child deserves to open a book and find within it’s pages this message that they are not limited by the color of their skin, or their sexual identity.

The second importance of truly diverse books is that it is eye opening. In his article, Where are the People of Color in Children Books?, Walter Dean Myers tackles this idea with a story about two men of different colors applying for the same job. They both had equal qualifications for the job, but Myers boss is appalled that a black man can be a chemist. Of course, this (hopefully) seems awful to most of us, but Myers attributes it to the lack of positive portrayal of colors of race. Like Rudine Simms Bishop points out in her article, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors,” that we either see books as mirrors or windows. The problem is that there are more mirrors for those of us who are white, than any other color. This leaves us with very few windows through which they can learn about people different than themselves. If we are unable to learn about our differences with other people of course there will continue to be issues in with how we view those who are a different color than ourselves.

Diversity is huge, and there are several levels on which we need to compete against the lack of it. We can do things within the classroom to bring in diverse books, that teach our students that they can accomplish their dreams, and also about people that are different than them. Maybe we can contribute as writers. As more and more people start writing books about diverse characters they can reach more people. This also allows us to have access to more books in the classroom. The biggest issue is that publishers have decided there is no market for these books. We have to find a way to combat this. This is more than money. This is our students, their identities, and ultimately developing a sense of community and understanding for everyone.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

This week I took my first foray into the world of John Greene. I know it’s surprising, but I’ve never picked up a John Greene novel before in my life (gasp). Of course I’ve seen The Image result for looking for alaskaFault in Our Stars, but I can only assume that since it is a movie it didn’t truly capture everything the book discussed. Though a lot of people I’ve talked to don’t like The Fault in Our Stars, so maybe I’m not missing out on much?  The novel I picked for this journey was the only one I could find in the college library, Looking for Alaska.

For those that aren’t familiar with the book it’s about a young kid named, Miles (nicknamed Pudge), who has decided that he wants to go to boarding school. The school is Culver Creek and it’s located in Alabama. Miles is an interesting kid. He memorizes last words, which in a way is kind of cool and kind of creepy. Anyway, Miles makes friends with  a group comprised of The Captain (his roommate, Chip Martin), Takumi, and of course Alaska. The group grows close through prank playing, smoking, and the occasional drinking. The book itself is split into two parts, Before and After, but it isn’t until later in the book that we discover what that really means.

Pros: I’m not sure what it is about me and books with teenagers trying to come to terms with death, but I’ve found myself yet another one. This book definitely deals with it in a way that is different than Kit’s Wilderness. Spoiler: There is actually a lot of death in this book. This book deals with a lot of the coping methods that we develop when trying to deal with the death of someone close to us. It also takes time to examine and present different world religions and their beliefs, which I appreciated. I felt like this brought a sort of educational aspect to this book. While some may not appreciate the amount of drinking and smoking in the book, I found that it added to the characters. It brought to life who these kids were, and trust me they don’t have easy lives.

Cons: I’m trying to come up with something that I didn’t like about this book, but besides the fact it made me cry I can’t think of anything. I really enjoyed this book, and honestly I couldn’t find anything that I would want to change about this book.

Bringing Your Books to the Table



Photo CC- David Orban

I’ve never really thought about a classroom library before. I guess the thought never crossed my mind. Many of the teacher’s that  I had in high school didn’t have classroom libraries. They were ultimately dependent on the school’s library or often sent us to the library in town if we couldn’t find what we needed. There was never a lot of talk about the independent reading books that we choose to read in school. In fact, besides the mandated pages per semester that we had to read and ER (Everybody Reads, mandated reading for thirty  minutes at the beginning of the day), we really didn’t even discuss independent reading. I suppose I figured I’d just get by like the student teacher in Sarah Anderson’s article, Is “getting along fine” Good Enough?.

Looking back at my past experiences I wish that my teacher’s had cared more about my independent reading. I wish they had been willing to stock their rooms full of books that they had read and could suggest to me. I wish they had taken an active role in my reading life besides just assigning me reading. I think that’s what I love most about both Penny Kittle and Sarah Anderson, they focus on their students’ reading. They care about more than just reading the classics or some assigned novel. Instead, they care about students reading books that they enjoy, and that speaks volumes. I think that makes a difference in how much students read. It’s important to ask ourselves what we can do to help out students become more avid readers.

What I liked the most in Penny Kittle’s writing is that she brings to life this idea of showing kids how to be their own readers. She takes time to help her students develop their own love for books by making it easy for them to accomplish tasks. Goals. Goals are so important especially small short term goals. I like that Kittle takes the time to show her students how to set realistic goals. It’s interesting that they were able to sit down and read


Photo CC-Humbletree

for ten minutes to determine how many pages per week should be realistic (I’m still trying to figure out the math formula there). This not only helps students to accomplish short term and long term goals, but addresses the issue of reading speed. It took me about two days to finish “The City of Bones,” the first book in the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, while my sister, who spent almost the same time everyday working on it, took a little over a month. This is simply because some people can read better than others. I don’t think a lot of teacher’s realize this, or if they do they don’t account for it. Kittle’s method allows for you to account for slower reading and still make progress.

One thing that I noticed in both Kittle and Anderson’s writing was this need to read books just as much as their students were. In the article above by Anderson, one of her students points out that it’s good to see a teacher practicing what they preach. If students see you reading with them it provides them with a good role model. Being a role model is so important! It shows your students that you actually think reading is a good thing. It means that you care about it, and that’s why you want them to read. You aren’t forcing them to read just because you are told you have to, but because you want to and I think that makes a huge difference.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I love historical fiction, especially fiction that takes me back to World War II. I’ve always been drawn to this era, and I’m not really sure why. I think the first book that drew me in was The Nightengale by Kristin Hannah (if you should ever read it I promise tears). Ever since then I’ve always looked for the next book from that era that drew me in. When I saw Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aiden Chambers on the shelf in the library I was pretty excited. Here was a YA novel that was written in an area that I enjoyed. I picked it up started reading it, and then absolutely hated it. I almost invoked my reader’s rights on this one, but decided to give it a little longer to prove itself. I’m glad I did because it did start to get good.

Jacob is named after his grandfather, a grandfather that he never knew. His grandfather died in Amsterdam during World War II. The story has two different parts. The first part is present day. It focuses on Jacob going to visit Osterbeek, the town his grandfather is buried in, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, also the battle that his grandfather was wounded in. Jacob’s adventures in Amsterdam look more at trying to Image result for postcards from no man's landreconcile with who he is as a person at the same time he is learning about his grandfather’s past. The second part of the novel takes place in 1944, and is told from the perspective of Geertrui, the woman who cared for Jacob’s grandfather.

Pros: This book deals with some interesting issues. It is filled with a lot of history, and gives a lot of information about the Dutch during the Nazi invasion. It also contains a lot of information on the Battle of Arnhem, a failed ally attempt to liberate Holland. The history itself isn’t the only thing here. Jacob spends a lot of time trying to figure out his sexual identity during this book. He questions whether or not he might be gay after having several encounters with a transsexual named Ton. This brings a whole new idea of identity and finding yourself to the story. Another interesting topic is that of assisted suicide. SPOILER: Present day Geertrui has stomach cancer, and has decided that she would like to die before the cancer gets too painful. This brings up a lot of moral questions and introduces the reader to several new ideas on the topic.

Cons: I thought the present day stuff was boring. I lived for the sections in the past where Geerturi is talking, but dreaded Jacob’s parts. These parts seemed less action packed and harder to get through even though a lot of the important plot points occurred in his sections. It was often hard to go back and forth between the two stories, and often Chambers would end one section with a cliff hanger, and then slow the pace down by going to present day. This frustrated me, but I guess it did keep me reading. I looked on Goodreads and a lot of people had this complaint about the book, so maybe it wasn’t just me after all.

Anyway if you like historical fiction or want to dip you toe in it. I’d suggest this book. Yes, it can be frustrating to read, but in the end it’s soooo worth it. The historical value along with the way it boldly discusses heated topics is also eye opening and informative.

Choice Not Allowed

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Photo CC-rougemedic

The subject of book banning is one that has been ever present in my life from a young age. Especially this idea of self-censoring. I grew up in a fairly conservative school, and I remember several occasions where books within the school were challenged, or the librarian refused to order certain books because of their content. Coming into this section I was very familiar with this idea of banning books, but I wasn’t as familiar with the idea of self-censoring. I don’t really think about my reading as self-censoring, but in a way it really is. I specifically read books that I know are well within my comfort zone. I don’t read anything with certain content, and if the back of the book lists horror I’m immediately out. Give me a nice Sarah Dessen romance or some teen mystery novel, and I’ll be happy. Just this last week we read Forever by Judy Blume (which does indeed make the banned books list), and I couldn’t wait to be done with the book. It wasn’t that it was a bad book, instead it was that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

I was alarmed by this idea that media specialists and librarians hide books, or don’t order them because they are afraid of the backlash from parents. I find it alarming that parents are so willing to attack over a book that they don’t agree with. I understand parent’s being worried about the content, but that should be something between a parent their child. I don’t think it’s right to take a book off the shelves just because you disagree with the content. It’s well meaning, but hurtful. You don’t know the maturity level of the other kids that would potentially be having access to that book. Sure, there were certain books that my parents didn’t want me to read while I was growing up, but they also never said that I couldn’t read a book. If they were worried about the content they would sit down and read it with me, or let me know that they were around if I had any questions. My aunt, who is a librarian, says she hardly ever worries about what is on her shelves. She feels like the books a student reads should be between the child and parent, but that every book should be available to those who need it or want to read it.

While I love this policy there are some books that I definitely struggle with, but that is mostly because these books are outside my comfort zone. I’ve always struggled with books that have explicit content. They are hard for me to read, and I often question whether they are appropriate for a teen. One quote from the Dirty Little Secrets article that hit me hard was, “Children will put down what they can’t handle or aren’t ready for.” This hit me hard especially looking back at my own reading experiences. I remember picking up books where the content was way above my head and putting them back down again. I think giving students freedom is big. It shows them that you trust them to find their own books and make decisions for themselves, and that’s huge.

I think my eyes have definitely been opened to issues that I hadn’t really thought about. It’s just one more thing to take into consideration for the future. I don’t think any book should be banned, but that students should be taught that it’s okay to quit reading a book if it makes them uncomfortable. No student should be judged because of the books they connect to. Students read to find people and stories they can relate to. We don’t know what experiences our students have been through, and because of that we need to be open to books that touch on a wide range of issues. That one book could be exactly what your student needed to read.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 2.6.17

This week was actually pretty great for reading. I got through two books, and thankfully enjoyed both of them. The first was The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu by Kimberly Burge. I’m usually not one for nonfiction novels, but this one was good. It follows a year spent by Kim (or Mama Kim as the girls sometimes call her) in South Africa. In South Africa she starts a creative writing club for girls in the town of Gugulethu, one of the poorest townships in South Africa. The book intermixes both history and current events to bring you the lives of the girls within her club. I loved that Burge was very open with the telling of the stories. She, of course, got permission to share the girls’ stories, and many of them are eye opening. The book focuses on a generation of girls known as the Born Frees because they are the first generation to grow up post-apartheid. The apartheidImage result for the born frees: writing with the girls of gugulethu was basically the segregation of South Africa prior to 1990 when the new government took control.

Pros: Burge doesn’t hold back. She tells things like they are no matter who they are about. This book has a lot of self-searching within it. She often spends moments revealing things about herself that I for one would not be caught sharing. She also tells the girls’ stories as they want them to be told. Each girl gets to write their own introduction about themselves. These girls haven’t had the best childhood and yet they still have hope. These girls share not only the bad things that have happened in the past, but also their hopes for future change. The story is easy to follow, and is told in a way that you begin to fall in love with the girls. The ending of the book had me holding my breath as I waited to find out was happening in the girls’ lives today, well in 2010 when the book was published.

Cons: There is a lot of history in this book. Sometimes the history overshadows the actually story of the girls and Burge’s time spent in South Africa. I understand that a lot of the history was needed to convey the background of the stories, but at the same time I almost felt bogged down by it. I think it was partially because the history became so repetitive. There were times I felt the same facts were repeated several times just in different ways. I found myself skipping over the longer sections of history to get more about the lives of the girls in the book.

Since I surprisingly managed to get through two books this week (I know I was shocked too) I suppose I should  talk a little bit about the second.

Do you remember your first relationship? Did you think it would last forever, but then discover that hey maybe there are other people out there? Then you might find Forever by Judy Blume pretty relatable. Kath and Micheal are high school seniors, and they are pretty sure their lives will be spent with each other forever. This book has a lot of teenage sex in it, and at times the descriptions made me feel pretty awkward. I often wondered if I would be able to finish the book, but rule number one of book club is have the book finished. In other words, I didn’t really have a choice.

Pros: This book is super informational. There is a lot in here about the teenage experience and having safe sex. Kath goes to visit a Planned Parenthood and get put on birth control after her and Micheal start having sex regularly. Micheal’s best friend suffers from depression, and shows many of it’s real effects on those close to someone suffering from it. Kath has a fairly good relationship with her parents, and they have a pretty open line of Image result for forever judy blumecommunication. Kath also has a pretty good relationship with her grandmother, which prompts many good decisions on Kath’s part. Overall it would be a good read for any teenager. It was very informative and brings up a lot of points about being sexually active as a teen.

Cons: Honestly, as much as this book made me uncomfortable I don’t think that there were really any cons to it. The one thing I did notice is that Blume almost tried to include to many teenage issues within the novel. By doing this she really wasn’t able to spend a lot of time on certain issues. These issues instead are made as passing comments that almost detract from the main point of the story. Also, Micheal has some really awful character flaws that also detract from the story. You could definitely say that I didn’t ship Micheal and Katherine’s relationship.



There is No Such Thing as a Bad Reader

An image that has stuck with me this week has been that of a conversation with my eleven year old sister right after first semester report cards were released. She came home with all her papers, and was so excited to show me how well she had done the previous semester. We poured over her report card as I praised her efforts and she explained to me what some of the letters meant (S=Satisfactory E=Excellent etc..). I teased her about the C she was currently pulling in band, “That’s only because I don’t practice,” she informed me. She promised me she’d be better this semester. Honestly, I wasn’t too concerned. I’m more impressed that she can get sound to come out of a flute (a feat that  I never could accomplish. Yay, brass instruments).

Included in her packet of papers was also the results of her MAP testing and Dibbles test. I hardly payed any attention to her MAP scores. I remember that the were fairly high and that I congratulated her on them, but beyond that I was unconcerned by them. The part that struck me was when I picked up her Dibbles results. She told me not to look at them. I was confused. This girl has been a voracious reader most of her life. During the summer I we make biweekly trips to the library to satisfy her reading needs. Sometimes we even have to make an extra trip just so that she can have something to read over the weekend when the library closes.

I asked her why she didn’t want me to look at it. “I’m a bad reader.” How had this idea gotten into her head? As I began to look over the results I realized where her insecurity had come from. Her comprehension and understanding scores were well above or at where she “should be” in her grade level. While her scores for fluency and speed sat very well below.

The probably here was not that she was a bad reader, but that she could not read the words per minute that she was expected to read. Ever since she started reading this has been an issue for her. She often stumbles over words and has to focus on them longer to understand them. When she reads aloud her brain sometimes gets ahead and she struggles to pronounce the words correctly. As a young reader I had the same problem. I’ve always hated reading out loud because my mouth can’t keep up with my brain.

The problem is that this doesn’t make her a bad reader. In fact, I don’t believe that anyone can be a bad reader. Yes, one may struggle with words or be a slower reader than others, but with practice that improves. If you are continually told you are bad at something it damages your self-confidence and your love for doing it. My other sister is a sophomore this year, and it takes her a long time to read a book. She spent most of the summer focusing on the second book in the Red Queen series. Yet, these books are the first books that she has actually strove to finish for several years.

I wonder if the pressure that we put on young readers does not ruin their love for reading. My brother, a junior last year, finished the first book he’s read in a long time for a class. I remember when he was in grade school he could read several books, as long as they were books that he enjoyed and could understand. These are just the things that I see in my own siblings, I can relate several stories about classmates and peers who somewhere along the way developed this idea that they were bad at reading.

Why do we do this to our students? Why do we set a timer and make them read words on a page as fast as they can? What does it tell us? That they are slow readers? That they need more practice? That should be what it tells us. Not them. It should tell us that we need to encourage these readers more. We need to help them practice their reading skills on the books that they enjoy. We need to help them find books they can enjoy. I would hate to see my little sister’s love for reading crushed because she struggles a little bit. I would rather work with her to help improve her out loud reading skills.

I love volleyball, but I wasn’t very good at it when I started. It took me several years of practice to develop the ‘floater’ that earned me a spot as a serving specialist on my varsity team. Reading is the same way. Students need practice. They need books that they can practice with. They need the opportunity to improve. There will always be athletes that aren’t the best at their sport, and there will always be athletes that blow everyone away. Whatever side of the spectrum they are on they are always practicing, and those that aren’t so good get better. Those that blow everyone away will continue to hone their skills.

Why isn’t it the same way for our young readers? Every reader improves differently, and not every reader will be on the same level as every other reader. You can’t run a marathon if you have not prepared for it, in the same way you can’t read a book that adults struggle with without preparing for it.

Please stop letting test scores, the assigned books, and your own opinions tell students that they are sucky readers. No student is defined by just that. No student is a number or an added quantity of what they cannot do well. Each student that walks into your classroom is doing so to improve. Do not belittle them for doing that. Nothing makes students hate school or reading more than being told that they are stupid and bad at it. They want to know they can get better because without that why should they even keep trying?

I once saw a TED talk that discussed that there is no such thing as being tone deaf. We can all hear tones. My argument is that there is also no such thing as a bad reader. As long as one can read they cannot be bad at it. They can only improve that ability.

I’m So Confused!



Photo CC- llee_wu

Okay, so maybe confused isn’t the right word here, but my head is literally buzzing right now. I have a million thoughts going a million places, and I know that I’ll never be able to fully get them out into the world. Many of my ideas about learning and teaching are slowly crumbling, and I’m finding it harder and harder to comprehend what teaching English really means to me. Starting Book Love I had a fairly good idea what thoughts I would find expressed there. I figured that it would mainly echo many of the thoughts and discussions that we have been having over the last few weeks. It did not disappoint in that aspect, but it did add to those thoughts buzzing in my head.

I remember high school. I remember reading Dickens for fun, and the joy of discovering Gone with the Wind as a reader in fifth grade. What about exploring the world the crazy and imaginative world of Jo March, and crying when we lost our beloved Beth? I also remember the disgust on my classmates faces as we started yet another novel by John Steinbeck. With every book we were assigned there was this slow realization that it would simply be more arduous reading to somehow fit into our busy schedules. When watching the Penny Kittle video one of the girls said, “It’s not that I didn’t have time. I didn’t enjoy it, so I didn’t make time for it.” Looking back I wonder how often that was the case for my own classmates, and even myself (I never did finish Of Mice and Men). 

While I remember all of this I still have it ingrained in my head that in order to teach my students they must read the classics. I’m starting to question why that thought is there. Why is it that we feel that students must read The Scarlet Letter or Animal Farm to be well educated young adults? Why teach those books when we know that our students won’t read them? I’ve always loved reading because it’s more than just words on a page. Reading is developing an understanding for historical events, different countries, and different cultures. Students can get this kind of understanding from books that aren’t classics.

I think one of the things the Penny Kittle hit on in these first two chapters is that our students are being weighted down by this reading. Yes, they might be getting some of the contextual elements from class discussion or Sparks Notes, but students are struggling to get through their readings. I remember feeling in high school that reading was supposed to make you feel stupid because I couldn’t see the same points that my teachers were telling me I should be seeing. Now I think that there is some value to being able to pick up any written work and understand it’s themes, but are we really giving students the ability to do that? Are we so caught up in grading, and judging a students success that we have lost sight of the real goal?

Do I think reading books as a class are a good thing? Absolutely! I think that class discussion allows students to see things from different viewpoints. I often wish my high school classrooms were as open to discussion as my college ones are. I have learned so much more by listening and participating in good classroom discussion, but it’s hard to foster good classroom discussion when students aren’t reading. I wish that we emphasized independent reading more. I wish we emphasized reading because of the enjoyment or the different worlds we can enter, but instead, we focus on making sure students have reached a specific word count or read so many books per semester.

The challenge I am finding here is that I need to find a way to incorporate independent reading that is low stress for my students. This may be in addition to other reading, or something else entirely.  I don’t know what this will look like, or how I want to do it. I do know, however, that if I want my students to be fully prepared to take on the diversity of life my classroom needs to be much different than the one’s that I grew up in.