It’s Launch Week! I’m here to celebrate a new blog, Unleashing Readers, created by Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg. They have such great plans for us readers: to have a varied literature focus, helping teachers find books for specific purposes in the classroom. As the blog adds information, it will be easy to search for exact needs, to find helpful ideas for a variety of goals. Today, I’m going to add my thoughts in the categories Unleashing Readers will share with their readers in the future. One thing you need to know is that I taught gifted middle school students in a mixed classroom of 11 to 14 year olds. I now am the literacy coach in the school, but today will focus only on my experience with the middle-schoolers.
Since we’re doing favorites today, I’ll also share a favorite reading quote:
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.
~ Anna Quindlen
A favorite read aloud: I’ve read many books, especially newly published, to my classes, but one I loved toward the end of my classroom teaching is A Long Walk To Water, by Linda Sue Park. This book’s story is based on the true story of Salva, one of the ‘Lost Boys”, and is one of tragedy, perseverance in the worst of situations, and admiration for his persistence in becoming educated, then returning to his native country to begin a foundation that installs deep water wells in the smaller villages. It parallels that of a young girl, Nya, who lives in one of those villages. I always wanted my students to begin journeying “outside” their own lives, to understand the challenges that other young people face, yet persevere in finding ways to overcome their problems. This book is inspiring, and offers many ideas for conversations.
Close Reading: There are quite a few areas to consider when asking students to read a text with a more careful eye. In literature, I’ve enjoyed reading Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons with my students at the beginning of the year, examining several choices by the author. I can’t write an entire analysis of this book because it would take too long, but there are questions for the reader to consider throughout the book, like the choice of first person, two timelines written together, use of uneducated language, etc.
Favorite lit circle/book club book: In the last years of my teaching, more graphic novels were being published, and I believed that reading one with a group was important so I could help them discover the numerous layers of meaning found in these novels. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is one of the graphic novels that I loved teaching. There are issues of culture, bias, peer pressure, and Luen included many visual clues in this important story.
Favorite Book(s) That Every Classroom Library Should Have: This is the toughest to answer. I think I could list at least a hundred or more. There are so many different kinds of students to reach with books, and each has different tastes and needs. This time, I would choose The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I love stories that show the value of books and reading, and along with others like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, I wanted students to experience those who loved books so much that they risked their lives for them. The Book Thief is exciting, complex, but above all shows a love of books like no other story recently written (that I know). For my students who wanted big, bold stories, this consistently filled their needs.
Also, I want to add a different type of book for older students that I believe should be in a library. I use picture books for a wide variety of purposes throughout my teaching, and thought it was wise to show students that picture books are not only for the youngest readers, but offer thoughtful stories for sophisticated readers too. I would add Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya and illustrated by Ted Lewin. It’s a heart breaking, but important, story about the effects of war and the love people have for animals in their care.
My favorite book: There are several books I re-read every few years. I’m not sure if that means they’re my favorites, but they are (and have been) so meaningful to me that I need to re-visit them, the stories and the language. I am an eclectic reader, read all genres of books, and lately have been catching up my knowledge of books for younger readers. There are so many wonderful books for children, young and through high school, that I can’t imagine teachers not finding the book that ‘grabs’ and sets each student on fire. My ONE book to share is Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. I love Bradbury in all his writing, love Dandelion Wine because I think it’s pure poetry, and I love the memoir feel of the book, the fantastical stories, and the very, very satisfying ending. I’ve read it in book groups, and hooked students with it like few others have.
I love to read, can you tell? And it’s a pleasure to help launch this new “baby” of Kellee’s and Ricki’s. It will be terrific to visit their blog to learn even more about books and teaching about reading in the classroom.