Bookworm Camp Starts!

Today was the first day of camp!  I am thrilled to be running a “camp for bookworms” through my local community college.  Last fall I read about Thalia Kid’s Book Club Camp at Symphony Space in New York City.  I was immediately overcome with jealous because that camp sounded like my dream as a kid.  A place to read books and talk about more books?  HEAVEN!

When my local community college campus sent out an email looking for counselors and camp ideas, I decided to throw my idea out there.  A camp for bookworms that would be aimed at middle school students.  To my surprise, they loved the idea!  Then I spent a few months picking three books for the students to read before coming to camp so that we could focus on them during the week of camp.  It was very tough, but I finally chose Mike Mullins’ Ashfall, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, and Karen Sandler’s Tankborn. My goal was to choose awesome, well-written books that the campers most likely would not have read before.

Today was our first day of camp and it went really well!  I have a small group of students, and an even mix of boys and girls.  They are all entering 7th or 8th grade and they are avid readers.  We started out by introducing ourselves and talking about our book preferences this morning.  I have a paranormal fan, action fan, humor fan, romance, classics, and lots more.  One student is currently reading Sherlock Holmes while another is working on his own novel.  I’m very impressed!  We also had a great discussion about e-readers.  I was surprised to hear that most of the students do not use e-readers, and if they have one it was usually a gift.  Those with gifted e-readers said they use them to read classics or free stories/novels posted in the e-bookstore.  In fact, they were pretty big fans of self-published shorter works.  That’s a first for me!  But they were unanimous in declaring their love for paper books.  E-readers were more of a matter of convenience, used on vacations or while waiting around in places without reading material (usually a phone was used in that case).

We spent today talking about Mike Mullins’ Ashfall, in preparation for s Skype call with him tomorrow morning.  The kids can’t wait to chat to Mike Mullins after our talk today.  We discussed our favorite parts of the books, how we might react in the event of a supervolcano reaction, and other book recommendations for those who enjoyed Mike Mullins’ Ashfall.  After lunch, we watched a 30 minute BBC documentary about the Yellowstone supervolcano so that we all have a good grasp on the scientific possibility of an eruption in the next 50,000 years.  That will give you pause!

I also started a read aloud with my campers today.  I wanted a book that we could definitely finish this week, as I don’t want to leave them hanging once camp ends.  The choice was a no-brainer for me.  Thus, we began to share Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead today. It went over really well! We are all looking forward to reading more tomorrow.

It was a fantastic day and time flew by.  I am so looking forward to tomorrow! We will be talking to Mike Mullin, reading our books, enjoying a read aloud, watching some book trailers, writing our own post-apocalyptic scenes, and then we will dive into Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs for the second half of the day.  It’s going to be a great week!

As we were wrapping up our day, one of the campers raised her hand.  When I looked over, she quietly said, “This if off-topic, but I just want to say how glad I am that I found this camp.  I love to read and not many teachers encourage me. Most of the time they yell at me to stop reading.  So this camp reminded me that it’s ok to read.”

Well, that just about broke my heart.  She went on to tell me that her 3rd grade teacher caught her reading under her desk and marched over to her, tore the book out of her hand, proceeded to yell at her and humiliate her, and tossed the book to the front of the room.  The worst part?  The camper told me, “I wasn’t mad at her for yelling at me, because I guess I was breaking the rules. But I was so mad at her for disrespecting my book and losing my page when she threw the book. I’ve never been able to forgive her for that.”

I was speechless.  All teachers should be encouraging readers, not humiliating them for reading under their desk, looking for more time to read.  It’s one thing to guide a student back to the topic at hand.  Sometimes it just needs to be done.  But to humiliate a young reader?  To throw their book across the room?  To lose their page?  That’s so disrespectful.  Thankfully, this child was a reader and always will be.  But a more reluctant reader, maybe one who just found that perfect book, might be convinced to never pick up a book again after an experience like that.

And that’s why I am thrilled to be running my bookworm camp this summer.  There are lots of readers out there dying for a space where they can share their favorite hobby.  I am happy to provide that for them.  We have four more days of camp and they are going to be amazing!

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

I am a big fan of Glee  and Chris Colfer has been one of my favorite actors on the series since the beginning.  When I read that his novel had been acquired by Little, Brown I was excited but a bit apprehensive.  See, I’m not  a fan of celebrities who “write” books.  Now, these are usually picture books or novelty gimmicks, so I was hopeful that Colfer’s book would be the real deal.  Come on, how many celebrities are sitting down to write a full-length middle grade fantasy novel?

When I attended BEA this past May, I saw that Chris Colfer would be signing copies of his ARC the morning I was scheduled to be there.  Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have very little patience.  I do not wait on lines very often.  I definitely don’t wait on what will no doubt be a ridiculous line for a celebrity.  But I made an exception for Chris Colfer.  He seems ridiculously sweet in interviews and I was intrigued by the premise of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.  So, I waited.  For over an hour.  (Sidenote: The publicists at the Little, Brown booth at BEA were absolute saints and handled the crowd really well!).

Finally, it was my turn.  Colfer signed my ARC and I told him I was looking forward to reading it.  I explained that I usually avoid celebrity books but that he had me convinced.  He stopped signing for a moment and looked up.  “I hope you like it!  I mean, no pressure.  You don’t have to like it. But I really hope you do enjoy it!”.  With that, I was sold. I shuffled off with my ARC and tote bag in tow, and eventually headed back home.  I finished reading The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell late last week and I really enjoyed it!

Colfer says that he started writing the book when he was ten years old.  Then he put it aside and came back to it when he felt he could do it justice.  At the ancient age of 22, he has now published The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell.  I love that the ARC is dedicated to his grandmother, who told him he shouldn’t worry about being a failed writer until he was a grown-up.  :)

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is about a pair of twelve-year old twins named Alex and Connor.  Their father , who owned a bookstore, recently died in an accident and their mother has been forced to sell their house and work extra shifts to make ends meet.  The twins are doing their best, but it’s hard to have your life yanked out from underneath you like an old rug.  Alex is an over-achiever and the teacher’s pet at school.  Connor is the kid in the back of the classroom who falls asleep or makes everyone else laugh.  But while they are different, they turn to each other for comfort while their mom is focused on taking care of the bigger picture. But everything changes when their grandmother gives Alex The Land of Stories on their birthday.  Their father and grandmother read to them from the book until his death so it is a treasured heirloom.

But then things get very weird.  Alex stops paying attention in school, she stops knowing the answer when called on, and then she falls asleep in class!  Connor becomes suspicious and spies on her late one night.   What the twins discover changes their lives forever.  The Land of Stories envelops them and they literally fall into the world they grew up hearing about.  But instead of being told stories, they are meeting the characters their father and grandmother shared with them.  From Little Red Riding Hood, to Jack, to Goldilocks, to Prince Charming, they are all alive and well in the Land of Stories.

Colfer has taken on the task of retelling classic fairy tales.  While it seems like it has been done to death, I found myself not wanting to put the book down.  Familiar fairy tale characters have continued to live in the Land of Stories and their lives are a bit soap opera-esque.  But we also learn a lot more about each character and their motivations. Cinderella is married and pregnant.  Goldilocks in experiencing the heartbreak of unrequited love.  Goldilocks is running from the law. And Snow White is trying to deal with the repercussions of the Evil Queen’s decisions.

I was pleasantly surprised by Colfer’s writing.  Alex and Connor might be some of my favorite middle grade characters because they ring so true.  Their individual personalities are spot on and their interactions with each other remind me a lot of the middle schoolers I used to teach.  Connor was my favorite and I found myself laughing out loud at him because he is such a cut-up.  But at the same time his insecurity is apparent.  The siblings are close, but not in a way that is unbelievable.  They argue, Alex is sometimes a know-it-all, and Connor tends to take things to the extreme.  Both kids grow and change throughout the story in realistic ways.  Colfer has a great grasp on characterization, so even the villains are relatable.

This is a great quest story for middle grade readers.  They will enjoy the familiarity of the fairy tale characters but will also be drawn into the more significant details that Colfer weaves into the narrative.  The story is a bit predictable, but I’m also an adult reader, not a middle grade reader.  I think 8-12 year olds will enjoy this a lot, and the Glee connection should help with handselling.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell is a solid debut and I look forward to reading more books by Chris Colfer in the future.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

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