An excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys

I’m excited to share an excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life today.  Pam Withers is a former journalist, editor and outdoor guide who has written many sports and adventure novels for teens, including the Take-it-to-the-Extreme series. She has one son and lives with her husband in Vancouver, Canada. She is the co-founder of the youth literacy website Keenreaders and blogs at kidsliteracy.

Her latest book deals specifically with boys who are struggling in school. Below is an excerpt about boys and reading.  I think all teachers can agree that more time spent reading and more parents modeling reading will help students, both boys and girls, become more enthusiastic readers!

So What is a Reluctant Reader?

From these slumps emerge what are variously called “slow,” “struggling,” or

“reluctant” readers. And the majority of these are boys. But beware: There is no

widespread agreement on what a reluctant reader is. In fact, one sunny optimist,

Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade teacher who wrote The Book Whisperer, says, “Lord

help the students with [those] labels.” She prefers:

developing readers: those not reading at grade level, whether due to

inadequate reading experiences or learning disabilities,

dormant readers: unmotivated, uninterested, “good enough” readers who

don’t engage with reading due to a lack of support and role models,

underground readers: gifted or beyond the average student’s level, individuals

simply uninterested in what school requires them to read.

Sticking for now with the term “reluctant reader,” we’d like to add that some

of these boys have fallen so far behind (one to two grade levels) that reading now

elicits fear and embarrassment. Perhaps they started out with the disadvantage of

speaking English as a second language (ESL). There are also “closet readers” who

prefer to read at home so they’re not seen as a reader in school. And there are kids

who slide into and out of all these descriptions.

“These categories shift and change and vary with socioeconomics and ESL

factors,” says David Ward, an assistant professor in literacy at Lewis and Clark

College in Portland, Oregon, and a children’s author. “We’ve seen a terrible crash in

wages to middle class and below, and loss of jobs. That impacts the children, home

literacy, how many books a family can buy, even affordability for getting to the

library.”

Ward says that in conversations with parents across North America, the word

he hears most is “unmotivated.” Yet when he delves deeper, he finds that half the

parents using that term have a child with a physical challenge, diagnosed or not. The

other half could benefit from putting stricter limits on their child’s television, video

game, and other media time, he notes (more on that in Chapter Seven).

Screen time is often just a symptom of a larger problem, however: parental

busy-ness, or a lack of one-on-one interaction between child and adult. In their

formative years, children desperately need the one thing that busy parents often

cannot or will not give them: time. It’s a theme well addressed in David Elkind’s The

Hurried Child.

Regardless of why a boy gets labeled a reluctant reader, determined parents

can help turn him around. If we had to boil all the advice into a sentence, it would

be: Get him reading one-on-one with someone—with you, a reading buddy, a

reading specialist, whomever—and pull out all the stops to make reading a bigger

part of his life.

Again, there’s a direct link between how much time he spends reading for

pleasure and his future achievement in life. Or, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How

many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

Check Out My Guest Post at Two Writing Teachers!

Today I have a guest post up at one of my favorite blogs, TwoWritingTeachers.  Stacey and Ruth are some of my favorite bloggers and I am honored that they asked me to be a part of their guest post series this summer.

The Gift of Reading: Guest Post from Pamela Voelkel

A special guest post from Pamela Voelkel

For me as a child in England, reading was a solitary pleasure. It took me where I wanted to be, which was away from my family. We didn’t have many books in the house, just a guide to window-dressing, an anthology of animal stories, a children’s atlas and a book of 365 stories sent over by my aunt in California (which gave me my lifelong obsession with galoshes, both the word and the overshoe concept).

My grandparents had a big old glass-fronted bookcase, filled with beautifully bound classics like Dickens, Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Moby Dick, Treasure Island, Little Women and the Angela Brazil schoolgirl stories. I ploughed manfully through them all, loving the feel of the books and the way the illustrations were called “plates”, and the gold type on their spines, even when I didn’t love the stories. After my grandparents died, the bookcase was sold and I cried for it. As surely as Professor Diggory’s wardrobe led to Narnia, that bookcase had been my door to another world. So I never associated reading with togetherness or cosiness; for me, it was about escape.

Then I grew up, got married, and had a baby who didn’t sleep for the first five years. Reading with him was the only thing that kept me sane, and soon we’d amassed a huge library of picture books, many of them about diggers and bulldozers. Two more children followed, girls this time, and the books acquired a pinker, more glittery tinge. But everyone agreed on the family favorites: The Owl Babies, The Runaway Beard, Dinosaur Bob, The Cats of Mrs Calamari, Arnie the Doughnut, and Mr Popper’s Penguins.

Bedtime reading was my favorite part of the day and I dreaded the time when the kids would grow out of it.
But guess what? At seventeen and fourteen, our oldest kids are still not too old for a book at bedtime. Sure, they often have too much homework or better things to do. But when we can, we prop up the pillows and read together as lovely lazy luxury.

Of course, my husband and son dive into Bernard Cornwell or Philip Reeve instead of books about diggers. Our older daughter has long abandoned fairytale princesses in favor of the harsh realities of Suzanne Collins and Laurie Halse Anderson. (Sometimes, if the realities are too uncomfortably harsh, we read them separately and talk about them at bedtime.) But the pleasures of reading aloud are the same as they always were.

And that’s been the revelation for me.

That no matter how frenzied the day nor how snarky the dinner conversation, books bring us together again. Today, instead of loving books for letting me escape as I did as a child, I love them for grounding me in the precious here and now. Books begin new conversations with my kids, they give us shared ground, and they open the way for sleepy confidences that would never be aired in the bright light of morning.

Pamela Voelkel is one half of the writing duo behind The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld and The Jaguar Stones, Book Two: The End of the World Club

Check Out My Guest Post

Be sure to check out the TwoWritingTeachers blog on Friday.  I have written a guest post with some practical advice for writing poetry in the middle school classroom.

Lauren Kate Guest Blog and Blog Tour

Two authors, two days!  Today we welcome Lauren Kate, the author of Fallen. I’m about halfway through reading the book right now and I can’t put it down. I have all of these pesky essays to grade and I find myself wishing I could just sit back and finish Fallen! Not to mention, I have a pack of girls haunting me to finish the book and pass it on to them. A few girls picked it up from my desk, read the flap copy, and demanded I finish it immediately so they could read it.  You can look forward to a review in the near future.

But for today, please welcome Lauren Kate!

****The Unroyal We****

I was in the midst of some long overdue holiday shopping when I got one of the most exciting text messages of my life: Fallen was debuting at number five on the New York Times Bestseller List. I dropped the overpriced tin of mint chocolate-covered marshmallows I was considering buying for my brother and bolted out of Williams Sonoma. I had to tell everyone I knew. Immediately!

I called my husband, my parents, my mother-in-law, my best friend—and every time I relayed the good news, I found myself saying the same thing. We made the list. We’re number five. Not “I,” not even “Fallen,” always “we.” I didn’t feel right saying anything else.

It has always baffled and half-charmed me the way Queen Victoria referred to herself as a plural entity: “We are not amused.” “We thought it best to arrest him.” Mark Twain once said “only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.'”

I’m no king and I don’t have a tapeworm, but I feel the need to add myself—or at least my writer self—to this list. Because the day I got that message from my agent, it became clear to me that any celebratory feelings related to the book must include every single person who had a hand in getting Fallen onto the shelves.

People have asked me recently how it feels to publish a book, and what the most surprising thing about the experience has been. And I can navigate away from saying how humbling the experience has been. I never imagined that half the things that have happened surrounding Fallen would have happened—and sometimes I feel like I had very little to do with it. I mean that in the best sense possible. I mean, all I did was write the thing.

But I have a brilliant editor-agent team who helps me rein some things in and tease other things out. And a design department at Random House and the artist who created the breathtakingly gorgeous jacket—which made all the difference in the world. I have a family that supports me, a husband who eggs me on and makes me laugh. I have endlessly resourceful publicists who put me places where I get to interact with readers. That’s the best part. Real-live readers at the end of the tunnel. Every one of these people make up my Unroyal We.

Writing is such a solitary act—and to me that’s the hardest part about it. Working steadily for months and months on a draft of a book leaves me brain-numb and socially inept. I have a hard time forming sentences with my mouth after a day of writing them with my computer. My favorite, favorite part of writing is finishing a manuscript, coming out of the cocoon, and re-entering the world.

There are three more books in the Fallen series left to write (and hopefully many more books after that), and before “we” go back into the tunnel to write the next book, Torment, it’s great to have glimpsed what’s waiting—for us all—on the other side.


Be sure to follow Lauren Kate on the rest of her blog tour.  Tomorrow she will be making a stop at The Children’s Book Review.

Blog Tour for Wish by Alexandra Bullen

Please welcome Alexandra Bullen, author of Wish, to the blog!  Alexandra is in the midst of a blog tour to promote her debut novel, which I loved.  (Check out my review).  Alexandra has held a lot of jobs and I immediately noticed the list in her author bio on the back flap.  I asked her to share with us how those many (and varied!) jobs have influenced her writing.  I know that my students tend to think that authors sit down, write a book, get it published, become famous, and never work a regular job.  They think you have to “do something big” to get inspiration for writing.  Bullen proves that wrong in today’s post!

(Be sure to stay tuned at the end of the post for a chance to win a signed copy of Wish, courtesy of Scholastic!)


**********Alexandra Bullen, author of Wish**********

Part time jobs are a writer’s best friend. At least, this writer thinks so. Over the years I’ve done all kinds of different things, none more or less exciting than the jobs that everybody works in college, or over the summer, or when they’re trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I’ve worked in restaurants and bakeries, I’ve sold furniture,clothes and antiques, I’ve taught yoga, I’ve reviewed film scripts and answered phones.

Some days, I was good at it. Most days, I was a nightmare. But every day, I was a writer.  Even during the months when I was working two or three jobs at a time—gardening during the day, waitressing at night, teaching yoga on the weekends—and not ever writing a word. I was learning things that I could never learn in front of my computer, or in a writing workshop.

Some of the things I’ve learned have helped me to be a better writer. Now, when I’m writing a story that takes place in the spring and I’m trying to set the scene, I know which flowers are blooming, which plants are seasonal and how they smell. I know what the earth feels like in April, how the leaves are buried under layers of frozen dirt and sometimes pieces of recycled trash, hidden in the compost.

Some of the things I’ve learned have helped me to be a better and more functional human being. As a waitress, I learned math. I’m not kidding. It was the first time in my life that I ever really needed it. I learned to multi-task, and prioritize—things that come in handy now when I’m trying to do things like pay my bills or organize my day. I also learned how not to be a jerk to your waitress; probably the most important life lesson of them all.

But the most valuable lesson I’ve learned working countless part-time jobs is the fact that not once did I ever wish any of them turned into something more. I never wanted to “move up.” I was always perfectly content knowing that even if I was burning my hand on the espresso machine six hours every day, I was a writer, too.  And as long as I had something to go home to, some project to work on, some imagined deadline to meet, it didn’t matter how anybody else defined me.

Writer, human, mediocre waitress.

(I guess something’s always gotta give…)


Interested in reading Wish?  Scholastic has generously donated a SIGNED copy of the book for one lucky winner!  Leave a comment by Friday at midnight to be entered in the giveaway.  The winner will be chosen at random and you will need to submit your address to me, to pass on to Scholastic.  (All entrants must be older than 13!)

Check out Alex’s next stop on her blog tour  at Luxury Reading on January 14, where she’ll be doing a guest post about San Francisco (where Wish takes place).


Guest Post by Beth Fehlbaum

Today, Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience: A Story of Hope for Those Who Have Endured Abuse (Kunati) has agreed to do a guest post on TheReadingZone. As a fellow teacher, I love hearing from writers who are also teachers! I always hope that their hard work will inspire me to put a pen to paper more often. :) Beth is currently teaching and doing a blog tour for her debut novel, Courage in Patience.

Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says, “I will not have a temper tantrum. I will not chew gum in class. I will always be on my best behavior. I am the teacher. I am the teacher. I am the teacher..” ?

I am a teacher in my “day job”– and school started for this year just three weeks ago, which means my students and I are all still in the ‘honeymoon phase’, so I haven’t ordered that shirt for myself just yet. Now, when spring fever kicks in around the middle of March, I’ll probably have that t-shirt slogan tattooed on the palm of my hand so I can see it up close when I smack myself in the face several times a day and ask myself what on earth possessed me to think I could teach these insane children anything!

Around Christmastime last year, I signed a contract with Kunati Books and Fed-Exed it back to them. At that point, I added a new profession to my resume': professional writer. Since that time, in just about the same amount of time it takes for an infant to develop from conception to birth, my debut novel, Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse, has become a reality. I’m juggling my day job of teacher with my night job as author.

I wrote Courage in Patience partly because of a therapeutic assignment. I went into recovery for childhood sexual abuse, almost four years ago. I have always written stories and poetry as a way of processing what was going on in my life, so it was natural for me to use writing as a way of working through my grief, anger, and shame. I shared them with my therapist, and he suggested that I try writing a novel. It took me about four months, trying to pull myself out of my own head enough to write about someone other than myself. Then, I gave myself permission to imagine how it would be for a fourteen or fifteen-year-old girl to be removed from her mother and stepfather’s home after being sexually abused by her stepfather for six years, and placed in the care of her biological father, who she had never known. With that premise, Courage in Patience was conceived.

I wrote it mostly in the middle of the night; I wasn’t sleeping well at the time any way, and, as the story grew in my mind, I would wake at two in the morning, and realize that my “Muse” was already hard at work. All that was needed to get the story down in black-and-white was for me to get out of bed, brush my teeth, and get a Diet Coke before I settled in at my kitchen table with my laptop. I’d write from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. or so– and have to drag myself away from my keyboard to go get my face on and do my hair for work. I look back on that time now and I have no idea how I functioned. I think I was hyper-caffeinated and just plain driven to tell my protagonist, Ashley’s, story.

Of course, Courage in Patience went through many metamorphoses, sort of the way an embryo looks like a funky little shrimp before it grows with time and nurturing into what we recognize as a baby.
Like any new parent, I’m tired right now, but it’s a good kind of fatigue– the kind I wouldn’t trade for anything because I worked so hard to get this baby into the world, and I love it as only a proud new parent can. It is my hope that readers will love Courage in Patience– and Ashley– as much as I do.

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