Mother Reader’s 48-Hour Book Challenge

And they’re off! I am beginning my 48 hours right now, at 8:30pm on Friday. The books are stacked, the schedule is kinda clear, and I am ready and rarin’ to go!

Borders Follow-up

As a follow-up to this post, I told my students about my experience at Borders.  I presented them with my experience and just asked for their thoughts.  At first, I think they thought I was crazy, just telling them about wandering up and down the aisles.  However, as soon as I mentioned the “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls” signs, they were horrified.  Hands immediately flew into the air, waving, while their mouths opened, jaws dropped.  They brought up some great points, and I was so proud of them!  Here are just a few of their thoughts:

- What  happens if someone wants to read a book that the store has labeled for the opposite gender?  Would they decide not to read it then?

-How come the young adult and adult books aren’t divided by gender?

-That’s sexist!

-Lots of girls love science-fiction and fantasy!

-Books aren’t girl books or boy books.  They are just books.  Anyone can love any book.  Just like they can dislike any book.

-Why do they use genres for the rest of the categories?  Boy and girl are not genres.

-Let’s write them a persuasive letter and tell them to change their categories!

You know what?  I think we just may use that last suggestion.  Next week is our last full week of school and we will write a letter from our class to our local Borders, asking that they stop using gender as category for their books!

Breaking Dawn- Stephenie Meyer

Yesterday I rushed to Barnes and Noble, where I frantically searched for Eclipse Special Edition (The Twilight Saga) by Stephenie Meyer. Of course, I made sure that it wasn’t obvious I was frantically searching- how embarrassing would that be? ;) After looking all over the Teen section, where I watched two teenage girls pace the aisles in search of the same book, I finally found one copy at the front of the store. I grabbed it and made my way to the back corner of the store in search of a chair. I had to settle for a footstool, but I got comfortable and flipped to the back of the book. There, on the last few pages I was swept into the world of Bella and Edward and I read the preface and first chapter of Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4).

I am so excited for the release of Breaking Dawn in August!  I know that Meyer’s novels are not the most well-written and certainly not great literature, but I just love them.  They sweep me into the world of Forks, with vampires and werewolves running amok.  Reading the first chapter of Breaking Dawn only fueled my excitement for the conclusion of the series.  Will Bella be changed?  What will happen to Jacob?  Will we see the Voltari again?  I also love the cover, which was released yesterday.  The chess pieces are intriguing.  Who is the queen?  Who is the pawn?

Why Don’t Our Students Read?

I read two fascinating articles today which really got me thinking. Reading has been my “thing” this school year. I don’t mean to brag, but it’s working. My students read, and read, and read, and read. They are sharing books, discussing them, making recommendations to friends and family. They constantly tell me that they have read more this year than they ever did before. Almost all of my students have read 20+ books since September, and many of them have read 35+.

I see the effects of their reading everyday. Their fluency has improved dramatically. Their own writing has improved, thanks to the abundance of great writers they are reading. Granted, not every book is an award winner (some even make me cringe!), but the point is they are reading for pleasure. And that they are equating reading with pleasure.

If only legislators and administrators could see this.

Jordan Sonnenblick, (author of Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie, one of my favorites) has a kick-butt editorial on SLJ.com right now. Entitled Killing Me Softly: No Child Left Behind, Sonnenblick laments the state of education across our nation right now. A former urban teacher in NJ, he visited his colleagues and was told more than once to stay home, keep writing, don’t come back. Why? Because of what has happened to Language Arts classes. Like myself, Sonnenblick loves sharing great literature with students. In this day and age of high-stakes testing, we are tossing out the books for workbooks. What has happened to us?!

No Child Left Behind has done to my school what it has done to untold thousands of urban schools. Our arts programs are gutted, our shop courses are gone, foreign languages are a distant memory. What’s left are double math classes; mandatory after-school drill sessions; the joyless, sweaty drudgery of summer school. Our kids come to us needing more of everything that is joyous about the life of the mind. They need nature walks, field trips, poetry, recess….What I loved most about teaching middle school English was the books, the stories, the poems. I loved putting great thoughts into the hands of my students, and watching what I really, truly saw as a holy communion between child and author, with me as the officiant. And it kills me to know that if I went back, I wouldn’t have much time to teach literature, which is increasingly seen as a frilly extra.

What???? What type of country do we live in now, where students no longer have time to read great books, learn about nature, or otherwise enjoy their learning experience? We have reverted back to the drill ‘em and kill ‘em rote memorization ideal of the 19th century. I fully believe that 50 years from now this will be looked upon as the worst time for education in American history.

A recent survey of 3 million kids in the U.S. revealed the number of books children read in 2007. Seventh-graders averaged 7.1 books in 2007, while 12th-graders averaged 4.5 books. This number is less than the amount of books I read in a given month. Yet I have seen the evidence in my own classroom. Students enter my room in September and fill our a reading survey. Most of them do not have a favorite book/author and it’s a rare student who has read more than 4 books in the last year. Why are our children not reading?

In my experience, our students are not reading because of NCLB. The joy of reading has been taken out of the classroom and the library. Students are no longer “allowed” to read for pleasure when they must attend mandatory test prep sessions, so that the school looks good on high-stakes testing. They are rarely introduced to the hundreds of new books that are published each year because library budgets have been slashed. Most schools have removed their classroom library budgets, too, so teachers are left to use their own money to stock their classroom library. Students crave new books. Instead, we force our idea of classics on them over and over again, never allowing them to find their own niche in the wide world of books. There are plenty of canon-worthy books that have been published in the last decade. Would it kill us to switch out a Hemingway or two for something like John Green’s Looking for Alaska or Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak?  Both are award-winners that are relevant to our students and their lives.  Both could also be used as a gateway to what adults deem “real literature”.  In other words, not YA literature.

To get back on topic, NCLB is destroying our classrooms and the education we should be giving our children.  Reading Jordan Sonnenblick’s editorial, coupled with the Washington Post’s recent survey, has lit a fire under me.  I hope it does the same for you.  Find a child or teen today.  Share a book with them.  Buy them a book or get them a library card.  Show them the blogs in the kidlitosphere and get them reading.  Help them find their niche and give them back what our schools are taking away.

A Reader’s Life

Today we went to Ikea. Ever since we moved into the condo, my boyfriend and I have needed bookshelves. To be truthful- I have needed bookshelves. I am the reader in our house! Finally, we made it up to Ikea for their $19.99 Flarke bookcases (about the only ones I can afford in bulk). Approximately 6 ft. tall, with 5 shelves, we bought four of them. One is for the living room downstairs, where I plan to keep all the books I haven’t read yet, but plan to very soon. In other words, I now have an entire bookcase devoted to my “to be read pile”. I think that’s a sad thing. :)

Three of the bookcases will go upstairs in the office. There is already one bookcase in there, but it is filled to overflowing. The new ones will allow us to shelve all our college textbooks, reference books, and professional resources. I am so excited to finally have somewhere to store all my books, other than piles on the floor!

The best part of our trip to Ikea was our purchase from the As-Is department. Everything in this small room is already put together and is sold at a discount. Granted, much of it is damaged, but a few of the items are always display/floor models that they are ready to move out of the store. We were really lucky and found a gorgeous white bookcase to match the few pieces of furniture on the master bedroom. The best part is, it was quite cheap! Now, we had to somehow squeeze it into the car, and that was quite and adventure, but we did it. The bookcase is now set up in the bedroom and is holding all of my hardcover series books- Twilight series, UK Adult editions of Harry Pottere, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-13. There are still some shelves to be filled in, but it looks wonderful. And I am finally starting to make this look like a home. A home filled with books. :)

Update on my read-aloud

Today I began our newest read-aloud. Thank you to everyone for your suggestions!

I decided I wanted to go with a new genre, something my kids wouldn’t pick up on their own yet would hold their interest, and something that was light and quick. Our newest class read-aloud is Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan. The kids love it so far! It’s a new genre for me to read aloud- non-fiction (that is not a picture book). It is also easy for my students to relate to. Already they are sharing stories about their own dogs, cats, and various pets. The connections were made immediately and I can only imagine them growing as we continue.

I am hoping that we can finish in about 10 days. We read 25 pages today and baring interruptions should hit 50 tomorrow. With less than 200 pages we may finish before spring break. That would be perfect, allowing us a fresh start when we begin the Holocaust after that.

Anytime we finish a novel, either as a class novel or a read-aloud, I print the cover and staple it to our “We Have Read….” bulletin board. Today I finally had time to update it. When our librarian saw it she was thrilled. For some reason, it is hard to convince other teachers to read-aloud. I can’t imagine my class without a read-aloud. It allows me to model reading behaviors and strategies while modeling a constant love of reading. It is contagious- my kids are reading more than they ever have before. Why other teachers don’t read-aloud baffles me!

I have heard all the excuses….no time, test prep, “the kids don’t listen anyway”, and more. Yet I make time with both my classes, even though I only have two hours with them. As for the students not listening, modeling should take care of it. If you constantly show that reading is important and fun it will begin to stick! My class is proof of this. And you must find exciting books that they will want to read. Realistic fiction is a big hit in my classes, but once they were introduced to it we were able to move to other genres. I know a lot of my kids wouldn’t pick up Tuck Everlasting on their own.  Now that we read it together many of them list it as the best book they have read!  It’s all in the teacher’s choices and modeling practices.
I am interested in hearing your experiences (especially at the intermediate/upper grades, when reading aloud falls by the wayside)!  Do you read-aloud in your room? Do you have a specific read-aloud time?  What are some of your most popular titles?

Maze of Bones (39 Clues)

I was reading my YALSA- listserv today when I saw that someone had posted a link to the trailer for Scholastic’s new series, The 39 Clues. Not expecting much, I clicked on the link and was surprised to see that an entire website was already laid out…almost 7 months before the first book will be published!

The video is here. I have to admit- I am intrigued! I am a sucker for historical mysteries, though. I love the “National Treasure” movies more than any logical, intelligent adult should. And I do love Rick Riordan’s writing. Now, I am dying to get my hands on an ARC for “The Maze of Bones”, the first book in the series. I thought it was way too early for ARCs when i went to Mid-winter, but it seems like they must be out there somewhere. And while I am not a big fan of calling anything “the next Harry Potter”, I do like sound of this series and my students love any series books. They also love mysteries. I am hoping this will draw in a few more readers for my class next year.

While watching the video, I also had another thought. It seems that book trailers are becoming more and more popular. While they haven’t hit the mainstream too much, I do think I will show this trailer to my students. In the past, commercials for books seemed like a silly premise. Those were better left to movies and tv shows. However, kids today are inundated by media in all parts of their lives. Are book trailers or commercials the wave of the future? I think a trailer like this one would pull in a lot of students. I also think that trailers for many of my class’ favorite books would be great to watch. In class, we talk about the “movie in our mind” whenever we read our novels. Picturing what you read is a huge part of getting into the reading zone. It’s what makes you feel like you are in the story. So are book trailers/commercials a natural extension of that same strategy?

I hope we see more book trailers in the future. More book trailers that are professionally made and treated almost like movie previews. It’s a great way to get the word out about books and authors and also builds up buzz. Buzz is what sells books. Buzz is what makes my students go to the bookstore and choose a particular book. Right now, that buzz is usually from me or their classmates making recommendations. A perfect example is Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. As more and more students read the first book, buzz kept building. Then, as we anxiously awaited the publishing of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, the excitement was palpable.  A perfect example of buzz building.  Then, as soon as the book was released I had students who raced to the book store to buy a copy.  Other students immediately placed an order for the book through Scholastic’s book clubs.  Without any buzz, this would never have happened.  And if book trailers will build that buzz, I think I have to be a fan!

This doesn’t mean I want every book trailer to proclaim “the next Harry Potter!” et al.  But a quick trailer that I can show after I booktalk certain books can really pull in my more visual learners.  It will be interesting to see if more series publishers go down this road and let us have trailers.  Any thoughts?

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