Slice of Life March 29th, 2013 #slice2013

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Yesterday it was announced that Amazon will be purchasing Goodreads next quarter.  I’m not sure how to react to this news, because I love Goodreads.  I loved its independence, the community, and the interface.  While I am an Amazon customer (no independent bookstores closer than an hour away), I don’t need Amazon taking over every website I use.  They already own all or part of Shelfari and Librarything, which is one reason I don’t use either site.

But what upsets me the most about the sale is that I encourage my students to use Goodreads.  It was independent and not tied to any major retailer, so I was comfortable recommending it.  It also allows my students to grow as they move through school and eventually graduate.  The few other book social networking communities I tried out were aimed at kids and my students would eventually age out of them.  While this may seem like a silly thing for me to worry about, it’s important that my students find a community of readers that can stay with them as long as they are willing to participate.

When I taught 6th grade, I always shared Goodreads with my students and encouraged them to join (with their parents’ permission).  Many of them did.  It’s been over 6 years since I first started recommending the site and I still hear from many of those students.  There is an ebb and flow to the site, allowing members to pick up where they left off, without any pressure or judgement.  In the last few months I have been contacted by 5 former students, ranging from 8th grade to current juniors in high school, who have become active on Goodreads again.

 One of those students told me she was looking up a book her friend was reading and the search results included Goodreads.  She remembered using the site with me, clicked on it, and soon she was adding books to her “want to read” shelf and reminiscing over the list of books she last updated in 7th grade.  I now see her adding books a few times a week and she even recommended a book to me!  The power of a reading community is stronger than most people realize and too many students (and adults) lack access to one in the flesh.  Too many of my former students tell me that they haven’t heard a booktalk since leaving my classroom, haven’t had a teacher recommend a book that wasn’t canon since being with me, and no longer remember how to find books on their own.  And how can we expect them to keep reading if no one is providing them with the opportunity to find and read books?

That’s why I love Goodreads.  I love that current and former students can message me about books.  I love that our school book club can have conversations between meetings.  I love that I can model my reading life and passion for all of my students (current and former) in an unobtrusive manner.  And I love that there is no commercial tie-in.  We are surrounded by ads all day and Goodreads was a welcome respite from that.  Sure, there are banner ads and such, but they were book-related and usually lead to a publisher’s official site or an author’s blog.  They didn’t lead me to an Amazon order page.

Goodreads is about community and passionate readers.  It’s not about making a buck.  At least, it’s not about making a buck for me.  Sadly, it seems to be about money for the founders.  I can’t blame them for that, of course.  But I do wish they had offered the users of Goodreads an option.  Maybe we would have been willing to kick in money to keep the site independent!  I’d even be ok with publishers buying into the site.  But a single retailer?  That’s harder for me to digest.

We have a while before anything changes because the sale doesn’t close until next quarter.  I’m not going to stop using Goodreads and I hope I won’t have to in the future.  But I will be watching carefully.  And in the meantime, I think I will be doing what author Kate Messner suggests.  We can support other retailers, especially indie bookstores, in the reviews we post.  But my students and I will keep using Goodreads, while crossing our fingers that the community isn’t destroyed by Amazon.  Because the community is what drew me to the site and it’s why I share it with my students.  Losing that would be a shame.

#BEA11 Recap

This past week I made my annual pilgrimage to BEA, BookExpo America, at the Javitz Center.  I am lucky in that I live a short train ride from NYC, so each year I manage to take a personal day and spend a few hours at the conference.  It’s a crazy conference- huge, crowded, huge, and oh yeah, crowded!

I requested this ARC from Candlewick- perfect my senior class disaster unit!

Wednesday morning I made my way to the train station and was in the city by 9:30am.  I had made a plan with Teresa (@trkravtin) to meet at the Candlewick booth at 10am.  Teresa and I have been talking on Twitter for a while now and it was great to finally have a chance to meet.  I quickly walked the few blocks to the Javitz Center and picked up my badge without a problem.  It was 10am on the dot when I made my way onto the exhibit floor.  (Nice timing, huh?) Candlewick was easy to find so I began the day browsing their ARCs.  Sadly, I missed the galley giveaway for Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd but I did pick up a few other ARCs.  And at that point, Teresa was there!

Teresa and I chatted for a little bit and she is just as wonderful in person as she is on Twitter. :)  But time is valuable at BEA, and we parted ways so I could start walking the floor.  I had planned to go to Ally Condie’s signing but when I saw that the line was wrapped around half the Javitz Center, I decided to skip it and just wander around.  I knew I had about 20 minutes until Mary Pearson’s signing and I really wanted to meet her, so I did a quick lap around the center.  I picked up an ARC or two, including Daughter of Smoke and Bone, signed by the wonderful and pink-haired Laini Taylor.  What a sweetheart!

After my inital lay-of-the-land walk, I made my way back to the Henry Hold booth and got on the line for Mary Pearson, who would be signing The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles).  I am a huge fan of Pearson’s writing and I had tweeted her that I would be stopping by her line.  Of course, I forgot to mention that I am unbearably shy in situations like that so I would not dare mention my name when I got to the front of the line.  When it was my turn, I passed my book to her and mumbled how much I love her work.  Thank goodness for name tags, because the awesome Mary Pearson read mine and recognized me right away!  She is a sweetheart and I can’t wait to read The Fox Inheritance.  We chatted briefly and promised to keep in touch.  Her line was long and I didn’t want to take up too much of her time, so it was time to go walk the floor some more.  As I left the booth, I also picked up a few adult ARCs for my students.

Walking away, I overheard someone say that Jimmy Fallon was signing copies of his new book a few rows away.  I didn’t need a copy of the book (and it turns out they had already run out of copies anyway), but I did walk by and take a quick picture of him. After that, it was time to head to Scholastic to scope out the scene.  I really lucked out and was able to pick up an ARC of Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers. Yes, my seniors requested this one. :) They were in 3rd grade when the first book came out and were laughing when I mentioned that the second book would be published this summer. Needless to say, when I got back to school they swiped it from me and quickly read it).

I spent the next hour or so walking around, talking to publicists and picking up some ARCs.  While standing at the Abram’s booth, I ran into Pam of MotherReader fame! She was wonderful and gracious and we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon together.  It was great getting to know her outside the blog (I highly recommend meeting bloggers!  It’s really great!) and we chatted about books, teens, writing, and the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  She let me know that Lisa Yee would be signing at the American Girl booth and I was happy to wait in line to meet her and of course, Peep!  (Peep is famous.  Really.  Just ask him. :) )

MotherReader and Lisa Yee

Me, Lisa Yee, and Peep!

Together we waited on a few signing lines and even made our way over to the autograph tables, which are complete chaos.  I completely lucked out when Scott Westerfeld’s ticketed line slowed down and the girl corralling the line let me jump on the back, without a ticket.  It was my biggest coup of the day and I knew I had students who would be falling over themselves to read Goliath.  Scott Westerfeld was really nice and autographed the copy directly to my class.

Sadly, it was time for me to leave MotherReader at that point and begin to make my way back to Penn Station.  I did one more quick loop around the convention center and really lucked out.  Standing at the Random House booth, completely alone, was Christopher Paolini!  One of my seniors had begged me for an ARC of Inheritance, but they were not available.  However, Paolini was kind enough to sign a poster for him and we had a short conversation.  It was interrupted when I heard someone practically hyperventilating behind me.  There was a tween boy there who was gasping and kept repeating “You’re here.  Oh my god, you’re here.  I had no idea you would be here.  Was it in the program?!  Oh my god, you are my hero!”  I stepped aside as this young boy met his hero.  Paolini was deep in conversation with the boy only moments later and I had to smile.  Sure, I had seen some people at BEA act crazy, but that one moment is what BEA is truly about for me- meeting authors that I love and networking with all of these people I have only met online.

I had a wonderful time at BEA this year.  I’m not sure I could handle attending the entire conference, but one day is perfect.  I get to meet people I admire, I network with my publishing contacts, and I bring home ARCs for my students.

My BEA ARCs

On Thursday, I took all the ARCs to school (with the exception of a few I claimed first) and laid them out on the back table.  My classes all walked through and made a list of the books they want to read, and I pulled names out of a hat at lunch.  Most of the books have a waiting list, so students had to promise to review them on goodreads in return for getting the opportunity to read them.  My first student has already reviewed her ARC!  I expect more reviews to be posted this weekend.  This is why I love BEA- ARCs build passion.  Students are making lists, sharing books, and talking about them because they have the privilege to read them before anyone else.  It’s fantastic!

My New Job

I love, love, love my new job.  I promised updates here on the blog and I have been terrible about keeping everyone informed.  Here’s a quick summary of my year so far:

I teach freshman and seniors.  My senior class is a new curriculum focused on 21st century literacies.  I teach two modules (one marking period each)- The Environment and The Human Condition.  We just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my students created Twitter accounts for a particular character and tweeted the major events of the play through their eyes.  The projects were AWESOME!  I am having so much fun that it shouldn’t even be allowed.  We have also been reading Janne Teller’s Nothing as a class and it fits with our human condition theme perfectly.  The students enjoy being read to and the book really shocks them over and over.  They have been referring to it during our Socratic Seminars and in written responses.

It does take a while to get a read aloud done, because I only see my seniors 3 times per week, for 70 minutes each time.  It’s easy to fit the read aloud in most days, but the continuity isn’t always there.  I haven’t started doing the read aloud with my freshmen classes yet because I team teach and I haven’t figured out a way to fit it in yet.  (Yes, it kills me that we don’t have a read aloud, and I do notice the difference in the sense of community-reading, but I will get to it!)

My freshman classes are great, too.  I team teach, as I said, teaching in-sync with the history teacher.  We have two rooms that share a dividing wall, which has not been closed all year.  My curriculum follows the history curriculum, which is World Cultures/World History.  For example, I just taught excerpts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while my students studied the Middle Ages in history.  I am still finding my footing re: the team teaching, but I love it so far.

Technology-wise, my new school is unreal.  We are a math, science, and technology-focused so all of the students expect us to use a lot of technology.  I use Edmodo to post homework and host backchannel chats while we view movies/hold Socratic Seminars.  It’s fantastic.

I also had all of my students sign up for Goodreads.  So far, my students are just posting books for their 40-Book Challenge and friending each other, but I plan to host book discussions and much more soon.  I will also have the students posting reviews of books they read.  A few have already done so on their own!  Right now I am enjoying watching my students post their books and commenting on them.  I see my students 3-4 times per week and the Goodreads group is a great way to  continue talking about books outside of class.

My new job is absolutely amazing.  I am constantly being challenged, I love my students, my colleagues are brilliant, and love being able to use technology all the time.  :)

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