Two Minute Drill (Comeback Kids) by Mike Lupica

This was a nice book to end the challenge on. I really enjoy Lupica’s books and was glad to have a chance to read some of the new Comeback Kids series.

Two-Minute Drill: Mike Lupica’s Comeback Kids is the story of the kid who tries and tries, but just is not a gifted athlete. Scott is smart, and his parents are proud of his academic and athletic accomplishments (ok, even if he mostly has academic accomplishments). He has just moved to a new town and is stunned when the most popular kid in sixth grade, Chris, befriends him. Chris convinces Scott to join the town football team, which he does. Even though he knows he will never get off the bench, Scott is happy to help the team and to just be a part of game day. However, even Rudy got a chance to prove himself, and Scott does, too.

I felt like this book really rang true. The boys were realistic, not just caricatures of 12 year old boys. Mike Lupica really knows preteen boys! I felt like I was reading about my own students. That’s one of the reasons I always enjoy Lupica’s book. They are timely and believable- both of which are very important to reluctant readers. I think this series is perfect for boys or girls in the middle grades, and even into middle school.

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.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney is perhaps the most anticipated book of the year for my students. I added Kinney’s first book in the series to my library last year and it quietly made a few ripples. This year, my students became obsessed. My two copies flew from student to student, never returning to my shelf! When the book fair sold paperback copies at least half of my students purchased one. They begged our librarian to add a copy to the library. They recommended it to their siblings. They read parts aloud to their parents. It took over! Since November they have asked at least once a week if I was able to track down an ARC. Well, this weekend our librarian came home from ALA Midwinter with a copy of it. She immediately cataloged it and gave it to us.

You would have thought I was offering each student a million dollars when I asked who wanted to read it. We ended up pulling a name out of a hat and they developed strict rules- each student gets the book for one day and one night. Then it must be passed on. I have also ordered two more copies from Scholastic’s book clubs (which will be here on Monday and will go into circulation immediately!). Today, I watched as the student who currently has the book read it in the library, with three more students reading over his shoulders! It was a sight to see, and made me so very proud. Jeff Kinney has made these students love reading.

Before sharing the book, I did manage to read it myself. I have to say, this one is even funnier than the first! I caught myself laughing out loud at a few points. You see, Greg is getting ready to go back to school. But his wasn’t the typical summer vacation. Do not ask Greg how he spent his summer, because he is not about to tell anyone. Let’s just say, it’s even worse than the fact that his mom won’t buy him a real bathing suit and makes him wear his older brother’s hand-me-down speedo. Yes, even more humiliating than that! Unfortunately for Greg, his older brother, Rodrick, knows all about the incident Greg wants to keep under wraps. But as we all know, secrets never stay secret for long.

Kinney’s books really work wonders for reluctant readers. They build confidence, make the students laugh out loud, and are realistic. The sibling relationships between Greg and his brothers reminded me of my own house growing up. Brothers can be cruel, and it’s every man for himself!  The scenes in school are everyschool- they make my almost-middle schoolers laugh out loud.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of both of Kinney’s books. And next September we can look forward to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw”! By the way, my bet is on a green cover for the next one.

Quote of the Day

While handing in a grammar quiz this afternoon, one of my students (a reluctant boy reader) was walking to me desk with his quiz in one hand and his head buried in “The Giver”.

”Wow! I have never done this before…..walked and read a book at the same time. I have never wanted to walk and read at the same time!”

I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day. This boy is a very reluctant reader, and when he does read the books are fairly low-level. ”The Giver” is not an easy book by any means and he is loving it! It was a proud moment.

Speaking of reluctant readers, Jen over at Jen Robinson’s Book Page has a great post up today about helping kids learn to enjoy reading. She gathered advice from teachers, librarians, parents, and authors all over the kidlitosphere and compiled it into a wonderful article. I strongly encourage you to head over to her blog and check it out!

Reluctant Readers

Thanks to Jen’s Sunday Round-up, I found out that Professor Nana has slides from various NCTE sessions on her blog.  As I have spent the last few day lamenting the fact that I couldn’t attend NCTE, this is a great find!  Be sure to scroll through, as the slides are posted on various entries.   

One of my favorite slide shows so far is “Don’t Wanna: Books to Let Reluctant Readers Discover Who They Can Be”.  What a great presentation!  I was very excited to see some of go-to books for reluctant readers listed by the presenters.  This list validates my own book decisions and gives me even more confidence in my ability to help my students choose books.  I know what works this year, with these students, but it is nice to see some of the same books on my list are also tried-and-true books for reluctant readers.  For example, Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak series has really taken hold of my class.  This is a series I had never heard of until a few months ago when I briefly booktalked it as a boy’s companion for Meyer’s Twilight series.  I was taking a risk, as Shan’s books were not stocked in our school library at that time and none of my students had even even heard of his books.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when the series caught on and now I can’t get them soon enough for my classroom library.  Now I am thrilled to see I made a good choice!    

The slideshow also includes other titles for reluctant readers, most of which I immediately added to my wishlist.   The list of topics reluctant readers want to read more about is also something I saved.  What an informative piece of research!  When I think of my students, these are all topics they love-  though I am fairly certain that list would scare the bejesus out of a lot of parents.  Most tweens and teens enjoy books about the darker side of life; crime, punishment, suicide, death/dying, the supernatural, etc.  I know when I was a tween, I was a huge fan of Lurlene McDaniel.  My mom was genuinely worried for a bit, because every single McDaniel book is about someone dying from a terminal illness.  I used to cry at the end of every book.  Thankfully, my mom let me be and I eventually moved on to other books.  However, I still tend to read more “dark” books than happy ones!   

Finally, I am printing the last page of the slideshow.  I wish I could give a copy to every administrator, supervisor, legislator, and parent in the U.S.  Kids need to read.  Nothing will teach them more in life or school than READING.   Plain, unadulterated, uninterrupted READING.  Reading improves test scores, relationships, and lives.  

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