Upcoming Summer Reads

The tax return is in, and after paying off a hefty vehicle bill, I have taken the privilege of ordering summer books.  Is summer everyone’s favorite time to read?  It wasn’t when I was child or teen because I was go, go, go and baseball, fish, baseball.  But now, as I’ve grown older I think it has become my favorite time to read.  The pages of books warm up, and the entirety of my community setting becomes a place to indulge in good books.  I can read outside, on the porch, in the hammock, or under a tree miles from the drone of any vehicle or lawnmower.  Of course I’m still working full time, but the hours off work become a homogeneous existence of reading, fly fishing, and some camping.  I’ve certainly read more this semester than ever before, volume wise.  So how will I challenge myself to continue forward with this reading habit?

I’ve done some math and I figure right now I’m reading about 400-600 pages a week.  This may not be a lot for some people but it is a heavy load for me.  I’ve done the Kittle time clock and I think I can read at a rate of 50-70 pages an hour in the young adult genre, and can read 20-30 pages an hour in the genre of adult fiction/nonfiction/challenging texts.  Since I will be reading mostly in this second category this summer, I will base my reading off of that rate.  I’d like to average two hours of reading a day, and I’m setting that a little low in order to account for days when I push ahead of that mark.  So, I’m going to set a goal of 75 pages a day, which puts me at approximately 500 pages a week.  In otherwords, two books a week by the numbers.  Two books a week, over roughly thirteen weeks, would give me the goal of twenty six books this summer.  I can’t think of anything lucky about the number twenty six, except it being my current age.  I have the courage to reach for that mark.

What am I going to read?  Twenty six books is a lot to plan for.  I’ve never read that many books in a summer, and it’s not close.  I will start with a favorite author of mind, whose anthology I would like to complete; Cormac McCarthy.  My first four books will be Blood Meridian, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, and Suttree.  Moving on from there I will go to Cather with Death Comes for the Archbishop.  I’d like to be done with those by the end of May.  Entering the dog days of summer I will reach to Jim Harrison and the books Dalva, Legends of the Fall, True North, and The River Swimmer.  When the weather really gets hot and sticky I will continue with Faulkner and the follwing titles: The Reivers, Absalom! Absalom!, Intruder in the Dust, Seven Short Story Volumes.  I’m about halfway with these books I have mentioned.  This might be a good time to read some more young adult books.  Maybe a slew of graphic novels to get my numbers up, and what do I care about numbers, I just like graphic novels.  Random books that I want to read are The Idiot by Dostoevsky, Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

If I read twenty six books I will be really surprised with myself and I foresee myself landing in the thirteen to fourteen range, but the goal is there.  As far as discipline goes, the only way to read more is to hold myself accountable.  Reading will stay a habit because I love books, so I’m not to worried about that.  Also finding good books to read shouldn’t be too hard with the internet at hand.  Another goal of mine this summer is to find two or three more “go-to” authors.  I wish everyone the best of luck in their reading lives this summer!

Book Unity

Part of the reason I am inspired to read is because I desire to know what other people think of the books I have read.  Narrowing the lens further, I am inspired to read in order to gain a grasp of how other people decode themes presented in books.  Penny Kittle’s chapters eight and nine in Book Love are talking about this exact thing.  Kittle titles it “interdependence” and “school community of readers,” but an even simpler term would be unity.  I think she may have even used a team sports’ cliche or two in the chapters of our reading.  It really is important though.  We can become good readers and writers by ourselves, but in order to attain a higher level of skill and knowledge we must connect with people who are doing the same thing.

Kittle first idea, which is fantastic, is her themed notebooks, or what she calls her “big idea books.”  These are merely notebooks with one theme written on the cover.  That theme may be love, social isolation, family, or any number of different themes..  What makes this exercise unique is that the notebooks are used by everyone in the class.  Upon reading a book in Kittle’s classroom, a student will grab the corresponding notebook for the major themes in their book they just read.  The student will then write a summary or reflection on the theme they have chosen from their finished book.  By writing in these notebooks, students can read what their classmates have discovered about the same themes.  This brings a class together by tackling themes from all different angles of perspective.  Kittle aptly places a “rules for civil discourse in community writing” in each notebook to defend against plagiarism and bullying.

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On page 121 of our text Kittle writes, “Prompting students’ thinking by way of inquiry, not direct teaching, is the essence of education.  Students remember what they do and what they discover, not what they are told.”  This is one of the major purposes of the “big idea books;” present students with activities that allow the student to answer their own questions and the teacher’s questions.  It doesn’t stop at reflection notebooks for Kittle.  She also has her students, as a class, connect texts together through the history of literature by what is contained within them.  What this does is show the class the coupling effect books have.  It is one giant book biome formed through hundreds of language reorganization, and thought organization.  This along with “big idea books” are a classroom assignment designed to mold a collaborating classroom.  Kittle calls the “Order of Literature” a “reading journey,” which means that books are not mutually exclusive and desire to be connected and studied for their messages.  Buzzing books quickly is all good but teachers have to expect a high understanding of content dissection.

Chapter nine of Kittle’s book goes beyond the classroom to incorporate the entire school.  This is done through what is called a “Schoolwide Reading Break,” where four days a week the school will break, as a unit, for twenty minutes of silent reading.  One of the goals of schoolwide reading, Kittle says, is “to develop the capacity for sustained, focused attention” and to “invite students” into the reading world rather than coerce them sharply.

If you don’t practice you get worse.  I know if I quit reading and writing for more than a week, I totally leave the mindset and it takes awhile to reform some of the skills I gained.  Some books, writing techniques, and knowledge will stick but much of it goes into hibernation.  This is what summer can do to a student; set them back in their writing and reading growth.  It is paramount for educators that students at least leave school with summer reading and writing goals.  This will help catch up time in the fall, and brings students back to school ready to talk about books.  Kittle suggests setting up reading groups in the summer at local community centers.  Kittle gives us a summer reading goal that stuck with me: “Challenge kids to read three books by one author so they can speculate on a writer’s growth or read three books from a similar time period or analyze the prejudices and unspoken values in a series of fantasy novels.”  I would call these master key reading goals.  For me, reading in series form (not an actual series, though sometimes) can spark substantial insights into writing technique and philosophy.  It really pulls me down a specific alley, and helps me to understand other writing alleys because I’m fully engrossed in an author or time period.  Kittle has rewarding summer reading advice, and that advice is to go somewhere with a plan rather than float around with varied books (though that is not a bad idea either).

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It is a moot point here at the end of the semester, but Kittle succeeded in giving inspiring advice to me once again with this week’s readings.  My main takeaways are to open a classroom to the world of themes, connect books across time, and spread the love of reading to the summer season.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I don’t know why I hesitate to read more graphic novels, inexplicable.  Perhaps “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang will put me on the road to heavier reading in the genre.  Graphic novels engage a different part of my brain due to the all the art and visual cues.  The mood of the characters really pop in graphic novels and take me on a journey of my own inner emotions.  Not only did “American Born Chinese” deliver a somber and hopeful mood to me, it delivered a very good, interesting narrative.

At its twisted heart this book was a work of belonging.  A theme common to young adult novels, and any book for that matter.  There were three stories in the work and three characters that live a separate life of longing.  One character was from Chinese lore, and the other two were as the title suggests, American born Chinese.  The character from the lore section, The Monkey King, struggles to fit in amidst the world created from him by his God, Tze-Yo-Tzuh.  The King is a master of discipline and desires to be a sage emperor of the earth and afterlife.  But Tze-Yo-Tzuh says he has created him in the fashion of a monkey for purpose.  The King constantly turns from this bestowed identity.  The two American characters are Jin Wang and Danny.  Towards the end of the novel it is revealed that the two characters are actually the same.  The reason why this is important in the book is because Jin Wang is constantly fighting against his Chinese ethnicity and desiring to transform into Danny.  The farther Jin Wang steers from who he is, the more he loses his morality and kind soul.  This is all this book is about; steering away from who we are created to be.  Jin Wang even goes so far as to mirage the image of the Chinese Americans around him in order to suit his prejudices against who he actually is.

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If you are a person who likes books about self discovery than look no further.  If you are a person who likes books about the flaws of conforming to an Americanized identity, then pick this one up.  And lastly if you are a person who likes graphic novels in general, then don’t hesitate!

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I went back to Sherman Alexie again this past week; oh me oh my, he can write a good story.  The book is “Flight,” and although it is a little all over the place the vision rings clear throughout; that vision being against violence and self hate in a tight world.  I would maybe suggest this book for upper level young adult readers because of the graphic violence, but then again maybe not.  The violence slowly fades away as the book progresses and leaves the reader with powerful emotions of empathy, and more importantly, understanding.

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The book follows a character called “Zits” through a troubled youth complete with halfway houses, foster homes, and sometimes jail.  Early on, “Zits” is convinced by a random influence to commit a random act of violence.  He strolls into a bank and actually shoots the place up or so it seems.  But Alexie uses this moment to center his novel on the existentialism of violent acts.  Everyone has the ability to choose, a moment will come when a choice is offered; violence or peace.  Luckily, Alexie slowly steers his protagonist away from violence as “Zits” travels through time and is placed in the shoes of people who are faced with violent choices.  Of course, Alexie eventually brings his character back to the bank with a new frame of reference.  I loved this book because it shows how tiring violence can be.  Humanity has ate at itself through bloodshed over its entire history, and Alexie shows the folly in this by painting a world that is filled with pain.  If there is anyone out there who hasn’t read Alexie yet I beg you to reach for one of his titles.  This book can be buzzed in no more than two to three hours.

I also read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card this past week.  I didn’t like this book as much but it still wasn’t terrible.  “Ender’s Game” and “Flight” paired well with one another on the theme of “senseless violence and wars” but I found “Ender’s Game” to be about one hundred pages too long.  But if you like science fiction I bet you would like “Ender’s Game.”  Essentially, the character “Ender” is shown to be a gifted warrior and is placed into service to fight aliens, or “buggers.”  First, Ender must train for the war against the buggers in the battleroom.  I won’t ruin the main twist in the story, but the battleroom is not all that it appears to be.  Ender eventually goes through a major, and I say major, character transformation by the end.  In a nutshell, this book is about the persuasive power of figures in charge, and how the individual must not be drawn into service without the knowledge of what the service will entail.

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As I’ve said, these books paired well, and I walked away feeling more hopeful of the human condition after reading them.  The individual in society will always be weighed down with hate and aggression if they look to outside sources solely for validation and purpose.  The books emphasized the importance of drawing meaning for life from someplace deep inside you; someplace, where love and empathy feel naturally right.  Alexie quoted the great Friedrich Nietzsche in his book and it pretty much sums up these two books, “But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”  Great words.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I stumbled into my favorite young adult book so far this semester with “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers.  The technique of story is so unique in this book it is impossible to dislike.  Just reading this book suggests the many ways authors can play around with story, and is entertaining on that level alone.  Within his creative technique, which I will explain in brief later, Myers presents a somber commentary on the justice system which at times can fail for many reasons.

In “Monster” Steve Harmon is sixteen and on trial for murder.  The boy can’t cope with the situation he is in; primal fear of prison is abundant.  So, in order for Steve to make sense of the situation he finds himself in he creates a movie.  Steve is very good at this, and before the trial he was working on a film for school.  During Steve’s trial he begins the entire script.  This book is written like a play, but includes terms of film such as CU (close up), MS (middle shot), LS (long shot), etc.  These film terms help out immensely with capturing imagery and emotion of scene.  Steve will use these techniques of film script to portray the action taking place inside the courtroom, the prison, and personal flashbacks  At the end of every scene, Steve includes his own inner thoughts on the days proceedings.  It’s just fantastic technique.  It would be a great way of teaching students to write more creatively about scene.  Myers moves the camera in this work, literally, by telling you he is doing it.  While this would get old after awhile because it is too blatant, it works like magic in this book.

The plot of the story is pretty touching.  If you are a person to like any writing or movies that deal with prisoner exoneration, and court room trials, then this is the young adult book for you.  Steve is standing trial for something he didn’t do; only the circumstances of his day-to-day life have landed him here.  But he is here, and he has to fight the image of who the prosecution and jury thinks he is, a criminal.  This book includes heavy commentary on the reasoning process existing in a courtroom and how the principles of law might not have the heart of a sixteen year old boy in the subtext.  Well, Myers knows this too, and he pins the desires of a young boy to be free against an ardent prosecution calling for “justice.”  This book includes unreliable criminal testimonials in abundance, touching family visits to the prison, and prejudicial thoughts and processes that exist in community and in the courtroom.  The title “Monster” deals with labels, and how Steve may never escape his even if he is proven innocent.

The Drive to Read

The four readings presented to us this week all had the common theme of motivation; specifically, how to motivate young adult readers.  So, how is this goal accomplished?  Well there are a numerous amount of methods, but one constant method is readers’ choice.  Giving the students the ability to choose their books is a sure fire starting method of inspiring life long readers.  This article from “Three Teachers Talk” breaks down the advantages of allowing students to choose the books they would like to read, especially in advanced placement English courses.  By allowing students to choose, it encourages better reading and writing workshops, in some instances, if not most.  In a middle and high school level students desire the need for independence, and by allowing them to choose what they want to read it places the power in their hands.  They feel a part of the process, and if anybody feels they are an integral part of a system, they are going to participate more.

Teachers should encourage and motivate students right out of the gate to read, and there are many ways to do this.  The best method is through praise.  Any student wants positive feedback on things they have done well.  As soon as a student reads a book, teachers should not immediately push and drive them forward to the next book.  Instead, reflect and engage with the student on what they learned from the book, how it made them feel, and how it gave their life meaning.  This process of engaging with a student once they have read a book is called “book talk.”  It consists of many different levels of teacher-student engagement and is outlined by Phyllis Hunter in her professional paper. Hunter says it is all about intrinsic motivation and I completely agree.  Intrinsic motivation is simply a hunger to learn with the reward being self realization, enlightenment, and the development of professional reading and writing skills.

Students need to be motivated to read, but without the heavy burden of reading goals.  Some students will be able to handle heavy reading lists with anticipation, but other students will see it as another arduous task.  This goes back to knowing your students’ methods of learning.  If it is necessary to take it one book at a time, then do that.  If the one step at a time method is used then the teacher needs to be able to recommend an array of texts that fit the personality and interests of the student.  Hence, teachers need to be readers and have a diverse inner catalogue.  For example, I am terrible when it comes to following reading lists because I get lost in the enormity of it all.  Therefore, I pick and book and just go without knowing what the next book will be.  This also keeps my reading life loose and free, and can be tied directly to the motivation that comes with student choice.  More important than setting reading lists and goals, is to track the progress that is being made.  By tracking progress, teachers can encourage and give positive feedback on the results in front of them.

Know your students, know what their interests are, and allow them to develop the intrinsic motivation to read.  This development comes through sound recommendation, great reading and writing workshops, and most importantly, positive feedback and encouragement for all students.  Have fun with the entire process, because if reading is only one thing, it is fun.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I read a Coretta Scott King Award Winner last week entitled “When I Was The Greatest” by Jason Reynolds.  I hope some other people in class have an opportunity to read this story and check it off our book bingo sheet.  If I was to say one thing about the book, it would be simply be “it’s a good story.”  The narrative is never stagnant and action is happening regularly, keeping everything fresh and alive.

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This book covers inner city culture and the joys and struggles of the protagonist, Ali.  The book is told in the first person.  The main theme of the story is loyalty, and the extremes people go to to prove it, even if it proves detrimental for themselves.  This book arrives at the question, “When do we let go of unhealthy friendships?” or  “How do we solve our friends and family?”  Ali is a young teenager, fifteen, in Brooklyn living with his mother and sister.  Soon enough, conflict in the book arises when two brother move in next door with their mother.  Ali forms a friendship with the two brothers, Noodles and Needles (the book uses nicknames for everyone).  Needles has likes to knit to keep his turrets under control, Noodles likes to draw comics, and Ali likes to box.  Even though Needles is the brother with a “disability” it is clear that Noodles is going to be the one to drag the other two down, but not in the traditional sense of drugs and crime.   The book centers around the preparation for an exclusive party, and the fifteen year old boys are somehow admitted, and this is where the serious conflict arises.  I won’t give the entire book away but it does not disappoint.

If you want to know more about inner city culture for young adults then I would suggest this book.  Also if you want to study writing and how to develop “setting as its own character” then this book is for you.  The book also offers great commentary on the disability of Needles and how the brotherhood of Needles and Noodles is bound to fail without intervention.  The book is a great guide for young adults on the importance of family, friends, and hobbies over being drug down into the muck of a life of crime and depravity.