30 October 2011

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

One of my students asked me the other day, "Is that a good book?" After I said that it was, he said, "I should make you write me a letter when you're done with it!"

Touche, my little friend.

As some of you know, I have challenged my 7th grade classes to read 21 books this year. When they finish with each book, they have to write me a letter depending on what genre the book belongs to. So, why not write a bit about what I'm reading? Maybe it will make my minions happy when I tell them...

My first reaction to thick Young Adult books is, "I'll pass." I wasn't looking forward to another long book with little to no literary connection, and a plot soaked in action-for-the-sake-of-action-so-the-kids-will-buy-more-books kind of action.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by Inkheart.

The best place to start is with an excerpt. Mo, one of the main characters, tells his daughter Meggie:

If you take a book with you on a journey...an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it...yes, books are like flypaper - memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.

25 October 2011

Educational Matters

Sometimes, education doesn't matter.

There are days I get so wrapped up in how I'm going to present new concepts, or cover all the required material, or "get that kid to get it," I forget that sometimes giving a student an education is my second job.

Just this week I was bemoaning the fact that my classes are behind according to the curriculum map. I even told a friend, when he asked what I can do about it, "Well, just stay behind I guess." I was thinking how absurd it is to rush my students on, and especially, how sorry I was feeling for myself because of all the daily challenges I face - besides simply being behind.

Then one of my students told me, "I've been gone because my mom's boyfriend kicked us out, and we'll be moving in two weeks." She's new to our school district this year. This won't be her last move. To top it off, she's behind as far as reading skills, which puts her behind in most of her subjects. When she moves again, she'll have to "catch up" with her new teachers, and the cycle begins again.

Getting her to read every day, adding words to her vocabulary, and explaining new literary concepts and text characteristics to her, all those things that are important to her education, seem a pitiful cause when compared to her life with her broken family.

21 October 2011

The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan

I just finished reading the graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, by Matt Phelan. It's set in Kansas during the Dust Bowl, and told through the eyes of Jack, an eleven year old boy. Jack is desperate to please his father and contribute in some way, but, as his sick sister points out, the dust has taken away his chance to grow up.

Matt Phelan's sketches are what really tell the story. In the Author's Note Phelan says, "It was the faces. Against a backdrop of a vanishing farmland, these faces stared at the camera with haunting directness." He was speaking of photography from Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, but it's his sketches that have the same effect in The Storm in the Barn.

The faces of the men who have nothing else to do but play dominoes at the town store, the faces of Jack's parents as they struggle to provide and care for three children, the faces of the town bullies after they partake in a jackrabbit drive - all of them hint at the plight of real people.

16 October 2011

Writing as a Profession

I'm tired of reading about the profession of writing. I've read a few posts by "writers" lately who are so focused on defining the parts of writing as a pro, or establishing themselves as a full time writer, that they seem to be distracted from capturing what called them to be a writer in the first place. That is, they seem to be forgetting that they are called to create something beautiful.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs, and I know I have a lot of the same dreams - I DO want to write full time - however, the last thing I want is to be distracted by this notion that I'm only a professional.

Am I a romantic? A flake? Do I place writing on too high a pedestal?

Here's a quote by Pico Iyer that I really like:

The less conscious one is of being "a writer," the better the writing. And though reading is the best school of writing, school is the worst place for reading. Writing...should be as spontaneous and urgent as a letter to a lover, or a message to a friend who has just lost a parent...and writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.

12 October 2011

Winnie the Pooh

The bear necessities...
Oh, that bear with very little brain, that poet-bear, that eater of honey, friend of pigs and donkeys, and companion-comforter of children for decades! Oh bear, we do love you!

My parents gave me the complete collection of Winnie the Pooh on CD for my birthday this year, and the last few days I've been listening to the stories on the way to and from school. I find myself laughing out loud.

As a child, I had a couple cassettes of the same recordings by Peter Dennis, and I all but wore them out. Dennis does such a great job with all the voices, and he has been endorsed by none other than the real Christopher Robin. Check out a sample of his readings here, and I'm pretty sure this is the only place to get the CDs - I haven't been able to find them anywhere else anyway.

Disney doesn't have anything on Peter Dennis - or the original stories for that matter! The whole set also includes When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six - 79 poems that are just as compelling as Pooh at their best, and cute and laughable at their "worst." Of the poems, the one that has stuck with me the most is called "The Emperor's Rhyme." The Emperor uses simple math (or not so simple math) to calm himself in sticky situations, such as when the queen misuses the starch.

In The House at Pooh Corner, Pooh finds himself in the middle of a major conundrum; whom shall he go see this morning? Not Owl, because he uses long words - maybe Rabbit, because "he says sensible things like, 'help yourself Pooh.'" A bear with very little brain? I think not!

08 October 2011

New Page: Quotes

One of the ways I remember things I've read is to record small quotes. When I first began this blog, I added a couple of quotes from George MacDonald that inspired me. But because I have so many that I think about adding, I've decided to dedicate a whole page to quotes.

You can click here to go to the page, or click on the "Quotes" link just below the blog title.

Here's one to whet your appitite:

You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera.
And grace before the concert and the pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

-G.K. Chesterton

05 October 2011

Teaching Students to Read Meaning - Not Just Words

My classes are just finishing a unit on story structure and I'm preparing for the next. So, in order to find some good examples to share during the next note-taking round, I did some research about inferences. I did find a couple paragraphs for my students to read and make conclusions about, then we'll discuss what was meant and what was actually said.

It's so difficult to convey to a 7th grader that you indeed have to "read between the lines." (You see, now we have to back up and explain, yes, this phrase is an idiom, yet another form of figurative language you have to know. The phrase means you have to use what evidence you see in the text and fill in what the author isn't saying. [All this time I've been ignoring the hand at the back of the room, yes? What's figurative language?] Sigh. At least they're asking!)

Ah, back to reading between the lines. Always I hear things like, "but I don't get it," when we've finished reading a story or article. And, besides a gap in vocabulary, a deficiency in attention, or an inability to read quickly enough to garner meaning, this is where we have to build a bridge between what's said and what's not. It's a constant battle for myself, let alone for my students - and we wonder why children who haven't been exposed to reading don't like books!

They don't get it.

02 October 2011

Morning Commute

A few weeks ago I left for school early so I could take a few pictures. I'm not even close to a professional photographer, but sometimes my camera finds some good looking stuff.

 It was raining the way to my pit-stop, and the sun was just approaching. The color change was amazing when I faced the west:

 To the east again, this time behind some full-grown grasses:

 The clouds were so smoke-like, but they were just warning me of rain, not fire:


I had to get these flowers, which I think are called sunflowers, although not the seed-bearing type. The second one was blowing a bit hard:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...