Thursday, October 25, 2018

Read-Alouds and Classroom Novels, Ranked

I've been a classroom teacher for a loooong time. And during that time, in all my iterations (ELD teacher, sheltered history teacher, language arts teacher, reading teacher), I've read to and with students. Right now I'm reading Refugee to four classes and Salt to the Sea to one. They are both great books, but I'm not 100% sure they are great read-alouds. Which got me thinking about the hits and misses of books I've read to my classes.

So I've come up with a highly scientific, color-coded method of evaluating each title on a 100 point scale.

CLIFFHANGINESS: (Which should be a word.) Does it make the kids groan when you stop reading and beg you for the next chapter? Or is it a quiet book where setting and character development are the main attractions? Read-alouds need excitement. 10 points

FAMILIARITY: Do I have to stop every paragraph and explain stuff that most of my kids aren't familiar with? Or can they understand and picture the action pretty easily? It's fine to do some schema activation, but I don't want to have to choose between interrupting narrative flow or leaving half the class in a confused fog. 10 points

HUMOR: Books don't need to be humor books per se, but if a book has a least a few chuckles along the way, it's a definite bonus. 5 points

OUTRAGE: There are many way to make high stakes, but for middle school readers, any time they are appalled on behalf of the protagonist, they will care about what happens next. 5 points

TEACHER ATTITUDE: If I love a book, it shows. If I dislike a book, that also shows. 5 points

SENSE OF PROGRESS: Big-ass books read a tiny bit at a time take forever, and it's hard to maintain enthusiasm that long. 5 points

RISQUE BUSINESS: There is no way I'm going to read even a subtle sex scene to my class. Nor am I going to go all out with cussing. On the other hand, if a book is too juvenile, middle schoolers will resist. Some degree of edginess or snark is appreciated. 5 points

ENTICINGNESS: Is this the first book in a series? One of many books by a prolific author? A great introduction to a lesser known genre? Or even just a book that will hold up to repeated re-reads? A great read-aloud will entice kids to do more reading on their own. 5 points



Now that I've explained the system, let's test it on a book. One of my first read-aloud experiences was with Holes. It was the late 1990s, I was teaching intermediate ELD students who understood a lot more English than they could read, and I scrounged enough copies that they could follow along as I read. I will always remember how impressed we all were when one of the kids figured out that Stanley Yelnats's name is a palindrome.

C Medium. More at the beginning and end. 7/10
F Also medium. The jumping around in time can be hard to follow. 7/10
H Classic. From the nicknames to the general ridiculousness of the situation. 4/5
O It's clear from the get-go that Stanley is getting a raw deal, and we come to empathize with Zero as well. 5/5
T I love it. 5/5
S There's a lot that goes on in a not very long book. 4/5 It 
R Other than taking place at a prison camp...? 3/5
E I just had a kid read the sequel and love it, but a lot of Sachar is either more juvenile or just kinda weird. I liked the one about bridge because my husband plays and I have a working knowledge of it, but how many kids do? 2/5
G This book does not age. It's just a delight. 47/50
TOTAL 84/100


So far, so good. Let's see what the rating scale makes of another book I read to a class in those early days, Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn. My stand-out memory of that is a kid (my first of five or six Jose Sanchezes I've had over the years) saying, "We're learning about the Civil War in history, and this is actually making me care." 

C Toes get cut off, a girl is raped, and young Sarny breaks all laws. 9/10
F Oooh, this one is hard. I always have to read this out loud, because Sarny's dialect is hard for struggling readers to make sense of. I also have to explain quite a bit about slave life and help them read between the lines in some parts. 6/10
H It's not funny at all, but it really shouldn't be, so I won't take off too much. 3/5
O Oh yeah. We are ALL outraged when we read this. 5/5
T One of my favorites. 5/5
S Short, punchy book. 5/5
R Not only does Sarny call the master some well deserved names, there is that rape as well as an implied consensual sex scene. 5/5
E There is a sequel, and there are about 150 other Gary Paulsen books, and there's also Jefferson's Sons, which I'd love to see a student move on to and compare to Nightjohn. 5/5
G When it works for a group, it works really well, but sometimes it just doesn't work. 40/50

TOTAL: 83/100


These are actually scoring a bit lower than I'd expected. I'm going to close this round out with an example of a really good book that didn't work as a read-aloud. When I read Belle Prater's Boy, I loved the old timey quality, the friendship, the mystery, and the characters. When I read it to my students, they hated it, and I had to stop part-way through. 

C There is some element of mystery, as I said, but the stakes just didn't feel high to my students, and there weren't big moves every chapter. 4/10
F Turns out turn of the century Latinx kids in rural Oregon didn't know a lot about turn of the previous century life in rural Appalachia. 3/10
H Nor did they get their sense of humor. 2/5
O Nor did they get the classism and sexism. 2/5
T But I really like this book! 5/5
S Too long, too slow. 1/5
R Squeaky clean. 1/5
E There's a sequel, but nobody was clamoring for it, and I'd have to check to see if she's written other books. 2/5
G I maintain that it's still a good book. It was a Newbery honor book, so it's not just me. 40/50

TOTAL: 60/100 
Boy, that awful 90s cover is not doing this book any favors.


Coming next time: some of the books I've had good success with in more recent years. C

What read-alouds do you remember from school? Any really riveting ones? Any truly terrible ones?

Monday, October 22, 2018

TTT: Things I've Lost

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: top ten villains. But I wasn't feeling it. So I came up with a completely off-topic list that isn't even related to books.

I don't understand why nobody has hired me to do their graphic design.

Are you ready? This week we're going to talk about things I have lost. Not, like, deep things like innocence or my mind, or emotional things like my parents. Just--thing-things. Objects. In roughly chronological order, here are ten things I wish I had kept better track of.

1. My cinnamon bear puppet ca. 1977
The Cinnamon Bear, for those who had a sad childhood without him, is a character from a radio show that was already nostalgic and old-timey when I was growing up in the 1970s. It's about two of the whitest kids ever, Jimmy and Judy, and their magical pursuit of the star that's gone missing from their Christmas tree. Along the way, they meet and are helped by a lovable brown bear who smells like cinnamon. Our local department store hosted Santa, who was kind of creepy with his tight white gloves, and the Cinnamon Bear, who was huggable and wonderful and gave out bear-shaped cookies. I loved him so much that my parents got me a cinnamon bear hand puppet. The first year I went off for a week at summer camp, all week long a similar puppet was held up during daily lost and found announcements, and I felt bad for the kid who'd lost their CB. Then I got home and my mom asked me how I'd liked the friend she'd snuck into my sleeping bag holder. He'd fallen out during transport, and since he was a surprise, I'd never realized that was my bear up there. Tragic.

I don't remember his smile being quite this maniacal.

2. A gold necklace ca. 1979
When I turned ten, my parents gave me a 14k gold chain. It was very simple, and it was meant to be my first piece of "real" jewelry. I loved it and put it on immediately.  I celebrated my birthday with a slumber party in my backyard, and somewhere in our games of freeze tag, it fell off. We searched and searched, but didn't find it until a week later, when my dad found it. With the lawn mower. Ah, gold necklace, it was a great twenty minutes.

3. A family heirloom ca. 1982
My mom's mom's mom's side of the family emigrated to Oregon from Connecticut in the 1800s, coming west in covered wagons. I no longer romanticize that quite as much as I did growing up--PEOPLE ALREADY LIVED HERE--but I am still awed by the courage it would take to walk away from everyone and everything you knew, knowing you'd never be back, not knowing what lay ahead. Hm, I wonder if there are any people doing that nowadays, and how they're treated when they get to their destination? Anyway, before my great-whatever-grandma left home, she went around to friends and families collecting their autographs in a leatherbound book. Like a really intense yearbook signing, with fancy handwriting. In middle school, my mom let me bring it in one day to share with my history class, and I lost it. How? I have no idea. But I did.

from an 1860's handwriting primer

4. Expensive sunglasses ca. 1985
I buy my sunglasses at the dollar store, and there's good reason for that. I was a teen in the 1980s, when designer sunglasses, RayBans, and Vuarnets were all the rage. There was no way in hell my parents were shelling out that kind of money for sunglasses, so I didn't even ask. They did, however, shell out for me to be a foreign exchange student in Norway the summer I turned 16. My mom, not having learned much from the cinnamon bear and gold necklace fiascoes, or maybe thinking I'd matured with age, gave me a pair of medium-expensive sunglasses as a bon voyage gift. (Like, twenty dollar sunglasses, which would be like, I don't know, fifty dollar glasses now?) I lost them on the plane, because of course I did. I was so embarrassed and felt so guilty. I think I ended up telling her I'd lost them on the flight home just so she'd think I at least got to enjoy them during the summer.

I wear my sunglasses at night

5. Six months' worth of film. ca. 1990
I really was fortunate in my youth. Having loved my summer in Norway in high school, I was then able to spend a semester in Denmark in college. It remains one of the best experiences of my life. It was also long before digital photography. I took tons of pictures all spring, but didn't get them developed in Denmark, because, well, everything is expensive in Scandinavia. I brought my rolls of film home to develop (or more likely, ask my dad to get developed). But instead, all that developed was a hole in my duffle bag, through which the small film rolls all escaped.

6. My dolphin ring. ca. 1992
This story is an anomaly on this list, as you'll see in a moment. When I graduated from college, my dad bought me a silver dolphin ring that I wore constantly. A few years later, I was living in a fishing village in Latvia (as one does). I'd gone down to the beach with a book one day, and that evening I realized my ring was missing. I was so sad about it that my little host brother offered to go back with me the next day and hunt for it. I figured there was no way we'd find it, but I appreciated his kindness (my host family relations were pretty fraught, and the twelve year old was the only one who actually liked me), so I agreed. He found it almost immediately, just sitting in the sand.  I wore it another ten years, before I replaced it with my wedding ring, and I still have it in a drawer.

Yes, I'm too lazy to walk upstairs, find the actual ring, and take a picture. You get the idea though, right?

7. My sapphire ca. 2016
This is the only loss on the list that's not 100% my fault. My engagement/wedding ring is white gold, with a sapphire flanked by two diamond chips. It's very me, and I love it. The day before my 15th wedding anniversary, as I was driving to work, I felt something rattling around in my glove, and shook my hand until it went away.  Later that day, my ring snagged on something, and I realized the stone was missing. I have gone over every inch of that car, as well as the parking spot I was in, and it never turned up. To make matters worse, my hand has, um, grown since I got married, and there was NO WAY that ring was coming off, so it just sat there looking dumb and snagging on things until I was able to get my niece to cut it off with her jewelry pliers. So now I have a broken ring without a sapphire. I think if it'd happened in the first few years of being married, I would have been devastated, but we've been together long enough that symbolism and pretty jewelry aren't necessary to make things feel real. It'd be nice to get it fixed or replaced someday, but I'd rather go on vacation, and it's probably more important to keep the cars actually running.

8. My first pair of prescription glasses ca. 2017
My eyesight has always been 20/20, but just as my sisters predicted, around age 45 I started to notice things getting fuzzy. I went in and got fitted with my first prescription glasses, and I loved how sharp they made everything, especially when I was driving. About a week later, I lost them. I have no idea where. Our insurance only covers one pair a year, and my eyesight isn't that bad, so I went back to squinting at objects in the distance.

9. My second pair of prescription glasses ca. 2018
A year later, I went in again and got a new pair. I went for bifocals this time, because now not only do distances get blurry, but extended periods of reading or computer work gives me headaches, and it's hard to be a book blogger without extended periods of reading or computer work. This pair lasted about a month before I put them down somewhere, never to be seen again.  That was in July of this year. Sigh. I walked into conferences the other night and couldn't find my own table because it was so hard to read the names on the signs.

Thanks, Ben, for inventing bifocals.

10. A striped shirt ca. this week
Last year I got a simple long sleeved T-shirt, black with grey stripes. I really liked it. As the weather got cooler this fall, I started looking for it. I can't find it. How does one lose a shirt?

Let me know if you see it around your place.

I guess it could be worse.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon Wrap-Up

Almost 30 hours ago, I started the amazing Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon. In the time since, I've read six books, slept 12 hours, drank four cups of coffee, one glass of apple cider, and three glasses of water, and washed one sink full of dishes, and told three people, with implied eye-rolls, "I can't--it's READ-A-THON."

It went like this:

I haul myself out of bed at 4:45, deeply regretting how late I stayed up the night before. Wash my face, make a cup of coffee and some toast, and settle in on the couch to read. I'd planned on starting with Muse of Nightmares, but I am so bleary that I decide to start with one of my "easy" books--the graphic novel Check Please! that I'd picked up the night before when I was at Powell's seeing Laini Taylor and getting Muse autographed. So at 5:00 am local time, I got started.

Check Please! is adorable. The protagonist is a vlogging, baking, figure-skating southern boy who's starting college in the northeast as a hockey player. His teammates are crass and crude frat bros who are also smart, kind, and funny. I was a little sad to see them tossing "p*ssy" around, because I'd gotten the book for my classroom, and it just seemed a little over-the-top for middle school, especially since it's used by non-evil characters.  On the other hand, when Bitty finally gets up the nerve to come out to a teammate, this dude's unflappable acceptance of him is lovely--and the whole team shares his attitude.

By the time I'd finished, it was 7:00 am, and  I was feeling awake and energized, so I dove into Muse of Nightmares. I'd gotten it signed the night before, as I mentioned (and yes, there's a blog post coming about that--notably, that I sat next to Laini's mom, who was lovely). I'd run out of time to do a full re-read of Strange the Dreamer, but in the previous week I'd re-read the first several chapters, read a couple of recaps, and re-read the last several chapters, so I was fully engaged with the characters and story. Technically I actually started the book while waiting in the signing line, but I went ahead and counted the whole book as a read-a-thon activity. Sue me.

At some point in there, my husband got up, and then left for a day at a bridge tournament, and my daughter got up and quietly snuck into the TV room. I kept reading. Later, my daughter re-emerged and heated us both up some spaghetti. I will admit that I had already plowed through my favorite read-a-thon treat by noon, and was definitely ready for some actual protein and nutrition.

I loved Muse of Nightmares . There were several points at which I though the story could have started wrapping up, but there'd be a lot more book left, so I realized she was not going to take any easy ways out. After all the care she's put into creating the world of Weep, she suddenly takes you flying through the multiverse, and it's amazing stuff. It was also very satisfying to get answers to questions from Strange the Dreamer (Why is Laszlo godspawn? What happened to the other babies?) as well as seeing "knowns" be turned upside down (hint: Ellens).

I finished up around 1:00. I'd given my eyes two breaks: once for a quick nap, and once to tidy up the kitchen a bit. At this point I went ahead and did the dishes fully, again trying to let my eyes relax. Having read my top priority book, I looked over my stack and decided to try a book I keep recommending to kids without having actually read, Dusti Bowling's Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. For this book, I moved off the couch and went to the recliner in the window in our new office area upstairs. The sun was shining in nicely, which helps my poor elderly eyes. I brought up a glass of apple cider and my Trader Joe's caramels and settled in.

The book was a quick read--about two hours--and while I will definitely keep recommending it to kids, it has that middle grade sweetness that as an adult, I don't quite buy. Aven is a great narrator, charming, feisty, and self-aware. She was born without arms, and from kindergarten to 8th grade attends a small school where the other kids are long over being surprised or weirded out by that. But when her family moves to Arizona a month into her 8th grade year, she has to deal with middle schoolers' unwillingness to be associated with anyone or anything odd. This part of the book was really strong, as is her friendship with Connor, a boy whose Tourette's manifests itself mostly in barking. The after-thought add-on of a fat friend and the rather contrived mystery element were what kept me from giving it five stars.  (I wouldn't have taken the star off for being too sweet for grownups, mind you, since the intended audience is actual middle grade kids.)

Happy with my progress so far, I launched into another book I've pushed on kids but still needed to read. The Poet X is a fierce novel in verse that I will continue to recommend, but like Insignificant Events, it wasn't quite the book for me. There's a whole subgenre of "first generation blues" novels, often set in NYC, in which the protagonist struggles with living in modern American society while their parents try to keep them following the mores and morals of their home country. I do have a lot of first and second generation immigrants in my classrooms, and I think many of them will find that these books resonate. But honestly, as the parent of a 12 and a 14 year old, and as someone whose own parents have both died,  it's hard for me to read "my mom sucks" books in the same way I used to.

By this time it was 5:00 pm, and read-a-thon was halfway over. I lay down for a half hour nap that became a 90 minute nap, then took a shower and freshened up overall. A new cup of coffee, some leftovers, and I was ready for my evening push by 7 pm.

I'd been dying to read Victoria Schwab's first middle grade novel, City of Ghosts, but one of my students was reading it. Luckily, Thursday I got my Scholastic book order at school, which included two more copies in case kids want to use it for lit circles. So I finally dove into it--and it was okay. The ol' Schwab darkness was notably toned down, what with it being a MG book. I feel like the series might improve--she set up some interesting aspects. The parents seemed somewhat one-note, the MC was constantly flummoxed by common Britishisms despite being a Harry Potter fan, and the spooky cat on the cover was just a regular ol' pet cat. The creepy parts were pretty creepy though, and I like her ghost buddy quite a bit.

Around 8:30 my husband came home, and when he asked if I wanted to come watch Netflix with him I stared at him in shock and said, "It's READ-A-THON," and he crept away in shame. So when I finished COG around 9 pm, I emerged from the reading zone and hung out with him for a half hour or so. Then I picked up what turned out to be my last book of the event, although if I'd realized that, I may have chosen more carefully.

Lizzie is a modern re-telling of the Lizzie Borden story. I grabbed it at the library awhile ago, thinking I could preview it for my classroom, as kids always ask for scary and horror books. I loved the way she brought the story into modern times, and that the whispers and rumors of Lizzie's sexuality are here brought to the forefront, with a female love interest. Lizzie's mental health is still left in the nineteenth century realm of "female madness," which I found frustrating. By the time you get to the inevitable murders, you are certainly convinced they deserve it (though nobody, of course, deserves to be murdered), but you still don't really get what it is that Lizzie is struggling with mentally. Also, the twist telegraphs itself from the first chapter.

I really wanted to get a few more hours out of the event, either before sleeping, or by waking up early, but it was midnight, I was dead tired, and I can't slay my body over the weekend and expect to function during the week, so I called it good and went to bed. I feel like it was a terrific success overall. I participated in the beginning, middle, and end check-ins and did maybe 2 of the mini-challenges, which is enough to make me feel like a participant but not so much that it takes away from the reading. I got to finish the Weep duology, discover a fantastic graphic novelist, and create time to read three of my classroom library books.  I didn't have to run any errands, nor did I get sick, two things that have affected previous attempts. Now I just have to wait until next April!


Friday, October 19, 2018

Voracious Readers

I've always worked with kids who have a lot of barriers around school in general and reading in particular. Sometimes it's language--13 years teaching ESL means I worked with plenty of kids who were fluent in Spanish, conversant in English, but really challenged by the literacy demands of grade level English classes. Other times it's a host of personal issues, from high mobility to frequent absences to ADHD to trauma in the home that makes it hard to give a rip about what's going on in the classroom.

I work hard to reconnect my students to the power of story. I have expanded my idea of what "real" reading is year by year, and now I push graphic novels, audiobooks, comic books, re-reading books, and reading online. If a kid re-reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over, I let them, because re-reading is a great way to refine and build skills. I read aloud, I embrace students' right to abandon books, I bring in books that are way below and way above my students' age level, and I booktalk constantly. I'm able to get most kids to read SOMETHING, and most kids end the year reading more books than they ever have before. I treasure the times students tell me they stayed up late reading, or ask me for the next book in a series, or groan when I announce the end of reading time.

from Urban Threads

This year, there's been something different going on. Teachers were asked to offer electives in addition to our usual assignment, and while I ended up teaching an independent project elective, a number of kids had signed up for a free reading elective as well. So in each of my reading workshop classes, I have 3-6 kids (out of about 25) who are there because they signed up for that elective. This means that for the first time, I have students in my classes who LOVE TO READ.

It's amazing.

Seriously, I love all my students and I love what I do, but these kids who read constantly are just so dang easy to relate to. There's C., who sped through The Leaving so I could read it next, and wanted to talk with me about what made it so suspenseful. There's K., who asked me to point her to as many GLBQT themed books as I could. There's H. and L., who pass books back and forth between themselves constantly, J. who's reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A., who's reading Shogun, and M., who plows through fantasy series without even coming up for air. Two girls in my independent project elective were struggling with how to fill class time, as their projects are things they are mostly working on at home--so they decided to have a two person reading contest, with the person who reads the most pages in a month getting to pick a book for the other student to buy her.

I pull a book for a student, and they say, "Oh yeah, I loved that one." So points for me for knowing their taste, but I've rarely had students who had already independently read, well, anything.

I brought in the newest Carl Hiasaan book, Squirm and a kid gasped. GASPED. "I didn't know he had a new book out! Can I borrow it, please, please, please?"

I still have kids re-reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the Amulet series, and that is okay. But I also have students reading They Both Die at the End, Every Day, No Choirboy, Graceling, Unwind, The Hate U Give, Ball Don't LieScythe, and Code Name Verity. The books I love are getting checked out, talked about, and passed around. When we go around the room and share what books we're reading and how we like them, so many kids are rating their books 4 or 5 (because Goodreads trained me to use a five point rating scale for books!), which makes my reader's heart happy. It also serves as a great example for my less confident and enthusiastic readers. If your book isn't keeping you engaged, then get a new book, because BOOKS ARE AWESOME, and READING SHOULD BE ENJOYABLE.

A lot of book blog readers were probably kids like that when we were young, but I know some came to the love of reading late. Book fans are my people, but the fact that some of you didn't love reading when you were young actually gives me great hope that I can help some kids make that switch. These eager readers don't actually need much from me. They offer me the joy of a shared love of reading, and they elevate the mood and tempo of my classes. My calling is turning non-readers into readers, but it sure is fun to meet students who already fully identify as readers.

When did you really start to identify as a reader? What books, authors, genres, or experiences shaped that?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Even More Authors

I love author events. Hearing details about their process, seeing how much taller or shorter they are than I imagined, finding out the story behind the story, learning what their laugh sounds like--it's a deeply satisfying blend of celebrity fandom and a master course in writing.

This past weekend I got a double dose of this treat. On Saturday I attended a workshop put on by my state's English teacher professional organization. As part of it, they presented the Oregon Spirit Award winners with their plaques, and then the winners did an author panel as one of our workshop options.

The winners and authors were:
Picture book: Giant Pants by Mark Fearing
Graphic novel: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Middle Grade: Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
YA: This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Debut: The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey

Not all of the authors were Oregon natives (Suvada is Australian!), but they currently make their homes here. I was VERY interested in hearing Suvada speak, since her book was chosen over Strange the Dreamer, which I love.

She mentioned that her book is, on one hand, written for people who want their science fiction to contain REAL science, and who have the background to know when the author is making up crap. She studied theoretical astrophysics at university, so...yeah. She has one of THOSE kinds of brains. But her books are also written to be thrillers, un-put-downable, with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.

THEN she said something so remarkable I'm giving it its own paragraph and going all caps on you guys:


Isn't that nuts?  In a very, very cool and fascinating way?!?

Lawrence thinks and outlines in pictures; Fearing thought the picture are the hard part. Lawrence and Bailey like to take walks while they think. Fearing wanted to create a graphic novel featuring an Indian protagonist for his half-Indian nieces and nephews. Bailey wanted to write a middle grade novel that was set in a rural area.

They talked about tenacity trumping being more important than talent and how being an author is a job that extends far beyond "write a book, get it published." They agreed that "pursuing vigorous critique" was vital, and pointed out that by working with a critique group, they could use the errors and issues they see in others' work to improve their own. Finally, both Bailey and Suvada said they take quizzes as their characters. If you know your character's Hogwarts House, Meyers-Briggs type, and what kind of donut they are, you can be sure that the decisions they make really come from who they are.

They also asked us, as a roomful of teachers, what we most wanted to see more of, especially for our struggling readers. Immediate drop into action, I told them. More sports, another woman suggested. First person POV  feed their voyeuristic tendencies, added another. Latino boys. Snappy chapters. More graphic novels, please, please, please.

Ah, but I mentioned a double dose. I'd been unsure if I'd have time on Sunday to see Kwame Alexander, but as it turned out, I did, and I got to bring my daughter.  She was highly skeptical--little Miss "I only read books that walk a fine line between horror and thriller" did NOT think she'd be interested in an author who has written novels in verse about boy athletes. But he's amazing, so she ended up happy I'd forced her to accompany me. I was astounded to see how small the audience was, nothing like the crowd that turned up for V. E. Schwab just over a week ago. I decided it's because Schwab fans can stalk her online and drive themselves to an event, whereas Alexander fans might not even know authors go on tour.  But Alexander puts on a SHOW. I mean, the man travels with a guitar player. He reads, tells stories, makes jokes, shares his philosophy, and encourages audience participation. It was incredible.

The Crossover was turned down by 18 editors before it sold. It was something like his 22nd book, too, so it's not like he was an unknown. I don't see how anybody could have read it and not been blown away, but apparently they felt that GIRLS don't read books about BOYS, and BOYS don't read books of POETRY, so there would be no audience.

Joke's on them.

I just wish my admin had gotten his act together in time to get me a bus. I would have LOVED to show up with 30 middle schoolers. We would have been the audience Alexander (and his guitar playing friend) deserved.

Here are the books he read to us from or quoted from (that I know of!). Read them all, please.

Monday, October 15, 2018

TTT: Best Loved Libraries and Bookstores

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: bookstores and libraries you've always wanted to visit.

But I'm pretty content with the ones I've already been to. I guess I'd like to see the lions outside the New York Public Library, but that's about it. 

Here then, are ten libraries and bookstores that have been important in my life. Since I've written more than once about the glories of my current home library, I'm not including it here, but rest assured, it is my all time favorite. 

1. The Capitol Hill branch of the Multnomah County Library system was my first library. I've written about it extensively before. I definitely trace my love of libraries back to this branch.

2. Similarly, Annie Bloom's Books was "my" first bookstore. I could walk there too, although it was a longer trek, and often my friend and I would ride our bikes. It used to be located across the street from where it is now, a fact I cling to as proof of how long I've been a customer. My parents were acquainted with one of the owners (the Bloom part), and in high school I swam with the sons of the other owner (the Annie part). They have a store cat, a black one, and it seems to me they always have, which must mean they purposefully replace each cat with another mellow panther. It's *cough* not the cheapest store around, but they have a wonderful selection. My tattered, beloved copy of The River Why came from Annie Bloom's.

3. Riga's English Language Library was one of the many bonuses of living in the capital city for a year with my husband, after spending nearly five years in rural Latvia in my twenties, long before reading online was an option. I can't find mention of it online anymore, but I could walk you there right now. It had limited hours and limited selection, and my library card was handwritten. It was made up of donations, I'm sure. I got the biography of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' lead singer there, and The Dogs of Riga, which was a trip, given that I was living in the neighborhood Wallender visits. I also borrowed The Grapes of Wrath from this library, for which I will always be grateful. While I'm talking about Latvia, I have to give a shout-out to the wide windowsill in my Peace Corps apartment, where I housed my bilingual dictionaries and the handful of books I'd brought with me or borrowed from friends.

4. I worked in interlibrary loans all four year I was in college. Middlebury College's library is called the Starr Library, which I always thought was a lovely name, even if it's just named for a donor. This was still in the era of card catalogues and metal stacks, though we used computers to track down and request books our patrons were looking for. My bosses, two women slightly older than my parents, were lovely and provided several of us with moral support and a place to get occasional home cooked meals.  I researched papers in the study carrolls (but had to go over to the computer lab to actually write them) and tracked down fiction from time to time--Atwood, Tolkien, and le Guin.  

5. After college, I spent some six months as a page for the Beaverton City Library, which was then housed in a former supermarket. It was a really pleasant job--fun coworkers, lots of books. I first heard the term "cyberpunk" while I was working there, and I learned about Sherman Alexie when a coworker and I saw Smoke Signals. I remember being amused by the whole hiring process--there was an alphabetizing test in which I had to organize a cart of books, and during the first week on the job I was loaned a car so I could go get my drug test done. I'm not sure how they would have handled having loaned me a car if I'd failed it, but it was probably pretty clear how unlikely that was.  

6. The Lion and the Crab was the name of a bookstore in the beach town we spent a lot of time in when I was growing up. I always remember the name because it was based on the owner's astrological signs, and my birthday lies at the cusp of Cancer and Leo. I usually just window shopped, but I do remember my big sister buying me a few books there for my eighth birthday--I want to say Understood Betsy and The Good Master.


7. Powell's City of Books is the main branch of Powell's, and still the best of all. I have spent hours and hours wandering the many diverse rooms before repairing to the coffee shop to make my choices. I've taken students there and watched their jaws drop, and I've taken foreign guests there and seen their awe. I feel like it's more expensive that it used to be, but honestly, that may just be because I'm more likely to be looking for current books, not focusing on finding those used books at amazing prices. I used to love their travel branch, housed under the stairs in Pioneer Courthouse Square, where you could get bilingual dictionaries, travel guides, and things like plug converters or luggage tags. But nowadays I'm more than happy with their suburban branch, a mere four miles from my house, with its spectacular YA section and frequent author guests.

8. The library at my elementary school was impressive to me not so much because of the books--the public library had a better selection--but for its design. There was a sort of terraced sunken living room area where we'd gather for the librarian to read to us, and there was a loft full of beanbags and pillows where we could read after checking out books. Lucky kids.

9. I'm all about supporting local, independent booksellers, but I have never turned up my nose at a big chain either. There was a Border's Books located just about halfway between the town where I first taught and the suburb where my sisters lived, and we used to meet there for coffee and a good browse. After I got married and also moved to that suburb, I would meet my friends from the town I worked in and we'd grade papers there. I also have to admit that I like my local Barnes and Noble, which is probably close enough to walk to were I less lazy. 

10. In fifth grade, I was in this class that gathered on Wednesdays, and several times we went downtown to the Multnomah County Main Library and did research. At the time, that meant learning how to use a card catalogue and how to request items from the stacks (although fiction was housed on the accessible shelves). It's a grand old building, and we loved both the old fashioned elevator and the wide, curving marble stairs. I haven't been in it for years, but I still feel a rush of affection every time I see it. 

BONUS: I really love my classroom library. I am super proud of it and how much I've done to make it responsive to my students' interest and reflective of who they are.  I spend way too much of my own money on it, which is a whole 'nother issue, but I'm willing and able to do so for now. 

CAVEAT: I know I am immensely privileged and fortunate to have always been surrounded by so many excellent bookstores and libraries, and that these are resources many don't have access to. Kate of A Backwards Bookshelf has an excellent post about this issue. I'm a big fan of First Books, which provides low-income schools deeply discounted a highly relevant materials, but even the many great programs that exist in the US to address "book deserts" do little to address this on a global scale.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon Prep

I've been doing the semiannual Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon for about three years now. I had to miss last spring's, which made me very sad, so I'm doubly excited for this fall's read-a-thon, which takes place on Saturday, October 20th. I'm also a bit nervous, because in the past 18 months or so, I've started to experience eye fatigue when I read too long. I'm hoping that by coming up with a good variety of texts I can break up my time into chunks and maximize how much reading I can get done in 24 hours.

That being said, here is my current not-so-short list of books to read:

Lily and Octopus
Muse of Nightmares

The Assassination of Brandwain Spunge
The Story of Owen

Green Card
The Poet X
Jazz Owls
Miles Morales
Getting Away with Murder

Hey Kiddo
(Muse of Nightmares qualifies here too)

Organized differently, this list of 11 books includes one graphic novel, two novels in verse, two nonfiction books, one adult novel, and five MG/YA novels. Which is a pretty good mix of material to keep me going even if I get tired. My usual strategy is to start the day with my longest book, so I will probably begin with Muse of Nightmares, then read a bunch of shorter pieces throughout the rest of the time.

As for the other important element, reading snacks, I will alternate cups of coffee with glasses of sparkling water mixed with OJ, and I will stock up on rice crackers and dip, carrot sticks, caramels, cookies, and soup broth (so it can be drunk from a cup instead of requiring tricky spoon maneuvers that could result in splashed pages). I will request sandwiches from my daughter in exchange for the fact that she will most likely have unfettered screen time all day (though I hope to persuade her to spend some reading time with me too). 

As far as my strategy goes, my time zone begins at 5 am. It's less than an hour before my weekday wakeup time, so I should be able to get off to a good start. I anticipate taking a mid afternoon nap (or maybe a mid morning one, depending on how my eyes are doing), then staying up past midnight. In past years, I've had to stop reading from exhaustion, but then I come back the next day to finish whatever book I was in the middle of. My first year I had a whole spreadsheet set up and I tried to do each hourly challenge, but I've come to realize that all I really want to do on read-a-thon day is read. So I will only check in between books, not on an hourly basis.

Friday, October 12, 2018

September in Review (Late! Geez!)

My Reading

# of books read: 11, including a record-breaking 3 re-reads
Best(s):(In which I tell you all my five star reads and make up categories so they each win something)**

Library Love: +6, so 105/60.
Beat the Backlist: +7, so 109/100
Goodreads: 135/52
Popsugar: +2, so 30/52
Discussion Challenge: +1, so  7/12 I did keep my vow from last month to read a bunch of the discussion posts, which was a blast. My own discussion was on banned books, which has become sort of an annual thing here on Falconer's Library.

**Though this month, only Vicious actually got five stars. Plenty of four stars though!

Bookish Events and Happenings

Things picked up here this month! I got to see V. E. Schwab at Powell's Books, which was great fun. I posted about it here.

I celebrated Banned Books Week in my classes and made a hallway display that I'm actually going to leave up for awhile. My favorite library was giving away a banned book if you took a selfie with their display, and the let me take two books for my classroom: Among the Hidden and a Spanish language copy of Paper Towns (Ciudades de Papel). I have two non-English speaking students taking my reading class as an elective this semester, and I'm trying to stock my library with some options for them.

 In addition to my library and local bookstores, I got to visit an independent bookshop called Artifacts in Hood River, which advertises "good books and bad art."  And oh my word, are they correct on both points. I think it's a local tradition to dump terrible paintings on their doorstep. If they're bad enough they put them on the wall with ten dollar price tags. They had a bunch of sassy magnets and cards and so on in addition to a pretty complete used/new book mix. I was able to pick up a few used books for my classroom, and some great cards too.

I also got deliveries from my Donors Choose project; three big boxes of sets of 2-4 books for student book clubs. Some were books I'd been unable to track down copies of at all, so I was super excited about them.

On the Blog

I posted seven times, which is becoming the norm these days. I'm not sure what I'm doing that's getting in the way of me blogging more. Well, it really helped when my kids had weekly events where I had to wait for them. My TTT post about my fall TBR got the most pageviews and comments. (I've actually read 2.5 of the books on that list already, which is probably a record for me and prescribed reading lists I make myself.)


Another lovely month, really. We've had great weather for the most part--I wear gloves in the morning because the steering wheel is cold, but by afternoon I'm in short sleeves. Early in the month I spent a full day (7 am until midnight) on an outing with my sister. For various reasons, she didn't get much Summer in her summer this year, so we tried to cram a vacation into a day. We took a hike, had coffee at two different places, picnicked in our car with a gorgeous sunset view, and yeah, went to that bookstore. 

I was pretty social overall this month--went to a trivia night sponsored by the library with a co-worker and her friends, attended another work social hour, took my niece* out for dinner, enjoyed a birthday brunch with a group of old friends, and started attending Latvian choir once a week. For me, that's quite a bit. 

And now we're so far into October that I had to erase some of what I wrote because I'd forgotten it happened THIS month. I hope you're enjoying your autumn, if that's what is going on where you live. 

*Different nieces, both awesome.

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!