On the blog:
- A curation of some of my favorite online reading from last week
- An interview with recent teacher intern Kelsey Empfield about what she learned
- A slice/metaslice about why I love mornings and why it’s hard to slice about them
There is not much to report. I am not finding this summer of hardcore intensive parenting conducive to much reading (though I’m hopeful that it is conducive to much healing and attachment). My son and I continue to plug away at Liesl Shurtliff’s Jack, which I think we’re both enjoying, and my own book is the new Penderwick title, which I’m loving. It’s just what I need right now. Even though my son is now off of picture books once again, I did persuade him last night to let me read a few to him just so that I would have some finished books to share this week. Our exchange was not without amusing commentary.
Him: Wait, people on the Internet want you to read this book and tell them what you think of it?
Me: Ummm…. sort of?
Him: (incredulous) Why would anyone on the Internet care what you think about this book?
I intended to read a dozen or so professional development books this summer, but I’ve only managed to skim two (The Unstoppable Writing Teacher and the new edition of In the Middle) and read one (Living Between the Lines)–but what a great one I chose for the single title I’ve managed to read carefully and finish! As I was reading Living Between the Lines, I found myself copying many passages into my notebook. There are so many wise and inspiring–and challenging–words about writing and teaching writing in this book. The overall argument is that we must live in the world as writers and find ways to bring that living and that writing into our classrooms. This is a book that you could return to again and again over a long teaching career and glean something new and meaningful each time. I’m not sure how much I would have really understood or connected with this book if I had read it early in my teaching career, at the beginning, say, of implementing a workshop approach. But I can’t imagine a book more able to inspire and guide deeper writing in the classroom or to reinvigorate workshop teachers than this one. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth review later in the week.
I liked A Fine Dessert but didn’t love it as much as others have. I wonder if that’s partly a function of my particular reading context? I was reading this one aloud to my son, and he was getting antsy and bored and wondering aloud if anything was going to happen. Well, four different families are going to make some blackberry fool. That’s what’s going to happen! I also ended up wanting some kind of bigger pay-off from the narrative. The details of how the dessert was made over 400 years didn’t change enough to emphasize the theme of change, yet I never felt the point of the story was to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same either. I just wasn’t sure what to do with this book. The illustrations by Sophie Blackall are incredibly charming, and Emily Jenkins’s writing is strong, but I was left pondering the “so what.” One I will return to when I’m teaching Children’s Lit face to face and can read it aloud to a different audience.
We did not struggle to understand the larger point in the other dessert nonfiction title we read this week, Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. This book makes history engaging and wonderfully accessible for very young readers. A rather portly baker, originally from Germany, decides to join the revolutionary cause despite his girth–and age. George Washington finds a place for him baking bread for the troops, but his most important mission is to meet secretly with England’s hired German mercenaries and persuade them to switch sides. Vincent Kirsch’s art is absolutely brilliant here: every page is like a plate of gingerbread cookies, warm from the oven, only so subtly done that it never feels cartoonish.
George Mendoza’s eye-popping paintings are reason enough to check out Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza. The book’s full title explains the real draw: the unlikely and inspiring story of a blind man who participates in the Special Olympics as a runner and who has made a name for himself as a painter. It’s a unique and important story, but I did not think this picture book worked particularly well. Hayley Morgan-Saunders contributes uninspired line drawings to supplement Mendoza’s paintings, and the text by J.L. Powers is confusing and underdeveloped.
I really liked Kate Messner’s How to Read a Story and can imagine a place for this title in most classrooms, K-12. It’s about the joy and wonder of reading, and it also gives specific good advice for reading aloud and for managing typical reading problems, such as encountering unfamiliar words. The illustrations have a timeless feel, made a bit more quirky by Mark Siegel’s decision to color the dog blue.