The Week in Reading 5/25/20 #imwayr

I can’t recommend “We’ve Been Doing It Your Way Long Enough”: Choosing the Culturally Relevant Classroom highly enough. Written by two elementary teachers and a teacher-educator, this book is grounded in theory and full of invitations to self-reflect and begin or deepen the internal work necessary to become a teacher who is committed to anti-bias, anti-racist teaching. It’s also full of classroom stories and practical teaching suggestions. I loved the window into Janice and Carmen’s classrooms and marveled at the work their kindergartners and first-graders are doing. These classrooms are full of true scholars, doing original research and creating authentic products to showcase their learning and teach others. I was especially struck by how much writing is happening in these classrooms. When Janice and Carmen need a book on a subject, they simply have their young scholars research and write it! The final chapter acknowledges some of the challenges that might get in the way of culturally relevant and culturally sustaining pedagogy, namely standardization, testing, and time and energy, but never fear: these authors have words of wisdom and practical solutions for every challenge. I would say this is a must-read for K-5 teachers, and it has a lot to offer 6-12 teachers as well. I even took plenty of notes for what I might tweak or add to my college literacy courses!

I am so glad that Lucy Knisley is writing middle-grade graphic novels now! I have loved all of her books, and the highly autobiographical Stepping Stones seems like just the right book to hand to the reader who loves Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels and Jenni Holm’s Sunny series. That said, the adults in this book drove me mad. So invalidating and dismissive of the feelings and experiences of children–really to the point of gaslighting. The stepfather character is often pointlessly cruel and demeaning, and the mom always sides with him, denying Jen’s experience of reality and leaving her without support. The narrative feels very unresolved around these points, like Knisley isn’t aware of how problematic the parents’ treatment of Jen is. In the author’s note at the end, she fondly refers to her stepfather as “bossy and annoying”–but the behaviors we see in Stepping Stones go far beyond bossy and annoying. Because the behaviors never really get called out (except by another child) and because we never see the parents making any strides toward personal or emotional growth, I worry that the book normalizes what is really quite damaging.

Explorers of the Wild has been sitting on my shelf unread for years. One small silver lining of quarantine reading is that I’m searching for any and every picture book I own that I haven’t yet read because I miss picture books! This is a funny and clever story. Adults will likely see where it’s going, but it was still a treat to see how these two characters meet and become fast friends. The art pops off the page with all its colors and details.

This week, I’m planning to finish Elizabeth Acevedo’s new novel, read another professional development title, and allow myself the treat of one or two more unread picture books. What will you be reading?






18 responses to “The Week in Reading 5/25/20 #imwayr”

  1. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) Avatar

    “We’ve Been Doing It Your Way Long Enough” looks like necessary reading for many educators.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Stepping Stones since I first read it, and you’re absolutely right about the adults in that book. The gaslighting is incredibly concerning and even though I initially enjoyed the book, the behavior of her future stepfather continues to concern me.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m glad it wasn’t just me! I was so stressed reading the book, and like you, I keep thinking about the adults. I think I would have been less deserved if the narrative somehow made it clear (as middle-grade usually does quite well) that this isn’t ok rather than just accepting it.

  2. jumpofffindwings Avatar

    Thanks for this post. Somehow I missed last week’s reflection on the reading/writing workshop but read it today. I’ve ordered Bohmer’s book. He and his wife’s presentation at an NCTE Convention about discarding the “deficit model” of teaching has remained with me.) Now, as a mostly-retired teacher—especially since the pandemic has effectively halted substitute teaching—I often think about the observations that make their way into my writer’s notebook in the form of small “notes to self,” things I wish I’d stuck with when I was engaged in the daily work of teaching. Writing and reading conferences truly are about us talking authentically with young fellow practitioners of the Language Arts. When you write: “Don’t try to tackle all of it all at once. Workshop teaching is complex. It’s the kind of teaching you excel at over a lifetime, not in a couple of years,” you have said it ALL! The reason the “experts” are worth listening to is that despite their status, they continue to evolve, to do that reflection you emphasize.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think that must have been an old post popping up? I think I wrote that for my preservice teachers. I love that they are so inspired to teach in the workshop method, which I think is the best of all possible teaching universes! I’m currently reading Kate Roberts’s A Novel Approach, though, and finding her contention that we can do workshop AND whole-class novels very persuasive.

  3. lindabaie Avatar

    I enjoyed your review of the new teaching book. Though I don’t read them anymore, it does sound like one I would like & be inspired by. I have Stepping Stones on my list & hear you when you say you miss those picture books. I have only a couple left from a publisher, but hoping the library will open soon! Have a great week ahead, Elisabeth!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I found a couple of books in my office last week that I didn’t think I had read yet and brought them home! Eventually ALL the picture books will be read. And yes, I’m going to be very happy when I feel like I can safely use the library again! I’ll be very curious about your thoughts on Stepping Stones.

  4. Completely Full Bookshelf Avatar
    Completely Full Bookshelf

    These books sound great! “We’ve Been Doing It Your Way Long Enough” sounds like it has some really useful insights to offer. It’s a shame that Stepping Stones has such a major flaw in it, but it otherwise sounds good! Explorers of the Wild sounds sweet as well. Thanks for the great post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I didn’t finish much this week but was glad to have read everything I did!

  5. Shaye Miller Avatar

    I feel your pain on picture books, Elisabeth. I mean, for a while I’ve had the continual influx of ILL picture books to dig in during social distancing. But the last batch I ordered has taken three weeks (and I still don’t have them). The public library is allowing only 8 people to check out books per day, and they are limiting each family to only THREE books. So yeah. That’s not working so well for a family our size. Anyway, I will always see you as the queen of graphic novels. And that’s a very good thing because they are a huge deal here in the Miller home. Breena (yes, the just-turned-six-year-old) is completely enamored with HiLo. She started book #1 earlier this week and it in the last few pages of book #6 (speaking of… we bought the entire series for Christmas and when I discovered we have two of book #4 on the shelf, I remembered that one of them is YOURS). Lemme know if you have any good graphic novel recommendations for a 6 year old who has already told me she guesses she’ll just start the HiLo series over again once she finishes it. LOL Bonus points if your recommendation is available for local check out. 😉

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Trying to wrap my mind around the random number 3. What in the world??!! I would struggle with 3 books per person, but 3 per family is really strange to me. There must be some rationale for it, but I can’t quite follow! If Lee wants to go to my office and borrow books, please just let me know because I’d be happy to loan out any of the books that are just sitting there collecting dust! I promise not to limit you to just 3!!! And there’s definitely something for everyone in there! Has Breena read Zita the Spacegirl series? I would think that’s a good one for a HiLo fan! Chad Sell has a new one out too that looks good–maybe right for her age? I haven’t seen it yet so don’t know for sure!

      1. Shaye Miller Avatar

        Completely agree on the number three. When I asked why every family was limited, they offered: “Well, you can check these three out today then come back and return them tomorrow and check out another three.” Of course, this assumes they have enough appointments available (they allow four people to schedule a check out appt in the morning and four in the afternoon). AND it’s only increasing our public exposure to keep coming back every day. Ugh. And on Zita… I’m on it. Already put in a request. Thanks for reminding me of this series. I haven’t read it, but it does look like something that will work well. YAY!

  6. Ms. Yingling Reads (@MsYingling) Avatar

    I’ve been waiting to read Stepping Stones, but now may just pass. I have a lot of graphic novels that may not come back, so I may replace some of those rather than spending money on this one.

  7. Earl @ The Chronicles Of A Children's Book Writer Avatar

    I’ve been intrigued by Stepping Stones so it was helpful to read your review.

  8. cweichel Avatar

    Stepping Stones was already on my list but after reading your review here I went to see if my library has it – Both have it on order, and one has the ebook. Hurrah! I put a hold on it. Explorers of the Wild looks just delightful. I am soon going to be combing my one bookshelf here full of vintage picture books just so that I can read some. Happy reading this week.

  9. Michele Knott Avatar
    Michele Knott

    Stepping Stones is the next graphic novel in my pile. It does sound a bit concerning. Is it one you would still recommend putting in the hands of young readers?
    I added “We’ve Been Doing It Your Way Long Enough” onto the TBR. Sounds important to read.

  10. aaroncleaveley Avatar

    Explorers of the Wild is one of the more popular picture books in my library. We buy pretty much everything Cale Atkinson does, he is one of the more local picture book authors for us, and as you wrote, his art really pops off the page. I find the pre-K and K to really adore that particular title and one of them almost always asks if they can sign out right after I read it.
    I also really appreciated your thoughts on Stepping Stones, thanks for the great reviews.

  11. Melanie White Avatar

    This is so great! Thank you for these recommendations and your timing is perfect as groups of teachers think about new ways of teaching!

  12. ejmam Avatar

    I am with you in picture book limbo! I found a copy of Poky Little Puppy under a bookcase while reorganizing my shelves and read through that.

    Thanks for the teaching practice rec; that looks fascinating.

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