Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I have and always will love Jane Austen. I love her even more as I get older because as I tweeted she is the queen of sass. As a kid she was all about the romance but the more I read and grow the more I realize how sassy and sarcastic she is.

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Northanger Abbey is no exception and several times while I was reading the novel I laughed out loud or silently giggled to myself because I was starting to see the parody and the humor.

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine, who being a sweet sensitive girl was often railroaded by friends and family but ultimately found love in the end (like any proper Jane Austen novel). There was several times throughout the novel especially near the beginning where I was like “Cat, stand up for yourself already”, but I think Austen was playing with that idea of manners. Catherine didn’t want to offend her potential future-sister-in-law but she didn’t want to offend her friends either and thus she was stuck.

Catherine also had some fun ideas about the gothic because she had read a lot of gothic novels so she was lost in this fantasy world a lot of the time but that endeared her to me even more. She wanted an adventure when she went to Northanger Abbey and even though she didn’t really get one she found love instead. I know this sounds super cheesy but I really liked the pace and flow of this Austen novel. It wasn’t short and stunted like I think Persuasion reads and it wasn’t long and just goes on forever like Mansfield Park. It was the right kind of length and it explored it’s ideas fully in my opinion. There were questions of class, gender, propriety but it didn’t drag nor did it feel rushed.

I really related to Catherine because not only was she young and excited about life but she didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She wanted to be a people pleaser but when she realized that it was ruining her chances of a happy ending she put her foot down. It was a relatively short novel but there was a lot of character growth and it was just a really pleasant read. It was a great book to end the semester on and overall one of the better examples of the novel, as I think of it, that I have seen this semester so far.

-A

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Creepy! That is the only word I would use to describe the five story graphic novel by Emily Carroll. Author and Illustrator Emily Carroll (who is also illustrating the graphic novel version of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson) has created one creepy book through black, white, blue and red illustrations that come to life on the page.

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I love graphic novels and when my friend Regan showed me her latest find I knew I had to read it. That was like a couple months ago but I finally found the time to sit down and look at the amazing illustrations and be completely freaked out as I cuddled beneath my blankets and anxiously turned page after page of amazing illustrations (I know I keep saying that but they are so beautiful). The only colors used throughout the book are red, blue, white, black and sometimes grey but it creates this atmosphere throughout the book that only enhances the creepiness and makes me love it all the more.

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Starting with a story about three sisters who slowly disappear and ending with little red riding hood, with stories in between about ghosts, dismembered bodies, and (insert yuck face) worms (shudder), Carroll has created a delightful collection of creepy stories that are sure to be a hit with anyone who loves to feel that chill creeping up their spine.

-A

Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first started reading this book. In the intro it mentioned that André Breton, the father of surrealism, and the surrealist movement  claimed Horace Walpole as one of their own. Walpole himself said it came from a dream and was often dismissed it as a piece of whimsy. Now I didn’t really know what to expect because while I have never studied surrealist writing the surrealist movement in painting is my favorite artistic movement and I have done quite a bit research on it. The surrealists attempted to tap into the subconscious by almost falling asleep and writing from that space, writing from that thin space in-between sleeping and awake. I don’t necessarily know if I would classify Castle of Otranto as a piece of surrealist writing but it certainly didn’t feel entirely gothic or entirely allegory. If I hadn’t known that some people accredited Walpole with the surrealists I might still think of this piece as surrealist.

I really could picture the giant helmet coming down and crushing the son and the giant armor. I have studied enough surrealists to be able to picture it and it was creepy.

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I also think of it as Gothic but it had a dreamlike quality to it I can’t quite place. Considering some liken it to an allegory of Walpole’s own life I don’t know what to really make of it. I also was harkening back to when I read King Henry VIII in my Shakespeare course because Manfred wanted to divorce his wife for a younger woman in the hopes he would get a son so he could pass Otranto onto his son, except as we come to find out Otranto wasn’t his to give away in the first place.

Was the giant knight invading their home part of the curse? Was it an allegory as Walpole struggled with his own problems concerning his birth and inheritance? Was he tapping into his subconscious and writing from a place deep inside where only our dreams can tell us what we are really feeling and thinking?

Compared to the Brontë sisters I wanted something a little more dark and full of a little more fraughtness. I mean people died and there was a lot of fleeing, and terror but I think compared to the horror novels Stephen King writes or to the horror films that are being made it just doesn’t have that scare factor.

It’s definitely dark and dreamy like (not in a good way) but I guess I just wanted a little more supernatural. I know it is only like a 115 pages but still I wanted a little more of “what is going on” factor.

To me the story was more just about fears of inheritance put into a gothic setting.

-A

Professional Development Book #1: In Defense of Read Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice by Steven L. Layne

Steven starts his book about asking about the fuss. That was my question too. What is all the fuss about when it comes to read alouds? I loved read alouds in high school, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Monster by Walter Dean Myers were the two I remember vividly from freshman year of high school. I had such a great experience with read alouds so it was to my dismay that I read the first chapter of Steven’s book and he had stories of complaints by parents about his read alouds. These parents claimed that read aloud wasn’t instruction and to someone that loved read alouds in high school that makes me sad. Steven has study after study showing that read aloud is best practice but the stories of these parents are true. Layne explains that we as teachers need to be leaders and experts in their fields. They need to be able to defend read alouds and show the complaining parents and the administration that doesn’t understand that read aloud time is instruction and it keeps kids coming back.

In chapter two Steven talks about setting up a successful reading time. He starts with the seating plan, which is simple as allowing kids to sit where they want. Don’t force them to sit in their desks if they would prefer to sit on the floor but what if your classroom doesn’t support this? Layne suggests making it your own because it all depends on your classroom and the purpose of your read aloud. If your read aloud is just a bell ringer for five minutes then perhaps your students will stay in their seats but it is all about your classroom and what works for you and your students.

Steven also has a do not disturb sign on his door because that is how important read aloud time is. He says interruptions are the worst because read aloud is instruction. Also Steven used to be a teacher so he is hilarious because he knows what it is like to be in the trenches. He brings a lot of humor to his book which is great because in all the craziness of life sometimes you just need to laugh.

He goes on to talk about launching the read aloud, during the read aloud, how to conclude the read aloud and canceling a read aloud. Steven encourages picking a genre because it encourages higher level thinking and he strongly suggests reading the book through and picking strategic stopping points while reading to encourage your students to be thinking. Don’t ever cancel your read aloud and don’t let someone else conclude it for you.

Chapter 3 talks about selecting the appropriate read aloud which includes listening to your students, consider the genre, and read some nonfiction. At the end of every chapter Steven includes letters teachers wrote to him about questions they had about read aloud and one of the teachers mentioned that she couldn’t get her class of sixth grade boys interested in any of her read alouds. She lists several good books but they are all girl protagonists. That isn’t going to interest a group of young boys. That is what is so important about knowing your students and listening to them when choosing a read aloud. The read aloud is instruction but it is personalized instruction which is why it is so important that you know your students.

Chapter 4 talks about the read aloud itself and how to read aloud. Steven gives some really good tips on how to read aloud because let me tell you not everyone has a great read aloud voice.

The last chapter is also ver applicable because it is full of recommendations by teachers, librarians, and presidents of colleges on what books they found successful for read alouds. I loved reading through these selections because some books I read and was like YES! and others I was like I never heard of these but now I need to check them out!

I really enjoyed this book and honestly it felt like reading Book Love by Penny Kittle all over again. It didn’t read like a text book or even a professional development book. It felt like I was growing and I loved it.

I would totally recommend this book especially if you are considering launching a read aloud in your classroom.

-A

#IMWAYR: Everless by Sara Holland

 

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I got an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of this book while at NCTE so technically it isn’t out yet (release date January 2018) which frustrates me because guess what…it’s part of a series. I tend to not read series for this exact reason. I hate waiting for the sequel or the third book or whatever is next to come out because by the time it does I don’t remember what I read. That being said I really liked Everless, it’s just going to be forever before I read the sequel, if I remember to.

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Everless is the story of Jules. Jules is just your average girl if you count being able to stop time, being an orphan, being in love with a prince, and having weird visions as normal. Jules lives in the kingdom of Sempera where time is money and money is time. Time lenders extract time from your blood, mold it into a coin and voila! you have money. It’s actually a really cool process unless you don’t have much time and drain yourself dry and die. It’s not so fun after that.

This is what is going to happen to Jules father if she doesn’t return to the palace of Everless where they give out a month coin every week for payment. The one small problem being Jules and her father fled Everless when Jules was a child because of what she witnessed. Will Jules survive returning to Everless or will she bleed herself dry in order to save a friend?

-A

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma is my all time favorite Jane Austen novel. It is my cousin’s least favorite. Her favorite Persuasion, is my least favorite (except maybe for Mansfield Park). Why is that? I asked my cousin once why she didn’t like Emma and she said the character Emma was too bossy and overbearing. She wanted to control everyone’s lives around her. I admired that in Emma and I think I did so because Emma is the complete opposite of me.

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Emma is headstrong, take charge, not afraid to speak her mind type of girl. I am quiet, in the background, not going to speak at all type of girl. I am more talkative in recent years but I am nothing like Emma.

I also really like the storyline and the actor that plays Mr. Knightly in the BBC version melts my heart. I actually watched the movie as a kid before I read the book the first time and honestly I don’t remember much of the movie except that I really liked that version and I really enjoyed the book both times around.

My guilty pleasure is RomCom’s and Emma is a RomCom. The whole time she is trying to play matchmaker she is screwing up her own chances for love. The whole time I was rereading I was like “Emma, you are such an idiot. You are going to end up with Mr. Knightley in the end so stop worrying”. I love the twist as well with Jane and Frank because for me that is the crux of the whole novel. Emma is so caught up in playing matchmaker that she misses what is truly happening. Of course Frank and Jane wanted to deceive Emma but she let it happen because she was too busy trying to set up Harriet.

I have read P&P, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion and out of all of them Emma is my favorite. I love a strong female character and while I do believe Elizabeth Bennet to be a strong female character, the focus of that novel is her love affair with Mr. Darcy whereas Emma Woodhouse doesn’t really have a love affair. Don’t get me wrong I love romance, obviously, but sometimes I do get tired of the story focusing solely on the love part. Emma does get married in the end but the whole time she isn’t looking for herself she is looking for others. It takes some of the pressure off the main character to fall in love and frees her up to do other things. As with all Jane Austen’s it is a story about class and social structure but I do enjoy the fact that Emma isn’t focused on herself the whole time and how she will find love. She focuses on other people and in the end finds love because it came looking for her not her for it.

-A

P.S. if anyone doesn’t know what to get me for Christmas I would love the BBC version of Emma available on Amazon.

Respecting Your Students

I have been reading a professional development book about helping those students who are struggling emotionally. I haven’t finished it yet so the blog post on that will have to wait but it brought up something I have been thinking about for a long time. Respecting my future students. Last week I went and visited my schools for student teaching and my cooperating teacher for sixth grade sat her students down and had a serious conversation with them about respect. It was a really important conversation but what was more important was that my teacher recognized her students as people. Granted they are only eleven, twelve, years old but they are old enough to be treated like people. She could have told them they are awful little children that need to start respecting their elders more but she chose to have a honest conversation with them about respect. She didn’t demean them in any way and it was really encouraging to see that she treats her students like people and not subordinates that she has to instruct.

Our students are people. They may be younger than us. They may have had a lot less life experiences then us but even as I type that I don’t think it is true. Sometimes educators and non educators overlook the fact that we expect students to be young adults and yet we don’t treat them like they are. When students enter high school as Freshmen in four very short years we are expecting them to enter college and know what they are going to be doing with the rest of their lives. I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher and honestly it wasn’t until I was a Freshman in college that I knew teaching is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. However, we expect our students to be thinking about their futures as kindergartners. When I was five I either wanted to be a nurse or an artist. Considering I hate the sight of blood and needles freak me out and I have no real artistic talent I don’t think I was going to grow up to be either of those. My sister-in-law knew she wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten but we cannot expect that of all our students.

If we want our students to walk out of our school in four years mature, young adults ready to tackle college then we need to start preparing them for that in high school. That means that we need to start treating them like the people and young adults they are. Granted they haven’t been through four years of college yet but I guarantee you my future students have dealt with more crap than I will ever deal with. I grew up a pretty sheltered life and I am thankful to my parents for that. They have always loved and supported me but not all students have that kind of support. I was a camp counselor for three years and some of those kids came to me from broken abusive homes and camp was their one highlight out of the entire summer. Students are maturing at a younger age because they are being forced to.

One of my professors today said more than likely we would all be student teaching in rural white middle class communities and as I thought about where I am going to be student teaching I realized that isn’t true. The community where I will be student teaching is about fifty/fifty (Mexican/White). These Hispanic students are not coming from middle class backgrounds. They are poor. I have seen those communities, I have worked with those kids. I may be student teaching in Nebraska but that doesn’t mean my community is predominantly white and middle class. These students lives are rough and many times hearing their stories broke my heart.

These students coming into my classroom are young adults not because that is merely a label they were given but because they are adults in young bodies. They are already grown up and we need to start treating them like that. Yes, they are your students but in four years we are going to expect to start living on their own and start owning their own education. How can we expect that to happen if we don’t start at the high school level?

-A