Can I do This? #YaLit

This morning while reading Penny Kittle’s book Book Love I had a momentary crisis of faith and asked myself if I honestly wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t think I was up for the task of teaching high school students to love English when most everyone I talk to tells me English was their worst subject in high school (this excludes those in my English classes). I always told myself that was the goal-change the way high schoolers view English. Am I really up for the task when I myself struggle to understand Russian Lit.? If I cannot comprehend what I am reading how am I supposed to teach my students? I continued to lament my life choices until I read the story of Crystal and it all came back into focus. Crystal is the reason I want to teach. I want to reach those students whom everyone else has given up on. I want to help those students who have no one else to turn to. Next to family and friends teachers are usually the one constant in a student’s life. Teachers see those students every day in the hallways and in the classrooms. I want to be that one constant. I want to convince them that yes they can finish high school and yes they can follow their dreams. I want to teach them that English isn’t so bad and reading can open up a whole new world.

I am such an avid lover of books I think the biggest challenge I will face as a teacher is knowing when to let a student give up on a book and picking a read aloud the whole class will like. I had grand plans of books I wanted to read aloud to my students but I after reading Book Love and discussing books with my classmates I am finding that my opinion is changing. I love the line “Students remember what they do and what they discover, not what they are told” (Kittle, 121). This is true for everyone, including me. I remember better when I actually get to do something rather than being told the information. Students read better and understand deeper when they discover the content for themselves rather than having someone tell it to them. I struggle with this a lot in one of my English courses, just letting my professor tell me what the story is saying instead of trying to figure it out on my own. I find that when I do understand what I am reading before my professor speaks that it sticks with me better.

I love the idea of creating a map of literature. Making connections is so important. It reminds me of a poetry course I took. We studied poets starting back in the 1800’s and working our way up through the 80’s. It was great because I was able to see history through the words of those poets, who actually experienced life instead of trying to write about it after the fact.

“It is the journey that lasts, not necessarily the particular book” (Kittle 123). I love this quote so much. I currently have a canvas hanging in my room that says “The Journey is the Destination” because it really is all about the journey. The journey is where you learn and grow and ultimately ends up becoming the destination. The journey got you where you wanted to be.

Reading is a journey especially if you struggle with reading. I know I struggle with reading outside of my comfort zone and this last week I read a book that was half and half. It was a fantasy novel which is totally in my comfort zone but it featured a two gay boys. That is just not in my comfort zone but I loved this book and I love Simon and Baz’s relationship. Rainbow Rowell was able to put me out of my comfort zone while keeping me in my comfort zone. I absolutely loved Carry On and once I started reading it I couldn’t stop. So it is going to be a journey but for me that is the destination and I cannot wait.

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Setting a Summer Reading Challenge #YaLit

I am always ambitious when it comes to summer reading. I pick out 10 or more books to take to camp with me. I have every intention of reading these books in the first three weeks and going home for more. If I am lucky I can get two read. It saddens me to think that another summer is going to go by with only two books read. I actually have set a reading goal for this summer. I got Nicholas Sparks’ newest novel See Me for Christmas and Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins. I bought The Nigh Circus by Erin Morgenstern this semester and never read it. I also bought the Masque of the Red Death books which I never read. I really want to read Lost World by Michael Crichton this summer as well because I read Jurassic Park over Christmas break and never got around to reading the sequel. I am planning on buying Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septetys and The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutoski to read over the summer. I also purchased The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman, who by the way is my favorite author at the moment. I want to read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flag because I love the movie and my dad read it and told me it was great.

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These are pretty lofty goals for one who claims she can only read two books over the summer. I figure though I am never going to read every book I want to. Some will probably sit on my shelves until I die and I will have never read them. This sounds terribly depressing but it gives something to look forward to. Every day I can wake up and think today is the day I will read The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (started reading them back in October only got probably ten pages in). If I didn’t have a TBR list I don’t think I would read. I love goals! I mean I LOVE goals! It gives me something to do and look forward to.

I also started the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge even though I am not very far. I must say I am eternally thankful for taking Adolescent Lit. because my reading goal on Goodreads is 50 books and I have read 31! I usually don’t finish or barely get 50. I think I have read more in this class than I have read since my sophomore year of high school. It feels great and I feel like I have gotten back into YA lit. and can actually recommend books to people that aren’t ten years old.

The number one challenge I face this summer to reading is camp. I am working as a counselor at Christian summer camp and I am so busy all week at the end of the week I just want to sleep and watch Netflix. The three books I must read before the end of the summer are See Me, The Night Circus, and Hide and Seek. If I could squeeze in a Shakespeare play that would great but we’ll see. I am going to stay up on Goodreads this summer and Book Riot always has great articles highlighting new and old books. I am just ready for summer nights and campfires :).

It’s Monday What Are You Reading?

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IMWAYR is a meme hosted by Unleashingreaders.com.

This Monday I am reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.

This is her newest book and a continuation story of types from her novel Fan Girl. For those of you who have read Fan Girl you know what I am talking about but for those of you who don’t here is a synopsis from Goodreads:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

Alright so that didn’t tell you about the connection to FanGirl. Carry On is the fanfic that the character Cather wrote about a fictional book series she has been obsessed with for years. Carry On is a fictional world set in another fictional world. Just imagine Cath is real and the Simon Snow books are real and you are just reading her fanfic.

Paying my Respects to Books I Probably Shouldn’t Have Finished but did Anyway.

Throughout the several last weeks I have been noticing a lot of books that I struggled to finish that people loved. This is a list of these books and my explanation of why they are probably great books but also why I should have never read them.

  1. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

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This is a great book and I love Cornelia Funke. One of my favorite books is Ingraine the Brave, in fact it is up for a reread. Why did I dislike Inkheart so much that I quit reading it for several weeks and then come back and force myself to finish? I honestly do not know. I really liked the story going in but then it kinda got creepy and I think it honestly just scared me. I was pretty young when I read this book and I think the concept of the lines between the book world and reality blurring was not ok. I wasn’t sure how it was going to end and the antagonist just creeped me out. I did finish it but I never read the next two books.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry

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Another great author whose books I love except for this one. To be fair when I first started reading this book I had no idea it was dystopia so I was really confused the whole time I was reading it. I am not a huge fan of dystopia in fact the Hunger Games is probably the only dystopia series I really enjoyed. I did like Fahrenheit 451 but more on “literary I would like to study this book” than a pleasure read. Why did I not like The Giver? It’s dystopia and the whole idea of dystopia creeps me out. The idea that as a people we have given control of our lives to a select group of rulers is disturbing and makes me want to not live on Earth ( I hear Mars might become an option). The scene with the twin babies made me stop reading and I almost didn’t finish but again I hate not finishing so I did. I never had a desire to read any more of the books in this series or watch the movie despite the fact that Jeff Bridges was in it.

3. Unwind by Neil Shusterman

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I physically cannot talk about this book. It scarred me so much so that I cannot talk about it. It’s a great book and it explores an interesting concept but that is what scarred me. The idea of an abortion war is not so far fetched and it’s aftermath is not so far fetched. Out of all the dystopian books I have read and I’ll admit that’s not a lot this is the only one that I can see actually happening and it scared me. It also made me cry like I have never cried before. Thank goodness the scene that made me cry was at the end of the book otherwise I would have never finished it.

4. Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore

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Alright this is going to sound like a rant because it is. All I really have to say is that Kristin Cashore is a feminist and I don’t like her ideals and I don’t like that she made her characters fantasy feminists. I am all for strong independent women but I am not for idealizing flings or meaningless sex. The characters in her stories want love but for some reason they don’t want to commit and I feel if you truly love someone you commit to them because that’s love.

5. Looking for Alaska by John Green

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I had to read this for a book club and by the time I got to the predictable climax I just skimmed the rest. The narrator Pudge was unlikable and unreliable. His love for Alaska was nothing more than puppy love and she herself was wishy washy. Other people loved this book probably because it explored the idea of mixing rich privileged kids with underprivileged kids. Alaska may have been more three dimensional if she was less wish washy. It was hard to understand the characters because we only saw them through Pudge and Pudge was terrible at understanding people. The colonel was the only likable character in my opinion because he showed more depth than any of the other characters.

6. Paper Towns by John Green

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This was the first John Green novel I read and I only read because it was a different book club read and the hype. I’m trying not to sound like a hipster but I am book snob when it comes to books that have a lot of hype. Either they are going to be great or terrible. There is not middle ground. I just remember hating the ending and thinking it was so stupid! It was just like Looking for Alaska. The ending did not satisfy and ruined the rest of the book. I really liked The Fault in Our Stars because those characters were believable and relatable. Like all books I had friends that liked this one but I really am not liking John Green.

7. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

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I love Sarah Dessen and I love her books but for some reason I could not get into this book. I didn’t finish it and I am going to blame it on the fact I was sick when I read it. Usually reading while sick makes me feel better but in this case it caused to not finish a book and really dislike the book. I am seriously thinking about giving this book a second chance but not likely.

8. A Child Called It by Dave Peltzer

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This is an extremely popular non fiction story and I am not saying it’s not good because honestly I liked the first book but I struggled through the second and third. I seriously wonder why I read the third book because honestly it became a pity story after the first book. I know his life was tough and I commend Peltzer for writing about it but move on. I don’t think he needed to write a second and third book. I really recommend reading Glass Castles by Jeanette Walls. She wasn’t necessarily abused but she did have a tough childhood.

9. Sold by Patricia McCormick

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There is a battle waging inside of me about this book. There is a part of me that liked it because it exposes the world of human trafficking and makes it real but it was just a tough read and I really personally like Little Peach by Peggy Kern better. Kern’s story hits closer to home and really shows that human trafficking doesn’t happen just in foreign and to foreign girls.

10. Eragon by Christoper Paolini

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I honestly don’t know why I couldn’t get into this book because I love fantasy and I love dragons. I just remember thinking that the book wasn’t moving. The action was slow and nothing was happening. I think if I reread it now I might like it more but I don’t know. When I read a book and dislike I have a hard time going and rereading it. My brother loved this series and it is probably one of his favorites but I just couldn’t do it. P.S. a word of warning don’t watch the movie.

11. A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

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I did not like this book. I honestly can’t remember all the reasons but I know there was this one scene where she let a guy grope her and she didn’t do anything about it. She just accepted it as her fate. Also there was a scene where she went to a widow’s house to help and all the kids were outside because mama was inside prostituting herself. The man’s butt was described in great detail and it was just distasteful. I understand that women in dire straits do what they can for their children, but I don’t need to describe a man’s butt. It’s an interesting book but honestly The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins is a much better murder mystery plus the movie is coming out this fall.

12. Identical by Ellen Hopkins

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I may have already talked about this book ,but I read it when I was in seventh grade. I was a sheltered home schooled child whose reading list consisted of Little House on the Prairie. This book was a shock to my system and I don’t care to read any more books by Ellen Hopkins. I have heard great things about her books and I know they deal with issues teens face and they are written in verse. These are all pluses, but I just cannot handle the bluntness of her books. I can read about sexual abuse but I personally don’t like it detailed. You can tell me the story without the intimate details.

13. The Sister Hood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

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I also may have talked about this book and again I read it at too young of an age. I didn’t know what a condom was at this point and I had to ask my mom. I don’t think she even told me. That being said I really didn’t like the book or the fact that one of the girls had an affair with a married man. Their story just didn’t seem to go anywhere and I just didn’t like it.

14. The Wake series by Lisa McMann

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If you are looking for a graphically sexual novel then this is it. I would never recommend these books to anyone or have them in my classroom library. The second book especially is sexually explicit and there is a ton of cuss words. I really did not like these books because the focus seemed to be all on the sexual actions of the characters rather than the characters themselves, plus these books are pretty bleak.

There are probably more books that I just struggled to get through but these are the ones that stand out to me.

The Dangers of Assigned Reading and Hopefully Its Cure #YaLit

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I would be lying if I said I didn’t do the assigned reading. I loved to read anything given to me and I was perfectly fine with Assigned Reading. I know that my classmates weren’t and that always confused me. Who didn’t love reading? It wasn’t until I got into college and had to read textbooks that I understood the horrors of assigned reading. I finally understood my classmates pain and vowed never to become that teacher that had assigned books. I know that I will inevitably have to assign a book because that is what is in most curriculums but I am going to strive to not make it painful. I want my students to feel what I feel when I find a great book and cannot stop reading, despite the tiny voice in my head that says I should be getting homework done.

What is the cure for assigned reading? Most definitely not AR. The first time I experienced AR was in seventh grade and even then you only had to take two tests a quarter (not get so many points, just take two tests and pass. I honestly don’t know if they had to be a certain grade level either). My teacher Mrs. Reding only made us take AR tests as part of the curriculum, she used a different method to track our reading. We had to read so many pages a week and record it in our notebook. We could “store” up pages and then use them later for our required weekly pages. I kinda abused her system because I never needed to store pages in fact it became a competition between me and my friends to see who could read the most pages by the end of the quarter. I never saw AR tests again until I moved in high school. My new high school had AR as part of the curriculum school wide and we even had a thirty minute reading period built into the daily schedule so we could work on reading AR books. This system almost made me stop reading. No longer could I just read whatever I wanted, I needed to find books that were AR and above a certain grade level. Plus I had to read non-fiction books, which will never be my favorite genre. AR was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was assigned reading hiding under the guise of independent reading. Students could pick the book they wanted to read but it had to AR, a certain grade level, and enough points to get them to their goal. I spent several weeks reading The Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (this book is one of my all-time favorite books and almost had me changing my major to become a lawyer) and come to find out it didn’t have an AR test. I now had to scramble to find another book(s) with lots of AR points so I wouldn’t fail English. AR counted for part of our grade, not a whole lot but enough that if you didn’t do AR you would most likely either get a C or fail (that was another odd thing about this school there was no such thing as a D, you went from C to failing). If AR isn’t the cure to get students reading and have a accountability system then what is?

In a guest article on Nerdy Book Club blog Jim Baily talks about Curing the Reading GERM. His solution is to just get rid of AR and talk to your students instead. What a revolutionary concept! (I admit that sounds sarcastic and while it is meant to be I don’t mean to offend anyone who likes AR). Talk to your students about books instead of just handing them a book and telling them to read. Readers are not born overnight (of course I am the exception 🙂 instead they are cultivated and grown like a good rose bush. Give book talks and conference with your students. Get to know their genre likes and dislikes and never hesitate to throw a book at them and say “Hey, you might like this”. If they don’t, keep trying to find that book that will stick. Everyone can become a reader if given the chance. TBR lists, book displays, personal and group goals are other great ways to get students reading. However don’t forget that you are teaching the individual student; have them read at their own pace, give them books you know they will read, but never hesitate to challenge them either. It’ll be a uphill climb with a lot of students and with fellow teachers but never forget that students are worth it and that their is a reader in every student that is just waiting for the right book.

Reading Response: Review of The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís is the 2008 winner of the Sibert Medal which honors informational books.

While this is technically a children’s book I really think you could read it in a high school classroom because it explains through beautiful drawings what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. I know I hated reading text books about history when I was in high school because it was impersonal information and the teachers themselves didn’t even seem to care. Reading a autobiographical story is the best way to teach history to students because it becomes personal and now longer facts and dates they have to memorize for one test and then forget. The facts become people and the dates become lives lived.

My ancestors are from Czechoslovakia and so this book hit home for me. My grandmother can still read in Czech and it is a big part of my family to celebrate our Czech heritage. My mom grew up during the Cold War and remembers drills where they had to go down into the fall out shelter. History is so easily passed over because it happened in the past and we are always told to look to the future. I say look to the past and remember. Just because you didn’t live during the time doesn’t mean someone you know didn’t. By understanding the past you can understand the future and why some people are the way they are. My mom grew up in a time of fall out shelters, I’m growing up in a time of terrorism where hearing about bombings in the news is slowly becoming a everyday occurrence.

I never really knew what is was like for people growing up behind the Iron Curtain because my history classes were a little lacking. This is an autobiography and a history book rolled into one. It’s written for children but I don’t think it should be limited to that age range. Adults can learn from this book too, I most certainly did. Some of the best historical novels are written by those that lived through that time period. They know what it was like better than anyone else. Books like the Wall are great because they teach children history but in such a way it doesn’t feel like “history”. History is just a story of what has already happened so I don’t think we should groan about going to history class. History class is where you go to learn a story and sometimes it best told through the voice and drawings of those who experienced it first hand.