I am always excited to share books. My colleagues, family, and friends are the recipients of my most fervent book talks. When I finish a book, there are people I text immediately, sending them snapshots of the writing that spoke to me. I take pictures of paragraphs and whole pages, describing the parts that engaged my heart and deepened my thinking. In short, I love sharing my thinking about books with others because that is what readers do. When we read something we love, we want to write and talk about it. I would love to begin sharing part of my reading life with you, hopefully posting a blog like this one on a monthly basis. The three books in this post are ones I have read or re-read recently. I am confident that they will engage your readerly mind, compel your teaching heart, and inspire your students’ reading lives. #booklove
Moo by Sharon Creech
I love this whimsical, playful novel, and so will you. Even better, your students will adore it. Sharon Creech blends poetry and prose in this magnificent tale of Reena and her younger brother, Luke, whose parents move their family from New York to Maine. At first, the children have no idea what to make of the quaint, agrarian atmosphere, but soon, they make the acquaintance of Mrs. Falala, a curmudgeonly old woman whose antics are frustrating for Reena and Luke. Even worse, Mrs. Falala enlists their help to groom Zora, a prize cow, for the fair. Hilarity ensues, but not at the expense of rich character development, meaningful moments among characters, and an ending that proves how no one should be judged by their seemingly harsh exteriors. Creech’s masterful fusion of prose and poetry will captivate your students, and her use of spacing, font, and non-traditional poetry forms will move your students to write in her style. I know you and your students will fall in love with this book.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Of the books I have read during spring break, this book is one of the first that I will share with students when we return to school. Wallace, a.k.a. Lolly, is in middle school, navigating the precarious nature of adolescence while recovering from his brother’s recent death. Jermaine, Lolly’s brother, was killed in gang-related activity, and Lolly finds himself battling the anger and bitterness that accompany the death of a loved one. Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend, Yvonne, begins bringing him large bags of Legos, stating that the store she works for was planning to throw them out. Lolly’s love for architecture and Legos compel him to build a massive structure, one that angers his mother because of the space it occupies in their apartment. So he moves it to one of the vacant rooms at his after-school program. Big Rose, a peer whose tendencies are annoying to Lolly at first, begins building her own Lego structure, and as their buildings and cities increase in size, so does their friendship and their understanding of the world around them. Layered with laughter, joy, sadness, grief, and the unbreakable bonds of family and friendship, this novel will capture a piece of your heart. I encourage you to join Lolly in his quest to understand the community in which he lives, to forgive the people who are dearest to him, and to seek answers to questions that haunt him.
A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts
I have followed Kate Roberts’s work for several years, reading DIY Literacy, a book co-written with Maggie Beattie Roberts, and Falling In Love With Close Reading, co-written with Chris Lehman. This solo project is nothing short of gorgeous; it is a must-have for secondary English/language arts teachers.
One of the lingering, most controversial issues among English teachers is the use of whole-class novels. Is the time used for whole-class text study beneficial when students could be reading books that are of interest to them? How can a teacher engage students in a core text study when there is such delight and vigor from watching students recapture a love of reading in reading workshop? Honestly, these questions have lingered in my mind for several years, especially when I abandoned whole-class novels several years ago in favor of a reading workshop model of teaching. My distaste for whole-class novels had developed in response to slow, painful trudge that accompanied the studies I had attempted. Engaging students in literature shouldn’t be this difficult, I thought. So I moved away from the whole-class novel idea and gravitated to a system that I knew would engage readers, increase their stamina, and provide them with a rich, satisfying reading experience. And honestly, students read voluminously, reading conferences were saturated with students’ complex thinking, and the writing students produced about their independent reading was gorgeous. This was how a language arts classroom should work, I thought.
There is a remarkable beauty, however, to the idea of readers uniting around a single text, discussing the layers of meaning, the characters, and the ideas that nudge us further as readers, thinkers, and human beings. When readers share an experience, such as a whole-class novel, a different kind of community is formed. The novel becomes a touchstone, something that teachers and students can refer to all year. These thoughts moved to the forefront of my mind each year, and I wrestled with my feelings about whole-class novels, wondering if my students were missing a valuable piece of instruction because I had abandoned them.
Then I read Kate’s book. And I was ready to make a change.
If you use a workshop model and are missing the whole-class novel, or if you are using only core texts and are looking for new thinking to help rejuvenate your whole-class novel study, I encourage you to get a copy of Kate’s book and read it. Then read it again. Kate’s focus on skill development makes a novel study a manageable, less daunting idea. She guides you through her teaching journey, showing you step-by-step how to navigate the book with a balance of read aloud and independent reading, how to determine which skill(s) students further develop by reading a core text, and how to make the whole-class study a meaningful experience, as opposed to the trudge through words, something English teachers are too often familiar with. Her book resonates with power and inspiration. When you are finished, you will want to return to whole-class novels, or alter your methodology. Kate’s book radiates with possibility.
This is a professional book you need to prioritize. I encourage you to push it to the top of your to-read list. I know the things going on in your classroom are amazing. I know you are challenging students, nourishing their fledgling reading lives, and nudging them further in their work as readers and writers. But if you can stand beside of Kate’s thinking in A Novel Approach, possibility will be magnified within your classroom. Read this amazing book if you can. You won’t regret it.