So I Read 62 Books This Summer …


Photo by Carlos Lavara at MacLeod's Books, Vancouver

On August 31st, I completed my book-a-day reading challenge.  I feel a sense of accomplishment in the fact that I was able to meet this goal, and along the way I had some time to reflect (as teachers often do) on the entire experience.  I have decided that there are several advantages to my summer endeavour:

1.) The goal made me make time for reading. The television wasn’t on nearly as much this summer as it was last summer. I would set aside time in the afternoons to lay on the couch and pick up a book.  Sometimes, if I was too busy for a couple of days, I would devote an entire afternoon to reading.  I have not done that since I was in grade school, and I liked the nostalgic feeling that it gave me. I realized that reading had been pushed aside in my daily routine because I thought I had no time, but this challenge showed me that if something is important and relaxing for you, then you should make time for it.

2.) I read books I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up. Once in a while I knew I needed to read a book for that day, and I just picked up whatever book happened to be there. As a result, I read several books that would normally escape my notice, and in most cases I am glad they are now part of my reading repertoire.  I read at least six historical fiction novels that had been on my shelf for at least three years, and enjoyed every one. I read more non-fiction books. I was able to actually get through and return borrowed books to their owners, which is something that is usually a challenge in itself for me. Because I had to meet my goal, I became a more well-rounded reader by reading books that were not part of my typical to-read lists.

3.) Books I had been meaning to read for a while actually got read. The novels Crispin: The Cross of Lead, The Secret Life of Bees, and Kitchen are notables on this list. I felt an accomplishment in finally reading those novels that had been recommended to me by others or that I had continually seen on bookshelves. It taught me that if I really want to read a book, it was simply up to me to pick it up and begin.

4.) I made children’s books a priority. Sometimes I knew that I would be on vacation or just too busy on the weekend to delve into a chapter book.  In those instances, I picked up a children’s book from my bookshelf. Reading these books reminded me how well-written these stories can be, and how even though I teach middle school I can use these stories to demonstrate how good stories are written and how reading strategies can be used.

5.) I can now recommend books to my students with some authority. On Thursday my class went to the library for the first time this school year. I moved around the shelves, and helped a few reluctant readers and avid readers with their book choices. I have been talking to students about books they have read and books that they would like to read. Students and I have been sharing our mutual love or dislike of books, and a few have given me book suggestions. This challenge has given me another way I can connect with my students.

6.) I continue to pick up books even though I have finished the challenge. The advantages above have convinced me that if I want to continue to teach Language Arts and espouse the merits of literacy, then I have to be well-read.

I really believe that I can complete this challenge again next summer.  In the meantime, I will make sure that I will continue to pick up and read books that interest and delight me.  Book reviews will continue to pop up on this site, or follow me on Goodreads to learn more about any past or future books.

Graphic Novels in the Classroom


I have been reading graphic novels for a while.  I believe my first experience with this genre was with Classics Illustrated, which was also my first introduction to Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.  In university, the Great Expectations graphic novel saved me when I slightly misjudged the time I had to read the actual novel before a group discussion in my English class.  Today, I pick up Scott Pilgrim to read in the same way others might pick up a Nora Roberts novel.  I know that some teachers are reluctant to introduce graphic novels in the classroom, as they are not often considered “true” novels.  However, from my own experiences, there are some advantages to encouraging graphic novels in the classroom:

1.) Graphic novels provide motivation for reading.  They are often published as a series, so when students find a story that interests them they have different plots to explore.  They are also accessible to many students.  Struggling readers, unmotivated readers, and avid readers alike will find them a quicker read filled with plot and action.  Finally, a lot of graphic novels deal with themes and genres that are popular to younger readers, including fantasy, science fiction, and realistic fiction.

2.) Graphic novels teach plot, character, and connections.  As any teacher who has marked student created comic strips can attest, it can be really hard to take a story and turn it into a book where words and pictures take equal space in the story.  Graphic novels teach students that the pictures tell the story just as much as the plot, and that the pictures can be clues for the meanings and themes in the novel.  The reactions of the characters, or the pictures that show actions without dialogue, help students make inferences and predictions based on a limited amount of information.  Students can make connections and use the pictures to gain a better understanding of the text.

3.) Graphic novels place a struggling reader on an equal footing with his or her classmates.  I will never forget the day an ESL student corrected me on a detail when I was teaching Greek myths.  Her source?  She had read a graphic novel, and she was so proud that she could participate in the class discussion.  Graphic novels give struggling readers an opportunity to read a book or a series that is popular with the rest of the class.  It allows them to be part of a group discussion or debate because they have an easier access point to the information.

Articles that talk more about using graphic novels in the classroom can be read at The Book Whisperer’s website and at the American Libraries Magazine website.  As well, if you know of any good graphic novels for adolescent readers, please let me know.

My book a day challenge is almost complete:

August 11th: Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke

August 12th – 19th: A Pooh and Piglet Book Series, #1-8, by A.A. Milne

August 20th: Winnie-the-Pooh on Success, by Roger E. Allen and Stephen D. Allen

August 21st: George’s Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl

August 22nd: The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl

August 23rd: The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl

August 24th: The Dragonslayer (Bone, #4), by Jeff Smith

August 25th: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

August 26th: Naomi’s Road, by Joy Kogawa

August 27th: The Myth of Ability, by John Meighton

August 28th: Horrible Histories: The Awesome Egyptians, by Terry Deary and Peter Hepplewhite

August 29th: Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, by Judy Blume

August 30th: Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, by Sarah Ellis

Book Review: The Grim Hill Series


This spring Linda DeMeulemeester, the author of the Grim Hill series, paid an author’s visit to my school.  Because I didn’t want to just bring my students into an assembly without any background information about her books, I ran to the public library to see if they had her novels and do a quick read.  I had just meant to read the first novel myself, then read a couple of chapters to the students, and finally have them practice their reading strategies while at the same time learning more about the book.  I didn’t expect that I would get caught up in DeMeulemeester’s storytelling, or that I would average one of her books per day until I had read the entire series so far.  When I introduced the book to the students as planned, they felt the same way.  I ended up reading more than I had intended because the students kept asking for just one more chapter.  They then started to pick up the books to read for themselves, starting before the assembly but definitely picking up after the assembly.  Students and I started to have discussions about the series in our free time, which was another nice way to make a connection with the kids I teach.

DeMeulemeester has created a world where reality blends very closely with Celtic myth.  In the first book, The Secret of Grim Hill, Cat and her little sister Sookie have moved to Grim Hill with their mother after their parents’ divorce.  Cat has a miserable first day at her school, and would love to be able to afford the expensive tuition at the Grimoire private school.  When Grimoire hosts a Halloween soccer tournament, with the winning team being able to attend the school, Cat jumps at the chance to be a part of the team.  However, as game time draws closer, Sookie begins to display some otherworldly powers of her own, and Cat starts to realize that the myths of fairies and spells are very much alive in her town.  As the series progresses, Sookie’s powers continue to evolve, and start to get her and Cat into trouble.  Other characters are introduced, including Clive, Cat’s alternating nemesis and potential love interest.  One reason I enjoy the series is because of the Celtic myths.  I learned quite a bit about the legends of fairies, witches, and other mythical creatures, and I appreciated how this knowledge led to a better understanding of the plot.  I also liked how DeMeulemeester keeps the suspense going in her series.  As she discussed herself, each chapter ends with a small question or event, so the reader needs to keep going to find out what happened next.  This, along with the engaging characters, makes for a great fantasy series for kids to explore.

A continued list for my summer reading includes:

July 16th: Meet the Group of Seven, by David Wistow

July 17th: Lucy Maud and the Cavendish Cat, by Lynn Manuel

July 18th: Grim Hill: Forest of Secrets, by Linda DeMeulemeester

July 19th: My Story: Battle of Britain: Harry Woods, England 1939-1941, by Chris Priestley

July 20th: Never Work Harder than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching, by Robyn R. Jackson

July 21st: Ida B … and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World, by Katherine Hannigan

July 22nd: Conspiracy 365: Book Two: February, by Gabrielle Lord

Teaching with the Newspaper


I sometimes spend so much time searching or thinking about the perfect book that will help the students practice their reading strategies, that I forget about the newspaper.  However, having the students look through their local paper, or gathering current articles for them to read, can also have some real benefits.  An article can be used or adapted for several different subjects.  Having short articles to discuss rather than long pages of dialogue will appeal to those struggling readers.  Looking at comic strips and political cartoons requires a certain level of critical thinking.  Even examining the pictures that accompany the articles provide the students with a chance to determine what is happening in the picture and create inferences.  Finally, it gives students an opportunity to look at a piece of non-fiction that they are almost guaranteed to continue reading in their adult lives.  The website Education World has an article that provides more justification for using newspapers in the classroom and gives several ideas for lesson planning.

In other news, I have met the criteria for my book a day challenge so far, and I have put the continuing list here.  A quick review of each book can be seen on my summer book challenge page.

July 5th: Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

July 6th: Trailing Clouds of Glory, poems by William Wordsworth

July 7th: The Future of the Earth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 8th: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

July 9th: DK Eyewitness Books: Shakespeare, by Peter Chrisp

July 10th: Earth from Above for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 11th: Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

July 12th: Shattered, by Eric Walters

July 13th: White Jade Tiger, by Julie Lawson

July 14th: North by Night, by Katherine Ayres

July 15th: Broken Song, by Kathryn Lasky

The Book-A-Day Challenge


I never seem to be able to find enough time to just sit down and read extensively.  Although it’s part of my job to read novels that I can recommend to students and find concepts that will further my professional development, other demands of my life often take me away from the leisure reading time that I enjoyed so much as I was growing up.  Perhaps that’s why I am so intrigued by The Book Whisperer’s reading challenge.  Her lofty goal, that she also presents to other bibliophiles, is to read one book per day over the summer.  The rules appear to be fairly simple:

• read one book per day for the remainder of summer vacation
• these books can be fiction, non-fiction, professional books, children’s books, young adult books, graphic novels, poetry books, picture books, etc.  Anything that allows you to read words on a page and gets some analytical synapses firing.
• You can set your own start date and end date.  Because I’ve already read 4 books since July 1st, I’ll make that my start date, and I’ll make August 31st my end date.
• You can space out your reading time.  For example, if you have a leisurely day in which you read three books, you’re covered reading-wise for the next two days.
• Post your book titles, and any reviews, on your blog, twitter, etc. so others can be aware for your progress.

I like the idea of holding myself accountable for finishing books that have been accumulating in my house for quite some time, and I think that I will become wiser once I complete this challenge.  So far the four books I have read are:

July 1st: Four Pictures by Emily Carr, by Nicolas Debon
• This is a graphic novel describing four periods of famous Canadian painter Emily Carr’s life.  I appreciate Debon’s efforts to make these time periods emotional for the reader.  However, perhaps because I have read Carr’s autobiography and have loved her paintings and writings since I was a teenager, I can’t help but think of how much he simplified these life events in order to create the cartoons.

July 2nd: The Warlock (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, #5), by Michael Scott
• This is the fifth in a series of six novels, with the sixth novel coming out in 2012.  Twins Sophie and Josh Newman are given a prophecy, and battle gods from several different mythologies in order to succeed or fail in achieving their destinies.  The plot can be convoluted at times, but the way Scott ends his chapters and books with suspense keeps dragging me back into the series.

July 3rd: My Story: Pyramid of Secrets: Nebka, Giza, Egypt 2517 BC, by Jim Eldridge
• I’m teaching Ancient Civilizations in Grade 7 Social Studies next year, and bought this book because I thought it might be a good cross-curricular novel.  While I found the plot to be fairly predictable, it did an admirable job of explaining how the pyramids were built and how the farmers created life out of the desert.  The story is narrated through the eyes of Nebka, a 12-year old farmer who goes to build Khafre’s pyramid during the Nile flooding.

July 4th: The Throne of Fire (The Kane Chronicles #2), by Rick Riordan
•I do find the mythology in this series difficult to follow at times, but I’ve decided that might be because it’s hard to tie together Egyptian mythology into one comprehensive story when the mythology itself is so fragmented.  However, Riordan continues to do a great job in creating interesting characters that I feel for.  He is quickly becoming my favourite author.