Monthly Archives: June 2013

In the Classroom: Reading Together and Alone

Donalyn Miller’s post “Let My People Read,” is about the sad reality of assigned summer reading that so many kids get. I’m with her 100% on the need to leave kids alone to read whatever they want over the summer. In fact, I’m happy to see more media attention given to the research indicating that the best way to keep kids reading over the summer is to give them books. Next week is our last of the year and I’ve got a book handpicked for each of my students to read (or not as they chose) over the summer.  Where Donalyn and I appear to differ is on the idea of  reading a book together as a class during the school year.

Don and I expressed dismay that another slew of great works will be slowly destroyed for our daughter during months-long novel studies next year.

Sigh. Now I understand the hatred many have for this approach to books and literature in school because it is often done badly. Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” makes me wince every time I read it. For I think that exploring a piece of great literature together can be wonderful, that it can be as fabulous a way to enjoy a poem as any other, that it is celebrating the work, not torturing it. Certainly I had my share of boring novel studies throughout my schooling, but I also had some amazing ones. I remember the excitement of reading The Iliad and Odyssey together with my 8th grade English teacher and an incredible college class where we delved into Goethe’s Faust. And so I feel strongly that we teachers should do the occasional novel unit — one where the class becomes a community, helping each other in an exploration of a particular work of literature.  

Turn the class into a book club like the ones we participate in as adults. The kids can then experience the book together, responding to it in real time, exclaiming, becoming choked up, being surprised when someone he/she doesn’t know has the same response to a particular moment, gaining insight from another peer, and so forth. Reading the same book for school is, to my mind, a social experience not one done in solitude. I do this with the books I read aloud, but I also do it with books the kids read. This year we started the year reading Charlotte’s Web together and ended in literature circles with The One and Only Ivan. Loving each book by itself, finding wonderful images and pieces of writing, seeing connections between the two — all of this and more made both experiences exhilarating ones.  

I believe in giving kids ample choice in what they read, but I also believe in the power of shared literary explorations.  To me close reading, whole class book study, and so forth can be a joy not a horror.



Filed under In the Classroom

More about the Mysterious New Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Musical

I have been following closely the development of the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in London. So far the publicity has been very limited: a vague teaser trailer, others featuring the talk of creators, some of their prep, and preview audiences, some costume sketches, and interviews.

A few weeks ago there was some negative media attention to their casting call for a non-white actor which has now been removed, but they are clearly still looking for kids with particular characteristics. (Given the four American Matildas currently on Broadway doing British accents I have no problem with this).

8 – 12 yr old boy, under 4ft 8in
A talented actor with innocent appearance, lean frame and natural singing voice
9 – 12 yr old girl, under 4ft 8in
A charismatic actress and excellent ballet dancer (grade 4 or above)
9 – 12 yr old girl, under 4ft 8in
A skilled rapper with good rhythm and a brash attitude. Able to do an American accent
9 – 12 yr old boy, under 4ft 8in
A highly physical street dancer with lots of energy. Able to do an American accent
9 – 12 yr old boy, under 5ft
A corpulent boy and a good singer. Able to do a German accent

And now, hurray, they’ve released a few photos of the production itself!



03_large Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Filed under Other

Nice SLJ Write-Up of Last Week’s Candlewick Preview

Lastly, we got a special treat: one of our own, Monica Edinger, Dalton School teacher and blogger atEducating Alice, spoke about her new book, Africa Is My Home. Telling the little-known story of the real-life children aboard Amistad, this labor of love was thirteen years in the making for Edinger. She uses primary source materials and archival images to drive the story home; accompanied by illustrations from Robert Byrd, this is an emotional and rich book. The room was so supportive of Edinger, and we all can’t wait for this one to come out in October.

From Laura Lutz’s SLJ piece on last week’s Candlewick Fall Preview.

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Filed under Africa is My Home

Coming Soon: Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Unlike the darker tone of Appelt’s previous two novels (Keeper and The Underneath — I’m a fan of both),  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp has a much lighter sensibility along with her signature folky and entertaining third person omniscient storyteller. This is the tale of a swamp in peril of being paved over by a couple of nefarious types who made me think of Carl Hiaasen’s, of a son and mother with a small cane sugar pie business threatened by those aforementioned meanies, some charming raccoon bros with quite an appreciation for art, snakes (one is mystical — a far relative perhaps to the one in The Underneath?), a tall tale-larger-than-life (truly) figure, and some quite outrageous hogs — just to get started. Over-the-top improbable, full of wild contrivances, absurd, and great fun to read indeed.  One I could definitely see reading aloud to my fourth graders come fall.

Hope the publisher plans to have some of those sugar cane pies around when the book comes out. I’m craving one of them something fierce!


Filed under Review

Bunnies ‘n Tiaras

So let’s start with the bunnies. While Battle Bunny (my review here) isn’t yet out, its fiendish villain has already received a movie treatment thanks to the always brilliant Pink Me.

As for tiaras, dust yours off for this year’s Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet where everyone who is anyone will be heading down the red carpet all decked out in attire celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Award.  Need a little help figuring out what to wear?  No need for Stacy and Clinton — there’s Betsy and Jim to the rescue!

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Filed under ALA, awards