#3 - Wearing Your Reading Life on Your Sleeve
This is a transcript of The Books Between Podcast, Episode #3 - Wearing Your Reading Life on Your Sleeve.
Hi and Welcome to Books Between - a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love. I’m your host, Corrina Allen - 5th grade teacher, mom of a 9 year old and 7 year old, and these past two weeks - watcher of political conventions. Now, I never discuss my politics with my students and I ‘m not going to here, but I have to say - when Chelsea Clinton introduced her mom and mentioned their visits to the public library, Kevin Lewis’ Chugga Chugga Choo Choo, Goodnight Moon, A Wrinkle in Time, Pride & Prejudice (all favorites of mine) …. I cried, and cheered, and felt so moved at the acknowledgement of the power of reading with children.
This is Episode #3 and today we’ll discuss wearing your reading life on your sleeve, three engaging nonfiction options for middle grade readers, and I’ll answer a question about what to do when kids keep abandoning their books.
Main Topic - Wearing Your Reading Life on Your Sleeve
I once read somewhere that every child deserves at least one teacher in their life who is an unapologetic, enthusiastic champion of reading. Someone who completely geeks out when discussing books or their reading lives. And thinking back on it now, I was pretty lucky to have many teachers throughout my education who were avid readers prevailing on me to read more and more. And as I think about carrying that torch forward, I am constantly inspired by the example of my colleagues, both near and far. So today I want to share 5 things I’ve learned from them about being a strong champion for reading. They are - demonstrating your reading life, sharing stories and resources, displaying what you’re reading, challenging yourself publicly, and wearing (sometimes LITERALLY) your reading passion on your sleeve.
First, let’s talk about demonstrating your reading life. The most inspiring readers are those that actually show everyone that they are reading. They don’t care WHERE they are - they always have a book on hand and are eager and ready to talk about what YOU are reading. I have a colleague at work - and he’s my teammate in 5th grade - and 90% of the time that I walk past his room during our planning time - he’s reading a middle grade book. Now granted, he gets to the school before anyone else to get his work done, but he is one of the strongest examples I know at my school of someone who walks the walk of being a reader. Another teacher I know brings her book to lunch - and her students absolutely notice that - even though she never mentions it. For me, I’m reading during those down times in the hall while waiting for my students to get out of gym or art class.
Second, the most passionate reading advocates are generous about sharing - their stories, their resources, their books. Many of my colleagues spend a decent amount of money (or maybe I should say indecent amount of money!) buying books they know their kids will like. But it’s not just about spending money - I know teachers who will bring a book they’re reading into school to share a funny or inspiring quote, they tell stories about their Book Club and sometimes confide that they didn’t read the book. They are the people always lending out their books - both to kids and colleagues. Or at my school - setting up a “Readbox” book exchange in the staff room. And coordinating a huge school-wide display showing every teacher’s favorite childhood book. For me, I’m often discussing with my students about what my daughters and I read - both the hits and the misses - and asking for their suggestions. Strong reading advocates also share stories about library visits, trips to Barnes & Noble, or that time they met a favorite author.
Third, enthusiastic readers display what they are reading. I’ve seen so many teachers (in my local school and online) picking up on ideas from Donalyn Miller’s excellent Reading in the Wild. Things like hanging a whiteboard outside your classroom door with the title of the book you are currently reading. And that does not have to be anything Pinteresty or fancy - my colleague down the hall prints out the cover of his current book and tacks it to the corkstrip outside his door. Simple and quick. Last year I created a “My Reading Life” display on my door with pictures of all the books I read over the summer with some inspiring quotes from my favorites. Other teachers include their “Currently Reading” in their email signature or in their profile on Social Media. What great conversation starters - and a great way to get to know other people.
Fourth, reading champions often challenge themselves - to read more or maybe to read more diversely. And very often they do that publically. Several friends of mine have participated in #BookaDay challenges - either throughout the year or over, say, Spring Break. Two years ago, I challenged myself to read one book recommendation from each of my 16 students. It was public and it got my students involved in my own reading life, showing that I took their recommendations seriously. Last year, I had a LOT more students, so instead I challenged myself to read at least two books in every one of the genres we’d studied. AND, I shared with them the #SixtyBook Challenge I kicked off online in January 2016. I think kids are a lot more likely to respond to us pushing them to read more when we are pushing ourselves as well.
Fifth, enthusiastic readers literally wear their passion for reading for all to see. I tend to be rather boring about my wardrobe - I’ve got about 5 pairs of the same black pants. And I’ve never likes boxy t-shirts. But last spring I saw a friend of mine at work wearing a Harold the Purple Crayon shirt, and I thought - wow - what an awesome way to get your reading geek on and make a great statement with your clothes. So I was inspired, went searching online, and bought t-shirts with Harry Potter quotes, and bookshelves shaped like New York State, THREE different Global Read Aloud shirts - and I think I went a wee bit crazy at first. And I proceeded to completely freak my husband out when packages started to show up from BookRiot, and Etsy, and Amazon, and Zazzle. But - I bought him his own Reading Rainbow shirt, too so all is well. And as a side note - my sole workout motivation this summer has been the fact that my favorite limited edition Hermione Granger t-shirt arrived and it was too small and I can’t just reorder.
If wearing a literary style shirt isn’t your thing, you can get socks with The Little Prince on them or an Alice in Wonderland tie. Or maybe show off your reading passion with a Matilda mug, a Where the Wild Things Are necklace, or Peter Rabbit earrings. Just this morning a teacher that I follow on Instagram posted a picture of a tote bag featuring R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. There are so many ways to literally - wear your reading life on your sleeve. Including….potentially, an ACTUAL sleeve of tattoos. Now, I don’t currently have a tattoo (my husband has enough for both of us), but if I do get one, a favorite book, or character, or literary quote would be right up on my list. However - if you want something less permanent, there’s a website that actually sells temporary literary tattoos! I’ll post the link in the show notes if you are interested. (Here ya go! - http://www.litographs.com/collections/tattoos/)
Those are things I’ve noticed about the unabashed book nerds in MY life - I’d love to hear from you. How do you show or share your reading life? Email me at email@example.com or tag me in a photo on Twitter or Instagram and show off your awesome t-shirt, tie, or tattoo!
Book Talk - Three Incredible Nonfiction Books
In this segment, I share with you three books centered around a theme and discuss three things I (or my students) loved about each book. This week I’ll be talking about three incredible and engaging informational books: When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses, Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History, and Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.
When Lunch Fights Back
First up is Rebecca L. Johnson’s When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses, which is I guess classified as a picture book. It features eight weird and wonderful animals with unique defenses. There’s the Atlantic Hagfish that ejects gobs of slime when bitten, the tiny peacock mantis shrimp that punches predators at 50 mph, and the favorite or my class - the hoopoe birds that shoots hot streams of foul-smelling feces right in their attacker’s face. This was was SO fun to read out loud! We laughed and groaned more while reading this book together than at any other time in my class. And here are three more awesome things about it:
- The photographs are really phenomenal. Intense close-ups, x-rays, night-vision view, and action shots - they all make this book exciting to read.
- The text features are great! Throughout the book there are red and green drips and splatters that look like blood or slime. It really adds to the gross tone of the book and makes it fun.
- Blend of narrative and science. Each of the eight chapters starts with a story of that creature getting attacked by a predator. And then the following section is The Science Behind the Story where the author goes into the biology and sometimes highlights the work of a scientist studying the animal.
Kids who like science, kids who like gross stuff - pretty much ANY kid 8-12 is going to love this book.
Why’d They Wear That?
Next up is Sarah Albee’s Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History. It is 191 pages of fascinating information about clothing, make-up, hairstyles, undergarments (or lack thereof) - but it is so so much more than that! It takes you all the way from the earliest development of textiles in the river valleys of Iraq and Pakistan through the court dress of medieval Japanese and English, to more contemporary development of mini-skirts and spandex. It’s really hard to do justice to the various topics so I’ll just list a few of the ones that really got my students talking: Elongated Heads of the Maya, Naked Olympics in Greece, Hair Shirts of religious Europeans, Bound Feet of the Chinese, face patches of France, and hoops shirt of the United States. Here are three reasons why kids will love this book:
- Fabulous pictures & clever subheadings - This is a really colorful book - both literally and in the language. And some of the word play might get lost on young readers, I certainly laughed at “Caulk Like an Egyptian”, “Surely You Joust”, and “Going for Baroque”
- It’s a book that you can read in chunks. There’s no narrative to follow and it’s broken into bite-sized pieces perfect for a car ride or a change of pace between other books. And it’s a book that begs to be talked about with others.
- All the history they learn. Yes it’s a book about clothes, but really - it’s about society and revolution and gender roles. For example, as they learn about the rise in popularity of cotton because it was cheap and (something new) washable, they learn about the slave trade and what enslaved families wore. (So I also like that it’s not so upper class European focused.) As they learn about new demands for ready-made clothing in the late 1800s, they learn about the labor movement and working conditions of textile workers that continue to be a problem today. And - a huge thing for the students in MY class - they learned that boys used to wear gowns - and get to re-examine their assumptions about “boy” clothes and “girl” clothes. It lead to some great conversation.
Why’d They Wear That? was a huge hit in my classroom and popular with both boys and girls - there’s something for everyone in it.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
Our final fantastic nonfiction book, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, is happily a series! Each book is a graphic novel-style narrative told about a particular historical person or event. The first book is called “One Dead Spy”, and it’s about the famous American Revolution spy Nathan Hale. (You know - the one who said “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”?) Essentially the set up is that Nathan Hale is about to be hung for spying and he’s standing on the gallows with the Hangman and a British soldier waiting for the hanging orders to arrive. And while they wait, Hale tells the story of his life. I know it sounds rather dark, but it has so much more humor and inspiration than you might expect. The hangman is kind of goofy and impatient about the story while the British soldier interjects with HIS side of things. It’s clever and really informative.
Alright - three things I loved about One Dead Spy (and the rest of the books is the series) :
- The maps are awesome - I’m a sucker for maps anyway, but these are really well done and super helpful to understanding battle formations and army movements that can be very complicated.
- They are funny but also accurate and objective in portraying the complications of war and other historical events. I honestly don’t know how the author (whose name by the way IS also Nathan Hale) kept that balance between being entertaining but also unflinchingly accurate - but he nails it. And all the people in the stories truly seem like REAL folks living in important times.
- A third reason why I LOVE this book and this series is that my students were fighting over HISTORY books. In fact - Nathan Hale’s books were the the most “stolen” from my room - and I’m not even mad, I’m glad a kid loved it enough to want to keep. I’ll get more.
So, let me tell you about the others in the series! (Links to all of them here.)
1st - One Dead Spy about the the Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale
2nd - Big Bad Ironclad about the Civil War steam warship
3rd - The Donner Dinner Party about Westward Expansion and the infamous Donner family
4th - Treaties, Trenches, Mud & Blood about World War I - and a huge favorite in my class
5th - The Underground Abductor about Araminta Ross who later came to be known as Harriet Tubman
6th - Alamo All-Stars about the frontiers of Texas during the fight for independence from Mexico
Each can stand alone but it might be helpful to read One Dead Spy first so you know where the characters of Nathan Hale, The Hangman, and the soldier came from because they narrate each of the books.
So if you are looking for some awesome and engaging nonfiction books for your middle grade reader check out When Lunch Fights Back, Why’d They Wear That? and the Nathan Hale series. And I’d love to hear your suggestions as well!
Q & A
Our last segment this week is Question & Answer time. This Question came up at a recent Reading Workshop session that I was running with a colleague of mine, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of that conversation with you and get your thoughts about it.
So essentially the question was - What do we do (as teachers or parents) when a child is continually abandoning books? They just can’t seem to stick with one long enough to finish it?
Well - that is a tough question and we spent a long time talking about it. And although there are no rock-solid answers, here are a few thoughts we had that I’ll pass along:
First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay to ditch a book. Most of the avid readers I know, do it all the time. So I try to avoid there being a big taboo about abandoning a book and only address it when it becomes continual. At that point, it is crucial to connect with that kid and find out WHY they didn’t follow through with that book. Maybe it was too easy, too difficult, they got confused, maybe it dealt with a sensitive subject that was a bit too close to home, or they weren’t in the mood for it anymore. The one thing that can be hard about these conversations is that sometimes the child can’t articulate to you WHY they stopped reading so you have to do some digging. If the problem is a lack of stamina, there are a few ideas I can share:
- Help them think about their reading location, and what is going to be a productive place for them to really get into their book. Try a spot and then follow up with them.
- Help them to make better book choices in the first place - teach them how to preview a book so they have a better sense if it’s a good fit for them as far as reading level, interest, or genre. That way they weed out books they don’t want before they get too deeply into them. I know a lot of kids simply go by a friend’s recommendation, open it up and start reading. Guiding them through a couple preview sessions can help with that. A book should GRAB you within the first few pages. You should CARE about what’s happening and if not - move on.
- Remind them to pause every page or so and make sure they still know what’s going on and are making that movie in their mind. If not, reread and then go forward.
- Help them set some goals - maybe a certain number of page numbers or a certain number of minutes, or put a sticky note ahead in the book as a target before stopping.
- Help them understand that most books have a draggy part - and that if you can push through those sections, it will usually get a lot better.
All these can help get kids headed in the right direction if stamina is at the root of their book abandoning habit. But, some of my “worst” book abandoners were my best readers. They were the ones who got excited about tons of books and would jump from one new book to another. I feel like there is so much more to say about this topic, and I’d love to hear from you - how you handle kids who abandon multiple books?
Okay - that’s it for the Q&A section this week. If you have a question about how to connect middle grade readers to books they’ll love, thoughts about any of the topics we’ve discussed today, or want to share your awesome book themed t-shirt, tie, or tattoo please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.
Thanks so much for joining me this week. You can get a full transcript of this show, and our other episodes, at our website - BooksBetween.com with links to every book I talked about today. And, if you like the show, please subscribe on iTunes or tell a friend!
Thanks and see you in a couple weeks! Bye!