Friday, September 25, 2009

When It Comes to Books, No Size Will Ever Fit All

One thing that most people notice about Paideia is the lack of requirement and regulation in many areas that schools traditionally require and regiment. For instance, despite popular belief, Paideia does have a Dress Code. It says in black-and-white, right in the Handbook:
Please dress before you come to school.
Our summer reading requirement is similarly open to individual choice, and one of the pleasures of a new school year is finding out what our students chose to read over the summer. Each literature teacher has a method of assessing students' summer reading. Most ask for a list with evaluations, recommendations and other thoughts about each book read; some ask for the first essay about one of the four selections. Clearly, each student has her or his own set of Ps for evaluating a book.

Some students made connections from a book plot to another medium.
Pride and Prejudice is a great classic tale of the importance of love and the ability to believe beyond one's own prejudices. The story was really confusing for me to follow, at first, but once I adjusted to the language and expressions, I loved reading about the romance, and it kind of reminded me of a modern Lifetime movie.
Other choices evoked strong negative reactions to people and prose, giving proof to the adage "For every book a reader, and for every reader, a book." But not all books for all readers.
I saw this book in a bookstore and liked the title/cover/back of the book. This book got excellent reviews. Those reviews must have been written by depressed, bitter, divorced women who enjoy reading about some pathetic lady who realized in her late 30's what a failure her life has been. I don't really suggest this book unless you have given up on life and are middle aged and divorced and want to feel a little better about yourself.
This was a boring book. The concept was a really good idea, but it was not executed in a thoughtful way. The author wrote as though she had never written before with lines like "he wrote his name with his left hand, he was left handed." I would not recommend this to anyone over the age of ten.

Students know what works for them, and why they read. It's especially exciting when a student really enjoys a book in an unfamiliar genre. This fantasy and action novel reader has now discovered good historical fiction:
I like how the author put this book together [Genghis: Birth of an Empire] together, not in a biography or a history lesson, but as a story, with a plot and characters, which seemed fictitious, but did in fact exist. It felt like you were reading just for the story, and not for the history. I know the author kept me reading!

And isn't that the whole point?

Free choice in summer reading ROCKS!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Do You Think About Books?

The annual Library Donation Sale is coming up next week! This is a fun event for so many reasons -- showcasing the quality and range of books that we want in the library collection, having enthusiastic volunteers involved in a library activity, and getting to talk about books and the library program with Paideia parents and grandparents. And a book with a permanent bookplate is a neat way for all families be able to contribute to their child's school -- even high school students get a little thrill from finding their names in a book donated in their honor.

In preparation for the sale, Natalie and I read library reviewing journals, online reviews and keep up with several respected book bloggers to select what to order for the Library Donation Sale. We can't read everything (not even close!) before purchasing, and librarians depend greatly on the evaluations of other readers and reviewers when buying for our students.

Book blogger Jen Robinson recently wrote a post on her 6 Ps of Book Appreciation, a thoughtful explanation of the elements she's looking for when selecting, reading and evaluating pleasure reading. Some of her Ps are renamed standard "elements of literature," others are useful criteria for thinking about whether a book works. One commenter added a 7th criterion -- she called it the "message/theme." I think it's a valid addition, and for the sake of alliteration, I'm going to call it "Point," as in "what's the point of this effort, anyway?" I've added my own 8th P at the end.

  • Premise: What the book is supposed to be about; the interesting hook; a genre (mystery, coming-of-age); whatever it is that makes you pick the book up to read
  • Plot: What actually happens; is it a good story?
  • People: The characters
  • Prose: The author's writing style; is the dialog realistic or clunky?; are there memorable sentences?
  • Place: The setting
  • Pictures: How well do they work with the story?
  • Point: Is there something valuable to be learned from the story and/or the characters' experiences? is the story inspiring, does it provoke thought or emotion? or is it heavy-handed and didactic?
  • PAIDEIA: All librarians are selecting information for a specific audience. Will this book/video/audio/database be useful to Paideia students and teachers? Is this subject a part of our curriculum? Does it reflect our school values?

An alliterative list is a handy way to remember a bunch of connected concepts, and these Seven +1 Ps are useful for all readers, young and old. Though they are't necessarily original or new to experienced readers, I'm now going to think about each one explicitly as I read and evaluate for our library.

Would you add or delete any of the above criteria?? What do you look for in a good book?? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Booktalk: Books with Sequels

Some books are just so good that you hate having to say goodbye after the last page ends. In some cases, the author has already planned to continue the story. In other cases, though, the author feels the same way at the end of the writing -- h/she has come to know the characters and the setting so well that another book just has to be written, to tell what happens after (or what happened before).

Today's 8th grade book talk had a simple theme, "Books with Sequels." I presented a first book, and the sequel (and mentioned whether there are more in a trilogy or series). Here they are.

Korman, Gordon. Son of the Mob + Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle.
Vince does NOT want to go into the "family business." Will dating the daughter of an FBI agent be his ticket out?

Shanower, Eric. Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships + Age of Bronze: Sacrifice.
First two in a 7-volume graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War.

Anderson, M. T. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party + Volume 2: Kingdom on the Waves.
Octavian was raised in luxury and intellectual stimulation, and he only gradually realizes that both he and his African-born mother are slaves, and that all his finery and education are but a cruel experiment. During the American Revolution, chooses sides for freedom -- but will his freedom be won by the Patriots or the British?

Kirkman, Robert & Cory Walker. Invincible: Family Matters + Invincible: Eight is Enough.
Family life is hard when you're a teen, but being a superhero child of superhero parents definitely complicates things. Full-color graphic novel series.

Johnson, Angela. Heaven + The First Part Last.
Marley's got great parents and a good life in Heaven, Ohio. But what Marley doesn't know is huge, and changes everything. Bobby and Feather also live in Heaven. Bobby tells the "then" and the "now" of how he became a single teenage dad caring for an infant daughter on his own.

Naifeh, Ted. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things + Courtney Crumrin and the Coven of Mystics.
Courtney's not too happy about moving to the 'burbs to live with rich, wierd old Uncle Aloysious. Her parents don't seem to notice the creepy critters that roam at night, but Aloysious knows Courtney's tough enough to handle the night things (and witches, warlocks and other magical powers.) Black & white graphic novel series.

King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper's Apprentice + A Monstrous Regiment of Women.
A brilliant 15-year old misfit meets the retired beekeeping master detective, Sherlock Holmes. Their partnership suits them both, and leads to danger and adventure. A continuing series.

Ryan, Sarah. Empress of the World + The Rules for Hearts.
Nicola spends a summer at academic honors camp and loses her heart, not to archaeology as she planned, but to a beautiful blonde girl. Then Battle tells her story of what happens after.

Perkins, Mitali. First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
+ First Daughter: White House Rules.
'Sparrow' is an ordinary, straight-talking, social networking American teenager, until her dad decides to run for President. His campaign handlers try to turn Pakistan-born, adopted, inquisitive Sameera into a giggly, trendy, 'all-American' girl. Leave it to her to show the country what 'all-American' really means. After the election? Look out White House!

Westerfeld, Scott. Midnighters: The Secret Hour + Midnighters: Touching Darkness.
Only some people, the ones born at midnight, can see the dark and dangerous beings that come out during the hour between 12:00 and 12:01 am. Jessica is a Midnighter, and the evil midnight creatures are out to get her.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Seeing Stone + At the Crossing Places.
As young Arthur is waiting for his chance to become a knight, he receives a strange stone that shows him stories of his namesake, King Arthur of Camelot. The stories of the two Arthurs continue to mingle as young Arthur joins the Great Crusades. Part of the Arthur trilogy.

Woodson, Jacqueline. if you come softly + Behind You.
Two outsiders at a swanky private school, Ellie & Jeremiah fall for each other right away. To them, it doesn't matter that Jeremiah's black and Ellie's Jewish, or that their families are worlds apart. But the world may not agree.

Crutcher, Chris. Stotan! + Ironman.
What five best friends, four guys and one girl, learn during Stotan Week, a grueling four-hour daily swimathon over Christmas break, keeps them going when life really gets hard. Years later, one of the Stotans becomes a teacher, and works to help another angry kid conquer his own demons.