Summer Reading 2017

Summer is a time to relax and rejuvenate. For me, it’s a time for family and friends, as well as some neat professional development opportunities. This summer, I did travel quite a bit, which allowed me to do a lot of reading on planes and in cars. I’ve discovered some wonderful books and wanted to share my reading list! I’ve divided it by fiction and professional reading. If you happen across this post and have recommendations based on my list or comments about the books, please do share!

I do believe books can be mirrors and windows. I often seek out windows, hoping to understand an empathize with experiences I have not had, myself. I found some powerful windows and mirrors this summer and I hope you did, too. Books can open our worlds up so much. That’s half the fun.

Fiction

  • House Arrest, by K.A. Holt – This novel in verse tells the story of a young man who is put on house arrest and is court ordered to keep a journal. He has a younger brother with a congenial birth defect that has caused his family to have quite a few struggles, including his father leaving and finances becoming almost impossible. I found the story and voice very compelling and enjoyed it a great deal. I look forward to reading more by K.A. Holt.
  • Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri – This graphic nonfiction book tells the story of Yummy, a young man who falls into a gang life in Chicago and makes some choices that lead eventually to his death. The illustrations are excellent and the narrator’s confusion and frustration about the whole situation resonates with feelings we still have today.
  • The Skin I’m In, by Sharon Flake – I heard mixed reviews about this novel before being able to read it myself. It’s about a young woman named Maleeka who is constantly picked on at school for her homemade cloths, her good grades, and her exceptionally dark skin. A new teacher comes and Maleeka assumes it will lead to more trouble, but the new teacher surprises her. There is a particularly dark scene, in which two boys attempt to attack Maleeka on the street, but they are unsuccessful in carrying out their full attack. However, I mention it because it is clearly an attempted rape, and Maleeka deals with complicated feelings following the event.
  • Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery, by M. Evelina Galang – At the onset of the story, Angel’s father has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Angel’s mother is too beset with her own grief to function, and Angel begins to take more responsibility for caring for her family. Set against the backdrop of the second Philippine People Power Revolution of 2001, this novel delves beautifully into the complexities of a family pulled apart. I could not get over the incredible language, often rereading passages just to experience them for a little bit longer. I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot.
  • Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by John Sonnenblick – Steven is in the band and is an exceptionally percussionist. He has a little brother, Jeffrey, who annoys him a great deal, a girl he has a crush on, and some very supportive parents. Jeffrey suddenly takes ill and Steven’s world is turned upside down. When Jeffrey is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. This book does a great job showing how challenging it can be to have a sick sibling and how it affects a family. It was certainly a window for me. I really enjoyed it.
  • OCDaniel, by Wesley King – Daniel is the backup punter for his middle school football team, which basically means he’s the waterboy. He spends all of practice arranging the cups and hoping no one notices. He has quite a few habits, actually, that he hopes no one notices. He doesn’t want anyone to think he’s crazy, but he just can’t write the number four or flip a light switch only one time. A young woman known best to him as Psycho Sara, however, seems to have seen him in a way no one else has. I loved this book. It has a great mystery that goes side by side with Daniel’s own journey of self-discovery and I thought it was very well told.
  • Mexican WhiteBoy, by Matt de la Pena – Danny goes to stay with extended family for the summer. His dad is off on a trip and his mom has moved in with a man he just isn’t thrilled with, so he jumps at the chance to go spend the summer with cousins on his father’s side. There, he plays baseball and starts to really connect with his family, but it takes time for him to begin to feel accepted. Matt de la Pena is an incredible story and I cannot believe it took me so long to pick this book up. It definitely has some language in it, but it’s a well told story about trying to find your place and the power of sports to cross the lines we create for ourselves.
  • More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera – Aaron’s father committed suicide three months ago, and he’s still taking it day by day. He has a girlfriend he loves and some close friends that he really gets along with. He, too, attempted suicide, but was unsuccessful. He’s trying to move past this, but it’s a daily struggle. He meets a new guy named Thomas, who he begins to develop feelings for in his girlfriend’s absence during a trip. Rather than dealing with this feelings, Aaron wants to have a procedure done to alter his memory and remove his feelings for Thomas. This book, which feels mostly realistic, with a hint of science fiction, tells a powerful story about identity.
  • Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, by Nora Raleigh Baskin – As the title suggests, this is a 9/11 story. It follows the story of several individuals across the country and explores the impact of the attacks on the nation as a whole. It was a quick read, and a good story on the whole.
  • See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng – I loved this book so much, I added it to the Family Book Club list for this year. It tells the story of Alex, who loves space. The narration style is that Alex is making recordings on his golden iPod, that he intends to send into space to be discovered by other intelligent life forms. Alex is an independent young man, who takes care of his mother. She has many quiet days and Alex provides for her by preparing meals and going to the grocery store when needed. He gets her set up for a few days and then goes to a convention, where he hopes to send his golden iPod off into space.
  • Escaping into the Night, by Dina D. Friedman – Halina lives in a Polish ghetto with her mother and several friends. When Hitler orders the ghetto evacuated, Halina escapes into a secret Jewish camp, where people live underground, struggling to survive, scavenging for food and hiding from the Nazis. This work of historical fiction taught me yet another aspect of life during WWII. It was powerful to me in that, people find ways to survive in the worst of times. I do think this story would appeal to students who are interested in WWII and want to learn more.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as told by Michael Morpurgo – I have always wanted to read this entire legend, because we teach the first section as part of our 7th grade course of study. It’s easily one of the most engaging stories of the year. The full story is just as engaging! I did discover, however, that Sir Gawain is tempted by a beautiful woman, and so, it is probably for the best that our textbook does not print the whole story. I am interested to read more of Michael Morpurgo’s work – I really love the narration style of this verison.
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr – I don’t know that I need to share much about this story, as it has been so popular in recent years. It’s another story set during the WWII time period and this one tells parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy. It’s beautiful. The story is beautiful. The writing is beautiful. The way the stories converge is beautiful. I HIGHLY recommend this book. I am adding it to my classroom library. It was a sixth grader that recommended it to me, so I think having it there for students who are interested is ideal. I wanted to copy so many sentences just to remember how wonderful they were.
  • Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy #1), by Deborah Wiles – Franny is growing up in 1962 and times are challenging. The country lives in fear of Russian nuclear missiles and Franny’s family is feeling the impact, especially since her father is military. Wiles calls this a documentary novel and it’s the first of it’s kind I’ve encountered, but I hope the idea gains some traction. Included in the story are newspaper clippings, photographs, and speeches from the time period. Wiles captures the fears of the time in tremendous fashion by including all the source material. I thought it was awesome!
  • Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy #2), by Deborah Wiles – Similar to Countdown, Revolution tells a story, interspersed with source material from the time period. This time, the story follows the Freedom Summer in Greenwood, Mississippi. Sunny feels like her town is being invaded. Freedom workers are coming in trying to get African Americans registered to vote. The town is panicking. Again, Wiles captures the story in a unique and compelling way with the documentary novel. I loved it.
  • A Time to Dance, by Padma Venkatraman – This novel in verse tells the story of Veda, who is a dance prodigy living in India. A terrible car accident leaves her injured beyond her comprehension – her leg is amputated. Veda is determined to dance again, despite her circumstances. It’s an incredibly powerful story about finding yourself again after tragedy strikes. I was very moved by this story and can’t wait to share it with students.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving – This is quite possibly one of the best first lines around: I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. It’s 1953 and two boys, who happen to be best friends, are in the middle of a Little League game when one boy hits a foul boy that hits the other boy’s mother square in the forehead and kills her. The story works both in the past and present for the narrator. It explores both the tragedy of the baseball, but also how Owen (the batter) does not believe in accidents. This story is complex and full good questions. What happens after this foul ball is extraordinary. It took me some time to read, because it is a long book, but I really couldn’t put it down.
  • Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham – This series was highly recommended to me by a student last year and now I can see why! Theodore Boone is an engaging narrator and John Grisham is a great storyteller. This book, the first in the series, follows the trial of a highly publicized murder that happens in a relatively small town. Theodore is the child of two lawyers in town and is deeply interested in the trial. He is often approached by classmates about legal matters and gets pulled into the trial proceedings when this happens. The novel was exciting and fascinating. I look forward to recommending it this year.
  • All We Have Left, by Wendy Mills – I have told many people that this book is the best I read this summer and while there are several others on this list that I love, I stand by it. All We Have Left tells the story of Alia, a 16 year old Muslim girl, in 2001, as she finds herself in the Twin Towers on the day of the attacks and Jesse, a 16 year old girl in 2016. The two stories converge in a fascinating way. I don’t want to say too much about it because I don’t want to give things away, but this is easily the best story about 9/11 I have read to date. I highly recommend this to anyone!
  • Piecing Me Together, by Renee Watson – Jade wants to succeed. Her mother has taught her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way and she tries to do so. She lives in a poor neighborhood and often goes to school hungry, but she does go to a school that she got into because of her good grades and strong work ethic. She dreams of travel and works hard to earn opportunities at school. Her school offers her a chance to join a mentor-ship program for “at-risk” girls, but she realizes quickly that this seems to mean black girls from “bad” neighborhoods. This book is an incredible window into understanding what privilege looks like and what harm can come when we make decisions based on stereotypes. I could not put it down.
  • How I Became A Ghost, by Tim Tingle – A Choctaw boy tells the story of his family’s removal from their Mississippi home by way of the Trail of Tears. The story has a good bit of action, though it is a tragic tale. I think the narrator is engaging and that this book would appeal to students seeking tales of survival and nature.
  • Belle Chasse, by Suzanne Johnson – This is part of the Sentinels of New Orleans series, by Suzanne Johnson. It’s not a series I would recommend to middle schoolers, but I do highly recommended it to upper high schoolers and adults that enjoy fantasy. DJ is a sentinel of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina rips open the boundary between the natural world and the preternatural world. It release a lot of things, but one of them is Jean Lafitte. In this particular book, war is rising and DJ must choose a side. I LOVE this series. It’s honestly the best surprise when I learn a new installment has come out. It’s an engaging, funny story that I really appreciate.
  • Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes – If you know me, you know Katrina stories are near and dear to me, so it’s no surprise I read two back to back. Ninth Ward follows the story of a young woman who simply does not have the means to leave during the storm. I found it engaging and powerful. Thinking about privilege this summer and what it looks like, this story offered me a window into a world where evacuation in the face of a terrible storm was a privilege, not a right, for some of our citizens when Katrina struck. I think it’s an important book.
  • Audacity, by Melanie Crowder – This novel in verse tells the story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American History. Clara Lemlich is a hard worker, who cares deeply for those around her. I was deeply moved by her story and in awe of the way she fought for those around her. I can’t wait to share this story with students.
  • Soldier, Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood – Tess finds it hard to balance her identity as a Navajo and as an American and is in utter shock when her sister Gaby decides to join the army just weeks after the first Native American to die in combat, a Navajo as well, is killed. Tess struggles to find herself in these circumstances and is challenged with her sister’s charge to care for her horse while she is at war. I loved this book. It’s short and somewhat of an easy read, so while I think it has wide appeal in middle school, I look forward to sharing it particularly with reluctant readers.
  • Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper – This book brought the most tears for me this summer. Melody has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or talk, but her mind is incredible. She has a photographic memory and loves to learn. Her speaking board is very limited, though, so communication is a constant battle. She is in a self-contained classroom at school, but when the laws change and Melody is placed in inclusion classes, her world opens up and she longs for more. I adore Sharon Draper and this book is no exception. She is a powerful story teller and this book is incredible. I should have read it years ago!
  • The Warden’s Daughter, by Jerry Spinelli – Cammie’s father is the warden. She lives at the prison. While this is endlessly fascinating, it becomes even more so when a very high profile murderer is placed into solitary during her time there. Cammie has not had an easy life. She lost her mother when she was very young and has struggled with her own guilt over the circumstances. She has recently decided that she wants the prisoner who has been assigned to clean their house to be her new mother. The story follows the summer where Cammie really spirals out of control. The story is fantastic. I loved it. I highly recommend.
  • Somewhere Among, by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu – Ema is caught between two worlds. Her father is Japanese and her mother is American. She lives in Japan and is fond of her American grandparents. When 9/11 strikes, it adds new strains on her already struggling family. The novel in verse tells the story of a girl trapped between two worlds during the worst of times. It’s a good story.

Professional Books

  • Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, by Penny Kittle – I can’t recommend this book enough to teachers. Kittle talks about the importance of reading choice in middle and high school and all the reasons we need to develop stamina in readers of all ages. I love Reading Workshop and it has changed my world. I want that for every teacher. If you’re still teaching whole class novels, this book is worth your attention. If you’ve transitioned to workshop, this book is worth your attention. It’s full of great ideas and explanations.
  • In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, by Kelly Gallagher – This book set me on fire for establishing a writing workshop in my room. I have worked really hard on reading workshop for the last three years and it is far from perfect and while I never quit teaching writing, I have been very aware that I am not giving it the attention it needs. I am looking forward to the challenge and this book gave very practical advice that made me feel like I can do it.
  • Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst – I want every teacher to read this book. Comprehension questions on tests are not what we need to be asking our students. They’re just not. This book describes an approach to reading instruction that I think can help teachers move in an improved direction. I cannot wait to implement some of the ideas in my classroom this year.

Pop Up Literature Museums

Introduction and Initial Planning

The challenge of building a reading community within our school and community is ever present. To face this challenge, my students and I decided to create Pop Up Literature Museums, or as they so fondly called them, Pop Up LIT Museums.

To put it simply, we transformed our classroom into a book museum, honoring the books we’d recently finished, and invited other classrooms throughout our school to come take look. This undertaking was by no means simple, however.

To begin, my students read novels in small groups as part of our usual Book Club routine. We met in discussion groups and students worked through their thinking together as they read. Then, as students finished the book, I began the project.

Museum Exhibition Letter

Each class received a letter tailored to their class’s book club theme. Three classes were reading WWII Books. One class was reading graphic novels, and the last class requested a book club using only books that had more than one narrator. We investigated what makes a good museum by taking several virtual tours of museums covering a wide range of topics and themes. We came to the conclusion that strong exhibits included title labels, section labels, artifacts, and object labels.

Then, I gave students this planning page: Planning Your Exhibit. Students had the rest of the introduction day and the following class day to lay out their plans. They determined what their artifact would be, made supply lists, and started sketching out plans and drafting labels.

Following this, things did get a little bit chaotic. Students started going every different direction in terms of what they were working on. This was challenging in terms of classroom management, but once I got organization of materials covered, it went smoothly. You do need an exhibit storage space for this to work well. My exhibit storage was under a stairwell, and organized by class. Specific students were assigned in each class to keep things in order by class period.

Exhibit Storage

Big Picture Planning

After book groups planned their exhibits and while they were working on artifacts and labels, we realized we had some big picture decisions to make to have a cohesive, strong pop up museum. To do this, each group (5-6 groups in each class) chose a representative to be a member of the Executive Board.

Thankfully, I have a librarian who has an instructional day with my students once a month, so scheduling an Executive Board meeting was as simple as keeping those 5-6 students back with me on Library Day, though I think it would easily work as a small group meeting in the regular classroom.

The agenda for the board meeting was as follows:

  • Summarize your book for the group.
  • Decide on the patterns we see to choose museum titles. Results below.
    • Stand Up! A Graphic Novel Pop Up Lit Museum (Included El Deafo, American Born Chinese, Persepolis, The Boxer, March, and Ghosts)
    • Hidden History: A WWII Pop Up Lit Museum (Included Left for Dead, Lost in the Pacific, Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Anne Frank, Irena’s Children, and Escape into the Night)
    • Echoes of War: A WWII Pop Up Lit Museum (Included Echo, Between Shades of Grey, Prisoner B-3087, Milkweed, Unlikely Warrior, and Under the Blood Red Sun)
    • Did You Survive? A WWII Pop Up Lit Museum (Included The Last Cherry Blossom, Unbroken, Projekt 1065, and Code Talkers)
    • Many Voices, One Story: A Pop Up Lit Museum (Included All American Boys, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, The Watch That Ends the Night, Salt to the Sea, Echo, A Falling Star, Curses and Smoke, and A Different Kind of Hurricane)
  • Decide on the room set up (I had a diagram of the room on the board, with book titles listed on sticky notes to be placed on the diagram).
  • Decide on how we would transform the room to something new (I thought this would be sheets on the walls).

Surprisingly, my students decided to black out the room. They felt the black would emphasize the colors of the exhibit best. We did this by covering the walls, cabinets, and tables with black butcher paper.

 

Bringing It All Together

Students worked hard for a good week. They painted signs. They constructed walls. They tied fishing line and hung things from the ceiling. They looked at their space, and planned beautiful exhibits. It’s difficult for me to select photos to share because so many of them were so wonderful. Here’s a glimpse.

This is but a small preview. You can see more on Twitter using the hashtag #popuplitmuseum. I love that students made use of the whole space. Some students even made artifact cases, by gluing plastic wrap inside of frames to give the illusion of glass. Some students did have food as an artifact, when appropriate. One class period even had a small refreshment spread for special guests and museum workers.

Making Reading Social

One of the goals of this project was to honor the characters we’d fallen in love with, but it was also to make our reading part of the larger social community of our school. We wanted to share what was happening in our room. To do this, we had a Preview Day – We invited the other class doing a museum project and the social studies class on our own team. They were our test audience to see how things would go.

From Preview Day, we learned:

  • A walk through where everyone stays in order and goes in a line is not the most productive way to get all of our guests engaged quickly. We needed to just let them come in and send half one way and half the other.
  • Students wanted to touch things. Most classes decided to have someone greet the classes at the door on Opening Day (the only day) and ask them not to touch things unless invited to do so. Some exhibits did have interactive elements, but some had fragile constructions meant only for viewing.
  • The Pop Up aspect is surprising easy if things are well planned. Students had ten minutes to set it up and usually about five to break it down before the next class would come. I did have a couple of parents volunteer to spend the day with us, so we had several extra adult hands, which was great. We had two step stools, lots of painters tape, and extra fishing line and paper clips on hand (for hanging signs from the ceiling). All items were stored in Exhibit Storage when not in use.

On Opening Day, we invited five classes to come through the room, as well as any teachers or administrators that had time to stop by. All in all, on opening day, we had roughly 100 students come through each museum. It was busy, but students were engaged. They were asking questions and several teachers said their students went back and added several titles to their To Be Read lists!

To grade the museum exhibits, I used this rubric: Pop Up Lit Museum Final Rubric. My kind mom came over on Opening Day and took detailed photographs of all exhibits, including a big picture, the title label, section label, and all artifacts and object labels. I did not do any grading day of, but graded the photographs later. This allowed me to greet guests and listen to my students talk to their peers and other visitors about their books.

Debriefing 

Overall, the museums themselves took roughly two weeks from invitation to Opening Day. After Opening Day, we had a debrief. Students used this form to write their thoughts before we began talking: Museum Debrief.

The main takeaways from our debrief:

  • We had Preview Day with Opening Day the following day. Students felt that it would be useful to have a day in between the two to allow for repairs and adjustments so that the final exhibit would as polished as possible.
  • Most classes suggested having guided tours. They suggested executive board members meet classes in the hall, take 5-6 students each, and walk them around to help control traffic around some of the more popular exhibits. For example, in Many Voices, One Story, the Ms. Bixby exhibit had raspberry cheesecake for guests, and the Curses and Smoke exhibit had a volcano that erupted. This made for some heavy traffic at times.
  • Students were all very positive about it. They felt having their individual artifact and object label grade was a major boost. They enjoyed collaborating on the title and section labels.

My Reflections

My students could not believe we were not going to do another museum for the next Book Club. For me, that’s the mark of a good assignment. I think the students learned a lot. I know I did. I also think we reached our goals in more ways than one by sharing the project with our school community. I even posted some photos of work on social media and had readers outside of our school community asking me to borrow the books. I did tweet to several authors included and they responded! The students and I celebrated this for quite some time. Overall, I felt like the project gave us a way to honor the books we love and to bring them to life in a new way for our friends and family.

Fostering Discussions About Books in Middle School

At NCTE, my colleagues and I realized something important: Family reading programs seemed to be almost exclusively elementary programs. As we sat on the floor waiting to go to the book fair, we began to play with the idea of a Parent Book Club at our 6-7 grade middle school. We asked ourselves what would happen if we hosted a monthly book club meeting to provide a space for parents to read good YA and discuss the value they have for our students.

I sent out the information and got some feedback from the other teams in my school. A couple of things became abundantly clear: It should be named Family Book Club and we needed to define the goals and purpose. We asked ourselves why are we starting a family book club? Here’s what we came up with:

Reading communities support enthusiastic readers. We want to:

  • Increase how much we/you read.
  • Foster connections with other readers.
  • Challenge you to stretch.
  • Suggest titles for additional reading.
  • Encourage mindfulness about what you read and share.
  • Show our students that the reading community is a social community.

We shared this information with our first attendees, as well as some information about diversity in young adult literature. In her Ted Talk, “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” Grace Lin describes the importance of children seeing themselves reflected in the books they read, as well as the need for children to read books that serve as windows into other cultures and experiencing. By reading widely, our students will develop both self-worth and empathy. We shared that we determined our monthly selections with these things in mind.

Our first selection was Jewel Parker Rhodes’ Towers Falling, which is a wonderfully crafted tale about a young woman named Deja. She starts a new school from which you can see the New York City skyline out the window. Her teacher shows her class an older picture of the skyline and asks them what is missing? The teacher uses this as a way into an inquiry based study of the events of 9/11, which Deja has more personal connections to than she realizes, even if it did happen before she was born.

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The book naturally lends itself to a conversation about community, so we discussed the communities we are involved in in the same way that the students in the book did. Then, we discussed the ways in which this book may serve as a window or mirror for students, as well as the historical significance of this book. Our first meeting had ten or so adults, including teachers and parents, as well as two students. What struck me as I walked around and listened in is how much people were enjoying the conversations. There was not a moment where the conversations faded and it was clearly time for me to ask a new question.

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This experience showed me something convicting as a Language Arts teacher: Discussions about books without a particular agenda are productive. Often, I feel trapped by standards and the need to assess and be able to show something tangible. I have run a number of rounds of Book Clubs in my classrooms. I provide a selection of six or so books and preview them all for the class. Students rank their choices and are assigned to groups of 4-5. In the past, Book Club meetings in class have always had a product attached. For example, students might create an infogram detailing the setting, characters, conflict, and theme of their book. One of my favorites is a character pressure map, which requires students to identify the internal and external pressures impacting the main character. While I do think these assignments are valuable, the downside of having a Book Club meeting that requires a product of any kind is that students don’t actually discuss the book. They search for answers.

With this in mind, I decided to try something bold. For our January Book Clubs, I told my students their only job was to read the assigned pages by a certain date and be prepared to discuss the book. I left their note taking methods up to them. Some students naturally annotate books, using sticky notes are keeping a jot list of things that appealed to them. Some students didn’t take any notes at all. As the day for discussion approached, I developed a list of generic questions to have on the table should the conversation grind to a halt. I think the thing that surprised me the most about this project is that the conversation rarely required someone to pick up that list.

Students came to the table excited to discuss their books. They made insightful comments about character development, plot structure, and the themes they see. They asked questions that pushed their thinking. They made comments that were entertaining, but that pushed their peers to think a little deeper. For example, one young man reading Projekt 1065, by Alan Gratz, asked, “How can Michael be spying on Adolf Hitler and be afraid of heights?” Of the name of Louis Zamperini’s plane in Unbroken, one student responded, “The Superman? Now, that’s just misleading.” This comment led to a good conversation about how cheaply the B-24s were made. It was also neat to be able to encourage students to speak up in small groups. I whispered to one student in a particularly lively discussion of The Devil’s Arithmetic that she needed to assert herself because she kept getting cut off. She took a moment to think about it, placed her hands neatly in front of her and said quite clearly, “I need to assert myself!” The students took notice and brought her into the full conversation. On the whole, this was a success.

To assess the discussion, I simply took notes and kept track of how many comments each student made. I kept notes on their discussion, including questions and predictions. We will have those available for the second meeting, which is also a discussion. This time, students are preparing some responses so we’ll have a more structured, Socratic Seminar style.

So, all in all, I think Family Book Club is going to be beneficial for our school community, but I am also grateful the ways in which after just want meeting, it challenged me to reflect on and improve my own classroom teaching. Students had a renewed enthusiasm for their books when we took the pressure off.