Reading for escape…

“As my concentration on the story in my hands took hold, all sounds faded away. My ears closed. I didn’t imagine the process of the cutoff like a shutter dropping, or as a narrowing of the pink canals leading inside, each waxy cartilaginaous passage irising tight like some deft alien doorway in Start Trek. It seemed more hydraulic than that. Deep in the mysterious ductwork an adjustment had taken place with the last possible actual movement, an adjustment chiefly of pressure. There was an airlock in there. It sealed to the outside so that it could open to the inside. The silence that feel on the noises of people and traffic and dogs allowed an inner door to open to the book’s data, its script of sound. There was a brief stage of transition in between, when I’d hear the texts’s soundtrack poking through the fabric of the house’s real murmur, like the moment of passage on the edge of sleep where your legs jerk as your mind switches over from instructing solid limbs to governing the phantom body that runs and dances in dream. Then, flat on my front with my chin on my hands or curled in a chair like a prawn, I’d be gone.” -Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built, pgs 1-2 

My last post asked “why do we read”…. one reason I read is to experience complete and total escape. I shared Francis Spufford’s quote above because his description is the closest I have read to what I experience in this typis of reading. Spufford also refers to it as “reading catatonically” and something that just happened to him. I remember experiencing reading like that as a child. Sometimes it would happen when I wasn’t expecting it to, and other times I would seek it out. 

I’ve been seeking out this experience but have been in what my nerdybookclub friends refer to as a reading slump. It was awful. I had been looking forward to escaping into books after defending my dissertation as a way to recenter and recalibrate myself. I went to the library armed with my Goodreads list and came home with at least ten different titles. I couldn’t get past page five of any of them. My restlesslessness had spilled into my reading self. AGGGGHHHHHHH. I tried to be patient. I read some informational books that were interesting and engaging. But I wanted the void of reading. The need to do nothing else all day except escape into the pages of a different world. 

My patience paid off. I started a book Sunday evening and finished it last night. It was glorious. I was swept into the world of Prythian with it’s faerie and mortal kingdoms created by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve never read any of her books before, but this was recommended for fans of Graceling, a favorite of mine. 

Something that I realized as I read about Feyre and Tamiln was that the other books I had tried reading had almost all been realistic fiction. I think I needed fantasy. I needed a completely diffferent world in order to fully escape into a reading zone this time. I don’t think that I always need fantasy, but that it was was I needed this time. Something I’m working on articulating more clearly in my dissertation revisions is that knowing why we read is one element that can help us as readers and teachers of readers. But it isn’t the only element, what we read is another. More on that in the next post….

Why do we read? 

in my previous post I committed to sharing my work. 

I’m going to be honest, that is a bit terrifying for me. 

This surprises some people, especially those who have met me or seen me present at a conference. 

I love sharing my work in person. Sharing it only in writing is a whole different experience for me. 

But I’m working on it. I’m doing it anyways. I’m working to embrace “not yet” and “in process”. 
Here is a Sketchnote from  part of my dissertation work. I appreciate any feedback or your own responses to the question, “WHY do we read?” 

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Words take my breath
Begging me to slowly reread
Savor each story

This is the review after I read it the first time. I was lent an ARC of this book from a #nerdybookclub friend and must pass it along to another reading friend. I can’t wait to get my own copy and read it again when it comes out in August. 

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The poemic form helped me to slow down as I read. I read parts outloud. I reread. I want to reread it again. Put it on your list now and get it as soon as you can. Read it. Read it multiple times. 

Books that are difficult to describe

Yesterday’s blog post about GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE has really got me thinking about the idea of labels. It’s interesting that so much of what I do as a literacy and children’s literature instructor involves defining concepts, genres, literary elements, strategies, and more. And yet, at the end of the day what I hope that the students in my classes do is take those concepts and think beyond them. This is one of the tricky things about walking the literacy/literature tightrope… while I teach students about text factors and reader factors because we know explicit instruction is important, I also don’t want students to be so tied down by understanding genre that they dismiss a book.

On facebook yesterday, my friend Katherine Sokolowski (@katsok) commented,

I’m finding the books I love the most are the hardest to summarize.

I agree, and would add that it isn’t always books that I love, but also books that make me think. That have a complexity that is both engaging and pushes me as a reader. I worry that as teachers, we don’t share these books enough with students – particularly young students. I’m not advocating sharing Grasshopper Jungle with elementary kids, but I am asking us to be more aware of how our own thinking can sometimes prevent us from sharing sometime with students. I don’t think every book is right for everyone or every time. But a discussion about genre is so much more interesting when it is with a book that blurs the lines – it makes us work to articulate our questions and our thinking. And that’s a good thing.

Thinking about didactic (and not) books in classrooms

Higher Higher by Leslie Patricelli

I love the book Higher Higher by Leslie Patricelli for many reasons. The rich colors, full bleed illustrations, and double page spreads invite readers to join in on the adventure of the main character. The repetitive text as she swings (“higher, higher”) provides an opportunity for pre-emergent readers to read along, but also doesn’t limit opportunities for readers of all ages to fill in gaps and add to the story on their own. It presents the possibilities of imagination when doing something as seemingly simple as playing on a swing set.

This weekend I discovered a newer book by the same author, No No Yes Yes.  Even though it is written and illustrated by the same person, it is a very different kind of book.

No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli

In this picture book, a diaper-clad baby is told “no no” to things s/he shouldn’t do and “yes yes” to things s/he should do instead. For example, drawing on the walls is “no no”,  but drawing on paper is “yes yes”. My 18-month-old niece loved the book, as do her parents. It has given them language to help her not hit the dog or dump food on the floor.

While both of these books could be read with an 18-month old or a preschooler, No No Yes Yes is a great example of a didactic book. It is a book that I would use in my children’s literature class to help students to understand that a didactic book has a clear and distinct lesson. This is does not mean that No No Yes Yes is a “bad book” and that Higher Higher is a “good book”. But understanding how didacticism can function in books (for children or adults) is important for teachers to consider when selecting books. This means that if you are looking for a book that is going to foster interesting, open-ended, and authentic discussion focused the book, you wouldn’t want to use a text that is strongly didactic. The discussion will usually fall flat, or move into other responses about the “lesson”.

Students who are more advanced thinkers often prefer more open-ended books because they allow for a wider range of interpretations and thinking. Ultimately, didactic books fill a need, but it’s important to have (and use) a variety of types of books in our classrooms.

Dissertation Ponderings: Authorial Intent

I’ve been working in my dissertation and thought I’d share some of my “mind mapping” images. The image below is part of chapter two – at least that’s how it started – which is my framework chapter. This chapter describes how I’m going to approach my topic, another way I like to think of it is what “lenses” will I be wearing as I explore my topic. I’m using (or wearing) Matthews’ Philosophy of Childhood as an alternative to the traditionally accepted stage theories of development (like Piaget). I’m also using Ranciere as a way to consider what happens if teachers and students start from a place of equality.

The photo below was me trying to figure out if the idea of “authorial intent” is one way I can explain my thinking, or if it was just me going off on a tangent to avoid actual writing. I’m still working on it, but the good news is that I don’t think it is just a tangent (although it might come in to play in a different chapter).

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I’ve always been bothered by the question of authorial intent – it seems to me like the only way to get the answer is to actually ask the author. I know that isn’t necessarily true – there are some pieces of writing where authorial intent is very clear – like in very didactic books.

I really appreciate John’s Green’s thoughts on the matter. I’ve watched How and Why We Read: Crash Course English Literature #1 numerous times. Today I discovered that someone has isolated his “Open Letter to Authorial Intent” (which is part of the How We Read video).

One particular thing he says has stuck with me and I will continue to think about in terms of the ways that elementary teachers are prepared to think about literature…

Inevitably reading is a conversation between and author and a reader, but give yourself some power in that conversation reader! Go out there and make a world. 

I think that the idea of authorial intent is going to come in because if that is the objective of a lesson, then it has the potential to significantly impact the types of literature a teacher selects. In other words, if my goal as a teacher is for students to be able to identify the author’s intent of a book, then I’m only going to select books that have one clear message.

At least that’s where I am right now… more soon!

Connections: Extra Yarn and Philosophy of Childhood

My youngest daughter (8 1/2 years old) just asked if she could read me a picture book. She gave me four to select from and I chose this one:

Here is what she had to say about it after she read to me:

I think that there wasn’t any yarn in the box for the Duke because it only worked for people who needed it. The Duke was rude and only wanted it (the yarn) to make him famous and popular. Annabelle was a young girl who wanted to make a change in the world that she lived in. It didn’t say that exactly in the story but that’s what I think because she was the only one who could get the colorful yarn. Annabelle chose to share the yarn to help make the world a better place. The Duke was just being greedy.

I love asking people what they think about books they are reading or have read. I specifically use the term “people” because age doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a preschool child who isn’t yet decoding words, or a Nerdy Book Club friend who reads voraciously, everyone can say something about a story. It makes me think about the phrase I often hear from adults in regards to children reading certain books:

Children won’t understand that. It’s too __________ (insert descriptor like complex, scary, or deep).

This comment makes me crazy. While comments like this may be true for some readers (again regardless of age), it is not true of all readers. When adults make decisions about what a child can or can not engage with before even talking to the child, it worries me. I was reading today about The Philosophy of Childhood. I’m still reading and processing – and will be for a while because it is a big part of my dissertation. But as I was listening to Annie tell me what she thought about Extra Yarn, it made me think back to this quote by Gareth Matthews:

“The models of development that theories of childhood offer to stimulate our research and challenge our attempts at understanding children may have many useful functions. But we must guard against letting those models caricature our children and limit the possibilities we are willing to recognize in our dealings with them as fellow human beings” (Matthews, 1994, p. 29).

If we, as adults and teachers, are too cautious about what we think children are capable or in terms of responding to literature, we are shortchanging them from a world of possible experiences.