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. 

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Mon Reading Button PB to YAThis week I read: 

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
This did not disappoint, I’d had it on my tbr list and was reminded of it during #titletalk last month. Had to go out the next day and get the second book.

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
I wasn’t kidding, I went to the library the next day to get this one and finished it in a day. Love this series for middle grades fantasy, would be a nice precursor to the Graceling series as a “world building” fantasy.

Hidden Roots by Joseph Bruchac
This was required reading for the students in my online graduate children’s lit course so I wanted to reread it. A great entry into discussion about representations of American Indians in children’s literature.

This Week I’m Reading:

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
I’ve missed you Gansey. And Blue. And Adam, Ronan, and Noah.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
We’ve decided to use this as one of the required texts for our fall children’s literature course and I’ve never read it. Super excited because Patrick Ness is a brilliant writer.

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.

Teacher and Reader: Reader and Teacher

Earlier this week, my friend Donalyn Miller wrote a Nerdy Book Club Post titled “Fangirl” about meeting and talking with authors; and the impact that has had on her as a reader. Something that I have always admired about Donalyn and my nerdy friends is the ways that they are committed to helping children develop into readers. And it isn’t some prescribed version of reader where everyone reads the same books and has the same response either. It’s a version of reader unique to each student.

Just like our students are unique readers, so are we, their teachers. I think that sometimes we get so lost in being teachers, that we forget to be readers ourselves. We forget that their is joy and pleasure, pain and sorrow, adventures and homecomings; all found within the pages of a book. But we have to find the books that work for us, that make us feel at home and also push us to see outside of ourselves. Donalyn posed the question,

How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?

How about if we separate the mechanics of reading from the pleasure of reading? This got me thinking about something that Dr. P. David Pearson said at the Boston University Literacy Institute 2 weeks ago.

The language arts: reading, writing, and language are tools. Tools that we use to make sense of situations and subjects. Literature is it’s own body of knowledge, a unique disciplinary area. I don’t lump it with language arts even though it can be used as a tool.

So often, I hear and see elementary teachers only think of literature as a tool. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be used as a tool, but that it shouldn’t be utilized ONLY as a tool. Getting back to Donalyn’s question about teaching arts as art appreciation, I think that another way of thinking about this is to be more explicit about thinking about literature as tools (teacher) and literature as a discipline (reader).

And an appreciation of something has to be more than just choice reading or read alouds (though these are a great place to start). It also has to be (just to name a few things): identifying what genres we like and don’t like, identifying why we have the tastes that we do, discovering how images work in picture books and graphic novels, marveling at how a turn of phrase can give us goosebumps, and how, as Donalyn wrote, knowing the human being that created a story can make us tongue-tied.

NCTE 2012: Friends, Books, Networking, and Nerdybooklovers

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas with a whole bunch of fantastic friends, colleagues and nerdybookclubers. Also known as the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference.  It was amazing. My preservice teachers often ask me for advice about staying current in the field, what to read, how to stay inspired, etc. Attending conferences is at the top of my list. While this was a national conference, our local Michigan Council of Teachers of English (held in October) and Michigan Reading Association Conference (held in March) are equally fantastic.

My head is still swimming with all of the books that I looked at, sessions that I attended, and people I spoke with – not to mention the constant sensory bombardment that is Las Vegas.

Highlights included:

  • presenting with my good friends and colleagues Lynne Watanabe & Dr. Laura Jimenez and using picture books and graphic novels across grade levels. Thanks to all who attended!
  • Running into nerdy friends Donalyn Miller, Paul Hankins, Cindy Minnich, John Scovill, and more in the exhibits
  • attending the Nerdy Book Club get together on Friday evening and talking to tweeps and nerdy friends in person
  • Seeing The Beatles Love show by Cirque de Soleil
  • more exhibits, more books, more nerdy friends
  • Seeing the Eagles come down the escalator for their sound check but not having the nerve to say anything (yes, those Eagles)
  • Meeting with Teri Lesesne (a.k.a. Professor Nana) in person
  • Attending the Children’s Literature Master Class on Fantasy with Dr. Barbara Kiefer and author John Stephens
  • Talking with illustrator Melissa Sweet
  • Getting an advanced review copy of P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams Garcia – the follow-up to One Crazy Summer.
  • Relaxing in the hot tub
  • Telling Kristin Cashore about the amazing discussions my children’s literature classes had about her book Graceling – they talked feminism, power, and identity!
  • ALAN Author Meet & Greet on Sunday evening –  I talked with Kristin Cashore, Rebecca Stead, Deborah Hopkinson, Jo Knowles, and Rae Carson at the same time. I told them I felt like a 12-year-old girl meeting Justin Bieber. Thankfully they said I had it more together than that.
  • ALAN Book Fest on Monday with 3 friends & nerdy folks
  • Pizza & Wine dinner in our pjs, in the room, with 2 of my closest friends on Monday evening.
  • but the best was probably having people ask me about my dissertation and respond with questions that made me clarify my thinking. More on this to follow…

There are many more people that I talked with that I didn’t mention here – thanks to each and every one of you for your smiling faces, love of books, passion for teaching, and curious questions.

Nerdy Love: Finding My People

As a graduate student, one of the things that I have done is attend different conferences in an effort to find what my close friend and colleague Laura calls “my people”. These can be people who speak the same language, do similar research – sometimes they don’t speak exactly the same language but similar enough to have a conversation. I think about my people as those professionals that have similar and tangental interests that I want to engage with in conversations and thinking; people who will push me to think differently and also push me to be more clear about my own thinking. “My people” aren’t one cohesive group – there are subgroups that sometimes they don’t seem to have much to do with each other like philosophy of education & music. There are also subgroups that intersect; for instance, I some of “my people” are in english teachers, librarians and authors.

I’ve always known that one of the places that I can connect with “my people” is NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). Staying connected with practicing teachers is something that I am very committed to and think is crucial to my identity as a teacher educator. When I attended #4pound at NCTE 2011 in Chicago, I found a new group of people, a new community that has been instrumental in the ways that I think, teach and talk about children’s literature. The Nerdy Book Club. Yes – really – Nerdy Book Club. If you haven’t checked out the blog yet you should do it as soon as you finish this post.

Note: Prior to the NCTE annual conference in Chicago, the club was only an idea. Less than one month after the conference – the blog, #nerdybookclub, and accompanying swag was revealed to the world. Not only did these people love teaching and literature – they were about ACTION!  

I watched with awe and excitement – here were people who LOVED children’s literature and teaching as much as I did and did not mess around with an amazing idea. I was inspired. I started this blog and decided to incorporate twitter into the courses I was teaching as a way to help my students experience social media as a way to create and experience professional community. (more about this in another post)

Then at the Michigan Reading Association meeting in March, a Nerdy Book Club (#nerdybookclub) get together happened and I met even more friends. When I first arrived at The BOB in Grand Rapids, I was nervous about finding my Nerdy Friends – how would I know it was them? What if I missed them? Then I saw a small group of people standing together by a couch. I walked over.

The woman sitting on the couch had a book in her lap:

She was also wearing a shirt with this on it:

I found my people.

Filming #Nerdbery: My debut as a videographer

Two weeks ago, I got a message from my friend Colby Sharp that some Nerdy Book Club friends were getting together in Ann Arbor. It just so happened that I was going to be on that side of the state (though I would have driven even if I wasn’t). I worked on grading papers all morning and into the afternoon and then headed to the Ann Arbor Public Library to meet up with Colby & John.

Ann Arbor Library: Entrance to Children's Space

The librarian on staff was lovely and gave me one of the best compliments I have every received, “You must be a children’s librarian, I can just tell.”  They had a lovely display at the entrance of newly received books.

From the "New Book Display": A book I think my 6th Grade daughter might appreciate.

A book Mr. Schu brought with him. I loved it and can't wait to get it for my car/truck/driving loving nephew.

Then it was time to put on my videographer hat. John & Colby are co-creators (or maybe co-conspirators) of the Newbery Challenge. They are on a mission to read ALL of the Newbery Winners in order. When I first heard about their challenge, I was tempted to join them but decided that it might get in the way of my actually FINISHING graduate school. I have been following their adventures and by far my favorite part has been the videos. We filmed two while we were there…and it was as much fun as it looks. The enthusiasm that these two guys have for reading is contagious – even when reading “the driest book ever written” or dealing with the death of a cat.

Then we had an amazing dinner with some other Nerdy Friends, thanks to Beth Shaum (@foodiebooklover) we have some photos of the evening, including this clearly not-posed photo of the three of us:

Kristin, John, & Colby - post filming

Here is the final product, including me booktalking The Humming Room:

Follow John & Colby’s Newbery adventures on their blogs and on twitter: @colbysharp @mrschureads #nerdbery.

John’s Blog: Watch.Connect.Read.

Colby’s Blog: sharpread