My friend and colleague @directoramy and I often discuss the work we are doing to support our district’s literacy initiative and our curriculum alignment to the Common Core. In fact, it is how we spend most of our time together these days. Last week, our conversation took an interesting turn, as they often do, and we found ourself discussing children’s literature and wondering how many teachers in our schools are up to date on the recently published titles… we weren’t sure of the answer to that question. California has traditionally been a very textbook-driven state. With the added layers of many of our schools participating in the Reading First Initiative and being identified as Program Improvement under NCLB, the textbook-driven focus intensified. In fact, one of the requirements in the State of California when a school/district is identified as a PI school is to “implement the core (textbooks) with fidelity”. Teachers have received so many messages that this is what they need to do that it is what we have seen in classrooms for years. We have done a lot of work in our system recently to focus on engaging students as readers with rich non-fiction text. As a result, we have seen some highly engaging lessons focused on making meaning and building comprehension of great informational text, but we started to question…What about great literature? When do our students get to experience that?
The conversation left me wondering… how do we turn students on to great literature if we are not familiar with it ourselves? How do we know what books to recommend to our students that align with their interests if we haven ‘t read widely and engaged with the books that our children might love? One of the things I love about my daughter’s current 4th grade teacher is how well she can engage with Ashlyn as a reader. She has been able to recommend so many books to my daughter because she knows who Ashlyn is and what she likes, and Ashlyn is gobbling up the books! In fact, it is her teacher’s passion for literature and her vast experience with engaging children’s and young adult books that have really turned my daughter on to fiction; until this year she mostly read non-fiction texts.
When I was a middle school English teacher, I read so many pieces of great young adult literature. When my children were younger, we read wonderful picture books and chapter books together, but as they have become proficient readers themselves, they have gone off on their own reading adventures, and I have left this genre behind. My kids have actually been trying to convince me for some time to read some of their favorites (I did succumb to the Hunger Games series), but other than that I haven’t made the time. That changed this weekend! Amy and I made a commitment to read more children’s and young adult literature after our conversation, and I picked up my first book!
Inspired by my daughter and a fabulous 2nd grade teacher in Canada, @carriegelson, I read the book Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper. I loved it! Even more importantly, I loved the conversations I was able to have with my daughter about the book! I also know Amy (who is also reading this one) and I will enjoy discussions about this title, and I know it is a book I can discuss and recommend to teachers. Looking for additional recommendations, I turned to my PLN and have received many wonderful recommendations from two teachers passionate about children’s lit (you seriously need to check out their blogs!) @carriegelson: There is a Book for That and @jkloczko: Room 6 Bob Cat Blog . Next on my list was The One and Only Ivan. I finished it this morning (a nice thing about children’s books is that I can read them fairly quickly)! Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and walked away with a great appreciation for the style of writing and the amazing voice the author was able to give to a gorilla! A bonus for me is that I now have a new book that I can recommend to Ashlyn – I KNOW she will love it! At Carrie and Jennifer’s suggestion, I will tackle The False Prince next.
One of the things I appreciate about the Common Core is that we are asked to balance fiction and non-fiction reading; we are also asked to ensure that students are reading rich and complex texts. I am certain that the intent is that we actually read great pieces of literature and not the condensed versions that are often watered down in textbooks. We are asked to have our students think about books, talk about books, and write about books. With all that is available to us on the internet, we are also so easily able to find other resources that connect to the text. In a quick search today, I found interviews with the authors, video book trailers, discussion questions, book reviews, blogs and connections to great informational text pieces to support both of the titles I read – I find this exciting, and I think others in our district will too! I now want to think of ways that our system can begin to build our collective knowledge of great children’s literature beyond what we have in our textbooks. I am certain that the excitement a few of us have about renewing our passion for great children’s and young adult books will quickly become contagious… after all, what educator doesn’t LOVE a good book!
If you are looking for a few good recommendations, the following resources are a great place to start (Thanks, Carrie!)