Tag Archives: Reading

Reader’s Block

My job as a sixth grade language arts and math teacher keeps me jumping, and during the school year, I have found it best to shelve all thoughts of leisure-reading. This year, looking forward to winter break, I was all set to hibernate for a few days with Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily Product Detailsand Susan Vreeland’s Product DetailsClara and Mr. Tiffany. They were both a little on the thick side, but I was confident that I’d be able to finish them in two weeks.

Around that same time, one of my favorite friends from AgentQueryConnect, Sophie Perinot (a.k.a. Litgal, a.a.k.a. @Lit_Gal), announced that there was a contest on Goodreads to win an advance copy of her debut novel, The Sister Queens. I’d already pre-ordered it, but getting the chance to read it before the rest of the world did was intriguing, so I entered. And then I won a copy. Product Details

When it arrived, I was in the throes of getting ready for Christmas, so I added it to the pile on my nightstand.

Now I had three books to read. I mentally arranged them: Clara and Mr. T looked good, but it could wait because my book group wasn’t meeting until the end of January. A fan of Willig’s whimsical romances, I was tempted to pick up Blood Lily, but Sister Queens had a deadline because I’d told Litgal that I would write an advance review on my blog. The Sister Queens it was.

Despite my sons’ constant arguing over their yuletide haul of small electronics, I managed to get some reading in during the week before New Year’s. I was enjoying the book, and by page 185 was confident that I would finish by the time school resumed on the fifth, with maybe even enough time left over for Clara. And then the Kindle that I’d ordered with my Christmas gift-cards arrived.

Suddenly my interest was fixated on my own small electronic. At first I restrained myself to just figuring out how to use it, but when the purple leather case arrived two days later, I succumbed to downloading many of the titles I’d previously selected with my “Kindle for Mac” app. I couldn’t wait to try it out, but The Sister Queens e-book will not be available until March 6th, so I was out of luck in that department. I tried to satisfy myself by downloading the electronic version of Clara and Mr. Tiffany from the library for later, but I was itching to push those buttons, and really wanted to experience reading in bed using only one hand.

“You are not allowed to use your Kindle until you’re done with The Sister Queens,” I told myself sternly. Five or six times.

“It couldn’t hurt to read just a few chapters of something,” Myself said back. Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, it was.

Product Details

Unfortunately, Agnes’s woes of being a governess to a family of singularly unruly children ran in remarkable parallel to a recent classroom management situation of my own, and I couldn’t put it down. And then school started up again.

I still haven’t finished The Sister Queens, although I’m loving it whenever I get the chance. I was only able to get the first chapter of Clara read in time for book group, and Blood Lily has gotten knocked off the table and is under the bed somewhere, waiting for Presidents’ Day.

Will. Finish. Sister. Queens.

Stay tuned for my review…

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Critical Thinking, Miscellaneous, Reading, Uncategorized

Best of the Blog V: Post Face Off

Product Details

For this last installment of The Best of the Blog (next week I will start writing new posts again), I was torn between one that had a large number of visitors the first time around, and one that I wrote when the blog was young and not many people saw it. Then I thought, “Why not both?”

• It Was the Worst of Times

• Scrabbling for Success: 10 Helpful Hints for the Querying Process

Leave a comment

Filed under Critical Thinking, Gifted, Miscellaneous, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing

Oldies but Goodies: Great Books for Sixth Graders

My oldest is soon off to Middle School, so today’s focus is on classic titles that are appropriate for eleven- and twelve-year-olds. The links below will take you to Amazon.com, where you can see the descriptions and reviews, but please support your local library if possible.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

A Little Princess,
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess (Unabridged Classics)

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet
by Eleanor Cameron

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet

The Mysterious Island
by Jules Verne

The Mysterious Island (Modern Library Classics)

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden: Centennial Edition

The Swiss Family Robinson
by Johann David Wyss
The Swiss Family Robinson (Signet Classics)

Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O’Dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins

The Cay
by Theodore Taylor
The Cay

Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne of Green Gables, 100th Anniversary Edition

The Book of Three
by Lloyd Alexander
The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)

Eight Cousins
by Louisa May Alcott
Eight Cousins [8 COUSINS]

Around the World in Eighty Days
by Jules Verne

Around the World in 80 Days

13 Comments

Filed under Gifted, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized

THE HELP Follow-Up Review

I finished The Help at 2:19 this morning.  (See my March 8th post if you haven’t read the first half review.) Good book! I was not disappointed after page 200. A few things cropped up in the second half that nudged me as a writer, but as a reader, I loved it. It had a nice pace, light suspense, and was very descriptive. The characters were easy to empathize with, and the description and backstory were perfectly blended with the action. I was very happy that it was over 400 pages, because I hate reading a great book and then having it end too soon. This was just right. 

As a writer, I was startled when about three-quarters of the way through the book, it abruptly switched from first person to third person. I had to read the first page of that chapter three times for it to sink in that it was not Skeeter speaking, but an omniscient narrator with a similar speech pattern. The book went right back to first person directly afterward, but I found it quite disruptive. Granted, all three of the MC’s were involved in the scene, and it would not have been easy to convey the complex events of that particular chapter from only one perspective, but I think that it could have been done.

I was also surprised that the author confessed at the end of the book to having been less than accurate with a few of her historical facts. Shake ‘n Bake was referenced, for example, even though in actuality it would not yet have been invented. That can be a slippery slope. I personally strive for authenticity in that regard, even researching dialogue to make sure that common phrases (such as “spilled the beans”) had been coined by the time period I’m writing.

In spite of these minor hiccups, I highly recommend the book, and am happy to own it. Great job, Kathryn Stockett!

Layinda’s Blog Final Rating: ¶¶¶¶

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Whatever Happened to Dick and Jane?

Warning: Pet Peeve Ahead

In the winter of 1998, my “Children’s Literature” professor stated that Dick and Jane books weren’t considered literature, and therefore had no business being used in schools. I disagreed, but felt that I had to respect the virtue of her opinion, no matter how misguided I thought it was.

Until yesterday.

I was innocently reading a Writer’s Almanac e-article about Dr. Seuss’s birthday, when I discovered that the literary companions of my youth had not been victims of literature purists, but instead had been steamrolled out of the curriculum by a sneering education specialist and his love of phonics.* Rudolph Flesch.

The March 2, 2010 Writer’s Almanac article (read the whole thing at http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/) read in part, “A big study came out in the 1950s called “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” It was by an Austrian immigrant to the U.S. [Rudolf Flesch], an education specialist who argued that the Dick and Jane primers being used to teach reading in grade school classrooms across America were boring and, worse, not an effective method for teaching reading. He called them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers,” which went “through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ children’s activities that offer opportunities for reading ‘Look, look’ or ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘Come, come’ or ‘See the funny, funny animal.'”

Humph! Obviously, in addition to being just plain irritating, the man never read a Dick and Jane book when he was little. (If he had, he might have become a nicer person. 🙂 ) After his study was published in 1955 and Flesch was written up in Time magazine, the educational establishment reacted like lemmings on a warm day, and Dick and Jane were sacrificed in the name of a biased theory. Unfortunately, the condescending Mr. Flesch doesn’t seem to have considered child development in his diatribe treatise.

For a beginning reader, pictures, repetition, sounding out words, and sight words are all important, as are enjoyment of the story and empathy with the subject matter. Children are going from their birth “language” of visual images to coding/symbols and the visual clues are important to link with the words they are learning to encode/decode. Sort of like training wheels. Dick and Jane books are filled with silly humor, have engaging pictures, are easy to read, and the repetition cements the words in a child’s brain. Oral reading at school is not a trial because once a child has heard the words while reading along, he/she can easily recognise and repeat them.

When I was little, I loved Dick and Jane. I learned to read in kindergarten, but recall using Dick and Jane through first grade. I still remember some of the stories. One, in particular, was about when Dick and Jane were at school on a rainy day and had to draw pictures of things they saw on the way to school. One student held his picture up for the class, and it looked like the arm on a metronome. None of his classmates could identify it, and it turned out that it was the single (centered) windshield wiper on his father’s car. I think it stuck with me because I had only seen cars with two windshield wipers, and thought it was interesting. Apparently Mr. Flesch didn’t read that one. I also recall a great fondness for Puff the cat.

In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of Dick and Jane books on the market, compilations of various early readers. I have purchased the ones I’ve seen, and my sons have appreciated them, too. They clearly enjoyed a feeling of mastery at being able to read a “book” with so little experience, and they liked the stories. My younger son used one for a first grade book report, displaying for the class his newfound confidence in reading, and was not shy to read aloud (the foundation of public speaking).

In 1980, Flesch published another book: Why Johnny Still Can’t Read. Apparently he finally realized that Dick and Jane weren’t the real problem, but the damage had already been done. I have read the little books that my sons bring home from school for “reading homework,” and to paraphrase former senator Lloyd Bentsen, they are no Dick and Jane.q

* I’ll discuss the benefits of combining phonics with whole language learning in a future post. Also the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool in Microsoft word.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized