Musings From A Bookmammal


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Endless Possibilities . . .

schoolbusMost school districts in my area have started the new school year by now—and this time of year always makes me reflective about the first day of school and what it can mean for the kids I see waiting at the bus stops when I drive to work every day.

I loved school when I was a kid. I looked forward to that first day as a time to wear a brand new outfit, find out who would be in my class, figure out which teachers were nice and which ones might be mean, and finally start using the new school supplies that I’d been hoarding.

In college, I loved that first week on campus–reconnecting with friends (this was before cell phones, texting, and even email—we actually WROTE LETTERS to keep in touch over the summer!), buying fresh textbooks, and settling back into the freedom of college life.

When I began teaching, I always looked forward to the first day of school with the students—because, of course, teachers actually have two “first days”: the first day of faculty meetings (which always seemed to go on forever), and then the first day when the kids come back. I was always so excited to meet my new students, to start figuring out what the personality of each class would be, diving into the curriculum—and yes, to once again finally start using the new school supplies that I’d been collecting all summer!

Now, even though I’m no longer working in the school system, I still think about the first day of school when I drive to work on these August mornings and see the kids waiting at the bus stops–brand new backpacks on their shoulders, fresh sneakers on their feet–and a totally empty slate.

The first day of school is packed with endless possibilities: Will this be the year with the teacher who creates that spark? Will this be the year when that kid finds a book that he loves? Will this be the year when it all finally clicks?  Will this be the year that sets the tone of success for that child?

These are the questions that I ask myself as I pass the bus stops. It’s a nice way to begin my mornings. I hope each of the children I pass will be enjoying their mornings, too.

 


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Musing Mondays–When I Need A Little Inspiration . . .

Click here to play along!

Click here to play along!

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB that asks you to muse about one of several “bookish” questions… or, you can just ramble on about anything you like that pertains to books! You can join in by clicking the graphic above. Go ahead–it’s fun!

Here’s my Musing Monday ramble for the week:

I work in educational publishing, and, like everyone, I have my good days and my not-so-good days on the job. Lately it seems as though there have been a lot of very challenging days–days when I think I cannot possibly deal with one more ridiculous request or handle one more impossible deadline. That’s why I have several quotes posted at my desk–because, when it comes right down to it, I’m in this job because I’m passionate about helping kids learn to read and helping them learn to love reading. Sometimes I need a reminder of that.

For this week’s Musing Monday, I thought I’d post some of those quotes. These are my favorites!

“There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.”
Frank Serafini

credit Susan Diehl

credit Susan Diehl

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”   Maya Angelou

credit Sun Weimin

credit Sun Weimin

“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”  B.F. Skinner

credit Alexandros Christofis

credit Alexandros Christofis

“Let children read whatever they want and then talk to them about it with them .  .   . we won’t have as much censorship because we won’t have as much fear.”  Judy Blume

credit Molly Poole

credit Molly Poole

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” Jacqueline Kennedy

credit Jon Anderson

credit Jon Anderson

Have a wonderful week, everyone! If you’re able, please consider giving a child the gift of a book during this holiday season.


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Nonfiction November–Get Schooled!

become the expertThroughout the month of November, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness and Leslie from Regular Rumination are hosting a series of excellent posts promoting all things nonfiction. The topic of this week’s post prompt is:

Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask for some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of nonfiction books on a topic you’re curious about.

(Please click on the graphic to find all the great links to other blog posts covering a wide variety of nonfiction topics!)

I decided to share a list of books that deal with education, as it’s a topic that’s close to my heart. I grew up in a family of educators, and was a teacher myself for nine years. I’m back in the field now in a different capacity—I work in the marketing department of a large educational publishing company. The books I chose for this list aren’t educational theory books—they’re all behind-the-scenes accounts (one of my favorite genres!) of various types of schools or other educational venues. None of them are of the warm, fuzzy, everything is wonderful variety–I feel that they all tell it as it really is. I own copies of all of these books and have read each one multiple times. All of them have made me think. Ready? Here they are, in no particular order:

among school childrenAmong Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder.

Published in 1989, this book has become a classic in the “inside the classroom” genre. The author spent a year sitting in a fifth grade classroom in Holyoke, Massachusetts—this is the story of what happened that year. What I love about this book is that it isn’t always warm and fuzzy—the teacher loses her temper at times, she sometimes second-guesses herself, and every kid doesn’t finish the year in a happy ending. But she cares about those kids and that comes through on every page.

TestedTested by Linda Perlstein

High-stakes testing is a reality in today’s American schools. Schools are expected to behave like businesses and are judged almost solely on the bottom line—test scores. This book reports—in sometimes heartbreaking detail—what the administration and teachers of one Maryland elementary school feel they must do to ensure continued high scores. The questions that are raised are truly thought-provoking: what are the rewards and costs of doing whatever it takes to hit those magic numbers—and what’s the ultimate effect on the students taking those tests?

homeschooling patchwork of daysHomeschooling: A Patchwork Of Days edited by Nancy Lande

This book did a lot to change my opinions about homeschooling and the families who participate in it. It consists of thirty essays written by thirty families. Each selection explains why that particular family chose to homeschool, their daily routines, their successes, and their challenges. The families come from all over the US and a few are from other parts of the world. Some families are homeschooling two children, there are some families with seven kids—and every combination in between. Some families knew they’d be homeschooling since their children were born—others tried traditional school and, for a variety of reasons, have transitioned to homeschooling. None of the essays try to paint a perfect picture of the homeschooling experience! This is my go-to suggestion when I’m talking with people who have questions about homeschooling or who are trying to decide whether or not to homeschool their children. It certainly opened my eyes to a lot of new views on the topic and, while I’m not sure that I would ever choose to homeschool, I think I have a more well-rounded opinion of those who do.

andstillweriseAnd Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students by Miles Corwin

This book not only tracks the lives of a dozen high school students in an inner-city Los Angeles school, but also provides a fascinating account of two very different teachers. The accounts of the kids’ lives are riveting, but, to me, the main story was of the two English teachers—one a volatile rebel with some real demons in her past, the other a no-nonsense maternal figure. Both expect a great deal from their students, and both have students who are absolutely devoted to them. The reader is left to judge which of them is ultimately the more effective teacher.

all girlsAll Girls: Single-Sex Education and Why It Matters by Karen Stabiner

I used to be very vocally against single-sex classes and schools. My argument was—the real world isn’t a single-sex world, so how can we fully prepare our students for the future in single-sex schools? This book made me a lot more open to the idea that single-sex education does have a place in today’s society. It tracks one year in two all-girls schools—an elite prep school in Los Angeles, and a charter school in New York City. It’s a compelling read and it made me really examine my beliefs in this area—and isn’t that what good nonfiction is supposed to do?

gatekeepersThe Gate-Keepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg

This is a behind the scenes account of how colleges—in this case, Wesleyan University in Connecticut– make their admissions decisions. The author spent eight months as an observer in the admissions office at Wesleyan and followed one admissions officer in particular as he recruited, selected, and rejected students for the future graduating class of 2004. Several high school seniors who applied to Wesleyan that year are also followed. This isn’t a how-to book on how to get accepted to the college of your choice, but it does provide an inside look at how one elite university views its applicants and the difficult and sometimes heartbreaking decisions they need to make. I had no idea of what this type of job consisted of until I read this book.

relentless pursuitRelentless Pursuit: A Year In The Trenches With Teach For America by Donna Foote

This book follows four Teach For America recruits who are placed in the same inner city high school. With no teaching background other than an intensive summer “boot camp” training program, these recent college grads are put in charge of classrooms of struggling, disadvantaged students and are expected to deliver results. I knew very little about the Teach For America program before I read this book and, although it raised a lot of questions for me about the program, I admired the dedication of the teachers who were profiled. I’d like to know if they ended up remaining in education or if they moved on to other pursuits.

small victoriesSmall Victories by Samuel G. Freedman

This may be my favorite book on this list, possibly because I used to teach high school myself. It’s the story of a year in the life of a New York City Language Arts/Humanities high school teacher in the late 1980s and the students that pass through her classroom doors. The book provides personal stories of some of these students while also giving what I feel is a very accurate picture of the sacrifices, successes and disappointments that dedicated teachers face every day. Parts of this book were truly heartbreaking. I often wonder what the teacher who was the focus of this book is doing today.

losing my facultiesLosing My Faculties by Brendan Halpin

I’m including this book not only because I love the author’s writing style, but because it provides a male voice in a typically female field. It’s the memoir of a teacher who moves through a variety of teaching positions in a variety of settings—an economically depressed city schol, a middle class suburban site, a last-chance truancy prevention program, and a college-prep charter school. The author provides a sometimes brutally honest account of his successes, frustrations, and challenges–but  he  never loses his sense of humor.

How about you? Have you read any of these? Are there other books on this topic that you’d like to recommend? Please share!


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Musing Mondays–This Is How My Book Buying Habit Began . . .

Click here to play along!

Click here to play along!

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to muse about one of several “bookish” questions… or, you can just ramble on about anything you like that pertains to books! You can join in by clicking the graphic above. Go ahead–it’s fun!

Here’s my Musing Monday ramble for the week: 

vintage book club

Does this bring back any memories?

When I was in elementary school, I always loved the days when my teachers would pass out the little book club newsletters every month or so. I’d sit there with my friends and we’d excitedly go through the books offered that month and we’d circle the ones we wanted. I remember that there were other things offered as well, such as posters and stickers, but I always went straight for the books.

At home I’d show my mom what I’d selected, and we’d narrow it down to just a few. Sometimes I’d have to use my own money, sometimes my parents would treat me. I can remember carefully filling out the little order form, clipping it out, and putting it into an envelope along with the exact change to pay for my order.

When the books arrived a few weeks later, it was torture to see the box sitting on the teacher’s desk and know that I had to wait for the end of the day–or, even worse, the NEXT DAY!– when she would pass out our books!

When I became a teacher, one of the first things I did was find out how I could get my class signed up to receive the monthly book club newsletters. Only a few of my kids would ever place orders—most of them didn’t come from homes where there was a lot of extra money–but I always placed a big order myself every month to add more books to our classroom library.

When the books would arrive, the custodian would bring the box to my classroom. If it was at all possible, I would stop whatever was going on in class, make a big production of opening the box, and would immediately start showing the kids each new book that would now be added to our class library. At the end of the day, there would be a crowd of kids by the shelves, each one trying to be the first to check out one of the new books.

I was over at my parents’ house about a month ago going through some boxes, and I actually found some of those bookclub books from my childhood—they’re several decades old by now, but I can still remember the thrill of bringing those books home from school knowing that they wouldn’t have to be returned to the library—they were mine to keep. And I’m pretty sure that this was the very beginning of my book buying habit that continues to this day!

How about you? Did you have the chance to make book club purchases when you were in school? Do you remember any of the books you bought? Do your kids bring home book club newsletters? Please share!


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Musing Mondays–No Kid Should Leave the Library Empty Handed!

Click here to play along!

Click here to play along!

Musing Mondays is a weekly meme that asks you to muse about one of several “bookish” questions… or, you can just ramble on about anything you like that pertains to books! You can join in by clicking the graphic above. Go ahead–it’s fun!

This is my first Musing Monday–and here’s a mini-ramble prompted by this quote:

ffcbe9dc7a5bdb9f47fb0a1b6cc533c0

When I was in grade school, our librarian, Mrs. H, was one of those who seemed nervous to have any of the books leave the shelves, and it was really important to her that the shelves look neat and tidy at all times. If she thought a book was too hard, then that kid wasn’t checking it out. A little boy who was nearly jumping up and down because he’d just found the PERFECT book about trucks—no matter–if Mrs. H didn’t think he should check out that book, it just wasn’t happening.

Luckily for me, my parents took me to the public library regularly, and I had books of my own at home. I was also a good enough reader that Mrs. H didn’t spend a lot of time trying to steer me towards “more appropriate” books. But I can still remember the kids who didn’t get to take home the book they really wanted. I wonder if those kids—now grown–are readers today.

It’s a slippery slope. Librarians and teachers want kids to have success when they read. No one wants to see a kid quit a book in frustration. We need to help guide our kids to help them make wise reading choices. But sometimes motivation and engagement should be the deciding factor. If a kid shows up at the checkout desk beaming—then that kid should leave the library with that book. Simple as that.


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First Day of School–Endless Possibilities!

imagesCA4M603RThis week most school districts in my area began the new school year—and this time of year always makes me reflective about the first day of school and what it can mean for the kids I see waiting at the bus stop.

When I was a kid, I usually loved school. I anticipated the first day of school as a time to wear a brand new outfit, find out who would be in my class, figure out which teachers were nice and which might be mean, and finally start using the new school supplies that I’d been hoarding.

In college, I loved that first week on campus- reconnecting with friends in person (this was before cell phones, texting, and even email—we actually WROTE LETTERS to keep in touch over the summer!), buying fresh textbooks, checking out the new guys in the dorm, and settling back into the freedom of college life.

When I began teaching, I always looked forward to the first day of school with the students—because, of course, teachers actually have two “first days”—the first day of faculty meetings, and then the first day when the kids come back. I was always so excited to meet my new students, to start figuring out what the personality of each class would be, diving into the curriculum—and yes, to once again finally start using the new school supplies that I’d been hoarding!

Now, even though I’m no longer working in the school system, I still think about the first day of school when I see the kids on these first days at the bus stop—brand new backpacks on their shoulders, fresh sneakers on their feet, and a totally empty slate. That first day of school is packed with possibilities. Will this be the year with the teacher who creates that spark? Will this be the year when it finally clicks? Will this be the year that sets the tone of success for THAT KID?

I love looking at the kids I see waiting at the bus stops on these first days, and I wonder what the new school year will bring to each of them.