BY KAREN JO SHAPIRO
With apologies to Rudyard Kipling ("If")
If you can't wait to pick a book right now
And read it through until the very end
To find out who did what, and why, and how,
Then—lucky you!—you're a READER, my friend!
One of the best parts of being a teacher is meeting new readers each year. This year is no exception. Just a week (or two..I'm not great with time) ago, we finished auditioning student-recommended books (so many recommendations!) for our next read aloud, voted on the favorite, and began our journey into Fablehaven. And what a journey it's been. A mysterious house, a distant grandfather, a missing grandmother, a forbidden wood, and a witch. A very creepy witch with a melodious voice. Who REALLY wants you to come into her ivy covered cabin. (shudder))
We've had some interesting discussions about the book. We've discussed
the difference between Fawns and Satyrs,
and whether Maddox would know Newt Scamander (HP FOREVER).
It's a great book with a cool central idea, about a preserve for magical creatures.
I have the feeling something bad is going to happen soon in Fablehaven.
You made many good recommendations for books to read aloud, And I am working my way through them. Truly. Except I'm reading a book a friend gave me months ago. I'm deep into the early 1800's in South Carolina with the main characters, Miss Sarah and a girl named Handful. (isn't that a great name for a character?) But I try to read a children's literature book as well as personal reading, so I need to add a book to my shelf!
I just finished a book Miss Di lent me, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I wasn't sure at first that I liked it. The first narrator was the protagonist (writerly term for the bad guy) and I really didn't like his tone. But the speaker quickly switched to the ancient witch, Xan, who has her tremendously tiny dragon Fryan and a swamp monster to keep her company. I. loved. it. I've been done for days and haven't given it back to Ms. DiGirolamo. I'm not ready to let go.
Do you know that feeling? If you're a reader, you do. If you haven't yet, you will. When a writer creates a real, true, feel-like-you-know-her character, it's hard to say good-bye.
I mean, you probably invested a lot of time in that character. Maybe, if you read like the poem above describes it, you read the book straight through, cover to cover, in as little as a week.
Carrying it with you around the house. Reading during commercials. Looking up from a story about winter and being surprised it's summer outside. Getting scolded for reading on the stairs (guilty). Leaving your book on the sink so you can read while you brush your teeth.
The thing is, all that time you spent with your nose in a book, you were living in the mind of the characters. Maybe you slogged all the way through Mordor with Frodo and Samwise, or went sailing on the Dawn Treader with Reepicheep and Prince Caspian. You could have spent months defeating Voldemort (again) with Harry and Ron and Hermione. So,what, you're just going to put them down and pick up a brand new character the next day? I don't think so...
Maybe you have to, but you will still find your mind drifting back to Hogwarts or Mordor or Narnia. Or in my case, in a house carved into a giant tree in the middle of a forest in the middle of a great bog. With an old and a young witch, and a swamp monster, and a pocket-sized dragon. Bringing hope to the world.
Luckily, when we say good-bye to literary friends, we know we can pick that book back up any time and visit that friend, and their world, all over again.
I'll return The Girl Who Drank the Moon tomorrow.
And then I'll get back to the Wish Tree. There's room on my shelf. And a tree will be a change from witches!
Happy Reading, friends.
Today in room 310:
Mrs. Kuhlthau: You need to let us know what's going on in your head when you're writing in first person. What do you really think? Feel? This is your chance to let us see the interior you.
Student: Why would ANYONE want to do that?!
At that point my jaw kind of drops and I give myself a mental head scratch. Hmmm. Not surprisingly, my student has a good point. I can't remember how I answered him, but I know it was totally improvised and totally lame. The fact is, the personal narrative you're working on is an assignment. And while you don't have to write an essay on a topic of my choosing, you still have to pick a story from your life, put it on paper, and have conferences with your teacher (me!) and your peers.
If I ask you "What is your purpose in writing this story? Who is your intended audience?" I wonder if half of you would answer that your purpose is because you have to, and your audience is, well, me. Or maybe you would surprise me. Here are some different answers I want you, my students, to consider as you fine tune your personal narratives.
"I'm writing for myself."
Many authors write their stories for themselves, to get their experiences on paper so they will be able to relive them. Perhaps it was a happy time in your life. You get to relive it as you describe the events, the setting, and your memories.
Maybe your story is about an embarrassing or sad experience. In real life, you don't get to control everything that happens to you. Maybe it will be painful to remember. But when you sit down and write a story, using your own voice, your own point of view, and deciding what parts to keep in and what parts to leave out, you get to control the story you tell.
You might even discover, through telling your story, that you learn something valuable about yourself. Like a theme!
A famous writer, Joan Didion, said of writing, "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means…"
Maybe YOU are your audience.
"I want my friends to read my story."
Sometimes it's hard to get a chance to tell our stories to our friends. We tell them what's going on in our lives over breakfast, but we have to eat breakfast and do our homework (if we forgot), and there's announcements and before you know it, you're getting "the look" from the teacher. Plus, your friend wants to talk, too. So it can be hard to share your experiences with your friends in an uninterrupted, in depth way.
You can do that with a story you've written. You are the main character. The perspective is all yours. So is the 'mic'. No taking turns. No waiting politely for your chance to talk. You have the chance to grab their attention and keep it, if you tell your story well.
You can be funny when you're talking to your friends You can use your own language, and talk like you really talk. You can express things in writing that you can't in speech, especially if you're shy. Maybe you really want to make your friends laugh, or make them feel happy. Maybe your friend is IN your story. When you write with your friends as your audience, and if you keep it authentic, your story will be much 'realer' than if you are writing with your old lady teacher as your audience!
Think about your own writing. How would it change if you really thought about your audience? Would you change your tone, your vocabulary, or the details you choose to include?
I can't wait to hear from you.
Here's how it started. It was pure magic. Jade decided to work her way through the entire Harry Potter series. She's a true fan. Favorite author? JK Rowling. Favorite character? Harry Potter. Hogwarts house? Gryffindor. So, Jade and I talk about HP a lot. A. LOT. And very soon, Ava started to read the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. . To say that she was encouraged by Jade might be an understatement. One morning I scolded the girls for passing notes during breakfast. Only to find out that Jade was making quizzes each night and giving them to Ava in the morning!
Next, I printed some Harry Potter coloring pages on a request from...well, you know who. Rylee and William thought the Hogwarts crests were cool looking. They each took one to color. They liked them well enough to cut them out and tape them to their desks. They MIGHT have asked what color each house uses. I can't remember.
Ava started to come in on Mondays having read all weekend. She was surprised herself! Eventually, Ava caught up to Jade, who had slowed down her reading of Goblet of Fire, and the day finally came when they could read together. Usually on the girls' side of the Coat Closet Club.
Then...it was time to pick our next read aloud. I was sure we'd pick another book in the Uglies series, or maybe another Sharon Creech book. You all liked Walk Two Moons. But, much to my surprise, the class chose Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone!!! And today? Well, today I found out that Carter got three of the movies. And in the lunch line, the kids were flipping through the calendar and saw that July's photo was of Harry and Hagrid in a boat, crossing the lake to Hogwarts. And someone asked to see the picture again. And someone said, "I love that Hagrid uses the umbrella. That's just awesome."
This is what teachers dream of. That a class will transform into a community of readers. That students will pass books on to their friends, who will try something they never would have chosen to read on their own And they might discover they like it! It doesn't have to be Harry Potter (although that's the BEST of course!).
Two years ago, it was Sharon Creech who caught our imagination and ended up starting a little book club of four girls. I assigned Among the Hidden, by Margaret Petersen Haddix this year to a small reading group, and Estelle is almost done the entire series! Sean and Manny have been reading a book together for a while (under the table in the hall) while Ben discovered Gordon Korman. I love all of this. I love seeing you sit together on the coat closet floor, or lying on the rug side by side, heads bent over a book. I love that you ask if you can have free reading every day. Not because you want to 'take it easy', but because you can't wait to get your noses into your books. I get to watch Rylee work her way through Pretties every morning. I get to see you sign books out to read at home. I hear you talk about what you're reading. And complain if someone else reads from our class read aloud. It's the biggest thrill for this teacher who also loves to read.