This year, my school is participating in a reading challenge. The challenge, which was started by some of my very smart English teacher friends and is based on concepts from The Book Whisperer, is to read 50 books in a year. It's been a really great experience for all of us.
Professionally speaking, it has helped us to build a culture of reading and I have seen kids really blossom. For example, last year, a 9th grade boy showed me some poetry he wrote because he was reading a poetry book and thought it might be fun to try to do his own. Um... wow, right?
Personally speaking, it's been a great opportunity for me to stretch myself as a reader because part of the challenge is to include a variety of genres, I've discovered books that I probably wouldn't have tried before. It's pretty cool actually, to figure out where your preferences lie and then purposefully try something new. Anyway, this is getting really long. If you're curious about more details like the genre breakdown, you can check out my friend Daniel's prezi or email me. (I'd link to my prezi, but it's not that great.)
Our time frame, of course, is from the end of last school year to the end of this school year. I've had 4 students finish already, and 2 have even done 100 books. My progress isn't quite so impressive, but I am a little bit ahead of schedule, and I've exceeded my personal goal of reading 50 books in 2011. Here are some of my favorites from the year.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society- This book is simply charming. It's a historical fiction book that follows the correspondence of an author with the citizens of Guernsey just after WWII. The history and characters are interesting and unique.
The Wednesday Wars- This is another historical fiction, but this one is set in the 60s. The book is about a boy named Holling who has to spend Wednesday afternoons with the English teacher that "hates" him while everyone else has religious education. The teacher, who is actually awesome, has Holling study the works of Shakespeare (which he believes at first to be a form of torture). What I really loved about this book was how the other events each echo the action of a work of Shakespeare. That, and it's hilarious.
Beyonders: A World Without Heroes- I think I'll write a whole post about this book and meeting the author (Brandon Mull). This book was incredible. I'll admit, I didn't like the beginning at all, but about 40 pages in, things get good. The story is about a boy named Jason who is transported to another world, a world which is ruled by the evil wizard Maldor. The really cool thing about this book is the concept of a world without heroes. It isn't that Maldor is going around killing all of the heroes, it's that the heroes get sidetracked and corrupted. He breaks heroes by giving them power, wealth, and anything else they want which makes them abandon their purpose. And, that's what Jason (and the awesome Blind Prince) has to face. So good!
Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World- Mike was so excited when he brought this home to me; he really, really wanted me to read it with him. It was too cute to ignore, so I did. There are two aspects to this book. Firstly, games (board, dice, word, video, whatever) have value in our lives; this book is specifically about the value of video games, and it makes some convincing arguments. Some incredible games have been designed that can make real world contributions: they can help map proteins in hopes of finding a cure for cancer; they can also allow citizens (of England) to check the expenditures of the members of parliament and alert authorities to suspicious spending. It's awesome. Secondly, I was able to pull a lot of concepts from this book to use in my classroom because it's all about motivation. It's definitely a good read for teachers.
The Help- If you haven't read this yet, you should. This book is about a very small corner of the Civil Rights movement and how it affects the lives of several women. It's engrossing and touching. I also really enjoyed the movie.
The Poisonwood Bible- Mike brings so many good things into my life, and this is one of them. This book is elegant and insightful in a lot of ways. The story follows a Christian missionary and his family to the Congo; the narration switches between the missionary's wife and four daughters and describes their experience living in the African jungle and learning to live and work with the Africans. If you really want the full experience with this book you should read Things Fall Apart first. Together, they give you an incredible picture of the time period and clash of cultures.