Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Brian Selznick weaves two fascinating stories: one told in prose and the other told in pictures; into a singularly beautiful story in Wonderstruck. Ben Wilson lives in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977; Rose Kincaid lives in Hoboken, New Jersey during 1927. Ben currently lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousins as his mother was killed in an automobile accident; he dreams of meeting his father whom he has never known. Rose lives with her father dreaming of meeting a beautiful actress, Lillian Mayhew, in New York, where she is able to see the skyline from her bedroom window. Ben finds a mysterious clue as to who his father is; Rose reads a headline from a paper while making a scrapbook of the actress; both of these incidences lead the characters to go on a quest to find what they are missing. They both also have one more thing in common, both are deaf.
I was very intrigued to read this book as I remembered many of my students in elementary read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was such a huge hit with the students, and I have not had a chance to read it as of yet. I was a little skeptical when I bought this book though, as I have discovered that graphic novels are not my forte. But I must say, this book was excellent! Ben’s story is told in prose and Rose’s story is told through illustrations. The illustrations are elegantly done; Selznick beautifully weaves each story together masterfully. As it is told in both formats, it is a very quick read (which was one of the reasons a lot of my elementary students loved Hugo), but it is also extremely mesmerizing. I would recommend this book to many readers, from upper elementary to high schoolers and beyond. Even though I believe his audience is more geared towards middle schoolers, I can see older students enjoying this beautiful story also.
This week I took a detour into Professional Development reading with the book 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. And if my pictures are any indication, you can see that I found this book full of wonderful insights and ideas that I will be trying in the upcoming school year.
Gallageher and Kittle spent a year mapping, planning, and teaching to better discover and share the decisions they make during a school year in regards to their teaching. I consider both teachers to be two of the best English teachers around, and I knew that I would find many useful things in their book and was not disappointed. The one topic that they discuss is how they get everything they need done in a year; the simple answer is…they don’t. Which is why they make sure that they prioritize what they will be teaching, what will make the biggest impacts on the students and their learning.
They start the book by discussing their beliefs. One of the first quotes that I came across that really struck me was when they wrote, “A year of filling time is focused on lessons. A year of spending time is focused on students” (Gallagher and Kittle 3-4). They explain how they focus each year on the students that are coming into their classes; what THOSE students need. As they mention, too often English classrooms are not a place where students are actively engaged, and they should be. Another of their principle ideas is that they believe in grading less and assessing more. I think that a lot of times as teachers, we get stuck on the fact that we need to have grades, therefore the assessing portion gets thrown to the wayside. But students need to feel like they have a safe place to try new things, somewhere where they are not going to be judged on every thing they do, a place where they can make mistakes and by being allowed to make those mistakes can grow stronger in the process.
The book then goes into how they structured their year by establishing daily practice routines, how they mapped out their year of reading and writing instruction, and finally how to balance feedback and evaluation. Each of these chapters show the reader the decision-making process that took place during the year from the beginning of the planning, to the middle, and finally to the end. They not only discuss their successes during the planning and lessons, but they also discuss any failures that may have occurred. It was interesting to see how these two teachers adapted their planning schedules to meet their own schools’ schedules: Gallageher teaches in Anaheim, CA and has 53 minute periods daily while Kittle teaches in New Hampshire and her classes consist of 80 minutes every other day.
Two more pieces of this book that I found very interesting were the sections on their writing units and the fact that this book comes with video access for extended knowledge on all their concepts. I do wish, however, that they would have spent a little more time on discussing their independent reading and book club reading sections. I love the workshop ideas, but felt that these two sections were a little shy on depth. Overall, I really did enjoy this book and have gained many new ideas that I plan to incorporate into the following school year.
Gallagher, Kelly, and Penny Kittle. 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents. Heinemann, 2018.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten
What happens when you meet the girl of you dreams during one of your obsessive/compulsive support group meetings? You vow to save her until the end. Adam Spenser Ross has OCD. He spends his days counting and ordering things until he feels they are just right. He attends an OCD support group every week where he is the least “crazy” of them all. And then in walks Robyn Plummer. Recently released from a residential treatment center, she comes with her own set of problems. Now Adam must not only deal with his compulsions, he has made it his goal to help save Robyn.
His plans to make himself get better and to help Robyn and the rest of his OCD support group members is compounded by the fact that Adam’s mother, who is divorced from Adam’s father, is getting anonymous threatening letters. The type that you often see from kidnappers: letters that are formed from cut-out words from magazines. Can Adam help his mom, Robyn, and the rest of the support group before it completely undermines his own efforts to become better? You’ll have to wait and see when you read The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B is a wonderful story that will capture you from the very first page. Teresa Toten does a superb job at handling the issues of mental issues and the compulsions people with OCD go through. The plot is very interesting, with a wonderful mixture of humor and mystery. You are met with a variety of interesting characters; from the support group members (who each get their own Superhero names), to Adam’s parents, Robyn, and Adam’s four-year old step-brother who is both endearing and has problems of his own. This is a wonderful book that lets you see into the world of OCD and I believe that this book would appeal to almost any age-group.
Book Trailer Link
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Willowdean Dickson is a confident girl. Willow is a self-proclaimed fat girl who knows who she is. Willow knows where she belongs. And Willow LOVES Dolly Parton. That is until Bo Larson, her gorgeous co-worker, suddenly starts to notice her. Now Willow has no idea what is going on. What could a boy like Bo, gorgeous and a private school basketball player, possibly want with a girl like her? Suddenly, the confident, I-know-who-I-am girl, is having all kinds of doubts. To top this off, her mother was a former beauty queen, and is the pageant chair for the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant (which is a BIG deal ~ this is set in Texas after all); her best friend Ellen, is finding love herself; and her beloved Aunt Lucy, who was more like her mother, has recently died from complications of obesity.
Willow decides to enter the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant to the chagrin of her mother. Along with her best friend, and a hand-full of misfits, what was at first a tribute to her aunt, may become something more. All the while, Bo keeps wanting to declare their relationship to the masses, something Willow is not ready to do. She can’t stand the thought of the bullying and teasing Bo would endure for being with “a girl like her”.
This books is a wonderful book that shares some very raw feelings about loving yourself and accepting others. I feel that this book can be especially inspiring to young people to learn to love themselves for who they are and to follow their dreams no matter what the circumstances. One of the most powerful things I found in the book is that it contains many powerful quotes about being yourself or just being the most awesome you can be. This will definitely be a book that I will be adding to my classroom library as I think is has such a positive message. There is a film version that is being made starring Jennifer Aniston as Willow’s mom.
Nine Best Quotes from Dumplin’