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Reading Passport

During a four-hour drive yesterday, I suddenly had the idea to introduce reader’s workshop this year by talking about all the awesome places I traveled – through books! Then I thought it would be fun to post a map in the classroom, with a “books help you travel” type quote, and then keep track of all the places my students and I “visit” throughout the year. I think I would have dots/stickers of some kind (color-coded by genre?) and have students label them with title and reader’s name. I’ll post more about the map once I finalize my plan for it!

What I’m posting about today is my second theme idea: creating “passports” for individuals to track their reading. Now that I have these things in place, I want to develop a whole travel-themed approach to reader’s workshop for the year! I don’t feel like I did an effective job of helping students get immersed in literature last year, and I’m hoping this approach will help emphasize that particular benefit of reading.

I used a type of foldable one of my teachers taught me years ago and created a template for a passport that allows for 4 mini-reviews and a list of 10 additional books:

1. Cover

See below for more, including a downloadable template and a video tutorial!

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Thoughts on The Giver Quartet

I wrote this around 1:00am after finishing the YA novel Son by Lois Lowry. Yet another case of “writing to think” getting a little out of hand… let’s call it a tribute to a story that has stuck with me for quite a long time.

Warning: I tried not to say anything too spoilery, but something you didn’t want to know might have slipped in somewhere!

I’m having trouble deciding how I feel about Son. It’s an excellent novel. There are things I love about it and things I don’t. But it’s hard to be sure what I think because it’s tied up in how I feel about The Giver, and those feelings have had 15 years to develop.

Few books have impacted me like The Giver. I don’t think I’d ever read science fiction before that year, so there were plenty of things that amazed me and creeped me out, and I’ve been obsessed with dystopian literature ever since. I’m pretty sure Jonas was my first book character crush. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I’ve had 15 years to wonder what happened to them. You’d be surprised how often I’ve wondered.

In her Newbery Award acceptance speech for The Giver, Lois Lowry told her audience, “Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the ‘true’ ending, the ‘right’ interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.” She went on to share a few different interpretations from kids who wrote to her, and commented on how real each version was to each reader. Even as a kid, I thought that was fascinating – we all come away with our own stories.

In seventh grade we read The Giver again and did an assignment where we wrote the next chapter (an assignment I later stole when I did The Giver during student teaching – the only whole-class-novel unit I’ve ever taught). I think it was the only fiction I wrote between elementary school and NaNo 2010, and I distinctly remember being both embarrassed and pleased by my dramatic chapter.

I remember loving Gathering Blue because in a sense it was more of the same – Lowry’s amazing writing, teen with a gift, dystopian society – but it was also its own unique world. There’s a brief mention of someone who might be Jonas, which was fun but didn’t necessarily change my reality of The Giver.

But Messenger derailed all that. Worlds collided and we were told, definitively, what happened to Jonas. To me, it felt cheap. Maybe because I read the other two as a kid and read Messenger as an adult, or maybe because I was genuinely disappointed – Lowry made this big deal of not revealing her truth about Jonas and Gabe, then turned around and revealed it anyway. I think Messenger, overall, is the weakest of the series, and I haven’t bothered to re-read it like I did the first two books. There were other things I hated about it, but that’s not really important at the moment.

And now I’ve read Son. I was nervous, because it’s about the girl who “produced” Gabe, and I knew it might further challenge my 15-years-in-the-making assumptions about what happened after The Giver ended. The book is split into three parts, and the parts actually mirror the rest of the series rather well. Book I takes place in the community from The Giver, paralleling those events from a different perspective, and it is awesome. I loved seeing things from another point of view, especially the insights it gave into Jonas’ father – I found him much more sympathetic in this book and much less creepily detached. Wonderfully, though, it made his detachment in The Giver even more interesting, rather than taking away from its impact.

Book II introduces an entirely new community. I was a bit disappointed not to see all the ramifications of Jonas leaving in the first book, but the new society was engaging enough and unique enough that I didn’t mind. It struck me as more rustic, just as the society in Gathering Blue did, and it was enjoyable to read about even if it didn’t fascinate me the way the first community did.

Book III brings us full circle, to the community from Messenger, and of course as someone disappointed in Messenger I couldn’t help being disappointed again. I don’t like the “outside forces” they have to deal with – dystopian literature is great because it’s usually based on the choices humans make, and feels real. I don’t like the neatly-tied-together lives and relationships of characters from past books, even though yeah, I guess I shipped it.

Writing this, I realize that yes, overall I loved Son. How could I not? (Well, I guess I could have hated it – look at poor Messenger). What I didn’t love was having my own reality – the 15 years of life Jonas and Gabe have been living in my mind – stripped away from me with the canon version of events. I love Jonas and Gabe, and I loved the vast, unknown possibilities of their lives after The Giver. It’s more real to think of them out in the world, but out of reach, than it is to see “what really happened.” I don’t want neat coincidences that tie the books together. I want them to be out there living their lives, whether I get to see how they turned out or not, just like anyone else I knew when I was younger.


Lizzie Bennet Diaries & Slut-Shaming

I am a giant Pride & Prejudice nerd. I grew up watching the Colin Firth miniseries with my mom, and since then I’ve seen almost every movie version in existence (most of them multiple times), I wrote my English thesis about it in undergrad, and I wear this scarf on a weekly basis. I own a Pride & Prejudice game that I’ve never played because I don’t know anyone who knows the story well enough to stand a chance against me. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I could fangirl forever about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but I’m going to show some restraint and just focus on what I”m thinking about today.

For those who don’t watch LBD, it’s a YouTube adaptation of Pride & Prejudice told primarily through Elizabeth Bennet’s video blog. The modernization most relevant to this post is the Lydia/Wickham storyline, where the scandal has been translated from elopement to a sex tape. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic change that captures the magnitude of Lydia’s actions and their effect on her reputation and family, but it’s brought up some ugliness among the mostly lovely fanbase.

When lbd!Lydia first started spending time with Wickham, some people started attacking her, basically saying “how could she not know?” The thing is, how could she? In the book, and in the series, he’s a charming guy. The only reason we as viewers know he’s bad news is because we’ve read the book. But Lydia hasn’t read the book. She’s FROM it. It’s absurd to expect her to know as much as we do, and worse, it’s victim-blaming. It’s supposed to be obvious to us that George is manipulating her, but it’s not obvious to her, which only made it worse when the sex tape surfaced and the slut-shaming started. One minute George was an abusive, manipulative jerk (and we knew it all along! we’re smarter than her!), the next we were blaming Lydia for what he did. Lydia addresses these negative reactions starting about 4 minutes in:

The sad thing is, the writers saw this coming. This episode would’ve been filmed at least a few weeks before the sex tape was released and the fans started reacting. What’s ironic to me, and sad, is that we’ll gleefully accept Lizzie’s initial misjudgment of Darcy, but suddenly when Lydia is the misguided one, she’s a stupid whorey slut. And I love that she used that phrase, quoting Lizzie from all the way back in Episode 2, because it drives the point home so dramatically.


What. you. say. matters. I’d like to believe that the people saying hateful things thought they were somehow “adding to the story.” That’s the fun of this format of story-telling, and other times it’s been positive and innocent, like when people posted words of encouragement on Jane’s sad Pinterest pictures. I truly hope that none of the people slut-shaming Lydia would ever consider treating a real person that way.

But if we’re going to believe John Green when he talks about “the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species,” we can’t just accept the excuse that it’s not real. It doesn’t matter that Lydia is fictional. It doesn’t matter that Lizzie said it first. It matters that you are victimizing someone who is already a victim. You are slut-shaming someone who is not a slut. Watching this episode with some friends today, we talked about how we weren’t thrilled that Lizzie said “you don’t deserve this” as opposed to “nobody deserves this”, but from a story perspective I’m glad she did, because it shows how she’s changed. I think December Lizzie would have blamed Lydia for what happened, and I’m so thankful February Lizzie didn’t. It happens in the book, too – in the midst of dealing with the elopement Elizabeth says to her aunt, “Perhaps I am not doing her justice.”

It was so satisfying to see Lydia lash out at the slut-shaming from the fandom, and to see Lizzie look us in the eye and tell us it’s wrong. I’m hoping the writers will end strong with this story arc and drive the message home. It’s a powerful testament to what the novel is really about – perception and judgment and learning to overcome first impressions.

…This was going to be a quick reflection and somehow it turned into an essay. But like Darcy, sometimes I just find it easier to write things down :)

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Last week got off to a rough start, so I wanted to do something different during reader’s workshop to turn things around. Instead of doing a mini-lesson on summarizing then having students read/practice as I had originally planned, I decided to spend the period teaching and practicing the strategy of visualization… in the form of finger-painting!

We discussed what visualization means when you read, focusing on how the “movie” that plays in your head can help you better relate to characters and understand what’s going on. Then they all got comfy laying on the floor, sitting in my chair, hiding under their desks, etc, and closed their eyes while I read an evocative passage from Life of Pi by Yann Martel, one of my favorite books and a gorgeous example of vivid imagery! I also love that he actually TELLS the reader to visualize in a few places (bolded):

You must imagine a hot and humid place, bathed in sunshine and bright colours. The riot of flowers is incessant. There are trees, shrubs and climbing plants in profusion–peepuls, gulmohurs, flames of the forest, red silk cottons, jacarandas, mangoes, jackfruits and many others […] Suddenly, amidst the tall and slim trees up ahead, you notice two giraffes quietly observing you. The sight is not the last of your surprises. The next moment you are startled by a furious outburst coming from a great troupe of monkeys, only outdone in volume by the shrill cries of strange birds. […] To me, it was paradise on earth. I have nothing but the fondest memories of growing up in a zoo. I lived the life of a prince. […] I might stop by the terraria to look at some shiny frogs glazed bright, bright green, or yellow and deep blue, or brown and pale green. Or it might be birds that caught my attention: pink flamingoes or black swans or one-wattled cassowaries, or something smaller, silver diamond doves, Cape glossy starlings, peach-faced lovebirds, Nanday conures, orange-fronted parakeets. […] Every morning before I was out the main gate I had one last impression that was both ordinary and unforgettable: a pyramid of turtles; the iridescent snout of a mandrill; the stately silence of a giraffe […] I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it. […] It is something so bright, loud, weird and delicate as to stupefy the senses.

Before reading, I reminded them to think about what they would hear, smell, see, and so on if they were actually in the story. Afterwards, I modeled my own thoughts about visualization, pointing out that I don’t necessary recognize all these plant and animal names, but I’m struck by the vibrant colors and chaos of the zoo, and my visualization is affected by my own experience with zoos and images I’ve seen of the rainforest. Then students turned and talked about what they noticed as they listened. After that, it was time to paint!

I spread four pieces of butcher paper around the room and had students sit around them on the floor. I read the passage a second time while students began drawing and painting what they had visualized. Each class just added to what the previous class had created so we ended up with a community visualization:

For most of my classes, this was a welcome break from our routine, especially for the sixth graders who have been adjusting to the change from elementary to middle school – we were all getting kind of burned out toward the end of the first grading period, and the kids were delighted to have time to play and get messy!