Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Welcome to the 2017 Summer Reading Challenge!

Schools's out--summer is here!

Are you deep in plans for swimming, camping, and cookouts? I hope you're also stockpiling your books for summer reading--I know I am. I have a bookshelf full and I also have a mental list I'm keeping; plus, now I have a new list to construct, since I just received my own summer reading challenge from the seventh graders yesterday. I'm looking forward to digging into my summer reading!

We invite you to join us here at the Fairmont Catholic School Summer Reading Challenge. Everyone is welcome: students, former students, teachers, parents, siblings, friends, and even passersby-of-good-will. It's a very loose challenge: you set your own goal, you communicate your progress to me when you want, you read during the summer, and then when we come back to school, we all (all of our students who are there that day, anyway) have a lunch party (with ice cream!) where we celebrate our reading fun. We celebrate everyone who has been part of the Challenge, whether they have met their goals or not, and we put our participants' pictures up on the hallway bulletin board so everyone else can celebrate reading too.

Every year the seventh graders set my challenge, and I really appreciate the fact that they always try to make it interesting. Here's the challenge they set for me this year: read a book from every quarter-century from 1800 to the present (that means one from 1800 to 1825, one from 1825 to 1850, and so on). We did a little negotiating on the challenge, so now it includes the following wiggle room: the book can be by an author who was writing during that quarter-century (so if there's a book that is right on the edge, it can tip either way), and the book can either be written during that time or set during that time. The seventh graders, like the good sports they are, all agreed to be part of the Challenge too; watch the Participants page for their challenges and updates.

If you would like to join the challenge (and I hope you will), just sign up at the link on the right. Then update me by writing me at my school email and telling me what you are reading and/or how you are doing on your challenge or anything else you want to share (including books reviews--we all love book reviews), and I will post it on the Participants page, which is where you can follow everyone's progress. Also, check back here periodically; I'll try to post every week or two on the blog.

Happy summer reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Autumn Begins

Another Summer Reading Challenge is finished--congratulations to all the summer readers! Here's our bulletin board--aren't you guys the cutest? We had a fun party with our summer readers earlier this month, and I hope everybody got some of the traditional Summer Reading Ice Cream Cake.

Another tradition at the party is that I ask all the summer readers what their favorite book of the summer was, so I can make a list of recommended books. So here's our list. I have put grade numbers by everyone's name so that we can find books that might appeal to folks at different grade levels.

Vincent (K) Star Wars
Zoey (K) About Butterflies
Quinn (1) Lego Star Wars
Francesca (1) Lady Bug Girl
Dominica (1) Junie B. Jones
Kaelyn (2) Butterflies
Haeley (2) Pinkalicious Tickled Pink
Angelina (2) We Eat Diner in the Bathtub
Conchetta (2) No David
Ava (2) Unicorn Magic Finding Gummer
Isaac (3) Orp and the Chop Suey Burgers
Luke (3) World Champion Books
Madison (3) World Champion Books
Xaden (4) Yeti Files
Kamden (4) Pete the Cat
Cameron (4) Huckleberry Finn
Dominic (4) Percy Jackson
Will (4) Harry Potter
Gabriella (4) Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jocelyn (4) Magic Treehouse
Angelina (4) Dork Diaries
Lindsay (5) The BFG
Sophia (5) If I Were You
Haedyn (5) Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Landon (5) Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Nicholas (6) Mammals
Erin (6) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Shannon (6) The Unicorn Hunt
Carmela (7) The Beginning of Everything
Grace (7) Banner in the Sky
Audrie (7) The BFG
Aidan (7) Spy School
Sarah (8) Dead Upon a Time
Kathryn (8) Gone

There you have it--our book list from the summer. Do you see any books on this list you would like to check out? I have already borrowed one and read it--Aiden loaned me Spy School. It was very funny, and I enjoyed reading it.

I hope you have had fun with the Summer Reading Challenge. I always toy with the idea of keeping the blog running during the school year, but so far it has not happened. Maybe this year? Who knows. At any rate, I hope to see you back here next summer!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Are you a series reader? Many of my students are. I can absolutely sympathize: it's great to have a group of characters and a setting that you are already familiar with from earlier books--and it's great to have a reliable author, whose work you know you love, so that each time you open a new book by this author, you know you are in for a treat. 

When my daughter was in elementary school and high school, the big series was Harry Potter--and that's a series that has had some staying power. I've had students into many series over the years: AnimorphsRedwall, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Twilight, Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Mysterious Benedict SocietyDivergent, and Percy Jackson, to name a few. I always loved how students would pass the books around and the enthusiasm would catch from student to student and the exploits of the characters would be the topic of conversation in the hallway.

When I was in elementary school, my favorite series was The Chronicles of Narnia--still one of my all-time favorites. I've gotten hooked on other series from time to time; for instance, I love the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories by Dorothy L. Sayers and the Aubrey-Maturin nautical historical novels by Patrick O'Brian.

When I had the seventh graders set my challenge for this summer, they tossed around several ideas before they fixed on the mythological creatures one. They told me that because they have evil minds, they considered setting me a challenge that would involve reading only the middle book of several series--but then their true beautiful and virtuous nature won out and they fixed on the creature challenge. However, with the last book I read, I had a frustrating series experience similar to the one the seventh graders were contemplating. The book was clearly the first in a series--it ends with all the characters in a turmoil and an impending war--but there is no indication on the cover of the book that it is a series, so the reader is expecting some resolution at the end of the book. Even worse, the book came out in 2010 and the sequel was due to be out in 2012, and it STILL has not been published. I had been forewarned about this, but the folks who read the first book in 2010 are quite miffed about the wait. Readers commenting on the Internet are wild with frustration, and their frustration is pitiable. One I read was kind of heartbreaking; the reviewer said (in all caps), "OK, I HAVE BEEN WAITING SINCE EIGHTH GRADE TO READ THIS BOOK. I AM ABOUT TO ENTER SENIOR YEAR! THIS IN NOT OK!!!!!!!!"

It's always fun when a new book in your series come out, but now I can see the flip side, too: it must be very hard when the new book in your series doesn't come out. And if it's hard on the reader, imagine how hard it must be on the writer!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Creating a World

I've just finished rereading Tove Jansson's Finn FamilyMoomintroll, a classic children's book which is rather hard to describe. In the way the characters interact, it reminds me of The House at Pooh Corner and of The Wind in the Willows. In its inventiveness and its cleverness, it reminds me of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. In its ability to make an odd imaginary land very relatable, it reminds me of Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters.

Finn Family Moomintroll is just one of many books that Tove Jansson wrote about these characters and their world, and there are also cartoons, movies, comic strips, and even a theme park featuring Moomins. In addition to writing the books, Jansson illustrated them, which is an added delight, as the illustrations mesh so exactly with the text.

This kind of creativity fascinates me: building a whole world, imagining not just characters and plots but kinds of creatures and imaginary lands and magical powers. I'm a pushover for a book (particularly a children's book) that starts with a map and includes a catalog of the types of creature you will find in the book.

I imagine the Moomins as being the sorts of characters the author had in her head when she was young and played make-believe. Did you have a make-believe land when you were younger? Do you and your friends have a make-believe land from books or movies or a TV show that you all relate to and think of as kind of belonging to you--like Hogwarts or Narnia or Middle Earth or Gallifrey or Panem or Damar or Camp Half-Blood? 

July is a great month for some imaginative reading and writing. Why not create your own imaginary land? Can you come up with a character list, and drawings, and a map? Would a friend or two like to help you dream up this new world? I think that would be a fun midsummer project.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


On my Facebook feed the other day, I found this interesting link:


It's a blog post about sorting saints into the Houses in Hogwarts. I find it really entertaining; I've sent it to several friends and relatives.

Sometimes we readers get so connected to a fictional world--the world of Harry Potter is a good example--that we begin to get interested in even the minute details of the world, and eventually it seems to have a reality that in some ways mimics actual reality. And then the crossovers begin: we begin connecting the real world to our beloved fictional world. So we think about what we might be like if we lived in that fictional world, or we think about which characters from that world our friends resemble, or we think about a situation in real life and imagine how our favorite fictional character would respond in that situation.

Since I'm a big fan of fiction, I believe that these crossovers actually help us learn and grow and discover in our real world. For instance, determining the most important virtue of a saint by considering the virtues (and vices) displayed by members of the different Houses in Hogwarts is not a bad way to learn about the saints and about virtue.

What about you? Do you have any crossovers into fictional worlds?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Reading Pictures

If you're reading this, you are probably past the picture-book stage in your reading career, but the truth is that even grown-ups can enjoy picture books. One of the great things about picture books is that the artist is as much of a creator as the author, and many picture books can entertain and enlighten us as much through their pictures as through their words.

Even though I only teach one art class a day, I spend a lot of time thinking about art, and during the summer I work on getting ideas and making plans for my next year of art. I read a lot of art blogs online and I look at a lot of projects on Pinterest. This summer I got to do something extra-fun: I got to go to the Cleveland Museum of Art and spend some time with actual works of art! When you get the opportunity to really stand in front of a picture and look at it thoroughly, it's almost as if you are reading that picture.

Here's one of the paintings we saw that day--Van Gogh's The Road Menders. We stood and looked at it for a long time.

We happened to be at the museum on their summer kickoff day, when they do a special activity called "Parade the Circle." On that day lots of artists (of all sorts, professional artists as well as amateurs like you and me) make fantastic costumes and giant puppets and then have a big parade around a circular path in the park in front of the museum. The costumes and puppets were amazing, but to me the most amazing thing was that they were not expensive, manufactured items: they were handmade by terrific artists.

These are two of the more elaborate ones, but there were plenty of puppets and costumes that used very simple materials. When I saw several that were made of cardboard, I immediately began thinking of my own art classroom and wondering if we could do our own giant puppets. What do you think? "Parade the Playground"? Hmmmm.......

Monday, June 13, 2016

My Summer Reading Challenge

Every year, I let the seventh graders set my summer reading challenge, and once again, they have come up with a great one. This year they studied Greek myths, so maybe they had myths on their minds: they challenged me to read five books (all by different authors) about five different mythological creatures. I think the definition of "mythological" is pretty broad, but they did tell me it had to be creatures--so that doesn't include things like talking saucepans or magic shoelaces.

I have mentioned this challenge to several friends and I'm beginning to compile my reading list. I already have a book about dragons, recommended by rising eighth grader Kathryn, on my Kindle, and I have ordered another book about kelpies that Mary, an alumna, recommended to me, as well as another about a pegasus that was suggested by my old friend and reading buddy Meg. Now all I have to do is finish the books I was reading at the end of the school year so that I can start my summer challenge.

(Recognize this scene? It's an Ernest Shepherd illustration from the Kenneth Grahame book The Reluctant Dragon--which many of you may remember from a certain play you saw recently.)