Monday, September 18, 2017

End of Summer

The Summer Reading Challenge keeps getting bigger every year--I know this because we overflow the bulletin board more each year. It's great to see all your smiling faces on the  bulletin board by the library as I walk by it every day!

Here's the list of the books you recommended:
Maddox                               Dinosaur books
Conchetta                            Be Forever, May Ellen
Vincent                                Dr. Seuss
Jocelyn                                Holes
Luke                                    Batman
Elliot                                   Goblet of Fire
Giada                                  Charlie Brown and the Pumpkin Patch
Audrie                                 Anne Frank
Isaac                                    Wonder
Jonathan                              Star Wars
Madison                              Joke books
Dominica                            Junie B. Jones
Grace                                   Bob
Jack                                     The Lightning Thief
Ethan                                   Jedi
Carmela                               The Wandmaker
Mitchell                               Jedi Academy
Macey                                  Dork Diaries
Lydia                                    Sorcerer’s Stone
Quinn                                   Star Wars
Landon                                 Bird + Squirrel
Haedyn                                 Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters
Haeley                                  Dork Diaries
Kaelyn                                  Junie B. Jones
Xaden                                   Shadow
Dominic                                Magnus Chasing
Nicholas                               The Endangered Animals Dictionary
Cameron                               Wolf
Caitlin                                   Harry Potter
Matthew                                Lego Star Wars
Parker                                   The Christmas Story
Téa                                        Christmas
Karis                                     Harry Potter
Will                                       Percy Jackson
Kamden                                Pete the Cat
Aidan                                    Harry Potter
Ava                                       The Doll People series
Anthony                                Captain Underpants
Carina                                   Christmas Book
Brooklyn                               Monsters Love Underpants
Declan                                   Holes
Gabriella                               Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Franchesca                            Forever After High
Aidan                                    The Lorax
Kiley                                     Love, Lucas

If you didn't get a chance to give me your book title, let me know, and I'll add it.

Here's my rundown of my own summer reading challenge, which, you may recall, was to read a book from or set in every quarter-century, starting in 1800 and going to the present.

1800-1825       Castle Rackrent (1800) by Maria Edgeworth
1825-1850       The House of the Seven Gables (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
1850-1875        Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott
1875-1900        A Rough Shaking (1890) by George MacDonald
1900-1925        Kim (1900) by Rudyard Kipling
1925-1950       The Greater Trumps (1932) by Charles Williams
                         And Then there Were None (1939) by Agatha Christie
1950-1975        My Brilliant Friend (2012--set in 1950s) by Elena Ferrante
1975-2000        Against Wind and Tide: Diaries and Letters 1947-1986 by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
2000-2017        The Shack (2007) by William Paul Young

I tried to read mostly books I had not read before, but I did end up with two re-reads: Little Women and The Greater Trumps. As it turns out, these were my two favorite books of the summer; if I leave those two out, I would have to go with A Rough Shaking and Against Wind and Tide as my top books for the summer.

I always really enjoy the Summer Reading Challenge, and I hope you do too. I didn't get to blog much this summer, but I hope to get to blog a bit more next summer. Until then--happy reading!

Above is our traditional SRC ice cream cake, made every year by Mrs. Tobin, even though her own children have all graduated. This is the highlight of our SRC party! Thanks, Mrs. Tobin!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Old Words; New to Me

One of the great things about this summer's challenge is that I have been reading books that I would not normally read, and in those books there are often words that I don't really have in my vocabulary. In some cases, this is because the words are from an earlier age and no longer in general use; in other cases they are simply words I don't know. Most of them I have seen before and have a guess as to the sort of thing they mean, and for all of them there have been enough context clues that I could easily figure out roughly what they mean and get by without looking them up. However, since this is summer reading and I'm not in a rush, it's been kind of fun to stop and look things up and go a little deeper into what the author wanted to get across.

Here's a list of words from two of my summer books that I had to stop and look up:

  • grimalkin
  • burdock
  • sybarite
  • eleemosynary
  • matuninal (this one was easy to figure out from its Latin root)
  • denier (this is the second definition--not "one who denies")
  • hierophant
  • alcalde (this was one I had never seen before)
  • lictor (ditto)
Are any of these words that you know? I'm used to doing pretty well on vocabulary trivia quizzes, but I would have been zero for nine on this one--maybe two for nine if it were multiple choice.

What's a new word you have learned from your reading this summer? The above words are pretty hard to work into a conversation--have you learned any new words that you can use in everyday life? 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Reading Along a Timeline

As you know, my summer reading challenge this year is to read books from each quarter-century between 1800 and the present. I told the seventh graders (the traditional setters of my summer reading challenge) that I did not want a challenge that would waste my time (the classic example of this is the challenge to read a single mid-series book from a number of different series) or one that would be more complicated to set up than to actually accomplish (this was in response to an early proposal to read a book written by an alumnus of each Ivy League college--since I'm not even sure which colleges those are, that sounded like more of a research project than a reading project).

I like my challenge this summer, despite the fact that it too is becoming something of a research project. I realized that even though I could find books I would enjoy in all those periods, I wasn't exactly clear on what had been written when--at least, not down to the quarter-century. That meant I had to do some investigating and charting and organizing to figure out what I would read.

I complicated matters for myself by deciding that I would try for the most part to read books I had never read before. This meant I had to dig even deeper. Fortunately, that digging has been fascinating. I've found out things about the literary landscape that I did not know before. I've also been down the rabbit hole of Internet literary recommendations, which is really a great way to spend a lot of time without realizing you're doing it. . . . One site that I have found fascinating is http://www.literature-map.com/, which gives you author recommendations based on what other people who read your author also read. It's probably not much different from the system that online retailers use to try to sell you stuff that is similar to what you're shopping for, but it has a fun little visual scramble of author names that appears every time you click a new author, and it's satisfying to see authors you know turn up and interesting to click on them and see where they lead.

I will say also that it's kind of fun to have someone else (like a class of seventh graders) give you a reading challenge, rather than setting your own. It takes you places you might not have gone on your own, which is one of the great reasons to read in the first place.

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.