Opening The Door To Real World Book Connections


One of the first books on my list to book talk this fall is Kate Messner’s engaging All the Answers. The main character Ava is a worrier.  Her fears often get in the way of showing others the vibrant person she truly is on the inside. In truth, most of us let a fear get in the way now and again.

For middle school students life is often about risk and reward. Where do I fit in? What will happen if I step outside my comfort zone? What defines me? These are heady questions for 11-14 year olds. A great way to broaden student thinking about how people deal with these questions is relating the well-crafted fiction they read with real life stories.

CBS Sunday Morning ran a story on July 19th about a woman in New York who set out to conquer 100 fears in 100 days.  Like Ava, she is a worrier. For a class at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Michelle Poler created a 100 day project to address something most of us experience: fear.

Michelle flew on a trapeze, held a tarantula and a snake, fried food and even jumped out of an airplane.  Not surprisingly, what Michelle found was she had the strength inside all along.  The point of this story dovetails nicely with Kate Messner’s message in All the Answers (although Michelle’s real life story lacks the magic pencil in All the Answers that will hook my students!). But, as students reflect on Messner’s book they can see a real life example in action, allowing them to come one step closer to addressing their own fears.

This summer I am consciously looking for real world connections to the books my students read…and the connections are everywhere! My goal is to start the year with a long list of paired texts.  So far, my list includes poetry, news clips, articles, podcast stories, environmental print and music.

To build the list, I must be very intentional and read broadly…something I ask my students to do! My car rides are filled with NPR, I look at newspapers and magazine with an eye toward connections and I seek out sources from friends.

As a lovely silver lining, the connection between my personal reading and the stories around me is becoming more and more organic. This is a useful skill for students of any age.

What does community really mean?

community bulleting board

This summer I have given a lot of thought to the word community.

I live in a lovely town outside of Washington, D.C.  On Saturdays I can venture down the street to the Farmer’s Market where I am sure to run into several neighbors and friends. Community is easy to spot in this thriving corner of town.

In September, I will happily return to the classroom to join a community of teachers – like-minded people striving to built the best educational environment for students.  My classroom too will be a community of readers — one of my favorite places to reside!

I find myself in community on Twitter, at conferences, when tutoring young readers,  participating at the food bank or simply being with my extended family.

Community is many things. But, the larger question that lies beneath the warmth of community is: what is our responsibility as the member of any community?

Students in my classroom this year will focus on what community means to them.  What communities do they inhabit? What does each community mean to them? How can they improve life in that community? What is our responsibility to others in our communities?

I am learning that by taking time to examine the communities I am a part of…I feel more responsible but at the same time I feel empowered.  I want my students to feel empowered!

This year we will stretch far beyond the walls of our classroom to really look at who we are in community.  The global read aloud, a class podcast about community, service projects and more will mingle with the daily tasks of reading and writing. School should not be something you “go and do” for a handful of hours. Real life must weave its way through the halls, into conversations and off the pages of books.

I believe our job as teachers is to equip students to be global citizens — caring, compassionate, motivated citizens.  My hope is that a year of inquiry will help us read more, understand more, connect more and take steps to make positive changes in the communities around us.

**Writer’s Note:  I started this blog last summer but let it fall by the wayside. Thanks to a push from the very talented Katherine Hale, I am excited to enter the blogging world 🙂