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.

The Community of Teachers

For the second summer week in a row I feel joy in the community of teachers.   This sense of comfort is easy to find during the school year — pop into a teacher’s classroom for advice or participate in a brainstorming session.  But in the summer, teachers come together for the love of teaching.

Last week I attended the July Reading Institute at Columbia’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP).  An army of 1,200 strong listened to the latest research, laughed with keynote speaker Jacqueline Woodson and shared ideas to take back tot he classroom.  The generosity of spirit was invigorating.  Some of us were only a couple of days removed from the classroom but we were all equally eager to engage.  I left New York with new friends and the promise of sharing ideas across the transom.

Today I begin the Teachers Write summer project.  Authors Kate Messner, Jo Knowles and Gae Polisner host over a thousand teachers, challenging us to write every day.  Over the course of several weeks, a couple dozen guest authors will provide prompts, comments and encouragement.  Equally important, the community of writers will share and provide support.  I am excited for the challenge and hope to find my writing voice over the next several weeks.  I plan to write for writing’s sake…to see where the words take me.  Unlike most of my writing, this summer work is not audience-driven or lesson-based.

The slower days of summer offer the community of teachers a chance to truly shine.  When we are not bound by classrooms or schedules, we teachers can reenergize.  But I marvel at the flow of creativity that these warm, supposedly lazy days bring out!