Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Thing About Luck Book Club Meeting


Hello Dear Readers,

I finished The Thing About Luck two weeks ago and have not been able to get the characters out of my head.  I'd love to chat about the book on Twitter next Thursday, January 30, at 7:45 pm.

If you read the book already, reread and look for some things you think may offer great conversation.  Then post them to the comments section of this blog post.

If you have not read yet, order your copy or download it tonight.  Then tell your friends at school to do the same so you can enjoy a great Teacher Book Club.
I am going to offer up some points of conversation below that might surface in our chat.  Happy reading! See you Thursday night on twitter.  My handle is @Read_Write_Play

1.  I am really interested in thinking and talking more about Obaachan.  Page 267 has a beautiful description  of Wabi-sabi.  Jiichan says it can be "beauty and nobility in a rough exterior."  Looking back at so many of my post-it notes about Obaachan, I see her beauty and nobility in that rough exterior.  Do you?  Do you want to collect examples too?  I'd love to talk more about this.

2.  We could talk about Summer and her thoughts about death.  She speaks about it on page 79 and page 213 in detail.  I think she is a vulnerable character to us as readers, but not necessarily to the other characters.  Agree?  Why?

3.  Chapter 12 just sums up why I love Cynthia Kadohata's writing so much.  She captures the heart of what it is to be twelve.  I love when summer says, "Have you ever felt humiliated and proud at the same time?" (page 199).  We can talk more about this chapter and why it is an important part of the book.

4.  I'd also love to talk about Jiichan and this book he gave her, A Separate Peace.  I love the part on page 102 when Summer says, "It made me think that each person had all sorts of things going on inside of them, but most of these things would never surface unless circumstances were exactly right."  It seems like Jiichan had an important role in fostering the sense of empathy and compassion that Summer carries throughout the story/her life.  Do you agree?  I'd love to talk more about him and what he does to influence both of his grandchildren.

5.  Did you get the chills (or what I imagine a runner may feel at mile 25 of a marathon) when you read the bottom of page 261.  Summer carries so much onto that wheat field.  I'd love to talk about why she carries it all with her and the consequences (perhaps positive and negative - or maybe with no judgement at all) of all she brings with her that night.

6.  Finally, we could talk about Jaz.  He is such a great secondary character and the way he helps bring the book to a close is artful.  I would love to talk about those last few pages including the unchanging Jaz and Kadohata's decision to also bring Mick and Jenson back into the story in such a deeply personal way.  I wondered if she was trying to tell us something about moments when we should use our empathy to reach out and moments when we should use our empathy to just silently wish someone peace and kindness.  What did you think about that ending?

I am looking forward to discussing these topics and more with you next Thursday!  Cheers to  great books!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Teacher Book Clubs:  
Reading, rereading, writing about reading, talking, and eating! 
(And falling in love with hope and squirrels.)

This winter I had the privilege of working with teachers at Kaukauna's NDLC on the topic of writing about reading.   We were all curious to see what would happen if we read a book together, did some writing about reading in preparation for a book club conversation, and then had the conversation, and wrote some more.  We were wondering if we would grow stronger in our teaching of reading (and writing about reading) if we actually did some of that work ourselves in the company of one another.   
I enjoyed it so much, that I wanted to share it with other teacher leader friends who may want to do something like this in their schools.  Here are my top 10 reflections on this book club.

#1:  Pick a great book.  We chose Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  It was on my list of children's lit that I wanted to read.  A close runner up (and on my nightstand now) is The Thing About Luck.  One of the teachers at the table ordered 13 copies of our choice on her smartphone and they were in the  mailboxes the next day!  Wow!

#2:  We decided to read it in less than a week.  The teachers and I said, "read as much as you can," and we all knew that choosing a children's chapter book meant that we would all finish or be close to done at the week's end.  We also set a goal to do some writing about reading and come to the conversation with something to offer-up to conversation.  The short deadline and specific assignment helped tremendously.

#3:  We ordered a great lunch for the book club meeting day.  Thanks so much to the principal for the treat!

#4:  We gathered, and as we mingled and opened our lunches, we reread our post-its for 3-4 minutes so we would be prepared for conversation.  I asked the teachers to jot on a post-it something they would like to talk about for a long time.    I also offered up the need to jot clarifying questions.  It is hard to talk about bigger issues or themes in a book if there is a part a reader is still working to understand.  And, we did do a bit of clarifying.

#5:  We decided on a few bigger themes or issues that we thought would make good conversations.  Some of us wanted to talk about a specific character and Kate's deliberate placement of her throughout the story (The Dr. Meecham).  Some of us wanted to talk about the changes in the main characters, Flora and Ulysses, and how the other characters influenced those changes.  Some of us wanted to linger on some very powerful quotes in the book.  We decided to start with one of these and then eventually, we got to it all.

#6:  We worked hard to listen to the person in the club speaking, to ask them to tell us specific text evidence, and then we all went back to reread theat evidence.  We learned that doing this close listening and rereading, helped all of us add on to the conversation and eventually our writing about reading.  For example, while discussing Flora's mother, we asked questions like, "Do you really think the character meant to say that?  Why or Why not?" and then we forced ourselves to dig deeper, rereading places where that character spoke in different parts in the book and we developed a theory about the mother.  This ritual reminded us of the kind of close reading our friends Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts write about in their book, Falling in Love with Close Reading.

#7:  We wrote about our reading in different ways.   All of us collected jots on post-it notes.  Some of us jotted connections, ideas about themes, ideas about characters, and some of us commented on author's craft.   Some of us used a timeline to mark significant changes in a character.  Some of us made double or triple timelines so we could notice how one character's changes may mirror another.  Some of us made character webs or t-charts to compare characters.  Some of us even began to write literary essays during our conversation on the second day. 

#8:  We began to see that the small jots perhaps didn't mean much alone, but when we reread a whole book full of jots, we saw patterns and could use those patters to develop and idea for conversation.  This real-life experience of writing about reading in a book club will help us explain the purpose and importance of all this reading and jotting to our students.  

#9:  We saw ourselves, our families, and our friends in the pages of this book and in our conversations.  Kate DiCamillo is a fabulous writer and this thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud book is just ripe for conversation in upper elementary classrooms - and in teacher book clubs every where.  

#10:  Meeting for book club conversation felt joyful to me, as well as the kind of good, hard work that I want my students to do when they read in a club.  I want to read with this book club, and more like it, in the upcoming months.  

Who wants to join me in talking and writing about The Thing About Luck?  My goal is to post about it next week.  I am hoping to take pics of my jots and invite you to have a conversation with me via the comments section.  Let's give it a try.

Another  big thank you to the #nerdlution twitter community out there.  In case you are new to the hashtag, check out the post that started it all at Colby Sharp's blog and twitter feed.  Nerdlution is motivating me to read 60 min of YA a day and I promise to blog about it.  Nerdlution lasts for 50 days, but I am hoping my goal sticks as a real, long-term habit.


I dedicate this post to my teacher friends at New Directions Learning Community.  You are exactly as your school-name says you promise to be.  I get the chills listening to you joyfully problem-solve, plan, and ask such important questions.  It has been a pleasure to be with you from the conception of your dream to the reality. 
A big thank you for this post goes to Barbara, one of the first grade teachers, who at the end of this 2-day book club conversation, read the most beautiful literary essay about change, hope, and love (and it included text evidence).  We all had to wipe away some tears or run our hands down the goosebumps on our arms.  And, I know Barbara would say that her thought collective helped her write it, so to all of you staff members at NDLC, a big CHEERS!