Monday, July 14, 2014

Three Books You Should Read

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out written and photographed by Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta appeared in my tumblr feed in a post about diverse books, so I sought it out at my local bookstore. Author Susan Kuklin interviewed and photographed six transgender teens, and what I liked most about this book is that it is almost entirely the teens telling their own stories. Kuklin occasionally adds some notes for clarity, but otherwise it's the teens' own voices that we hear, some polished, some raw. Some participants are comfortable being photographed, and other aren't. Some teens have read and studied deeply about gender identity, while others engage in gender stereotypes even when discussing their own experiences. I love that about this book.

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Confession: I don't read much middle grade fiction. In fact, I actively avoid it most of the time. And for some reason, this book was in my mind as middle grade, when in fact it's a book that falls somewhere between MG and YA.

I'm so glad I finally read it.

While I enjoyed Nate's adventure to NYC to try out for ET: The Musical (I laughed out loud. A lot.), it's Nate's role in his family and his treatment at school and in his town that have me thinking about how to use this book with my students. The slurs and physical attacks that Nate receives from his classmates are told in flashbacks. Nate doesn't dwell on them, though it's obvious he's been deeply hurt. It's wonderful to watch Nate discover a place for himself in the theater world. (And the sequel is terrific too.)

Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace

At last year's ALAN Workshop, Chris Crutcher said that Muckers was the book he wished he'd written this year. That was enough for me to buy it.

Muckers is inspired by the true story of the 1950 Jerome Muckers football team. Hatley, Arizona, is a mining town with a dying mine. It's already been announced that the high school will close at the end of the year, so this will be the final season for the Muckers, a football team that has twice lost in the state championship to larger teams. For quarterback Red O'Sullivan, it's the last chance to live up to his older brother's legacy.

Every time I thought I had a grasp on this book, it revealed another layer. It's about football, and a school, and a town. It's about race, and ethnicity, and segregation. It's about religion. It's about war. It's about family.

I highly recommend this book, and I'm going to make it my personal mission to get as many students as I can to read it this year.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Celebrate: Two Weeks in Photos

Lunch at the (new) Red Hot, Tacoma, WA.
I've been wanting to do this FOREVER.
So glad the mountain came out on the 4th (Commencement Bay, WA).
My dad (right) and his best friend of 35+ years.
Vashon ferry.
Yes, I did fit all six in one suitcase.
Love the clean shelves. Love the stack of arcs I borrowed.
Clean desk means my apartment reorganization is almost complete.
Maggie Stiefvater at The Book Stall, Winnetka, IL.
Bell's Brewing, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Woke up yesterday to find this in a text message. I'm very excited!

How was your week?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thoughts from nErDcampMI

Twice this summer, I have left my apartment and hit the road BEFORE STARBUCKS IS EVEN OPEN. TWICE! And both times it's been worth it. I'm not saying I enjoyed leaving at 3:45am to pick up a colleague to drive to Michigan (we were in ANOTHER STATE by the time Starbucks opened), but I would do it again. I probably will do it again next summer. (Also, what happened to 24-hour Starbucks locations?)

Here are some highlights:

Finding Diverse YA Lit for Diverse YA Readers (Session Notes):

One thing I sometimes struggle with at conferences is whether or not to go to sessions led by my friends. They're my friends. I talk to them frequently online (and follow their tweets and reviews and . . . ).

I'm glad that this time I stuck with my friends.

This session was a true example of the edcamp ideal that everyone is the expert. The room was full, and nearly everyone in there could have led an all-day PD session on diverse books. Seriously, I've been to those one-day workshops where someone covers the best new books, and while those workshops are pretty good, this hour was better. WAY better. The titles came fast and furious, accompanied by nods and affirmations from the room. I don't always look at notes from sessions, but the above list is a terrific resource. This was the best hour of PD I've had this year, with a room full of experts, and I'm grateful that Cindy and Sarah put this on the idea board.

How NOT to Kill the Mockingbird (Session Notes)

If the session above was a room full of experts pooling their knowledge about diverse YA lit, then my first session after lunch was a dozen colleagues working on one of the eternal problems of English instruction in high school. How do we balance required texts and choice reading? What do we do with a required text that is too easy for some students and impossible for others? How do we teach without worksheets if the rest of the team swears by the packet? And how does this all happen with the reality of testing and more testing?

We might have discovered more questions than solutions, but everyone in the room came away with something to try next year, and the knowledge that other teachers are struggling with the same tensions. I wish every faculty and team meeting could be this useful.

Where do we go from here?

Well, in my case, we went to two breweries. (Perhaps I was influenced by this session.) (Stay with me, I swear this is relevant.)

Dark Horse Brewing, Marshall, Michigan
Bell's Brewing, Kalamazoo, Michigan

We needed to kill some time before driving back to Chicago in order to avoid rush hour, so we stopped for both appetizers and dinner. And because both times we sat at the bar instead of at tables, we ended up talking to our neighbors, and inevitably they asked us what had brought us to Michigan.

So we told them about nErDcampMI.

I forget sometimes that not everyone has heard of the Nerdy Book Club, or edcamps, or even reading and writing workshop. Most people, if they think about education, think about their own experience, or their child's, or what they hear in the media. And that, of course, is not the full story.

As educators, we need to tell our stories to the larger community.

When someone asks what you did this summer, or why you were in Michigan, or even what brings you to Bell's Brewing on a Tuesday night, tell them about nErDcamp, and about edcamps generally. Tell them about your students and your classroom. Tell them about the book that you can't wait to share when school starts. Tell them about the teachers traveling from all over the country in JULY to sit in a room and talking about teaching.

The larger community needs to hear our stories.

See you next July!

(If you're reading this and you were in one of these sessions, or at nErDcamp generally, please leave a comment. I'd love to follow more people on Twitter who were in those rooms.)