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Bookweaving: a blog for readers and teachers of readers
Wednesday, 8 November 2006
The Overachievers
Topic: Issues

Last night I finished reading The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins, whic I have been wanting to read since it came out. In it, Robbins documents the lives of a group of high school juniors and seniors (along with one college freshman) .  While I accept the validity of her basic argument: that track of a college-bound student is unnecessarily and unhealthily weighted by intense competition for class rankings and high test scores, she is blind to a couple of important issues. 

First, she rarely includes the parents' point of view, and I recall no interviews at all with teachers.  While I understand that the particular teachers of the students in the book might be unwilling or unable to participate (for legal reasons), she includes profiles of people and events completely unrelated to the main narratives, and I think that teachers in similar situations to the students in the school could have provided important information.  I'd be especially interested in what they have to say about the grade negotiating. Robbins also seems to forget that the teachers probably have between 125-150 students, not just the group she profiles. 

She also missed the educator's perspective on how to make improvements.  She is opposed to "No Child Left Behind" because of the test pressure, but she doesn't seem aware that this initiative has actually helped low-income schools with badly needed extra funding.  She also doesn't seem aware of block scheduling in high schools, which helps students by making them responsible for fewer separate subjects each semester although she mentions a similar scheme as being a benefit of a particular college.

I would also like to have seen at least one student who was facing serious financial pressures in addition to academic pressures.  I sometimes got a little impatient with students who ONLY had to worry about getting in an Ivy or other prestigious school and not at all about paying for it.  Only one student came from a family not able (apparently) to shell out serious amounts of money for college.  I realize that she has to establish her boundaries somewhere, but I think the lack of attention to the finances of colleges are a major shortcoming of the book.  

In the end, if a book is judge by how thought-provoking it is, well, this one makes the grade. 

Posted by bookweaver at 5:59 PM EST
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Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Don't Log on Until You Have All Day
Topic: Resources

I'm obsessed..all my geekiest dreams have come true!  It's LibraryThing.  You can catalog all of your books just by typing a few words and Library Thing, with the help of Amazon and the Library of Congress, does the rest.  There are loads of people there who want to talk about books, and you can read other people's reviews....this is really exciting.

I have a link to my library over on the Bookweavers web site...use the link in the column. 

Posted by bookweaver at 10:19 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 10:21 PM EST
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Audio Odyssey
Topic: Resources

Jessica Crispin recently found out that Ian McKellan has recorded an an audiobook version of The Odyssey, which is, as she also points out, from the oral tradition.  

 I know my daughter has to read it this year, and I may invest...or at least look for it at the library.  Who knows, I may get into it myself.

Posted by bookweaver at 10:02 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 10:05 PM EST
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Here's One for the Grammar Board
Topic: Resources

Does anyone still keep those grammar boards?  I used to work with a teacher who kept a camera in her car to take pictures of ungrammatical signs she saw...and this was before digital cameras.  They made great bulletin boards.  Anyway, I just finished reading a book in which the narrator (and it was a nonfiction book!) "literally skipped across the world."  Ugh.  So I particularly enjoyed this from Althouse:

I normally resist the routine pedantry of pointing out the misusage of the word "literally." But this one's a lulu:

Anyone who had been diligently paying down a mortgage and others who had just sat back and watched their home appreciate in value were able to refinance and take out the difference between the value of the home and what was still owed, known as equity. Not only did they remove the increased equity in the home as cash, most people were paying lower monthly payments.

“People have literally picked up their house at the foundations and shook it upside down like a piggy bank,” said Ed Smith, chief executive of the Plaza Financial Group, a mortgage brokerage firm in La Mesa, Calif., near San Diego.


Posted by bookweaver at 9:54 PM EST
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Monday, 6 November 2006
Cheaper by the Dozen Author Died Today
Topic: News

One of the authors of Cheaper by the Dozen, Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, died today, according to CNN.  The article said she has outlived 9 of her siblings.  I just loved Cheaper by the Dozen ; I still laugh out loud when I read it.  I enjoyed the first Steve Martin version, but it was totally different from the book, of course.  I recommend the book as an oral reading choice for middle schoolers.  I think they would really enjoy the family story with all of the stuff about "motion saving" (the real Frank Gilbreth was an efficiency expert), and the book is a minor classic and funny.

Yay! I got Blog Builder working again.  If anyone is trying to use Tripod's Blog Builder and can't get links to work, try using Firefox as a browser instead of Explorer. I was unable to get Blog Builder to insert links in Explorer.

Posted by bookweaver at 4:46 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 10:05 AM EST
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Sunday, 5 November 2006
2 Poets: Dickinson and Plath
Topic: News

A newly discovered sonnet by Sylvia Plath has been posted at VCU's online literary magazine, Blackbird.  That makes it the second new poem from deceased authors discovered by Virginia graduate students in weeks (see the link to the new Robert Frost poem below).

There has also been a mysterious stone discovered at somewhat mysterious poet Emily Dickinson's home in Massachusetts.


Sorry, the links in blog builder aren't working at the moment.  I'll add links instead of URL's as soon as it's fixed.

Posted by bookweaver at 2:59 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006 3:07 PM EST
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Thursday, 2 November 2006
2006 Young Adults' Choices
Topic: Resources

Yesterday I ran across the 2006 Young Adults' Choices from the International Reading Association.  There seems to be the usual angst and extreme topics...the funniest one...based on the titles...being One of Those Hideous Books where the Mother Dies...because there are at least two other books in the list where someone significant does die.  In contrast, I saw this article, Bold Books for Teenagers: Trusting Texts That Trust Students in November's English Journal (you must be subscriber to read it here; a print copy should be available soon in almost any college library) featuring some pretty intense-sounding books for teenagers.  Male prostitution?  Sex with a teacher?  I don't know.  I've thought this trend toward this type of topic has been an interesting one in young adult fiction, but every time I start reading one of these books, the writing, or story, or something is just too painfully bad.  But I keep reading.

Last week, Jessica Crispin wrote an article for the Book Standard about Pop! , a YA novel Borders is declining to carry because of its sexual content.  Hey, we all managed to find Forever.  Since I have been disappointed by the books of this type I have read, I'm not too upset about it.  But I will give the book a try and see.  I'm not crazy about the idea of books being kept off the shelves, but I also think that Borders has a right to stock their store the way that they feel will be most beneficial to them.  I personally filed a complaint at Barnes & Noble several years ago because they had the young adult section right next to the stage they use for story time.  Since then, they have rightly (for both the little kids and the teens) moved the YA section out of the kids' section completely.

At any rate, I'm probably going to be using few, if any of these books in a classroom anytime soon.  The only possibility is Day of Tears, mentioned in the EJ article. 


Posted by bookweaver at 4:39 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 2:37 PM EST
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Wednesday, 1 November 2006
NCTE and blogs
Topic: Issues

Blogs in Schools

Today my weekly newletter from NCTE came, and they had a link to an article from USA Today about the problems schools are having with blogs.  Apparently, students are using the freedom of expression found in blogging to say bad things about their teachers and friends, and schools are going after them.  I think the legal questions are pretty interesting: it's clear to me that schools have some control over what goes on in their buildings, but what about what they do at home?  I'm going to be interested to hear how the courts decide that one. 

I think the students who have gotten in trouble for making comments that are potentially libelous or for describing illegal behaviors are getting off lightly if their punishment comes from the schools rather than the courts or the law.  Again, I'm going to be interested to see what happens.


Also in the NCTE Newsletter there is a link to an interesting article on writing poetry research 8th grade...using the Internet.  The article is a bit dated but worth checking out.  This link will be good for 30 days only if you are not an NCTE member so go ahead and print it out.

Linked to the November NCTE Calendar, there are a couple of intertextual (bookweaving) lessons plans for secondary schools featuring Native Americans.  One asks students to compare the voices of Patrick Henry and Tecumseh, and the other is about Native American folktalkes (but has plenty of resources for any research project on folktales).

While I was spending so much time on the NCTE website, I discovered that there is a blog.  Check out the link to the left.

Posted by bookweaver at 5:06 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 2:36 PM EST
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Monday, 30 October 2006
Gifted Parents

I read the most fascinating review today about, well, gifted parents at Powell's Books (from the Atlantic Monthly) after running across a review of the review in Conversational Reading (how's that for "weaving"?).  This type of thing was not a big problem in the school in which I taught, but the review reminds me of how Tom Cruise got into Princeton in Risky Business.

 Give yourself a few minutes to read this article because it's long but well worth the effort.  I'll quote the part that made me laugh out loud...but then think:

It could just be me -- once highly gifted, now fallen from grace, bombed GRE scores in hand, barely able to complete a Sudoku puzzle -- but when I read the following passage of Marilee Jones's USA Today essay, I think of Dustin Hoffman in a bus bumping down a dusty road at the end of The Graduate:

Last April, a few weeks after sending the acceptance/rejection letters for the Class of 2006, I received a reply from a father of one of our applicants. It was curt and written on his corporate letterhead: "You rejected my son. He's devastated. See you in court." … The very next day, I received another letter, but this time from the man's son. It read: "Thank you for not admitting me to MIT. This is the best day of my life."

Posted by bookweaver at 4:44 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006 3:05 PM EST
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Sunday, 29 October 2006

Now Playing: 2 Halloween Books: One scary and one not

In the last couple of days, I've read two different Halloween books.  One of them, I must say, was much more satisfying than the other.

 The first is one that I've had sitting around for a while...but more about that later. 

The second is a sequel to one of my favorite holiday books ever, but this book, I'm sorry to say, is not nearly as good.  I knew that The Best Halloween Ever, by Barbara Robinson, was never going to be as good as The Best Christmas Pageant Ever because...well, how much can there be to say about Halloween?  I really didn't get this book at all, and I was disappointed because Robinson doesn't allow the twisted charm of the Herdmans, the outrageously bad family who takes over the holidays, to come through at all.

I think the thing I always loved about Christmas Pageant is that it reminds me of my childhood Christmases when I was so terribly excited about the big day...that would only come after I put in my required hours at church with its yearly Christmas performances...the stress of doing it right...getting the "right" part...who would be Mary...I always picture Pageant right in the church I attended as child and feel like I'm right there.  In Halloween the town actually makes the holiday a school activity in an attempt to control the Herdmans...who naturally wrest control of the holiday right back. 

 Pageant also reminds me, in a subtle way, of the meaning of Christmas by showing that charity is not leaving a turkey on someone's's about giving what you have and what you hold dear.  It's also about a gang of neglected kids reaching out for something more.

Now, I have read Pageant aloud to eighth graders...and they stay rooted to their chairs.  Even though it is a book for older children, I recommend it for middle schoolers.  I also like Caroline B. Cooney's What Child is This?, which also attmepts to address the true meaning of Christmas through three teenagers.

But back to Halloween...I read Margaret Person Haddix's Running out of Time because it reminded me of the film The Village. ; When I saw The Village, I had no idea what was going to happen so I was as lost as the villagers through most of the film.  The blurb on the cover of this book lets you know that the characters aren't really living in 1840 but in a recreated town.  Most of the action actually takes place outside of the town, as Jessie, the protagonist, is sent away by her mother to find help for the residents who are dying of diptheria.  Although it doesn't delve deeply into either subject, it did provoke a little thought on my part about history and a little about scientific ethics.  It is eventually revealed that medicine was being withheld from the town's residents to create a "superrace" of people who could withstand disease. 

I really didn't think Halloween was even a very good Intermediate book, but  Running out of Time would be a great option for middle school students reading below grade level.  Jessie is about thirteen, and the book is suspenseful and does, as mentioned above, pose some deeper questions.

Posted by bookweaver at 5:34 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 5 November 2006 3:08 PM EST
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