Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27 - Influencing Opinions

We're on holiday here at my house, enjoying the leisure time. I'm doing a re-read of the Twilight saga right now and today we went browsing at our local book store with all the gift cards we received as presents for Christmas. My daughter's current read-aloud novel for bedtime is "The Fire Within" by Chris D'Lacey. I have to confess that neither my husband nor I are particularly enjoying the book. The tricky part is to try and prevent our opinion of the book from coloring that of our daughter's views. She has not reached the rebellious teen stage as yet and likes aligning her judgment with ours on movies, books and TV shows. Often my husband will hear his proclamations on different subjects echoed by our eldest, which can be an odd thing to hear. We encourage her to hold her own opinions, even if they differ from ours, but she prefers to be on the "same team" ideologically.
It is also challenging to stop overtly influencing young readers when participating in the Forest of Reading program. Students can detect the views of their teachers whether or not they directly state them. I want the young people I chat with about the Silver Birch and Red Maple books to feel comfortable expressing a different opinion. Some kids relish taking the opposing view - like the members of my graphic novel student review team; they disliked "Courtney Crumrin" but I loved it, and they enjoyed debating me heatedly. However, not all readers are as secure with their ideas as these kids were. Maybe hearing two teachers debate the merits of a novel might help prevent this. But, is influencing opinion always bad? Food for thought.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20 - Books Under the Bed

My Christmas shopping is almost complete and as I look at my list of purchases, I was surprised to see the lack of books. Before I started scolding myself, I examined my reasons and found them mildly acceptable. Books are pretty personal gifts because people have their own likes/dislikes and I feel sad when a book I've specifically bought for someone doesn't excite them as much as it excited me. (This was the case when I bought someone a copy of Twilight). I prefer giving gift cards to book stores because having "free money" to buy whatever book grabs your fancy is a wonderful treat. It's very tricky once you know someone's reading preferences to buy something they don't already have. My daughter is a voracious reader and it's hard to keep track of what volume in what series she owns. (Her father is much better at the tracking than I am and purchased for her Fairy Idol Kanon volume 4 and Vermonia volume 4.)Instead of buying books for friends, I've also made donations through Plan Canada and Canada Helps to worthy causes, many of whom support literacy. For instance, for $60 you can give a "library in a box" to schools serving remote communities in impoverished nations. Tonight I'll be wrapping the presents I bought (although I didn't hide them under the bed this year).

The "under the bed" title refers to a conversation I've been having via email with Sharon Jennings, a marvellous author. During the winter break from school, one of my goals is to read as many of the OLA's Forest of Reading nominated books so that when the program starts in earnest in January, I'll be ready to chat with student readers. I read Jennings' "Home Free" and was bothered by one particular section (about a book under a bed). No one else I knew had read "Home Free" yet, so I emailed the author about my questions and internal debate. She replied to me right away. Her explanations have made me feel a bit better about the inclusion of that scene in the novel. She was very polite and maybe in the future, with her permission, I'll share some of her insights here on the blog.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 14 - Small World

This past weekend has been a whirlwind of writing in our household. My husband is working hard on finishing the edits to the revised rule book for Thousand Suns (you can read more about it on Grognardia, his blog on old school RPGs). I've been quickly churning out graphic novel reviews for my GTA-Tinlids Graphic Novel Club meeting. To take a break from the keyboard, I picked up copies of Access and Canadian Children's Book News magazines to flip through. I admired the article Helaine Becker wrote on the work of school librarians - and then remembered that, as a contributing editor to Access, I read it before and recommended it be submitted to the periodical. Enough months had passed between collecting contributions and the magazine's publication that I had forgotten - and there's something extra nice about holding that paper copy in your hands, with professional layout all completed, that makes it a different creature than the one I had seen earlier. Then I skimmed the article on Arthur Slade in CCBC's magazine and remembered that I just finished reading his Silver Birch nominated novel, The Hunchback Assignments, and Tweeted about it. (I was excited to see he has a blog as well and promptly added him to my list - he's not a regular blogger, but would I have the time to read all the posts?) Then I read a good book review and realized the the author was Mary Anne Cree, a great teacher librarian at the Bishop Strachan School and contributor to The Teaching Librarian. I still get star-struck by authors and famous folks in school library news, but more and more I notice that it's a small world, where paths cross and intertwine. I look forward to more world-shrinking, as people read, write, share, and discuss all sorts of things. I hope the upcoming second meeting of the National Reading Campaign in Montreal will yield some concrete results. I attended the first one in Toronto and because of it in some parts of the library world I'm known as "that woman that screamed during the National Reading Summit" (remind me to tell that story here on the blog someday; it's a good one). We need to keep talking, and do something with those words.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 6 - Create my own desert (not a typo)

A remarkable thing happened yesterday - I remembered the entire content of a homily. For those unaware, I'm a Roman Catholic and I go to church every Sunday. We had a guest homilist - Fr. Rosica, a Basilian who is often seen on Salt and Light Television .He was a great speaker and his homily was engaging, relevant, and well-structured. It was on the Biblical figure of John the Baptist and three traits we should seek to embrace that he possessed/represented: the desert, humility, and prophesy. (Trust me, this does have something to do with school libraries and teaching.)

When explaining how we should embrace the desert, Fr. Rosica described the "wired" conduct of our youth. Usually when speakers go on about how technology is ruining society and today's teens don't know how to relate to other people when they aren't in front of a screen, I get annoyed. It's very easy to blame our gadgets for many of society's ills. I think it speaks to the quality of Father's talk that I didn't then tune him out completely. I also had my own mini-response > that technology can actually bring us closer together, like with my students working on meeting the deadline for posting their Voki interactive avatars. They have until Mon. Dec. 6 (today) to post it and receive descriptive feedback on their work so that they can change or improve it. Being teens, many of them have chosen not to start it 6 weeks ago when the assignment was originally given, but try posting it on the weekend. The students and I have been in touch with each other as some of our "student tech experts" have made themselves available to help their classmates publish the code on the online work site. The assignment also let me learn a little more about the individuals in the three intermediate classrooms - even, Father would be pleased to hear, their religious leanings (and how often do you hear pre-teens talk about that?)

However, I did see Fr. Rosica's point about needing to "go to the desert" so you won't get distracted by all the busy-ness of the world and can focus on what's truly important. The intermediate division teachers and I made it a point to announce to the class that if they were experiencing difficulties and needed an extension that they would have to come to speak to their home room teacher IN PERSON to make the request. We don't want them to think a quickly composed email will suffice. We want them to talk to us. We also want that solitary, reflective time, where we aren't jumping like Pavlov's dogs to answer every "ding" of a new message that we must reply to immediately. Those same intermediate teachers are going to go visit a book wholesaler next week to shop leisurely and in person for books for their class libraries and guided reading mini-sets, instead of relying on online catalogs. I won't get to go with them, but I'll be with them in spirit.