Tag Archives: books for boys

More Than a Coach, a Reader

Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)The following is a guest post from an inspiring teacher and football coach I met this summer. He sent it to me the day after my daughter got married, and I’ve been playing catch up with life and getting-ready-for-back-to-school ever since. Sorry, I am late in posting it, Charles. You have to know, this post excites me:  I’m excited for the PD experiences we had this summer. I’m excited for the students who will walk through your door this fall. I’m excited to know you will spread your love of books and reading far and wide — and I’ll be excited, and not at all surprised, when you share a few titles with your linebackers. (Have you read Twelve Mighty Orphans?)


It’s August 6th and my summer is effectively over. We start football camps Monday and I’ll work until 5pm most days making sure helmets are ready, tackling dummies are out of storage, and duties are clear. This isn’t a necessarily dreadful thing because I love coaching football, and this part of the year is rife with expectation and uncertainty.

It’s also, for me, a time of reflection. Did I make the most of my time away from the classroom? Did I find enough time to shower my own kids with love and affection? Did I make sure I did the dishes and laundry and kept the house in order so that my wife had time to relax when she got home from work? I hope the answer to all these questions is “yes,” but I fear it’s a “maybe,” at best.

I was at school most days. The first two weeks after graduation were dedicated to our very first CCISD Literacy Institute, and mornings spent with athletes at Strength and Conditioning camp consumed most of the rest. The Literacy Institute was an incredible experience in almost every way. I learned so much from my teaching partner, Meggie Willner, and we both fell head over heels in love with our group of STAAR Camp students. Working with our curriculum director, Billy Eastman, and Amy Rasmussen made this the most valuable professional learning I’ve ever experienced. Those two weeks will make a difference in the lives of students in my class and the time trade off was more than worth it. Strength camp is bittersweet because I didn’t get to sleep past 6:15, but my football players and my own kids were there for most of it, and seeing them learn and work was worth it. For better or worse, this physical connection to campus means that I never really stop thinking about teaching or coaching. I’m always there.

My summer was, for the most part, wonderful. Whether afternoon napping, writing, playing board games with my kids, or swimming in our new swimming pool, my family and I always found ways to fill our time with laughter and joy. This summer was, however, different, and not just because of our much deeper sun tans. This summer I read like a “real” English teacher should. I’ve always listened while my colleagues extolled the virtues of their summer reading regimen. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been known to crack open a book on a hot summer afternoon while sitting in the cool air-conditioning, but it hasn’t been my habit. Reading during the summer always felt like “work,” and I shouldn’t be working during my break. I should be chasing my kids around the house, helping them build blanket forts or taking them to the trampoline park. Reading threatened to get in the way of all that fun, but I wasn’t going to use that excuse this summer.

This summer, I consciously committed to being an avid reader, and while I’m sure many of you read much more than I did, that felt like a success for me.

CharlesMoorebookstackI read so many amazing books and looking at my stack makes me realize what an eclectic collection it is. I read fiction, memoir, poetry, a thriller short story anthology, and even a graphic novel. I read the first book in a series, the fourth book in a series and a few standalone novels.

I’m proud of the volume that I consumed (remember I must spend SOME time thinking about inside linebackers). I’m proud of the variety and scope and I think it will make me a better teacher going forward.

These are the books in the order in which I read them:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My teaching partner, Meggie, and our curriculum director, Billy, wanted to throttle me when I told them how I felt about this book. They both RAVED about it and I really didn’t care for it. I’m sure a second reading would do it justice because I was dealing with a lot personally and professionally at the end of the school year while reading it, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I hope this doesn’t make me an embarrassment to the profession.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Rebar

They say reading is like a roller coaster and I went with an easy to read book for the Literacy Institute at the start of summer. A super straightforward, gently-paced book was exactly what I needed at the start of summer. I really enjoyed this book and for those seeking YA that appeals to both boys and girls, you can’t go wrong here.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I loved this book!!! It is a blend of Sci-Fi and fantasy with a strong female protagonist. I loved the author’s take on super powers and the surprisingly effective post-apocalyptic setting. I was tempted to read the second and third books in the series, but I want this world to be there for me when I want to revisit it.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This book spoke to my teaching soul. Vance examines a culture drowning in poverty and while it’s a reflection on his firsthand experiences, I felt like there was so much from his past that echoed in mine. I don’t think I realize how much our students’ home lives affect their school lives, but this book made me reflect on it again and again. This book coupled with a viewing of The Shack, directed by Stuart Hazeldine caused a sort of mid-summer epiphany that will change my teaching in the years to come. Another blog post, maybe?

Scythe by Neal Schusterman

I one-clicked this book the day Billy Eastman book talked it at the literacy institute and once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop. It’s original and well-written and even though parts of it were somewhat easy to predict, others still kept me guessing until the end.

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

I read this poetry book under a shade tree in Wimberley, Texas, on our 16th annual summer camping trip. My mother-in-law noticed how fast I was turning the pages while reading this one and told me it wasn’t a real book. I handed it to her and she read it cover to cover. We didn’t talk about it, but I think we both knew how it affected us: deeply.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic

Determined to read a graphic novel, I picked up one about my favorite Marvel character. I’m not particularly experienced with graphic novels, having only finished George R. R. Martin’s graphic novels that are companions to his A Song of Ice and Fire. It was fun but not intellectually stimulating. Maybe this experience will help me with a reluctant reader or two or maybe give me some “street cred” with my Manga readers.

Matchup edited by Lee Child

Please don’t hate on my man crush on Lee Child. I’m obsessed with his Jack Reacher character and devour anything Child publishes. This book is produced by the International Thriller Writer’s Association and paired a dozen female authors with a dozen male authors to write a dozen short thrillers with varying success. There might be mentor texts here.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book was a quick read for me and it made me feel like an idiot because I didn’t see the plot twist until it was too late. I really enjoyed reading about how Yoon’s main character dealt with her problems the way a teenager would. I think this is an important book for our students to experience. To some, the main character’s relationship to her mother will be an eye-opener; to others, all too familiar.

Vanguard by Ann Aguirre

A vanity read if there ever was one. I love the Razorland trilogy and I couldn’t resist buzzing through this fourth book in the series. The love story made me uncomfortable at first, but I think books should do that sometimes. I enjoyed the happy ending in this book as my summer also draws to a happy ending. A modern Romeo and Juliet story? Maybe, maybe not.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This might be the top of the list of my summer reading. The story was incredible, the characters were deep and it is set in the same part of the country that J. D. Vance visits in his memoir from earlier in the summer. I love when books connect like that. This is one of the few books this summer that would keep me up late at night reading. I fell in love with this book and can’t wait to read Zenter’s Goodbye Days (if I can ever get it back from our freshman A.P. teacher).

Ah, the ones that got away…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

The Last Neandertal: A Novel by Claire Cameron

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

and so many more…

So now I must start a list for the new school year. I don’t typically read a lot during football season. Working 80-hour weeks and trudging through months without a day off will take the motivation out of me. But maybe I can set a goal for the fall. Something to reach toward even when my knees and ankles are tired and my eyes won’t stay open.

Maybe I can get to school 20 minutes earlier and squeeze in some reading while the coffee percolates. I crush coffee.

Charles Moore is the senior English team lead at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach

A What-to-Read Conference: Books on Bullying

Many of my reading conferences happen at the bookshelf, as students finish one book and begin the search for another.  Here’s one example I just can’t stop thinking about.

Yesterday, a former student of mine came down to my room to borrow a book.  This particular student didn’t start out as a reader, so I was really excited to see him seeking reading material independently a year later.

“Do you have Winger?” he asked me.  We walked to the bookshelf and looked for it–all my copies were checked out.

“Why are you interested in Winger?” I asked him.

“Christina told me about it this summer,” he explained.  I smiled–books were still going viral, beyond our classroom community and into the summer months.

“Well, they’re all checked out.  What is it about that book that interested you?”

“The bullying,” he said, looking away.  Bullying?  I was surprised for a moment that this particular student was curious about bullying–he was a popular kid.  He drove a cool car, had a boisterous and charismatic personality, and had a trail of lovesick girls whose eyes followed his every move.  But then my surprise faded–all high school students, no matter how popular, confident, or smart they seem, struggle with their peers’ meanness.

I had to decide–what do I teach into here?  This student as a reader, or as a vulnerable teen?  I am no longer his teacher–so I don’t have to teach him as a reader, right?

Wrong.  I chose to treat this as a reading conference…but in doing so, I knew I was giving this student the tools to deal with the issue of bullying.

411MJMpTseL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I began to suggest alternate books about bullying, and I promised him that I’d set Winger aside for him when it was returned.  He ended up leaving with Thirteen Reasons Why, but I also suggested Nineteen MinutesYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Truth About Alice, Speak, Wonder, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, and By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead. 

I knew that when that student finished Thirteen Reasons Why, he’d be back.  I knew that I could guide him toward more books about this issue he was curious about, and that our future conferences could help him climb a reading ladder about bullying.

“Reading ladders take students from one level of reading to the next logical level…We can help them stretch as readers by showing them books that mirror what they already like but that…will challenge them more,” says Teri Lesesne in Reading Ladders.  By continuing to guide this student toward more complex books about the same issue, not only would I be helping him to grow as a reader, I would be offering him more titles that could help shed more light on the difficult issue of bullying.

Penny Kittle is fond of saying “reading saves lives.”  My own classroom library is emblazoned with the quote “We read to know that we are not alone.”  This student was seeking salvation, solace, and information in books.  He wanted to know that he wasn’t the only one feeling the way he felt, and he hoped to find a story that showed him a triumph over bullying was possible.  That he sought this guidance in a library shows the power of teaching readers…not books.

Building My Library Around My Students

My first time at NCTE, I played supermarket sweep alongside the other teachers. I didn’t have one of those grandma-rolling-carts to gather my goods in, but the victory was still sweet as I tossed book after book into my free bags. But lo and behold, as I returned home with my goods, I realized that some of the books were middle grade, a tad too young looking to impress my high schoolers, while others were sequels to books I didn’t own. My humble pile was quickly halved as I weeded out and gave away the books that just wouldn’t fit into my classroom library.

This year I took a different approach; I arrived at NCTE with certain students and issues in mind. Suddenly my mission to collect free and heavily discounted books turned into a mission to fill the holes in my classroom library. This not only narrowed my search but also made it easier to discuss potential titles with booksellers. The following are some of the gems I scored at NCTE 2014:

What I needed…Books that help students cope with a friend’s suicide

20726924Sadly, suicide is a tragedy that has touched my school a few times over the past few years. I am reminded of this at the beginning of every year when I receive personal narratives relaying the stories of students’ past friends or relatives. The wounds are deep and raw and fresh, which is why my students need literature to help them cope with such atrocities. This year, I left NCTE with two books that filled this niche: Rumble by Ellen Hopkins and The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I have a growing group of Ellen Hopkins devotees who bask in the poetic prose of her books as well as the gritty subjects. Rumble attacks heavy issues through the story of Matt Turner, whose younger brother commits suicide 17285330after being bullied for being gay. The Last Time We Say Goodbye, which is due for publication in February 2015, tackles similar themes, only in this book, the female protagonist Lex loses her brother. Lex struggles to cope with her brother’s death and can’t let go of a text message she received from her brother the night he died.

This is unfortunately a topic that will continue to ripple through and impact my students as I receive students who are impacted by the deaths of friends and family members they have lost to suicide. There are no answers to such a devastating event, but I do hope that these books will help show students that they are not alone.

What I needed…Books that are low level but high interest

I fervently believe that students need a dose of success to give into reading. Too often my students 8011arrive turned off to reading simply because they haven’t been exposed to books that interest them. Furthermore, the students who are most resistant tend to be those who are not proficient or only partially proficient in reading and can’t seem to find books that are at a lower reading level yet a high interest level for their age group. My greatest find was a small bookstall towards the back of the convention room that included books from the Sidestreets and Real Justice Series. These books involve gritty stories with heavy hitting topics such as drug abuse, mental health issues, and social problems. While the books I received were between third to fifth grade reading levels, the sepia and black and white photo covers leant a more mature tone to the story—a strong selling point for low level, reluctant readers. I walked away with Jailed for Life for Being Black by Bill Swan, Blow by Jodi Lundgren, and Off Limits by Robert Rayner, all books I’m looking forward to introducing to my reluctant readers.

What I needed…Books that discuss LGBTQ Issues

openlystraight_cvThis is the first year I have had openly gay students who have written either personal narratives or stories about homosexual relationships. The more I read their papers, the more I began to evaluate what sorts of LGBTQ mentor texts I had available. While I had a modest collection of book including Shine by Lauren Myracle, Everyday by David Levithan, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, I needed more. That’s when I stumbled upon Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg in which Rafe, an openly gay teenager, transfers to a New England boarding school where he decides to keep his sexuality a secret. A funny read, this book forces Rafe to question who he is and what it means to fit in. 10015384In a similar vein, I also procured an advanced reader’s copy of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens by Becky Albertalli, which is due for publication in April 2015. This book follows 16-year-old Simon who is not openly gay. Simon is blackmailed after one of his flirty e-mails to a boy he has been talking with falls into the wrong hands. These books diversify my library and address issues that many of my students are both facing and writing about.

These are only a few samples from the stacks of books I received, but as I returned to the classroom on Monday, I told all my students about the exciting run-ins I had with famous authors like James Dashner and David Levithan and Ally Condie. I spoke with the students I had “shopped” for, letting them know what books I had bought and how I had them in mind when I purchased them. While I hope the books leave an indelible mark on my students, I know that ultimately my students leave an indelible mark on the growth and construction of my library.

What books did you bring home from NCTE? Are there any holes that need filling in your classroom library? What might you be searching for?

Sometimes There’s This One Book

Before the first day of school this year, I learned that a student who was to attend our campus took her own life. She was 15. This would have been her 16th year. It should have been a shining time for her:  a junior in high school, a driver’s license, maybe her first job, and if her family was like mine, her first date (I had to be 16).

Her family, of course, is devastated. I didn’t even know this child, and I am devastated, as I am every single time I hear of the awful reality of suicide.

We have to do something.

I don’t know what, really. I do know that the world should be a hopeful place. I also know that so often adults refuse to act like it is. I am as guilty as the next guy of going through the motions, mirroring the depressive nature of my Bad Day. But I vow to stop.

I want to be an example of hope. I want to smile more. Love more. Laugh more. I want my students to see that I love my job. I cannot wait to get there. (That’s what being at a new school has done for me this year. I’ve let the negativity that I let nag at my soul so long go, and I feel new, reborn, liberated. Strange to use those words, I know, but they describe the “freeing” best.)

Recently, I read Matthew Quick’s book Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, and it rocked my world. Seriously. You know when you read a book, and then it haunts you — like forever? This is one of those books for me. I am, and will be, a better teacher, friend, wife, mother, daughter, colleague, leader, consultant because I read this book.

Here is a bit that I will use in class. Maybe we’ll use this passage for close reading. It’s a good one for tone or sentence structure. Maybe we’ll use it to launch a class discussion about hopes and dreams and how to hold on to them. I don’t know yet. But there’s something important here — for us and our students. Read it. You’ll see what I mean.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, p46-47

The whole time I pretend I have mental telepathy. And with my mind only, I’ll say– or think?–to the target, “Don’t do it. Don’t go to that job you hate. Do something you love today. Ride a roller coaster. Swim in the ocean naked. Go to the airport and get on the next flight to anywhere just for the fun of it. Maybe stop a spinning globe with your finger and then plan a trip to that very spot; even if it’s in the middle of the ocean you can go by boat. Eat some type of ethnic food you’ve never even heard of. Stop a stranger and ask her to explain her greatest fears and her secret hopes and aspirations in detail and then tell her you care because she is a human being. Sit down on the sidewalk and make pictures with colorful chalk. Close your eyes and try to see the world with you nose–allow smells to be your vision. Catch up on your sleep. Call an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Roll up your pant legs and walk into the sea. See a foreign film. Feed squirrels. Do anything! Something! Because you start a revolution one decision at a time, with each breath you take. Just don’t go back to that miserable place you go every day. Show me it’s possible to be an adult and also be happy. Please. This is a free country. You don’t have to keep doing this if you don’t want to. You can do anything you want. Be anyone you want. That’s what they tell us at school, but if you keep getting on that train and going to the place you hate I’m going to start thinking the people at school are liars like the Nazis who told the Jews they were just being relocated to work factories. Don’t do that to us. Tell us the truth. If adulthood is working some death-camp job you hate for the rest of your life, divorcing your secretly criminal husband, being disappointed in your son, being stressed and miserable, and dating a poser and pretending he’s a hero when he’s really a lousy person and anyone can tell that just by shaking his slimy hand–if it doesn’t get any better, I need to know right now. Just tell me. Spare me from some awful f******fate. Please.”

 

Note:  There are two footnotes in this passage. I left them off quite simply because I do not know how to format them in WordPress. Sorry, Mr. Quick.

Reel Reading for Real Readers: Winger

ReelReading2Winger by Andrew Smith is another book I kept hearing about. (I’m a little jealous that so many of my teacher friends seem to be way ahead of me in their TBR piles.) I knew I needed to keep this one — like I did Eleanor and Park— and read it before I let my students get their hands on it.

I did not have my own copy, but at #ALAN13 in Boston, after I had the pleasant task of helping Donalyn Miller with her jacket, she gave me a copy from her book stacks. She gave me a copy! 

Surprisingly, I found no book trailers promoting it. However, I did find and read an interesting piece in The New Yorker called “The Awkward Art of Book Trailers,” which made me rethink the value of them at all. Rachel Arons says, quoting Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom:  “Franzen explains—in a tone that is polite but characteristically aggrieved—his “profound discomfort” with having to use moving images to promote the printed word. “To me, the point of a novel is to take you to a still place,” he says. “You can multitask with a lot of things, but you can’t really multitask reading a book … To me, the world of books is the quiet alternative—an ever more desperately needed alternative.”

Hmmm. I might agree with that.

So instead of a trailer today, let’s read a book review. I love this one at TLT: Teen Librarian’s Toolbox, and I’m thinking that a next step in my students’ literary journey is to write their own “professional” reviews. This one will make a good mentor text.

Any thoughts on book trailers? good idea or not?

Reel Reading for Real Readers: Lone Survivor

I am always on the lookout for books for my boys– my own and those in my classes.

I heard about Lone Survivor on a blog post that talked about the author Marcus Luttrell’s speaking tour. The author of the blog said Luttrell was warm and funny, and his story would break your heart. I couldn’t help but want to share this story of survival with my boys.

I still haven’t read this book. It’s been in too many male hands. Now there’s a movie coming out, and since the book is always better than the movie, I’ve put on my wish list two additional copies.

Take a peek at the movie trailer. I know, the movie is Rated R. If the book had a rating, it probably would, too. It is about war after all. How could it be realistic if it weren’t?

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