"You can't just get up and walk away every time you mess up. You'd never get anywhere." from A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
I've messed up a lot in my life, and this statement totally resonates with me. While I could go on and on about how it impacts me personally, that's really not what the post is about. It's about how I've hung in there, made some changes in my classroom and found what a huge difference it has made. It is about Linda Urban's impact on readers everywhere. But it's also about how much Linda AND other authors have forever changed the lives of my kids.
Last year was the first year I had a true classroom library. It was the first time I'd ever worked diligently to read middle grade books in order to recommend them to my kids. It was the first time I was digging for new titles, pre-release titles, and "old" titles that would engage my kids and help them to develop a true love for reading. Before that, I had no clue who Jenni Holm (or Matthew Holm), Kate Messner, Clare Vanderpool, Tom Angleberger, Brian Selznick, Rebecca Stead, Kirby Larson, Barbara O'Connor, or a host of other authors were. Once I "met" them and then introduced them to my students, however, their lives - and mine - were forever changed.
I began to read feverishly. My goal was to truly be able to recommend a book from my own reading experience, not simply say someone else had recommended a book on Goodreads or another blog (although thanks to so many of you, especially Nerdy Book Club friends, that's where I got many of those recommendations).
We began reading in class. I read picture books to my kids and for the first time we had dedicated time in our daily schedule for me to read aloud to my kids. I also had kids choose their own books. Currently, we're loving Linda Urban's The Center of Everything. As a class, we fell in love with Auggie from Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, and have our own version of a "Choose Kind" painting on our wall. We adored Rump and his adventures with Red in finding his real name and destiny, thanks to Liesl Shurtliff. She even came and visited us and now the kids are debating what her next book will be about! We laughed at the antics of the Herdman tribe in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The kids were totally stumped in Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots and learned to hang in there because the story is so completely mesmerizing and then fulfilling in the end. Plus that, we REALLY enjoyed baking one of the cake recipes when we were done! The list could go on...
Book love wasn't just with our class as a whole, though. To find girls chatting up A Crooked Kind of Perfect (which is one of my all-time favorite books), Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky and others demonstrated my kids were truly becoming book lovers. Boys digging into, and sharing with each other Satch and Me, by Dan Gutman, Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, and a host of non-fiction titles about wars, baseball, or anything else they became interested in has become thrilling.
It was even better to find girls AND boys sharing with each other so many wonderful titles. BabyMouse by Jenni Holm and Matthew Holm started with Cole, probably the biggest, most athletic kid in my class. Because of Cole's enthusiasm, BabyMouse spread to everyone. Jenni's historical fiction title, Turtle in Paradise, is a big hit with both boys and girls. Just yesterday Josh announced to Raven that she just had to read it because it's "SO, SO GOOD!" Kids are completely enthralled with Dwight and his cases that Tom Angleberger's books are rarely on the classroom shelf; kids are typically whispering to each other, "Can I have that when you're done?" They anxiously await for me to put out a new book on the shelf and "fight" about who gets to read the latest new book. Jack has written a persuasive letter to Tom with a suggestion for his next book (along with a strong hint that Tom dedicate the book to Jack). This real life engagement and the conversations that surround books is thrilling.
Sometimes I cringe when I think of the kids who were in my classroom before it was like this. I know they missed out on some amazing opportunities in reading and discovering wonderful characters, settings, themes, and story lines. However, as Linda suggested in Crooked Kind of Perfect, I have gotten somewhere and my kids have benefited because I didn't just give up and walk away. We're getting somewhere now. Authors are becoming (or in some cases, have become) our super-heroes.
Super Hero Linda Urban is coming to visit us in March and we could not be more excited. I wonder if she'll come with a cape. :)