Amazing Kids

Amazing Kids

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

I have a friend and relative who is one of the most avid readers I know. He's recommended more books to me than anyone else. He has also been the biggest inspiration for me as a reader. However, in all the years I've known him, he rarely does more than recommend and talk about a book. So when he walked up to me carrying a book in his hand and put it into mine, saying, "You have to read this book," I knew it was something special.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart is truly an extraordinary book, not only because its young main character, Mark, faces a cruel and unforgiving illness, but also because of the bravery he demonstrates and the loyalty he shares with his dog, Beau. Dan wrote this story for his friend, Mark, who also faced this illness courageously but unfortunately lost the battle. The story isn't focused on the illness at all, but on the steadfast courage of this remarkable young man. He is someone you'd really want to know and his story is incredible, yet totally believable.

Once I'd finished reading the book, I couldn't wait to get it into the hands of my kids. Fortunately for me, I was able to acquire a second copy of the ARC at NCTE, so it has been read and fought over by my fourth grade readers. As readers in my classroom read the book, we shared our own perspectives with each other. We all were impressed with Mark's journey, his smarts, and his dog's loyalty.

One aspect about the writing that has been unanimously noted is the "half" chapter following each chapter. The chapters themselves are written in first-person, from Mark's perspective. He is chronicling his own journey that he feels compelled to complete, despite the dangers. He tells of his detailed plans, how he places his trust in his best friend, Jessie, and the details of interactions with people he meets along the way to climbing a mountain that has been a long-time goal of his. He has not told his parent any of this, knowing they would not approve. The half chapter following is written in third person, giving readers an update on what is happening with Mark's frantic family and the struggle Jessie has with keeping Mark's secret.

The Honest Truth is one of those rare books I can put into the hands of every reader in my classroom. It is easy to identify with and admire Mark. Dan has written it in such a way that even reluctant readers are sucked into Mark's mission. The bravery shown by Mark, the loyalty of Beau, and the friendship of Jessie are not missed by kids, and they have been powerfully impacted by these admirable qualities.

My readers are looking forward to January 27, 2015, when Scholastic Press will be releasing the hard cover book. We'll be buying the book, knowing it will be one of those treasures we will want to re-read again and again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A First Date

Do you remember your first date with a special someone? Your heart races; you don't want the date to end; you wish you'd met that person before; you can't wait until the next date. Well, that happened to me November 20 through 23 in Washington D.C. And to be honest, my date wasn't with just one person. It was with hundreds.

Several friends (especially from Twitter) have told me that NCTE is a not-to-be-missed event. I had never attended before this year. My friends were spot on. The National Council for Teachers of English conference was life-changing for me. This annual event is one I've been hoping to attend for several years. This year some last-minute things fell into place so I loaded my suitcases (one of which I left at school), hopped into my car, and drove for about nine hours, not having any idea how incredible this journey would turn out to be.

Once checked in at the hotel and registered (on-site) for the conference, I scoured the program to make plans for sessions to attend. There were plenty that were right up my alley. Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her research and writing about a Honduran boy whose desire to be reunited with his mother in the U.S. took him on a perilous journey. Her story was compelling, raw, and inspiring. Another session reached to the depths of my own journey in reading, as it probed the idea of people who feel a sense of shame in their reading lives. There were joyous sessions which included authors and illustrators sharing their own journeys of creating stories and bringing them to life. There were sessions, too, that pulled out self-reflection of my teaching practices. And, of course, there was the exhibit hall, where I had the fortune of meeting and chatting with so many of the authors my kids (and I) appreciate so deeply. I also left a boat-load of money there, and brought home books for my classroom!

In the process of attending these incredible sessions and exhibits I was fortunate enough to meet not only authors, but some pretty incredible people in other areas of language arts, too. These individuals ranged from researchers to teachers to illustrators, publishers, and book distributors. It was truly a haven for anyone who loves to read, write, and inspire others to do the same. Sometimes just listening in on conversations gave me inspiration; sometimes hearing the words of a person who has been involved for years in the business of helping kids read and write made an indelible impression on me.

From this experience, I returned to my classroom even more determined to honor each child and to nurture his or her love of reading and writing. Some of the tools and resources from NCTE have and will continue to impact my life and the lives of my kids.  I brought back over five shopping bags of books; enough to hand a new book to every reader in my classroom on the first day back. Some of the new friends I have made will challenge me in ways in which they probably aren't remotely aware.

One thing is for sure: I am surrounding myself more and more with people who inspire me so I can inspire my kids.

This first date with NCTE will not be my last, and I look forward to a long-term relationship!