50 Books in 2020… #4

Over the weekend I finished my fourth book in my 50-book challenge for 2020. The book was The Fallen by David Baldacci. If you’re not familiar with Baldacci, he’s one of my favorite thriller writers. He’s best known for his book Absolute Power, which was made into a movie staring Clint Eastwood.

This book is the fourth in the Amos Decker (Memory Man) series. Decker is an ex-football player. In his only game in the NFL, he suffered a violent hit which ended his career but gave him a perfect memory. That is great for his work as a detective because he remembers virtually everything about a case. Decker’s flawless memory does have its downsides as well.

The Fallen, like so many of Baldacci’s books, is wonderfully written and keeps you on the edge of your seat from cover-to-cover.

This book has absolutely nothing to do with education, and that is just what I needed last weekend. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the world related to Coronavirus, I needed a bit of an escape from reality. It is so important to read non-fiction and consistently grow as a person and educator. There are, however, times when you simply need to read a book to escape.

I think we all need a little bit of an escape right now. It’s the perfect time to pick up a book by your favorite author and simply read to enjoy a good story.

50 Books in 2020… #3

One of my goals for 2020 is to read 50 books throughout the year. Yesterday I finished book #3, The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. This is the book that inspired the movie by the same name. It tells the story of Michael Oher, a young, black kid growing up in poverty. He is taken in by a white, Evangelical family when he enters a new high school. The combination of a stable family and football helps transform his life.

Oher grows up, prior to meeting the Tuohy family, not knowing his birthday and unable to read or write.

There are so many lessons about education and life in this book. It explores the effects poverty and how your zip code at birth has an enormous impact on your life and opportunities.

At one point, Oher is at a bookstore with two members of his new family. The mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, and her son Sean have a conversation about reading. Sean points to the book Where the Wild Things Are and mentions how his mom used to read it to him as a child. “To which Michael replied, in the most detached tone, ‘I’ve never had anyone read me a book.'”

This story breaks my heart for so many reasons. The obvious one is that there is a child who has reached high school and has never had a book read to him. What is more alarming is that this happens in communities all over the country. There might be students sitting in your classroom who would not have a book read to them if not for the read aloud that occurs in school.

Another take away from this book is how important vocabulary is to reading comprehension. The first page of this book is loaded with Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary.

From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than to five. One Mississippi: The quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Joe Theismann, turns and hands the ball to running back John Riggins. He watches Riggins run two steps forward, turn, and flip the ball back to him. It's what most people know as a "flea-flicker," but the Redskins call it a "throw back special." Two Mississippi: Theisman searches for a receiver but instead sees Harry Carson coming straight at him. It's a running down - the start of the second quarter, first and 10 at midfield, with the score tied 7-7 - and the New York Giants' linebacker has been so completely suckered by the fake that he's deep in the Redskins' backfield.

Imagine what a reader needs to know to fully understand the very first page of the book. (This is only half of the first paragraph.) The third word of the book has a double meaning in the sentence – snap a football (ball moves from center to quarterback) and snap (break) a bone.

Then the reader tackles (pun intended) the idea of “One Mississippi…” “Two Mississippi…” Some readers will be able to understand that this is a way to ensure you are counting in seconds. Lewis, who is a remarkable author, uses this language to convey the idea of time ticking. However, this is also a football reference. When children are playing touch football, a defender usually cannot tackle the quarterback until they count out loud – One Mississippi… Two Mississippi… Three Mississippi…

There’s also terminology specific to the game of football – quarterback, running back, linebacker, first and 10, flea-flicker, and backfield. All this vocabulary made me think about some of the text we give our students. If a non-football fan was asked to read this passage, how would they do? They’d probably struggle. Would they need some support and scaffolding? Most likely. Could the class launch right into reading this page and hope everybody was successful? No.

This was a wonderful book that made me think about so many important topics: poverty, education, vocabulary, and more. I read this book because I heard a best-selling author say it might be the best narrative nonfiction book every written. I’m not sure if that is the case, but it’s got to be up there.

50 Books in 2020… #2

Last night I finished my second book of 2020. (My goal is to read 50 books in 2020.) This was a special book for me because I didn’t read it alone. I read it aloud to my ten-year-old daughter, Anna.

The book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. It won Lowry her second Newbery Medal – Number the Stars in 1990 and The Giver in 1994. In the book, 12-year-old Jonas lives in a futuristic society where there is no pain, fear, or hatred. Everyone and everything is basically the same. Jonas is chosen to be the communities next Receiver of Memory, which gives him authority in his community. While training for his upcoming job, Jonas learns some dark secrets about what would otherwise seem a utopian society.

The Giver is a fantastic book to read whether you’re ten, like my daughter, or in your 40s, like me. In fact, The Atlantic wrote an article about reading The Giver as an adult. My daughter and I both couldn’t wait to see what happened next. We would talk after we read each night about what happened and what we thought would happen next.

We read together almost every night. In fact, our goal for 2020 is to read together every night before bed. Tonight will be 27 nights in a row. We take turns choosing the books. I picked The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. She chose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. There are nights where I am out of town or Anna has a sleepover and we will FaceTime to read together. Last night, we were coming home from a day-trip to Washington, D.C., and I read the last chapter to Anna while my wife drove.

Anna in a Washington D.C. bookstore choosing our next read aloud book.

The 15-20 minutes we read together each night is almost always the best part of my day. We usually cuddle in bed, read, and talk about our book. It is such a wonderful routine to help us both unwind for the day and get our minds ready for bed.

Reading with Anna… and our labradoodle, Maxwell.

In my classroom, I usually assign reading for homework. There are no reading logs or other forms of accountability. Reading regularly is just a good habit to create. There are times when parents tell me they have a hard time getting their child to read each night. I often suggest reading aloud to them.

When parents ask me what they can do to help their child become a better reader or enjoy reading more, I always tell them about reading with Anna. I explain to them how we created this routine and both cherish that time together. I am able to model fluent reading for her and help her comprehend text at a deeper level.

Most importantly, I get to spend quality time with my little girl. She won’t be little much longer, so I’m going to read every book I can to her while I can. Really, we both win.

50 Books in 2020… #1

I mentioned in my “One Word for 2020” post that I set a personal goal to ready 50 book in 2020. The goal seemed a little daunting at first. One book into the challenge, and it still seems a little too ambitious. Now that the ball is rolling, however, it seems a little more attainable.

The first book I read for the new year is One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. This is a thrilling mystery with twists and turns throughout. Five high school students are given detention. Only four come out alive, and everybody has a secret to hide… and a motive. It is very Breakfast Club – a jock, an outcast, a brain, etc.

One of Us Is Lying is not a genre I normally read. Typically I read either adult nonfiction, mystery, or thriller. I love anything by authors like Malcolm Gladwell and David Baldacci. One of my goals with this book challenge is to read texts outside of my comfort zone. So, for my first book of 2020 I chose a young adult novel. Granted, it is not exactly going out on a limb since it is a mystery/thriller, but it’s the first young adult novel I’ve read. Baby steps.

I got the idea to read new genres from a familiar place – my classroom. Throughout the school year I encourage my students to read books from different genres and try to get them into books they might not normally read. Students get a “What Genres Am I Reading?” form at the beginning of the year. As, they read a book they mark the genre they read. The goal is the fulfill the requirements for each genre by the end of the year. I check in with them periodically to see which genres they’ve completed and where they might need some encouragement or guidance.

Last year, I had one student who is a voracious reader. After completing a couple genres, she came up to me a little worried. “Mr. Rashid, I don’t really like poetry,” she said anxiously. We talked about this, and I introduced her to some Shel Silverstein books. The next week she was sitting with one of her friends laughing at some of his poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends. It’s not that she wouldn’t have found a love of poetry without the genre challenge but maybe not as early as she did.

Other students found books and genres which were new to them. I had an entire group of students become mystery fans because of the challenge. Do all students achieve the goal? No. Does every student love each genre? No. But even if they read half the genres I outlined and find one new genre they like, that is better than not trying. That way, we all win.