Thinking about reading…

I came across this post a few weeks ago, and it has been sitting open in a tab of my browser ever since, while I’ve wondered what I wanted to say about it.

The author, Paige Jaeger, is advocating the rights of children to choose their own reading materials, rather than educators getting hung up on giving children texts that support particular curricular outcomes. Whilst Ms Jaeger is looking at the US context and their Common Core Standards, her points are equally applicable here.

In the classroom, the teacher’s job is to help children make sense of the rules of language, digging deep into grammar, text types, writing styles, vocabulary, and all the other elements that going into developing the knowledge and skills necessary to be literate.

When those children step into the Library, what the Teacher Librarian really wants is to see those children dive joyfully into a wide variety of books and come back up grinning with delight at the treasures they found inside.

Picture taken from the poster of Rights of the Reader

Perhaps this week the theme is to challenge themselves to explore two new genres – the TL will remind the students how to search the catalogue by subject, and suggest more titles that might intrigue them.

Other students are looking for information on their favourite animal, or tv show, or arguing about the status of Pluto – the TL will steer them towards the tools they need to find what they want.

Sometimes though it is a bit trickier – what about the child who at 9 years is still reading like a 6 year old? He needs simple but interesting books that don’t look babyish, because he’s ashamed of how far behind he is and is worried about being teased. Or the child who at 10 years can decode just about any book you put in front of him – he isn’t old enough for the themes in most YA fiction, but the majority of books written for his age group are too easy to engage his attention.

This is where TLs and classroom teachers work together, talking about the needs of their students and looking for books that will help both the struggling and the exceptional students become confident, eager readers who see books as a source of entertainment and delight.

Finally, I think it is fitting to include The Rights of the Reader, a beautiful book by Daniel Pennac, with an equally delightful poster illustrated by Quentin Blake.

The right of the individual to decide how to be a reader – that’s the whole point, really.


It is Easter Holidays for us at the moment, so I have been enjoying some quality reading time.

I have read:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Re-reading this was interesting – it is certainly a fairly classic tale of a child being saved from awful circumstances and then blossoming into a stronger, better person through making good friends and having a healthy lifestyle. In some ways the writing is very dated and almost parochial – the constant references to the perfection of the Yorkshire countryside and pure air blowing health into the child provoked a smile or two from me. I have lived in some lovely places, none of them Yorkshire – but I have to say that Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, is not high on my personal list of places to raise healthy, outdoorsy children. However as a mother and as a teacher I can’t help thinking that much of the main tale has a ring of ‘truthiness’ about it – fresh air, exericise and wholesome food are very important for growing children’s bodies, and having something meaningful to do (eg reclaim a neglected garden) does provide a child with goals, a sense of self-worth and also an unselfishness that cannot be taught in any other way.
  • Troll Bridge by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple. I enjoyed this quick little modern riff on some traditional fairy and folk-tales. This is a Fractured Fairy Tale for an older audience, fast-paced, just detailed enough with taking spelling-it-out-to-you tone, some of the enjoyment relies on your understanding of traditional fairy-tales. Princesses, heroic rescuers, trolls, trickery, rhymes, the power of music to hypnotise the savage beast… I will looking out for other books in this vein by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.
  • The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan. I loved this one! A great fantasy read, with elements of Vikings and hints of the naval exploits of England, France and Spain drawn together. The main character is following a fairly classic path of destiny-through-heritage, but in this tale he is destined to be a mighty sailor rather than soldier or slayer of dragons. He is of course part of a subjugated people, but various events bring him first to a harbour village where he learns to sail, then he becomes the first person every to sail into and out of a stupendous whirlpool which of course brings him to the attention of those in power – and not in a good way. The book ends with him sailing off to face those even higher up the chain of power, under the protection of an honourable captain but in company with a number of people who would happily see him dead and done with. Some passages of this book actually made me homesick for the scent and feel of ocean winds on my face and the scratch of sand between my toes.
  • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I picked this up almost idly, and read it pretty much in one day. The tale of four people who meet by accident on a rooftop, each of them planning to kill themselves by jumping off the building. Other than despair or desperation these four have nothing in common – and yet the weird circumstances of their meeting keep pulling them together again as they each seek to evade or exorcise their personal problems. Definitely an adult book in its examination of the bleakest emotions, but no sex or violence. Whilst one character is profane to the point of being almost unintelligible at times, even that becomes a piont of humour when she and the others follow each swear word with an apology. What I particularly enjoyed about this book is the lack of a neat, tidy, happy ending – no-one is magically cured of depression by Twoo Wuv, they all prove that there is no going back in time to fix the past no matter what their situation. What they do show however is that a bit of time, maybe trying something new or taking a new perspective, making tiny differences that can be sustained in their daily lives, can lead them away from the point of utter despair.

So that was some of my reading this holidays – an eclectic mix, but satisfying!

Year of Personal Discovery

Back again – at last! This year my school has a theme for the year of “Believe You Can Achieve”, tying in with the Year of Personal Discovery. I am certainly lining up the opportunities for myself, aside from the obvious part of being in Hong Kong: this semester I am enrolled in a 9-week ESL/EAL course, tackling the Level 1 ActivInspire online course, and  yoga, and am going to be a relief teacher for the English Language Saturday School next term. We only have 9 days left of Term 1, and I’m not quite sure where the first 7 weeks went…


Other points of discovery this term have included how to ask Wikipedia to unblock our school’s open proxy so that Year 6 can add carefully researched information to specific articles, and how to export a ppt file into a wmv and embed it into a page on our Moodle-based Online Learning Platform to provide a tutorial on completing the Online Reading Record for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.

The Other Side

I am also making time to read more – spending as many lunchtimes as I can with my nose in a book, sitting somewhere in the middle of the Library so as to be available and obviously aware of what everyone is doing. The last book I finished was Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, another breathtaking blend of text and illustration brought together in a marvellous piece of storytelling. I deeply enjoyed his first book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and pounced on this new title excitedly when it arrived. One thing I found particularly interesting was that switching between text and illustration seemed to actually slow me down – I ended up savouring the story at a more leisurely pace, examining the pictures for details to provide the visual equivalent of adjectives and adverbs.
Image courtesy of ShuttrKing|KT on FlickrThe Other Side” Used under CC licence.

Where to begin?

It’s been quite a while since last I posted to this blog, which is not to say that I haven’t had anything worth sharing – simply haven’t made the time to log in and begin!

Working in an International School continues to have its challenges but also rewards. Simply listening to the students and cruising through the fiction collection is introducing me to new authors and stories I might never have come across in Australia. I am also looking to reacquaint myself with classics of children’s literature, discovering along the way that many of these books ‘hit the spot’ for children who, due to their expat life and friends, are willing to explore more widely. I even found out that my Year 3 students had never heard of The Day My Bum Went Psycho by Andy Griffiths! We are currently remedying that situation… Some of the terminology has to be explained (that was the first time I had ever needed to explain the term ‘mooning’ to a child) but that hasn’t stopped them from enjoying it – one boy was literally rolling on the floor with laughter! A struggling reader, I am sure that this is one book he will be aiming to read for himself, and may perhaps be a powerful motivator for other disinterested children too.

Update on the Blind Speed Dating

A few of the books borrowed by year 5 and 6 students after the Blind Speed Book Dating:

I find it interesting to see that the range of books being borrowed includes more demanding classics  such as The Hobbit or The War of the Worlds, humorous titles eg from Morris Gleitzman and Paul Jennings, and animal books like Ace and Black Beauty. Some books have been in hot demand, with students placing reserves on titles snaffled early by their classmates.

I think it will be really interesting to follow this up further next week, through asking students to comment on the book they chose from the blind date – has been a good read? Would they recommend it?

Off to grab a book for the weekend!

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