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The Big Fresh January 10, 2015 What I've Read

Brenda Power

To me, reading through old letters and journals is like treasure hunting. Somewhere in those faded, handwritten lines there is a story that has been packed away in a dusty old box for years.

                                                                              Sara Sheridan

For more than 20 years, I have written down the date, title, and author of every book I've finished--and even those I've abandoned. I have included a short summary of my reaction to each book. I use plain, leather-bound journals that I label with a thin black Sharpie, aptly and simply: Books I've Read. I know, I know.... There are sites like goodreads.com that can do this for me digitally.  But I still prefer my small journal full of words written with my own hand.

Why? Because when I look back at my entries, I see how each book journal tells a larger story, far beyond the individual titles of books I've completed.  It tells my story.  And the books I write about in these journals tell a story, too, just because they were there at that time.  I started the journals in college, where most of my reading was in line with the requirements of an English major: There's Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner; there's Pound and Yeats and Keats. There is a text that brought deep anxiety when I wrote of it twenty years ago as an undergraduate:  Titled Literary Theory, it was the required textbook and full of content I didn't understand then and still wouldn't understand today. My summary after finishing the text is scrawled quickly, as if hiding embarrassment with hurry.

After college, as I floundered to find my way while bartending and chipping away at my student loans, my journal shows me going through a period of reading biographies--three or four a week sometimes. Between shifts at the bar, I'd pore over the stacks at the library or bookstore in hopes a new biography had arrived to surprise me. Reading about important people who had an impact on our world was a comfort to me at a time I felt I had no impact potential at all. 

Once I married, the book journal reflected a new and intense interest in food writing, as I focused on cooking healthy and delicious food for my family. I especially enjoyed food memoirs by successful chefs writing about their journey to their restaurant kitchen. I summarized these books with a slow, deliberate hand, writing with a sort of rapturous glee.

A life of reading is a seasonal thing. Our reading changes depending on what we're handling at home and at school and at work.  It changes as we grow passionate about different topics over time.  

As teachers, there is a powerful lesson in this as we look out on a classroom of young readers and writers. It's okay if we have students who are passionate about a topic or genre, and then aren't. It's okay if our students find and follow a path vastly different from the one we chose, or the one chosen by a student who came before, or a canon we're told to follow. Seasons come and seasons go. Always. 

So what's the next reading season for me? I don't know. I do know I will continue my practice of registering my reading with a pen and a book of lined paper. Someday, I will be able to look back and know what the next phase was--and why--and how I felt about it. 

This week we look at adolescent literacy. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Jennifer Schwanke

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/.


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Ruth Shagoury unlocks The Power of Mystery Series for Teens and Tweens:


Find the perfect quote for launching a staff discussion of teen readers in our Adolescent Literacy Quote Collection:


All About Adolescent Literacy is a nonprofit organization offering classroom videos and instructional resources tied to the Common Core for teachers of teens:


Jennifer Allen's Literacy Coach Jumpstart online course runs February 5-16 and includes three on-demand webinars, the Layered Coaching DVD, Jen's book Becoming a Literacy Leader, and personal response from Jen tailored to your needs on the class discussion board. Choice Literacy and Lead Literacy members receive a $50 discount off the course fee. Click on the link below for more details:


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Erin Ocon compiles a list of the ways she publishes writing of her teen students in Ten Ways to Publish Student Writing:


Kim Campbell instills a love for a lost art in Letter Writing with High School Students:


Gretchen Schroeder has suggestions for using short texts and close reading to prepare students before Teaching Argument with Lord of the Flies:


This week's video is the conclusion of a two-part series on teaching philanthropy in eighth grade:


In a bonus video, Leslie Lloyd teaches the second part of her anchor lesson to third graders. In this installment, they look at literal and figurative language in the Donald Graves poem Bully:



That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.