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Blowing Up The Canon (Part III)

8 Oct

In today’s blog post, we finish our interview with Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: So how do you approach personalizing reading for your kids?

D: Each student in my room is provided the opportunity to bring a book from home, but rarely do they. Instead, the vast majority of students choose a book from my room where every single book has been vetted by children. Typically I bring over a stack of books to their desk and they go through them until they find one with an accessible vocabulary, and then I teach them how to make connections to the words…basically I try to teach them everything good readers do: think about themselves, wonder what happens next, think what happened earlier, wonder why things are happening, think about other books with similar stories, etc…on and on and on until they start actually reading. 

I have this question I ask people, “What is your most important book?” It’s such a great question because people have the most beautiful and surprising answers, but I never meet a child who can answer this question. Unless a child comes from a house of enlightened readers (rare, rare, rare) or they are taught with a method in school involving real choice/independent reading they don’t have a most important book, and they all deserve one.

M: Hard question to answer, since I love so many books, but let me throw out a weird one – The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry. It’s a short sci-fi novel – hit me at around 14 years old, so when I was most impressionable – but it really changed how I like to see universes, write action, and drive the story well. He’s a cult following level author but I love Perry’s writing style.

D: Awesome important book answer! I haven’t heard of him, but I’m going to look him up. 

M: What about you? What’s your most important book?

D: The most important book for me is also a hard question, but I became who I am as a reading teacher because of reading the Book Thief. By the time I read it I had been teaching for seventeen years and writing for 8…There’s a scene where a girl lives BECAUSE of a book and you realize the author has been saying, “Books Save Lives,” the entire book and you then realize he dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to say books save lives and here I was, sitting in a room of kids that I should be teaching as if BOOKS SAVE LIVES so that’s when it happened. I changed everything I was doing and dedicated my career to repeating over and over again, books save lives and that’s how I teach, like every book matters and the more I can get inside a child, the better. Hence, my book and screenplay because I can’t say it enough. 

M: Thank you, Daphne – I have a feeling that we’re going to have more of these conversations from now on.

Did you enjoy this interview? What is your most important book? (Not your favorite, your most important.) Let me know in the comments below!

Blowing Up The Canon (Part II)

7 Oct

In today’s blog post, we continue our interview with Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: But what’s wrong with having the whole class just read one book so they discuss it and break it down?

D: With the canon there are multiple problems that I could rant about all day so I’ll try to limit myself. First of all, I can’t even get everyone in my friend group or household to agree on a book. It’s impossible to get 30 random children who will/can read a 300 page book they care nothing about so they either are clever and use SparkNotes and engage the teacher in conversation as if they’ve read or they don’t read it and they fail. I have yet to meet anyone who read their assigned books in school and the number of readers is declining, not increasing. In addition, the book is assigned, the themes are decided by the teacher (who probably used SparkNotes to decide what the themes are), and all the questions have preconceived answers.

M: Interesting point – so simply ASSIGNING the book makes it very difficult for students to care about reading it in the first place. Using my son as an example, he has dyslexia, which has the effect that unless he’s REALLY into a book series (Harry Potter, Keepers of the Lost Cities), he doesn’t like to read. It’s physically difficult. They assigned the Hunger Games as a book, and knowing the violence would upset him, we got the teacher to accept an alternative (Ready Player One). However, he STILL didn’t finish it… he barely started it. Because he had no internal drive to want to do it.

D: It’s imperative that he feel empowered which is the opposite of what happened when he gave up on Ready Player One (which is the position teachers put their students in ALL OF THE TIME by assigning books, it’s maddening). Teaching him to use resources and allowing him to use resources to pass English is something that will carry him forever AND you might be able to still have a reader in your house. Teachers constantly destroy the love of reading and they don’t even know it.

I don’t want the canon replaced, I want the entire concept of ‘assigned’ books and ‘assigned’ reading levels to be destroyed. In fact, the way you were taught by the teacher who thought you ‘walked on water’ is exactly how every single child in America should be taught. I don’t have many kids like you were, but they all have that potential if they were just allowed to have their reading journey hand curated by a teacher who thought highly of them and wanted what is best for them.

M: So if a kid came to you and wanted to know what book he/she should read, what would you recommend?

D: My class could not function without The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, Tyrell by Coe Booth, Drive By by Lynne Ewing, Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and the Bluford High Series.

Have you heard / like these books? What books would you recommend to kids? Let me know in the comments below!

Blowing Up The Canon (Part I)

6 Oct

In today’s blog post, we interview Daphne, who runs a non-profit dedicated to helping students with reading difficulties. She is the author of Read or Die: A Story of Survival, Hope and How a Life Was Saved One Book at a Time. You can contact her on Twitter at @confusedconfessions.

M: Since you’re part of the #writingcommunity on Twitter, it’s obvious you like writing, but what’s your day job?

D: My day job is teaching reading and trying to change how reading is taught but using choice/independent reading and doing away with the canon in the classroom. I just can’t stop, because kids deserve so much better.

M: What’s wrong the established canon in public schools?

D: Over time, I’ve come to realize the extreme influence colonization has had in the education system and I now spends every ounce of energy fighting that system for the sake of all children. 

M: I’m sure every school district is different, but when I was in school (and mind you this was 25-35 years ago), I believe the books I was forced to read were:

– Middle School: The Day No Pigs Would Die, The Giver by Lois Lowry, My Darling My Hamburger, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. (Oddly enough, because I had a reading teacher who thought I walked on water, I got to read harder books, so I never read these.)

– Freshman HS: The Pearl by John Steinbeck, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Absolutely hated both of these.)

– Sophomore HS: The Odyssey by Homer (hated at the time, read as an adult with the Fagles translation? Couldn’t put it down), Julius Caesar by Shakespeare (great!)

– Junior HS: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (liked, but hated analysis of it)

– Senior HS: Romeo and Juliet by Shakepeare (good).

– College: 1984 by George Orwell (cried both times I’ve read it, must read), Norton Anthology of English Lit (loved the poetry).

D: The canon of your childhood has not changed. I call these teachers ‘canon clutchers’ because they hold so tightly to those same books. My favorite part is they hover perpetually at a level of status quo where they can’t even understand the irony of assigning Fahrenheit 451 or Animal Farm. They think they are enlightening children when in fact they are perpetuating the same ideals those books were written to fight. 

M: Since my son (8th grade) is reading Fahrenheit 451 right now, this is a good one. Just so I get your point, since the book is about censorship, limiting your students to an older text denies them the opportunity to open up students’ mind to more modern voices?

D: Correct. If the teacher chooses which book the child must read then they are choosing for the child to NOT read every other book on the planet. The irony is endless for this point. They are controlling what a child is supposed to read AND THEN they tell them how to read, what parts are important and what the themes are. Imagine if the smart kid pointed out the irony…the teacher would run home crying. In fact, your son could possibly see that irony and wouldn’t that be fun if he pointed it out? HAHAHA! Also, on that subject, while those teachers dole out one book per quarter, my students can read as many as they want and they all read far more than they thought they could. The minimum is four a year, but I’ve had one kid read 35 (previously all non-readers), and the average is 12 per year.

We’ll continue this interview tomorrow. However, what was the canon you had to read as a kid? Did you actually read it or did you skim it? Let me know in the comments below!

Why You Should Read Sci-Fi

29 Sep

If Christopher Booker is right, and there are only seven basic plots, then why do we keep reading them in the same genre? It’s time to branch out and take a chance… and the first place you should go is science fiction. Why? Because it has a great secret that no other genre has.

The universe is a character.

This can be terribly exciting. The way the author uses the universe tells you everything about the story he wants to tell. Let me use one of my own universes as an example – the Fatebane universe is one of a balkanized space. Every planet is its own government, loosely united in an Association, which means although you have basic human rights, how they’re enforced or applied in different contexts vary considerably. The title character’s job is to defend this Association – who wants to destroy it? Those who wish to consolidate power. So I’m telling a story about the balance between personal freedom vs. desire for stability.

Contemporary fiction is supposedly easier – you already know the universe. You don’t have to figure out what is happening in the world because you live there. And yet… that is a lie. The setting of your favorite “serious” fiction is simply another universe. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan introduces you to the universe of Chinese older women who live in California; it also introduces you to their life stories, which are set during the Chinese Civil War. The difference between my universe and this one is that… oh, I’ve heard of that.

Mystery writers are constantly trying to build a quirky universe; gardeners who solve murders, Navajo (Dine) detective solving homicides on the rez… all of them are in the real world, but deliberately show you a part of the real world that you’re not familiar with. If you worked at a pizza joint and someone was helping the police with solving death by cheesy crust, you wouldn’t buy it. Because you’re infinitely familiar with the universe.

So what you really want is to discover a new universe.

Since the universe is a character in and of itself, sci-fi helps you do that with ease. To quote one of my favorite authors, John Steakley, the difference between fantasy and sci-fi is “a hobbit or two.” So if you prefer not to learn the tech, fantasy is the same idea without it. Again, how the author constructs the universe tells its own story. So why bother pretending you know the real world and dive deep into an imaginary one?

Let’s take my recent book, for example, Defending Our Sacred Honor. I put at the beginning of a civil war between Earth and its colonies. The problem is that the Terran Confederation Space Force is a science and exploration agency, not really designed for space warfare. So how does an increasingly dominant Earth in a world filled with humans who have overcome death fight this independence movement? Simple… sell commissions to the highest bidder.

I’ve already thrown out three things that might appeal to you. Wait a minute… humans who have overcome death? How did we get that? What kind of society does that create? Why do the colonies want to break away? And how on Earth do rich boys/girls do trying to fight a war that covers multiple solar systems?

Do you start to see the appeal of sci-fi now? Or at least my book? 😀 Of course, I could be off base. Am I preached to the converted? Or is there something about sci-fi that turns you off to reading it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Let’s Get Tuckerized!

9 Jul

If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. However, if you have no readers, you’re not an author, so I want to fix that. But instead of begging for you to follow me, I’d like to give a little incentive. How would you like your name used in a future novel of mine, so that readers all over the world can thrill to your inevitable demise? (Or everlasting glory–it depends how I’m feeling at the moment.)

This is a shameless plug for my own fan group, the Interstellar Merchant Marine Union (IMMU – sounds groovy, huh?) because I want to keep people involved with what I’m doing. I promise not to bug you unless it’s really important (like a book goes on pre-order or I come out with the audio version), but I’d like to get my readers ready for when my next book comes out. The best way to do that is through email, but let’s face it, you don’t want another frickin’ spam email in your inbox.

So you need some… incentive!

Why should you join the Union? Simple – I’m offering for my newest members the chance to be tuckerized in my next novel, which has the working title of Defending Our Sacred Honor. (I’m not happy with it–Our Sacred Honor is the name of the ship our heroes are flying around in. I’m thinking about changing it.) For those not familiar with the term, Tuckerization (or tuckerism) is “the act of using a person’s name (and sometimes other characteristics) in an original story as an in-joke.” In this case, I’m offering a chance to replace one of the characters’ names with yours! Take the chance to suddenly be in novel without ever having to write it yourself! What could be more amazing?

So if you’re interested, go ahead and click on the link for the Interstellar Merchant Marine Union, fill in your information, and I will contact you with an opportunity to become a fictional character. Your name will gain immortality! Sign up today! Add more exclamation points behind your sentences!!! 🙂

Join the Union!

26 Jun

As many have learned over time, if you don’t have a fan club, start your own! So I’m starting the Interstellar Merchant Marine Union! (Yes, that’s going to appear in a future story.)

No one’s asking you to actually ship out on a container ship, but it’s a clever name for readers who want to follow my work. If you sign up, you’ll get exclusive content, first access to new material, and even a chance to appear in a future story!

So sign up today and see the worlds!

Click Here: https://albigensia.wordpress.com/join-the-union/

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