February 09


A Book Diet: Try It! by Sandy Otto

At any given time, a great number of adults are on a diet. I am no different. However, the diet I have in mind is not about weight loss, healthy eating, calorie counting or exercise.


Or is it?


Like many other Nerdy Book Club members, I have a self-prescribed diet regimen.

Books (like food) are my fuel. They sustain me. They keep me alive each day.

They give me energy, they course through my veins and they linger in my heart.


There’s no one-size-fits-all diet book for book nerds. That would be quite ironic. There are no rules…simply promises made to our souls to awaken our hidden passions and transport us to places that elude us in real life.


The more I think about it, my book diet IS about weight loss, healthy eating, calorie counting and exercise. Just not in the ways you might think.


Weight loss:

I read books to ease my stress and the emotional burdens brought on by paying bills, working hard at my job, and counting the cold MN days until our brief yet glorious summertime. Fantasies like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Uplifting realistic fiction like The Running Dream. Humorous poetry from Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, or inspirational biographies like Soul Surfer. These books make me laugh, find inspiration, and allow me to enter someone else’s crazy life for a while. After I finish reading them, I do feel lighter…if only in spirit. That’s what counts. No scale is needed because my mood can only be measured by the smile on my face, the twinkle in my eye, and the joy in my heart.


Healthy Eating: 

Yes, I’m talking about the food groups, food pyramid, or whatever it’s called nowadays.

Food groups are genres.  The food pyramid is variety. However, the amount and frequency of each genre depends on the individual. I’m a science fiction nut, and often fill half my plate with the likes of Neal Shusterman, James Dashner, Michael Paul Evans, Veronica Roth and Joelle Charbonneau. My plate is also filled with realistic fiction. A healthy serving of heart-wrenching books like One For the Murphys, All the Bright Places, and Counting By 7s. I save room for smaller servings of mysteries like Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Circa Now and The Westing Game. I don’t read as much fantasy as I used to (since reading the entire final Harry Potter book in just 48 hours). However, my healthy eating does include books from that genre, like The Real Boy and Dorothy Must Die. Every now and then, I’ll throw in a snack of historical fiction like The Lions of Little Rock. Finally, I must leave room for a graphic novel or two. My latest favorites are El Deafo and Sisters. Yes, a Nerdy Book Club member must read (like they eat) widely and voraciously.


Calorie Counting:

OK, so books don’t have carbs, fiber, sugar or fat. But that doesn’t mean I don’t count calories on my daily book diet. A calorie is used to measure the energy value of foods. I often measure the energy value of books. Whether it’s determining if I have the emotional energy to devote to a character’s ordeal (Thirteen Reasons Why, Wintergirls) or the actual energy to stay up until I finish a book because it’s so incredible that I can’t stop until I reach the final page (Brown Girl Dreaming, Absolutely Almost, Rain Reign). My students and I call a book’s last few chapters the “sweet spot.”


As the one in charge of my book diet, I must decide if a book is worth my energy. I rely on recommendations from my Nerdy Book Club PLN to help make those decisions. Sometimes, the calorie count is too high and I must abandon a book. We encourage our students to do this on occasion, so I feel free to do it as well. I always want to read books with the highest energy value. The right book at the right time to fill the right need. That’s why calorie counting is important in your book diet.


Finally, exercise:

Exercising on a book diet is not to strengthen the body, but to nourish the mind and the soul. I am constantly reading a steady diet of informational text to become the best teacher I can be. On the menu recently has been Reading in the Wild, Well Spoken, Teach Like a Pirate, Pure Genius, and He’s the Weird Teacher. They exercise my thinking and expand my professional repertoire. Sometimes I attend group exercise sessions, like Twitter or Voxer chats. While other times, I walk on the treadmill alone (remember it’s freezing for nine months per year in MN), soaking up personal PD whenever and wherever I can get it. I’m excited to start a new exercise program from one of my favorites, Kelly Gallagher, called In the Best Interest of Students. Later this year, another one of my favorite personal trainers, Erik Palmer, will introduce a new exercise plan focused on the teaching of argument and reasoning. Both are sure to exercise my mind and positively influence my teaching.


There are many days when I am hesitant to step on my bathroom scale. However, success on my book diet is not dependent on a specific number of lost pounds. As long as I find a wide variety of books that fill up my soul, lighten my mood, exercise my mind and energize my life, I am happy. I guess that IS measurable after all, but only on the inside where it matters.


I hope you find your perfect book diet, too.


Sandy Otto is a 5th grade teacher at Woodland Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, MN. She has been teaching for 21 years, and is most passionate about Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. You can follow Sandy on Twitter: @sandyrotto, check out her students’ book diets: http://kidblog.org/MrsOtto2014-2015/ and read her blog posts: http://ottogoingagainstthegrain.blogspot.com/ .