A Summer of Study, a Summer of Reading by Penny Kittle
So what are you planning for this summer? I’m going to see Dave Mathews in concert five times (ridiculous, right?). I will walk my dogs in Whitaker Woods every chance I get, and I will climb a few mountains in the Presidential Range. I’ll also be reading, writing, and thinking about teaching, of course.
It’s true that teachers need summer vacation to rest and rebalance our lives, but we also need to attend to our own learning. Summer is the ideal time: there’s more space and time to think. And nothing energizes me more than thinking beside dedicated teachers who keep wrestling with research and classroom realities to determine the best way to move all kids forward.
They are the never-give-up teachers, the everyone-will-discover-a-love-of-reading teachers. The ones who read the Nerdy Book Club blog.
This summer I hope you’ll join the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club to get smarter about teaching reading. We will study how we read across genres.
First, we will read an excellent memoir by Jacqueline Woodson, the United States Ambassador for Children’s Literature, called Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s written in verse and we will think deeply about how we read a story writing in this form. I’m hoping I can convince Jackie to talk to me about her writing process and her advocacy for our nation’s children. As a member of the summer book club, you’ll have exclusive access to that interview. But even if I can’t make that happen, we will have lively discussions led by Book Love Foundation grant winners about how we can use what we learn in reading her book to lead our readers. I can’t wait.
Our professional book this year is 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents, written by Kelly Gallagher and me. I chose it because there is a lot to talk about, and also because I will dedicate all of the royalties from the summer book club to the foundation, increasing our ability to support teachers. Studying how we make decisions in teaching is complex work, so Kelly and I will broadcast live from the Boothbay Literacy Retreat to answer questions at the end of June. We are excited to hear your thinking.
In July we will dive into Jandy Nelson’s two-narrator story, I’ll Give You the Sun, which won the 2015 Printz Award for Excellence in Young Literature from the Young Adult Library Services Association as well as several other prestigious awards. We will consider how we track our thinking in a story told from two perspectives across time. It’s an important question to study: books are often told from more than one point of view and young readers can become lost. I’ll Give You the Sun was recently highlighted on this blog for its compelling portrayal of siblings, loss, and the development of identity. It’s a masterpiece. I so look forward to reading it with you and hundreds of teachers from all over the world.
We will close our summer of study by reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. This was a book club choice for my high school seniors this fall and each one who read it was profoundly changed by Stevenson’s work. We will study how non-fiction places different demands on readers. How does the text get our attention? How do we sustain our engagement as the book moves from facts and information woven into compelling stories that lead to an argument about criminal justice? We will have lots to talk about! If I’m successful, we will be talking to Bryan Stevenson about his work with the Equal Justice Initiative and the building of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.
Plus, you can sign up to receive a foundation tote bag, water bottle, sunglasses, bracelet, and a wicked cool journal to record your thinking. We will be the coolest readers ever. Our foundation is dedicated to raising money for teachers, and 100% of what we receive we give away. Yet, we just never have enough to fund all of the teachers who deserve our support. This year we have 203 requests from 36 states and 5 provinces. We want to offer grants to as many teachers as we can.
Teachers know the magic of books.
We seek the elixir we know all readers need: the urge to read more. We need current, interesting books that surprise, delight and mesmerize young readers, leading them on journeys into thinking that build stamina and vocabulary and a hunger to read another book. We need Ghost Boys and Poet X and Long Way Down and Refugee and Rebound and The Creativity Project and, and, and…
But alas. Schools continue to reduce budgets, and even the most dedicated teachers find they can’t buy books each month, each year. The Book Love Foundation has sent books to a school next door to a prison, to an alternative school in Winnipeg, to teachers in Detroit and Des Moines, to Iowa and Indiana. We have funded 60 classroom libraries so far, and we are just beginning.
You have one week left to join us in a summer of studying reading, and I hope you will.
Penny Kittle lives two lives: one as a high school English teacher and one in the books she reads. She is the President of the Book Love Foundation and the author of Book Love, Write Beside Them, and most recently, 180 Days, co-authored with Kelly Gallagher. In her dreams she imagines all the books in the world in reach of every child, giving them hope and solace, grand adventures and belly laughs, and most importantly, love and beauty.