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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Harry Potter

The Reading Summer

A stressed mother of a first grader sought my counsel this week. The issue was reading. Her son wasn’t. And at the close of first grade he was expected to. There was talk of testing, remedial help over the summer, reading logs, etc. She and her spouse were dreading it, worried, and a little irked—not at the not-yet-reader, but at the expectations and the pressure. I listened for a long time and when she finally took a breath, I asked what she was most worried about—for instance, was she worried there was a learning issue that needed to be addressed? “No!” she said. “I’m worried he’s going to hate reading if we spend the summer doing these things!”

And that response completed the time-warp I was experiencing while listening to her story—twelve years I vaulted back in the space-time continuum. Twelve years ago this week we received the phone call that was the culmination of an entire school year of frustration and concern. #1 Son was not reading—he’d staunchly refused to even try to read the testing selections his second-grade teacher asked him to in the last weeks of school. He just sat there—a conscientious objector of sorts.

Our kids went to a wonderful Spanish-immersion school and there was a little extra time built in before they started suggesting interventions simply because the students learn to read first in a language that is not their first language. But it was clear that he was “behind” by the time second grade was drawing to a close—The Other Children were reading well in Spanish, and some of them quite well in English, too. The school recommended summer school, a reading program, and a Spanish tutor for the summer.

I calmly asked if anyone was concerned that there was a learning difference/disability that needed to be addressed. They didn’t think so. I called a reading specialist and wise mother and told her of the school’s recommendations. And then I told her that our collective parenting gut was telling us to decline any programming whatsoever in favor of simply reading good books together all summer.

She was silent on the phone for several seconds. And then she whispered (whispered!) that she thought this was a wonderful idea. I’d been a storytime reader in her classroom before and she said she wondered if #1 Son wasn’t reading simply because he couldn’t read like I read quite yet—with all the inflection, voices, and fun. She said it was obvious to her that stories were very much alive for him, and when you’re being asked to read those very early books in which each word is not longer than four letters and most of them rhyme [Mat sat on the cat.]…well, it’s harder to make them come alive.

“Take the summer and read!” she whispered, as if she was telling me a secret that reading specialists don’t impart to the masses. “Read the very best books you can find and read your very best. See where he is in the fall.”

And so we did—we read all summer long. We read The Sword in the Stone and The Mouse and The Motorcycle. We read Peter and the Star Catchers and Stuart Little. We listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the car on vacation and read Swallows and Amazons in the tent while camping. We went to the library every Friday and then on a picnic where we read stacks of picture books (his sister was two!) while we ate our PB&J. We visited our local kids’ bookstore with regularity and took our new books down to the lake and I read while they fed the ducks. I did not ask him to read “the next paragraph” or to sound out a word here and there. I just read—until I was hoarse, sometimes, I read.

At the end of the summer, we went to meet #1 Son’s third grade teacher. She was a no-nonsense grandmother and she got his number immediately. I loved her just as immediately. She took away the Clifford El Gran Perro Colorado picture books and handed him Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. And he opened that thick novel and started reading—just like that. 

It was a wonderful summer. She was a wonderful teacher. #1 Son is A Wonderful Reader (in two languages!), and he always was. He just didn’t “perform” until he was good and ready. (He still resists performing.)

I told the worried mother our story. She nodded smartly. “That’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “If there’s actually a reading problem that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it, but I just don’t think we know that when he’s just six.” I wished them well and shared a booklist. 

I envy the summer ahead of them. The Reading Summer was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made, I think. I hope it turns out as well for them.

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A Story for the Ages

For the past two years my husband and I have had the good fortune to spend the waning days of summer in Door County, Wisconsin. There we have discovered a vibrant arts community. A bounty of theatre, music, and fine arts is there for the picking.

The Rabbits Wedding by Garth WilliamsThis year, as I scanned the possibilities for our visit, I was particularly interested in the Peninsula Players’ Midwest premiere of a new play by Kenneth Jones called Alabama Story. The play comes from actual events which occurred in Alabama in 1959. Based on the American Library Association’s recommendation, State Librarian Emily Wheelock Reed purchased copies of the picture book, The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams, for state libraries. The Rabbits’ Wedding concerns a black rabbit and a white rabbit who marry. Though Williams, an artist, chose the colors of the rabbits for the contrast they would provide in his illustrations, they became symbolic of much more when segregationist Senator E.O. Eddins demanded that the book be removed from all state library shelves. Eddins believed that the book promoted the mixing of races. Alabama Story tells this story of censorship, juxtaposed with the story of a biracial relationship.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellMy husband and I both had tears in our eyes several times throughout the August 31st performance of Alabama Story. Censorship was something we know intimately. Though Alabama Story takes place in 1959, it could have taken place in 2013 in Anoka, Minnesota, with a teen book entitled Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. My high school Library Media Specialist colleagues and I had planned a district-wide community read for the summer of 2013. Based on our own reading of the book, and based on the fact that the book had received starred reviews across the board and was on many “best” lists for 2013, we chose Eleanor & Park as the book for the summer program. All students who volunteered to participate received a free copy of the book. Rainbow Rowell agreed to visit in the fall for a day of follow-up with the participants. Shortly after the books were handed out, just prior to our summer break, parents of one of the participants, along with the Parents’ Action League (deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) registered a challenge against the book. Their complaint had to do with the language that they deemed inappropriate in the book and with the sexual content in the book. They demanded that the parents of all participants be informed that their child had been “exposed” to the book (they were not), that Rainbow Rowell’s visit be cancelled (it was), that copies of the book be removed from the shelves of all district schools (they were not), that our selection policy be rewritten (it was), and that the Library Media Specialists be disciplined (we received a letter). The story gained national attention in the late summer and fall of 2013. 

Emily Wheelock ReadOne of the most striking aspects of Emily Wheelock Reed’s story was the sense of isolation she felt. She received no support, particularly from the American Library Association who had published the list of recommendations which she used to purchase new books for Alabama state libraries. These feelings of isolation were familiar to me. Though my colleagues turned to each other for support, we received no support from the district school board or the district administration. This was the most difficult time in my thirty-six career as a high school educator. Though I had won the district’s Teacher Outstanding Performance award, was a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and won the Lars Steltzner Intellectual Freedom award, choosing Eleanor & Park as the selection for a voluntary summer reading program felt like a threat to my career and to my job. As Toby Graham, University of Georgia’s University Librarian, asks in a video for the Freedom to Read Organization, “Who are the Emily Reeds of today, and who will stand up with them in their pursuit to insure our right to read?” Thankfully, the media, the Southern Poverty Law Center, our local teachers’ union, and others were supportive in many ways. In addition, the American Library Association, the Freedom to Read Organization, and other organizations now offer tools dedicated to Library Media Specialists who find themselves in similar situations.

Eleanor & Park went on to be named a Michael J. Printz Honor book—the gold standard for young adult literature. It is the moving story of two outcast teens who meet on the school bus. Eleanor is red-headed, poor, white, bullied, and the victim of abuse. Park is a biracial boy who survives by flying under the radar. The two eventually develop trust in each other as the world swirls around them. They themselves don’t use foul language. They use music as a way to hold the rest of the world at bay. They fall in love and consider having an intimate relationship but decide, very maturely, that they are not ready for sex. As a Library Media Specialist, there were “Eleanors” and “Parks” who walked into my media center each and every day. Their story needed to be on the shelf in my library, so that they could see themselves reflected in its pages, to know that the world saw them and valued them, even if their lives were messy. For those more fortunate than these Eleanors and Parks, the story was important as well. By looking into the lives of others via books, we develop empathy and understanding, even when the viewpoints reflected there are not our own.

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove "The Rabbit's Wedding" from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

Carmen Roman as librarian Emily Wheelock Reed, a librarian who stood her ground for the right to read during the onset of the civil rights movement and refused to remove The Rabbit’s Wedding from the shelves. Photo by Len Villano for The Peninsula Players

As artists—teachers, writers, actors, musicians, painters, dancers, and sculptors—it is our job to tell and preserve stories, the stories of all individuals, even when they represent beliefs different from our own. Knowledge truly is power. When we censor stories, we take away power. One need only look at history, and the burning of books and the destruction of libraries by those in power, for examples of the dangers of censorship. As we celebrate Banned Books Week (September 25th–October 1st), it is important to reflect on the value of artistic freedom and on the value of our freedom to read.

Though Garth Williams did not intend for The Rabbits’ Wedding to be a story about race and, thus, become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, it did. Though Rainbow Rowell did not intend for Eleanor & Park to become a symbol of censorship, it did. Alabama Story took place in 1959 but could just have easily taken place in 2001 with a book called Harry Potter, or in 2006 with a book called And Tango Makes Three, or … in 2013 with a book called Eleanor & Park. Censorship still occurs in 2016.

Peninsula Players, Door County

Peninsula Players Theatre hosted Door County library staff to a dress rehearsal of the Midwest premiere of “Alabama Story” by Kenneth Jones. Jones was inspired by librarian Emily Wheelock Reed’s defense of a children’s book in 1959, Montgomery, Alabama. From left are cast members and librarians Byron Glenn Willis, actor; Tracy Vreeke, Sturgeon Bay Library; Pat Strom, Fish Creek Library; Holly Somerhalder, Fish Creek Library; Greg Vinkler, Peninsula Players Artistic Director; Kathy White, Sturgeon Bay Library; Harter Clingman, actor; Holly Cole, Egg Harbor Library; James Leaming, actor; Carmen Roman, actor and Katherine Keberlein, actor. Visit www.peninsulaplayers.com Photo by Len Villano.

As the audience stood that evening, my husband and I applauded the Peninsula Players’ artistic staff, cast, and crew for telling Emily Wheelock Reed’s story. It is a story that needs to be told over and over again—for every “Eleanor” and every “Park” among us.

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Caps for Sale

Caps for SaleMy college boy is home this week. So far his spring break has been spent fighting a doozy of a virus, lying about feverish and wan. Perhaps there is slight comfort in Mom making tea and soup, verses the non-hominess of the dorm, I don’t know. He seems grateful. I asked if he wanted something to read and went to his bookshelves to see if there was something light a98nd fun—an old favorite, perhaps—to while away the languishing hours on the couch.

I’d imagined a novel he could lose himself in—Swallows & Amazons or Harry Potter, maybe, but I found myself flipping through picture books. Most of the picture books are in my office these days, but some of the extra special ones are kept on each of the kiddos’ bookshelves. Caps for Sale: The Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina is one such picture book for #1 Son.

Goodness how he loved that book when he was a little boy! For awhile we had it perpetually checked out from the library. I renewed and renewed until I could renew no more, then I found a sympathetic librarian who checked it back in and let me check it right back out. She did this for us twice. Then I lost my nerve to ask for such special favors yet again and I bought the book.

I bet we read that book every day for over a year. It was before he was really talking—he called monkeys key-keys and he thought they were hilarious. He’d shake his finger, just like the peddler in absolute delight. “You monkeys, you! You give me back my caps!” Then he’d shake both hands, again just like the peddler; then kick one foot against the couch when the peddler stamped his foot, and both feet when the peddler stamped both feet. Each time he’d make the monkey reply “Tsz, tsz, tsz!” as well.

Caps for Sale

He liked to pile layers of hats (or shirts or socks) on his head like the peddler stacked his caps, and he loved to throw them on the ground, which is how the peddler eventually gets the monkeys to give back the caps they’ve stolen from his napping head. I watched him re-enact the entire book once when he was supposed to be taking a nap.

He learned sorting as he noticed the different colors and patterns of the caps and how the peddler stacked them up to take his inventory under the tree. He did this with playdough disk. “Caps!” he’d say when he made tall columns of red circles, blue circles, and yellow circles. I remember thinking this was uncommonly brilliant for an under two-year-old.

I offered to read it to him this afternoon. He declined, but the smile was wide, if still weary, when I showed him the book. I left it next to the couch, just in case he starts to feel better and wants to revisit it.

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Well-Traveled Paths

by Lisa Bullard

12_17PinkCarriageI slip into auto-pilot when I’m driving through overly familiar territory; I stop taking in the same old landmarks. And then one day, there’s a stop sign where there’s never been one before, and my eyes are re-opened to the possibilities around me.

There are “story paths” like that too: fairy tales and other narratives that have grown so familiar we fail to notice the power they hold unless we’re forced to take a fresh look. But these stories have much to offer; there’s a reason they’ve been passed down through ages of story-tellers. Sometimes they even serve as the foundation for new stories in new generations; “once upon a time” becomes “here, in this time.”

I use some of these time-proven stories as student writing prompts (download here). They are particularly useful when students are struggling with pulling stories together. The prompts provide the basics of character, plot, and conflict; students draw on their knowledge of earlier versions of the story to craft a new version. By exploring the existing narrative from the inside out, they learn how a story is crafted. And they carry that knowledge forward to other stories they write.

Sometimes writers turn time-proven stories into even more powerful new stories. When I added the last of the four prompts to my list, I had “The Ugly Duckling” in mind. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the same basic description could apply to another children’s story: the tale of a boy, shunned by his family because he’s different who one day shocks everyone with his amazing hidden talent.

I offer you the two words that changed children’s book publishing: Harry Pott‚er. Who knows what other “new classics” your students might create when they begin traveling the paths of time-tested stories?

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Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the Harry Potter series, came out a few months after Child #1 was born. In my sleep-deprived stupor, I didn’t notice for awhile; but it quickly became difficult to be a citizen of the world and not know about Harry Potter. Suffice to say, the […]

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