in which…books!

Books, books, books.   Lovely lists of books.  Is there anything that conveys a sense of companionship and adventure better than a list of books?

Oh, of course: a stack of books.

I’m knee-deep in book lists as I’m thinking through the next school year.  Here’s my plan: for each trimester, I’m going to make small catalogs of books, complete with a picture of the cover and synopsis.  Then the kids will ‘order’ their books to read for the trimester.  This way I have a lot of control, but they have a feeling of choice.  I’ve tried to vary the settings and styles of books so that I’m not working from assumptions about what they’ll enjoy.

For example, Sandra is going to get a catalog of about 8 books for the Sept-Christmas season*, and I think I’ll ask her to choose 5.  I’m still debating how many to require, especially since they vary in length and that will affect how quickly she can go through them.  My goal for Sandra will be to get her reading not only at grade level (which she now does) but also reading at speed at grade level. So I’ll start with slightly easier books and then make each following trimester a little more complex.  That way when I ask her to read more chapters per day than she’s used to, she’s starting on an on-ramp and not the Autobahn itself.

This means that I am reading all sorts of reviews and descriptions of books these days.  And, oh, don’t they just make me weak at the knees. I have visions of myself surrounded by stacks of these books near a shady hammock, a summer vacation stretching before me like an endless stretch of white beach.  Oh, to have  child’s mind about the summer holidays again…I want to read every one of the books I’m offering Sandra.

Recently, I’ve stepped out of my non-fiction/classics/biographies/genre fiction tendencies and started reading Young Adult fiction.  I’m not the only one, either.  An article on the popularity of YA fiction in the L.A. Times put it well:

“‘I think part of the reason we’re seeing adults reading YA is that often there’s no bones made about the fact that a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain,” said Lizzie Skurnick, 36, author of “Shelf Discovery,” a collection of essays about young adult literature from the 1960s and 1970s.

‘YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They’re able to have a little more fun, and they’re less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists. That paradoxically leads them to create far better work than people who are trying to win awards.'”

I have a problem with Literature.  It boils down to this: I don’t like most modern literature because I find it dull, grim, or nasty. Or all three. I also don’t believe in reading fiction to make myself a better person; I don’t buy into the idea that art’s role is to change the world.  Given who goes to art shows or reads modern literature, it’s a little more of ‘preaching to the choir’ than changing the world. No, I believe that art should be beautiful or fascinating and books should be well-told stories.  If I want to be a better person, I read non-fiction.

If I’m reaching for a novel, I’m reaching for a mental vacation or an adventure.  I’ll time-travel and read classics.  I’ll keep myself a-tingle with genre fiction.  Modern” Literature”, especially the kind that wins awards in Canada, is too full of importance and grim details and too skimpy on reasons to keep reading other than being able to partake in pretentious conversations at dinner parties. Not that I haven’t tried. At 13 I was reading Atwood, Findlay, Potok, and a host of other heavy-hitters. But I started to feel that all of my optimism, my faith in human spirit, and my enjoyment of reading were fading  away. I do have a good go at modern literature every now and then. But I always seem to wonder why everything is so grim and so dull. Is this the only way these authors can feel like they’re ‘doing real literature’?

The next few novels I want to read are all YA: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, A Wrinkle in Time, Dear Canada: Alone in an Untamed Land, Emily of New Moon, Fairest….to name a few.

And yet, rather laughingly, I am at the moment reading the best work of modern literature I’ve read in a dog’s age: Wolf Hall by Mantel. (It’s even a prize winner: the Mann Booker Prize. Perhaps they aren’t like Canadians over there and allow their authors to write good stories and still win awards.) I can’t put it down. At first a few of the style choices made the reading a bit more like work, but I’ve slipped into them now and find it a very pleasant yet gripping read. I stayed up 2 hours past bedtime for the first time in months and months reading it. I feel like I know Cromwell and yet that he is closed to me. How has the author done this? How can I feel intimately part of a stranger?Now that is craftsmanship.

*Interested in the first draft of her catalog?

The Hobbit, Tolkein
Misty of Chincoteague, Henry
Ella Enchanted, Levine
Behind Rebel Lines, Reit
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, Konigsberg
Christmas Carol, Dickens
Treasure Island, Stevenson
All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
Dear Canada: Alone in an Untamed Land, Maxine Trottier


11 thoughts on “in which…books!

  1. Barbara Rall says:

    I’m reading Wolf Hall as well, actually I’ve been reading it for weeks and it’s not holding my interest the way the Man Booker usually does. I don’t know it it’s the number of characters and my difficulty in keeping them straight or that it’s set in the so long ago. In any event, I haven’t given up yet. My favorite read of the past year was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I couldn’t put it down and I was sad when it was finished. Of course, civil rights is a particular interest of mine.
    As for young adult books, I loved The Book Thief. It was rather grim, but you couldn’t help but love the characters, even the mean, angry foster mom.
    Happy reading.
    BTW, I’m starting to send my handmade items out. I only had four responses, but the recipients seem full of anticipation. It feels good…

  2. hopewellmomschoolagain says:

    * Yes, definitely want to be on the “mailing list”..

    Hobbit–my brother’s all-time favorite. I try it again every few years…..Treasure Island–my d & listened to it last year and surprised ourselves by really enjoying it once she got used to the language; Misty–great choice; Christmas Carol, I liked, d did not [probably because the other 7th graders in her public school class this year hated it]

    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate–I’d call that one a MUST READ!
    A Wrinkle in Time–super, super time-travel book, to be followed up by this year’s biggie WHEN YOU REACH ME

    Some others to consider: “Cheaper by the Dozen” [all kinds of super home learning going on in it!], INKHEART [sort of time travel], The Penderwicks [there’s a 2nd book now] or LAD [note: the original does have racial slurs].

    I look forward to your choices–they are always imaginative!

  3. Kim says:

    I read Wolf Hall a couple of months ago, and loved it. I loved the way Mantel follows Thomas Cromwell’s thoughts, and his domestic life, which is never anything I’d considered before.
    I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings now, and am thoroughly enjoying it. I love Tolkien’s writing, and his world-building.

    Has Sandra read any of Marguerite Henry’s other books? Misty is the logical place to start, with Wesley Dennis’ illustrations adding so much charm to the story.

  4. Amy says:

    Sarah, you are one of my favorite idea people. I have favorite blogs where I go for ideas in many different categories of life, but you help to keep learning alive in my mind. I love your unconventional, realistic approach to education. I bend the homeschooling regulations in NY as far as I can, but I still often feel stuck in a box. You inspire me for my childrens’ sake and also – very often – for my own. Thank you.

  5. Annie says:

    I love the catalog idea. You have such great ideas, and this presentation of it is so appealing! I’d have to second the recommendation of When Your Reach Me. I read it recently and couldn’t put it down. Other YA titles that I’ve loved include The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt (an 8th grader disccovers Shakespeare in 1968– great shakespeare stuff, great Veitnam War stuff), and Koningburg’s The View From Saturday.

  6. katharine says:

    I second the Ink Heart Series, or really anything by Cornelia Funke. I’d also add the Mysterious Benedict Society and the Gideon Trilogy (starts with The Time Travellers). Both are full of kids with gumption, off on fantastic adventures.

    Books form the basis of our unschooling lifestyle so we are forever looking for new and exciting books for the kids. I read most of them myself first, for no other reason than because the read-aloud pace can be a little slow, so I’ve read a good number of YA books in the last few years. Our secret to success is the independent kids book store that opened near us about two years ago. The owner enlists her own little army to read and review a lot of the books and gets to know the customers well enough to make great recommendations.

  7. Mariah says:

    Another author you and Sandra might both like is Louise Erdrich. She’s written a collection called the Birchbark House. I’m not sure on the reading level, but they’re wonderful. And I’ve loved many books by her — Master Butcher’s Singing Club is an all time fav.

    The catalog idea is great.

  8. ERin says:

    A Wrinkle in Time was one of my FAVORITES at her age!

    Oh and if you find any good tips are speeding up while still enjoying a good book I would love to hear them. I have been a book worm all of my life yet I read so SLOWLY. This wasn’t a problem til you got a teacher that wanted you to read 100 pages in a night.

    I’m all grown up now with kids of my own but would love to hear any tips you may come across in case one of mine reads like a turtle as well.

  9. Cathy T says:

    Love this idea. I end up putting piles of YA books in our living room and asking my teens to pick something that looks interesting to start. If they get into it, then I don’t have to ask anything more…. My kids are 13 and 15. They let me know what they thought of them and urge each other to check out or skip books….

  10. Rebecca says:

    I have to second reading M. Henry’s other books, as well! She was my absolute favorite author until I was in college, and is still a favorite author of mine. I read most of her books over and over and over until I had to re-buy all of them because they had literally fallen apart.

    Oh gosh, now I want to go read San Domingo, King of the Wind, and Misty again. Time to go through the bookshelf!

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