Friday, March 31, 2017

My Reading Journey: Guest Blogger!

Me at six!

Since elementary school I have never really liked reading. I felt like I wasn’t good at reading, because it took me longer to finish books than my friends. Also, when I would read aloud, I would skip words, could not pronounce certain words, and other students would make sounds as if I was doing something wrong. This made me feel like I wasn’t a good reader, and I wanted to stop reading and just give up.

I would read books but did not comprehend them, so I felt like reading really was a waste of time. It was hard to see my older sister, who is eight years older than me, reading and enjoying it, but I couldn’t. I would try to read with her, but I would get bored and frustrated and stop reading. My father would always read in the living room before bed, and I would try to read also, but I would eventually lose interest and fall asleep.

My Dad and I!

In the first grade, we were put in reading groups based on skill levels. On the front of the books there would be different colored stickers. At the time, I didn’t know what the colors meant or why my friends and I were separated. Eventually, I realized that I was on the lower level for reading. Another teacher would come in and take four other kids and me to the computer lab where we would play fun grammar games on the computer, and she would read to us while we followed along. 

In the second grade, it happened all over again; I was pulled out of class and was given reading instructions. I was not happy with it, but it was helpful. However, students began to notice the high and low groups, and the students in the high group would make fun of those in the lower groups. This made me feel different; like an outsider.

With the help of the reading coaches in elementary school, my reading improved. When I got to middle school, I felt like I was on the right track, but reading was still difficult. When we would have to read a book as a class, I would always get behind; it was frustrating. Every year my English teachers would say “I’m going to get you to like reading;” they never did. 

My eighth grade teacher helped me figure out what type of books I liked by introducing me to all types of genres and authors. When I found the genre I liked, she told me about authors and books that she thought I would be interested in. We read Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and I absolutely loved it. I realized that I like realistic books that deal with real life situations that I can relate to.

My sister and I!

When I entered high school, it was recommended by my eighth grade teacher that I be put into a ninth grade intensified English class, and I thought to myself “Why did my eighth grade teachers put me in this class?” I guess my eighth grade English teacher saw or knew something I didn’t.

Everything was going well in this intensified class. We started with writing, then poetry, then she assigned us Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. That book was challenging. I was confused with who was who, and what was going on? Then we were assigned Lord of the Flies by William Golding and my head flip-flopped all around; I was totally confused. With all the different characters, I would forget names and I would think one character did something but actually the other character did it. It would have helped if the teacher had given us a sheet with the characters' name and their roles. Everyone around seemed to get it but me. It was also hard and made me feel pressured, because we were given chapters to read with a due date.

Mom and I!
Going into the tenth grade I was switched from intensified to grade level English, and I was so happy. Going from a intensified class to a grade level class was definitely less stressful. Intensified was fast-paced, and we would work independently most of the time. This year, in my on-grade English class, Ms. Stallworth teaches the lessons, then allows us to talk about the lessons in our self-selected groups, then we open up the conversation to the whole class, and share what we talked about.

My teacher seems to believe that if she gives students the choice to read what they want to read and time to discuss the books, then they will read more. And when she talked to the class about that, I was so happy. I get to choose what I want to read with no time limit. With reading whatever I want to, I have read more books this year than I have ever read for school. I have read a variety of books such as Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Ghost by Raina Telgemeier, Ask The Passenger by A.S King, The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle. I liked reading Crossover, because I could connect with the basketball terminology. The rhythm and onomatopoeia of the book made it fun to read. I also really enjoyed Ask The Passenger; It’s a great book about giving and receiving love.

My sister and I!

I’m not saying that I love reading now, but I have enjoyed seeing my progress in reading, and I will continue my reading journey.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

10to40Book Challenge: Guest Blogger Kathleen O’Connor!

Kathleen and the writer Ibo Zoboi

When Jackie invited me to join the 10to40 Book Challenge, it seemed like an ambitious goal, and while I eagerly agreed to participate, I doubted if it was possible for either of us to actually accomplish it; we are busy women!  

Competitive by nature, I figured I could pull out a fast lead by choosing a few of Jacqueline Woodson’s shorter books from my middle school library that I had been meaning to read. I started with After Tupac and D Foster and The House You Pass Along the Way, then moved on to Another Brooklyn. I love these books for reminding me that girlhood, young womanhood, is for all of us so very much the same, even as it is in other ways tremendously different. 

Books are mirrors in which we can see ourselves, windows through which we can see others, and sometimes we can do both simultaneously. So, I made a conscious decision to include a cultural variety of writers in my challenge. 

Jackie often says, “I like books with characters who look like ME!” So do I! I read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin and wept at the experiences of the Irish immigrants in that story and felt the warm glow of familiarity in traditions, expressions, and unique turns of phrase that you only find in Irish/Irish-American families. I could feel the homesickness that often resonates through generations of Irish American families, even for the members who are born here.

Likewise, I read We Are Not Ourselves by Mathew Thomas, an epic novel. A good part of it also takes place in Brooklyn, and it’s about an Irish-American family grappling with their patriarch’s downward spiral into Alzheimer’s disease. I found the “mirror” quality in this novel almost frightening. It was as if Mathew Thomas had been a fly on the wall as my own family fought the very same battle. And I wrote Mathew Thomas to tell him so and to express my gratitude for his book that somehow validated my entire experience with losing my own Dad to Alzheimer’s. I wept bitterly through much of the book and often felt like Thomas had sucker-punched me right in the gut. But, I was thankful and I told him so. And guess what?  He wrote back.

Me, Kathleen, and the author Brendan Kiely

In an interesting twist, an overwhelming number of the books I read in the first months of the challenge take place in Brooklyn. The African-American characters in Woodson’s and Jason Reynold’s novels lived in the very same neighborhoods and walked the very same blocks as the Irish characters in Toibin and Thomas; however, it was two generations later. I’ve given a lot of thought to this important link, because it has many conflicting messages. So many, in fact, that it should be a topic for a blog entry all on its own. My wheels are turning!

My most recent favorite is Ibo Zoboi’s American Street, a wonderful novel that was nothing but a window for me!  In it, Fabiola, a young immigrant from Haiti, moves in with her cousins in Detroit. I have to admit that the existence of a Haitian community in the United States was not on my radar at all, and I have never been to Detroit in my life, but Fabiola’s story of trying to maintain her old ways while acclimating to her new surroundings touched me, and I could not turn the pages fast enough. And, now I feel like I have an entire perspective that I never even had a glimpse of before reading this book.

Me, Kathleen, and the writer, Ibo Zoboi

I’m more than halfway through the 10to40 Book Challenge, and it is no longer about the numbers. When I think of all that I have learned in a short time, connections that I have made, experiences that I have had in speaking and reading with others, I am committed to continue reading at this pace forever: a minimum of thirty minutes a day, every day. I don’t want to miss a thing, don’t want to leave a single stone unturned. What began as a friendly competition has turned into a life-altering discipline. We set aside time to prepare our food, exercise our bodies, connect with our family….why do we so often reserve reading for a few paltry minutes at the end of our busy days? 

Jackie’s 10to40 Book Challenge has encouraged me to give reading the time that it deserves in my life. 
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