Attempts at Activism

51j12b62vzalIt’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, & Get Going!, by Chelsea Clinton (2015)

Opening Line: “What’s the first thing you remember reading?”

I fell for the pretty cover design on this one. Saw it in the airport, loved the colorful dots, seemed like an inspiring title.

Chelsea Clinton (yes, that one) takes on the world with this one book. Or she attempts to, anyway. Designed as an introduction to all the major problems facing our world, she attempts to engage and inform young people so that they will take these problems on to solve them. An inspiring undertaking, indeed, perhaps a necessary one. But cover to cover, it’s a bit dry.

Broken into four parts, Clinton goes after what she sees as the four major problems facing us: poverty, equal rights, illness, and the environment. She examines each problem, providing lots of troubling statistics, in addition to a couple of profiles of young people who are combating those problems. She gives LOTS of specific ways for readers to help, ranging from telling their family and friends what they’ve learned in this book, to starting fundraisers and writing senators.

In general, it’s an impressive undertaking, and a good-intentioned one at that. It will be these young readers who will be responsible for fixing all these problems and changing the world for the better. But there are some issues with it. The first thing I noticed that I disliked was the voice. Clinton often talks directly to the reader, interjecting with personal details from her experiences. Instead of making me feel connected to the author and the problem, it felt forced and a little insincere. Also, I think this book tackled way too much. Each problem felt glossed over, and I didn’t feel like I learned much I didn’t already know. Perhaps that wouldn’t be true for her intended audience, but for me, I found myself wishing for deeper coverage on each subject.

I can see the purpose of this book. It will be great, for example, for a couple of former coworkers of mine who do a unit on activism in their 6th grade ELA classes. But past that… I’m not sure I see middle schoolers grabbing this one off the shelves and sharing it with friends.

1 star

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Introducing the Documentary Novel

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No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (2012)

Opening line: “Everybody keeps saying be satisfied with Jesus’s love, and he will give us our daily bread. I keep waiting, but we never get any bread, so I have to go out and do things for myself.”

I’ve been immersed in the realm of non-fiction lately, trying to find extended informational texts for our ELA teachers to use in their classes (since, according to CCSS, students should be reading 2 extended informational texts per year at the middle school level — yikes). This has led to all sorts of confusing conversations about what qualifies as informational, what qualifies as extended, etc. And this new “genre” introduced by Nelson only muddles the conversation even further.

What a peculiar book. As the subtitle states, it chronicles the life and work of Lewis Michaux, evidently an incredibly influential Harlem bookseller in the 1940s-70s. Has anyone heard of this guy before now? His bookshop was the gathering place for famous poets, writers, activists, and leaders, most notably, Malcolm X. Not only did he house the great leaders of the civil rights movement, but he was an outspoken voice himself, loudly displaying controversial signs in his windows, shouting as he pulled book carts down the sidewalks, always advocating for African Americans to educate themselves with materials written by them, for them, and about them. He believed in his store and what he was selling, calling it “The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda.” Because according to Michaux, “Knowledge is the thing that is needed among young people today. You can’t protect yourself if you don’t know something.”

So not only was this content new and exhilarating, but the format too was something different than I’ve ever read before. Nelson (or her publishers, as the case may be) describes it as a “documentary novel,” which means it’s a blend of various character voices in little paragraph or page-long snippets and media (photographs, newspaper clippings, FBI reports, etc.) to create a picture of a historical figure. The actual voices are created from the author’s imagination, but the characters and clippings are almost all true and historical. So does this qualify as an “extended informational text”? It’s conventions (photos/images/graphs with captions, index, references, bibliographies, etc.) would suggest so. But it’s structure is one very much of a storytelling narrative, so I think all in all, no. Does that mean it does not share information with readers? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I learned all kinds of information I didn’t know before by reading Nelson’s book. It’s definitely informational, regardless of Common Core’s definitions.

Although I learned a ton and powered through this in less than 24 hours, the content is a bit dry for teen readers. I have a feeling it would take quite a motivated reader to pick up this selection and read it in its entirety. A powerful story, and one told in a new and inventive way, but not quite as engaging as I had hoped.

1.5 stars

School Librarian’s Bible… or maybe just cookbook…

Assessing for Learning: Librarians and Teachers as Partners, by Violet H. Harada and Joan M. Yoshina (2010)

This book will only be of interest to my fellow librarians/librarians-in-training/educators, but I felt the need to mention it here, because of how impressed I was by it.

As many of you know, I’m currently getting my masters in library science, with the intent of becoming an elementary school librarian. This summer, one of my classes was The School Library Media Center: Curriculum, Collaboration, and Connections, which is basically an 8-week crash course on my future career. Let me tell you, there are a whole mess of things I didn’t even realize I’d be responsible for as a school librarian, and assessment was one of them. This required text for the class brought me up to speed on all I’ll be expected to do assessment-wise in the most helpful way possible. Examples after examples after examples.

The text is split up into sections discussing different tools used for assessment (a chapter on rubrics, a chapter on student portfolios, etc.), different areas in which students need to be assessed in the library (critical understanding, dispositions, tech-integrated learning), and finally a thorough example from each school level (a chapter for each elementary, middle, and high school assessments).

Jumping into this book was scary. The first chapter tells me all the stuff I have to do that I had no idea about and why it’s so important to do it. But the rest of it was EXTREMELY practical, easy-to-navigate, and relevant, that I know I’ll use it all the time throughout my career. I think any teacher or school administrator would find it really helpful as well, as much of it is not just library focused. The assessment tools could easily be altered to accommodate a classroom setting.

This will definitely be one of those few textbooks that I keep, not just because I think I should, but because I KNOW I’ll use it. A valuable investment, for sure.

2 stars (I mean, it’s not keeping me up at night….)