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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Ways of Reading

Last night I picked up one of my favorite books from our shortlist for re-reading, and my post-its, and sat there.  Got my pretzels and my licorice, and sat there. And then put down the book and picked up a one on historical Japanese ceramic patterning techniques and read.

In a comment on Jefferson’s Sons part 2, Wendy said “I don’t read that way,” in response to my list of quoted passages.  To which I replied that no one does, naturally.   And though many of us reading this blog probably do read children’s books for pleasure, I’d posit that we don’t even do that naturally…that it’s a learned way of reading, as an adult, and that we carry with us a mix of genuine sentiments straight from childhood and some imagined from our own nostalgia of ourselves.  I think this kind of adult reading of children’s books is often evident in lists like the Newbery voting on Goodreads; where we are accountable only to ourselves when we place our votes.

Many of us who have jobs working with kids and books read children’s books in multiple ways, evaluating how they might be used, and their ultimate worthiness for purchase in different scenarios based on some balance of quality and usefullness.  Those kinds of readings are evident in our review media, and with the scales tipped towards quality, in many of the best of the year lists. SLJs is up, and Kirkus

Reading for the Newbery challenges us to read text in an almost academic way.  In fact, the entire idea of the Newbery award suggests that children’s books should be able to be as richly distinguished as anything that takes up a semester in a college seminar.   Why should the audience for a book determine its potential quality?  So, while I don’t think line by line disection is the only way to read deeply, and critically, I do think it’s important to read any Newbery contender that way at least once. It’s not a particularly fufilling way of reading, so ideally it’s a second of at least three reads.  Once for first impressions. Second for minute detail. Third to look at the whole view one more time, in a fully informed way. That kind of reading (often telescoped, necessarily, into a once-through icon smile Ways of Reading ) will start to produce some Mock Newbery results.  Sam’s  library  has their results, and over the next 6 weeks we’ll start to see more. 

The hardest thing to keep in mind in reading for Newbery is the different ways that kids read…the different sorts of things they’re looking for.  In trying to identify what makes something distinguished, we’re often looking for a physical/emotional spark…  and something is more likely to spark for us if it touches that genuine-or-imagined response of our own childhood reading tastes.  But there are different ways for books to be good.  I was helping a very young child last night at my library, who wanted more of the Pokemon easy readers that he was holding in his hand. Well, he had them all.  Making a logical guess, I started helping him find other Pokemon books; but none of them suited, because–as it turned out–he couldn’t read them. And that’s what he wanted. So, over to the easy readers.  Elephant & Piggie? He clearly found the humor a little beneath him.  Otto? Hop on Pop? Finally, although he squarely rejected Hi Fly Guy! from the cover (he seemed to see that it was trying too hard), his sister somehow convinced him to get excited about it, by reading a passage to him that she knew he’d like, because she saw I was having a hard time finding his spark.   (Though she is only eight I urged her to keep us in mind when she is job hunting.)

The point is…my point seems to be all over the place here.  And that is kind of it: that we who work a lot with books probably read books in so many different ways, that it can get very hard to push that reset button…to switch from one to the other.  And to remember that when we can’t read a book from a critical point of view because we can’t locate the spark that it’s supposed to create in its ideal reader…  it’s time to turn to whatever reading material is going to relight our own pilot.  Favorite snacks help too.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    If anyone is interested, I have tallied the best books list for PW, SLJ, and Kirkus.

    three lists–

    BLACKOUT
    CHIME
    INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN
    A MONSTER CALLS
    WONDERSTRUCK
    BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY
    DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE
    THE SCORPIO RACES
    BLINK & CAUTION
    HEART AND SOUL
    MOUSE & LION

    two lists–

    WHERE’S WALRUS
    PRESS HERE
    SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS
    BEAUTY QUEENS
    DEAD END IN NORVELT
    THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND . . .
    GRANDPA GREEN
    ANYA’S GHOST
    STAY WITH ME
    DIVERGENT
    OKAY FOR NOW
    BOOTLEG
    AMELIA LOST
    TITANIC SINKS!
    DRAWING FROM MEMORY
    THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT
    WHY WE BROKE UP
    WHITE CROW
    BREADCRUMBS
    HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
    CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?
    FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP
    ORANI
    AROUND THE WORLD
    THE HOUSE BABA BUILT
    UNDERGROUND

    I will update as the lists for Horn Book, Booklist, and Bulletin come out.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I also want to point out that committee members have different ways of preparing. I have one colleague who likes to completely isolate herself from any outside opinions (blogs, reviews, and such), preferring to form her own ideas without being swayed by someone else. I, on the other hand, like to read as much as possible about a book, and find that I can still separate my own first impression from all the chatter. Note-taking can also vary greatly. I have friends who have particularly elaborate systems, but I’m kind of the anti-note taker. I’ve never taken notes, not in college and not now. My first read of a book is always for pleasure, and I never use post-its or take notes or stop the reading flow to record my thoughts. On subsequent reads, I will use post-its with brief labels penciled on them. Going into deliberations, I’ve got a list of suggestions and nominations, and for the serious contenders–probably a dozen books–I’ve brainstormed the positives and negatives and typed them up.

  3. Wendy says:

    It’s funny, my sister brought up that very comment of mine last night and said something similar–that no one reads that way naturally. I would challenge that, because I’ve known many people who do; just in the mock-Newbery context, I’ve heard/read people say that they had to keep stopping a book so they could write down beautiful passages.

    I hope it’s clear that when I said “I don’t read that way” (in answer to why wasn’t I quoting specific passages to back up my statements), it was in a way an admission rather than a lofty excuse. I don’t, and I don’t care to. I know if I was on the committee, I’d probably have to stop and take notes on second readings, but here I don’t make myself. This is purely a hobby for me; I’ve read at least 46 Newbery possibilities this year (counting only the ones mentioned as such here and in other mocks and polls), and I’ve read only a few of them twice. (I did actually make some notes the third time I read Drawing From Memory, in anticipation of a hopefully-happening discussion here.)

    Since I do have the luxury of doing this only as a hobby, I value my own holistic impression of a book; to me it doesn’t matter if I have a particular feeling about some aspect of the book and don’t have the quotes to back it up. A few quotes don’t always tell the whole story, and may even work at cross-purposes to the point you’re trying to make. That doesn’t, of course, always make me a good debater, doesn’t back up my arguments against someone who’s got the literary equivalent of solid facts. But as a reader–not a committee member, a teacher, a librarian, a professional reviewer–I think it’s a sensible way of looking at a book, and I’m glad I don’t have any roles to step out of when I approach a book.

    Jonathan, I’m not a note-taker either–it drove my college professors crazy, and some of them even called me out on it, until the first tests were graded.

    My literary palate-cleanser, my too-much-Newbery antidote is also adult non-fiction, Nina. Library due-dates have kept me from being able to read as much non-Newbery as I might have liked this fall.

  4. Brandy says:

    Nina, you are absolutely right about the different ways we approach books and how it affects our reading of it. I think I might have enjoyed Breadcrumbs more if I had read it without hearing award speculation about it, but because I already had that in the back of my head it made me take a more critical look at the text than I would have if I had read it back in January.

    It is true that different elements of who I am have different reactions to books too. I read The Grand Plan to Fix Everything last night. As an adult reading a children’s book for pleasure it didn’t do much for me. As a teacher I was excited to have a new book that deals with another culture to add to my contemporary book report list and to recommend when parents ask me for a new book for their kid or to hand to a student when they ask me. As a mom of a 7 year old girl I was pretty jazzed because I know she is going to enjoy reading it.

    I don’t take notes on a first read through but I will mark pages (often with torn off strips of my library receipt because I wasn’t prepared) if something really good or really awful jumps out at me.

  5. Sandy D. says:

    Interestingly, my 4th grader is complaining about reading this year – because the teacher wants them to read in a thoughtful way. She wants post-its in the book with predictions, connections, and all kinds of other meta-cogntive “talking to the text” points.

    My daughter, on the other hand, wants to enjoy the story and lose herself in it. Since she is a fast reader, the teacher has agreed to let her annotate *some* of the books she’s reading – which I thought was a pretty reasonable compromise. (Good thing, because what’s to say about the latest Wimpy kid diary, anyway?).

    I do wonder about making reading a chore for the less enthusiastic readers in the class, though – I hope it doesn’t make them think it’s more work than fun. At this age (9-10), I think I’d still be just trying to get them hooked on reading.

  6. Nina says:

    Wendy, don’t worry, I took your comment in the right spirit… was just holding it out s a jumping off point.

    Sandy, I’m surprised at your fourth-grader’s experience. Having no background in education myself…I’d somehow expect a teacher to help fourth-graders make the meta- connections in group discussion, but to force them to read with post it’s?

  7. (Saw a couple typos so here it is again. Maybe, Nina/Jonathan,you can delete the previous one?)
    As some here know, I’m a fourth grade teacher, and decades back I started a unit where I taught the kids how to do a close reading of CHARLOTTE’S WEB (after been wowed by doing one with a summer NEH seminar at Princeton) which involves annotating. (Lots on my blog about this for anyone interested.) I model for them how to do the first chapter and then they each annotate one themselves and present it to the class seminar-style. They love it, the other teachers have embraced it and love it….but that is it —we don’t ask them to do that with any other book they read. However, I’ve noticed that the upper grade English teachers are now advocating annotating like crazy and the kids complain bitterly about having to do it. It makes me sad as it is one thing to do it once in a while with a book like White’s, but not constantly. I’ve also seen it mentioned in other professional circles. I think it may have to do with accountability. If you don’t want to do the old-fashioned sort of comprehension questions you look into something that seems to be more thoughtful. But the problem is it is very hard to just leave kids alone to read without demanding something of them as and afterwards.

    I should say, I’m also not a natural notetaker. Rarely on my first reading unless things stick out and then I’ll stick a stickie in.

  8. Brandy says:

    I taught fifth grade for four years and now I teach a 4-6 grade literature class at a homeschool co-op. Like Monica I have only ever asked students to annotate one chapter of one book in an entire year of reading. And that only after much demonstration on how it is done and in class practice. It probably does have something to do with accountability. I know when I was teaching in NC our end of grade reading test for grade 5 had no basic comprehension questions on it. All of the questions were asking students to analyze the passages they were reading. This is going to force teachers to attempt various means to train students minds to think that way.

  9. Mr. H says:

    Sandy D, post it notes are a good way for students to leave “tracks” of their thinking. I find that it’s difficult to teach children how to monitor their own thinking. Often, they read text and they don’t even realize that they didn’t understand something. The use of post it notes can be modeled and practiced to help organize their thoughts.

    The problem is, like Monica states, is when do you back off and just let a child read and see if the modeling paid off? We did a novel unit on DEAR MR. HENSHAW in which I really focused on having the kids leave “tracks” of their thinking either on post its, or in a notebook. Now that we’re doing a new novel unit on MANIAC MAGEE I can let the students who excelled in the prior experience challenge themselves more independently (maybe they’ll use post its to organize their thoughts, maybe not, that’s up to them), while I focus on helping the students who struggled, make meaning in a new book. I personally feel that 5th graders need to be beyond small group, small book . . . they need to learn how to read a grade level book and make meaning from it.

    The other problem is, usually, the smaller group of students I have to meet with regularly, are not the best readers so they don’t tend to ENJOY reading in the first place. Trying to model something like “leaving tracks of their thinking” is like pulling their teeth out. It’s just more work in an area they don’t want to work in!

  10. Mr. H says:

    And regarding “ways of reading”, I’m surprised that no one has touched on reading in the digital age. Maybe that’s because everyone here still prefers a physical, paper book?

    I’ve become addicted to reading on my iPad and the iBookstore is stocking nearly every new book as their published anymore. I love it! I’ve only read a few on my iPad but I recently downloaded BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX. It’s very easy to “highlight”, add a quick “note”, and save passages. I definitely read differently on my iPad than I do in paper format, and I’m not exactly sure why. Novelty? I don’t know.

  11. Brandy says:

    Interesting point to bring up Mr. H.. I do tend to bookmark more in books I read digitally, but I don’t type notes on what I bookmark. It is so nice to have a book mark with a tap of my finger rather than having to scrounge up a piece of paper to rip into pieces.

    And yes, I do prefer a physical paper book still because I can then hand it off to my daughter or someone else to read next. I’m not handing my iPod over to anyone else. :)

  12. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Here is the best books list with Horn Book Fanfare in the mix–

    four lists–

    CHIME
    THE SCORPIO GAMES
    BLINK & CAUTION
    HEART AND SOUL

    three lists–

    BLACKOUT
    INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN
    DRAWING FROM MEMORY
    CAN WE SAVE THE TIGER?
    A MONSTER CALLS
    ORANI
    WONDERSTRUCK
    BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY
    DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE
    MOUSE & LION
    WHERE’S WALRUS
    PRESS HERE
    DEAD END IN NORVELT
    ANYA’S GHOST
    AMELIA LOST

    two lists–

    WHY WE BROKE UP
    WHITE CROW
    HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
    SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS
    THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND
    BEAUTY QUEENS
    FLESH & BLOOD SO CHEAP
    GRANDPA GREEN
    AROUND THE WORLD
    STAY WITH ME
    OKAY FOR NOW
    BOOTLEG
    TITANIC SINKS!
    THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT
    UNDERGROUND
    ME . . . JANE
    LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM
    BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY
    A BALL FOR DAISY
    THE HOUSE BABA BUILT
    BONE DOG
    PAPER COVERS ROCK
    I WANT MY HAT BACK
    NAAMAH AND THE ARK AT NIGHT
    BREADCRUMBS

    Hopefully, Booklist will release their list in the next week or so–with Bulletin to follow on January 1.

  13. erin says:

    I was an early champion of THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND, and I’ve just recently come across another title that I think could legitimately be regarded as distinguished, especially in the area of setting…The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty, a fantasy-tinged alternate history set in turn of the century New York City.

    Betsy gave it a very positive review over at Fuse, but apart from that it doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention and I can’t understand why.

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