To start at the end, I now know that this book is refers to a real person and that the book has raised many controversial issues. But frankly, I don’t think the point of this book is to discuss an attack on liberal arts university education in the USA, the AIDS epidemic in the past and lifestyle choices or just to present a very unusual, larger than life character.
I think is a book about friendship.
It is about having a friend who has become an inseparable part of your life, and then having to deal with the empty space you are left with when that friend is gone.
It remind me of the book by Ann Patchett – “Truth and Beauty”.
In both books the friend in question is not an easy friend to have and actually complicates ones life. Yet not being a close friend of this person is unimaginable. In both books the friend passes away.
Saul Bellow’s book is a much slower read than Patchett’s and it’s constructed in a kind of circular fashion. You encounter some events more than once but with additional information. The style only becomes a direct chronological narrative of events after “the friend” passes away.
It took me time to get into this book (and figure out what it is about) but there’s something about the writing that made want to continue reading, though I can’t say what it was. It is a somewhat strange book but I’m glad I read it.
I rarely post about a book before I have finished it, but I’m so very excited about this book that I just want to talk about it and so many things related to it!
Believe me, I would have finished reading it by now even though I just started it a few days ago. I was completely drawn in by the end of the first page. It’s just that life gets in the way… There should be “good book days” like “snow days” so that I can stay home and read!
First of all, the writing itself is amazing. The story is told from the point of view of 9-year-old Leon, yet on occasion lets us adults in on what is really happening to Leon before the child himself understands it. Leon lives in early 1980s Britain and is taken out of his completely dysfunctional home and placed in foster care. His little baby brother, who is white (from a different father) is quickly adopted, leaving Leon, who is mixed race behind. The story is moving and keeps the reader completely involved.
It is not an Oliver Twist kind of story. While I haven’t quite finished reading it, this is not a tale of abuse in the “newspaper headline sense of the word”. No one is being beaten, starved or locked in dark cupboards. Issues of economic status, race and welfare do come up, of course.
Actually, I find this to be a book about how children going through difficult family situations need to be heard, listened to. Noticed.
And that’s why I truly think this a book teachers should read. Every teacher has some students who are not having the kind of childhood we would like children to have.
Finally, I’m also excited by the fact that an advanced 12th grade student of mine lent me this book. My students choose their own books for their book reports, (though they must run it by me for approval) and one student brought in this book which she purchased. This particular student has had experience with social services in her life and she liked the book.
I could see this as a book that students could read – it is certainly thought-provoking!
Check it out!
Note: Actually, “Good Book Days” are not a good idea. There are so many good books out there – when would I teach and meet the kids?!
It is so easy to imagine the situation, because we’ve encountered it. The children are curious about the “new kid in class”. Someone asks “the new kid” to play, but he doesn’t respond. It seems to the children that he is ignoring the invitation and that angers them.
How can we talk to students about those children who do want to be friendly but might not respond in a familiar way?
Erin Human knows how to present a subject in a way children can relate to. Even better, her winning combination of pictures and simple text “Social Skills for Everyone” make the infographic sideshow suitable for learners of English as a foreign language as well. And that’s a lucky break because inclusion is a very real issue that needs to be discussed in class. New immigrants , children with a hearing problem, children on the Autism spectrum and more – you will find them all in the so-called “regular” classrooms.
Head over to Erin Human’s blog to see the complete slide show “Social Skills for Everyone” . Erin has kindly permitted me to share the link (given below) to download the slide show as a PDF file for use in class.
This post was going to be a joyous “Sharing -books-with-kids-ROCKS” kind of post, not related to work or the classroom, a suitable post for the weekend. But the teacher in me can’t look at a children’s book without thinking about sharing the joy in class…
I can’t believe I forgot about this. I haven’t thought about such books for years and haven’t been recommending the use of them. Wonderful books that tell an entire story in pictures, nary a word in sight.
So I went to the bookshelf and found the four books that I own.
“Frog on his Own” by Mercer Mayer was a hit with my own kids and in class. This amusing story of a pet frog having adventures in a local park was very clear to my sons and they enjoyed telling the tale. From a very early age children know that in “traditional” books their parents are reading the words to them but here it is permissible to tell the tale a bit differently each time, and for the child to “read” to the parent. This also worked well in class when I taught grades 3-6. Students wrote up the sequence of events, invented the text or the dialogue. Pure educational FUN!
My own sons loved the books “Moonlight” and “Sunshine” by Jan Ormerod much more than the previous one, but I couldn’t take them to class. These books are a gem for parents because of the combination of humor and reality of life at home with a child. Moonlight tells the story of a little girl who doesn’t want to go to bed while Sunshine depicts the same girl who plays ” the big girl” and looks after herself while her parents sleep in. We loved everything about these books!
However, the heroine of these books is clearly around five years old (okay, maybe first grade, maybe) and there was no way my fifth graders at the time would accept such a book.
Which reminded me why the books were forgotten.
The first three are too childish for high-school…
I do have one wordless book considered suitable for older readers “Anno’s Journey” by Mitsumasa Anno but, sad to say, I don’t get it.
The book is highly praised, it is supposed to include hidden storybook characters, visual puzzles, reference to famous paintings and more among the drawings, but I am truly embarrassed to say that I myself have identified very few. Except for the pages with the windmills, I can’t even tell which parts of the journey are supposed to depict which European country – it could all be the British countryside as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps I need a teacher’s guide for it..
If I can’t narrate it myself, or write clues for the students to read and go on a treasure hunt , I truly can’t bring it to class.
I guess my “amnesia” had a reasonable basis.
So I will now return all four books to the bookshelf, and wait for grandchildren to share them with…
As I have mentioned before, I’m taking a great in-service course on using digital tools in the classroom. “Zeetings” is the latest addition to my virtual “toolbox”.
Everyone likes being asked their opinion. Everyone! “Zeetings” lets you create interactive presentations, allowing the viewers to participate and get instant statistics. That’s exactly what you need if you want to spark a discussion!
This is just my first presentation created on “Zeetings” and I was delighted to find that their presentation tool is almost completely intuitive to use – I added a video and the interactive questions following it without reading the instructions (I’m actually someone who does read instructions, but not this time!). I could preview my creation and easily edit out the wrinkles.
So, if you would like to have a class discussion on the ways in which media does / doesn’t promote tolerance toward those who are perceived as different, or would just like to raise awareness regarding Deaf people, you may find the following helpful. In any case, the video (many thanks to the lovely Beata Gulati for sending it to me!) is a great message for Valentines Day – LOVE despite communication difficulties. Some of you may remember seeing the video on this blog in the past, as an Edpuzzle exercise, created for reading comprehension activities. I’m using the video again this way because it raises so many great discussion points (and students love it)!
Ken Follet knows how to push all the right buttons.
Here’s the thing. I usually abhor authors who seem to count the number of pages needed to insert regularly something related to affairs of the heart / flesh, particularly in conjunction with a generous sprinkling of “costume drama” (ranging from clothing, buildings and any other comforts of the aristocracy and the rich).
But Follet so cleverly combines those “buttons” with so much fascinating historical information, behind the scenes diplomacy and egoism that affected the lives (and deaths) of millions of people, that I was willing to forgive the author for just about anything irksome in the entire book. All 920 pages of it! I stopped reading my magazines – the book was addictive!
The characters are presented in such a vivid and engaging way, the Welsh mining family and the local aristocracy, the German diplomats, the Russian peasants along with the American contingent. The book follows these imaginary characters along with very real politicians of the period during the years that lead to WWI, through the war years and immediately afterwards. You feel the tension of the arguments and the decisions even though I knew the outcome of some of them. I’ve read extensively about WWll but realized I didn’t know nearly as much about how so many countries got involved in this war.
That’s not all. The book follows the battle to give women in Britain the right to vote. I had no idea of the influence the war had on that issue and even of the perception of women’s roles. It also brings you right into the heart of the Russian revolution. Somehow I had never thought about how all these things were happening at the same time and what that meant.
In short – I was HOOKED.
This is the first part of a trilogy. The first two books quite literally fell into my lap, without the third. I’m going to wait a while before starting the next one – not ready yet for another world war!
I’ve now started a completely different kind of book. Updates will follow!
You know that teaching the literature component of the high-school EFL program has influenced you when…
Getting a beautiful piece of artwork as a post reading task on the book “The Wave” makes you ridiculously happy…
You foolishly carry too many books and papers in the hallway and manage to drop half. A few kind students, whom you’ve never seen before, help gather the scattered items. You thank them but what you really REALLY want to say is “Well, you can now count this day as not lost”!
The name of the game “Quoits” was a new addition to your vocabulary, but you are old enough to remember that “Patience” was the name for “Solitaire” when it was played with real cards.
4. When you reach the sentence about Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones’ icebox, it suddenly dawns on you that it might not be such a good idea to suggest that the kids talk to their grandparents for further information about ice boxes. If some of the students’ parents were once students of mine, then I’ll soon be the age of their grandparents. I seem to have been in the classroom forever yet I never had an icebox…
5. You find yourself pondering the fact that youactually took the road most taken by women, becoming a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter (of parents in their “golden years”) , juggling roles while trying to exercise and blog too. Which naturally leads to the question whether I shall be telling this with a sigh of joy or regret ages and ages hence… Or perhaps the question of whether there will be anyone interested in listening…
6. You have to bite your tongue every time you reach the end of the story “The Rules of The Game” – Waverly had no more moves to plot! I read “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, I know what happened! From the moment Waverly supposedly insulted her mother, she never won a chess match again!!! Unlike Waverly’s mother, we teachers do give students second chances (and third, or more) but that isn’t something I can point out to the students because their story ends before that. Maybe it’s just as well…
7. You actually feel the weight of all the hours /topics cut from the national curriculum, particularly history. Over the years more extensive background information of all sorts is needed for the stories and poems, ranging from the rise of the Nazi Movement to the fact that the early African-Americans DID NOT come voluntarily to the US as illegal immigrants who decided to stay…
Forget the students for a moment – how has teaching literature in the EFL classroom affected YOU?
Grant Snyder’s latest comic strip “My Bookshelf made me wonder – which books related to teaching (in the broadest sense) would a teacher pencil in under each of the categories he presented? Which ones would YOU add?
Yes, I am using the phrase “pencil in” intentionally. You see, you may change your mind about the choice of book. More than once.
And you may want to rewrite your choice in smaller print inside the grid of his comics so that there’ll be room for a non-teaching-related book as well….
Meanwhile, until you tell meabout your books, here are my choices.
“The book I couldn’t put down”
“Animalia” by Graeme Base. Oh, this most certainly is a book related to teaching. Teaching through the joy of wonder and curiosity! Base has drawn such an elaborate and beautiful alphabet book, with such an incredible number of drawings of words beginning with each letter that you can’t take it all in at once. My sons and I have gone back to this book time and time again and keep discovering more hidden words, looking up possible words and roping in any guest willing to join the fun. There’s even a “Dalek” in there… What a way to learn vocabulary. Thought provoking…
“The book you gave me (I haven’t read it yet, sorry!)”
“Being a teacher” by Lior Halevi, which was a gift from the school and the parents of the graduating class. I feel guilty. The book does look interesting but somehow books I’ve gotten on my own always seem to take precedence…
“The book I brought to the beach”
No, no no. I don’t take books to the beach. Only magazines. Particularly not books related to teaching, which I hope to use and keep for many years! They are usually expensive and must be ordered from abroad or were a gift that I’m grateful for.
OK, not three, but two. Since I teach Deaf and hard of hearing students, there was a time people thought the perfect gift for me would be “Seeing Voices” by Oliver Sacks. For a while, every time I had two copies of the book I would give one of them away. Shortly after, I would get another copy! I believe I now don’t have a single copy left on the shelf…
“The book that saved my life”
“The Courage to Teach” by Palmer. It isn’t a very easy book to read but it is so powerful and important. A “slow read” makes you think. Being a good teacher can’t be disconnected from thinking about who you are and what you bring to the classroom. Everyone loves to tell a teacher “don’t take it personally” – but why not? How not to? This is a book to own!
“The book that I lent you – can I have it back?”
“Teaching Reading to Deaf Children” by Beatrice Ostern Hart.This was the very first book on education I owned and I read it from cover to cover, certain sections more than once. It was a powerful introduction, with wonderful examples, to what it means to approach reading comprehension in one’s mother tongue with a very limited vocabulary. Very useful for teaching a foreign language as well. This was back in the early 1980’s. Perhaps parts of the book are now outdated but I’ll never find out. I stupidly lent the book to someone, didn’t record the name, and never got it back…
“The book I fall asleep to every night”
NOT A TEACHING RELATED BOOK!Bedtime books are not for work! Regular readers of this blog are well acquainted with what I’m reading as I delight in posting about them. NOT WORK RELATED!
“The book I mistook for a hat”
This is an obvious reference to Oliver Sacks but I’ve already mentioned him. Let’s change the “hat” to ” hard hat” along with a toolbox. The book “Switch” by the Heath Brothers isn’t officially about teaching, but changing behaviors, bad habits and norms are issues a teacher certainly needs to read about. It is easy to connect it to the classroom. Another book that is good to reread from time to time.
“The book I’m desperately trying to write”
A blog, not a book…
“All the books that changed my life”
Here’s to all the books I’ve read and those that are waiting to be read! Life is good!
Perhaps like the cliché “No, it’s not you, it’s me”. The book won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and it’s not that I can’t see why. Banville’s use of language is impressive, his descriptions are rich and I used the dictionary a few times to look up words I had never encountered.
But the skillful use of language was the only thing that kept me reading as far as I did. And that’s not enough.
I found myself not looking forward to my “reading time”.
The combination of the very slow pace of the book, the fact that very little actually happens ( mostly memories and thoughts) and the fact that the hero is mourning the recent death of his wife was too much for me at this time.
Perhaps if the timing had been different I would have been able to hang in there and see where all these thoughts led the protagonist but there it is.
Funny how things work. My blog was “sniffed at” and then mentioned on a list of recommended blogs in the same week! A week which just happened to lead up to this blog’s SEVENTH BIRTHDAY!
The other day I met a teacher who said he has a blog. A blog about a very specific topic, totally not EFL or language related. When I said I also had a blog, he wanted to know what it was about.
And I hesitated.
What is the blog about?
It’s not only about teaching English to Deaf and hard of hearing students.
It’s not only about teaching English.
Sometimes it’s just about being a teacher.
Or even about being a book-lover.
So I hesitated.
Then I replied “It’s about education”.
He looked at me as if he were holding back the words “yeah, right”, sniffed in disdain and walked away.
I can see it from his point of view. How worthwhile could the blog be if the blogger has trouble answering the simple question “what is your blog about”? “Education” is an extremely broad topic…
“Ha!” I thought to myself and smiled. Time works in my favor here, because I happen to know that not knowing what the blog is about works. Seven years have gone by and writing on the blog still helps me put my thoughts in order and reflect. 685 posts have been posted and read by people, even though 98% of my readers do not teach English to Deaf and hard of hearing students. I’ve even passed the 2, 030 mark in Twitter followers…