Best Book of March: My Enemy, My Brother by James Forman

I returned home this month and am getting back on track with my routines and responsibilities, including reading. With the exception of Sundays, I do not permit myself to read books during the day, a time I have committed to writing, blogging, and taking care of personal, professional, and household responsibilities. I know I can’t trust myself to take just a little bite out of a book and then put it down. So, my reading is relegated to evenings (along with keeping up with the online writing community.

Through the early part of this year I have felt somewhat discontent with my division of time and the number of books I am able to get to. However, this month has seemed better.

I have just finished reading what turns out to be my favorite book for this month. It was a “reread” dating back to the years when YA was still a new category. It is not my typical choice of book or subject matter, but I had it on my bookshelf and remembered being very moved by it, so I thought I’d return to it and see if it still packed the same punch.

My Enemy, My Brother, by  James Forman opens with the fall of Nazi Germany and the release of prisoners from the concentration camps. It follows the story of a survivor, Dan, who emerges with his grandfather, his lone living relative, to the nightmare that is war-ravaged Poland. As the two begin to rebuild their lives, Dan makes friends with a group of teens he meets who plan to emigrate to Israel. With his grandfather’s blessing, Dan joins them and the novel unfolds as he makes his way to Israel just as it is emerging as a sovereign nation.

The novel explores issues of love, friendship, nationalism, warfare and pacifism, the desire for freedom, and our common humanity as Dan navigates this new world.

Forman raises more questions than he answers, and various viewpoints are represented by different characters. The novel can provide a great jumping off place for discussion.

Reading My Enemy, My Brother, I was moved as I had been moved when I was young. This book will definitely return to my YA shelves to be visited someday in the future.

What is your favorite or the best book you read this month?

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Reading Response #30–Extend and Connect: “I felt _____ because…”

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Choose three words from the following list:

  • bored
  • concerned
  • confused
  • excited
  • happy
  • intrigued
  • relieved
  • sad

Reflecting on what you read write out the following sentence filling in the blank with the first word you selected and filling in the ellipses with your thoughts on your reading: I felt ___ when…because….

Repeat the exercise using the second and then the third word you picked.

Choose one of your sentences and write three more to go with it expanding on your thoughts.

Discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: After enjoying a book together, ask your pre-reader what part of the story made him  feel happy, sad, excited, or whatever other category for reflection seems appropriate to the story. Talk about why it made her feel that way. Help him relate the some of the character’s experiences to his own life. Enjoy!

Play with your Words #27: Ordinary Beauty: an Expository Writing Prompt

Zen masters teach their students to look for beauty in everyday things. Look around you—your room, your home, your neighborhood… Select an ordinary object. It could be your bed, the sugar bowl, or a nice rock. Examine it closely, looking to find something beautiful in it. You might like to make some notes or sketches as you examine the object to help you gather your thoughts.

Now, write about your object. Describe it. Explain what it is and why you think you have never before recognized how beautiful it is.

Share your writing with your writing buddies.

Compliment one another on the strengths and beauties of each others’ prose.

If you are working with a pre-reader/writer, choose a familiar place. Go there together taking a pad of paper and pencil or pen. Ask your child to list the things he sees around him and to tell you one thing she likes about each. Write these down.

When done, read the list back to your child, pointing to each word as you say it to demonstrate the one-to-one correspondence between the spoken word and the set of letters on the page. Together, draw some pictures to go with the words. Have fun.

A Place to Think, Write, and Dream

My son and I rearranged our office area this week. Hooray! (This has been the long-awaited reward for completing the revisions of my novel, The Swallow’s Spring and sending it off to editors I’ve met at conferences who asked to see it when it was done). Now it has winged its way off into the world, I could finally give myself permission to reorganize my desperately cramped and cluttered office.

My son and I share the living room/dining room area in our home. His area is the living room, mine is the smaller dining room.

In simple terms what we did was rearrange the living room bookshelves (which he has to share with me) so I gained about twenty-four inches in my office zone. This enabled me to turn my desk so that the computer display no longer blocks the view out into the back yard and to leave enough room behind my desk so I no longer have to sit down in my chair and swivel in order to get to the other side.

Also, this is a biggie, my file cabinets are now well-lit and easily accessible (which was MOST necessary). My two-year old pile of filing (which includes many files from my years of teaching and, all combined, is about four-five feet tall) has been removed from the low cabinet where it took up space. That space is now occupied by more useful things—like reference books, and marketing and novel binders.

The filing has now been consigned to the “Punishment Pile” (punishment because I have had two years to deal with it and all I have done is add to it!) Until I deal with it, only one of the two pathways around my desk will be available. Somehow, I haven’t determined when just yet, I need to incorporate a chunk of time for filing into my daily routine. I will be so happy when it’s done. (It would be so much more fun to just get to work on another novel!)

Alas, clutter is one of the hallmarks of a reading/writing lifestyle—little slips with written notes for one story or another, paragraphs/snippets from magazines that interest or inspire me, stacks of sticky-noted books I’ve read and want to journal about, publisher and agent information, expense receipts and income records and a tracking system for what manuscripts are out where, not to mention cans of colored pencils, mugs of pens and mechanical pencils, containers of paper clips, binder clips, erasers, and a three hole punch.

Everything is going to have a place. I can’t wait!

What does your writing lair look like? Do you have some tips for dealing with all the odds and ends so necessary to our craft?

Someday, when I get the art (and bulletin board) hung and the file pile cleared away, I’ll post a picture of my beloved creative place. In the meantime, tell me about yours.

Reading Response Exercise #29: Who’s Telling and Why? Narrator Voice

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Who is the narrator of your reading? Is it first person—“I…” form of telling, second person– “You…” form of telling, or third person—“He or she…” form of telling. What is important to this narrator? What is observed and described, and what is not?

Write or discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: After enjoying a book together, ask your pre-reader what was most important to the point-of-view character in the story. Talk about this and its impact on the story.

Play With Your Words Art Prompt #4: Midnight Chicken

Whose chicken is this and what is she doing out on her own in the night?

Write a story or scene to accompany this painting, “Midnight Chicken,” by Liz Collins.

Does she possess an odd quirk of character that sends her out exploring alone by moonlight? How will her little expedition end?

Share your chicken story with your writing partners. Compliment the strengths and whatever delights you in each others’ creations.

If you are working with a pre-reader/writer, ask the child to tell you the story and record what he says. Then read it back to her, pointing to each word as you read to reinforce the correspondence between the written and spoken word.

Share your writing here as a comment. I would love to see your chicken tale.

And if you are interested in seeing more of the wonderful art created by Liz Collins, check out her webpage, http://www.lizcollinsart.com/index.html, and enjoy her whimsical, multi-media work.

Teacher’s File Drawer: Alternative Book Report—Character Scrapbook Book

As a teacher, and parent, I wanted my kids to read, and I didn’t want them to read just what I assigned them, I wanted them to read fiction they loved. However, as a teacher, that’s where the question of accountability kicks in. How can you tell the kids have really read a book they claim to have read? How can you make sharing what they read, and perhaps enticing others to try it, a fun exercise of literacy and other media skills? Enter, the alternative book report. I loved alternative book reports and plan to revisit this topic again and again.

Today, welcome the character-focused scrapbook. Here’s the assignment:

Create a Scrapbook

Imagine you are the main character in the novel you have recently enjoyed and create a scrapbook of that individual’s experiences.

The Criteria:

  1. Your scrapbook should be 8 pages in length (not counting the front and back covers) and use both sides of each page (with the exception of the back side of the title page).
  2. Your scrapbook should have a decorated cover that includes the character’s name, the title of the book you read, and the author’s name.
  3. Select or prepare your own drawings, clip art, or cut-outs from newspapers and magazines that relate to the main character’s experiences in the novel. Arrange them on your scrapbook’s pages. Be sure your artwork includes the use of color.
  4. Pretending you are the character, write a caption for each item.
  5. On the back cover of the scrapbook, write at least 3 paragraphs describing why you chose the pictures, materials, and decorations for your scrapbook that you did.
  6. Make an oral presentation before the class presenting your scrapbook and explaining how it relates to the book you read.

The Scrapbook Scoring Guide:

  • Created from the point of view of the main character (5)
  • 8 pages long using front and back sides, with the exception of the back side of the title page (8)
  • Cover:
  •           decorated (1)
  •           contains the main character’s name (1)
  •           contains the title and author of the book (1)
  • Art:
  •           at least one picture per page (1)
  •           artwork is neat and reflects effort in preparation (2)
  •           quality use of color (1)
  • Text:
  •           pictures are captioned (2)
  •           correct use of language conventions (2)
  •           description of process uses detail and supports ideas (4)
  • Oral Presentation:
  •           logical organization (2)
  •           rich ideas and content (2)
  •           appropriate language (2)
  •           engaging delivery (2)

Total points: 36

This project draws on inferential reading skills, requires the students to understand characterization and the impact of plot on character, and utilizes Bloom’s higher level synthesizing skills.

I so enjoyed seeing the scrapbooks my students created and so did their classmates. This was one set of oral presentations the rest of the class did not yawn through. All in all, the project was fun and I highly recommend it.