Category Archives: literacy

The Power of a Bedtime Story

6th March 2013

pg1Oh, reading aloud. You were my blessing and curse in school. I was that kid squirming around in English as we read Flowers for Algernon, desperately hoping the person reading would just. read. faster. Those days of reading aloud were torture and sheer bliss. Because as that person struggled over the pronunciation of words (my 6th grade inner snob appalls me), I was reading way ahead, only turning back when the person in front of me began their page. Then I’d go through my page, looking for any words whose pronunciation I was unsure of and getting ready for my moment.

Dorks are easy to please.

And my moment would come, and I’d read my page, my cheeks hot from the pressure, pacing myself, thinking of how I could make this story sound better before the page would turn and the yoke would pass to the student behind me.

When I taught ESL, those days came back to me. The first semester, I thought I would die of boredom as students slowly, painstakingly read through the class readers. And believe me, I know how horrible that sounds. I absolutely adored those students, but I didn’t magically have more patience with slow reading, though I tried. My saving grace was seeing how much they enjoyed reading. And suddenly I could pick out the “me” in the classroom, that fidgeting student, flipping through the book, glancing around with a pained expression as someone mispronounced a word, volunteering to read if I ever asked. We’d wrap up a chapter, and I’d give them their outside reading assignment, but one particular day, they all groaned. Thinking they were upset with the homework, I asked, “What?”

“We want to keep reading.”

That, my friends, is the power of a good book.

Like many of you, bedtime stories were my first introduction to the world of reading. My mother had a cache of books tucked away, special books for which she would produce voices and sound effects. One of my favorites at that young age was The Monster at the End of This Book, a fantastically fun children’s book featuring Grover. She has since passed that book on to my cousin, who, for weeks, walked around saying the last line: “Oh, I am so embarrassed,” mimicking my mother’s intonation perfectly. Goodnight Moon, one of the most famous children’s books, was foremost on the shelf in my bedroom for many, many years. Then there were the Berenstein Bears, a small bear popping too much popcorn on Halloween, and Clifford. One of my favorite baby shower presents is a combination of these books, ready to be read to a new little one.

But the act of reading to children isn’t as common as most readers would think. Ask any elementary school teacher, most children love story time, craving it, sitting with crossed legs, leaning forward, swaying tiny bodies to and fro to catch every last glimpse of the illustrated page before the teacher turns it to the next. Many of those children don’t have parents who read to them, who make sure each night ends with an imaginary world. And how can I criticize? I don’t have children, and they seem endlessly exhausting. These days, I barely have time to read my own bedtime story before my eyelids begin to droop.

But those bedtime stories have stuck with me the last few weeks, in part because today is World Read Aloud Day. But I also read two essays in the last few weeks that brought about the theme for this post, one by Cassandra Neace, “Remembering They Were Readers” about going through her father and grandfather’s bookshelves and another by Rainbow Rowell, “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall in Love.”

Both are beautiful testaments to the reading life.

My own reading life has been a beautiful thing, and I’ve often said that just as you have great writers, you also have great readers. I am the latter. (There’s that snobby 6th grader again.) I say this, though, because I can’t take credit for it. Those bedtime stories weren’t just picture books read to me when I was 2 and 3.

During summer breaks, Mom would take us to the library where we’d load up on books, me taking pride in bagging the limit. Summer reading contests? Please. The Ravey family had those all tied up. But even more memorable was the one book we’d choose to read as a family at night, Dad included. We’d sit in the living room, Mom and Dad on the sofa, my brother, sister, and I sitting at their feet. They’d take turns reading to us. The books we read as a family have stayed in my memory, redolent of safe, fun evenings, the smell of soap and strawberry shampoo filling my nose. Madeline L’Engle was a favorite. I first read A Wrinkle in Time on my own, but we read it as a family later. The Emperor’s Panda- though I can’t recall anything of the story (scenes flit through my head, but I can’t make any connections) – I remember adoring it. James and the Giant Peach. Just as now, the books and stories were important, but more important was the time we spent, no television on, no cell phone interruptions (if you called after 8 p.m., you were either rude or had an emergency).

My family is still close, and we still share books. We don’t sit together and read them aloud (we’re not that dorky), but we pass them on to one another, my sister berating me when I haven’t read a book she just loved, my dad telling me he doesn’t have enough time as I hand him a book and then raving about that same book he had absolutely no time to read. My brother bemoaned the decline in his own reading, and my parents got him a Nook Glowlight for Christmas, for long subway rides. He’s the one who handed me The Talented Mr. Ripley last summer. My mom and I have remained the biggest readers in my family, and discussing books isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

I feel imminently blessed by this. I know plenty of people started their blogs because they had no one bookish in their own lives. I know some readers don’t discover the world of books until much later in life. My own ESL students shared their experiences, telling me that in some of their countries, fiction just doesn’t exist, and they certainly aren’t encouraged to read it. So stories like The Tale of Two Cities, which most American students would abhor, are magical to them, and I came to treasure the days we read aloud in class, watching their faces as the story unfolded.

And that magic is what it’s all about. As Rainbow Rowell said in her post, “People who fall in love with books never really stop falling.”

Thank God.

Help share the love of reading by making a donation to LitWorld.

Notes from the Classroom: Curating

11th October 2012

It’s not often that I write about what’s going on in my classroom, but this semester, I’ve spent quite a lot of time revamping certain courses and considering new methodologies. Teaching intensive English courses to foreign students and teaching American Literature at the same time is a challenge, particularly as it’s been nearly two years since I’ve taught American Lit. There’s so much background work; plus, I have to re-read everything I’ve assigned and of course add to my extensive notes with each re-read.

Do not mistake this as a complaint. I’m thoroughly enjoying it all, but education moves so rapidly, and I want to stay on top of the resources available to me. Over the summer, I researched online platforms and made the switch from Edmodo to Schoology (a change I’d like to talk more about in a future Notes from the Classroom post).

Today I discovered Storify. I should say, however, that from the different education chats I haunt (and sometimes participate in) on Twitter, I had heard of Storify but clearly had no idea how to use it in the classroom. Previously, I thought it was a way to curate Twitter conversations. So I googled “using storify in the classroom” and came up with some really interesting information. Essentially, Storify gives you the ability to collect information on a specific topic across a number of platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Google), pull that info to your “story” and publish. You can then share that “story” across platforms as well.

Because I feel like I have to cram in more and more information in less and less time, I thought this was kind of genius. One of my goals in my classes is relevancy – for the information I teach but also for the course itself. By pulling important and current information related to class discussions and lectures, I make it relevant in a way that tech-obsessed students “get” – and I also ensure they are using technology that makes them relevant.

This article from Hybrid Pedagogy even shows a really cool way of using Storify to assist with student research, as does ProfHacker in this cool story on Storify. There are so many arguments about student research and open source information, but I truly feel that not allowing students to use the, very often, useful and valid information available to them is a mistake. Using Storify would be a great lesson in the importance of citation from the perspective of a student who may or may not have thought of online content as authorial or worthy of source material.Here’s the story I put together on learning classroom techniques for Storify:

Using Storify in the Classroom

A college instructor takes to Storify to learn how to use Storify. Down the rabbit hole…

Storified by the picky girl · Wed, Oct 10 2012 22:17:18

Anyone out there using #storify in the classroom? Or in any interesting way? Lay it on me. #amteaching #amcuratingthe picky girl
Anyone use #scoopit over #storify? Any #teachers out there with resources? I’m not far enough in to see if either is better.the picky girl
My quest into the unknown. Thus far, no hits.
Web curation: Uses in educationtltelon
“How will students use this?” Critical thinking/analytical skills/context/writing for the web/persistence/time management “Students should be able to say why it matters.”
Using Storify: An Example, and An AssignmentThis is both a demonstration of Storify and an assignment in which students are going to be using Storify. (English 318: Writing in Digi…
A good intro and interesting way to use Storify in an actual classroom.
"A FLIPPED CLASSROOM: STUDENTS AS CURATORS WITH – Prezi2012 Presentation by Sherry Jones for CCCOnline 2012 "Recipes for Success" Conference held at Arapahoe Community College, and…
Really col Prezi explaining student curation, giving sample assignments, and providing helpful links.

So how am I planning on using it? Today I created a dummy story for an introductory discussion on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which we’ll begin reading next week. That way students can check out the story and the information I’ve curated before class. Students will be expected to respond to the information in whole or in part on a Schoology discussion board. I’m hoping the result will be students who have a basic understanding of the historical context of the novel as well as the enduring controversies regarding its content. You can check out what I’ve done so far on my story.  

Mark Twain and Huck Finn

Before we read Huck Finn, I want us to a. discuss the racial climate in which it was written and in which it will be read b. talk about the differences between it and Tom Sawyer, and c. prime your expectations for reading.

Storified by the picky girl · Wed, Oct 10 2012 11:21:02

Oh Huck Finn Mascary
We are all alike, on the inside.- Mark TwainTosh Hyodo
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.- Mark TwainKings Esekhile
LibriVox » Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark TwainAdventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain is one of the truly great American novels, beloved by children, adults, and literar…
In case you’d rather listen than read.
Why Bother Reading Huckleberry Finn? – Room for Debate …Jan 6, 2011 … If some teachers have the audacity to believe that Twain's work is meaningful, even absent the word “nigger,” more …
Another discussion of the n-word in Huck Finn.
Huckleberry Finn – The New York TimesJan 6, 2011 … A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaces the word “nigger” with “slave” does the original Twain …
Discussion of the revised/censored edition of Huck Finn.
HUCKLEBERRY FINN Reeks Of The Past In A Most Glorious Way |May 28, 2012 … “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reeks of the past. It reeked of the past when it was first published in America in 18…
A review.
Is Huckleberry Finn's ending really lacking? Not if you're talking …5 days ago … Blogs · About the SA Blog Network. Choose a … Many readers, reviewers, and critics over the year have found fault with…
For after you’ve read…in case you don’t understand Huck’s actions at the end.
Colbert Report: Huckleberry Finn CensorshipColbert Nation
From the ever-funny Stephen Colbert…
Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — …Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed w…
Some historical context.
"Huckleberry Finn" and the N-wordcbs
Look specifically at 6 minutes in. Interesting discussion.

Is anyone else out there using Storify? Or I feel a bit like a fish out of water, but I’m definitely interested in learning. In the meantime, what other cool online tools am I missing out on?

World Book Night America – It’s Time!

23rd April 2012

Yea! It’s here! World Book Night America is the product of a lot of different people’s and organizations’ hard work. As the website says, World Book Night is “a celebration of reading and books” – and I am honored to be a part of that. It is incredibly powerful to know that the US, UK, and Ireland will all be giving out books the same night.

When I applied to be a giver, I mentioned in my application that one of the locations I wanted to include is the downtown branch of my library. I’ve mentioned in the past that it is a gathering place for a lot of low-income or homeless people. Here’s the thing, guys: everyone always has a book in his or her hands. It’s fantastic. So for me to be able to give a book – one that these people could own – is really important to me. And as my mom mentioned, it kind of sucks to give homeless people books and not food…so she’s making sandwiches. Thanks, Mom – for making sandwiches and for thinking about it when my head is in the clouds. My mom and sis are both joining me, and after the library, we’ll either head to the park or to a local hospice center, depending on how many books we have left.

My birthday is Thursday, and honestly, I have to say this is the best present. WBN sent me a box of 20 books, and I get to give them to others!! Sorry, I just can’t quite get over it. Which book? Well, you guys know I rave about The Book Thief. It was my first choice from the list of 30 books to give out, and I got it! It’s ironic because when I first read this book, I went and bought two extra copies so that I could pass them on to other people (my mom and bff) to read and discuss.

I went to Barnes & Noble last Tuesday and picked up my box. They said there were actually 6 or so other boxes there, and I was so curious. How did other people in my area hear about it? If I weren’t a blogger, I don’t know that I would have known about World Book Night. Some bookstores and libraries are having events so the givers can meet, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case in my area. Ah well.

I promise to take photos and record my experience for you guys. I’m a little nervous. Giving away books sounds like a piece of cake, right? But what if they think I’m handing out religious tracks or pushing a political agenda? I would certainly be a bit wary of anyone approaching me with a “free” book. Yeah, right. Nothing in life is free. I can hear it now.

How will I combat this? I’m going to be a book pusher. I’ll be giving away The Book Thief, but the only thing I’ll be taking is, hopefully, a contentedness for having participated. I’ll try to use a bit of humor, disarm possible recipients with my charm (*snort*), and get those books out.

If you’re participating or have participated in the past, I’d love to hear your advice or your own anxieties. Where will you be giving away books and which book is it? No matter what, have fun tonight! And if you’re not a giver, keep an eye out for those who are. It should be a really neat experience.

World Read Aloud Day 2012

7th March 2012

I am so excited for today’s post and have been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks because today is World Read Aloud Day: Change the World, Story by Story.

LitWorld has this to say about WRAD:

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate.

Imagine a world where everyone can read…

World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology.

By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their future: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their words to change the world.

Thankfully, I grew up in a household where books were always important. My mom and dad both love to read, and not only did my mom read and do great narration when she read to us, but in the summertime, we also chose a family book and read from it each night. These are such special memories for me. So, in honor of World Read Aloud Day, I asked my aunt if she would let me share my cousin’s newfound love of books in a video. My mom read her The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and illustrator Michael Smollin a few weeks ago, and she’s officially in love. Ella even got her own copy for her birthday and didn’t really want to open her other presents. She walks around saying, “Oh, I am so embarrassed” – her favorite line from the book. So here we are, Ella and her Gigi, reading The Monster at the End of the Book. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you take a chance to check out LitWorld and its message and consider making a donation.

I know. Cuteness overload. 🙂 So what’s your favorite book to read aloud or be read aloud?

P.S. I love listening to books, and Audible is a convenient, relatively inexpensive way to do that. Right now they are having a special where you can join for $7.50 for the first three months. You get one credit for an ebook each month. If you’ve ever priced audiobooks, you know that’s a deal. Plus, right now they’re running a $4.95 sale for members only. It would be a great time to join up!
[The Picky Girl makes a small percentage if you click on the affiliate link, fyi.]

Did you SEE the memo about this?

10th January 2012

And for those of you out there without an encyclopedic knowledge of the cult flick Office Space, please click below for your viewing pleasure:

Yes, ladies and gents, it’s all business today, as I have some news of different sorts to share with you all in the forms of links and things.

First up,the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Shortlist is up. This award is nominated and chosen by book bloggers. I nominated my choices a couple of months ago, and unfortunately, Galore by Michael Crummey wasn’t chosen. However, there are still some really great books on these lists, and I urge you to check them out, especially if you like lists. Also, if you’re a blogger, read up on the Indie Lit Awards and get involved next year.

Next up, last year I watched in envy as many UK bloggers participated in World Book Night. I thought it was such a fantastic idea, and this year they have extended it to the US. Givers are chosen to give away 20 copies of their favorite book from the list, and givers are tasked with giving books to non-readers. I signed up and chose The Book Thief, so I hope I get chosen. If you are interested, head to the World Book Night and sign up!

Also, you guys know I don’t read a ton of young adult, but I’m a big fan of Sherman Alexie. He’s a great writer, and he’s funny. Lately, there has been a lot of scrutiny of young adult literature and its violence/sex/gender content. Alexie writes a great article about this on The Wall Street Journal website.

Yesterday, I found Priscilla from the Evening Reader when she left a comment on the blog. I visited her site and found a great post about the idea of the Great American Novel and her thoughts on it. Head on over and join the discussion.

My friend Daniella shared this video with me, and it was too cool not to pass on. What happens at the bookstore after closing time….


And this last is not bookish, but you have to make this apple pie in an apple. It’s fast, easy, and delicious. I’ve been trying to trim down, and I make this minus the pie top. Yum.

Last but not least…. I want to announce the winner of my giveaway for A Discovery of Witches. Thank you all for indulging me and sharing your literary crushes. Congratulations to Tasha of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books!

That’s it for today. I’d love it if you have any interesting links/bookish news to share.