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“Are you upstairs hiding with a book?” my mother was exasperated as she called up the stairs.
“No-oo..” I would reply, stashing the copy of The Sign of the Twisted Candles, The Password to Larkspur Lane or The Secret in the Old Attic under the covers.
My mother would be looking for me for some chore I had left undone, but the lure of those yellow-spined mystery books was so hard for me to combat. I would succumb and lose track of time, and responsibilities, the minute I picked up one of the mysteries.

I was Nancy Drew addicted.

From the day I found my first copy at age eight under the Christmas tree, I read every Nancy Drew title available, a total 46 titles by the time I completed eighth grade.

“So, how’s that little blue roadster?” my father would ask, passing me while I was lost in a mystery.
“Oh! You are going to ruin your eyes,” my mother would complain finding me reading by hall light.

The contradictory message from my parents to read or not to read while feeding my addiction with new editions of Nancy Drew for birthdays and other holidays only heightened my regard for the series. Nancy Drew was the dessert to my reading diet, the forbidden fruit during Saturday chores, the delicious temptation to finish “just one more chapter” before falling asleep.

Girl SleuthSo, I was delighted when at a public library book sale I came across a “used” brand new copy of Girl Sleuth, Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak.

Here was the story of Nancy’s origins, the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer (1862-1930) who developed and ran a syndicate of writers of children’s fiction. I have only recently come to understand how much Stratemeyer influenced generations of young readers, myself included, by producing book series specifically geared to their interests.

He created the Tom Swift and The Hardy Boys series. He was responsible for the adventures of Nan, Bert, Flossie and Freddie in The Bobbsey Twins. Early in his writing career, Stratemeyer recognized that writing under different pseudonyms and with different publishers, he could offer more books each year. Unable to keep up with the demand for his stories, he began to outsource his work by hiring writers to complete stories he had outlined. By 1905, his book publishing syndicate mirrored the Henry Ford model of assembly linewriting; Stratemeyer editing the work of other writers who filled in the details from his summary notes.

It was Edward Stratemeyer that conceived of the young girl detective, and he developed five plots that he could offer a writer who could meet his exacting standards. Originally, the character Nancy Drew was named Stella Strong, and one of the plots that Stratemeyer developed was for Stella Strong at Mystery Towers:

How Stella visited the old Tower House and met the rich and eccentric maiden ladies, Patricia and Hildegarde Forshyne, who were much disturbed by unusual happenings about the place. She learns that some relatives are trying to get possession of the Forshyne fortune  Stella was once made a prisoner, but turned the tables and made a startling exposure (112).

Stratemeyer suggested other names for his new sleuth: Nell Cody, Nan Nelson, Diana Dare, Helen Hale, Nan Drew. The decision to expand Nan to Nancy was made by the publishing company Grosset & Dunlap who were enthused by this chance to have books for the growing market for young female readers. Stratemeyer had already decided that the pseudonym Carolyn Keene would be used for the series; each book would sell for fifty cents with two cents royalty going to his syndicate. From a number of applicants, he selected Mildred Wirt Benson, a “convention-flouting journalist” and agreed to pay her $125 for each manuscript (114). She, like all other writers in the Stratemeyer syndicate, signed away all rights to the stories and character.

Rehak’s extensive research clearly shows that Wirt was responsible for developing the character of Nancy Drew from the beginning. When Edward Stratemeyer passed away suddenly after the launch of the first Nancy Drew mystery, his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, took over the editing and eventually, the supervision of all things Nancy Drew. It was Wirt, however, who fleshed out the Nancy’s character against the backdrop of the Great Depression in 1930. Her Nancy was popular in school with two devoted friends, Bess and George. She was intelligent and attractive, moving stylishly between tweed suits and a “party frock of blue crepe which matched her eyes”. Blue was also the color of her little shiny roadster, a gift from her supportive father, Carson Drew. The mother figure, housekeeper Hannah Gruen, was also Wirt’s idea; the boyfriend Ned Nickerson came later in the series.

In recounting the success of the Nancy Drew series, Rehak notes that Wirt “later confessed  that Nancy Drew was “everything she -or any girl, in fact-wanted to be, and then some” (117). Rehak’s recounting of the success of the series is dampened by the deteriorating relationships in the Stratemeyer family, reduced pay for Wirt, and Harriet’s demands to keep the syndicate’s ghost writers from claiming their authorship.

Rehak also explores the other media ventures that featured Nancy Drew: TV series, movies, graphic novels, and a sordid connection to Playboy magazine.  Harriet’s control of her family’s publishing company’s intellectual property kept many of the writers like Wirt from claiming authorial attribution.

Subsequent revisions of Nancy Drew get less exploration by Rehak, who has little praise for the “loud flashy plots and clothing and crushes” that recent publishers have tried in order to “revamp the sleuth” (311). Nancy Drew’s back story is well organized by Rehak and a must read for all her fans who knew that it was not the plot that made the book exciting, but rather the “pleasure comes from her [Nancy Drew’s] autonomy, her taking events into her own hands”(307).

Rehak concludes with the feminist view that Nancy Drew was a guide for the ages as many of the problems for women (equal pay, inadequate day care, etc) still exist:

Nancy DrewThanks to Mildred and Harriet and the generation of women and girls who glimpsed in Nancy Drew a vision of what they might be someday, it doesn’t look like the sleuth is going away anytime soon, which is a good thing. There are fighting days still ahead of us, and we’re going to need her (314).

Perhaps this is why my memories of Nancy Drew are so salient, and my addiction forgivable. While my chores waited, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Addams offered me, and thousands of young girls like me, a role model.

So, Mom, I really was not hiding upstairs with a book…I was growing up.

Read picture books.

Yes, I am talking to you.

(No, not you kids….)

I am talking to you….you, Advanced Placement English Literature teacher, pretentiously waving me off with your worn cover of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Yes, you too..the one taking notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the book you assigned for summer reading?

Time to do some other kind of reading.

Time to read for pleasure.

It’s time to wallow in Sendack (Maurice), Carle (Eric), and Seuss (Dr.).

Max Horton Ladybug

It’s time to discover Mo Williams’s Pigeon, Jon Scieszka’s Big Bad Wolf, and Jon Klassen’s hatless bear.



Primarily because teachers, all teachers, who are familiar with children’s literature can be positive role models for their students. They can engage students by making references to these books or they can make suggestions to young readers. They may even use them in lessons. But a new compelling reason has come out of a study by Jo Bowers and Dr Susan Davis, senior lecturers in primary education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. A review of responses by teacher trainees for primary grades indicates that reading children’s literature is good for your well-being.

An article in the British paper The Guardian Why Teachers Should Read More Children’s Books explains the study and promotes a paper Reflecting on Teacher Wellbeing that Bowers and Davis will give at Issues and Changing Perceptions conference in December 2013.

They had set up a year-long blog where teacher trainees could post reviews for three books they used with children over the course of the year. They then asked a focus group of these blog contributors a series of questions about their own reading experiences, such as, “What made you become a reader?”

The joys of reading became apparent, namely, how they had enjoyed “getting totally lost in a book” or “absorbed” by the narrative. It also became evident that they had close personal associations with certain texts from their own childhoods, and the fact that they could turn the page of a book and by knowing what was on that page gave them comfort and confidence to share that book with their class.

Trainee teachers reported they were using children’s books of all genres as a form of escapism from the stresses and strains of teaching in the primary classrooms. Researchers concluded that trainee teachers were using the book as a form of bibliotherapy, a therapy “increasingly moving away from its original medical model– whereby practitioners ‘prescribed’ self-help books to patients suffering from depression or eating disorders.” While the teacher trainees had to read the children’s literature selections as part of their professional development, they also found the experience pleasurable:

We have also found that trainee teachers often don’t read purely for pleasure, citing time constraints as the reason. Our blog project forced them to read as part of their professional development, and because they wanted to improve their subject knowledge. Wellbeing was secondary, but nonetheless became part of the project, almost by default. One of our students summed it up nicely: “Books are like best friends during stressful times.”

So, go ahead and pick up that copy of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and chant loudy the refrain “…and he won’t get out!”
Listen to the poetic wisdom of a small mouse who notes that everyone has a gift to bring in Leo Lionni’s Fredrick.
Or, share a red, ripe strawberry in The Little Mouse, The Big Hungry Bear and The Red Ripe Stawberry.

king Fredrick mouse

You will be reading for pleasure. You will be reading quickly, and you will probably feel better, things Thomas Hardy and Nathaniel Hawthorne may not do for you.

References according to The Guardian:

Jo Bowers and Dr Susan Davis are senior lecturers in primary education at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Follow them on Twitter: @Jo_Bowersand @drsuzyw. Reflecting on Teacher Wellbeing – Issues and Changing Perceptions conference will be held at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Wednesday 4 December 2013. For further information please


I love books.

While that is not the most eloquent statement about reading, the three word sentence communicates my desire to spend time with the writings of another.

In contrast to my simple declaration, there are are a number of very eloquent statements about the importance of books.  On my e-mail correspondence, I have a quote from the Victorian Scottish born essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

 “All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been; it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books.”

I enjoy sharing that quote and two other facts about Thomas Carlyle:


Thomas Carlyle

1. He invented the word Eleutheromania: A mania or frantic zeal for freedom. If I were to use this word in a sentence, I would write, “At the conclusion of every school year, I suffer a serious case of Eleutheromania.”

2. He and his wife were very unhappy. They were so unhappy that the author Samuel Butler said of their marriage: “It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.”

I also have a favorite funny quote about reading books. This quote is by the brilliant comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and is spelled out in big gold letters on one of my book bags:


Groucho Marx

”Outside a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

I get a number of people who look at my bag from a distance, I see their lips move as they read the joke aloud…and then I see them smile when they understand. Groucho’s humor is timeless.


Carl Sagan

By far the most eloquent comment I have ever read about reading books, however, comes from Carl Sagan (1934-1996).  Sagan was was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author who relentless promoted science. His brilliant TV series in the 1980s Cosmos received critical acclaim and gave over a reported 500 million viewers a new perspective on the size and scope of the universe and the relative size of planet Earth in comparison.  The 11th episode was titled “The Persistence of Memory” and in this episode Sagan stated the following:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

A book reaches across the millennia. An author is in your head speaking to you. Books bind people together.

Astonishing indeed, and reason enough to say, “I love books.”

There has been a heat wave in Connecticut this week, temperatures in the high 90s with muggy, sultry, humid weather, so it was no surprise that the bargains were “hot, hot, hot” under the tent at the Westport Public Library Book Sale.  So hot, in fact, that organizers had large fans set up in some of the outdoor tents! The sale is held in Westport, Connecticut:

Tents on Jesup Green and inside the Library
July 20-23, 2013
(Monday—Everything half-price)
Tuesday: 9 am-1 pm (Free day, donations appreciated)

The Westport Public Library Book Sale is a premiere event in the state for several reasons:

  • The tents are huge with tables laden with books;
  • Prices are good (Hardcovers are $3/trades $1/paperbacks and children’s books $.50);
  • Books are of exceptionally high quality.

The main tent offered a spectacular number of books with wide aisles. This is where the non-fiction texts/literature/reference texts are usually laid out.

Informational texts for science classes!

Informational texts for science classes!

For some perplexing reason, however, the teen/YA section was also in the main tent, while the sports/nature books were in the children’s tent. This led to some mistaken shelving; there was a copy of fairy tales and Miss Nelson is Missing in between golf books and some travel guides. The magnitude of the collection of donated books meant some challenges for those  keeping book sorters on message; sometimes the same text appeared on tables for different genres. For example, copies of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation were in biography, history, politics, and for some inexplicable reason, Judaica.

The children’s book section was extensive enticing shoppers of all ages; shoppers should be wary of smaller patrons underfoot.

My target area for filling the classroom shelves was the tent for fiction, which was overflowing with hardcovers and paperbacks. There were so many hardcover fiction books, that I later discovered an adjunct aisle of hardcover fiction that spilled into the classic literature section in the main tent. I am sure that The Girl Who Played with Fire was enjoying spending time with her more mature cousins Ethan Frome and The Red Badge of Courage.

Unfortunately, the aisles in the smaller fiction tent here were not as wide as in the main tent, and there were boxes loaded with trade paperback fiction below the tables. Stooping to browse through these lower levels slows down buyers and makes for some awkward moments in passing. To make passing smoother, though, there was a volunteer dutifully loading up the tables once people made their selections.


One stack of The Help for English III

I was looking for specific titles and soon was rewarded with a dozen copies of Katheryn Stockett’s The Help. This book retails for $12.92 on Amazon; 12 copies would have cost $155.04. Instead, I spent $73.50 in total for these books plus three and a half bags full of other titles, many also beginning with word “the”: The Things They Carried, The Road, The Giver, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, and The Book Thief. 

Because the trademark of Westport readers is their ability to take exceptionally good care of their books, these copies are in pristine condition. I suspect there must be some town ordinance about bending pages or preserving book covers on reading material in town.

A further study of the town, based on donated books, would be that Westport residents:

  • Believe in parenting book (five tables full);
  • Do not donate small paperback copies (only three tables full);
  • Do not read the genre “romance” (no tables full);
  • Travel extensively (based on travel guides);

The book sale has dedicated volunteers who will tally books on the side lawns of the main tent if you are purchasing more than an armful; there are boxes available for ambitious shoppers and checkout is a breeze.

The Westport book sale is a bibliophile’s delight with red hot bargains for all ages. Now, if only they could do something about this heat wave!

Dad-Peg, Colleen, Colette -59

Dad with first three daughters (I am in the middle); we were fortunate to have his read alouds more frequently

My father was a reader, and he read bedtime stories to us. Of course, the older children, my four sisters and I, will recollect many more occasions when my father read a bedtime story while the younger children, the remaining four, have fewer memories. Yes, there were nine of us, and the limited number of hours after work combined with the challenges in getting a houseful of children through meals, chores, and school work, made story time with our father less and less frequent. When he did have the time and energy to read aloud, however, we were mesmerized. Part actor-all salesman, he knew how to make a story come alive.

He had read very broadly when he was a child because he had been confined for long periods to hospital beds due to a handicapped leg. He was knowledgeable on the children and young adult literature available from 1928 on, and he was quick to make a recommendation.

“The black spot!” he would dramatically intone, “in the Tavern of the Black Dog, it was the blind man who delivered the the black spot!” This was enough to send shivers into me and me over into Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

“Madame Defarge…” he would growl, “Madame Defarge and her knitting.” He would lower his voice conspiratorially, daring me to discover the dark secrets of Charles Dickens’s Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities years before it was assigned in high school.

He started my sisters and me on A.A. Milne’s House at Pooh Corner reading different stories aloud before we went to bed. “Poohsticks” was our collective favorite, and we demanded the tale because of the way he would read the funniest line in the story. The characters from Pooh Corner were playing a game that involved tossing sticks over one side of the bridge and running to the opposite side waiting to see whose stick would be first to float out from under a bridge. My father would read each character’s voice with only a shade of difference in voice, but he understood how to create suspense from Milne’s language:

“It’s coming!” said Pooh.
“Are you sure it’s mine?” squeaked Piglet excitedly.
“Yes, because it’s grey. A big grey one. Here it comes!
A very–big–grey—- Oh, no, it isn’t, it’s Eeyore.”
And out floated Eeyore.

He would pause there for our mutual astonishment and laughter. No matter how often he told this story, we were surprised and delighted to find that Eeyore had been bounced into the the river, and that once he was “washed” over to the riverbank, Piglet would make the obvious conclusion:

“Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!” said Piglet, feeling him.

My father read folklore to us. He read Uncle Remus’s tongue twisting dialect of B’rer Rabbit and B’rer Bear, and so we knew the allusion of “tossing someone in dat brier-patch”. We learned how to never bet against a turtle, a lesson from Remus’s Old Man Tarrypin, or the famous race between turtle and hare from Aesop. We learned about John Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe; Pecos Bill and the rattlesnake; and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

He started me on the Bobbsey Twin series, and after addicting me to Freddie, Flossie, Nan and Bert, he recommended other series: the Boxcar Children, the Hardy Boys, and finally Nancy Drew.

“How was The Sign of the Twisted Candles?  Nancy’s little blue coupe?” he would ask. “The Password to Larkspur Lane?” He seemed so knowledgable, I was convinced he had read every one, not realizing the successful formula that the Carolyn Keene enterprise used was reused in every mystery. Nancy would solve the crime and discuss the solution with her father, Carson Drew; I would retell the solution to mine.

My father also gave me Little Women at the exact right age, and I am convinced that Louisa Alcott’s story was a “girl” book he had read. He was familiar with feminine concerns of the March girls perhaps because he had several older sisters himself, but he knew the details about Jo’s ambitions to be a writer, and Mr. Baer’s umbrella too well to have only a passing understanding.

I tore through the canon he knew, and soon he was floundering a bit with suggestions. One night, he  tossed a copy of Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone at me after we had watched the movie on TV. At age 12, I became a reader of espionage, and we found mutual enjoyment from Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlam, and Ken Follett.

He also listened to suggestions from others, and one Christmas I found a copy of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time before it had received the Newbery Award. He knew enough about me to know that I would love the story, and I did. I loved to read.

Group Camping with KKC '76

Dad with his nine (six girls; three boys) on a camping trip.

Kevin K. Connolly passed away in 1990 at the age of 62, leaving a void in all his children’s lives that we try to fill with stories about him. When I read “Poohsticks” aloud to my own sons, I heard his voice.

There are many gifts a father can give a child, but a love of reading is a powerful gift. On this Father’s Day, I pay tribute to the man who gave me life, and who made that life infinitely richer by making me a reader. Thank you, Dad; you were a great reader, you were an amazing father.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 4.32.55 PMWhile some of my students have no problem cracking open a good book over the summer, others might prefer an audio text. That is why when I found the SYNC audiobook website, I was delighted to spread the word (and recorded voices) about great literature available all summer long. I have challenged my students to read (listen) with me all summer!

SYNC has organized a summer full of classics paired with young adult (YA) texts that are similar in theme. Each pairing is available only for a download for a short period of time, but once a reader downloads the MP3 files, the audiobook is available for listening at any time.

The software that makes this offer possible is  Overdrive Media Software that can be installed on a computer (compatible with Windows and Mac) or through an Overdrive App on a mobile device (compatible with iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7).

Visit the OverDrive website to download the App or Software.

I have already listened to the full cast production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and enjoyed the dramatization. My familiarity with this play (I teach this every fall to my Advanced Placement Literature students) may influence how I think a student hearing the production for the first time might understand the plot. I hope they can follow some of the plot intricacies.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 4.29.30 PMI was surprised that the play was paired with Of Poseidon, a romantic fantasy involving a independent and beautiful Emma and her strange encounters with the incredibly handsome Gaylen.  I would have paired this book with Romeo and Juliet because the inferences about clan conflicts are too frequent not to imagine “two houses both alike in dignity, in the fair ocean where we lay our scene.” This debut novel by Anna Banks addresses mermaid lore, the legend of Atlantis, and forbidden love on the Jersey Shore. Unlike the TV show, listeners are 75% into the book before the first kiss; there is a great deal of “raising her chin with his fingers” and “cheek-stroking” to keep romantics hopeful. The reader (Rebecca Gibel) was also excellent, lacing some of the more exclamatory phrases with the right amounts of sarcasm or ruefulness.  My only complaint was that this novel is the first in a series. As I got closer to the end of the recording, I began to realize that this novel was the “introductory”, a sentiment seconded by this reviewer:

This book also ends in a most inopportune place. I get it – we’re being set up for the second book – but this book sort of has this massive reveal and then BAM we’re at the end. I’d seen enough people’s reactions, though, to expect it, so I wasn’t quite as upset as some readers have been with the abrupt ending. Still, not a whole lot is resolved in this book, and I have a problem with a book that didn’t seem to have much of a point aside from setting up for the next one. (Merin; Amazon Book Review)

Complaining about a free download, however, seems ungrateful. Like the reviewer, I enjoyed the novel very much, so much that I was annoyed when all the loose ends were not resolved. Obviously, this is one way for SYNC to market additional texts. In this case, the strategy will work; I probably will purchase the sequel.

The schedule for titles downloads during this summer is listed below:

May 30 – June 5, 2013
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, read by Rebecca Gibel (AudioGO)
The Tempest by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast (AudioGO)

June 6 – June 12, 2013
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren (HarperAudio)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, read by Wanda McCaddon (Tantor Audio)

June 13 – June 19, 2013
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton (Scholastic Audiobooks)
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, read by Robert Ramirez (Recorded Books)

June 20 – June 26, 2013
Once by Morris Gleitzman, read by Morris Gleitzman (Bolinda Audio)
Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., read by Dion Graham (christianaudio)

June 27 – July 3, 2013
Rotters by Daniel Kraus, read by Kirby Heyborne (Listening Library)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, read by Jim Weiss (Listening Library)

July 4 – July 10, 2013
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl (Brilliance Audio)
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, read by a Full Cast (L.A. Theatre Works)

July 11 – July 17, 2013
The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, read by Peter Altschuler (HarperAudio)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, read by Simon Vance (Tantor Audio)

July 18 – July 24, 2013
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, read by Erin Moon (Recorded Books)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast (L.A. Theatre Works)

July 25 – July 31, 2013
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, read by Charlie McWade (Scholastic Audiobooks)
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, read by Steve West (Blackstone Audio)

Aug 1 – Aug 7, 2013
Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, read by Dan Weyman (Macmillan Audio)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Ralph Cosham (Blackstone Audio)

Aug 8 – Aug 14, 2013
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, read by Katherine Kellgren (Brilliance Audio)
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, read by Miriam Margolyes (Bolinda Audio)

Aug 15 – Aug 21, 2013
Sold by Patricia McCormick, read by Justine Eyre (Tantor Audio)
Let Me Stand Alone by Rachel Corrie, read by Tavia Gilbert (Blackstone Audio)

I am looking forward to a summer full of great audiotexts, and I hope my students will take advantage as well. Thank you, SYNC!

2013-06-09 18.00.17

The contents of the $7/box

There is no official “start” to the summer book sale season, but one great place to whet an appetite is at the Friends of the Byram Shubert Library in Greenwich, Connecticut.

This sale is usually held the 2nd weekend in June at the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church across the street. Book Sale Finder advertises the sale as “Exceptional”, “Well worth the trip!” and “Great Prices!”

Suffice to say, the sale was as advertised.

The Friday Preview night sells hardcovers $3, softcovers $2, small paperbacks .50 or 3/$1. On Saturday, prices are reduced to hardcovers $2, softcovers $1, small paperbacks 5/$1, children’s .25-.50. But it is on Sunday, a Bargain hunter’s delight, that there is a  “bag and box” sale $5/bag, $7/box or 2 boxes/$10.

I went in the last few hours on Sunday, and the tables were still tidy. The fiction was plentiful, but the non-fiction and young adult choices very picked over.  Nevertheless, in 20 minutes, I selected 34 great titles that I placed in a box provided by the Friends of the Library.

13 copies of books outlined in our curriculum mapping

13 copies of books outlined in our curriculum mapping

On the tables I grabbed titles we offer in our Grade 11 Vietnam War literature unit: 3 copies of In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason and and 2 copies of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  There were also books assigned in our curriculum for Grade 10 World Literature: Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Finally, two clean copies of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None will be placed in our grade 8 mystery unit. Summer reading for the Advanced Placement English Language is Kim Edward’s The Memory Keeper’s Daughter while Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is one of the choices offered to these students during the school year.

The 13 books I found outlined in our curriculum mapping would normally retail for $139.00 if purchased new. The additional 21 books in the box will be added as independent reads in classroom libraries or suggested as “satellite reads” to complement a whole class novel.

34 books for $7.00? That is an amazing bargain. The 2013 summer used book sale season is off to a great start!

Catcher-in-the-rye-red-cover“I heard about this book called ‘Catcher in the Rye,” said Peyton. She was lining up a “book buddy” extra credit assignment to read with Madison.
I reached for two dog-eared copies with the familiar brick red cover, “Meet Holden Caufield,” I said.

Requests for Catcher in the Rye happen every year. Since we do not teach the novel as a whole class read, I am always happy to see the many copies we have circulating for independent reading. J.D. Salinger passed away in 2010, almost sixty years after his bildungsroman, (coming of age story) of a young man’s wanderings one day in New York City captured the angst of late adolescence for an audience familiar with that angst. Houlden Caufield’s voice was unlike any other, and readers adopted the book with a fervor that bordered on fanaticism. As evidence, there are well-worn copies at every used book sale.

In most high schools today, Catcher in the Rye has a reputation, a cult status. Its “banned book” pedigree  interests both conformist and non-conformists. According to

Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.

Many of my students know about the book’s banning history from the South Park episode from Season 14: The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.  In this episode, the students at South Park Elementary are given copies of Catcher in the Rye and learn that the book is “filthy, is inappropriate, and made a guy shoot the king of hippies.”
“Can we PLEASE read this book now?” Cartman pleads.
(View at: )
Very quickly, however, the South Park students learn that 60 years after its publication, the language and themes in the story of Holden Caufield’s day are tame by today’s standards; they are dumbfounded and more than a little annoyed that anyone would consider the book inappropriate. My students have expressed the same puzzlement.

With only one major book to his credit, Salinger still commands the media’s attention. A tweet last week by OpenCulture linked the video below of the reclusive 91-year-old Salinger out for a stroll in Windsor, Vermont (2010):

Under the video, Open Culture also posted a series of anecdotes about Salinger, for example, a story about Nicholas Carr (Is Google Making Us Stupid?)

Nicholas Carr, who was working behind the circulation desk at the college library one summer when “a tall, slender, slightly stooped man” walked in. He remembers his boss whispering, “That’s J.D. Salinger”:

Holy crap, I thought. I just saw J.D. Salinger.

About ten minutes later Salinger suddenly reappeared at the desk, holding a dollar bill. I went over to him, and he said he needed change for the Xerox machine. I took his dollar and gave him four quarters.

That’s my claim to fame: I gave J.D. Salinger change for a buck.

Another recent news item on Salinger was published in the New York Times April 23, 2013, “The Young Salinger, Mordant Yet Hopeful” by Dave Itzkoff. The article described that a recent discovery of nine letters by a 22-year-old Salinger “revealed himself to be as playful, passionate and caustic as Holden Caulfield, the self-questioning adolescent who would become his most enduring creation.” The letters refer to other stories “unpublished and presumably lost works from this period”, tantalizing clues that will set Salinger fans hoping for yet unpublished materials to surface.

Salinger’s reclusiveness fascinates my students. In this day and age, his deliberate choice for isolation starkly contrasts from their uber-connected world of social media. Ironically, social media is a place where Holden thrives today. There are several facebook pages devoted to him. A Google map of his adventures complete with quotes details each step of his journey from the Wicker Bar at the Seton Hotel through the Central Park Zoo and into the Museum of Natural History. He would probably appreciate the myriad of Sparknotes, or Schmoop Notes, that help students who fail to complete assigned reading, or fail to listen to the audio book as available on YouTube. Holden has a Twitter account, @holdencaulfield, and a Tumblr account.  A  blog post on Flavorwire in July 2012 lists 10 Things Holden Caulfield Hates About Everyone including phonies:

“You never saw so many phonies in all your life, everybody smoking their ears off and talking about the play so that everybody could hear and know how sharp they were.”

Predictable, we know. But no Holden Caulfield hate list would be complete without it.

Holden is out there mingling with audiences of this connected age, and now he is mingling with two more. Heads down, they are engrossed with his misadventures during our 20 minute silent sustained reading period.
“How’s Holden?” I ask quietly.
“Good,” they chorus without looking up. They have been caught by Salinger, caught by The Catcher in the Rye.

Spoiler alertEnter the spoiler alert. Because the number of ways people hear about stories is increasing, spoiler alerts for books and films are offered as a “heads-up”, a means to prevent plot details from becoming public.  Knowing the end of a story might mean that the strategy of “predicting” a story has been compromised, however, there are genres of stories that absolutely count on predictability, for example, Nancy Drew will always solve a mystery with her best friend, Bess and George, while on TV, predictability has a time limit; the shipwrecked crew will never leave Gilligan’s Island (30 mins) and House will solve a medical mystery (60 mins).

Predictability means to state, tell about, or make known in advance, especially on the basis of special knowledge, and students are taught at an early age that making predictions can help them to determine what will happen in a story.

I noticed how predictions are important even if the end has already been decided when my six-year-old niece was watching the Disney film Running Brave. This was her favorite film, and she watched the VHS tape every afternoon. On one such afternoon, I noticed she was drifting asleep, so I made a move to turn off the video.

“Wait,” she cried out, “I think….I think he’s going to win again.”

From her perspective, the outcome of the race was still in doubt. The cinematic elements, the tight editing of shots , and a triumphant soundtrack created suspense where the viewer might doubt the inevitable. Krista had seen the movie hundreds of times, but she still was “testing” her prediction.

I admit that I have felt the same way watching Miracle, holding my breath for the final seconds wondering if the US ice hockey team would still win the Olympic medal. Krista’s experience is also mirrored in the classes where students often choose books based on a movie that they have seen.

In the independent reading allowed in our curriculum, the 9th graders can choose contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and many of the titles have movies in circulation, for example:

Some students purposefully choose these books because they know the endings, and in knowing how the book ends allows the reader to pay more attention to the craft of the author in bringing all the plot points together in a conclusion. Take for example, the Harry Potter series. Most readers predicted with certainty that Harry Potter would finally face his nemesis, Voldemort. The how and when, however, were still very much in the air, and J.K.Rowling’s crafting of the series’s magical settings and character development kept readers in a willing suspension of disbelief for the length of seven volumes. The final conclusion was satisfying to her fans who knew all along that Harry would prevail, after all, Good’s triumph over Evil is a predictable plot. Readers and filmgoers were not disappointed in following the story of a boy with the scar on his forehead because in each volume and subsequent film release, they correctly predicted that “I think…I think he will win again.”

So when I teach a whole class novel, I know there are some students who already know the ending. They may have reached the conclusion before others, or been informed by older students who notoriously share their opinions and critical information with younger students. In this case, my role is to impress on students that knowing the outcome will not destroy a well-told story, and to focus their attention on the other elements. This was the case with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

“I heard this is a sad book,” one student said when I assigned the first chapter, “One guy kills another guy.”
Other students looked up for my confirmation.
“Yes, this is a sad book, but the reason for the sadness is really about caring. We will grow to care for these characters.”
“I already don’t care if I already know what happens,” was his reply.
Four weeks later, this student refused to watch the final scene in the film version.
“I know what happens, and I cannot watch,” he said sadly as he walked out into the hall.

The same sentiments are expressed at the beginning of our study of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
“Guess what? They die,” said a student as I passed out the books.
“Yes, they die,” I kept passing out the copies.
“So why are reading this?” another asked.
“Because this is a great story,” I responded, “and the story’s ending will mean more after we finish because we will have read how Shakespeare writes about these ‘star-cross’d lovers’.”
“But we already know how it ends!” they whined.

Now that we are in Act III, no one cares that they know the end, instead, they are recognizing how Shakespeare creates the tragedy. They notice the “hints”: Juliet seeing Romeo “As one dead in the bottom of a tomb”, Friar Lawrence’s herbs of “Violent delights”, and “Love devouring death”.

This discovery of an author’s details makes students more appreciative of the craft in writing as they still try to predict. They notice Shakespeare’s allusions: “Such a wagoner/As Phaeton would whip you to the west/And bring in cloudy night immediately” (3.2.2-4), because we had studied the Phaeton myth earlier in the year.

“Uh-oh. That’s not good,” I heard one say, “Romeo’s gonna crash and burn like Phaeton.”

That kind of analysis is exactly what the English Language Arts Common Core would like to see in a close reading of a text. How interesting that students who already know “what happens” may be better at picking up on an author’s craft that a close reading generates.

Spoiler alerts do warn those readers or viewers who want to be surprised, but knowing the ending does not necessarily ruin the reading or viewing experience. Want to experiment? Here are 50 plot spoilers for 50 novels. I predict that each novel will not disappoint, even if you already know the ending.

sols_6Why do I stay? This question is circulating on blogs and in videos by teachers from across the country. My friend Catherine, a teacher and literacy specialist, brought this question to my attention in her post this week. She was participating in a challenge organized by Two Writing Teachers called  The Slice of Life. The instructions for participating are on a link that goes first to a definition (“Slice of life is a phrase describing the use of mundane realism depicting everyday experiences in art and entertainment“) while other links provide procedures:

WRITE your slice. SHARE your link. GIVE some comments to (at least three) other slicers.

On one post she linked her Slice of Life post to blogger Beth Shaum’s video “Why I Stay”.  Catherine listed her reasons for staying and noted that other teachers have written about their reasons for remaining in the classroom, “despite changes in curriculum because of Common Core State Standards, new testing, and new evaluations that are being imposed on educators.” The video on Shaum’s blog addresses startling statistics about the teaching and the education profession:

More than 30% of new educators quit teaching after three years, and nearly 50% leave before hitting the five-year mark. (

Shaum’s video showed dozens of teachers from around the country sharing their reasons for staying in education.

I have not written to The Slice of Life challenge, but I did think the idea of recording my personal reasons as to why I have stayed and taught for 22 years in grades 6-12 would be an exercise that could both help me frame my own thinking and possibly encourage younger teachers who are often overwhelmed.

My reason for “why I stay” is purely selfish.…I want to share the stories.

I want to share with children, teens, and adults the stories they have read, seen, or heard.

I want to share the stories in picture books.
I want to share the stories in chapter books.
I want to share the stories in the canon.

So, I teach students to read stories so that we can talk and share the stories that make us human..

I want to share books.

I want to share books at every grade level.

hungry Whales Go_Dog_Go

I want to share books:

  • Go, Dog, Go
  • Hungry Hungry Sharks
  • The Whales Go By

I want to share more books:

  • Nancy Drew’s The Password to Larkspur Lane
  • The Twenty-One Balloons
  • A Wrinkle in Time

Larkspur wrinkle 21 balloons

I want to share novels:

  • Of Mice and Men
  • The Road
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I want to share stories written as dramas. I want to talk about:

  • Hamlet
  • Medea
  • The Importance of Being Ernest

I want to share stories made into film. I want to talk about:

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Shawshank Redemption

I want to share stories in poems. I want to talk about:

  • The Odyssey
  • Paradise Lost
  • The Cremation of Sam McGee

Guernica Fall of Icarus

GW Delaware

I want to share the stories in paintings. I want to talk about:

  • Guernica
  • The Fall of Icarus
  • George Washington Crossing the Delaware

I want to share the stories that were responsible for essays and speeches. I want to talk about:

  • The Gettysburg Address
  • A Modest Proposal
  • Self-Reliance

I want to share the stories of people’s lives, stories about nature, and stories that mark cultural trends. I want to share:

  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  • Silent Spring
  • The Tipping Point

From the ancient lights of the campfires to the soft glow from a Kindle, our stories record our humanity.I stayed 22 years in teaching because I want students to understand that record of humanity. I stayed 22 years in teaching because I want students to respond to stories through writing and through speaking. And I stayed because I wanted to encourage students to record their own stories. I want to read and hear and see their stories.

In this great cultural experiment of public education for ALL, I stay to share the stories.