Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Biel

Last week I received a box of books from Random House.  As always I was excited, and quickly looked through to see what had come. It was filled with great choices.  My eyes focused Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Biel. I read the inside flap; and figured I had finally found my first read aloud.  After about 20 pages I realized, nope not this one. (I should have read the press release page in the box.)  However, by the time I knew it wasn’t right for my class I was already hooked; and I couldn’t put the book down.

Nicholas Mettleson is the main character.  He and his twin sisters have to spend summer vacation at their great uncles house on Forsaken Lake.  Their dad is a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, and their mom is a very busy executive.  Nicholas’ dad spent summers in Ohio with his uncle Will, and feels that it is time his kids do the same.  As you can imagine the three siblings are not thrilled.  However, just like I did with the book they quickly find that the summer at the lake looks to be quite an adventure. 

Nicholas makes friends with Charlie, a tomboy that throws a wicked curve ball. As the friendship grows they find that there is a mystery that links Nicholas’ dad to Charlie’s mom.  While solving the mystery they become excellent sailors and boat builders. 

As I read Summer at Forsaken Lake I was very nostalgic for summers past.  Funny thing is I never spent a summer at the lake.  I do have many friends that did.  Coming from a dry, land locked, state lakes are scarce and really more ponds.  My friends talk fondly of summers in Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, Minnesota and one even talks about the Cape and Maine.  So I have a clear idea of what it must have been like.  At times I forgot that the book was newly published.  There were elements that made it seem like the book was written when I was a kid, but in Mr. Beil mentioned something very 21st century to remind the reader that this book is current.  I think this is why I couldn’t put the book down.  He kept it interesting and fun.

As I mentioned earlier this book is not right for a third grade read aloud, but is for high fourth, fifth and above.  There is nothing that screams don’t let young kids her this story.  It is just that the budding friendship between Nicholas and Charlie is more mature then 8 year-old friendships. 

All I can tell you is I think it would have been fun to spend a summer at Forsaken Lake.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know by Ralph Fletcher

Last year the New York Times listed 11/23/63 by Stephen King as one of the Ten Best Books of 2011. In high school the book everyone was reading was the Shining.  I tried to read it, but it scared the living daylights out of me.  (Of course that doesn’t take much, but still….)  11/23/63 is about a guy that travels back in time to try to stop the assignation of John F. Kennedy.  It sounded interesting, so I put it on my stack of books to read this summer.  I am still reading it.  (I know this post should be on Monday for What are You Reading?)  Anyhow, Jake Epping, the main character, is a high school English teacher.  He, also, teaches English for people pursuing their GED’s.  At the beginning of the book Jake is describing his job as a teacher.  Jake says his job is hard, and “the red pen became my primary teaching tool…I practically wore it out.”

During a GED class Jake has his students write a paper on “The Day That Changed My Life.”  Most of the themes turned in were, well you can imagine.  However,  “There were no violins or warning bells when I pulled the janitor’s theme off the top of the stack and set it before me, no sense that my little life would change.”  The paper was filled with misspelled words, and awful grammar; but “half way down the first page, my eyes began to sting and I put down my trusty red pen.”  Jake let the story and the words impact him.  He didn’t let the mechanics control his emotions.

About the same time I started 11/23/63 I received a copy of Ralph Fletcher’s new book Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know.   As I read this book I kept thinking about what Jake had done with the janitor’s story.  Teachers often get so caught up in the mechanics of the story that we can see the true story.  Before I continue I want to make it clear that I do understand and know that mechanics are important, but imagine what would happen if mechanics became the secondary thought?

Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know is not a professional book.  It is a book for guy writers.  With that said teachers must read this book.  It gives wonderful insight into what half our class is thinking.  (Unless you teach at an all boys school where it is 100%.  Or a girls school, and well…)  Ralph uses interviews with boy writers and grown boy writers. 

In the chapter Riding the Vomit Comet Writing About Disgusting Stuff,  Ralph interviews Jon Scieszka about making gross stuff good writing.  Jon talks about using interesting language to describe the scene, and stretching out the description.  I really liked this because a famous author is giving our guy writers permission to write about what they like, but it better be interesting or the reader will be BORED!

When I was a kid we lived for a couple of years in Nogales, Arizona, actually a few miles north of town out in the middle of the desert.  My friends and I had motorcycles.  (Yes, I got my first motorcycle when I was nine!)  Playing War on motorcycles is way more fun then just plain old War.  We could cover more ground, but a surprise attack was challenging.  My point is that I played War all summer long, and my favorite cartoon was Jonny Quest.  I grew up to be even keeled.  I don’t walk around with guns.  Yet there is this believe by many educators that if kids write about violence etc. the young author is going to go on a shooting spree in school.  I know there evil is out there!   I don’t want to make light of anyone’s loss to such violence.  I live in Colorado, so I know that guns kill way too many innocent people.  As teachers we must balance kids innocent writing about blood, guts, guns, etc.  In the opening chapter Ralph writes about how guys are constantly shot down for using violence in their writing.  He uses a poem written by a first grader to demonstrate this:

Weed Hunter

I feel like I am hunting a very victorious plant, a weed.
I circle it.  I study it. I watch its every move.
I always take it by the roots.

My weapon is my shovel.

Weeds come up way ahead of the other plants.

I shall pull up every one I see and
Put it a very dry place without any dirt.

I will defeat these weeds
even if it will take my entire life!

Because of one word this poem was not printed in the classroom anthology.  I’m sure it is easy to figure out which word.

Now reality.  We have to get up out test scores, we have to fit everything into common core standards, we have to………… So with everything how do we balance what our kids want to write with what we want them to write? Libations.  OK, well not at school, but at school we compromise.   I believe Guy-Write What Every guy Writer Needs to Know  will help everyone in class become a better writer.  

Book provided from Ralph Fletcher!