I should have written this post yesterday. Yesterday was 9/11, and I always try to incorporate some lesson about the events, emotions, and effects of that day into whatever our focus is in class. It’s important we always remember.
My students are juniors and seniors. 9/11 is history to them, and few of my students like to read historical fiction. They choose YA off of my “Teen Angst,” “There Might Be Kissing,” and “You Just Can’t Get Over It” shelves most often. (I suppose most of the books I book talked today fit in that last category though. I’ll be moving a few later.)
Without really meaning to, I shared three books with students on Monday in three different ways. Thus, the idea for this post on engaging students in reading by mixing up our book talks.
- Read a poignant, exciting, or particularly intriguing passage from a book.
Over the weekend, I read The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. I found this a touching story about love and loss and resilience — all topics my students can relate to. What does it mean to be responsible? How do we fight our fears and struggle through the tragedies that terrify us?
In my book talk, I spoke about the characters in the book: a young man trying to prove his worth to his dad, and a young woman who we learn is in conflict with hers — both struggling with the realities in NYC on the tragic Tuesday of 9/11.
I read the first few paragraphs aloud:
“I move with the crowd, away from downtown Manhattan.
We travel swiftly but don’t run, panicked but steady, a molten lava flow of bodies across the bridge.
A crash of thunder erupts–another explosion?–and the flow startles and quickens. Someone near me starts to cry, a choked, gasping sound, soon muted by a new wail of sirens rising at my back.
I stop and turn, stare frozen. People rush past me: faces twisted with shock and fear, mouths held open in O’s, others only eyes where their noses and mouths have been covered with knotted sleeves against the toxic, burning reek.
I search fro Kristen or Kelly, or Mr. Bell, but I lost them all as soon as we got to the bridge.
I don’t see anyone I know from school.
I don’t see anyone I know.
I press my sleeve to my nose– Don’t think, Kyle, just move!–but feel stuck gaping at the place where the city has vanished beyond the thick brown wall of smoke.
Two planes have hit, one building is down, and my dad is in their somewhere.”
There’s a lesson in imagery in there I may return to sometime. We are writing narratives right now, so I bookmarked this for later. For now, it’s a good teaser and an effective book talk.
2. Show a movie trailer — but play up on how the book is always better.
My students love videos. They admit to spending their entire lives on YouTube, so any chance I get to show a video clip I take.
If you’ve read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, maybe you feel like I do about the movie: I loved it, but the book just gives us so much more detail, description, characters, and craft to love. Oh, how I love the craft in this book by Jonathan Safron Foer.
For my book talk, I first flipped through the book, showing student how Foer plays with white space, page markings, and photo essays — all which play into how he develops the plot and constructs meaning. I talked about the parallel plot line and how the movie makers diminish, change even, the important second storyline. I explained how this book taught me more about author’s craft than anything I’ve ever read. Then, I showed the movie trailer.
(Book trailers work as effective book talks, too. You’ll find a bunch here and here and here. We even have a few ideas about book trailers in our archives on this blog.)
- Use a passage as a quick write prompt or as a craft study.
Have you read The Red Bandanna: A Life, a Choice, A Legacy by Tom Rinaldi? Just a few pages in, and your heart will swell.
As I read the books I know I will share with my readers, I mark passages that make me think and feel. Important moves for any reader. I model these moves as I share books and writing ideas with my students. This passage from The Red Bandanna tears me to shreds every time.
In my senior English classes, I talked about the heroics of Welles Crowther, the main character in the book, and then students wrote in response to the questions: What do you carry, what truth could it possibly contain? What meaning could it hold?
In my AP Language class, we talked in our groups about the word choice, the interesting syntax, the tone, and then students wrote their answers to those questions, trying to imitate the writer’s rhythm and descriptive language.
In all my classes, we talked about 9/11, our thoughts, our feelings, and why they matter to the lives we live now. We made connections to texts and to one another as we shared our thinking and our writing. That to me is an added bonus of an effective book talk.
I know my students will read more the more I talk about books. I am the salesperson, and they are the often skeptical customer. I’ve learned that mixing up how I talk about books matters.
And getting students interested in reading pretty much anything these days matters most of all.
Do you have ideas on mixing up our book talks? Please leave your ideas in the comments.
Amy Rasmussen loves to read, watch movies with her husband, and tickle her five grandchildren. She’s in the market for a lake house and likes to shop thrift stores for books and bargain furniture. Someday she’ll be disciplined enough to write a book about teaching. For now, she teaches senior English and AP Lang and Comp at her favorite high school in North TX. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass, and please, go ahead and follow this blog.
TriStar has signed Michelle MacLaren to helm the feature film adaptation of Kristin Hannah’s bestselling novel “The Nightingale.”
Elizabeth Cantillon is producing. The current adaptation of the novel is written by Ann Peacock with MacLaren and John Sayles on board to do a polish to the draft.
“One of Michelle’s many gifts as a director is her ability to tell stories that are both intimate and epic,” Cantillon said. “She was the perfect director to come on to this unique war story.”
The pic tells the story of two sisters coming of age in France on the eve of World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. It was inspired by the story of a Belgian woman, Andrée de Jongh, who helped downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory.
The book has sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S. and is a New York Times Bestseller, spending 73 weeks and counting on the list. It’s being published in 39 languages, and topped several best of lists at publications including Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal and Goodreads.
The project is being overseen at TriStar by Hannah Minghella and Nicole Brown; Laura Quicksilver is overseeing for the Cantillon Company.
“Michelle has directed some of the most groundbreaking and cinematic television of recent years,” Minghella said. “I’m looking forward to her bringing that same vision to The Nightingale. Her passion for these characters, their complex relationships and the tension of their journeys will no doubt translate into a cinematic experience that will delight the fans of the book and beyond.”
MacLaren is best known for her work in TV, beginning with AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which earned her Emmy wins for best series. Her other big TV credits include “Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead” and, most recently, “The Deuce” for David Simon. MacLaren was previously signed on to direct Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman,” but parted ways with the project over creative differences, with Patty Jenkins taking over.
She is repped by ICM Partners. Sayles is repped by APA.