Tag Archives: book clubs

The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

When I was enrolled in Clare’s graduate course on literacy teaching, our class was assigned a reading from Alfred Tatum’s 2005 book Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap. It was one of my favorite readings and the class discussion was so engaging; many of my peers, myself included, were overcome with emotion. I will never forget reading the introduction, which felt like a Hollywood script until I realized that this is many people’s reality and that the incident he describes is representative of a large problem that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the role of literacy in the lives of young black men must be reconceptualized.

According to Alfred, the book is his attempt “to speak on behalf of all those young black males who yearn for understanding as they journey through rough terrain. Many of these young men want educators to respond to their needs and so help release them from a poverty-ridden paralysis that stiffens dreams” (p. 3).  Check out the introduction/the book here!

On a similar note, I came across this uplifting article a few days ago. An 11- year old boy started a book club, Book N Bros, that celebrates black books and African-American literature that shies away from the typically negative urban stories. With an emphasis on black protagonists, a new book every month, and meetings to discuss themes and complete worksheets, the aim is to improve the literacy rate among boys 8-10 years old. Some of the books that have already been read include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time.       Awesome!BlackProtagonistBook

Summer of Jodi Picoult

I (Cathy) often listen to novels (on my ipod mini) as a series by one author. By doing this I can get very familiar with an author’s style, recurring themes and track her/his growth as a writer. This summer was Jodi Picoult.

Jodi Picoult Jodi Picoult

So far I have listened to 8 novels: The Pact, Perfect Match, Vanishing Act, The Storyteller, House Rules, Lone Wolf, Nineteen Minutes, and Sing You Home. I discovered she often writes about trials. She also tends to write from several points of view in each novel. I particularly liked this trait with the trial books, because I could ‘hear’ the perspectives of both the defense and the prosecution. Sometimes she uses one character in two books, which I also enjoyed.

Her strength, however, is her ability to tackle issues. She excels at them. Big, messy ones. (She wrote My Sisters Keeper, which became a popular movie starring Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin). The novel I just finished, Nineteen Minutes, was about a bullied high school student that decided to fight back by shooting several students in his school. It was graphic and disturbing, but portrayed with sensitivity and realism. The issues she portrayed in the trail bothered me so much, I found myself describing scenes to my husband and asking his opinion on them. I was emotionally snagged. I view this as a sign of an excellent writer. My favourite book of the 8, was The Storyteller, but it also was, at times, hard to listen to. A holocaust story, it was brutally realistic and very emotional.

I recommend her work as a wonderful resource for a book club, especially if you like a good discussion about polarized views and moral dilemmas. She has a new one coming out in October, Leaving Time, which I plan to order and buy a hard copy for my daughter. She is a big Jodi Picoult fan and started me on this series. After this, I haven’t decided which author to tackle next. Any recommendations?

storytellerninetten minutes

Little Free Libraries

“The “take a book, return a book” boxes are catching in even on places where Kindles and brick-and-mortar books abound.”

 I love the concept of the Little Free Library! The Little Free Library movement operates from a universally understood “take a book, return a book” policy. The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Since then, Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over the world:

There are now 18,000 of the little structures around the world, located in each of the 50 states and in 70 countries—from Ukraine to Uganda, Italy to Japan. They’re multiplying so quickly, in fact, that the understaffed and underfunded nonprofit struggle to keep its world map up to date.”


Little Free Library in Qatar


Little Free Library in Toronto (St. Clair Ave)


Find a Little Free Library near you!


Book Clubs + Canada Reads

As a Ph.D. student and an educator, I (Pooja) find myself mostly reading academic journal articles or student writing these days. While I enjoy reading both types of text, I miss reading for pure pleasure; in particular, I miss reading novels. Novels are a commitment of both time and energy, but when you read a truly great novel it is totally worth it.somethingfierce

I recently formed a book club with some colleagues/fellow educators. Although I have a lot of my plate already (don’t we all?!), I thought this would be a great opportunity to connect with colleagues on a more personal and informal level, (not to mention being pulled into the world of a fascinating  novel). We selected Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre. This book, written by a Canadian author, was the official selection of the 2012 Canada Reads initiative. I’m currently reading the final pages of this gripping memoir, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great read while supporting a Canadian author. I made time for reading this book during every opportunity I could: riding the subway, sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for my oatmeal to cook in the morning. I was surprised to find how many of those small moments I had each day, which would usually be taken up by scrolling through my smartphone. Our book club meets for the first time tomorrow evening at a colleague’s home.  I’m looking forward to discussing the book in a relaxing atmosphere.

Learn more about the Canada Reads project:


A Short Summary of the book:This dramatic, darkly funny narrative, which covers the decade from 1979 to 1989, takes the reader inside war-ridden Peru, dictatorship-run Bolivia, post-Malvinas Argentina and Pinochet’s Chile. Writing with passion and deep personal insight, Carmen Aguirre captures her constant struggle to reconcile her commitment to the resistance movement with the desires of her youth and her budding sexuality. Something Fierce is a gripping story of love, war and resistance and a rare first-hand account of revolutionary life.

Source: (http://www.amazon.ca/Something-Fierce-Memoirs-Revolutionary-Daughter/dp/1771000368)

cupcakes saying happy anniversary

Book Clubs as a Model

This is the 20th anniversary of my book club. Yes we have been together for 20 years. We had an anniversary party and had cupcakes! (Much more on my book club in future posts.) I think there have been two essential ingredients for the success of the book club: our sense of community and our engagement with books. I am coding transcripts of our literacy/English teacher educators and a number note that their student teachers do not like to read. I have found in my research on student teachers that many stated that they had loved  reading in elementary (primary) school but by the time they got to secondary school, there was so much prescribed reading (usually textbooks) that they had no time to read for pleasure and in turn,  lost their love of reading. This pattern continued throughout their university years. In my literacy courses in the preservice program I talk a lot about engagement with text and the importance of pleasure og reading. Perhaps, we need to take some lessons from book clubs to ensure that our students do not lose their love of reading — community of readers and joy. I think that it is very hard to be a literacy/English teacher if you do not like to read and do not find reading as engaging.