What’s your state’s book?

Here’s the Most Famous Book Set In Every State, according to Business Insider.
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There’s plenty to argue about. Stephanie Myer’s Twilight is the most famous book set in Washington state? A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks is the North Carolina book, beating out Look Homeward Angel. I guess it depends on the definition of “famous.”

I grew up in Illinois (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) and live in California (John Steinbeck’s not-very-famous East of Eden).

Of course, a few are right on, such as Willa Cather’s My Antonia (one of my mother’s favorites) for Nebraska.

What colleges ask new students to read

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Politically-themed books published since 1990 dominate summer “common reading” lists for incoming college students, according to Beach Books 2012-2013, the National Association of Scholars’ annual report.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – about scientific research using a black cancer victim’s cells — was the most popular book by far for the second year in a row.

Reading the same book is supposed to build a sense of community among new students and provide something to discuss in orientation. But “so-called ‘common reading’ programs have become a tool for orienting students to progressive causes,” said NAS president Peter Wood.

The dominant themes in these books are race, gender, class, the evils of capitalism, and the ubiquity of oppression.

. . The popularity of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is based on its depiction of the American medical establishment as racist.”

Very few science books are chosen for common reading, the report finds. That suggests that “The Immortal Life owes its popularity not to being a book about science but to being a book about science whose subjects—the Lacks family—happen to be black and poor and furnished with a victimhood narrative.”

I think that’s an accurate description of the book, which would have been better if it had been a lot shorter.

Social justice, sustainability, diversity and economic justice are four major themes in common-reading books.

NAS lists 50 recommended books for common reading programs including Flatland, Camus’ The Plague and Augustine’s Confessions. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, about the denizens of Brook Farm, and Conrad’s Under Western Eyes look good to me.

 

 

Librarian: Top reader ‘hogs’ glory

Tyler Weaver, 9, read 63 books in six weeks to win the summer reading contest at Hudson Falls Public Library in upstate New York. The incoming fifth grader has won five years in a row.  Which is . . . unfair?

Tyler “hogs” the contest every year and should “step aside,” Library Director Marie Gandron told the Star-Post.  Over five years, Tyler has won an atlas, a T-shirt, a water bottle and certificates of achievement.

Tyler’s mother, Katie, had alerted the newspaper to his streak. His younger brother, Jonathan, 7, won second place for the second year by reading more than 40 books.

“Other kids quit because they can’t keep up,” Gandron said.

Gandron further told the reporter she planned to change the rules of the contest so that instead of giving prizes to the children who read the most books, she would draw names out of a hat and declare winners that way.

Prizes also are given to the top kindergarten reader and for best rock people (?) and coloring entries.

Lita Casey, an aide at the library for 28 years, said the Weaver boys visit the library every week year round. She estimates they’ve checked out 1,000 books in the last few years.

Changing the contest rules is “ridiculous,” Casey said.

“My feeling is you work, you get it. That’s just the way it is in anything. My granddaughter started working on track in grade school and ended up being a national champ. Should she have backed off and said, ‘No, somebody else should win?’ I told her (Gandron), but she said it’s not a contest, it’s the reading club and everybody should get a chance,” Casey said.

A few years ago, the summer theme centered on regions of the United States, Casey recalled. “Kids were supposed to read a book on each section of the country,” but some found it boring and dropped out. “Tyler read at least one book on each of the 50 states,” she said.

One commenter suggests that Marie Gandron has hogged the library director job long enough and should “step aside” to let someone else have a turn.

Harrison Bergeron, call your office, Instapundit writes.

 

Hello, Goodnight Moon

Yesterday, as commenters were discussing reading to children, I discovered my daughter’s old copies of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, Corduroy, Tasha Tudor’s 1 is One and others, plus the “activities book” I bought her at a fair when she was a baby.

In a few weeks, my mother will leave the house where she’s lived for 40 years — we’ve already sold it — and move to assisted living near me and my sister. We need to make room to store things for her, so we’ve been de-cluttering.

Three of our four children have papers, books, photos, posters, CDs, clothing and “unwanted stuffed animals” (three boxes) in our house and garage. We’ve been sorting things into garbage, recycling, giveaway and need-to-keep piles, finding missing treasures and getting rid of our own excess junk. Yesterday, I donated seven Styrofoam coolers to RAFT, which collects supplies for teachers. All the junk electronics is going too.

It’s not easy. I decided to throw out my brother’s things, mostly videotapes from his work at a cable TV station in Guam. He died 15 years ago at the age of 42 of cardiac arrythmia. The children’s books were under a file of his bills.

I keep my old children’s books in my office; I’ve added Allison’s. Perhaps I can read A Pocket for Corduroy to the grandkids, four and two years old, who will be visiting soon. They leave the day my mother arrives.

If I seem a bit distracted, that’s why.

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Reading list is diverse, inclusive and useless

California’s new recommended reading list of books for English, science and socials studies teachers is so inclusive and “relevant” that it’s useless writes Mark Bauerlein on Core Knowledge Blog.

Recommended Literature: Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve will help students meet Common Core Standards, claims the state education department. Bauerlein disagrees.

. . . the list is too long and too indiscriminate. It contains 7,800 titles—2,500 for grades 9 – 12 alone—and it sets dozens of classics among thousands of contemporary, topical titles without distinction. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is followed by Macho, a 1991 tale of an illegal immigrant who becomes a field worker. Little Women makes the list, but the description of it says nothing about its historical status. Every work gets the same treatment, a one-sentence statement of content. The field is overwhelmingly wide and it has only one level, ranking Leaves of GrassHuck Finn, etc. equal to pop culture publications.

Common Core Standards call for students to “demonstrate knowledge” of the ‘foundational works of American literature,” such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Bauerlein writes. The California list buries the classics in a pile of pop lit.  The Iliad is on the list. So is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code

Students who’ve read trendy modern books won’t be prepared for college, Bauerlein writes.

When professors in U.S. history, sociology, or political science mention the American ideal of self-reliance, those who have read Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, and Washington have a decided advantage over those who haven’t. . . . Many contemporary works are superb, of course, but they do not provide the background learning that goes with Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre, and 1984. And few of them, too, contain the exquisite sentences of Gatsby, the piercing metaphors of Blake, the characters of Flannery O’Connor . . .

. . . How much of our understanding of the Depression comes from The Grapes of Wrath, of the American South circa 1930 from William Faulkner, of old New England from Hawthorne?

“A more culturally relevant curriculum” gives students ” a thin and haphazard version of the culture they inhabit,” Bauerlein concludes.

Bullying books

Publishers are “flooding the market” with books on bullying, reports the New York Times.

The books are aimed at all age groups — from “Bully,” a picture book for elementary-grade students, to the “The Bully Book,” for middle school children, about an average kid who suddenly becomes everyone’s favorite victim, to Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon, a recent release for adults that includes both stories and analysis.

. . . Two young-adult authors, Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, assembled an anthology of personal essays, called Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories(HarperTeen 2011) by prominent writers like R. L. Stine, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity.

I don’t remember much bullying from my school days. I never was a victim.

Anyhow, here’s a review of Sticks and Stones.

Without books at home, few read well

Children raised in low-income families have few age-appropriate books in their homes, according to First Book, which gives books to disadvantaged children to encourage reading.  The infographic is based on research by Susan Neuman, co-author of Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance.

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Haves and the Have-Nots

Education reform starts with reading, writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post. He supports Common Core standards’ recommendation that 70 percent of all high school reading be non-fiction. Students can analyze literature in English class and think critically about informational text in social studies, science, math and arts classes, he writes. That will help the 44 percent of high school students who can’t truly comprehend what they read, according to NAEP.

The vast American lumpenproletariat

Taking social class into account, U.S. students are doing better than it seems on international tests, compared to students in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland and Korea, according to a study by Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein. “U.S. students’ scores are low in part because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students come from disadvantaged social class groups,” they argue.

Stuff and nonsense, responds Paul Peterson in Education Next.  The Carnoy-Rothstein studied ignored family income, which is just as high in the U.S. as in the comparison countries. It uses one factor to determine social class:  The number of books 15-year old students estimate are in their home.

Only 18 percent of U. S. students say they have many books in their home; in the other countries this percentage varies between 20 percent and 31 percent. In the United States 38 percent say they have few books in their home. In the other countries, this percentage varies between 14 percent and 30 percent.

Students’ estimates of book in the home is a good predictor of student achievement, writes Peterson. But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue.

. . . reports of books in the home may be as much a consequence of good schools and innate student ability as an independent cause of student achievement. Students who find it easy to read are likely to report more books in their home, because they are more aware of them. Students attending an effective school are more likely to be good readers who are then aware of the resources at home. Countries that expect students to perform well on a national examination when they finish secondary school may induce higher rates of reading than countries that do not set clear standards for high school students.

Only 14 percent of Korean students come from few-book homes, compared to 38 percent of U.S. students, and 31 percent of Korean students come from homes with many books, while only 18 percent of American students do. It’s “bizarre” to assert that Korea’s upper class is nearly twice as large as in the U.S., and that our lower class is nearly triple the size of Korea’s, writes Peterson. The U.S. does not have a vanishing bourgeoisie and a vast proletariat.

The study encourages people to think that U.S. schools are just fine — except for inner-city schools, which face an impossible challenge because the kids’ homes are no good, Peterson writes. Good reading habits — which schools can do something about — “are much more important to achievement than family income and other measures of social class.”

Latino kids don’t see themselves in books

Young Latino Students Don’t See Themselves in Books, according to the New York Times.  Hispanic students make up nearly a quarter of public school students, but only a small fraction of characters in books for elementary students.

The main characters in the most popular books are white with African-American, Asian or Hispanic characters more likely to appear in supporting roles.

“Kids do have a different kind of connection when they see a character that looks like them or they experience a plot or a theme that relates to something they’ve experienced in their lives,” said Jane Fleming, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in early childhood development in Chicago.

She and Sandy Ruvalcaba Carrillo, an elementary school teacher in Chicago who works with students who speak languages other than English at home, reviewed 250 book series aimed at second to fourth graders and found just two that featured a Latino main character.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, which compiles statistics about the race of authors and characters in children’s books published each year, found that in 2011, just over 3 percent of the 3,400 books reviewed were written by or about Latinos, a proportion that has not changed much in a decade.

Common Core State Standards’ list of suggested books for early elementary students contains black characters and authors, but few Latinos. More will be added, said Susan Pimentel, one of the lead writers. “We are determined to make this right.”

“Research on a direct link between cultural relevance in books and reading achievement at young ages is so far scant,” reports the Times. I think that means there is no evidence. But that doesn’t stop academics from worrying that kids will feel alienated “if all they read is Judy Blume or characters in the Magic Treehouse series who are white and go on adventures.” (What about white kids who don’t have a magic treehouse that provides adventures?)

At Bayard Taylor Elementary in Philadelphia, a school where three-quarters of the students are Latino, Kimberly Blake, a third-grade bilingual teacher, said she struggles to find books about Latino children that are “about normal, everyday people.” The few that are available tend to focus on stereotypes of migrant workers or on special holidays. “Our students look the way they look every single day of the year,” Ms. Blake said, “not just on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Day.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Blake read from “Amelia’s Road” by Linda Jacobs Altman, about a daughter of migrant workers. Of all the children sitting cross-legged on the rug, only Mario said that his mother had worked on farms.

However, a book that colors every fourth child brown may be accused of tokenism.

As a reading tutor, I see a lot of books for young children that feature animals — especially cats, bats and rats. They sit on mats and try on hats. Humans are named Nan, Fran, Pam, Sam, Tam, Tim and Sim. It’s not a rich cultural milieu for children of any background. I can tell you what little girls of all colors and creeds long to read: the Pinkalicious series. Sadly, my kids can only handle “tan” and “red.”

A good book is a good book is a good book,” writes author Nikki Grimes in Color Me Perplexed. “The single most important question we should ask when considering a book for our classroom or library shelves is, is the book any good?”

When I was researching Our School (which makes a lovely holiday gift), I saw students from Mexican immigrant families fall in love with Harry Potter books. The kids weren’t British or pale skinned. They weren’t wizards either. They liked the story.