Tuesday, November 1, 2011

First, What are You Reading? Volume 15, November 2011

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith.    Esquith teaches in a troubled Los Angeles school with few success stories, and yet manages to transform the lives of his 5th grade students year after year.

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles is by Padraic Colum, and illustrated by Willy Pogany.  My 8-year-old son and I are reading this to each other, with other family members listening in from time to time.

What do you like best about them?

Here’s what I loved about Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire:  Esquith writes all about making a great classroom culture and holding kids to a high standard.  He teaches them problem-solving as a key skill, and challenges the students to act right at the highest level of behavior.  He and his students perform an acclaimed Shakespeare play every year.  He takes his students on trips to broaden their horizons and shows them classic movies to foster a sense of media literacy—I could go on and on.  He’s a powerhouse, and his many awards are well-deserved.  This would be a great book for any teacher, or really any parent, to get great ideas (or be confirmed in your own) for enriching the lives of children.

Padraid Colum was an Irish writer.  I’m not sure where I picked up the handsome Aladdin paperback of The Children’s Homer, but once I started reading it with my 8-year-old son, we were hooked.  Other than various adaptations over the years, I’ve never been good at reading The Odyssey and other classic Greek literature.  I downloaded an Odyssey App once, but found the language less than friendly to my style.  Colum’s language, while a little old-fashioned, hooked us quickly and we love the amazingly great stories.  After we finished The Children's Homer, we started on The Golden Fleece.  Colum won the Newberry award for The Children’s Homer, The Golden Fleece and The Children of Odin.

What do you like least about them?

A big deficit of Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire is the amount of stuff Esquith is able to accomplish with his kids, and how someone reading it might feel inadequate.  It reminds me of when we used to educate our children at home—a danger could be visiting the blogs of other moms who seemed to be able to “do it all,” and how that kind of information was depressing instead of challenging.

Esquith is an amazing teacher, but in a way it’s more of a vocation.  It doesn’t appear he has children; his wife is very involved in helping his classroom succeed.  His kind of dedication and single-minded pursuit of great teaching isn’t realistic for most people, with families and other responsibilities.

I don’t necessarily think that a teacher, whether in public, private or homeschooling, should attempt to replicate, even over the course of a lifetime, Esquith’s successes.  However, there are so many great take-away points that it’s a very helpful read.

I don’t really care for the Willy Pogany illustrations in The Golden Fleece and other Colum books.  They are not terrible, just not my style.  Otherwise, these Colum/Pogany books are all good.

What’s next on your list to read?

I am reading many, many books that would be good as gifts for my December column.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?


  1. Nancy, I am reading the same book I've been reading for over a year: Letters to a Young Catholic. Please tell me that it's completely normal for a mother of a 1, 2, and 3 year old to not be plowing through books!

  2. Yes, Bonnie, completely normal! Oh my! This is the one reason I started loving and reading lots of children's literature "just for me," because it's so much easier to get through. I did used to read a ton while nursing, and I tend to skim books, so that's why I have such a big list. I had Letters to a Young Catholic from the library after a "Meet a Reader" recommended it, but I found it slow going, too. Have you ever read Betsy-Tacy? I bet you'd love that series and could share with Lydia when she gets a little older.

  3. Hi Nancy. I just read Randall Wallace's book "The Touch". It was a pretty quick read but very thoughtful. Theme's of secret charity, strong faith, weakness and above all love of God and his gifts to us.

  4. Hi Nancy. I just finished "The Touch" by Randall Wallace. It was a pretty quick/easy read but it was so full of meaning.

    A very thoughtful book with messages of secret giving, faith, weakness and mostly the love of God and his gifts to us.

  5. Catholic Gift Shop, that sounds like a good one!