Despite the fact that I have 222 people who “follow” my blog through WordPress and despite the fact that I share my blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Google +, I only get about 25-35 visits a day on my blog. But even though I don’t think I have a lot of real regular readers and even though I don’t get hundreds of visits each day, I still write every day there is school (except on those occasions when I get home and collapse in my bed at the end of a day and completely forget about blogging). I blog first to give me an opportunity to reflect, second for parents to read about what we do in our classroom, and third because I like to share what I do with the world on the off-chance that someone will notice and share it with others. (To this day, the single busiest day I had on my blog was November 11, 2013, when Neil Gaiman (!!!) retweeted my review of one of his books.) I write reviews of books I have read with my class because I think it is worth letting authors know that students are reading and enjoying their stories. I will try to tag an author on Twitter so he or she knows I wrote a review, but I’ve never had one actually ask me in advance to do so. (However, if an author were to send me an advanced reader copy of a story and ask me to read it with my class and then write a blog post, I would probably do it.)
We finished reading a book as a class today. It was a book I had never read before, but I had read two of the authors’ previous works, shared them with my class, and had amazing results. The first book I read had initially been the only book by the author I was going to read, but my class was so desperate to know the rest of the story when they learned there was a sequel that I read it, too. Then they asked me to reach out to the author so they could share their thoughts and we ended up having a really cool Skype chat with her just before she left for a trip to Italy.
The author, as those elusive regular readers may recall, is Ms. Kirby Larson, author of Newbery-honor book Hattie Big Sky, and its sequel, Hattie Ever After. Kirby, as I find myself calling her after chatting on Twitter, over email, and guest blogging for her last year, writes a lot of historical fiction. I learned about two other books she wrote and decided that I had to share at least one of them with my class this year. But I also wanted to share Hattie with them. So I let my class decide: Duke or Hattie Big Sky. I read summaries of both and they voted to read Duke.
I had never read it before. I didn’t really know more than my students did. But I knew it was historical fiction, that it took place during World War II, it was about a boy about the same age as my students who had made the decision to loan his beloved pet dog Duke to the United States military through the Dogs for Defense program, and all the things that happened during that time. As we read through the story, we talked about the characters, the time period, the relationships, and my students made connections to other books we’ve read aloud. Several observed that Mitch Mitchell is a lot like Julian Albans from Wonder and they theorised that there have always been and always will be those kids who are determined to make others’ lives miserable. We also reflected on the ways we respond to frustration, anger, sadness, and grief. I’ll admit: I didn’t think I would discover all of those things in this story. I expected I’d enjoy it and I hoped my class would like it, but I don’t think I expected to have a story that would connect fourth grade students in 2014 to a sixth grader in 1944. But my students realised something pretty neat: with all the way things have changed in the past decades, there are still a lot of ways that the lives of children today are very similar to the lives of children seventy years ago!
We finished reading Duke today and my class wanted to know if we would start reading the companion story, Dash. (A companion story in that it is also about a child and her dog and it takes place during WWII.) Alas, we have other stories I want to share this year. But I encouraged them to borrow my copy, to read it independently or with friends, and to see if the local library has copies that they can borrow.
And who knows. Maybe I’ll insert another book in my reading list and introduce my class to a good friend of mine, a spunky, independent girl from Ames, Iowa, who sets out to do the impossible when she moves to Vida, Montana, to prove up her deceased scoundrel of an uncle’s homestead claim. (I have a feeling my class might be more interested in Miss Hattie’s story now that they know the author’s style better and have become fans. All of my students have Duke and Dash dog tags that they wear daily and/or use a bookmarks, in addition to the actual bookmarks that Kirby sent us over the summer!) And who knows. Maybe I’ll be able to sweet-talk my author friend into chatting with my class again. (But if she can’t, we will all understand!)