Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shelfreading - 1

Shelfreading is a weekly personal meme that I created in order to showcase, remember, and reflect on the books on my shelves.

See, I don't buy books. Hardly ever. I'm very particular about what books I keep. The books on my shelves all have some meaning, some memories attached to them. Here I'll share them, a few books at a time.

This week, I'm going back to fifth grade. My favorite grade school year. Because my teacher loved to read, and boy, did she show it. She shared so many wonderful books with us and got us excited about reading for fun. I don't remember much else about fifth grade except the reading. These are some of the books that stuck with me.

Abel's Island
Abel's Island by William Steig
c1976, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Early in August 1907, the first year of their marriage, Abel and Amanda went to picnic in the woods some distance from the town where they lived. The sky was overcast, but Abel didn't think it would be so inconsiderate as to rain when he and his lovely wife were in the mood for an outing.
How do you not fall in love with a book that begins this way? To fifth grade me, it was like magic. From sentence structure to word choice, I was inspired. I'm not much for survival/adventure stories, which this most certainly is, but I admired Steig's way with words and adored the illustrations (this is definitely one of my all-time favorite covers - I'd buy a poster print of it if I could find it!) so much that this instantly became one of my beloved books. In fact, I think it deserves a re-read this weekend.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
c1967, published by Bantam Doubleday Dell
Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn't like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes. Therefore, she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place, and indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Well, it's obvious now that I judge a book by its first paragraph. I need a hook. Doesn't have to be exciting. In fact, both of these books mention picnics on the first page - not that I have a particular bias toward picnics. But the author's writing style should shine with those first few sentences, and they do here.

My fifth grade teacher read this book aloud to the class, a little bit each day during the school year. I hated listening. Didn't really know how. I often fell asleep. But because of that hooker of a first page, I stayed awake every day to hear more of Claudia and Jamie's adventures at the Met. And I learned to listen. Before, when we would do round-robins (you know, when each student reads a paragraph of the textbook? ::shudders::), I wouldn't absorb a single thing. I would always have to go back and re-read on my own. But after learning - perhaps accidentally - to focus my attention on my teacher while she was reading this book, I became a much better listener.

Miss Spider's Wedding
Miss Spider's Wedding by David Kirk
c1995, published by Scholastic

I don't remember if this was the Miss Spider book that my fifth grade teacher shared with us, but this is the one on my shelf. I bought it many years later because I happened upon it in a bookstore, and it instantly took me back to my fifth grade classroom. I remember being in awe at the saturation of color in the illustrations. The pages were so shiny, filled on all edges with reds, greens, blues, yellows - just look at that cover! And what I especially appreciated is that my teacher shared a picture book with her fifth grade students. This came as a surprise to me because I was under the impression that picture books were for kids who couldn't read very well - so they needed much shorter books with lots of pictures. Who knows how this absurd notion got into my head, but it quickly retreated once I laid eyes on this one. Picture books can be for all ages - and can be loved for both their literary and artistic value, a lesson learned at the age of ten.

Well, I certainly enjoyed that trip down memory lane. And you? I'm starting to think that I should have made this meme more general, maybe something like "reading memories," so that others can join. But I like how personal this is. Instead, I'll end with a question.

What did you read in fifth grade?



Jan von Harz said...

Natalie, This is a great meme. Lucky you to have a teacher who was so invested in reading and sharing this love with her students. Fifth grade was not a memorable grade for me.

Peaceful Reader said...

I had a 3rd grade teacher(Miss Simon) who shared her great love of reading with us-she read the Borrowers to us and used voices-so fantastic. From the mixed-up one of my most treasured books. I went back and read it two years ago to make sure I would still love it since I was recommending it to students and I did still love it! This is a great meme.

NatalieSap said...

Thanks, Jan. It was a wonderful reading year.

Michelle, I have to re-read FtMuFoMBEF sometime soon too. I think it may still be my favorite of hers.

Jamie said...

I think in the 5th grade I was all about the Sweet Valley Twins:) A note about the Miss Spider Books, does anybody think the images are a little scary? My two year old loves the tv show so my Mom bought her a set of the board books for Christmas and I was a little hesitant to read them to her.

NatalieSap said...

Jamie - I went through quite a bit of a Sweet Valley phase myself. As for the Miss Spider books, I think they are for an older audience - at least first or second grade. The pictures can be scary for little ones, and the text certainly would be over their heads. I think the Little Miss Spider books could go younger though.

readwhatyouknow said...

This is such a great idea for a meme. I've been kicking this sort of an idea around for a while and never got around to doing it -- you definitely have inspired me to get going on it!

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