Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Having been on vacation last week, I had some good reading time and I finished The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow. Karl Stern is a Jewish teenager as Adolf Hitler rises to power in Germany. Skinny and awkward, he is an unlikely boxing protegee, but, through circumstances and coincidences, he receives professional training from the national boxing hero, Max Schmeling. Max Schmeling, according to wikipedia, may have risked his life to save two Jewish children, and Karl is one of the fictionalized children.

The bullying scenes in this book are still vivid in my mind, and kept me tense and angry as I read. The impending horror that my 20-20 hindsight allowed me made it that much harder to read this book, since I wanted to jump into the pages and tell Karl and his family to get out of Germany while they could. The bullying becomes more and more brutal and Robert Sharenow presents it graphically. I would not recommend it to elementary students, and even with middle schoolers, be prepared to explain circumcision and be ready to engage in some upsetting conversations about the Holocaust. Given what is going on in Ukraine, there are important similarities and connections that we should all be paying attention to. Jewish people are being asked to register there in ways that are strikingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Karl Stern is an inspiring main character, and there are many examples of his perseverance, resilience, kindness, and loyalty. Written from his perspective, he is honest and reflective as he tries to make sense of a changing world. He is an artist and fills the pages with cartoon characters, who entertain but also give hope to both him and his sister. His father is an art dealer, and as his business plummets, he works hard to save treasures of art. I was fascinated to read about how some of the art was smuggled and stolen as the anti-Semitism increased. Overall, this book was gripping, meaningful, relevant, and educational. For any students who are ready for it, I highly recommend it.

Lighter reading for the week included a re-reading of The Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard. I wrote all about this incredible book here. Suffice it to say that I love this book.

I also brought along the current issue of Educational Leadership, which is focused on writing. Although many of the articles seemed to be directed at secondary instruction more than primary instruction, there were several that got me thinking hard, even on the beach. Mary Ehrenworth's article is full of practical ideas for involving parents in children's writing and Kelly Gallagher affirms the importance of powerful writing as a life skill, and the power of mentor texts. The example he gives of two portrayals of his father's death won't leave me any time soon. I am percolating a post about the five-paragraph essay and its place in elementary classrooms after reading Kimberly Hill Campbell's piece. All in all, this is a great issue for anyone involved in writing instruction!

Happy reading,


  1. I'll need to get Boxing Club, Melanie - sounds just the sort of deep thinking book I need to have in my classroom. Georgia's book was wonderful - so full of her distinctive wisdom. I hope you enjoyed your break!

  2. Like Tara, I'd like to find The Berlin Boxing Club, Melanie. I vaguely remember it, but had forgotten about it. I have almost finished the Georgia Heard book with the primary teachers at school. We have enjoyed it very much. Thank you!

  3. I love how you said you wanted to jump into the pages to warn them...
    Looks like I need to find The Berlin Boxing Club too!

  4. It appears like Georgia Heard has written quite a number of inspiring professional development books - will try to find that one soonest. The Berlin Boxing Club sounds like a book that I should find and read. I love books that tackle difficult issues like this. :)

  5. Thank you for telling us about the articles in Ed. Leadership. We are looking forward to reading Mary Ehrenworth's article.