Happy New Year, everyone! Welcome to a new year with Ethical ELA. As I mentioned in an August post, I took on a new teaching schedule this year: four classes in junior high and two classes at DePaul University. I thought, within these two part-time positions, that I would have more time to read and write, and I have. I have written chapters for three books on young adult literature and “finished” my first young adult novel, Alone Together. And I have read nearly 200 books, most are reviewed on Goodreads. In the extra few hours a day that my new schedule affords me, I have nurtured not only my writing life and reading life but my Life — as I have slept a bit more, learned how to swim, and enjoyed many more dinners with my husband. The most difficult part of being a teacher is, for me, balancing my identities. I’ve tried compartmentalizing, but integrating my roles and commitments into something cohesive has worked better. I now I think the key is to see myself as already whole — all these parts work together to make me, well, Sarah. Such is my story. Thus, to launch the new year of Ethical ELA, I have invited some friends to tell the story of their reading life in the hopes that we can find validation (my #oneword18) and inspiration. Please, welcome Brian Kissel.
Last year, on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I resolved to read a book a week—52 books a year. We are the parents of three children (twin boys in 3rd grade and a 2nd grade daughter) who are so active we took them to playgrounds before preschool so they could exorcise their pent-up energy. Most days our lives are as chaotic as the Bomb-Cyclone currently pummeling the East Coast. We both work—so we have active professional lives outside the home. And inside the home we do all the things most parents have to do to maintain a sane existence: laundry (unbelievable mountains of clothes), pack lunches (we fight over this one), fix breakfast, argue with the kids over appropriate attire, drop-off and pick-up from school, soccer practice runs, dance lessons, swim meets, dinner prep, nighttime routines, and on and on and on.
This year, when we told friends about our resolution, we were universally met with the same inquiry: “How in the world can you read so much with so many kids?” Before I answer that question, I want to address another question that I wish people asked me instead: “Why in the world did you decide to read so much with so many kids?”
One of the reasons we took this challenge was to push ourselves as readers—to build our own reading fluency and read widely to more fully experience the world in which we live. During a year with so much political tumult, we read to escape. We read literature that took us to World War II and Shaker Heights, IL. We read graphic novels that took us back to Selma during the Civil Rights Movement or to otherworldly imaginative worlds created by artists. We read nonfiction that brought us from the Osage Nation to searches for lost cities in the Amazon. And when I was ready to digest the past election, I read political books in search of some understanding of what happened (including reading Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened). When a recent study was published that showed that readers tended to be more empathetic as human beings because, when reading, they delved into the inner thoughts of characters, I responded through three utterances: Hmmm, A-ha, and Duh!
We also read because, as teachers, we believe reading is an important part of our own professional development. How can we pass forward a love for reading if we weren’t readers ourselves? How can we persuade students that reading is a worthy pursuit, if we, ourselves, didn’t think it was worthy to spend valuable time pursuing it? How can we even know what books to recommend to students, if we were unaware of the rich, diverse texts published every day? We read because it is part of our calling as teachers to be passionate advocates for literacy.
There was a wonderful by-product of our reading challenge: It influenced our children. My sons, who get constant messages that reading is a “girl thing” saw the most influential man in their life (an honor I’ll hold on to until the teenage years turn them against me) reading voluminously. My daughter, who still loves to sit in my lap and cuddle, enjoyed the challenge of reading words and phrases from the books I held in my hands. My wife, who struggles with dyslexia (a wondrously frustrating trait that got passed down to one of my sons), was not only able to overcome her challenge, she was able to demonstrate to my son that dyslexia does not stop one from pursuing a reading life. Our children, seeing their parents as avid readers, were the biggest beneficiaries of our reading resolution.
So, how did two working parents, with active lives, read 52 books in one year? This is how:
- After dinner, bath, and brushed teeth, we gathered our children together in our bedroom and we all spent one hour reading. My wife and I separated the children and spent 30 minutes reading books aloud to our children. One went with the boys to read (or to be read to) while the other went with our daughter to read (or to be read to). Afterwards, the entire family spent another 30 minutes reading our own books independently. (I didn’t record the picture books I read aloud to the children—which would easily make my reading list 400+ books.)
- I brought my currently reading selection with me everywhere I went: doctor’s offices, soccer practice, work, etc. Whenever I had some free time, instead of reading my phone, I read a book.
- During breaks (Spring, Summer, and Winter break) from school, my wife and I plowed through several books. In our profession, what we lack in salary we make up for in nice, extended breaks from the daily grind of teaching. We took those breaks to spend time with our children—and to read.
- When we took a vacation, we made sure to schedule plenty of down-time so it could actually be relaxing instead of hectic. During that downtime, we usually read.
- Finally, we watched far less television. In my past life, I found television the medium that helped me relax after long days at work. Now, reading fills that void. So, after the kids go to sleep (around 8:30pm), my wife and I might watch one show together. But we spend the rest of the evening reading together in bed. When lights go out at 11:00pm, we found that we snuck in another 2 hours of reading.
That’s how we read 52 books a year. And that’s what I tell fellow parent-educators when they say, “I don’t have time to read.” Yes, you do. You just have to prioritize the time. Not only is this important for your professional life. It’s something that will greatly enrich your personal life as well. In other words, your kids (one day) will thank you for raising them as readers.
Brian’s 2017 Reading List
(The *** denotes the books I particularly enjoyed reading)
- The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade by Charles Dew
- Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy
- Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Adichie Chimanda Ngozi
- The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann ***
- Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann ***
- The Greatness of Dads by Kirsten Matthew
- Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Eric Michael Dyson ***
- Fifty Years of 60 Minutes: The Inside Story of Television’s Most Influential News Broadcast by Jeff Fager
- The Wisdom of Sundays: Life Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations by Oprah Winfrey
- Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson ***
- The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
- On Living by Kerry Egan
- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson ***
- South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion
- Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott
- Just Kids by Patti Smith ***
- Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
- But Seriously, An Autobiography by John McEnroe
- You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie ***
- Theft by Finding: Diaries by David Sedaris
- Books for Living by Will Schwalbe ***
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien ***
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan ***
- Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ***
- Boundless by Jillian Tamaki
- My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
- Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told you about Being Creative by Austin Kleon
- American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
- Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story by Frederik Peeters
- Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast ***
- March: Book One by John Lewis ***
- Thornhill by Pam Smy ***
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Double Fudge by Judy Blume
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen ***
- Solo by Kwame Alexander ***
- The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb ***
- Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
- Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman
- When Writers Drive the Workshop by Brian Kissel (my own book, of course!)
- The Energy to Teach by Donald Graves
- Embarrassment: And the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Tom Newkirk ***
- The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow your Passion by Elle Luna
- The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith
- State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends his Homeland by Dave Barry ***
- Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
- What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton ***
- Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
- Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur ***
- The Great Gasbag: An A-Z Study Guide to Surviving Trump World by Joy Behar
BRIAN KISSEL is a writer, reader, and teacher. An educator for over 20 years, he is a professor of Literacy and Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of four books including When Writers Drive the Workshop, published by Stenhouse in 2017. Brian lives in North Carolina with his wife Hattie and three children: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet. To learn more you can visit his website at: www.briankissel.com.