I’d like to welcome Colby Sharp to the Mixed-Up Files. He’s a fourth-grade teacher, children’s book blogger, the father of three, and an avid reader. Welcome Colby, we’re so glad you could visit today!
Colby Sharp: It is an honor to be here. Crazy thing happened in the few weeks since you wrote up these questions. I got a new job! Click here to read about it. Now I’m a third-grade teacher.
Michele Weber Hurwitz for the Mixed-Up Files: Let’s talk first about your years of teaching fourth-graders. Tell us about your reading philosophy and what you do in the classroom to get students excited about books. I know you’ve had book exchanges, and students have even guest-posted on your blog.
CS: I think that the most important thing I do to get kids excited about reading is give them time to read books of their own choosing. Without time and choice it wouldn’t matter what I did to get kids excited about reading. Those two things are key. With that being said, I try to do a lot of fun things to get kids excited about reading: book speed dating, author Skype visits, author visits, and sharing my own reading life.
MUF: What are some favorite, well-read books on your classroom shelf, and what do you think is the magic quality of those books that resonates with students?
CS: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and Wonder by R.J. Palacio jump out at me as the two newer books that kids are crazy about. I think that one of the things that makes these two books so special is that they really tug at the heartstrings of young readers.
MUF: Has there been a particularly memorable author visit at your school? What do you think are the ingredients for a successful author visit?
CS: All of the author visits that my students and I have hosted have gone really well. Our last visit of 2012-2013 was with Liesl Shurtliff. I think that the most important thing in making an author visit successful is preparation. My students spend a ton of time getting ready for author visits. We decorate the school. My students spend time studying about the author. We read all of their books, and we do everything we can to make them feel welcome while they are in our building.
MUF: Do you find that your fourth-graders read more e-books or print?
CS: Print. I’m not sure if this has to do with access, or if they truly prefer print books. Many of my students end up getting an e-reader for Christmas. They are crazy about the thing for the first couple of weeks after winter break, but their interest quickly cools as they realize they don’t have access to the books they want to read on their e-reader. I have 2,500 books in my classroom library. Kids usually have 3-5 books on their e-reader. They almost always abandon the e-reader by the end of January.
MUF: What prompted you to start a blog about children’s books? Give us a picture of what your blog is all about.
CS: This is a terrible reason, but it seemed like everyone else had a blog, so I figured I needed one too. I like to think of my blog as a place where I celebrate and honor the books that my students and I fall in love with. It is also a great place for me to reflect on my teaching practice.
MUF: You’re a passionate supporter of children’s authors, and you write very down-to-earth, heartfelt reviews, which are now followed by several thousand readers. Did you envision this when you started the blog?
CS: Ha! When I started my blog, I didn’t even think about who would read it or how many readers it would have. I just wanted to fit in.
MUF: What is the Nerdy Book Club, and who is the mysterious Mr. Schu?
CS: The Nerdy Book Club is a way of life. If you are a reader, you are a member (if you want to be). It is a place where teaching literacy and books are celebrated every single day. Mr. Schu is an amazing librarian, a children’s literature advocate, and one of my best friends in the entire world.
MUF: Tell us about your 2013 personal challenge involving running and reading. Where are you at in your journey and what is your goal? What made you want to take on this challenge?
CS: I’m trying to run 1006 miles and read 1007 books in 2013. I have set a reading goal the last couple of years, and that goal had really helped me push myself as a reader. I thought that adding running to the mix would be a healthy way to help me keep a little more balance in my life. I’m currently at just over 600 miles ran and 550 books read.
CS: I was a sports nut. Every recess of every elementary school day was spent playing basketball, baseball, or football. Girls terrified me, so I didn’t spend a lot of time talking with them. Fourth grade was the year that I fell in love with Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, which is still one of my all-time favorite books. My mom didn’t work at my school until I was in middle school. Having a lunch lady mom was a little embarrassing at first, but I quickly realized that always getting the biggest slice of pizza was pretty darn awesome.
MUF: What do you like to do in your downtime, when you’re not teaching, blogging, running, reading, or being a dad? Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon?
CS: I really enjoy spending one-on-one time with my wife. She is the most amazing person that I have ever met, and every moment we spend together is precious.
MUF: What’s your next challenge?
CS: Moving to third grade will be a huge challenge. I’m excited to see how they compare to my fourth-graders.
Thank you so much, Colby, for being a guest on the Mixed-Up Files today! Be sure to check out Colby’s book reviews on his blog.
Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books 2011) and The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, coming spring 2014). Visit her at www.micheleweberhurwitz.com.