Posts Tagged close reading

5 Ways to Remember What You Read: And Do You Need to “Remember” At All?

I wish I had a photographic memory. But I don’t. In order to remember something, I typically need to write about it. And as a children’s author, I want to remember the books that I read.

Through the years, I’ve tried several methods to chronicle the books I read. These techniques include the following:

A Reader Response Journal

This is where I note my immediate responses to a book. My writing is sloppy and comes out in a gush. In classrooms, teachers say they enjoy using this method as a way for students to learn how to become close readers. Readers organically engage with texts, and this feels very intimate. Additionally, you don’t have to write about an entire book, you can simply respond to particular passages or chapters.

For me, one of my flaws is that I tend to sometimes write  responses on my phone, sometimes in a journal and sometimes as a Word document and they are not collected in one place. But this is separate issue—more about my tendency to shirk from instituting routines/systems. How to organize everything could be its own separate post.

Craft Journal

This is very similar to a reader response journal in that you’re quickly responding to text, but the goals are different. In this sort of journal, I actively search the text for answers to a particular craft question. My reading itself becomes more strategic and less about pleasure. I might read for voice. Or to see how a particular author handles tertiary characters or how she folds in setting. The list goes on and on.

GoodReads

Sometimes I will post a quick review on GoodReads. Ha! I just fibbed. I’m not capable of writing something speedily that will be posted on a social media platform (even on X formerly known as Twitter). I’m not as active on GoodReads as I hoped to be. It seems like a smart way of chronicling books as well as boosting fellow authors. As an author, I really appreciate it when readers post their reviews on GoodReads as well as on retailer websites. However, I think that my ego gets in the way, and I want my review to be clever and it can stop me from posting here. I need to tame my ego!

Book Groups

In the past (pre-motherhood), I have been part of book groups. I love that these groups create community. I’m all in for circle time. As an author I have visited some book groups. I would like to get active in a book group again (but I also worry about time/commitment).

Reels/TikTok

Not me. At least yet. Now that TikTok will likely be banned, I suspect that the action will be on Reels.

How do you chronicle your reading? What works for you? And do you even need to chronicle the books you read? Is it enough to just enjoy them? Ponder them? Love them?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). And her nonfiction picture book, If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders From Around the World is a look at historical and current princesses from many diverse lands who have made their mark (Simon & Schuster, August 2022). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University. In the summer, she teaches in the graduate program in children’s literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy.

She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on Instagram, her Facebook page as well as on Twitter

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– Writing Tips and Resources

Begin at the End

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTwo-time Pulitzer prize winner Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, writes “The story doesn’t pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending – so write that first.” I’ve discovered that the same trick works when I need to read like a writer.

Narrative, expository, opinion pieces – no matter the approach – informational texts are written to convey something. Be it a concept, a scientific process, personal growth, an abstract theme, a historical truth, whatever, the entire text builds towards it. So, if I want to understand the building blocks an author uses, it makes sense to read the conclusion first to know were the book is going.

Try it.

The books in this month’s list provide a perfect opportunity; they are all about women’s history and offer great comparison opportunities.

Pick up one of the books and read the final chapter – not the author’s note, or any of the back matter, but the chapter intended as the official conclusion. Ask yourself: What do I notice? Who are the characters? What is the tone?

Ask: What is the point of this book? List some questions that reading the conclusion first brings up.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI picked up Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margo Lee Shetterly. I knew that the book was about multiple women who had an impact on space exploration, so what struck me was how the ending focused on one of the characters, Katherine Johnson. Why? I leafed through the rest of the book and saw that, although mentioned earlier, Katherine’ story doesn’t really begin until page 93. Why? This had me charging back to the beginning of the book to read straight through to figure out just how and why Shetterly built to that particular conclusion.

When thinking about the structure of a text, I try to sketch shapes as representations. In Hidden Figures would I find a triangular structure, pointing to Johnson? A chain of interlocked links? A circle where the conclusion brings us back to the beginning?

This is inquiry.

This is close reading!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWith this shape idea in mind, I flipped to the end of Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. The book is written in verse. The title of the last one was “The Wider World” which sounded like a conclusion, but as I read, I realized the entire verse was about one character. Where were the other two girls? How could this be a conclusion for the entire book?

Driven by that question, I read the book. I sketch three pillars; one for each story. Each stands independently, illustrating the life of one girl. But together those pillars support a bigger idea, a universal idea that the last verse just happens to illustrate perfectly. Now that’s skill: conveying a universal truth that a reader laps up before they even realize it!

Speaking of universal truths, Jon Franklin instructs “if those truths seem like clichés . . . so much the better.” That surprised me at first, but then I compare a few of the books and it starts to make sense. Universal truths are eternal truths, messages we have all heard before but still need to hear again and again.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI figured this collection of women’s history books will all hit on the same universal truths and might use very similar approaches. Again, those conclusions had something to teach me. In Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream, Tanya Lee Stone uses a brand new character and open ended questions to shine a light into the future of women in math and science. In Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, Mary Cronk Farrell uses reflection and a character who we met on the first page of the book.

When I picked up Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, I was intrigued to find the book concluded with “Your Turn.” This segment uses direct address and includes specifics on how to apply for a patent. An indirect challenge to the reader to get busy inventing!

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It wasn’t till I skimmed through the rest of the book, though, that I realized another gem of the conclusion. It took the book’s premise (female inventors) up a notch. It highlighted an inventor who was not only female, but also a young female. By that point I was totally jazzed to dig into the intro to see how Thimmesh set up the book for this romp through chocolate chip cookies, Liquid Paper, and space bumpers, leading us to the universal truth of the power of girls as inventors.

So, I challenge you. Pick up a book and begin at the end. You might be amazed at where I takes you!

Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. How does she conclude her books? With a story of a kid who discovered a new species, an insect who eats his sister and her own close encounter with the skin of a skunk!

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

 

 


O.O.L.F

Some authoritative works on crafting nonfiction:

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner, by Jon Franklin, which focuses on crafting an effective structure for narrative nonfiction

The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality, by Lee Gutkind, in which the guru of creative nonfiction looks at the genre, immersion techniques, framing devices, essays, and more

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, by Jack Hart, which provides a balanced look at topics such as structure, character, dialog, reporting and ethics

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas, which dissects the research process and provides guidance on submitting to the children’s market

 

STEM Tuesday — Pair Up! Comparing Nonfiction Titles — Writing Craft and Resources

Going Deep

Today we are diving deep into two books that intrigue me. Books about a horrific medical epidemic. Books that both use narrative and expository plus characters to carry readers through the story. Books that plunge into history and science plus ethical and moral questions.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary, by Gail Jarrow

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

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Here’s a quick recap. In the early 1900s Mary Mallon carried typhoid but didn’t display any of the symptoms. She worked as a cook, was definitively linked to the infections of 49 people plus three deaths, was quarantined for decades, and became the brunt of a tabloid scandal. Both books look at the entangled story of her life, medical professionals who tracked her down, legal charges against her, and implications for constitutional rights.

 

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In two books on the same topic, published in the same year, written with similar audiences in mind, there is much to compare and contrast. What I find most intriguing is that both bring the science and history to light while posing enduring questions.

Dive In

Let’s look at how these books each handle one of those enduring questions. Get ready for some close reading!

After years of quarantine, Mary was finally released on parole. The terms of her release specified that she take precautions to not infect others, not work as a cook, and report regularly to the health department. But Mary broke those terms, resulting in another major outbreak and her own exile until death. The question these authors chase: Why did she risk it?

Turn to pages 133-135 of Terrible Typhoid Mary and Page 118-120 of Fatal Fever to read the texts. Here are some things to look for. I’ve included a few things I noticed and am eager to hear what you discover.

Whose story is told first?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “Mary had no lawyer to help her.”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Mary never said why she broke the conditions . . .”

What words are chosen to set the tone?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “A Witch!”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “. . . she struggled . . .”

In what way are other characters’ reactions used? Do those reactions support or denigrate Mary’s choice?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “The sympathy that people once felt toward Mallon evaporated.”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Her temerity galled Soper.”

What words or phrases convey doubt or leave interpretation open?

  • Fatal Fever:
    • “Maybe she didn’t see the harm in it, . . .”
  • Terrible Typhoid Mary
    • “Is it possible that Mary simply didn’t understand . . .”

Are you caught up in this conundrum? Of how Mary, who had been presented as a person who stepped in to care for children when needed, could do such a thing? I am.

Where do these passages leave you emotionally? Did the balance between narrative and expository impact your reaction? Does either passage affect you more? Why?

On Your Own

Now, pursue a similar close reading on your own. There are plenty of other parallel topics in these books. Try the discussion of gall bladder removal: Fatal Fever (page 93) and Terrible Typhoid Mary (pages 136-137).

How do these authors use sequencing, language, and other characters? How do their skillful use of nonfiction devices impact you as a reader?

—-

By Heather L. Montgomery

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. Her latest book, Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and Their Kids, is a perfect picturebook for a close read.

www.HeatherLMontgomery.com


The O.O.L.F. Files

Resources for Writers

https://www.rhymezone.com/

This site might have been designed with rhyming in mind but it has many other uses. Need a thesaurus? Angling for alliterative words? Looking for lyrics? Rhymezone’s got you covered.

https://www.google.com/alerts

Needing to go deep on a topic? Set up a Google alert on your topic. Day after day it will deliver the freshest posts straight to your inbox.

http://www.bluebulbprojects.com/MeasureOfThings/default.php

When you need a measurement comparison, The Measure of Things is your best friend! How large is 110 cubic inches?

  • 9/10th the size of a human stomach
  • 1/3rd the size of a bowling ball
  • 1 1/10th the size of an ostrich egg!