Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Affair at Valley High School!

Schools throughout the Jordan School District celebrate literacy in a number of ways. Middle schools like Elk Ridge Middle invite local authors to spend an evening with students and their parents to learn more about the joys of reading and writing. West Jordan High sponsors a very popular Poetry Slam that runs for 3 days. Valley High also holds a Slam, but for the seven or eight years, they have also promoted literacy by holding Book Affair.

According to Terry Jensen, English teacher at Valley, Book Affair was someone else's brainchild, but Terry soon took over and has chaired the annual event ever since.The purpose was to celebrate READING for LIFE and READING for PLEASURE. Organizers want students to know that reading remains a part of people's lives beyond formal schooling.

Initially, administrators and teachers, staff members and some students shared their favorite books with students. More recently, however, Terry expanded the program to feature state and community leaders as well as published authors. A few years ago, Sharon Jensen, former assistant principal at Valley, suggested a book give-away to further motivate students to read the featured books. Using a portion of Trustland funds, Valley gives away scores of favorite titles!

This year's presenters ranged from a school board member to a manager of the King's English Book store. Here are some book picks and presenter pix to share with you.

Terry Jensen, presented at least a dozen of his favorite titles and introduced Madeline Stout who shared her favorite book - The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Madeline enjoyed the book's humor, but even more, she appreciated that she learned the deeper meaning behind self image, and misguided ideas of perfection. The PRINTZ Honor book also talks about measuring up to family's expectations and asks teens to avoid being so hard on themselves.

J. Dale Christensen, a member and former president of JSD's  Board of Education, talked about the importance of reading and then told students about the non-fiction best-seller, 1776 by David McCullough.

Principal of Valley High School, Don Link, honored J.D. Salinger by talking about the first time he read Catcher in the Rye - the quintessential and controversial "coming of age" story. As Salinger passed away in January, this was especially appropriate. Mr. Link also recommended Salinger's Nine Stories, a collection of short stories.

Vickie Bork, school psychologist talked about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  about William Kamkwamba, a young man in Africa who "built a windmill to elevate the lives and spirits of those in his community." The book demonstrates how just one person can make a difference in the world, regardless of age.

Deseret News journalist, author of The Loser's Guide to Life and Love, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, my blogger friend Ann Cannon recalled a day spent at a book shop in a near empty mall where she stumbled onto Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. That day she picked up a fantasy, even though she hated that genre; read the the prologue, which she NEVER DOES; and read a description of little people with big hairy feet. She was grateful that she overcame all those prejudices, including ones about feet, to read this classic.

Sharon Jensen's favorite book is The 4 Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Miguel Ruiz. The book suggests 4 ways of handling one's self in order to achieve personal freedom. They are as follows:
  • Be impeccable with your word. (Spot on) (positive)
  • Don't take anything personally - what people do is NOT because of you.
  • Don't make assumptions about others.
  • Always do your best - no MORE and no LESS. 
Lisa Kolstad, creative writing teacher at the high school keeps 3 journals near her bedside. One is her personal journal; another is her "managing anger" journal, and the 3rd is her writing ideas journal. Because of her love of journaling, Lisa recommended The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. The novel is about the reuniting and reconcilation of 3 sisters whose lives have been laced with tragic chaos.

Margaret Brennan from THE KINGS ENGLISH, highly touted I Sang to the Monster, but she also recommended many other great reads, including the following with the disclaimer that not all of these titles are for young adults and include some heavy and/or adult themes.
  • Little Bee 
  • Adoration of Jenna Fox
  • (NOT Faux as I originally spelled it!)
  • Things Fall Apart 
  • Th1rteen R3asons Why
  • Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Sarah's Key
  • Never Let Me Go
  • Beyond the Sky and Earth
  • Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
  • No Shortcuts to the Top
  • Escape
  • Infidel
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
  •  Between a Rock and a Hard Place
  • Wintergirls 
  •  Escape 
One of the surprising highlights was Mark and Caralyn Buehner's presentation. The husband and wife/illustrating and writing team shared their experiences in publishing their well-loved picture books, including Snowmen at Night and Dex:The Heart of a Hero. The students particularly enjoyed listening to Cara read Dex, and I heard a collective sigh from the audience when she shared the sweet ending.

The office ladies have organized their own book club and present their favorites every year at Book Affair.

Sara Zarr usually presents at B.A., but could not this year. Instead, she recommended Ann Dee Willis and Emily Wing Smith as presenters. Both young authors held the teens' attention even at the very end of the day as they talked about the influence of their favorite authors on their writing.

The simplicity of Sandra Cisernos's House on Mango Street motivated Ann Dee to dedicate a summer to writing and finishing her first book,This is What I Did. Ann Dee's first novel "received three starred reviews and was listed on Voice of Youth Advocates - 2007 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers List, American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults for 2007 and was a 2008 International Reading Association honor book. Her second book, Everything is Fine was released March 2009. Kirkus described the book as 'Impressionistic, elliptical and full of feeling' and VOYA (starred review) called it 'a story so painful you want to read it with your eyes closed. It is a stunning novel.'”

Emily Wing Smith published her first YA novel, The Way He Lived, in 2007, and her second book is due out soon. The author quoted her favorite author M.E. Kerr's observation that writing helps young adults work through tough experiences and get back to where they want and need to be. Loosely based upon an incident that happened during her high school years, Emily's novel revolves around peers' perceptions of a young many who died one summer. Seen as a martyr by some and self-destructive by others, the protagonist is all and none of what others think of him.

"The Way He Lived received accolades including a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. It was also winner of the Utah Book Award in Young Adult Fiction. Her next YA novel, Back when You Were Easier to Love, will be released from Dutton (Penguin) early next year."

Kay Erickson and Mark Murphy, faculty members at Valley, wrapped up Book Affair by promoting their favorites: The Greatest Generation, a book Kay recommends because her dad was a WWII vet who never talked about the war. Magnificent Obsession, written by Lloyd C. Douglas and published in 1929, has been been his favorite job for 40 years. The classic nspired him to be of service to others, and Douglas' novel also touched my life some 35 years ago when I read it. It's one whose message I will never forget.

This summer my reading goal is to consume as many books by Utah authors as I can. They include Ann Dee's and Emily's, as well as Carol Lynch Williams' book The ChosenI recently finished Jessica Day George's fairytale-fantasy Princess of the Midnight Ball, and I am anxious to start Bree DeSpain's The Dark Divine.

Oh, and I won't let summer end until I read Ann Cannon's The Loser's Guide to Life and Love and The Chihuahua Chase!