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Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

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The summary (adapted from Goodreads):

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.

The review:

The Thing About Jellyfish is exceptionally well-written. Informative without being preachy and realistic but also timeless, Jellyfish covers quite a bit of ground in what it means to journey from childhood to adolescence. That aching realism, and the interesting facts, were my favorite parts of the novel. It’s the kind of book with a cross-over appeal that adults will love. The question I kept asking, though, was how will the target audience feel? Even with the first person narration, I felt a distance from Suzy, as if the reader is seeing an adult tell the story instead of a twelve-year-old. Even with that distance, I still appreciate the layered nuance of Benjamin’s writing.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Take It All Back by Judah & the Lion

For the Love of Reading

Imagine if I told you, an adult who reads for entertainment, that you’ll now be required to answer a question with a written response every time you put down a book or an article. The articles will have more questions, with both multiple choice and long written responses. They’ll ask you questions like this: 
 
What is the purpose of this sentence? They had a tiny yard. 
Is it A.) To tell you the size of their yard or B.) To explain why they built a tree house (That’s an actual question from my son’s homework last night. The correct answer is B.)

 

And books…well, to make sure you understand what you’ve read, you’ll have to write short responses every time you read, as well as a longer summary and review when you finish the book.

 

I’m a writer, and that doesn’t sound like “reading for pleasure” to me.  The thing is, I’m also a teacher. I know that you need kids to read, and you need them to get better at reading as fast as possible, because your paycheck depends on it. Even the ones who didn’t eat breakfast this morning or any morning. Even the ones who speak English as a second language. Even the ones who hate reading because it’s hard and boring and just doesn’t make sense.

 

No child left behind, right?

 

You need them to read, and you have to hold them accountable, and you have to prove that you tried, even if you can’t show growth.

 

My fifth grade son starts two full weeks of standardized testing Monday. My third grader already completed his. I expected the homework to decrease at this point. Silly, I know. Instead, my older son’s online lessons increased from two to five. That means five online lessons in addition to his hour+ of old fashioned paper and pencil homework.

 

But the real kicker is for my third grader. The one who already finished his tests. Instead of nine online lessons per week, in addition to regular homework, he now has sixteen. Sixteen online lessons per week. Plus homework. Plus projects. Plus “pleasure” reading and responses every night. Except, when is he supposed to do this reading for fun?

 

I know, I know. I could homeschool them. I could pull them from their accelerated/advanced magnet school. But it’s not just their school. This pervasive sickness is invading education culture in our country. I’m not venting to complain, but to lament.

 

They’re killing the love of reading.

 

If you want kids with higher lexile levels, make them fall in love. Hook them with whatever hooks them so they can’t put the words down. Make them hunger for it. Comic book superheroes, wimpy kids, princesses, elephants, or wizards away at boarding school. Feed whatever stokes that fire. Read aloud and silently, outside or on bean bags or stretched out on the floor. Open up their imaginations and pour stuff in until something sticks. Celebrate the day they’re late to class because they couldn’t stop reading. Let them draw their book reports, or just stand up and talk about what was awesome or what was cheesy, or write their own fan fiction with a new ending.
Because once they fall in love, they won’t be able to stop. They’ll read that longer, more complicated book because everyone’s talking about it at lunch, and it has a zombie and an evil alien warlord. Or they’ll learn what the word obsequiously means because that’s how that freshman acted around the student body president in that one contemporary romance.  

 

See, my son should be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with joy and anticipation and maybe even a little disappointment that the beginning is so long. He shouldn’t have to worry that if he doesn’t read the right number of pages each night, he won’t make his goal of 1,050 pages for the quarter, or that he might have to stop and read some easier, short books in between to complete the right number of reports.

 

There are some things you just can’t measure on standardized tests or additions to the portfolio. Every kid is different. If you teach a kid to love reading, maybe you won’t see the results right now. But you will change the world. You’ll change his or her world. And isn’t that what really matters? 
 
Music for today: Everything Is Wrong by Interpol.