Saturday, August 07, 2010

Mini lessons from my summer reading

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
by David Mitchell
Random House, 2010
I own it. The audio version, too.

We'll spend the first days of the new school year talking about reading preferences: favorite books and authors, book choice, just right books, etc. This year, my mentor text for all my beginning-of-the-year mini lessons will be the best adult book I've read since last December: THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET. (For the record, the previous best book: THE LACUNA by Barbara Kingsolver.)

Here are some mini lessons I'll be able to teach while holding up this book:

BOOK CHOICE: This is the newest book by one of my favorite authors. When I heard David Mitchell had a new book out, I didn't wait to hear what anyone else thought about it. I trust this author. I knew it would be good. I read it as soon as I could get my hands on it. {Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books?}

PACING: I read this book through my ears by listening to this book, rather than through my eyes by seeing the print. I noticed many times when I wished I could slow down to figure something out or savor the language, or speed up so that I could see how an exciting part turned out. {Do you read faster or slower sometimes? When? Why?}

CHARACTERS: There are lots of characters with foreign names in this book. I had to pay close attention while I listened so I could keep them straight. It might have been easier if I could have seen the names. The reader of the audio book did a good job giving each character an accent. Sometimes that's how I remembered who was who. {How do you keep the characters straight as you read? What does the author do to help you?}

PLOT/SUBPLOT: There are lots of story lines in this book. It was important to remember what happened to Jacob, the Dutch clerk; Orito, the Japanese woman doctor (pretty amazing for 1799); the many Japanese translators (Japanese/Dutch); Marinus, the scientist/doctor/harpsichord player; Lord Abbot Enomoto, evil incarnate. {What is the main story in your book (plot)? What is one smaller story in your book (subplot)?}

Besides all the main plots and subplots, there were the times when the author would go off on a tangent that didn't really take the plot anywhere -- a character would tell a story or there would be an extended description of a place -- but I trusted the author and went along for the ride. {Tell about a time when you had no idea why the author seemed to go off-topic, but you trusted the author and it turned out to be really important.}

There's a whole lot of plot/subplot in this book, but in the end, I think it was a book about character. (I should have guessed that from the title, right?) {Is your book more strong in plot or character?}

STAMINA: This is a really long book. I stayed with it until the end. {How do you keep going in longer and longer books?}

AUTHOR'S STYLE: I love the way Mitchell writes. At one point, I had to turn off the recording and write down a line as soon as I could get my hands on paper and pencil. By way of telling another character that his story was exaggerated, Marinus tells him that he "...rather over-egged the brûlée." {Let's start a bulletin board of lines we love in the books we're reading. Be sure you write the title and the author of your book, the page number you found it on, and copy the quote exactly as the author wrote it. Use quotation marks. Here, I'll get us started with my quote. You can use it as an example.}

Towards the end, I suddenly realized that a descriptive passage about gulls flying over Dejima and Nagasaki was a poem -- I could hear rhythms and rhymes. I rewound the recording so I could listen to it again. (Imagine my astonishment when I looked at the book and that section was NOT written with the line-breaks of a typical poem. Even the READER would have to discover by listening that there was rhythm and rhyme and poetry there! {Have you ever heard poetry in a chapter book? Or a magazine, or newspaper, or nonfiction? Listen closely. See if you can find an example to bring in.}

THE POWER OF DISCUSSION: When I was about two-thirds of the way through listening to this book, AJ started reading it. (When he got to the "over-egged brûlée," I had him turn down the corner of the page -- that phrase has become one of our favorites.) We have had quick discussions about the book over the last week or so. ("Where are you in the book -- what's happening now -- what did you think of this or that?") {Talking about books will be an important part of our reading workshop this year...}

I found JACOB DE ZOET at my place at the table this morning so I know we'll be able to talk about the ending now. I can't wait. As much as I've enjoyed reading this book, I'll enjoy it even more because I can TALK about this book with someone else who has read it. I'm still not sure what the title means. Maybe AJ will be able to help me think that through. {Who do you think would enjoy the book you just read? What topics do you hope you will you talk about?}

One of the things AJ and I have been talking about while I've been waiting for him to finish the book, is the difference between novels and mysteries. I think I finally understand why I don't like reading mysteries. But this is getting long, so I'll make that another post for another day!


  1. Mary Lee, many smart ideas for beginning of the year focus lessons to help children live the life of a reader. I find it interested that many of your ideas came from a book you read by listening. Jeff (my 8th grade teacher/husband) and I were discussing this very thing last night. This conversation really sends a message to readers that "listening is reading too (maybe a different kind??)". It welcomes students who might still be more comfortable listening as they build stamina in reading with their eyes. So many great things here!

  2. I absolutely believe that reading with my ears is as valid as reading with my eyes. I use mostly the same strategies. Mostly.

    My other point here was to show how I'll communicate to students that the strategies I am teaching them to use in their reading aren't for "school reading," but for all the reading they will do for the rest of their lives!

  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Mary Lee, this is one that came up for book club. Will need to get. WE did decide to read Lacuna.


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