I needed to read a biography. This semester I invited my students to play “Book Bingo” with their reading. Everyone has a “Book Bingo” card glued into their English journal. Each time you finish a book, you check off a corresponding Book Bingo square. Up to three bingoes earn extra credit and anyone who completes a blackout by June 4 is entered into a prize drawing.
To help build enthusiasm for the game, I’m playing along. Which is why I needed to read a biography, read one biography and I’d have my first bingo.
Normally, I don’t read many biographies, but that’s part of the point with Book Bingo, to get students to try types of books they might not otherwise try. Reading teachers do this a lot. I’m separating reading teachers from English teachers here because it’s not quite the same thing–lots of us are really both by the way. In my career, I’ve assigned genres to the entire class at times, reading mystery novels to make “book reports in a bag” was always a favorite. Read a mystery, put five “clues” (objects) in a bag and present a “report” to the class on the objects in your bag. It’s an extensive show-and-tell, but it was always fun.
So, I’m playing Book Bingo which means I have to read books I might not otherwise read, like biographies which led me to Noah Webster: A Man of Many Words by Catherine Reef. Recommended by my school librarian who said “Sometimes I buy books for myself.” I know the feeling. I think all reading teachers have a few titles we’ve been trying to convince our students are as wonderful as we think they are. It took me years to get anyone to read Emily Cheville Nevil’s It’s Like This Cat because the cover was so dated and I could never describe the story in a way that made middle schoolers want to read it. After years of trying I finally did get a few to read it–they loved it.
In a long, very round-about way, this is sort of what happened to Noah Webster. He spent many years trying to get people interested in the book he was writing, finally did get some people to read it….no that’s not going to work. Try again.
Come Monday morning, when we all record what we read during our vacation week on our Book Bingo cards and I check off biography, my students will all want to know if I liked the book. Maybe they should read it?
Maybe it’s the nature of Noah Webster’s life. He lived a long time, struggled to be successful in publishing; worked to make the new country he lived in better than it was; believed in the power of words, American words in particular, as a unifying force. While there is a good story in there, it’s not really one that has much appeal for 12-year-olds.
Though I can see why it would be popular with librarians.