What Are You Reading?


Do you have time to read for pleasure?

I barely do. With my teaching job, doctoral classes, a dissertation, friends, family, house, and garden I can take up to 6 months with one book. How sad! 

For the past 4 months I have been living and conducting research in Chile.

I am researching Chilean children's literature and how to use it to teach Spanish as a second language. Although my primary goal is my inquiry project, I have had plenty of time to read fiction. For pleasure. This way, I could get through not one, but four books! 

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

I got this book after falling in love with the other book by this author - The Goldfinch. And although I still like the Goldfinch better, the Secret History was almost just as good. 

The book takes us to a New England college where a group of eccentric students enroll into a Greek course, taught by a very charismatic yet strange professor. Right away you end up with the feeling "something is not right here." And, as a reader, I love that feeling! The book progresses, and the group of students slip into a world where their morality is tested. 

I liked the plot yet what I love most about Donna Tartt is how she uses the language. It is nothing short of delicious. For instance, look at this quote from the book:

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.
— Donna Tartt, The Secret History

2. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker.

I picked up this book after doing a google search "Books to read if you liked the Goldfinch." This book was one of the suggestions but unfortunately it fell short. I guess I expected a similar writing style with similar plot twists as Donna Tartt. Alas, this was nothing like the Goldfinch. The plot was weak and sappy; the writing clumsy and awkward. It's a star-crossed love story of a blind boy falling in love with a girl that is disabled, too-she cannot walk. Sounds inspirational but it wasn't. Or maybe I am just a ghoul that can't stand "our love is the best-one of a kind-strongest one of all" stories.

3. The Best American Mystery Stories 2011 by Harlan Coben (editor). 

I believe in taking a break from novels and switching to short stories once in a while. I started feeling like that after reading a fabulous anthology of short stories- the Tenth of December by George Saunders.

Every year the editor selects 20 stories to be published in this anthology. Out of the 20 stories, I probably liked Flying Solo by Ed Gorman best. It involved two elderly men dying of cancer leaving a better world behind them. My second favorite is The Hitter by Chris F. Holm. The Hitter story is about a hit man who kills other hit men. good way to discover new authors. 

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. 

This is an apocalyptic novel and a type of novel I would not normally seek out. After the Georgia Flu kills most of the Earths population, the reader follow the few survivors that fight for their wellbeing in this new, post-apocalyptic world. 

What I liked the most about this novel was that the subject was completely novel to me. I kept thinking that one day it will actually happen. Dreadful, isn't it? Dreadful with a twist of excitement. 

I also enjoyed the author's use of language. It was easy to understand yet beautiful and poignant. It made me wish I could write like this. To see what I mean, read the below quote.

No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.
— Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Currently reading...

So far, it's amazing!

So far, it's amazing!

The Adventures of Juan Little Asparagus - Teaching Spanish through authentic literature

Fulbright project, March-August, 2017

Learning a language and reading authentic literature often go hand in hand. Culture shines through the pages, and each sentence holds a lesson - in grammar or in life, making authentic literature an essential part of any learner’s journey. Unfortunately, true middle grade books have become something of a rarity with authors, publishers, and at times-even librarians. Moreover, it is challenging to find a true authentic middle grade novel written in Spanish by a native Spanish-speaking author.

In my 6th grade Spanish class, we read a delightful book titled “Pobre Ana” authored by Blaine Ray. This book came out in 2012 and, albeit being in Spanish, was authored by an American author. Similarly, in my 8th grade class, my students and I have read a brief novel called El Viaje, authored by an American author Deb Navarre. Originally, the novel was in English but was translated into Spanish at a later date. I would like all students that are learning foreign languages to be able to read the most authentic books possible thus getting exposed to the intensity that the culture brings.

The purpose of this study is to thoroughly examine and analyze Chilean children's literature and use it as a foundation to create an innovative Spanish curriculum to be used in American schools. In its entirety, such curriculum will incorporate multiple facets of Chilean children's literature: novels, poems, fables, short stories, graphic novels and songs. Specifically, my objectives and outcomes are:

1. Explore Chilean children's literature,

2. Identify the best-suited books

3. Determine key culture components,

4. Explore grammatical/vocabulary possibilities, and

5. Create a meaningful, authentic middle school Spanish curriculum.

Studying target literature improves the basic skills like reading, writing, listening and speaking, in addition to other language areas like vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Most importantly, authentic books give students a feeling of the target culture.

Chile has a rich literary tradition and is home to two Nobel prize winners, the poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Three winners of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, one of the most important Spanish language literature prizes, are also from Chile: Jorge Edwards (1998), and the poets Gonzalo Rojas (2003) and Nicanor Parra (2011). Moreover, Chile is oftentimes called "the land of poets" due to its rich poetry tradition.

Chilean children’s literature tradition dates back to 1812. Such long-standing tradition was marked by the creation of several magazines for children, including "Revista de los Niños" (The Kids' Magazine) in 1905, "Chicos y Grandes" (Kids and Grownups) in 1908, and "El Penaca" - the only one that lasted into the next decades. Around the same time, two children's books by Agustín Edwards Mac-Clure were published: "Aventuras de Juan Esparraguito" (The Adventures of Juan Little Asparagus ) and "El niño casi legumbre" (The Almost Bean Boy) (Memoria, 2015).

While working on this project, I will observe local educators teach the language and communication through the medium of authentic literature to see the strategies they employ, how they introduce the book, how they explain the underlining messages in the book, how they assess, and how they use the essential elements from children’s literature to drive student achievement in language development and communication.

Literature plays a significant part in acquiring a foreign language; it should never be separated from language acquisition in foreign language curricula. Authentic literature provides a source of classroom material for any teacher, enabling them to teach vocabulary, pronunciation, social norms, history and culture. Learning a language through authentic books makes students experience complex situations, actions, and emotions.

Proposed timeline

March, 2017 (myself, university advisors, librarians)

1. Re-visit the problem (dearth of authentic books in the target language in New Jersey schools). The problem statement.

2. Visit libraries

3. Read multiple Chilean children's books, determine cultural parallels and grammatical concepts.

4. Review various Spanish language and literature curricula from Chilean schools

April-May, 2017 (myself, university advisors)

5. Develop appropriate methodology – qualitative (document analysis, interviews, and observations)

6. Determine research design and rationale

7. Research and develop interview protocol, focus group discussion questions, and teacher and student surveys.

8. Keep accurate records

May-June, 2017 (myself, local teachers, librarians, media specialists, students, parents, policymakers).

9. Visit local schools

10. Perform teacher observations

11. Participate in one-on-one/group discussions with local teachers about their best practices in teaching literature to children.

12. Organize a community forum for families to gather information on local folklore

13. Transcribe field notes

14. Organize data in subcategories

15. Open coding, sub-codes, super codes

July, 2017 (myself, colleagues and university advisors)

16. Brainstorm ideas for middle school Spanish curricula

17. Share the draft with mentors and local teachers- get feedback.

18. Re-write the draft

19. Prepare and present the final product: Spanish middle school curriculum to be used in American schools.