I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while. I think I avoided it for a time because Ladson-Billings studied elementary school children (not my area). Then, for a time, I wasn’t teaching (m)any African American children. A recommendation from my current principal caused me to pull it off of my shelf.

What a remarkable and inspiring book. Though Ladson-Billings is not (at least not here) a gifted stylist (the prose can sometimes be overly academic and wooden), in the end, the clarity of her ideas about “culturally relevant teaching” win the day. She not only describes what it is but offers both general guidelines and specific examples of how it is to be achieved. I was grateful for deliberate move to avoid celebrating the cult of personality; instead, she drew from her observations the guidelines or principles she thinks those of us who teach African American children (L-B omits the hyphen; so will I) need to embrace.

This book feels like a beginning. As a result of reading it, there is much I want to explore, notably the notion of how oratory and storytelling can be used with African American students.

L-B’s original group of Dreamkeepers were all women, an issue that I think merits more attention than she gives it (which is hardly any). Other than that minor quibble, I highly recommend this book. I think it belongs on the shelves of everyone who teaches, and everyone who teaches teachers.

Having heard that Bilgere is one of the best poets working in Cleveland, I was excited about this collection. Then I started reading it. The pieces are repetitive in tone and that tone is smug cleverness. It gets tiresome pretty quickly. Bilgere seems so proud of his own cleverness that he works hard to demonstrate it in pretty much every poem. There are a few tentative openings (often about the persona’s father) into what could have been interesting poems but they are throwaway moments here. He tries for this ordinary man voice which is quite at odds with some of the experiences he describes. In “Eighty Yards,” he teeters perilously close to racism. This is definitely one for the re-sale pile.

I turn to Unsworth like I (far too often) turn to comfort food. I can rely on him to depict both time and place in a way that simply transports me. Though Morality Play and Sacred Hunger will always be tough to beat, this one is another reminder of just how great a writer he was – one of the most underrated, I think.

This one is less specific about time than most, but his rendering of the place – Athens – is exquisite. Two men get off a boat in Athens. Both are there for very different reasons, and there is every indication that they will cross paths in the city. And they do – periodic and awkward encounters – as each travels his own, almost desperate path. And so it is that in the end, when they cross paths one more time, we are fully ready to believe that this last meeting would happen in this way and that each man (and a woman who one has picked up along the way) gets what s/he deserves. Unsworth, in just under 200 pages, wisely keeps to a small cast of characters. Each one is fully realized; each one gets his or her due. Every minor character is purposeful. Every moment is needed.

The star of the story is definitely Athens, though, in a time unknown (mid 20th century, some quick research suggests) just after the Greek Civil War, a piece that’s central to the fate of one of the men.

Not the first Unsworth I’d recommend, but definitely one worth reading.

When our daughter received her first American Girl as a gift, I took a deep breath and accepted it. When she started asking for books published by American Girl, I got a bit nervous. So rather than judge them based on who was publishing them, I decided to read one for myself. And. . . I was impressed. This book, written by Valorie Lee Schaefer with help from Cara Natterson, MD (and illustrated by Josee Masse) is quite good. It’s straightforward, easy to read, and specific. And, I admit, I learned a thing or two. It includes real letters and helpful responses to them. I am glad to know it’s in our daughter’s library.

My one objection is with the illustrations. Though Masse is careful to depict girls from many cultures, one wonders why, in a book that addresses issues about body shape and different rates of development, all of the girls are skinny.

I am not sure what I expected, and that was part of the book’s appeal. I admire Young’s work as a poet, and I was curious about his chronological approach to well, I’m not sure what. At first, it seemed like his thesis was about how true American culture had (has?) its origins in black culture. Fine and probably persuasive, but I’m not really sure what any of those key words mean.

After that, Young focuses on an era by era account of poetry and music and its meaning less in terms of its historical context and more in terms of its relation to the previous era. He sees patterns in the form of ‘storying’ – lying, but not. I am not sure I understood the argument well enough to agree or disagree.

I had uneven energy for the book. Some parts rolled along; others were a drag. I enjoyed sections on Dunbar and Public Enemy. I wish the book came with a soundtrack. I wanted more on jazz.

The most insightful and, at the same time, most obvious argument that Kohn offers here is that we cannot separate how we work with students from what we teach them. He offers a model for creating and cultivating classroom and school community that is inspiring and, as with most inspiring things, more than a bit daunting. It requires a great deal of letting go, not only of any preconceived notions of classroom management, but also asks us to re-think what and how we teach.

Kohn offers some useful examples from actual classrooms, but too many of them are from elementary school. He explains this at one point by saying that people often underestimate the capacity of young children to participate in a democratic classroom. Still, a few high school examples would have been appreciated.

A must read for teachers.


I can’t figure out why this book has been successful. It’s more like an outline or a sketch of a book than anything else. It probably would have been more successful if Dicker had let someone else write it. It just lacks credibility – the dialogue, the characters, the situation, the plot – all of it. And Dicker’s attempts at meta-commentary are just feeble; his notion of ‘love’ is (there’s no better word for it) reckless. Dicker has ideas here about sequencing that might have worked in someone else’s hands. This effort is just a mess.

Yet the cover proudly proclaims it is a #1 International Bestseller. Will someone tell me why? Between this and The Goldfinch, I think I need to stay away from the best seller list for a while.

I wish I would be more willing to just give up on books. At 643 pages, this one was definitely not worth the time.


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