Posts Tagged ‘reading for life’

One of my favorite things to talk about, the amazing Reading for Life is going through some big changes.  The creator, director and all around uber-boss, Alesha Seroczynski, is moving on.  In  fact she is taking the next logical step, combining past experience and her work at RFL, she is becoming the Dean of a university initiative to provide inmates at a correctional institution with a college degree.  We’re so excited for her.

We decided that it was important to give her the perfect gift to honor her for all her work, and encourage her for the future.  For a while we came up blank, and then I had a brainwave.  Reading for Life was spawned as a pilot research project using Harry Potter books.  In fact, Alesha dreamed up the idea while thinking about Harry Potter.  One of her favorite books in the series was The Goblet of Fire.  Reading for Life uses good books, mentors, and virtue theory to help at risk kids (namely first time juvenile offenders and incarcerated youth) make better life decisions.  One of the virtues we teach is Hope: An invested belief in a future possibility.  We reckoned that Alesha embodies hope to everyone she comes across.  She believed that with just a little help youth who were falling through the cracks could have a new chance at life.  Currently more than 95% of our participants have had no further contact with the law.  That is amazing.  She gave them a chance at a better life. Her hope has transformed them.  Now she is moving on to men incarcerated in prison.  Yet again she has the opportunity to give people the gift of hope.

So, as a thank you for her 10 years of pouring hope into the lives of others we presented her with this:


Harry's Hope

Harry’s Hope

I am quite proud of this. Not only is it the perfect gift for Alesha, but it gave me the opportunity to learn a new skill.  Seriously fun, book folding.  This is in the middle of a  copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  It is a book that was rescued from a library, and was past it’s prime, but now look at it.  It can sit on her desk, remind her of what she was and what she is to so many people. A fitting gift.  The good news is, she loves it.  I might just need to make one for myself.

It’s not that hard, just a bit time consuming. You have to create a pattern (or purchase one as I did.  I don’t have access to photo shop to make my own….but that would be cool) then measure out the fold lines on your book, and then begin the folding.  It took about 7 hours in total, but the final product was worth it.


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…and wanted to stay.  Really Badly.

My father, being the genius that he is, thought that when I visited over Christmas I really needed to go to the Harry Potter tour in London.  He was not wrong.  Since my good friend, and founder of Reading for Life, Alesha was going to be around too, I thought she needed to join me.  See, Harry Potter was the inspiration for the pilot project that Reading for Life was based on.  So honestly, Hogwarts has played a huge role in the almost over 400 lives that have been changed.  But I digress.  Dad got us tickets and we made it in the nick of time (with no thanks at all to the British Rail). We queued for a while, all the time getting closer and closer to Harry’s under the stairs bed room on Privet Drive.

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That whet our appetites good and proper, but then we were ushered into a room with a movie screen and theater chairs.  I was not happy.  I wanted to go to Hogwarts, not watch some ‘making of’ film.  Oh me of little faith.  The film ended, the screen rose, and there were the doors to the great hall.  The guide called all the birthday people to the front, and as it had just been Alesha’s birthday she got to go.  The birthday people got to push open the doors to the great hall.  I thought Alesha’s head was going to explode.  From that moment on my jaw was on the floor, and I was just in heaven.  Seriously.  It was the most amazing experience. I was literally in the place I had dreamed of visiting.  I could almost convince myself it was real.

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The Great Hall was all I’ve ever wanted it to be, except for minus the characters, and sadly without the enchanted ceiling.

We moved on through many lovely artifacts.  Memento’s of the Yule Ball, Costumes, the Gates of Hogwarts, the giant clock, Umbridge’s Decrees, The mirror of Erised just to name a few.  It was quite amazing. Every time I ooohed and ahhed over something I turned a corner and something else caught my heart.

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Everything, from the creature gallery, to the Weasley’s kitchen spoke of all the craftsmanship that went into these moves.  These sets were amazing.  I so wanted to just stay.  Go visit Dumbledore in his office, and pet Fawkes, hug Dobby, curl up with a good book next to the fireplace in the Gryffendor Common room.  If the Mirror of Erised had worked, that is what it would have showed.  The Potions room and the Weasley kitchen had some of the moving parts that played roles in the movies, automatically stirring cauldrons, self-washing dishes, and a garment that was knitting itself.  I even got to chase a snitch on a broomstick and fly in the Ford Anglia.  good times.

Then you round the corner, and are in the Ministry of Magic. It was surprising how disturbing it was.  We walked through, outside, and then experienced some more lovely sets.  The Knight Bus, Privet Drive, Godrick’s Hollow,  Tom Riddles grave, and BUTTER BEER! MMMMM.

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As we entered the second sound stage I knew that we were in for a treat.  After making our way past models and figures you turn the corner on to Diagon Alley.  It was just amazing.  I kept thinking “I want to go to there….here… and stay”  Really.  It was so very cool.  The street even sloped upwards.  Real cobblestones.  The craftsmanship was outstanding.

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After spending way too long here, loitering, and trying to see if there was a face on the back side of that odd fish and head fountain, I ventured on, through a gallery of art, paper models, architect sketches of the different dwellings.  It was so amazing.

Alesha’s son, who had wandered on ahead came back and found us saying “You guys are just going to die when you see what’s coming up.” I had no idea what to expect.  Let me give you a clue.  It was all decked out for winter, and it was probably a good 40 ft square.  All my life I have wanted a Lego room with different sets all laid out.  A veritable playground for imagination and fun.  This blew this dream out of the water.  If I could have this in my house…..

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They kept cycling the lights from day to night.  I loved it there.  So very VERY cool.

All in all this was a Magical place to be.  On the real sets, experiencing the wonder and beauty of Harry Potter world.  I highly recommend the experience.  Pricey, yes, but oh, so very fun.

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(or reason #57 that I am envious of Kelly)

I wish I was friends with Real Life published authors.  I follow quite a few of them on Twitter, and they all seem so quirky and likable. Normal, and yet slightly more elevated than the rest of us plebes.  Okay, I know authors are just like the rest of us, one leg at a time and all that, but still, I wish I knew some.

But not for the selfish reasons you’d think.  And not because I need someone professional to tell me not to start sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and’. (oh well partly because I think they should be my friends but mostly not).

I actually just really want to get them involved in what I do.

I volunteer for a not for profit organization that works with first time juvenile offenders and gives them a chance to change their lives using reading, virtues, and mentoring. Plus it affords them the opportunity to have their record expunged if they’re offence free at 18.  The program is called Reading For Life.  I’ve been working with it since it’s inception, and I love every minute of it.

Kids get placed into groups with similar reading skills and then choose a book to read together.  Some only read one book, some go through as many as 5 in a session.  The group mentors help shepherd the group time which involves discussing concepts and actions of the books, getting the kids to journal and talk about the stories.

In the groups we also introduce the concept of virtues to the kids. We use 7 virtues, the 4 Aristolean: Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude; and the 3 Thomist: Faith/Fidelity, Hope, Charity (Eros, Phileo, Agape).  N.B. This would be as in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas.  We get the kids to start looking at the situations in the books, weighing them and seeing if the actions are virtuous or not.  Slowly, and without them really realizing it, we begin to help them transfer this skill to their own lives.

Recently I read a blog at Barnesandnobel.com talking about the decline of reading fiction and the decline of empathy. The author states:

A novel is like a puzzle.  As soon as we start reading it, we begin trying to figure it out.  We compare our own reactions to certain situations with the reactions of the characters in the story.  When these reactions differ, we are compelled to put ourselves into the shoes of other people, and see things from a different perspective.  The more often we do this, the easier it is for us to see universal truths and gain insight into the human condition–not just our personal condition, but the condition of other people in this world.  This is empathy.

It’s so true.  This is what we get to do. We get to connect them to worlds beyond their own, and expand their perspectives, hopes and dreams. This can be so much fun, especially with the books they read.  All kinds of stuff comes up.

Like last summer, I had a group that read Ellen Hopkins’s Crank , Jodi Piccoult’s The Pact,  and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. That group of girls dove head first into questions about suicide, teen pregnancy, drug use, and found themselves weighing questions like “Is it always good to keep a secret?” and “What kind of expectations do you feel other people set for you that weigh you down?” and even “Am I aware of how I treat other people?”  Fascinating stuff.

We have such fun with these groups.  Not only do we allow there to  be an element of fun (and good snacks) but deliberately disassociate with schools, so the kids never see the mentors as teachers. On top of that, none of the mentors ever know what their kids did to get there, so they don’t have to live under the burden of what we might think of their lapses in judgement.

There is also an element of service that gets brought into the mix.  Each group does a service project that corresponds to the book that the group chose.  The girls that read  Twilight went to work at a local blood bank.  A group that read Life of Pi  painted an amazing mural of jungle scenes on a clinic for occupational and physical therapy for kids.  See.  Isn’t Richard Parker so very cute?  The kids that read Kite Runner and Persepolis  volunteered with an organization that sent aid packets to refugees in Afghanistan.

Mostly, I want to know authors because I want to tell them about how their books are getting used.  I want to tell Suzanne Collins how kids who have been in trouble for fighting latched a hold of Katniss, and  learned about how to keep their temper and be wiser about their choices.  I want to tell Orson Scott Card that a 16 yr old boy who had given up on so much and hadn’t read a book in 3 years started Enders Game and hasn’t stopped since.  He’s your hugest proselytizer too, Orson, you would be amazed at how many people he’s convinced to read the series.  I wish I could show Jay Asher the anonymous encouragement cards the group made after reading Thirteen Reasons Why  and how they prowled the library sticking them in their favorite books for people to find.  I wish Jodi Picoult could hear a girl almost cry when she realized she could speak her mind and not be yelled at, when she questioned religion during the reading of Change of Heart. She had never been allowed to say she didn’t believe before, and by the time she was done with the group, she was open to faith that brings life.  Neil Gaiman, I bet you would have loved to be in on the conversation among the group that read your book, and enjoyed their trip to work at a graveyard, and think about legacy and life.  I wish you could all see what your books are doing.  Your imagination is changing lives.  I think you would get such a kick out of these kids.  Most of society would write them off.  Your writing helps them change course.

And it really is, you know.  We have an incredible success rate.  Our non-recidivism rate is very good, especially compared to kids who are just expected to do community service.  Beyond that, we have on going relationships with kids who now think they have different opportunities.  Many times they’ve seen that a different life is possible. Sometimes it just helps to get a different view of history, a different perspective, and you can get out of the mundane trajectory of your life.

You should check out our website, it’s in the process of getting upgraded, because recently we received funding by our county to be an official part of the Juvenile Justice System.

Couple quick stories I love from groups over the years.

The group that read Twilight was staunchly pro-Edward at the beginning, scarily, droolily pro-Edward.  After we had many conversations of the nature of love, brotherly, sexual, self, and sacrificial love, the group unanimously though he was a controlling ass, and cared about himself more than he cared about Bella, and that she was as co-dependent as they come.    The young teens that read Lord of the Flies had the unique opportunity to speak with a renowned cultural anthropologist, and went to a university to assist in a fetal pig dissection.   (Big shudder to most of us, but three low-income forgotten teen boys thought they had died and gone to heaven).  I’ve ended up with some ongoing mentorships due to this program, and one girl I worked with was removed from her home just after her group was done.  She had never thought she was smart enough to graduate, and as she began to change in the group, she began to dream. I was so happy to celebrate her graduation two years later.

So someone tell John Green that Looking for Alaska changed the lives of some awesome teens, and Paolo Baciagalupi that we can’t pronounce his name but Shipbreaker inspired some great conversations about loyalty, family, and sacrifice between some inner city teen boys, and J.K. Rowlings that without Harry Potter  this whole program would never have been dreamed up, and tell Christopher Paul Curtis that Bud not Buddy helped a kid on the fast track to gang life imagine a different possibility.  Tell them to keep writing.  Tell them to keep imagining. Tell them to be my friend, because I will tell them this all the time, and then bug them to donate books to Reading for Life.  Or maybe put the decal on the back of their cars. Or maybe make them wear a reading for life T-shirt.   Or….

Also my sincere apologies.  I was just typing away at this post, when it posted up on WP like multiple times.  Sorry if you got notified frequently, or got an incomplete version of the post.

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Sorry for the omnibus rendition of the reading so far.  The lack of interwebs in the house make things difficult to be day to day, so you get them all in one big chunk o'reading.

Gregor and the code of claw:The last in the series by Suzanne Collins. Again an engaging book. It brought  out the costs of a life of battle on a young boy, and the consequences his family faces because of his involvement in the Underland. It was also a great morality tale, dealing with hatred and the 'sins' of the past, and how we deal with people that aren't like us, and what really constitutes peace that is lasting. I highly recommend this series. It is great for older kids, an absorbing story that can leave room for good discussion.

Laurie Halse Anderson

Catalyst: This book is by Laurie Halse Anderson. I enjoyed 'Speak" by her, and was eager to read more. Catalyst is the story of Kate Malone, a girl who has her whole life planned out. She is going to attend MIT like her mother (who is deceased) and life is not going good for her.  She Runs, she does Proofs, She has plans that all go awry.  Her father, the preacher, does not see her, or her needs, but never misses what others need.  Kate is an insomniac who cares for the whole family.  She does the Laundry, the Grocery Shopping, she cooks, and she takes care of everyone. Kate, however, is just a big mess that no one sees.  The truth is, MIT rejected her as not special enough, and her world is coming to pieces.  On top of this, there is a fire at a home of the local bully, and Kate’s dad moves the bully and her brother in.  Kate is expected to just put aside her own issues and help. These events become the catalyst to transform Kate and help her become.  I liked this book.  I liked the wresting that had to happen in Kate.  I liked the truths that came out. I hated her dad.  He was an Ass.  I highly recommend this book too. Seriously. If you have never read Laurie Halse

Shadow of the wind: This was one of my Christmas/Birthday Presents from Kelly.  She loves this book. I enjoyed it very much too. It all started with a young boy who’s given the responsibility to choose a book from the Graveyard of Forgotten books and be responsible for it.  Daniel, the young boy, gets so caught in the story that he tries to figure out why such a beautiful piece of literature is so obscure.  He becomes embroiled in a mystery that covers several generations. This book was set in one of the cities that I’ve most wanted to see, Barcelona, and so I felt like I was visiting as I read this book.  In addition, I felt that this book was beautiful. Even though it was translated from Portuguese it retained a lyrical cadence.  The book was a joy to read.

Anderson, remedy that.

The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Shadow of the wind: This was one of my Christmas/Birthday Presents from Kelly.  She loves this book. I enjoyed it very much too. It all started with a young boy who’s given the responsibility to choose a book from the Graveyard of Forgotten books and be responsible for it.  Daniel, the young boy, gets so caught in the story that he tries to figure out why such a beautiful piece of literature is so obscure.  He becomes embroiled in a mystery that covers several generations. This book was set in one of the cities that I’ve most wanted to see, Barcelona, and so I felt like I was visiting as I read this book.  In addition, I felt that this book was beautiful. Even though it was translated from Portuguese  Spanish it retained a lyrical Cadence.  The book was a joy to read.

City of Glass : The third in the City of series.  I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t deep. It was just fun.  Jace and Clary are again fighting themselves and the law of the Shadow hunters, and their father to protect and defend all that is right.  Jace and Clary are brother and sister but not having very sibling like feelings for each other.  I read this book hating myself for rooting for them to end up together, so I pretty much came to the assumption that one of the major twists was going to be that they weren’t siblings after all.  There were other ones, and the story came to a satisfying conclusion.  One I would recommend for enjoyable, suspenseful, light reading.

The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart

Mysterious Benedict society: I so enjoyed this book, full of puzzles and intrigue and four captivating children:   Renny Muldoon, Sticky Washington, Constance Contraire, and Kate, each with their own gifts, strengths, and/or buckets.   This book was a lovely story of quirks and turns and learning how to work together and be people of integrity even in the toughest of situations.  Such a fun book.  I can’t wait for the sequel which should be delivered to my library this week. YAY

Envy: The last in the Luxe series.  I was actually quite annoyed by this book.  The writing was fine but every time someone complained about all the things that happened to them as a consequence for the selfish choices they made and expected us to feel sorry for them I just wanted to cringe.  Get over yourselves you rich, snobby, Park Avenue elite of the early 20th Century.  You made your beds.  Lie in them.  And with your own spouses please.

Tea time for the traditionally built: The latest in the Precious Ramotswe series.  Recently I have watched the No 1 Ladies detective agency on HBO, so then coming back to read the latest installment was just electric.  I found that reading the book felt like coming home.  I enjoyed seeing our old friends, Grace, the two apprentices, and Mr. J.L.B. Matakoni.  This book was a breath of fresh air, and I loved every minute of it, watching the detectives solve a Football Case, and deal with Violet Sepoto and her conniving ways. I hope you all go read this series. It is nuanced and near perfect.

Stiff:  Good Lord this book made my week.  I learned so much about the human cadaver, and its uses.  I know not everyone is as un-squeamish as I am, so I won’t go into all the things I found fascinating, but I really recommend anything by Mary Roach.  She has this sardonic and lively way of sharing what she researches.  I’d read just about anything she gets intrigued by.  She’s thorough, and puts herself through a lot for her books.  I also now know what I want to do with my remains when my time comes.  So fascinating.  Go read it.  You will learn something new and unique. I promise.

The View from Saturday
E. L. Konigsburg

The view from Saturday.: This is my second E.L. Konigsburg, about four 6th graders that have become a quiz team that is winning like no other, and the book explores how they were chosen and how they are all connected.  It is such a good and engaging story, from a boy who ended up as a best man at a wedding, to a girl coping with her parents divorce, to a young Indian boy who had grown up on a cruise ship, to a younger son living in his brothers shadow.  Such a good and pleasant story.  Konigsburg is an excellent and thoughtful author.


Can You Keep a Secret?
Sophie Kinsella

Can you keep a secret? This is a Sophie Kinsella book.  I'll be honest. I was trepedatious about reading this, as I like her style but had a hard time with the heroine of her Shopaholic books.  Becky Bloomwood wasn't my mostly favorite proverbial osterich, who always comes out smelling like roses, but I thought I'd give another of Kinsellas creations a try.  Turns out she can write some things I like.

This book was entertaining, and definitly a heroine I'm sympathetic to. Who doesn't understand being marginalized by those more talented than you are, or more outspoken. Emma Corrigan is trying her 4th career in about 3 years, and working in marketing for the Panther corporation, selling the panther brand of everything from cola to fitnesswear. After botching a routine marketing mtg, she's on a flight back to London from Edinburgh when the plane goes through some major problems. Believing she's about to die, Emma spills every secret she has to the handsome stranger in the next seat. Everything from how uncomfortable G-strings are to the fact that she pours orange juice into her co-workers spider plant, and feels less important to her parents than her cousin who ahs lived with them since childhood.  The fall out from this is just too funny, and Emma has her hands full when it turns out that her verbal Diarrhea has been unleashed on the owner and founder of the company she works for. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, and on the way Emma finds her own footing, rights some wrongs, and finds a very good man.

My Man Jeeves: My first foray into P.G.Wodehouse.  I expect it won’t be my last.  I think he’s going to have to come when I’m done with Pratchett.  Bertie Wooster is such a fop, and Jeeves is really clever and omniscient.  The short stories were easily read and fun.

Dead as a Doornail to the world: (apparently I can't write the correct titles to my own reading list) The next in the True Blood, Sookie Stackhouse series.  I’m enjoying following her navigate the waters of the supernatural.  This book was fun, but I have just one thing to say.  ERIK?  REALLY?


Wicked: This is my third time through this book.  I read it again for my Reading For Life group.  We had some great discussions about it, one of which was how much like Nazi Germany Oz became. I have loved this book for a long time, for the themes it explores, and for raising the questions in such inventive ways.  It makes you think, and for me that is very important.

Book Thief.:  I’ve reviewed this before here.  I read it again with my current Reading For Life group.  It is well worth reading.

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Yesterday I took my Reading For Life participant to do some community service at a Occupational and Physical Therapy Clinic for Children. She's artistic in nature so we worked on the wall Murals.
They have a room that is going to be the "Jungle Room" so we painted the walls that border it with a Jungle theme.

She did the Tiger (Which we dubbed "Richard Parker" as we're reading "Life of Pi" right now), and I did the rest.

Poppycock the Parrot
Monkey Mischief
Bananas' Purple Crayon

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