October + November Highlights

What happened to fall?! 

The past two months went by in a flurry. Work got crazy, then I switched focus to practice writing again, now I’m sick… if you’ve had an insane fall, too, chances are that you missed something fun I did on The Nerd Lady. Here are some highlights from my last two months!

Personal Projects

10 Minutes a Day

I’ve had so many friends tell me they wish they had time to read, create, or do something that would make them feel more fulfilled with life. It’s funny because I’ve got a toddler at home, a new job teaching Pre-AP and AP, and a million other things I have to do. So I try to steal ten minutes every day just for myself. It’s a lifesaver. It’s what keeps me sane. It helps me be a better mom and teacher–and that’s why I think everyone should do it, too.

I started a challenge and a series to encourage people to steal time for themselves. Check out my weekly pep talks here (I took a break the past two weeks because I’ve been sick!): 

STEAMotype

I was officially added to the STEAMotype team! STEAMotype is an amazing #scicomm account and community on Instagram (@STEAMotype). Their mission is “to inspire appreciation of and engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) through art.”

I’ve been actively participating in their challenges and helped host them quite a few times this year. In October, I hosted two challenges: Dinosaur Week and Monster Mash (for Halloween)! This means that I helped construct the art challenge for the week, then I helped find artwork to feature during that week. It’s exhausting, but a lot of fun! Check out @STEAMotype on Instagram if you love seeing STEM mix with the arts!

Writing!

I got really into creativity/business podcasts over the last two months, and they all make you ask yourself what your one true passion is. For me, it’s always been writing. And because it’s NaNoWriMo season, I sort of let myself get swept in by the hype. For my Ten Minutes a Day personal challenge, I’ve taken on the task of learning how to write a novel, plan it, and actually carry out the plan! Much of my creative energy went into learning the craft, and I am loving it! 

Chalkboards

Because I got so deep into developing my other passions — encouraging others to take time for themselves, hosting STEAMotype challenges, and learning how to write fiction — my artwork took on a different focus. Much of my work was practice… and my favorite medium to practice on is chalkboards! I did some fun pieces to help me de-stress during an insane time of year for teachers. 

Featured Work from Other Artists

Buy Your Friend’s Art by @elloisemae

It’s the holiday season. I’ve got to encourage you to support your friends as you shop! Love this piece by Elloise Mae Foster!

Perspective Collective

I have LOVED listening to Scotty Russell’s Perspective Collective podcast! He encourages you to pursue your creative goals with an authentic voice. He just hit 100 episodes. Check out his work here: https://perspective-collective.com/

My Reading Life

Fahrenheit 451

This was my first time reading this book… I know, I know… It’s ridiculous that I’m an English teacher and it took until now for me to read it. I was practically underlining every other line because IT IS SO TRUE. My reality as an English teacher is not simply censorship, but the overall devaluing of books and literature — oftentimes from my own peers. Gah. This book was so good and just what I needed to read. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Honestly, I did not think I would enjoy this book. It’s about science, which I love, but I never imagined that I would enjoy reading a whole book about cells. But this story is riveting. And so very, very important. This brings up the controversial issue of human subjects. Henrietta Lacks’s cancer cells were taken from her body without her permission. They ended up being the first “immortal” cell line–cells that could reproduce and survive in lab conditions ad infinitum. Her cells were vital in the formation of the polio vaccine, the HPV vaccine, and countless other medical discoveries. But it was without her permission, and her surviving family still has limited access to healthcare. This book was a page-turner… although I listened to it on audiobook… so an ear-turner?

Dashing Through the Snow

If you know me IRL, you know that I love Christmas. And I love cheesy Christmas stories. I’ve been dying to try a Debbie Macomber book (she is the queen of cheesy Christmas stories, with 4 Hallmark movies to boot). Since I’ve been an on an audiobook kick, I tried it out. The story was ridiculous and cute, but it was pretty much Harold and Kumar 2 with an all-white cast, no hint of politics, and CHRISTMAS. Plot: Girl wants to go home for Christmas, guy has an interview to get to in the same city. Girl finds out she’s on the no-fly list, guy can’t get a seat, and they both travel from San Francisco to Seattle by (the last) rental car together. Hot on their trail is an unreasonable Homeland Security officer who is positive that she is a terrorist with the same name. I don’t think I’m spoiling it by saying everything worked out, and they kissed in the winter. 

Whew! It was a busy season! I’m exhausted just writing this. Thanks for hanging in there and supporting me through this creative journey. Creativity is what keeps me sane, and you’re what keeps me grounded. Thanks, friends!

Remember that you can find me on Instagram @nerdladydraws to see what I’m up to. I’m also working on upping my Facebook presence… so if you want to find me there, click here

Now, time to get deep into my favorite time of the year: Christmas!  Happy December, and stay nerdy, my friends! 

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My Literary Whiteboard Lettering Project: Spring Semester and Final Reflections

I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.

I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.

Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):

  1. Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
  2. 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
  3. Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
  4. Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.

I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.

I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:

And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!

Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

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Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

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Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

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Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)

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Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)

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Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell

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Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)

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Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

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Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)

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Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)

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Day 72: Medea (Euripides)

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Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

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Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

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Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)

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Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)

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Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

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Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

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Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.

You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.

I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.

I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.

I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.

This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.

January’s Literary Whiteboard Lettering: New Year, Old Plays, Fantastic Discussions

January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!

Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.

Read it Online.

Day 55: Macbeth

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What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.

Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You

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What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.

Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!

Day 58: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.

Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.

Watch it online. 

Day 60: The Kite Runner

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What It’s About: This poignant novel tells the story of Afghanistan through the friendship of two boys. I can’t say too much without spoiling it. It will make you cry.

Coming up in February: World literature and more poetry! Hopefully. If I don’t get so stressed by my to-do list that I neglect my book talk goals.

Thirteen Books to Close the Year: Books 40-53 of Literary Whiteboard Lettering

We closed this semester with The Odyssey and world epics, then began transitioning into plays. And of course I had to throw in A Christmas Carol for the holidays! No read online links this time–I’ll provide them for my next round of whiteboards!

Day 40: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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This was actually a huge whiteboard! The entire text stretched about 7 feet tall!

What It’s About: A teenager searches for the truth behind his grandfather’s death, and finds out a secret about his family and a hidden community of children.

Day 41: The Odyssey

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What It’s About: Following the Trojan War, Odysseus is lost at sea for 20 years. This epic poem from Ancient Greece tells of his adventures as well as the trials facing his wife and son at home.

Day 42: The Hobbit

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This was my book talk right before we left for Thanksgiving Break, and right after we covered the archetypal hero’s journey. Seemed like a perfect text for the moment!

What It’s About: The first story in Tolkien’s amazing Middle-Earth series, this book follows Bilbo Baggins and a group of dwarves who are out to reclaim a mountain from a dragon.

Day 43: The Epic of Gilgamesh

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What It’s About: The original bromance, this ancient text is about Gilgamesh and his buddy Enkidu, and the lengths to which one would go to save his best friend.

Day 44: The Journey to the West // The Monkey and The Monk

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What It’s About: If you’re interested in Chinese or Buddhist culture, you must read this story of Monkey and his journey to retrieve ancient Buddhist texts. Reading this gave me a much better understanding of Chinese stories, because it is such an essential part of their storytelling, much in the same way that the Bible is essential to Western storytelling. The original story is called The Journey to the West, but the translation I read in grad school is called The Monkey and The Monk. This translation is lauded as the most accessible translation-abridgment of the epic poem.

Day 45: The Epic of Sundiata

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What It’s About: It seems that many epics are about good leaderships and societies. In this one, crown prince Sundiata is exiled from his homeland, learns about his subjects while he is in exile, then returns to take his rightful place as king.

Day 46: One Thousand and One Nights

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What It’s About: This is a collection of short stories, and you will find different versions of this collection at every bookstore. Regardless, you will always find the same frame story: A sultan went mad after his wife’s infidelity and went on a vengeful killing spree against women by marrying a virgin every night, then killing her in the morning before she, too, could cheat on him. Scheherazade requested to be his wife, then set about a plan where she tells a story every night, then stops right in the middle of a cliffhanger at dawn. The sultan, hungry to hear the rest of the story, would extend her death sentence to the next night, when she would repeat the same thing. She continued this for 1001 nights, at the end of which the sultan’s mind was healed and he didn’t kill her after all! It’s an amazing tale of the power of stories!

Day 47: A Christmas Carol

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This was when I learned of a new app that would take clearer pictures of my boards, without glare from surrounding lights. The following pictures are still of my whiteboards!

What It’s About: This isn’t just a cheesy story about the meaning of Christmas. Charles Dickens was passionate about the welfare of the disadvantaged people of London, and incensed with the insensitivity he saw in the rich around him. Although set in Christmastime, this is more about caring for the needy in the coldest, starkest time of year.

Day 48: King Lear

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My students jokingly said, “Oooh, Ms. Gardner, you have a bad word on the board!” when the walked in. So of course I had to give a lesson on the word “bastard,” and I enjoyed every minute of it.

What It’s About: An aging king attempts to divide up his kingdom amongst his three daughters, basing the lot sizes on who loves him the most. What follows is a tragic story of betrayal, madness, and aging as the daughters, sons, fathers, and siblings find each other as opponents.

Day 49: Oedipus Rex

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What It’s About: Thebes is in trouble–the gods are punishing the people for an atrocious sin. Oedipus goes in search of the truth behind the sin, and finds out a terrible truth about himself.

Day 50: Antigone

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What It’s About: The sequel to Oedipus Rex, this play is about his children. When his sons kill each other in the battlefield, his daughter wants to give them proper burial rites. However, the new king of Thebes denies one his rites because he died a traitor. Antigone and Creon go head to head in a philosophical battle over whose law is greater and deserves more deference: the law of the gods, or the law of man.

Day 51: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Claudio and Hero love each other, but their best friends hate each other. What better way to fix this than by ‘shipping them? This is a classic high school story of friends trying to set each other up, with one villain who’s trying his darndest to mess everything up.

Day 52: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: This story’s so confusing. Viola shipwrecks in a foreign land, and disguises herself as a boy to survive. When she is employed by the Duke of Orsino, he asks her to woo his crush for him. And his crush falls for Viola, because she’s dressed as a boy! Lots of confusion, lots of comedy. Watch She’s the Man to get a better idea of the story!

Day 53: Romeo and Juliet

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What It’s About: I doubt this story needs explaining. However, if your understanding of this story is similar to Taylor Swift’s–THIS IS NOT AN IDEAL LOVE STORY. EVERYBODY DIES AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOT BE LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET!

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 11

For the final creepy week of October, I did two of my favorite works by two of my favorite writers.

Day 38: Macbeth

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Publication Performance: 1606 (play)

What It’s About: A noble warrior hears a prophecy that he will become the king of Scotland. With the aid of his wife, he makes it so–through murder. This is my favorite Shakespeare work for so many reasons: (1) it’s short and action-packed, making it an excellent entry into Shakespeare for students, (2) it is constantly alluded to in pop culture (Breaking BadHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) because (3) its themes of how power can corrupt and how guilt can corrode are timeless.

Read Online (Link to Sparknotes No Fear Shakespeare, a strong tool for first-time Shakespeare readers)

Day 39: The Cask of Amontillado

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Publication: 1846

What It’s About: The narrator, Montresor, seeks revenge against his friend Fortunato by luring him into catacombs to judge the quality of his newest wine acquisition. This is often taught in 9th grade to teach irony, and because Montresor’s means of revenge excites even the most reluctant readers.

Read Online

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Weeks 9-10 (HALLOWEEN EDITION!)

October’s been all about monsters and stories that give you the heebie jeebies! What are you reading for Halloween?

Day 31: The Fall of the House of Usher

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Publication: 1839 (short story)

What It’s About: The narrator visits his ill friend, Roderick Usher. Usher and his sister live alone in a huge, rotten, creepy house. It feels very similar to the film Crimson Peak. My Gothic lit classes have covered this work to see an example of a classic Gothic setting, one which is still seen in today’s horror works: an expansive, but enclosed, space with several nooks and crannies for creepy ghouls and secrets to lurk. *shudder*

Read Online

Day 32: The Most Dangerous Game

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Publication: 1924 (short story)

What It’s About: Sanger Rainsford washes up on an uncharted island and finds that its resident, General Zaroff, hunts people. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his “game.” I’ve taught this work several times, but Zaroff’s explanation of his sport still gives me the chills.

Read Online

Day 33: Beowulf

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Publication: 700-1000 (epic poem, told orally); 975-1010 (date of manuscript)

What It’s About: A classic hero’s tale, this epic poem recounts the adventures of Beowulf as he battles 3 monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. This work is often studied as an example of the effect of the Christianisation on pagan literature.

Read Online

Day 34: A Monster Calls

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Publication: 2011 (YA novel)

What It’s About: A child struggles with coping with his mother’s losing battle with cancer by day, and faces a monster that sweeps him out of his room by night. If you read this story, you must get the illustrated edition by Jim Kay. The artwork is absolutely amazing!

I could not find a free version of this book online.

Day 35: The Divine Comedy

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Publication: 1472 (narrative poem)

What It’s About: Dante makes himself the main character as he travels through all the levels of hell, purgatory, and heaven in this allegorical tale of man’s journey to God. Most students study only Inferno, the account of Hell, because… well, it’s Hell and it’s exciting!

Read Online (I love this resource for Dante!!)

Day 36: The Phantom of the Opera

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Publication: 1910 (novel)

What It’s About: The Palais Garnier Opera House is said to be haunted by a killer ghost… but it’s actually a hideous but talented musician lurking in the shadows of the building. He preys on the young and impressionable Christine, who believes him to be the Angel of Music. The Phantom in the book is more murderous and less cuddly than the one in the musical.

Read Online

Day 37: Dracula

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Publication: 1897 (novel)

What It’s About: An Eastern European vampire wants to move to England to make a legion of vampires. I’m reading this book for the first time right now–so far, it develops a creepy mood beautifully. While looking up information on this book, I found that this is an example of invasion literature, a movement in British literature that popped up in the late 19th century leading up to WWI. I love seeing how political climates (in this case, the fear that outside forces will invade England and change English culture) influence the arts!

Read Online

 


These are part of my 2017-2018 project for my classroom: give book talks every day (or nearly every day), and letter a quote from each book on the board! I want to share examples of classic literature/good books with my students, with the hope that they’ll find beauty in words. Leave a comment if  you’ve got a good book suggestion!