Sunday, November 9, 2008

Professionally Developed

Traditionally, when an administrator “asks” me to attend an outside professional-development training, I groan. Almost invariably, from the moment I walk into the local Howard Johnson/Best Western/Comfort Inn, slap the adhesive name badge on my breast, select from the continental breakfast buffet, and settle into my folding chair, these “workshops” become little more than a 6 –hour infomercial with the sole intention of selling us the latest book, learning kit, or software under the guise of imparting wisdom to a room of overworked, underpaid teachers who are already planning their escape during the “on your own” lunch break.

So, when my boss told me I had been registered for Walter Mayes’ “The Best New Young Adult Literature of The Decade” workshop, my reaction was much the same. But, since it didn’t seem I had much choice in the matter anyway, I figured, if nothing else, I’d get to sleep in, wear jeans, and leave a sub with my roomful of eleven year-olds on Halloween. If I was really lucky, I might even get a good list of new books to use for inspiring my students and my Fringe column. As it turns out, I got all of that, and a whole lot more.

The moment that 6 foot, 7 inch tall, former Jeopardy champion, Walter Mayes took the stage, I knew that this would not be a typical “training” session. As the Librarian and Media Specialist at The Girls' Middle School in Mountain View, California, Mayes is skilled in the art of engaging a dubious audience.

In addition to regaling us with stories of the liberal grandparents who instilled in him the love of all things literary, his experiences as a member of dozens of literary award committees, and anecdotes about trying to keep his library stocked with enough copies of the Twilight series (which he endearingly denounces as a “piece of crap”), Mayes provided exactly what we wanted: a list of the best new YA books, their appropriate audiences, and how to use them most effectively in our classrooms. Among his favorites? Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, Gordon Kormon's No More Dead Dogs, and Chris Lynch's Inexcusable.

Most importantly, though, he inspired us to turn the sour grapes of teaching literature to the unwilling into a sweet, sweet wine to intoxicate not only our students, but ourselves, with the love of reading.

Yesterday, I made a trip to the local bookstore, lightened my wallet, and weighted my tote-bag with 6 new books--the three mentioned above plus,Nancy Werlin's The Rules of Survival, Shaun Tan's The Arrival that I have only put down long enough to write this post.

So, for now, I’m off to do some reading. Be back next time with a look at Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars. In the meanwhile, listen to Walter read a clip from his book, Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories

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