Newbery winner to speak at West Virginia Book Festival Oct. 27, 2018

Newbery winner Kwame Alexander will appear at the West Virginia Book Festival.

By Kaitlyn Guynn

The West Virginia Book Festival is returning to the Charleston Civic Center on October 26 and 27 with Newbery Award-winning children’s author Kwame Alexander.

His series The Crossover is about a boy and his brother who love basketball, but face challenges together much deeper than who wins a game of one-on-one.

Alexander and singer-songwriter Randy Preston will perform “A Literary Concert with Kwame Alexander and Randy Preston,” from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Conference Rooms 202-205.

One of Alexander’s latest novels, Rebound, is a prequel to The Crossover, which is about brothers, loss of a father and becoming a man. Another novel, Solo, is a poetic verse novel about a 17-year old girl who learns that the life of a rockstar isn’t all the glamour it seemed.

Alexander has also published picture books and poetry books.

Leading up to the festival, Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore will give the annual McCreight Lecture in the Humanities at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 in Riggleman Hall at the University of Charleston.

Among her many books, Lepore wrote Book of Ages, a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s little-known sister, and The Secret History of Wonder Woman, which won the American History Book Prize. Her new book, These Truths: A History of the United States, was published in September.

Also appearing at this year’s Book Festival schedule are:

— Debbie Macomber, author of the popular Cedar Cove and Rose Harbor series.

— Dennis Lehane, staff writer of the HBO series “The Wire” and author of many bestsellers including Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone.

— John Scalzi, award-winning science fiction writer and blogger, author of Redshirts, among many others.

— David Grann, another New Yorker writer and author of The Lost City of Z, whose stories frequently make it to the screen.

The festival is free to the public. For more information about the schedule, writing workshops or other events visit

Kaitlyn Guynn is a senior at the University of Charleston.


The Great American Read

PBS has launched an eight-part online and television series to find America’s favorite book! The special project, targeted to adult readers, began on May 22, 2018 and will continue through the summer and fall.

Viewers will vote on their favorite books throughout the series and the list of 100 diverse books will be narrowed down to one. Celebrities, athletes, experts, authors and everyday Americans will participate in the series, alongside host  Meredith Vieira. The multi-platform campaign will encompass online and community engagement, including cooperation with local libraries in West Virginia.

The grand finale will air on October 23, 2018 at 8:00 pm. Viewers can follow the Great American Read Facebook page and use the hashtag #GreatReadPBS. This project offers an opportunity for families to discuss their own favorites and explore new titles.

No Fear Shakespeare

By Heidi Jeffries

No milling and seething!

My students at Elkins Mountain School, a placement facility for boys ages 13-17, love to explain these words to the new students who enter our classroom. Shakespeare was a daunting new topic for me as well as for my students this school year. A true confession is that I had only read Romeo and Juliet in high school. Granted, I have seen many of the plays, some multiple times; however, I was not comfortable with the idea of getting through a play with my students who often struggle with reading and lack basic vocabulary. During some history/English cross-curricular collaborative planning, a colleague, Lauren Johnston, English teacher at the West Virginia Children’s Home, encouraged me to go for it, and shared materials she had used successfully.

Just before reading Macbeth, I stumbled across an idea online for using quote cards as a pre-reading activity for the original text of the plays. This simple yet brilliant idea was a hit. Before even reading the prologue, students are introduced to original text quotes that give meaning and anticipation to the play. Students are given a quote card and go through a process together of pronouncing unfamiliar words and practicing delivery of the quote without a context. We did this outside where they were instructed to “mill and seethe” around while quoting aloud to each other. We practiced intonation and then gestures to go with the quotes. Most loved the physical, interactive activity. As a result of this simple activity, students recognized the quotes and understood the context as we read and watched movies and plays using the original texts. Students would excitedly state, “That was ‘my quote,’ Ms. Jeffries!”

Picture books hold a special place in my heart. I try to incorporate them with these young men, always reminding them that it is a very important thing for men to read to their children.

I wanted my students to have a good overview of the play, so I began with the beautifully illustrated Favorite Tales from Shakespeare by Bernard Miles. While I read each of the engaging versions of the plays aloud, students drew an aspect of the story on sketch paper using colored pencils. No Fear Shakespeare by SparkNotes really seemed like cheating to me, a purist about original texts and a critic of condensed or dumbed-down anything. Wow, was I wrong. The text is set up with the original on one side and a modern take on the other. Still clinging to my principles, my first best intention was to have them read the original text aloud while comparing to the modern text. This was not realistic considering the varying levels of reading abilities and the frequent interruptions, absences and new student additions. So, we simply read the No Fear version and, if particularly inspired, each student could read a bit of the original. In this way, we happily and eagerly read through Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet in just one semester. Students clamored to take parts, even the lower reading level students read willingly for the most part. If not, they were in charge of making up sound effects.

We also created an area of banishment in the classroom. Students who did not participate or attend class were banished. Coats of arms created by students for this unit would be moved to the “Ugly and Desolate Area” until a peer would agree to rescue the student by reciting a key speech from the play using gestures and tone, while wearing a silly hat. Students also provided an aesthetic response to the original text from the Queen Mab passage in Romeo and Juliet when they finished that play.

Boys love swords and shields. Elkins Sewing Center collected empty fabric tubes and cardboard forms. With a little metallic paint, and lots of brilliantly colored duct tape, these were crafted into attractive swords and shields sporting family crests from a research activity. Their artwork was showcased at the local library in April as a display for poetry month.

I feel so rewarded by the comments made by these young men.

Hamlet is one of the most interesting plays I have ever read.”

“It (the unit) was fun, everything about it was interesting. It was a better way of teaching than I have  experienced before.”

“What play will we read next?”

Seeing multiple kids signing out the graphic novel versions of Shakespeare’s plays in the original language was another plus. I am now inspired and determined to learn more myself through a future training on non-traditional teaching of  Shakespeare next fall. The learning was not short–term with these techniques. So often students memorize or remember for an exam or essay and then forget the material. Not so with this multi-faceted unit. They fell in love with the stories and characters.

These at-risk teens strongly related to the themes of family, young love, betrayal, despair and violence. These young men enjoyed themselves with activities that engaged them and will have pleasant memories of an English class years from now. Did I mention that this learning happened without even having to take a traditional test?

Heidi Jeffries is English Language Arts teacher at Elkins Mountain School in Randolph County. 



The extra mile: a grab bag of ideas for classroom enrichment

Flashlight Fridays

Lauren Jarroll, a Nicholas County Chapter Board member, discovered a way to shine a light on reading as she was substitute teaching in Nicholas County. She found that each Friday, students in Jessica Martin and Stacy McClung’s classrooms participated in “Flashlight Fridays.” During these Friday afternoons, students were invited to retrieve a flashlight from a special drawer, only to be opened for this activity, and were able to choose a spot in the classroom to sit and read. The teacher would turn out the classroom lights and for fifteen minutes, students read a book of their choosing.

This activity incorporates reading with a fun twist! Allowing students to find a comfortable spot with their own flashlight and chosen book makes the encounter more personal and enlightens students’ reading experiences.


Literary Luncheons

A suggestion from Laura Huffman, Valley View Elementary School in Berkeley County:

“To strengthen the love of reading, I offer my students the opportunity to enjoy a ‘Literary Luncheon’ once a month in my classroom. This is when we spend time together eating lunch and discussing a pre-selected book. At the beginning of each month, I give a short book talk and encourage students to borrow classroom copies of the book to read on their own or with family members at home.

“This project teaches not only reading, but responsibilities as well. Each student who chooses to participate has four responsibilities for Literary Luncheons: read the book, take care of the book, return the book on the day of the luncheon and participate in the discussion. On the last Friday of each month, students are responsible for returning the book in the same condition in which it was borrowed and being ready to discuss what they have read.

“Literary Luncheons provide students the opportunity to develop friendships, refine their speaking and listening skills, and discover the wonderful world of reading.”