By Andrew C. Katen
“There will be a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning.”
– Louis L’Amour
“The age of oil is coming to an end,” repeated Mr. Girard, looking very somber in his tie, pressed shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses. He had just wrapped up a lecture about the future of the world economy . Now he sat on the corner of a student’s desk with his arms crossed over his chest. Loosening his tie with one hand, his eyes scanned the room of freshman history students for questions or comments. Aside from the clink of Jeff Hamilton’s pencil hitting the floor in the third row, the room was silent.
After a long pause, Mr. Girard sighed and added, “In the last two years, oil prices have dropped from over 100 dollars a barrel to 30 dollars. This proves the world no longer needs or wants oil. We are moving away from our dependence on fossil fuels.” After another pause, he asked, “Well? What do you think?”
Sitting in the back row, next to the windows, Patrick Eaton doodled in his notebook. As he sketched a landscape of mountains and deserts – his mind seemingly far away from the discussion at hand – it suddenly occurred to him that he might look bored. As Mr. Girard cast an eye over the class, no doubt making mental notes for assigning participation grades, Patrick realized that he might have already earned a zero for his apparent indifference. In reality, Patrick had reflected upon every word spoken during the past forty-five minutes. As he doodled, he was actually trying to summon the courage to share his own views in front of thirty of his peers.
Ultimately, however, Patrick decided to keep quiet. After all, what was the point? Mr. Girard was no fan of fossil fuels. He had made this perfectly clear at the beginning of the school year when Patrick shared that his dad was a petroleum geologist, and that they had spent the previous summer looking at oil and gas prospects in Central Asia. Since Patrick’s grade in the class was hovering around a B-minus, the last thing he needed was to provoke Mr. Girard into adding another C to his report card. In these situations, he knew from experience, it was often better to keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut.
As Mr. Girard began passing out worksheets, Patrick’s thoughts drifted back to the previous weekend, when his family had attended a barbecue hosted by his dad’s boss, Skip. Patrick had come to know and like this loud, gregarious Texan years ago. Last summer, during their adventure across Central Asia, the two had grown even closer. Patrick had discovered that Skip was not just funny and smart, but also attentive to Patrick’s intense hunger for knowledge. Even though Skip was a busy manager of an oil company, he always found time to address Patrick’s questions. “Let’s talk level,” Skip would answer in his Texan twang, as if he and Patrick were colleagues.
Whether your middle schooler likes to read or avoids it entirely, here are ten simple and effective ways to engage and encourage him to read more often.
Have more ideas? Please comment below or email me with your own tips – I will compile them in a follow up blog post. -- Andrew
Last weekend was movie time at our house. Everybody was down with the flu, including my two toddler-aged children. When nobody feels like moving (not even their eyeballs), movies are an easy choice. But a tougher choice is which movies to watch.
For example, my boy loves dinosaurs. I mean, he is absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs! He can identify and pronounce all of them in his books, knows when each of them lived, distinguishes between carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, and can even describe how big they were compared to modern objects. When we go to the library, he checks out dinosaur books. When we go to the museum, he looks at dinosaurs. When we get sick, he watches dinosaur movies.
But there’s one problem. He doesn’t want to read books or watch movies about cartoons or “unrealistic” dinosaurs. On the other hand, books and movies with “realistic” material are also chock-full of grisly death scenes, such as T-Rexes ripping each others' arms off, or a Gallimimus sticking its entire head into the carcass of a Brachiosaurus. Then there’s the endless discussion of the infamous asteroid that “wiped out the dinosaurs.”
Sure, it’s all science, but my boy doesn’t yet know how to make sense of sword-fighting, let alone cannibalism or apocalyptic destruction… and certainly not when it’s on every page or in every other movie scene. (Can you imagine what happens when an intellectually curious and emotionally sensitive toddler latches onto the idea that an asteroid could theoretically crash into the earth and kill every human on it?)
I’m not for a minute claiming that it is the responsibility of books or movie designers to tailor material to my boy's needs. But what I am highlighting, once again, is the difficulty of finding suitable material for young children with advanced intellectual interests.
It is with this challenge in mind that I wrote Chaturanga – a book that contains adult-level intellectual concepts but without violence or adult “emotional” themes. And I don’t think my family is alone in wanting these types of books. Just a few days ago, I received a message from a dad who is reading the book with his 10-year-old son! This testimonial pleased me beyond words – this is exactly the niche group I had in mind when I wrote the book.
So, to all you parents out there: Chaturanga is a book your young reader will be able to read and enjoy – and come away with a good understanding of history, geography, and current events – without you having to worry about any adult “surprises”!
I had the pleasure of visiting KAFM 88.1 Grand Junction a couple of weeks ago to talk about Chaturanga.
Host, Jeff Shuldener, and I discussed my inspiration for the book, intended audience, the process of writing an educational novel, and more.
Thanks to "Community Hour" for having me on the air!
“Can you recommend a book for my middle schooler?
As an educator, I have heard this question numerous times from parents. Often, their inquiry is followed with this caveat: “My child is reading at the adult level, but I don’t want him reading other adult themes.” Of course, by “adult themes,” parents are referring to violence, tragedy, horror, profanity, or sex (both explicit and implied).
Without a doubt, it can be difficult for parents of gifted elementary and middle schoolers to find books that suit their children’s advanced interests, but which are also appropriate for their social and emotional needs. Despite their youth, gifted kids are often interested in the concepts that are usually found in adult books, and their advanced reasoning abilities mean that they can also comprehend these ideas. However, they don’t yet have the emotional maturity to deal with the “other” themes that are also contained in these books.
Another challenge for parents is that, while many young readers enjoy stories about teenage love or seek an escape to the world of fantasy and sci-fi (genres that are extremely popular and widely available), young gifted readers are increasingly drawn to the “real world” of politics, history, and current events. As a Social Studies teacher, I worked with 5th graders who were just as interested in an upcoming election, or Constitutional history, or a particular sociopolitical issue as they were in elves or dragons. On their desks, it was common to see an adult book written by a contemporary political critic sandwiched between Lord of the Rings or Ender’s Game. Unfortunately, there are much fewer young adult books that explore fact-based politics or current events than there are books about elves or dragons.
So what’s the parent of a gifted middle schooler to do? Well, it depends on your child’s reading interests. There are lots of great books out there that will stimulate the minds of middle school readers, while keeping the content emotionally appropriate.
Among many others, Chaturanga was written for young readers (and adults too) who seek a story of adventure, self-discovery and family values – and without tragedy, profanity, violence, and crude behavior.
Check out the “extras” page for links that identify other books suitable for young, gifted middle schoolers.