Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Teaching Thoughts for Week 5

 It’s October! Perhaps my very favorite month of the whole year. Usually we are well into our football season, but we haven’t even had our first game in this crazy year. But that will all change this week. Here’s hoping we can get back to some type of routine . . . in school too and not just in athletics. Oh, how I would love to never have to Zoom with students ever again!

 

As I was looking over this week’s newsletter, I saw a meme I created at the bottom that really struck me. It asks, “What is your legacy?” Coach Mumm was the first one to really put that thought into my head when he addressed his football teams each year. They would all have their chance to add their own legacy to the great tradition of Prowler football. Then when our former principal, Mr. Zutz, took over, he framed that in a different way: As teachers, what do we want our legacy to be in terms of how we impact students and shape their futures. That still resonates with me all these years later.

 

So what do you want your legacy to be? How do you not just impact your students, but how do you shape their futures? I always tell my classes that growing up and becoming an adult is the coolest thing ever. I wouldn’t go back to high school for a million dollars. Not even for one day. What happens if I did something differently and screwed up the amazing present I have right now? 

 

I think this is a message our kids need to hear every single day. Seriously, how many of our students can’t wait to be 30? Worse yet, how many of their teachers, coaches, parents, bosses, role models have given in to the lie that “high school is the best time of your life”? I have never understood any of that!

 

Inside this week’s Teaching Thoughts you’ll find some amazing content, specifically . . .

 

Teaching Thought #21 – “Seeming Rather Than Being.” This is a quote I came across in Matthew Kelly’s book, The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity.  The idea of “seeming rather than being” comes from a letter by a principal to the parents of his students. It’s about the dangers of technology and social media. Those tools can be great, but they also can get us caught up in trying to pretend to be people we are not. Too often we get so wrapped up in updating statuses and snapping selfies or ranting on the latest blunder by a political figure, that we forget to just ‘be.’ 

 

It always saddened me when I would pick Cash and Kenzie up at Latch Key and I’d see parents staring into their phones while their kids were hugging their knees and begging for their attention. That’s why I never once took it for granted when Cash and Kenzie saw me and yelled, ‘Daaadddddd” and raced to see who was going to be the first to jump into my arms. You never get moments like that back. Now my kids are done with Latch Key, and I will never have those moments again. But I’m sure glad I was present and ‘being’ there for each and every one of them.

 

Why I Teach – Impact. I reflect on an amazing experience that happened when I was at a former student’s wedding this summer. Don’t take the impact you can have on your students for granted. You do shape their futures and impact their lives!

 

Podcast of the Week – “Three Lessons I learned from my Burn Doctors” by John O’Leary. Coach Mumm used this in his Phy Ed class last week, so I gave it another listen. Wow. This podcast is another great example of how people forge legacies. Each of O’Leary’s burn doctors changed his life. Some for the worse and a rare few radically changed it for the better. 

 

O’Leary realized these three lessons: People Matter, Words Matter, and Wonder Matters. As teachers we are blessed to be able to work in all of those areas. Never take that for granted.

 

Have a great week. Go out and show your students or staff just how much they matter. Do that often enough for long enough and you’ll have a legacy that you can be proud of.

 


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Teaching Thoughts for week 4

Just like that it’s homecoming week. And it’s the strangest homecoming week I’ve ever been a part of. As this crazy year unfolds, here are some thoughts that have been on my mind recently –

 

** Mr. Kjono was subbing next door to me. As he left for the day, he said, “Man, this is weird. Where is everyone? The kids are just kind of in a daze. They sit still and do their work. They aren’t even acting like kids.”

 

And he has a point. The revelry is almost all gone from school. We are like a community college now where kids show up, go to class, and then leave as soon as they possibly can. That is just what we want with the pandemic, but it’s strange. Really strange.

 

** In our common prep meeting last week, we all took turns sharing two positives and one negative. For my two positives I first shared that I’m getting better at managing everything that is going on in a single class in terms of technology, attendance, tracking where kids are in each assignment, and staying sane. My second positive was that I haven’t gotten COVID yet. 

 

My negative was that I’m stretched incredibly thin. There is hardly a single moment of the day when I have time to take a breath. Literally, I could be giving feedback via Classroom, grading essays, updating grades and lesson plans, cleaning my room and organizing physical copies of assignments, not to mention planning for a football season that is now a go, every single second of the day.

 

I have made a choice. I don’t do much in the way of grading or responding to work at home. I’ve found ways to take care of that during the day. But it has drained some of the joy out of it. No doubt about it.

 

** On a more positive note, I did receive a text from a student who is now a freshman in college. She said when I used to talk about how I’d receive texts from past students thanking them for teaching them how to write an MLA or APA paper – and to be fair, our students are the products of our entire education system, not just College Comp. They just have me last, so that experience stays with them, but I couldn’t get them to where they are as writers without all of the other great teachers who built them up to where they are when they walk in my room. 

 

This former student went on to confess that she thought I was just kidding. She always thought, yeah right. And then she said she was shocked when her roommates came out crying. Apparently, they had been assigned a paper (5-10 pages due in December). They were stressed that they ‘only’ had a month to come up with a topic and write the first page. When my former student asked, “Didn’t you write papers in high school?” They responded, no. The longest paper they had ever written was just a couple pages.

 

Needless to say, this former student was very appreciative for all the writing skills we built into her over the years! That was a nice pick me up.

Inside this week’s Teaching Thoughts, you’ll find

 

Images – Seth Godin has one of my favorite lines: “Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.” Now, I’ll admit there are a ton of things I’m average at, but when it comes to the stuff that matters – being a father and husband and being a teacher, I can’t imagine being average. Those jobs are just too vital to not work incredibly hard to be great.

 

Book of the week – Upstream by Dan Heath. I love the Heath brothers and their books, namely Made to Stickand The Power of Moments. This book, though, may be the most relevant to teaching. Dan focuses on how to truly solve issues at the root of problems as opposed to just addressing the symptoms of the issues, which is what most of us do. Let’s take for example the issue of litter in the parking lot that plagued us a few years ago. That is a problem, but there is a more serious issue at work: kids don’t value or respect LHS. You can threaten the suspend and reprimand kids all you want, but in a school that kids love and respect, they don’t litter in the parking lot. So – Dan argues – the key is to look upstream at any problem. Address the cause of the problem instead of just working so hard to solve the problems resulting from the cause.

 

Why I Teach – my amazing colleagues. My students often write about those who have impacted them. Time and again the names of my colleagues come up. I never miss a chance to stake a screenshot and send it to them too. We all need appreciation, inspiration, and recognition.

 

Podcast of the Week – American Shadows. This is a podcast that looks at the darker areas of American history. In their debut episode, called “Glow,” they look at haunting story of “The Radium Girls” and the terrible price they had to pay for working to paint glow in the dark watches for American Radium Company. It also looks at how their battle changed American history and why it’s vital – much to the chagrin of our president and his constant complaining about ‘fake news’ – to have the free press.

 

Give this a try in your classroom – TED Ed. This app is great for turning any video into a full lesson. This is great for days when you have to have a sub or for supplementary assignments. Right now it’s ideal for my LINC lessons as it allows me to deliver content in a far more engaging manner than just a Google Slide show.

 

Have a great week. Keep your head up. It’s okay to be one day, one period, or even one minute ahead of your students. Give yourself some grace. You won’t regret it.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Teaching Thoughts

 How did the first week go? I told Kristie after the second day of school that it felt like I had taught two full weeks!

 

The theme for our staff is “patience,” and I don’t think we could have chosen a better one. I had a wakeup call about the importance of that theme this week.  For starters, for our hybrid model I have my students divided into three groups: blue, gold, and white. These groups will rotate attending school. That means I will have 1/3 of my students in class and 2/3 of my students Zooming in from home. On top of that, I have a handful of students who have opted for the Family Flex Option, so they will totally be remote learning all semester. To try and pull this off I’m working with a couple different platforms that stretch me pretty thin.  

 

On any given class I will have these apps/websites up and running and in full use (to name just the ones that came to me off the top of my head) -

 

Zoom

Google Drive

Google Docs

Nearpod

Keynote

Youtube

Synergy

Google Classroom

Loom

 

But not all of those apps/websites play well together. On Friday, I was planning on presenting one of my favorite lessons of the year: a Keynote introduction to our first major essay in College Comp. I love using Keynote as it allows for me to build in multiple images and videos onto one single slide. 

 

As class started and Mrs. Weets read the announcements, I plugged my MacBook Air into my overhead projector to display the screen. Then I opened up Zoom and began adding students to the lesson as they showed up in the waiting room. Once everyone was able to get in (which is often a miracle), I went over the lesson plan and learning target. Great. Then I shared my screen with everyone on Zoom and in the classroom. I began working my way through the Keynote slideshow. 

 

Then my computer locked up. Nothing worked. I was only four slides in. I couldn’t exit Zoom. I couldn't exit Keynote. We were stuck. So I bit the bullet and restarted my computer, which kicked 24 kids off Zoom.

 

Mercifully, we were up and rolling again after about ten minutes. However, my computer locked up again after only a few minutes. Everyone at home was kicked out of the Zoom again. I had to punt. So much for the day’s lesson plan!

 

I emailed everyone at home what would be due on Monday and that I’d share the Keynote slideshow with them soon.

 

But that was just the beginning. After an hour of trying to find a way to export the entire Keynote to an efficient format (PowerPoint doesn’t embed the videos correctly. Exporting it as a .mov file is too large. And neither of those options allow for me to talk my way through the slideshow so students can hear my commentary and suggestions for their essays). 

 

(And I know some of you are saying, why don't you just use PowerPoint? I have been through a thousand PowerPoint sessions. Only a handful have been engaging. And those were only due to the sheer charisma and passion of the presenters, not the PowerPoint itself. And don't get me going on Google Slides. They're worse than PowerPoint.)

 

Back to the drawing board. That’s when I tried a third (or is  it fourth option by now?) option: Loom, a screencasting app that I began using last March. This allows me to bring up my Keynote and present it while also recording it and even having a small video of me as I talk my students through the Keynote, sharing advice, tips, tricks, and adding in some humor. Great!

 

Once I exported it to video, I was able to upload it to Google Docs and then share it via Google Drive. Problem solved. But by this time it’s almost time for third block. Not one thing has gone the way I expected it to.

 

That is the new reality of teaching in 2020.

 

Inside this week’s Teaching Thoughts –

 

Book of the Week – Tom Romano’s wonderful memoir, ZigZag. Romano, a retired English professor from the University of Miami at Ohio, was also a high school English teacher for several years, so his advice and stories are totally relatable and inspiring. The pain of him recounting his father’s death stings, yet there is always hope – hope in his family, in his profession, in his students, and, perhaps best of all, writing.

 

Why I Teach – I can’t believe all of the students we produce who go into teaching. If I begin counting past students who are now teachers, it’s not that hard to rack up two dozen! That’s a testament to how big of an impact you all have on your students.

 

Podcast of the Week – Shifting our Schools – “Preparing Students for Their Future not our Past.” Talk about a relevant topic for hybrid learning in 2020. This podcast is full of so much information that I could spend ten pages writing about it. The thing I took away from this – our students are “prosumers.” When we were students, we tended to just ‘consume’ information and content (and usually regurgitate it on a test). Or if we did ‘produce’ something it was usually meant just for an extremely limited audience (usually the teacher). Today’s students don’t do that. They ‘prosume’ information and content, which simply means not only do they consume information and content but they just as easily produce it – and not just for a limited audience. Here is a wonderful example of what it means to “prosume.” We need to ensure our students are producing just as much as they are consuming.

 

Video of the Week – You will never forget this firefighter’s tribute to his peers he lost in 9/11.

 

I truly hope you had a great first week. I know it’s just the second week of school – even if it feels like it’s been a month – but it’s clear, more than ever, how much our students need us and how much we need them and each other. And when things don’t go as planned, have patience. Have a great second week!

 


 

 


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Teaching Thoughts Week 1

Happy final day of summer. Usually, this day fills me with joy and excitement. While I’m still eager to start what will be my 23rd year teaching, I am apprehensive more than any other year other than my very first year way back in 1998. So much of what we are going through as teachers is unknown: How long will we be in hybrid? How do I teach asynchronously effectively? How am I going to keep track of everything I go over under the new hybrid format? What if we have to go back to distance learning? What if I have to quarantine for 14 days? What if we run out of healthy teachers and have to go back to distance learning? How am I going to get my students who weren’t able to come to Open House the materials so don’t start the school year behind everyone else?

So many questions.  I mean we are so hurting for bus drivers, there is an option for teachers to actually drive bus (as if we need another thing on our plates!). 

Side note – I was intrigued for a minute that if I drove bus in the mornings and afternoon I could earn another $10,000 of income. So one morning, I asked my fourth-grade son, Cash, if I should drive bus. 

He looked at me hard for a second and said, “But you love teaching.”

“That’s true. I do,” I said.

“Then why would you drive bus?” he asked.

“Well, they are short on bus drivers. The district would pay for my commercial driver’s license. They’d even get the bus to the school so I could just leave my room after school and start my bus route,” I said.

Cash shook his head. “You have to do what you love, Dad. Stick to teaching. I hear you’re good at it.”

Ha ha. Thanks for your kind words, son. I needed them.

Now to apply Cash’s advice to this crazy year: Slow down. Don’t get caught up in all of the stuff we don’t get to do anymore. Focus on the stuff you love to do in your classroom. Let that carry you.

I hate not having 25 kids in my room each and every block. But I’ll take having six students in my block with the other 19 Zooming in from home over awful distance learning any day. So find one moment during each period to remind yourself how fortunate we are to be in this amazing profession!

Inside this week’s Teaching Thoughts, you’ll find –

Images – There is a great image of a teacher in her classroom trying to shoulder four backpacks (“Responsibility for Public Health,” “Parents’ Fears,” “Personal Anxiety,” and “No info”). I don’t know very many teachers who don’t feel this way. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us to practice respect, patience, and kindness. Unfortunately, we are all trying to navigate a world where those things are in short supply.

Book of the Week – How Successful People Think by John Maxwell. This is such an important read, especially now. The number one thing I took away from this book was Maxwell’s insistence on the importance of focus. Yes, successful people have laser-like focus. I need to remember that now, especially now. I highlighted and underlined this passage: “Don’t allow yourself to look at e-mail until after 10 A.M. Instead, focus your energies on your number one priority. Put non-productive time wasters on hold so that you can create thinking time for yourself.” This is perfect for me as this falls right during my second period prep. As a teacher, though, you know how hard this is. If it’s not the blasted intercom interrupting class every block, it’s email after email. I think we could spend the first 4 hours of work just responding to emails and shuffling kids around to one meeting after the other. When is there time for teaching? That’s what I need to focus more on.

Teaching Thoughts – One of my favorite things to give my students is A.I.R., which stands for appreciation, inspiration, and recognition. Who gets tired of those three things? How do you do those, though? You have to give specific feedback. It does no good to tell your students (or teachers) about your core values if all you’re going to say is, “I know you all do a great job with these.” That feedback is meaningless. You might as well not even say it. Cut that part out of the class or the staff meeting. Just let them leave early. They will get more out of that than empty recognition. Instead, point out specific students (both in public and private) and tell them how you saw them living out one of the core values. Do that, and you’ll see a drastic change in culture.

Podcast of the Week – Jennifer Gonzalez’s “Four Laws of Learning” from her amazing Cult of Pedagogypodcast.

These aren’t the ONLY four laws of learning, but they are important to keep in mind as we start the school year. I will try to build all my lessons around these and reflect on how my content is shaped by these things. The four laws are –

1.     Keep on the GPS - (one simple way of doing this is to use formative assessment to adjust and tweak your content).
2.     Classify, Connect, and Compare - (use activities, such as graphic organizers or even one pagers, that allow for students to do this with the content. This is, after all, how we all learn and make sense of the world around us. How can students classify the information on their own? What can they connect and compare the content to in the world around them or – best of all – to the other classes they are taking right now?)
3.     To Learn we Need to Churn - (This law takes place in that vital time between when we introduce knowledge to students and later when we access them on their mastery of that knowledge. This is about allowing students to ‘churn’ their knowledge and content. How do you get students to interact with the material you’ve just given the students? One way to ‘churn’ is to allow students to get up and move around the room – maybe having students do a breakout session or a gallery walk. Another great way to get students to ‘churn’ is to – shocker – take notes the old school way with pen and paper.)
4.     Better to Retrieve than Receive – (allow for activities that call for students to retrieve knowledge via retrieval practice rather than just “sitting and getting” the information via notes and lecture).

Video of the Week – Coach Mumm shared this one with me: “Excellence in the Next 5 Minutes.” I really think this is just what we need now. Don’t worry about the whole week or the entire month. Focus just on the next five minutes of class. What opportunities will be presented in that time where you can be excellent? Do that enough, and you’ll make a great impact.

Give this a try in your Classroom – This isn’t ideal in our new hybrid format, but it can still be done. Think about bringing in former students to talk to your new classes. I did this last year for my College Comp classes. I even left the room so the former students could be brutally honest with my new class. I wanted my former students to share what they really learned from class, how they were able to be successful, what advice they had for new students, tricks that worked to help get them through, and what they would do differently if they were to take the class again. This sure beats just going over the syllabus and grade scale on the first day!

I know many of you feel buried under all the responsibilities and burdens placed on us right now, not to mention that we have to teach like we have never taught before. Just take it one period and one day at a time. Your work matters. Trust me. It does. For those of you who have taught KoKo, Kenzie, and Cash, I know the impact you have (and in KoKo’s case, the impact you had on her). Likewise, when I read what my students have written about you (and I try and share these with you as often as possible), they speak so highly of you all. Your work matters. Remember that! And if you need a pick me up, shoot me a text or give me a call!

Have a great week and year!


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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Teaching Thoughts Inservice Edition 2020

Good morning,

The days are becoming shorter. That means autumn is on its way. Today we will find out if fall sports are going to be a go. Keep your fingers crossed. If you're like me, you are excited to be back in school with students this fall. And if you're like me, you're also worried about the health of all of those involved. Be sure to let your leadership teams know your thoughts and raise your questions to them.

Inside this month's edition of Teacherscribe's Teaching Thoughts, you'll find -

Book Review - Leon Botstein's Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture. For some reason this summer I've been on a kick of re-reading books more than I have been reading new books. I bet a decade has passed since I read Bostein's book, but it's as relevant today as it was when it came out in the late 1990's. In fact, it didn't really become popular until Oprah Winfrey featured it on her talkshow shortly after Columbine. Botstein's book is both a shock to the system as well as a call to action to reform our schools.

PS - if anyone is interested in reading this as part of a book club this year, let me know. I'd love to lead it.

Teaching Thoughts - I am part of Tate Sorvig's Crossfit Great North bootcamp, round 2. Kristie was part of the first bootcamp (which meets M-W-F in Hartz Park at 5:15 AM) that I had to give it a try. I knew it would get me in better shape, but I had no idea that I'd learn lessons that are applicable to teaching and working with kids! I delve into three takeaways from Tate's bootcamp that will make me a better teacher this fall.

Why I Teach - The Podcast Club. For a number of years now several teachers from the district and I have taken part it what we call "The Podcast Club." It's basically just a bunch of professional development junkies who love podcasts. We choose a podcast and then listen to it over the course of a week. Then we get together at The Riverwalk for drinks and discussion. It's some of the best professional development I have ever had. Teaches learn best from other teachers is a mantra of the former Red River Valley Writers Conference, and it's true.

Give This a Try Next Year - I share the activity that I use the first week of every class. I call it the "111 Things About You." In short, I ask students to fill out a template of 111 things about themselves. They can be as personal as they want or as random as they want. What I'm really looking for here is information about the students that will help me both get to know them and to also shape my curriculum around their interests and experiences. 

Enjoy the remaining days of summer. If you're like me you're counting down to that wonderful first day of school. I hope all is well. Stay safe.



Thursday, August 06, 2020

Teaching Thoughts - August Edition

Good morning,

The days are becoming shorter. That means autumn is on its way. Today we will find out if fall sports are going to be a go. Keep your fingers crossed. If you're like me, you are excited to be back in school with students this fall. And if you're like me, you're also worried about the health of all of those involved. Be sure to let your leadership teams know your thoughts and raise your questions to them.

Inside this month's edition of Teacherscribe's Teaching Thoughts, you'll find -

Book Review - Leon Botstein's Jefferson's Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture. For some reason this summer I've been on a kick of re-reading books more than I have been reading new books. I bet a decade has passed since I read Bostein's book, but it's as relevant today as it was when it came out in the late 1990's. In fact, it didn't really become popular until Oprah Winfrey featured it on her talkshow shortly after Columbine. Botstein's book is both a shock to the system as well as a call to action to reform our schools.

PS - if anyone is interested in reading this as part of a book club this year, let me know. I'd love to lead it.

Teaching Thoughts - I am part of Tate Sorvig's Crossfit Great North bootcamp, round 2. Kristie was part of the first bootcamp (which meets M-W-F in Hartz Park at 5:15 AM) that I had to give it a try. I knew it would get me in better shape, but I had no idea that I'd learn lessons that are applicable to teaching and working with kids! I delve into three takeaways from Tate's bootcamp that will make me a better teacher this fall.

Why I Teach - The Podcast Club. For a number of years now several teachers from the district and I have taken part it what we call "The Podcast Club." It's basically just a bunch of professional development junkies who love podcasts. We choose a podcast and then listen to it over the course of a week. Then we get together at The Riverwalk for drinks and discussion. It's some of the best professional development I have ever had. Teaches learn best from other teachers is a mantra of the former Red River Valley Writers Conference, and it's true.

Give This a Try Next Year - I share the activity that I use the first week of every class. I call it the "111 Things About You." In short, I ask students to fill out a template of 111 things about themselves. They can be as personal as they want or as random as they want. What I'm really looking for here is information about the students that will help me both get to know them and to also shape my curriculum around their interests and experiences. 

Enjoy the remaining days of summer. If you're like me you're counting down to that wonderful first day of school. 

I also know the MSHL ruling came out moving football and volleyball to the spring. It isn't an easy time for student athletes - given how that they lost their spring sports last year too - but remain positive. Football and volleyball do get to practice in the fall, though. So that is something. And as a former high school athlete whose teams tended to lose more than they ever won, I always enjoyed practice more anyway.

My two cents on the MSHL ruling: As my mother would say, "If life gives you lemons, you can be sour or you can make lemonade." Look at the new opportunities that will arise for you. And if sports were even an option for my own kids in the fall, I don't know that my daughter would have taken part. She is worried about the virus and spreading it to her grandmother. I know we could isolate them from each other for safety, but my daughter would take seeing her grandmother over playing a sport every time. After all - and I might be in the minority here - but it is only sports in the grand scheme of things. I use about 2% of what I ever learned in athletics in my daily life and work. And the biggest take away was to get better with every rep. And that I learned in my love for practice and running a play over and over and over to get it down perfectly.

I hope all is well. Stay safe.






Monday, July 27, 2020

Summer Read #5: The Ballad of Black Tom


The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle was a quick read on my Kindle app, but there is a reason it was nominated for the 2016 Bram Stoker award for long fiction (losing out to The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner, which just might be up soon on my summer reading list).

It's an excellent read. I stumbled upon this work after reading The Fisherman by John Langan, which happened to win the 2016 Bram Stoker award for best horror novel of the year. What these works have in common is that they are part of the Lovecraft mythos. 

If you're unfamiliar, the Lovecraft mythos is based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In short, Lovecraft invented this mythos of these horrific 'elder' gods that once ruled our universe but have somehow been banished. They are evil beings who see humanity as we may view ants or mosquitoes. These elder gods are always seeking ways to break through back to our universe to rule again. Worse still, there are some people who have stumbled upon the 'forbidden' works that talk of these elder gods and these people are seeking to help them return.

What I enjoyed about The Ballad of Black Tom so much is that it's a wonderfully original spin on Lovercraft's work. Yes, it features the seminal 'elder' god of Lovercraft's work, Cthulhu, but it is just done so cleverly.

First, this story is a re-telling of Lovecraft's story "The Horror at Red-Hook." But it is told from the point of view of what would have been a very minor character in that story, an African American musician in Harlem.

Second, what I love about this story is that LaValle's giving Lovecraft the literary equivalent of the finger, for Lovecraft was a racist, and LaValle's casts an African American as the "hero" of the tale! 

Third, LaValle writes in a style that is far more clear and easy to digest that the Lovecraft style of overblown, daunting sentences (think of a poor man's want-to-be Edgar Allan Poe).

Fourth, the story begins a bit slow, but it picks up quickly and is a hell of a ride all the way until the horrific climax.

This type of original take has me re-thinking assignments for a creative writing class. What other stories could students (and their teachers) write from the point of view of minor characters?

What about writing from the cat's perspective in Poe's "The Black Cat," or from Dr. Halsey's point of view in "Herbert West: Re-animotor" by Lovecraft, or from Davie Hutchinson's point of view in "The Lottery"? Oh, the possibilities.

Okay, enough of that. On to the tale: Charles Tommy Tester is a street musician in Harlem. The year is 1924, and we first meet Tom as he is delivering a mysterious book to Mat Att in Queens. The book is a mysterious one, with the last few pages ripped out by Tom as a precaution. Apparently, the book has the potential - if fallen into the wrong hands - to help bring back some of the elder gods, though we don't learn of this until later.

A few days later, Tom is stopped by Robert Suydam (who is the main character in Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red-Hook"), who asks Tom to play at a party he is having in a few days. Tom accepts the man's offer and the money he will pay him.

This is where things get really interesting as Suydam is going to wake Cthulhu up from his other dimension and bring him into ours. Suydam believes that whoever does this will be treated like a king by the god and be spared the destruction that will surely come to everyone else. Suydam believes the mistreated immigrants of New York will be eager to help him - and to be treated well by Cthulhu as well - to help topple the racist white world around them.

I won't spoil it for you, but it's a wild ride. I loved reading every world. If you're looking to dip your toe into the Lovecraft mythos, give The Ballad of Black Tom a go. It's worth the couple of hours of reading.

Up next summer read #6: Thinner by Stephen King/Richard Bachman.