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About the Author

Paul Kropp

Paul Kropp wrote more than forty novels for young adults, ranging from books especially designed for reluctant readers to award-winning teenage novels. Paul taught writing in elementary, secondary and university classrooms, and had more than twenty years of experience as a teacher and workshop leader. Paul passed away in 2015, but his work with and for generations of reluctant readers continues to inspire and engage students of all ages.

Books by this Author
Home Run

Home Run

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1
A Father-Son Moment
With any reasonable luck, I might have begun my university years by flying out west, unpacking a suitcase of clothes, setting up my computer, and waiting patiently while Greyhound shipped a few boxes of essential gear. But no. Somewhere in the how-to-be-a-parent guidebook it says that parents must drive their children to the school, transport the offspring and his/her goods to the dorm room, and then engage in tearful farewells and worthy admonitions.

Admonitions! Pretty good word, isn’t it? See what being in first year has already done for me?

The trip out west took two days, and involved four stops for gas, five bathroom breaks, three fast-food meals, and one overnight stay in a sleazy motel. I was okay with the four stops, five breaks, and three quick meals. It was the overnight that was gruelling.

During the days, I was able to cocoon myself in the back seat of our old Ford, listening to various MP3s through my headphones. It was actually a fairly pleasant zone to be in, watching the landscape roll by, listening to Yellowcard and U2 and my new favourite group, the Thinkertoys.

I was interrupted only occasionally by my parents. My mom would turn back, shake my knee to get my attention, and then wait until I took off my headphones. “This is the Continental Divide,” she would say.
I would respond “Oh,” and put my headphones back on.

My mother and my father would return to their CDs of 1970s favourites and I would go back to the Thinkertoys. Cross-country trips do not make for parent-child bonding any more.

But our one overnight was difficult, at least for me. We had reached somewhere in Alberta–not Calgary, since that would have been too interesting–but some place where the only scenery was oil derricks. To save money, my father had booked a motel that looked like something out of Psycho. An Anthony Perkins look-alike was at the front desk, smiling politely. He gave my dad a key to our collective room: two queen beds, two bathroom towels, and plastic glasses wrapped in crinkly plastic wrappers. The only word to describe this level of elegance would be . . . sanitary. Even the toilet was covered with a piece of paper “for your protection,” making you wonder what the toilet might do if it were not sealed up.

We had supper at the motel “restaurant.” The quotation marks reflect the neon sign and the quality of food and service. It was the kind of place that made Harvey’s seem like a big step up. The “restaurant” had hamburgers the consistency of leather anointed with ketchup that had a vague petroleum taste, as if it were diluted with something from the oil derricks in the distance. Still, the portions were big and the lemon-cream pie almost good, especially in comparison to everything else.

When we got back to the room, my parents put on the TV for Law and Order and I put on my headphones. I had brought a book for the trip, The Iliad, which I was trying to read in preparation for my Humanities class. I was not doing well with The Iliad, though my eyes kept going over the words. Maybe it’s a book that you have to read without listening to the Thinkertoys at the same time.

Eventually I gave up and fell into a comatose state on the bed. There’s another good word–deriving from coma (to which I was headed) and maybe toes (which were glad to be out of my shoes). I fell back on my bed and began thinking about sex.

I apologize for this. I realize that an eighteen-year-old guy about to enter university should be thinking about his studies, his future, his course reading lists, if not the deep meaning of The Iliad–whose surface meaning still escaped me. But I was not thinking about these things. I was thinking about Maggie, this red-headed girl I’d gone out with for the past year. I was thinking about her hair and her eyes, and the funny little laugh she has. Then I began thinking about how she always pushed my hands away when she decided that our making out had gone far enough.

Maggie and I had never had sex. That was pretty frustrating at the time, but probably for the best. At least, Maggie said it was for the best, and Maggie was smarter than me and right about so many things. At some level, Maggie knew she was destined for prime time, starting with heading east to the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in New York state, while I was destined for afternoon soaps, and was headed west to the undistinguished Burrard University in Vancouver.

Prime-time people don’t have sex with soaps people, it’s as simple as that. Anyhow, I lay on the motel bed and began thinking how much I missed Maggie, even though we had never had sex. And soon I began thinking about why we never had sex, and then thinking about what sex would have been like if we had had it. The last thought was the most interesting, and I pursued that until I fell asleep.

I woke up about midnight when I heard a sound. In a flash, I became convinced that the Anthony Perkins look-alike in the lobby was now lurking in the room, or in the shower, or just over my bed . . . with a knife. Then, of course, I really woke up. But there was nothing to see in the dark room, and nothing more to hear until my mother whispered something like, “Go to sleep, dear.”

But then I was wide awake, thinking about Maggie again. I remembered watching Pyscho as part of Maggie’s Friday film society. I remembered how scared we got, and how much fun we used to have. Then I wondered how her frosh week would go at Sarah Lawrence. I wondered if she was happy, or if she missed me. Of course Maggie had moved on, and I was moving on, and then I felt sad about all that and fell back asleep.

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How to Make Your Child a Reader for Life
Excerpt

PHONEMICS AT HOME
Let me repeat: if you've been reading regularly with your child, if you talk together regularly over breakfast and dinner, if you model the enjoyment of reading yourself, then your child will most assuredly learn to read. You don't need to buy special reading programs advertised on TV, or pick up the latest instructional CD-ROM for your computer, or follow any program of instruction at home. Follow the three Rs in this book and your child will become a reader.The problem that I hear again and again from parents is that they are anxious about their child's reading. She seems to lag behind the other kids at school, or lose interest when we read together at night, or not be reading as well as her older sister. Often these "reading problems" are nothing more than a combination of parental anxiety and unfair comparisons with other kids. We must always remember that children have their own timetables of development. Parents should know, too, that second and third children rarely develop their reading skills as quickly as did the first child. But there is no particular advantage, long term, in a child reading by herself early on-and there is considerable disadvantage for any family where the kids are compared to each other or to the seemingly model child next door.Nonetheless, parents going through this book want to give their child every possible break in developing her reading. Rightly so. Just as there are activities in school that do work well in developing reading skills and some that don't, so there are good and bad activities for building your child's reading skills and attitudes at home.Let's start with a list of what you should be doing:-Do continue reading with your child every night. By and large, you'll be doing the reading aloud, but your child will frequently become more involved at this stage.

-Do remember that reading time is play time: games, songs, stories, and talk are as important as the reading of words on a page.

-Do encourage phonemic skills in your readingplay time: songs, rhymes, limericks, clapping, dancing-all offer a reading payoff.

-Do encourage word recognition and sounding out wherever you can: words on the fridge, picture dictionary books, sing-alongread-along tapes.I'll come back to all of these ideas, but first let me offer a list of cautions:-Don't force an organized reading program. Whether it's a set of flashcards or computer instruction, it's too early for these mostly phonics programs. And there's a real danger that pushing such a program, prematurely, will hurt your child's attitude toward reading.

-Don't turn reading time into a work-study session. You will get more long-term reading advancement from games and stories than from a rigorous study of word segmentation. And there's no point in asking a young child "comprehension" questions to see if she's paying attention. You'll know by the wiggles.

-Don't let a slightly older brother or sister take over reading. Sibling rivalry is such that a child who is four or five years older can take on quasi-adult responsibilities like nightly reading without much danger of claiming the territory for herself. But don't let your seven-year-old son start showing off his reading skills while your five-year-old daughter is still struggling with her first steps in reading. That's a recipe for disaster.When you and your kindergarten child read together, chances are good that your child will do "pretend" reading long before she can actually decode words. Children who have been read to by parents frequently like to turn the pages of a book and tell the story themselves using the same vocal tones and language that you do.According to one authority on early reading, there are a number of stages in this storybook retelling. Often it begins when your child simply describes the pictures on each page. Later, she may create a story based on the pictures in the book or on some remembered bits of the actual story. The third stage, a real crossover to decoding, is one where your child will create a story that is influenced by words and phrases from the actual text. The fifth stage is when your child begins struggling much more with the words on the page-remembering some, figuring others out from visual clues, sounding out some, guessing at others.Much parental anxiety comes from the fourth stage-the one I skipped up above. In this stage, your child may suddenly refuse to try to read at all. No explanation. No excuses. Just no reading. This stage rarely lasts for more than a few weeks, and it happens for a very good reason. Suddenly your child realizes that the story is all there, on the pages, and that she can't read it all, or read it very well. The frustration causes many children to simply stop reading: "No, you read it, Mommy." And you should. As your child's confidence grows, she'll tackle reading again.The read-it-again phenomenon is also a key feature of reading together with four- and five-year-olds. While you'll likely get bored reading the same handful of books night after night, your child loves the predictability of these favourite books. These are the books she'll memorize. And these are likely the first books she'll "read" all by herself.(c) 1993, 2000 by Paul Kropp

First published by Random House of Canada in 1993 under the title The Reading Solution

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I'll Be The Parent, You Be The Kid

I'll Be The Parent, You Be The Kid

The Hot Button Topics in Parenting
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Running the Bases

Running the Bases

Definitely Not a Book About Baseball
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1
You Don’t Start with a Home Run

“You don’t start with a home run,” Jeremy said.

“A what?” I replied.

“You don’t start off with some girl jumping in bed with you. You’ve got to run the bases, you know, the first kiss, the messing around . . . and then you get to home base.”

“Oh, home base,” I mumbled. A girl named Allison was walking by and had caught my eye. She did a little modelling around town, sometimes appearing in newspaper supplements dressed in revealing lingerie. Today she was dressed in baggy sweats, with no makeup and fly-away hair, but she was still gorgeous.

“And you don’t start with somebody like that,” Jeremy went on. We both watched Allison disappear in the distance.

“You’ve got to start with somebody in your league,” Jeremy told me.

“What league is that?”

“Like maybe peewee. Face it, Alan, you’re never going to make it with any of the hot girls around here.”

Jeremy and I were in the high-school cafeteria, looking around at the various groups nearby. There was a pattern to the way people sat at the tables. Rich kids sat with rich kids, eating the expensive pizza slices; poor kids sat with poor kids eating their brown-bag lunches; smart kids sat with smart kids, actually talking about math or history; the hot girls sat with the other hot girls; the losers with the losers; and I sat with Jeremy. We were beginning the Alan project–a systematic effort to find a girl for me.

Jeremy was my project manager. At the age of seventeen, I just decided it was time to move on from my dateless, romanceless adolescent life. I decided it was time to abandon my fantasy girls, dream dates and jpegs and actually go out with a real girl.

My friend Jeremy has been going out with girls since grade five, long before I knew him. He tells me that his sex appeal mystifies even himself, but Jeremy deals with it philosophically as a burden he has to carry. I can’t understand his success with girls either, since Jeremy isn’t particularly good looking and has an unusual amount of spit on his lips most of the time, a trait that gives the general impression that he’s drooling. But there’s no accounting for the choices of women, I tell myself. Look at André Agassi–and he doesn’t even have any hair.

“I think we have to start you at a lower level,” Jeremy told me as he scanned the cafeteria. “Maybe Jasmine, over there,” he said, pointing to a dark-haired girl sitting by the window. “She’s a butterface.”

“A what?”

“A butterface. She’s got a really hot body, but her face isn’t so good.”

“Oh, like everything’s good but her face,” I said. This project of improving my social life was coming with an expanded vocabulary.

“Or maybe Hannah the Honker would go out with you,” he said, grinning at me. “With a nose like that, I doubt that she’d have a lot of guys chasing after her.”

Hannah had been our classmate since grade seven. I wouldn’t have minded a date with Hannah, since at least it would be fun, but the moment didn’t seem right to tell this to Jeremy.

“Is that it–a choice of two?” I asked him.

“Okay, how about Maggie over there?” He pointed to a skinny red-haired girl wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans.

“She’s a bit of an ugger with those braces and the glasses and all, but probably about your level.”

“My level?” I repeated.

“Actually, she’s a cut above your level, but let’s ignore that for the moment. You already know her, right?”

I nodded. I had known Maggie McPherson for ten years or so, ever since we had been on the same soccer team when we were six or seven years old. Back then, she was skinny and well coordinated; I was chunky and more than likely to fall on my face while kicking the ball. Of course, that was a long time ago. These days Maggie is still skinny and she may or may not be coordinated. But she is about the smartest kid at Regis High School, destined for some glittering future if the scholarships come through.

“Maggie might even get off on a nerdy type like you,” Jeremy went on. “Besides, I hear she has no social life, so she’s probably pretty desperate.”

“Desperate is good,” I agreed.

“Desperate is essential in your case,” Jeremy said. “It’s your only chance. As your project manager, I’m advising you to make a play for Maggie. It might just work.”

I sighed. With friends like Jeremy, it’s possible that I don’t need any enemies.

“So what do I do?” I asked him.

“You go up and start with a little chat about something, anything, then you ask her to go to the dance. Pop the question, as it were.”

I gave him a look. Jeremy is inclined to use phrases like “as it were” in order to sound like a British lord rather than the pimply-faced high-school student he actually is. Or should I say, we actually are.

“Chat?” I repeated.

“About the weather, or school, or something. It used to be called small talk back in the black-and-white movie days.
You know how to talk, don’t you?”

At that moment, I wasn’t sure whether I remembered how to breathe. Maggie was sitting alone at one of the long tables, reading a book despite the noise and confusion of the cafeteria. She usually had lunch with a couple of other girls, but today she was by herself. It was a golden opportunity to make my move.

“Don’t lose your courage, Al,” Jeremy told me. “Go for it.”

“Right, go for it,” I repeated, mostly to myself.

I got up on shaky legs and started in Maggie’s direction. I could feel perspiration everywhere–on my forehead, dripping from my armpits, turning my shirt into a soggy mess. I suspect even my ears were dripping with nervous perspiration.

It wasn’t that Maggie looked all that intimidating. She sat there in her usual baggy-everything outfit and pink-grey running shoes from some no-name company. She had little round glasses balanced halfway down a button nose.

That nose, and most of her cheeks, were dotted with freckles. Her usually frizzy red-blonde hair was pulled back into some kind of half ponytail. And she had a ketchup smear just under her lip.

“Hey, Maggie,” I said when I got close. I managed to knock against a couple of empty chairs as I made my way between tables.

She looked up over her glasses and gave me a smile, or maybe it was a wince, I couldn’t be sure.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“It’s a free country, as the phrase goes,” she replied.

I chose to interpret that as a yes. Jeremy had said that I should think positive, think of myself as strong, masculine and desirable. He also told me to exude confidence, but right now all I was exuding was sweat.

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The Write Genre

The Write Genre

Classroom acivities and mini-lessons that promote writing with clarity, style, and flashes of brilliance
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