Sunday, December 30, 2012

REVIEW: The Karma Club

Brody, J.  (2010).  The Karma Club.  New York:  Farrar Straus Giroux.

258 pages.


Appetizer:  It all begins when seventeen-year-old Maddy Kasparkova receives a phone call from her best friend that a profile of her boyfriend has been published in Contempo Girl.  Maddy hopes this will increase their popularity and that she's finally obtain her goal of becoming a member of the in-crowd.

Her dreams are shattered, however, when her she discovers her boyfriend in another girl's arms, those of the popular and perfect Heather Campbell.  Seeking a way to balance the scales, not only for herself, but for her two best friends, Jade and Angie, Maddy becomes interested in Karma.  Unwilling to wait decades for the universe to sort out those who have done wrong, she and her friends form a Karma Club in an effort to find balance now.

I was really excited to read this book.  As of late, I've been interested in books that explore religious and spiritual concepts in a deep, honest, and meaningful way.  Because of that goal, I found Karma Club to be very disappointing.  Essentially, Maddy forms a revenge club.  As you might imagine, Maddy's approach is a huge misinterpretation of the nature of karma.  Although she does eventually gain some wisdom about it, I wouldn't say she ever gains a real understanding of the concept.

Although some of Maddy, Angie, and Jade's adventures are amusing to escape into, I found a couple of them were hard to believe, including the quick resolution at the end of the novel.  Nonetheless, Karma Club does end on a very hopeful note.

As a character, Maddy was believable.  Despite the fact that she was a senior approaching graduation, she felt much younger, making me think I'd most likely recommend this book for 13 to 15-year-olds interested in some light and fun reading.


Dinner Conversation:

"I can tell you right now, it's all karma's fault.
Yes, karma.  You know, that unmistakable force in the universe that makes sure good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished.
Like when I stole my little sister's lunch in the seventh grade because I woke up too late to make my own.  When I got to school, I found that the meat in the sandwich was actually moldy and I had to spend the very last of my allowance money on the disgusting, unrecognizable cafeteria food.
Karma." (p. 3)

"Good deeds are rewarded while bad deeds are punished.  Good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  That's just how Karma works.
Well, at least that's how I thought it worked.
But that was before I entered the second half of my senior year.  When everything changed.  Everything I thought I knew and everything I thought I could count on suddenly went right out the window.
I think I can trace it back to one day.
That fateful day when Angie called me up with the news.
Yes, that was definitely the day it all began.  Before my simple, little world--where up was up and down was down, and right and wrong were as different as night and day--was flipped upside down.  And from that point on, there was absolutely nothing in my life that could be described as simple." (p. 4)

"I stand in complete astonishment as I try to grasp everything that has happened in the last five minutes.  My boyfriend, Mason Brooks, featured in Contempo Girl magazine!  They even called him a "hunky dough boy."  Well, yeah, it's a bit cheesy, but so what?  This is huge!  Every girl in the country is going to see this.  Every girl in the country is going to be pining for my boyfriend." (p. 10)

"Maybe my fantasy wasn't that fare off after all.  Maybe this one little article would make us the most popular couple in school.  Maybe Heather Campbell would eventually start calling me up for advice about the new spring fashions and where she should go to get her nails done and how to snag a boyfriend as wonderful as Mason.  I really wouldn't blame her.  I mean, I'm pretty much a published magazine writer now.  Who wouldn't want advice from someone whose words are in Contempo Girl magazine?" (p. 16)

"All my life I've wanted to be popular.
I don't know where the obsession came from, but from the time I was a little girl, the life of the high school "it" crowd always seemed more glamorous than anything else I could ever imagine.
Then in the sixth grade, I met Heather Campbell and from the moment I saw her, I knew I wanted to be like her." (p. 17)


Tasty Rating: !!.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Personal Post: Turns Out I Do Live in a Winter Wonderland

A few days ago, I had some visiters enjoy brunch right outside my bedroom window at my parents' house:









video

I hope you enjoyed the show.

The turkeys also stopped by a little later:




Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Late Review: Let It Snow (Not quite in time for Christmas)

Green, J., Johnson, M., & Myracle, L.  (2008).  Let It Snow.  New York:  Speak.

352 pages.

Appetizer:  In three interconnected stories, Jubilee Dougal is stranded in a snow storm after her parents were arrested due to a dispute at a Flobie Santa Village ceramic collectibles convention and is less than excited to be separated from her boyfriend on their one-year anniversary.  When her train is stranded in Gracetown due to the worst snowstorm in 50 years, Jubilee decides to leave it try to stay warm in a Waffle House.  She has no idea what the night has in store for her.  This novella is "The Jubilee Express" and was written by Maureen Johnson.

Next up, is John Green's addition, "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle."  In another part of Gracetown, it looks like Tobin's parents won't be able to make it home for the holiday.  Instead, he and his friends JP and Duke receive a call that they must brave the snowy and icy streets to visit the Waffle House for a chance to hook-up with cheerleaders who are stranded there.

In the final story, "The Patron Saint of Pigs" by Lauren Myracle, Addie is struggling over her break-up with Jeb, realizing that she may be a little too self-absorbed, and trying desperately to hunt down a teacup pig that she was supposed to give to one of her best friends for Christmas, all while serving on the opening shift for Starbucks the day after Christmas.

The only story that I'd read previously was John Green's.  It stuck in my mind as an enjoyable wintery tale.  (I think I'd originally read it during the spring, and it had made me excited for the wintery season.)  For several years, I'd been meaning to re-read it and finally enjoy the other two stories in Let it Snow.  This Christmas was finally the time to do it.

Sadly, after having read the book on and off over the holiday, I have to report that I was left feeling "meh," about the whole thing.

I did like the way the stories overlapped and how characters were in multiple stories.  It reminded me of Love Actually.  But some of the references and dialogue have already started to feel more than a little dated.  Plus I can't say that I actually liked all of the characters.  Johnson's "Jubilee Express" was enjoyable enough.  The parents being arrested at a Flobie riot was great.  There were a lot of wonderful metaphors and writing throughout the story, my favorite being Jubilee's narration of having fallen through the ice of a stream:

"Maybe you've never fallen into a frozen stream.  Here's what happens.
1.  It is cold.  So cold that the Department of Temperature acknowledgment and regulation in your brain gets the readings and says, "I can't deal with this.  I'm out of here."  It puts up the OUT TO LUNCH sign and passes all responsibility to the...
2.  Department of Pain and the Processing Thereof, which gets all this gobbledygook from the temperature department that it can't understand.  "This is not our job," it says.  So it just starts hitting random buttons, filling you with strange and unpleasant sensations, and calls the...
3.  Office of Confusion and Panic, where this is always someone ready to hop on the phone the moment it rings." (p. 55)

I wasn't crazy about all of Jubilee's choices though.  She struck me as being more than a little...co-dependent.  *Vague Spoiler*  I had some trouble with the fact that she was starting a new relationship with someone only hours after ending a year-long one...which she'd only realized was tragically flawed a few minutes before that.  In essence, the romance felt forced.  *End Vague Spoiler*

I still enjoyed Green's "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle."  It stood up to the test of time, with only a few unbelievable moments and what felt like a rushed ending.

Myracle's "The Patron Saint of Pigs" on the other hand, I had a lot of trouble with.  While the character of Addie was believable, I found her to be really annoying.  The story included some hints at fantastic elements, which just didn't work in light of the fact that both of the other stories remained grounded in reality.  This story also included a bit of a quick and forced resolution as well.  By the end, I was left wishing that these were just separate novels and the authors were given more space to write whole and complete stories.

Alas, I have to declare, "Bah humbug" to "The Patron Saint of Pigs."

Off to drink hot chocolate!


Dinner Conversation:

"It was the night before Christmas.
Well, to be more precise, it was the afternoon before Christmas.  But before I take you into the beating heart of the action, let's get one thing out of the way.  I know from experience that if it comes up later, it will distract you so much that you won't be able to concentrate on anything else I tell you.
My name is Jubilee Dougal.  Take a moment and let it sink in." (p. 1)

"[Noah] promised me there would be time just for us.  He had made sure of it by helping out in advance.  If we put in two hours at the party, he promised, we could escape to the back room and exchange our gifts and watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas together.  He would drive me home, and we would stop for a while....
And then, of course, my parents got arrested and all of that went to hell." (p. 6)

"I could stay here in the cold, dark, stranded train or I could actually do something.  I could take charge of this day that had run away from me too many times.  It wouldn't be hard to get across the road and over to the Waffle House.  They probably had heat and lots of food." (p. 26)

"JP and the Duke and I were four movies in to our James Bond marathon when my mother called home for the sixth time in five hours.  I didn't even glance at the caller ID.  I knew it was Mom.  The Duke rolled her eyes and paused the movie.  "Does she think you're going somewhere?  There's a blizzard."
I shrugged and picked up the phone." (p. 121)

"The greatest night of my life has just begun.  And I am inviting you to join me, because I am the best friend ever.  But here's the catch: after I get off the phone with you, Mitchell and Billy will be calling their friends.  And we've agreed in advance that there's only room here for one more carful of guys.  I cannot further dilute the cheerleader-to-guy ratio.  Now, I am making the first call, because I'm acting assistant manager.  So you have a head start.  I know you will not fail.  I know I can count upon you to deliver the Twister.  Gentlemen, may you travel safely and swiftly. But if you die tonight, die in the comfort that you have sacrificed your lives for the noblest of human causes.  The pursuit of cheerleaders."

"Being me sucked.  Being me on this supposedly gorgeous night, with the supposedly gorgeous snow looming in five-foot drifts outside my bedroom window, double-sucked.  Add the fact that today was Christmas, and my score was up to triple-suck.  And add in the sad, aching, devastating lack of Jeb, and ding-ding-ding!  The bell at the top of the Suckage Meter couldn't ring any louder.
Instead of jingle bells, I had suckage bells.  Lovely." (p. 215)


Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

REVIEW: A Tale Dark & Grimm (Don't miss this one!)

Gidwitz, A.  (2010).  A Take Dark and Grimm.  New York:  Dutton Children's Books.

249 Pages.

Appetizer:  This expansion of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale features a pushy narrator who uses a lot of false endings (see the pictures below) and who weaves together multiple stories inspired by some of the Grimm originals to share the siblings' complete adventure of betrayal and forgiveness.

The story begins before the birth of the twins Hansel and Gretel to a king and queen.  You see, the king and queen were only able to marry due to the help of a servant named Johannes who helped them to avoid three potential curses upon their wedding by sacrificing himself.

The only way to free Johannes is to behead Hansel and Gretel.

Understandingly upset about their beheadings, Hansel and Gretel decide to leave their parents and the kingdom of Grimm to find parents who will treat them better.  What follows is a journey that will involve sacrifice and a whole lot of courage.

Returning some of the violence and icky-bits to fairy tales, there are passages of A Tale Dark & Grimm that live up to the title and made me cringe.  But the narrator always provided proper/humorous warning to get wee-readers out of the room for those parts, thereby properly preparing any and all older readers for the gruesome bits.

That pushy narrator reminded me strongly of the narrator from The Tale of Despereaux.  I think the books would be wonderful to pair together since the themes of forgiveness and yearning for family run through both books.

What is more, since each chapter of A Tale Dark & Grimm could be read as its own individual fairy tale (beginning with "Once upon a time...," of course), each chapter would lend itself to a read aloud thereby allowing a teacher or parent to help kids manage the ickier passages.

Having taken multiple folklore classes, I thought Gidwitz captured some of the essential elements of traditional folktales:  The pushy narrator help the reader to feel as though he or she is being told this story.  There is a lot of repetition of three's in terms of the structure and events of the story.

A Tale Dark & Grimm also serves as a powerful allegory for trust and forgiveness within a family.  I found that Hansel and Gretel's adventure could be traced onto the experience of children having to go into foster care and being shuffled from place to place, trying to find a sense of home and forgiveness of what their parents had done.

The book itself avoids trying to answer why bad things happen, but still totes the power and capabilities of children.


Dinner Conversation:

"Once upon a time, fairy tales were awesome.  I know, I know.  You don't believe me.  I don't blame you.  A little while ago, I wouldn't have believed it myself.  Little girls in red caps skipping around the forest?  Awesome?  I don't think so.
But then I started to read them.  The real, Grimm ones.  Very few little girls in red caps in those.
Well, there's one.  But she gets eaten." (p. 1)

"You see, there is another story in Grimm's Fairy Tales.  A story that winds all throughout the moldy, mysterious tome--like a trail of bread crumbs winding through a forest.  It appears in tales you may never have heard, like Faithful Johannes and Brother and Sister.  And in some that you have--Hansel and Gretel, for instance.
It is the story of two children--a girl named Gretel and a boy named Hansel--traveling though a magical and terrifying world.  It is the story of two children striving, and failing, and then not failing.  It is the story of two children finding out the meaning of things."  (pp. 2-3)

"Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Grimm, an old king lay on his deathbed.  He was Hansel and Gretel's grandfather--but he didn't know that, for neither Hansel nor Gretel had been born yet.
No hold on a minute.
I know what you're thinking.
I am well aware that nobody want to hear a story that happens before the main characters show up.  Stories like that are boring, because they all end exactly the same way.  With the main characters showing up.
But don't worry.  This story is like no story you've ever heard." (p. 5)

"Once upon a time, two children left their home and walked out into the wide, wild world.
The land was dark as Hansel and Gretel made their way across the level turf beyond the palace moat.  They had never left the palace by themselves before, and they knew little of the great world beyond its walls." (p. 39)

"For, as you well, know, the baker woman was planning to eat them.
But she wasn't a witch.  The Brothers Grimm call her a witch, but nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact she was just a regular woman who had discovered, sometime around the birth of her second child, that while she liked chicken and she liked beef and she liked pork, what she really, really, liked was child.
I bet you can figure out how this happened." (p. 43)


Tasty Rating:  !!!!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

REVIEW: Anya's Ghost

Brosgol, V.  (2011).  Anya's Ghost.  New York:  First Second.

221 pages.

Appetizer:  Anya isn't exactly excited about the way her life has been going.  Yes, she's managed to lose some weight and her accent after years of ESL classes, but she still has to contend with avoiding her mother's cooking, attending church, and a nerdy boy named Dima, who has also immigrated from Russia.  With only one friend at her school, and not the best of grades in most of her classes, Anya would like a change.

When Anya skips school and goes to a park, she falls down an old unused well.  At the bottom, she finds the skeleton of a girl, a girl whose ghost is still very much present and set on following Anya back into the world.  While, Anya discovers that there are some perks to having a specter for a friend when it comes to test scores and getting the attention of a certain guy, she also learns that there might be more to her new friend then what she initially presents.

I hadn't quite known what to expect from Anya's Ghost.  I'd heard the YA graphic novel described as a good multicultural read.  While there are a few scenes and themes that do explore the tension between assimilation and maintaining one's culture or identity and the immigrant experience, I'd say this book is first and foremost a ghost story with a bit of mystery to it.

I enjoyed this graphic novel.  It reminded me of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, infused with a little bit of American Born Chinese.  I did feel like the ending was a little rushed.  The message presented to resolve some of the conflict felt forced and like it didn't quite match the themes and content.  But that just means that, in the classroom, I could recommend students write their own endings for the book in a round of one of my favorite activities, "Beat the Author."


Dinner Conversation:








Tasty Rating:  !!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

REVIEW: Right Behind You

Giles, G.  (2007).  Right Behind You.  New York:  Little, Brown, and Company.

292 pages.

Appetizer:  When he was nine years old, Kip set another boy on fire.  The boy died several days later due to his injuries.  After years of being institutionalized and therapy, Kip is released to his father's care and hopeful to live a normal life.

But having a normal life may prove impossible.  Kip is consumed by his guilt; not only for killing the boy, but also for the impact his actions have had on his father.

Although his name had never been made public, Kip's arson had become a media sensation, with images of his family's Alaskan cottage being broadcast.  When he is released, Kip and his father must live under assumed names and move to the Midwest.  As Kip struggles to let go of his anger and control his guilt to become a normal boy named Wade, he must navigate the halls of a high school and try to make friends for the first time.  But all of his hopes may prove impossible because the guilt, the consequences, are always RIGHT BEHIND HIM!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  I had to press 'caps lock.'

I was really impressed with Right Behind You at first.  I liked how Giles managed to make me feel sympathetic for Kip as he prepared to leave the hospital and try to start a new life.  Some of my engagement faded around midway through the book though.  Giles skips ahead a few years and Kip/Wade both becomes a star athlete and starts to drink.  I started to feel a slight disconnect with the book.  Instead of jumping ahead a few years, I would have preferred to be with Kip's character during his initial day-to-day struggle.  Plus, Kip/Wade describes how swimming "drowned out any thought in" his head (p. 183).  My experience as a swimmer was the opposite--it was a good time to think because it was you in a muffled world.

Right Behind You does come to a satisfactory conclusion and contains wonderful topics and themes to discuss; like the value and burden of guilt, the complex emotions and motives that influenced Kip/Wade, the responsibilities and consequences of choices, the exploration of who were victims in the situations Kip/Wade faced, and, of course, empathy for characters in complex situations, etc.

When it comes to young adult novels that explore the mental states of characters who would kill another character, this book stands out in my mind as one that presents the experience authentically and respectfully.


Dinner Conversation:

"He stood in front of me, soaked by the rain.  It sluiced down his face into his eyes and mouth, but he didn't make a move to wipe it away.
He cradled something wrapped in an olive green poncho.
"There are three things you need to know about me,"
he said.
"First, you don't know my real name.
"Second, I murdered someone once.
"Third...well, maybe this will tell you." (p. 1)

"On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.
I was nine.
It was all about Bobby's birthday present.
A baseball glove." (p. 5)

"And Mom.  She went and died.  I was nine years old.  How could she do that to me?"  I picked up the bowl of multicolored candies and flung them across the room.  The plastic bowl made a decent thud against the door.  But...I--I am NOT a monster!"
"You're angry.  You were carrying a lot of weight for someone that young.  All the people that were supposed to protect you seemed to have let you down." (p. 31)

"Change my first name, too?
"I know it's a lot."
"Let's see--no mother, house, home, past, last name, first name?  I won't know who I am."
"It might feel that way at first."
It would feel like erasing myself.  Well, maybe Kip McFarland shouldn't be around anymore.  Bobby Clarke wasn't.  Could I shed Kip's guilt along with his name?" (p. 63)

"I was Wade Madison and had papers to prove it.  Song of Jack and Carrie Madison.  New residents of Whitestone, Indiana.  I had a new backpack and a class schedule and the totally wrong clothes.  Alaska is all about flannel.  Indiana looked to be all about long-sleeved tees.  I had the wrong shoes.  At least I was prepared to be wrong." (p. 81)


Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

REVIEW: Diary of a Wimpy Kid--The Third Wheel


Kinney, J.  (2012).  Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  The Third Wheel.  New York:  Amulet Books.

217 pages.

Appetizer:  Beginning with Greg recounting his life while he was still in utero, the seventh addition to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series features Greg babysitting, avoiding a Mad Pantser, trying to find a date to go to his school's Valentine's Day dance, a visit from Uncle Gary, an avoidance of Chicken Pox, among other misadventures.

The parts of The Third Wheel that stood out to me the most included Greg's time at the school dance.  Being an NPR-nerd, I was strongly reminded of an episode on Middle School by This American Life that I heard recently.  It also reminded me of my own first middle school dance--wearing a ridiculous shiny shirt, dancing to Pony by Genuwine, and joining a flock of girls to go to the bathroom even though only one or two of them actually needed to go. Good times.

My favorite illustration was on page 186.  Greg's best friend, Rowley, may be sick and Greg fears that he may have had contact with some of Rowley's germs:


Hahaha, oh, germaphobia.

I wouldn't say that The Third Wheel is my favorite of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Alas, this book doesn't really feature any critiques of children's books that I have come to love so much.  I suppose there is a section or two that I could use as an example of human growth and development, but it's not as much fun.

I did appreciate, however, that the beginning and end of the book compliment one another, giving the book a feel of having come full-circle, a nice conclusive ending that some of the other books in this series are lacking.


Dinner Conversation:






Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reading Multiculturally

In my reviews, I often comment on the assumptions of class, race, or gender that are present in a book.

Multiple times, commenters have noted that these are non-issues for a text, or that the book wasn't attempting to comment about racial, economic, gender or political issues.

Ah, but my few but dear readers, all texts are always commenting about these things in some ways and we must situate them accordingly.

Scholars Glazier & Seo, and Cai have commented about the need to always read from a multicultural stance.  Here's an excerpt of Glazier & Seo using Cai to make this point:

"'The multicultural stance provides the reader with an instrument, a magnifier if you will, to expose assumptions about race, class, and gender hidden in a story' (Cai, 1998, p. 321).  If students can explore these assumptions in a text, perhaps they can do the same in their own lives and the world in which they live." (2005, p. 698)
And so too must teachers explore these assumptions.

Just thought I'd share that quotation.

As you were.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

REVIEW: The Diviners

Appetizer:  When her parents threaten to send her to New York City to live with her uncle as punishment, Evie O'Neill has to pretend to look like that's the worst situation in the world instead of the best.  However, she couldn't have expected that after leaving her hometown in Ohio, that she'd be caught up trying to prevent a supernatural serial killer from completing his plot to end the world.

Switching among the perspectives of a number of diviners living in the city during 1926, some of the characters will meet momentarily, others will come together to prevent more murders. 

As I listened to the audiobook (which was a pleasant rendering), The Diviners reminded me of the first season of Heroes combined with a bit of Supernatural spice.  I enjoyed the novel, but since its plot development felt so familiar, I can't really say that I was blown away by it.

At first, I found the 1920's slang really unnerving.  Instead of feeling like authentic dialogue, it seemed as though the book were being ironic towards its own setting.  This could be because the only time I ever hear such 1920's slang is usually in a cartoon spoof or the slang is used to show how outdated a character is.  So, now, when I read a character saying, "and how!" it's hard for me to take her seriously.

I was impressed how Bray handled different dialects though.  I loved the diversity of experiences and backgrounds among the diviners included in the story.  However, as more and more diviners were introduced, it started to feel like normal people were the rare minority in this world.

Plus, despite many of the characters' hopes for their future, it's had not to read the book with a sense of sadness--not only because this is the start of a series and more drama is sure to come--but because I imagine most of the characters will not do well when the Great Depression hits.  Silly, I know.


Dinner Conversation:

"In a town house at a fashionable address on Manhattan's Upper East Side, every lamp blazes.  There's a party going on--the last of the summer.  Out on the terrace overlooking Manhattan's incandescent skyline, the orchestra takes a much-needed break.  It's ten thirty.  The party has been on since eight o'clock, and already the guests are bored.  Fashionable debutantes in pastel chiffon party dresses wilt into leather club chairs like frosted petits fours melting under the July sun.  A cocky Princeton sophomore wants his friends to head down to Greenwich Village with him, to a speakeasy he heard about from a friend of a friend.
The hostess, a pretty and spoiled young thing, notes her guests' restlessness with a sense of alarm. It is her eighteenth birthday, and if she doesn't do something to raise this party from the dead, it will be the talk for days to come that her gathering was as dull as a church social.
Raising from the dead." (p. 1).

"Deep in the cellar of the dilapidated house, a furnace comes to life with a death rattle like the last bitter cough of a dying man laughing contemptuously at his fate.  A faint glow emanates from that dark, foul-smelling earthen tomb.  Yes, something moves again in the shadows.  A harbinger of much greater evil to come.  Naughty John has come home.  And he has work to do." (p. 9)

"Evie O'Neill pressed the sagging ice bag to her throbbing forehead and cursed the hour.  It was noon, but it might as well be six in the morning for the pounding in her skull.  For the past twenty minutes, her father had been beating his gums at her about last night's party at the Zenith Hotel.  Her drinking had been mentioned several times, along with the unfortunate frolic in the town fountain.  And the trouble that came between, of course." (p. 10)


Tasty Rating:  !!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall 2012 #Read-a-Thon Update One and Two

Good morning,

It's time for one of my favorite fall events:  A time to sit wrapped in a blanket with coffee, tea, or hot apple cider by my side as I read.  It's Read-A-Thon Time!

This time, I'll be both reading and presenting a mini-challenge starting in just minutes.

So, expect a few extra posts within the next few hours.

Happy reading to all!

Introductory Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm reading in Tiffin, OH.  I moved here a couple of months ago and am really enjoying my new town.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Mostly, I'm looking forward to making progress in the book's I've been reading for awhile.  With a new job, it's been difficult to find the time to read.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Hot carmel apple cider!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I'm a teacher, blogger, writer and--most importantly today--a reader.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I've been participating for several years now.  I feel like I have a pretty good routine:  Mix in some shorter books (like picturebooks and graphic novels) to stay motivated; participate in mini-challenges to give myself a break and to enjoy the community; and read, read, READ.


Update Two:  Hello again,

Despite my initial post, I've had a bit of a slow reading start.

After making sure that my mini-challenge hosting was going smoothly, I read the newspaper and tackled breakfast.

From there, I ventured outside (while listening to an audiobook of The Family Fang!) to the last farmer's market of the season.  It was slim pickings and my ears were freezing, but I did make good on my promise to drink hot caramel apple cider.

Since then, I've been going through Right Behind You by Gail Giles.  I'm enjoying it, but it is a bit of an intense read (following the events of a boy released from a psych ward years after burning another child and causing his death), so I may be taking a break from that soon and picking up something a little lighter.

Happy reading to all!


Challenge Closed: #READ-A-THON Mini-Challenge: Recreate the Cover (9 AM to Noon Eastern)


Choosing among the readings that you're tackling for this readathon, recreate (or improve!) one of the book covers, magazine covers, or ads.

This challenge may involve you posing for a photo in a quickly assembled period costume (completed with a bed sheet toga!), it may involve sketches, finger paint, the careful positioning of stuffed animals, recruiting friends and loved ones to model, or creating an image on a website like fotoflexer.

Get up, move, think artistically and re-create the cover of a book you're reading or plan to read.  Most importantly, have fun.

Post your version of the new and improved cover beside a photo of the book's original cover on your blog or other personal website by noon (EST) and leave a link to your post in the comments to this challenge.

One winner will be chosen to receive an online, ten-dollar, gift card to Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, or another book-providing website of his or her choosing.


Update:  This challenge is now closed!  Thank you to everyone who entered!  It was such a difficult decision among the readers who took the time to create covers, that I wound up using a random number generator to choose the winner.

The ten-dollar giftcard will go to Avid Reader.  You can see the recreated book cover here.

Thank you to everyone who participated!  You created some wonderful book covers!!!!!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

REVIEW: Lulu and the Brontosaurus (Read this one aloud to anyone who will listen)

Viorst, J.  (2010).  Lulu and the Brontosaurus.  New York:  Atheneum.

115 pages.

One of my co-workers came a couple of weeks ago and had praised this book.   She'd read it aloud to second graders and had been impressed by Lulu's ability to hold the students' attention with its unlikely birthday wish, spunky protagonist, funny illustrations, short chapters with partial numbers (chapter eight and one half, anyone?), awesome multiple ends (in the style of the movie Clue, one of my childhood favorites).

I've since bought the second book, Lulu Walks the Dog.

Appetizer:  Lulu is spoiled.  She gets everything she wants.  But as her birthday approaches and she demands receiving a real Brontosaurus, it seems her parents will no longer be able to provide Lulu's every desire.

So, Lulu leaves.  She journeys deep into the forest in search of a Brontosaurus.  There she finds dangerous beasts and perhaps even what she desires most.  For better or for worse.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is how present the author/narrator is, discussing the writing process:  "I'm the person writing this story, I get to choose what I write, and I'm writing about a girl and a BRONTOSAURUS" (p. 1).  As with many meta-narrative (or stories that are aware of themselves as being stories), this book could spur young writers to put pen/marker/pencil/crayon to paper.

Lane Smith's illustrations are, as usual, wonderful.  As you can see along the left margin, they add a lot of humor to the story.
Although an early chapter book to read aloud solely for fun with first or second graders, I'd actually consider using Lulu and the Brontosaurus with third or fourth graders and pairing it with some mini-lessons on characterization.

No spoilers here, but Lulu faces a conflict that causes her to grow and change as a character.  She then faces situations similar to before she changes and the reader can see the impact of how she has grown.


Dinner Conversation:


"There once was a girl named Lulu, and she was a pain.  She wasn't a pain in the knee.  She was a pain--a very big pain--in the b u t t." (p. 3)

"Two weeks before Lulu's birthday, she announced to her mom and her dad that she wanted a brontosaurus for her b-day present.  What did she say?  What?  A brontosaurus?  Yes, she wanted a brontosaurus for a pet  At first Lulu's mom and her dad just thought she was making a little joke.  And then they saw--oh, horrors!--that she was serious.  (p. 7)

"On...the day before Lulu's birthday, right after lunch, Lulu said to her mom and her dad, "Okay then, foo on you."  (She had terrible manners.)  "If you aren't going to get me a brontosaurus, I'm going out and getting one for myself." (p. 15)

"I'm gonna, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, gonna get a bronto-bronto-bronto Brontosaurus for a pet.  I'm gonna, gonna get a bronto-bronto-bronto Brontosaurus for a pet." (p. 44)

"She also woke to the sight of something so huge, so enormous, so utterly gigantic that she thought--no, she was sure--that she was still dreaming.  It looked like a mountain, except this mountain had legs, a very long neck, and a very small head.  It was (as I'm sure you've already figured out) the brontosaurus that Lulu had been searched for." (p. 47)


Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Banned Book Week!

This is one of my favorite weeks to discuss books with my students.  

Talking about book challenges and bannings is a great way to get my students thinking.

I plan to show them the Bookmans' Read-Out.  Watch and enjoy.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Audiobook Review: Cinder (Don't miss this re-imagining of Cinderella: Version 3.0)

Meyer, M.  (2012).  Cinder.  New York:  Feiwel & Friends

10 Hours and 6 Minutes.

Months ago, I had a student rave about this book.  In my typical style, I just got to read  listen to the book now.

Appetizer:  Cinder is a mechanic.  She's the only source of income for her stop-mom and step-sisters, not that they show much appreciation.  Cinder's a syborg.  She'd been damaged in an accident when she was eleven (not that she remembers it or much before the accident).  Many humans believe that syborgs don't deserve a second chance at life, especially since a strange plague is ravishing the world.

After Prince Kai, the future ruler of the Eastern Commonwealth enters her shop hoping for her to repair an old and beloved android, Cinder's life gets more and more complicated.  One of the few humans that she cares about gets sick, her step mother betrays her (not so surprising) and Cinder learns that there may be more to her syborg nature than she could ever have guessed.

A fun sci-fi twist on Cinderella, I was really impressed by the start of this YA series, The Lunar Chronicles.  While based on the Cinderella fairy tale, it's far from a retelling with sci-fi elements.  Meyer has included a lot of fresh elements to keep the reader guessing:  There's a plague infecting and killing people by the thousands, a conflict between humans, a powerful species of people living on the moon, an evil queen.  Plus, instead of a rags-to-riches story, Cinder is more of a young woman struggling and working to find her rightful place (sans fairy godmother!).

There are some predictable and familiar elements as well, but I was still impressed and engaged, making excuses to listen to the audiobook.

I'm ready for Scarlet, book two in this series.


Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Audiobook Review: Dear Mr. Henshaw

Cleary, B.  (2009).  Dear Mr. Henshaw.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers.

1 hour 44 minutes.

While I was asking some previous students about their favorite childhood reads, Dear Mr. Henshaw by the great Beverly Cleary was mentioned a few times.  Based on the cover and title, I--ever so cleverly--deduced that it was somehow related to writing and just miiiiiiiight be worth checking-out.

My hypothesis proved true!  Dear Mr. Henshaw *is* about writing and shows a young boy's development into an author.  I'm left trying to figure out how I can incorporate it into my "teaching of writing" course.

Appetizer:  Following Leigh through several school years, his parents divorce, he moves, deals with a lunch thief, struggles to make friends and develops as a writer.  Dear Mr. Henshaw is an epistolary novel, beginning with his first letters to his favorite children's author who doesn't always respond.  Inspired to write, some of Leigh's unsent letters serve a diary entries).

I was struck by how realistic the book was.  The ending is not purely happy.  There are no improbable coincidences.  People don't magical change or improve.  Nobody wins the lottery.  It's *real* or true to life.  I could imagine this being some young readers' first novel that doesn't end with "happily ever after."

In terms of the audiobook narration, Pedro Pascal clearly had an adult voice (which can sometimes be off-putting), but he did such a good job of capturing Leigh's emotions that I found the audiobook narration flowed well and didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

Now, I must find a way to incorporate Dear Mr. Henshaw into my current "teaching of writing" course...I might focus on Leigh's growth as a writer.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yay! I'm a Cybils 2012 Second Round YA Fiction Judge


Hello Internetz,

Sorry for the continued relative silence on my end.  I'm still adjusting to the new job, teaching courses I haven't taught previously.  So, there's a lot of prep work.  It hasn't left much time for reading outside of the courses' books, prep pieces, and my students' writing assignments.

But, I have returned to announce that I am once again a proud participant in the Cybils Awards!

I will be a second round young adult fiction judge.

I can't wait to start reading and discussing the books!  (Alas, my role doesn't really begin until December or January.  I will try to be patient....)  I vow to help choose a book that will engage, amuse, inspire, amaze, and entertain young adult readers! or die trying.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

REVIEW: 11 Experiments That Failed

Offill, J. & Carpenter, N.  (2011).  11 Experiments That Failed.  New York:  Schwartz & Wade Books.

Appetizer:  A curious troublemaker goes through the scientific process to answer wonderful questions; like if a kid can survive on snowballs and catsup, if dogs like to be covered in glitter, if a piece of bologna will fly like a frisbee or if seedlings will grow from perfume instead of water.  The results of her experiments, as you can probably gather from the picturebook's title, are not exactly ideal.  But the scientific process must continue!

The illustrations of 11 Experiments That Failed use the same mixed media of photographs and drawings that are featured in the author and illustrator's other book, 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore!


While I imagine that some would argue that this book could encourage troublemaking, I prefer to think that it encourages curiosity.  Adding awesomeness to that sense of fun and curiosity is the fact that all of the questions the young scientist explores are structured in the scientific method.  This structure makes this picturebook ideal to share with students just learning about the scientific process in an accessible way.

I'm actually teaching a literacy course right now and am bringing the book in to describe logical intelligence.


Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

REVIEW: Code Name Verity

Wein, E.  (2012).  Code Name Verity.  New York:  Hyperion.

333 pages.


When it came to choosing to read Code Name Verity, descriptions of the story didn't really win me over.  I imagined the humorless drama, angst, and depictions of the horrors of war I usually associate with historical war fiction.  And I wasn't exactly feeling it.  But then there were sooooo many recommendations to read it, I sighed and climbed off my judgmental high chair to read it.

I'm glad I did.  Because within the first few pages, although some of horrors of war are certainly present, I found myself chuckling--actually chuckling--at some of the protagonists' narration.

What a wonderful surprise.


Appetizer:  Scottie has been captured by the Gestapo in France in 1943 two days after the Allied plane that carried her there crashed.  Unlike some of the other Allied prisoners being held with her, she takes the "easy route" and immediately reveals what few secrets she knows.  Ordered to write her confessions for the Gestapo, Scottie shares about her past leading up to the war and about Maddie; the friend she flew to France with and the girl who led her to this point.

Scottie's confessions reveal her tortures, fears, frustrations, as well as her passions and her intelligence as she awaits her fate.

I was rather surprised when Code Name Verity switched to explore another character's point of view about two-thirds of the way through the novel.  I have to admit, despite the dark realities Scottie faced, I would have happily faced them by continuing to read from her point of view.  I actually put the book down for several days, it took me by that much of surprise to have to read another character's story. (although, this change in point of view proves essential to reveal Scottie's true nature as well as the strength of her friendship with Maddie.)

Another difficulty I had was the way that the topic suddenly switched or the way Verity would be recording about her past then suddenly switch to insult her captors.  It could be a little off-putting, especially for struggling readers.

Despite these issues (which may solely be mine), I hope history teachers will consider assigning Code Name Verity in their classes; either as a whole class read or as an optional read.  It does a wonderful job of revealing women's roles in World War II as well as showing the terrible conditions and tortures that spies and prisoners of war faced.  It would also make a great recommendation for students passionate about airplanes or flying.

Assign it, teachers!  Assign it!

Read it, young adults!  Read it!


Dinner Conversation:

"I am a coward.
I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was.  I have always been good at pretending.  I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers--and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the rousing battle speeches." (p. 3)

"I'm just damned.  I am utterly and completely damned.  You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do, because that's what you do to enemy agents.  It's what we do to enemy agents.  After I write this confession, if you don't shoot me and I ever make it home, I'll be tried and shot as a collaborator anyway.  But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and this is the easy one, the obvious one.  What's in my future--a tin of kerosene poured down my throat and a match held to my lips?  Scalpel and acid, like the Resistance boy who won't talk?  My living skeleton packed up in a cattle wagon with two hundred desperate others, carted off God knows where to die of thirst before we get there?  No.  I'm not traveling those roads.  This is the easiest.  The others are too frightening even to look down." (p. 5)

"You really think I know a damned thing about where the Allies are planning to launch their invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe?  I am a Special Operations Executive because I can speak French and German and am good at making up stories, and I am a prisoner in the Ormaie Gestapo HQ because I have no sense of direction whatsoever.  Bearing in mind that the people who trained me encouraged my blissful ignorance of airfields just so I couldn't tell you such a thing if you did catch me, and not forgetting that I wasn't even told the name of the airfield we took off from when I came here:  let me remind you that I had been in France less than 48 hours before that obliging agent of yours had to stop me being run over by a French van  full of French chickens because I'd looked the wrong way before crossing the street.  Which shows how cunning the Gestapo are.  'This person I've pulled from beneath the wheels of certain death was expecting traffic to travel on the left side of the road.  Therefore she must be British, and is likely to have parachuted into Nazi-occupied France out of an Allied plane.  I shall now arrest her as a spy.'" (p. 6)

"And the story of how I came to be here starts with Maddie.  I don't think I'll ever know how I ended up carrying her National Registration card and pilot's license instead of my own ID when you picked me up, but if I tell you about Maddie you'll understand why we flew here together." (p. 7)

"There are a few more types of aircraft that I know, but what comes to mind is the Lysander.  That is the plane Maddie was flying when she dropped me here.  She was actually supposed to land the plane, not dump me out of it in the air.  We got fired at on the way in, and for a while the ail was in flames and she couldn't control it properly, and she made me bail out before she tried to land.  I didn't see her come down.  But you showed me the photos you took at the site, so I know she has crashed an airplane by now.  Still, you can hardly blame it on the pilot when her plane gets hit by antiaircraft fire." (p. 14)


Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

REVIEW: The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee "Either be a wimp or a Wookiee"

Angleberger, T.  (2012).  The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.  New York:  Abrams.

190 pages.

Appetizer:  Dwight is gone and the other kids at McQuarrie Middle School are left wondering who is the weirdest kid in school without him and how they can receive the wise advice that Dwight's Origami Yoda used to provide.

When Sara, Dwight's neighbor, arrives at school with a Chewbacca cootie catcher and a Han Foldo to translate the Wookiee, the students learn that they once again have a guide to help them deal with the stresses of middle school, but Tommy is intent on finding a way to bring Dwight back to McQuarrie Middle.

I'm in love with this series.  Have been for awhile now.  Angleberger gets kids and gets the social interactions of people in a school.  Highlights for this book include having a librarian-hero who makes sure to provide students with books that will be of interest to them, Tommy's realization about why Harvey makes the comments he does, new love interest for Kellan, a reliance upon the wisdom of girls and a growing tension about education--both in terms of emphasizing teaching to testing over encouraging artistic development and in terms of a school dynamic that while welcoming, may crush individuality.

I look forward to the next book to see how the students will resist their Principal Rabbski's regime changes:


At one point, one of the characters mention dancing wookiees on youtube.  This got me sidetracked for a little while:


You're welcome.

Does anyone else have the Star Wars theme stuck in his or her head?  I do.

Alas, I cannot watch any of the movies, since they are currently in a moving truck.  I guess I'll just have to keep humming to myself.


Dinner Conversation:

"Every case file begins with a question...The first time it was "Is Origami Yoda real?" Then "Will Darth Paper destroy Origami Yoda?"
It looked like THIS case fill was going tot start--and end--with the question:
How can you have a case file without Dwight?
Because Dwight's the guy who made Origami Yoda in the first place.  And it was Origami Yoda who made so much interesting stuff happen that was worth investigating." (p. 1)

"'Hey, guys!' called Sara, as she headed for our table.  "Check this out!"
She held up this weird thing.  It was sort of like an origami finger puppet.  But it sure wasn't Yoda--it was brown.
All of a sudden, it opened its mouth.
"MMMMMRRRRRWTTTTTHHHH!"
"Holy furballs!" said Kellen.  "It's Chewbacca!"
"Yeah!" said Sara.  "Dwight made it for us.  He yelled at me from his bedroom window while I was waiting for the bus this morning.  Then he threw it down to me in a plastic baggie."
"Do it again!" said Kellen.
"Mmmrrrgggggg!" went Sara, opening Chewie's mouth.  There were fangs in there!" (pp. 6-7)

"


Tasty Rating:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Selection (Like The Bachelor...or a prissier version of The Hunger Games)

Sorry I haven't been posting much.

I got a new job that requires me to move across the country.  Between planning new syllabi, searching for a new apartment, packing boxes, and dealing with my cats' psychoses caused by any major change, I haven't had much time to read or post.

I have, however, had the time to listen to audiobooks!

Taking a break from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I decided to listen to The Selection by Kiera Cass.

Appetizer:  America and her family are members of the caste of artists in their society.  This means they're better off than servants, but still sometimes go hungry when they are not able to entertain the richer members of the second and third castes.

When America receives one of the invitations sent to all female members of the society who might be considered to marry the prince, she immediately wants nothing to do with the selection of the country's new princess.  But her mother, a social climber that reminded me of Mrs. Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, and her secret boyfriend from a lower caste, Aspen, both insist she apply at the chance to improve her life.

America soon learns that she made the initial cut and is sent off to the capital with 34 other girls who wish to vie for the Prince's affections.  Uncertain if she can love the stuffy Prince Maxon, America's main goal to stay in the competition is to provide her family with a monetary stipend for her family and to recover from the surprising break-up with Aspen.  But, upon meeting Prince Maxon, she's in for a number of surprises and dangers.

I did have some initial struggles with the patriarchal nature of the culture depicted in this young adult dystopia.  Why do girls who get married have to join their husband's caste?  Why can't the betrothed of either sex change according to their preferences?  I wasn't crazy about the emphasis on the selected girls' bodies becoming property of the government or the emphasis on them needing to be virgins.

I also hated America's relationship with Aspen.  She "obeys" a few orders he gives and consistently follows his heads.  Boo.

On the plus side, I did get into the story.  From driving to the airport, waiting for planes and then driving to my soon-to-be new town, I listened to all eight hours of the book and decided to finish the book before finally crashing in bed.

I liked the fairy tale elements.  The Selection feels like a drawn out and twisted version of Cinderella.

*vague spoiler* Although I did feel vaguely annoyed that the actual selection is not made at the end of the book, the feeling of anticipation for book two is more pronounced.  *end vague spoiler*


Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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