Sunday, December 29, 2013

Blog Anniversary!

Four years ago, I started keeping track of my reading online so that I could make better recommendations to my students. It's something I hope to continue doing for a long time.
Thanks to everyone who has popped by and commented!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Sometimes you find the right book at the right time.

I was loading up my kindle for a winter trip to New York and added Dash and Lily's Book of Dares because I like David Leviathan and was interested in seeing him collaborate with an author I hadn't read, Rachel Cohn. Plus, I like the idea of two strangers (and fairly strange) teenagers getting to know each other through a red moleskin. It turns out, all of the dares upon which Dash and Lily embark take place where I was vacationing.

When Lily made Dash see the insane Christmas lights at Dyker Heights, I was there with my friends' kids. When Dash made Lily brave Rockefeller Center days before the holiday, I was crushed by the crowds as well. Their adventure was my adventure and I loved it.

Not that I am without complaints. I find it to be lazy writing when parents are removed from the picture; it was unrealistic to me that all the parents were away on Christmas and the characters were left in the care of their negligent relatives. I also thought that the characters could be overly cutesy and whimsical at times. But maybe I am just being a grinch, because if there is ever a time for idiosyncratic teenagers, it's the holidays!

I read that the novel is being made into a movie and I am eager to see it; it would be a great way to prolong my vacation!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Long Way Gone

After winter break, the nonfiction unit looms. I don't know why we always schedule it for the long months after vacation, but there it is, waiting for me after my return. I want to make it more fun for me and the students this year, by incorporating the chance to create infographics and to read more interesting stories. Guess what? To be able to recommend books, I need to have read them.

A Long Way Gone is the story of Ishmael Beah, a child soldier from Sierra Leone. This memoir details his life before the country fell apart, his time roving the country as a drug-fueled soldier, and his rehabilitation. Beah has become a spokesperson for child soldiers, someone who has escaped and improved his life.

The violence in A Long Way Gone is graphic and descriptive, as it should be. The tragedies that Beah witnessed are unbelievable, and must be shared so that people realize the desperation of the unrest in Sierra Leone. On the other hand, I don't feel comfortable handing the book to my twelve-year-old students. Still, some passages could be used to show how narrative nonfiction can draw readers in and make them want to read more. After finishing the book, I got online to learn more about what is happening in Sierra Leone now. The best nonfiction leads us to more nonfiction. Beah has done this.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Skype Chat with Tom Angleberger

My students are huge fans of the Origami Yoda series and when I taught in The Bahamas, we did an amazing Skype call with him. I figured he was too busy and famous now to talk to us, but I was wrong. Every Thursday, he has Skype calls with schools, and it is obvious, because he is a master at getting kids excited.

Tom asked the kids for their book recommendations and gave a few of his own, showed us how to fold our own Origami Yodas, and gave us a sneak preview of the new book,  Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue. The students were screaming with excitement and were so grateful after the call. 

It was a memorable and happy end to our semester.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan

In my years of paying others to coax my curls into straight hair, I've discovered the best way to read books that don't interest me: bring them to the salon.

The first Ranger's Apprentice book falls into that category. I have a hard time getting into stories with knights and mythical creatures, but this series is popular with my Pre-AP boys, so I figured I'd check it out. I'm glad I did (and they will be psyched).

Once I got through the prologue, I was engrossed in the story of Will, an orphan who is apprenticed to the Rangers, a group of mysterious spies who keep the kingdom safe. He and his orphan friends adjust to their new lives as apprentices, while a great war brews against the kingdom.

The best part of John Flanagan's novel are the characters. Will is endearing and his struggles with his new life are realistic. Best of all, though, is his mentor, Halt. It's best to imagine him as Viggo Mortensen in full Strider mode. Halt is wise, humble, and full of secrets. In fact, when I looked at the plot summary for Book 2, I saw that Will and a friend are separated from the others, with nary a mention of Halt. This dropped it down a few notches on my To Be Read list, but it is definitely still there, which I never thought I'd say.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hole In My Life

Like all teachers, I want my developing readers to find a book that hooks them, and Jack Gantos is a safe bet. His Joey Pigza series, along with his short stories, are really popular with my students. So when Hole In My Life, Gantos' memoir, appeared on the summer reading list, and subsequently, my classroom shelves, I was excited to have another title to recommend.

One of my reluctant readers zoomed through this book, occasionally coming up for air to mention "smuggling hash" and "prison sentencing". Ruh roh! As soon as he finished, I read it. Yes, there is a lot of drug use, profanity, and graphic descriptions of prison life. It's also extremely extremely engaging, highly readable, and well-written. For readers in eighth grade and up, it could definitely be the book that starts someone's reading life.

Most interestingly, Gantos' life in prison only takes up the final quarter of the book. Hole In My Life details all the poor decisions that led to his arrest. Best of all, there is no mistaking that any of Gantos' decisions would be worth repeating.

I'm on a roll, finding books that would be perfect for our 8th grade summer reading suggestions.
What's next?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Stupid Fast

Stupid Fast is a book that had huge buzz. It won the 2011 Cybil Award for Best Young Adult Fiction, a year that is close to my heart because I was a Graphic Novels judge. One of my favorite book bloggers, Katie from Book Love, recommended it. And I was only a sports book away from completing the genre challenge in my class, so I decided to grab Geoff Herbach's first novel about a teenager who suddenly becomes stupid fast.

My feelings about Stupid Fast were mixed. I think Herbach does an incredible job getting into the mind of a fifteen year old boy. Felton's thoughts are full of confusion, self-doubt, profanity, and bravado. It's a voice that takes some getting used to. Felton always feels authentic, and since the format is a diary, we get full access to the stupid behind Felton's speed.

On the other hand, I was irritated by many of the characters. Felton's mother's mental issues grated, and I have little patience for jock-speak, of which there was plenty as Felton gets absorbed into the cool clique. Still, for a book with a football player on the cover, the sports played a minor role, compared to the family issues at play.

While I wasn't in love with the book, I think it would be a good addition to our eighth grade summer reading list. There is some cursing, but the boy appeal and relatability make up for it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Creating Excitement

I'm always looking for new ways to excite my developing readers. 
I decided to make a few posters which feature titles that they might like, based on their recent reading.