Friday, December 30, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My daughter has been after me for months to finish reading the Hunger Games series. I read Hunger Games shortly after she did last year and I enjoyed it. But my interest waned when I started into the second one, Catching Fire. I just couldn't get into it. I kept putting off reading it and putting it off.
Until I was on the plane home from a quick trip to overnight trip Florida where I offered a workshop for educators. On those two flights home, I couldn't put it down. So when I finished it, I made Alysa go immediately and pull out Mockingjay: I just couldn't stop reading then.

This dark conclusion to the series is a dense read. There are not many light moments in this book, but that seems to be the way life is in the place where they live. There isn't much laughter that I recall during my readings. Death, torture, threats, revenge all play wicked and regular roles throughout the series, but mostly in Mockingjay. And if Collins wanted us readers to be swallowed up by the ongoing fighting back against evil, then she wins in each of these books. Especially the third one. In a sentence, Mockingjay is the story of Katniss finding her way to settle with the her own inner battles of living in such an ugly outer land of living. That doesn't make sense, I know, so I will try again. Katniss, the main character, hates herself for living through the first (and second) killing game called Hunger Games, a brutal winner-kills-all death "game" created by the communist-like government of this dystopian world. Good appears to lose out regularly throughout the books, although there are plenty of good characters. In the third book, Katniss is selected to be the savior for the underclass/underprivileged working folks who vehemently disagree with the political misuse of power and control by the "Capitol." Yep: the bad guys. As the "mockingjay," Katniss works her way to having a purpose in life. As for the ending, the jury is kinda out: while Alysa and I thought it ended like an adult book, not usually what I find in young adult books, I have heard of others who loved it. Doesn't matter: still a totally worthy read.

The movie Hunger Games is coming out soon. The trailer makes the hair on my arms stand up, especially the mockingjay sound. This will be a big-screen viewing for me, and I feel certain Alysa will want to go with me. I just wonder what life there must really be like. In books like this one, as dark as dark can be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan

I so enjoy simple, almost realistic, easy-to-create-mind-pictures-in picture books, and The Big Wish meets that criteria to a T. It is a great read.

Molly has a yard full of dandelions, and she is protecting it with a vengeance. She has a giant vision for all of those dandelions, and The Guinness Book of World Records folks will be involved soon. While neighbors seek to cut and control the weeds, but Molly sees this field of yellow with a completely different lens. She sees wishes being wished for on a massive scale. As she attempts to create a world record of wish making, she cares for the dandelions and invites wishes from all her townspeople. She struggles with what is the actual biggest wish to wish for, a plausible challenge for anyone who allow themselves such moments. The ending of the book closes in true picture book fashion, confirming both dreams and the human race eloquently.

This book would be a terrific read aloud for a class of young readers seeking a mentor text for dreaming, a family who hopes to explore what is possible, and adults who flat out want to enjoy a sweet picture book.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sleepaway Girls

I have always enjoyed books about summer camps and Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita was a perfect read for that. After reading it I actually searched for camps in Oregon that were looking for camp counselor this coming summer. I thought that Sleepaway Girls was the perfect book to curl up with on a cold day and drink hot chocolate. It was very well written and had a good plot. 

15 year old Sam doesn't want to spend the summer watching her best friend Mal with her new boy friend. Way to sappy, especially because Sam has never really had a real boyfriend. She decides to sign up to be a CIT (counselor in training) at Whispering Pines, a sleepaway summer camp. Sam finds that she gets more then she bargained for when she becomes the immediate enemy of Ashley, the CIT who stars in all of the Pines commercials and happens to be the owners daughter. It's not Sam's fault that she was in that silly Dial and Dash commercial for her moms company that happened to play twice during the Super Bowl. She hadn't even wanted to do that! But on the bright side, she found a group of super nice girls to hang out with all summer. They decide to call themselves the "sleepaway girls". And don't forget the adorable "peeps" as the camp likes to call the youngest campers of them all who Sam is in charge of with her Counselor Alexis. Sam also seems to be attracting the attention of a very attractive counselor Hunter. But dating counselors is strictly forbidden. And then there's Cole, another CIT who is very comfortable to be around.... 
Will Sam have the perfect summer she was hoping for? Full of new friendship, romance and life lessons? Read Sleepaway Girls to find out!

I loved this book! I liked how there were so many things that the main character learned about herself during the book. I also liked reading about the different activities and the kids at the camp. I think that being a camp Counselor sounds like a really fun job and it builds responsibility. It was the perfect read to escape into another world. I strongly recommend this book.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

I had heard alot about this book called Zero. I have had students in my classes recently who love Otoshi's work, I saw a preview of One at a literacy conference I attended in November, but to get the book in my hands took a little more work. Finally, I came across Zero at the library; I knew I had to read it. Otoshi wrote Zero in 2010, so this isn't a brand- new book. But it is fab, fab, fabulous. As I read it, I kept envisioning my nephews reading it and falling over in guffaws of the truthful challenge numbers can experience.

Zero is the story of a number zero finding validity in their being. I mean zero equals nothing, right? After a while, after some serious questioning by said character, Zero starts to consider her options. Like how to find value in what she has to offer. After a number of blunders with the other numbers, she finally finds her stride, discovers the magical opening that all zeros have: place value. As I think about the term place value, I find the word "place" a perfect descriptor. In this case, place means finding one's way, and in this book, Zero does just that!!

A stellar read, easy to enter and consider for all you number lovers out there: this book will make you smile at the possibility of openings in "place" values!!

Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea

In the mood for a funny picture book? Filled with voice and centered on a tall tale? One with funny drawings and terrific phrases? A book that will make you laugh and wonder what the truth is about how Levi Strauss got his start for real? Then search out this goody!!

This book made me laugh, wonder, and explore. I love the cover, which is exactly why I picked it up in the first place. By the second page, I was wondering just how accurate the representation in the text was. Stacy Innerst' illustrations caught my eye on most of the pages, particularly with how each one appears drawn on jean fabric. The vocabulary the author uses is just right, including phrases from the time period that take readers to the Gold Rush and San Francisco. I love how the author lets the story tell itself in a zany, imaginative, completely disconnected from history way, but includes true facts at the end of the book.  For me, the book tied drawing and tall tale completely and effectively into story telling.

I really enjoyed this read!! If you are looking for a funny, crafty tall tale, this one might be for you!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee

One of my favorite thing about children's picture books is the way they can bridge. The ones that work best for me invite any reader of any age to simply live through the book. This book, Stars, does that for me. I loved it the moment I read it at the booksellers' booth at NCTE, knowing that the inbreath I took upon seeing the cover was a good sign, and I ran my fingers over the cover when it arrived at my door a couple of days ago. I am presenting a workshop next week in Florida, and guess which book will be traveling with me? How did you know?

Stars is a story about stars: about where to find them, where to hold them, where to wish for them. It is a story about time and faith, about waiting and patience, and about the beauty of looking up. While reading it, I find myself thinking of spectacular star moments. I am reminded of laying on the rocks above 12,000' feet on a backpacking trip in Colorado with the Perseid Meteor Shower shooting stars all over a black sky. Gives me chills just to write about it. I think of walking out of our no-electricity/no-running water cabin in Oregon in the middle of the night because the glow of light shining on the fields surrounding the cabin made me get out of bed and see what was out there. I always know it is stars or moon not some alien invader-- just checking, were you?-  and it is always a perfect idea to go outside. And although this may put off a few readers, I am hoping some others will know what I am talking about here? Have you ever peed while looking at stars? If you have, you know how sweet this experience is. If you haven't yet, consider yourself invited. That is not in the book. Just so you know.

Simply written, it would make the perfect read aloud for any aged learner, reader, or star lover. In the midst of our electrically-driven lives, this book offers a moment to return to something glorious and discoverable every night: just look up. If you are lucky, you will see what I saw this morning: Stars.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Books to Consider

Most years in November I head to the National Council of Teachers of English Conference, a giant literacy playland for us literacy fans. I love seeing old friends who are active in national literacy issues. We talk blogs and technology, families and teaching, but mostly we talk books. Of course we love to talk about books because we are all rabid readers and we love, love, love putting fantastic books into the hands of our students. In this day and age of scripted reading programs and a national education agenda focused majorly on test scores, many of us see an even greater need to find incredible literature and craft more and more effective ways to include those amazing resources in our schools.

Of course one of the terrific offerings at this conference are all of the publishers showing off their new wares. Gone, I hope, are my days of taking books out of luggage to leave at the airport and cramming and recramming my suitcase at the hotel room before the trip to the airport, only to decide there was no way I could shut the zipper. This year I came home with only 16 pounds of new books. I was very proud indeed, given the family drooling for me to open the suitcase once I walk in, everyone hoping I brought them some paper goodie!! This year I came home with some new books that, while I have not read them yet, look particularly promising. Here is a small preview of two advance release copies (ARC's) that sounded the most intriguing to me.

Sway by Amber McRee Turner. This is an advance release copy (ARC) due out in 2012. The storyline sounded interesting: Mom comes home after 4 months being gone only to leave again. 10-year-old girl and Dad take off to find her, but girl needs some kind of magic to bring mom back, the kind of magic she has always had. But what I really found intriguing were the first two sentences of the books: Being awake all night long is not such a good thing when it comes from eating spoiled mayonnaise or hearing raccoons fight over garbage outside your window. but being awake all night long is a perfectly fine thing when it comes from gladness beyond the stars that you mom is coming home for the first time in four months. 

See, sounds interesting, huh?

The Rivals, the second book from Daisy Whitney sounds intriguing to me. Evidently this is the second in a series, the first of which is called The Mockingbirds: hmmm, guess my summer reading list is already growing.  This book sounds a little more gruesome than Sway. A teen girl discovers some bad cheating actions at her high school. She just happens to be the head of a secret society at the school that polices and protects the student body. As she further explores the situation, she discovers some separation and dishonesty that tries her integrity and her relationships mightily.

Wanna do the first few sentences test? Try this out:
I will pretend I know nothing. 

When she asks me about the Mockingbirds, I will deny everything. 

I won't reveal who we are and what we do, even though she has summoned me here to her inner sanctum "to discuss matters pertaining to the Mockingbirds." That's what the note says, the one her secretary hand-delivered to me moments ago on crisp white stationery, sealed with the official emblem of the office of the dean of Themis Academy. 

Alysa always laughs when she reads ARC's now, having noticed the typos in the books that I have brought home in the past. While this year I may not be able to get her interested in Sway (sounds good and important to the heart, something I would like!!), I have a feeling The Rivals might end up far from my bedside table, resting innocently in the stack in her room, where a few other books from my end of the house seem to have tiptoed to. At least I think that is how they got there...All I know is that I better get reading soon. Yes, soon. As soon as I finish up this workshop I am preparing. Or, given the entrance to both of these books, I may have to just start reading now instead.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


A few weeks ago I posted about Ally Condie's book Matched. Well, this is the second one! And as much as i absolutely loved the first book, I thought the second was even better! Crossed is completely packed with action and adventure. It's also told from both Cassia's and Ky's point of view-which was really cool because you finally get to see what Ky has been thinking and feeling this whole time. 

Cassia has to find Ky. She knows that he is somewhere in the outer provinces thanks to her sort. Leaving Xander will be hard, but Ky is her true love even if Xander is her match. A miracle seems to come when herself and a few others are transported to the outer provinces and lucky for her Ky was at the camp too according to a young boy. But he isn't there now. With the help of a new friend Indie, they will have to make the long trek through the carving to find Ky while talk of a rising is on the horizon. 

After running from the camp he was at with Vick and Eli, two other aberrations,during a firing, he must make his way to the carving to get back to Cassia. Parts of his past haunt him as he travels and he begins to remember all the pieces of the last rising and how his father was possibly the Pilot, the leader of it all. But he doesn't want any part of the rising. Ky doesn't trust the rising or the society. He is looking for the farmers who have been living on the land for centuries. Will he somehow make it there and find Cassia? 

I loved this book and actually pre-ordered it. It definitely recommend this book and it's one you want to have in your bookcase to come back too. Are you headed to the book store yet?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


If you read Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly (if not, you should), then you will adore her second book Amplified. This book caries true emotion. I felt everything the character Jasmine felt. I thought that this was a very unique story yet completely possible. Amplified is amazingly written and has great character development as well as depth. 

Jasmine must figure out how to survive now. After getting kicked out by her dad for not wanting to go to college, Jasmine has to find a way to further her music career and more importantly find a place to live...even if that means trying to convince three guys and one awesome girl Veta that she is an amazing guitar player who is perfect for their band C-Side. Jasmine discovers that being in a band is a LOT harder than she thought it would be. There is also the fact that she lied to them about having performed live before. The only thing that is keeping her in the band is Veta who has faith in her, and Sean who may be a possible boyfriend...

Will Jasmine be able to really face what's bothering her and holding her back? Or will she break under the pressure?

I LOVED this book and it is already sitting in my book case. This book was just released so hurry fast to get it before they are all gone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wow! Ocean! by Robert Neubecker

I just returned from a long weekend in Chicago, the site of the 2011 National Council of Teachers of English conference. I came back with 20 pounds of new books!!! I have many friends in the literacy world who work all over the country, and this conference offers us a chance to catch up, reconnect, and share new books we just love. The idea for this one came from a new friend who teaches kindergarten in Ohio, Mandy Robek. She is a new rock star to me, and I believe you will see why when you read this fantastic book.

I love how the author tells this story through pictures and labels. A trip to the ocean becomes a lively home of experiences and animals here.  Each page is filled-- and I mean filled-- with drawings of the beings one would encounter in the ocean. The author added labels to this picture book (unlike in his first book Wow! City!), and those elevate the book into new arenas. The illustrations are remarkable and remind me of the pictures so many of my kindergarten students used to create, and the label of the animals is right there on the animal: brilliant.

I could so see using this as a mentor text-- which I may, so look out, grad students. I also can see this read aloud leading young learners forward into the links between reading and writing: the text inspires me to want to go create. Find this one: you won't be disappointed. Thanks to Mandy for introducing it to me!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sing Me Home by Jodi Picoult

I just finished up my first Jodi Picoult book, Sing Me Home. Alysa has read one of her earlier books, My Sister's Keeper, and she wrote an entry up about her experiences with it, and we saw the movie several times here at our house. Side note: When Alysa gets jazzed about a movie, she watches it over and over, studying it, enjoying it, peering deeper into its message. I love that she does that; in a sense, she becomes an expert of the movie. So I thought she really liked Jodi Picoult, saw this new book from her earlier this year, and bought it for her. She read the cover and maybe started it but never stayed with it. I wondered why, so I read it.

It is an interesting read, weaving newborn death, same-sex relationships, conservative religious views, and compassionate relationships together. Picoult focuses the book on a marriage gone south, aided massively by the monstrously devastating loss of a child and two adults who just can no longer find their love for each other through their ongoing lack of being able to successfully conceive a child together. Once the relationship ends, the female from the marriage, Zoe, ends up falling in love with a woman who is a counselor at the high school where Zoe serves as music therapist for emotionally-distraught students. I loved the tie in of music therapy, loved it. I haven't read many- ahem, any- books with music therapists and I loved the weaving in of this professional role. Max, the ex-husband, falls wobbles back into his alcoholic ways but then finds Jesus, moves in with his brother and sister-in-law, and recenters a bit. A bit-- that is all I will give you there-- he is a wobbler to me!!  It is the "finding Jesus" part that offers the most heft for this book, with a trial detailing who gets the leftover three eggs from Zoe's body to attempt to create another fetus: Zoe and her partner or Max's brother and sister-in-law. The courtroom work is brutal, and Picoult seems to have done her homework on many fronts. For me, the trial drug on, but I reckon that is what they do: they take forever to solve a tense and at times ugly situation where two sides just can't see truth when it hits them.

I liked reading this book, and I like Picoult's writing style. It was a good escape read for me, and I certainly sought out finishing it when I was two-thirds of the way through. I can see though why the beginning wouldn't necessarily capture Alysa. Sure, it is good work, but the subject matter just might not be something that piques her interest--- yet! For me, I will keep an open mind for Picoult's other works, and I have an idea that this winter break, when I so desperately plan to not work (or at least work less!), one of her other books may just be sitting in my lap!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Secrets of Truth and Beauty

I loved this book. I thought it had the perfect combo of everything. I also really liked how the main character was accepting who she was for the majority of the book. Secrets of Truth and Beauty by Megan Frazer was very well written and made me very sad when it was over. I felt like i was a character in the book as well and was meeting all the other characters. The emotions of the main character were channeled very well throughout the story. If you want the perfect read, this is your book.

After a disaster power point presentation trying to prove that outer beauty doesn't matter and neither does her beauty pageant past, Dara Cohen is suspended from school to think about the points she made in her presentation. Dara begins to think about the sister that she found out she had a few years ago. Her parents strongly believe that Dara should never meet her sister Rachel and that forgetting she ever existed is the best choice, but Dara knows that this can't be true. Yes, her mom is a pretty cruel person who often tells her that she isn't pretty, that she needs to lose weight, and thinks back to when Dara was in shape, but how could her sister be that bad? Dara decides that she needs to meet Rachel. Life at home is crumbling fast and Dara needs someone to turn to. After doing some research she finds that her sister is living on a goat farm in Massachusetts. As she spends the remainder of the school year and rest of the summer with her sister, she begins to learn more and more not only about Rachel, but about herself. With the help of all of those at Jezebel farm, Dara begins to see the beauty she has within and without. There will be many new struggles, but unlike before, she has someone to help her through them.

I loved this book. I am definitely adding it to my book case to read over and over again. I really just thought this was a treat to read and hope you will too.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

just one thing by Rick Hanson

This is one of my early- morning reads right now. I read one entry a day and then write a little bit, hoping to set my intentions in a way that opens me to others and what is possible in the world. While I have one other book that I ALWAYS read in the morning, this has been a great addition for me. I read one entry a day.

What I appreciate about Hanson's work is how simply he breaks down a piece of possibility. The book has 52 chapters. I know he writes a weekly newsletter, so I wonder if these are his fave pieces from that newsletter but I don't know. I can imagine slowing down to read one a week, rereading the chapter frequently through the week to invite change into your life. I like reading one entry a day but it feels a tad overwhelming. I can imagine myself actually going back and rereading it, one entry a week. I can see that being potentially more powerful.

It's funny: I thought I could write alot about this book, but it is such a small process, smaller than I originally thought, a small entrance that he writes about that I find it hard to tell you more. It is worth picking up and see what you think if you are looking for a new daily- or weekly--reflective read.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Remembering Mrs. Rossi by Amy Hest

I know, I know: you haven't been hearing from Alysa much lately. You keep having to skim Andie's writing while you wait for the masterful Alysa to submit another entry. I get it, really I do. I know she just posted the other day and I loved reading her piece (don't tell her that, okay?). I know she is busy with school work and just being a teen. Plus I keep finding these books I enjoyed reading and I like to share so here you go, another from me!

Remembering Mrs. Rossi is a keeper. What a sweet, gentle, engaging story from Amy Hest. She is a prolific author-- I know her from her Baby Duck books. This one captivated me because of its gentle insistence about family. The storyline starts with Mrs. Rossi having recently died, and the dad and Annie the daughter are trying to find their way to live after that loss. There is nothing sappy about this book, sad as the subject may be; in fact, the writing holds this quiet hope for the two of them finding their way together. Both the father and daughter worry about losing their memories of their wife/mother, and like most hopeful juvenile books, the 2 find a way to work together to maintain their memories and their togetherness.

I like the gentleness of this book. I wonder how much of Amy Hest' experience of losing her own mother lives within this book, and I wonder what makes her smile about it. I guess when my mother passes (which hopefully is not any time soon!), I will be able to let her go while keeping her alive with the same calm  that Hest offers in this book.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell was a book that is hard to describe in words. I thought that it was such a unique story. Even though I had heard of the Pioneer recreation camps, I had never really given them much thought. Even though the main character Gen spends most of the book not enjoying living on Camp Frontier, it made me want go experience what it was like living back in the 1800's (more accurately 1890's or so.) It was a wonderfully written book and has become one of my favorites. I will definitely be adding this book to my book case. 

Genevieve has always been a city girl. She had a nice relaxing summer in mind before she started her freshman year of high school. But her mom seems to have other plans and signs her whole family up for Camp Frontier, a reenactment of life in 1890. Yay! Not. What would be fun about living on some farm for the summer? Nothing. The only thing keeping Gen from running away is the fact that she gets a phone at the end of the summer. Then, she hatches a plan. Why not just bring the phone with her? Stealing (well not really stealing, it would be hers anyway so...) the phone and taking it with her might be risky, but at least she could keep in contact with her friends right? 

Life on Camp Frontier seems to be just as Gen suspected. Terrible. There's an outhouse. Gross. And she is forced to share a bed with her brother. Even worse. Not to mention the snotty farm girl Nora that lives there. And then, a miracle happens. Two actually. She has three bars, which means she can text her friends! And second, there is a totally cute southern boy here with his family named Caleb. But will Nora ruin both the good things about the farm?
Gen finds herself constantly secretly texting her friends about the horrible life she is having. When her friends turn her text messages in to a blog, Gen may have to realize whats really important and see what was right in front of her the whole time. 

Week 2- Tuesday
7:45 pm
Ron had told us that every family would be given a cow the second week of camp, but I’d totally forgotten all about it until this morning. Gavin and I were pulling up potatoes in the kitchen garden, and suddenly there was Nora, leading a cow by a rope. She looked like she’d marched right out of a Mother Goose book, with her cap and her braid and her boots and her long dress that she wore like it wasn’t driving her crazy the way mine was.

-Page 85

 Have you added this to your book case yet?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wild Life by Cynthia DeFeFelice

So I have a secret life in reading: I love outdoors books, commonly about boys and every once in a while about girls(because I haven't found that many with female characters). These usually include a dog and some kind of risk outside and inside (the character, that is). Where the Red Fern Grows was an all-time favorite of mine growing up, and I still love, love, love to read it. Truth. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a couple of amazing pups like Dan and Ann.

Actually one time in my life, I believe I did. I used to have a dog named Ren, goofy, strong, fast, he and I found each other when he was a couple of months old and I had just moved to LA for my first teaching job. South-Central Los Angeles, that is. That dog kept me sane every day of those nine months and a few days, and shortly after the school year ended, we were butt to butt in the truck seat, driving back home to Colorado, trying to figure out next steps in life. Fast forward a chunk of years later when my partner and I got together. She had a dog who was just like Ren but smarter, way more graceful, and  a whole bunch faster. Kelsey was a sweet dog and definitely as important to Laurie as Ren was to me. From the first moment together, the dogs were connected in their souls. I know it sounds crazy but from that first moment, they never had any interest in other dogs, they slept touching every single night and daytime nap, and they always stayed close together on our hikes, walks, and runs. They were like Old Dan and Little Ann. It was a sweet time, and watching those two dogs, I was frequently reminded of Wilson Rawls' classic tale.

Wild Life is a story of a boy whose parents both are called up to fight in Iraq at the same time. His folks decide he should go stay with his grandparents in North Dakota. Once there, he realizes some of the emotional baggage his grandparents carry. Days within his tense arrival, he finds a lost dog. Dog and boy connect at the hip and heart, boy realizes he won't be able to keep the dog, and they take off. It is a good story, one I can image readers who like stories like Rawls' tale will like. It is set in current day, and the text is somewhat simpler than Rawls' classic. Just like most juvenile-categorized books, it ends well.

What books did you read growing up that sit in your "secret read" categories? You might want to go check this one out if you are in the mood for dog-boy connection read.  I think you would like it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Busing Brewster

I remember when my family moved to Denver, Colorado in the early '70's. I remember my parents talking about which schools we would attend and how my mother the teacher didn't want us living in the midst of a giant transition Denver Public Schools was going through: desegregation. While I kind of understood what she was saying about the changes the district was going through, I didn't understand the energy beneath her words. Inside of me, I couldn't figure out what made her so worried.

Now I get it: now I am a mother who cares deeply about her daughter and doesn't want her to experience bad things just like my mom didn't then. I know I shelter Alysa from some experiences in life and hope like crazy some things don't happen to her. And although I try to be transparent with her, telling Alysa ALL about how certain issues make me feel inside just doesn't always fit for me. She pushes me, and for the most part, I tell her honestly where I stand and how my stance makes me feel. While it is still not always comfortable, my partner and I try to share our fears when we can. But these are my decisions, and I believe that Alysa can handle what I share with her. This is now though, not then, not a time in history where out of fear, people hurt children regularly because of fear.

This book pushes up against desegregation issues, namely forced busing, of the early '70's in the United States. First-grader Brewster is excited about attending his neighborhood school but learns the day before school starts that he will be going to a different school. While excited and nervous, it is the actions he experiences on the bus that begin to unseat him. He enters the newly-segregated school, only to notice some dramatically different features within it. Because of a fear-initiated action, Brewster must stay int he library with his brother all day. Lucky for him, an advocate under the guise of a librarian (awesome: powerful role models who worked as educators of social justice in the '70's!!) begins to work positively with Brewster. Readers like me will appreciate connecting to our memories of those early-to-us segregation days within schools. Readers who are younger than me likely will have multiple ways to connect with this text, given our current- day experiences with racism and fear.

Fear: there it is again. As an educator, a parent, a human, I have found some ways to be transparent about fear. It is simply part of our world, and I believe the more ways we find to talk about it, meander within it, and make sense of it, the more we will find our ways to bridging from the fear that separates us to the presence and peace that can come from connecting honestly and openly with others. This book will be one I add to my collection on social justice, for those moments when conversations of fear come up with kindergarten AND graduate students, for those moments when fear can be our teacher and love can enter into the bridged moments to possibility.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan

Gloria Whelan offers us a beautiful story of a young teen from 1918 struggling with her own truth. The story splits between India and England, England being where her parents are from and India being where her father is stationed as an officer with the British Army.

What surprised me most about this book reminds me of a saying I learned a few years ago when I visited Calcutta, India: same, same, but different. The tensions of teens are the same no matter the time period, and Whelan's way of shining light onto Rosalind's offered me a new way to think about girls then. As I read, I could imagine some of my nieces being ballsy enough to at least consider some of these actions. At one point in the story, Rosalind learns of how a baby was sold for food money. Beside herself, she takes her own money and goes to buy the baby back, of course from some disrespected and dangerous man. Rosalind is undeterred by his attempt to scare her; she knows what she must do and she does it. I won't spoil the story and tell you all about it but know that Gandhi plays an important role as do a couple of interesting aunts (I can imagine you rolling around my label of interesting as you read this book!).

The truth that someone can so convincingly know who they are and find their way to living within that truth at a time in history when children (yes, I use that label on purpose here since her parents obviously are fighting her growing up) are meant to be quiet and good and not be rabble rousers is a new idea to me. It makes perfect sense but I have not come across many recently-written books for that time period. I just love how Whelan frames Rosalind's life and how she lives through whatever trial sets in front of her.

Same, same, but different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chirchir is Singing by Kelly Cunnane

Here is another sweet goody I came across in the library recently.Just one look at the cover is enough to draw most of us in-- Jude Daly offers such sweet illustrations there it is hard to not pick it up. Open to the first pages and you'll be done: you have to read this.

The familiar storyline of a young girl struggling to find her way to help the family only intrigued me more. I mean there are as many possibilities with this goal as there are girls. The young main character Chirchir takes us through her moments of struggle and the many openings of possibility she encounters as she moves from family member to family member in her search. But like in all amazing books that transport us into new worlds, it is the masterful work of the author and illustrator combined that take this book to new heights. I love how the author frames each page, making me curious to learn how and what Chirchir is thinking and exploring her own way into the people who are important to her. The gentle meandering of her day within the book offer a window into the lives of people in the Kalenjin tribe of Kenya, where the book is set, and occasional Swahili words are used along with Kalenjin names. Fascinating! The illustrations took me even further into what it must look like and FEEL like there in Chirchir's homeland. Daly, the illustrator, captures movement on the page with such grace and conviction. The actual angle that is just right, so much so that I can imagine young readers eagerly trying out her techniques on their own.

This is a brilliant and beautiful book, one that I am eager to use in my teaching and working with young people. Hmmmmmm, the perfect quandry: how to share this with more readers.....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lucky for Good: The Final Story in Lucky's Hard Pan Trilogy by Susan Patron

I read The Higher Power of Lucky, the first of the Hard Pan Trilogy, because some folks were ticked off about a small detail involving the word scrotum in the first chapter and because it won the Newberry Medal. And after laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair when I read said chapter, I was hooked. I could imagine Susan Patron's crooked smile as she decided to include THAT word, having complete faith in readers to hold onto what is important about her stories and ignore what for some could feel threatening. All I can tell you is that from that first chapter on, I have looked at dogs in a whole new way (you gotta read it to understand!) and I celebrate whatever this author has to offer in our future.

I believe Lucky for Good just might be my fave of the series, barely nudging out The Higher Power of Lucky. In each of the books, Patron consistently writes from a source of truth. Lucky's life started out pretty rocky, with alot of uncertainties, and without ruining the ending for you readers, she is finding her way to smaller rocks and more grounding. The character development worked very well for me: I have a mind movie of the teeny town, Hard Pan, and some of the characters including Brigette and Lincoln and Miles that film production companies would love to get their hands on. I have never heard of a desert sounding so inviting. What started as a moment of hardened trials became a source of connection and living throughout each of the books.

What I most loved about Lucky for Good is how the character has grown: she has softened a little emotionally, finding her own way to use her learnings from hard times to know more about herself and how she works; she has held onto her sassiness, using it to both stand up to ugliness when called upon and enrich her friendships that are so important to her; and she sounds like some part of me, working so carefully (sometimes intentionally and sometimes by surprise) to create a way of living that brings joy to the losses in our lives. I love Lucky, I see her in my students, and I feel like I live a little within the books.

I can't wait to see what Susan Patron creates next!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg

I love it when I pick up fantastic books at the library. That happened the last time I went-- I ended up with 4 fantastic picture books!! Yes, in addition to Mirror, which I love, love, love, I found this book. Saweet!! Uhlberg's writing is so gently unrelenting that I couldn't stop reading, and Colin Bootman, the illustrator, absolutely offers dramatic support to an important story.

A Storm Called Katrina focuses on one boy's family who must leave their flooded home because of the levee breaking during Katrina. Having nowhere to go, they end up at the Superdome with thousands of other displaced families. Louis' father leaves to find food and the 10-year-old stays with his mother in the Superbowl, the huge, gigantic, thousands-of-seats Superbowl. After awhile, when the father doesn't return, the boy believes it is because the father can't find them, a common issue from the stories I read about that time period. Taking the issue in his own hands, Louis found his own way to find his father, offering a unique step forward for the storyline.

I really enjoyed this book. Learning more about what it could have been like really like those days and nights during and after such a life-changing disaster as Hurricane Katrina. This would be a great book to share with readers who are looking for a book about resilience, history about Katrina, or how families find their own unique ways to stay together.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fruits Basket

Most of you have probably heard of the popular Japanese manga series Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. If you haven't read this series before, you must. It is a beautifully written series that keeps you hanging on and wanting to know what happens next. By the end of the 23 volumes, you feel like you are part of their world, that you have gone through what they went through, and were with them every step of the way. The character development is amazing. Takaya really takes the characters to a very deep point and you feel their pain. I had read other manga graphic novels before but none have been like this one.
The picture above (is actually from the TV series that was made) has the very main characters. There are a lot of characters in this series, but I thought that these were the most important: (left to right) Shigure Sohma, Yuki Sohma, Tohru Honda and Kyo Sohma.

After Tohru's mother died, she was supposed to go live with her grandfather, but when he begins to remodel his house, she is forced to find somewhere else to live. She doesn't want to bother her friends with her troubles, so she decides to live in a tent in the woods.
One day on her way to school she finds a mysterious house belonging to Yuki Sohma, the most popular boy at school. The Sohma's are facinated by her and her love for the zodiac as well as the cat in the old zodiac tale, and offer their home as a place for her to stay. Tohru soon finds out that her housemates Shigure, Yuki and Kyo are all under a zodiac curse that when they hug someone of the opposite gender, they turn in to the animal that their spirit is cursed with. Shigure's the dog, Yuki is the rat, and Kyo is the cat. The cat has never belonged which Tohru has always felt sad about.
As her adventure with the Sohma's continue, she will meet the rest of the zodiac and learn more and more about the terrible curse they have as well as the strange leader of the Sohma family Akito. Tohru will have to help them find a way to break the curse.

I thought that this series was phenomenal and I hope that you will too!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

the summer of hammers and angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky

"'...My heavens, such a fuss over a broken leg. If you ask me, everyone's making a mountain out of a molehill. When I was a girl, every kid in school had a cast on an arm or aleg at some point. Tommy will be home soon. Your mama too. The world will right itself in no time.'

'How do you know?' I asked, my voice sharp. 'How do you know everything will work out right?'

Miss Martha looked directly into my eyes. 'I don't.'

'What?' My heart skipped a beat.

'I don't know for sure,' said Miss Martha. 'But I believe it will.'

'How long do you need to believe?'

Miss Martha stared out the window over the sink. 'As long as it takes.'"

I loved Wiersbitzky's first novel. There is a gentle pace to the text that kept me tethered to her words, to her storyline, and to the characters. Especially Delia, the main character, who has some life cards stacked against her from the start. But like most hard things in life, softening helps. When being forced to figure out what to do with an almost condemned house while her mom is in the hospital in a coma from being struck by lightning, Delia finds her way to asking for help, starting with trusted friends and growing to a much larger group by the end of the book. The way she asks is unique and gentle, and as I read, I could imagine a young teen doing just what she did.

There is something I always appreciate about middle-level novels: the books hold real-life tensions but the storyline usually ends hopefully. I also love how the tensions have to be simple to connect with, and this one certainly was for me. Finally I love the phrases. Authors who write for the young adult and juvenile groups know they have to catch their audience in the first paragraph of the book and hold them, and this book does just that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

I always love stumbling across books in the library. Here is a phenomenal wordless picture book that rises to the top of my current list of favs.

Written from dual perspectives, Jeannie Baker's Mirror is a treat of a read. The pictures take the reader through the lives of two families, one in Australia and one in Morocco, North Africa. The author's intention was to frame the differences and the similarities of the two living patterns of the families, albeit in such dramatically different places. But there is more here, much more that the readers are welcomed into experiencing.

From the start, the reader knows this is a different book. When I open this book, I immediately notice two books: one on the left and one on the right, with the left side pages turning open to my left, and the right side pages opening to my right. Ohh, masterful! But get this: the left side words, the words on the left side are written in English, and the words on the right side are written in Arabic. These are almost the only words in the book, but the author's framing here at the beginning so impacted how I viewed this book. Still, four reads later, when I open the book, my eyes widen when the words come into my view. Seriously.

Opening the books, one finds the cover pages, one in English and one in Arabic. Turning to the first pages of each book, meant to be read simultaneously, shows the collages of pictures that tell the story. Each one is gorgeous, inviting the reader to peer more deeply into the details captured in each illustration. One little surprise for me was learning how Arabic is written right to left, and in turn, how this book offers young (and older, at least for me!) readers new understandings in how books are read by another culture, this one in Morocco.

See, you just have to go find this book. I am stunned by it. The story-- oh, that has its own sweet surprises!-- is solid, the  cover beautiful, the framing authentic. What is there not to appreciate about this work of art?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Out of Shadows

I love, love, love finding brand new books that captivate me; my excitement level rises even greater (four "loves"?) when the book is from a new author. Ready to head out to your local library or bookstore yet? Trust me: you just might be soon.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief writes the only recommendation on the front or back cover. While the cover didn't captivate me, his words did: "Honest, brave, and devastating--more than just memorable. It's impossible to look away." Since I found The Book Thief to be starkly difficult and glaringly consuming as a read, I guessed that following Zusak's recommendation would serve me well. I was right, but greater, so was he.

This is a devastating read. The premise holds solid merit but the writing technique that Wallace uses made my mind hear a running dialogue with Robert, the main character, constantly. I wanted to hear what his brain was thinking in his days and nights of high school. Often in books like these, where the underdog gets smacked down for awhile and then joins in the smacking, I notice my hope for redemption diminish. With Robert, I was keenly aware of both compassion and disgust in his choices. Greater I thought about what I would do in his situation. While I wouldn't have made some of the same choices during much of the text, I applauded the ending, admiring Robert's resilience and determination, his utterly clear decision making, and his stoic if painful thought- processing. Of course I was a gigantic fan of Weekend, the phone operator for the village where Robert attends school in Zimbabwe, a gentle man who carries the truth of being as a source of glowing and hopeful light for all who encounter him and becomes a touchstone of truth for Robert. Conversely I grew to shudder whenever the antagonist Ivan entered the pages, from the beginning of the book to the very last word. The book is set in the mid-'80's when Mugabe is president, causing the escalation of long-simmering political and cultural tensions and hatred to boil over in a multitude of ways. It must have been an awful time to live there for blacks and white Zimbabweans.

This is a harsh read in which Wallace pulls no punches. Readers will encounter utterly ugly racism, wicked, brutal attacks, and Hitler-like hatred throughout the book. It is a painful read, where one witnesses bullying in impossible and true patterns. The spirit of resilience shares a fine if difficult to grab light here, but it is almost tangible nonetheless. Maybe it is the almost that kept me reading-- I still don't know. This is a YA book, but readers must know it is gruesome and painful to journey through it. I learned more about the dire and tragic pain of Zimbabwe in a direct and meaningful way, and the questions that rose repeatedly through my reading will likely create some significant web searches to expand my knowledge of that conflict found in Zimbabwe then. I know I will be on the lookout for new writings by Wallace: his form of writing captures my inner resources in an important way for me.

At the end of a staggeringly difficult conversation with my mother in my early adult life, she reminded me how in spite of my bad experiences, there are good men in the world. Wallace brings that truth to life in Out of Shadows. We all live through tremendous trials in life, but finding our own way to soften our inner blame and lift up what serves the world helps shine light on our humanity and vulnerability and helps us find community in the harsh moments of our isolation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Help

The Help was one of the best books that i have read this year. There is nothing you can't learn from this book about equality. I thought that it took me back to the 60's and really showed me how life has changed since then and what it was like. It dealt with a lot of hard subjects that aren't talked about much anymore or that people didn't know anything about then thus leading to the bad situation. I thought this was an extremely well written book being from the point of three people two of which were in the dialect of the African Americans at the time.

She has been "The Help" her whole life, always moving on after the child has turned nine or so and starts to realize the color difference they share. Abilene is starting to realize that even though she raises the white children until they don't need her anymore, it doesn't matter because they always realize in the end that she is nothing more then the woman who took care of them.
Now she's working for Mrs.Leefolt who is possibly the worst mother she has ever known. She pays absolutely no attention to her daughter Mae Mobley who is starving for attention. She realizes that if she doesn't start changing things that Mae Molbey will end up the same way as all the others. And then there's Mrs. Leefolt. She is obsessed with Hilly Holbrok. Nothing else matters except pleasing Hilly. She is like a goddess to all the other white women in the town and if your her friend, you are in and everyone else is a loser or has something not right about them and Abilene can't stand her. Especially after she hears that Hilly is planning on passing a law that every white house must have a separate toilet for the help due to all the "diseases" that "they" carry in their urine. So when Miss Skeeter tells Abilene her idea,she realizes that she might just have to do this.

Ever since she was a little girl she has know how to be a white woman's maid. It was her future. There was never a question that there would be a different one. At the moment Minny hates her job. But more then that, she hates Hilly Holbrok. How could a woman have the nerve to pass that around about her? Of course Minny could ask the same thing about her self. She has always had sass but never has she ever done something so terrible to anyone before. She is grateful that Abilene is trying to help her find one because thanks to Hilly Holbrok she can't get one. And that when she meets Mrs. Celia who doesn't seem to see the lines that clearly separate them. Minny begins to realize that even though Mrs. Celia is the social outcast of Jackson, Mississippi she may just be the only sane one there. She begins to consider Miss Skeeters idea.

Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan:
Skeeter is having a hard time understanding what happened to Constantine, the woman who practically raised her. Where did she go? Skeeter got home from Ole' Miss and she was just...gone. No one will tell her anything except: she moved to Tennessee. What was in Tennessee? Why couldn't she have at least said goodbye? She was more of a mother then her real mother. The world doesn't feel as right as it used too. Skeeter is starting to see the faults Jackson has not only in the laws but in the people. Like her best friend Hilly Holbrok. Why was she trying to pass this silly law about having segregated bathrooms in your house. YOUR HOUSE! wasn't there already enough segregation? All Skeeter has ever wanted to be was a writer. She was never sure what kind but now she is almost sure of it. After meeting Abilene through her best friend Elizabeth Leefolt and hearing about how Abilene's son had written a book on what it was like to be a black man in Mississippi before he died, she thinks about how maybe that is what she should be writing about now. Focusing on how "the help" is treated. It could be a best seller.

The Help:
Miss Skeeter, Abilene, Minny and many others will find their way in this amazing story about life.

I recommend this book strongly. I thought that the story was phenomenal and would read it over many times. If you want a ground breaking book, this is your top pick.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brother to a Dragonfly

Will Campbell was a new author to me. A friend had recommended I read this book long ago. In a conversation over dinner at our house one night, he started talking about this fellow preacher whom he had worked with long ago on civil rights issues in the South. This friend made it sound like an every day occurrence to spend time exploring civil rights down there, like it was just what you did. Since I was born in the '60's, my Civil Rights knowledge centers on book learning and my own adult explorations, and less on sitting on someone's back porch devising creative ways to fight discrimination nonviolently amidst some of the thickest KKK lands in the South. Ahem. I knew this book would give me a little more insight but not necessarily how much.

What I appreciated the most about this text is the voice: Campbell's writing sounds just like he is telling the story, from childhood to the death of his brother later in their adult lives. It is through his words that I came to identify the daily swept yard area between the house and the field, the deep, abiding love of a brother, and the trials and actions of a preacher who finds his own way of holding compassion for both the African Americans and the members of the KKK. His story weaves through the young brothers' early lives, when the boys learned about death the natural way of seeing a dead neighbor's body. It ties in transitions, like college and the Civilian Conservation Corp and how he came to identify as a preacher. But to me, it was the subtle truth of social justice that simply lived in Campbell's veins that most held me in the book. The story held me and filled in many missing puzzle pieces of my understanding of the people who lived in that treacherous time.

Alysa is in the midst of reading The Help. I found it nothing short of ironic and everything if not an opening when she began to read to me a short section of that text. After she finished talking about her amazement of racism as represented in Kathryn Stockett's book, I smiled, moved over next to her with Brother to a Dragonfly and entered the lovely door of book conversation with her. How timely was that!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Picture books galore!

I love picture books. With access to so many different authors, themes, depths, and styles, I feel complete license to search for new loves each time I go to the library. Recently I found a few new ones that I love I love picture books. With access to so many different authors, themes, depths, and styles, I feel complete license to search for new loves each time I go to the library. Recently I found a few new ones that I love, and I thought I would share here!

A Book for Black-Eyed Susan by Judy Young: the setting for this book is the Oregon Trail. My students (one group I teach are folks who are becoming elementary teachers) often ask about great texts on the Oregon Trail. Yep, we live in Oregon and elementary students study the Oregon Trail in third and fourth grade. This book frames the trials of a girl whose mother dies while giving birth to another child while in route to Oregon. The father decides he is only able to care for the older girl and allows his relatives to take the newborn. The story chronicles the young teen's growing up years and ends with her becoming a teacher. Read this book to find out the surprising ending (oh, I might have just given it away).

Running with the Horses by Alison Lester surprised me. The illustrations are striking enough, with black on white on color standing out for me. But the storyline offers a rich window into the views of life for a young girl growing up in WW II Vienna. Let's just say the pull of horses wins over the female in this story, a familiar yet powerful (often true) story time and again. Here, Nina and her father must flee Vienna with the horses from his stable. She chooses her favorite, which happens to not be her father's fav. Tension mounts, the rush of the impending war adds worry, but eventually, Nina takes her choice horse Zelda. The trip to Nina's grandparents is definitely filled with the awful mystery and unknown situations like this one carry. Lester's story carries heartbreak in a rich and life-giving way.

Finally a little humor! The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel offers the dog lovers in most of us a little realistic laugh. Max, the king's cook's dog, tastes everything for the king. He has a terrific little taster-- much better than my dogs'--but for some unknown reason, the king hates everything the cook makes. After dozens of cast- away dishes, the cook is dismissed. But not before Max learns the real reason for the king's hatred of what is cooked. Oppel creates a terrific ending in this book, one that will set readers up for a re-read many times of this story. The illustrations are funny on their own and add great realism to a funny storyline. Enjoy this one!

Monday, August 22, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes

I really enjoyed the book 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I thought that it was a book that had everything. Adventure, romance, suspense, mystery, everything. I would read this book again and again. It also really made me want to go to Europe. I thought that the character development was amazing. Ginny, the main character, really found herself in this book. I also enjoyed how when she would open one of the envelopes to read the letter, the page would turn in to what it might look like if you glued a real page in to the book.

Ginny's Aunt Peg disappeared for two years, with almost no communication at all. No one really knew what happened to her until news comes that Aunt Peg had died of a brain tumor. Ginny doesn't know what to think. Aunt Peg was one of the most lively people that Ginny had ever know. And then the letters came. 13 to be exact. From Aunt Peg. Telling her that she has to travel around Europe and she cant open the next envelope until she has completed the task in the current envelope. All Ginny knows is that she must go. The envelopes lead her through out Europe, giving her new experiences with art and the culture, meeting a striving young artist named Keith, and a man named Richard who is mysteriously connected to her aunt. Ginny won't only learn about the beauty of the world, but about the girl she really is.

I very much recommend this book, and the sequel: The Last Little Blue Envelope. I hope that you will find as much joy in it as i did!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kings of Colorado

Alysa is all wrapped up in preparations for the India Festival, so I told her I would write an entry. Look for her to review some books soon!

My new favorite author is David E. Hilton. I just stumbled over this book in the new books section of our library. Liked the cover, the title, figured what the heck. What the heck is right: this guy's writing is clean, concise, engaging, and full of voice. What a simple and powerful story teller he is. I was so surprised by the way he wrote this tale, and I had a hard time putting it down from the start.

A rather grim tale, Hilton's Kings of Colorado frames the gruesome life of 13-year-old Will Shepard, whose father repeatedly beats and injures both Will and his mother. Will hits his breaking point, injures the father, and for punishment, gets sent to a working ranch in the Colorado high country. For those of you who know a little about my history, I loved growing up in Colorado. However it is not the scenery and place that so captured me in this book; rather it is the development of relationships and the being true to self that so shine loudly here. The ranch is a place of continuing power imbalances, where adults tell what to do and the boys do what they are told. Beatings and disrespect are routine, and fights between boys consistently occur. But somehow, with the ranch's nurse serving in a stellar role, a few of the boys find their way to truth. Several of the boys become fast friends with Will, and even amidst great trials, Will continues to find his way back to being who he was born to be. The book has a surprising ending, one that I really appreciated.

Salvation: how possible is it for us to make mistakes in life and still find our ways to living who we believe we are meant to be? It is books like this one that reminds me I am not so far off the dreamer's path as I thought.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Capturing Car Reads

One of the pleasures of driving vacations is time in the car to read. I have always appreciated my body's comfort with not getting carsick, and I love to disappear into a good book while someone else drives. So our trip to British Columbia gave me some good time to sink into some great books.

Lucky by Alice Sebold
Alice is the author of The Lovely Bones, a much-talked about and reviewed book that I totally want to read now about a family trying to find their way through the loss of one of the teen daughters. The reviews, both from many of my friends and a variety of bookstores, point to an intense read, both honest and horrific, clarifying and hopeful. Sebold held onto dueling tensions in Lucky as well, her memoir written before her highly successful second book The Lovely Bones. In Lucky, Sebold explores her experience with and healing journey through an awful sexual assault during her freshman year of college. She spares no details in this stark write up, framing repeatedly for us readers her lens for finding herself after such a massive loss. She literally frames her life through before and after in numerous ways, actions and words that helped me the reader balance who she was and who she became through her decisions and explorations. One of the pieces I most appreciated about this memoir is her centered honesty. Even when telling very personal details, Alice stands strong in her own grounding. It is a powerful book, one I encourage you to check out if the subject area invites you in.

Ghost Girl by Torey Hayden
The second book I read was a little different in focus. I began reading Torey Hayden's nonfiction books years ago. She writes about her experiences as a special education teacher for highly involved and challenged young learners. Her stories never fail to capture me, making it quite easy for me to ignore conversations right next to me or music playing loudly in the car, much to the (at times) frustration of my family! This time I read Ghost Girl, also an intense read but a little more emotionally distant for me. Ghost Girl is the story of Hayden's experience teaching a young girl who was selectively mute. Torey enters the classroom mid-year as a specialist with substantial experience working with selective mutes. Her inquisitive nature and unending dedication to her students rises admirably in this story. I always appreciate how Torey's writing literally puts me into her brain, as if she is asking questions, considering options, and casting off ideas with me having the conversation in the same room at the same time with her. Her stories always represent a side of teaching often left off the national table of import these days: relationship. This reread didn't disappoint me on our trip. In fact, it inspired me to order more of her work from the library.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Life Undecided

My Life Undecided by Jessica Brody was a perfect read. I loved everything about it. It wasn't one of those books where it's totally predictable that the main character is going to do this, or fall in love with them, or become friends with that person, so i really liked it. I thought that it was super well written and that the character development was amazing. Brooklyn, the main character, was pretty much a different person at the end of the book. I also loved how she would write blog entries in the book and i was able to see what her web page looked like. It was just one of those books where you keep thinking about it and continue to find different meanings to it. I will defiantly be making a trip to the book store to purchase this book!

Brooklyn has never been very good at making the right choices, in fact she can't remember the last time when she did anything right. It all started when she was two years old and followed that little green lizard down the mine shaft. It took fifty-two hours for them to get her out, and ever since then, she has been known for making bad choices. Like now. As she is being lowered in to the back of a cop car after burning down her mothers model home, Brooklyn realizes that she has to change something especially since things are going from bad to worse. Grounded. Community service at the nursing home for three months. And her once popular life is now the life of a loser. That's when she realizes that she can't make any more decisions on her own. She is putting her faith in to people she has never met before by making a blog and having them vote on what decision she should make. And just like that her life is turning around. Even though the blog readers are making her make some pretty weird choices such as trying out for the rugby team, and not letting her go to the new club downtown with the really cute senior guy (which she really can't understand) they have made some decisions that have turned out better then she thought. Like joining the debate team. Which Brooklyn thought was going to be a total disaster, but with the help of her cute but dorky partner, she is finding her way. And then there is Mrs.Moody at the nursing home who may just teach Brooklyn the biggest lesson of all.

Quote from the book:
And what have i learned since then? Thirteen years later? Well, judging by the slew of various emergency vehicles lining the street...not a whole lot.
So it isn't until right now, at this very second-with the sirens blaring, the crowd of people gathering to try and steal a gossip-worthy peek, and the overall chaos of a good idea turned very bad-that i start to think my parents might just be onto something.
Because when you're being handcuffed and lowered into the backseat of a squad car, you kind of have to start reconsidering the way you live your life.
-Page 5

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone. Even if you don't normally read books like this, your going to like it. There is a little something for everyone in it. It's the perfect summer read.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


When my cousins came to visit earlier this summer, we took a trip too Powells and stocked up on books for the summer. One of my cousins, Amelia, purchased a book called Matched by Ally Condie. I had read the inside cover and thought that it sounded extremely interesting. I found that it reminded me a lot of the Uglies series but that it was also very different. So anyway, once we got home all of us went straight to reading, totally absorbed in our books. After what had seemed like a very short time but was really more like two hours, we all came back to the world to discuss our books. Amelia was the one to say the least about her book, saying that we had to read it to find out, which of course made me want to read it even more, i also noticed that she was already half way through so it must have been very good.

A month or so passed after they left and i couldn't stop thinking about Matched. So when my mom and i walked to Powells, i knew that i had to buy it. And it was amazing! It was very well written and totally captavaited me. I could not put it down. now I understood how Amelia had gotton half way through in a sitting. It was not what i had expected and that was a good thing.

In the world that Cassia lives in, the officials decide everything. Where you work, who you love and even when you die. Cassie has been dreaming of the day when she would turn seventeen so that she could be matched ever since she was a little girl. And now it is finally happening. She knows that this is going to be the best night of her life, not only because she can wear a pretty dress instead of her regular plain clothes and eat the most Delicious calorie loaded food apposed to the vitamin flavorless food she usually eats, but also because this is the night when she finds out who she loves, who she will spend the rest of her life with and build a family. So then when she finds out that she is matched with her best friend Xander, everything seems to be perfect. I mean, what are the odds of getting matched with someone you know, none the less, your best friend? Pretty much 0 to 1. Even though Cassie knows Xander better then anyone, she still wants to find out what the Officials thought she should know about him and puts the little chip in to the port. But what she sees will change her future forever. Another face shows up. Ky Markham. The mysterious boy who came from the outer provinces and seems to somehow know so much more. Cassie will have to decide, does she follow her heart? Or do whats right?

I loved this book, and would recommend it to anyone. Even if you dont like Sci-Fi books, this is a love story that will keep you anxiously reading.

Crossed the second book is comming out on November 1st! So if you read Matched and love it, then you can pre-order Crossed now!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Are you done yet?

Alysa stood beside me, inquiring into my slowness at finishing the first of the Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling. I just smiled, likely making some small sound confirming her statement and continued reading. Dumbledore was speaking after all. I could hear the voice of that wise, delightful wizard in my head--he is one of my favorite characters! I wonder which of my relatives are or were most like him.

I can hear him now: "And I must trouble you with an old man's wheezing waffle before we sink our teeth into our delicious feast. What a year it has been! Hopefully your heads are a little fuller than they have the whole summer ahead to get them nice and empty before next year starts..."(Page 304, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone)

Old man's wheezing waffle? Where does she get these phrases?

"Snape was shaking Professor McGonagall's hand, with a horrible, forced smile. He caught Harry's eye and Harry knew at once that Snape's feelings toward him hadn't changed one jot." (Page 307)

Jot??? I have been giggling over and over of the language Rowling uses. But it is Harry's last lines, the ones where I can see his face ever so clearly speaking truth to how he might deal with the Dursleys over the summer, that really have me caught. Rowling wrote, "They don't know we aren't allowed to use magic at home. I am going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer..."

Ahhh, the joys of summer. I had forgotten how pleasurable it can be to slowly read, word for word, a just-for-me book. Chapters longer than blog entries and emails and story lines that create mind images of a school I long have thought would have been beyond magical to attend, and just enough terrific adults to mentor us all in battling the evils of the world. Excuse me, I need to go to the bookshelf and pull out the next title, something about some Chamber of Secrets....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

What were you doing December 25, 1998? What mind memory do you recall now, 13 years later?

I recall exactly: I was reading Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. Alysa was a teeny little 6 month old, having come home earlier in the month. Oregon's winter was dark and gloomy, wet with rain and a little freezing cold thrown in for good measure. It had even snowed earlier that day but it had melted by the time I sat down with the glorious gift of this book from my mother.

She picks books really well for me-- especially this one. While I have no idea if my sister and brother even read this book or the series, I know that I couldn't put this book down. In fact, I disappeared into this gem, only to resurface later when I had finished it. This would happen 6 more times, as the other books in the series came out.

I love the Harry Potter series. Love it! Each time a new one came out, I HAD to buy it. Had to: no borrowing here. I have had several books that rank with this type of dedication: Where the Red Fern Grows, Shane, Five Smooth Stones, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, The Narnia Chronicles, Deadline all among the long list. These books I had read and reread many times. But not the beloved J.K.Rowling books. I know, I know: I can hear your surprise and scorn from here. You likely are ahead of me, having reread this series years ago. Well, just know that I am joining you now.

Surprised by the details my brain selectively forgot and warmed by all that I remember, I am loving this book AGAIN. True Harry roots guide me further into the Wizard world: those nasty relatives the Dursleys, Hagrid (I would love to hang with Hagrid), Ron, Hermoine, Quidditch. I still think I was born in the wrong time period--aging has not changed how I can see myself as a Quidditch seeker. I can feel the closed-in limits of the room under the stairs that the Dursleys force Harry to live in. I can almost feel the soft, white feathers of Hedwig. I can imagine the dire worry of sitting under the Sorting Hat. Draco is one of many bullying characters that remind me of others in my life that I find my way to have compassion for. McGonagall and Dumbledore live in me like a few other teachers, and Howarts sounds like a school that I could have seriously gotten in trouble at (while also finding my way to be a good witch!).

But greatest, my admiration of J.K.Rowling renews with each word I read. I remember my utter amazement of her writing way back on those dark winter days in 1998 when I read the beginning of the series. As her life story became more public, my admiration grew closer to worship. How many napkins have I written on in my writing past, only to ball them up and toss 'em? Rowling refused to let her dire life situations stop that inner voice that told her to write. And now 13 years later, I am reminded of the power of the printed word, of stories that hold onto dreams, of worlds that must be written about.

Excuse me, I must go read some more.