Sunday, September 2, 2012

August Reading Recap

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010, Graphix) --- Raina is just a few days away from getting braces when it happens. She trips on the sidewalk, lands flat on her face, mouth gushing blood, and two of her front teeth are missing. Well, one has fallen out, and the other is squashed up into her gums. Awesome. So begins her agonizing teeth-related adventures. This autobiographical graphic novel follows Raina through middle school, where she deals with so-called friends, boy troubles, and lots of trips to the orthodontist. You'll laugh tons, feel bad for her some, and most of all, be happy it's not you! If you've read and loved this one, check out Telgemeier's new graphic novel, Drama, with a new set of characters but the same hilarity and charm.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (2008, Henry Holt & Co) --- Jenna Fox has been in a coma for the past year. When she wakes up, she can't remember anything. She doesn't recognize her mother or her father, and she doesn't seem to know simple words for things. Besides her memory being fuzzy, she gets the feeling that something is not right. Her father is still living on the other side of the country, while Jenna and her mom are holed up in a fixer-upper house, in an isolated part of town. When Jenna slowly uncovers some devastating secrets about her accident, she doesn't know how she'll ever trust her parents again, or live with herself. Great dystopia to add to your collection, folks.

Fever by Lauren DeStefano (2012, Simon & Schuster) --- This is the sequel to Wither, so if you haven't read that yet, I suggest you skip this section. Seriously. Okay, I warned you. Rhine and Gabriel have escaped from her husband's mansion, and they're hoping to find their way to New York to reunite with Rhine's brother. But the journey is long and not without bumps. If I thought that Wither was a little strange, I have no idea what to say about this book. I couldn't put it down, but I couldn't tell you why. Mostly, I just wanted to be done with it. But like all good trilogies, the surprising twists at the end left me needing to read the last book in the series, which will be out sometime eventually. Another dystopia. I know, I have a problem.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007, Razorbill) --- Clay Jensen gets a package in the mail, no return address, with 13 cassette tapes in it. On the tapes, Hannah Baker tells the stories of the 13 people who helped bring her to the decision to commit suicide. Listen to find out where you rank on the list, Clay. The tapes are circulating amongst those 13 people so that each person can know what they did to Hannah to bring her to such drastic measures. Oh, how painful this book was to read. I want to say that I hated it and that I put it down instantly. But I was morbidly curious, and I had to finish it. Other books that also made me feel uncomfortable and sick to my stomach include The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (2012, Poppy/Little Brown) --- Hadley's at the airport, ready to hop on a plane to London to attend her father's second wedding, except the plane is already down the runway.  Rescheduling to catch the next flight, Hadley's now stuck at the airport, an emotional wreck, when a cute British boy comes to her rescue. The two get to talking and spend the entire flight together sharing stories. Once the plane lands, reality sets back in and Hadley is whisked away to get ready lightning fast for this wedding she really doesn't want to witness. Yeah, I thought this was going to be a sweet love story, but it's really more about Hadley and her relationship with her dad, which is fine but not what I was led to believe by the adorable cover and title of the book. Sorry if I just ruined it for you. Just thought I'd give a fair warning.

I can't believe that's the last of my summer reading! I sure hope I can find time to squeeze some books in this month. Speaking of which, I'm off to go read...


Sunday, August 5, 2012

July Reading Recap

Let's get right to it - I'm pretty impressed by my July reading. Hope I can keep up the momentum in August...

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles (Flux, 2007) --- I love Simone Elkeles. She's a mom from the suburbs of Chicago who decided one day that she felt like writing romance books for teens. How do you not love her? This one's about Caleb, who's just been released from juvie, where he served a year for a hit and run while drunk driving. His co-star, love interest is Maggie, who he hit and severely injured in aforementioned incident. How the two end up on speaking terms, let alone entangled in a romantic relationship, is very hard to imagine, but Elkeles makes it happen. Life takes them both in unexpected directions, that's for sure. As always, an enjoyable, if not so plausible, story.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Atheneum, 2010) --- Melody is an 11 year-old girl who senses colors when she hears music and has a whole lot of deep thoughts and musings - but she can't quite communicate them. She has cerebral palsy, and she's spent most of her life without control over her limbs or the ability to speak clearly. This, then, leads people to believe that Melody is dumb, especially the students in her grade at school. But obviously, this is not the case, and Melody is just waiting for the chance to show her peers and her family that she has loads to say. While not my favorite book ever, it is definitely one I think should be read because of its unique perspective.

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (Dutton Children's, 2012) --- I wish I could read this book again right now. Or I wish I had paid more attention the first time and recorded all those quotable lines. Because I could give you a plot summary, but that won't tell you much about why I LOVED this book. (I'm going to anyway.) The Disenchantments are a teen band made up of three girls and their manager friend Colby. Since forever, Colby and Bev have been planning on taking a year off after high school and traveling Europe. But before they can start on their global tour, the band will be making its last rounds around the country since most of them have just graduated. Essentially, it's a music-themed road trip novel. BUT IT'S SO MUCH MORE! It's all about the relationships in this one. And the notion of living in the moment because pretty soon everything is going to change. And how to deal with that change but still enjoy their time together now. Oh, just go read it already!

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (HarperCollins, 2006) --- Ginny's just received a package in the mail from her beloved aunt (who also happens to be dead), and in it are instructions to pack a bag and head to the airport. She has 13 adventures to unfold in each little blue envelope, but she can only open one at a time. London, Amsterdam, Paris, and much more - Ginny travels through Europe on a quest to understand her aunt better and lead a more interesting life of her own. For those of us longing to travel, this seems like the right book to do it vicariously.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Simon & Schuster, 2011) --- Summary says it best: "By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children. When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape..." I'm a sucker for dystopias, what can I say? But the more I read, the less wowed I am. I definitely enjoyed this book and will be reading its sequel, but they've fallen into my comfort zone (books as food) of reading. 

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson (Disney, 2006) --- I don't know how many times I almost picked this book up but then was put off both by its size and cover illustrations (I'm horrible, I know). So, when it showed up on the Battle of the Books list, I finally had no choice but to read it. I thought I'd slug through it and just be tired. Not the case! First off, had I known that it was written as a prequel to Peter Pan, I may have felt differently. There's loads of adventure and humor, and we learn how Peter and his lost boys came to live in Never Land, or a version of it, at least.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Harper, 2011) --- Recommended to me by my 4th and 5th grade Vietnamese students. They kept passing the library copy around, so I just bought my own. I can see why they liked it so much. The beginning is set in wartime Saigon but describes the everyday culture and life well. The latter half of the book relates the ELL experience, learning the language, eating weird American food, and fitting in at school (or really, really not), among other things. The snippet says, "Inspired by the author's own childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam as a refugee and immigrating to Alabama, this tween novel told in verse is sure to capture young readers' hearts and open their eyes."

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (Scholastic, 1993) --- I read this book because it's on our Battle of the Books list this year. It's a friendship story between Max, a giant of an eighth grader with a seemingly small intellect, and Freak, the one with the small body but ginormous brain. The two team up to become Freak the Mighty, which you can see on the cover, illustrated by David Shannon. I don't really have much to say about this book. Some people absolutely love it and think it's the most touching tale of friendship. Eh. It was fine. It's dated, for sure. I'm curious to see what my students will think of it. 

ttyl by Lauren Myracle (Abrams, 2004) --- You would think that with the amount of times this book has ended up on ALA's Most Frequently Challenged Books list that I would have certainly have read this one already. Nope. Not until recently. And like always, I have no idea what was so offensive. The book is told through instant messages between three best friends (which is now a dated concept, I think), so you can imagine what it's like. Chatting about school, girls they despise, boys they like, things they're excited about, things that stress them out - just eavesdrop on some teen girls gossiping and you basically get this book. Why the girls like it? Because they can relate. Why the adults hate it? Because they don't want their little baby girls to relate. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012) --- You know about this book, right? You've probably read it already. I don't know what took me so long. I guess there are only so many cancer books I can read in one summer. Ah, but this one is so much more than that. Cancers aside, Hazel and Augustus are just two normal teens hopelessly enamored with each other. The blurb says, "Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind." I haven't loved all of John Green's books, I'll admit, but this one I do indeed love. So much that a quote from the book is going up on my library wall! 


Sunday, July 1, 2012

June Reading Recap

These past couple months have been a blur. Moving, traveling, nonstop furniture shopping (when will it end?!), attempting to cook healthier meals at home, and looking for and finally finding a job (and not just any job, but basically my dream job thankyouverymuch) have pretty much dominated my waking hours. So, it's no surprise that I only managed to read 3 books in June. See, I'm not a stress-reader. In fact, I'm the opposite. When I'm super busy and slightly stressed, I stop reading altogether. It's a sad, sad tale. But I'm better now. Anyhow, onward to the reading material!

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford (Hyperion, 2009) --- I heard about this book a few months ago because it was being challenged at an Oklahoma middle school (in the end, it was not removed from the library). What's better to draw a crowd than a potential book banning, I say? But, it pains me to admit - I completely understand why the mother wanted this book off the shelves. My goodness! Crawford truly lets us into the inner workings of the teenage male mind, no holds barred. Carter is just starting high school, and there is basically one thing on his mind - he needs to lose his virginity already. Mind you, it's hilarious (sad for Carter, I'm sure) and totally relatable, but I was taken aback by how matter-of-fact and blatantly sexist some parts were. From watching broken porno tapes permanently on fast forward to learning which base corresponds with which sexual encounter to trying out for every sport at school in the hopes of gaining popularity, Carter really just is trying to figure it out. And as you can tell by the title of the book...

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (HarperTeen, 2012) --- How many times have I told myself not to start reading a series unless it has been published in its entirety? I think it's time authors started realizing the agony they put us through. I loved Divergent, but I read it half a year ago, so my connection to the series just wasn't there anymore. Chicago! Dystopia! Things that excite me, to be sure. But I don't remember why all the factions are fighting each other. And I don't know why Tris is running for her life just about all the time. I read the book quickly, as I generally do with these dystopia-types. Sure, I liked it. But I can't say much more than that. I'm sure you can find rave reviews elsewhere.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (MTV Books, 1999) --- I read this book in high school when it was first published, and I've been reading it every couple years since then. I don't do this with any other book, so I guess that makes it my favorite. I love Charlie. I love love love him. The entire book is told through letters that Charlie writes to a mysterious, unnamed "friend." He writes about his first year of high school (set in the 90s), the upperclassmen friends he makes, and life as he sees it. He's naive and definitely a wallflower - he watches others and wonders why they do what they do. He's not the most socially adjusted, but that's just part of his charm. The movie comes out in September, and it looks nothing like what I imagine the book to be. Of course, I'm going to see it anyway.

Hello July, what books will you bring me this month?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions of a spoiled librarian

Beware, folks - this is about to get personal. And perhaps wordy. No book reviews today. Just thinking about how libraries affect my reading habits. But first, some context...

In the last month, I've finished off my second full year as an elementary school librarian; packed, moved, and unpacked my entire life four states southeast; and spent two weeks overseas - all the while, looking for another job as a school librarian in my new locale. Reading, unfortunately, has not been a priority as of late.

Now that I'm sitting on my new couch in my new house and I have some time to reflect, I can't help but think of how spoiled I've been all my life. I've always lived in a place:
  1. with a public library 
  2. with a thriving public library 
  3. with a thriving public library only a 5 minute drive away
Sure, I know that not everyone is this fortunate. But thinking you know and experiencing it for yourself are two very different things, my friends. 

When I moved to Champaign six years ago, my family was busy unloading the truck while I drove myself over to the public library just four minutes away to get my library card. And I instantly checked out an armful of books to be enjoyed amongst my unpacked boxes later that night. That's normal, right? 

On my most recent move, I'm embarrassed to say that it took nearly a week for me to get myself over to the public library. Mostly because I was first rejected by the library that I thought I would call my own (it's a county library, yet it's named for the town I live in - confusing). Because I live in another county, I did a little research to find out where my actual library is - in a town 20 minutes away. Really?! (Again, you must remember how spoiled I've been - libraries, to me, are like grocery stores. They need to be within walking distance.) 

The library itself is a nice little library. I even checked out a book when I got my card. A book. Not an armful. Instead, I went to the Barnes & Noble (also 20 minutes away, but in the other direction) to buy some books. Me! Buy books! Unheard of. But what was I to do when the library didn't have what I wanted? This is something I've never experienced before, and it perplexes me. I'm used to having a stack of books sitting next to me, wherever I may be sitting in my house, just begging to be read. I've always had plenty of reading options. 

And this gets me thinking about my kids. Or my former students, rather. And how they would lament that the library didn't have anything good. Because they had something specific in mind, and maybe we didn't have it or it was checked out at the time. But instead of letting them leave the library empty-handed, I put my reader's advisory skills to use, and I helped them find another book they might like. Maybe they'd read it, or maybe it would stay in their backpack all week long. If they read it, maybe they'd like it and want more, or maybe they'd still feel that big, gaping hole of what they actually wanted to read. This is my long-winded way of saying - I get it now. I'm sorry we didn't always have what you wanted to read, and I understand that it's utterly disappointing. 

Though, I really shouldn't wallow and bemoan my new library. It's different than the one I had before, and I just have to adapt. No longer will I be checking out dozens of books just to have options at home - but for having to drive 40 minutes, I'd really like to. Maybe I'll spend more time at the library, browsing, and being my own reader's advisor. Finding older authors and titles that I never had a chance to read before. And if I really, really want that new release, I guess there's always the bookstore. 

What I'm most afraid of is that I'll read less. I won't be as excited about reading. I'll get bored. I won't go to the library because it's too far away. Or maybe I just won't go as frequently because it's so far away. 

I never understood people who didn't go to the library in my previous towns. We had fantastic libraries with plenty of branches to serve everyone. Now I wonder about the people in my neighborhood. Do they go to the library? Are they readers? How do they acquire their reading material? And what about the kids? Especially now that it's summer, and they aren't checking out books from their school libraries. They can't walk or ride their bikes to the library or even a bookstore. So are they not reading? Whenever my students couldn't find what they were looking for at our library, I always directed them to the public libraries in town, which were in walking distance and/or easily accessible by bus. Some went, some didn't, but they all had the option. What happens when you eliminate that option?

Times like these, I feel very sheltered. And, of course, spoiled. I may not have had the healthiest book budget for my school library, but my public libraries were well-funded and loved. The community supported them and patronized them frequently. Is this the case with my new library? Or are people as lazy as me and not happy to travel the miles to visit and check out a book? 

I hope that the answer to some of these questions is that more people are reading e-books, so they're just downloading their books, whether borrowed from the library or purchased online. I would be too if my Kindle hadn't just died right after the warranty expired (I mean, just days after! It's like they timed it!). Maybe I'll start reading on my iPad more, since I still have Kindle books purchased that I haven't read yet. But I don't want to lose reading paper books. And with this quote, I think I'll wrap this blog entry up (which read much more like a diary entry - my apologies) on a lighter note:
Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell... musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is... it has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um... smelly.
-Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 8)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

April Reading Recap

The next few months will be sparse, both in blogging and reading. Life is moving too fast, and I must remember to stop and look around. :)

Which is how I'm six days into May, and I haven't blogged about my April reading yet! Eek!

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2012) --- I LOVE this book! It's my favorite book of the year, easily. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Ivan is the gorilla on the cover, and he lives on display in a mall, with a couple of other animals that are meant to attract tourists. Ivan's gift is art - he loves to paint. The story is told in short chapters in his voice, and it's lovely. Sad, of course, since wild animals are really not meant to be held captive, but also sweet and sensitive with a touch of humor. I'm a big crybaby, so I was sobbing through most of this book, but that just signals a job well done in the writing department, I think. Oh, this is an instant all-time favorite!

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg (2011) --- I bought this book for my library with my 2nd and 3rd grade students in mind, especially the ones that love Eileen Spinelli's novels in verse (Where I Live & The Dancing Pancake). It's the story of a little girl who has to deal with losing her first and favorite babysitter (the babysitter moves away), which can be a hard thing. It's sweet and emotionally on target.

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator! by Mo Willems (2011) --- It's by Mo Willems, so I'm supposed to love this book. The kiddos will, for sure. Especially since it has chapters. And it's in his signature style. But I'm not a fan of this one. It's a friendship story, I guess. But I prefer me some Elephant & Piggie any day.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (2011) --- I read this when it came out last year and was unimpressed, but after I bought it for the library and read it again, I learned to appreciate its genius. It's one of those books that kids will get right away - they'll be shouting at you (the book) during storytime because they know something the main character doesn't know. And that's a wonderful thing. :)

Yoko Learns to Read by Rosemary Wells (2012) --- I can't look at this book with an objective eye because it's been such a hit with one of our 1st grade ESL classes. First of all, who doesn't love Rosemary Wells? Yes, she gave us Max & Ruby, but she also gave us Yoko & Friends, and I just love this little Japanese cat. This is the story of Yoko learning to read in English, something even her mother can't do. But her mother does read to her every night, from one of the three Japanese books that they own. Oh, this is such a touching story about a parent learning to read in English right alongside her child, not uncommon among our international student population.

Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider (2011) --- This is an early reader, and it won the Geisl Award, so I decided to read it when it came in a box filled with new books. It's supposed to be a clever tale, I think, with a father outsmarting his son by getting the son to eat foods that are not all that appealing to him. The chapters are very short and each describe a different food incident. Eh, I didn't love it. And I don't know if kids will pick it up on their own. Best to be shared with a family member, perhaps.

Getting Started with English Language Learners by Judie Haynes (2007) --- Read this for a professional development book club. Because I've been working with ESL students for 3 years now, I felt like I learned much of the content in this book on the job. Probably should have read it a couple years ago! I did appreciate the first chapter on debunking common language myths (no, children don't acquire language faster or better than adults - differently, yes). The appendix is also rather useful.

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