Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What to Read Next

Ever feel like you need a hand in deciding what to read next? Michelle Koh at teach.com sent us this wonderful infographic to give you a heads-up. There are some fantastic books on here ... I know I'll be adding a few to my stack! The Young Adult Summer Reading Flowchart
Brought to you by Teach.com

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gift of Life - Keily J. Adey

Summary:  Through multiple miscarriages, infertility and the possibility of giving birth to a child with special needs, Keily J. Adey and her husband Paul, struggle to create the family that they have always wanted.

Her diary, a personal and graphic account of their life; the indignity and dismay of public heartache and medical examinations are an insight into how age, past medical history and money can all affect a strong relationship and the prospect of ever becoming a family.  (Book given free for review, summary from back of the book, and image from http://iheartsbooks.wordpress.com/)

My Review:  This is such a touchy subject.  One that I won't even pretend to fully understand.  Thankfully, Keily's experience has a happy ending.  That is not the experience of all who must take this road.  If you're needing a book to give you hope, this might be the one.  If you're looking for someone who also struggled to create a family, this might be it.  If you're looking for a realistic version of how sometimes you don't get what you fight for, this will probably just depress or anger you.  I only write that disclaimer because I have several friends where the outcome wasn't the same, the decision as to what to do next had to be different, and sometimes hearing someone else get what they wanted all along would be too much to read.

Conceiving and/or carrying a child is such a fascinating experience--whether it happens magically quick or takes years.  What I love about this portrayal is how Keily embodied everything it means to really yearn for a child, to create a family.  She was willing to do whatever it might take to have that child--and you get to see just what that means.  It is no easy process.  Having a child, whether through IVF or not, is no cakewalk.  Add to it the IVF scenario and it gets so much harder.  Dignity is checked at the door.  Humility is required full force.  And Keily does this with grace.  It was so heartwarming, in this day and age when we see many educated couples choose the DINK (Dual Income No Kids) lifestyle, to see a husband and wife desire so earnestly for the joy of a family.  Sometimes I feel we are a rarity--those of us who cherish our families, our children.  I found comfort in that aspect.

I'm afraid to say that the writing is poor.  Run-ons, comma splices, bad grammar, sadly, the list goes on.  That's not to say the message is lost.  And if there's something to be said about grammar and conventions, it's this:  it aids the story, but cannot destroy it completely.  Could this book be that much stronger with a better editor and writing?  Definitely.  Would I still recommend this book to friends regardless? You bet.  I did enjoy the subtle differences in dialect and word choice--Keily is from England.  (Nappies.  What a great word.)  Keily makes this experience real and personal.  It's worth the read.

For the sensitive reader:  Swear words thrown in, discussion of sex, but mostly in relation to how it becomes drudgery when dealing with infertility.

Rating: 3 stars

Sum it up: One couple's journey through infertility, miscarriage, and finally birth.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Inexcusable - Chris Lynch

Summary: I am a good guy. 
Keir Sarafian may not know much, but he knows himself.  And the one thing he knows about himself is that he is a good guy.  A guy who’s a devoted son and brother, a loyal friend, and a reliable teammate.  And maybe most important of all, a guy who understands that when a girl says no, she means it.  But that is not what Gigi Boudakian, childhood friend and Keir’s lifelong love, says he is.  What Gigi says he is seems impossible to Keir…It is something inexcusable—the worst thing he can imagine, the very opposite of everything he wants to be.
As Keir recalls the events leading up to his fateful night with Gigi, he realizes that the way things look are definitely not the way they really are—and that it may be all too easy for a good guy to do something terribly wrong.
Chris Lynch has written a no-holds-barred story about truth, lies, and responsibility—a story that every good guy needs to hear.  (Summary from back of the book and image from books.simonandschuster.com)

My Review:  I had a horrible time trying to get through this book.  Really.  And it's not even written at a difficult reading level.  By that standard, I should have breezed through this in a day.  But I didn't and here's why: Have you ever wanted to read 200 pages of teenage boy inner-rambling dialogue?  No?  Me neither.  

This book was recommended to me by a librarian as a companion book to Speak--a fantastic book despite the subject matter of a girl trying to heal after rape.  What a let down after reading the artful craft that Anderson produces.  The idea of reading this book is to get the opposite perspective, which I was on board with hearing another point of view.  And while it does give insight into the mind of an abuser and how innocent he views himself, it is disgusting and perverse.  Anyone who can rationalize away all the horrible things he's done, over and over again, and then take it to the level of raping a life-long crush not thinking it was wrong, is deranged. Reading it I felt dirty and disgusted most of the time.  I can't say that I feel I understand that mind any better.  It's just so very wrong, so very distorted.  I cannot recommend this book.  I just can't.

For the sensitive reader:  It's depicting a rape from the abusers point of view--that alone should be a sign that you don't just hand this to any kid.  It also depicts a single father taking his 18 year old son out to a bar and drinking with him.  Plenty of things to be wary of in this book. 

Rating: 2 Stars--and only because it took on a very difficult perspective.  I have no idea how one would try and paint the abusers side, but Lynch did fairly well considering.

Sum it up:  Such a frustrating, disturbing, deranged read.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Under the Never Sky - Veronica Rossi

Cover art from indiebound.org
Summary: Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she's never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He's searching for someone too. He's also wild - a savage - but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other's best hope for finding answers.

My Review: "They called the world beyond the walls of the Pod 'the Death Shop.' A million ways to die out there. Aria never thought she'd get so close."

 Aria is nice and safe inside the Pod, a place completely separate from the outside world meant to keep out disease and germs. Inside the Pod... a place where life is carefully regulated so people can live hundreds of years. Inside the Pod... where all living is digital to maximize enjoyment while minimizing risk. Inside the Pod... where all wear computers in their eyes used for everything from communicating to traveling to tasting food. Oh yes, Aria is nice and safe inside the Pod, until one day she takes a risk that doesn't pay off and is cast out of the pod. Outside the Pod... where the very air could kill her. Outside the Pod... where cannibals roam and violent storms destroy all in sight without warning. Outside the Pod... where life consists of danger and risk. Outside the Pod... where one handsome hunter is seeking answers of his own. Outside the Pod... where love can truly be found. Outside the Pod... where the carefully hidden secrets of the Pod begin to unravel. Outside the Pod... where life can truly begin.

Under the never Sky is a bit confusing in the beginning and thus somewhat difficult to get into. But this book eventually grabs the reader and refuses to let go. Aria instantly becomes likable and easy to relate to. She is strong yet vulnerable. The story is full of mystery, action, and a budding romance. What's not to like? Furthermore the title leaves you longing for more. Good thing this is just the first in a trilogy.

My Rating: 4 stars The beginning of the book does not do this title justice, yet the last half is 5+ stars. Truly my favorite dystopian young adult novel since The Hunger Games.

Sensitive readers: There is one love scene, though not detailed it does elude to a sexual encounter.

To Sum it up: Fans of dystopian fiction you must pick this one it up. It will not disappoint!

Also check out the next title in this series:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Humorous Picture Books

I love reading to my children. At this stage we are mostly beyond picture books and onto juvenile chapter books and even some young adult titles. Yet occasionally I still get the opportunity to enjoy a picture book. And I vividly recall those nights that found us reading the same picture book for the umpteenth time. Several titles I have completely memorized at this point! Some my favorites are those that induce giggling. Below is a short list of laugh-out-loud picture books we still enjoy.
Cover art and descriptions from Goodreads.com.

More Bears – Kevin Nesbitt

"Once upon a time there was a story. It was a lovely story with absolutely NO BEARS in it-not a SINGLE BEAR anywhere."

"Then one day...MORE BEARS!"

Chester –  Melanie Watt

Chester is more than a picture book. It is a story told, and retold, by dueling author-illustrators. 
Melanie Watt starts out with the story of a mouse in a house. Then Melanie's cat, Chester, sends the mouse packing and proceeds to cover the pages with rewrites from his red marker, and the gloves are off. Melanie and her mouse won't take Chester's antics lying down. And Chester is obviously a creative powerhouse with confidence to spare. Where will this war of the picture-book makers lead? Is it a one-way ticket to Chesterville, or will Melanie get her mouse production off the ground?

The Stinky Cheese Man - Jon Scieszka

The entire book, with its unconventional page arrangement and eclectic, frenetic mix of text and pictures, is a spoof on the art of book design and the art of the fairy tale. The individual tales, such as The Really Ugly Duckling and Little Red Running Shorts,can be extracted for telling aloud, with great success. Another masterpiece from the team that created The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!

Parts – Tedd Arnold

First, his hairs started falling out. Then skin started peeling from his toes. Some stuffing came out of his belly button, and a piece of something gray and wet -- his brain? -- fell out his nose. Is this normal? Or is this boy coming unglued?

Watch Out! Big Bro’s Coming! – Jez Alborough

QUICK! EVERYBODY HIDE! Big Bro's coming! He's rough, he's tough, and he's REALLY, REALLY BIG... Well, he's pretty big. Okay, he's a mouse, but if you were a mouse too, well, then, he'd be BIG all right! Jez Alborough, creator of the bestselling WHERE'S MY TEDDY? and IT'S THE BEAR!, sets his newest slapstick sidesplitter in the jungle, fills it with colorful animals of every size, and givs it a surprise ending certain to send very small readers—and REALLY BIG readers, too—into fits of giggles.

Amelia Bedelia – Peggy Parish

From dressing the chicken to dusting the furniture, Amelia Bedelia does exactly what Mr. and Mrs. Rogers tell her. ...But somehow things never turn out quite right.

Skippyjon Jones - Judy Schachner

Move over, Eloise and Olivia. Make room for SkippyjonJones, a Siamese kittenboy who can't resign himself to being an ordinary cat. Having a time-out in his room, he resorts to his imagination. Taking on the superhero persona of the great Spanish sword fighter Skippito, he has the adventure of his life, and readers are invited along. Zany, wild, and over-the-top, this utterly original book truly begs to be read aloud.

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! - Candace Fleming

The irresistible sounds in this lively story are a big part of the fun of this slapstick comedy. After many years of wishing for a garden, Mr. McGreely finally plants one and eagerly awaits his fresh vegetables. A group of naughty bunnies discovers them first, however, and the hilarity is in the many obstacles that the farmer puts up-- and the rabbits find ways around Children will gleefully join in the repetitive chorus of phrases and delight in the chase, all the way up to the surprise ending that will leave everyone feeling fine

The Monster at the End of This Book - Jon Stone

Many adults name this book as their favorite Little Golden Book. Generations of kids have interacted with lovable, furry old Grover as he begs the reader not to turn the page—for fear of a monster at the end of the book. “Oh, I am so embarrassed,” he says on the last page . . . for, of course, the monster is Grover himself! 

Now it's your turn. Share with us those the titles that have both your children and you chuckling. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chopsticks - Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

Summary:  Glory is a piano prodigy.  After her mother died, she retreated into her music.  Her father raised her with the goal of playing sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall and across the globe.  Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to Frank, who moves in next door.  She loses herself in his paintings and drawings, mix CDs and late-night IM conversations.  Soon, Frank becomes both her connection to the world--and her escape from reality.

Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song "Chopsticks"; F and G notes moving closer together and father apart.

Now, Glory has disappeared.  But nothing is what it seems.  And we must decide what is real, what is imagined, and what has been madness all along...  (Summary from back of the book and image from beyondthemiddle.blogspot.com)

My Review:  I was a bit disappointed by this book.  It lured me in with its clever format full of pictures and a promise of mystery.  But it wasn't.  It wasn't a mystery.  It was more like a message that parents are controlling and mean, and that teens know best.  Maybe I missed something, but it really didn't feel like there was a mystery.  It was just a tormented girl, isolated from the world caused from a mix of grief, extreme talent that leads to long hours of practicing, and a father who didn't know how to raise a daughter on his own.  It really felt like there wasn't any realization on behalf of the daughter of her father's love and concern.  While I realize that this can be realistic of a child/teen, I found it disturbing that there was such a lack of relationship with her father.  And because of this, it led to this intense, damaging relationship with another tormented teen.  I'm afraid the wrong kind of teen will be drawn to this book and will take it as affirmation to continue down a dangerous route.  The book is clever in its pictures and how it tells a story in a unique way, but the story was disheartening and disappointing to say the least.  I wish I could recommend it, but I can't.  

For the sensitive reader:  Beware: Definitely for a mature audience.  Pictures--all drawn--of nude women's bodies, and the F-word. Also, not a parent-friendly book, as the message doesn't convey the love a parent has and more of the 'teens know better' attitude.

Rating: 2.5 Stars--only for the clever pictures and format, but that's about it.

Sum it up:  A clever way of telling a story, although I wasn't very happy with the message.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary:  Cassie’s body was found in a motel room.  She called Lia 33 times before she died.  Lia never picked up.  Now the voice in Lia’s head tells her to stay strong.  Keep control.  Lose more.  Weigh less.  Thin.  Thinner.  Thinnest.  Maybe she can make herself disappear altogether.  (Summary from back of the book and image from rebecca-books.blogspot.com)

My Review:  I've lived through watching a loved-one fight the mental illness of anorexia.  I battled the demons with her: the voices, the self-loathing, the control.  It's scary.  It's heartbreaking.  It's as raw as I've ever lived.  It's so, so scary.  Because you really don't know if she will choose to come out of it.  And you really don't have any control in the matter.  No control at all.

The way Anderson depicts Lia is chillingly real.  Her inner dialogue is crafted so that you can see Lia fighting with herself--the self she tries to suppress is crossed out, but can still be read.  I've listened to those thoughts come out of my loved-one.  I watched the battle, the counting, the obsession with food, the perfection in every other aspect of her life.  It's exhausting to watch, let alone live.  These girls who can manage to stay alive while running on 500 calories or less a day (exercising off any calories consumed really means you're not running on anything) are the walking dead.  And there is so much pain there. 

Lia's experience is exacerbated by her cutting and her use of laxatives when she does (which is rare) screw up and eat more than she allotted herself for the day.  It truly is amazing the kind of abuse a body can endure, and yet it is so, so tragic that it happens to a person by self-infliction.  While Lia's experience is unique to her, there are common issues you'll see with all anorexics: food obsession, the counting and recounting of calories, the secrets, the lies, the midnight exercising, the self-loathing, the distorted reality, the guilt, the anger, the depression.  It's all there.  The cutting and laxatives will depend on the case. 

It's been 15 years since I've experienced anorexia first hand.  This book had me reliving it as if I was just there.  Any mother, father, teacher, friend, fill-in-the-blank who truly wants to understand how the mind of an anorexic works, this book is eye-opening.  Anderson is an incredible writer.  I've seen it in other works, and it comes through again with Wintergirls.  Denial is a common issue of parents of a daughter fighting this mental illness.  I hope that by reading a book like this, crafted so beautifully by Anderson, a parent could come to grips with just how deadly, how dark, and how sad anorexia is.  The idea of wanting to disappear is real. I highly recommend this book--just please don't come into it with rose-colored glasses.  It is disturbing.

For the sensitive reader: Swear words, mostly self-directed from self-loathing by Lia to herself, but they're there.  Depictions of pill-popping (laxatives), cutting, and arguments between Lia and her parents.  Very real, very raw, but honest.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sum it up: A peek into a dark, unforgiving world where bones and self-loathing reign.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Love - Penny Kittle

Summary:  Penny Kittle wants us to face the hard truths every English teacher fears:  too many kids don't read the assigned texts, and some even manage to slip by without having ever read a single book by the time they graduate.  As middle and high school reading declines, college professors lament students' inability to comprehend and analyze complex texts, while the rest of us wonder: what do we lose as a society when so many of our high school graduates have no interest in reading anything?  

In Book Love Penny takes student apathy head on, first by recognizing why students don't like to read and then showing us that when we give kids books that are right for them, along with time to read and regular response to their thinking, we can create a pathway to satisfying reading that leads to more challenging literature and ultimately a love of reading.

With a clear eye on the reality of today's classrooms, Penny provides practicacl strategies and advice on:
  • Increasing volume, capacity, and complexity over time
  • Creating a balance of independent reading, text study, and novel study
  • Helping students deepen their thinking through writing about reading
  • Building a school culture focused on the love of reading
Book Love is a call to arms for putting every single kid, no exceptions allowed, on a personal reading journey.  But much more than that, it's a powerful reminder of why we became English teachers in the first place: our passion for books.  Books matter.  Stories heal.  The right book in the hands of a kid can change a life forever.  We can't wait for anyone else to teach our students a love of books--it's up to us and the time is now.  If not you, who?   (Summary from back of the book and image from http://jenniferkloczko.edublogs.org/)

My Review:  The first question that went through my mind while reading this was, "Why are we not friends in real life?!"  Penny Kittle is a teaching soul sister.  I cannot agree with her more.  Kids don't read.  They aren't reading.  They don't see their parents reading.  They don't see the value in classical literature.  And honestly, I can't blame them.  Have you ever tried to pick up a book that's too hard for you?  Talk about defeating and disheartening.  No one likes to felt stupid and reading books that are too hard does just that.  I'm not saying we shouldn't read classics, and neither is Kittle.  But we have to build scaffolds to get kids there.  We have to guide them and entice them with books that will light that spark that gets kids reading. 

One of the aspects about the book that I love is how tangible her strategies are.  I got so excited about implementing what she shares.  Another aspect was that there were many of her ideas and strategies that I'd tried and had worked in my own classroom.  It's incredibly validating to hear that what works for you works for other teachers.  I wish you could see my copy of Book Love.  It's color-coded with flags marking pages with sections I loved: one color for quotes, another color for theory, another for questions to ask yourself and students, etc.  I read this book so quickly, I hardly believed it was a professional development book.  I just agree SO MUCH. 

If you're an English teacher, whether novice or veteran, PLEASE pick up this book.  If you've seen the movie Shrek, please hear Donkey's voice saying, "I Believe, I believe, I believe, I believe!"  Because I do.  All students can develop a love of reading, can build stamina, can become life-long readers and learners.  We just have to tap into what makes them tick and start tempting them with 'movie-trailer-like' book talks.  If you talk about them, they will read!  Thankfully Kittle doesn't stop there.  She goes further into how she incorporates writing and increasing text complexity.  But the heart of her message, the heart of any true English teacher, is that reading matters and ALL students can do it.

Rating: 5 stars

Sum it up:  A tangible way to guide secondary students to a love of words (and help teachers along the way).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Color is Monday? - Carrie Cariello

Summary:  One day last fall Jack asked me, "What color do you see for Monday?"  "What?" I said distractedly.  "Do you see days as colors?"

Raising five children would be challenge enough for most parents, but when one of them has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the adventures become even more fascinating.  In this moving--and often funny--memoir, author Carrie Cariello invites us to take a peek into exactly what it takes to get through each day with four boys and one girl, and shows us the beauty and wonder of a child who views the world through a different lens.  (Summary from back of the book, book given free for review, and image from carriecariello.com)

My Review:  I'm a teacher by trade and have had many students with Autism. While my students have all been older than Jack, I have seen these same behaviors and descriptions first hand.  Carrie's perspective was refreshing for me to read.  It's true: a child with Autism is quickly labeled, and acronyms start flying, and sadly we do start seeing the child in terms of folders, files, acronyms, and paperwork.  And because children with Autism are not verbal, it's easy to forget how there is so much more going on inside their brains, so much more to how they perceive and see the world.  As a secondary teacher, we only get an hour a day with this student, mix that with a class ranging from 30-40 students, add to that loud noises and you can see why a secondary teacher hardly has a chance to see into the mind of a child with Autism.  Reading this book I left with a better perspective from a different point of view.  I feel it made me a better person--how many books can you say do that?

Jack's circumstance is probably rare, especially in this day and age, in that most families aren't as large as 5 children.  In addition, most parents who have a child with Autism stop after only one or two.  I too believe, along with Cariello, that having his siblings has made Jack stronger, more flexible, and causes growth to come quicker.  This is an honest book, with realistic and soul-bearing examples of just what it really means to raise a child with Autism.  And gosh, it sound HARD.  I think raising my three children is hard--Cariello has it much harder.  And yet, I left the book with a love of Jack and I haven't even met him.  Cariello has a way of describing her experiences that paint a picture of beauty in Jack.  What a rare gift, and a beautiful person it takes to be able to parent so wisely this little boy.  I'm afraid I don't have that kind of patience.

If you're interested in seeing Autism through the eyes of a parent, or simply want to see how someone else is tackling this situation, do pick up this book.  I found it refreshing, a quick read, and endearing. 

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing offensive, but since this is adult non-fiction about parenting children, that shouldn't be too surprising.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A parent's view of raising a child with Autism.


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