On My Wishlist: Fallout

As I've mentioned previously, I love poetry. And I love fiction. So, it goes without saying that I love poetic fiction. In this genre, Ellen Hopkins is one of my favorites. I've read four of her books at this point. And, included in those four books are the first two titles in the Crank series. Fallout, which will be released in September 2010, which is awesome news for fans of Ellin Hopkins.

I will most likely pre-order this title waaay before it comes out. I just cannot help myself.

Book Review: Just Listen

I have to admit that I had a super hard time getting interested in this book. I can't exactly say what it was that kept me from jumping right into this story, but I wasn't "feelin' it", so to speak until about page seventy-five. This is disconnect is unusual because I've read a ton of Sarah Dessen and have always loved her stuff. Like, love loved it.

Maybe it was the main character? Part of the story that emerges about this character, Annabel, is that she keeps her distance from her family, from her ex-friends, from everyone. It's almost like she's closed off to the reader for most of the book, too, which makes it hard to truly understand/ care about her.

Once I got into this book, I could not stop. Like, my husband was pleading with me to come to bed, to turn off the light, to look at him. I couldn't leave Annabel once I cared about her. She turned out to be an amazing young woman with a powerful story. I ended up wishing that this book would continue on past its 450-ish pages. I wanted more.

So, if this book doesn't hook you right away, give it some time. It just might grow on you!

Ah-Mazing Giveaway!

So, the super-fantastic ladies at A Good Addiction and La Femme Readers are giving away SIX hot YA titles. SIX! And, they're not ARCs, they're actual books. Such excitement! Here's a screenshot of the awesome titles you could win if you enter this giveaway. Good Luck!

Book Review: Cracked Up To Be

I have to buy everything Courtney Summers has written. It's good that she only has one other book, because I'm pretty sure I'd need to buy fifty titles if that were an option. I absolutely loved Cracked Up To Be. Can I prove how great of a read this was? Absolutely.

This week has been crazy busy. Meetings, an interview, teaching, meeting a new (awesome) student teacher, helping kids catch up before the end of the quarter, etcetera and so on. Crazy. I was thinking yesterday (after getting home at around 4:30 pm--late for a Friday) that I would take a nap. Well, I can't sleep without reading so picked up Cracked Up To Be off of my To Be Read Shelf and thought I'd mange ten or fifteen pages before a glorious afternoon nappy. Nope.

I ended up reading one hundred and fifty pages before dark. I almost passed out from hunger. No sleep for me, but needless to say, I finished the book early this morning. As much as I love reading, I don't usually devote most of my Friday evenings to it.

Cracked Up To Be is told is narrated by a fresh, sardonic character named Parker. She used to be the most perfect girl in her high school until a fateful party where she got a lot wasted and her best friend went missing. After this party, nothing is the same for Parker. Her perfectly crafted perfection drops and she gives up her whole image, her whole facade of being interested in the popularity game. There is a huge element of suspense in this novel, so I won't tell you too much about it. It's almost like the reader gets to understand Parker on Parker's terms. She won't talk to her parents, friends, or a counselor. Why should we, the readers of her story, be any different?

This an excellent read and I am buying her other YA novel Some Girls Are right now!

D & O Chic Giveaway: It Won't Break Your Bank!

Down and Out Chic is hosting another giveaway. This time, you could win a funky little piglet to store all of your extra coinage. Here's how to enter:

1. Visit gselect and tell me your favorite item in the shop. There's tons to choose from! This one's mandatory.
2. If you're a regular reader/follower of D&OC you get a second entry because you're extra special. Just tell me how you follow.
3. Tweet, Blog, or Facebook about this piggy and let me know you did! You can find me on Twitter here.

I went to gselect and found my favorite item. (Well, there were a bunch, but I'm currently looking for a wallet, so this one grabbed my attention!)

The Great Unsung YA 2010 Giveaway

Kelly at YAnnabe.com is offering a cool giveaway. We all know that there are certain YA reads that rise to the top every year. What about the ones that don't? Is YA greatness out there disguised as a sleeper read? To enter this pledge, all you have to do is fill out a google form. However, there are ways to increase your odds of actually winning a book by writing about this contest on your blog, linking back to a similar giveaway offered by The Purple Crayon (which is how I found out about this giveaway--it's an awesome blog), and you can get an extra 2 points by actually reading one of these under-discovered YA reads.

I love this last part of the challenge. I am totally psyched to read a great title that no one in my circle of YA-obsessed teachers and friends will have heard of. (Hopefully they're not reading this post!) Here are my top choices from this challenge:

1. Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson. This is the book from the list provided that I am most likely to buy and/or read with gusto. I love reading about immigration/ border issues, and I teach a huge immigration unit every year. So, I'm always looking to develop my selection of immigration-related Free Reads for students. This is a current, relevant topic for me to be reading about. Plus, the cover's intriguing.

3. Unsigned Hype by Booker T. Mattison. I know that I would love this book. It's about a teen who desperately wants to make his dream music career a reality. He's willing to leave high school to follow his dream. I love music. (I am not a good singer. People cringe.) I think in lyrics, I relate songs to my life all of the time, and my husband and I parody songs to make them about whatever we're doing. We're dorky. But we love music. Plus, I have a bunch of students who love rap/ hip-hop music and would love to read this book. It's now on my wishlist.

2. Year of the Horse by Justin Allen. Why? Well, I was first attracted to this title because I was born in the Year of the Horse (I know this from the Chinese Zodiac calendars I see at Chinese restaurants). I went online and read some reviews of this book and it looks like it'd be a great wild west sorta read. I'm always looking for great action reads for my guy students, and this could be a gem!

So, what have I learned from this exercise? I need to dig more carefully and not just follow the hype. I've learned about all kinds of new and promising books simply by looking up titles on amazon and reading reviews. I am excited to see what else I am missing out on!

I Heart Libraries

Check this out! You visit a couple of blogs, write a comment on each, and the blog owner donates books or cash to their local libraries.

Sweet deal all around!

Book Review: Dizzy In Your Eyes

I love, love, love poetry. Modern, classic, free verse, sonnets, whatever. I love it.

Pat Mora's new collection of poetry for young adults is about love--All sorts of love. There are poems about romantic relationships, about family, and about self-love. Some of the poems are written in free verse and others are specific "types" of poetry like odes, triolet, and haiku. Some of the poems are translated into Spanish, and they are beautiful. No matter who you are or what type of love poem you're looking for, you'll find it in this collection.

Click here to preview some of the poems online.

Clear Away the Clutter Read-A-Thon

If there's something I need to do, it's to clear away some of the clutter on my bookshelves. Over the past few months, I've grown my To Be Read shelves to the point where they're bulging. I am usually able to read three or four books a week and am pretty good at keeping books rotating off of my personal shelves and onto my free reading shelves at school.

What's slowing me down? Well, I've won a whole bunch of books this winter (thanks!) and have purchased some titles for new challenges and book clubs I belong to. Also, I think that there are more and more awesome books being published all the time. This is a never ending cycle.

Thanks to The Neverending Shelf, I now have an excellent reason to think about setting some realistic goals to clean up my To Be Read shelves in time for April vacation.

I am going to commit to read four books from my To Be Read shelves between April 5th and April 11th. I am not sure which titles I will choose, but I have about fifty or sixty possibilities, so chances are good that I'll find some interesting titles to keep me going.

Audio-Lit: A Thousand Never Evers

My commute to and from work is not a long one. Every day, I drive about a half an hour to work and back. So, I have about an hour's worth of time in my car every day. Recently, I decided that just listening to National Public Radio (NPR) every day was not the best use of my time. I say this because I often end up hearing the same stories repeated or I am driving home while classical music is playing. As much as I try, I cannot listen to classical music. It's almost maddening to me.

Last week, I decided it was high time that I visit my local library to see what they have for audiobooks. I figure that I can listen to a book every week or two as I'm driving. I know that our library is small and I might not be able to hear all of my favorites in this manner, but there are definitely some worth listening to. The first title I chose is called A Thousand Never Evers and it was written by Shana Burg.

In this story, Addie Ann Pickett is in the midst of a Civil Rights revolution. The trouble for Addie is that she doesn't quite understand all that's going on and what her place in this movement should be. She is a poor black girl growing up in the South during the early 1960's. Medgar Evers has just been killed. Lynchings, the struggle for voting rights, Jim Crow Laws, race riots, and overt racism are all a part of her life. It's not until the a representative for the NAACP comes to spur on activism in her town that Addie's awareness of the differences between life for African Americans in other parts of the country and in her small town come into focus.

To help make matters more pressing, a wealthy white landowner dies and leaves six garden acres to the whites and blacks in his community. What happens next is predictable for the time period: The whites disregard the deceased man's wished and declare the acreage "whites-only".

This book is probably most suited to a middle grade audience, though I could see upper elementary students and high school students who're interested in Civil Rights enjoying it as well. There is a ton of historical information contained in this novel. I'm sure that the audio and print versions of this story could inspire many lesson and unit plans.

This first audio adventure has been successful. I'll have to see what other audiobooks the Strong Public Library has in its stacks!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Last But Not Least

Karin the Librarian is celebrating the first day of Spring with a huge blizzard. Here, all of our snow has melted and is causing a muddy mess. I guess I'd rather have snow! (It was actually 70 degrees outside yesterday--Weird for the mountains of Maine!)
So, rather than think about daffodils and tulips, we're going to pay homage to some wintery reads. Here are the instructions from the Spring Break Reading Challenge:

I want you to find 5 books. These 5 books need to meet a certain criteria. These 5 books need to either be about or take place in a winter wonderland. In other words, snow, ice, or other winter-like weather needs to be involved.

Create a post on your blog with the titles, covers, and book descriptions.
Here are the five six books I chose for this challenge:

Peak by Roland Smith. This is the first book that came to my mind and it is sitting on my To Be Read pile. I've been putting it off because I'm not a huge adventure reader, but I think I'm going to have to start it soon because I probably won't want to read it in July!

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I don't think that this book takes place in a "wonderland" but it definitely involes a lot of snow, freezing weather, and ice. Lots of it. Plus, it's an amazing book! I do love nonfiction and feel in love with Christopher McCandless, the subject of this biography.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I loved this book. It kinda freaked me out a little because I read it during a huge snow storm, but it really caused me to think about whether or not I'd be prepared to live after a natural disaster. This book doesn't start out as a wintery read, but is covered in snow and subzero temps by the time it's done. It's a fantastic read!

The White Darkness by Geraldine Mccaughrean. This book will bring you to the Antarctic--One place I have no desire to go. The main character of this read, Sym, is obsessed with the men who explored the South Pole. Her uncle surprises her with a trip to that will take her directly to this ice-covered land, but once she gets there reality seems to slip further and further away from Sym. This book won the Printz Award.

Shackleton's Stowaway by Victoria McKernan. I have not yet read this book, but I have read a lot about it. It's been on a lot of Good for Guys book lists. I've read the description a few times at the book store, and it actually sounds pretty interesting. It's based on a true story (another Antarctic adventure) and it's told in a journal-style format, which I usually enjoy.

The Trap by John Smelcer. As I was writing this post, I remembered this book. I already had my five, but I need to talk about this read. It's both a gripping story and is loved by lots and lots of my reluctant boy readers--a tough audience to please. The story takes place in Alaska and is told in a series of back and forth narrations between a teen boy named Johnny Least-Weasel and his grandfather, Albert. Albert is getting older and has been gone too long checking his trap line. Albert is in a bad situation and needs his grandson to come and find him. This story is a bit of a thriller because you don't know if Johnny is going to make find his grandfather in time. I loved both characters and so have many of my students!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: What Floats Your Boat?

Here are the instructions for today's Spring Break Reading Challenge:

1. Create a post about your favorite genre. What do you read the most and why? Look at the books you've read this year so far? How many of those book are ones that fit in your favorite genre?

2. Come back here and link your post to Mr. Linky.

3. After some other people have posted about their favorite genres, go by and visit them. At least a couple to say hello.

Okay. The second part of this assignment is going to be much easier than the first. I love going to visit other blogs and have checked out every blog from every blogger who's linked to this challenge. That's super fun to me.

But, it's a lot harder to think about my favorite genre to read. I mostly like them all. Well, I guess that I can narrow this list down a little. I definitely don't like to read about sports--even sports like mountain climbing. Adventure is kinda the same way for me. I'm not into thrill-seekers. I also don't love mysteries too much. I like to have to figure out what's going to happen in a story, but I'm not into Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. I love, love, love to read poetry, but I don't know that it's my favorite genre to curl up with on a Sunday afternoon. I do love historical fiction, but it's not at the top of my list. There's just not enough that I've read and loved to be a tip-top favorite.

What's left? This is what I was afraid of. It's between realistic fiction and fantasy/ science fiction. Three or four years ago, I would have said definitely realistic fiction. But, there have been so many awesome fantasy/ science fiction titles that have landed in my top reads of all time. Realistic fiction is great, too, but I guess that there are so many titles out there and so much that's not done well that fantasy/ science fiction is going to be the winner. Here are some of my recent favorites that I would include in my top reads of all time:

The Hunger Games series


Life As We Knew It

The Knife of Never Letting Go series

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

And there it is. I've crossed over to the dark side of dystopian, fantastical, and science fiction lit. So, bring on any other suggestions for great reads!

Good Golly! MIss Holly Is Giving Away Books

Good Golly Miss Holly is an awesome YA lit blog I follow and read regularly. Apparently, though, Miss Holly's nightstand is loaded with books. She needs our help! She wants to offer up some of these great reads to followers. Become a follower (you won't regret it--it's a great read) and join the contest.

Here are the three titles I'd choose if I were to won this giveaway:

Sideways: A Novel
by Rex Pickett (Lloved the movie & bet the book is just as good, if not better)
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Fire by Kristin Cashore

I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Giveaway: Six Gorgeous Prints

I'm a regular reader of Down and Out Chic, a blog full of creative ideas for those of us looking to design on a budget. For this amazing giveaway opportunity, you could win six gorgeous 4x6 prints from Matou en Peluche. Please join me in entering this giveaway!

Book review: Asta in the Wings

Asta in the Wings is a heartbreaker of a story. I don't know how else to describe it. The main character and narrator, Asta, is an endearing little seven year-old who has a penchant for the dramatic. She is best friends with her nine year-old brother, Orion. Orion is less dramatic but gifted in math and science. They live alone with their mother. And, their mother is a bit of a lunatic.

For as long as they can remember, Asta and Orion have been locked in their rural Maine home. They have literally never played outside, never gone into a store, never ridden a bus or talked with a stranger. Why? Because their mother has lead them to believe that there is a plague outside of their house and bodies are piled on street corners. That's not all. Germs are everywhere and food is contaminated. Their mother bolts them inside their house every day and leaves them to care for themselves. While alone, they create a number of games and stories to keep their minds occupied, but not can save them from the day that their mother fails to return home after work.

Emaciated and freezing, Orion and Asta venture out into the unfamiliar and dangerous world, trying to find a telephone and someone to help them find their mother. Before long, the strangers they encounter take pity on these rail-thin children and call the police. Their mother is eventually found, but Orion and Asta's lives will never be the same. As crazy as it sounds, their bond with their mother and with each other was deep and important. Once it is disrupted, can these two young children ever move past their dysfunctional, neglectful childhoods?

I read this book for my local teacher-rific book club. I am happy I did. This is Jan Elizabeth Watson's first novel. Maine authors tend to write prolifically, though, so I expect that there are more great reads to come!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Status Update

Today's Spring Break Reading Challenge assignment is a reflective one. It asks participants to reflect on whether or not we've accomplished any of our goals this week. Are we disappointed with our progress or have we gone above and beyond?

I think that I've accomplished quite a bit this week. Now, some of these accomplishments are not related to this challenge, but are accomplishments nonetheless. Here's a breakdown of completed tasks that fall outside the realm of this challenge:

-I successfully tutored a struggling math student for three hours after school on Tuesday. (Geometry is not my bag, so this felt like a huge accomplishment for me.)

-I presented to about 100 faculty and staff members on Wednesday. And people listened. That's good.

-I trained via phone/ web connection for an upcoming webinar on real-world writing in the classroom. I'm going to talk about blogging with students and how it's improving their writing.

-I went for a walk with a friend yesterday. A much needed, long one!

Okay. So that's it for accomplishments related that are unrelated to this challenge. My goal for the duration of this challenge was to find poems/ poets/ ideas for National Poetry Month (which is April). Here are a couple of poems I've found:

I plan to use these poems in I've also found a couple of resources that I can use in for poem-writing prompts. I'll probably change the basic idea or structure of most of these because they're a little generic, but I think I could use these two suggestions:

I've also found an interesting idea for poet trading cards. For this activity, students would create baseball-style cards with stats and a picture and a sample poem. This might work nicely for Poem in Your Pocket Day. This is as far as I've gotten. Any poem suggestions/ ideas are appreciated!

Contest Alert: Win Books & Polish Those Toes!

This contest combines two of my favorite pastimes: Reading and making my toes look cute with cool polish! Enter to be one of four winners! There are a ton of great titles up for grabs and you could prep your feet to meet springtime weather. Good luck!

On My Wishlist: Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Out of all of the books, poems, and plays I teach, William Shakespeare's works are my favorites. Every year, I spend quite a bit of time with the Bard. I teach about six or seven Shakespeare plays every year. Some years, I teach more than this. The result? Unlike some of the other units I teach regularly, I don't get tired of teaching Shakespeare. Every year I try to put a different spin on the standard plays I teach (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet) to keep my interest from waning. Kids get super excited to act and perform and the grapple with the language and their excitement keeps me going.

Though I've read quite a few of his plays (and all of his sonnets), I've not read too much about the man himself. I did read one book a couple of years ago called Will in the World. More than answering questions about this extraordinary figure, I was left wondering if William Shakespeare could have possibly written all of the plays and poems attributed to him. I have watched a couple of documentaries about this very subject, but no argument was so convincing that I subscribed to it completely. Maybe this new book will sway me once and for all? I don't know, but I am willing to read it to find out.

I'm not sure that I buy into Shakespeare conspiracy theories, but I'd still like to read Contested Will. At the very least, though, I hope that I will learn more about the man behind all of these amazing works. Whether that is Shakespeare or not, I will continue to read and learn and teach these phenomenal plays and sonnets!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Create-A-Cover

This is a super cool challenge! What a fun way to start my Wednesday! Here are the instructions for this part of the Spring Break Reading Challenge:

1. Get your author name
2. Get you book title (the verb provided)
3. Type your verb here and find a book cover
4. Use picnik or another site/ app to create your cover
5. Write a short summary of your novel and create a post!

And, without further ado, the latest title from Katharina Winkel is:

Everyone is watching Ava all the time. She walks down the hallway at school and feels the weight of thousands of eyes burning through her. They all know what she did. And they all hate her for it. Is Ava ever going to be free of that one night, that one life-changing choice? Will she ever learn to live with her decision? Or will it finally break her?

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Obstacles

Today's assignment for the Spring Break Reading Challenge is to:

1) create a blog post talking about the things that prevent you from getting things done. It could be reading, updating your blog, or anything else you try to do and 2) can you come up with a plan to get past your obstacle?

I can honestly say that there are a lot of distractions when it comes to me taking the time to do what I'd like to do. Some of these distractions are necessary: paying bills, working, dishes, walking the dog, etc. Others, though, are not necessary. One huge factor in my distraction is that I live in a large loft-style one room house. It's a house and it has rooms and is not teeny tiny, but it is one room. This would be okay if I lived alone, but I married a wonderfully boisterous and enthusiastic man. And then we purchased a one room house. Crazy.

So, I'm interrupted a lot in my reading. We've figured out some ways to lessen noise--He wears headphones while playing piano (we bought a beautiful electric piano) and while watching his favorite (and my least-favorite) action films, and I read aloud to him at night to keep him from wanting a TV in our bedroom (I am firmly against this!).

But, there are times when noise is unavoidable. I've learned to take advantage of peace and quiet when it comes. I also wake up earlier on weekends so that I can blog and get work done without distractions. This works because my husband and dog love to sleep in. In this situation, the old adage works: Where there's a will there's a way.

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

This past Saturday, I finally went to see Alice in Wonderland. Luckily, I went about an hour early because the theater was completely sold out within a half hour or so. Phew.

And, it was worth the wait. Oh my. I absolutely LOVED it! I liked the 3D, sure, but the storyline and the acting was amazing. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter--Brilliant. Helena Bonham Carter transcended evil in her performance as the Red Queen. Even Anne Hathaway, whom I sometimes have issues with, brought humor to her role as the White Queen.

I need to see this movie at least one more time to completely absorb all of the details of the story and the graphics. It was visually stunning and I thought that this adaptation enhanced the original storyline. Love that Alice becomes a bit of a feminist powerhouse by the end of the story and is fairly heroic throughout. I got much more of a Girls Rock! sort of theme running through this version than I did the original. But, much of the classic tale survives in this retelling.

Everyone should see this movie--More than once!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Blog Designs & Widgets

Assignment #4 of the Spring Break Reading Challenge asks what widgets and design ideas we envy (or would like to figure out for our blogs). Here are the questions and my answers for this assignment:

Is there something you really want to create, but don't know how?

I do have a some ideas about what I would like to create for my blog, but I definitely don't know how and have not had the time to figure this all out. I would definitely like to have a link back button. I don't know much about HTML and design, so that might be a difficult task for me, but I may have time this summer to play around with this new blog more.

Would you like your blog design to be different?

I looked at a bunch of three column blog styles before settling on this two column design. I still think that there are some advantages to the three column pages. Some that I've seen are a little more organized looking but some are too busy for my taste. Ultimately, I'm pretty happy with this design (for now) but may play with it this summer.

What about organization? Is there something about the arrangement you want to change?

Again, the three column design seems to hold more stuff in an organized way. I'm trying to be a little picky about what I include on my blog. I'm also trying to update the sidebar frequently so that there are not extraneous buttons, widgets, and information listed on it. My purpose in creating this blog was to leave my classroom and professional blogs free of all the challenge, book/ movie review, and random Young Adult Lit-related entries I was writing or wanting to write. I found that my classroom blog was becoming too cluttered with entries related to YA lit. So, this blog is pretty new and I guess I'll just need to see where it goes/ grows before I change too much. For now, it's meeting my purposes.

Book Review: City of Bones

Cassandra Clare's City of Bones is the first book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy. The cover is stunning: It looks like a tattooed superman is lording over a huge city. And, in most ways, this is the basic plot of the book. The main character, Clary, is not aware that her reality in New Yoor City is not the only one to be had. She lives a pretty normal teen life. She has a best friend and a mother. One night, she goes out to a club with some friends and witnesses a murder. From here on, her whole life changes.

As it turns out, the "murder" she sees is not a human murder, but a group of good-doing "Shadowhunters" who take down an evil demon disguised as a human. Soon, Clary is completely immersed in the world of the Shadowhunters. She quickly learns the ins and outs of their existence. Her interest in their world is sped up by the strange disappearance of her mother and the appearance of a monster in her apartment. When this monster repeats the word "Valentine" over and over, the Shadowhunters are clued-in to a much larger conspiracy than they had bargained for.

Some of the characters and plot points in this novel are a little predictable, but it was an enjoyable and entertaining read nonetheless. It's a lengthy book at almost 500 pages, but I was able to read it quite quickly. There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end of this first book; I can't wait to find out how it all comes together in the next books!

Spring Break Reading Challenge: What I'm Reading Right Now

Today's Spring Break Reading Challenge assignment asks that participants give the following information about a book they are currently reading:

1. Title and author of the book you are reading.
2. Include the cover of the book.
3. Synopsis
4. What do you think about the book so far?
5. Does the author have a website or blog? If so, insert a link in your post.

I am reading a few books right now, but I'm going to focus on one that's taking me longer than usual to finish. It's not that this is a bad or boring book. It's that the subject matter is hard to read and the characters are so realistic that I want to rush into their lives and save them. The book I'm reading is called Asta in the Wings and it was written by Jan Elizabeth Watson. I purchased this book because Watson is living in Maine and is therefore considered a Maine author. (We take whatever credit we can get when it comes to claiming an author! Other examples of non-Maine authors that we call Maine authors: E.B. White and Harriet Beecher Stowe.) And, the story takes place in Maine. Doubly Maine lit.

Since I purchased this novel several months ago, one of my book clubs selected it as an April read. So I am reading it despite the fact that it is so painfully good. Asta and her brother Orion are imaginative, sweet children. Their mother is mentally unstable, abusive, and neglectful. Every day that she goes to work, she locks the children in their rural home. There is no school for these children. In fact, no one knows that these children exist. They are hungry little ghosts locked inside their small house.

One day, the mother does not come home. (This is where I left off reading last night.) The children are going to have to find a way to break out of their house and leave the sickeningly safe little world that their mother has created for them. I want to know that they're going to be okay but am afraid to keep reading and find out that they're not!

The author does not have a website, but there are numerous online interviews and reviews of Asta in the Wings, which is Watson's first novel. I do recommend this book, but caution readers who may have a hard time reading about child abuse. It's a super realistic read and it is extremely well-written.

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Scavenger Hunt

How exciting to wake up on this beautiful Saturday and find a fun challenge to complete! I love spring! For the Spring Break Reading Challenge, here's what I need to do:

1 - Using keywords related to your interests, find a blog that is new to you. Be sure to give us the Blog Title, Link, and Short Description of the Blog.

2 - A blog belonging to an author from a book in your To Be Read pile (just a random one if you don't have a To-Be-Read pile).

3 - A bo
ok releasing THIS MONTH you want to read.

So, here goes.

Scavenger Item #1: I am super interested in literacy. I am currently working towards a master's degree with a focus in literacy education. I read quite a few blogs that have to do with literacy in the various grade levels, but there's always room for more! When I googled "literacy blog" I found a number of cool and interesting sites, but one stood out. Literacy Through Photography is the site I chose to share for this challenge. I love the idea that blogging, images, and language came come together in such a dynamic way as is presented in this blog. And, the photos are super powerful. I'm now a follower and can't wait to check out what's happening with literacy around the globe!

Scavenger Item #2: On my To Be Read List is a book that I just know I'm going to love. And, after checking out the author's blog, I know that I'm going to love the author too! This book that I have yet to read is called the Hate List and it was written by Jennifer Brown. I love that she talks about other YA books, shoes, and Shakespeare in one space. That's my type of girl!

Scavenger Item #3: This one was a little tough. There are a bunch of books coming out in April that I really want to read, but this assignment specifically asked for THIS MONTH, as in March. So, I read up on the latest March releases at Teenreads.com and found out that Split by Swati Avasthi is being released this month. I've been admiring this cover for some time and have even read up on it at Teens@Random. The premise of this novel sounds mysterious and intriguing--I can't wait to order a copy!

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

There is something quaint and interesting about the cover and the title of this book. Even though I knew that this read was not going to be a favorite of mine, I have been drawn to it. So, when I saw it available at our local library, I decided to check it out.

As I was reading it, I did find myself a little carried away by the plot. I am not a science girl--Not at all, but I am interested in Charles Darwin and I liked that the book focused on Calpurnia's early interest in reading and exploration because of his Origin of the Species. This book takes place at the turn of the century in Texas. Calpurnia's interest in science and reading Darwin is not encouraged by most of the adults in in her life, but her grandfather sees her passion and takes her seriously.

Another interesting subtext to this plot is the societal and familial expectations placed on Calpurnia because she is a girl. Girdles, classes on deportment and the focus on Calpurnia's eventual future as a housewife adds to a sort of sinking feeling that there were all kinds of girls who couldn't realize their dreams because of their gender. In some ways, this book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. They take place in different time periods, but the main characters have quite a bit in common. What Calpurnia lacks is a father like Atticus Finch who allowed Scout the freedom to be a tomboy and use her brain for more than planning dinner parties. Calpurnia does have a supportive grandfather, but he will obviously not be enough to prevent Calpurnia from being sidelined as a housewife and mother.

This is definitely a middle grade read, but I don't know that it would hold the attention of too many middle schoolers. To me, it felt more appropriate for a sentimental (older) reader. I can't imagine that it would be popular enough to compete on a middle school book shelf against more racy, currant titles. But, it is a satisfying read and an interesting look back at the late 1800's.

Spring Break Reading Challenge: Goals

Spring Break Reading Challenge The first assignment in the Spring Break Reading Challenge asks participants to set a goal for the duration of the challenge. Some suggestions Karin gives are: reading a book, organizing book shelves, or catching up on book review posts. Hm. This is a toughie. I need to do ALL of these things--How do I choose?

I think that I am going to challenge myself to line up some great poems for National Poetry Month (which is April). I use a ton of poetry in my teaching and am always scouting for poems that relate to books/ plays/ themes I'm about to teach. During the school year, I post a Poem of the Week in my classroom and sometimes on my class blog, but in April I like to have a Poem of the Day. This requires a ton of forethought. And, I can't repeat too many poems because I have students for four years, so they'll know (or at least some will) and that might be off-putting.

So, I am officially going to challenge myself to find and stockpile poems I can use for:

Poetry Fridays (to go with Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men, The House on Mango Street, Persepolis, The Hunger Games, and Pride of Baghdad)

Poem of the Week (for March, May and June)

Poem of the Day (for April)

Hm. I guess I'll need about sixty or seventy poems to get me through to the end of the year. But, if I start now I be in great shape for the rest of the school year! Any suggestions to get me started?

On My Wishlist: Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser

I still have not seen the new Alice in Wonderland movie. I've heard that it's amazing, I've heard the good and bad, but I know that I need to see it for myself. I plan on seeing it this weekend. Going to the movies in rural Maine is not as simple as setting aside a few hours on a weeknight. I live about half an hour from our only movie theater in this county. Seriously. So travel time included, a movie experience can take three to four hours. And I don't have that much free time on a weeknight.

Anyway. Besides having an interest in seeing my favorite books turned into movies, I also love to read books that claim to be related to the original text. I've read a couple of books on philosophy that work on this premise. One such read is The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'Oh! of Homer. This book is a collection of philosophical essays that (somewhat) tie-in with the Simpson's cartoon series. It's an interesting read and I've shared it with a bunch of people and most have enjoyed it. So, when I saw Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: The Curiouser and Curiouser, I couldn't help but be excited.

It is obvious that Lewis Carroll did not mean for us to sit and ponder the implications of LSD on our society or to wonder whether Alice is a feminist icon, but Carroll could not possibly have foreseen his cute little story becoming the box office smash that it is today. Because Alice is in our culture, she could be a feminist icon. Because productions of Alice in Wonderland have been trippy, people connect LSD to the story. It would be interesting to think about the implication of all of these connections. That's why this book is now a part of my wishlist. I hope to buy it soon before I (potentially) lose my interest in this topic!

Book Review: How To Build a House

Dana Reinhardt's How To Build a House sports a pretty basic cover and a (slightly) boring title. I put off reading this book for a long, long time because of those two factors. I'm sorry I did.

The main character, Harper, escapes her falling-apart life in California to donate her summer to an organization that's committed to helping replace homes lost in a terrible Tennessee tornado. Harper sees this volunteer opportunity as a way to leave her now-divorced father and the memories of her missing stepmother and stepsisters. Unlike some blended families, Harper loved her stepmother and her step-siblings. She doesn't understand what went wrong between her father and his wife and she can't stay in her empty house any longer.

Plus, there's the problem of her oldest guy friend turned hook-up, Gabriel. He is using her for sex and ignores her in public, but she's so lonely that she'll take whatever attention and good feelings she can get. Finally, after he completely hurts her, she realizes that she can't be his friends-with-benefits standby anymore and leaves for Tennessee.

Harper is not a talented carpenter. Or roofer. Or painter. Or anything related to construction. This does not stop her, though, from acquiring skills, gaining confidence, and making new friends and a new boyfriend in Tennessee. When the summer ends, though, will her new relationships and her confidence? Will she fall into her old pattern with Gabriel when she returns to California? How can she make the lessons she learned in the summer carry over to her every day life?

This was an interesting read. I've read one other book by Reinhardt and absolutely loved it. Please, please don't let the dull cover or title keep you away from this book. It's well-written and thoughtful. It's funny, too, because when people ask what you're reading and you say, "Oh, um. How To Build a House". Yah. That totally throws people off.

Spring Break Reading Challenge

Though I won't actually be on any sort of break during this challenge, participating in it might help me cope with the fact that March is often one of the craziest and busiest months of my year. Challenges allow me to escape from the usual sort of blogging and lesson planning activities that I engage in on a daily basis. Plus, there are prizes. Whether you're on break or not, join me in accepting the Spring Break Reading Challenge! Festivities start March 12th and end March 21st.

Book Review: Alice in Wonderland

I can vividly recall watching Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland as a child. I loved the cartoon movie and characters. When I heard that there was a new version of this classic coming out in theaters, I knew that I had to read the original.

I had often heard tales about the author, Lewis Carroll, being on drugs while writing this story. I am glad to have read the original if only to have realized that this was not true. The original story is far from "trippy". It reads like any children's adventure and is less bizarre than many other children's stories I've read or heard. In fact, it's a fun little story, but anyone looking for a huge revelation or deeper significance to a lot of the plot will have to make it up.

There are some great quotations, though. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

" Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; " but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!"

"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

In addition to interesting quotations, there is some cool artwork in the original text. Here's a favorite of mine, the Mad Hatter:

I love these ink sketches even more than the Disney art. There's a a whole lot of raw imagination in these sketches. Not that the much-loved Disney cartoons are not amazing. They're just colorful and a bit extreme. I loved these spare, restrained drawings because they were so less complicated. The book is full of them, yet I wanted more.

Now that I've seen the old Disney version, read the original text, and studied a bit about Lewis Carroll, I think that I am ready to see the new 3-D movie. It looks like a spectacular adventure!

On My Wishlist: Alice's Adentures in Wonderland

I prefer to have read the print version of a story before I see the movie version. I've heard of others who are okay with seeing a movie or stage performance first, but I like to have a basic understanding of the original text before I try to grasp an adaptation. That's just my style.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is going against the grain for me because I watched the old movie version way before I could even read. I've seen it a few times over the years, and was always intrigued by the plot and characters and magic of it all. I don't know why I never actually read the book; maybe I thought I already knew it? Well, in preparation for 3-D movie event that is this new Alice in Wonderland, I thought it was high time that I read the darn book. I wanted to be privy to all of the inside jokes and see the changes that have (inevitably) been made to turn this short children's book into a souped-up blockbuster.

So, I headed to Barnes and Noble one fair afternoon (before we got three feet of snow) to purchase a copy of this book. Since it's a classic, I thought that I'd be able to get a copy fairly cheaply, and I was right. I purchased a low-maintenance, garden variety copy for about five dollars. But, what really made me drool was the new graphic version of this story. As much as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to drop almost twenty dollars on a graphic novel. But, I did have the presence of mind to put it on my amazon wishlist once I returned home.

I am happy to report that the amazon price is far less expensive than the Barnes and Noble. After I see the movie, I know that I won't be able to hold myself back much longer and I'll end up buying a copy on amazon. But, I will have saved a cool ten bucks or so in the meantime. I'm sure I'll come up with another title that I simply have to have to get rid of my savings!

Celebrate Dr. Seuss's Birthday With Books

Every year, the National Educational Association (NEA) celebrates Dr. Suess's birthday with a campaign called Read Across America. I love this holiday because it is pure fun. Dr. Seuss was (and is) a much-loved children's author and a talented cartoonist and there is nothing more Seuss-tastic than getting together and reading a book to honor his birthday. For this celebration, the NEA offers many ideas for schools, libraries, and parents to institute fun reading events in local and online communities.

Some of the ideas/ events include:

Send an ecard
Facebook fan page
Send a video to schooltube or youtube
A list of 13 Suess-gestions if you get stuck

Book Review: I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World

As soon as I saw the cover of I Am an Emotional Creature online, I knew I had to have it. Thankfully, Random House was awesome enough to send me a free copy. When it came in the mail, I sat down and read it. One sitting. It's just that good.

What's makes it so good? I love reading about gender issues and relations and such. I think that there's just so much to think about when it comes to the intersections between society and the individual and how much the messages of a greater society affect the decisions of the individual. As always, Eve Ensler is a bit of a genius in this book. I loved the structure of this collection, which is told in a series of short stories, poems, recurring bits of drama, and powerful facts about girls. Ensler weaves these genres together, filled with the voices of girls from all sorts of cultures around the globe, and transforms their message into a sort of universal truth: we are more alike than we think and we all receive pressure and messages from society that we are not okay as we are.

As I was reading this book, I could not help but realize that it was essential that teens read and think about it. I don't know that every page needs to be read, but I do think that teens of both genders can benefit from thinking about the messages and pressures they experience in relation to their gender. I plan to use it in my teaching and I know that it will spur on some thought-provoking discussions and poetry.