Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Witches

Schiff, Stacy. The Witches: Salem, 1692. Blackstone Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from
Author Schiff seeks to portray the historical figures involved in the Salem witch trials as the real people they were. Narrator Eliza Foss makes them come alive for the listener. Foss resists the urge to cackle or to sound incredulous during this objective examination of the so-called witches. While her voice suits the tone of the work, her reading is not dry. She modulates her intonations nicely, making listening easier on the ear and saving the long passages of historical and religious background from becoming tedious.

My Thoughts

This audiobook was 21 parts! It took several long trips in the car and stealing moments hear and there to finish listening to this book. It was full of great information about the Salem Witch Trials. Some of it I knew, but some was new.

I liked how well researched the book was and the audiobook included the footnotes. Part 20 was when I learned about what happened to many of the "players" of the trials.

As I listened, I kept thinking about movies I showed my English III students. "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" and "The Crucible." I would picture those actors when the actual witch trial participants were discussed in this book.

I bought this book for our library. I think it will be a great resource for students.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

Stradal, J. Ryan. Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Viking, 2015.
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Summary (from
Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a novel about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation. It was selected as a best book of the year by Amazon, BookPage, LibraryReads, and NPR. 

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

My Thoughts
I started this book before going on vacation, so it stayed on my nightstand a little too long. The story was interesting, but when I picked it up again, I had to really think about who these characters are and what had happened to this point.

Eva carries the story. There is a interweaving of food throughout her life. The summary from Amazon here really does tell the story, but the reader must "taste" the story (pun intended).

I liked how realistic the relationships were and how the story represented that some people are in your life for a season and some are there for a lifetime.

Some things I marked:
"She had overhead people calling her parents 'white trash,' and she had quickly figured out that no one protects or stands up for white trash, and no one on the outside world ever world. To be called white trash is to be told that you're on your own" (Stradal 55). Sadly, I think this hits the mark.

As they are driving to one of Eva's dinners, they passed "signs for something called Wall Drug." I laughed because I've been there (at least twice!). It is a place to stop and visit in South Dakota.

I'm not sure teens will enjoy the book, but I think adults will. I liked the inclusion of recipes that connected to the story.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Innovator's Mindset

Couros, George. The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of
     Creativity. Dave Burgess, 2015.
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My Thoughts
George Couros came to Stephenville! I was hoping to get this book read between vacation and his visit, but I didn't get it done. However, I did finish reading this book and have made lots of notes about things I agree with and want to do as librarian and as a leader on my campus.

The book is a little over 200 pages in length. One of the things I enjoyed were the questions at the end of each chapter for me to think about what I've read or apply what I learned and how I might use this knowledge. Some things that Couros writes about, I's just nice to have the reminder (or validation). I loved the whack a mole analogy in education (Couros 125)! I also liked when he wrote that "school should not be a place where answers go to die but questions come to life" (Couros 189).

The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 of the book starts with a definition of "innovation." It is "a way of thinking that creates something new and better" (Couros 19). It's not just a buzzword (oh, how I've heard this term overused!), nor is it a "thing, task or even technology" (Couros 20). It's a way of thinking. It's a way of starting with a question, asking why we do what we do and what is best for the learner? (Couros 21).

When I saw Figure 2, I searched through my photos. I'd save a screenshot of this in August of 2015! This is how long these ideas have been swimming in my head.

I think Couros likes the number 8, as he lists several things in the book and explains what each means.
There are 8 characteristics of an Innovator's Mindset (p. 49):

  • empathetic
  • problem finders
  • risk takers
  • networked
  • observant
  • creators
  • resilient
  • reflective

There are 8 characteristics of the Innovative Leader (p. 88):

  • visionary
  • empathetic
  • models learning
  • open risk-taker
  • networked
  • observant
  • team builder
  • always focused on relationships
There are 8 things to look for in a classroom (p. 111):
  • voice
  • choice
  • time for reflection
  • opportunities for innovation
  • critical thinkers
  • problem solvers/finders
  • self-assessment
  • connected learning
I'm listing them here so I'll have them for quick reference.  

I think I could read this book every summer and see something new and relevant. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Ballantine Books, 1953.
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Summary (from Shmoop)

Shmoop Editorial Team. "Fahrenheit 451 Summary." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 3 Aug. 2017.

My Thoughts
My daughter had to read this for her Pre-Ap English class. As I've never read it, I thought I'd read it with her. That was fun. We decided to try for 13 pages per night so we could finish it by the end of June. We did.

I know that Bradbury was commenting on how societies try to limit people's intellectual thoughts. I know this is a book about censorship. I know it's a classic. I know it's a book set in a dystopia. But, I DID NOT LIKE IT! The text just went on and on and on. I was bored, and so was my daughter. I kept notes as I was reading because I just didn't care to commit it to memory. I also didn't feel engaged with the story. I did see many things that reflect our current society, which made me smirk to think was Bradbury prophetic? But, overall, it's forgettable. I will remember a fireman who burns books. I will think about how a girl helped him question his beliefs. I will not remember much else.

After we finished reading the book, my daughter and I watched the movie (made in 1966). I'd seen the movie years ago and so after reading the book, the movie made sense, but for being "futuristic" this version was dated. I hope for future students, if this book is continued to be studied, a newer movie version will be made.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Anderson, M. T. Feed. Listening Library. 2003.
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Summary (from
For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon—a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world—and a smart, savage satire that will captivate listeners with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

My Thoughts
OH MY GOODNESS! This was such a timely story! The idea that we have a constant "feed" of information in our brains and how this influences our decisions is spot on! The feed tells them what they want, what they should do and even matches to the personality type. It reinforces the idea the "we deserve it!" The book was futuristic, but is the book prophetic? The book was published in 2002, and much has happened in society since then. We do have a "feed" at our fingertips all of the time--our phones. We are constantly hit with ads/banners. I think this book represents today's generation.

I think this could be a great book for Upward Bound, but there is a bunch of cussing (the main characters are teenagers).

I laughed at many of the abbreviations used in the book. They are funny and telling. Another funny thing I laughed at was when they referred to a certain computer language as a "dead language."

The fear of missing out and the shallowness, vainness of the society is evident in this book.
Violet says, "Because of the feed, we're raising a nation of a bunch of idiots" (Anderson). OH YES!

Schools are run by a corporation. It makes me think about how education is turning. Legislatures dictate policy without having been in the classroom.  The story involved politics that mirror today.

I'd like to see a sequel to this book to delve more into how the characters' lesions fit into the environmental issues raised in the book.

This is a great listen and a story I will recommend to many.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Naxos AudioBooks, 2009. 
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Summary (from
Oscar Wilde’s enduring masterpiece, this fable of innocence and corruption, purity and decay has become a true classic. The beautiful, narcissistic Dorian Gray, torn between the influence of cynical hedonist Lord Henry Wotton and tortured artist Basil Hallward, sells the beauty of his soul in exchange for external perfection. Ultimately, he cannot escape the disfigurement of sin. Wilde’s remarkable wit and memorable, epigrammatic lines dazzle in audiobook form!

My Thoughts
This audiobook kept me awake on the drive to Phoenix. The story is 20 chapters long. I don't think I would have kept listening (in fact, I did think about deleting the book and moving on to a different title) if I didn't have that long drive. It is a classic story, one full of those British characteristics that I loathe--but...the basic story intrigued me. The mirror in the story is the conscience. I liked the idea that as Dorian aged, the painting did not. I liked the twisted ending.  I did not like the droning on and on to say something simply. I did not like trying to keep up with the characters (there are three main ones, and the author tried to use different voices, but at times I would lose track of who was speaking--that could also be due to driving late at night).

Disrupting Thinking

Beers, Kylene and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting Thinking. Scholastic, 2017.

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Summary (from

In their hit books Notice and Note and Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst showed teachers how to help students become close readers. Now, in Disrupting Thinking they take teachers a step further and discuss an on-going problem: lack of engagement with reading. They explain that all too often, no matter the strategy shared with students, too many students remain disengaged and reluctant readers. The problem, they suggest, is that we have misrepresented to students why we read and how we ought to approach any text - fiction or nonfiction.

With their hallmark humor and their appreciated practicality, Beers and Probst present a vision of what reading and what education across all the grades could be. Hands-on-strategies make it applicable right away for the classroom teacher, and turn-and-talk discussion points make it a guidebook for school-wide conversations. In particular, they share new strategies and ideas for helping classroom teachers:

--Create engagement and relevance
--Encourage responsive and responsible reading
--Deepen comprehension
--Develop lifelong reading habits

“We think it’s time we finally do become a nation of readers, and we know it’s time students learn to tell fake news from real news. It’s time we help students understand why how they read is so important,” explain Beers and Probst. “Disrupting Thinking is, at its heart, an exploration of how we help students become the reader who does so much more than decode, recall, or choose the correct answer from a multiple-choice list. This book shows us how to help students become the critical thinkers our nation needs them to be."

My Thoughts
This was the PD book provided in the Book Love Foundation Summer Reading Book Club.

The reading of this book fell during the time I was on vacation, so I brought it with me and hoped I could get it read. It was great! The chapters are manageable to read in the schedule of fun, walking, eating and just enjoying vacation. I wrote several pages of notes. While I wasn't able to participate in the discussion with the book club, (no WiFi), once I got home, I read through the posts as well as watched the supplemental videos that are included with each chapter. At the end of each chapter are some "Turn and Talk" questions the authors include to get the reader to think about issues raised in the chapter or how the ideas might be applied.

Beers and Probst talk about using a BHH framework with reading (especially for beginners). I intuitively do this (which is why I even keep a blog about the books I read). They discuss it, and then give the reader an opportunity to practice it (LOVED that inclusion!).

I liked that what I'm reading in this book correlates to what I'm learning in other areas. I just had a 3 day training that talked about students having CHOICES in their learning. This book promotes the idea of CHOICES in reading!

Within 20 pages of the book, I made a note that I wanted to share this book with the English Dept. This will be one of my goals this year--get them to read it. But, I also made a note that I needed to share these ideas with my own daughter!

Some key points: there should be 3 big questions asked when reading

  1. What surprised me?
  2. What did the author think I already know?
  3. What changed, challenged or confirmed my thinking?
I'm going to use these as a librarian to help reinforce thinking while reading. 

I liked the concept of NEXT practices, not best. We can always make things better, including incredible lessons. 

I liked the idea that "we have confused the words interest and relevance....Something that is relevant is inherently interesting, but something that is interesting isn't always relevant" (Beers and Probst 114). Hmm...

I liked the comment when discussing the whole class novel approach to teaching. "Neither of us can think of one novel we want to read for eight weeks" (Beers and Probst 142). Ouch! I've done this in the classroom thinking I was great in giving students time to read. I never really thought about it from this perspective. I was breaking up the novel into manageable pieces, not thinking about the kids who would devour it and need to move on or the kids who struggle through and needed more support.  

I've said before, "As Maya Angelou says, 'when you know better, you do better.'" Well, this book has challenged me to do better. I have the opportunity in the library as well as with my Upward Bound kids. I'm very excited to try what I've learned from this book.