Sunday, December 14, 2008

Same Kind of Different as Me

Bibliography
Hall, Ron, and Denver Moore. Same Kind of Different As Me. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

Plot Summary
This is a story of two men who come from different worlds (one is an international art dealer, the other is an illiterate, homeless man) to become the greatest of friends. This is a story of love and reflection.

My Thoughts:
Sometimes, you are just meant to read a book. I first heard about this book when my minister referred to it in a sermon. I looked it up on Amazon.com to buy it, but I thought about the many other books that I already own that I haven't read, so I didn't order it. Several months later in a hospital waiting room, I saw a woman reading this book. I recognized the cover. Ten months pass. When my school library received a shipment of new books, this title was there, and I saw it on the "New Books" display. I checked it out and left it on my desk for another two weeks.

I finally started reading it and read 17 chapters in the first sitting. One of the authors talked about places that I know, and he would have to know in order to talk about them. He mentions his grandparents' house in Barry, TX and a cemetery in Blooming Grove. Now, if you've never been there, you have no idea where these places are (unless you Yahoo map them). Well, it just so happens that I grew up with some kids whose grandparents lived in both Barry and Blooming Grove. So, tonight I was telling my dad about this book. He looked at the inside cover and asked if these were the men that were on the front page of today's paper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram 13 Dec. 2008: B1). Sometimes, you are just meant to read a book.

I finished this book in three days. I was compelled to read. I felt like Ron in many instances. Because I am familiar with Fort Worth, I could visualize where the men were talking and how I've thought about those areas of town. I also felt the connection between these two men and how much Ron's wife Debbie influenced their relationship.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Denver is talking about his relationship with God. He states, "Sometimes I talked to God, askin Him why. Even though I'd had a word or two from Him about His purposes, and even though I'd delivered them words to Mr. Ron like He asked me to, that didn't mean I had to like it. And I told Him I didn't like it. That's the good thing 'bout God. Since He can see right through your heart anyway, you can go on and tell Him what you really think" (Hall 193). I love the honesty Denver shares and how his relationship with God is not one of convenience. Denver is a believer.

The title reference (since I like to pick that out of books) is on page 235. Denver says, "We're all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us" (Hall 235).

I'm glad I read this book.

Addendum March 2012: I recommended this book to a coworker. She came back very upset with me that I didn't warn her about Debbie dying. I honestly didn't remember that part, so I thought I needed to re-read the book. WOW! There are about 100 pages discussing her cancer & death, and as I read, I remember feeling the power and sadness that I did the first time reading. How did I forget this part? What made me block out these many chapters? I don't know. I marked a quote from Denver to post here now. When I re-read my original post, I already had this quote. Sometimes you are just meant to read a book for a second time!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Moon

Bibliography
Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

Plot Summary
Second in the Twilight series, this book does not disappoint. The main story is what happens between Bella and Jacob after Edward and the entire Cullen clan decide it is too dangerous to stay in Forks. So I don't spoil the excitement and mystery, that's all I'm going to say.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed the story and learning more about Jacob's interest in Bella and the Cullens'. I was not surprised by what happened, yet I was surprised towards the end when Bella must make a quick trip to Italy. As I have students reading the Twilight books for SSR, I've been privy to much of the story before I even picked up the book. Most of my students are trying not to divulge too much, but it is hard. These books are addictive and the writing is compelling. I want to keep reading more and more.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Jake, Reinvented

Bibliography
Korman, Gordon. Jake, Reinvented. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks, 2003.

Plot Summary
This is a revised version of The Great Gatsby. It is set in the midwest at F. Scott Fitzgerald High School. The five main characters represent the five of Fitzgerald's famous novel. Jake Garrett (Jay) throws fantastic parties in hopes to impress his love Didi (Daisy).

Critical Analysis
I enjoyed reading the "new" version of Jay Gatz and picking out the similarities between this book and Gatsby. Rick (Nick) is the kicker for the team. Since he is now considered Jake's best friend (after only knowing him two weeks), Rick decides he'll take the popularity. As he states, "We kickers don't get a lot of headlines" (Korman 93).

Once Jake (Jay) and Didi (Daisy) begin their re-acquaintance, the parties become more crowded. Didi's boyfriend Todd (Tom), the star quarterback, picks up on the magnetism between the two, he begins rumors about Jake. "Actually it made perfect sense. Our great and exalted quarterback had soured on Jake. Therefore it was only a matter of time before everyone else fell into line. I love high school. It's a place for individuality to flourish" (Korman 128).

Another line that caught me was when Didi tells Jake, "'Why do you always have to spoil everything? Isn't it enough that I'm with you now?'" I remember that line from Gatsby, so I looked it up and sure enough, Daisy says to Jay, "'Oh, you want too much! I love you now--isn't that enough?'" (Fitzgerald 140).

The title of the book is referenced on page 168.

As Fitzgerald wrote about Daisy, so too does Korman create Didi. An incident occurs and Didi holds true to form: she does not right a wrong that she created. At the pivital moment of Jake's life, only Rick and Dipsy show up. Where are all of his "friends" now?

I feel like I've reread the plot of Gatsby without the complication of reading Fitzgerald. This book was worth spending the day reading.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Bibliography
Wrobleswski, David. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.


Plot Summary
This is a story of a mute boy who grows up raising dogs. Through a series of events, he must flee his home and survive on his own. He realizes that he must return home to the memory of his father, confront the evil uncle and make amends with his beloved companion, Almondine.


Critical Analysis
This book is a whopping 562 pages. About 200 or more pages could be eliminated. The author throws out many possible story lines, as if he's not sure himself where the story is going. It took Wroblewski ten years to write this book. Why didn't the editor take some time to pare down the book? Or maybe the editor did (thank goodness because I can't imagine reading 500 more pages!).


I liked the basic story. It shows depth of human compassion and the relationships between humans and dogs. I like many of the descriptions the author used throughout the book. One of my favorites is when Louisa Wilkes enters the story. "Something about the prim way she walked and folded her hands when she sat made Trudy think she was a southerner, though she had no accent" (Wroblewski 39). The characters are memorable. "Ida Paine looked at her from her perch. She wore oversize glasses that magnified her eyes, and behind the lenses those eyes blinked and blinked again" (Wroblewski 37). We as readers get to see the story from all perspectives, including the dogs. This helps complete the story for us.


I didn't read the prologue before reading the book, and I actually think I was more surprised by the ending because I didn't have South Korea in my head. I did, however, have knowledge from a colleague that the last thirty pages were emotional. That tidbit kept me plugging through the book to see what would happen in the last thirty pages.


Like many books, after having read the entire thing for plot content, I could see the clues that Wroblewski dropped throughout the story. One of my favorite parts of the book is what I would call the "life lesson" of the book. "Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in a river of chance or coincidence" (Wroblewski 457).


Great story, just too lengthy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Bibliography
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.

Plot Summary
This is the "diary" of Arnold Spirit, a fourteen year old Spokane Indian, who decides to leave the "rez" to attend school at an all white school. He must figure out how to live in both worlds.

Critical Analysis
This book made me laugh! I could relate to how the narrator feels in certain situations and I understood the sarcasm and understatement used in the narrative. Even though there are language issues and sexual content, this book captures the reality of a fourteen year old boy. He is not a normal fourteen year old, which is explained throughout the book.

He makes light of situations that happen to himself and his family, but I believe that is his coping mechanism. He doesn't know what to do or say, so he does or says what comes natural, which is sometimes "nerdy."

Drawings are included in this book which makes the entertainment factor go up even more. His caricatures of what is going on are hilarious. I can't wait to read more Sherman Alexie.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mister Pip

Bibliography
Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. New York: Dial Press, 2006.

Plot Summary
Mr. Watts is an oddity. He's white on an island of black people. When the teachers flee the island, Mr. Watts steps in to teach the children. His only text is Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. When the redskins attack the village, Mr. Watts is protected. When the redskins come back, Mr. Watts faces a different fate. This is the "Pacific version of Great Expectations" (Jones 175).

Critical Analysis
I enjoyed reading this book. It took me a little while to understand why Mr. Watts was such an odd thing, but as his story unfolds, we also see how the children he's teaching are taught imagination can save them.



One of my favorite descriptions in this book is when Matilda describes her love affair with this book. "No one had told us kids to look there [in a book] for a friend" (Jones 24). Later Mr. Watts is explaining to Matilda that one "cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe" (Jones 155).



I was disturbed by two events in the story that take place at almost the same time. I won't spoil them here, but the visual that my mind's eye sees about this episode is very disturbing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jewel

Bibliography
Lott, Brett. Jewel. New York: Washington Square Press, 1991.

Plot Summary
This is a story of family. Jewel gives birth to her last child, a daughter, who turns out to have "special" needs. Jewel dedicates her life to helping Brenda Kay, including moving from their home in Mississippi (which her husband built) to California so that Brenda Kay can attend a school that can help her.

Critical Analysis

As I read this book, I kept thinking about what I would do in the same situation. Bret Lott does a great job capturing a mother's love in this novel. Jewel is willing to do anything to help her daughter. She is successful in her life's goal. As a reader, you celebrate Brenda Kay's accomplishments and anguish in the set backs the family faces.

The novel spans several decades, so the reader gets to see the family dynamics change. Some of the chapters are identified by the year that the story is now in, and there are two books within this novel.

It surprised me some that a man wrote this book, as it is obviously from a woman's point of view. Lott creates memorable characters in this book, and I couldn't read it fast enough. I had to find out what happened to the family.

Pigs in Heaven

Bibliography

Kingsolver, Barbara. Pigs in Heaven. New York: Harper Collins, 1993.

Plot Summary

Alice adopted Turtle, or so she thought. Turtle saves a man's life and gains instant pres coverage. It just so happens that an Indian lawyer sees them on The Oprah Winfrey Show and begins tracking them down. Turtle is part Indian and was not officially let out of the tribe to be adopted. What ensues is the story of what a mother will do to protect her child.


Critical Analysis

This was a great beach read, which is where I read it. I became absorbed in what would happen to Turtle. I felt such compassion for both Alice and Annawake Fourkiller. Each fought for what they believed to be the right thing to do. I was happy with the resolution of the book. I also enjoyed learning more about Native American customs.

Never Let Me Go

Bibliography

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.


Plot Summary

Here's a novel about the future, or is it about our present? Students appear to be at a boarding school, but this is a special school for special people.


Critical Analysis

Wow! Where do I begin? At first I was not sure of what was happening in the book. I kept reading to find out. I figured out that Kathy, our narrator, was special, but I didn't realize just how so until over one hundred pages into the book.


Kathy tells us the end before the beginning and flips back and forth with time. At first, this confused me. I had many questions as I read. What are "donations"? Where are these kids? What is their purpose? What is this timeline? I kept reading and am glad I did.

This was a book in my Faith Lit. group. We had a lively discussion about what the author might be saying about cloning and history. This is a book I will have to read again (first time reading is for plot; second time is to unravel the layers).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Freedom Writers Diary

Bibliography
Gruwell, Erin. The Freedom Writers. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.


Plot Summary
This book is a collection of student essays written for Erin Gruwell's "at-risk" English classes. Through the writing, Ms. Gruwell was able to reach her students and show how their environment was much like others around the world. The Freedom Writers studied The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo. The students became inspired by these teenage writers to make a difference and change their own lives.

Critical Analysis
WOW! This is an incredible book. As a teacher, I wondered if I'd ever make this kind of difference to my students. I read with sadness and curiosity about the lives of Erin Gruwell's students.

Each entry is kept anonymous. There are entries of their experiences, but one that I marked was Diary 85 (page 169) because the writer is talking about visiting the Holocaust Museum. I've been to this museum in Los Angeles and what the writer describes is what I remember seeing and thinking for myself.

I actually had the opportunity to listen and meet Ms. Gruwell at Tarleton. What an inspiring teacher! Only after I heard here did I pick up the book. I not only bought Freedom Writers' Diary, but the teacher's guide and the book Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers. I'm anxious to start both books.

Another thing I flagged in the book was a quote from Anne Frank:
...we have the opportunity to get an education and make something
of ourselves. We have many reasons to hope for great happiness, but
we have to earn it. And that is something you can't achieve by taking
the easy ways out. Earning happiness means doing good and working,
not speculating and being lazy. 274

What Jackie Taught Us

Bibliography

Flaherty, Tina Santi. What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. New York, Penguin Group, 2004.


Plot Summary
This is a brief biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The book includes pictures from Jackie's childhood, her family and adulthood. Each chapter title begins with the "lesson" that Jackie taught us and the text illustrates how so.


Critical Analysis

I really enjoyed reading this book and learning more about the First Lady. She was an extraordinary woman and an icon for what America can be. One thing I thought was interesting about her influence is the reference to "Camelot" with her husband's presidency. That term was not used until after his death. Since I was not alive during his presidency, I did not know this.

The author lived in the same New York apartment building as Jackie and had brief exchanges in the elevator.


One thing I really liked about this book is that the biography did not stop after John Kennedy was shot. Jackie's story continues until her death. I'm glad the author continued the story because so many books I've read about Jackie don't include her marriage to Aristotle Onassis (or there is only a brief mention of him).

I actually bought this book at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas. I read almost the entire thing on the ride back home. Jackie was an interesting lady that helped create an iconic image of the role of First Lady.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Monster

Bibliography
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: Harper Tempest, 1999.

Plot Summary
This is the story of Steve Harmon. He is on trial for being an accessory to murder. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time and now faces a possible life imprisonment for knowing the guys that did commit the murder.

Critical Analysis
I enjoyed the way the story was told. Steve Harmon is a high school student taking a film class. He is out scouting locations for his project when his life changes forever. He is suddenly thrust into jail and awaiting trial. Steve chooses to tell his story as a filmmaker. The reader sees the story as if it were playing out on the big screen. I thought this was clever of Myers. Although much of the story takes place in jail, the reader is really in Steve's thoughts there. We hear horrific events happening, but when Steve blocks it out, we are also blocked out of what's happening. It seems as the screen goes black.

I wondered about the topic of the story when I read the cover. "Steve Harmon's black. He's in jail, maybe forever. He's on trial for murder and he's sixteen years old." I thought this book would more gritty and graphic. I'm glad it wasn't. I empathized with Steve. I felt his frustration and his uncertainty. This is a book that doesn't need to use language as a vehicle to create character. The characters are created organically.

I also liked the way Myers used font in this book to show script writing and journal writing. The reader sees Steve's thoughts. There are a few pictures of a young, black man in the book. They enhance the story and do not distract from the situation.

I'm glad to put this book on my shelf. I think students can relate to Steve even if they've never had to walk in his footsteps.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Counting Coup

Bibliography
Crow, Joseph Medicine. 2003. Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. ISBN 0792253914

Plot Summary
This book is a recounting of Joseph Medicine Crow's life story infused with stories of his Indian heritage. Joe is working with the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian to help preserve his family stories.

Critical Analysis
This book begins by explaining what it means to "count coup" in the Crow culture. The narrator then goes on to show how during his lifetime, which was after the tribal days, he was successful in counting coup for himself during World War II, even though he didn't think of what he did in those terms. There are a few pictures of "his people" in the center of the book.

When I sat down to read this book, I read half of it at one time. It is easily read and well written. The reader gets a slice of reality of the narrator's life. It is not sensationalized or crying out for sympathy, nor is it a comprehensive history of the Crow people. It is biography.

I found the story about General Custer very interesting because I've been to the battlefield grounds. I enjoyed reading about the Crow, as I know little about that specific tribe.

Middlesex

Bibliography
Eugenides, Jeffrey. 2002. Middlesex. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. ISBN 9780312422158

Plot Summary
This is a story of Calliope and how her family's history and genetics have really made her a unique individual. Her family is Greek. Her grandparents fled Greece when the Turks attacked it and burned their village. They ended up in Detroit, where another fire will change their lives. As Callie hits puberty, she realizes that she is different. She comes to terms with her differences and even exploits them at one point.

Critical Analysis
What a wonderful narrative! The way the story unfolded reminds me of a flower blooming. This is not an easy read with its 529 pages and time shifts, but it is a necessary read.
We begin with a history of the grandparents, to learn how they came to be in Detroit. The reader is surprised by these two characters. Genetics plays a huge part of the story, but it is not a scientific (non-understandable) lesson. It is a lesson of how love and science sometimes don't mix.
We follow Callie as she grows up and his puberty. This is when he life dramatically changes. We experience her awkwardness, her first crush, her first sexual encounter. She is guarded, but allows the reader to enter her world.

There are so many stories entwined in this book that as readers, we become part of the story ourselves. I took five pages of scattered notes as I read. We face the rioters with Callie's dad; we feel Callie's confusion when she hits puberty; we mourn the death of grandpa Lefty. There is so much going on in this book, and it seems so believable, that I had to remind myself that Eugenides created this and it is a work of fiction. It reads like a biography and well worth the time.

March

Bibliography

Brooks, Geraldine. 2005. March. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0143036661

Plot Summary
Winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize, this book tells the other side of Little Women--the absent dad. What was he doing in the South during the Civil War? Why did he care so much about certain slaves? Why could he not write the truth in the letters home? The story shows the dicotomy of what Mr. March endured and what he wrote home to his family.


Critical Analysis
I enjoyed reading the narrative by Geraldine Brooks. She researched what could have happened to Mr. March and created a wonderful story. Reading this book makes me want to re-read Louisa May Alcott's story.

I read this for a group called Faith Lit. One of the concerns mentioned about this book is there are no strong men. What is the nature of March's march?
--growing up story (disallusioned) naive, innocence
--military--forced walk; disciplined march
--walks/marches all throughout the novel
--hero's journey?