Thursday, December 19, 2013


Van Draanen, Wendelin. Runaway. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

image from:

My Thoughts
A student recommended I read this book. Glad she did. WOW! This was a great story, and I now have another book to recommend to my "reality" fiction readers.

This is Holly's story. Holly is twelve and has runaway from another foster home. This time, though, is different because she has a journal and a plan.

At the beginning of the novel, Holly is resentful of the journal. She hates her teacher that gave it to her to write down her thoughts and feelings. "You think writing will get me out of here? You think words will make me forget about the past? Get real, Ms. Leone!" (Van Draanen 1). She continues to write. She begins to emerge. She transforms. "Maybe I was mean to you. Maybe you really did care" (Van Draanen 46). By the end of the book, she realizes that the journal is one thing that helped her survive her situation. "The most important thing is that this journal made me feel less alone. Like I had someone to talk to" (Van Draanen 244). It has become her most prized possession. She writes, "You can steal my money, you can steal my food, but man, touch my journal and I'm going to beat the crud out of you! It's mine, you hear me?" (Van Draanen 127). 

Her situation: I felt empathy for Holly. She was truly a victim of circumstance. Her father was killed in a tractor accident that sent her mother running into drugs, eventually overdosing and leaving Holly thrown into the foster care system. She is placed and fights it. She is placed again and again until the people who are bond to help her actually fail her. They don't listen. They don't believe. My heart breaks for Holly because I realize that this happens. How many times have "good intentions" turned into a horrible situation? She leaves the last home and decides she will head west and become a sea gypsy. She stows away on a bus and makes it to California.

Holly is a survivor. She's a quick thinker and has been to exposed to more "life" than most grown adults. She is aware of her surroundings and figures out how to make it. The journal helps her. Just as she resisted writing, she resists people, but as she spends more time on the streets, she realizes that not all people are the problem. She also realizes "how ungrateful I've been. I can walk, I'm healthy...I've got a lot more than I think I do" (Van Draanen 159). Pretty powerful revelation from a twelve year old homeless girl!

Writing poetry becomes an outlet. As she rages against her life, she creates some beautiful stanzas. In one poem, she writes, "I'm mad at everything and everyone. Why am I having to go through this? What did I ever do to deserve this?" (Van Draanen 150). My sentiments for her as well.

Books and dogs help her. She finds libraries whenever she can and reads as much as she can. She relates to dogs and cares for them. She wants to become a veterinarian and take care of dogs

Fortunately, I have never had to live on the streets to survive. I've never been hungry enough to eat out of trash cans or steal food. I have never lived in a cardboard box covered in trash bags. I don't know if I could find a soup kitchen by watching other people. I've always had someone I could call given the opportunity.

One person that helps Holly is Louise K. Palmer. She is a homeless woman who thinks Holly is her daughter. Holly pretends so that she can enter the shelter and get a warm meal, shower and clean clothes. Holly makes up a story about Louise's life, "and while I was making up the story, I pretended that the comb was a magic comb, and that it was untangling all the knots of her life" (Van Draanen 51). I liked the imagery here.

Another person that helps Holly is the rescue-wagon lady. Not only does she feed Holly (and other homeless people), she notices Holly. "In the background, just observing, she noticed" (Van Draanen 131). This means so much to Holly. Finally, an adult who sees the good in her. The rescue lady not only feeds the homeless, she defies the police to do it. I was proud of her for throwing the sandwiches.

Walt Lewis and his wife also try to help Holly. They give her a warm bed for a few nights and food, but their "good intentions" drive her away and back onto the streets.

When Holly finds abandoned stuff, she believes she's having good luck. Then she feels confused. "Here I've snagged some homeless guy's sleeping bag, I'm using his mat, eating his food, cashing in his cans...He's homeless. How low can you go?" (Van Draanen 187). This good luck doesn't last long and forces her to move around again.

Holly meets Sammie at the soup kitchen. Holly finds out that Sammie's life is not what Holly imagined. Sammie is serving in the soup kitchen for required community service. Sammie ends up taking Holly to meet Vera and Meg. When I finished this book, I read the author's note and found out Sammie was actually the first story Van Draanen wrote (Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy), but so many readers wanted "to know more about the homeless girl that Sammy rescues in the story" (Van Draanen 247).

We leave Holly's story when she stays with Vera and Meg. This mother-daughter duo looks like a great fit for Holly.

I love the last poem Holly leaves us
scraps of love
torn and tattered
faded, scattered
threads of hope
frayed and tangled
broken, mangled
backing, buttons
yarn and batting
quilted tenderly
wrapped up in
this warm repair
my patchwork family
 (Van Draanen 242).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Noble, Perry. Unleash!: Breaking free from Normalcy. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012. Print.

image from:

My Thoughts
This is yet another book I received free at TLA. When I started reading it, I really wasn't into it. I kept thinking about all of the other things I could do/read/watch instead of this book. However, I stuck with it.

From the back cover: "Perry Noble challenges us to grab on to God's promise of full and complete living. Using the biblical story of David as a backdrop, he reveals the major barriers that often hold us back and keep us trapped in the mundane."

I liked the interweaving of David's story into a story of how we can live an "unleashed" life. I got out my spiral and took some notes while I read (I didn't have my flagging things close by to use.). Noble explains that "unleashing our lives is not about convincing God how great our plans are but rather understanding that we can live the life God has planned for us--right now" (Noble 11). Noble explains that "we think too small when it comes to the potential God has placed within us" (Noble 4). His example is amusing. He asks the reader to think of a number. "Nearly every time I do this experiment...they tell me a number in the ballpark of one to one hundred. But why? Why would we pick a number between one and one hundred when we have the option of choosing any number in the world? Why would we not pick 1,284,383?" (Noble 3). Good point!

I also found that while reading, I kept letting myself get distracted, or I was making connections between my religious teachings & beliefs and questioning what I was reading. This book really got me thinking about some things.

One thing Noble discusses is the "great American lie" where we say you can do anything you want to do. (53) I have told students some variation of this countess times. Noble argues that this is a lie because sometimes, there isn't enough belief in self or trying hard that can make some things possible. His examples are valid. However, Noble states that we are on "on this big ball of dirt called earth" for a purpose (Noble 55). God has a purpose for us. "The key to living a meaningful life is not to focus on what we want but rather on who Jesus is and what He wants for us. As we wrap ourselves up in Him, we find more purpose, meaning, and joy than we ever could have imagined" (Noble 55). Ok. I can believe that and I will stop spreading the "great American lie."

Another "ah ha" thing Noble points out in this book is the idea that "God never gives us more than we can handle" (110). Yes he does, according to Noble. God does so that we will learn to depend on Him (Noble 110). I am going to think about this the next time I want to tell someone this idea from 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Noble talks about three reasons we don't do what we know we should do (Noble 137).
  1. "I'll pray about it"--this is inactivity!
  2. Disobedience
  3. Procrastination
I thought his discussion here was good, relevant and accurate. I will be thinking about this more.

I also learned that "one another" appears in the New Testament more than 50 times (Noble 154). God wants people to connect and be in each other's lives and support each other. I struggle with this. I want to be helpful to others, but I'm not always able to accept others' help.

I know I read this book at this time for a reason (or perhaps many). I look forward to how the teaching of this book unfolds in my life. There are other things that I could write about, but I think it's more personal than I want to share on this blog. Again, I took notes, wrote down some interesting ideas/thoughts/scriptures I want to remember, and let the words reach me where I am.

On a critical note, the book seems to repeat some things. I wondered if this was because it was an unedited proof or Noble was driving a point home (sometimes this would apply) or he just had to repeat. Also, at times I thought that Noble might be putting in "personal" examples that weren't true. I know I shouldn't think a preacher lies, but at times I did question him. Maybe I was reading too close to the truth, and my doubts were the devil's shadow.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Running: Getting Started

Galloway, Jeff. Running: Getting Started. Germany: Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2005. Print.

image from:

Running Getting Started
My Thoughts
In June, I texted a friend who'd been running for a year and said, "I'm ready. Teach me to run." I started running with her, and she talked about the "Galloway method." I wasn't sure what this meant, but I did what she told me anyway.

This book explains the Galloway method (which is a run-walk-run method to avoid injury). As explained throughout the book, "I'm [Galloway] proud to be a wimpy runner who runs every day--instead of being forced to be a couch sitter because of never taking a walk break" (Galloway 225). It is a concise, informative and easily understood book geared to exactly what the title states--the beginner who is getting started. The book covers running basics, nutrition, and even how to enter and compete in your first race.

I like that the first chapter explains why people run. My friend who taught me is an artist. I marked the page in Galloway's book where he explains that "a number of because it improves their creative response" (Galloway 16). Running activates the right side of the brain---the "intuitive center of creativity" (Galloway 16). Chapter One also talks about the freedom during a run. There are no demands/distractions so "you can explore the inner parts that are YOU" (Galloway 19). Yep, I have felt that--even when I run with others.

Chapter Four discusses the most important equipment required for running--shoes. I didn't realize that runners wear shoes about two sizes bigger than the street shoe (Galloway 32). It makes sense, especially during those summer runs! I chuckled when Galloway wrote about "fashion injuries" that occurred when the shoe was picked because of the color match and not the comfort. His advice on when to purchase new shoes is helpful, too.

Galloway includes plans and starts the runner off slow but encouraging. It doesn't help to go full blast one day only to be down 3 days to recover from it. I kept thinking about the turtle--slow and steady wins the race (and as Galloway states wins it injury free!).

Something I learned from this book was about fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. I don't think I've ever heard of this before, and I'm not quite sure I understand it well enough to know if I'm a fast or slow twitcher.

In the section about preventing injury, a surprising thing to read is Galloway's position on stretching. He says "don't stretch!" (Galloway 127). He states he's heard from runners that "either become injured because they stretched or aggravated the injury by stretching" (Galloway 127). The exception to this is when you have Ilio-tibial band injury. He also says to take 48 hours between runs. This break gives the muscles time for recovery. Later in the book, Galloway devotes an entire chapter to stretching.

As my regular running partner suffers from shin splints, I marked some pages that Galloway discusses regarding the reasons for and treatment of this pain. I think I will watch her form when running (and may have someone video me running to check my own form).

The book even has a "Trouble shooting" chapter. A funny thing I marked was inside a list of tips about street safety. Galloway writes, "Assume that all drivers are drunk or crazy or both" (Galloway 212). HA!

The book concludes with the "Being a good coach" chapter. Again, I thought of my friend who helped me get started and how I helped another friend come back to running. Running may be a singular sport, but it is more fun when done with others.

I look forward to reading more of Galloway's books as my own running journey continues.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer

Naslund, Sena Jeter. Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer. New York: Harper, 1999. Print.

image from:

My Thoughts

Una has lived quite a life.

When I began this voyage through 600+ pages, I wasn't sure I would be able to complete the book. I have found that I don't enjoy books about the water (Billy Budd, The Old Man & the Sea, Moby-Dick--ok I haven't actually read that one. I've tried multiple times, but I couldn't keep with it), so what compelled me to read this book, I do not understand.

Una seems to be telling her story as a survivor. She already knows the outcome, but the reader must hear how she survived. The opening chapters are about her losing her beloved mother and child in the same night. Then the story moves backward in time to when her mother sent Una to live on the island with her aunt and uncle. On this island is a lighthouse that she and her cousin call The Giant. This reminded me of another book (Light Between Oceans). This start to Una's narrative is explained on page 619!

Una leaves the island to meet her mother. She ends up on sailing on a whaleboat with Giles and Kit. Their voyage is heart-stopping! Una is one tough girl. I found myself caught up in the language and nuances that Naslund writes. It is a beautiful, horrifying story. So much happens that after Chapter 50, I stopped reading to begin writing this blog. I have 25 flags marking various things at this point.

I was determined to finish this book over Thanksgiving break. I did it! I am amazed at how many things Naslund ties into her book. There is the main story of Una, but there are many other characters and ideas with a place in this tale. Naslund ties in religious affiliations (Quakers, Unitarians, even Methodists). She broaches the idea of slavery (Susan has a recurring story line & Frederick Douglass speaks at an event Una attends.). She brings in women's rights and the role of women in societies. "I did not just want babies, or men who went to sea. I wanted something for myself" (Naslund 124). Una declares that she will do as she pleases, "so long as I hurt no other being" (Naslund 204). Sadly, this doesn't quite happen to Una's expectations. Oh, and then of course the life in a whaling town. Naslund also shows the human connection and what sacrifices are made for the betterment of others (See Chapter 43!).

I began mentally tracking the references to Shakespeare (King Lear & Hamlet, mostly), great classic writers like Keats, Chaucer, Swift; stories of Beowulf & Greek mythology. Una's name is "from Spenser's Faerie Queen, because [her mom] wanted [Una] to be brave and true" (Naslund 400). Transcendentalism and Emerson, Margaret Fuller and even Nathaniel Hawthorne actually makes an appearance  (see page 490). Herman Melville's book is obviously present, although secondary, to this book. It was complete when Ishmael (David Pollack) is identified on page 646. Ahab appears on page 250.

Una is independent....Una is "a remarkable woman" (Naslund 191). Her story is interrupted in Chapter 57 when we hear Captain Ahab's Jottings. From here until the end, the reader gets a glimpse into other character's thoughts. At first, this bothered me. Why did Naslund spend 260 pages in Una's voice to insert others? However, after finishing the book, I understand that we needed those insights.

It takes 360 pages, but Una FINALLY becomes Ahab's wife. We had to travel that far in Una's story before she could marry Ahab. Once they are married, Una's life drastically changes. Her position in society elevates. Even with her privilege, she faces hardships. In her hardships, she befriends Susan, David Poland, the Mitchell Family, the Judge, and a neighboring artist. It is almost like this book could be two--one story of Una's life before Ahab and another story of her life after Ahab. However, that would not make her complete story. Naslund's book does. There is so much that happens that I'm not doing the book justice here.

It isn't until page 609 that Una is persuaded to write down her story (hence the narrative voice). Again, with the interruptions of other characters' thoughts, parts of the story seem a stretch. I did think it was a bit over the top to have Nathaniel Hawthorne and Frederick Douglass play a part in the story. I think that is hindsight (and poetic licensing) to let these paths cross Una's.

Some writing I liked in the book:
  • "'Sometimes I like the public space,' she said. 'It's where the most private things can be said, confidentially.'" (Naslund 320).
  • "'It's always that way. In learning, one thing always has something else in it, or leads to something new'" (Naslund 408).
So, I sailed the story of Una Spenser, Ahab's wife. I actually thought it was good--in spite of the water. Maybe I'll give Moby Dick one more try.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Gallagher, Kelly. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2009. Print.

image from:

Summary of the book from Kelly Gallagher's website:
"Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools.

In Readicide, Kelly argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by:
• Valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers;
• Mandating breadth over depth in instruction;
• Requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support;
• Insisting that students focus solely on academic texts;
• Drowning great books with sticky notes, double-entry journals, and marginalia;
• Ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading;
• And losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures.

Kelly doesn't settle for only identifying the problems. Readicide provides teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators with specific steps to reverse the downward spiral in reading—steps that will help prevent the loss of another generation of readers."

My Thoughts
I'd heard something on my library list-serv about this book. My library already owned it, so I put it on my "to read" pile. Very interesting read (and only 118 pages)! I wish I'd read it while I was still an English teacher. I would have changed a few things about my teaching.  Fortunately, I still work with a group of high school students and think I can use some ideas with them. The book also confirmed some things I did right in the classroom and helped me think about how I can help students in my role as librarian.

Testing is killing curriculum. There is no question about this.  The data that administrators and legislators use to decide if teachers are doing their job are not factoring in the human component. Teachers are not producing widgets, we are trying to educate a human being. Each tester must fit into a box (yet, ironically, we constantly talk about thinking outside of boxes!).

I liked how Gallagher examines readicide and gives teachers some ideas on how to still play well with the people who care more about the test than the student while really helping students learn how to enjoy reading--even when the text is difficult. He states that "if students are taught to read and write well, they will do fine on mandated test" (Gallagher 26). YES!

We need to expose kids to authentic reading and give them experiences to have prior knowledge when they read. "Kids without prior knowledge are at a disadvantage, regardless of reading ability" (Gallagher 38). He gives an example from an actual state mandated test about "The Farrier." Students without prior knowledge had no idea what they were reading. He later gives an example using baseball. As an avid fan myself, I had to "decode" the words being used. I understood the words, but not always the meaning. Very eye-opening!

Gallagher also validates the use of SSR in the classroom. Gallagher states, "SSR is actually a valuable investment in test preparation...SSR is necessary to allow students an opportunity to build their prior knowledge and background...[and] SSR provides many students with their only opportunity to develop a recreational reading habit" (42). HIP, HIP, HOORAY from this teacher!

One of my favorite analogies Gallagher uses is the movie. He gives an anecdote about a student saying her reading time was "ruined by the teacher's insistence on repeatedly stopping to that students could analyze the book" (Gallagher 59).  He continues the explanation with a question, "Would you stay in a movie theater if the projectionist stopped the film twenty-two times?" (Gallagher 61).

This book is powerful! I want my English department buddies to read this; I want my principal to read this; I want our curriculum director to read this; I want my teacher friends in other schools to read this; I want my daughter's teachers to read this. In fact, I've changed my email signature to tell everyone they should read this book.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2013. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts:
This is the third book in the Roth trilogy. I read the first two installments of the story this summer (one of the best stories I read!), so I was counting down until I could buy this book.

Tris and Four are the narrators of this tale. At first, I didn't like the flipping back and forth, especially if I had to stop reading during a chapter. When I came back to read, I had to remember which voice I was reading. However, I did like seeing more of Four's internal struggles and his thoughts.

This book did not disappoint, even though I didn't like some things that happened. I know it had to happen, and since I've had a couple of days to think about it, I know that Roth kept true to her characters. This is a solid story, and even though it is dystopian, it is not so far removed that it isn't possible. I believe some kind of BUREAU OF GENETIC WELFARE probably exists.

There are several twists and turns that kept me saying, "OOOHHHH!" We get some back story on both Tris' and Four's parents. We realize that great inventions can also become deadly weapons.

Some questions I kept thinking about while reading is how do we know what the truth really is? Who can we believe to give accurate information? Who can we trust? Which side is the "right" side? Roth does a great job examining humanity and showing the reader that not everything is easily decided.

I marked so many pages in this book, that my coworker laughed. She asked what I marked. I flag things I want to remember, things I think are foreshadowing, things I thought were funny and things that are ponderable. I like the way Roth explains and describes.

For example, here are some things I marked (without any spoilers or clues):

  • "I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lost their power over us" (Roth 91).
  • "People are just divided by different things, fighting different wars" (Roth 249).
  • "I think that no matter how smart, people usually see what they're already looking for" (Roth 256).
  • "I wonder if this is how it is with all evil men, that to someone, they look just like good men, talk like good men, are just as likable as good men" (Roth 321).
  • "When you control information, or manipulate it, you don't need force to keep people under your thumb. They stay there willingly" (Roth 346).
  • "I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up...I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me" (Roth 372). This one made me think about my marriage. Yep, we choose each other, and it's work, but the work is worth it!
  • "To me, grief is a devastating numbness, every sensation dulled" (Roth 503). I can relate to this. I recently lost an uncle, and numb is the best word I can describe how I feel.
The title reference first appears on page 20.

I am so happy I found this story! A friend recommended Divergent to me a few years ago. I didn't pick it up, didn't pick it up, didn't pick it up. Finally, I picked it up. Now, it's my go to recommendation book. Well done, Veronica Roth! I can't wait to see what you come out with next.

Friday, October 25, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

Hosseini, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013. Print.
image from:

"This is what aging is, these random unkind moments that catch you when you least expect them" (Hosseini 231).

My Thoughts
I love the way Hosseini tells a story! This book tells many stories and had me interested in the opening chapter when a father tells a story to his two children to illustrate a hard truth: sometimes difficult choices are made to benefit the "greater good."

The main themes of this book are abandonment and penance. Many characters are disfigured as well. This may be a physical or psychological manifestation.

The main characters of this story are brother & sister Abdullah & Pari. However, the book spans several generations and travels to several countries and includes multiple characters. I was interested in learning about the various cultures, and Hosseini gives glimpses without having to explicitly explain.

Pari collects feathers as a young girl. Her brother Abdullah protects her & collects the feathers. Upon Abdullah's death, his daughter Pari finds a box full of feathers. Sadly, the daughter doesn't understand the significance, but the reader gets it! WOW!

Chapter Four begins a letter from Nabi to Mr. Markos, but it is really meant for Pari. I felt a range of emotions about Nabi while reading this "confession" and began to understand some connections between the characters. Nabi's letter is the "meat" of the story, and it is juicy!

There are several flashes of time in this book. The author breaks it up visually. I could see this story being put on the big screen very easily because as I read, I had the fade back moments. Sometimes, the breaks were distracting or rushed the story. The one element that ran throughout the book is that there are no coincidences. People are put into our lives for reasons, experiences shape us, and somehow, we are all connected. Someone at my book club described this as Hosseini weaving the threads together. This book is universal because it focuses on the human connection and the complexity of good and evil.

I was taking notes as I read, but then I started marking up the book. This is one I will reread and am glad I bought my own copy. This is also a book the reader needs to experience. My words will not express the beauty of this story.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The One and Only Ivan

Applegate, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
I kept seeing "buzz" about this book on my library list serv, so I looked it up and found that is was a "juvenile" book. I contacted the elementary librarians and asked to borrow it. All of their copies were checked out, but one would send the book to me when it returned.

I got it Tuesday and started reading it that night. It was such a cute story. Ivan is a silver back gorilla that was captured as a young animal and raised with humans. His "father" Mack now keeps him in a "domain" at the mall along with Stella the elephant and Snickers the trick dog. Bob is also there, even though he is "homeless" and wonders in to sleep on Ivan's belly. Later in the story, Ruby joins the attractions.

The opening chapter is "Hello. I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It's not as easy as it looks" (Applegate 1). Indeed, as you read the story, you understand that being a gorilla is complex. Ivan and his sister Tag were captured as young gorillas. Ivan survived. He is an artist and explains that he draws things in his cage. "I often eat my subjects before I draw them" (Applegate 17). A human named Julia comes each day to the mall, as her dad George is the custodian. Julia is an artist, too, so she understands Ivan's drawings. Julia's understanding actually creates a conflict in the story.

Ivan is smart and thoughtful and funny. He shows the reader the human race through another species' eyes. "At times...I wish humans could understand me the way I can understand them" (Applegate 22). When a little boy remarks that Ivan must be lonely, Ivan wishes he could tell the boy,"With enough time, you can get used to almost anything" (Applegate 22). How true, Ivan.

Ivan isn't the only wise one in the mall. Stella the elephant shows her wisdom when she remarks that "old age is a powerful disguise" (Applegate 31). Stella and Ivan are pals, and Ivan makes a promise to help the baby elephant Ruby. Stella is a wonderful story teller because she doesn't forget anything. "I always tell the truth. Although, I sometimes confuse the facts" (Applegate 66).

The first chapter hooked my daughter into wanting to read this book. Well, I actually read some of it to her before going to sleep at night, which I enjoyed sharing the story with her. I don't know how much longer my little girl will let me read to her. Yesterday, she told me she finished the book at school. She really enjoyed it, and so did I.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 2002. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
OH MY GOODNESS! This book scared me!

Susie Salmon is murdered in 1973. She was fourteen years old. After her death, she goes to heaven and is able to tell the story of her family from her eye on the world.

This book is part mystery, part romance, part speculation and all very compelling! I can't wait to watch the movie to see if it is creepy as the book. I visualize what many of the characters look like, including the recluse neighbor Mr. Harvey.

I love how Susie is the omniscient narrator. She sees everything her family is doing and reacts as the reader would watching something that we could not fix.

When Susie's brother Buckley is in the seventh grade, "his favorite teacher was not really a teacher at all but the school librarian, a tall, frail woman with wiry hair who drank tea from her thermos and talked about having lived in England when she was young" (Sebold 253). Yes, librarians do make a difference, even if we don't all drink tea from a thermos!

Buckley has a special connection to Susie. He can see her, and even talks to her. "'Please don't let Daddy die, Susie,' he whispered. 'I need him'" (Sebold 260). I buy into this idea. I "talk" to my angels all of the time!

Ruth's character was interesting, but I had a hard time buying into the supernatural sex scene. Of everything written in the story, this was the most unbelievable element for me.

The ending was sad and happy at the same time. Susie and her family do get some resolution. The charm bracelet on the cover is relevant to the story.

The title reference is on page 320.

SPOILER: I was mad at how long Mr. Harvey lasted, but I was happy when he did finally die. That's one less creep on the move. When Sebold writes, "George Harvey had evaporated into thin air when he hit the property line. He [Len]could find no records with that name attached. Officially, he did not exist" (Sebold 218). This startled me. How many people are among us that don't "officially" exist?  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dear Teen Me

Anderson, E. Kristin, and Miranda Kenneally, eds. Dear Teen Me. San Francisco: Zest Books, 2012. Print.
image from:

Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves

My Thoughts
I'd been hearing about this book, so I ordered one for the library. A few kids checked it out, but it didn't fly off the shelf like I hoped. At TLA this year, I bought myself a copy since I could get it signed by E. Kristin Anderson (yep, this is one I didn't give away to my students). So, it has been on my "summer reading" stack. Now that I've read it, I can book talk it and more kids will read it. I have some in mind that I want to make sure they do!

This book is a collection of letters that various authors are writing to themselves. I noticed two things: many of the authors have Texas connections (yea!), and I felt like I was reading my own past. It amazed me how many similar situations these authors had with my own teenage years. If I could craft a letter to my teenage self, I would include some of the same advice these writers did. This book really made me think about my teenage years. What would I do or not do? How would I take those "lessons" and live through them when it seemed impossible at the time? I kept thinking about people I shared the hallways and classrooms with that I never really knew, and how unfortunate that is. I kept thinking of my best friends in high school and how we leaned on each other through those trying years (and some of them are still best friends!).

I liked that some of these writers I've never heard of, but I shared their stories. I was surprised by a few writers that I did know (Ellen Hopkins' story was unexpected.) and enjoyed getting a better glimpse into their personal lives. I liked the pictures because they mostly looked familiar, too.

As an adult reader, who thankfully survived the teenage years, I could appreciate this book.
For a teen, I think this book gives hope. I can't wait to share it with them (and I might be buying a few copies for some friends to relive their teen years).

As I finished the book, I found out there is a "Dear Teen Me" blog. Yep, I've started following that, too.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Little Chapel on the River

Bounds, Gwendolyn. Little Chapel on the River. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
I believe that I read books when I am supposed to read them. I just finished this book, and it occurred to me today that this week is 9/11. The event is a catalyst that made this story even happen....strange how I read it and finished the book so close to the anniversary of the devastation. When I started this book, I had no idea. This was another ARC that I decided this was the summer to read it!

This turned out to be non-fiction, but it reads like a novel. The author Gwendolyn (Wendy) lived in NYC just blocks away from the World Trade Center. When the terrorists attacked, she was forced to leave her apartment. She ended up renting a house in Garrison, New York--a commuter train ride away from the city. Bounds worked at The Wall Street Journal. This training helps her capture the essence of Garrison, and more specifically the Irish pub, Guinan's, in this sleepy book with surprising life revelations.

Guinan's is not only the local pub, it is the place where quite a collection of characters come for comfort and safety and "family." Jim Guinan is the proprietor. His battle with diabetes puts the future of the bar into question. What will become of this place if Jim dies?

Each of the regulars have reasons for coming to Guinan's. The writer herself becomes attached and works the store to help the family. Guinan's is the "chapel" of the community. (The title reference is on page 57). It is a simpler place, yet the longer Bounds is there, the more she understands that these people are more than their first impressions. In the city, she had "all these gadgets in the world to help [her] save time, and yet somehow there was never enough time for everything" (Bounds 59). She genuinely gets to know and care for the "regulars" in the bar and even "wonders if all [her] smart gadgets have actually made [her] stupid" (Bounds 132). 

Each chapter has a title that threads the story. My favorite title is "Human duct tape."(Bounds 222). She explains that "bit by bit the human duct tape that keeps this place together tightens its hold" (Bounds 222). I love the imagery.

I enjoy Fitz's "heh, heh, heh" and the curmudgeonly, gruff exterior he presents.   I admire John & Margaret's devotion to their dad. I like how as Bounds realizes things at Guinan's, she weaves her own narrative to the story, and they actually become one thread instead of two.

My personal revelation character is Walter. At first, I thought him a bit eccentric. Then, I realized that Bounds was describing my dad. Walter explains all of the work needed to repair nail pops in the wall. When Wendy questions the amount of work involved, Walter, just like my own dad says, "It's the RIGHT way to do it. Haven't I taught you anything?" (Bounds 241). Later Wendy hears in her head Walter saying, "If you take care of it, it will take care of you" (Bounds 255). My dad says, "if you take care of it, it will last forever."

So, another advanced reading copy in my stack that finally got read. The writing is vivid and I feel like I enjoyed a pint at the bar with the regulars. I wondered about the bar and found that Bounds has a blog. This is what is posted there, "'Is the chapel still around?' That's the first thing readers ask after finishing my book Little Chapel on the River. about Guinan's Pub & Country Store in Garrison, N.Y. For a long, sweet while, the answer was 'yes.' But on January 31, 2008, Guinan's closed after nearly 50 years of defying time and predictions thanks to the generosity of the family who ran it."  I'm glad that Bounds visited and recorded the history of the place as she learned it , and I'm glad I got to "visit" the place through her book.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Burgess Boys

Strout, Elizabeth. The Burgess Boys. New York: Random House, 2013. Print.
image from:

Plot summary (from the inside cover)
"Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim & Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan--the Burgess sibling who stayed behind--urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever."

My Thoughts
My book club picked this book to read. We'd read Strout's Olive Kitteridge, so I was excited to read another story by the same author. 

This is the story of siblings Jim, Bob & Susan Burgess. I wrote my thoughts, and then realized that if you read this blog, you might not have a clear idea of what the book is about, so I included the inside cover description. I'm always afraid to give too much away when I'm writing about a book. Usually my "My Thoughts" section is a personal reaction to what I've read or interesting revelations I saw through the characters. I seem to always learn something from reading a book, whether I liked the story or not. I liked this story.

Bob & Susan are twins. Jim is the older, protective brother. "Your Uncle Jim will take care of you. That's what he does" (Strout 158). Each sibling has a story--a past that has created their present. However, when one sibling confesses that the remembered past is not accurate, each of their lives shift. This is a huge tectonic shift! One truth can change a person.

Strout creates three dimensional characters in a mostly believable story about multiple generations of a family.  What seems like a "slice of life" story actually carries through years. Readers can relate to this story because we all have some degree of dysfunction in our families.  We might not share the same story, but we can relate to the circumstances.

The sub-story that brings the siblings together is that of the awkward teenager Zach . He has done a bone-head act against the Somali community that now lives in his hometown. This act now has him facing federal charges.  Big brother and lawyer Jim will take care of this. He thinks.

I kept thinking about the research Strout must have done to write this story. Who just knows that the Somali people didn't have a written language until 1972 (Strout 130)? There are many layers to the story that would require some research (Somali, parasites, expressions). There was a lot going on in this story (which is divided into four books).  There are several characters that seem minor, but play a pivotal role in the narrative. Nothing is mentioned in the plot summary of Pam, Helen or Steve--the people who married into the Burgess Family. I marked several things the characters did and said. I felt like I visited Shirley Falls, Maine.

I liked the way the story unfolds. It is not predictable. Life isn't. Thanks to Elizabeth Strout for another enjoyable story.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Becoming Naomi Leon

Ryan, Pam Munoz. Becoming Naomi Leon. New York: Scholastic, 2004. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
Naomi and her brother Owen live with their grandmother in Lemon Tree, California. They get by on simplicity and the power of positive thinking.

Naomi makes lists. She makes lists about what she worries about, interesting words and "Things that were the good and the bad all rolled into one" including the fact that her mother has returned after being gone seven years (Ryan 30). (As a list maker myself, I smiled when I read about this character).

Owen wears tape. It literally holds him together.

The mother made me want to SCREAM! I was so upset about her selfishness and motivations and her treatment of the kids. I don't want to say too much here, but she is below worthless.

The grandmother tries to do her best to help these kids. I admire her tenacity.

When the family travels to Mexico to find Santiago, I was put off by the connections that actually found him. It was much too convenient (however, much needed for the story, I understand. Besides, fiction at this reading level allows for reality to be put aside some). I did like the sprinkling in of the Mexican tradition of radish carving. I don't know if it is true, but it was a glue piece to the story.

I know that this book is a middle grade book, but I don't think I want my daughter to read it yet. There are some people (characters) that I just don't want her to meet. There are some situations that I don't want her to experience. Sadly, there are so many kids that really live like Naomi and Owen. Maybe I should let my daughter read this so that she can experience through reading instead of reality. I will put it on her shelf, and she will find it to read when it is the right time. I believe books "find" us when we can receive the message.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Roth, Veronica. Insurgent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012. Print.

image from:

My Thoughts
This is book two of the Roth trilogy. I am just as pleased with this installment as I was the first book of the story.

Tris is learning that people are not always as they seem and situations are not necessarily right and wrong. She is forced to make tough choices and must learn to decide what to do instead of react and go into situations without being prepared. She says, "I feel like I am collecting the lessons each faction has to teach me, and storing them in my mind like a guidebook for moving through the world" (Roth 411). Yep, that's what growing up is. Each person, each situation, each "life lesson" teaches us, guides us and prepares us. Often, we don't understand at the time, but the revelation comes. As I read this book, I kept thinking of myself and the many lessons I've been taught. I also marked this statement because I thought it tied in to the same idea. "We were all placed here, for a specific purpose" (Roth 487). After finishing the book, I can see the double meaning. I do appreciate Roth's characters and writing.

As I didn't spoil much in the review of Divergent, I also don't want to give away this story. I did mark this statement, though. "I decide to keep the shirt to remind me of why I chose [_____] in the first place: not because they are perfect, but because they are alive. Because they are free" (Roth 418). Tris' revelation is understandable.

When some plans are being made in Chapter 38, I kept thinking of Animal Farm. It is easy to feel right when everyone agrees with you. However, just because everyone agrees doesn't make an action right.

The title reference is on page 509. "Insurgent. Noun. A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent." I wondered when I would see it. The end of the book just leads us into the third book that comes out this fall. I CAN'T WAIT TO READ IT!

Friday, August 2, 2013


Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2011. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
Oh, I enjoyed this book! This is a dystopian novel set in Chicago. There are five factions. What I found as I read this book, that we all are, in part, these five factions. Roth has pinpointed human nature and created an interesting story about what happens when the five factions interact with each other. "Without a faction, we have no purpose and no reason to live" (Roth 15).

The Five Factions
  • Abnegation (values selflessness)
  • Candor (values honesty)
  • Dauntless (values courage)
  • Erudite (values knowledge)
  • Amity (values understanding)
Beatrice is Abnegation. She is supposed to be selfless. After she turns 16, she must choose which faction she will live with for the rest of her life. "I will decide to stay with my family or abandon them" (Roth 5). She chooses...

I don't want to say much about the book because it is SO good, and I want the reader to uncover the story. The title reference is on page 16 (and appears elsewhere in the book), and that fits in to the story. Again, I don't want to spoil it here.

One thing I enjoyed about this book is how I began looking at people (I was in Boston at the time of reading) and "assigning" them to the five factions. I even labeled myself as I recognized the faction traits.

I'm excited to learn that this book is coming out in movie form next March. I hope it will be good. I've started reading the second book in the series, Insurgent and the third title comes out this fall. I can't wait to recommend this book to my students. It is clean (a kissing scene does appear on page 182) and not too futuristic that it isn't possible to imagine. However, there are some violent things that happen.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fenway: A Fascinating First Century

Bauer, David, ed. Fenway: A Fascinating First Century. New York: Sports Illustrated Books, 2012. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
As one of my life-long goals is to see Fenway, this book was very exciting to read. Well, there actually isn't too much text---a few essays from Sports Illustrated writers and many photo captions.

The opening pages explain the history of the ballpark (It opened April 20,1912.) and how through the years it has survived demolition, renovation and the curse of not winning pennants. Then the book is broken into a timeline that includes historical events along with the happenings of the park and players that took the field.

The pictures are amazing! It was fun to read about players who once donned the Red Sox jersey and to see the park evolve with the changing times. As many of the essays were written before this book was compiled, the predictions and exclamations made by the writers and players are an interesting piece of history (and fun to see if they came true).

The cutest thing was at the end of the book in the chapter entitled "Little Fenways." Here, the editor compiled various examples of Fenway replications, including a Lego ballpark. Cute, cute, cute!

The last pages of the book are 100 factoids and tidbits related to Fenway Park. Super interesting, especially for the stat loving fan.

I'm leaving tomorrow to see this majestic field. This book absolutely put a spark in my heart, and I can't wait to compare the images from the book to the live stadium!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Book Thief

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Kindle file.
image from:

My Thoughts

The narrative voice that starts this story is first person death. This is an interesting choice, as death travels to all places at all times, especially during a war.

The narrative voice introduces the reader to Liesel Meminger, the book thief. Death sees the colors of red, white and black when he thinks of her. He tells us her story. Most of the story takes place between 1939-1943. Hitler is rising in power and Germany is changing. Jews are being rounded up and sent away.

The narrative voice interjects observations, notes, and information to help the reader understand more of the story and also drops clues of what is to come. The narrative voice has a wry sense of humor.
It made me laugh on more than one occasion. I enjoyed the side notes he provided. For example, "I do not carry a sickle or scythe. I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold. And I don't have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance" (Zusak). 

Liesel is taken to the Hubermanns for foster care. Her mother can no longer care for her, her father (a Communist) is gone and her brother is dead. Rosa Hubermann is strict,  has "a distinct waddle to her walk" and cusses quite a lot (Zusak). She does washing for other families. Hans is quiet, paints, plays the accordion and rolls his own cigarettes. They ask Liesel to call them Mama and Papa.

The irony of Liesel being the book thief is that she cannot read. Hans tries to help her and is a comfort to her young soul. He is gentle and caring--quite the opposite of his wife Rosa. "If I ever ask you to keep a secret for me, you will do it" Hans says. Liesel promises she will. The secret is learned and kept.

"She was a girl. In Nazi Germany. How fitting that she was discovering the power of words" (Zusak).
The events and characters in the story are intertwined. Often things are seen, but not seen. This is how we live. We don't always see the connections. Enemies are actually friends. Lessons are repeated.

This book has many characters, many poignant moments, many historical elements, many surprises and many lessons about humanity that makes it a good read. It's hard to talk about the book with any satisfaction. It must be read and experienced.

The following are notes I took while reading. As I think the book must be experienced, I also didn't want to forget these things, so I'm leaving them on the blog. Don't read these until you read the book. You will be disappointed to learn what happens from my notes.

Rudy Steiner becomes Liesel's best friend and ally. "In years to come, he would be a giver of bread, not a stealer--proof again of the contradictory human being. So much good, so much evil. Just add water" (Zusak).

Hans Junior--son, Nazi. He calls his father a coward. His story will tragically end in Stalingrad, Russia.
Trudy/Trudel-daughter. housemaid

Ilsa Hermann, mayor's wife, allows her in to library
books belong to Johann Hermann--her son, died 1918

Arthur Berg-apple, food thief
Viktor Chemmel-leads thief gang

*************things happening
Max Vandenburg is hiding---goes to Hubermann's--Max's dad (Erik Vandenburg--taught him to play the accordion) actually saved Hans in Great War--volunteers for handwriting. "That was the first time Hans Hubermann escaped me. ...Not many men are lucky enough to cheat me twice" (Zusak).

Walter Kugler helps Max (they use to fight each other--in that became friends)

"Do you still play the accordion?" = "Will you still help me?"

Viktor throws The Whisperer in the river--Rudy retrieves it

Max is sick--brought up to Liesel's bed--after snowman in basement--Liesel starts bringing him gifts (flattened ball, ribbon, pinecone, button, stone, feather, two newspapers, candy wrapper, cloud "Memorize it. Then write it down for him" (Zusak). toy soldier, miraculous leaf, finished whistler, slab of grief)

Liesel steals 2nd book from mayor's library The Dream Carrier
Max wakes up!

Bombing takes Himmel Street--except Liesel who is reading in the "too shallow" basement

Liesel finds Max in "parade" through town--she is whipped by soldier, too
Liesel tells Rudy story of Max

Ilsa Hermann tells Liesel to write if she can't read any more words (Liesel destroyed book)

back to bombing--kissed Rudy (he's already dead)
holds Mama's hand and talks to her; can't look at Papa. gets his accordion for him

death picks up Liesel's book

"Liesel Meminger lived to a very old age"--Ilsa and husband pick her up at police station

Alex Steiner comes back--Liesel spends time with him in the shop; Max returns!

Death says "I am haunted by humans"

Monday, July 8, 2013


Mosley, Walter. 47. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2005. Print.
image from:
My Thoughts
This is another book that has been on my shelf for a few years. I received this as an ARC (advanced reading copy). The book is classified for ages 12+ and Mosley's "first book for young adults" (back cover).

As I started reading, I thought, "what in the world is this?" so I looked at the back cover. The publisher states that this book "weaves historical and speculative fiction into a powerful narrative about the nature of freedom" (back cover). Ok. Historical fiction I like. Speculative fiction? I'm not too sure. So I decided that I would have to read with an open mind.

This is the story of a slave named 47. (It is explained why he is named for a number.) He meets Tall John who has traveled thousands of years to find him. Tall John is mysterious and feeds 47's mind with possibilities. "It is only the mind that you truly own" Tall John says (Mosley 69). Tall John has many mantras that he shares with 47, the most often repeated is "neither master nor nigger be" and he explains that "when you say master and when you say nigger you are making yourself his dog and his slave" (Mosley 56). Once 47 realizes what this mantra fully means, he feels the "thrill of freedom" in his heart (Mosley 146).

At Chapter 13, I realized the drawing at the beginning of each chapter changed. The drawings depict the connections between the characters in the book with Elle, Tall John's home planet.

There are aspects of slavery discussed in this book as well as timeless adages like "sometimes we have to make hard choices" (Mosley 177). Some of the slavery scenes are quite graphic and uncomfortable to read.  There is a zombie scene that actually fit in a weird way. The idea of freedom and what that means is explored. I caught myself marking the timeless advice that Tall John gives and those revelations 47 has. "All John had to do was give her [Tweenie] a few nice words and she changed from a sullen bully into a woman filled with hope" (Mosley 164).

Overall, the story was ok. I just had a hard time with the unrealistic nature of it. I think I'll have to read more speculative fiction to make a determination if this story was good or not. I did try to read with an open mind, but I kept finding myself doubting the narrative.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Language of Flowers

Diffenbaugh, Vanessa. The Language of Flowers: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts

The book is divided into four parts (1-Common Thistle, 2- A Heart Unacquainted, 3-Moss & 4-New Beginnings).

The story alternates between the now and the past. We meet Victoria Jones, an 18 year old who is exited out of her foster home to a guidance home. After 3 months there, she's evicted because instead of finding a job, she spends her time finding flowers. She is infatuated with flowers. We learn that at one (pivotal) foster home, Elizabeth taught her "the language of flowers is non-negotiable, Victoria" (Diffenbaugh 63).  Once evicted from the guidance home, she lives in a park in a secluded spot. She begins working with Renata at Bloom, a flower shop in San Francisco and evens finds a "closet" to rent out so she doesn't have to sleep in the park.

Victoria has a love and understands the "language of flowers" (First title reference on page 29. Also appears other times in the book.)  and has a gift that helps Renata's business. Victoria later learns that Elizabeth "had been as wrong the language of flowers as she had been about me" (Diffenbaugh 74). Victoria begins a quest to photograph and collect the real meaning of the flowers. She's learned that sometimes there are more than one meaning.

Victoria feels unworthy and doesn't trust and has a hard time loving because she seems to ruin the good things in her life. However, she makes some good choices, based on her love of flowers, that actually pull her out of a life she could have lived. In many ways, the flowers both destroyed and saved her life.

There is so much in the story that I reacted to while reading. The story was enjoyable and I learned about what meaning certain flowers hold. As I read, I started a list of the flowers mentioned and their meanings. This was unnecessary, as in the back of the book, there is a flower dictionary. At times, I wanted to scream at Victoria for the way she treated Grant and Hazel. However, I did understand her need for survival. She'd been kicked (sometimes literally) too many times.

I enjoyed how Diffenbaugh wove the stories together of the past and present, as we are always connected to decisions we've made. "Every decision I'd ever made had led me here" (Diffenbaugh 249).  Some parts of the book were predictable or unbelievable, but the story also holds a few surprises.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tofu and T. rex

Leitich Smith, Greg. Tofu and T. rex. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. Print
image from :

My Thoughts
Here is another book that's been on my shelf too many years. I received this as an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) (at the Texas Book Festival?). Again, I thought THIS is the summer I will read this book!

When I started to read it, I noticed the author's name. I recognized this name. So I "Googled" it and sure enough, this author is married to Cynthia Leitich Smith, an author I sought out to hear this year at TLA. This became another confirmation that this is the summer to read it. Now, on to the story.

The book is written for "middle grades, ages 8-12" (back cover). It was a funny read that I'm happy to share with my daughter. The story is told from two points of view: cousins Frederika (Freddie) Murchison-Kowalski and Hans-Peter Yamaha. The setting is Chicago. Freddie is a vegan. The kids' grandfather owns a butcher shop where both cousins work. There is conflict.

Freddie attends the Peshtigo School where Hans-Peter is trying to enroll. The application process is quirky, much like the school. Hans-Peter is dinosaur obsessed and the Peshtigo School offers a wonderful program that he wants to study. Will his admittance essays on sausage making be enough to convince the board he is Peshtigo worthy?

Through the story, the cousins come to understand that being different doesn't mean they can't be good cousins. They each end up helping the other in surprising ways.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ashes of Roses

Auch, Mary Jane. Ashes of Roses. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2002. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
This book is historical fiction. It's another book I've had on my shelf for a few years and decided THIS is the summer to read it. It is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that happened March 25, 1911, but it really isn't just about that because the fire doesn't happen in the story until page 204.

This is really a story about the resilience of humans. Margaret Rose Nolan and her family immigrate from Ireland to the United States. Upon arriving, the youngest Nolan child is denied admittance because he has trachoma (a descriptive passage explains this very painful process of how this is found). Da decides to return with the boy and leaves Ma and the three girls in New York to meet up with his brother Patrick.

Uncle Patrick's family is none too happy to receive these "dirty" relatives (Auch 47). The women stay there for a brief time until it is decided they must return to Ireland. Living in the United States just isn't working. At the dock, Margaret (now just Rose) and Maureen talk their mother into letting them stay. I can't imagine what a decision that was for the mother!

Rose is smart, but she doesn't know the ways of this new country. She befriends Gussie (or perhaps Gussie befriends her) and Rose begins work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where she earns $6 a week for long hours.

Auch does a wonderful job describing in the book:
  • the process of entering the country (I was worried that the family would be separated as they herded from one hallway into the next.),
  • the working conditions of the factory,
  • the hopes and aspirations of immigrants wanting the streets in America to be paved with gold, only to find that they weren't,
  • the "unsavory" characters that prey upon those that don't know or don't have a voice to protest
The title reference is on page 52, which is a fabric color, but I believe the title is a double entendre after I read about the fire.

I can tell that Auch did her research while creating this story. The descriptions are just too real to not be true. She also doesn't allow for a "happily ever after" ending because that would be disrespectful to those 146 people who died at the Asch Building.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An Abundance of Katherines

Green, John. An Abundance of Katherines. New York: Dutton Books, 2006. Print.
image from:
My Thoughts
Last summer I read two of John Green's books (Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska). John Green became my "go to" author recommendation for the school year (and gave me a little "street cred" with my teens!).

Green did not disappoint me with this novel. It is witty and full of memorable characters. Colin Singleton is a prodigy. He speaks eleven languages. He creates anagrams and memorizes things he reads. "It wasn't just that things interested him because he didn't know from boring--it was the connection his brain made, connections he couldn't help but seek out" (Green 92). Because of this, he only has one real friend, Hassan. After being dumped by Katherine XIX, Colin and Hassan take off on a road trip in hopes of Colin getting over being dumped. They end up in Gutshot, Tennessee where they meet Lindsey and Hollis Wells. The Wells own the local textile factory and hire the two boys to record the stories of the locals. As the stories unfold, Colin works on his Theorem. This will be a mathematical calculation of his relationships with all of the Katherines. However, there is a flaw. Once Colin figures out the missing piece, he creates a "perfect" Theorem of relationships. Will this be enough to make Colin matter to the world?

Some parts of the book were predictable (no spoilers here). I absolutely loved the footnotes of random facts that Green includes. These notes add to Colin's character. He is a little weird and including the weird footnotes works. Plus, I always enjoy knowing random things that seemingly have no connection, yet they really do. My brain sometimes works the same way.

I laughed out loud several times reading this story. When Colin and Hassan go on the hog hunt (which was a funny episode), Hassan explains why the "whole world is turned upside down" because "It's like we're in a snow globe and God decided he wanted to see a blizzard so he shook us" (Green 166). I've thought this, too.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Journey to Topaz

Uchida, Yoshiko. Journey to Topaz. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1971. Print.
image from:
My Thoughts
I've had this book since 2007 and decided THIS is the summer to read it. It is the first book of my summer reading, in fact.

The story is about an 11 year old Japanese girl named Yuki Sakane and her family's relocation to an internment camp during WWII. The characters are fictional, but the events are true. They spend four months in a horse stall at Tanforan Racetrack and then are moved to the deserts of Utah.

The story was simple and moving. I could feel the optimism of Mother, as she believes that all will work out for the family.  She is a "gentle, Japanese lady" with a "strong and noble spirit" (Uchida 18). Mother will "observe every letter of the law" (Uchida 32), because she believes if the government is asking them to relocate, it is for a good reason.

Brother Ken is not so optimistic and struggles with his new role as head of the household when Father is arrested by the FBI (almost immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor). When Ken gets upset about the relocation, Mother tries to calm him by saying, "Fear sometimes makes people do terrible things" (Uchida 25).

Yuki tries to remain positive, but she begins to loose her innocence when she sees the conditions of the "apartments" and listens to the older people speak of the war. Her beloved dog Pepper is not allowed to relocate, so Yuki asks a neighbor to watch him. She learns in the camp that Pepper has died. This is her first experience of death and the world changes for her.

Two words I learned from reading this book are "Issei"-1st generation Japanese and "Nisei"-Japanese-born in America.

The title reference is on page 93.

One passage that I thought was beautifully written (I loved the imagery.) is "The car captain's voice broke the silent web of memories in which they all had been tangled up for a few moments" (Uchida 89).

I didn't like the ending, though. The story just stopped, in my opinion. Perhaps Uchida is just giving us the "slice of life" while the family is interned, but I want to know what happens to them when they leave the camp for Salt Lake City. Do they still face discrimination because they are Japanese? Does Ken finish school and become a doctor? Will Yuki find caring neighbors there like she had in Berkeley?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Worst Hard Time

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of the Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,  2006. Print.
image from:

My Thoughts
This book was a selection for World Book Night. It was my 2nd choice, but it was the title that I was going to receive. I thought I'd better read it so I can talk it up as I passed out twenty copies on April 23 (See for more info. about this.).

This book took me, a reader, over a month to complete. How was I supposed to hand this title out to "reluctant readers" to "encourage literacy" when I could barely get through it myself? The text was interesting, but like the people in the Plains area, I was choking on the dust.

The book is over 300 pages, divided into three sections. There were many stories of how the people of the region survived (or didn't) during the early 1900s. I felt such compassion and empathy for these people. Their stories reminded me of my grandparents who lived in central Texas during this time. I learned about how the term "dust bowl" was coined and how the land became so stripped that it could do nothing but blow away and leave farmers penniless.

I chuckled when the Washington, D. C. bureaucrat was urging for money and help to region to deaf ears. Deaf ears until the west Texas dust blew in to D. C.! The money was approved within a day (Egan 228).

I liked, and at the same time didn't like, the format Egan used to tell the stories. Egan layers the stories to overlap and then sometimes takes a divergent path to examine one person's story. I took (8 pages) notes (as usual) while reading and often felt like I was rereading something because of the overlap.

As I read, I was transported back in time to this region. Egan has done the research and crafts a book that reflects many people. The dust did not discriminate. It affected everyone in No Man's Land.

One thing I did do after reading this book is find the movie "The Plow that Broke the Plains" and watched it looking for Bam White.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

City of Tranquil Light

Caldwell, Bo. City of Tranquil Light: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt, 2010. Kindle file.
image from:
My Thoughts
I didn't think I would enjoy this book as I started reading. I had my tablet handy to keep notes because I didn't think I would connect with the story or the characters. I was also intimidated by the setting (China) and my lack of knowledge about this region.

The novel weaves together Will's narration with Katherine's letters. This fiction book depicts the characters and details beautifully that it reads as nonfiction. There is, as one of my friends said, "honesty of the characters."

Will and Katherine are missionaries in China. They spend almost twenty years in Kuang P'ing Ch'eng (City of Tranquil Light). This is home. They face many trials and heartaches while in China and meet many people. The author layers these elements together in a way that is not preachy, condemning or unrealistic. My heart was pounding at one episode because I wasn't sure what the outcome would be.

Some of my favorite lines: "One of the few things I did know was how much I didn't know." How true! At one point in the book, Katherine comments that "We, who came to help the people here, are the beneficiaries of their kindness"--I have found this to be the case many times in my life. God has an amazing way of filling me when I think I'm filling someone else. When the "villain" Hsiao Lao explains, "examine me...given proof of how rightly I live my life" I laughed. How ironic that this "bad" man could think he's good. Well...first impressions are lasting, but they might not be accurate. It speaks to me that even when we consider ourselves to be good, we can do bad things and bad people can do good things. The author examines this idea with the Hsiao Lao character.

*I read this book on my Kindle, which doesn't give page numbers.

As I was finishing the book, I was touched by Will's love for his wife. This book is about relationships--many different kinds of relationships--friendships, marriage, grief, loyalties. It was a great read, taking me to a time and place that I didn't know much about before reading.

I often experience moments of connection. While reading this book, there is a description of Germans moving to Russia under Czarina Catherine II's reign. In a different book I'm reading (about the Dust Bowl), there is a description of Germans moving to Russia under Czarina Catherine II's reign. It's funny to me that these two books can tie together.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Texas Library Association (TLA) conference

Usually I take time to post about the books I've read. However, I think I need to post this after returning from conference.

First let me say, I HAD A BLAST! This year's annual event was held in Ft. Worth. The weather was great, the hotel was near the convention center and the free (and mostly cheap) books were autographed & hauled home.

I saw and spoke with so many authors! This was the first time I attended the conference as a librarian. My interests were a little different than the previous times I've attended. I stood in many lines for my students---I recognized a name and waited to see the book cover to know, "Yep, I've got someone reading that!" I actually tried to interact with specific vendors and find out if my library needed what they were selling.

I walked and walked and walked. I even took a walking tour of downtown one morning. I learned so much about the city in that hour.

Did I mention I met authors? I heard panels of writers talking about their craft, their motives, their inspirations, their fan mail, their journeys.

So excited to attend and look forward to next year's conference in San Antonio.

The picture is Libba Bray and me...just hanging out before her panel discussion. She is HILARIOUS!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

War Horse

Morpurgo, Michael. War Horse. New York: Scholastic, 1982. Print.

My Thoughts
I understand that this is a "juvenile" book. However, I did catch myself thinking things like, "Wow, this horse understands German?" or "How is it that this horse can accurately describe a setting" when I would then catch myself wondering why I didn't question the narrative voice coming from the HORSE?!

Joey is a remarkable horse. His tale begins when Albert's father buys him at auction. He is later sold and sent to war. During his service, he was used in the cavalry, to pull an ambulance cart, a "prisoner" that helped move large guns, and as a symbol of peace between sides. His story comes full circle as he and Albert are reunited (you knew that would happen, right? After all, Joey is, at the very least, trilingual). Even though I knew this would happen, I was happy when Albert & Joey are reunited.

Morpurgo sets the story during a real historical event. He gives the reader a sense of the war at an age appropriate level (which is why the horse is a perfect, non-judgemental narrator).

I won't share how the book ends. You'll need to read it for yourself. Oh, the movie is a great visual of the book.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Child of Dandelions

Nanji, Shenaaz. Child of Dandelions. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2008. EPUB file.

My Thoughts
This check out was a mistake. I was trying to figure out how to get a book from our district ebook collection to my Kindle, when I just hit a "random" title. This was it. I liked the cover. I started reading and found myself continuing the story.

This is Sabine's story. She is a Ugandan Indian. Her skin is brown. Her best friend is Zena.  She is African. Her skin is black.

The year is 1972.

The new government has issued an evacuation of all Indians out of Uganda. Sabine doesn't think this applies to her, as she is Ugandan. She was born here. Her father was born here. Her grandfather came and worked the land and built a thriving business. The government is not trying to expel her. (She thinks).

Race tensions are high and as a reader, I felt my racing heart several times wondering what would happen. The story is told through Sabine's eyes. The soldiers she sees become enemies because of their treatment towards Indians.

The tension between skin color creates a rift in Sabine's and Zena's friendship. Zena says, "I must break this cycle [working for Sabine's family] or we'll always be your slaves" (Nanji 119).  She further explains and perpetuates the new government's propaganda when she says, "Your people have clogged up our land" and "You took our land and made us look after it. Now we want it back." Nanji 119). Even though this story takes place in 1972, these accusations are timeless. One side sees another side as the enemy. Sabine is angry at her friend's new stance and declares that "Friendship was not a football to be tossed around and kicked" (Nanji 129). I love the metaphor.

The evacuation affects Sabine's family. Her uncle is missing and ends up dead. Her Papa must flee. Throughout the story, he has called Sabine his "brave boy" and tells her to be brave when he leaves. She obeys.

Katana works for Sabine's family. He is African. Sabine realizes "It was not only Mr. Singh or Lalita who were prejudiced, but she and her family as well. The whites and the soldiers, too. They were all prejudcied" (Nanji 170). Her innocence is destroyed. "She and her family had been treating the Africans like the untouchables in India" (Nanji 169).

For a young lady, she must grow up quickly. She realizes that there are different kinds of courage--like a crayon box. She wonders "what color was she?" (Nanji 173). I liked this description, too.

Nanji's writing is vivid, truthful and not overly sentimental. When Sabine tries to get the required paperwork for her family, the scene is described so vividly. The lipande line "coiled and curved for hundreds of yards along Jinja Road, a long, bright slithering serpent whose head was the tall, red-brick Immigration Office building. Its jaws were the double glass doors that opened every few minutes to let a few people in and then closed" (Nanji 199).

When she and her family ultimately leave their home, Sabine very maturely states, "It's just a house, she thought. It became a home only when it was filled with the love, trust, and hopes of her family. Turtles carry their homes with them so they are always at home. I will carry my home with me" (Nanji 220).

I do not know Ugandan history, but after reading this story, I've learned about a piece. It seems that this story could be taking place in the present, as I hear stories on the news of "ethnic cleansing"--or maybe I don't even pay attention to the stories because it takes place "over there." I'm glad my check out "mistake" turned into an interesting read.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Kate, Lauren. Fallen. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009. Print.

My Thoughts
I liked the bare bones story, but I wish Lauren Kate would have arrived at it sooner. This book was a bit mystery, lots of forced drama, and a predictable love story. I just kept slogging through to find out how the mystery surrounding the characters would be explained.

I kept thinking that Kate had a checklist of "this is everything best sellers have had, so I'm going to include them in my book, too." She perpetuated some stereotypes (i.e., clueless parents) and didn't really include a fresh narrative voice. (The main character was too whiney, insecure and allowed quite a bit of freedom to be at a reform school). At times, I thought the story was too slow (see my slogging comment above), and at the same time, there were parts that just zoomed by me. There were hints of intrigue, but I honestly finished the book disappointed.

I bookmarked many pages as I was reading because I felt like there were clues to the story on the page. I don't even want to look back to see what else I marked.

I have allowed myself permission to not finish the series (there are three more books). I will probably see the movie later this year, and like other books, it may help me change my mind about this book. For now, I'm disappointed and wished I used the time with a different book.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sorta Like a Rock Star

Quick, Matthew. Sorta Like a Rock Star. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print.

My Thoughts
Taken from the back cover:
"Amber Appleton lives in a bus. Ever since her mom's boyfriend kicked them out, Amber, her mom, and her totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy (Thrice B), have been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow (the school bus her mom drives). But Amber, the self-proclaimed princess of hope, refuses to sweat the bad stuff. Instead, she focuses on bettering the lives of the people around her. But then a fatal tragedy threatens Amber's optimism--and her way of life. Can Amber survive and continue to be the princess of hope?

With his oddball cast of characters and a heartbreaking, heartwarming, and inspiring story, author Matthew Quick builds a beautifully beaten-up world of laughs, loyalty, and hard-earned hope. This world is Amber's stage, and Amber is...well, she's sorta like a rock star. True? True."

I think this summary is spot on! Amber helps others because she wants to help them. When circumstances happen, those she helped in turn help her with the most generous of hearts.

I enjoyed Amber's character. Early in the book, I wasn't sure I could get past the "WORD" interruptions she throws out there, but I stuck with the book and when I finished, I smiled. It was refreshing and heartwarming and kind. I think we need to read more kindness.

Amber has a true friend in Donna. Donna is the mom Amber wishes she could have. I liked the tough exterior/role model character that Donna provides the story. Donna's son Ricky is autistic and Quick does a good job making him realistic and dimensional.

I loved the literary allusions. I can tell that Amber is a reader. When she asks her mom about "fishing fo' men" and the mom responds "Nope. Nothing." Amber replies with, "a good man is hard to find" (Quick 11). As Flannery O'Connor is one of my top three favorite writers, I really enjoyed this allusion.

The Hope vs. Pessimism contest every Wednesday made me laugh. Joan of Old faces off with Amber. Amber always wins. At first, I though this was a bit far-fetched, but Quick wrapped it back around and that story line became integral to the conclusion.

A week before reading this book, I was watching Katie Couric's talkshow. Her guests were Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper, and they were talking about this movie they made entitled, Silver Linings Playbook. It sounded interesting and something I'd like to watch. When I finished reading this book and looked at the back cover, I learned that this author (Mathew Quick) wrote Silver Linings Playbook. Strange timing!