Sunday, December 11, 2016

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White

Sweet, Melissa. Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2016.
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My Thoughts
I remember when Mrs. Edwards, my first grade teacher, read Charlotte's Web to my class. I've loved that book ever since! When I saw there was a new biography about the author, I thought it's exactly what my library needed (ok, I really wanted it, too!). I was not disappointed in reading this book. I was able to reminisce, and I loved learning how, in a way, Charlotte's Web was autobiographical in itself.

I was also reminded that White wrote Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. I don't remember ever reading the swan book, so I may have to do some borrowing from my elementary librarian friends.

One thing I didn't realize is that White didn't just write children's books. At a young age, he submitted his stories to magazines, even winning "the coveted gold medal" (Sweet 22). In high school and college, he wrote for each school's newspapers. He submitted works to other publications early in his professional career and was hired to write for The New Yorker. He was a contemporary and friend of James Thurber.

A second thing I didn't realize (and I'm embarrassed to admit this), is that White is THE White in Strunk and White's Elements of Style book. How did I not know this? White studied under Professor Strunk and was later asked to help with the publishing of a revised edition of Strunk's famous work. I got ticked at the note that White sent to the editor where he wanted to write in the next grammar book a sentence that ends with five prepositions (Sweet 108). It's the English teacher in me that loved reading Chapter 10- "the Elements of Style" that give top tips for writing. It made me think about Steven King's book that I read earlier this year. Both White and King try to "avoid the use of qualifiers" (Sweet 106).

Visually, the book was incredible. There were pictures of White, his family, copies of manuscripts, and things in his own handwriting. The mixed-media collage effect gave the book a child-like quality. At the end of the book, there is a note from the author to describe both her writing and artistic process. There's also a note from White's granddaughter, giving the family's blessing of this work.
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Just look at this example of the artwork. Incredible detail! 

The evening I finished this book, I happened to shop at a used book store. You guessed it. I did look for copies of White's books. I didn't find any, which is probably best for my wallet. 

I'm hopeful that my high school kids will read and enjoy this biography of a beloved children's book author. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat, Young Reader's Edition. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group,
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My Thoughts

Four parts, Twenty Two Chapters

I listened to this book in just a couple of days. This follows journalist Michael Pollan's pursuit in finding out about his food source. He discusses the industrial food chain, the industrial organic food chain, the "grass farmer" in Virginia.

Listening to this book made me more aware of what I eat. Where did it come from? How was it processed (or not)? What allowances of bad outweighed the good?

Pollan doesn't condemn. He just questions, and then questions some more. There's a dilemma in what we eat...there's no perfect plan.

I really enjoyed listening to this book and thinking.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Bone Gap

Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. Balzer + Bray, 2015.
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Summary (from inside jacket)
"Everyone knows that Bone Gap is full of gaps--gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren't surprised. After all, it wasn't the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O'Sullivan on their own. Just a few years ago, their mother hightailed it to Oregon for a brand-new guy, a brand-new life. That's just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that's not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turn up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reasons to find Roza than anyone and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap--their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures--acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness--a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are."

My Thoughts
I'd heard good things about this book, so I was excited when it was a summer AudioSync selection.  I listened to most of the book, then read along with the audio to finish it. The chapter breaks were confusing just listening. When I saw how it was arranged in print form, it made more sense.

So, now I've finished the story, but I can't remember why people liked it so much. It was ok... while writing this blog, I read some reviews--they seemed to love the book. They wrote about the fairy tale features of this book, the romance, the unique characters... I liked the variety of characters, including the town as a character.

There was some mystery, but I don't feel it was resolved. There are some unexplained events (horses flying off cliffs, castles with moats). I wondered if listening to the book made me zone out and miss explanation or was I not supposed to "get" it?

Even though the reviewers wrote I won't forget this book, I already have.

Queen Bees & Wannabes

Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees & Wannabes. Three Rivers Press, 2002.
image from: wikipedia

My Thoughts
This non-fiction book took several weeks for me to read. There's a LOT of information in here, and I actually skipped some sections.

This is a great resource for parents of tween and teen girls. Wiseman covers everything from cliques, gossip, matchmaking/dating, sex, and getting professional help if needed. I found some valuable information/advice, as well as scripts to discuss these topics with my daughter. There are even "remember when you were this age..." tie ins. There are testimonials from teens that Wiseman works with in her Empower groups. I thought these were honest.

I found the first of the book most relevant and hoping that I can recall the advice when I need to use it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This is Where it Ends

Bibliography (MLA 8)
Nijkamp, Marieke. This is Where it Ends. Sourcebooks, 2016.
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My Thoughts
This was the Big Library Read with Overdrive this month. Since it's YA and I hadn't heard anything about it, I thought I'd read it. It captured my attention!

At first, there were lots of characters, so I was making a chart and tying them together. I had planned to promote this book in our school by hanging some flyers but have decided against it. I'm afraid teens might start reading and will rationalize or glorify the main event--a school shooting. The book is available through the end of the month.

One thing I found when searching for a picture was a post from TeenLibrarianToolbox (a blog I follow and have actually contributed to) where the librarian used this book in a book club. I think that's a great idea! The topic is timely and relevant. The book club allows for discussion, reflection, questions --  I probably saw this post in January, but I don't remember reading it. Now that I've read the book, I have a better understanding of the post.

The character of Tyler Browne frightened me. How many kids do I know feel as alone as Tyler?

The mixture of text and texts (cellular usage) and blogging gives the story a modern edge. However, I wasn't sure who some of the users/commenters were. When I figured it out, I'd flip back in the book and reread the text message or blog comment, and often add some note to my character chart.  The chaos that surrounds the school is felt through the text messages.

Diverse characters with varied connections.  Mystery/thriller read because I really didn't know how the story would unfold (there were many possibilities). Sadly, this story is believable.

I liked that the story is told from multiple viewpoints. Pieces of growing up in Opportunity, Alabama are layered in each character.

Even though I hate even thinking about school shootings, I did enjoy reading this book. It made me think.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Howard, A.G. Untamed. New York: Amulet, 2015. Print.
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My Thoughts
This is a companion book to the Splintered series. The front inside cover explains this book to be a "collection of three novellas" where "Alyssa and her family reminisce about Wonderland, recounting the sacrifices and conquests that define them." I'm glad that Howard included parts of the back story because it's been awhile since reading the trilogy. Adding these novellas gives the "what happened next" after Ensnared ended. I liked seeing Alyssa and Jeb able to live as humans (even the dying scenes were poignant). I liked seeing a softer side to Morpheus. He is not just the snarky manipulator.

I LOVE the covers!

I think the first book was like falling into the rabbit hole--the descriptions were so vivid and the characters were new. Although I enjoyed these novellas, I did often think that the writing was not as flavorful. There were comments made that seemed cliche or too contemporary. Some of the characters that appeared in the trilogy were mentioned, but they were mostly flat.

I look forward to reading Howard's new story, Roseblood--This Phantom of the Opera spin-off follows a high school senior who is sent to RoseBlood Academy -- a French boarding school for musical arts inside a renovated opera house rumored to have ties to the classic opera -- only to discover a very real danger lurks within that has awaited her for over a century. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine . New York: Dell Publishing, 1965. Print.

image from: personal photo of cover

My Thoughts
I remember liking Slaughterhouse-Five in graduate school, so I picked this book up at a garage sale, and it's been sitting on my shelf, waiting for me. Since I've been reading a lot of current fiction, I thought I'd go back and read something older.  This book was published over 50 years ago, but some of the social commentary is relevant for today. In fact, I caught myself thinking several times how prophetic the story is.  For example,  Vonnegut writes about the welfare system. I think it's true that as a society, we've created "a generation of people to whom welfare has long since become a way of life" (137). Hmmm...wonder what he'd write today.

This is the story of Eliot Rosewater, the heir to a fortune and the head of the Rosewater Foundation. "His duties, according to the charter, were exactly as flimsy or as formidable as he himself declared them to be (Vonnegut 26). His main job is spending money. He doesn't spend it on himself, though. He gives it away to the people in Rosewater County, IN. Is he crazy? A lawyer is trying to prove it so, in order to get his hands on the money for himself.

Eliot Rosewater loves science fiction, his favorite writer is Kilgore Trout. I'm pretty sure this name is also used in Slaughterhouse-Five as well as the planet Tralfamadore. I didn't go back and check that, but these are words I've heard (or read) before this book.

I understood the basic story. There are several times in the book that I recognized allusions, but I didn't understand the deeper meaning. Vonnegut also uses an advanced vocabulary, and I found myself looking up several words. I did think about what Vonnegut was writing. So, now I've read it, but this won't be a book I read again.

The title reference is on page 74 and 158.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Donny's Brain

Munro, Rona.  Read by Paul Fox, Jared Harris, Siobhan Hewlett, Moira Quirk, Sophie Winkleman. Donny's Brain. L.A. Theatre Works, 2015. Audio book.

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Summary (from SYNC Audiobooks)
The acclaimed Scottish playwright Rona Munro has created a remarkable story about a man who wakes up from a car crash with brain damage. Now, he sees the world as the person he was three years ago, when his life and loves were in a very different place.
An L.A. Theatre Works full cast performance featuring:
Jared Harris as Donny
Sophie Winkleman as Emma
Siobhán Hewlett as Trish
Moira Quirk as Flea
Paul Fox as Al
Donny’s Brain is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

My Thoughts
Hmmm...this play made me think about how incredible our brains are. It also made me think about people who've had strokes, dementia and Alzheimer's. It made me think about how memories can be so vivid, or skewed or flat wrong. Again, our brains are fascinating.

I also enjoyed the accents of the actors and actresses.

This was a short play (only two acts). At times, I thought it was not being represented as well as an audio book as it would be on stage (or film).  When gathering info. for the blog,  I did read that this was recorded in front of a live audience.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Zac & Mia

Betts, A. J.  Read by Kristin Condon and Nicholas Mondelli. Zac & Mia. Dreamscape Media, 2014. Audio book.
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Summary (from Audiobooks Sync) 
"When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster. Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics.
So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia. A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door.
Once released, the two near-strangers can't forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices."
My Thoughts
Despite that the story is about kids (teens) with cancer, I really enjoyed listening to this book! Zac and Mia shouldn't be friends--but a stay in the hospital collides their worlds. Not everything is perfect in their relationship. Each must grow and trust each other at different times. We hear from both characters in the very popular dual narrator narrative technique. I thought the characters were very believable.

The story takes place in Australia, and there are some words that are regional (i.e., boot for car trunk).

I was glad the author included an epilogue. If the book ended without this, I would have been mad.

There is some graphic sexual content and cursing.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

John's Story

LaHaye, Tim and Jerry B. Jenkins. John's Story: The Last Eyewitness. New York: Berkley Praise, 2006. Print.
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My Thoughts
I've had this book for four years now. It's been quietly sitting on the pile waiting for me to "find" time to read it. I've often been at church and think, "I really need to read that book! I might understand more about the sermon/lesson/comment." Well, last weekend was the "right" time. I took it with me to Six Flags (oh, I took my daughter and a few of her friends, too).  While the girls waiting in eternal lines in the heat, I found myself on a bench in the shade enjoying this fictionalized story of John.

The story was so believable that I had to remind myself that this is fiction.  It starts in Rome, AD 95 then goes back a year when John was in Ephesus (almost 20 chapters of the book take place during this one year--when John is telling his stories of Jesus to Polycarp to write down in order to share with the world). Chapter 23 moves ahead to AD 96. After the "account" of John's life, the book includes the transcribed stories "The Words of John" that we now know as John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation. I didn't read these as part of the book.

I'm now ready to start my Revelations bible study that I've been planning to do all year. I have some background and am not afraid to read this book in the Bible that has scared me my entire life.

I've learned Mark & Luke each have a story in this series as well. It might be a few years, but I'm sure I'll get them read when I "find the right time" to read them.

Some things I marked in the book:
"In the first, he [Paul] cautioned against becoming enamored of philosophy and vain deceit. In essence, he was saying that those who enjoy considering every new wave of doctrine run the risk of being blown about by the wind" (LeHaye 30). I think many people do this. I've attended my church for over 20 years. I've seen people come, leave, come back, leave. I've seen other friends "church hop" for various reasons. I compare this quote to the "non-denomination" churches that are turning into mega churches. Lots of thoughts with these two sentences. This also connects to something I marked a little later in the book when John and Cerinthus are exchanging words. Cerinthus proposes that "the number three is key to all the mysteries" and that he has been "mentored by angels." The people chant to hear the new. John's friend Ignatius says, "The crowd has spoken. Desist in trying to cast your pearls before swine" (LaHaye 47). Often, as humans, we want the new because we think it must be better.

Another thing I marked: "'He [Jesus] tried to tell us many times that He had been sent only to do the will of His Father, and He even made clear that this would mean His own death. But we heard only what we wanted to hear'" (LaHaye 83). Yep. How often this happens between people, but I also find it between me and God. I don't always hear what is being said.

On page 99, I had to mark an entire paragraph. "Followers of the Christ feel compelled to draw others into His kingdom, and yet few do all the work themselves. Some plant the seed of salvation, telling someone of the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through the work Christ accomplished on the cross. Someone else may till that soil by explaining the Scriptures or living an exemplary life before that person. And finally yet someone else may harvest the crop by leading that one to become a believer" (LaHaye 99). I can see my own spiritual mentors with this description.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Nine, Ten

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Print.


My Thoughts
With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 happening this year, I was searching for some possible book purchases for the library when I started hearing about this book. It's aimed at middle grade students, but the librarians in our school district decided to use this title as one of our district-wide books. We also picked a picture book for our younger readers. I'm going to use both at the high school.

The story follows four students a few days before the airplanes fly into the World Trade Center. In fact, the first plane crash doesn't happen until 135 pages into the book. Baskin creates an interesting narrative with these four kids, spread out across the country, and how they were forever affected by one day's events.

As I certainly remember vivid details of that day, the story provides that anticipation (or was it just me because I knew what to expect? I wondered if my daughter would get the same goosebumps when reading the story. She was born in 2003.) that it was an ordinary day until it wasn't.

At the end of the story, the author explains that she "chose the structure of this story to reflect a theme of interconnectivity in our society, in particular between children. I wanted to show how in the end this tragic, diverse event actually brought complete strangers together instead of tearing them apart" (Baskin 194).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Teach Like a Pirate

Burgess, Dave. Teach Like a Pirate. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2012. Print.
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My Thoughts
I'M SO EXCITED TO HEAR DAVE IN PERSON! He's coming to our district to start off the year. I'd seen his book circulating on Twitter last summer and had it on my virtual TBR (to be read) pile. Then....I found out he was coming to Stephenville! I ordered his book on my Kindle and started reading!


I marked so many nuggets of wisdom/Ah Ha moments in this book. Even though I'm not in the traditional classroom anymore, I was thinking how I can apply what he writes to my life as librarian. I also thought about some of the things I did while in the classroom. Some lessons were "pirate" lessons.

In the introduction, Burgess explains why pirates ("Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success...They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence" Loc 98). He also explains that PIRATE is an acronym for his style--then he explains what he means. I'm not going to explain here because if you are a teacher or want to be a teacher, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

I like when he talks about creativity. I'm reframing the words I use to describe myself because of what he writes. Good point (and thinking about it, I am pretty creative. Sometimes I just have to let my brain go).

I really liked when he wrote "We always say we want [students] to be life-long learners, so we must show them what that looks like" (Loc 772).  Something else I marked in the book was "As adults, we don't like to feel that our time and efforts are being wasted; students are no different" (Loc 913). YES! As educators, we need to make the learning relevant--not just teach to a standardized test.

So, again, if you are a teacher or want to be a teacher, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

After Dave came: I'm STILL excited! He was exactly the same as he sounds in the book. There is definitely passion and enthusiasm!
  Oh, and he's much taller than I expected!
author fan girl moment (thanks to my friend Mindy who "made me" take this picture!)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I'll Give You the Sun

Nelson, Jandy. Read by Julia Whelan and Jesse Bernstein. I'll Give You the Sun. Brilliance Audio, 2014. Audio book.
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Summary (from Brilliance Audio)
A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell. Jude and her brother, Noah, are incredibly close twins. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude surfs and cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and divisive ways…until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as an unpredictable new mentor. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.This radiant, fully alive novel from the critically acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

My Thoughts
I'd seen this book on several blogs I follow, so when I saw it was a SYNC Audio book selection this summer, I was excited to listen. The summary makes the story sound interesting. I like John Green (haven't read Levithan or Rowell yet). Sadly, I really had to force myself to listen. The story just dragged on and on for me. In fact, I didn't finish it. I just couldn't give up the time for something I wasn't enjoying. I had to quit it. This is hard for me to admit, as I usually can power through a book in spite of not liking it. I just couldn't with this one.

The story is told from two points of view (a very popular style right now): Noah and Jude. I almost didn't get to Jude's story. Noah begins the story when the twins are 13. I thought, "oh, my high school kids won't want to read about younger kids." When Jude's story started (picking up three years later--the chronology of the story, but also my feelings a little of listening), I perked up a bit thinking that my high school students might, indeed, listen.

Was it the reader's voice?
Was is the dragging of the story?
Was it that my mind wandered while listening so I'm wondering what the heck is going on?

I just didn't connect with the characters or the story. Maybe it just wasn't the right time for me to read this one.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


King, Stephen. Carrie. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Print.
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Summary (from
The story of misfit high-school girl, Carrie White, who gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers. Repressed by a domineering, ultra-religious mother and tormented by her peers at school, her efforts to fit in lead to a dramatic confrontation during the senior prom. 

My Thoughts
I did it! I read a Stephen King book, didn't have nightmares, and managed to enjoy the story. I was scared of this author and overcame the fear! I challenged myself to read a King book after reading his memoir On Writing. As he wrote about his writing experience, I decided I needed to give him a chance.

I'd seen the movie (or at least I remember pieces of the movie), so as I read, I would remember scenes.

The writing was a bit chaotic. There were parenthesis and asides and news reports and the White Commission reports and at first, I actually searched in the back for "Appendix B" (and the like) then I finally caught on that this story is told from the point if view of an information collector, a "researcher" (King75). The narrator is collecting stories to explain the phenomenal energy (telekinesis) that Carrie White has. Almost the entire story revolves around the Spring Ball--the night her humiliation will be complete (King 105). As a reader and teacher, I felt so sorry for Carrie. She was an odd ball. Her school mates were hateful and her mother was nuts! "We know that Carrie was a victim of her mother's religious mania" (King 145). Yep!

One thing that I flagged in the book was the mention of some theatre props that included "a bust of Pallas, used in some ancient dramatic version of Poe's 'The Raven'" (King 166). Now, I marked this because for YEARS, I've told my students that without Poe, there would be no Stephen King. I found it humorous to find Poe embedded in King's first published work.

I also marked the idea that the White Commission "worked so hard to convince the public that the nightmare in Chamberlain was a complete fluke" (King 267). King a conspiracy theorist? Is he commenting on a larger issue?

Another thing I marked was this sentence (for obvious reasons): "Her mind and nervous system had become a library" (King 274). The description continues as Carrie is "reading" her classmate Sue.

So, I did it, and I will do it again. I think the next King book I'm interested in reading (again, based on his writing the memoir) will be Salem's Lot. Then I'll have to watch the movies-both versions.

The Boy Born Dead

Ring, David, David Wideman and John Driver. Read by Paul Michael. The Boy Born Dead: A Story of Friendship, Courage, and Triumph. Christianaudio, 2015. Audiobook.

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Summary (from
In 1953, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a baby boy was born--dead. The attending physician set his little body aside and tended to his mother for eighteen minutes. Now, more than sixty years later, that boy leads an internationally known ministry that encourages hundreds of thousands every year. The Boy Born Dead tells his incredible story from the perspective of his best friend, David Wideman.

As a teenager in the small town of Liberty, Missouri, in the late 1960s, David Ring grew up with the challenges that come with cerebral palsy, a result of his eighteen minutes of newborn silence. Along with his physical limitations, Ring was orphaned and shuffled from home to home, finally landing in an abusive situation that made him feel unworthy of love and, eventually, unworthy of life. But God had a purpose for Ring's life, and sent an agent to help him achieve it. Through the friendship of David Wideman, a boy he met in the halls of Liberty High School, Ring found strength he didn't know he had and went on to face his demons, marry the love of his life, and start an international speaking ministry.

Full of hope, this moving story illustrates how friendship and love triumph over adversity. Anyone who faces tough times will treasure this story of hope and courage.

My Thoughts
David Wideman relates the story of his friend, David Ring. He explains that the "nuts and bolts of the story are true."

Chapter 1 sets up Liberty, Missouri and the connection to Jesse James. I wasn't sure how this was going to relate to the two David's story.

Chapter 2 is when David meets David. There was a fight at the bus stop. I was proud of Wideman for standing up for Ring, even though they hadn't officially met yet.

The story alternates between Ring's childhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas and the 1970s Missouri. If I wasn't paying attention while listening, sometimes this was confusing.

Ring is angry and hurt and lashes out at Wideman (and other school mates) who are really trying to be his friend. Finally, one day at a church event, Ring prays at the altar and the "angry fight was out of his eyes" and he became "a part of the Wideman's forever"--his had a conversion and his "words and his steps were not the same." Finally, Ring had hope! When his attitude changed, he was able to be friendly and become a friend. He helped others and became quite popular at school, even running for class officer. Ms. Myers, a teacher at school, was quite progressive for the time, helping Ring with his classes and truly listening to who he was.

It was hard to listen to some of the things Ring endured (death, bullying, cancer, suicide, molestation, death and physical limitations). It was uplifting to hear how he didn't let these events define him...well, maybe the events DID define him! God often uses horrible things to create something beautiful.

Ring's mother was an inspiration, too. She was positive and realistic and would fight for him. She named him David because she knew he's "face a lot of giants" in his lifetime.

I'm glad the book included the quick "fast forward" of what happened to these two men later in life. Ring became a professional speaker and even got an engagement at the school that denied him entrance for seminary (quite ironic!). I tried to remember if I'd heard him speak when I was younger, so after listening to the book, I did a Google search on David Ring. I don't think I did hear him, but I enjoyed listening to his story this summer.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Saving Red

Sones, Sonya. Saving Red. New York: HarperTeen, 2016. Print.
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Summary (from Fantastic
"Right before winter break, fourteen-year-old Molly Rosenberg reluctantly volunteers to participate in Santa Monica's annual homeless count, just to get her school's community service requirement out of the way. But when she ends up meeting Red, a spirited homeless girl only a few years older than she is, Molly makes it her mission to reunite her with her family in time for Christmas. This turns out to be extremely difficult - because Red refuses to talk about her past. There are things Molly won't talk about either. Like the awful thing that happened last winter. She may never be ready to talk about that. Not to Red, or to Cristo, the soulful boy she meets while riding the Ferris wheel one afternoon.

When Molly realizes that the friends who Red keeps mentioning are nothing more than voices inside Red's head, she becomes even more concerned about her well-being. How will Molly keep her safe until she can figure out a way to get Red home? In Sonya Sones's latest novel, two girls, with much more in common than they realize, give each other a new perspective on the meaning of family, friendship, and forgiveness."

My Thoughts
I read this at the beach. It is a novel in verse, so it was a quick read, even though it looks like a thick book and is 432 pages in length. I was reading this at the same time listening to Every Last Word which was curious because the stories blended together in my head a little. I think the first connection is that "Red" has mental illness.

Molly is doing her required community service when she first sees Red. Molly's curiosity and personal family history propel her to seek Red out and try to help. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say Molly's brother Noah is always on Molly's mind. Little hints are dropped through the verse that Noah has disappeared or died. As a reader, I wasn't sure until more of the story is told.

Molly meets Christo--a very generous, rich boy who helps Molly and her "Saving Red" mission. I wasn't sure why Sones introduced this "mysterious" boy only to have him leave on a trip. I think Christo's help could have been accomplished in other ways.

I liked the Free Day idea--the girls go around town looking for freebies (food, haircuts, etc) and they even find a Little Free Library where Red gets I'll Give You the Sun--a book currently on my audiobooks pile!

This book officially releases in October, and I will be buying it for the school's library. It's great to have a few books read before the students, and this is one I'll recommend.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Every Last Word

Stone, Tamara Ireland. Read by Amy Rubinate. Every Last Word. Ideal Audioboooks, 2015. Audiobook.

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Summary (from Audiobook Sync)
"If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd...until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear."

My Thoughts
I listened to this book on my vacation, sometimes while driving and sometimes as a passenger. This is a book about mental illness, which made me think about the Teen Librarian Toolbox project about mental health in YA Lit (#MHYALIT). I was also thinking about display possibilities that can include this book. Now, on to the book.

It is set in California. Samantha McAllister has OCD and sees "ShrinkSue" weekly. Her friends don't know. She has a "thing" for the number 3 (even Stone named her chapters using only 3 words--I noticed!). She is a swimmer. She is part of the "popular" group of girls, the Crazy Eights. She doesn't know if she wants to be anymore after she meets Caroline & finds Poets' Corner in the basement of the school. She loves words (She once heard a linguist at a library program and from that became interested in and fascinated by words. Yay for library programming!). Sam struggles with being herself and being what others expect.

I first thought the love story part was too contrived (the entire story takes place over three months time, as I gathered). However, I then started thinking about my own teenage "relationships" and realized AJ and Sam's love story could be. The childhood connection was a nice touch--Sam and the Eights used to tease AJ (then called Andrew) for stuttering. Through music therapy, he was able to stop stuttering. Now, the boy she teased is the boy the loves.

When I wasn't driving, I was taking plot notes. I have almost two pages. I think this is an interesting story and relateable for teens. There are many issues addressed in the story.

There are very few curse words in the book, which I was glad to see. However, in part 7 of the book, the "f word" is said. To be clear, the context requires it, I think. There is also a sex scene.

The author's note at the end of the recording explains that Stone became interested in OCD when a close family friend was diagnosed. Stone then did her research and tried to create a fictional story that addresses many of the real issues with OCD, Pure O, counseling, and the patient-therapist relationship.

One thing I will note about listening to this story: the reader had a distinct voice that sounded... mysterious. It reminded me a bit of listening to Beautiful Creatures last year. It is not the same reader.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

El Deafo

Bell, Cece. El Deafo. New York: Amulet Books, 2014. Print.
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My Thoughts
I'd seen this graphic novel discussed on blogs that I follow. I didn't dismiss it after I realized it was middle grade, but I didn't purchase it for the high school library collection, either.

This summer, I was able to start reading it (Thanks to the Dick Smith Library @ Tarleton State University) and then I ended up buying a personal copy so I could finish the story.

This narrator of this story is an elementary aged student, but the themes discussed in this story are ageless.

Cece is deaf. She must wear a special device that helps her hear. She hates being singled-out and "different" from the other kids. As the story progresses and Cece grows older, she realizes that we all are different in some way. Being different is a GOOD thing. However, as a child, she doesn't get that realization. Because of the hearing device she wears, she creates an alter ego--El Deafo--a super hero who faces and overcomes the things that Cece can't.

One of the things I liked about the story is the concept of friendship. Cece changes herself to be liked. She hides her true feelings to be liked. She doesn't stand up for herself to be liked. Yet, she is miserable. When she allows herself to be true, real friendships develop, and she is happy.  

After reading this, I think I will donate it to the high school collection. I will have students pick it up because it's a graphic novel, but they will read it because they will identify with the story (even if they aren't deaf--again, we are all different).

The story is over 200 pages and is a Newbery Honor Book. It is also based on the true life of the author, Cece Bell.

This Boy's Life

Wolff, Tobias. Read by Oliver Wyman. This Boy's Life: A Memoir. HighBridge Audio,  2010. Audiobook.

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Summary (from Sync overview)
"First published in 1989, this memoir has become a classic in the genre. With this book, Wolff essentially launched the memoir craze that has been going strong ever since. It was made into a movie in 1993.
Fiction writer Tobias Wolff electrified critics with his scarifying 1989 memoir, which many deemed as notable for its artful structure and finely wrought prose as for the events it describes. The story is pretty grim: Teenaged Wolff moves with his divorced mother from Florida to Utah to Washington State to escape her violent boyfriend. When she remarries, Wolff finds himself in a bitter battle of wills with his abusive stepfather, a contest in which the two prove to be more evenly matched than might have been supposed. Deception, disguise, and illusion are the weapons the young man learns to employ as he grows up—not bad training for a writer-to-be. Somber though this tale of family strife is, it is also darkly funny and so artistically satisfying that listeners come away exhilarated."
My Thoughts
When I saw this was an AudioSync selection this summer, I was excited, even though I had no idea who Tobias Wolff was. I was confusing him with Tom Wolfe (quite a DIFFERENT author). I started listening. When I realized my mistake, I still kept listening. When I thought about quitting it, something inside me (my completists-ness, as Donalyn Miller gave me this word/description in her book), made me keep listening. When I slogged through the slow parts and thought about deleting this book, I couldn't do it.

I had to find out what happened to Tobias/Jack. I had to know what his stepfather Dwight was going to do next (OH, he made me SOOOOOOOOO mad!). Dwight is abusive and a liar and presents himself as better than he is, and he is a JERK!

The story is set in the 1950s. Tobias' mother is a dreamer and a drifter. Mistake after mistake lands her and Tobias in Seattle where they first met Dwight. He has three children of his own (I can't remember if his wife's absence is explained or not). He is a dreamer of a different sort. When something doesn't turn out like he expects, it is never his fault. I couldn't believe that Tobias' mother would even date him, let alone marry him!

So now I know who Tobias Wolff was...maybe. I've always distrusted the veracity of a memoir because our minds don't always remember accurately. It's not that people set out to lie (or maybe some do), but our brains can't possibly be unbiased. Perhaps that's the point of why I had to keep listening to this one. I had to see Tobias' "truth."

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reading in the Wild

Miller, Donalyn. Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014. Print.

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So instead of writing about this book like I normally would, I'm going to share my notes, my "AHA!" moments, my "things I don't want to forget, but I can't mark in this book because it belongs to the library" kind of notes. I did write some commentary (in blue) and highlighted some things that I really want to catch when looking at this post. Hope you will get a sense of this book and perhaps pick it up for yourself. I am glad that the appendices include many of the great ideas Donalyn uses in her classroom!

"No matter what standards we implement or reading tests we administer, children who read the most will always outperform children who don't read much" (Miller xix).
"Readers are also more likely to succeed in the workforce" (Miller xx).

Wild readers:
  • dedicate time to read
  • self-select reading material
  • share books and reading with other readers
  • have reading plans
  • show preferences for genres, authors, and topics
"If we care about our students' reading lives, we must foster their lifelong reading habits and eliminate or reduce the negative influences of classroom practices that don't align with what wild readers do" (Miller 4).

Chapter 1: Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read
"I am a better teacher because I read" (Miller 6). 
"develop stamina for reading" (Miller 9).
"We cannot tell children they need to read more and refuse to offer any time for them to read during the school day. Imagine schools where band, choir, debate, and athletics participants were not given practice time during the school day yet were still expected to perform" (Miller 9). 
"Our students must see themselves as readers, or they will never embrace reading beyond school" (Miller 9).
"At-risk students need substantial reading time and access to peer communities that value reading" (Miller 10) instead of being pulled out for various reasons like skill and drill work
"Reading emergencies"--times when you are stuck somewhere--can sneak in 5-30 minutes of reading
Binge reading
Reading Itinerary
Fake reading
"writing page goals...holds [students] accountable and helps them see that they will finish a book if they read a little bit each day" (Miller 32).

Keeping Track of Your Reading Life page 33
  • reader's notebooks
  • response letters
  • status of the class
Creating a Workshop Schedule That Works for You page 37
"Our daily work in the classroom values best practices and doesn't become bogged down with a lot of must-dos and tired activities that crowd out authentic learning opportunities for our students" (Miller 40). 
"We reject what we know is right for what is easier...Are we creating a place where reading a lot, writing a lot and thinking a lot happen in our classrooms?" (Miller 41). 

Chapter 2: Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Materials
LOVE the quote by Neil Gaiman to start the chapter!
  • Read Alouds (page 48) (This made me think of Penny Kittle. Good advice here about how to incorporate into any classroom/grade.)
  • Creating Book Buzz
  • Abandoning Books (page 58)
  • Guess My Lexile "What concerns me is that in many situations, Lexile measures become the sole factor in book selection and recommendation" (Miller 63). [Lexile] "provide teachers and librarians with one measure for making book recommendations...but [students] shouldn't wear their reading levels like a badge and become defined by them" (Miller 64).
  • The Mature Shelf
  • Selection Reflections
  • Conferring Points "My aim is to help [students] develop self-confidence in choosing books for themselves" (Miller 73). 
  • Building Preview Stacks (BOY, I do this often in the library!)
  • Keeping Track of Your Reading Life (page 74)
Curating a Classroom Library (page 79)
"I believe that children need both school and classroom libraries" (Miller 80).

Chapter 3: Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers
"Working each day of the school year to build a classroom community that values and supports every member serves my bottom line goals. It's easy to get lost in the mindless drudgery that comes with teaching--grading, meetings, testing. Focusing on our goals provides clarity of purpose and reduces our willingness to compromise the real work of our classrooms: helping children develop their capacity to have meaningful lives filled with purpose and joy" (Miller 90).
"If we want children to read more, we must provide them with classrooms, libraries, and homes where reading is the norm" (Miller 91).
Great tips/ideas of making a reading culture (page 92-93)
"There always seems to be $ for test preparation materials, assemblies, and curriculum kits, yet we run out of $ when it comes to purchasing books and funding professional development. What we spend our money on reflects our true values" (Miller 95).
"Reading communities have these benefits:
  • foster connections with other readers
  • increase how much readers read
  • challenge readers to stretch
  • improve readers' enjoyment and appreciate of what they read
  • suggest titles for additional reading
  • encourage mindfulness about what you read and share
"Most wild readers don't compose critical reviews....We certainly don't build dioramas or write diary entries from a character's point of view. When we finish a book, we consider our personal reactions to it, and if we appreciate it, we share the book" (Miller 100).

#titletalk-last Sunday of the month 7 p.m. CST

"The most effective reading teachers are teachers who read...Teachers who read are better equipped to build successful reading communities in their classrooms and connect their students with reading and books...We must show our students what a wild reader looks like through our examples" (Miller 106).
"While we need to stay informed about what they read and remain connected to our students, we don't need to participate in every discussion or endorse every book" (Miller 109).

Books that Build Communities (page 110-113) suggested titles and synopsis--most are MG
Reading Graffiti-students share lines from books (page 113)-could do this in library
Book Commercials
Reading Doors (page 116)
Epicenter Readers
Reading Influences
Keeping Track of Your Reading Life
Conferring: What's the Point? good ideas here!

Chapter 4: Wild Readers Have Reading Plans
"The different between readers and nonreaders is that readers have plans" (Miller 137).
Wild readers "set personal goals" and "students must learn how to make their own reading plans, reflect on their individual accomplishments, and find personal reasons for reading or they will never become wild readers" (Miller 139).
"We learn as much from the plans that don't work. What matters most is moving forward as readers, determined to improve and grow" (Miller 148).
"No one who reads should apologize for their preferences and reading experiences...even the most avid, open-minded readers confess to skipping awards winners, avoiding certain genres or postponing books for so long they remain unread" (Miller 149).
Check out Appendix E for book recommendations
"Students who set their own independent reading goals take ownership of their reading beyond school and develop self-efficacy and motivation that doesn't depend on the expectations or guidelines of individual teachers or school reading programs" (Miller 157).
Building a Personal Canon "the books that have shaped and define us" (Miller 159).

Chapter 5: Wild Readers Show Preferences
"We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students...the more widely we read, the more expertise we offer to our students" (Miller 167).
"Wild readers preferences become more valuable, reliable, and accurate the more they read" (Miller 169).
"light reading [i.e., people think graphic novels] provides the competence and motivation to continue reading and to read more demanding texts" (Miller 171).
ways graphic novels support readers:
  • motivation (six points listed)
  • scaffolding (eight points listed)
"Students reread books for three reasons: they want to absorb a treasured story into their skin, they want to cement their knowledge of topics and ideas, or they don't know what else to read" (Miller 175). 
Historical fiction-"using overly didactic texts turns kids off reading and studying history and notable people" (Miller 177).
nonfiction "We expect students to read nonfiction only for class work when assigning research reports" (Miller 179)
"We must look for meaningful ways to incorporate nonfiction material in our classrooms if we want children to read more of it" (Miller 179).
using nonfiction texts in the classroom
  • add more nonfiction to book talks
  • read-aloud nonfiction texts
  • use nonfiction as mentor texts
  • pair fiction texts with nonfiction on related topics
  • provide students frequent opportunities to preview, read and share nonfiction
genre graphs (190)

Appendices are great tools (could be modified for older grades)

"Some of you will read the acknowledgements because you are completists" (Miller 254). Yep.

Even though I am a "completist," I didn't read the references or index. 

I don't remember when I first heard of Donalyn Miller, but I've been "tracking" her for a few years now, and got to hear her in person this year at TLA, so I am happy that I finally took the couple of days needed to devour this book. If I were still in the classroom, I'd be armed with some new strategies. As a librarian, I can use what I read to help me make "wild readers" of all students who enter the library (or at least give a good try!). Now that I've read her second book, I will go read the first one she wrote, The Book Whisperer.  I will also share promote force this book upon my English teacher friends. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

100 Sideways Miles

Winger, Andrew. Read by Kirby Heyborne. 100 Sideways Miles. Tantor Media, 2015. Audiobook.
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Summary (from Audiobooks overview)
"Finn Easton sees the world through miles instead of minutes. It's how he makes sense of the world, and how he tries to convince himself that he's a real boy and not just a character in his father's bestselling cult-classic book. Finn has two things going for him: his best friend, the possibly-insane-but-definitely-excellent Cade Hernandez, and Julia Bishop, the first girl he's ever loved. Then Julia moves away, and Finn is heartbroken. Feeling restless and trapped in the book, Finn embarks on a road trip with Cade to visit their college of choice in Oklahoma. When an unexpected accident happens and the boys become unlikely heroes, they take an eye-opening detour away from everything they thought they had planned—and learn how to write their own destiny."

My Thoughts

The cursing, crude boy humor and sexual references in this book was off-putting to me.  It might be because I just finished Divine Collision, so I might be a bit sensitive to these three areas.

Several times I almost stopped listening to this book, but I didn't because I want to know:
  1. Is this what teenagers want to read about?
  2. Was it starting this way to attract readers?
  3. A boy is the narrator, but will girls want to read this?
  4. Can I recommend this book in spite of the language? (Honestly, cursing in a book doesn't usually bother me--but it did in this one, as did the "boy humor"). 
  5. Am I being too sensitive?
  6. Is this a good story in spite of the cursing, humor and references?
Finn is the narrator and is an epileptic. His seizures added a dimension to the plot, for sure.

Cade Hernandez is Finn's best friend. He's smart, but he pushes teachers' buttons (including causing Mr. Nausic (sp?). He's a trouble maker and a leader (He gets the entire class to mark the state tests with the pattern "C-A-D-E" which leads to a surprise visit from the California governor.). 

I finished the book yesterday. It did have humorous parts that weren't crude or sexual in nature. It had an interesting concept that the main character Finn and his father's fictional character Finn are actually one in the same. It had shocking moments (and I thought how life is just that--sometimes full of unexpected moments wedged inside of the regular patterns of life).  The title is explained (and reiterated) throughout the story. A "dead horse fell out of the sky and killed my mother" Finn says (Smith).

I did bookmark some things while listening, but I think I won't rehash here--I'll just leave myself some notes to remind me about this book:

  • knackery
  • Lake that Isn't a Lake (dam breaks, drowns many, including two girls that Finn "sees")
  • Aberdeen Penitentiary (This part was pretty funny!)
  • Julia is a great girl--finds Finn after a seizure and takes care of him
  • "Berlin Wall" at hotel & True Grits in Gallop, NM 
  • Van goes overboard-Cade & Finn help
  • "A Detour in the Year We Grew Up"
  • "The Lazarus Door"
  • "I am Ok" (the last chapter title)
So, the ultimate questions are "Will I recommend this book to my students?" Probably not. "Will  I buy a copy for the school library?" I haven't decided yet. I have other books by the same author, so I might check the circulation stats to see if he's a "hot" author or not.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Divine Collision

Gash, Jim. Read by Brandon Batchelar. Divine Collision: An African Boy, An American Lawyer, and  Their Remarkable Battle for Freedom. Oasis Audio. 2016. Audiobook.

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Summary (from Oasis Audio, publisher)
"Jim Gash’s comfortable life as a Los Angeles lawyer and law professor nearly ensured that he and Henry, a Ugandan boy languishing in prison for two murders he didn’t commit, would never meet. Henry was losing hope and prayed for a sign from God. Halfway around the world, Jim listened to best-selling author of Love Does, Bob Goff, encourage lawyers to use their legal training to help imprisoned children in Africa. Jim felt an irresistible urge to respond to this call. Little did Henry know, his prayer had been answered.
Divine Collision tells the first hand, true story of how Jim and Henry, separated not only by an ocean and thousands of miles, but also differing cultures and life experiences, inspired justice reform for an entire country. Divine Collision is a fast-paced thriller and will keep you listening, wanting to know what happens next for Henry and Jim."

My Thoughts
This is another dual narrator story, but for this audiobook, it seems there truly are two different readers (even though I can only find the one name listed as reader). Jim Gash begins his story, and then Henry, with a Ugandan accent, inserts his. The book flips back and forth. At first, this bothered me. Why was this happening?, but as I got into the story, it was perfect. Jim would stop and then Henry would pick up. I smiled in several parts as I enjoyed the humor. I also felt my blood pressure rise with both anticipation & frustration of what was going to happen next, especially to Henry.

I didn't realize how fresh this story was--literally some of written last year.

I was glad that SYNC included a faith-based story. I know I listened to one earlier this summer that dealt a little with faith, but this story was more direct about having a relationship with God and how prayer truly can make a difference in a situation (or how prayer can bring peace to an uncertain situation). I could hear both Jim and Henry's faith.

Some of the story seemed a little too "feel good" for me, but I did enjoy listening and bringing my attention to a cause that I didn't know much about before this story. I also found myself looking at the Country reports database to learn more about Uganda.

Starfish story--I liked the parallel of this story and think that American often think of ourselves as the "savior" of the world--that we can swoop in, fix everything, and then go back to our regular lives. I was glad to hear what Jim had to say towards the end of the book about his starfish and Henry.

The story ended as I hoped, but I didn't know until the epilogue. With the absurdity of the country's laws, I wasn't sure until the proclamation was read.

Also, after the content of the book, there is a short biography of Jim Gash. It is funny how God uses us, (or a "twin family") even when the way is not what we expect.  In 2010, Gash traveled to Uganda thinking it would be a quick trip, and he'd help a few people. After meeting Henry, his life was flipped. Gash visited Uganda numerous more times and is slated to become a Ugandan citizen this year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Words in the Dust

Product Details
Reedy, Trent. Read by Ariana Delawari. Words in the Dust. Scholastic Audio, 2012. Audiobook.
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Summary (from audiobook overview)
"Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her—'Inshallah,' God willing.
Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha—but can she dare to hope they'll come true?"
I also want to include this from AudioFile Review 
"This story, written by a former American soldier, features an Afghan girl named Zulaikha who dreams of learning to read, marrying well, and living a peaceful life. Narrator Ariana Delawari reads with a slight lisp to reflect Zulaikha’s cleft palate. Delawari’s narration strongly conveys the timidity and strength Zulaikha has developed from living with this defect, the constant hard work of her life, and the loss of her mother when she was very young. Moving fluidly between English and Dari, as does the story itself, Delawari’s performance captures Afghan customs and the challenges of rebuilding a society that has lived so long with war and oppression. This insightful and moving production concludes with interviews with the author and the narrator. A.F. © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine"

My Thoughts

I bumped this up on the list to listen to because there was a downloading glitch, and I wanted to make sure I had the entire book (good thing I listened, as indeed, I didn't have the entire book downloaded).

This is Zulaikha's story (a young girl in Afghanistan). She deals with hardships. Even though the story is grim in places, I did find laughable moments. This book just gives me another layer of learning about Afghanistan and Afghan culture.

There are 22 chapters. The narrator did a great job creating different voices for the characters. I appreciated the theme of education being so important. I couldn't help but think of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, which I taught a few summers ago to Upward Bound students. I know about the controversy with that book, but what I still agree with is the theme that NO ONE can take away your education! I liked that Zulaikha was not only learning letters and words, but she was also learning about her mother and comes to understand her step-mother.

I'm so glad that I made sure I had all of the files on the download. I would have missed part 7, which is the end of the story, of course, but there were also two "interviews" included by Trent Reedy, the author, and Ariana Delawari, the reader. I enjoyed both "behind the book" conversations and perspectives they give. It really completed the story (and I wondered if these are included in the print version).

This book is more a "middle grade" read than high school partly because of the age of Zulaikha and partly because of the simplification of the "hard issues" involved with the story.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Sin Eater's Daughter

Salisbury, Melinda. Read by Amy Shiels. The Sin Eater's Daughter. Scholastic Audio,  2015. Audiobook.

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Summary (from audiobook overview):
"Sixteen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she's engaged to the prince, no one speaks to her. No one even looks at her. Because Twylla isn't a member of the court. She's the executioner.

As the goddess-embodied, Twylla kills with a single touch. So each week, she's taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love her. Who could care for a girl with murder in her veins? Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to her touch, avoids her.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose playful smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he's able to look past Twylla's executioner robes and sees the girl, not the goddess. Yet a treasonous romance is the least of Twylla's problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies--a plan that requires an unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?"

My Thoughts
At first, I didn't think I'd get into this book. The author's voice was accented (Irish? Scottish, perhaps?), and I could tell pretty quickly that it was going to be a fantasy read. I just didn't know if I was in the mood for that after listening to Vivian Apple's story. But, I stuck it out and listened. I did catch my mind wandering off and having to back up the book (I was listening) to rehear what I'd zoned out hearing.

My notes as I listened. You might want to skip these and go on down to the line break if you don't want the book spoiled.  As I'm listening, I'm not sure of spelling.--side note: found spellings on the author's web page. HOORAY!

Queen Helewys--evil!
Merek-is Prince (Queen's biological son)

Unspoken pact--ladies cannot become pregnant if the queen cannot. Queen sentences Loreal (sp?); King pardons and then kneels before Queen (unprecedented!).

Lief (new guard)--was to inherit land, father died, ended up at castle

"We must be ghosts. That's how we stay alive in this castle"--Twylla to Lief

Lief kisses her and she doesn’t die!
she is questioning what is truth—doesn’t drink the vial of mornings bane (poison) at The Telling to prove she’s Daunen embodied 

King is now “ill”—Twylla confronts Merek and he asks who she’s been talking to—

T's "victims" poisoned beforehand—drops of Oleander in their last meal (Merek confesses)—Tyrek knew it wasn’t Twylla—planned to tell her, so he was killed

“people need something to believe in”—hope. 
Twylla is a symbol--had to make people believe new queen is divine to take the thrown
Queen & King pretended Twylla was a tribute to gods

“Why would the man I’m to marry let me think I’m a killer?”-Twylla

Tregellans know MUCH about apothecary—they would know about a poison that kills to the touch..

Tregellans believe in oak, holly gods (Lief doesn’t believe in any gods)…some people just need gods to believe in 

Twylla admits that she’s in love with Lief 

come up with plan to escape—will let Merek think Twylla will be part of the rouse on the kingdom

Lief and Twylla have sex (implied)

Queen poisons King—wants to marry son (UGH!!!)

Queen accuses Tregellan (Lief?) of killing King

Sin Eater slows down the eating of King’s sin—shows her power (including over the Queen)
Twylla finds out sister died two harvests ago

Twylla realizes that she’s never asked about sister—wanted to leave mother’s house so she wouldn’t be sin eater
says she “deserves” to stay her as punishment—she’ll become the queen (as punishment of sorts)

“I will take the one thing she values and she will know what it means to suffer!” Twylla’s thoughts

Lief returns—Queen “catches” them after sex 
Queen has two sons—one by birth and one by inheritance (land/kingdom)

Merek learns of betrayal (he comes in and Queen tells him). Merek is confused, disbelieving

Twylla remembers story of piper—queen summoned Bringer—guess I should have paid more attention to the piper’s story Lief told Twylla. Twylla is figuring out Queen’s motive and tells Merek.  Bringer is son of Sleeping Prince—medallion is not filed like Queen said—
she wants own alchemist—to make gold and finance war with Tregellan 

MEREK BELIEVES HER! Calls for “trial” and Twylla is a witness. Calls Queen out on the entire lie of Daunen embodied. 

Queen says Merek needs her to control the Bringer. 

Queen says “how & why did Lief get here”?

Chapter 23-Lief explains that Queen hired him to seduce Twylla, his real backstory—OH MY! 

Merek still wants Twylla. She wants to think on this and make sure that SHE wants this.  

Lief tries to say that we would have told her truth…he would have run with Twylla and he loves her. “He went back and forth” with Twylla—when he saw Merek kiss her, Lief realized that he loved her
story stops and leaves room for sequel 

Epilogue: “wrap, tap, tap”…who is knocking? 

This concept of the "sin eater" is interesting and sprinkled through the story. It made me think of the many lessons we learn about people through our customs.

I'm glad to have listened to this because I wouldn't have pronounced the names correctly. I would say /twi la/ for /twill a/, for example. 

Some words I had to look up to see the spelling since I wasn't reading the actual book:
Lormere-land/realm where Twylla lives 
Daunen-goddess (ok, "a child of gods, but not a goddess herself"-Twylla to Lief)
Tregellan (a science-minded democracy)
I never did find the best friend that Twylla killed early in the book. It starts with a "T" I think. 

While researching, I read some reviews through Titlewave (my book vendor) and found this: 

"Twylla's mother is a Sin Eater, one who eats symbolic foods of the deceased person's sins at their grave site;
Salisbury's concept is not new: Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me (HarperCollins, 2011) and Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Houghton Harcourt, 2008) have similar heroines with tactile killing powers. However, her luscious world-building and mythology make this fantasy a worthy read. Twylla is strong and sensible, and teen fans of royal intrigue titles will be rooting for her.-Amanda C. Buschmann, Atascocita Middle School, Humble, TX (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted."
I thought this part interesting, since I recently finished Graceling. Yes, I can see some parallels between the two stories. Interesting timing. I am always amused when it seems my reading connects. 

Ok, when I saw that I only had 8 minutes left to listen, I was afraid that 1. my download wasn't complete or 2. the story was going to drop and leave me waiting for a sequel--the second option happens. 
Here's something I found on the author's website that I thought was good (
"I thought I was writing a fairytale; a girl in a tower who falls in love at the wrong time. A wicked queen, and a handsome prince and a damsel in distress. It’s a tale as old as time, and one we all know. Sin eater  cover share
And I did write that. All of those things are in the book. What I didn’t realise until the end was that it was also a story about emotional abuse. Control. Manipulation, lies, and threats. Neglect. Growing up in a loveless environment. Being taken advantage of. Being used.

In writing about a girl who is trapped by her heritage, and her abilities, and her gender, I wrote about a girl discovering who she is, and what she wants, in a world that’s never considered she may be anything more than what it decides for her. I thought I was telling a story about a caged bird who longed to be freed. And I was. but it was also more. Darker. Less palatable. Twylla’s story might be fiction, but for a lot of girls it isn’t."
Yes, I agree. This is a fairy tale story that we all know, but yet it isn't. The author puts a name pronunciation guide on her website (I should have looked at her site sooner). Also on the author's website, I learned that this book may come "alive" on television. I hope the author gets to help create this version of her story.