Monday, July 31, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray

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

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

Disrupting Thinking

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

image from: personal photo

Summary (from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

In Our Backyard

Belles, Nita. In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do To Stop It. Read by Nicol Zanzarella. Oasis Audio, 2015.

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Summary (from
Modern slavery is happening all around you . . . and you can be part of the solution.
Human trafficking is not just something that happens in other countries. Nor is it something that just happens to “other people,” such as runaways or the disenfranchised. Even kids in your own neighborhood can fall victim. But they don’t have to.
Through true stories and expertise from her many years of boots-on-the-ground experience, anti-trafficking expert Nita Belles teaches you everything you need to know about human trafficking in the United States, helping you identify risk factors, take practical steps to keep your loved ones and neighbors safe from predators, and recognize trafficking around you, so that you can help fight it.

My Thoughts
I've studied this topic through United Methodist Women. As much as I didn't want to hear these heartbreaking stories, I felt compelled to keep listening. How can I help if I don't know?  Human trafficking exists in every state and nearly every city. It's "in our backyard." By doing nothing, the slavery continues. We must speak up and try to end it.

The book is ten chapters long, each chapter with a different theme or aspect of trafficking (not all is sexual in nature). The first chapter stopped me. It hit too close to home--a girl who is loved & comes from a "good" family is lured into "dating" older men for money. It made me fearful for my own daughter.

The chapter about restaurant workers made me starting looking at where I eat differently.

Many of the chapters are about human trafficking that is related to sex. For example, one chapter is devoted to the Super Bowl.  There's another chapter discussing why victims stay.

I want to help fight slavery! It is easier to not get involved, but I have to think about my daughter, her friends and the thousands of kids I've taught over the years. Just how many eyes have I looked into without any idea of what kind of life they were leading?

I kept thinking about Ellen Hopkins' novels, especially Tricks. According to Belles, "The US Department of  Justice named Las Vegas as one of 17 most likely destinations for sex trafficking victims." Hopkins' characters often find themselves in Vegas.

It astonished me that the list of sexual perpetrators included EVERYONE--from all walks of life, all levels of education, all salary points.

It was interesting to me to learn about TAT--Truckers Against Trafficking. I really assumed that truckers would be part of the problem, not part of the solution. This reversal of my understanding gives me hope.

How do we stop human trafficking? One "bite at a time"--do something. Each step we take to combat this issue is a step to ending human trafficking!

Now, I will say there were times that I thought the writer was trying to manipulate my emotions and perhaps some details of the stories were simplified or glossed over, but there were other times that the stories were quite graphic.

In the About the Author section at the end of the audio, Belles tell the reader that this book is designed as a "sampling" of human trafficking. Specific organizations are not endorsed, but the author does give some resources, including 1-888-373-7888 or text help to 233-733.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2014.
image from: personal photo

Summary (from
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

My Thoughts
I'm reading this for the Book Love Foundation summer book club.  I was excited to see this one on the list because I wanted to read it (I've seen the author at TLA), but since the main character is 13 years old, I don't have it in my library. (I'm not sure high school students want to read about younger kids).

The book club gave me a deadline to reading it instead of letting it pile on my "one day" list. The book club discussion points gave me some interesting things to look at with Alexander's writing style as well as some ideas if I were to use this book in the classroom.

Now that I've read it, I can say that I enjoyed it, and I might put it in my library after all.  This is a basketball story, but it's also a "life lessons" story. I like the novel in verse format that Alexander uses. I could visually see the ball bouncing on the court through the word placement. I felt the intensity of the game clock counting down to the last seconds. The emotions of the narrator are visual on the page. I also felt the story was honest.

I like the basketball lessons sprinkled throughout the book. Narrator Josh titled them Basketball, but they really are the life lessons or affirmations that his dad tries to teach. I also liked that Alexander uses words or expressions that might not be familiar to a 13 year old, defines it and uses it in the next poem.

I enjoyed the musical connections (and took time to listen to Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" song and Beethoven's "5th").

I smiled when I saw how the title was used in three different ways in the story. It is a basketball term, an explanation of life and in the very last line of the book (no spoilers here---but the moment is poignant).

Several times, Alexander uses a split poem, meaning that you can read it all together or you can read down one column and then read down the next column. When I came to pages like this, I read it both ways.

The book is divided by quarters, like a basketball game.