Archive | August, 2015

Try, Try Again

31 Aug

If at first you don’t succeed

Try, try again.

Teachers start back to school today. Although I have already been in quite a bit, today if my first official day at my new school. It took me two tries to get to middle school, interviewing in the Spring of 2014 unsuccessfully, then again in Spring 2015, successfully.

Some books are like that, you pick them up, abandon them, then pick them up again later, only to love them. This happened many years ago with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. 

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My sister sent it to me and told me how much she had loved it. I read the first chapter, questioned my sister;s judgement and set it aside. A few months later I picked it up again and it was like reading a different book. I was hooked.

I had this experience recently with Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin.

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It was Rose’s voice that irritated me the first time. Rose is the autistic main character and narrator who has an obsession with homonyms. And that obsession made me put the book aside the first time I picked it up. I picked it up again this week, persevered and I am glad I did.

Publisher’s SummaryRose Howard has Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter.

Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.

What really made this book worth reading is seeing how Rose really steps outside her comfort zone after Rain disappears, to do the right thing, even though she knows it will make her very sad.

Facing my book fears

28 Aug

Have you ever been afraid to read the next novel by an author after you have discovered that the first one you read is your heart book?

I was given an ARC of Katherine Applegate’s soon to be published Crenshaw at the ALA conference.

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It has been sitting in a box waiting for me to get the courage to read it. You see, The One and Only Ivan  is a heart book. I may or may not have coined that term, but I stole it from the dog world, where a “heart dog” is that once in a lifetime – maybe twice if you’re truly blessed – soul mate dog. So, a heart book is the book that speaks to your soul.

It is a tough act to follow.

I got up the courage to read it yesterday and consumed it in one sitting, it was that good. Although Crenshaw might not make it to heart book status, it is definitely worth reading.

Publisher’s summary: In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

This is a beautiful book and I think Applegate truly captures the spirit of a fourth grader, and the way they think, in Jackson. If I were teaching 4th grade again, this might have become my new first read aloud.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

27 Aug

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I’ve been thinking over what to say about Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Overall, I liked it.

Publisher’s summary: Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games–or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?
This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl–as a friend?
On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

Each memorable character navigates the challenges of love and change in this captivating novel.

The story has stuck with me since finishing it, which says something. I enjoyed the three intertwined stories. I even like d the second person narrative of the unnamed girl on Valentine’s Day, which seems to be the sticking point in the unfavorable reviews I read.

For me, the issue is Bridge’s voice, and I will admit that I listened to the audio version in the car, so maybe this exacerbated a minor issue. Bridge only speaks in short sentences. She questions, repeats what people said, and frequently has sentences of one or two words. It sort of annoyed me.  Did the author do this on purpose because Bridge had a brain injury from the accident?  Would I even have noticed this is I had read the book rather than listened to the audiobook?

In spite of my “issue” with t he book, I do recommend it. This is the sort of book perfect for kids who are still to young for YA, but too old for a lot of the chapter books that are out there.

 

Another chapter in the book I’ll never write: A Slice of Life Story

25 Aug

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We have a menace on our street. Someone is not picking up after their dog…a lot. Pretty much every bit of grassy parking strip is tainted.

We have a regular route we walk. Out the back door to the sidewalk, across the street, then a quick jaunt to the corner and around the block. If Fiona is feeling really energetic we do two blocks. Go team basset!

I always look down and around to be sure there isn’t anything for the girls to get into. But now, as I turn back onto our street, it is awful. And I am not the only one who has noticed. The neighbor across the way thinks she knows who it is. But no one has actually seen the person.

The best reaction is this:

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This neighbor is fed up with this mystery person leaving a mess on her parking strip. I love her positive message, though you can tell she is really angry. I hope her strategy s successful.

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It is a little hard to read, but here is what it says:

Dear person leaving dog poop,

Instead of putting your dog’s poop in the street, could you please pick it up with these baggies? Let’s all work together to have a clean and pleasant  neighborhood.

Yup, another chapter for My Life in Dog Poop, that book I’ll never write.

The book to which my meandering thoughts took me

24 Aug

Yesterday, when I should have been thinking loftier thoughts, my mind took a little trip to Hallowe’en. (I still like to spell it with an apostrophe even though that seems to be going the way of the dodo.) I got thinking about Hallowe’en because, now that I am back at middle school, we dress up for Hallowe’en. And so the eternal dilemma: What will I wear? And can I knit it?

I started thinking about things I could knit as part, or all, of  a Hallowe’en costume. I could where a brain hat with a lab coat.

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And there is quite an array of Viking options. No weapons at school, obviously.

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I will keep thinking on this, but if I am gong to knit for Halloween, I will probably have to get started soon.

Have you ever noticed that when you are thinking about something it seems to pop up everywhere? Well, I went to the library a little bit after my Hallowe’en excursion, and found this little gem:

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Publisher’s Summary: Princess Decomposia is overworked and underappreciated.

This princess of the underworld has plenty of her own work to do but always seems to find herself doing her layabout father’s job, as well. The king doesn’t feel quite well, you see. Ever. So the princess is left scurrying through the halls, dodging her mummy, werewolf, and ghost subjects, always running behind and always buried under a ton of paperwork. Oh, and her father just fired the chef, so now she has to hire a new cook as well.

Luckily for Princess Decomposia, she makes a good hire in Count Spatula, the vampire chef with a sweet tooth. He’s a charming go-getter of a blood-sucker, and pretty soon the two young ghouls become friends. And then…more than friends? Maybe eventually, but first Princess Decomposia has to sort out her life. And with Count Spatula at her side, you can be sure she’ll succeed.

Andi Watson (Glister,Gum Girl) brings his signature gothy-cute sensibility to this very sweet and mildly spooky tale of friendship, family, and management training for the undead.

It is delightful graphic novel. the art is simple black and white, bit this actually adds to the ambiance. The writing is smart and funny. This is an excellent book for kids aged 8 & up.

 

Smokey detour

23 Aug

Yesterday the sky was eerie, due to wildfire smoke that was blown down the Columbia River Gorge and into Portland. It truly transformed the city. It also got me thinking about books with smoke on the cover, in pictures or words.

Although it is not smoke from a wildfire, the cover of Looking for Alaska by John Green is quite striking. This is my absolute favorite John Green novel. I loved TFIOS, but this one is even better!

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Publisher’s Summary: Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Local author Laini Taylor captured my attention a few years ago with The Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

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Publisher’s summary: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Ellen Hopkins followed up her novel in verse Burned, with a sequel entitled Smoke. 

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Burned: Seventeen-year-old Pattyn, the eldest daughter in a large Mormon family, is sent to her aunt’s Nevada ranch for the summer, where she temporarily escapes her alcoholic, abusive father and finds love and acceptance, only to lose everything when she returns home.

Smoke: After the death of her abusive father and loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn runs away, desperately seeking peace, as her younger sister, a sophomore in high school, also tries to put the pieces of her life back together.

Another great novel with a sequel comes from E. K  Johnston.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim: In an alternate world where industrialization has caused many species of carbon-eating dragons to thrive, Owen, a slayer being trained by his famous father and aunt, and Siobahn, his bard, face a dragon infestation near their small town in Canada.

Prairie Fire: Every dragon slayer owes the Oil Watch a period of service, and young Owen was no exception. What made him different was that he did not enlist alone; his two closest friends stood with him shoulder to shoulder. Steeled by success and hope, the three were confident in their plan. But the arc of history is long and hardened by dragon fire… and try as they might, Owen and his friends could not twist it to their will. At least, not all the way…

The air in Portland smells a little less smokey this morning and the air should be clear sometime tomorrow. Fortunately, even after the smoke has cleared, we’ll still have these great books.

 

Pixar This by Ryan Hanna

21 Aug

Awesome, awesome awesome post.

Nerdy Book Club

I had a sad conversation this summer.

I’m a regular at my neighborhood diner, The Echo. During the school year, I go on Saturday morning and read. My favorite server (l’ll call her Tanya) asks me about the books I’ve been reading, and then gives me her latest recommendation on a piece of receipt paper.

In the summer, I’m able to go to The Echo more and look forward to it because of the friendship I’ve developed with the owner’s eleven-year-old son (let’s call him Evan). He works at the restaurant to earn his allowance. Evan is a reader and enjoys books, but as I found out last summer, his school uses a program that assigns points to books, focuses solely on leveling, and moves students up an arbitrary scale in order to earn prizes. Evan and I spend time chatting about his hobbies and his reading, in between his…

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Three down, one to go

20 Aug

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Today is Day 4 of the 4-day  TCRWP writing workshop for middle school teachers. I think everyone who attended is energized and excited about implementing some of these strategies in our classrooms.

It has been good to be the student, to have to think like them, to do the tasks we will ask them to do, and to see how we can teach these ideas.

It’s been hard, too. There’s been some homework, but that isn’t the hardest part. It has been hot here and although my morning sessions have been in the nicely air-conditioned library, my afternoon sessions have been in a stiflingly hot classroom. Emily has been a saint. She teaches in that classroom all day and still has a smile by the end of her last session.

The 6th, 7th and 8th grade Summa teachers have agreed that we will all teach Ray Bradbury in reading. Sixth grade is taking on his short stories, 7th  reads  The Martian Chronicles, and 8th grade reads  Fahrenheit 451. So, when our homework Tuesday night was to choose one of the stories from a packet they provided, read it and jot some thoughts, I naturally chose Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day. Wednesday, we used our notes to learn techniques to have kids write a literary essay. Even though we were writing about several different stories, the strategy worked for everyone.

Good PD…and there was homework!

18 Aug

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I am easing out of summer and back into work.

The teachers who read my blog know that this is both practical ( there’s no way to get the room ready during inservice week) and metaphysical ( I need to radically shift my  sense of being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space).

This week, I am helping myself with the transition by attending a four day training. Many people groaned when this offer was made, and I might have grumbled a little. After signing up, I found out that we’d have trainers from the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project and I was thrilled. The group of middle school teachers who signed up are basically getting a summer Writing Institute here in our own district.

Kate Roberts, one of the authors of the book I used for last year’s teacher book club, Falling in Love With Close Reading,  is our most famous presenter.

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She is funny and inspiring and talked to us about the Silent Standard: sharing our love with kids, making them laugh and cry because when we do this, they really listen.

Yes, there was homework and I really struggled to get the story on paper last night. I couldn’t find the rhythm of the story I wanted to tell. When I finally found it, after taking a knitting break to clear my head, the story practically wrote itself.

We also had to read a story (poem in prose?) by Naomi Shihab Nye, Gate 4A. I can hardly wait to see what we do with them today.

Mid-August Morris Update

17 Aug

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on a reading blitz to read as many Morris eligible books as I can before school starts. Although school doesn’t begin officially until September 8th, I’ve already been back a few days. This week, I have a 4 day writing workshop with the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project. Staff have to be back on August 30th for Inservice week and I will probably go in to unpack boxes and begin setting up my new classroom the week in between.

So, is my current Morris status.

I have read 50 books. Each eligible book needs two readers, so I haven’t read everything on out master list. My piles have become even more organized!

Here are the stacks of books we have yet to discuss. The tallest pile on the left are the books I have read. The other two piles are books other people have read, or have committed to reading.

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Th two out from are still in need of at least one more reader. That pile used to be bigger, but we are all hunkering down to get as much read as we can.

In addition to the books on the list, all committee members must read all books, that have been nominated. I have read a number of these but still have a few more to go.

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The pile on the left is actually 2 stacks: nominees I’ve read are behind, nominees I still need to read are in front. (I deliberately tried to keep the titles in this photo illegible) The pile to the right are books I’ve signed up to read but haven’t yet. That is down to six. Our next online meeting is scheduled for August 31st and I hope to have most of these six read, especially the ones for which I am the second reader. That will give us more titles to discuss.

The master list is a work in progress. New titles get added as we become aware of them, so my stacks and piles are also in a continuous state of flux. All in all it is rather exciting.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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