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Spooky!

20 Sep

I think my first exposure to the infamous1938 radio broadcast tof War of the Worlds  was a 1975 made-for-TV movie entitled The Night That Panicked America.

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In this era of “fake news” and fake “fake news” Gail Jarrow’s new work of nonfiction, Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The war of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America Spooked, takes a new look at that event and makes connections to the present.

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Publisher’s Summary: Acclaimed author Gail Jarrow explores in riveting detail the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938, in this nonfiction title. Jarrow highlights the artists behind the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the aftermath, and the repercussions which remain relevant today. On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans panicked when they believed that Martians had invaded Earth. What appeared to be breaking news about an alien invasion was, in fact, a radio drama based on H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players. Some listeners became angry once they realized they had been tricked, and the reaction to the broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of radio. Archival photographs and images, as well as an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index round out this stellar nonfiction title.

Making her point

26 Aug

I picked up an ARC of Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad. It was part of my effort to get books with covers featuring people who looked like my students. Although middle schoolers aren’t the target audience for this book, I think many of my students will enjoy reading it.

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There are several reasons why I think it will work in a middle school classroom. First is Muhammad’s honesty in her descriptions of her struggles and self-doubts. Her strict upbringing and expectations of success mirror those of my students. The book is definitely more memoir than biography because she delves deeper in some parts than in others, in the same way that I encourage my writers to tell microstories that illustrate the point they are trying to make.

Of course, I love that this is the story of a women of color who has achieved success in sports. Her dedication and personal sacrifice exemplify the grit everyone needs to succeed in whatever they undertake.

Publisher’s Summary: Growing up in New Jersey as the only African American Muslim at school, Ibtihaj Muhammad always had to find her own way. When she discovered fencing, a sport traditionally reserved for the wealthy, she had to defy expectations and make a place for herself in a sport she grew to love.

From winning state championships to three-time All-America selections at Duke University, Ibtihaj was poised for success, but the fencing community wasn’t ready to welcome her with open arms just yet. As the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA’s saber fencing squad, Ibtihaj had to chart her own path to success and Olympic glory.

Proud is a moving coming-of-age story from one of the nation’s most influential athletes and illustrates how she rose above it all.

A Young Reader’s Edition is also available.

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Very often, the big difference in a young readers version of  a book is the simplification of language and the expurgation  of  scenes considered in appropriate for the audience. Ibtihaj Muhammad has lived a very disciplined life and I have no problem sharing my ARC of the “adult” version with my students. I think they will understand the struggles and successes of Ibtihaj Muhammad.

 

House Sparrows

13 Aug

At my old house, I had a little house sparrow that visited me. It would hop on my front porch and, if my front door was open to catch a breeze, she would hop onto the threshold and peek in. An elderly friend of mine told me it meant the bird had something important to tell me. I never found out what that was, but I think about that little bird from time to time, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot while I read The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill.

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Publisher’s Summary:Behold the most despised bird in human history!

So begins Jan Thornhill’s riveting, beautifully illustrated story of the House Sparrow. She traces the history of this perky little bird, one of the most adaptable creatures on Earth, from its beginnings in the Middle East to its spread with the growth of agriculture into India, North Africa and Europe. Everywhere the House Sparrow went, it competed with humans for grain, becoming such a pest that in some places “sparrow catcher” became an actual job and bounties were paid to those who got rid of it.

But not everyone hated the House Sparrow, and in 1852, fifty pairs were released in New York City. In no time at all, the bird had spread from coast to coast. Then suddenly, at the turn of the century, as cars took over from horses and there was less grain to be found, its numbers began to decline. As our homes, gardens, cities and farmland have changed, providing fewer nesting and feeding opportunities, the House Sparrow’s numbers have begun to decline again — though in England and Holland this decline appears to be slowing. Perhaps this clever little bird is simply adapting once more.

This fascinating book includes the life history of the House Sparrow and descriptions of how the Ancient Egyptians fed it to the animals they later mummified, how it traveled to Great Britain as a stowaway on ships carrying Roman soldiers, and how its cousin, the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, was almost eradicated in China when Mao declared war on it. A wealth of back matter material is also supplied.

The narrative text is augmented by Thornhill’s realistic illustrations that help the reader picture the truly remarkable history of the house sparrow.

 

This week’s book talks 4/16-20

20 Apr

I got to go hear Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher Monday, so I didn’t do a book talk. I did however, receive a copy of their newest book, 180 Days.

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TUESDAY

It was non-fiction booktalk week and I started with this ARC about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

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WEDNESDAY

I shared a memoir by one of the kings of the basketball court, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

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THURSDAY

Today was about a different kind of royalty: Queen Victoria.

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FRIDAY

Today’s book, though well-written, tells a terribly tragic tale.

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This week’s book talks 4/9-12

13 Apr

We are half way through semester two, which means no kids today as teachers update grades and send out progress reports. I joked with my students that they shouldn’t really be worried that we were sending progress reports home on Friday the 13th. Bwahahaha!

Here are the books I booktalked this week.

MONDAY

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The Night Diary
by Veena Hiranandani

TUESDAY

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Fault Lines in the Constitution
by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

 

WEDNESDAY

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The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
by Teresa Toten

 

THURSDAY

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Shoe Dog: Young Readers Edition
by Phil Knight

This week’s book talks

16 Feb

It has been a whirlwind week! Although I was only at school for three days, I managed to talk about seven books.

Wednesday, I shared the Sibert winner and honor books.

 

Thursday, I book-talked Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, the winner of the Newbery Award.I wrote about this book back in May. you can reread my post here.

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Friday,  I book-talked Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman. I won the YALSA Award for Nonfiction and was a Printz Honor book.

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This Week’s Book Talks 1/30-2/3

3 Feb

I intended to bookend the week with nonfiction.

Monday I talked about this classic:

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I saved this one for today, but the weather prevented me from book talking it. Yes, we have another day off due to freezing rain. The streets are covered in ice. I guess I will start next week with We’ve Got a Job.

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In between, I talked up these three gems:51hhnx3g3jl-_sx334_bo1204203200_

I will read anything Stuart Gibbs writes!

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Every breath

19 Jan

I read several books during the snow week we just had, and have written in the past about my Grandmother’s experience in a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Two books I read during my unexpected vacation got me thinking about her again.

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The first, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill,  by Megan Shepherd, was not what i was expecting. I thought it was going to be a war story. It is set during the Second World War, and might even be considered an allegory for it. But the real story focuses on the experiences of a young girl in an isolated hospital (which I suspect was a tuberculosis sanatorium) in the English countryside.

Publisher’s Summary:There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospitalthe mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.

One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?

The second made me weep. If you haven’t read When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi, you must. If you never read nonfiction, you must read this beautiful reflection by a man, a doctor, as he comes to the end of his life.

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Publisher’s Summary: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Books to save your life

25 Jul

My dad died a year ago today.

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I got a little weepy at my niece’s high school graduation when I read in the program that she had won an award from the local Masonic Lodge. My dad was a lifelong Mason and he would have been so proud to see her get that award. I like to think he was looking down on her that day.

 As a book lover, I turned to literature for some help. Shortly after his passing, I read H is for Hawk  by Helen Macdonald. Last Christmas, my twin sister gave me They left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s memoir about coping with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

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Publisher’s Summary: After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.

But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything
 is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

I can think of many friends and colleagues, all middle-aged,  who might benefit from reading this book, who also have aging parents.

Earlier this year I read an excellent New Yorker article entitled “Can reading Make You Happier?” which was all about bibliotherapy. It turns out my local public library actually had the book mentioned in the article,  The Novel Cure  by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.

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In my pursuit of this topic, I also came across this gem:

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There are many other similar books out there. I hope that you can find some solace, support and hope in whatever books you choose to read.

Alan Turing Decoded

9 Jun

As he did in his graphic biography Feynman

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Jim Ottaviani explores the life and work of another scientist in his newest work.

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The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded explores Turing’s youth, education and war experiences that lead him to

Publisher’s Summary: English mathematician and scientist Alan Turing (1912–1954) is credited with many of the foundational principles of contemporary computer science. The Imitation Game presents a historically accurate graphic novel biography of Turing’s life, including his groundbreaking work on the fundamentals of cryptography and artificial intelligence. His code breaking efforts led to the cracking of the German Enigma during World War II, work that saved countless lives and accelerated the Allied defeat of the Nazis. While Turing’s achievements remain relevant decades after his death, the story of his life in post-war Europe continues to fascinate audiences today.

Award-winning duo Jim Ottaviani (the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Feynman and Primates) and artist Leland Purvis (an Eisner and Ignatz Award nominee and occasional reviewer for the Comics Journal) present a factually detailed account of Turing’s life and groundbreaking research—as an unconventional genius who was arrested, tried, convicted, and punished for being openly gay, and whose innovative work still fuels the computing and communication systems that define our modern world. Computer science buffs, comics fans, and history aficionados will be captivated by this riveting and tragic story of one of the 20th century’s most unsung heroes.

The real focus of the book is Turing’s mind and how it was consumed with his theoretical ideas. It is written as interviews with Turing and various important people in his life. Each sheds light on different aspects of his life. Because I’d seen the movie,  starring Benjamin Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, I was able to easily follow the story, but I wonder if it would be as easy a path to follow if I hadn’t.

 

Randy Ribay

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