Tag Archives: Literature

Random book thoughts

14 Sep

From a rather bumpy start, due to my last-minute decision to change jobs,  the school year seems to be developing its rhythm. I have unpacked two of the boxes I shoved in my classroom closet. I almost wept the other day, the first day I asked my students to read with a partner. It sounded so beautiful and I forgot how much  love that sound. Although I am still tired, I am not as tired and I’m going to bed able to read or knit before I do so.

I have a stack of books I’m working through.

In the car, I am listening to  The Goldfinch  by Donna Tartt. I am not loving it. I find the protagonist whiney. There are 24 or 26 discs and I am not sure I will keep going on this one. It has received a lot of press, but everyone I know who’s read it didn’t really like it.


At school, as I unpacked to two  boxes I mentioned above, I found my copy of Falling in Love With Close Reading, which I’ve mentioned before. I was about halfway through when it got misplaced in the big switcheroo. Now I can finish it. I still plan to do a boo group with it at school, but I need to finish it first.


At home, I’m reading the YA novel The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.


According to Wikipedia,

 the winner’s curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay. The winner may overpay or be “cursed” in one of two ways: 1) the winning bid exceeds the value of the auctioned asset such that the winner is worse off in absolute terms; or 2) the value of the asset is less than the bidder anticipated, so the bidder may still have a net gain but will be worse off than anticipated.

Rutkoski took this idea and has turned it into a compelling read. The main character, Kestrel, is the daughter of a general of a conquering army. One day at a slave auction, she buys a slave, more out of a desire to stir the pot during the auction, than because she needs him. I’m only about a quarter through, but I am seriously engaged. The slave, Arin, is more than he seems and I can tell that trouble is brewing and a revolt of some sort is in the  offing. Just where Kestrel will end up is yet to be determined. I have a few predictions, but I’m not ready to share.

Finally, I’m listening to The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen, while I knit.


I didn’t realize until looking for this image, that the rights to the movie have already been sold and Emma Watson is an executive producer and plans to star in the movie as the Red Queen. Frequently compared the A Game of Thrones, The Queen of the Tearling  is the story of Kelsea, the heir to the Tearling throne, who has been hidden away since she was an infant. She is summoned to reclaim her throne on her 19th birthday, setting in motion a whole series of events that involve a certain amount of gore. It’s a little derivative, but pretty good to listen to while I am otherwise occupied. It is meant to be a trilogy and we shall see if I persevere through all three books.

Gearing up for battle

12 Sep

Today I hold the first meeting for the 2013-14 Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB).


I have visited all the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes and made the presentation. Today, at 2:15, I  will see who is ready to take up the challenge. Last year my team came 2nd at the state finals. Three of those four readers are still at my school. One moved away. I am assuming they will stay together, but I’m not 100% certain of that. What is most exciting to me is seeing the 3rd graders. They are so keen to participate and I love their enthusiasm. I know that there is a group of 4th graders eager to beat last year’s winning team, too.

Today’s meeting is mostly a reiteration of the things I told them when I visited their classes. I will do book talks for kids who are hearing this for the first times, but I know a lot of last year’s kids spent the summer reading the stack of OBOB books, just like I did.

3-5 Poster

There are a few repeats from a couple of years ago and some new ones as well.  Here is the complete list:

Grades 3-5 Division

Abraham Lincoln by Mary Pope Osborne, 2011

Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, 1999

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, 2008

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, 1983

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff, 2008

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, 2003

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, 2011

Into the Firestorm by Deborah Hopkinson, 2006

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, 2012

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, 2011

Pie by Sarah Weeks, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, 2004

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, 2011

Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan, 2011

Who was Neil Armstrong? by Roberta Edwards, 2008

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt, 2011

You can get more information about OBOB at http://oboblsta.pbworks.com/w/page/5653620/FrontPage

Family Life

19 Aug

I go back to work this morning & I’m feeling a little bleary because I was at a honking huge wedding yesterday. How honking huge,  you may ask. Eleven bridesmaids, 11 groomsmen, 7  priests, 3 flower girls, 1 ring bearer and 1 crown bearer (it was a Greek Orthodox wedding & the bride & groom wear crowns, called stefana). There was a lot of food & drink. I ate too much & stayed up later than I normally do. I’m a light weight with alcohol, so at least I exhibited some self-control there, even though I walked to the wedding because the church was 3 blocks from my house.  The bride & groom were young people I’d taught Sunday School , although they weren’t in class together. I’ve known their families for about 15 years and I was surrounded by tons of people I knew, many of whom I think of as my Oregon family.

Saturday, I went to an engagement party where there was also a ton of food, drink, friends and family.

It was a good weekend to read Zebra Forest, a debut novel  by Adina Rishe Gewirtz.


Ever since she was small, Annie’s had three wishes:
1. Get tall
2. Have an adventure
3. Meet her father.

She tells us her father is dead, that her mother abandoned them to live with their grandmother, who lives in an isolated hose, near a birch and oak forest they call the Zebra Forest. Annie & her brother, Rew, spend a lot of time reading, playing and imagining in the forest.  There is a prison on the other side of the forest that employs a lot of people in the nearby town. When a large group of prisoners escapes, some of Annie’s wishes come to pass and she learns that all the stories her grandmother told her about her family, weren’t exactly the way things happened.

Although Annie is eleven, I think it the target audience is older than that. There are some dark family stories,  grandma’s mental health is questionable and the book is set in the summer of 1980 against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis. This is a beautifully written novel that a mature reader would enjoy.

Pie vs Pi

14 Aug

A little homage to Mad Magazine in my title today, but let me start with a funny story I heard years ago, which might be a Canadian urban myth.

Many years ago, when a member of the Royal Family was visiting some rural location in Canada  and a dinner of some sort was involved. (I always envision a church basement sort of affair, with lots of folksy rural people about.) When the main course was over and desert was about to be served, the woman serving the royal person is reported to have said, “Keep your fork, Duke. There’s pie.”

I got to thinking about this story while reading Pi in the Sky by Wendy Mass. Joss, the main character is the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. his job is to deliver pies. But these aren’t ordinary pies; they are the glue that holds the fabric of the universe together.


This was an OK read. Here’s the upside:

Mass has created a unique world in The Realms, which exist in dark matter. She tells a great story of friendship and perseverance. I like the cool quotes from scientists that introduce each chapter. And I like that it explains dark matter and gets readers thinking about the nature of the universe and life after death. I also like the fact that Carl Sagan makes an appearance.

The downside is that I wasn’t really that engaged by the story. There seems to be a lot of rushing about and it feels like things are being made up as we go along. I realize that is what actually happens in literature, but the reader isn’t supposed to notice it.

I don’t really see many kids at my school reading this. They might pick it up because they’ve liked Mass’ previous books, but I don’t think most will enjoy this book as much as they did her others.

Kids I’d like to teach

2 Aug

I have always enjoyed teaching quirky, no-traditional kids. I was sort of a quirky kid myself, so I like to think I have an affinity for them. They aren’t always easy and their lives aren’t always happy, but  I love how they look at the world.   Here are a few of the quirky characters I would love to teach:

1. Clementine, from the series by Sarah Pennypacker

2. Fred & George Weasley

3. Ferdinand the Bull

4. Alvin Ho

5. Olivia, from the series by Ian Falconer

6. Nicholas, from the series by Rene Goscinny

7. Anne Shirley

The newest one I’d add to my list is Danielle from  OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn.


Danielle chronicles the highs and lows her senior year through her  Me-moir, a collection of class assignments, journal entries, emails and letters to the school psychologist. She struggles with all the things high school students experience: unrequited love, body-image issues,insecurities about her  social standing. And this lands her in the school psych’s office and, perish the thought, a social skills class in a church basement.

Fortunately, Danielle is surrounded by supportive adults, and she gets along with them far batter than she does with her peers. Her parents get her and are actively involved in her life. Her Aunt Joyce is the Aunt every kids wishes they had and her English teacher, who seems cold at first, really seems to understand and like her . Danielle even makes a friend of an eighty year old English tour guide. This is not a story where adults are absent, and that is part of the appeal of the book.

The book is funny, poignant and heart-breaking at times.

Some Lucy News

30 Jul

With all of Fiona’s health issues I sometimes worry that my other dog, Lucy, feels like sloppy seconds.



Lucy is lean and active and  where Fiona is stocky and less active. She’s hunting a fly in this picture. Fiona gets most of my attention because she demands it and because her age & health just make her have greater needs.

It’s a bit the same with Lucy Beck-Moreau in The Lucy variations by Sara Zarr.


She was a famous pianist, until she walked away from it all at age 15. Now, at 16, she watches her 10 year-old brother follow the same path she did. She has faded into the background.

When her brother gets a new piano teacher, Lucy starts thinking about the piano again and wants to find out what it really means to be Lucy in a family that has very high expectations of its members.

Although she is smart and talented and a bit self -centered, you can;t bout help like her. yes, she’s flawed, but she’s working on her flaws. She loves music and the piano, and wants to play, but not under the terms her family dictates. It is really the story of a young woman finding her voice. She disappoints people, is disappointed by people  and makes mistakes. It was a quick and satisfying read.

When Girls Bully

27 Jul

As I started reading Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, I wracked by brain for another book about girl bullies but couldn’t come up with one. I could think of lots of non-fiction titles, but not a fiction title. I’m sure there are some out there. There are probably even good ones. But, if  the topic sounds even remotely interesting, you should read this one.


When Piddy & her Mom move, Piddy has to attend a new high school. She has always been a good student and want to become an elephant researcher when she grows up. One day, someone tells Piddy that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is or what reason she might have to dislike her enough to want to beat her up. At first she ignores the threat, and she certainly doesn’t want to be a narc, but thing begin to spin out of control.

What  I liked about the story is how real it felt. Piddy is pretty ordinary and I can believe that this situation might really have happened. Meg Medina loosely based the story on something that happened to her. Piddy is likable and you really feel for her as she tries to keep her world from falling apart.  So many times, a problem like this can’t be solved in a neat way and I appreciate the  honest and realistic ending.

Small truths

20 Jul


I think Patricia MacLachlan and I are kindred spirits. She writes the sensitive, quiet sort of books  I love and that touch my heart. In  The Truth of Me,  Robbie and his dog Ellie, are sent to spend summer with his Grandma Maddy. This is a good thing because he loves Maddie and feels far more at home than he does with his parents.He doesn’t really understand why this is so. Maddy has a special way with animals and she teaches Robbie some of what she knows and helps Robbie understand his parents.along the way.

One of my favorite scenes is in chapter 4 “Small Truths”. Robbie is talking with Henry, a doctor who lives a few houses away  and a good friend of Maddy. They are talking about Maddy and Henry says that Maddy’s stories are her truths. Robbie asks Henry if he has truths of his own and he replies “I am, in my heart, a man with a very large sailboat. I sail around the world with my two dogs and visit people everywhere.  I like the wind in my hair. I like the sun. I like the stars at night.” This starts Robbie down the road to discover his truths.

In our hearts, we all hold truths. Sometimes the truth is what people see. Oftentimes not. This book will start readers on their own path to discovering what is on their hearts.


Some simple fun

19 Jul

Sometime the simplest things offer the most fun. When I was very young, we had a wooden footstool I liked to turn upside down, sit in & imagine I was driving a car. Here are two, simple books, with lots of room for kids to use their imaginations.


Windblow  by Édouard Manceau is the tale of some bits of paper, tossed about by the wind. With each turn of the page they transform into something new. Each new shape tells a new story. Even the wind has a story to tell.

I’m sure, like me, your mind is imagining the creations your kids can make and the stories they can create to accompany their pictures. Owl Kids, the publisher, makes it easy by offering a link to the shapes Manceau uses in his stories. Of course, you can always make your own, too. You can download the shapes here  or here

Click to access windblown-activity.pdf

Nikki McClure’s books are always simple  and beautiful. Her detailed  black & white woodcuts  in How To be A Cat , almost makes me want to be a cat person.


Each two-page spread is simply a wood cut and a verb. And that is the beauty of the book. As an ESL teacher now, I can imagine lots of ways to use this book. As a teacher of writing, I can imagine using this to help kids learn to add details to their writing. I can also picture kids just sitting quietly, enjoying this book.

Friends with feathers

18 Jul


Flora and the Flamingo  by Molly Idle is wordless and yet a beautiful story unfolds, figuratively and literally.


When book opens, these two are not friends. Not enemies either, but the tension is palpable.


Then, slowly, Idle unfolds the story with flaps to lift


and beautiful two-page spreads that illustrate the twists and turns of an evolving friendship.



Even though this is a very pink book, boys will certainly enjoy the story. There are lots of ways to use wordless books in the library and classroom, or at home,  and this would be an excellent addition to all three.

As I was reading Flora and the Flamingo,  I had vision of the dancing hippos in Fantasia  and The Dance of the Hours was playing in my head. This book will leave you feeling just as satisfied.

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