"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx

Monday, October 20, 2014

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines

If there is one book that all teens should read today it is Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman. Using simple, straight-forward language, plenty of photos and charts, and tons of references, the book is a veritable treasure trove of information to help make sense of all the environmental headlines in the news today.

Fleischman, who admits that he is not an environmental scientist, became interested in putting together this book for a personal reason, bees dead on his driveway. His stated goal for writing the book is to "give the reader a foundation under their decisions." What I appreciated most was the tips for identifying the wolf in sheep clothing, companies that pretend to be green, but aren't. I was also glad to read what is often not spoken about frankly, political ideologies and how they influence environmental legislation. There was no name-calling or finger-pointing, however. He explores the connection between money and our current problems. "Science explains what nature is doing; often money explains what we are doing."

The looks at the history of environmental issues to give context to where we are today, but the reader is left with a sense of hope for the future if we take action.

As I turned the last page I determined to fight for including this book on our 2015 Mock Printz reading list. Why? Because I want as many teenagers as possible to read this book and this seemed like a place to start.

I'm not kidding. Everyone, including you, should read this book AND take action.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Salon...A lovely October day

Our backyard trees set against a lovely blue sky (Mountain Ash, Sweet Gum, Oak)
Weather: beautiful day, unseasonably warm and muggy.

Ordination: Our Youth Director was just ordained today and will be moving to another church as their Family and Children's Pastor. The ordination service was designed by Brett and was a wonderful celebration of his life and his ministry. His parents and family played an important role in the service as did other pastors from neighboring churches. We will miss Brett tremendously but are so excited for him as he moves on to another phase of his ministry.

Scripture: The scripture Brett chose for his service was I Samuel 3:1-11
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.
What wonderful words of challenge for all of us: "Here I am, Lord, speak to me!"

Putting the garden to bed: we spent some time in the yard today raking leaves, pulling up summer annuals, and planting bulbs and chrysanthemums, We were dressed for fall weather but just about roasted to death it was so warm in the sun. It was a lovely day to be working in the yard, really glorious.

Cello: Carly accompanied the choir on her cello today in church. It has been so fun to have cello music back in our lives after a four year hiatus while she was away at college and not playing it.

Piles: This week I've noticed all the funny piles of books and magazines I have lying around the house. Piles that have been in place for years.  One pile has magazines from as far back as 2008 in it. Another pile has a copy of the magazine  announcing the 1st inauguration of President Obama. I must set things down and never think of them again. Time to clean house!

Mock Printz roll-out: On Friday during lunch periods I rolled out the list of books for the 2015 Mock Printz workshop. Currently we have 16 books on the list, with three books still under consideration. Thirty students signed the pledge to join up. We are off and running.

 Book finished this week:
  • The Hotel on Place Vendome by Mazzeo---The history of the Hotel Ritz in Paris, especially concerning its residents during WWII. Interesting but also boring. It was a chore to read.
Currently reading (and progress):
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero---one of the three books still under consideration for Mock Printz. Page 79 of 284.
  • Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis- a Mock Printz selection. Page 51 of 387,
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Ruldolfo Anaya---my banned book selection of the year and an audiobook. Disc 6 of 10.
  • A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman---a lovely YA novel set in India, written in verse. I am enjoying the cultural  and religious references. Page 280 of 320.

Lovely cello music of the song Say Something...enjoy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Say What You Will---I like it

On my Mock Printz  roll-out event yesterday I described Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern as a "romance" which is only partially true. It does have a romantic aspect but it is SO much more than that. Let me attempt to explain what I mean.

Characters: Matthew and Amy, both are seniors in high school.
     Amy is a beautiful, intelligent girl who has cerebral palsy. She can only speak with the help of a talking computer and needs assistance with things that most teens take for granted like getting from class to class and eating. Yet her brains, especially her writing abilities, have brought her a sense of notoriety in school.
     Matthew is a loner who has found himself in a world given over more and more to his compulsions. At this point it is not diagnosed as OCD yet. He worries about everything and tries to figure out how he is going to navigate through his day without drawing attention to himself. Oddly and out of character for Matthew, it is a comment that he makes in class that causes an interaction with Amy for the first time.

Normal/Unusual teenagers: both Matthew and Amy just want to be normal teens but their disabilities handcuff them to a degree.
      Amy wants to make friends yet recognizes the adult assistant assigned to help her at school are barriers to this goal. What if she has student assistants help her navigate through the school day rather than adults?
      Matthew is also lonely yet fascinated by Amy. He is secretly pleased to be selected as one of her student helpers. Will he be able to hide his obsessions from her and her parents?

The Plot: on the surface it appears that the book will unfold like most romances. Boy meets girl. Boy woos girl. Girl challenges boy to find his better self. Love ensues. 
     The first half of the book appears to follow the above pattern. When the senior prom happens near mid-book it became obvious this book will now veer off the pattern into uncharted territory. The plot twist kept me reading and interested.
The author: Say What You Will is author Cammie McGovern's debut YA novel. As a mother of a child with autism she understands more than most the challenges faced by children living with disabilities. In an interview with USA Today she says
As the parent of a 17-year-old son with autism, I know all too well about loneliness and isolation for kids with disabilities. As is often the case with kids on the autism spectrum, his communication may be halting and awkward, but he is, at heart, a social creature who delights in activities and the company of others. The best thing I did in the lonely, hard years after Ethan was first diagnosed was connect with a group of mothers of kids with disabilities and start an organization called Whole Children. 
Her experiences with her own son and with children she met through the Whole Children organization must have really helped her understand teens. The language and the situations in the book are quite credible and authentic.

Mock Printz selection: because of the above reasons we selected Say What You Will to be on our Mock Printz list of books this year. I will be interested to see how teens react to it. If yesterday is any indication, the reaction of teens to it will be favorable. The cover flap, which mentions John Green, will be reason enough for many teens to read it, "John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel." I don't know if I would go so far as to compare this book to those two mega-wonderful books but I do like it.

Read it yourself and let me know what you think. Say What You Will---it's good.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Czar Nicholas II played dominoes."

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming is a book with a fabulous subtitle: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. The above quote, from the Wall Street Journal review pretty much sums up the last days of Czar Nicholas II, blithely playing cards and dominoes while his country was falling apart.
Here is the riveting story of the Russian Revolution as it unfolded. When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared to do so. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew.  Deftly maneuvering between the lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s peasants—and their eventual uprising—Fleming offers up a fascinating portrait, complete with inserts featuring period photographs and compelling primary-source material that brings it all to life. History doesn't get more interesting than the story of the Romanovs.- Candace Fleming
As a young teen I was captivated by the story of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, his family, and how they were killed in cold blood. I was fascinated by the very creepy Rasputin. And I wondered if Anastasia was still alive and actually kept my fingers crossed that she was. That was the depth of my knowledge about the Romanov family and condition of peasants in Russia prior to the revolution.

Now, finally, a book has been written about the last Czar of Russia that is perfect for high school students. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia is not too easy and childish for teen readers, nor is it overly long and tedious. It gives lots of information without over-simplifying or overwhelming the reader. Fleming, known as a scholarly yet engaging nonfiction writer, makes great use of primary documents---diaries, letters, telegrams, eye-witness accounts. The book fairly crackles with authority while remaining accessible.

Every year I try to find the perfect nonfiction book for high school students who honestly will not read adult nonfiction but get turned off on the more childish junior books which are full of sidebar columns, and disjointed artifacts on each page. The Family Romanov is just the book I've been looking for and I predict that students fascinated with Russian history, like I was as a teenager, will find it worth their time. And they will learn a lot if they read it including the proof that Anastasia was definitely killed along with her family.

We are including The Family Romanov in our cadre of books for our 2015 Mock Printz for the above reasons and more. It has a plethora of starred reviews and just plain great reviews like this one from the Washington Post:
Candace Fleming’s latest book has the elements of an overheated dystopian thriller —political repression, malevolent figures, a protracted war, endangered children— but no prospect of a triumphal ending. Focusing on the last czar and his family, Fleming, who has also written books about Amelia Earhart and the Lincolns, delivers another engaging and insightful work of history, giving young readers a clear sense of the complicated world in which the Romanov family lived and died. She presents imperial Russia as full of problematic extremes, and Nicholas II as a leader incapable of handling them.
The only thing I disagree with in this review is the mention of young readers. Yes, there may be young readers who will be able to read this book but I think it is better suited for the teen readers, or for adults who like to read their history in accessible formats. Either way, just read it. I guarantee you will learn something and unlearn a few things you thought you knew but had wrong all these years.

Monday, October 13, 2014

TTT: Ten places books have made me want to visit

1. Savannah, Georgia thanks to the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Written in 1994 this nonfiction book has the quirkiest cast of characters and highlights special places in town.

2. Venice, Italy. Admittedly who wouldn't want to visit this exotic location? However, John Berendt's second book The City of Falling Angels made me even more excited about my visit to the city. It is another nonfiction book, this one was published in 2005.

3. Australia. Bill Bryson's fun nonfiction book In a Sunburned Country made me want to drop everything and hop on a plane headed to Australia. I do realize that I am not only talking about a country here but also a continent but I do hope to take a very long visit to this sunny country some day so I will have lots of time to explore it.

4. and  5. Madagascar to see the huge baobab trees and the old camphor tree at the shrine in Atami, Japan. I learned about these huge, ancient trees because of the book Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham. In fact, after I read the book I decided I'd to try to visit all the trees listed in it.

6. Salem, Massachusetts. I never even thought about going to this historic American town until I read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe set in modern times and in the past.

7. Lithuania. I love it when a book opens my mind to new information and places.  That is the case with Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys whose amazing book about how the Russian government tortured and moved thousands of families out of Lithuania to Siberia.

8. St. Petersburg, Russia. After reading The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean I decided that I HAD to visit its huge art gallery, The Hermitage Museum.

9. Paris, France. Of course I want to go to Paris and, of course, I want my husband with me, but if I could I would love to time travel to Paris in the 1920s. Then I could witness first hand what it was like to be around all the authors who made up the lost generation. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway is a first-hand account of those days.

Image result for amsterdam

10. Amsterdam. I want to go back now that I've read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

11. The island of Thisby from the Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Okay, I know it is a fictional location but I love the descriptions of it in the book and can picture every blade of grass.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Two excellent books written in verse may top the YA award lists this year.

Last weekend I read two books both written in verse, both outstanding. Will one or both of them win any of the coveted YA awards for the year? I hope so.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a autobiography written in verse about the early formative years of Woodson's life. She was born in Ohio but moved with her mother and siblings to Greensboro, North Carolina in the 1960s. She and her siblings lived with her grandparents while her mother looked for work in New York, eventually moving to Brooklyn to be with her. During the time in Greensboro Jacqueline was aware of some of the civil rights activities happening in the area, most specifically the lunch counter sit-ins. Though she was too young to participate in them. She also mentioned episodes of racism directed toward those in her community. Once she moved to Brooklyn, Woodson and her family assimilated into the community and she made best friends with a Latina girl who lived in the same apartment complex. It was while she lived in this neighborhood that she became interested in writing and storytelling, even though she had difficulties with reading and comprehension. It was a thoughtful book and a delight to read.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was the second book written in verse I read in a row.  This one is story of twin boys whose father played professional basketball when he was younger and now the boys play for their middle school team. Everything seems to be going so well in their lives until one of the twins meets and fall in love with a girl and the boys have a falling out. Later their father has severe health issues which brings the family back together, but will have the reader bringing out the Kleenex.

Some of the poems in this book are considered concrete poems because they are given shape by the placement of the text. These were my favorite poems in the book. The narrator also uses his vocabulary lists and definitions to add depth and meaning to his poems. I just simply loved this book.

We added both of these books to our 2015 Mock Printz list though we worry/wonder if they are more likely to be candidates for the Newbery Award than the Printz Award. Either way both deserve the attention from the award committees and I hope they win something with the awards are announced in February.

Sunday Salon, October 12

Our Mountain Ash tree is looking quite lovely

Weather; partly cloudy, fall-like

Cue the music: This concerto by Mozart has been described as the romantic piece of music ever written. I don't know about that but it is certainly lovely. Have a listen while you read the rest of this blog post.

Women's Retreat: I spent yesterday on a women's retreat with other gals from my church at a location on the Hood Canal, about an hour and half away from our home. The day was overcast and a bit rainy but it didn't matter. We worshipped togethers, had plenty of time for visiting, worked on a service project, and ate a wonderful lunch. I haven't attended our yearly retreat for several years due to scheduling conflicts but this year felt I could go because it was only for a day, with no over nights and the speaker was one of our own, Bev, a gal I highly respect.

School: my clerk returned on Wednesday after a nearly two week absence.  Boy, was I glad to see her. Unfortunately, while she was in Michigan her sister-in-law died. It was a very emotional and exhausting time for her.

Mock Printz books selected: I met with the other librarians in the district and we selected 14 books for our project and another six we are still considering.  Check out our list here. I've read most of the books on the first list but still need to write reviews for ive of them.  Writing them is on my list list of things to do this week.

Wash-the-dog: Our poor dog. Her skin infection is back. Ugh. It means we have to take her to the local wash-the-dog business twice a week. She is also back on antibiotics. Wish we could figure out what the trouble is.

Currently reading:
  • The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar Mazzeo---a book club selection about activities in the Hotel Ritz during WWII. It should be more interesting to me than it is.
  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya---my current audiobook; full fo beautiful, evocative language. I selected this for Banned Books Week but didn't get it started right on time to match that event.
  • Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis---a Mock Printz selection that I haven't finished yet.
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton---another Mock Printz selection that I need to finish.
Finished this week:
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki---a graphic novel, recounts the events of one two-week vacation to the shore.
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd---a fictional account of the Grimke sisters,  real 19th century abolitionist and feminists. I love it.
  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith---another wonderfully written book by Smith but dare we add it to our Mock Printz list?
Prayers this week: for my friend Louise who is having to face another round of chemotherapy.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Friday Quotes, October 10

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader
The Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's Voice

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading.

I'm reading....

Book: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Book Beginnings:
Uno. Ultima came to stay with us the summer I was almost seven. When she came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood.
Friday 56:
"¡Adios!" I cried and ran out. I followed the two she-goats hopping up the path ahead of me. They sang and I brayed into the morning air, and the pebbles of the path rang as we raced with time toward the bridge.
My comments: Oh wow, wow, wow. I love the language of this book. It is simply exquisite, as the two quotes demonstrate. I just started listening to this audiobook yesterday and I have missed some of the nuances of the book in that format. Thankfully this task sent me to the print book and I discovered the lovely language within.

Monday, October 6, 2014

TTT: Strong Character-driven YA Novels

1. Looking for Alaska by John Green---Miles, Alaska, The Colonel, and Pudge

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green---Hazel Grace, Augustus, and Isaac

3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman--- Mia and Adam

4. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell---Eleanor and Park; Park's parents

5. Roger and Amy's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson--- um...Roger and Amy!

6. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green---Will Grayson, will grayson, Tiny

7. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan---Lily and Dash!

8. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares---Bridget, Lena, Carmen, and Tibby

9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen---Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty, Mary, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Lydia, Wickham, Mr. Bingley, etc.

10. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen---Marianne, Eleanor, Willoughby, Edward Ferrars, Col. Brandon, etc.

This was a harder list to generate than I thought it would be.

2015 Mock Printz List Rollout

Here it is: the Bethel School District 2015 Mock Printz reading list---

Our thoughts
Jacqueline Woodson
Autobiography; in verse
6 of 6 starred reviews; Civil Rights
Kwame Alexander
Sports; in verse
8 of 9 starred reviews; for reluctant readers
Paul Fleischman
Environmental issues
Candace Fleming
6 of 6 starred reviews; finally a nonfiction book written for high school level.
Gail Giles
Important topics

Half Bad
Sally Green
High interest and teen appeal

The Islands at the End of the World
Austin Aslan
Science Fiction; Action Adventure
We have a lot of students from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
Corrine Duyvis
5 of 6 starred reviews

Cammie McGovern
Realism; Romance
Students living with disabilities

EK Johnston
4 of 8 starred reviews; fun half fantasy, half realistic
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
Magical Realism
Set in Washington State; local author
Emily Carroll
Horror; graphic fiction
4 of 4 starred reviews; illustrations bold and attractive.
Kate Hattemer
4 of 6 starred reviews; the long poem is an unknown poetic style.
E. Lockhart
5 of 6 starred reviews; unpredictable

100 Sideways Miles
Andrew Smith
5 of 6 starred reviews; on National Book Award Long list;
This One Summer
Mariko TamakiGraphic NovelComing-of-age; 6 of 8 starred reviews
Still being considered ↓  ↓  ↓  ↓  ↓

Glory O’Brien’s History of Future
A.S. King
3 of 3 starred reviews
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Isabel Quintero
Themes: Latino culture; LGBT; Substance abuse. 3 of 4 starred reviews
Meg Wolitzer
Theme: death and dying. 3 of 4 starred reviews

What do you think of our list? Do you think we left off some YA books published in 2014 that should be on our list?

Here we go...