"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Poetry in YA Lit a rare treat

This year six YA titles being considered for the coveted Printz Award are either completely written in verse or have wonderful samples of original poetry within their pages. Add a poem to a page and I practically swoon, so you can imagine how hard it is for me to pick a favorite with six from which to choose. All six of these books have especially good poetry, too.

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen
Storyline: A teen dancer in India has an accident and loses a leg. She figures out how to dance again when she takes to focus off herself and focuses on Dance itself. A beautiful story of triumph, culture, and religion. Written completely in verse.
Poetry sample:
She is the edge of a spinning circle.
She is the stillness at its center.
She is light as a petal rising in a spiraling breeze.
She is a petal dissolving into flower-dust.

On the stage,
there is no dancer.
there us only dance.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Storyline: a memoir of Woodson's formative years during the 1960s with the Civil Rights movement in full swing. Written completely in verse.
Poetry Sample:
I am born as the South explodes,
Too many people too many years
enslaved, then emancipated
but not free, the people
who look like me
keep fighting
and marching
and getting killed
so that today---
Feb. 12, 1963
and every day from this moment on,
brown children like me can grow up
free. Can grow up
learning and voting and walking and riding
wherever we want.

Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Storyline: twin boys on their middle school basketball team end up at odds because of a girl. It is a story of basketball, friends, and family. Written in verse, many are concrete poems.
Poetry sample:
Not even close, JB.
What’s the matter?
The hoop too high for you? I snicker
But it is not funny to him,
especially when I take off from center court
My hair like wings,
each lock lifting me higher and HIGHER
Like a 747 ZOOM ZOOM!

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
Storyline: Selwyn Academy is now home to a reality TV show and the students are vying for positions on the cast. A group of students want their school back and attempt to sabotage things by publishing a long poem in the style of the Ezra Pound poem they were studying in their English class. The book is written in prose with the long poem called the Contracontos broken into stanzas as chapter headings.
Poetry sample:
O Selwynfolk! In days of old,
Ideals were high and art was bold.
In that primeval solitude,
We sketched and sang, our crafts pursued,
But now, we watch TV. We’re screwed!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Storyline: A Latina teenager faces many challenges during her senior year including changes at home with her family and parents, friendship issues and challenges, grief issues over several deaths. Gabi finds solace and strength in recording her thoughts in poems and sharing these poems with others. Written in prose interspersed by samples of Gabi's poems.
Poetry sample:
An occurrence
occupies a space
between thoughts
lies prostrate professing something
strange gurgle underground
in a wasteland
of waiting
twiddling thumbs
twiddle dee twiddle dee
and tapping fingers
tappity tappity tappity
waiting for his collapse

But you don't know my dad.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Storyline: About Marilyn's own childhood from ages four to fourteen in America during the 1950s. The poems touch on racism, The Red Scare, the atom bomb, and the feminist movement. All poems in the unrhymed sonnet style
Poetry sample:
How I Discovered Poetry

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

All of the books are remarkable and the poetry divine. I recommend them all to you.

Friday, January 30, 2015

BSD 2015 Mock Printz Workshops results

GKHS Mock Printz team members showing off their favorite books
We had a shockingly long list of Mock Printz books for our readers to plow through this year: 23. Undaunted our readers gladly and voraciously made their way through the list. This week all three high schools in the Bethel School District held their Mock Printz Workshops giving the students an opportunity to at last discuss the books with other readers and to make a case for their favorites.
Grasshopper Jungle became an instant favorite.

The results varied from school to school but it was generally acknowledged that everyone enjoyed the experience and it didn't really matter if we did a good job picking the real Printz winner, it was reading good books that mattered most of all.
There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the group. It is fun to be around students who love books.

I just got home from the workshop at my school. In fact, I am soaking my feet in epsom salts as I type away on this blog. It was a long but rewarding experience since it is so fun to be around students who genuinely enjoy reading.
Some how Ender's Game made it into a photo. Sly little book. What a sneaker.

Our final came after two hours of discussion and debates, some intense others humorous, all thoughtful.

Award book:
 Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Students loved this graphic novel of seven interconnected, horror stories. they talked about how the graphics were  able to tell the story with very few words.

Honor books:
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Students felt the author did a great job leading the reader through the mystery. Most of them were shocked by the ending. The stories within the story were also appreciated.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book wasn't officially on our Mock Printz list but so many students liked it and talked about it,  others requested it. This book had the most passionate advocates at the workshop.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
Students had a hard time articulating why they loved this book but it was apparent they recognized exquisite writing. The magical realism and symbolism were also discussion points.

Making friends because of a common love of books.

Honorable Mention:
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This book wasn't added to our reading list until the last minute so fewer students had a chance to read it. This book had some very passionate advocates, however.

The Story of Owen by E.K.Johnston
All readers of this book enjoyed it but no strong advocate spoke passionately for it to be our winner. Because it is a first book in a series also served as a point of contention.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Few kids read this but those that did had strong opinions on the book. Our discussion on this book bordered on hilarious. As you see, Grasshopper Jungle became an instant hit and made it into almost all the photos.
All I said was grab your favorite and the mugging began!

Results from the other high schools;

Bethel High School:
Award: Say What You Will by McGovern
Honor books: Half Bad by Green; We Were Liars by Lockhart

Spanaway Lake High School:
Award: Say What You Will by McGovern
Honor books: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll; Otherbound by Duyvis ; Half Bad by Green; 100 Sideways Miles by Smith.

My students weren't really interested in discussing Say What You Will or Half Bad. It is interesting how one or two strong fans can sway a whole group to vote for their favorites. (I wonder if that is what happened with the actual committee when they selected Punkzilla a few years back, Ha!)
Our award title choice: Through the Woods.
This book might not be THE winner, but we had more fun discussing it than any of the other books.

All the photos were taken at the GKHS event. Permission was granted to publish photos of students.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TTT: Upcoming Book Club selections I am looking forward to reading and discussing

Top Ten Tuesday: this week's topic is to list books I want to read in a book club setting. Since I am in two book clubs I know that my favorite books for clubs are those that generate good discussions.

1. Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. I read this book several years ago but am looking forward to a reread. The book deals a lot with a time period in our past when one-room school houses were not uncommon. My grandmother attended one in Illinois when she was growing up. Doig is a master storyteller. This book is a personal favorite.

2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. My daughter read this and recommends it highly. I understand it is very humorous.

3. A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage. A friend told me that her book club had a fabulous discussion after reading this book.

4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I read this book for one book club but missed the discussion. Now my other club plans on reading it and I look forward to an insightful discussion.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I can't remember if I have discussed this book in a club or just with everyone else who will listen to me talk about this book.  Read it if you haven't. Amazing story.

6. The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Sounds pretty funny and quirky.

7. Defending Jacob by William Landry. A father, an attorney, has to defend his son in court against a murder charge.

8. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. Historical fiction is usually good fodder for discussions.

9. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. A disfigured boy creates games of survival and strategy for people online to play but what about his life?

10. Three Me in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. I want to have an excuse to read this old classic.

My thoughts on a few potential Printz books

The ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced next Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Prior to that time I will host a Mock Printz workshop here at GKHS where my 40+ readers will pretend to be the selection committee and select their favorite YA book of the year. Stay tuned for our results. They will be posted on January 30th.

My students read a lot of books this year in preparation for the mock Printz workshop, so many it is hard to keep them all straight. I compiled this chart to help me think through each book, to comtemplate to pros and cons of each book, and whether I think it is worthy of consideration for a youth media award.

Note, just because I don't think a book is Printz-worthy does not mean that the book isn't good or that it shouldn't be read. I liked all of the books on the list, just some more than others.

Printz worthy?
Jacqueline Woodson
Memoir in verse; historical-civil rights; learning disabilities
Poetry not that unique; Covering a time period in Woodsen’s life when she was a young child or pre-teen.
Yes, but I think there are better books.
Kwame Alexander
Concrete poems; very fast-paced storyline
Characters in middle school perhaps more likely to be considered for Newbery.
Yes, but this may be Newbery material.
Paul Fleischman
Information is timely and vital. Very readable.
Students are surprisingly uninterested in this book/topic.
Candace Fleming
On the short list for the YALSA Nonfiction Award; pacing very good.
Nothing spectacular about the writing.
Yes, but I hope it earns the YALSA nonfiction award instead.
Gail Giles
Two narrators with very different voices. Both are special education students, both living in foster care.
It has an important message about acceptance and friendship but story actually seems quite unlikely, especially the ending.
Half Bad
Sally Green
Imaginative plot and storyline
Writing good but not that spectacular; first book in a series which I think is a deterrent to the committee
The Islands at the End of the World
Austin Aslan
Very exciting plot
Inaccurate description of epilepsy
Corrine Duyvis
Very creative fantasy plot
Very confusing storyline between that world and this world and space in between.
No, but it should be considered for the Batchelder Award for books translated into English.
Cammie McGovern
OCD and living with facial deformities; characters are unique and fully flushed out; just when you think you know where the story is going it veers in another direction
Do all stories have to have a happily-ever-after endings even for such dire circumstances?
Yes. It should also be considered for the Schneider Family Award.
EK Johnston
Realism and fantasy mingled together.
Also the first book is a proposed series; the action portions in the fights between man and dragon weren’t very exciting or tense.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Leslye Walton
Magical realism; unique plot and strong writing. Symbolism abounds. On the Morris Award shortlist for debut authors.
Students are not sure if they can cope with the magical realism. J
Yes, this is one of my favorites.
Emily Carroll
Fabulous graphics; really creepy short stories.
A student favorite.
Kate Hattemer
The introduction of the long poem; a character driven novel with just enough action to keep the plot moving along. This was an early favorite.
Even with the marvelous long poem usage the plot has faded in my memory. Maybe not as special as I once thought?
E. Lockhart
The only mystery in the bunch. Like layers of an onion the mystery is revealed. Most students report they were shocked by the ending.
I, on the other hand, saw the ending coming and wasn’t shocked at all.
Yes, but it is not a personal favorite.
100 Sideways Miles
Andrew Smith
Quirky characters, unique plot, pacing good.
Questions about the accuracy of health information and the decisions the adults make around health.
Hmm. Can’t decide. Sorry, no help from me.
Mariko Tamaki
Fabulous graphics; the coming-of-age story seems to ring true. Of all the books I read for the Mock Printz, this one has increased in my estimation since I first read it. It just seems so right on.
Characters are pre-teens but the storyline is definitely YA.
 Jandy Nelson
Spectacular writing; story told in two voices; this book has a lot going for it-strong plot, artistic symbolism, teens dealing with feelings of grief, rivalry, artistic talents, sexual awakening. This is a favorite with the teen readers and with this blogger.
Critics say the book is over-written and the ending is tied up too neatly.
Yes, this is my favorite to win the top prize.
Glory O’Brien’s History of Future
A.S. King
Strong writing and imaginative plotting.
As distressing as the history of the future is the characters seem just resigned. Parts of this storyline just didn’t work for me.
Isabel Quintero
Latina character; coming of age. Plucky main character. On the Morris Award short list.
Too many issues, all of them huge: death, homosexuality, rape, birth of younger sibling, teen pregnancy, etc. My head is spinning to recall all the issues.
Yes, but I think this will likely earn the Pura Belpre Award.
Meg Wolitzer
Symbolism and relationship to Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. The ending was a shocker.
Much, much more could have been done with the symbolism. Writing not very stron
Grasshopper Jungle
Andrew Smith
Wacky plot---big lizard mutants taking over the world but the writing is fast-paced and fun. (Crawl inside the head of a teenage boy and what do you get?)
Lots and I mean lots, of foul language and sex. Too much really.
Hmm. I am so conflicted about Andrew Smith.
The Impossible Knife of Memory
Laurie Halse Anderson
Anderson’s reputation after writing Speak has her positioned to be in consideration for awards every book she writes; this book’s theme is the devastation of war: PTSD. A timely and needed theme.
I wanted more on PTSD and less on angsty teenagers.
A Time to Dance
Padma Venkatraman
Beautiful imagery written in verse; cultural and religious messages.
The story drags a little in the middle.
Yes, but I don’t think it will not get the love it deserves.