Saturday, May 27, 2017

Bullet Journaling for the Imperfect

Nobody in the history of ever has accused me of being a perfectionist.

Is it because I'm the baby of the family?

Is it because I'm lazy?

Is it because I'm enlightened?

Is it because I realized early on that "done, but sloppy" often is preferable to "not done, but would have been perfect?"

Probably all of these.  Still, part of not being driven in this way means recognizing that there are projects that are not well suited to my personality.  I paint the walls, but my husband does the edges.  I run a blog, but post when I feel like it.

So when I first heard about Bullet Journaling a year or so ago, I thought--well, isn't that cute.  Look at those hyper-organized types getting all creative.

It looked like fun, sure.  I like writing, and I like lists, and I have an enormous stash of journals I filled in my tweens, teens, and twenties.  But between the regimentation of the official process, complete with complicated nomenclature, and the aggressively instagrammed hand lettering and decorating that seemed involved, I knew it was a trend to admire from a distance.

But then I went to a BuJo workshop at a EdTech conference, mostly because I knew the presenter and wanted to be supportive, and she taught us how to draw banners.

I stopped on the way home and bought a Leuchtterm journal and an extra fine ink pen.

And I have used that thing nearly every damn day in the past three months.  So enamored am I that I made this graphic to pull together what I love and what I've learned about this process.

It helps me with organization.  Making a weekly plan and tracking what I get done daily has done wonders for my scraps of paper and lost to-do lists.  I am able to look over my week and see what's happening, and I get the thrill of checking things off as they get done.  Sure, there are calendars that do the same thing, but I've never been organized enough to follow through on maintaining any kind of day book.  Bullet journals make it fun, which makes it easier to be consistent.  

You can see my habit tracking on these too.  It helps me get motivated for some habits I'd like to build, but not for others, so I play around with it from week to week to find things that work.  Mostly I just like coloring in the boxes when I actually do something.

I keep notes in the journal, and yes, this sometimes means I take scrawled notes in the moment, then boil them down and tidy them up for the journal.  It sounds nutty, but it certainly helps solidify new information in my mind.

It encourages me to play around with different types of creativity, from the mindless to the experimental.


One way you can tell that it's not the journal of a perfectionist is that I mess up and don't really care.  I also have many pages where I was just experimenting, and it didn't really work out, but oh well.

Like this day when I was looking at a friend's doodle book, and my rain page went great but my stars were all a disaster.

Or when I wrote the heading weird, then doodled random shapes around it, the "fixed" it by going for a stained glass effect, then went ahead and scrawled the rest of my notes without paying any attention to design or even neatness.

And then there was the 30 Day Minimalism Challenge that I gave up after doing about 10 items in 20 days and realizing that I was only doing the things that took fewer than five minutes.

Or--this is a good one--when I tried to track my commenting on other blogs, and quickly realized it was way too cumbersome of a system.  So I used the space to try out something I'd seen where you write the same word in cursive and printing, layered over itself, and I SPELLED MY SON'S NAME WRONG.  Nice one.

Mistakes are okay.  Failures are fine.  I've tried several things that didn't work for me, and that's okay--I don't have to do it any one way.  If something wasn't working for me, I abandoned it.

It's just fun.  And I think that growing up in a family of artists I kind of struggle with this sense that creativity has to be "real art," and that anything derivative or mass-produced is bad.  So when I see the same types of sketches on dozens of Instagram BuJo posts, or notice people using stencils or stickers, I have this knee-jerk "not okay" reaction.  Which is bullshit.  In the same way that my blog is a venue for my creative expression even though the world hardly needs another book blog, my bullet journal lets me use my hands to create, even if mine looks pretty much like everyone else's, but messier.  It's okay to tinker around or to try the latest craft; you don't have to create Serious Art in order to be creative.

Final note: when I first heard "BuJo" as an abbreviation, I thought it was way too cutesy and ridiculous.  But here's the thing--it gets weird to keep repeated the entire phrase "bullet journal," and it turns out BJ is already taken.  So BuJo it is.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Types of Books that are Hooking My Most Reluctant Readers

I woke up Saturday morning to more Twitter notifications than usual.  Since by "usual," I mean zero, "more than" is about twenty.  Still, enough to make me curious.  It turns out that my guest post on the Nerdy Book Blog had posted, and some people were actually sharing it.  Yay!

If you are curious about what I'm tempting my middle schoolers with, you too can check out my suggestions on their blog.  It covers everything from Elephant and Piggie books to books that acknowledge teen sex.

My reading classroom changes from day to day, man.  One day I can't get anyone to settle down and read, and the next day they don't want to stop.  One kid who hasn't read all year suddenly falls into a book, and another kid who's been happily reading suddenly stalls out.  It's delicate and fascinating and frustrating to try to create the just right circumstances and help kids find the just right book.  It's also kind of awesome.

Monday, May 22, 2017

TTT: The Books Of Summer

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Summer Reads Freebie: In preparation for Memorial Day let's rec some summer/beach reads: books to go in your beach bag, best books set in summer, books with summer-y covers, best beach reads for people who don't enjoy contemporary/realistic reads, best beach reads for fans of X genre, etc. etc.

Summer camp. The beach. The mountains. Lemonade. Ice cream. Tomatoes. Sprinklers. Dining al fresco (or as we call it, eating outside). Picking berries. Sunshine and sun lotion and sweat. Vacation. Menial jobs. Sunsets. Road trips. Lake swimming.

Here are some books that hum with summer to me.  

Summer Locales
Ramona Blue (which actually takes place from the last day of one summer to the first day of the next, but is still infused with that summery beach town feel.)
Wind in the Willows (although I love the winter bits too.)
Dandelion Wine (so deeply nostalgic)
Prince of Venice Beach (living in a tree house is pretty darn summery)
The Long Secret (in which Harriet the Spy leaves the city to summer on Long Island)

Summer Jobs

The Upside of Unrequited (stocking shelves at knick-knack shop)
The Living (working on a cruise ship)
I'll Meet You There (front desk of a hotel)
Marcelo in the Real World (in the mail room of Dad's firm)

Summer Stories
Blueberries for Sal (picking berries)
Prodigal Summer (this HAS to be on a summer list)
Sunny Side Up (vacationing in Florida--yay!-with grandpa--boo!)

The Porcupine of Truth (a road trip ensues)
We Were Liars (a lifetime of summer memories and one that is strangely forgotten)

Summer Camp
Honor Girl (camp for good Southern girls)
The Haters (band camp)
Exit, Pursued by a Bear (cheer camp)

Just Reminds Me of Summer
The Silver Chair (my sister and I spent a summer reading it out loud together)
The Accidental Tourist (my high school bestie and I read this one while "laying out")
The Hero and the Crown (listened to this while recovering from a bike crash)
The Pox Party (read this just after school got out one summer, and started my Goodreads account with it)

Ramona Blue is Amazing

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Published 2017 by Balzar + Bray/Harper Collines

432 pages, contemporary fiction.

I usually don't summarize books in my reviews, because, well, it just doesn't interest me, either to read or to write.  But I do get that people who don't already know much about a book that's being reviewed might want some context for whatever response I'm writing.  I finally realized that I can do what others do and copy the Goodreads blurb onto my reviews.  So here's what it says about Julie Murphy's follow-up to the much-loved Dumplin':

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

And then here's what I have to say after devouring this book in well under 24 hours:

I love this book so much.

I love that it doesn't shy away from poverty, from race, from sexuality, from crappy parents and crappy luck and all the things that can make a person feel less-than, other, worthless and hopeless. And I love that it faces all of this and offers love, hope, and courage, without being false or over-simplifying anything. 

That's the scope of the book, but I also love the details. This book is dripping with specificity. I am not a reader who spends much time visualizing; if anything I tend to skim over descriptive parts to get back to character and plot. But I can see the partitioned bedrooms of Ramona's trailer, feel the humidity that curls her hair, smell the bar where she works. I know what Hattie and Tyler look like, how Freddie's voice sounds, and what it feels like to be hugged by Agnes. I have never been anywhere near the locale of this book, but I feel like I know it now. 

One concept that stands out for me in this book is respect. Every character is imbued with such humanity. Even the ones who are closer to bad guys than good--Tyler, the girls' mom, Grace and Viv--are still treated as people, complex in their failures and mistakes. There's a random kid who keeps hounding Ramona to purchase a yearbook page, and he is a more fully rounded character than the protagonist of half the universe's novels. 

In her acknowledgements, Murphy talks about how long it took her to write this book. I'm not worried. She can move at a glacial pace if the result is this kind of book. There's nothing tossed off or jammed in; everything is just as it should be, and I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to do that. 

Oh--terrific story, too, in case you were wondering.  And it almost--almost--made me want to go swim some laps.

all the stars/5 stars

What books have you read that have been far outside your lived experience, yet made you feel like you could completely relate to the characters?

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Pause, a Rest, a Break

I'm going to have to take some intentional time off from my blog.

Life is being extra life-y these days, and I just don't need the stress of knowing I'm not writing or posting or commenting as much as I want to.  I'm really good about not worrying about how much I'm "supposed to" blog, but there is an amount that I find satisfying, and I can't do that right now.

Today is May 8th.  If I'm able, I'll be back to blogging in two weeks.  If I still don't feel up to it, I will start doing Sunday update posts each week just to keep in touch with y'all until I can do more.  I'll still be reading, or course, and if I start feeling the itch to blog I'll try to channel it into reading and commenting on your blogs.

Think spring!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 19

Best(s): The Upside of Unrequited, to which I award all the stars.  Also Goodbye Days and The Smell of Other People's Houses got 5 stars from me, and Ghost, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and All American Boys all got 4.5.  Last month no books got higher than 4 stars, so it was a definite improvement.  (Two of those books are by Jason Reynolds.  He may be on to something with this writing gig.)

Mt. TBR progress: 4, for a total of 26/100.

Bookish Events and Happenings

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon!  I loved it, even if it didn't go quite as smoothly for me as my first two times did.  And I shamelessly @ed Jeff Zentner and Becky Albertalli that I loved their books (and have one up for Reynolds as well) because apparently I crave the validation of having authors approve of my approval of their books?  The 21st century is weird.

I have the full 100 items checked out from the library right now.  Just thought I'd share.

On the Blog

14 posts.  After getting really good (for me) traffic during March with the Slice of Life Challenge, I saw a sizable drop-off this month.  The one exception was last week's TTT, in which I talked about ten types of books I am probably absolutely not going to read.  And my only thought on why that was so popular is that I posted my link earlier than I usually do?  So more people clicked on it?  I have no idea.  I also had a lot of fun with my "this or that" post, and with this month's Six Degrees post (oops, I made two of them!).


We celebrated our daughter's 11th birthday, meaning we hosted a sleepover, a family dinner, and an extended family cake-and-presents event.  I always love seeing how kind and creative her friends are at these things.  Her super cool cousin got her a bow and arrow.  We gave her the rest of the money for the American Girl Doll she's been saving for.  That's pretty much my kid--weapon and a doll.  I hated being 11 and 12, so I'm trying not to put that on her.  She's the oldest kid in her class, so she might not have the same pressure to grow up faster than she's comfortable with.  She's also much cuter and more outgoing than I ever was, but it's true what they always tried to tell us--the pretty ones are incredibly self-critical too.  GAH.  Why is it so hard?  

We thought we were going to sell this place we've had stuff stored in for seven years.  The sale fell through, but we cleaned it out anyway.  We have thrown out/recycled/gifted/donated/put away so much of it, but our porch and our bedroom are both still crowded with boxes.  Which is the kind of thing that we can honestly roll with normally, but we're expecting a guest from overseas next week, so we kinda don't want to look too trashy.  It might help if our vacuum cleaner and lawn mower hadn't also both died this month.  

I was super proud of myself for going to the doctor to check in about the ringing in my ears (constant since getting a concussion last September) and the swelling in my ankle (still there after spraining it in January).  Self care.  Healthy choices.  Guess what?  When you're old, stuff doesn't go away.  She phrased it more politely, but basically, I'm stuck with constant tintinnabulation and two different sized feet for life.  Awesome. Also, I'm "Are you sure you're old enough to be my doctor?!?" years old now. 

I may have already mentioned this, but I am super excited about it, so I'll brag again--I'm part of a group that is going to be doing a presentation at NCTE, a huge national conference for English teachers.  We're talking about the grants we won to create huge classroom libraries and how we build readers through choice.  I think I'll be focusing on embracing "low-brow" and "subpar" books to reach kids who seriously hate reading.  

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

If you don't hear from me again, it's because I'm in jail for responding to the fact that it's 10:30 and night and my kids keep waking each other up. 

(That's a joke, btw.  I mean, the jail-worthy response part.  I'm a mandatory reporter, so there will be none of that, but I really wish they would SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP NOW.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: I Read, I Puked, I Read Some More

This was definitely the weirdest read-a-thon experience I've had.  It started off with me eating my snacks and starting The Lies of Locke Lamora on Thursday instead of saving everything for the actual read-a-thon.  No regrets though, snacks and book were great, and the book was super long and would have probably been kind of overwhelming to get through in one sitting.

Then I pretty much forgot to get my usual spreadsheet set up, so at 4:55 Saturday morning I was copying and pasting from last time's spreadsheet.  I finally got settled in and started, and the first few hours were magical as usual.  Birds chirping, the sky lightening, and good progress on my book.

Then I had to get my kid up and drive her across town for a class.  I didn't want to tune her out during our only time together, so I didn't listen to a book or anything while we drove.  I dropped her off and located a coffee shop, where I ate an almond croissant, drank a latte, and kept reading.  After I finished all that and worn out my coffee shop welcome, I still had some time before I had to pick her up.  I went to read in the car, but instead I fell asleep for an hour.  Whoops!

I was almost done with Lies, so I struck her a deal--I'd take her out for a quick lunch if she'd let me read while we ate.  I finally finished the book around 1:00 and was ready for a quicker read.

I picked up Garvey's Choice, figuring a middle grade novel in verse would go quickly, and I was right.  It took about half an hour to fly through.  It was cute, and quite a bit lighter than I'd anticipated.  Then I picked up Amy Schumer's memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.  I keep getting disappointed with celebrity memoirs, and I don't actually know much about her work, but I'd read somewhere that it was actually well written, and again, I figured it would be a breezy read for mid-RAT.  It was pretty good, less name dropping and more feminism than some of the ones I've read.

After those books, I was ready for something a little more involving, so I picked up The Upside of Unrequited.  You can see my adoring review here.  What it doesn't mention is that for the last hundred pages or so, I was feeling increasingly queasy.  Right around when I finished it, I got sick, which is a euphemism for "started puking."  So that was fun.  By the time things had calmed down, I was wiped out, so I just went to bed.

Yep.  24 hour read-a-thon, and I went to bed at 8 pm.  Nice.

But then I woke up around 3 am, with two hours left, and decided to regroup and rejoin.  So I picked up Ghost and was absolutely enchanted by it.  It was only 4:30 when I finished, so I grabbed volume two of Giant Days, a graphic novel series about three UK college students.  I may have taken slightly longer than a half hour to finish it, but I'm still counting it.

I did very few of the check-ins and challenges.  I got a nap and the equivalent of a full night's sleep.  I threw up, and I HATE throwing up.  But I finished six books.  I liked all of them, and loved four.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited Might Be My Biography

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Published 2017 by HarperTeen

336 pages, contemporary.

My reviews usually tend to be more of a personal response than a summary and analysis.  This one will be EVEN MORE SO.  Fair warning.

I'd been looking forward to Becky Albertalli's latest, since I really love Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I didn't read the jacket blurb or anything, since that's how I roll when I trust an author; I want the story to surprise me.  I had seen something on Twitter in which Albertalli pointed out that Molly never tries to lose weight, and in which she talked about the terms "fat" and "overweight" and said it was #ownvoices writing.

So that was my background going in.

What I didn't expect is that I would feel like Molly was me in ways I've never seen on the page before.  NEVER. And I've read a lot of books.

I don't say this because we're both fat.  I was skinny when I was a teenager, without making any effort to be so.  Gaining 75 pounds in three years has given me new perspective on fat shaming, but putting on all this weight as an adult also protects me from some (not all) of the internalized shame.  I'm still me, my husband still fancies me, so IDGAF about the rest of the world's opinion.  Mostly.

But I relate to Molly SO HARD.  Here's the thing:
I married my first boyfriend.  He was two years behind me in high school.

Think about what that means for a minute, because I'm about to radically change that.

We met when I was 31.

(It was a big high school, and neither of us had any idea the other one existed.)

I did not have a romantic relationship until I was 31.  I don't mean "no serious boyfriends" or "no living together."  I mean I did not ever date anyone.  At all. Even a little bit.  And I felt so very much like Molly does, only I was super private about my crushes.  Because I figured either a) people wouldn't get why I liked the guy (Reid), or b) they'd think it was funny how far out of my league he was (Will).  And either way, I'd be mortified.

So that scene where they're all talking about sex and Molly feels incredibly out of it?  THAT HAPPENED.  I was in my twenties, and a bunch of friends were laughing about the craziest places where they'd had sex (meaning settings, not orifices), and I was all "please let this conversation die before it gets around the circle to me." 

And people tell you you're just "too picky," and you think--um, when have I ever had a freaking CHANCE to be picky?  And you assume there's just something inherently un-dateable about you.  But you have good friends and your family is great, so you don't let it define you or rob you of all self esteem.  And you roll your eyes at people who date jerks, or who are freaking out about being temporarily single.  Because why is it such a big deal?

And you enjoy the rush of your crushes, and you maybe do a few stupid alcohol-influenced things with guys you are not dating, because you do have hormones, after all.

And then you fall in love.  And to those who complain that this book sends the message that you aren't really okay until you're found worthy by a man, I say bullshit; that's not the message.  The message is that loving someone and being loved in return is fucking awesome.  And if you are smart enough to know you'd rather be single than settle, and you've accepted that it looks like that's the choice you're going to stick with, to find someone and fall in love is just joy. Whatever it was that you thought made you "undateable"--your weight, your weirdness, your splotchy face or braying laugh or whatever--just doesn't matter.  You don't have to be a certain way to deserve love.  You just have to find a person who loves you, and take a leap.

I think this book is absolutely lovely and lovable even if you don't relate to Molly in this way.  It honors friendship and family as much as romantic love.  It calmly includes all sorts of representation.  It has funny lines and wry observations and lets people be people.  Becky Albertalli is no one-hit wonder.  I will read whatever she writes, forever.  

5/5 stars

24th Hour of Dewey's

I'll do a proper wrap up post in a day or two, but wanted to check in with the final survey and all.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
That would be hour 13, when I came down with a stomach issue of some sort and started puking my guts out.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?
Middle grade and graphic novels are my go-to "take a break" books.  I enjoyed reading Garvey's Choice and Ghost this time.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?
No, although I suggest we all avoid stomach bugs and food poisoning for sure.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Fun challenges.

5. How many books did you read?
I've read five books and hope to squeeze in a graphic novel or two before it ends.

6. What were the names of the books you read?
Besides Ghost and Garvey's Choice, I read The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, The Upside of Unrequited, and the last half of The Lies of Locke Lamora.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Upside of Unrequited.

8. Which did you enjoy least?
I really did like them all, but Garvey's Choice and Girl WTLBT were less amazing than the other three.

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Oh, I'll be reading away!  I feel like I should do more, but then again, as a reading teacher, it's actually kind of nice to just do the reading and let someone else worry about logistics and celebrations.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dewey's RAT Check-in #1

It's here!

Not many things would make me get up before 5:00 on a Saturday morning, let me tell you.  But a 5 am starting time for Dewey's means I got up at 4:40 to make coffee and boil an egg.  Now it's just past 6:00 and my coffee is cold and the sky is light.

I'm starting out with the opening survey. I don't know that I'll do every check-in, but this is a good intro.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
1. I am, as usual, reading in Oregon.

2. I am excited about my library copy of The Upside of Unrequited.  I so loved Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

3. Well, I accidentally ate my cookies a couple of days ago, but I do still have a couple of candy bars from Trader Joe's to anticipate.

4. I read.  I teach reading.  I used to hike a lot, but have become sedentary and sluggish over time.  I have two kids. I currently have the maximum 100 books checked out from the library, mostly because of a picture book project I'm working on for my classes, but also because of Read-a-Thon!

5. I will be taking my daughter to a 3 hour class in a few hours, and will spend her class time in a coffee shop.  This will be my first time taking the RAT out in public!

Back to The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I am enjoying quite a bit.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Thoughts and Links

Votes on my "what should I focus on for my portion of the Book Love grant winners' presentation at NCTE next fall" question clearly indicate a preference for what I'm calling "Low brow books to hook super reluctant readers."

And then I saw this post by teacher-author Teri Lesesne and felt even MORE sure it would be a good choice.

Which in turn reminded me that I've been keeping a stash of interesting bookish links that I should probably just share with you.

  • School Library Journal has tons of fascinating articles, including this one about six YA #ownvoices novels.
  • I found the executive director of the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators to have a good suggestion for writing "diversity" if you're a person of privilege--don't write from the POV of someone who is from another group, but do include them in your story.
  • Author Sarah Ockler puts in her two cents (well, more like a buck fifty--she has a lot to say!) on the same topic.
  • Here's a discussion about the difference between middle grade and YA novels.  It's a tricky line, especially in a middle school classroom where different kids have different levels of maturity and life experience.
  • I like the American Library Association's video about the ten most challenged books of 2016.  I really liked showing it to my classes and hearing their outrage over some of the titles being considered offensive.
  • A call for the media to cover children's lit in their literary reviews at a rate commensurate with how popular it is.
  • Some suggested trends for YA to explore, with examples.  I'd add Gabi, A Girl in Pieces to "Positive Body Representation for Girls of Color," and Pointe to "Dancing Queens," and I'd suggest the addition of "Trans and Non-binary People" to the list of characters we need to see more of.
Lots of food for thought. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why yes, I AM a National Presenter about Books in the Classroom. And YOU get to Take a Poll

Well okay, more of a co-presenter.  With two dozen others.

But still.

Last year I won one of Penny Kittle's Book Love Foundation grants for 500 books for my classroom library.  This was super exciting, as you can imagine.  The recipients, past and present, started talking about meeting up at next year's NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference, and about putting together some sort of testimonial of thanks for Penny and her foundation.

This morphed into "Wouldn't it be cool if we put on a joint presentation on the effect this grant has had in our classrooms?"

So someone fantastic organized it, and a bunch of us added our names and ideas, and last night we found out that YES we will be running a group presentation.  Each of us will have a table and a topic, and our visitors will rotate through three topics/tables of their choice.

Some of the others are presenting on book talks and on conferencing with students about their reading.  I feel no more than adequate at book talks, and I KNOW I need to work on my conferencing skills.  So I'm trying to figure out an interesting topic I can share about at my table.  Here are my ideas so far.

1.  Inviting Students into the Community of Readers
Last year I had an ongoing assignment in which students earned different amounts of points for a wide range of options, from sharing their latest book with the class to writing a review to commenting on a book blog.  I didn't do it this year in part because too many kids worked out ways to game the system, instead of choosing assignments that they were really invested in.  But other students did some great things, and I'm planning on revamping it over the summer and trying again next year.

2.  Low Brow Books to Hook Super Reluctant Readers
I have a post coming out next month on the Nerdy Book Blog about the books that are just now starting to make a few of my most resistant students actually read.  Choose Your Own Adventures.  Manga.  Scary Stories Online.  Re-reads of books we read as a class.  Audiobooks.  I've had to undo a lot of my prejudices about what "counts," and the payoff has been that kids who have always refused to read are actually starting to try.

3.  Finding and Choosing a Range of "Window" and "Door" books.
Basically, information about diverse books, plus some wisdom I've gleaned along the way about what groups have historically been underrepresented, misrepresented, or kept to a single story and how to find books that rectify that.

4. Classroom Library Organization and Record Keeping.
Pretty self explanatory, and it would definitely be an "un-conference" situation in which I share what I do, talk about what I like and don't like about my current system, and then encourage others to share their systems as well, so we can get more examples out there.

So if you were a teacher, or if you had a teacher that was going to spend some time thinking about stuff like this, which would be the most interesting topic to learn about?

Which subtopic should I present?

Inviting Students into a Community of Readers
Low-brow books to hook super reluctant readers
Finding and choosing a range of "Window" and "Mirror" books
Classroom Library Organizing and Record Keeping

Monday, April 24, 2017

TTT: Nope. No way. Not gonna read it.

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book 

Because I am a well mannered person, I'm going to refrain from publicly and gleefully giving examples of books that do most of these things.  Feel free to supply your own...

1.  Everyone is miserable, and then things get worse.  The end.  I'll make an exception to the rule I JUST MADE and give you examples, because I'm pretty sure you can't hurt a dead author's feelings.  Ethan Frome and Lord of the Flies will forever remain burned in my mind as terrible, horrible books because of this trope.

2.  Overtly religious books.  Or maybe I mean preachy books? Or books published by Christian publishers?  Because I will read the heck out of Anne Lamott, and I loved The Sparrow.  But those books you see on the rack at the grocery store with titles like "God's Promise"?  Those I won't touch with a ten foot pole.

3.  Novelization of movies.  Especially Disney movies. When my daughter was younger, I told her she could check them out, but I was NOT going to read them to her.  SO BORING.

4.  Horror.  No gleeful gore, no violence porn, and definitely not something that is actively trying to scare me.  I've read some pretty violent books (the examples that come to mind are all Scandinavian, interestingly) and liked them, but I don't do straight-up horror.

5.  Books that are trying to be chick lit.  I have read many good books that could be classified this way, but when they actually try to write about shopping and shoes and makeup and dating--count me out.

6.  Books that glorify things I find repugnant.  I imagine most of us are reluctant to go there, but where "there" is varies wildly from person to person.  I'll keep it bland here and just say I'm not a big fan of slavery or misogyny, especially when either or both are thinly disguised as erotica.

7.  Books about business.  Okay, I'm reaching here.  But I'm pretty sure that if there's one section of the library I've never visited, it's the 330s.

8.  Military history.  I like history.  And I like a lot of fiction set during war.  But I don't like reading step by step analyses of battles.

9.  Sequels to mediocre books.  This is kind of a new thing for me.  I used to be a pretty thorough series finisher.  But with the explosion of my TBR list, I no longer feel inclined to keep reading if a series is just okay.  I know, I know, it could get better, but I just don't want to waste time on characters and worlds and writing styles that aren't working for me.

10. Books that imply love can fix mental illness.  Do I really need to explain why these upset me?

It's Almost Read-a-Thon Time!

And I'm so excited!  (Check out the details about Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon here.)

Though my class of reluctant readers thought I was super weird when I told them about it.  "You just read?  Sounds boring!"

HA!  If only they knew.  If only I could help them find a book they don't want to put down.

Well, D. keeps telling me the new Scott Westerfeld is good, and S. is pretty dang engrossed in the Brody's Ghost omnibus I finally tracked down.

Here is what I would read this weekend if I had all the powers of concentration needed to do so:

A Gentleman in Moscow
The Upside of Unrequited
A Conjuring of Light
The Lies of Locke Lamora

But that would be a tiny bit intense, don't you think?  Plus, there's a lot of reader expectation riding on all of these, and I don't want to get too bummed out by any disappointments, nor do I want to dilute the amazingness of any of them by cramming them back-to-back with the rest.  So, realistically, we're looking at 1 or 2 of the above, and then some lighter stuff for balance.  Graphic novels, accessible poetry, middle grade fiction, novels in verse, and YA contemporaries.  Potentials for that include:

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price
Tell Me Three Things
Keesha's House
House Arrest
Giant Days 2-4

Soon I will have to go buy my Read-a-Thon snacks as well as figure out how to handle the family obligation side of my life.  I will probably take my daughter to her language class, which means I lose an hour in the car (I COULD listen to an audiobook, but I think I want to actually interact with the kid for that time).  But I can hole up in a coffee shop for 3 hours while she's there, and that will be fun.  I've never taken the Read-a-Thon public before.  

I turned down an invitation to get together with some friends and their friends to have an art evening.  Normally I'd love that, but Read-a-Thon is only twice a year!  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Grumpy Reviews: Wires and Nerve, The Hemingses of Monticello, and My Life in Black and White

Are you ready for some grumpiness?  I have read three books recently (well, read two books and gave up on the third) that just didn't do it for me.

And as much as I kind of hate to be negative--I mean, I LOVE other books by the same author--I also know that it can be both entertaining and helpful to be told why someone didn't like a book.  So I'm going there.

(Let me also say that I've read a few spectacular books lately as well, but I'll talk about those another day.)

Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer is a book I treated myself to after we took a crap-ton of books into Powell's and got a gift card in exchange.  I wanted to complete my Lunar Chronicles collection, and I loved the idea of a graphic novel, and that it would star Iko.

So this evening I sat down to read it and--blahness ensued.

The pictures are too cartoony and cute.  There's no grittiness in any of the characters, and very little glamor either.  The storyline seems desultory.  Iko herself does shine, but the other characters all feel flat and dull.

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is one of the first books I ever put on my Goodreads "to-read" shelf.  It sounded fascinating--a history of the enslaved family that was both owned by and in later generations fathered by Thomas Jefferson.  But it also sounded pretty serious and clocks in at over 600 pages, so I decided it would be a good candidate for listening to in the car.  After all, that's how I conquered both Columbine and Pillars of the Earth.  But after a few weeks, I had to give it up.  I feel like a bit of an asshole being the white blogger lady who couldn't get invested in this book, but it was just too dense and scholarly for me.  The author analyzes and argues minute point after minute point.  This is not a work of popular history.  It's worthy and well researched and all that, but it just doesn't make for fascinating reading/listening.

My Life in Black and White by Natasha Friend
This one pisses me off the longer I think about it.  I'm just going to copy and paste my reactions from Goodreads here.

This is the kind of YA book that really isn't meant for adults to read. It's goes by quickly enough that you might not notice at the time, but for all that its heart is in the right place, there's a lot of problematic nonsense involved.

The premise--a beautiful girl with a powerful best friend loses her looks in a scandalous car crash and has to reassess her sense of self--is a good one. And yet for a book that sets itself up to show how wrong it is to value someone (including yourself) for their looks, it sure is obsessed with looks.

There's the whole offensive "Annoying girl's main annoying trait is that she's fat, but then she loses weight and becomes less annoying" thing. There's the "I thought my sister was a loser because she totally does her own thing, but actually, she's so cool that she's hooking up with the super hot guy" subplot. Because of course, sister has no value for being an interesting and confident person unless it's validated by a hot guy. And of course the "I thought I was no longer worthy of the male gaze because my face is disfigured but a BETTER guy came along AFTER the accident, and anyway, I'm not actually disfigured, I just have a tiny patch on my cheek that only I would really care about, and I still have princess hair and a smokin' hot bod." 

Okay, the more I think about it, the more I'm having problems with this. I'm not saying teenagers don't obsess about things like where they sit in the cafeteria and how their mom reacts to their food choices, but why would I want to read about it?

Monday, April 17, 2017

TTT: Ten Must-Read Authors

The delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish host this weekly list challenge.  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check them out!

The topic this week is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book 

I certainly have topics*, formats**, settings***, and genres**** that I'm more likely to pick up, but I don't think any of them guarantee I'm going to read a book.  The only thing that makes a book a must read for me is if the author is one I trust completely.  So here are my top ten "I'd even read their grocery list" authors.  

I'm going to keep myself focused by only including authors who are still writing (no Dickens or Austen) and whom I've read more than just one series by (no Suzanne Collins or Marissa Meyers, even though they've both written more than that one series).  I'm also not adding any authors I've only read one book by, no matter how eager I am to read their other work (Zentner, Albertalli, etc.)  Also, I'm not saying I've read every single book by these authors, or that they've never written a book I was just "meh" about.  But they are consistent enough that I will always give them a chance, and I will probably work my way through all of their books eventually, even if I haven't yet.

Alphabetical because I can't rank them!

M. T. Anderson
I love how varied Anderson's work is.  The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing is the first book I read after joining Goodreads, and it was a doozy.  Feed is very different in style and tone--from a gigantic faux journal or historical fiction to a straight forward dystopian novel. And then there's the composer's biography.  Because that fits right in.  I am eager to keep reading his work and see what else he's come up with.

Matt de la Peña
Another author who isn't afraid to try new things. One of my colleagues introduced me to Mexican Whiteboy.  I went on to read Ball Don't Lie and We Were Here , all three of which fit into the same genre category.  I Will Save You went in some new directions, and The Living/The Hunted took that world and moved it into science fiction, and then BOOM Last Stop on Market Street wins the Newbery and reveals more beauty to me each time I read it.  Plus, seeing Matt speak on an author panel made me an even bigger fan (and made me feel like I can call him Matt now).  So much heart, and so damn smart.  And his dialogue sounds like he's been eavesdropping on my students.

Neil Gaiman
I have not loved every single thing I've read by Gaiman, but I've found all of it interesting, and I always want to see what he comes up with next.  He's a Literary Figure at this point, like Twain or Hemingway.

A. S. King
I saw Amy King speak on the same panel as Matt de la Peña and was blown away by her ferocity and complete lack of (and intolerance for) bullshit.  Her best-known work, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, won a Printz award.  Her books all have varying degrees of magical realism.  I Crawl Through It was too challenging for me (though I will come back to it during some summer vacation), but I adored Everybody Sees the Ants, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, Reality Boy, and Ask the Passengers.  I'm looking forward to reading Still Life with Tornado too.

Barbara Kingsolver
I used to read books written for grown-ups too, and when I did, loved me some Kingsolver.  Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, and Animals Dreams were my introduction to her, many years ago.  I then went on to read her essay collections High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder, both of which I loved. I even read her first book, which was nonfiction, as well as some of her later fiction that branched away from her southwestern setting.  I was embarrassed to get a bit bored and put off by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but I'm still game to try anything she's written.

Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin will always be my #1 writing hero.  I read the first three Wizard of Earthsea books in middle school, when they were fairly new.  I went on to read some of her adult sci fi, but I think it was when I started reading her essays in college that I really understood what a phenomenal thinker she is.  I love how she's revisited Earthsea as her own understanding has developed--at the time of her original writing, she's said, it never even occurred to her that the strong central figure didn't have to be male.  Her historical fiction is also terrific, and I love many of her poems and stories.   I was recently super excited to come across two gorgeous volumes collecting her short stories and novellas, respectively.  I bought one and am saving up for the other.

Patrick Ness
I don't quite remember how I first heard about Ness, but I know the premise of The Knife of Never Letting Go sounded interesting.  I adored all three books (and bonus stories!) in the Chaos Walking series, and when I saw another book with his name on it (More Than This), I bought it even though I hadn't heard of it yet.  I went on to get A Monster Calls and The Rest of Us Just Live Here.  All these books are different in tone and style, but all push boundaries of imagination and build empathy.  I got to meet him once and found him absolutely lovely.  He's pretty terrific on Twitter as well.  I can't imagine ever not reading something he wrote.  Like, I've never seen a single episode of Dr. Who, but I'm definitely going to try to track down the Dr. Who spinoff he writes for.

Rainbow Rowell
I liked Fangirl.  I loved Eleanor and Park. (I think which of those two you like best is a generational thing.)  Landline and Attachments were okay.  I wasn't that excited about Carry On, and then I read it, and loved it, even though it was so, so different than her other books.  I will definitely read whatever comes next.

Ruta Sepetys
I had to read Between Shades of Gray, since it's about a Latvian family that is exiled to Siberia.  I lived in Latvia for several years in the 1990s, and pretty much everyone I met had a connection to someone that had been deported during the June, 1940 Stalinist raids.  I liked it, but maybe not as much as others did, because it wasn't quite as startling to me, having heard pieces and variations of it already.  I didn't think Out of the Easy would be quite my thing, but I gave it a try because I do want to support Sepetys's work.  I thought it was fantastic.  Salt to the Sea was as well.  I can't wait to see what she does in the future.

Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman is pretty much god.  Everlost was interesting and creative, but I wasn't compelled to read the rest of the series.  My students, however, gobbled them up.  Then came Unwind.  WOW.  This series rivals Chaos Walking for my favorite modern sci fi series.  Challenger Deep took a completely new direction, and I read it while I was taking a class for people with family members who have major mental illnesses, so--yeah.  Powerful.  I jumped back and read one of his Antsy books and couldn't stop laughing.  Read Scythe, and while it didn't quite do to me what Unwind did, it has the same quality of raising really interesting and important questions without telling you what to think about them.

* siblings, pioneers, medieval history
** multiple pov, epistolary, double timelines, unreliable narrator, alternative history
*** the far north, Oregon, USSR/Eastern Europe
****fantasy, not super cute contemporary, mystery