Saturday, August 29, 2015

August Wrap-up

Edited because I realized the Goodreads shelf I was relying on wasn't accurate.

August flew by, as it always does.  It's my favorite month, yet it's always bittersweet, as it brings the end of summer vacation.  Thanks to Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction, I have incentive to look back on my blog over the past month.

What I read

I read twenty-seven books this month (twenty-one if you count Brody's Ghost as one book), plus numerous picture books, and continued plugging away at Storm of Swords.  Specifically...

Professional Books

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age by Frank Serafini

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde

 Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L. Layne

What We See was more of an essay illustrated with fancy typography, and basically states that we don't truly imagine detailed scenes in our head when we read, any more than we have literal, pictorial memories.  Yo, Miss is a graphic novel/memoir about a teacher's experience in a NYC school.  The other two are even more specialized professional books, but I was very impressed with both.  I have to say, though, I'd rather have coffee (or a beer) with Layne than with Serafini.


Didn't Work for Me

I read One for the Murphys and felt bad for not liking it.  Many teachers and readers I respect lauded it as a sensitive story of a girl in foster care.  Then I read this on Tales from the Reading Room (found via Emerald City Book Review), and figured it out better.  This story did not ring true to my experience as a mom of kids from traumatic backgrounds, so I had trouble getting invested in the characters and events.  

Mildly Disappointing


I've heard such enthusiasm for To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Hann and Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block, but I think I'm just too old and crabby for them.  Meredith Moore's I Am Her Revenge was one of those books that I enjoyed while reading, but began to pick apart in my mind as soon as I finished.  If you read Great Expectations, it is fun to trace parallels between the two.  Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake, was not a book I'd normally pick up, as I am not a horror fan at all.  Again, it had great reviews, so I tried it, liked it fine, but will likely forget it in another week or two.  Finally, I read Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel take on Lewis and Clark, key figures in my northwest childhood imagination.  I was impressed with the after-the-journey section, which addresses Clark's depression and suicide, but the rest of the book was hard for me to follow, even with reasonable background knowledge.



3:59, by Gretchen McNeil, was something I picked up on the spur of the moment, so it wasn't too big of a disappointment, but it could have been better.  It could have been worse, too.  Parallel universes are always kind of fun.  I had higher hopes for Ash, Malinda Po's "lesbian Cinderella" story, only that was about as descriptive as calling Brokeback Mountain "the gay cowboy movie."  There was more to the book than that reductive description, but the slow pace drove me nuts.  


Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse, by Robin Hutton, is a book I picked up because I thought it might appeal to some of my students.  Oddly, they don't all like high fantasy, contemporary fiction, and novels in verse.  This graphic novel tells the true story of a horse that served in the Korean War.  (Spoiler: the horse survives the war.  I'd want to know if I were picking this book up!)  I am a huge Karen Hesse fan, and Aleutian Sparrow worked really well for me, although I'm not sure it'd be a good choice for reluctant readers.  I know a little about the Aleutian islands, and a little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII, but had no idea the U.S. had removed the native people from the Aleutians for the duration of the war, greatly breaking down their society and culture.  The False Princess was more enjoyable for me than The False Prince.  (I know they're not related, but their titles are.)  I think author Elis O'Neil could have used a bit more editing to tighten up her story, but it was a great first novel.  Zipped, by Laura McNeal, takes a somewhat provocative premise--a teenaged boy discovers that his unsettlingly hot stepmom is having an affair--and creates sympathetic characters.  I was struck at how quaint its 2003 setting made it.  



I know Ruta Sepetys got a lot of attention for Between Shades of Gray.  And yes, it is a very good book that covers a piece of modern history that is not well known (like Aleutian Sparrow, come to think of it).  However,  having lived in the Baltics for five years, and adopted two children from Lithuania, the story wasn't as new for me.  Out of the Easy, on the other hand, takes me to a place I've never been--post war New Orleans.  Josie has been handed a tough hand in life, but she rises to the challenge impressively.  

Awkward, Svetlana Chmakova's graphic novel about fitting in and finding friends in middle school, is just about perfect.  From her gracefully diverse characters to her age appropriate angst to her delightfully characterized teachers, she has created a book I'd like to press into the hands of every single one of my incoming seventh graders.  

The War Within These Walls, written by Flemish author Aline Sax, is a graphic novel fictionalization of the Warsaw Uprising.  Horribly sad, of course, but such an important perspective, that not all Jews in WWII Europe waited passively and stoically for their annihilation.  Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Meg Medina's story of bullying, classism, and identity, is one I think my students will relate to.  Plus, they'll love the title,  

I'm such a comic book/graphic novel newbie that I'm not even sure how to count Brody's Ghost.  It's divided into six volumes, but they tell one story, and I probably took less time to read all six than I do for most novels.  It is one of the most anime-looking things I've read--no wait, manga, right?--which is (obviously) a stretch for me.  I was pulled right in by the dystopia/mystery/ghost story thing it has going on, and I loved how Mark Crilley included some of his sketches and reflections on his creative process at the end of each volume.  I'm definitely trying to get the complete set for my classroom.  

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

I already talked about this.  Challenger Deep requires a lot of its readers, and it pays it back tenfold.  I can't say enough good things.  I liked Shusterman's Skinjacker books, loved his Unwind dystology, and with this book he's leapt to the front of my list of amazing authors writing today--in any genre or for any age group.  

My Writing

I continued to have a lot of fun with both Top Ten Tuesday and Book Tag posts.  I especially enjoyed putting together a Mid-Year Freakout Post, the Fairy Tales Retold post, and British Mystery Authors 101.  That week's top ten link-up was amazing; so many people had such creative ideas for "courses" to create.  I was delighted to have another post appear on Nerdy Book Club.  Titled Oregon, My Oregon, it was a list of ten books written by Oregon authors and/or set in my native state.  I have another post appearing there next month.  The first two posts I'd submitted were published without further ado, but when I submitted the third post, the woman who manages the guest post wrote back with some constructive criticism.  I had about 30 seconds of feeling bad, then I felt INCREDIBLE, because someone was actually helping me EDIT MY WORK, just like a REAL AUTHOR.  I revised it based on her suggestions, figured out exactly where I wanted to go with the piece, and resubmitted it successfully.  It is more personal a less of a list than my first two submissions, so I'm feeling super proud of myself.  I also reviewed a few books this month on my blog; in addition to Challenger Deep, I was inspired to review Everybody Sees the Ants and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

Internet Treasures

At last month's wrap-up round-up, I got such a kick out of reading other people's suggested links that I actually kept track of things I found online this month that I thought other readers would enjoy.  

  1. Author Kekla Magoon had a guest post on Nerdy Book Club in which she writes about her decision to reimagine Robin Hood as a "biracial twelve-year-old girl in a futuristic world."  I've read a lot recently about both the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and about the push to not just "feature diversity" but to fold diversity into stories that are not specifically ABOUT being black/blind/an immigrant/etc.  Shadows of Sherwood should do just that.  
  2. My super awesome niece sent me a link to an NPR story on what college kids are being assigned to read these days.  
  3. I've discovered a lot of teacher bloggers this summer, and I found Pernille Ripp's article on why picture books are good for all ages to be thought provoking and inspiring.  
  4. How cute are these rain gutter bookshelves?
  5. And how sweet are these kids talking about why they read?
  6. Finally, this Yahoo article looks at what is wrong with college students refusing to read books they consider immoral.  I have been thinking a lot about censorship this summer (like here and here), but self censorship is a danger I'd forgotten to consider.  I certainly have read many books in which characters do things I wouldn't do.  Like, say, every murder mystery ever.  Does it make a difference if it's visually portrayed?  I know I've read a few graphic novels this summer that won't make it into my classroom because of nudity, even though the story itself might be appropriate for many students.  But I teach middle school, not college.  C'mon.  
  7. Special mention to the month-long "Mental Health in YA/Shattering Stigmas" event hosted by Bookshelf Reflections, It Starts at Midnight, and The Thousand Lives.  Personal stories, book reviews, discussions, author interviews--there was so much important information shared and so many important stories give space.  


We went on another camping trip, this time with friends I've camped with annually for 16 years.  We made exactly zero progress on our bathroom remodel*, but did get in a day trip to the beach.  We bottled a bunch more wine, and I got to take my son to the nearest big water park, thanks to our library's awesome "Culture Pass" program, which allows families to borrow one day passes to local attractions.   I'm currently hosting what I just realized is the first sleepover my son has had.  The whispering has died down considerably over the past half hour, meaning they got to sleep a mere 90 minutes later than usual.**  A bunch of people I know announced pregnancies this month, including my nephew's wife. son set up a ten gallon fish tank with two tetras and two guppies.  That was kind of fun.  I also spent a fair amount of time this month with one of those adult coloring books that are all the rage.  (That always sounds like I'm coloring pictures of naked people.  Really, it's just mandalas.)  Why paint bathroom cabinets when you can color?  

My sister and I on a hike.  
My kid being creative at the beach.
Very excitingly, I found out two weeks ago that my teaching assignment this year has changed from 7th and 8th grade language arts to reading specialist.  I'll be working with our school's lowest readers.  All that book buying and book blogging and reading books about teaching reading will certainly pay off!  I'm exhausted from setting up my classroom, revamping my plans to focus on just reading, and on finding ways to get my reluctant students engaged.  
Loving my Russia themed display.  Also, you can sure tell I'm not on Instagram.  

Ooh, I also won a book on a giveaway!  This was a first for me as a blogger, so I'm pretty thrilled.  

Last week was inservice week, setting up my classroom and attending approximately five billion meetings.  Tomorrow is more of the same, then kids show up Tuesday.  I am interested to see how much blogging (if any!) I get done in September.   Wish me luck!

* My husband made a liar out of me today by getting a bunch of work done.  That's what I get for trying to wrap up the month 2 days early.

**Oh, foolish Mama.  They were up past midnight.  


  1. Almost bought Awkward for my ten yr old but decided not to spend the money. Think I will. I love reading your blog Wendy since I am writing a middle grade book and research a lot of younger kids books and never have time to read them all.

  2. Sounds like you had a great month.

  3. Sorry to hear Jenny Han's book was disappointing for you. I like her.
    Happy September reading!

  4. I hope you have a wonderful year. I think helping reluctant readers is one of the most important jobs in the world!

  5. SO much awesomeness in this wrap-up post! First off, that picture of your daughter is hilarious - love it! And I also adored Challenger Deep and the Shattering Stigmas event. I will have to pick up Awkward for my two middle grade kids - seems like something they'd enjoy! Oh, and I also wasn't a huge fan of To All the Boys. I'm with you on that one.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  6. HAHA THAT PILLOW THO. XD *Ahem* And congrats on winning a book AND reading so many! You're clearly an epic fabulous reading machine. ;) I LOVED Challenger Deep too!! Basically everything I've read by Neal Shusterman has gotten 5-stars so far. He can do no wrong for me. xD
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

  7. I haven't read a ton of these books, but Out of the Easy was definitely WOW! I loved it. Sorry that To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Anna Dressed in Blood disappointed you. I loved Anna, but I am a horror fan so.... And To All the Boys was just an easy cute read. The sisters relationships were my favorite part. Completely impressed that you read 27 books in a month. I wish that I could do that. :(


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