Saturday, January 30, 2016

January Wrap-up

I wrote my December wrap-up post a few days before the end of the month, and then, since it was my vacation, read a few more books.  So I'm adding those to this month's total.

My Reading

Books read: twenty, or seventeen if you don't count the picture books I logged.  

Now that's more like it.  I'm continuing with my effort to read books on purpose--that is, to follow my list of priorities instead of just floating in the current.  I also very helpfully got sick this month in a way that allowed me to sit and read, as opposed to last month when I got sick and couldn't stay awake enough to read.


Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, by Maragaret Peterson Haddix.  Both seventh grade classes chose this as their read-aloud when we returned from break.  As expected, period five got SUPER INTO IT and we sped through it.  The other class is still working on it.  There was an intense round of nominating and voting to choose the book, and the first day a few disgruntled kids that had voted for different books were sulking and predicting, "It's just not my kind of book."  Well, they were all hooked within a couple of pages, and freely admitted by the end of the first reading that it was a great choice.  This is the same group that read and loved the very different Haddix book Found in the fall.  (Remember that, it will be important later in this post.)  The book, written as a journal, details Tish Bonner's increasingly desperate bid to take care of her little brother while her parents slowly fade from their life.  Four stars from me, five from the class.  Man, they were SO PISSED at Tish's parents.  It was great.

Kwame Alexander's Newbery award winning The Crossover was another big hit.  I read this to a much more reserved 8th grade class, and two of my more reluctant students borrowed it to read ahead during independent reading time.  They sat, heads together, racing through the story.  The next day I was sick and begged off reading aloud, so one of my most struggling readers asked if he could read it to the class instead.  Five stars from all of us.  I tend to like novels in verse, but I've never read one with the energy and coolness of this one.  (Coolness?  Wow, I'm certainly NOT cool.)

When Matt de la Peña's Last Stop on Market Street won the 2015 Newbery, it seemed the perfect excuse to buy it.  My students know him from books like Mexican White Boy and The Living, so we were all somewhat surprised to see this sweet picture book--and we were also thrilled that Matt became the first Latino winner of the prestigious award.  (And, as far as I could tell, the second person to win for a picture book.)  My darling seventh graders did a good job understanding some of the thinking behind the story, but the 8th graders were less impressed.  Reading it aloud was a great way to discover how many writing tricks it employs.  Repetition, sudden bursts of rhyme, and a rhythmic way of leaving out the "and" in sentences where I'd expect them, all give the book a distinctive cadence.  4.5 stars from my 7th graders and me, 2.5 from my professionally unenthusiastic 8th graders.

This is Sadie by Sara O'Leary is one I got at the library because it was a Nerdy finalist.  I read it to my 7th graders during our end-of-semester read-in, and knew I need to buy two copies of it; one for home and one for school.  Or at least one for school, so I can read it annually.  It celebrates the power of imagination and reading.  I am smitten with Julia Morstad's illustration of Sadie as a mermaid, and i adore that Sadie has also "been a boy raised by wolves" in her reading adventures.  Sadie also looks like she could be Asian--always nice to see someone besides blonde cherubs in picture books.  (Says the woman who adores Jan Brett's Scandinavian inspired books.)

I realize I'm going on at length in what is supposed to be a quick wrap-up.  The next category will compensate for that.

CYBILS finalists

The titles are a matter of record, but as a round 2 judge, I won't be sharing my thoughts just yet.  Still, I did manage to read all of them in quick succession, except for Dumplin', which I read in November.

The other finalists are All the Rage by Courtney Summers, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon, Infandous by Elana K. Arnold, and The Truth Commission by Susan Juby.  Very good books, each and every one.  I'll be getting all but one for my classroom library (intrigued?) and I can see why any of them could be someone's favorite book of 2015.


Mildly Disappointing

Only one book I read this month failed to wow me.  Cory Doctorow's graphic novel about the economics of video gaming, In Real Life, was pretty good, BUT.  The topic was not something I'm already interested in, and the graphic novel format made it hard for me to get invested.  I think I would have gotten more out of the story if it had been fleshed out into a traditional novel.  The format fit thematically, but didn't work for me.

Another feminist graphic novel, G. Willow Wilson's Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal gets 3.5 stars.  The story worked better for me, and I looooooove the diversity represented, but my excitement about a female Pakistani superhero was more weight than the learning-to-be-yourself story could hold.  I also finished Oregon author William Ritter's debut novel, Jackaby, and while I enjoyed some aspects immensely, I never connected enough with either protagonist to really get invested in the story.  I was also puzzled at why it seemed to be set in an alternate history with unfamiliar cities, when otherwise it read like a straight historical fantasy.  


Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke, Facts of Life by Gary Soto, and Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead are the motley crew that earned four enthusiastic stars from me. That's an adult thriller, purposefully ugly MG graphic novel,  MG short story collection, and MG+ novel in three voices.  Huh, I just realized how many books I found this month that were actually on target for my students.  A lot of MG reads too young for many of them, and a lot of YA reads too old for a different sub-set of my kids (or, in most cases, for their parents...ahem).  So I'm really pleased to have found these books I can enthusiastically recommend.

Wow, wow, wow!

I loved the combination of letters and Maira Kalman paintings that went into Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler.  And I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios stands out for me as a great book, approaching some tough topics with a lot of heart.  

Not rated

I finally finished Dave Cullen's Columbine.  I listened to it on audiobook in early December, but had to return the recording before I finished it.  I finally got a physical copy, and it turned out I only had about twenty pages left, so I feel a bit silly saying I read it this month.  More to the point, I chose not to rate this book because the difficulty of the topic leaves me unable to evaluate with any kind of objectivity.  I did review the 98% of the book I'd read last month, and at that point gave it four stars, but with a bit more distance I've decided I'm not comfortable with doing so officially.

I also abandoned Truthwitch at about 50% in.  I was having to force myself to pick it up each time, and putting it down far too easily.  I'm all for jumping into the story without exposition and figuring things out on the fly, but when nothing is made clear, it's hard to see what's at stake or to care about what happens.  I'm not writing the author off, because there were a lot of interesting things going on, it just didn't work together for me.  

Assorted Stats

In late December, inspired by all the year-end posts, I put together a google form that will create a spreadsheet for me of information I'd like to track beyond Goodread's scope.  I've been faithfully using it so far.  I'm logging more of the picture books I read to my kids, so the numbers are somewhat off from my "official" stats here on the blog and in Goodreads.  That being said, 50% of the books I read this month got four stars, 65% of them were obtained at the public library, 74% were by female authors, 74% by white authors, 26% were debuts, 90% were by Americans (the other two were by Canadians), 57% were YA, 61% were realistic fiction, and I'll give you the graph for this last statistic:

(Characters could obviously hit more than one category per book.)

My Writing

Just as with the reading, I continued to write in December after posting my wrap-up.  So counting those year-end posts, this is my thirteenth post since the last wrap-up.  For the first time, my most-viewed post was NOT a Top Ten Tuesday post, but instead one of two discussion posts I wrote about reading in a digital world, in which I talk about differences between TV and books as story telling medium, and then list the TV shows that have won me over.  That post also tied with my TTT post listing which 2015 releases I still need to get to in terms of comments, but I'm going to give the win to my discussion post, since it inspired more thoughtful comments--even, dare I say, a little discussion!  I'm pretty proud with both posts I wrote on the topic, the first one being a more personal piece about how I ended up growing up without a television (or, obviously, the internet).  

Other posts included a hastily put together list of my most recent TBR additions, a mini review of three books read in the past month or so, and a paean to my local library.  (I don't think I've ever used "paean" in a sentence before, and I hope I'm using it correctly.)  I also had a lot of fun putting together a top ten list of favorite books featuring dogs--so much fun I tried to publish it a week early, hence the hastiness of the TTT post that was SUPPOSED to be happening that week.  I also wrote a post about the Three Garys of middle school lit.  


After getting strep right before Christmas and spending much of my vacation hibernating, I have come down with a killer cold this week and had to take a day off yesterday.  Unlike in December, I have enough brain power to read while I rest, so it could be worse, but MAN am I tired of being sick.

My students have been taking a reading test to compare to their September reading tests, and so far my classes are averaging between six months and one year, two months gain over the past four months.  This is partially BS, since a number of kids blew off the first test and tried the second time, but this BS is what my teaching is judged on, so I'm relieved.  There are also some kids who really have grown, and are rightfully proud of themselves.  

Margaret Peterson Haddix, period five's favorite author, cane to Powell's last week.  I quickly put together an evening field trip, and took a busload of middle schoolers to see her speak.  They were blown away by the bookstore, asked appropriate and interesting questions during the Q&A, and generally had a great time.  I realized that I haven't organized a field trip since coming to this district eight years ago, and only participated in one other.  I did a LOT of trips in my old district.  Just like with the grant I got to allow me to buy books my students express specific interest in, I think this says a lot about how well suited this position as a reading teacher is for me.  My enthusiasm gives me energy and ideas.

My own kids also were there (partly because my two co-chaperones got sick, so when I realized it would be me and 28 kids, I begged my husband to show up too).  Their questions were a little less on-point (My daughter: "Have you ever written any cookbooks?"  My son: "How many people die in your books?"), but they thought it was pretty damn cool to meet an actual author.  My daughter got a copy of Among the Hidden and had it signed, and was so excited about that!  My kids are both struggling readers, but love books and stories, so I just keep reading with them and trying to feed their enthusiasm and not let them get discouraged.  

My husband's doctor put him on a month-long Paleo re-set diet.  There's no way I would be able to manage a diet like that if he were still eating normally, so I figured I should go on the diet too in order to support him.   We seriously didn't know if we could handle it.  No wheat, no dairy, no booze, NO SUGAR.  The first several days we were both hungry all the time, because we couldn't figure out what to eat for breakfast, lunch, or snacks.  Once we adjusted, it went better.  I've been cheating a little the last couple of days, but seriously, I went over two weeks without sugar, which is definitely a lifetime record.  We don't plan to make it a long-term thing, but are hoping we broke some bad habits (like stopping on the way home from work to buy a bag of Oreos to eat on the way home...)  We have both put on a LOT of weight in the past 18 months, so something had to be done.

We discovered, due to a series of errors I made as we transition to a new insurance company, that our son's meds are SUPER HELPFUL in allowing him to stay in control of his behavior.  Not a fun lesson for any of us, but good to know all the same.  My husband and daughter started guitar lessons, which is kind of adorable.  

As of Jan. 23, my Christmas tree is still up.  No, I do not have a fake tree.  We did finally unplug the lights so the whole thing doesn't go up in flames.  I'M TAKING CARE OF IT TODAY; I SWEAR.  

Which brings me nicely around to this, posted on my FB page by my brother-in-law last week:


  • Gorgeous book nooks: here and here
  • The most powerful call to teachers of reading I've read in a long time, by the indomitable and necessary Donalyn Miller
  • Another Nerdy Book Club post, this one about the importance of diverse books.
  • Interesting article on the creation of a diversity survey to establish a baseline for where the publishing industry is as of now.
  • And this is totally NOT book related, but I'm fascinated by this set of four videos about a 70 year old woman born in isolation in Siberia, who saw nobody but family members until she was 35.
  • The amazing Matt de la Peña's NPR essay on how "the tough teen may be quietly writing stories" and his own journey from too-cool-to-care to lover of literature.  I swear, the more I hear from this guy, the more I admire him.  Like, I'm getting a little creepy about it for someone who's technically old enough to be his mom.  (I think--Wikipedia claims he's 64, but, um, no.)


  1. I read The Crossover when I was trying to read all the Battle of the Books contenders last year and I'm really glad I did - it was one of my favorites. I confess to being highly doubtful about the format going in but it worked brilliantly. How great that your students enjoyed it too.

    1. It definitely deserves all the love it's gotten! I liked it even better when I read it aloud to the class than when I first read it to myself last year.

  2. I love the fact that your students are so invested in the books that you are reading. An author signing is a great idea for a field trip.

    1. It really was a blast. I'm going to talk to my principal and figure out how often I can do something like that. From his point of view, it's a good field trip, because since it's in the evening, I don't need a sub, and no other teachers are going to be upset that kids are missing classes.

  3. Wow! What a fun month and what a great wrap-up. I love how you are inspiring such a love of reading in your students! That is such an amazing gift! Happy February!

    1. There are a lot of kids I am still not doing enough for, but I feel like I'm in the right job for sure, and am motivated to keep working on it. I'm glad you enjoyed my LONG wrap-up!

  4. Very productive January! Happy February!


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