Saturday, April 30, 2016

Breakfast Books

I have, as is abundantly clear, a little bit of a problem with books.  I routinely stay up too late reading, telling myself that if it's the first half of a book, a few more chapters won't hurt, and if it's the second half, I can finish it quickly.  I ignore my children, letting them forage for chicken nuggets and default to screen time in my (mental) absence, or designing fun outings for them that allow me to read on the sidelines--a trip to the pool or the skatepark.

I rue short waits, hoping I'll get delayed at the doctors office or hairdressers so I can get more reading in.

I've been known to pull out a book at long stoplights.

I know myself well enough to understand that if I start reading at breakfast, I am quite likely to be late to work.  Since I'm rather fond of being employed, this is not a good path to wend my way down.  However, it seems so sad and pointless to eat breakfast alone, the rest of the family still asleep, and not be able to read.  A few months ago, I came up with the perfect solution: the Breakfast Book.

The Breakfast Book is a particular type of book.  It can't be fiction, because the ol' what-happens-next? will pull me in ever time.  Neither can it be a teaching related book, or a writing guide, because then I need to take notes, and I'm already hard pressed to eat without getting egg and crumbs on my book.  Besides, the mental effort that goes into careful reading in order to learn something is more than what I am up for at 6:15 am.  And yet, obviously, it needs to be a book I want to read.

Enter literary nonfiction.  Not memoirs, because if they're worth reading, they will have a story that pulls me in and sweeps me along, merrily passing through chapter endings and into next chapters like I'm inner-tubing down a river.  But something on a topic that interests me, something where chapters end with conclusions rather than cliff hangers, something that will engage my brain without taxing it too much.

The first book I chose for this was Is That a Fish In Your Ear?  Translation and the Meaning of Everything.  The title says it all.  The first part--witty, a little silly, referring to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  The subtitle--letting you kn
ow the topic and scope, while maintaining the Douglas Adams references.  I could read a chapter, be interested in the ideas and information presented, then close the book and walk away from it for days.  If I forgot the beginning of the book by the time I reached the end, no real harm done.  Each chapter still made sense within itself.

I don't read every morning.  Sometimes I've overslept, or I want to leave early to buy a latte, or to get to a meeting.  Sometimes I'm pulled into Facebook instead, or I managed to put a book down last night that is calling to me this morning despite my heroic efforts to not pick it back up.   It took me months to get through the book--and then I did.  Time for a new Breakfast Book.

Yesterday I stumbled across my next choice.  The Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing is, like its predecessor, about a topic I know just the right amount about.  Not so much that I'll get impatient, but enough that I'll get engaged wit
h the ideas presented.  The title promises the same mix of wry humor, personal anecdotes, and deeply researched information.  I read a chapter today, and am well satisfied with my choice.

What are some of the different types of books you prefer for different situations?  Do you have any titles to recommend for my Breakfast Books?  

Friday, April 29, 2016

Smooches and Cookies: Review of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten

Published 2013 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

291 pages, realistic fiction.

This was my favorite of the six books I read during Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.

I got this book at the library to fulfill one of the YALSA Challenge slots, since it won the Schneider Family award for books about characters with disabilities. I read the first (short) chapter and then put it down for quite awhile. I didn't like that it started with insta-love. I didn't like that the object of the narrators affections had all the earmarks of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I didn't like the implication that Love would cure mental illness.

But the voice seemed engaging, and it was part of the challenge, and it was readily available, so I picked it up last Saturday and read it.

Toten doesn't do much about the insta-love, other than showing it progress from lust-at-first-sight to an actual friendship and relationship. But she blows the other two tropes out of the water. Adam and his OCD are so real and painful and gorgeous. His family, in all their messed up glory, are too. I love the way mental illness and the stress of living with mentally ill family affect every single family member, but all in different ways. I can definitely see why it won this award (although I'm a little confused as to why a book published in '13 won in '16). The kids in the group are also portrayed as real people who happen to be carrying some extra burdens. Their issues and their responses are varied and believable.

I am a little frustrated at how literature portrays psychologists, counselors, and therapists as either Incredibly Wise or Basically Evil, when in reality they seem, like all doctors, to operate with a mix of knowledge, experience, and good and bad guesses. Luckily for Adam, he gets an Incredibly Wise therapist in Chuck. Of course, Adam still keeps some secrets back from Chuck, so he's unable to help with them until they erupt messily. Maybe Chuck isn't portrayed as infallible after all.

I'm also still a little annoyed with Adam and Lisa's relationship. It lets us know that Adam is far more attractive than he sees himself as, but still, the ease with which they fall in love jars me. However, when they have to look at whether or not it's healthy for them to move forward as a couple--Toten is unflinching in her portrayal of how mental illness conflicts with what would be a happy teen love story otherwise.

Voice can make or break a book for me, especially teen voices. Toten nails Adam's humor, self deprecation, and agonizing fear beautifully. And don't even get me started on the side characters. Sweetie, Thor, and the kindly neighbor lady are some of the most lovable characters I've met. I want to give them all smooches and cookies. I'll definitely be looking for more works by this author.

P. S. I have no idea why I keep getting everything highlighted in my posts. I can't get rid of it; the best I can do is make it a color that nearly matches the background. Also, why do the first paragraphs appear to be in grey rather than black? Who knows. I do know how to change text color, but it's ignoring me.

4 stars.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mini Reviews: No One Knows, Since You've Been Gone, UnBound

In which I cut and paste my comments on Goodreads rather than writing full on reviews, because--oh I can't say that; it's not funny anymore, but it has to do with time and ain't nobody got and you know what I mean.

These books represent one let-down, one that lived up to my hopes, and one that exceeded my expectations.

No One Knows, by J. T. Ellison, was my very first Book of the Month Club book, meaning I actually CHOSE it from a list of six.  It sounded like a fun, quick read.  But here was my reaction to it:

When I read a thriller, I want to hit a point at the end where all the ambiguous, confusing pieces finally make sense, AND I suddenly see that elements I thought were straight-forward had hidden meanings.

What I don't want is to go, "Wait, what? This makes no sense." It was narrated in third person, so we were being TOLD the main character thought or felt certain things, but given the ending, she would not have been thinking or feeling those things. A first person narrator can lie, if it's handled well, but a third person narrator who lies is not "an unreliable narrator"--they are a failed narrator. 

The bits that DID make sense relied on ridiculous, soap operatic coincidences. 

A decent book spoiled by a frustrating ending. 

Also--as an adoptive mom, I didn't like the heavy "bad seed" implications, and I never figured out the point of having Aubrey be adopted, then orphaned. Wouldn't one of those have been enough?  

2 stars

Since You've Been Gone, by Morgan Matson, came from my classroom library.  Students requested that I buy it at the book fair, but nobody had actually picked it up and read it.  I thought the premise sounded kind of fun, even if it was very reminiscent of Rebel Blue, another book I read because of student recommendations.  Here's what I thought of this one:

I think a lot of introverted reader types will say this, but--I was definitely the Emily in my high school best friendship. So there's a lot in this book that I could relate to SO HARD.

As others have said, this book's strengths are in the portrayal of many different friendships and in the slow burn romance. It all felt tidy and predictable to me, but the ride was worth it. 

I occasionally got annoyed about minor details. Everyone lives in mansions? Emily drops Frank off at his house without realizing it's beachfront property? Every single parent is conveniently distracted for months on end? The ice cream shop next to a popular pizza place gets no customers? Emily gets a job without an interview? But none of those things are enough to spoil the good time.

More annoyingly, half of the plot would be unnecessary if people just talked to each other. Willful miscommunication is always frustrating to read about.

Still, the writing and story pulled me in strongly. I laughed at the funny bits, my heart sped up at the romance, my throat got tight when Emily was heartbroken. I also love that the front and back cover illustrations were done by someone who read the freakin' book.    

3.5 stars

Every time I realize there's a new book in Neal Shusterman's Unwind series, I explode with happiness.  Which is funny, because they're not particularly happy books.  I saw UnBound at the library recently and grabbed it.

Yay! None of these stories are necessary for the Unwind series, but they connect a few dots, extend the thinking on some topics, give us some closure on side characters, AND are rip-roaring stories, each and every one.   

4 stars

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April In Review

image obtained from here

That's my month in a nutshell.  Plus a birthday party.  I'm publishing this a few days early because I realized this will be my 200th post, and I'd rather give the honors to a wrap-up than to the mini-review I also want to publish this week.

My Reading

Books read: 31 as of Tuesday.  Over a book a day, due partly to reading a bunch of graphic novels and partly due to participating in the read-a-thon.  


I read 3/4 of Girl, Stolen aloud to two classes, and then had to pause because of end-of-grading period stuff, so I went ahead and read the end on my own.  In general, I like my mysteries and thrillers to be for an adult audience; when you know it's for younger readers it kind of eliminates certain storylines and possibilities.  Still, there was one point towards the end when my heart was racing with anxiety for the protagonists.   Otherwise we were stalling out on read-alouds this month.

Raina Telgemeier's adaptation of Ann M. Martin's first Babysitters Club book is another one I started reading aloud, to my daughter, then went ahead and finished on my own.  It was during Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon (more on that later), so I wanted to cruise through an easy book rather than leave it unfinished after reading to her.  I've been slacking on reading to my kids too, although we did read picture books.

Fully Disappointing:

No One Knows by J. T. Ellison

Mildly Disappointing:


Wow, wow, wow!

  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten was the highlight of my Read-a-Thon books.  I totally thought it was going to be dumb, since on page one, literally, we get insta-love of a manic pixie dreamgirl, and love looks set to cure mental illness.  But no.  
  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg also messed with my preconceptions.  I saw the cover and thought "Baseball book."  Try "historical fiction/coming of age novel in verse" book.  
  • UnBound by Neal Shusterman was amazing.  It's hard, I think, to put out "companion stories" to a beloved series without a) just doing it to cash in, and b) having a mix of quality and interest level.  Shusterman knocks it out of the park.
  • Antsy Does Time, also by Shusterman, was another book I didn't have high expectations of, since I was mentally categorizing it as "earlier, lighter work."  But it was awesome.  Funny, for sure.  Light?  Not so much.
  • Roz Chast's graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? broke my little orphaned heart.  I don't know what it would be like to read this if one's parents were hale and hearty, but as someone who has gone through the old age and death of both parents, this hit me so hard.  Not that it's depressing--her wry humor is part of why it's so great.  Five stars.
  • Through the Woods is not my cup of tea.  Emily Carroll's graphic short stories are billed as being of a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark level of creepiness.  Maybe it's just the illustrated aspect of them, but I found them FAR creepier.  So even though I don't enjoy that kind of thing, I was still really impressed by how gorgeous and creepy the book is.  Yes, I just used "creepy" three times to describe it.  There is no word that fits better.
  • Boy21 by Matthew Quick is a book I didn't really know anything about, but I liked the lists I'd seen it on.  I bought it for my classroom as soon as I finished reading it.  Is it overly dramatic?  Maybe.  Who cares!  It's terrific.  Five Stars.




    Assorted Stats

    So far this year my authors are 40% male to 60% female, and 82% white to 18% non-white.  I'm going to make a conscious effort to read authors of color in May, so we'll see how much I can change that by next month.  I'm reading 80% American authors, with Canadians surprising me by being second.  Half of what I read is YA, a quarter is adult, and the rest, I guess, is children's and MG.  42% of what I read is realistic fiction, and my attack on Louise Penny's series means the next genre in line, at 18%, is mystery.

    My Writing

    After writing and posting daily in March for the Slice of Life challenge, I was all fired up to take part in this month's A-Z challenge.  I'd pre-written several posts (A-F) and planned out the rest of my topics.

    But when it came down to it, I stalled out after the pre-written posts.  I put a few more together that I was particularly excited about, and a few I wasn't, and then I gave myself permission to quit.  Unlike the SOL challenge, I wasn't getting a sense of community--many comments were perfunctory, and it took a lot of digging to find blogs of interest.  That being said, I did come across some interesting non-book blogs and connected with some bloggers who continued to visit Falconer's Library even after I disappeared from the A-Z challenge.

    This is my 26th post this month, which is still pretty good.  I did post frequently during the read-a-thon.  People were so supportive about that; thank you!  My read-a-thon wrap up post garnered the most views, and B is for Bookstore got the most comments.  I enjoyed doing a little research for L is for Louisa, Laura, and Lucy and I got to share some of my favorite books in M is for Multiple Points of View.  The most recent TTT topic, things that delight a bookworm's heart, was also a lot of fun.

    I'm trying to decide if I want to shell out $400 for a writer's retreat in June.  Well, no, I KNOW I want to, I'm just trying to figure out if I can.   NO WAIT, I'm going to.  If I can convince my principal that I don't need to be there the two days after school gets out.  They're on our contract, but I can go into the building and put my time in when I get back.  Right?  Right.  I have many conflicting thoughts about signing up, such as "But I'm not actually a writer," and "There's a hot tub?  Cool!" and "Ack, dealing with people I don't know."  But mostly, "Wheeee!"


    Besides Dewey's Read-a-Thon, which was so much fun I'm still giddy about it, the highlight of my month was my daughter's tenth birthday.  

    First, we cleaned our house, which hasn't happened in an embarrassingly long time.  I was raised in a house in which every Friday we vacuumed, changed sheets, dusted, cleaned bathrooms, mopped floors, washed windows, etc.  We also made our beds every single day and only got fast food if we were on a road trip.  This is not my family's reality, so it was high time we were forced to make the place not-disgusting.  I was able to get decent, non-whiney help for this project from my daughter, because she was excited for her party, and I gave my son all the somewhat fun outdoor jobs.  

    Then we dropped the boy off at my sister's for an overnight, and five little girls came over to our house.  The weather was lovely, so they played outside.  We did an art project (paint pens on mugs), had pizza and an ice cream cake, and let them play with her presents until bedtime.  Well, after bedtime.  But they didn't stay up crazy late.  I was really happy in that they didn't do any mean girl crap to each other.  It was a bit of a motley crew; my daughter was the only one who knew everyone, and two girls didn't know anyone except their hostess.  But they interacted well and were able to pull apart and come together without hurting each others' feelings.  

    Oh, and the ice cream cake was amazing.  

    At school I was asked to put together some reading electives to offer for next year.  I came up with four and will teach the one or two that get the most sign-ups.  I need to start working on paperwork for our early May visit to Powells to hear April Henry talk.  And for the first time in 17 years, I'm not responsible for any state testing.  Woo-hoo!  The students, on the other hand, are spending a solid month on it, but I'll try to stop myself from climbing on that soapbox.


    • I'm going to separate that out into a different post since this is already miles long.

    I hope you had an excellent April.  My husband and I both had English with the same teacher when we were seniors in high school--two years apart (and completely unaware of each other).  We both like to trot out our Old English this time of year.  "Whan that Aprilel with his shoures soote the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote..."  We're getting into my favorite time of year now, as the days get longer and the school year winds down.  

Monday, April 25, 2016

TTT: Bookworm Joys

This week's Top Ten Tuesday post, as always planned and shared by The Broke and the Bookish, is "Top Ten Bookworm Delights."  Leaving aside the discussion about whether bookworm, book nerd, or Cate's Book Dragon is the preferred term, there is no real way to limit the list to ten.

Things that bring joy to my reader's heart fit into specific categories:


  • Seeing a student who doesn't identify as a reader get sucked into a book, so much so that they are reading it when they don't "have to" be reading it.
  • Reading aloud and having kids hang on every word.
  • Hearing my kids quote from a book we've read.
  • The way my children lean up against me while I read to them.  (Meaning my personal, family-type children, not my students.  Just to clarify.)  
  • This year's seventh graders' enthusiasm for all my wacky book stuff.  I send them a selfie of meeting Margaret Peterson Haddix, and the sub send me back a photo of them squealing and leaping.  I tell them I'm going to participate in a 24 hour read-a-thon, and they want to know if we can do one too, spending 24 hours at school with our books.  My principal buys me a two sided book display, and when the guy who put it together wheels it into class, they erupt with excitement and rush to help me choose what books to put in it.  

  • Wandering a bookstore looking at the pretty covers and jotting down notes taking photos of books I might want to get.
  • Sneaking in a library or bookstore visit on my way home from school.
  • Themed book displays at the library.  
  • Just--the feeling of walking into my library.  
  • Getting books as gifts.  Or gift cards for bookstores.
  • Also, all the other cute stuff they sell in bookstores these days.  Yes, I wrote a post about it all being too commercial, but still.  I love my book t-shirts.  And socks.  And jewelry.  And posters.  And mugs.  


  • Reading the right book at the right time.  
  • Reading a terrific book and finding out that it's the first in a series.  
  • Dedications, forwards, and acknowledgements that are sweet and/or funny instead of dull or entirely in-jokes.
  • Someone suggesting a book to me that I haven't heard of, then really liking it.
  • Clever chapter titles.  
  • That realization, as you read the first 1/4 of a complex book, that you are in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, and that all threads will come together into a beautiful tapestry by the time you are done.  
  • Books that make me laugh or cry so much that people around me become alarmed.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I did it! Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon Summary

I can't believe that I just found out about this last weekend, and actually made it happen.  I participated longer than I expected, but didn't get as much reading in as I hoped.  

Here are my final stats, in all their glory:

Cups of coffee:  Five
 Two hot, three iced

Hours of Sleep: Three  
12:30-2:00 pm and 1:30-3:00 am

Books completed within the 24 hours:  Five 
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten, The Babysitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin, graphic novel adaptation by Raina Telgemeier, This Is Just To Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman, The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny.

Book started within the 24 hours and completed in a bonus hour 25, because at that point what is sleep anyway?: One
Legend by Marie Lu

Books started within the 24 hours but not yet completed: Two
Liar's Club by Mary Karr (read 182 pages) and Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Number of books my husband is telling people I read: 30, in seven different languages
Which is his way of saying he's proud of me.  :)

Actual time spent reading: 14 hours
But I read at least fifteen minutes during 21 of the 24 hours.

Blog posts written and published during the event: Five

Chance I will do this again: 100%

Ideas for future attempts:
  • Get some large print books for when my eyes get fuzzy with sleep
  • See if I can get sponsors for books, pages, or minutes read and either donate to a literacy charity or for my classroom library
  • Run a modified version for students who are interested
  • Given that many of the mini-challenges are left up for a few hours, and that I sometimes got overly distracted by checking in each hour, I might read to the end of a book (or to my breaking point, whichever comes first) and check in then instead of at regularly scheduled intervals.
  • Get myself some Read-a-Thon swag!
  • Enlist a co-reader.  
  • In my dream world: spend the weekend at the beach doing this with some friends.

Mini Challege: Perfect Reading Day


 I am too tired to find my own photos right now, but that up there is the back porch of Cloud Cap on Mt. Hood.  My dad was a member of the mountain rescue group that holds the lease on the place in exchange for using it as a volunteer rescue base. Someone brought up some “zero-gravity” chairs for the porch a few years back.  Get me set up in one of those, either on a warm day, or bundled up in a down sleeping bag on a cooler day, with the sound of the wind in the trees and the smell of the forest in the air, hand me a cup of French press coffee, and I’m in reading heaven. 

Update Three: Final Three! (Hours, that is)

Okay, it's 2 am, and you're going to have to just roll with any incoherence and bad typing.  I'm typing in big font so my tired eyes can see.  I'm actually hoping that by taking some computer time, I'll perk myself back up.  Don't they always say to NOT get on your computer before trying to sleep?

I have definitely stalled out a bit since about nine.  I had to get the kids fed and to bed, as my son't overnight didn't pan out, but my husband's evening out did.  I read a few chapters of Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel adaptation of the first of Ann M. Martin's Babysitters Club aloud to my daughter, and then when she went to bed decided I may as well finish it.  A bunch of my students are reading them too.  I am too old to have read the originals, and I had assumed they were just dumb drivel, but this is the second graphic novel version I've read, and I have to say they are pretty great.  They address some realistic tween issues, include some diversity (divorced parents, illness, and one of the four stars is Asian), and of course has Telgemeier's signature colorful and clear illustrations.  

Happy to have finished a book, however simple, I then sped through a very short book that was either a novel in verse or a poetry book with a theme, depending on how you look at it.  This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness is another book aimed at kids.  I pretty much adore all the fake apology poems out there (based on William Carlos Williams' This is Just to Say, or The Icebox Plums Poem, as I think of it), and this book takes it a step further by having the various students of an imagined 4th grade class write a set of apology poems that veer more and more from the mentor text, and THEN a set of forgiveness poems, either actually from the person the first poem was addressed to, or from someone assuming that person's (or animal's!) perspective.  Does that sound charming?  Because it was.  

Fortified by two easy completions, I'd just started Marie Lu's Legend when my husband came home, and he was hopeful of a little attention.  He was out with our mutual friends, so I did want to hear about his evening as well.  But by the time we wound down, I was sleepy, so I set my alarm for 90 minutes later, since I've heard that's about how long our natural sleep cycles are.  To my delight, I woke up one minute before my alarm went off!  So I've made some iced coffee and am going to try to make it through the last few hours to 5 am.  

I just wish I could get my book's font to increase to this size too.  Next time I am definitely going to check out some large print editions from the library.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Update Two: Almost Halfway!

It's been a great day, although I've had to roll with a few things.  I meant to take a 20 minute nap and slept for over an hour, although I will say I woke up feeling refreshed.  I meant to take a walking break with a friend, but realized I'd sent my daughter and husband off, and I can't leave my son home alone, and taking him along would not have been the best idea, so I cancelled.

Here's my mid-way checkin:
1. What are you reading right now?
A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny2. How many books have you read so far?
I've finished two (a YA novel and a MG novel), and read part one of The Liar's Club before switching to the mystery I'm on right now.3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Still haven't gotten to I Crawl Through It.4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Daughter wants some attention; husband has had some questions.  I'm trying to be patient--to listen and respond and give undivided attention, but then be clear that I'm going to get back to what I'm doing.  5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
Honestly, I haven't read as much as I would have thought.  I think hourly check-ins are very fun, but take more time that I expected.  

Second completed book:

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13 B by Teresa Toten--4.5/5 stars

Update: Hour One

I just finished Jennifer L. Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish.  Very cute.  I started with it because it's due at the library today, no more renewals!  Also because I wanted something light to wake up with.

This hour's challenge is to share five childhood reading/people memories.  I realized I can probably come up with five memories specifically around my big sister, Peg.  Everyone in my family liked to read and encouraged my reading, but Peg had a particular influence on my reading development.  We're basically the same age now, but growing up, eleven years was a big difference.

1.  One summer--I think I was 8 or 9--we read The Silver Chair together.  After the dinner dishes were washed, we'd lay on the chaise lounge in the backyard together and read aloud.  One night she'd read two chapters, and the next night I'd read one.  The Silver Chair has always been my favorite Narnian book, and I can't say if it's the story alone, or the positive associations I have with it.

2.  I had appendicitis when I was ten, right at the end of the school year.  My family brought me books in the hospital and as I recovered.  Peg, who knew I was a fan of Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators, and Trixie Belden, decided I might be ready for Agatha Christie.  I don't remember which book she started me on, but I know that by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I'd read pretty much everything Christie had written, moved on to Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey, and was well on my way to a lifetime of loving mysteries.

3.  The following winter, when I was eleven, we had a huge ice storm in Portland.  We lost electricity for several days, and spent a lot of time in our basement, by the fireplace, reading by kerosene lantern light.  Peg started reading Oliver Twist to me, and I finished it on my own.  I felt so grown-up, to be reading Dickens, and I loved the drama of the story.

4.  For an 8th grade graduation present, Peg gave me a multivolume book of Jane Austen's collected works.  This was another chance to step up my reading game.  I liked Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, but the others were a bit much for me.  I've come back to the volume over the years though, growing into Jane (and celebrating the birth of Peg's daughter Emma, consciously named for the eponymous heroine).

5.  I'm going to cheat and leave childhood memories out of this.  Peg continues to be someone who shares my taste in books, and nothing makes me happier than when I can loan a book to her that she ends up really liking.


Questions from the opening meme.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I"m in Portland, Oregon in the northwest US.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Tough question!  Maybe I Crawl Through It?  Love A. S. King's books.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
The sweets--chocolate chip cookies and caramel candies.  And coffee.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a middle school teacher.  I taught ESL for 13 years, then language arts for 4, and this year ended up as a reading teacher, and I'm in  HEAVEN.  

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?
As a first timer, I'm just super curious to see how this all works.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Chomping at the Bit


You guys.

My dear imaginary friends and occasional actual readers.

I am so amped up for readathon right now.  Like, I want to take the day off work and make it a 36 hour event.

Like, I have all these questions as a first-timer, but I didn't do the Twitter chats, to I'm just going to figure it out as I go, and I'm so excited to do that.  I can't wait to find out about logging my stats and hourly contests and all that.

Like, last night I accidentally read one of the books on my TBR list, which is no big deal, because I have about five times as many books set aside as I can actually read.  But I also got into my snacks, which is bad because a) I'm going to want ALL THE SNACKS on read-a-thon day, and b) I was trying to eat super healthy this week so I can splurge on the weekend.  And even though I do have some healthy snacks, the ones I gave into last night were the cookies and the caramels, of course.

Like, I started out saying, "I'll probably be able to read for about 12 hours," and then went to "I'm going to challenge myself to read for 16 hours," and now I'm thinking, "I wonder if I can read for at least 15 minutes out of each hour and read through the night too?"

Like, I keep telling random people "I'm doing a 24 hour read-a-thon this weekend!" which is apparently a weird thing to say, because I keep getting funny looks.  And then there was the clerk at the grocery store who guessed I was going on a road trip, and when I said, no, read-a-thon, he wanted to know what I was raising money for.  When I explained that no, I'm just reading, he was nonplussed.

My family though--they are ON BOARD.  I almost didn't sign up, because for various complicated reasons it's hard for my family to go without my attention and presence for more than a few hours at a time.  I only decided to go for it when I realized that my son had been invited to spend Saturday night at a friend's house and my husband and I had been invited to go to a wine tasting party, so 2/3 of my people would be fine without me for part of the time.  I still didn't think they'd be very happy about it.  My husband, while literate, doesn't read books for fun, so I expected at best, resignation from him.

I forgot a few key things.  A) He's all about supporting each others' dreams and goals, and he knows that reading for me is what strategy games are to him.  B) He has a strong compete-with-yourself compulsion, so even though the format is unfamiliar, he totally gets the spirit of the  thing.  When I told him about it, he immediately started strategizing.  "Okay, so if we make a big pot of coffee the night before, you can just heat it and drink it when you get up, so you don't have to waste time making it at 5 am."  He bought me snacks (that's why I have some healthy ones too) and checked out some board games from the library to play with the kids.

My kids are a little more skeptical.  That would be because I haven't told them my game plan for them, which is "Yes, you can be on electronics all stinkin' day long."  My daughter is starting to get intrigued, and has asked me to wake her up early so she can sit and read with me.  In last month's Slice of Life challenge, I ended up winning a stack of five picture books by French Canadian author Marianne Dubuc, and my daughter was so happy to find that they are "just right" (or even rather easy) books for her.  I figure that one of my "breaks" can be reading aloud to them--we have been meaning to start the third Harry Potter AND the third Percy Jackson.

I'm kind of worried about the sleep issue.  In the past year I've become really dependent on naps.  Getting up an hour early, on the weekend no less, and then trying to stay awake all day long, while sitting in comfortable chairs, seems like it might get challenging.  If I could rely on myself to take power naps, then I'd do so, but I have trouble waking back up and am afraid I'll lose hours of time.   I am glad that I have plans to take a midafternoon walk with a friend.  Her mom died a couple of weeks ago, and this is my first chance to see her, so I wouldn't have cancelled anyway, but I actually think it will be a positive re-charge, given that "a change is as good as a rest," (a saying Latvians used to tell me was an English saying, although I'd never heard it before).

I will probably go to bed early tonight, and then not be able to sleep, because I am TOO EXCITED!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Read-a-thon is coming! (Q is for Quite Excited)

I am so excited about this, it's not even funny.  Like, it's all I can think about or talk about right now.  

I was going to put up a post tomorrow as part of the A-Z challenge, since tomorrow is R, which is for Reada-a-thon, but I've pretty much failed at the alphabet thing at this point, and I'm too excited to wait.  So hey, Q is for Quite Excited about the 24 hour read-a-thon!

I was dimly aware of such a thing, but didn't have any concrete knowledge until I read this post by Deb at Readerbuzz.  In the grand old tradition of last minute signups, I bounced right over to the Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon site and signed up.  I figured worse case scenario would be that I read in the morning while my kids are zoned out on screens and stay up past my bedtime after they get to bed--in other words, treat it like any other Saturday.

Then I remembered that our son's friend had made noises about having him come over to play Saturday afternoon, and then spend the night.  Score!  Any time I don't have to referee sibling issues is time I can spend reading.

Next up, I remembered that my husband and I were invited to a wine drinking event Saturday night.  As fun as that would be too, it's always hard to get a sitter (=my excuse to stay home), and if he's off having a good time, I don't have to feel bad about ignoring him all evening.

The final two pieces of the puzzle are that a) I have a midmorning coffee/walk date with a friend whose mom died a few weeks ago, meaning I have a built-in exercise and social break, and b) my daughter is coming off of a super busy birthday weekend, so neither of us will feel too bad if she spends most of her day on screens.

YES!  I won't stay up all night, because I need my sleep in order to function and don't want to be too groggy Monday.  (Yes, it takes me that long to recover.)  I figure I can get 12 hours in easy, and may challenge myself to push it to 16 or 18.

Here's what I have on deck as potential material.

Books I've been meaning to get to--a combo of books I have out from the library and books I bought "for my classroom" but can't wait to read feel a need to preview first.  
  • Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins (I've listened to 1/3 of it on audiobook, but my headphones suck, so I'll just read the rest).
  • Lauryn Miracle's Shine, which looks like it might be kind of intense and Speak-like.
  • I Crawl Through It by A. S. King, whom I adore.
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, because my kid who read ONLY gang-related tough-guy stuff told me it's really good.
  • Legend by Marie Lu because I haven't read any of her stuff yet.
  • Walk This Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson because I loved her first trilogy and need to overcome my concern that this one looks weird.
Not pictured:
  • Rainbow Rowell's Carry On, which I suspect will be a fast read despite being the size of a small country.  I know I have it somewhere.
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton and whatever book I get from Uppercase this week, because I need to keep up on the monthly books coming in.
  • No One Knows by J. T. Ellison because an adult thriller will probably be a good change of pace from all the YA.  
  • A steady stream of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series--I started book five last night.
  • Stephanie Kuehn's Charm and Strange, which was sitting behind me while I took the picture.  Duh.

Nonfiction which, let's be honest, will probably not get read.  But just in case the mood strikes, I have available:
  • In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher, one of a half dozen teachers whose work totally inspires me while also making me feel vaguely guilty for not being as awesome as they are.
  • Read, Write, Teach by Linda Rief, another professional book a colleague loaned me with great enthusiasm.  
  • The Forest for the Trees by Betsey Lerner, a book on editing and writing my in-laws gave me for Christmas, which indicates clearly that my husband gave his brother a hint.  I love the way he tries to give me kicks in the butt about taking my writing more seriously.
  • Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Drive World, by Arlene Pellicane and Gary D. Chapman.  I won this from Nicole last summer and probably definitely need to read it, given that my childcare plan for the read-a-thon is "Stick kid in front of unlimited, unsupervised screens for the day."
  • Mary Karr's famous memoir The Liar's Club, so then I can read her book about writing memoirs without feeling like I skipped the pre-req.

Graphic novels and Middle Grade novels for when I REALLY need a break, or if I feel like I need to mark a bunch of "finishes" off.  I see that my graphic novels are more adult than YA, which I think will be good.  Again, a change of pace without being overly tasking.
  • Jenny L. Holm's latest MG novel, Turtle in Paradise and her previous work The Fourteenth Goldfish
  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten
  • Not pictured: I've been meaning to read Fish in a Tree for a year now.  Might do it
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley
  • A. D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
  • If I can get my hands on some of Brian K Vaughn's Saga, that would be fun too.
  • Random volumes of poetry.  I have some by Marge Piercy and Ursula le Guin that I haven't re-read in a long time.  I also plan to swing by the 800 section of my school library and pick up a few volumes of light verse and accessible classics.  

Or who knows, maybe I'll spend the entire time reading David Copperfield.  I used to love me some Dickens.  Still do, in theory, but haven't read any new Dickens in twenty years.  (Okay, so there IS no new Dickens, since he's been dead a long, long time, but in the same sense I would buy a new car from its second owner, David Copperfield would be a new book for me.)  

Have you ever done a read-a-thon?  Are you doing this one? Anything I should keep in mind?   Have you done other "athons," whether mara-, joga-, or dancea-?  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Parenting

While fiction is my best friend, I'm one of those people who turns to nonfiction books when I want to learn about something.  The following are some of the most helpful parenting books I've read, with an obvious emphasis on parenting adopted children.  They go in chronological order of when I read them.

1.  Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher
I read this in grad school, long before I had kids, but I found it fascinating, and I know some of the thoughts I first encountered here about how strong girls morph into self-loathing teens continue to influence both how I teach and how I parent.

2.  Nutureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Another pre-parenting read, this collection of essays is fascinating to anyone who is interested in human beings, although of particular interest to those who are actually raising human beings.

3.  The Complete Book of International Adoption: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Child by Dawn Davenport
You don't even want to know how many "how to adopt" books I read in 2010 and 2011.  This was the best of the bunch.  Davenport also has a helpful internet presence.


4-7. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen, Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents by Deborah H. Gray, The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis and Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control by Heather T. Forbes.
These are the books that live in my bookcase and that I refer back to again and again.  If you're wondering, "How different can it be?" or thinking "Maybe if you stopped seeing your kids as adopted kids and just treated them like kids, you'd all be happier" then you are exactly where I was before I started this whole process.  Adoption starts with loss.  If my kids' lives had gone--not just "well" but "within the normal bounds of socially acceptable levels of dysfucntion"--they would not have needed new parents.  If, once their parents lost their rights,  someone else in their family had been willing and able to parent them, they wouldn't have spent two years in a dangerous orphanage with other kids who'd been damaged by life's lessons.  If their country had a healthy system of foster and adoptive care, they wouldn't have had to give up their first language and culture in order to get adopted.  Trust me, they need knowledgable parents, and we need all the help we can get.  A lot of the information has made its way into our brains and our practice, but when times get tough, I find Cogen, Grey, Purvis and Forbes always have a new idea or cogent reminder for me.

8.  No Biking In the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene
The Greenes raised four kids, then adopted five more.  I first heard about this book when I read an excerpt, in which she writes about her struggles bonding to the final child, adopted at four from Bulgaria.  Her honesty and humor make this a great read even if you have no special interest in adoptive parenting.

9.  Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge
This memoir is from a different point of view--that of a child whose beloved mother loses custody of him due to her mental illness.  He bounces from prison-like group home to horrible foster home but maintains his connection with his mom.

10.  Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
Lamott seems to be a you-love-her-or-you-hate her kind of author.  I love her.  This book, her memoir of becoming a mother, is as always hilariously honest, embarrassingly spiritual, frequently wise and occasionally pretentious.