Thursday, September 29, 2016

Virtual Bookshelf Tag

Consider yourself tagged.  I found this on Dreamland Book Blog quite awhile ago.   

This tag asks you to look through your bookshelf for different types of covers and books.  My at-home bookshelves are sparsely populated, so I decided to look at my online bookshelf--the "read" shelf on Goodreads.  

I tried to choose books that fit at least two of these categories
  •  a book I'd rated 4 or 5 stars 
  •  a book I did actually own at one time in my life
  •  a book that was maybe less well known than the most obvious answers.

Ready?  I think I managed to get all 4 or 5 star books, so get your TBR list out!

1. Find an author’s name or title with the letter Z in it.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I read late in high school. I thought I was supposed to read certain books, and this was one of them. It was a good book, and it was the perfect age to read it. I owned it for many years.

2. Find a classic

If you want to know all my favorite classics, go here. But one that I've always had on my bookshelf--and still own a physical copy of--is Tess of the Durbervilles. It is so frustrating to read how society's standards of female behavior destroy Tess's life, but that was kind of Hardy's point.  

3. Find a book with a key on it.
My answer is not very original, but it's a book I own in my classroom, and when I read this question, I could picture those golden keys in my mind. Bitterblue, the conclusion of Rae Carson's excellent Crown of Embers trilogy.  

4. Find something on your bookshelf that’s not a book
For this one, I actually went to my actual bookshelf, for obvious reasons. There are family photos on top of my bookshelf, as well as family photo albums (my mom's and my great-aunt's) on the bottom shelf.

5. Find the oldest book on your shelf 
Well, that depends on what you mean by "oldest." The Taming of the Shrew, published in 1593, is the oldest full book I've read, although we studied Beowulf, parts of The Canterbury Tales, and Greek myths in school. The most aged book I own is a family bible dating to the late 19th century.

6. Find a book with a girl on the cover
The Girl in Hyacinth Blue was very popular when it came out, but may not be on your radar. It tells the story of a (possibly) Vemeer painting, starting in the present day with a math teacher secretly owning it, then tracing its history backwards, owner by owner, through decades and wars, love and loss.  

7. Find a book with a boy on the cover

The Crossover is still popular in my classroom, and justifiedly so. A novel in verse, this coming of age story about twin ninth grade basketball stars and their family, is a great story well told.

8. Find a book that has an animal in it
I suspect that Born Free might outrage PETA, and possibly even my grown-up self, but I sure loved this story as a kid. Plus the histronic song in all its seventies glory.  

9. Find a book with a male protagonist

Um, okay. How about most books? But I'll go with Twisted, which has a great teenaged boy voice.

10. Find a book with only words on it

A cookbook might be cheating, but I do actually own this one. It was a wedding present nearly 15 years ago, and it taught me how to make risotto, and chocolate truffles, and how to cook chard. You might even say it can tell you How To Cook Everything.  

11. Find a book with illustrations in it
Ooh, this was another one where the right book popped into my head as soon as I saw the question. I bought Twenty and Ten on a Scholastic Book Order way back when, and its portrayal of French children (and nuns) standing up to the Nazis by hiding a group of Jewish refugees stays in my mind as much for the black and white illustrations as for the thrilling story.

12. Find a book with gold lettering
And another one that is both obvious and already popular. Still, I love Graceling a whole bunch, so I don't mind featuring it here.  

13. Find a diary (true or false)

Okay, so maybe I'm really not doing well on the whole less well known thing. The diarists that came to mind were Bridget Jones, Anne Frank, Greg "Wimpy Kid," and Junior. Oh, and the fake diary in Gone Girl. Anne is in a class of her own, and I have a soft spot for Bridget, but the book I recommend over and over is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.  

14. Find a book written by someone with a common name (like Smith)

I went with the example. Again, plenty to choose from, but I was blown away by Tom Robb Smith's Child 44.  

15. Find a book that has a close up of something on it

We're not talking microscopic close-up here, but usually a photo of a person includes more than shins and shoes. Tales of the Madman Underground is a great "Misfit Finds a Place" novel.

16. Find a book on your shelf that takes place in the earliest time period
I like to read about people, not dinosaurs, so Clan of the Cave Bear is as far back as my preferred settings go.  

17. Find a hardcover book without a jacket

My actual, existing, physical copy of Heidi may or may not have ever had a jacket. The cover is highly decorated all the same. If my Roman numeral skills are adequate, it was published in 1959.  

18. Find a teal/turquoise colored bookThis one was hard to do without looking at real books. The cover of Click Here to Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade to has many colors, but the background is decidedly turquoise. Looking for a fun middle school story? Try this.


19. Find a book with stars on it
At first, I was all "pretty golden stars!" and then I was all, "Wait, real stars > fake stars!" Rocket Boys was made into a movie called October Sky. It's a fascinating memoir of Appalachan teens in the 1950s and how they got involved in the nascent space exploration program.

20. Find a non YA book
Okay, fine, I do read a lot of YA, but I've read a lot of not-YA too, from picture books to classics to smut. Yet another book I do still own is How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, which has to be one of the best titles ever. It's a collection of essays by a Czech writer (born in then-Yugoslavia), and when I read it shortly after my first stint in Latvia in 1992-93, I found it illuminating. 

21. Find the longest book you own

Coming in at 1216 pages of tiny type, A Pattern Language is the longest book I own. I won't claim to have read every word, but I've certainly read most of it. One of the most interesting nonfiction works I know (which is why it's also the most expensive book I've ever bought; it was worth it to me to get my own copy!).

22. Find the shortest book you own
I hope this isn't cheating, since it's actually on my daughter's shelf, but it's the first book I bought and read to my kids when we adopted them. In 20 pages of simple rhymes, two children get ready for bed. Good Night, I Love You is one of the first English phrases they learned.

23. Find a book with multiple PoVs
I really love these, and spent some time pondering the strengths of various contenders. I'm going to have to go with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in which the different viewpoints are so vital to the emotional impact of the story.

24. Find a shiny book
For some reason, this one absolutely slayed me. Again, it would probably be easier if I were looking at real books. Gold letters are shiny, but often are placed on dark backgrounds. Newbery and Printz awards certainly add a certain shine, but those weren't how the covers were designed. I finally decided to use this excuse to sneak in another favorite, The Thief. Shiny silver award sticker, shiny gem in the picture, shiny gold curlicues around the title.

25. Find a book with flowers on it
Of Love and Shadows is, I believe, Isabel Allende's most accessible novel. Straightforward, short, romantic and tragic.  

This was a lot of fun, and I hope you give it a try also!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Banned Books Week

“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” 
― Benjamin Franklin

My sister got me this awesome mug for my birthday last summer.

I couldn't help but notice how many of the books on it are well-established classics.  There may still be people who object to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, (and there may even be people who actually still read The Origin of the Species or The Social Contract), but I don't think any of them are truly controversial reads within any kind of academic community, or society at large.

(The exception, oddly, is And Tango Makes Three, a charming picture book about two male penguins hatching an abandoned egg.  This book is frequently challenged in school libraries and remains actively controversial.)

Banning books is not just an archaic practice, or the act of extremists.  Banning books isn't just about book burnings and jihads against writers who blaspheme against Mohammad. Banning books can take more subtle forms.  Censorship. Gatekeeping.  Downplaying.

Banning books looks like a middle school principal asking all English teachers to be sure Eleanor & Park isn't in their classroom library because a parent just e-mailed him a list of all the vulgar language in the book.

Banning books is those teachers complying.

Banning books looks like a parent calling a teacher to berate her for reading Lois Lowry's Newbery award winning children's book The Giver with her 8th grade class, because it portrays a society in which unwanted babies are killed.

Banning books looks like a teen librarian's low-key display of GLBQT books for Pride Week being taken down after one day, even though the books are already available in the YA collection.

Banning books is authors being dis-invited from visiting schools when someone in the community realizes that their book admits the existence of substance abuse, or bisexuality, or racism.

Banning books is a teacher deciding not to purchase certain books for her classroom library that she knows her students will love, because she also knows some parents will object.  She rationalizes this with the hope they will read the books in high school.

Banning books is another teacher's decision to not buy any movie novelizations for her classroom, because they are poor quality literature, even though her students have specifically asked her to.

None of these examples are fictitious.  All are either things I've experienced directly, or well-documented events I've learned about from other bloggers.  They have all taken place in the last three years.

Don't just celebrate OUR freedom to read banned books.  Be mindful of the freedoms of others, especially young people.  Not every book is right for every kid, and not every kid is ready for the same books at the same time.  But they need access.  They deserve choice.  They have the right to find the book that speaks to them without adults telling them what that book should be.  I am lucky enough to live in a society in which I can easily obtain books without interference from any outside agencies or individuals.  In such societies, children and teens are the ones whose right to read is most vulnerable.

“And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read becuase they live in an often-terrible world. They read becuause they believe, despire the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them."
― Sherman Alexie

And, just for fun, here's a quiz Penguin Books created to help you pick the banned book you should read next.  Mine said Song of Solomon, which was a definite favorite of mine back in the day.  Maybe it's time for a re-read!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipated Sequels

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 ten books on my fall TBR list.  This is so hard, given that my TBR list is over a thousand books long.  How about ten sequels I'm hoping to get to?  A few are new or upcoming releases, and others have been out for years.  There's no guarantee I'll get around to the whole list this fall, but I hope to get to them all at some point for sure.

1.  The Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.
This is one book that would make it on the list this week no matter how I chose to focus it, because it is one book I am SO EAGER FOR.  After being so "meh" about the Grisha series that I stopped after the first one, I adored Six of Crows.

Really, I'm tempted to just write the same title nine more times for this list.  Instead, here are nine more sequels I'm hoping to get to soon-ish.

2.  The Inquisitor's Mark and The Morrigan's Curse by Dianne K. Salerni.
The Eighth Day is one of those books that I didn't expect much from, so the fact that it was actually pretty good made it feel GREAT to me.  I'd like to see how she continues the series.

3.  The rest of the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
I've only read one of these books.  They are quite popular in my classroom, and I was impressed with the one I read.

4. The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman.
Not a sequel--the first book in a short series I accidentally read the second book of last spring.  Shusterman is a genius, as far as I'm concerned.  After blowing my mind with the Unwind dystology and breaking my heart with Challenger Deep, his Ansty Bonano book made me laugh out loud, repeatedly.

5.  March, books 2 & 3 by John Robert Lewis
Like the rest of the world, I was so impressed by the first book in this historical memoir/graphic novel.  I need to keep educating myself, and these books are a very engaging way to do so.

6.  The Narrow Bed, The Carrier, and Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah
Somehow I managed to read book 9 in the Spilling CID series without reading book 8, and now book 10 is out in the UK and should be here soon as well.  And she also has a second Hercules Poirot out.  I know some find Hannah frustrating or too convoluted, but I've loved every book of hers I've read.

7.  The Trespasser by Tana French
MORE TANA FRENCH!  Given that mystery great Reginald Hill has died, I am so glad to have found both Hannah and French in the past few years.  Keep writing, please!

8. Defiance and Victory by Carla Jablonski
Resistance is a solid WWII graphic novel.  My book grant let me get the next two books in the series into my classroom library.  As soon as one of my seventh graders brings them back, I'll read them--unless he hands them off to one of his friends.

9. Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University by Francisco Jimenez
Jimenez has a gift for writing memoirs using clear, deceptively simple language.  His restraint and honesty make his tales of growing up in a migrant family that much more poignant.  Another book that is far more timely than it should be.

10.  Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
Honestly, I don't remember a whole bunch about Winger besides the setting and that I liked it, but I'm game to try the next book too.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sunday Post #15

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's "a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog."

Reading This Week:

Well, on the one hand, I've only read a handful of books this week, counting the one I read last Sunday after I got this post up.

On the other hand, I have five books listed as "Currently Reading," and I am actually making some progress on each and every one of them.  

I've been reading Neil Gaiman's essays in The View from the Cheap Seats one at a time with my breakfast.  I get a little reading in, and because it's not fiction, or any other extended narrative, I don't keep reading and wind up late to work.  It's a best-seller at my library, so I could only check it out for two weeks, but just now when I returned my copy, I was able to find another copy on the shelves, so I'll be leaving with that one.  

I got a good start on Leviathan by listening to the CD in the car during my commute.  I'm not 100% convinced I'm going to finish it.  It's good, but Steampunk has never been my genre.  Unless it's Phillip Pullman, I'm reading it mostly because it's in my classroom library, on the advice of a kid I taught last year.  My concern is that it's both lengthy and presumes a certain amount of world history understanding and/or willingness to not know what the hell is going on until you get acquainted with the world, which means my students are unlikely to pick it up.  

I found out about this app called Serial Reader from Lori's post at The Broke and the Bookish, and signed up to have chapters of The Jungle Book and A Study in Scarlet delivered to my phone daily.  Someone smarter than me--I suspect either AJ at Read All the Things! or Lory at Emerald City Book Review--pointed out that Gaiman's The Graveyard Book has deliberate parallels to The Jungle Book, and it made me want to re-read both of them.  And despite being a long-time fan of 19th century fiction AND mysteries, I have never read any Holmes.

Finally, I am also trying to get through more of my Chris Crutcher so I can push him on students.  (Well not HIM so much as his books.)  I grabbed Stotan! off my shelf and have been reading it in bits and pieces so far.

Enough about books I haven't finished yet.  The books I read were:

Which looks fairly impressive until you realize that's three graphic novels, a novella in verse, a book I listened to most of on CD, and only one "traditional" book.  

I liked them all, with various degrees of reservation.  I've linked to my Goodreads reviews if you want more.  I strongly suspect The Serpent King will stay with me a long time, and it kind of breaks my heart that Ghosts is culturally problematic, because its portrayal of family life is (as always with Raina's books) beautiful.  I also know it's going to be incredibly popular in my classroom, and am no more willing to keep it off my shelves because of cultural appropriation than I am to keep Eleanor & Park off my shelves because it has the c-word in the first chapter.  

Blogging this week:

A very respectable five posts went up this week.  I'm trying this thing where I spend Saturday afternoon at the library getting a bunch of posts written and scheduled for the upcoming week.  For those of you with blogging calendars and 30+ posts pre-written, this may be shocking, but for me it's the height of organization.  

For the Top Ten link-up this week, I wrote about ten satisfying read-aloud experiences that I've had.  I checked in quickly to announce that I'm going to be a round 2 judge for MG/YA Nonfiction in this year's CYBILS.  I also had Serious Thoughts--about communicating with authors at author events and online, and about the various ways writers can and do respond to the notion of #ownvoices in light of accusations of cultural appropriation and racism.

Oh, and the random photo dump I've taken to doing lately, even though I am so #notabookstagrammer.  

Life this week:

Pretty decent, thanks for asking!

Highlights include:
  • Buying extra donuts when I was getting donuts for my advisory class on Friday, and walking around before school giving surprise donuts to my colleagues.
  • A student bringing in her mom's Babysitter Club collection from the 1980s/90s.  Like, 40 yellowing paperbacks.  I am both horrified and delighted with this.
  • Similarly, my sister gave me my adult niece's collection of books from middle school, and she had no fewer than 18 Dianne Wynne Jones novels.  
  • A half hour power outage in the morning FREAKING MY STUDENTS THE FREAK OUT despite the fact that we were in a room with bright window light, writing in notebooks and reading books.  In other words, despite the fact that it had zero effect on their lives.  
  • Making waffles for dinner last night, supplemented by the bacon, strawberries, and whipped cream my husband decided to go pick up when I told him what I was going to make
OH MY GOD the guy sitting next to me at the computers in the library just asked me if my daughter is my grandchild.  Maybe I need to start wearing makeup in public or something.  So, that was more of a low-light.  

Silent Saturday #3

So many 9/11 books out right now!  I've only read 14 Cows, and want to read all the others.

These are actual events at my actual library.  Love.

I just returned 30 items (including another copy of the Gaiman) and picked up these, despite having two dozen things at home to read.  Loving books on CD during my commute, and feverishly trying to consume all things Schwab.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

#OwnVoices: Authors' Options and Readers' Roles.

I've been reading a lot about diversity in literature, and in publishing, lately.  Quite possibly you have also.  One facet of this is the #ownvoices movement, which posits that what we need is not more white privileged authors writing about "diverse" characters, but a wider range of authors writing about the experiences of people like them.  Whether that's black Americans, or those who use wheelchairs to get around, or people living with schizophrenia, or undocumented immigrants, authors are being encouraged to represent the experience they know, publishers are being encouraged to seek out a wider range of authors, and authors who represent the groups that have historically dominated literature are being discouraged from exoticizing "the other" and from mishandling life experiences we know nothing of in an effort to cash in on the diversity bandwagon.

Taken too far, this can be problematic (can I not write about teenagers if I'm an adult?  can I not write about wizards if I'm a Muggle? can I not write about depression if my mother was depressed?), but then, so can just about anything.  The fact remains that even if when authors appropriate stories not theirs to tell, and reinforce all sorts of biases and misconceptions when doing so, the backlash is not going to threaten their position as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, culturally Christian, middle class, college-educated, able-bodied person.  As someone who fits every single one of those boxes, any distress I might feel about being called out for unconscious racism (or other -ism) in my writing is always going to be nothing at all compared to the distress of living in a world where you are constantly told in ways large and small that you don't matter. 

I'm not an author, but I adore authors, so I keep thinking about the implications that all of this has for them.  Basically, there are several different approaches that I can see.

1.  Write whatever the hell you want.  Try to make it good.  Ignore the haters.
2.  Write what you know.  Midwestern farmers?  Danish fishermen?  African American lawyers?  Take your life experience and use it in your fiction.
3.  Use your imagination and your experience as a human to create new times and places.  Historical fiction, fantasy, sci fi. 
4.  Write characters who represent a broader range of humanity that people like you.  Get sensitivity readers to help you avoid unconscious bias and inadvertent missteps.  Realize that since no two experiences are the same, some people might still accuse you of misrepresentation, but sleep easy because you know you took care to portray your characters with respect.

The first option, to just not worry about it, is what has gotten people in trouble over the years.  The flamboyant gay friend, the sassy black sidekick.  Tonto and Uncle Tom and the madwoman in the attic.  Then again, a college English teacher once told me that a famous author (Tolstoy?  Hemingway?) claimed that a sheltered young woman could hear a snippet of conversation as she walked past the walls of an army barracks and, if she were a true novelist, be able to go home and write a book about soldiers at war.  Imagination and empathy are always requirements for fiction.  Otherwise, it would all be memoir. 

The second option is classic writing advice.  And there has been and will always be world-class literature written by insiders.  The only real problem with this approach is that if all of the publishers are publishing authors whose life experience is similar, we end up with a whole lot of books about white, middle class people.  It's this that created the whole We Need Diverse Books movement in the first place.  #OwnVoices asks that a wider range of authors take up this charge and write what they know, and that more publishers buy and publish this work.

The third option can definitely work.  Sometimes speculative and historical fiction is a mind-blowing way of deconstructing social norms and prejudices.  Think The Handmaid's Tale; think Left Hand of Darkness; think the Chaos Walking series.  But trying to find a range of representation in most of --well, I'll call it genre fiction even though I worry that sounds dismissive--is an ongoing challenge.  I love the Lunar Chronicles, but many voices have pointed out that the vaguely Asian setting and culture is underdeveloped and smacks of tokenism.  Others complain that George R. R. Martin has created a whole alternative universe of white people, with a few barbaric brown people living down south. 

Then there's the risky way.  Write outside your box, but do it deliberately and with care. I am tempted to call this the best solution, but I know there are drawbacks here as well.  Since white authors living with all other forms of privilege as well are still more likely to get published, improving our portrayal of people with other experiences could result in closing down publishing opportunities for nonwhite and minority authors writing about those same experiences from first hand knowledge.  Also, good intentions are not enough to ensure good results.

E. e. Charlton Trujillo has lately been accused of offensive portrayal of black culture and vernacular.  After spending years reaching out to and working with teens who live on the edges of our society, she wanted to give them voice and representation.  But being Latina and working class did not exempt her from the outrage many reviewers felt when reading her latest work, which includes invented slang and a limited range of characters. 

This example is particularly challenging for me.  I know how many of my reluctant readers are drawn to stories of inner-city teens, complete with gangs and drugs and imprisoned parents.  Is it pathologizing black and Latinx experience to write about that?  What about the kids who see themselves in those stories?  Is it only okay to write about struggle if you personally have engaged in it?  I can only imagine how wrenching it would be to write a book that you think your readers have been waiting for, only to be told that you have done them harm with your words.  On the other hand, "But I didn't mean to be offensive!" is always an inadequate response.  It's not everyone else's job to not be offended; it's your own job to not offend. 

The same type of thing is happening now with Raina Telgemeier's recently released graphic novel Ghosts.  I've read criticisms of her cultural appropriation of Dia de los Muertos, of the glossing over of why there are so many ghosts at a Spanish mission and who they would actually be, and at least one voice objecting to the storyline in which a sibling is "inconvenienced" by the illness of another sibling.  I read these critiques and am torn, because yes, I loved the book.  What it comes down to is that if books were published in a vacuum, this would be a great book.  But since books are published in our messed up world, appropriation and glossing over of history are real problems.  (I call bullshit on the complaint about sibling tension based on illness though.  It exists, and is as worthy of storylines as any other.  Also, Telgemeier always does a brilliant job at writing family dynamics.)

So now I'm back to option one.  Write what you are moved to write.  Write a world that reflects your reality, whatever that may be.  Be honest and true.  Talk to people you know and trust about your works in progress, and talk to people who will bring a different point of view to it.  Also, read widely.  Pick up books by people who aren't like you.  Push to have their voices published.  Don't assume you know everything you need to know about the world. 

I'd love to know what you think about this. 
  • Are there other options I missed? 
  • Is there a more elegant way to say "white, straight, cis-gendered, college-educated, middle class, culturally Christian" without having to type all that but without implying that being that entire list of things is the norm? 
  • How much should intention count when writing "the other"?
  • I feel like writing about characters of other races and cultures is more likely to get an author into hot water than writing about people of different sexual preferences or physical abilities.  Is that true?  Why or why not?
  • What is the role of the reader in pushing the #ownvoices movement forward?  Do we bear a responsibility to seek out works by authors writing about their lived experience? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chatting with Authors

This summer we had a few long car rides.  Knowing that a) when left to their own devices, my kids quickly descend into bitter bickering in the backseat and b) the Winemaker is enormously stressed out by noise in the car, I decided to check out a bunch of Playaways from the library.  Each kid plugs into their own story, and a glorious peace descends over the realm of the backseat. 

Among the dozen or more titles I selected was Carl Hiaasen's Chomp.  I'd read his Hoot and Scat years ago, and enjoyed the humor and environmental message, and I thought my son might get a kick out of it.  However, it was my daughter who first started listening,and she quickly became hooked.  She's ten, and a struggling reader.  "Mom, I really like this story, but it has some cussing!" she told me, wide-eyed.  "The say D-A-M-N!"  Ah, the thrill of illicit language.  Later it was, "There's a GUN in my story, and someone just got SHOT in the SHOULDER! This is like a REAL mystery, not like 'Oh dear, I can't find my wallet!'"  I loved her take on children's mysteries.

She listened to the book, then when it ended, she started listening to it again.  All told, I think she got five re-listens in before we had to return it.  She checked out Hoot and started to listen to that, and she checked out the book version of Chomp, thinking her familiarity with the story would help her conquer the challenge of the higher reading level. 

I was at Powell's Books one day when I saw this sign. 

I immediately texted my husband, who was with her.   "Tell her that her favorite author is coming!" 

Then I realized that he was going to be promoting an adult novel.  I emailed his publicist to ask if he'd be willing to sign a kid's book, and she assured me that as long as we also bought his new book, we'd get a place in line.  I happen to have a brother-in-law who's hard to shop for, and who loves his mysteries, so I figured I could make my daughter's day and get my first Christmas present taken care of at the same time.

She counted down the days until our outing.  We showed up early to get good seats and a ticket for the signings.  We found a copy of Chomp and bought it along with his latest, Razor Girl.  She decided to browse the store while the author spoke, since we thought (rightly, it turned out) that his talk might be a little risqué for her ears.

It was a great talk.  Funny, self-deprecating, informative.  It started right off with some Viagra jokes about his microphone stand, which kept drooping, so I was glad the kid had decided to roam instead.   Hiassen is a long-term journalist in Florida, where nonfiction is as strange as fiction.  He told us some of the crazy news stories that have informed his books over the year, as well as some of the stupid crimes that have possibly been inspired by his characters.  He told us about Giant Ghanian Pocket Rats and warned us not to Google images of them.  (I haven't, but you can!)  There was easily as much belly laughter in the audience as at a decent stand-up routine.  Afterwards we stood in line to get our books signed, and this bawdy, sarcastic man was suddenly sweet and kind to the star-struck girl in front of him. "Keep on reading!" he encouraged her above his autograph, and she clutched the book to her all the way home. 


Friday night I picked up The Serpent King, which I'd been reading in bits and pieces for the previous week.  I finally had time to devote to it.  So far I'd found it engaging, but not quite as remarkable as I'd been led to believe, partly because all the snake handling happened with other characters, off-stage.

A few hours in, I was sobbing.  SOBBING.  Not tearing up and sniffling.  I had to put the book down because I was crying too hard to read.  I went to the get some Kleenex and tried to convince myself that this was fiction, not real. 

It didn't help. 

I sent off a text into the void, saying how mad I was at the author.

By the time I woke up the next day (after staying up late finishing the whole book, of course), the author had replied.  With heart emojis, no less. 

"That's amazing," my sister said when I showed her the exchange later in the day.  "That's so cool, that an author would respond to you like that."

It is.  It really is amazing.  But I was thinking--it's also kind of amazing for authors too.  I mean, I've adored books and writers for years, and I don't think I've ever written a piece of fan mail.  So imagine, you've sent your book out into the world, and you'll get reviews and sales and so on.  But to have someone let you know that Right This Minute they are curled up in a ball crying because you did your job so right that your characters just broke their heart--that's something too.

(I imagine it's less amazing when people feel a need to let you know that they just quit reading your book because it was so boring, but I'll just pretend that people have the manners to only tweet at authors when they have something positive to say.)

Judgey McJudgerson

So, this happened!

I'm going to be a CYBILS round two judge again!  I'm part of the YA/MG nonfiction team, and I understand that we are actually picking one book for each age group.  

I read mostly fiction, but I always MEAN to read more nonfiction, and I always enjoy it when I do, so I'm kind of excited to be un-typecast like this.  

CYBLS, author visits, Global Read Aloud connections across the country and globe, connecting with authors on Skype for next February's World Read Aloud day--all stuff I'd never dreamed of two years ago.  This blogging thing--this BOOK LOVING COMMUNITY of readers and teachers and librarians and authors--has brought a lot to my life and work.  *Mwah* (that was an air kiss, in case you were wondering.  Not an evil laugh, which would be *mwah-ha-ha*)

Monday, September 19, 2016

TTT: All About Audio

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! 

This week's assignment is: All About Audio freebie --  aka top ten audiobooks you should listen to, 10 books I want to listen to on audio,10 bands you should check out, 10 podcasts you should be listening to, 10 of my all time favorite albums, 10 songs I love, really whatever you can come up with.

I wasn't sure what to do with this, as audiobooks and podcasts are two things I like the idea of, but haven't spent much time exploring.  Then I thought of read-alouds.  I love to read books aloud.  To my kids, to your kids, to friends and family.  I could easily make a list of ten books I've read to my students, but instead I decided to go with ten read-aloud experiences, many of which will still include my classroom adventures.

1.  The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis.
I'm sure I've told this story here before, but one summer in the mid-70s, when I was 8 or 9, my big sister and I read this book aloud together.  After the dinner dishes were done, we'd cozy up together on the chaise lounge in the backyard.  One night she'd read me two chapters, and the next I'd read her one.  The book remains my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I suspect that experience has a lot to do with my preference.

2.  The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
A decade or so later, the summer before I started college, this book was a best-seller.  My best friend and I took it with us everywhere that summer, and as we "lay out" (which was a common term for sunbathing), we'd take turns reading it aloud to each other.   

3.  Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen
Another ten years on, this became the first novel I read to a class.  My intermediate ESL students lacked literacy skills to read independently, but their oral understanding was near grade level.  As I read Sarny's story of being a slave who dared to learn to read, one of my students said, "Hey, we're learning about this in US History too.  This book is actually making me care more about what went on."  Bingo. 

4.  A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I've read a lot of Bryson over the years, and I don't think any of it has ever delighted me like Neither Here Nor There.  Still, this book is special to me because I read sections of it out loud to my mom, and we laughed ourselves silly.  I have a picture of us sitting on the porch of a place my family goes to up on Mt. Hood.  I'm reading and grinning, and she's looking at my face and laughing with delight. 

5.  Holes by Louis Sachar
This book though.  It is all kinds of crazy and funny and tender-hearted.  Reading it to my classes years before the movie ever came out, I learned something about students and labels.  I had a kid whose learning disability made learning English even more frustrating, but he KICKED ASS on this book.  Listening to me read it aloud, he caught foreshadowing, wordplay, and symbols that most of the class missed.  He laughed at bits that went over everyone else's head.  He was smart, and by reading the book to him, we both found that out.

6.  Star Baby by Margaret O'Hair
I read a lot to my own kids when they came home with us.  They didn't know English at first, so instead of reading the words, I'd engage in this sort of bastardized paraphrase using pointing, my terrible Lithuanian, and words they'd learned in English.  This one, with its simple words, sweet illustrations and predictable rhyme scheme, was one of the first I actually read word for word, and they wanted to hear it over and over and over. 

This is the first "real chapter book" I read to my kids a few years later.  They'd both seen the movie, which helped them with tracking the characters and scenes.  Then I got the illustrated version for my daughter last Christmas, and I read it to her again, and she got it even more.  I was always a tiny bit envious of the younger generations for getting to experience this first as children, but I have to say, reading it to a child might actually be the best way to appreciate it.

8.  Found and Don't you Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I read both of these to my seventh graders last year,and they were spellbound by both.  Then we went and saw her speak at Powell's and everyone's mind was blown. 

9.  The Girl I Used to Be and Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Two other books I read aloud to classes last year.  Another author we got to meet.  Kids were shouting and falling out of their chairs as we hit the last few twists.  Talk about getting involved!

10.  Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
I read this to a more restrained group of kids last year, in my lowest reading class.  And it worked.  As with Harry Potter, I discovered that a book I'd enjoyed fine when reading it to myself took on a whole new flavor and resonance when reading it to kids.  It's also this year's Global Read Aloud book for middle schoolers, so I'll be starting it again soon.  This time we'll be sharing the experience with students in Ohio, New York, Michigan, Australia, and Sweden.  It should be amazing. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sunday Post #14

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  It's "a chance to share news, a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up for the week on our blog."

Reading This Week:  

It's actually been awhile since I posted, so it's sort of a half-month summary.  I've finished reading seven books and listening to one.  

Salt to the Sea is easily the best, but I also really enjoyed Saga Vol. 6, Constable & Toop, and A Game for All the Family.  

I've been taking my husband's car to work whenever possible for the simple reason that it has a CD player, which means I can listen to books while I commute.  Except sometimes I get overly excited about the book and grab a print copy and finish it at home.  (That's what happened with Salt to the Sea.  I started listening to it in the car last Friday morning, started reading the book at lunch, listened on the way home, and finished the book that night!)  

Blogging this week:

Kinda didn't happen.  I shared a few pictures yesterday, and that was it.  Surprise hiatus is the best hiatus?  I did have a post up at Nerdy Book Blog last week, which was cool.  I was proud of myself because I had the idea and queried them about it, then wrote it and submitted it.  It made me feel all professional to do it in that order.  

Life this week:

Two weeks ago I took an epic fall and gave myself a concussion.  Last week was kind of hard.  I was wiped out all the time and not focusing very well, and I dropped a few balls by accident and put some, like blogging, down on purpose.  

This week has gone much better.  I'm feeling back to normal and have made it through my days nap-free, which is definitely an accomplishment.  The last round of Booklove Foundation grant books came in, which was extremely exciting, as it had some of my most-anticipated titles.  My daughter and I went to see Carl Hiassan speak at Powell's on Tuesday, which I'll post about this week.  

A definite highlight of my week was a student telling me today, "Mrs. Gassaway, I'm so mad at you!  I don't even LIKE reading, but I love this book, and I keep wanting to find out what's going to happen next!"  The book in question is something I grabbed for two bucks at Goodwill because the cover looked "scary," which is what my students are forever requesting I get more of.  Since kids are placed into my classes because they test as reading well below grade level, I celebrate every positive reading experience.  

I'm also trying to get ready for the Global Read Aloud event next month.  I'll be reading Gary D. Schmidt's Orbiting Jupiter to my classes, and we're going to be connecting with classes in Ohio, New York, and Sweden who are reading the same book on the same schedule.  I'm feeling underprepared, but I know the book is a winner, and I think whatever we manage to pull off in terms of inter-school communication will be icing on the cake.  

It's been kind of weird not posting and not having time/energy to even read much online.  I'm excited to get back to it though.  


Friday, September 16, 2016

Silent Saturday

fabric art show at our library--the kid's favorite quilt

The library also was had a mandala craft event--coloring and glitter!

A reading nook in my classroom: graphic novels, picture books, and a few themed collections

My final 170 books arrived Wednesday!

Some of the titles I've been most eager to read.

Students going through stacks of new books

Checking out the nonfiction picture books

Exploring the options