Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Resolutions (Mostly Bookish, Because Of Course)

2016 wasn't quite as mind-blowing for me as a reader and book blogger as 2015 was.  In 2015, I started this blog, became a reading teacher, went to NCTE and got to meet/listen to authors and teachers such as Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, Matt de la Peña, Chris Crutcher, Patrick Ness, A. S. King, Meg Medina, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Sharon Draper, and many more.

But 2016 had some highlights as well.  I was awarded the Book Love Foundation grant and got to add nearly 500 titles to my classroom library.  Because of that, I was emboldened to reach out to Penny Kittle when she was doing a presentation near me, and met her for a chat in our local bookstore.  I started to figure out how to use both Canva and Twitter.  I moved into a classroom with windows and have stuffed it with books.

I went to a motherfucking writing retreat, y'all.  I am so proud of myself for doing that.

So what are my dreams, goals, and yes, resolutions for 2017?

Okay, first, I know it's the most trite resolution of all times.  And I know I am not defined by it. And I know I need to love it the way it is for all the wonderful things it can do.

But I really do want to lose weight in 2017.  Like everyone, I understand in theory how to make this happen, but struggle with the actual execution.  The problem is that today is, to me, a perfect day.  I have been sitting and writing for three hours.  I've been sustaining myself on coffee and cookies.  After I finish this, I will most likely heat up a burrito, then move to the couch with a new book, more coffee, and more cookies.  LIFE IS GOOD, MY FRIENDS.

On the other hand, I have gone from a size 12 to a size 20 in the past two years.  Which is maybe just a teeny bit unhealthy.  But I've felt that the stress levels in my life, combined with the body changes of middle age, have made it not worth my effort to reverse course.  So I have pretty much given myself permission to not worry about it.

But the family is at a less stressed season in our development.  And I actually like my job now that I'm teaching reading.  And I really miss hiking.  So I think it's time.  Wish me luck.


1.  I'm going to be reading a TON of non-fiction in my role as Cybils judge starting Jan. 1.  I am super excited about this.  I actually wind up liking most NF that I read, but I tend to not pick it up as often, because STORIES ARE MORE FUN.  But good NF is story, at least in my book.  (Book!  Ha!)    So:

I hereby resolve to carry out my duties as a Cybils judge and to read all the MG and YA finalists carefully, learning a heck of a lot about all sorts of things along the way.

2.  The main challenge I'm doing this year is the Mt. TBR challenge, as mentioned here.  I am kind of terrible about follow through on most challenges, but I'm excited about this one.

I hereby resolve to read at least 75 books from my classroom library this year, setting myself up to be a more effective source of recommendations for my students.

3.  Because I'm ridiculous, I decided to join the Dumbledore's Army read-a-thon at the exact same time I'm supposed to be judging for Cybils.  I really want to read all of the books I said I would for the different categories, but I know my first responsibility is to the judging.  So:

I hereby resolve to read at least three books that will contribute towards Hufflepuff glory during the Dumbledore's Army Read-a-Thon.  I furthermore commit to reading the rest of the books I'd picked out, both primary and back-up choices, by the end of the year.

4.  I really liked bringing students to meet authors last year.  I never found a suitable author coming to our area this fall, but

I hereby resolve to organize at least one field trip in 2017 to take students to meet authors.

5.  I am kind of not sure where I am with blogging right now.  I've felt this fall like I'm just spinning my wheels.  When I write posts that I'm inspired to write, hardly anyone reads them.  When I sign up with link-ups, I get more visitors and commenters, but I feel like there's often not a whole lot of variety on offer.  I'm constantly behind in visiting and commenting on others' blogs.  I find myself drawn to reading teacher blogs as much or more than I'm reading book blogs.  I know I want to keep blogging, but I feel like it's time to stretch myself somehow.

I really like feeling like part of a community.  Whenever I publish a post on The Nerdy Book Blog, I feel terrific.  Writing a guest post for Shannon's Shattering Stigmas event was thrilling.  I've reached out to a blogger whose blog I love and admire about doing some sort of periodic co-blogging, and she's interested, but we haven't worked it out yet.

I hereby resolve to take more risks and challenge myself to participate more in the blogging community. And maybe in the teaching community too, although that's even scarier for me.  Because I know those people IRL, I guess?  Or because my professional pride is involved?   

Those are the resolutions.  (Well, that last one is kind of wishy-washy.  Not what anyone would recognize as a "SMART goal.")  But we don't only have resolutions this time of year, do we?  No, we also have DREAMS and WISHES.  Here are a few of mine:

1. In 2015 I went to that amazing conference in Minneapolis, and in 2016 I went to an amazing writing retreat at the coast.  My husband has claimed the next "I'm leaving you with the kids for a few days" event as his own, which is only fair.   So I'm going to push him to do so ASAP, because

I hope to attend some inspiring conference or workshop or event again this year.  

While I'm at it, I would love for The Winemaker and I to get out of town together but without the kids for at least one night.  We have not done that once since they came home.  Sheesh.

2.  I have a terrific classroom library.  I spend way too much money constantly adding to it too.  And the kids use it, but I feel like they could use it MORE and BETTER.  

I want to reconfigure the classroom library and the checkout system to make it all more user friendly.  I also want to prioritize my purchases so I'm not constantly spending grocery money on books that I hope someone will want to read.  

I have a lot of other ideas that are too nebulous to nail down.  I'd like to get outdoors more.  I want to solidify a lot of my reading teaching practices.  I want to prioritize some friendships better, including my friendship with my spouse.  Come up with a better system for doing what I want to do online without being constantly distracted, overwhelmed, and obsessive about it.  I'd like to participate in our civil society in a way that makes me feel less hopeless and helpless.  Get enough sleep. Not loose my shit with my kids.  You know, all the usual stuff.

What are you planning, hoping for, and dreaming about as we enter a new year?

Friday, December 30, 2016

Reflecting on 2016 in Books: Part Two--Best of the Best

For part one of this year-end reflection, in which I look at all my data (and I do mean ALL; brace yourself), see here.

I didn't participate in the top ten link-up around this topic, partly because I was doing Christmasy things with my family--like eating and sleeping and reading and baking and visiting and playing Scrabble--but partly because ten? Are you kidding me?

Then I saw that some people did 16, for 2016, or did "best of" in various categories, and I thought, oh yeah right.  I DON'T HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES!

So here are my favorite books I read in 2016, in different groups and categories.

Favorite Books that are on Everyone Else's List Too, Probably, Unless They Were On Their List Last Year, Because I'm Kind of Late to the Party

Six of Crows
More Happy Than Not
The Serpent King
Salt to the Sea
A Darker Shade of Magic
The Crossover
I'll Give You the Sun
We Were Liars

Favorite Books that I Read as a Cybils Judge of YA Fiction

Every Last Word
The Truth Commission
How It Went Down

Favorite Middle Grade Books, Since I Teach Middle School and Might Want to Stop Shoving PG-13 Books at my Seventh Graders

Rain, Reign
A Night Divided
Stella by Starlight
Death by Toilet Paper
Orbiting Jupiter
Snow White: A Graphic Novel
Goodbye, Stranger
All the Broken Pieces
The Seventh Wish

Favorite Nonfiction

H is for Hawk
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant
Symphony for the City of the Dead

Favorite Books for Grown-Ups

The Trespasser
Furiously Happy

Favorite Authors to Binge on This Year

V. E. Schwab
Chris Crutcher
Brian K. Vaughan

Best Surprises, Because I Went in with Low Expectations, But They Were As Great As People Said They Would Be

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Boy 21
Marcelo in the Real World
Porcupine of Truth
The Girl With All the Gifts
Code Name Verity
Carry On

Books That I Gave Four Stars To, But I Have No Idea Why I Didn't Give Them Five, Because I Remember Loving Them

One Plus One
We Were Liars
Wild Things
Since You'll Never Meet Me
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
Antsy Does Time
King of the Mild Frontier

Made Me Cry

I'll Meet You There
The Serpent King
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Code Name Verity

Made Me Laugh

Carry On
The Haters
King of the Mild Frontier
Furiously Happy
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman
Play Me Backwards
Six of Crows
Since You've Been Gone
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Antsy Does Time
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Diversity Done Right

Highly Illogical Behavior
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13-B
The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal (Um, NOT YA.  Just to warn you.)
Home At Last
No Crystal Stair
Fatty Legs
When I Was the Greatest
My Seneca Village
The Shadow Hero

Picture Books I Adore

This is Sadie
They All Saw a Cat
The Black Dog

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Reflecting on 2016 in Books: Part One--Stats, Estimates, Observations

This is going to have to be another two-parter.  Today I'll go over my stats and what-not, then the next part will be about specific titles--best of, and all that.

By the Numbers

According to Goodreads, and with 3 1/2 days left in 2016, I have read 229 books.

Which is slightly ridiculous, as I lowered my reading goal from 200 to 175 this year, and in no way was attempting to beat my previous records.

All the usual caveats apply--I read a LOT of YA, which goes much faster than Serious Literary Fiction.  I also read a fair number of graphic novels and picture books this year.

A slightly more meaningful statistic is that I read 59,284 pages, which is 3,185 more than last year.  So even with all my caveat-ing, I guess I did read more this year.

It was probably the two Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-Thons, now that I think about it.

Every time I click on Goodread's "Your Year in Books" feature, they give me a different shortest book.  Basically, a 32 page picture book is the smallest type of book I read this year.  Take your pick which one represents that.  For longest book, it says Illuminae, which also kind of seems like cheating to me.  Average book length is 260 pages.

The Girl on the Train is the most popular book I read this year--me and over a million others read it in 2016.  The least popular book is either a teaching book (Lit Circles in the Multicultural Classroom) or a library sciences book (Where Do I Start? School Library Handbook), both of which have been read by four other Goodreads users.  I'm curious about which fiction book I read that was least popular, but not curious enough to do the research myself.

My average rating is 3.6.  The highest average rated book I read was Crooked Kingdom, with a combined 4.69 rating.  I gave 21 5 star ratings, although looking back, there are a few I could see bumping down to 4 stars, and there are some 4 stars that stand out in my memory as being amazing, possibly deserving 4 stars.  Another way of putting that is the books that come to mind BEFORE I check Goodreads as being the best of the year don't line up perfectly with my 5 star ratings.

THIS.  This is delightful.  What this means is that out of all the books I read this year, only a measly dozen failed to interest and entertain me.  I like my 3 star books, and I don't consider that a negative rating.  With just over half of my books getting 4 stars, with 10% being 5 star reads, I feel like I'm doing a great job and finding and selecting my books.  

I read 20 of the books I tracked aloud, either to my children or to my classes.  There are plenty more picture books I didn't track the reading of, especially leading up to Christmas, when we read a few dozen holiday books together every year.

61% of my books had female authors, 39% had male authors.  Three were either anthologies or co-written by both.

Other data About the Authors:

Clearly I need to do more work on this. I have THOUGHTS about this for next year.  Stay tuned.

I'm not sure why I track this.  I don't feel strongly about reading or not reading debuts.

"Other" includes more Canadians than I would have thought--14.  One from China, two from Australia, one from France, two from Ireland, one from Mexico, one from Puerto Rico, and one from The Netherlands.  Some are no longer living in those places, but I went with "born and raised" as my criteria.

Another one I'm not sure I'll continue to track, especially as it seems pretty well balanced.

Problematic Data Regarding Diversity

Okay, these statistics are all messed up.  First of all, the percentages are just in reference to the books that had something in this category.  So 48.5% of the books with diverse major characters had POC leads, not 48.5% of all the books I read.  See the problem here?  Also, there were plenty of books that included multiple types of diversity, so the same book got counted more than once.  Also, I clearly struggled with "mental illness" vs. "physical and mental difference."  Not to mention poverty, which is a pretty subjective category, and "religion" which I marked when characters actively practiced non-Christiam religions, but also if they were fundamentalist Christians, since that is so different from how I was raised.  And what the heck is "other"?

Then there's the whole thing that just because a book includes a "diverse" character doesn't mean that the representation is accurate, or isn't offensive and damaging.  Which is why I also try to track author's backgrounds, but again, sometimes POC authors write about rich white kids, but then some straight female author writes the best ever book about gay see my problem here?  But I also don't want to go, "Oh well, it's all too complicated to track," because I KNOW that's the quickest way to end up reading a bunch of books by and about straight, white, healthy Americans.

Feel free to offer suggestions on this one, folks.  I'm struggling.

Book Specific Data

Well, THERE'S a surprise!  (sarcasm font)  Just over half of what I read was YA.   I'm also noticing that these numbers don't add up to the grand total Goodreads claims, but I can assume that it's because I didn't always track picture books, given that "diversity of main characters" has a different meaning when you're talking about animals and robots.  

This suffers from a bit of wonkiness too, as some of these categories are not mutually exclusive, but I just marked one for each book.  Also, why is ebook on there twice? 

 *Shakes head at self's dismal attempt to look organized and factual*

I'm taking this to mean I listened to six books and read either 4 or 8 online (probably 8).  I read two short story collections, 43 graphic novels, and six books that weren't graphic novels, but had more pictures than most books.  But actual picture books I called "traditional print" because, well, that's what a picture book is.  

I still can't get over how many contemporaries I read.  Or "realistic fiction" as we English teachers call it.  Fantasy and mystery have always been my top faves, with historical fiction and sci fi taking up a smaller but still significant portion of what I enjoy reading.  

This says it all.  I don't really like writing full, official reviews.  I either jot some thoughts down on Goodreads for my own reflection and memory, or I don't review at all.

Last year I looked at my data and thought that I should read more #ownvoices works and more serious, adult literature.  That's actually why I lowered my GR goal.  But while I still want do a better job at focusing on #ownvoices and diverse characters, I think I need to accept that this is not the season in my life for wrestling with weighty tomes.  I just don't have the mental energy.  Reading is my escape and refuge, and I will not make it into yet another thing I have to do.  I'll get back to the serious stuff when the kids are grown.  Another upcoming post will be about the reading goals I DO have for this year though.

And there you have it.  It kind of KILLS me to do this BEFORE the year is actually over, but I know that a few more books will not affect any of the overall trends shown here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Choose my next read(s), please!

I mentioned that I got a bunch of new books the other day.

Even though I already have a bunch of books on hand.

From both my classroom library and the public library.

This is, of course, the opposite of a problem in most ways.  But I am finding myself a bit paralyzed with all the choices in front of me.  That's where you come in.

I've divided my books into three groups, and offered half a dozen from each of those groups.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the truth is, I can only read one book at any given moment.  I mean, I am often reading more than one book within the same time period, but from second to second, there is just one book in my hand.  So getting some guidance from you on what you'd recommend, OR what you'd like me to read and report back on, would help me not just sit and stare at my crowded shelves.  (Well, actually most of these are piled on the floor, the piano bench, the coffee table, in bags, etc.)

Who knows, perhaps YOU will find your next great read as you look at all of my possibilities.  I don't know how to link from within the survey, so you're on your own if you need to look titles up.


Holiday Haul and Carry: Part 2--Books I Acquired

Part One, in which I share the books I gave as gifts this year, is here.

As for me, I didn't get many directly bookish gifts, although the super soft sweatshirt that says "Coffee Till Cocktails" on it is a great thing to wear while reading, and the See's candy is a great thing to eat while reading.  But I DID get a gift card to Powell's from my darling winemaker, and of course I had to rush right out and use it today.

Even though I have:

  • 33 items checked out from the library
  • 16 more requested or on hold
  • easily 50 books from my classroom library lurking in various corners of the house
  • about a dozen books I own but haven't read
  • and I just re-joined Book of the Month and got a FREE BOOK with my renewal, so I have two brand new books that arrived on my porch today. 

What was I saying?

Oh yeah, my book haul.

With just a little help from my own wallet, I was able to get three books.  Yes, I wrote this whole big post about what cool things I'd get at Powell's besides books, but I just didn't feel like knick-knacks were what this gift was intended for.  Although I did linger for a few moments beside these glorious mugs.

First I pulled about 20 books off the shelf to consider.  These were books that I want to read, books that seem substantial enough that I might actually read more than once, books I want to support, books that I think I can re-sell if I DON'T want to re-read them, books from my TBR that were on sale, etc.  I sat down with all of them, handed my daughter the latest Phoebe and Her Unicorn to read while I sorted and decided, and got to work.  First, look it up on my library catalogue.  How many holds did it have?  If none, then I don't need to buy it.  I also looked at Goodreads--how long had I been wanting to read it?  What was its rating?  I found a few more books I specifically wanted to look for and went back out into the stacks.  By the time I got back, the kid had switched to Subway Surfer on her device.  I continued on, undeterred.

These are the books I eventually put back:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven--Sherman Alexie (The only one I've read before.)
The Reader--Traci Chee (Put it back because it used up my entire gift card and because I was trying to NOT get a book that was really for my classroom.)
All the Things we Never Knew--Sheila Hamilton
Shadow Tag--Louise Erdrich
A Gentleman in Moscow--Amor Towles  (Put it back when I remembered I'd just ordered it from BOM!)
The Underground Railroad--Colson Whitehead
Moonglow--Michael Chabon
The Best American Mystery Stories 2016--edited by Elizabeth George.  (Put it on hold at the library instead.)
The Master and Margarita--Mikhail Bulgakov
In a Dark, Dark Wood--Ruth Ware
The Paris Wife--Paula McClain
Reservation Blues--Sherman Alexie (Okay, I might have read this too, when I first discovered Alexie in about 1991)
A Spool of Blue Thread--Anne Tyler
Avenue of Mysteries--John Irving

I think any of these would have been good choices, but I went with these.

Girl Waits With Gun because Lory at Emerald City Book Review really liked it, and it's been awhile since I've read a 1920s mystery.  Plus, the cover is terrific, and it has like a million holds at the library.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People because I've never heard of it before, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Scandinavia, and the blurb compares it to Bill Bryson's writing.

The Year of Reading Dangerously because it's the one I could afford after choosing the first two, adn I have been wanting to read it, and again--I'm a sucker for black and white and red and vintage-y.  

You may notice that all of this is more serious, more literary, more nonfictional, and just generally more adult than most of what I read.  But that's the thing about buying books for myself.  I can't justify it for something I'm going to spend a few hours one afternoon on.  

Oooh, and as I was wandering the store, I came across these beauties:

You can't tell from my photo, but they are massive, and gorgeous, and I really, really want both of them.  But alas, they were not in today's budget.

Also, have I ever told you about the time I was doing a massive shelf cleaning, took a bunch of books to Powell's, and accidentally sold my signed, personalized copy of her book of essays reflecting on her own writing?  I feel like I don't deserve any other books by MY FAVORITE AUTHOR after doing that.

(Oh, and when I got home today, I opened my BOM box and saw that I'd gotten The Sun is Also a Star and A Gentleman in Moscow.)

Coming very soon: a survey in which you tell me what to read next.  Sheesh.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Holiday Haul and Carry: Part 1--Bookish Items I Gave

1.  Our school does a giving tree for families in need, and there was a last minute addition.  The woman in charge asked me if I could pick out two YA books, as that's what the kid had requested.  "What age within that?" I asked, and she said, "Oh, she's one of ours."  So, younger end of YA.  But growing out of MG.  I didn't have time to go to a real bookstore, so I went to the local grocery store and picked up Ghosts and Nerve.  When we wrapped them, they put the name on, and I said, "Oh!  That's one of my students!"  I was so pleased to think that one of my "struggling" readers requested books for Christmas (and knew the term "YA"), and I also feel pretty confident that she will like both of my choices.  It's supposed to be anonymous, so I won't ask her about them, but I am kind of hoping she'll tell me anyways.

2.  Last year I got my 9 year old the illustrated Harry Potter book that had just come out, and then we read it together over the next month or two.  So OF COURSE I had to get the next book this year, even though it's probably my least favorite in the series.  Still, I am exactly the audience this is intended for, I think, and will undoubtably get her each book as it comes out each year, so she'll have the complete collection by the time she leaves home.

3.  The same daughter--an eager story appreciator but a struggling reader--listened to Carl Hiassan's Chomp three times in a row this summer, so when I heard he was coming to our local bookstore, I wanted to take her.  But he was there promoting his latest adult book, so I asked their policy.  They said if we ALSO bought the book he was there for, he'd sign a copy of Chomp for her as well.  We mentioned our anticipation to my sister who said, "Oh!  That's one of [my brother-in-law]'s favorite authors too!"  My BIL is kind of hard to shop for, so I glommed onto that, and we got Mr. Hiassan (who was a hilarious speaker and a very gracious autographer) to sign Razor Girl to my BIL and Chomp for my daughter.  And he was delighted with the book and signature.

4.  The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid for my son, who is the target audience to a T.

5.  My husband got his mom a vegetarian cookbook, because she felt that her 1980s cookbooks neglected things like kale.

6.  My adult nephew is also super hard to shop for.  I finally just asked him what he wanted, and he forwarded me his Amazon wishlist.  I noticed some Gaiman on it, so I wound up getting him all 3 of the new editions with the retro pulp covers.

7.  My sisters babysat for us for my anniversary earlier in the month, and I heard that there had been some carol singing with piano accompaniment.  Then I heard that one of the sisters was in raptures over the old book of carols that I have, which came with the piano when I inherited it from my parents.  So I wrapped that baby up and gave it to her instead, since she's a far better pianist than I am.

I love giving books for gifts, and I feel pretty good about all of these choices.  Did you give any books as gifts recently?  How were they received?  (When my nephew was about 10, he opened my gift of the first two Susan Cooper The Dark is Rising books and sneered, "Like I haven't already read these," and I literally had to leave the room and cry for a minute.)  

Next up--a bit about the small amount of bookish delights I received this year.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Winter Break, with Carl Larsson illustrations

What I'm enjoying this break:

1.  Two extra days, courtesy of a small amount of snow that threw my city into complete chaos.  Not kidding either--kids were at school until 6, 8, even midnight because neither buses nor families could get to them. But then we got the last two days before break off.

2.  I was wondering why it felt like I was getting so much more done than I did over Thanksgiving break, even though it's been less total time, then I realized--it's because I'm not sick!  Yay!

3.  I've gotten to see one of my friends two times.  We used to be work spouses, but this is her second year in another district, so we've gone from seeing each other daily to seeing each other rarely.  But she was able to stop by for a couple of hours the other day, then we met up for coffee while out doing our holiday errands yesterday.

4.  Christmas cookie baking day at my sister's!  Growing up, we'd have a day or two during which we'd make several different types of cookies that were only for this time of year.  I continue to make several of these, but I'm the only major cookie fan in my household, so I don't do it to the full extent we did back then.  Last year my sister asked all her female relatives over to bake, but my kid had strep, so we didn't go.  This year we went, and it was so much fun.  We came home with ten different types of cookies, including krumkake, which I haven't made in probably 25 years, since I don't have a pan.

5. I haven't been staying up ridiculously late, which means I've been waking up between 7:00 and 8:00.  I come downstairs and sit by the tree.  Then my daughter wakes up, and comes down and sits next to me.  We snuggle under a blanket, and put a yule log video on the laptop.  It's a wonderful way to start the day.

6.  I've been doing a decent job at not spending all day online.  (The kids, not so much.)  Knitting, reading, shopping, baking, visiting, crafting, Scrabble, puzzles.

Okay, off to make some tea, toast an English muffin, and read!

I hope you're getting some good relaxing in this week as well.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ten Bookish Wishes for Me!

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 or bookish items that I wouldn't mind Santa leaving under my tree."  Well!

It is a fact universally acknowledged that  I could do all of my holiday shopping at a bookstore, and that the rest of the world could do all of their holiday shopping for me at the same location.

Although last year I told my husband, "You could not go wrong getting me a gift at Powell's," and he said, "Is that a challenge?"  I immediately thought of math textbooks and marijuana-themed knick-knacks and assured him that it was NOT a challenge, smart-ass.

(Nothing against those who like math, or pot.  Just not for me.)

But if a fairy godmother were to tell me to pick out ten things of any type, here is what I'd buy.

  1. Unicorn slippers.  Obviously.  And yes, they have them there.  I believe it's this pair, although their website definitely doesn't showcase the full range of non-book items on hand.
  2. Adorable dishtowels.  Yes, I am so freaking middle aged that I hanker after nice dishtowels.  So sue me.  Again, I'm having to find images elsewhere to show you what I'm talking about.
    The awesome thing about this towel is that each of these cats has a command underneath it ("Sit," "Stay," "Down" etc.) that they are clearly in the process of ignoring.  
  3. A bookish travel mug, because my son keeps taking travel mugs of water up to his room, then losing either the lid or the mug part.
  4. Pretty colored pencil set and this coloring book.
  5. Some sort of gorgeous calendar with big squares, because I'm old school.
  6. Bananagrams.  Or maybe Cards Against Humanity.  Some sort of game that would stay interesting over multiple playings.
  7. Every book on my "Wendy Wants" list that is not available through the public library.  (You were wondering where the books were, right?  I usually only buy books for my classroom, and this list is for me, and these are the only ones I really want to possess, at least long enough to read them.)
  8. The complete collection of Jon Klassen "Hat" books.  I know, I just said I don't need to own books I can read elsewhere, but these are so great.  
  9. The first edition copy of The Good Master by Kate Seredy that I saw there last year.  I couldn't bring myself to buy it, but now I regret that.  The Good Master and The Singing Tree really mean a lot to me, as explained in this post.
  10. A limitless gift card.  HA HA HA just kidding.  You never get to use a wish to wish for more wishes.  Um, I know there are more cute things there that I always drool over, but I'll go with these Little Women sticky notes.  

    Any of these strike your fancy?  Ugh, I almost just asked what would look good under your Christmas tree, but that's rather presumptive, isn't it?  Let's go with what would make you do that happy gasp when you unwrapped it?  (Okay, now THAT just sounds dirty.  Sorry.  Sort of.)


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Look what i made!

So I kind of hate it when my craft projects look just as amateur as my kids', but when you're working with construction paper and Elmer's glue, you get what you get. I'm gonna give this little guy to a teacher friend of mine.

Connections through Art

I have a student in my reading class that I also had last year.  She warmed up slowly, but as she became comfortable in her small class, she become enthusiastic, sharing books, making book trailers, exchanging recommendations.  This year it's like she's shut down somehow.  She's failing my class (and most others).  She's absent a fair amount.  She keeps starting and stopping books.

I attempted to chat with her about it, and she avoided and deflected.  "I don't know what's going on either," one of her friends told me.  I sent an email out to the rest of her teaching team.  Everyone saw it, nobody could get her to open up.  We know her older siblings are, generally speaking, a mess.  We'd hoped this one would be the one who made it.

Then one of her teachers remembered she loves to draw, and started chatting with her about the after school art club.  "We have one?!?" she asked.  "Is it too late to join?!?"  She was assured that no, she was welcome to start attending.  The next time I saw her, she told me about it, and the energy and happiness in her voice matched the girl I remember from last year.

I told her about a project I'm mulling over for my classroom.  I showed her images from the Ideal Bookshelf site and from Read, Write, Reflect, and Share's classroom mural project.  If I had hundreds of dollars to spend on art, I think I'd commission an Ideal Bookshelf of books by Oregon authors, or something like this--

My student responded enthusiastically.  She started looking around the room for areas that would be well suited to such a project--above the windows, she decided, and maybe over the cupboards along one wall.  Another student asked about the paper we'd use, and she corrected her immediately--"No, she means actually PAINTING ON THE WALL!"  Jaws dropped, other kids started asking if they could help.  

Will it pull her back into reading?  Will it inspire her to start working in her classes again?  I have no idea.  But I'm pretty sure it will bring back some joy.  It will empower her.  It will let her experience the healing balm of working for others, for her community.  Right now it's just an idea, but if I was interested in the thought of book murals in my classroom before, I am doubly determined now that I've seen it as a bridge to this student, and others as well.  I'm still hoping that working on this with her will give her a chance to open up about what's troubling her, if there's anything specific.  

Reading is my passion and my joy.  Coming into this work after four years of floundering in Language Arts (after 15 years of happily teaching ESL) was a lifeline back to being engaged and motivated and glad to be doing what I do.  I want so badly to pass that joy on to my students.  What I've been reminded of is that it's the JOY that I need to pass on, not necessarily the reading.  We all need a purpose.  

I'll let you know how the project goes.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Not All Deaths are Equal: Thoughts on Code Name Verity and This Is Where It Ends

I read two books yesterday, because SNOW DAY and also WINTER BREAK, and furthermore COMFY PJS!

And I can't help but compare them, despite and because of their differences.  This is going to be rather spoiler-y for Code Name Verity, which I don't feel too bad about, because it's from 2012.  And it may be a tiny bit spoiler-y for This Is Where It Ends, which I also don't feel too bad about, because it's about a school shooting so yeah.  You already know people are going to get shot.

But if you haven't read Code Name Verity, stop being a loser like I was 48 hours ago and go read it instead of this review.

Okay, here's the thing.  There are LOTS of people shot in This Is Where It Ends.  Some on-screen, some off.  Many fatally.  All pointlessly.  There are also more than a few deaths in Code Name Verity, what with it being a WWII novel and all.  But there is one particular character who gets shot.  That person is on their way to a concentration camp, and the shooting is a mercy killing.

I cried.  I wept.  I felt bereft.

It was awesome.

(Seriously, SUCH a good book.  Why did I put it off for so long?  When will I learn that Printz award winners are always worth reading?  Even the ones I don't really like are well written.)

But in This Is Where It Ends, I had no emotional reaction to a single death.  I mean, sure I was sort of cringing and "don't shoot that person--oh, okay, he shot that person" through the whole thing, but it was all really abstract and removed.  Like, he shot the old librarian, and he shot the kid with fibromyalgia, and he shot that one girl's sister--and that's all they were, labels.  Not people.  I was shocked, but not saddened.  Even the big impact shootings were abstract for me.  Will he kill his sister or not?  What about the ex? The girl he raped?  Her brother?  Whatever.  He's a nut job, and they are all boring.

By this time next week I won't remember any of them.  But it will take me a long time to forget "Verity" and Maddie.

Part of this is that the immediacy of Wein's narrative is enhanced by her use of first person and confessional tone, while Nijkamp uses third person and tends to tell more than show.  Part of it is a matter of focus--Wein's is laser sharp while Nijkamp's is diffuse.  But let me be clear--mostly it's that Wein is a fantastic writer with a compelling story.  Nijcamp is an adequate writer with a hot topic.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I'm Climbing Mountains!

In which I tell you even more about books I hope/plan/intend to read in 2017.

Mt. Hood from the air

I used to actually climb mountains, can you believe it?  Nothing super hard or remotely technical, but I've been up Mt. Hood twice, South Sister three times, and one time each up Middle Sister, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Elinore.  Now I get out of breath going upstairs.  I blame it on the kids, but it's not really their fault, other than the whole "suck up all of the parents' time and energy" factor.

Me and my boots

But for now, at this point in my life, climbing a huge Mt. TBR is right up my alley.  I saw Lory's sign-up post on The Emerald City Book Review,  and it sounded interesting, so I checked out Bev's challenge on My Reader's Block.  Then I went through Goodreads and Classroom Booksource and identified all of the books I have added to my classroom library in the past two years that I REALLY  want to read, but haven't yet.

And that's almost 140 books.

North side of Mt. Hood

Granted, they are all MG or YA books, and several are graphic novels.  Also, I'm up to 216 books this year, so I could certainly read all of those books and still have room for new books, sequels, impulse reads, adult books, etc.

On the summit of Hood with my dad, ca. 1984

But to win the challenge--to "summit," if you will--you have to at least climb the mountain you signed up for.  And you can always hike on to a new mountain if you realize you still have the stamina and daylight.  (I'm taking this metaphor as far as I can.)  So instead of signing up for the Mt. Olympus on Mars challenge and committing to reading all of them plus a few others from my home shelves, I'm going to scale it back to El Toro, and commit to reading at least 75 books from that list.  (Though I'm secretly hoping to make it to Everest level and knock off 100 titles.)

The whole list is on a Goodreads shelf, and I'll add the first 25 from that list here.

  • Gracefully, Grayson by Ami Polonski
  • Period 8 by Chris Crutcher
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds
  • Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick
  • Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller
  • Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio
  • The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
  • Camp Midnight by Steven Seagle
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  • Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices by Mitali Perkins
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  • Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
  • Zebra Forest by Adine Rishe Gewirtz
  • Lily Renée, Escape Artist by Trina Robbins
  • Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
  • Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos
  • Around the World by Matt Phelan
  • Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  • Keesha's House by Helen Frost

These are all books I'm really looking forward to, and I think it's a good mix of content, from longer novels to quick reads, from escapist fantasy to painfully topical contemporaries.

I'll see you on the trails!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I'm Joining Dumbledore's Army!

The Read-a-Thon, that is.  Not the one where they had to actually physically risk their lives.

Aentee at Read at Midnight has developed this fantastic challenge to get us all reading more diverse books, expecially #ownvoices titles.  And she's made it FUN.  Very un-"eat your broccoli it's good for you," and more "broccoli with cheese sauce!"

There are house points and spell names and adorable graphics she'll let you borrow.  It takes place the first two weeks of January.  She spells it out really well on her blog, so head over there if you're interested!  Also, Naz at Read Diverse Books has a superb sign-up post in which he shares dozens and dozens of possible titles, so if you're feeling at a loss for any of the categories, you can count on Naz for help.

Without further ado...

I'm in.  And yes, I'm Hufflepuff, although with delusions of Ravenclaw.

As for my TBR for this challenge, I'll put down a "probable" and a "possible" for each category, as I don't do very good at being locked in to reading a particular thing at a particular time.

I count myself lucky to not have lost a loved one to suicide, but there have been close calls, and depression will always be a potentially fatal influence over two people I love.  So that's what I focused these choices on.

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

OR: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides.
This book doesn't sound as directly relevant, but I really loved Middlesex.

I thought of Muslims, or Africans, or transgender characters, and then I thought--I don't remember EVER reading a bi character.  I could be wrong, but obviously I haven't read many if I can't even think of one.  Thus:

Far from You by Tess Sharpe

OR: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
I've wanted to read more by him every since falling in love with Aristotle & Dante last year, and a book of short stories might be helpful mid-read-a-thon.

OR Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A book of essays would work too.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Black lesbian feminist--intersectionality, here we come. Also, set in my hometown.

OR We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Once Upon a Quiceañera by Julia Alvarez has been on my TBR since I started a Goodreads account in 2009, and I JUST tracked down a copy for my classroom.  Like, it arrived yesterday.

No OR for this one.  I am going to read this book, dammit.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

OR Born a Crime by Trevor Norah

The Wrath and the Dawn by Reneé Ahdieh
Nobody recommended it specifically to me, but I feel like the entire internet has recommended it overall.

 OR Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Again, not actually pushed on me in particular, but Shannon wrote a favorable review of it during her Shattering Stigmas event over at It Starts at Midnight.  

And there we have it!  I don't know how much time I'll have to read, since it's also Cybils Judging Season, but these are all books I'm excited about.  (Now I just have to not run off and read them all before the event begins.)  Are you signing up?  What books are on your list?