Sunday, January 29, 2017

This is How Reading Teachers Resist

The new semester begins Monday.  Friday was a grading day, and I got to spend a few hours in my classroom reading professional material and planning what I'm going to do in my classroom during the rest of the year.

I've been wanting to do a formal #bookaday challenge, and my plan for the next six week grading period was to read a picture book each day, based around one topic per week.  Within that topic, I'd be teaching kids how to identify theme.  There's more to it than that, but that's the background.  I gathered a bunch of picture books I own and put even more on hold at the library, and took a look at which weeks were full weeks and which weeks we'd lose a day.  I thought I'd do a week about death/dying, a week about friendship and loneliness, a week about creativity, a week about immigration, a week about get the idea.

But now I'm thinking we may start with immigration, and then stay there as long as I can find more good books.  Or maybe use a bunch of these, and then find a bunch of civil disobedience books.

Empathy through fiction.  I still believe in it.

How Many Days to America?

Who Belongs Here? An American Story

The Arrival

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey

My Name Is Jorge on Both Sides of the River

Going Home

Grandfather's Journey

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story

The Lotus Seed

The Color of Home

How I Learned Geography

A Thirst for Home

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 23.  What can I say--we had nearly two weeks of snow days!

Best(s): Princeless and Denton Little's Death Date, plus some nonfiction I read for Cybils judging, so I can't talk about it yet. Basically, hilariously silly books and heartbreakingly serious books.  I always thought it was "Denton's Little Death Date," like a cute little death date or something.  But no, his name is Denton Little.  My daughter is also getting into the Princeless series and TWICE this week has read past her assigned time, and once just picked up the book ON HER OWN.

Mt. TBR progress: 8/75 and going strong.

Bookish Events and Happenings

As mentioned above, I'm knee deep in MG and YA nonfiction as a round 2 Cybils judge.  It's been pretty terrific all around, though I'm a bit surprised at how many WWII related books there are.  I guess there's always more to say and reflect on. 

I made a respectable showing in the Dumbledore's Army Read-a-Thon, finishing five books.  Even better (from a time-management point of view), four were Mt. TBR reads and the fifth was a Cybils read.  I intend to read all the books on my original signup list, including the back-up books.  I still have a tendency to read straight-white-girl books all the time, but there are SO MANY good books out there that reflect different experiences; I just need to be more aware of my choices. 

Got a ton (for me) of book mail this month.  I decided to re-join the Book of the Month club and they added a free Gillian Flynn novella to this month's package.  I wound up giving the book I actually ordered to a friend who just had her knee replaced, because as I was headed out the door to visit her, I suddenly realized she'd need BOOKS, so I just grabbed what I could find that wasn't earmarked for my classroom.  Then Shannon at It Starts at Midnight sent me not one, not two, but THREE books from her birthday bash giveaway.  Fun fact: Shannon is as much younger than me as my oldest sister is older than me.  So that makes me, like, the big sister she never knew she was missing.  Then I also won a new book from her in the monthly Discussion Challenge raffle.  In addition, my mom's oldest friend has written a book and sent me a copy.  I guess I should read it pretty soon since let's be blunt--she's over 80 and might want my reaction while she's still around.  I was somehow picturing it as a memoir, but it's historical fiction. With a harem/white slavery subplot that I'm kind of nervous about reading, given my relationship with the author.  

On the Blog

Sixteen posts this month.  My most visited post is a year-end wrap-up round-up link-up post, so thanks to Nicole for her scavenger hunts that promote lots of visitors.  The next most popular is my survey about which books I should read next from various stashes.  Which is odd, because only five people voted, which is about 10% of the people who apparently have clicked onto the post. 

I had a lot of fun playing Six Degrees of Separation with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and making various lists--books for a middle school boy from a conservative family, YALSA award winners I want to read, and, with help from my daughter, top five lists ranging from wild animals to series we love. 


Did I mention the snow days?  We had snow here. I grew up in this area and have lived here for the last 20 years as well, and I have never seen this much snow on the ground, nor have I ever seen it stick around for so long.  It was crazy.  And kind of fun.  Except for the twisted ankle, and the having-to-make-up-nine-days thing at work.

I've started listening to the news again, after a decade or more of "I can't do anything about it and it just stresses me out" excuses.  It stresses me out even more now, but I can't do anything about it unless I stay informed.   In related news, I'm completely smitten with the chrome extension that replaces pictures of Trump with pictures of kittens.  I think it's called "Make America Kittens Again" and it works about 80% of the time.

I also found some pics of old-time celebrities with kitties. Here's Mark Twain and a tiny friend.

True kindness:

One of my children came home from school nearly three hours late today.  The other child spent all afternoon and evening working on a drawing of Hermione Granger.  I guess that means I'm getting a 50% at parenting right now?  Maybe a 60%, since our disappearing child does not seem to have been doing drugs, stealing, or having sex when he was unsupervised.  65%, since the drawing is really nice and she's giving it to a friend? 

Parenting.  So.  Much.  Fun. 

I was interviewed twice this week.  An acquaintance wanted to ask me several questions about teaching reading for a course she's taking.  And a PhD student whose questionnaire I filled out recently asked if she could do a follow-up interview since I was one of only a few west coast respondents.  I don't know why you should care; it just seemed odd enough to be noteworthy, as it's not like I normally have people lining up to listen to me ramble on about my job. 

We are really enjoying the Keurig machine I got myself my husband for Christmas this year.  Coffee consumption is up about 200%.

We also really enjoyed the new season of Sherlock.  I don't watch a lot of TV, but that show keeps making me happy.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time

You hear me?

I know you hear me on that one.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about how I find books I want to read, the finding is the easy part.  As for the prioritizing,  back when I accumulated both titles and actual books at a slower rate, I'd read whatever struck my fancy until the stack was all read, then I'd take them back and get some more.

No more.  It's not just my virtual to-read shelf that's stuffed.  There's the library books, the library holds, the classroom library books, the book mail, the book splurges...if I stopped acquiring books right this second, I'm sure I could continue to read for a few more years before I ran out.

Like having a kitten fall asleep in your lap, this is the opposite of a problem, right?  So many great books to read, poor me.  The only reason I really care is because a) FOMO is real and b) if I just read what catches my fancy, I veer suspiciously easily into reading a bunch of books by and about white women.

So this month I came up with a plan, or as my sisters and I took to saying during the chaotic three year slog in which both of our parents died, an idea for a plan.  And I gave myself permission to go off plan whenever I want, so I don't sabotage myself out of some weird misplaced rebellious instinct.
This was the plan for January.

  1. Read a Cybils book for judging.
  2. Read a Mt. TBR book.
  3. Read a diverse book for the Dumbledore's Army Read-a-Thon.
  4. Repeat.
Sometimes one book served dual purposes, and sometimes I got distracted by a new acquisition.  And once I read a book because I didn't feel like going downstairs, and it was closest.  But I was really happy with how this gave me variety AND made me feel like I was accomplishing things.  

The read-a-thon is over, but I'm going to continue with the system, substituting "library book" instead.  I have SO MANY library books out!  And I keep getting more!  Because I'm insane!  And when I finish they Cybils books (I only have about 3 more), I think I'm going to work Printz books into rotation. Again, there will be some overlap.  Or maybe it will look something like this:

  1. Library book
  2. Mt. TBR book
  3. Printz book OR nonfiction OR deliberately diverse book
Yeah, that's probably about what I'll land on.  

How do YOU choose what to read next?  Careful plan?  Whatever's nearest?  Mood?  Randomizer?  Has your method changed over time, or are you consistent?  

Monday, January 23, 2017

TTT: Ten 2017 YALSA Award Winners I Want to Read

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 a freebie!  And since today is the day all the big ALA/YALSA awards were announced, I drew my list from the winners.

(The link to a document I made that covers all MG and YA titles as well as the Caldecott winners, is here.)

I've read a handful already, and I know I would probably like almost all of them, but given that life is short and my to-read list is looooooong, these are the ten I'm prioritizing for myself.  Your list might look completely different, depending on what you've read and what your interests are.

  • Newbery Medal winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  I had this checked out of the library for literally months, and finally had to give it back unread.  I did, however, just get it in my latest Scholastic books order, so I have it handy in my classroom library, and no further excuse to not read it
  • March Book 3, which means I have to read March Book 2 as well.  Not only does reading Senator John Lewis's final autobiographical graphic novel about the Civil Rights movement give me a chance to say "eff you" to a certain orange individual who was incredibly disrespectful to this Civil Rights icon, but it also won the Coretta Scott King author award, The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, and the Printz Award.  Those are all WINS, btw, not runners up.  
  • Jason Reynold's As Brave As You won the Schneider Family middle grade book award (for a book portraying a disability experience) and was the Coretta Scott King honor book.  He is pretty much an award winner factory, and I've only read When I Was the Greatest so far.  
  • Nicola Yoon's second novel, The Sun is Also a Star, won the Coretta Scott King new talent award, and is a Printz Honor book.  I'm not sure why a second book wins the new talent award.  I actually own this, and it's on my Mt. TBR list, so I really need to read it!  I wasn't a huge fan of Everything, Everything, but I've heard some people (not everyone) like this one more.  
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord has been on my TBR since before it came out, and now it's won the Schneider Family YA award.

  • Nikki Grimes won the Laura Ingalls Wilder award for substantial achievement over time, reminding me that I really want to read Garvey's Choice.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meridith Russo won the Stonewall Award for books of "exceptional merit" related to the GLBQT experience.  I've been wanting to read it for months, and just snagged a library copy yesterday.  Yay!  But the English teacher in me keeps thinking, "Shouldn't it be "If I WERE Your Girl"?  Although I haven't read it, so maybe it's actually in past tense instead of subjunctive.
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore sounds like a wonderful magical realism with gender-fluid representation.  It's a Stonewell Honor book.  Plus, that cover--wow.
  • The William C. Morris Award is for YA books by debut authors.  The Serpent King won it, to which I say Three Cheers and also Well Deserved and Hurray!  I haven't read some of the runners up for this, namely The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, and 
  • Girl Mans Up, both of which I've heard really good things about.  

I love that there are so many big awards, and I'm really excited for all of these authors and their teams.  What a thrill it must be to get those phone calls--and to make them!  I think that's my dream, to me on one of these committees.  If you can't be an author, you can at least be an Official Appreciator, right?  

Books for a Large-Hearted 12 Year Old

During our recent snow event here in the rainy NW, we were able to get out at one point for an afternoon at some friends' house.  Just in time to save us all from cabin fever!  These are people The Winemaker made friends with in college, and they have five children.


As Beth Woolsey would say, five kids is a lot of kids.

The family is Catholic (five kids, y'all!) and they homeschool, so--they aren't like us in some pretty significant ways.  But they are kind, and smart, and funny, and we love them.  Plus they have bunnies.  When we showed up, one of their daughters brought a bunny up to me and said, "First, imagine how soft it could possibly be.  Okay, now pet him."  And damn if he wasn't about a billion times softer than I could even imagine.

The mom and I were talking kids and education, as we do.  She has a degree in early childhood development, and she takes her job as her kids' teacher very seriously.  She was telling me that her youngest son, unlike his two big brothers, is a reluctant reader.  He CAN read, he just doesn't like to.  And he has trouble remembering what happened when he reads.  Loves being read to, can totally get into and analyze a story he hears, but just...not an enthusiastic or confident reader.  He's 12 and tests as reading around a 3-4th grade level.

In other words, my kind of kid.

She told me about a program she'd been trying, and I gently steered her away from "read and summarize" and "read and answer questions," trying instead to encourage that she just aim for "read and enjoy."  She told me the books that had been suggested for her boy, and well.

Encyclopedia Brown.
Henry Huggins.
The Borrowers.

Now, these are three series I LOVED as a kid, don't get me wrong.  I'm sure a kid who liked to read could get into them.  And I think they probably make good read-alouds.  But for a reluctant reader--BORING.  You can't expect a kid to live on a diet of 1950s Americana.  So I told her I'd put together a more modern list and send it her way.

This is a kid who is definitely more sheltered than many of my students.  His folks are also a lot more conservative than I am about what they want their 12 year old exposed to.  So a number of my usual suggestions were not going to make the cut.  I also wanted to focus on quick books, things he could get through before he forgot how they even started.

I took several hours browsing my literal and online bookshelves, thinking about what might work.  You never know what will catch a kid's fancy (at least not at first!) so I wanted to offer more than they'd need in hopes that they'll look them over together and find some that work for him.

I'm pretty happy with what I put together.  It's nice to use my book knowledge for other kids.

The list is here if you're curious!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Finding and Prioritizing Titles

Throughout my many (many!) years as a reader, the way I've discovered books to read has gone through several significant shift.

As a kid, I received books as gifts, acquired my older sister's used books, and went to the library once or twice a month.  At the library, I'd browse the stacks, taking 10-12 books out at a time.  Inevitably, at least one of those would be a re-read, and others might be new-to-me books by familiar authors.  The remainder, maybe half of my stack, would be books that caught my eye on the shelf, and then that had a promising jacket blurb.  This is the stage of my life is where I learned how to carry a big stack of books using my chin to stabilize it.

In high school and college I continued to read books my friends and family recommended.  I read a bunch of mystery series and fantasy series as well.  This was also the stage of my life in which I read a lot of classics and "important" books.  Dickens and Hardy, Vonnegut and Potok, Walker and Kundera.   My college roommate took a short course on Canadian authors and we both read a bunch of Atwood.  I read essays by Le Guin and delved into works by "serious comics" like Thurber and Tom Robbins.

SO serious.  Just a tiny bit pretentious.

In my twenties and thirties I was living in a town with a less than stellar library, but a decent county-wide network.  This was the era of requests/holds.  I'd go to one of my favorite independent bookstores--or "bookstores" as we used to call them--and browse.  When I found a book that sounded interesting, I'd jot down the title on the margins of my checkbook or on the backs of receipts.  Then I'd go to the library and search for all the titles I'd collected.  Not all of them would be available, but enough were to keep me quite busy reading and exploring.

In 2009, I discovered Goodreads through a book club I was in.  My to-read list suddenly exited in a more trackable format than penciled notes on scraps of paper.  I started looking at lists and at "Readers Also Enjoyed" sidebars to books I'd liked.  Soon, my to-read list was in the hundreds.

Then I started reading book blogs.  Whoops!  To make matters worse, I started writing one.  Now I know to call my to-read list my TBR, and it's massive--well over a thousand.  Last year I put together a list of books I hoped to actually get to, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to that, so it didn't help much.  This year I'm doing a formal challenge, the Mt. TBR challenge, so I've added specific books to a shelf and have managed to knock off four so far.  I've also decided to be pickier about what I ADD to my to-read list.  (No report yet on how THAT is going to turn out.)   First step: not adding every single book from every single person's TTT suggestions every single week.

Of course, I still go to the library and bookstore, and I still end up finding books that look interesting even though they aren't on any list.  (Or my favorite--when I get a book I've been wanting to read, then later find out I hadn't actually put it on my TBR, so I'm reading without whittling that list down at all.)

That's the finding part--I could write another post about how I actually identify books that "sound good" to me, and another one about how, with a TBR shelf over a thousand titles long, I decide what to read next.  Maybe I will.  But for now, I think I'm going to go read.

What about you?  Where do you find new books you want to read?  How do you track and prioritize them?  How do you decide when enough is enough?  (If you have an answer for that one, I really need to hear it.)  

Monday, January 16, 2017

TTT: Underrated Gems

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 Underrated Gems You've Read Recently.   This should be super interesting, and definitely one of those weeks when we won't all be talking about the same books!

Here's my method:  I sorted my Goodreads "read" shelf by number of ratings, lowest to highest.  Then I scrolled through that, looking for any books I'd read in 2016.  If it had a rating of four or five stars, it made this list.  I kept going until I had ten books.  SCIENCE!  Or is that math?

Facts of Life: Stories by Gary Soto
83 ratings
Gary Soto is no longer the only Mexican American YA/MG author.  Now we also have Matt de la Peña, Meg Medina, and, um, okay we actually still have quite a ways to go.  I don't love every story in this book--Soto does a lot of slice-of-life stuff that can feel frustratingly unresolved--but I think it's right up there with his best work.

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
120 ratings
Sakado and the Thousand Paper Cranes was published in 1977.  That's 40 years ago.  Now there is a Hiroshima story for the 21st century.  I loved that the author, who based her story on her mother's life, took the time to establish the "before" era as well, so you fully understand the magnitude of loss, and so you see the relatable humanity of all involved.

We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart by Walter Dean Myers with art by Christopher Myers
143 ratings
This is a gorgeous picture book that uses free verse poetry and colorful paintings to tell our country's long history of messing things up and striving for our ideals.  Tons of Americans of color are featured in the artwork, both those we all know and those we should.

12 Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith
156 ratings
While We are America consists of one long poem, this picture book has twelve separate poems that illustrate points in the life of Cassius Clay as he grows up and becomes Muhammad Ali.

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams
177 ratings
Another picture book, this one resonates so strongly with me as an adoptive mom.  The story of two men who adopt a little boy and DON'T DO EVERYTHING PERFECTLY EVEN THOUGH THEY TOTALLY LOVE HIM hits many a nerve.  Plus, you have to love the fact that this book involves two dads but it absolutely not about "Timmy Has Two Daddies"--it's just who they are, not a plot point.

My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson
189 ratings
I'm starting to notice that almost all of these books are in untraditional formats.  In this one, poet Marilyn Nelson uses historical records of a place in NYC called Seneca Village to create a multiple points of view story of a time and place that ended when the area was razed to make room for Central Park.  Who knew? Not me.  Novels in verse can get you right into the characters' heads, but can struggle to convey the world they walk through.  Nelson solves this by offering stage directions, as if it's a series of monologues.

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
270 ratings
I keep raving about this series, which satirizes fairy tales with glee.  Anything that combines feminism with a sense of humor AND a gripping story line is a winner.

Play me Backwards by Adam Selzer
272 ratings
Snarky and gleefully inappropriate, this book that I went into without any expectations made me laugh out loud several times.  These slacker stoner kids are not role models (especially the one who might actually be Satan), but they are funny all the same.

We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash
281 ratings
If you've read Thrash's graphic novel/memoir Honor Girl, you will be in no way prepared for this extremely strange, extremely enjoyable YA mystery.  (You'll also be relieved to know the story does have a resolution, or at least as much of one as the first in a planned series can be expected to.)

Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton an 
632 ratings
Pokiak-Fenton worked with her daughter-in-law, author Jordan-Fenton to write this memoir of her experience as an Inuit child attending the white boarding school run by nuns.  Young Margaret didn't understand why her parents were so worried about her leaving her home and culture, and had no idea what she was getting herself into.  On the other hand, the nuns had no idea who they were fucking with.

Three picture books, two memoirs of a previous generation, a short story collection, a novel in verse, a graphic novel, and a couple of weird novels.  I guess these hidden gems are all untraditional.  So branch out!  Give one a try!

I can't wait to see what lists you all have put together too.


Top Fives with the Kid

The internet works in mysterious ways.

Recently I got a comment from a heretofore unknown person, Olivia at Books in Blankets.  It was a nice comment, so I drifted over to her blog to browse.  I liked what I saw, and fell down one of those "let me now stalk this blog's archives" rabbit holes.  She wrote a post awhile back about her five favorite books, the ones she'd keep if she was only allowed five books for the rest of her life, which thankfully is a hypothetical situation.

I mean, can you imagine?

Anyway, this ended up starting a game for my ten year old and me last night after dinner.  We picked our top five in several categories.  Then, at her insistence, we had to pick our number one.  SO HARD.  But also just for fun, so I tried to not get too obsessive about getting the "right" answers.

And now, highly influenced by Olivia's post, I'm sharing our choices with you.  Feel free to play along in the comments!  (Thanks, Olivia!)

The kid's picks:

  • Burmese Mountain Dog 
  • German Shepherd
  • Corgi
  • Siberian Husky
  • Pomeranian
My picks:
  • Siberian Husky 
  • Newfoundland (I would've chosen Burmese Mtn. dog too, but wanted variety)
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
    My beautiful Tilly Jane.  You can't tell from here, but she had one brown and one blue eye.  And she was so FLUFFY!
I grew up with a Scottie, and we added a Husky when I was in 8th grade.  The Winemaker has terrible allergies--and winemakers need to be able to use their sense of smell--so my poor kids aren't able to have cats and dog.  So all of this is highly theoretical, and based 99% on the dog's looks.  Her number one choice was Pomeranian "because I couldn't decide between Huskies and Corgis!" and mine was a Husky.  

The kid's picks:
  • Polar bear
  • leopard
  • white tiger
  • harp seal
  • African elephant ("Which is different from an Asian elephant, Mom.")
My picks:
  • caribou
  • grey wolf
  • Siberian tiger
  • sea otter
  • blue whale
What can I say?  We're mammal fans.  Her top choice was the white tiger, but she whispered her answer so her stuffed leopard wouldn't be offended.  I went with wolves.


  • bald eagle
  • red tailed hawk
  • chickadee
  • barn owl
  • downy woodpecker
  • kestrel falcon
  • snowy owl (Hedwig!)
  • chickadee
  • pileated woodpecker
  • stork
Top choices were the hawk and stork.  I so loved seeing actual storks and their gigantic nests when I was living in the Baltics.


  • Harry Potter series
  • The Princess Bride
  • a recording of the Nutcracker ballet
  • The Lion King
  • Zootopia
  • Up
  • The Princess Bride
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Lord of the Rings (since apparently we can choose series)
  • The Sound of Music (which I kind of have to sing along with)
We watched Princess Bride together recently and have been quoting it right and left, so we both chose that for our current fave.


  • trillium
  • daisy
  • water lily
  • rose
  • bluebell
  • trillium
  • Gerbera daisy
  • Indian paintbrush (how's THAT for an insensitive name?  Love the flower though.)
  • lupine
  • calla lily
Her favorite is the water lily, which I did not know.  Mine is the trillium, which she did know, give that it's her middle name.  


And now for the good stuff!  She insisted we separate our books into two categories, because she wanted to be sure we had a cookbook, but didn't want to give up any fiction for it.  Also, she declared series to be acceptable as one answer, then chose all the long series she could think of.  I held myself to a higher standard.  Ahem*.

  • a book about wolves
  • a book about Lithuania
  • a book about animal care
  • How to Cook Everything
  • grandma's gigantic National Geographic atlas 
She settled on the atlas as her number one choice (which is so cool, I think), and I'd have to hang on to the recipes.  


And--grand finale--
Her list
My list
That was super hard, of course, because we were both thinking about length and complexity as much as "did I love this book?"  If you don't have many books, you want them each to be meaty.  For a more complete look at my favorites you can either click on the "Falconer's Favorites" page above, or check out my "100 Books I Could Survive On" shelf on Goodreads.  I should go in and do some ruthless curation of that--I don't think I've updated it in a couple of years, and there might be some bumping required.  

* Okay, if I HAD allowed myself to pick series, I think I'd have:
  • Reginald Hill's Pascoe and Dalziel series, with 24 progressively better mysteries total
  • Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series, with only three books, but so inventive and moving!
  • Neal Shusterman's Unwind series is one of those trilogies that expanded to five books, HURRAH!
  • L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, because as much as I love HP, Anne was my childhood series
  • Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series, because even when the recurring characters piss me off, the mysteries are so much more than mysteries. Plus Barbara Havers is my alter-ego.  I would love to not give a fuck as spectacularly as she does.  

Play "top five" with YOUR family!  I think our topic choices say as much about us as the items selected.  What categories would you include?  What are some of your top fives?  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

None of the Above: Exploring Intersex and Loving Yourself

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Published 2015 by Harper Collins

328 pages, contemporary realistic fiction.

I read this and am posting this review on the final day of the Dumbledore's Army Read-a-Thon.  I don't write many reviews (such a rebel book blogger!), but you get POINTS for reviewing, and there's nothing like a little competition to motive a person.

And this is a review-worthy book, for sure.

We first meet our narrator, Kristin, on a run with her boyfriend Sam.  She's athletic, affectionate, and popular without being snobby.  Her mother died of cancer years ago, and she and her father work around the pain as they look after each other.  Her two best friends are girls she's known since birth, a Queen Bee type and the sweet smoother-over who keeps everyone happy.   That job becomes necessary when Kristin wins homecoming queen, something they'd all assumed her bitchy friend was a shoo-in for.

The book quickly veers into "This for sure needs to be on the PG-13 shelf" territory when she and her boyfriend decide to go all the way, but the experience is so painful that they end up stopping.  She then, in perhaps the least believable part of the book, takes herself to a clinic to meet with an OB-GYN.  I wish I believed that most 17 year old girls would make that logical choice, but somehow I think there'd be a lot more dithering, embarrassment, and denial before she got there.  Maybe a college student would march over to Campus Health, but I think a middle class girl like Kristin wouldn't think "women's clinic!" the second her first sexual experience didn't live up to expectations.

BUT it's important that she do so, because the bulk of the book hinges on what happens next.  It is discovered that Kristin is intersex--born without any external male organs, but also without any internal female organs.  The medical and social explaining that happen next fit very naturally into the story, as Kristin, of course, knows nothing about her newly discovered situation and has a ton of questions.

The author is an MD, so I feel confident the information presented is accurate.  While not an #ownvoices narrative, she also clearly has done lots of research and interviews.  In her note at the end, she says she even had Kristin make some medical decisions that she, the doctor, disagrees with, but that seemed consistent with the character and her situation.

I found the rest of the book, in which Kristin struggles to first understand and accept her new reality, and then to figure out how to live in a world in which her personal medical history has been leaked to her entire high school, to be well told and believable.  There's a nice balance between people who support her (like her dad, a much more solid presence than many YA parents) and those who revile her, including some she thought she could rely on.  There's a tacked on romance that did very little for me, but most of the focus is on Kristin's own growth and learning.

"One day I would find my own place," she thinks as she starts gathering her courage to participate in life again.  "I wouldn't run there, though, because it didn't exist yet; I had to build it myself, out of forgiveness, truth, and terrifying gestures of friendship." (pg. 305)  This quote illuminates the way this book, while offering representation to a fairly unknown and misunderstood group, also is very relatable to anyone who's ever had to, well, grow up.  We all have to build our own place.

4/5 stars

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Nervously Accepting 2017 Challenges

I say "nervously" because I am notoriously bad at follow-through on these things.  When I graduated from high school six million years ago, they had a handwriting analyst at our all night party, and she told me, "You are really good at starting things but struggle to finish all of them," and I was all, "HANDWRITING ANALYSIS IS REAL!"

I already made a list of resolutions, which has some duplication of what I'm about to list, so bear with me.

1.  Mt. TBR Challenge.  As explained here, I'm going to be reading a cubic shit-ton of books from my classroom library.  I think this is going to go well, although I do get distracted by public library books pretty frequently too.

2.  Discussion Challenge.  I just realized I didn't officially sign up this year, so hi, Nicole and Shannon!  I'm signing up!  At the lowest level, because of that follow-through thing.

3.  Goodreads Challenge.  I set mine at 200 again, since that seems to be about the pace I'm at right now.

4.  Some sort of YA Award Winners thing.  Last year I signed up for the ALA Awards Books Challenge with Anne at Wilde on My Side, but out of nine titles, I only read three of the books, plus the three I'd already read before the awards were announced.  Still, it's a worthwhile goal.  Or I could sign up to read all the Printz winners and honor books in 2017.  I've had really good luck with Printz books overall, considering I'd read a few before I even really figured out what the Printz is.  The awards will all be announced on Jan. 23, so maybe I'll take a look at the two lists then and decide which one is more appealing.

In addition, I intend to:

  • Do some posts for Nerdy Book Club
  • Participate in the Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thons in April and October
  • Participate in the Slice of Life Daily Writing Challenge, also in April
  • Figure out how to attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference in St. Louis next November and lead a round-table discussion as part of the team of presenters who have received Book Love grants
  • Guest blog for a teaching blog
  • Read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to my daughter 
Now the question is, when I look back at this next year, how hard will I laugh?  

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Definitive Ranking of the EIGHT Snow Days We've Had (So Far) This Year

When I was a kid, my admittedly vague memory is that every year or two, we'd get a snow day or two.  Sometimes we'd get sent home in the middle of the day, because meteorology was still called weather predicting, and they did not do hour-by-hour forecasts, or ten-day forecasts, so things caught us off guard all the time.

No light, no heat, so we sat by the fire.

My dad would leave the car at the far end of our road, which rolled up and down three large hills, and walk the rest of the way home.  I'd go out in the morning and tromp off a large rectangle of untouched snow to admire, take measurement of the snowfall on the garbage can lid, and use my dad's large magnifying glass to try to catch and view snowflakes.  My sisters or my mom or dad would help me get out the wooden sled with metal runners, and we'd walk up to the top of our hill, sled down and partway up the next hill, walk up that one to the top, and sled back down again.  

My dad and I having sled issues

Two years in a row, when I was nine and then ten, we had January ice storms that knocked out power for days AND messed up my best friend's birthday party plans.  In high school, I remember one early release due to snow, snowballs flying in the parking lot and some older brothers piling out of a car to threaten some kids who'd hit their windows.  I took the city bus home and suffered through the mile walk to my house in thin flats, convinced my toes had fallen off by the time I was halfway home.  (They hadn't.) 

Trying to get up to our house during an ice storm

A decade later I was back in the area, teaching in a rural area outside of the city.  And for the first several years we did not have a single snow day.  I joked about it with friends from the east coast and he Great Lake states.  "Here in Oregon, we have a snow day if we get an inch of snow--AND WE HAVEN'T HAD A SINGLE SNOW DAY IN FIVE YEARS!"

Mom and our dog in an early 90s snow event

Then in 2004, we came back from winter break on a Monday, it started snowing, and by noon school was dismissed.  My students were thrilled and shocked.  They had NEVER had that experience before.  We were out all week.

The Winemaker shovels his mom's walk

In 2008, I was in a new school district and hating my new job.  The week before our winter break, it started to snow.  We wound up getting the whole week off, and so having three weeks off.  I even got some socks knitted as Christmas gifts.  It was such a relief that difficult year to have that much time to recuperate before getting back to it.

There was only snow up in the hills on this New Year's hike several years back, not at our house.

This school year beats it all.  Today is the eighth day my kids and I have been off school due to weather.  Thursday and Friday two weeks before break.  Thursday and Friday before break.  Last Monday, and then Wednesday-Friday this week.  

I know there are families of bus drivers and custodians and cafeteria staff who are losing pay for every single day we are gone.  Not to mention the four homeless people who have died of exposure in Portland this month.  The worst problems I have are that I'm going to be working later in the summer than usual, and I fell and twisted my ankle trying to get outside and enjoy the winter wonderland.  We have electricity and heat.  We are all able to be home, so there's no childcare emergency.  We even had a leftover stash of prescription strength ibuprofen for my ankle, so we didn't have to go out.  (I was so afraid I'd broken it at first--how they hell would we get to the emergency room with icy roads and not being able to walk?)  

My front yard this morning, after a few days of settling and melting off.

Still, I've come to see that for parents, not all snow days are created equal.  These are the categories we've had so far this year.  

C--Ice Days.  
The roads are slick.  The yard is icy and wet.  Kids who go outside fall down and end up soaking, so they don't really want to go outside.  Cabin fever and general irritability set in quickly.  
Number of days like this so far: 3/8

B--Maybe We Overreacted Days
Sure, at 4 am when they're making the call, the roads are iced over and dangerous.  But by 9 am, things have pretty much melted.  It could have just been a late start day.  The afternoon can be spent running errands and getting around town.  Basically like a bonus weekend day, so who's complaining?
Number of days like this so far: 2/8

A: Actual Snow Day
There is snow on the ground.  Snowmen, snowballs, and sledding are all possible.  Children burst outside in mittens and hats and rush to gather friends to build forts or tube downhill.  Parents only need to help suit up at beginning of day, provide hot food once or twice, and tuck them into bed, exhausted at the end of the day.  Fun for kids, easy for parents--total win/win.  Plus, it looks gorgeous.
Number of days like this so far: 3/8

I'm going to propose that, given my city's inability to cope with this kind of weather, we stop having it.  Barring that, if we have any more snow days, I'm going to have to insist that they are all the Grade A variety.

My kids were super excited I was slowing them down with this picture taking nonsense when they just wanted to go sled.

Let's talk snow days!
  • Have winters changed since you were a kid?  
  • What does it take to get a snow day in your area?  
  • Do you do any winter sports?  As a teenager, I downhill skied, and in my twenties and thirties (i.e. after my parents stopped buying me lift tickets) I took up cross country and snowshoeing, but lately--I'm super lazy. 
  • In the event of actual snow, are you a "rush out and build a snowman" person or a "curl up and read a book" person?   
  • Speaking of books--what are your favorite wintery books?  I'm thinking of The Long Winter, Smilla's Sense of Snow, Snow Falling on Cedars, WinterdanceSnow White: A Graphic Novel, and City of Thieves.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I've seen this on Wilde on My Side, and she pointed me to Books Are My Favorite and Best as the originator.  Basically, everyone starts with the same title each month, and then using your own personal trains of thought, lead your readers through six books, one to the next to the next.  It could be authors, covers, time of life when you read the book, or any other connection that comes up in your mind.

It looks like fun, and I love this month's starter book, so I thought I'd play along.  Our starter is:

which has the word dragon in the title.  Speaking of dragons, one of the earliest feminist fairy tales features a terrific dragon too!  That would be:

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
without which we might not have modern fairy tale spoofs with strong female characters, such as:

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
Which is a graphic novel that made me laugh out loud. (It also keeps the dragon theme going for one more degree.)   Another graphic novel that made me laugh--AND made me cry--is a memoir of the cartoonist's parents' old age and death:

This one resonated so strongly with me because I've been through my own version of that life experience with losing both of my parents.  My mom died six years ago from the day I'm writing this.  When I was in middle school and high school, I read a lot of books that she was reading.  We went on a joint Michener kick, and the one I remember the best is:

Chesapeake by James Michener
and another book that I associate with my mom, by a man named James  is:

(Enjoy the historically correct covers for each as well.  Those are the editions Mom and I read.)

I ended up far away in time, place, and most especially tone and subject matter from the heart-racing and horrifically violent starting book!  

Monday, January 9, 2017

TTT: 2016 Books I Still Want to Get To

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 Top Ten 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To (But TOTALLY plan to).

Only I have a list of twenty.  Because I read a lot?  Because I add to my TBR a lot?  Something like that.  I DID narrow it down, I'll have you know.  

Born a Crime/Trevor Noah
I've sworn off celebrity memoirs, but the angle on this one is too interesting to pass up.

Heartless/Marissa Meyer
I loved the Lunar Chronicles.  Can lightning strike twice?  Who knows, but I'm willing to give Heartless a chance.

The Sun is Also a Star/Nicola Yoon
This one I've heard mixed reviews of, but I just bought it so...I'm gonna read it.

A Gentleman in Moscow/Amor Towles
Look at me reading a grown-up book!  I actually don't know a lot about this one (which is how I like it, remember?), but I am always interested in Eastern Bloc settings.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White/Melissa Sweet
I've heard great things about this picture book biography.  White is a life long favorite; I read a bunch of his essays in college, and a biography a few years ago.  

Lily and Dunkin/Donna Gephart
I was so impressed with Gepharts Death by Toilet Paper, and I've met to read more of her work ever since.

Garvey's Choice/Nikki Grimes
Grimes is another author I read years ago, when I tried to be a well-read person.  A novel in verse sounds like the perfect venue for her voice.

The Reader/Traci Chee
I've actually started this one.  Yay me!  

The Memory of Things/Gae Polisner
I want to read at least ONE of the 9/11 books that came out recently, and this one has a cool cover.  

The Last Cherry Blossom/Kathleen Burkinshaw
Won it from Goodreads last summer, been meaning to read it ever since.  

Save Me a Seat/Sarah Weeks
Cross cultural friendship in the cafeteria.  It will either be glorious or like an after school special.

If I Was Your Girl/Meredith Russo
Lots of good press for this book.  As I work on my own understanding of the gender binary and those who reject it, I'm interested in the idea that being a "transgender woman" is not actually different than being "a woman"--except in having a different experience in childhood, and how society responds.

When We Collided/Emery Lord
I haven't read anything by her.  I actually thought this book had been out longer.  

Rebel of the Sands/Alwyn Hamilton
Another book I've heard great things about. and that cover--so classy!

Burn Baby Burn/Meg Medina
I got to see Medina speak on a diversity panel, and was super impressed.  The first book of hers I read was pretty good, but didn't blow me away.  I hear this one's even better.

Anna and the Swallow Man/Gavriel Savit
I already mentioned my eastern bloc fascination.  Plus, I just won this from a giveaway on It Starts at Midnight!  I have to read it now!

The Memory of Light/Francisco X. Stork
Francisco X. Stork just may have the coolest name in YA literature right now.  I loved Marcelo and the Real World, and I really want to try this one too.

Juliet Takes a Breath/Gabby Rivera
I haven't read many books with POC lesbian characters.  Plus it's set in my hometown.  

Lady Cop Makes Trouble/Amy Stewart
And here we have another book for grown-ups.  2/20 isn't bad, right?  (Actually, I think Juliet Takes a Breath is also adult fiction.)  I adored the first book in the series, and am eager to read the next installment.

Worm Loves Worm/J. J. Austrian
In the grand tradition of And Tango Makes Three, a children's picture book reminds us to STOP FREAKING THE FREAK OUT ABOUT THINGS THAT ARE PERFECTLY FREAKING NORMAL JUST BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT "THE NORM."  

Hey, maybe what I should do with my crazy to-read shelf on Goodreads is pull 20 per year to put on a special to-read shelf.  

Or not.  That sounds like a pain, honestly.