Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 14, including two re-reads and two audiobooks.
Best(s): Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy.  Also: Strange the Dreamer, Invisible Emmie, and The Cursed Queen

Mt. TBR progress: One.  Whoopsies!

Bookish Events and Happenings

I feel like I may have overcommitted just a tiny bit to reading related projects this summer.

1.  I signed up to join an NCTE online book group that will be reading a new book called Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives.  Doesn't that sound right up my teacher/reader alley?

2.  I also signed up for the BookLove foundation's first summer reading group.  We will be reading Crossover and A Prayer for Owen Meany, both re-reads for me, as well as a professional book I've been wanting to read called Disrupting Thinking and The Hate U Give, which I am super excited about as well.  Two things I already love about this group: We joined for a small fee, which gets applied to funding other classroom libraries, and the discussion of each book is going to happen using different methods we can adapt for our own classroom reading/discussion work.  

3.  I'm still hoping to work with a colleague in the Seattle area to design a Pacific NW NerdCamp, bringing teachers, school librarians, authors and illustrators together.  That's a BIG one, so we'll see how it turns out.

4.  I've gotta push for funding for the conference I'm going to next fall, keep in touch with the group I'm presenting with, and work up materials for my part of the presentation.

5.  I want to either redesign this blog so there are clear "reader" and "teacher" areas OR start a blog that I can use with my students.  

Oh, and I want to read a bunch.  And relax.  So we'll see how much of this I actually DO.

On the Blog

I took a two week hiatus, so I only have eight posts this month.  And I'm okay with that.  The day I had a guest post up on the Nerdy Book Blog, I got a bunch of visitors, a couple of new followers, and my first ever tweets of my work by strangers.  So that was cool, especially since the topic of that post (non-traditional reading material for kids who think they hate reading) is pretty close to what I said I'd discuss at my table group in our presentation next fall.  Which makes me a published expert on the topic, right?  


We are in the final few weeks of school, the weather FINALLY got better, and students are losing their ever-lovin' minds.  The Winemaker and his partner won the regional bridge tournament for their bracket and are headed to nationals in Canada this summer, and I am super proud of him.  We hosted a visitor from Latvia for a week.  He brought us candy and liquor that made me deeply nostalgic, and we showed him around the area.   We spent a lovely Sunday at the beach over Memorial Day weekend, but I fell over about an hour before we left and kind of smashed my face up.  (Did I ever tell you about the time I was in first grade when I fell over walking into school and broke my nose?  I haven't changed much.)  

I am an unabashed lover of summer, so the improved weather, longer days, and looming vacation are all making me happy down to my newly-painted-for-sandal-weather toes.  I hope you have things to look forward to as well.

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Monday, May 29, 2017

On Falling Down and Rising to the Occasion

I keep falling down.

I wish that were a metaphor, but it's the truth.  I started the previous school year by stumbling over a crack in a sidewalk and doing a faceplant in front of a TV crew in town to film some episodes of The Librarian and ended it by stumbling down a friend's front walk, dropping the meal I was bringing his family as he recovered from surgery.  

This year, I started the year by tripping backwards down the stairs over Labor Day weekend, giving myself a concussion that continues to plague me with ringing in my ears, frequent headaches, and a near-constant need for naps.  During the snows of January, I took ONE measly little walk and ended up spraining my ankle badly enough that it left me with a permanently puffy foot.  And this weekend--the final holiday weekend of the year, so a tidy little piece of symmetry--I stumbled over my daughter's foot smacked my entire face into an asphalt road.

"It was like you didn't even TRY to stop yourself," my daughter said, horrified.  But the aching in my arms tells me that I did try, but couldn't do much to stop the force with with my body slammed down. Maybe I need to start doing pushups so my arms can do a better job protecting me the (seemingly inevitable) next time I take a tumble.
I took a selfie this morning, but I am not going to share it here. (You're welcome.)  I skinned my chin and the tip of my nose, and somehow got a serious cut in the bridge of my nose.  When I put a bandaid on, it feels like I'm wearing glasses. There's some swelling--my eyes have an interesting shape--but nothing too serious.  

The bright side?  We really needed a few groceries today.  I was not feeling up to dealing with people doing double takes, no doubt wondering if my husband is abusive (he's not) or if I'm a drunk (I'm not), so I drove my 11 year old to the store and she headed in with a shopping list and some cash.  She asked to go to the store that has self-checkout, because she was too shy to deal with a clerk directly, but other than that, she had a great time.  "I got whole wheat bread, because it's good for you," she informed me seriously as we unpacked back at home.  "And the tangerines were two dollars more per pound than the regular oranges, so I got the regular ones, because that 's a LOT."  Such a careful shopper.  

I tasked her with buying ice cream too, and she loved having control over that choice, picking chocolate truffle ice cream.  She did things differently than I would have (getting two small sacks of sugar instead of one big one; buying fancy ice cream but cheap bread), but I know better than to criticize or correct.  It was great seeing her confidence as well as her pride in helping me out.  

It helps balance out the blow to my own pride.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Bullet Journaling for the Imperfect

Nobody in the history of ever has accused me of being a perfectionist.

Is it because I'm the baby of the family?

Is it because I'm lazy?

Is it because I'm enlightened?

Is it because I realized early on that "done, but sloppy" often is preferable to "not done, but would have been perfect?"

Probably all of these.  Still, part of not being driven in this way means recognizing that there are projects that are not well suited to my personality.  I paint the walls, but my husband does the edges.  I run a blog, but post when I feel like it.

So when I first heard about Bullet Journaling a year or so ago, I thought--well, isn't that cute.  Look at those hyper-organized types getting all creative.

It looked like fun, sure.  I like writing, and I like lists, and I have an enormous stash of journals I filled in my tweens, teens, and twenties.  But between the regimentation of the official process, complete with complicated nomenclature, and the aggressively instagrammed hand lettering and decorating that seemed involved, I knew it was a trend to admire from a distance.

But then I went to a BuJo workshop at a EdTech conference, mostly because I knew the presenter and wanted to be supportive, and she taught us how to draw banners.

I stopped on the way home and bought a Leuchtterm journal and an extra fine ink pen.

And I have used that thing nearly every damn day in the past three months.  So enamored am I that I made this graphic to pull together what I love and what I've learned about this process.

It helps me with organization.  Making a weekly plan and tracking what I get done daily has done wonders for my scraps of paper and lost to-do lists.  I am able to look over my week and see what's happening, and I get the thrill of checking things off as they get done.  Sure, there are calendars that do the same thing, but I've never been organized enough to follow through on maintaining any kind of day book.  Bullet journals make it fun, which makes it easier to be consistent.  

You can see my habit tracking on these too.  It helps me get motivated for some habits I'd like to build, but not for others, so I play around with it from week to week to find things that work.  Mostly I just like coloring in the boxes when I actually do something.

I keep notes in the journal, and yes, this sometimes means I take scrawled notes in the moment, then boil them down and tidy them up for the journal.  It sounds nutty, but it certainly helps solidify new information in my mind.

It encourages me to play around with different types of creativity, from the mindless to the experimental.


One way you can tell that it's not the journal of a perfectionist is that I mess up and don't really care.  I also have many pages where I was just experimenting, and it didn't really work out, but oh well.

Like this day when I was looking at a friend's doodle book, and my rain page went great but my stars were all a disaster.

Or when I wrote the heading weird, then doodled random shapes around it, the "fixed" it by going for a stained glass effect, then went ahead and scrawled the rest of my notes without paying any attention to design or even neatness.

And then there was the 30 Day Minimalism Challenge that I gave up after doing about 10 items in 20 days and realizing that I was only doing the things that took fewer than five minutes.

Or--this is a good one--when I tried to track my commenting on other blogs, and quickly realized it was way too cumbersome of a system.  So I used the space to try out something I'd seen where you write the same word in cursive and printing, layered over itself, and I SPELLED MY SON'S NAME WRONG.  Nice one.

Mistakes are okay.  Failures are fine.  I've tried several things that didn't work for me, and that's okay--I don't have to do it any one way.  If something wasn't working for me, I abandoned it.

It's just fun.  And I think that growing up in a family of artists I kind of struggle with this sense that creativity has to be "real art," and that anything derivative or mass-produced is bad.  So when I see the same types of sketches on dozens of Instagram BuJo posts, or notice people using stencils or stickers, I have this knee-jerk "not okay" reaction.  Which is bullshit.  In the same way that my blog is a venue for my creative expression even though the world hardly needs another book blog, my bullet journal lets me use my hands to create, even if mine looks pretty much like everyone else's, but messier.  It's okay to tinker around or to try the latest craft; you don't have to create Serious Art in order to be creative.

Final note: when I first heard "BuJo" as an abbreviation, I thought it was way too cutesy and ridiculous.  But here's the thing--it gets weird to keep repeated the entire phrase "bullet journal," and it turns out BJ is already taken.  So BuJo it is.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Types of Books that are Hooking My Most Reluctant Readers

I woke up Saturday morning to more Twitter notifications than usual.  Since by "usual," I mean zero, "more than" is about twenty.  Still, enough to make me curious.  It turns out that my guest post on the Nerdy Book Blog had posted, and some people were actually sharing it.  Yay!

If you are curious about what I'm tempting my middle schoolers with, you too can check out my suggestions on their blog.  It covers everything from Elephant and Piggie books to books that acknowledge teen sex.

My reading classroom changes from day to day, man.  One day I can't get anyone to settle down and read, and the next day they don't want to stop.  One kid who hasn't read all year suddenly falls into a book, and another kid who's been happily reading suddenly stalls out.  It's delicate and fascinating and frustrating to try to create the just right circumstances and help kids find the just right book.  It's also kind of awesome.

Monday, May 22, 2017

TTT: The Books Of Summer

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 Summer Reads Freebie: In preparation for Memorial Day let's rec some summer/beach reads: books to go in your beach bag, best books set in summer, books with summer-y covers, best beach reads for people who don't enjoy contemporary/realistic reads, best beach reads for fans of X genre, etc. etc.

Summer camp. The beach. The mountains. Lemonade. Ice cream. Tomatoes. Sprinklers. Dining al fresco (or as we call it, eating outside). Picking berries. Sunshine and sun lotion and sweat. Vacation. Menial jobs. Sunsets. Road trips. Lake swimming.

Here are some books that hum with summer to me.  

Summer Locales
Ramona Blue (which actually takes place from the last day of one summer to the first day of the next, but is still infused with that summery beach town feel.)
Wind in the Willows (although I love the winter bits too.)
Dandelion Wine (so deeply nostalgic)
Prince of Venice Beach (living in a tree house is pretty darn summery)
The Long Secret (in which Harriet the Spy leaves the city to summer on Long Island)

Summer Jobs

The Upside of Unrequited (stocking shelves at knick-knack shop)
The Living (working on a cruise ship)
I'll Meet You There (front desk of a hotel)
Marcelo in the Real World (in the mail room of Dad's firm)

Summer Stories
Blueberries for Sal (picking berries)
Prodigal Summer (this HAS to be on a summer list)
Sunny Side Up (vacationing in Florida--yay!-with grandpa--boo!)

The Porcupine of Truth (a road trip ensues)
We Were Liars (a lifetime of summer memories and one that is strangely forgotten)

Summer Camp
Honor Girl (camp for good Southern girls)
The Haters (band camp)
Exit, Pursued by a Bear (cheer camp)

Just Reminds Me of Summer
The Silver Chair (my sister and I spent a summer reading it out loud together)
The Accidental Tourist (my high school bestie and I read this one while "laying out")
The Hero and the Crown (listened to this while recovering from a bike crash)
The Pox Party (read this just after school got out one summer, and started my Goodreads account with it)

Ramona Blue is Amazing

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Published 2017 by Balzar + Bray/Harper Collines

432 pages, contemporary fiction.

I usually don't summarize books in my reviews, because, well, it just doesn't interest me, either to read or to write.  But I do get that people who don't already know much about a book that's being reviewed might want some context for whatever response I'm writing.  I finally realized that I can do what others do and copy the Goodreads blurb onto my reviews.  So here's what it says about Julie Murphy's follow-up to the much-loved Dumplin':

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

And then here's what I have to say after devouring this book in well under 24 hours:

I love this book so much.

I love that it doesn't shy away from poverty, from race, from sexuality, from crappy parents and crappy luck and all the things that can make a person feel less-than, other, worthless and hopeless. And I love that it faces all of this and offers love, hope, and courage, without being false or over-simplifying anything. 

That's the scope of the book, but I also love the details. This book is dripping with specificity. I am not a reader who spends much time visualizing; if anything I tend to skim over descriptive parts to get back to character and plot. But I can see the partitioned bedrooms of Ramona's trailer, feel the humidity that curls her hair, smell the bar where she works. I know what Hattie and Tyler look like, how Freddie's voice sounds, and what it feels like to be hugged by Agnes. I have never been anywhere near the locale of this book, but I feel like I know it now. 

One concept that stands out for me in this book is respect. Every character is imbued with such humanity. Even the ones who are closer to bad guys than good--Tyler, the girls' mom, Grace and Viv--are still treated as people, complex in their failures and mistakes. There's a random kid who keeps hounding Ramona to purchase a yearbook page, and he is a more fully rounded character than the protagonist of half the universe's novels. 

In her acknowledgements, Murphy talks about how long it took her to write this book. I'm not worried. She can move at a glacial pace if the result is this kind of book. There's nothing tossed off or jammed in; everything is just as it should be, and I can only imagine the amount of work it takes to do that. 

Oh--terrific story, too, in case you were wondering.  And it almost--almost--made me want to go swim some laps.

all the stars/5 stars

What books have you read that have been far outside your lived experience, yet made you feel like you could completely relate to the characters?

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Pause, a Rest, a Break

I'm going to have to take some intentional time off from my blog.

Life is being extra life-y these days, and I just don't need the stress of knowing I'm not writing or posting or commenting as much as I want to.  I'm really good about not worrying about how much I'm "supposed to" blog, but there is an amount that I find satisfying, and I can't do that right now.

Today is May 8th.  If I'm able, I'll be back to blogging in two weeks.  If I still don't feel up to it, I will start doing Sunday update posts each week just to keep in touch with y'all until I can do more.  I'll still be reading, or course, and if I start feeling the itch to blog I'll try to channel it into reading and commenting on your blogs.

Think spring!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

April in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 19

Best(s): The Upside of Unrequited, to which I award all the stars.  Also Goodbye Days and The Smell of Other People's Houses got 5 stars from me, and Ghost, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and All American Boys all got 4.5.  Last month no books got higher than 4 stars, so it was a definite improvement.  (Two of those books are by Jason Reynolds.  He may be on to something with this writing gig.)

Mt. TBR progress: 4, for a total of 26/100.

Bookish Events and Happenings

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon!  I loved it, even if it didn't go quite as smoothly for me as my first two times did.  And I shamelessly @ed Jeff Zentner and Becky Albertalli that I loved their books (and have one up for Reynolds as well) because apparently I crave the validation of having authors approve of my approval of their books?  The 21st century is weird.

I have the full 100 items checked out from the library right now.  Just thought I'd share.

On the Blog

14 posts.  After getting really good (for me) traffic during March with the Slice of Life Challenge, I saw a sizable drop-off this month.  The one exception was last week's TTT, in which I talked about ten types of books I am probably absolutely not going to read.  And my only thought on why that was so popular is that I posted my link earlier than I usually do?  So more people clicked on it?  I have no idea.  I also had a lot of fun with my "this or that" post, and with this month's Six Degrees post (oops, I made two of them!).


We celebrated our daughter's 11th birthday, meaning we hosted a sleepover, a family dinner, and an extended family cake-and-presents event.  I always love seeing how kind and creative her friends are at these things.  Her super cool cousin got her a bow and arrow.  We gave her the rest of the money for the American Girl Doll she's been saving for.  That's pretty much my kid--weapon and a doll.  I hated being 11 and 12, so I'm trying not to put that on her.  She's the oldest kid in her class, so she might not have the same pressure to grow up faster than she's comfortable with.  She's also much cuter and more outgoing than I ever was, but it's true what they always tried to tell us--the pretty ones are incredibly self-critical too.  GAH.  Why is it so hard?  

We thought we were going to sell this place we've had stuff stored in for seven years.  The sale fell through, but we cleaned it out anyway.  We have thrown out/recycled/gifted/donated/put away so much of it, but our porch and our bedroom are both still crowded with boxes.  Which is the kind of thing that we can honestly roll with normally, but we're expecting a guest from overseas next week, so we kinda don't want to look too trashy.  It might help if our vacuum cleaner and lawn mower hadn't also both died this month.  

I was super proud of myself for going to the doctor to check in about the ringing in my ears (constant since getting a concussion last September) and the swelling in my ankle (still there after spraining it in January).  Self care.  Healthy choices.  Guess what?  When you're old, stuff doesn't go away.  She phrased it more politely, but basically, I'm stuck with constant tintinnabulation and two different sized feet for life.  Awesome. Also, I'm "Are you sure you're old enough to be my doctor?!?" years old now. 

I may have already mentioned this, but I am super excited about it, so I'll brag again--I'm part of a group that is going to be doing a presentation at NCTE, a huge national conference for English teachers.  We're talking about the grants we won to create huge classroom libraries and how we build readers through choice.  I think I'll be focusing on embracing "low-brow" and "subpar" books to reach kids who seriously hate reading.  

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

If you don't hear from me again, it's because I'm in jail for responding to the fact that it's 10:30 and night and my kids keep waking each other up. 

(That's a joke, btw.  I mean, the jail-worthy response part.  I'm a mandatory reporter, so there will be none of that, but I really wish they would SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP NOW.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: I Read, I Puked, I Read Some More

This was definitely the weirdest read-a-thon experience I've had.  It started off with me eating my snacks and starting The Lies of Locke Lamora on Thursday instead of saving everything for the actual read-a-thon.  No regrets though, snacks and book were great, and the book was super long and would have probably been kind of overwhelming to get through in one sitting.

Then I pretty much forgot to get my usual spreadsheet set up, so at 4:55 Saturday morning I was copying and pasting from last time's spreadsheet.  I finally got settled in and started, and the first few hours were magical as usual.  Birds chirping, the sky lightening, and good progress on my book.

Then I had to get my kid up and drive her across town for a class.  I didn't want to tune her out during our only time together, so I didn't listen to a book or anything while we drove.  I dropped her off and located a coffee shop, where I ate an almond croissant, drank a latte, and kept reading.  After I finished all that and worn out my coffee shop welcome, I still had some time before I had to pick her up.  I went to read in the car, but instead I fell asleep for an hour.  Whoops!

I was almost done with Lies, so I struck her a deal--I'd take her out for a quick lunch if she'd let me read while we ate.  I finally finished the book around 1:00 and was ready for a quicker read.

I picked up Garvey's Choice, figuring a middle grade novel in verse would go quickly, and I was right.  It took about half an hour to fly through.  It was cute, and quite a bit lighter than I'd anticipated.  Then I picked up Amy Schumer's memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.  I keep getting disappointed with celebrity memoirs, and I don't actually know much about her work, but I'd read somewhere that it was actually well written, and again, I figured it would be a breezy read for mid-RAT.  It was pretty good, less name dropping and more feminism than some of the ones I've read.

After those books, I was ready for something a little more involving, so I picked up The Upside of Unrequited.  You can see my adoring review here.  What it doesn't mention is that for the last hundred pages or so, I was feeling increasingly queasy.  Right around when I finished it, I got sick, which is a euphemism for "started puking."  So that was fun.  By the time things had calmed down, I was wiped out, so I just went to bed.

Yep.  24 hour read-a-thon, and I went to bed at 8 pm.  Nice.

But then I woke up around 3 am, with two hours left, and decided to regroup and rejoin.  So I picked up Ghost and was absolutely enchanted by it.  It was only 4:30 when I finished, so I grabbed volume two of Giant Days, a graphic novel series about three UK college students.  I may have taken slightly longer than a half hour to finish it, but I'm still counting it.

I did very few of the check-ins and challenges.  I got a nap and the equivalent of a full night's sleep.  I threw up, and I HATE throwing up.  But I finished six books.  I liked all of them, and loved four.