Friday, September 12, 2014

Ten Books That Have "Stuck With Me" Part Two

I'm picking up where I left off in my last post:
6. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

This book changed the way I think about my life. The whole book is basically about how your life is a story. And if you don't like the story you're living, you can change it. You can live a better story. You don't have to spend a lot of money or jump off of bridges or do anything risky or dramatic to live a better story either. You can start by just paying more attention to what's around you, volunteering, finding a new hobby, etc.

7. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Namesake
This book has stuck with me as it follows the son of a immigrants from India as he becomes the first generation to be born and raised in America. I never gave much thought to cultural clashes and adjustments until I read this book and watched Gogol struggle to balance his Indian heritage with American culture.

8. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Traveler's Wife
The love story between Clare and Henry is one of my favorite love stories of all time. The jumping back and forth in time was a little confusing at first, but added creativity and uniqueness to the story. 

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver (The Giver #1)
I still get mad every time I read the chapter about the twins. But I love this book. I love that Jonas does what's right even though it's hard. And I don't think the ending is bad-- I think it brings hope. This is probably one of my favorite young adult novels of all time. I can't believe I didn't actually sit down and read it until I became a middle school teacher. 

10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I loved this book. It was confusing at first, but once I got into it, it didn't disappoint. Not only is it about Oskar's search for a lock in which to put the key he found in his dad's belongings, it's also about loss in general and the human desire to fill the voids caused when we experience loss.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ten Books That Have "Stuck With Me" Part One

There is a trend popping up in my Facebook newsfeed (besides the Ice Bucket Challenge). It says a lot about the company I keep-- there are a lot of readers in my life. Basically, you post 10 books that have "stuck with you" and why, then you tag some friends to do the same. I thought I'd share my list here too. I'm going to split it into two posts though (here's hoping I remember to do post #2), otherwise you'll be reading for quite some time.

1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.

 It was one of the first chapter books I remember reading on my own. And it's one I'm excited to share with my own kids (my daughter is just about the perfect age for it). I loved Wilbur, Charlotte is about the only spider I've ever been able to get on board with (except for maybe Aragog from Harry Potter), and Fern's passion for saving Wilbur from the beginning was one of the first emotional experiences I remember having with a book.

2.  A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Sara just didn't give up and had such a positive spirit. I remember rooting for her to triumph over Miss Minchin. I think this book stuck with me not only because it showed me the power of positive thinking and a grand imagination, but also because it was one of the first chapter books I read in which I felt a sense of good doing battle with evil.

3. The entire Harry Potter series (I know, I know, it's really 7 books, but it's ONE story overall) by J.K. Rowling

 I did not come of age with Harry Potter. In fact, I wasn't introduced with him until college, the summer that book 4 came out. But I fell instantly in love with the books. And as a student studying to become an English Language Arts teacher, I loved even more that Harry Potter made kids want to read again. When book 5 came out, my smallish town in Northeast Ohio had a huge release party on main street, and every kid at the camp I worked at that summer was reading that book. I was moonlighting at a bookstore when book 6 came out, and I remember just being in awe at the hundreds of thousands of people that went out to bookstores everywhere AT MIDNIGHT, TO GET A BOOK! And book 7. Oh, the ending. I was pregnant with my oldest child that summer. We were driving back from vacation, picked up our dog, and headed straight to the bookstore to get in line. I finished it the next day. I'm excited to share the books with my own children, when the time is right. As the later books are darker, I'm hoping I can hold out until my kids are closer to 3rd or 4th grade before I share my love of this series with them. If my kids are like me, they'll want to devour the whole thing, one right after another. 

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I realize it is probably a little cliche for this book to make an English teacher's list, but hear me out. This was the first book I was required to read in high school. I loved the innocence the story had with it's child's perspective, but what I loved was how overall it made me think a lot more about how to be a decent human being and how to think about and treat others. Certain lines have stuck with me throughout my life. And when I think of justice and what is right, I always think of Atticus Finch first.

5. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I read this book for a college course on teaching writing during my sophomore year. I absolutely fell in love with Anne Lamott (caution, she is known to swear upon occasion if that offends you). The title of this book comes from a childhood memory of Anne's: her brother had to write a report on birds. It was taking him forever and frustrating him. Her dad calmed him down by simply saying they'd just take the report "bird by bird." She manages to apply that idea and extend that analogy not only into being a writer (lots of advice for writers in here) but to life as well. She mixes in humor to break up the more serious moments, and I found myself reading way ahead of what the syllabus required of me nightly.

Okay, that's the first five. Look for the next five coming soon.

**Sidenote, if you manage to find me on Facebook, and you are a current or former student under the age of 18, I'm not saying I don't like you by denying your friend request. I do like you. And when  you are 18 and have graduated high school, if you still care what your 8th grade Language Arts teacher is up to, I'd love to accept your friend request at that time. But for now, I have to keep respectable and unquestionable boundaries. Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Countdown by Deborah Wiles 


I'm beginning to think I have a thing for trilogies. This is the first book of The Sixties Trilogy by Deborah Wiles. Countdown focuses primarily on Franny Chapman, a fifth grader in the year 1962 who lives just outside of Washington DC. The Cuban Missile Crisis has instilled fear in most Americans. Franny's uncle, who lives with them and who suffers from a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (though this is never named) from fighting one of the World Wars, even goes so far as to attempt to dig a fallout shelter in their yard. Franny's older sister, Jo Ellen, keeps sneaking off to secret meetings for youth Civil Rights organizations (a set up for the second book?), and Franny's younger brother, Drew, who clings tightly to his copy of Our Friend the Atom, becomes even more paranoid about being bombed after President Kennedy's television address. Franny straddles the world between being a kid (part of her just wants to read Nancy Drew and play with her friends) and being an adult (learning more about her uncle's mental disorder, her sister's activity, and what the Missile Crisis could mean). 

What makes this book unique is its multi-genre format. Interspersed with Franny's story are actual historical documents about the 1960s. There are "duck and cover" cartoons, song lyrics, short biographies of prominent 1960s figures, photographs, and more. You get more than just Franny's story with this book, you get a primer on the early 1960s as well. 

The book has enough of a complete ending to satisfy readers, but also leaves enough questions (especially about Jo Ellen) to pave the way for a sequel.

The second book, Revolution,  just came out this year and is about Freedom Summer. I haven't read that one yet, but I am looking forward to it.

Overall Rating: 5 Stars (I loved it-- a perfect blend of historical fact and literary fiction)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass

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This is the second book of The Selection Trilogy, and it does not disappoint. Only six girls are left to try and capture the heart of Prince Maxon, and America Singer, who seemed to have won his heart in the first novel (but was still unsure of herself) is beginning to have even more doubts. Rebels are attacking the palace more frequently and the tasks that are part of the competition carry more weight (like entertaining foreign diplomats). 

I think what makes me enjoy this series so much is that it was meant to be written as a trilogy. Some more recent YA (young adult) series have started with one book that has been wildly successful, and then the author is able to continue by writing two more books with the middle book often serving as a bridge between the first and third books. This trilogy doesn't seem to be like this, and it's clear the author meant to write the series as three books. This book brings more depth to the characters that are left and answers more questions about what happened to North America, and the United States, in this future society.  

Overall Rating: 4 stars (I liked it)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

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It's kind of like "The Bachelor," except in a book, without as much drama (because this is YA fiction), and set in a dystopian future.

In what was once the United States of America but is now Illea, Prince Maxon is coming of age, and he must find a suitable princess who will one day be queen. In order to find the best girl for the job, girls from every province can apply to be a part of The Selection. One girl from each of the 35 provinces is then chosen to participate-- it's the chance of a lifetime considering this society thrives on a caste system. America Singer (a 5-- 8's are the lowest caste) is chosen to head to the palace to compete for the prince's heart. There's just one problem: she is in love with someone else. A place in The Selection, however, guarantees her a permanent change in caste status whether she wins or not, money for her family, and food to eat. And as she gets to know the Prince, she realizes he's not as bad as she once thoughts. This book follows America's experience in The Selection as she tries to decide if she should take a chance and let herself fall for the Prince, or if she should follow her heart and not forget the boy she left behind.

Overall rating: 4 stars (I liked it)

A word of caution: This is the first book of a trilogy, and it is meant to be a trilogy. The book does not come to a complete and satisfying ending. You will need to read them all for the full story.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why I Wanted To Become a High Tech Classroom Teacher

So many times in my classroom I find myself thinking, “this would be so much better if…” And that “if” is usually related to technology. I think about how much more engaged my students would be if I had 5 or 6 devices that I could set up in stations for them to rotate through in small groups, each station giving them a piece of an overall big picture concept or idea they are learning about in class that day. I think about how cool it would be if my students could share a device with a partner and look up vocabulary words on a daily basis. We keep our reading log on a Google Doc that I leave up on the student computer in the back of my room—how much richer would our conversations about reading be if every pair of students could call up that doc and discuss the things they are reading independently with one another?

And if every student had a device? I’d be using Socrative almost daily to check for understanding and to determine what needed to be retaught. I’d save myself so much time by posting articles for discussion that students could easily call up on their devices instead of trekking to the copy machine to make them. When conferencing with students about their writing, they could make corrections and adjustments immediately, while in their conferences with me, instead of taking notes and then taking those notes home and then making changes.

While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself someone who is uber-tech savvy, I will say that I am knowledgeable about a lot of technology trends, and I’m certainly not afraid to try new things and learn about new technologies. The things I have learned about and have been able to implement thus far (wikis, Google Docs, Socrative quizzes, movie editing, using my personal iPad to monitor student progress in discussions, etc.) have changed the way I teach. I’ve come a long way in how technology is used in my classroom from when I first began my career ten years ago.

 I am excited about being a high-tech classroom next school year. I am excited about how it will change what I do. My students growth will be maximized as they learn through platforms with which they’re already familiar. As a professional, a high-tech classroom will challenge me daily to implement lessons that truly teach and review 21st Century Skills. And I'm excited to share what I learn along the way.