Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I have to confess. I don't usually shy away from novels because of their length, but this one I did. So, I got it on audio and the kids and I listened to it throughout the week. Well, I love puzzles and critical thinking, so this one was great! Plus, I think it gave my own children a new way to look at problems from a different angle.

Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance are alone in the world for various different reasons. When eccentric Mr. Benedict has them go through a variety of intelligence and integrity tests, these are the children who come through with flying colors. They are ensconced in Benedict's mansion filled with thousands of books (yum)and he tells them his ultimate plan. He needs the children to save the world from ultimate disaster/takeover at the hands of the evil Mr. Curtain, creator and director of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened or LIVE- which backwards spells EVIL. The puzzles presented here are wonderful for keeping brains sharp. A great book for kids to read over summer where it seems our district reading test is good at identifying summer "non-readers".

And, Happy Birthday to my little "Benedicts"- Are you both really 6 already?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Schooling, Audio and More...

After a few days/weeks of total chaos, school has finally begun for everyone in my household. The private school likes to mess things up and start one day after the public, therefore messing up my babysitting schedule. Anyway,....this year I am: a yoga student, a teacher, a mom, a wife, a Daisy leader, a department chair,a book reader and reviewer, a person vying for a position on a book award committee, a tennis player,a small business owner, an oblate, a soccer mom, a critic teacher and many, many others. So, things have been a bit crazy around here.

I did get time to finish the 7th 39 Clues Book: The Viper's Nest. Yes, I'm a bit behind, but I have the rest waiting in a stack. We're half way through Book 8, eagerly awaiting 9 and 10. When are the movies going to begin? If there was ever a series written to be made into films, this one is it! Sometimes I get bogged down with all of the information in this series, but I do have a prediction as to what Amy and Dan are looking for. This is a must read-aloud for building predicting skills with kids. I read Book 1- The Maze of Bones to struggling readers last year and they loved it. The action makes the series incredibly appealing. Additionally, I am really enjoying the audio versions on my walks around the neighborhood. The narration is well-paced and the voices are wonderful considering all of the characters in the series.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn

This is the latest installment from the author I seem to have craved since the spring. I think she is definitely an undiscovered treat for my students, as not many of them have read her books over the years. What a treasure trove for horror/mystery/ghost story fans. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall doesn't disappoint and delighted me with a Bronte-esque feel to it.

In 19th century London, Florence is suddenly whisked away to the mansion of her wealthy Great-Uncle who has been looking for the orphan for years. Florence finds another distant and sickly cousin (think young Linton)living in the house along with an ill-tempered Great-Aunt (sister of the Uncle). Soon Florence finds out that James' sister, Sophie, died the year before from a fall and is haunting Florence for unknown reasons. In one of her most haunting novels yet, Hahn has captured both fear, illness and mystery in a most gothic tradition. Middle grade readers will be happy with the ending and my 6 year-olds were fascinated that there was "blood on the cover, Mommy." (part of the picture)


Okay. Just about everyone has weighed in on this long awaited finale, so I'll keep this short and sweet.

I LOVE SUZANNE COLLINS. okay- that's enough.

No, really....this book definitely portrayed a slightly different mood than the others, but it should have. I loved the interplay between characters but found the ending leaving me with a desire to re-read the novel and digest it a bit more. After all, I ate it in GULPS! Couldn't seem to get through it fast enough.

As a school novel, I think Collins offers teachers a plethora of thematic topics to discuss: war, imperialism, bravery, choices, death- whether it's justified or not, survival. The whole trilogy is rich in themes that either affect students now or will in the future. I'm so curious to see what the students think, but I won't be able to ask them until next week!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne

I first met Teri at the very first Middle Mosaic in Nashville, first time. She was presenting at a round table and had an impressive list of YA books that would appeal to struggling readers. She is now the blog I read religiously (aka DAILY) and her books are no different. Her newest book is Reading Ladders: Leading Students From Where They Are to Where We'd Like Them To Be, (Heinemann, 2010). I have to confess, I've already read it twice and not just because she is gracious enough to chair our sessions at NCTE when we bumble through our own booktalks, not nearly as eloquently as she does. And, not because she was generous enough to put up her own money to get us the LCD player we had ordered but never showed up (Philly, 2009). And, not just because she is the Goddess of YA Literature. Teri is an amazing woman as well as professor and reader. So, without further ado: Reading Ladders.

Lesesne rightly begins her book with REASONS for giving students time to read in class as well as ways to build lifelong readers. I love how she later connects Laurie Halse Anderson's WFMAD to her suggestion of RFMAD- Reading Fifteen Minutes A Day in order to get ourselves familiar with YA lit. Of course, if you've read recent entries, I seem to stay up into the wee hours if I want to finish the YA book I'm reading.

Reading Ladders are ways to scaffold reading experiences for students that build up to the "classics" that some high schools are requiring in our age of never ending testing. In the book's forward, Jim Blasingame rightly notes that if a student is required to read Lord of the Flies in 9th grade, but the last book he/she read is Harry Potter, the gap is large and the student may have a difficult time bringing the needed reading skills to the table. These ladders are a genius way to help students build the reading skills necessary for the higher level tasks later in schooling.

My favorite part of the book is that Lesesne incorporates so many different genres of books in her ladders. She uses picture books as well as graphic novels and audiobooks (one of my favorites!) I will be suggesting this book to colleagues when I present on blogging, Google Reader set-up and YA lit in a few weeks. I am excited because two people have already emailed me telling me how excited they are that this is part of PD this year!

How Many Copies Do You Have Pre-Ordered?

My oldest and I absolutely CAN'T WAIT for the release of Mockingjay next week. I have to clear time to just read and read. Twins will be @ camp and oldest and I will have time. I have two copies pre-ordered on Amazon (won't arrive until 8/26) and oldest has a Border's gift card ready and waiting. I'm pretty sure there will be another copy in there somewhere, as I will not be able to wait two days to begin and will definitely not win Mother of the Year Award if I steal the one the 10 yr-old bought with her own money. Besides, it will be the most checked out book in the fall. Can't have too many copies!
AUGUST 24, 2010! NOT FAR NOW....

August Nightmares

And, here they are again, boys and girls...those ugly August nightmares. However, after 21 years in the BIZ, they are now interspersed with dreams of delightful classes where all are learning and amazingly quiet and cooperative. Hmmmm....

I am trying desperately to finish projects in my house these last few weeks and get my own children through their never ending lists of school supplies. I know that many districts around the country have already started, but here in Michigan we have a law that says we must wait until after Labor Day due to tourism. Next week begins my bulletin board brigade and the emptying of the boxes I feel like I just packed.

Post NYC

After a week in New York visiting my sister and taking my friend around the city, I am back to blogging. I just finished (because I couldn't stop reading it) SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick. I love, love, LOVE Amber Appleton and think kids could learn so much from her. In a world where everyone seems to be out for themselves, Amber offers kindness, generosity and hope despite her setbacks. Amber lives in "Hello Yellow", the school bus her mother drives, with said alcoholic mother. Hence, no $ for an apt. Despite the conditions of her life, Amber spreads love and joy all around her- and she brightens the days of everyone she meets. Her spunk and energy are contagious! Mid-novel Amber falls into a deep depression after a serious blow in her life. Yet, her friends come to her rescue in a conclusion that I dare you to keep a dry eye for. I couldn't see the page through the tears. What a fabulous, quirky character, in actions as well as speech! This one was sort of off my radar, but my friend Jennifer told me it was a "must read." Was she ever right!

Also listened to a classic Nancy Drew (The Bungalow Mystery) on the way to Indiana for a funeral. I love these books even though they are a bit corny at times. That Nancy sure is a good dresser! I'd forgotten how great Keene was at describing Nancy's outfits. And, there is no peer to Carolyn Keene's "grabber" scenes at the beginning. There is always adventure to keep the reader interested.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I guess I've let the days get away from me. I am reading many, many books and not finishing many because it's summer and I'm reading whatever strikes my fancy at any time. Plus, the kiddos have kept me quite busy.

I did finish Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles and loved it. The messages weren't preachy and I loved how it showed the main character taking responsibility for her actions. I thought the emotions of the males were especially well written and that this novel will resonate well with both female and male readers.

Last night I devoured one of Carlos Luis Zafon's early books, which happens to be a YA novel. The Prince of Mist had me from page one and didn't stop both surprising me and creeping me out! The middle schoolers will LOVE this one! Although I got it from the public library, I will definitely put it on my bookshelf (my own copy, of course) in the fall. BTW, I LOVED The Shadow of the Wind by Zafon also.

Here is what else I'm working on finishing:

The Explosive Child by Ross Green, MD
Play by Stuart Brown, MD
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (Aussie)
Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
39 Clues- Viper's Nest by Gordon Korman
Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick

And...loads of ARCs!

And...I'm doing this!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thoreau at Walden

I love graphic novels, especially for what they can do for struggling readers. I read this wonderful version of Walden by John Porcellino last night. Almost the entire book is written using Thoreau's actual words, taken from various publications, mostly Walden. Thoreau's values of simplicity and living happily in nature come through loud and clear, making him accessible to students of all ages. The text isn't watered down, so the actual words can resonate with readers. Additionally, the pictures are simple and clear. For some reason, I just love the way Porcellino has depicted the cabin. In this case, the simplicity of the pictures echo Thoreau's values- nice touch.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Seasons of the EmmaLee by Michael Lindley

For my birthday, the family got me a book that was "local" at the time. The Seasons of the EmmaLee is an adult book but might appeal to YA audiences as well. There are several stories going on at once-the prologue tells of a grandfather and grandson out on a pier fishing when the boy comes upon a floating dead girl. However, the reader doesn't know who this person is or what era she fits into until 3/4 of the way through the novel. One story, set in the present, brings Alex and his 12 year-old daughter, Megan, to Charlevoix, Michigan for the Venetian Boat Festival. The unusual part is that Alex is riding through on his newly restored, 180 foot yacht, the EmmaLee. Waiting for him at the dock in Charlevoix are George Larsen and Sally Thomason. George was the best friend of the man who eventually owned the EmmaLee and Sally is the daughter of the owner, the only remaining person left living in her family. This story is interspersed with the boat's history and the story of how Sally's parents came to love and marry each other even though they were from very different classes of people. This novel has several love stories, a murder and much suspense throughout. I have to admit that I never thought I would like this book, but finished it in two days. The cover didn't do much for me, but the picture of this huge yacht on the front helped me visualize much of the "boat part." The scenery, well, we just got back from the area, so all of the places were fresh in my mind. This was a nice escape.

On another note, I am so happy to have become part of Simon and Schuster's egalley party. I just downloaded a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson's upcoming Forge, which is the second novel after Chains- I LOVED Chains and so did my students. I even added it to my historical fiction genre cart. More on that book when I'm done with it!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th!

Awesome, quirky A2 Parade, Fun, friends, tennis, pool, sparklers, hamburgers and hot dogs, and- now that it's dark- fireworks! Happy Independence!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

This is a smart book. It's LOOONNNGGG, but worth it. Ethan and Lena are destined to be together. Lena is a "Caster" (read- witch) and Ethan seems to be a regular guy from Gatlin, SC, but he can hear Lena's voice in his head and he dreams with her simultaneously. Lena is about to turn 16 which is when she will be "claimed" by either the dark side or the light side. We know this story, right? Not really...NO VAMPIRES! Yeah! In fact, Lena's Uncle Macon, with whom she resides, makes sure that Ethan knows he isn't a vampire. Lena is an outcast at school but that doesn't prevent Ethan from loving her. The two discover a long lost locket and a story dating back to the Civil War. In addition, Ethan's father has become a recluse since the death of his wife and Ethan is still trying to cope with his mother's absence. The local DAR chapter would like to see both Lena and her uncle burned at the stake like they did in Salem- As Lena's birthday approaches, the suspense builds wonderfully and never seems to drag. The complicated plot here really astounds me because it is a dually written novel. The reader would NEVER know. It has history, ghosts, witches, research, voodoo, teen conflict, good v. evil, and romance. What more could a teen want? The climax is one readers will never forget and will want to read twice! This novel will appeal to a variety of teens due to the variety of themes covered. I was impressed here. And....the next one is out in October, 2010! (Copy of book purchased by reviewer) Check out the cool website of the authors and see the cover of the next novel, Beautiful Darkness.

Elvis and Olive by Stephanie Watson

Daughter #1 and I just finished this one. I was worried at first but it turned out to be a great tween/middle grades novel. Natalie and Annie (aka Elvis and Olive) have decided to run a detective agency. They finally try to help an Alzheimer's ridden neighbor find her old friend "Zadie". The sub plots are very cute: Natalie is running for student council secretary and Annie is her campaign manager even though they don't attend the same school; a neighborhood boy (brother of Natalie's crush) thinks he's a police officer and keeps issuing "tickets" to Natalie and Annie for breaking rules; Annie is living with an older woman in the neighborhood because Annie's mother ran off...These quirky little stories and sub plots all mesh nicely together in the end. My daughter (10) and I really enjoyed it as a read aloud. Book will be published on July,

Advance copy provided by publisher

Audio: IF I STAY by Gayle Forman

I listened to this audio while driving up north on the 19th of June. I've already read the book, but that didn't stop me from crying- AGAIN! I read the book almost exactly a year ago, but I remembered most of it. The pacing and voice of the reader were wonderful and she did "voices" of the characters but it didn't sound affected at all. Such a powerful book both in print and in audio! Best of all, Forman has just finished the sequel called: WHERE SHE WENT. Yeah!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Have You Seen My Sad Tiger?

I found this- Disneyworld trip (Feb.) He cracks me up!

Yummy Mysteries

I'm hooked on these fun murder mysteries that combine food, recipes, and dead people. Check them out and bake some of the fun recipes included. I ended up downloading many of them to my Kindle so I could bookmark the recipes and cook them right from my computer screen!

Beware! They'll make you want to bake and eat cookies!

Vacation and Musing

Time to roll another year. Yes, tomorrow is my birthday and we are spending it up north for a change. My family accidentally happened upon a tradition of which we are quite fond. Four years ago we rented a cottage in the UP the week after school got out. I initially thought it was crazy due to trying to pack up my classroom and then pack five people for a week away from home. We have, however, continued this tradition for each consecutive year because 1) it forces me to finish my classroom the day I get out of school and not drag it into the following week; 2) it is a GREAT stress reliever to have a small place that is easy to clean, tons of magazines to read, walks each day and oodles of family time! 3) this year, especially, we get to celebrate Father's Day and my birthday up here. It is warm and peaceful and, if I get my birthday wish, I'll be able to listen to the song of the loons in the morning. We'll see.

So, yesterday so many of the lives I've lived converged. I took my family to Fisherman's Island State Park which I haven't visited in about 18 years or so. The last time I did I was with another person and I was (gulp) tent camping! Lake Michigan is my favorite lake of all of them surrounding the state of Michigan, so that was another plus to this park- miles of Lk. Michigan beach. We saw enormous lake trout vying for food as soon as we stepped foot on the sand. The kids climbed small dunes and we looked for petoskey stones for about an hour- found tons! Baby twin and I walked all the way out to Fisherman's Island which isn't even an island anymore due to the recession of the lake levels. Now, you just walk out there! She didn't understand the the beach we were traversing used to be under water. When we found shallow, sandy bottom (where we sat was rocky and full of algae), she dove in and swam around like a little fish. It made me so happy to see her enjoy my favorite lake so much. I wish I hadn't found out once we were up here that my camera battery is so dead it won't charge anymore!

This place makes me happy to be a mom- so many things to do with the kids! I am glad the cottage we rent here is for sale way above it's property value so maybe no one will ever buy it. My hubby still yearns to hook the elusive walleye or trout, but his effort is admirable. Life is good (as my t-shirt says).

Matched by Ally Condie

My new favorite ARC that I haven't had time to blog about was sent to me by Penguin. Out in Nov., 2010 (and also in the hands of greedy 8th graders already) is the novel Matched by Ally Condie. A fantastic combination of The Giver and The Hunger Games, Matched is the dystopian story of Cassia who is living in a futuristic society where you are "matched" with a life partner at 17 years-old via personal data by the Officials. The novel begins as Cassia discovers her "match" to be her best friend, Xander, who is by all means, perfect. Cassia couldn't be happier and when she puts the microcard into her "port" at home to see all of Xander's information (even though she knows most of it already) his picture fades away and is replaced by another face she knows- that of Ky. This sets into motion all sorts of events, leaving Cassia to wonder who her real match truly is. This novel will suck in all readers trying to decide between Peeta and Gale and those who adore Katsa and Po. The love story and the current trend toward can't-put-it-down-dystopian novels will have this book flying off the shelves. I read this on a three day trip to Chicago with the 8th graders and as I finished on the bus, four girls were begging me to allow them to read it over the summer. I have a list of five others to pass it on to after I receive it back in the mail. For sure, this one is a winner. Another book I'll have to have 6-7 copies of in my library once it's published. Thankfully, this is a trilogy because I really want to do more traveling around this world with Cassia.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

48 Hour Reading Challenge Update

With a very wide open Saturday, I am sorry that I didn't get in more reading hours. I spent many of them in a weird "funk." I was able to spend the following hours:

1.5 hours- Read/finished The Books of Elsewhere: Vol. 1: The Shadows by Jacqueline West: I loved the premise to the whole novel which was that Olive Dunwoody, after moving in to an old victorian with her geeky Mathematician parents, finds a pair of spectacles which allow her to go into the pictures hung about the house. She discovers early on that the pictures cannot, by any force, be moved off the walls. In the paintings, she discovers the "bad man" artist who painted all of the unmovable art in the house. The plot turns sinister when Olive's parents leave her alone overnight and she needs the help of the 3 talking cats to help her destroy the evil lurking around her. If you've read Teri Lesesne's book Reading Ladders, possibilities for ladders here are: The Graveyard Book, Beautiful Creatures and The Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. I'm surprised I haven't yet read any reviews of this book as I found it fresh and creepy all at the same time. I will definitely recommend it to my students next year.

30 minutes:
finished All The Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn. Another ghost story! This one has brother and sister Travis and Corey staying in grandma's B & B for a while and "waking" the haunting children who once lived and died on the property. There are many of these children/families buried in the back due to cruelty on the owners' part. The ghost children just want to be put to rest and Travis and Corey enlist the help of their grandmother to do that. Then, I fell asleep--napping--shouldn't read in my own bed. Too enticing.

12:30 a.m.-3:00 a.m.: Yes, I'm sure Mother Reader didn't have these kinds of hours in mind when she started the 48 Reading Challenge, but we had torrential downpours, thunder & lightning and flooding of the front yard (think old carpet rolls being flung onto the front lawn because husband's "friend" hasn't come to dispose of them like he promised) and garage (floating tennis shoes and old double strollers. Thank goodness the freezer is on a pallet). Needless to say, I couldn't get back to sleep so I read another Mary Downing Hahn novel: Deep, Dark and Dangerous. Ali is spending the summer with her aunt, Dulcie, and Dulcie's daughter Emma. There is a secret about why Dulcie and Ali's mom (sisters) won't talk about this old cabin that Dulcie has had refurbished after 30 years. A girl drowned while in a canoe with Dulcie and Claire 30 years ago and her body was never found. So, what connection is there between this drowned girl, Emma's new bratty friend who doesn't seem to have a home, and the destruction of Dulcie's artist's studio and all of her paintings? Another fascinating ghost story for kids!

Total Hours for Saturday- A disappointing 3.5 hours. More than a regular Saturday, though!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

48 Hour Book Challenge....Coming Up!

I am so looking forward to the 48 hour book challenge this weekend. My challenge will be fitting it in between three soccer games and a meeting, but I think I can manage! I am looking forward to finishing the Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West (Penguin, June 2010) and then moving on to more ghost stories and Countdown, which everyone is raving about! I will curl up in my cozy green chair (a la mama) and read until my eyes are crossed. And, I will definitely be blogging as I finish!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Whispers From the Dead

I was sad to look online and see that Joan Lowery Nixon died- 7 years ago! Where've I been? Well, I continue on my YA ghost story, creepy mystery streak. This one was audio and read by an awesome narrator who did great voices and Spanish that was believable! Sarah Darnell and her family have moved into a new house shortly after Sarah's near death experience drowning at a local lake. This experience has left her "closer to" the spirit world. Her first entry into her new house in Houston sends chills up her spine as she knows something horrible has happened in her home. She begins being "visited" by the deceased Rosa Luiz, who Sarah is quite sure used to be the illegal maid for the former residents of her house. Rosa is giving her messages in Spanish such as "Find it" and she "shows" Sarah how she was murdered. However, no one has any record of Rosa's death. While Sarah is trying to piece together this puzzle, she is introduced to Tony, who she falls for instantly. He is suave and charming...everything a teenage girl could want. When the Darnell's find out that the former residents moved out of the house because their son committed a murder in it, Sarah's mystery becomes even more bizarre. And, the woman who was murdered was a pizza delivery girl-not Rosa Luiz. With an ending twist that I saw coming quite early, this book packs a jaw dropping end and would keep the attention of even the most reluctant reader. I'm going to try it on some of the Read 180 kids. I'm off to read a novel in poetry....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge

I really want to participate this year! I signed up last year and never made the time to read. My daughter is considering it, too, since her school year will be ending that following week. We do have an ice cream social for school on that Friday, but I could definitely still make time for lots of books with a good reason!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Picture Book-Ellen's Apple Tree

Ellen's Apple Tree by Catarina Kruusval
I just love this book! A friend gave me a copy and the 5 year-olds love it. Part of why I love it is that it's Scandinavian and you can tell in the way the houses are portrayed on the inside pages. Ellen and her friend Ollie play in the tree in every season; they hang out in branches and peek through the blossoms and the leaves. They eat the beautiful yellow and red apples and reject the young, green, bitter ones. Ellen's mother saves the apples to eat all fall and into the winter. They leave the ground apples for neighbors to take for their horses. But, a winter storm knocks the tree over and Ellen and her parents must work to plant a new one in spring. I also love the portrayal of the seasons. The pictures are so inviting that I find myself wanting to play in Ellen's backyard. It reminds me of the only tree I used to climb when I was a kid. It was a cherry tree in our backyard when I lived in Detroit. I have memories of sharing my branch with Wayne Dyer's daughter. Yes, THE Wayne Dyer. He worked at Wayne State while my dad was there and my mom watched his daughter. That's the only memory I have though- the cherry tree.

Looking Forward: I'm anticipating the ARC of the new Michelle Zink book!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Crunch Time!

For anyone who reads this blog or just happens by occasionally, you know that I have serious lapses when it comes to crunch time at work and/or home. So, the end of the school year usually means that I am cramming to get that last minute genre study completed as well as chauffeur my three children around to various practices, games and camps. Oh yeah, and I decided to join TWO of my own tennis leagues this summer. 'Nough said. So, what have I been reading?????

Abby and I finished Hannah (Daughters of the Sea) by Kathryn Lasky. Hannah seems to be left behind at the Orphanage as a girl who will never amount to anything. By a fortunate happenstance, she is employed as a scullery maid for a very wealthy Boston family. While there, strange things begin happening to Hannah and a mysterious painter seems to understand all of them. When Hannah realizes her true connection to the sea, Lasky's language switches to an ethereal quality as Hannah is whisked off in the direction she is meant to go. While I had this one pegged at the start, my daughter was enthralled throughout the entire book. Hannah is a delightful character, and this novel will make you want to download some harp music.

And we're now heavily immersed in The Red Pyramid (of course). Rick Riordan seems to have done it again, but I truly have to brush up (or begin studying) my Egyptian mythology. However, the man does have a gift when it comes to writing action scenes. I can feel my own heart begin to pace and my voice gets incredibly fast while reading. Of course, these are our sacred read-aloud books even though my ten year-old daughter is blowing through books of her own.

Personally, I have been on a strange bout of ghost story books, mostly by Mary Downing Hahn. My favorite was Wait 'Til Helen Comes which was recommended on another book blog. Molly and her brother move to a country house with their mother, new step-father and strange, younger step-sister, Heather. Heather is obsessively drawn to the cemetery on the property and soon begins having conversations with "Helen" who doesn't like the way Heather's new step-siblings are treating her. Heather draws Helen out (in complete ghostly description)and is then manipulated by this young ghost. It is up to Molly to save Heather from the same demise that has taken the lives of other young girls who have succumbed to Helen's "wiles." Quite creepy for a YA book but it gives me more to recommend in a genre that students seem to ask for quite a bit. Now, if I could just find some more humor....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ruth Reichl and School Matters...

I discovered Ruth Reichl recently and have read and listened to all of her books since the last week in February. She combines my love of food and writing all into one. Her life reads like a Mary Karr memoir, though maybe not as dramatic. But, she sure has lots of entertainment thrown in there! She even did some cool spots for PBS where she goes to other countries and cooks/eats with the natives. Yummy! Check it out:

And, if you've only got a little bit of time, watch the Italian one!

On a more depressing note, our school district handed out 190 pink slips last week to new teachers. First time ever in my 20 years in this district. Then, I get an email that says I am needed for an all day meeting which I will refuse to attend. We handed out 190 pink slips, the administration is demanding teachers take a 4% pay cut, and they are STILL paying out thousands of dollars in substitutes for a program where we are told the same thing each time we go! I am so frustrated with the state of school funding in my area that I could puke! The public is "outraged" that we won't take a cut in pay, yet the school district has not done enough (IMHO) to really cut the fat. When will schools have the money they need? Why is school funding always on the chopping block?

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

I just finished The Uninvited last night. This is my first time reading anything by Tim Wynne-Jones and I was intrigued by the mysteriousness of the cover and title. I did buy this one in hardcover after I read a review of it but never got around to reading it.

Mimi Shapiro drives from NYC to get away from a professor-boyfriend-stalker type. She arrives at her artist father's "getaway" cottage, only to find another boy already holed up there. Jay, who she shortly finds out is her half-brother, is busy trying to write music in this small haven. As the two decide to co-habitate for the time being, they discover some creepy pieces of the area. Though remote, the cottage is being watched and burgled by an onlooker who seems quite obsessed with Mimi. The story is told both through the eyes of Mimi and Cramer Lee, resident stalker (another one). Teen readers will love the suspense and climactic drama of this one. I am going to pass it along immediately.

Monday, April 5, 2010


In honor of the beautiful day and spring...

“On a branch ...”

by Kobayashi Issa
On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

Glee Music Brings Good Moods

I woke up in an unusually rotten mood yesterday. I know! On Easter morning of all times- I was nasty even during church on the highest holiday, my sister and her family were coming over and I knew I needed to do something fast, PMS or not. You'll never believe what worked! Of course, I can because it's a throwback to when I was a teenager. Usually some exercise, reading and a nap can bring me out of a pms-ing funk, but I didn't have that kind of time yesterday as my sister and her family were arriving at 2 p.m. So, I took a short walk (ala The Spark, which I'll discuss in a later post when I finish it on my Kindle) and downloaded the GLEE cd from itunes. I've loved this show since Daria Plumb and Teri Lesesne talked it up at NCTE during our presentation this year. If you love 70's and 80's music (read: JOURNEY!) then you can't miss this. And, it will be back on tv next week! YEAH! The voices are incredible and the plots are riveting. A pregnant cheerleader who can sing? How can you pass it up? You have to see the football team singing Beyonce's "Single Ladies" on the football field during a game. You can find it on You Tube.

Anyway, after listening to the cast version of "Don't Stop Believing" a couple of thousand times and dancing my heart out in the kitchen (which my kids found downright hilarious) I was flying! No wine necessary :). So, here we are on our first day of Spring Break with the sun shining in a perfectly blue sky....and I'm still listening to the CD while a write. The power of music can sometimes be as powerful as books. I forget that sometimes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Poetry Month- Entry #1

I love poetry more than anything. That's why I ask my students to do a poetry read aloud each Friday (they take turns) and then the listeners have to respond in writing for 3 minutes. I think I got this idea from a colleague years ago. As the month progresses, I will publish some of the better responses. Obviously, some of them are better than others in poetry choice, reading, and response, but these 8th graders surprise me with their depth at times. Here is a spring poem from Emily Dickinson, since it's been so unusually warm and green in Michigan for the first time in decades.


Emily Dickinson

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!

The madness reminds me of the fact that Mother Nature must have found it funny to have a full moon during the last few days before spring break with thirteen year-olds and then added the 75 degree weather!

What I Have Been Reading...

Here is what is actually occupying my reading (not audiobook) time:

The Eternal Ones by Kristen Miller (Razorbill, Aug. 2010): Like all of the other reviews I've read, I thought this one was going to be about vampires. However, I picked it up and couldn't put it down. Two soulmates continue to be reincarnated and find each other, but the "evil" side continues to be reincarnated as well. Imagine running from your enemies for lifetime after lifetime! While others have found the main character (Haven Moore)too predictable, I found the storyline to be engaging and interesting. She never knows when to believe Iain (her lover). Girls are going to eat this up! My colleague devoured it as I did and it is now in the hands of the first 8th grade girl who was interested.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett- I LOVED this book and read the end because I couldn't listen to it fast enough, but the AUDIO is fantastic! No need to recap because it's plastered all over the best seller lists.

What the 10 year-old is reading (is she really 10 already?):

Deltora Quest books by Emily Rodda: I get an update everyday about the next gem found to complete the belt and restore order to the kingdom. I am so tickled that she loses herself in fantasy novels!

I promise I will be better about posting now that spring seems as if it has sprung.


How come I can't be consistent here? It's almost 1 a.m. and I'm awake because I know I can sleep in tomorrow morning. It's Spring Break!

I've been obsessed with Ruth Reichl lately. We listened to Garlic and Sapphires on the way to Orlando in February and then I listened to Comfort Me With Apples on my drives around town. Now, I am reading and listening to Tender at the Bone. Those of you who know Reichl's "trilogy" know that I'm reading them backwards! But,the mix of writing, reviewing and recipes for FOOD have me under her spell. I am amazed by how much she can eat! I challenge anyone to listen to/read one of these books and not be moved to fly to Paris for a good meal. The abundant amount of listening is due to my intense driving habits (and no desire to listen to what's going on with the Health Care Reform), and my "dedication" to a new, regular walking habit. My ipod and I are such good friends.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Slice of Life #1 (Okay, I'm a Week Behind Already- anyone suprised?)

This is a picture of lavender because the thought of spring makes me happy. I finally have lavender growing "almost" like a field in my garden and I look forward to the bees and purpleness of the spring and summer. However, today I had one of those "pull-the-covers-up-to-your-chin-days" where I hibernated even though it was a balmy 50 degrees in Michigan. However, I finished watching "Coco Before Chanel" and took care of my need to snuggle and slumber. At 4 p.m. I emerged and happily warmed the week's leftovers, as I do most Sundays. I know many people have large family dinners on Sundays, but we always end up eating the remains of several good meals. It works for us! Luckily, I was able to coerce the twins into jammies at 6:00 after a wonderful walk with them through the neighborhood (it's so nice that they have some stamina now and can keep up or even run past me). That left me ample time to read to each of them separately, from their chapter books.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eclectic Reader: What's On Your Nightstand?

Eclectic Reader: What's On Your Nightstand?

What's On Your Nightstand?

I should do this link more often. But, since I'm on "vacation" this week, I will join in. On my nightstand are the following books:

Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher
The new Jim Burke book (can't remember the title and I'm in Florida)
The Help (on audio ipod)
There are more but since I'm not on my own bed and not next to my own nightstand I will add the rest on the weekend.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Science Fiction in the Classroom

Just finished up our science fiction unit in the nick of time for the end of the semester. The following two books were new reads for me from our genre cart- yes, I know, I'm probably the last one in the world to read Westerfeld's Uglies, but I still loved it and loved to see that the movie rights have been purchased. You Tub abounds with movie trailers done by fans. I'm not quite sold on the one that pieces together bits of the the Twilight movies and some other film that I can't quite place. Anyway, the premise of Westerfeld's Uglies (for the other person in the world who hasn't read it) is that Tally, an almost 16 year-old is an "Ugly" but will become a "Pretty" in a few weeks via an operation that everyone must go through. When she meets Shay and then David (who have run away to escape the Pretty operation), Tally changes how she feels about being changed. I loved what Westerfeld had to say about loving who you are as you are and I was awestruck at the incredible insights the students who read the book had about these issues.

The other novel I read that was surprisingly interesting was The Last Universe by William Sleator. Students were very astute about noticing some issues with the writing style of the book, but they were blown away by the quantum physics part of the plot. I had fun trying to explain it to them even though I wasn't quite sure about it myself. Great information on the internet, though! In the novel, Susan's brother Gary is sick and seems to get better when they find and enter a maze her great-uncle created in the garden. They find out they are surrounded by a quantum garden and mysterious things begin to happen to both Susan and Gary until no one knows who is who anymore. Students didn't really like the ending but I think that was because Hollywood has conditioned them for the happily ever after. Even after reading some really great YA novels, they still want it all wrapped up neatly.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Stolen (Chicken House, May 2010) was an amazing surprise. I'm not sure why this one was the first book I picked up out of my recent Scholastic box, but I was hooked instantly (and the same goes for several students I've given it to). Gemma is traveling with her family to Vietnam via Bangkok for an antique hunting trip for her mother's job. While getting a coffee in the airport, Gemma is abducted and whisked off to Australia where she is now living with Ty in what seems to be desert bush country. You know, like where young men did walkabouts? That's how I visualized it. The twist comes in when the reader finds out that Ty has been planning Gemma's abduction for 6 years! The emotions I felt when reading this novel changed every 20-25 pages and I'm still not sure how I feel about Ty now that the book is over. All I can tell you is that Ty and Gemma are still following me around in my head on a daily basis. This was a wonderful treat in my week of treating family illnesses- the flu has found out later than usual this winter. :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nurture Shock and Other....

I just finished Nurture Shock: A New Way of Thinking About Parenting by Po Bryson on my new KINDLE! God, I love that machine. I really thought I'd miss the turning of pages, but, alas, NO! I love that I can wrap my hands in fleecy blankets in my frigid bedroom at night and never have to take them out! Next page, next page, next page....my goodness! So, the Bryson book is a must for parents because it looks at different aspects of children and goes to research that pretty much turns everything we think on our heads. For instance, if teens just get an hour more of sleep (one district did this for high school-later starting time), their SAT scores can go up 200 points! You have to read the research for the details, but that's the beauty of the book; the research is completely accessible to everyone. I love the preschool program he talks about- the name escapes me at the moment. Check out the website to see what it has to offer!

I had the misfortune of having to explain to my daughter what suicide is after an 8th grader at her parochial school committed suicide yesterday. This is a first in the history of the school and will have reverberations for eons due to the circumstances surrounding it. I made sure that I told her what I think every time I hear of a young person committing this act: "Nothing is that bad. Your parents will always love you-and so does God."

I received a huge box of ARCs this week from Scholastic that I can't wait to dive into. I was kind of tickled that The Babysitter's Club reissues were in there. I'll see what the resident 4th grader thinks of them. They don't yet make ARCs for the Kindle so I will content myself turning pages as I read them.

Hello Lover!

No school on Monday due to the MLK holiday, but I will be glued to the computer screen to hear the award winners. I have no predictions as others do, but I am hoping that some of my favorites from the year claim a spot or two. Then, off to read them all and make notes for our presentation NEXT November at NCTE where my illustrious colleagues and I are making plans to review book awards once again. Whew. I thought this would be a short post. Huh.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back To School

I know many people went back to school this week and I wasn't dreading it. I had a restful and peaceful break and was re-energized to get back to teaching. I forgot how much I LOVE my job! In the chaos and stress that has ensued in the last year, I have forgotten how much I adore teaching and how much I get out of the adolescents I see everyday. Yes, I am still contemplating becoming a high school teacher, but I do still enjoy talking about books, reading, writing and life to my students everyday. I guess you really have to love middle schoolers to teach them for 20 straight years as I have. I am lucky. I get to share my passions daily.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I LOVE Charlotte

I first read about Joan MacPhail Knight's Charlotte books over at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. The premise is that Charlotte Glidden is a girl living with her parents and brother in France at the turn of the century (1894) so her father can paint with the impressionists "en plein aire". She just happens to be the neighbor of Monsieur Monet in Giverny. While Charlotte and her family are fictional, almost all of their friends and neighbors are real impressionist painters that lived in France at the time. The book is written as Charlotte's journal and she goes on many adventures with her family from her beloved Giverny. Her father takes the family to Paris when he exhibits some paintings there in an art gallery, thus Book 2 (Charlotte in Paris) comes about. They then spend some time in New York (near Charlotte's hometown of Boston)while her father does another exhibit.

These books are so full of delightful characters, real art from the artists mentioned,travel, quaint European cottages, French words and recipes! All of my favorite things in my simple version of life. And, Melissa Sweet's watercolors are a delightful and whimsical contrast to the paintings rendered in the books. My kids LOVE them as do I! I cannot wait to read Charlotte in London and I checked Knight's website to find that she is researching her next adventure Charlotte. Can't wait to see where she goes next. I hope its... Italy but I don't think many impressionists hung out there. Bummer.

Check this out! A Charlotte doll! How cute! Too bad Christmas is over and birthdays are months away....