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 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....