Thursday, April 12, 2018

Exit, Pursued by a Pear by E.K. Johnston.

“I didn't used to overthink my choices quite so much. Then someone made what I've always been told is a very important choice for me, and now I tend to overthink everything else.” 

I have read quite a few YA "issue" books in my day, but I always reach for them. I find many to be diverse and substantial, and when a new title comes out, I'm always interested. 

Exit, Pursued by a Bear caught my attention a couple of times and for various reasons. First, the title is a reference to Shakespeare, which had me sold immediately...before I even knew what the book would be about. I put it on my Goodreads list and promptly forgot about it.

Then, a teacher asked for books to recommend to teens in her alternative high school (as part of a FB group I'm in), and this title was brought up multiple times. It got placed quickly on my Amazon wishlist, and Adam sent it to me as part of a recent book swap. It was then that I learned the book was about a rape and the events that happened afterwards as the main character, Hermione, comes to terms with what to do.

As much as you can say you enjoyed a book about rape, I enjoyed this book. Where Speak was raw and isolating, Exit, Pursued by a Bear gave warmth and comfort. Things are not easy for Hermione by any means, but the support of her family and friends as she copes with the rape (which she doesn't remember-she was drugged), a pregnancy, an abortion (not a spoiler-it happens early), and the investigation to find her rapist. 

It's well done. 

I actually think its harder to find a book for teens where parents are as present as they are in this title. They give support to their daughter as she needs it. She has strong friends who lift her up and guide her. She has a therapist who works to help her gain her memories back. The scene surrounding her time spent in the abortion clinic is powerful and moving and made me set the book aside for a moment...

“I've never met any of these women before, and I will never see any of them after today. I don't know their names and they don't know mine. I've been on teams and in clubs my whole life, surrounded by people who are united by a common purpose, and I have never felt anything like this. Maybe it's the gas, but until this moment, I have never felt such a kinship with a person who was not actually family. I love every person in this room, and I'm pretty sure that if they asked, I'd do anything for them.

Anything, except have a baby.”

Do I think the book is perfect? No, far from it. I have some qualms with the writing style and at times I felt things were a little too "neat." But the premise, the characters, and the way the author constructed a different take on such a severe issue for a YA audience was refreshing and worth reading. The main character Hermione and her friend Polly made me smile with their support and love for one another. It's a title I definitely think students will be drawn to, especially my students who like "issue" titles.

“If you think I'm going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Monday, April 9, 2018

"I Have Been" April 2018

I used to do this cute little post every once in awhile, and I felt like doing it again. :)

I have been:

{writing}
A lot of lesson plans, especially for my APUSH students. We are finishing our last unit (Period 9: 1980-Present Day) and going into review before their test on May 11th. It's that time of year where I get minimal sleep!

{reading}
I've been struggling to find time to read. I have Anna Karenina sitting on my nightstand since I had planned on reading it this month. Have I? Nope. I have a bunch of other things I want to get to, but you know, school has been crazy. 
 
{listening}
I've been listening to a lot of soundtracks while working on school stuff, but also a lot of Biffy Clyro. I highly recommend checking them out.
 
{watching} 
After finishing Parks and Recreation over break, I'm trying to find a new show that I won't binge on (cause you know, work). Matt and I have been working out way through The Mick-we love Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so when we saw Kaitlin Olson was in it we were sold. I'd like to start The Crown, but it'll have to wait until after the APUSH test.
 
{looking}
Goodreads is open on another tab, so definitely that. I'm also sitting at my desk in my office, so I'm staring at all the stupid squirrels outside.
 
{learning}
I'm in a book club with some teachers from school and we are working on reading a title together: Creating Cultures of Thinking. I was trained in COT a couple years ago, but learning this with my colleagues has been super helpful.

{feeling} 
Tired. I really need to get more sleep. Things have been better since Matt quit the restaurant and started his new job. I don't wait up for him to get home anymore and I'm getting to bed a little earlier, but I could do better.
 
{anticipating}
The readathon coming up in a couple weeks. I'm really excited to have a day set aside just for me. I told Matt to schedule himself some work to do that day so I can read without him poking me, but I doubt that'll happen. 
 
{wishing}
I really want a peanut butter cup.
 
{loving} 
My home. It feels cozy and warm and like OUR place (finally). We still have lots of work to do, but it's getting there. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Love by Penny Kittle.

“A book isn’t rigorous if students aren’t reading it.” 

Every year we have to make professional learning goals as a part of our evaluation process. And while those goals are usually things that need to be measured, I spoke at length with my administration during my initial observation meeting about self-improvement professional development ideas (PD). One of those ideas was simply to read more professional books to incorporate new strategies and techniques into my teaching practice. 

And while this was not my first PD reading this school year, it is a favorite and something I felt strongly enough about to write a blog post. I don't normally include PD books, readings, etc on my blog, but why not? I'm sure there are teachers who might stumble across these posts, and I know that I have friends and readers who might be willing to share their own experiences, either as a student, a parent, or a fellow teacher. 

Book Love first crossed my radar this past fall at a district PD event. After our district launched a Battle of the Books competition between the 4 high schools, the ELA teacher leaders (I am one of two for my building) decided that we needed to have a PD about independent reading and the importance of choice reading for students. It's not something that is widespread across our district but needs to be. I have tried to include choice reading time into my classes since I started teaching, but it's difficult when there is not a culture of reading in your building. Students fight against it, not seeing it as important. I've caught more kids plagiarizing book projects and reports than anything else. 

Book Love addresses a lot of those issues and gives strategies on how to incorporate meaningful reading into the lives of teenagers. It's difficult to show students the importance of reading, especially when the only reading they may do in a high school English classroom is old, stuffy texts. I have long been a proponent of reading whatever I want, whenever I want, which is why I love YA and don't hide it. But I also read non-fiction, biographies, classics, etc. However, there is a disconnect between my passion for reading and getting that passion instilled in my students. 

I was born a reader. I never fought reading and would willingly read my required amount of time in elementary school (and over). ELA homework and reading assignments were the only homework that was always done (Math....not so much). It has sometimes been a struggle for me to get that same passion across to my students. And while I have pulled in independent reading projects and time in class, I haven't really utilized it effectively.

Kittle talks at length about creating a culture for reading in your classroom-from giving time for students to read, book talks, looking at language, and cultivating an extensive classroom library. She starts each lesson with ten minutes of reading time in her classroom. She uses that time to conference with students about their reading, making it through every student in her class in about 2-3 weeks. She checks on their stamina depending on difficulty of books students are reading (this is talked about at length in her book-essentially how fast you can read depending on difficulty. For instance, I can fly through a 500+ page YA novel in an afternoon. A classic? A couple weeks). She also talks with students about creating book lists of books to investigate, challenges to read 20 books a semester (she considers a book to be about 250 pages, which makes it more doable for students), and having students share their reading. 

I ended her book wanting to be a student in her class. She really stresses the importance of students being able to read as much as possible for college to keep up with that reading, but also to choose things that not only interest them, but challenge them at the same time. Her book is littered with book titles (many of which I wrote down as TBRs) and ideas for getting students to read. 

Since I took over our remedial 11th grade course this year, I have been trying to include more and more independent reading. For many of those students, reading has been a barrier to their ELA education. They are with me to not only become better readers, but to improve their writing. The two are closely linked together. And while I have included independent reading time, I'm finding ways to improve it. First semester included one day a week of reading time (which was honestly too much time for these kids to stay focused). Starting second semester, we changed it to ten minutes a day. We've seen more kids read consistently...and actually finishing books (I say "We" since I co-teach the class with a special education teacher). We've also included book talks into our lessons since the beginning of the year.

But I love Kittle's ideas, and I'm hoping we can implement more of that culture in our classes next year. My co-teacher is currently reading the book so we can be on the same page next year. I'm working on pulling together a classroom library. My current stash of books is quite pathetic, but I recently took in a bunch of books from home (that I could bear to part with) and have plans to hit up some used book stores, our library's book sales, and garage sales to fill the shelves I have. I've also asked for a grant to get more bookshelves and books for next school year. 

There is something about reading and trying to ignite that love in my students that is driving me. Kittle's book just knocked that passion into place and gave me some direction. I have no doubt I'll be referring to it and her ideas as I continue to build that reading culture in my classroom. 

“Teenagers want to read - if we let them.” 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: March was a Fail, Spring Break, etc.

Oh, hi. So, March went by in a total blur. February was the month of being sick (the flu AND walking pneumonia) and March turned into a month of catch-up, grading, and stress. Stress in all parts of my life.

First, owning your own home is expensive, especially a home that needs work to live in comfortably. When we were originally approved for our mortgage, it was with a down payment assistance program from the state. We found out a week before our closing, after an audit from the state of Michigan, that we would make $900 OVER the max limit to qualify. And lost the $7500 in closing assistance we had been counting on (I still qualified for the Homes for Heroes program, which gave us a percentage of our closing costs back in a check a week after we signed). So, our savings went toward closing costs and money we were counting on to renovate the kitchen, etc was gone. Essentially in the months of January and February, all our money was going to fixing the kitchen so we could live in it comfortably. It was rough. And we fell behind in bills. We're still playing catch up, but the month of March was a bit miserable. It helps that Matt is starting his new (big boy) job on Monday with a huge increase in income.

But being an adult sucks. We've never been amazing at managing our finances, but we've gotten a lot better at it over the last few years, which is why we could even buy this house in the first place. But it brings back a lot of anxiety when we fall behind. Once we're ahead, I'll be good and things will settle. And realistically, we aren't in bad shape. We have debt (namely, Matt's student loans), but we are not in a bad position at all.

In addition to all that stress, work was crazy. Just crazy. I fell behind in grading and just couldn't catch up. I'm still not caught up, but I'm in the best position right now that I could hope for. I hit the point in my APUSH classes where I was just trying to keep my head above water in my grading to get to where I needed to be by Spring Break (we hit 1980-huzzah!). My other classes also seemed to be stressful and I was just doing my best to stay afloat.

I also got my new IFP installed (Interactive Flat Panel-a fancy Smart Board) and had every tech problem imaginable in the two weeks it's been in my room-dropping signal, freezing, booting me from my lecture notes, changing pen colors and widths mid-sentence, sound issues, etc. It's being permanently mounted over break, so hopefully that fixes some of the issues, but there were days where I was so frustrated because I just wanted to teach and my technology kept failing.

We're also in the midst of a renovation thanks to bond money, so our media center closed, reducing the number of computers we have for kids. I was also told a week into the month of March that I need to box up my room and tear things off my walls to prep for my room being painted over break. Seriously. So, I had to tear down everything, move furniture and pack up fragile items in my classroom so it can get painted. When I get back on Monday (the 9th) after break, I have no idea what I'm walking into. And I have to teach that day. So, yeah. I understand that they're trying to get smaller tasks done over breaks to reduce the work getting done over the summer (our roof was replaced last summer), but it had a big impact on me. With the technology upheaval, personal stress, and just my regular job workload, I was in a terrible mood for the last two weeks.

BUT! Our last day was Thursday and I spend Friday doing absolutely nothing. I slept about 15 hours Thursday night and spent Friday playing video games and watching Netflix. Seriously. Saturday wasn't much better. I did some things around the house I've been neglecting (laundry) and went to Target for some necessities, then just vegged around. I really needed it. But now I feel like I'm getting a cold. And it's cold and rainy in Michigan and we're supposed to be getting snow this week. Yay spring break.

I'm actually really excited to have the week off. We have boxes in the basement that I need to go through. I want to finish going through my book boxes and sorting-a lot will be going to school to go in my classroom library, which is pitifully small. Some will stay in boxes until we buy a couple more bookshelves in May (we budgeted it out for a big IKEA trip for a few things we need. The closest IKEA is an hour away). I told myself that once I have all my bookshelves, my personal collection has to fit on it. Extras go to school or get donated.

I'm also planning on finishing some decoration around the house. We haven't really hung anything on the walls, mainly because all that knick-knack stuff is still boxed up. I also just want to toss some things that we never use and declutter, so we'll see how that goes. I'm also planning on putting new fabric on our kitchen chairs, but that depends on what I can find at the store.

But I'm also just looking forward to reading, relaxing, and spending time with Matt. His new job will have him home a couple days per week, so he'll be around the house with me. Truthfully I'm hoping he'll carry boxes upstairs for me. ;) It should be a nice, relaxing week.

Well, we're off to Easter celebrations-first a breakfast at my parents', then brunch out with Matt's family. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR


I almost thought I wasn't going to get a chance to post this today. I've been a little absent the last couple of weeks. Work has been very busy and I have been grading every spare moment. That has severely cut into my personal time. I haven't picked up a book in awhile!

But! Spring Break is coming up (first week of April), and I am excited to dive into the pile of books on my nightstand. I'm devoting a lot of time to reading and of course, organizing the boxes we still haven't unpacked that have been sitting ignored in the basement, but what better time to create a big old book list? hooray!

In no particular order...


1. The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass, and The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman: I read The Golden Compass a few weeks ago in hopes of rereading the trilogy before getting to the new release. And while I am a couple chapters into The Subtle Knife, I just haven't had time to finish it. If I don't get a chance to read before break next week, this will probably be the focus of my Spring break.


2. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco: This is one of two books left in my pile of books for our "Battle of the Books" competition we're running this year at the high schools. It's truthfully not a book I would pick up normally, but I figured I should read it for the event (I am definitely going because Andrew Smith (Winger, etc) is going to be skyping in to talk to the kids. I'm all about that).


3. Generation One by Pittacus Lore: This would be the other battle book. And again, not excited about it. I did read the first chapter a week or so ago during my juniors' silent reading time (when I read with them, they are more focused). I wasn't hooked, but I definitely want to give it another shot.


4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: Truth: L'Engle was one of my favorite writers as a teen. I own SO MANY of her books and most are well-loved, but I haven't read Wrinkle in a very long time. I had originally planned on rereading before the movie came out, but here we are. I'd like to read the whole series, but it might get pushed back.


5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I own 3 different editions of Anna, but I haven't read any of them. I did make an attempt a number of years ago and set it down 1/3 of the way through...but nope. There is a readalong happening in April, and I would really like to dive into this one! I loved the other Tolstoys I've read! (this will also be a title for my TBR challenge!)


6. Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Another book I've never read and one that seems to shock most classic lovers. :) I feel like the flamingos scream summer, but I do want to give this one a go! It's another title for my TBR challenge. :)


7. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas: I BINGED on Maas' work a couple years ago and have been trying to savor what's been published. This was published back in the fall and it has been taunting me on my bookshelf ever since. I love her worlds, so I'm excited to get to it!


8. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: I loved Gay's Hunger, which I read last summer. This has been eyeing me for a few weeks and I'd love to settle in to read it. I actually might move it to my nightstand tonight!


9. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: While I kind of enjoyed Taylor's trilogy (Daughter of Smoke and Bone), I've heard really good things about this title. And like many other books, it's been sitting on my TBR for a few months. This needs a good long weekend to read, so maybe an April readathon book?


10. Winger by Andrew Smith (and the sequel, Stand Off): My recommendation for the Battle of the Books was this title, and I was super excited when it was picked. I loved the book (read it in one long night), and the kids I've recommended it to have loved it as well. It's been a couple years and while I own the sequel, I haven't had a chance to read it. Now I feel like I need a reread before moving on. :) And it's Smith, so I know I'm going to be obsessed.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes.

I wasn't originally sure if I was going to participate this week or not, but well, I couldn't help it. I love a good quote from a book, so this week's list was right up my alley (and it's been a couple weeks since I last participated).

I decided to go with some of my all-time favorites, and this list took a lot of time to narrow down. Here it goes (in no particular order....because trying to rank these would make this even more difficult):

1. “Don't you ever mind," she asked suddenly, "not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?” -The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

2. “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love.” -Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

3. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.” -The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4. "Muse-Start from where you will-sing for our time too." -The Odyssey by Homer (I have a shortened version of this tattooed on my foot)

5. "I exist as I am, that is enough." -"Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

6. “Reader, I married him.” -Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

7. “I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."
"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.
"So as to choose." said Isabel” -The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

8. “I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.” -The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

9. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” -David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (I need to reread this one)

10. “I want to put my hand out and touch you. I want to do for you and care for you. I want to be there when you're sick and when you're lonesome.” -Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Illness, TV, Professional Reading, and Books.

It's been 2 weeks since I last sat down to write some posts-whoops! Last weekend got away from me and I didn't manage to sit down to write a weekly post or any bookish posts. egads. I was actually sick...still? Again? The flu that I had turned into walking pneumonia and I was down for the count again last weekend, even resulting in taking another day off work. I finally got some new meds and I feel like a whole new person, so I'm hoping I finally kicked it this time. My horrible cough is gone, as well as the fever and chills, so yep. Definitely feeling better.

I'm hoping that the 3 weeks I spent sick was it for the year, but I know that's wishful thinking. I inevitable get a cold before the school year is out, and get sick once I'm on summer break. So yep. I'm good now and I guess that's all that matters for the moment.

Speaking of break, we only have 4 weeks of school until Spring Break. Say what??!! This school year is flying by and I've been crazy busy between teaching, grading, committees, clubs, etc. Where has this year gone?

I definitely feel more comfortable and confident in my teaching this year. I'm trying new things (as always) and reevaluating some old processes to make way for new. I definitely feel...accomplished as a teacher-more like I know what I'm doing instead of flying by the seat of my pants. I'm managing my grading and prepping workloads much better than I have in the past, and I'm maintaining a better work/home balance-more so than ever before even though I'm busier this year. It's really nice to be able to leave work at work (sometimes) and relax as I need it. That being said, I did grade for a solid 6 hours yesterday and have a little I need to do today to feel better about going into a busy week.

I'm finishing up World War II with my APUSH students and it's at this point in the year that I wish I had more time. Unfortunately we have to keep moving because of their AP test on May 11th (getting close). That class is a constant stream of assignments to grade and assess, so I can never relax for more than a day or two. My Shakespeare class this semester (the only semester class I have this year) just finished our intro unit and sonnets, so we're diving into The Taming of the Shrew this week. This is now the...7th time I'm teaching the play and I still love it. My juniors (low-level) are in the middle of Night and just finished an Identity presentation (they were fabulous and the kids shared so many personal stories). We'll be wrapping that up in the next two weeks before a short, 2-week unit on SAT writing before break-they take the SAT the week we return.

This weekend I'm headed down to Detroit for year #3 of chaperoning my school's DECA chapter at the State conference. I love this trip. Even though the business/marketing world is pretty foreign to me, I love the experience of working with the kids in a different element, and judging is always fun. Last year I got to pretend to be a resort owner for a luxury spa. The year before I was the owner of a razor company that was trying to market to women. It's a fabulous weekend filled with great food (Detroit has amazing restaurants) and good company. I told the DECA coach that as long as he'll have me, I'll go. We're going down a night earlier than normal, so we're leaving directly from school on Thursday. This means I have to bring my suitcase with me to school and get all my stuff packed early. We come back Sunday afternoon, so it's a longer trip. But I'm looking forward to the time I get to spend vegging and exploring on my own.

I'm going to bring our Firestick so I can keep watching some of the shows I've started. I used to be a huge TV watcher, but over the last few years, I've cut back pretty dramatically. I have shows I put on for background noise while I grade, but I am very out of touch with new stuff (and things everyone has seen but me). I would just truthfully rather read. But since getting sick, I've spent a lot of time bingeing on TV. I watched both seasons of Disjointed on Netflix (pretty funny), as well as all of Archer, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Atypical. I'm currently plowing through Parks and Recreation (I watched the first two seasons a couple years ago with Matt and never finished). I also started Downton Abbey (I own the series on DVD) on my own and The Mick with Matt. What other shows should I watch? I'm saving Stranger Things for Spring Break!

In terms of reading, I've slowed down a little. I flew through The Golden Compass last weekend and while I have The Subtle Knife on my nightstand, I haven't started it yet. I did read about 40 pages of Ulysses this week, but honestly, I think I need to wait until summer for something so thinking heavy.

I did finish a bit of professional reading this week. Our district had some grant money that needed to be spent, so our English curriculum director purchased all the high school ELA teachers a copy of Penny Kittle's Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. For someone who reads as much as I do, I am terrible about encouraging my high schools to read independently. This book was fabulous (review forthcoming) and I can't wait to implement some of her strategies into my own classroom. I already started a new SSR initiative with my juniors this semester and I'm already seeing results. She also talks about a bunch of books throughout each chapter, so I added a ton to my reading list.

This week I'm planning on reading The Subtle Knife. Depending on how it goes, I'm going to be bringing a few books with me this weekend. I usually have a few hours of downtime on Friday and Saturday, so I'm planning on spending it curled up in my hotel bed with some good books. I'll definitely bring The Amber Spyglass and The Book of Dust. I'm also thinking A Wrinkle in Time since I wanted to get to it before the movie came out. I'm also feeling like I need to grab another TBR Challenge book, so we'll see what strikes me!

Let me know what you're reading below! See you next week!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.

“I don’t know why I’ve always been like this, why the smallest things make me ache inside. There’s a poem I read once, titled “The World Is Too Much with Us,” and I guess that is the best way to describe the feeling—the world is too much with me.” 

In college, I took a lot of courses in Mexican history, Chicano literature, and everything in between to earn a specialization with my history degree. I have always been fascinated by the differences between the United States and Mexico-from how we were settled by Europeans, to the genocides of indigenous peoples, to independence and beyond, it just fascinates me. 

This is a book that I would have loved to read in one of those classes because it fits in so well. But what I loved most about it is that while the main character, Julia, talks often about her Mexican family, heritage, and customs, the book never pushes it to an extreme level. Julia and her family are Mexican in a way that oozes through their conversations, their beliefs and their way of life in the United States. It was refreshing and I loved it. 

The book focuses on Julia and her parents after the death of Julia's older sister, Olga. Olga was everything that Julia isn't-focused on staying home with her parents to attend community college, focused on remaining a good, Mexican daughter. Julia, on the other hand, has dreams. She wants to leave town to go to college. She doesn't want to stay home and learn to make tortillas and other Mexican dishes. She smokes, she swears, she gets into trouble at school, she wants to wear clothes that her mother hates, she dates a white boy in secret.

With Olga's death, Julia is left feeling like she cannot live up to her parents' expectations. The world begins to crash in on her as she struggles between the expectations of her parents and her own happiness. It's written in a way that while you feel for Julia's angst and the somewhat oppressive nature of her parents, you also see their point of view-they now only have one daughter, and she seems determined to leave them after everything they've gone through.

It packs quite a punch.

And I loved it. 

Some of what stuck out to me, as mentioned above, is the easy way Sanchez weaves in pieces of Mexican culture and heritage into her writing. It never feels like she is trying to educate the reader about what it means to be Mexican, but you come away with far more knowledge than you had before. From descriptions of altars and cooking to religion and La Llorana, the book is full of vibrancy in relation to who Julia and her family are and where they came from. There's also talk about immigration and crossing the border, as both of Julia's parents are undocumented. The book even takes us to Mexico with Julia when she visits her relatives and the descriptions of Mexico and living conditions south of the U.S. border only amplified the cultural struggle Julia feels throughout the book.

“Be careful. Please. The border…The fucking border.” I feel a wildness spreading through me. “It’s nothing but a giant wound, a big gash between the two countries. Why does it have to be like that? I don’t understand. It’s just some random, stupid line. How can anyone tell people where they can and can’t go?”

While this is definitely a book about grief-we see how Julia and both of her parents "deal" with the loss of Olga, it is definitely a book about generational and cultural differences. It's moving and inspiring and everything I hoped it would be. There are some incredibly emotional parts to the book, especially when the book shifts tone in the last half. The book also contains a bit of a mystery, as Julia investigates just who her sister was and if she was really as perfect as she pretended to be. 

It was amazing and I loved it. I happened to bring it to school one day to read during reading time in my junior level classes, and a few kids seemed interested after I told them a bit about the story. It's a definitely a book I'm going to have our media specialist pick up for the library. 

“How do we tie our shoes, brush our hair, drink coffee, wash the dishes, and go to sleep, pretending everything is fine? How do we laugh and feel happiness despite the buried things growing inside? How can we do that day after day?”

Friday, February 23, 2018

Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

“Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave enough to fight for what they desire more than anything.”

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is another title included in my district's "Battle of the Books" competition being held between the high schools. It's the 4th book I've read out of the 6 selected, and I can see why it was chosen. The very "Fantasy" feel of the title is in pretty good contrast to the two realistic fiction choices, the mysteries, and the science-fiction title. It also features a female protagonist, which keeps the balance a bit between the 6 titles (students ans staff got to nominate titles, then a committee selected the final titles. They tried to get a good mix, which I think they did. Not bad for our first year doing this).

The book was compared a bit to The Night Circus, and while I get where that comparison is coming from....no. I was late to reading The Night Circus, and like many others, I fell in love with the world building and depth of the story. Caraval, in short, lacks that element.

Essentially, the Caraval in the novel is an event held yearly by a mysterious character, Legend. Each year he invites people from around the world to participate in the game, which is full of magic and deception. Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father and have written to Legend for years in hopes they could participate.  It is only in the weeks before Scarlett is set to be married to a man she has never met that Legend responds with tickets. Recruiting the help of a sailor, Julian, the sisters set off the mystical island where Caraval takes place.

And that is where the story lost me. The idea of the story (the plot) is intriguing and could be so interesting, much like that of The Night Circus. But there is no world building. None. The world sounds wonderful, but it's never developed. Things are mentioned and then ignored and I'm left wondering why I'm supposed to care.

The writing is also...so very heavy. There are metaphors and similes and flowery imagery on every page and while I can like that kind of writing, it has to make sense. There is so much telling and not enough showing. Scarlett feels in colors, and would compare talking to some to a color. The phrasing was awkward and off-putting. When I would start to fall into the story, I'd be yanked right back out because some awkward comparison would ruin it for me, like, "He tasted like midnight and wind." I have no idea what that means. What is that?

Now, I say all this while also telling you that I kept reading because I did want to know what happened. The plot had a number of twists and turns that made it pretty compelling, enough so that I could ignore the awkward language. However, there were some things that were never fully explained and some plot holes that were never filled in. I also felt like the characters needed a bit more humanity to them...at some points...I just didn't care what happened to them. 

Wow, this is sounding much more negative than I intended. There is a sequel and while it's not a book I would buy for myself, if it ends up in our media center, I might check it out. How's that for a review?

After reading this, I did speak to our media specialist, and she felt much the same way. Apparently the kids are eating it up, and all the other copies (besides the one I had checked out) were in the hands of kids. None of my kids have picked it up (they're inhaling the John Green title and Winger by Andrew Smith-which I nominated and pushed for), but if they do, I'll be curious to see how they feel about it. 

Has anyone else read this? Thoughts?

“Whatever you've heard about Caraval, it doesn't compare to the reality. It's more than just a game or performance. It's the closest you'll ever find yourself magic in this world.” 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster.

“You told me once that we shall be judged by our intentions, not by our accomplishments. I thought it a grand remark. But we must intend to accomplish - not sit intending on a chair.” 

I'm not sure how long this "review" is going to be for a few reasons. 1. While I just finished this book last weekend, the details are already fuzzy, which should give you the indication that 2. I didn't love this one because 3. It seemed unpolished and not quite there, at least in comparison to the one other novel I've read by Forster, A Room with a View. Granted, I read that one fairly early in my blogging career, so details are fuzzy, but I do remember wanting to keep reading and flying through the book because I loved it. 

It's not that Where Angels Fear to Tread is poorly written...I just didn't get into the story and it took me too long to finish for how slim of a novel it is. There were aspects I liked (it has some funny moments), but is just seemed...overly dramatic and drawn out.

The book opens with Lilia Herriton, a widow, goes off to Italy some some vacation time at the bidding of her in-laws. Back in Uppity Edwardian England, the in-laws were disapproving of Lilia's choices and felt that she needed some time away. They kept her daughter while she traveled with a companion in town. Imagine their horror and dismay when they receive word that Lilia has met an Italian and is considering marrying him. 

To try and prevent scandal from descending on their family, Lilia's brother in law, Philip rushes to Italy to bring her home and stop all the foolishness. Well, it's too late-Lilia is married to the Italian and has brought disgrace on her in-laws. Philip returns home in despair and Lilia begins her life with her new husband. She quickly becomes pregnant, then realizes her mistake. Gino is not who he said he was, her life is lonely, and she doesn't actually love him. He becomes verbally and emotionally abusive and shortly after giving birth, she dies. 

The Herritons believe they need to rescue Lilia's son and so Philip, his sister Harriet, and a friend, Miss Abbott go back to Italy in hopes of retrieving the baby. And it all falls apart.

Overall, the story is intriguing. I mean, it sounds interesting, right? Perhaps it was my mental state as I was reading, but I just could not get into caring about any of the characters. Philip is pretty pompous and opinionated (don't even get me started on his mother), Harriet is one of those hysterical women who is just a stereotype, and Miss Abbott, well, she's just kind of there. 

I know Forster was making some kind of commentary about the snobbish nature of the English towards other countries, and that came through pretty clearly as he depicted Gino and the small Italian town most of the novel took place in. As the reader...I just didn't care. I didn't find any of the characters to be relatable...or likeable, and that really prevented me from wanting to pick the book up after setting it down. 

I will give props to Forster for the beauty of his language. He writes some beautiful passages. But that wasn't enough for me. I'm just too picky. This was his first novel, and I'm glad I have a positive experience with one of his works under my belt so I'm not too discouraged. The only other Forster on my shelf is A Passage to India, but it'll be some time before I give that a go.

However, this did mark book 3 on my TBR Challenge list for 2018. I'm kind of rocking that challenge! I'm going to take a little break from my challenge list, but I'll be back in March!

“All a child's life depends on the ideal it has of its parents. Destroy that and everything goes - morals, behavior, everything. Absolute trust in someone else is the essence of education.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu, Kitchen, School Shootings, and Reading.

I totally meant to write a post mid-week, but that didn't happen after the Parkland shooting. I didn't feel motivated to come and write a review of a book when so many people are hurting. But more on that in a minute.

The last time I wrote, I was in the throes of the flu, and while I am feeling a lot better this weekend, I am still sick. This flu nonsense is no joke. It settled in my chest so I have these deep, horrible coughs that shake my whole body. My throat is still sore and I have eaten my weight in cough drops this week. I was so happy that we had another snow day on Monday. I had taken off last Thursday because of being so sick, and then we had snow days both Friday and Monday-what a lucky and much-needed coincidence. Instead of using 3 sick days, I only had to use 1, and I had a glorious 5 day weekend that was spent in bed. Coughing and feeling terrible.

I get sick frequently, the joys of having an autoimmune disorder, but this was something else entirely. I'm glad that the weakness is gone, although I still get tired real easily and I spent most days after work crashing in bed. I joked with my students on Tuesday that being at work was the longest I had been awake in nearly a week. Work was tough-I had a heavy lecture based week-and trying to lecture and not have a coughing fit proved to be impossible. I had to run out of my room to compose myself after coughing fits a few times, but the kids were great and supportive. And I managed to make it through all the material I needed to by the end of the week. And thankfully, this weekend is our "Midwinter" Break, so I have Monday and Tuesday off. The weekend is also considered a "Wellness Weekend" for the district meaning no homework for students, and staff wasn't supposed to bring work home. So I didn't. I'm glad I can continue to rest up.

One of the goals for this weekend is to finish putting everything away in our new kitchen! Yep! Matt finished it! While I was sleeping all last weekend, Matt was working on the finishing touches in our kitchen, and we finally installed the range on Tuesday night. Since I was still feeling crappy, I didn't start putting away dishes until Thursday. We moved very quickly, so we're still trying to find things (like our baking sheets and cutting boards. They seem to have disappeared in the piles of boxes in the basement), but most of our dishes, etc are put away. We're still trying to figure out the best places for everything, since the kitchen has less storage than our apartment kitchen...and we own too much crap. But I'm going through it. When Matt gets home from lunch with a friend, he's going to cut the shelves for our pantry so everything can finally be put away. Tomorrow marks 2 months that we've owned the house, and I am ready for it to feel like a house. :)

I'm also just glad to be stepping away from the events of last week and the trauma of yet another school shooting. I posted a bit about it on facebook, and of course that post turned into a nightmare, but I can't believe we are here again. Talking about another school shooting.

As a teacher, I struggle with it each and every time. Not only because of how sad I am for the victims and their families, for the students who survived, for having to bring up the conversation of gun control again and again, but because I always have nightmares. I see my classroom, my kids. I have to have tough conversations with students that I shouldn't have to have. I have people telling me that I should carry a gun to work, people messaging me ways to help "lock down" my classroom, people telling me get over my emotions because it happens everywhere, people telling me my emotions about the situation are silly and unfounded. It kills me every time.

This week I had multiple students ask me if I would take a bullet for them, if I would protect them if there was a shooter in our building, if I would hold my classroom door open for them. Those are questions I shouldn't have to answer. And I don't know HOW to answer them. Would I protect my students? Of course I would. I would do my best to hide them in my too small classroom. In lockdown drills I have my classes shove desks in front of my door to barricade it. I keep a supply of canned goods in my cabinet that we can use to throw at an intruder. But why are these things I have to worry about as an educator?

People on the outside don't always get that, and it's maddening. I didn't practice lockdown drills in school. Even though I was in high school in the years immediately after Columbine, it wasn't like this. We weren't constantly afraid of a shooting happening in our backyard. It's terrifying. And maddening that absolutely nothing changes.

But, I do see a lot of hope. The outcry and anger from the survivors gives me hope. These younger generations are DONE and close to voting age. And while something should have been done years and years ago, I have faith and hope that these kids are going to accomplish more than what we have-because let's be frank-we've failed to protect them.

I hear and see a lot of adults ragging on the younger generations-millennials and these younger kids who haven't been labeled yet, but having taught them...watch out. These kids are angry. They are ready to change things. They are ready to make the world a better place, and I know they're going to do it. I am constantly amazed by the things they say, the things they know, the things they want to do in their lifetimes. I was not that kind of teenager-I was ignorant and sheltered.

I could continue, but I feel like I should stop. Let's talk about books!

Last weekend I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster. It was the 3rd book off my TBR challenge, even though it was listed as an alternate. I think I'm taking a step back from that challenge for a bit to get to a few other things I want to read, but that post should be coming up this week (finishing it after I publish this one).

I also flew through Caraval by Stephanie Garber. It is one of the 6 books selected for my district's new "Battle of the Books" for the three high schoolers, and I made it a goal to read all 6 before the event in mid-May. It was pitched as being similar to The Night Circus, which intrigued me, but...well, you'll have to wait for my review. I only have 2 more titles to read off the Battle list, and one is sitting on my nightstand. I probably won't get to it for another week or two, but I'm making good progress.

Throughout most of the week, I read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez. The book had been recommended to me in an ELA facebook group and it was calling to me. I even brought it to school with me on Friday to read during silent reading time with my juniors (they read at the beginning of each hour for ten minutes-sometimes I read with them....which actually keeps them more focused, so I should probably do it more often). They were intrigued by the title (and how fast I read-these are my low level kids). I ended up finishing it Friday night.

Yesterday I sat down with Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. This was another recommendation by the ELA group, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would (cheerleading and Shakespeare? Really?). I have a lots of thoughts, but the fact that I sat and read it in one sitting should tell you something. So glad that Adam gifted me a copy. :)

This week I am going to be working my way through chunks of Ulysses by James Joyce since I'm technically doing a readalong....I started it a few years ago as part of another readalong, but never finished it (I should do a list of those books). I also pulled my old and battered copy of The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman off my shelf to reread before getting to The Book of Dust, also gifted from Adam. I LOVE the His Dark Materials trilogy. It's one of the first that I can remember reading as it came out. The wait between books 2 and 3 almost killed me. My copy is very well loved and I'm excited to be diving back into that world. I was debating this trilogy or starting A Wrinkle in Time, but I think that's going to be next up.

I'm hoping that after we finish setting up the kitchen today, I can spend most of tomorrow and Tuesday reading to take advantage of our "Wellness" time. :)

I love having my reading and blogging mojo back. I need to be better about visiting other blogs and commenting, but I'm getting there. Let me know what you're reading below!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Recent Book Loot.

I used to do "Book Loot" posts pretty regularly, but haven't done one in ages! I do think I have begun to limit my book purchases quite a bit. For one, I don't have enough physical space to keep storing all of the books I want to buy and read, and two, I've been much better at reading from my own shelves the last couple of years. However, I still buy when the mood strikes, and I am a part of a book swap with some fellow bloggers, so I do acquire new titles pretty regularly!

In what I'm going to call a fit of boredom, I made an Amazon order a couple weeks ago to get a few new titles. Here's what I got (from top to bottom):


1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle: I love L'Engle and read almost all of her work when I was a young teen. A friend of me got me hooked on her books and I scooped up most of them. And while I know I've read Wrinkle before, I couldn't find my copy. I tore through every box of books I own, and sadly, my copy disappeared (I found everything else by her, so not sure what happened). With the movie coming out, I really want to reread, so I'm glad I have a new copy ready to go.

2. Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: I've enjoyed the other titles by Lockhart I've read over the last couple of years-We Were Liars blew me away and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks being a favorite to recommend to kids at school. I had marked this one on Goodreads when I saw it pop up, but hadn't snapped up a copy yet. It looks like another suspense-type novel, so I'll probably save it for a day I can read it all in one go.

3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Are you shocked I've never read this? Me too! It's a book I feel I should have read by now, but just haven't gotten around to. Now that a physical copy is on my TBR bookshelf, I'm hoping I can get to it before the end of the school year. I truthfully know very little about it.

4. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez: I first heard about this one in an ELA teacher Facebook page a couple months ago, and the title kept popping up amidst conversations of books similar to Dear Martin and The Hate U Give. While reading the description doesn't make that direct connection for me, I am pretty intrigued by what it has to offer (in fact, I'm starting this as soon as I finish drafting and scheduling this post!)

5. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This title actually came up at the AP conference I went to this past summer and I've had it on my Amazon wishlist ever since. Issues with class in the United States fascinate me, and I'm hoping it offers some good things to ponder and discuss.

What are some recent things you've picked up? Have you read any of these titles? Let me know!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekly Wrap-up: Flu Haze.

Usually when I sit down to write these posts, I have an idea of the things I want to write about, and then I stick to that list. This week is not like that. I can't think of anything of substance to write about, mainly because I have been in my bed for nearly 3.5 days straight either sleeping or sleepily watching Netflix.

On Monday, we had a snow day, which was the nest thing ever after the events of last weekend. On Tuesday, I felt exhausted all day and ended up taking a 2 hour nap on the couch when I got home from work. When I woke up, I felt terrible-still exhausted, aching all over, and that feeling in the back of my throat that signals I'm going to get sick. I guess I wasn't surprised. When I get overworked and don't sleep enough, I inevitably get a cold. But this felt different.

I went to bed super early and got up for work Wednesday in a complete fog. I took my temp and didn't have one, but I just felt off in a non-cold way. I struggled through the day and took Motrin at lunch after noting I had a small fever. After school I had a training I couldn't skip, but as I sat there, I just felt worse and worse. I headed back to my classroom and prepped for a sub on Thursday, just in case (best decision ever). After leaving my sub plans on my desk, I left work at 5:15 and headed straight to the clinic.

At that point, I had massive chills and my body aches were unreal. They were out of the instant flu tests, so they did the 24 hour test and prescribed me flu meds to start in the meantime. Since I'm a teacher and immuno-compromised, they didn't want to take any chances. I got my meds and headed up and immediately put in for a sub and jumped into bed. I shivered under our normal bedding and three blankets until the middle of the night when I woke up drenched in sweat. It was terrible.

I proceeded to stay in bed unless I was showering or needed the bathroom until this morning. And while I often say I would love to stay in bed for days to read and watch TV, it was not wholly enjoyable. I feel weak and still sick-my throat is super swollen which makes talking and swallowing difficult. I don't have a fever (haven't since Friday), but I feel achy and tired and like I could sleep for days. I'm grateful we had another snow day on Friday (we got a foot of snow), so I didn't have to use another sick day, and while I think I should stay home tomorrow, I don't think I will. Since I was out the week prior (for a field trip), I feel guilty about taking the time. We'll see how I feel in the morning....just in case.

With all of that going on, I didn't read much. I couldn't focus on a book Thursday and most of Friday, and I finally managed to finish Where Angels Fear to Tread by Forster last night. And I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not been all sick and whiny.

I'm actually not sure what I'm going to read next. I should really start Ulysses for the readalong I'm "participating" in, but I am not up for that today. I need something fast paced and addicting. Any suggestions?

That's all I've got for this week-just too exhausted to write more. I hope you all had a great week!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

American Street by Ibi Zoboi.

“So trying to come to America from the wrong country is a crime?”

American Street is a book that sat on my Amazon wishlist for months-since its publication. There was something about the description that drew me to it (plus the gorgeous cover), and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I finally bit the bullet and purchased it in early January and got to it during the #24in48 Readathon last weekend. 

It was not what I expected. 

Do you ever build up a book in your mind and have these expectations, only to have the book be about something completely different? That was American Street for me. And I say all that while also saying that this was a good piece of YA fiction. It just wasn't what I expected. And there were a few things that irked me.

The description talks about the main character, Fabiola Toussaint, immigrating to the United States from Haiti with her mother. Her mother is detained and Fabiola goes on alone to live with her aunt and three female cousins in the city of Detroit. 

This is where I detached from the book and had to be brought back because the book detoured into something else entirely. Based on the synopsis and description, I thought I was going to read more about Fabiola's struggle with immigration and assimilating into the culture of Detroit. I thought I was going to see more focus on the struggle to reunite with her mother and get her to Detroit. And while there were references to both those things, the book was more closely tied to how Fabiola's view of America changed and her desire to become a part of it more wholly.

I was fine with where the story ended up going-it just wasn't what I had anticipated. The story follows Fabiola as she enters an American high school (a private Catholic school in Detroit) and she learns just who her cousins and aunt are. There's a lot of references to gang violence, drug dealing, and the shady bits of Detroit (side note: there are good places in Detroit-the city is often painted negatively in the media, but there are nice places and the city is bouncing back from what it was). Fabiola's cousins, Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess are a hoot and while I didn't like some of the choices the author made in connection to their relationships, I did enjoy their characters and how they tried to bring Fabiola into their culture.

That being said...the hardest thing for me to reconcile with in the novel was the amount of abuse and shaming that went on between the female characters. They often slut-shamed each other and other female characters to the point that it made me angry on more than one occasion. I work in a high school, so I get it and I see it happen daily, but I hate it anyway. I also hated the normalization of a very abusive relationship.

Fabiola's cousin Primadonna (Donna) is in a long-term relationship with Dray, who not only physically abuses her, but also abuses her mentally. He's a control freak about what she wears, etc. The other characters make fun of Donna for it, but then make statements like "that's just how they are together", or "that's how they love."

*sigh* I hate the normalization of abuse because teenage girls equate that to a real relationship. And it made me sad because I think there was so much opportunity in that relationship to say something. But then again, it's Zoboi's story to tell.

Negatives aside, I enjoyed the slight elements of...mysticism? Magical realism? Not sure what word to use, but there was a great deal of some kind of element that allowed things to happen. It wasn't over the top, but there enough so it was noticeable by the reader. I also enjoyed that while Fabiola was the main narrator, the author allowed the  main secondary characters a chance to have their own voices heard just enough so that felt more real, more developed. It was an interesting stylistic choice, but one that I appreciated. 

And, obviously, I liked the references to Detroit (I live 30 minutes north of the city in a suburb, but I've always loved the city). The references to specific Detroit locales made the book that much better for me as I could situate myself a little more clearly in Fabiola's story. 

Overall, a good piece of contemporary YA fiction-just not what I thought it would be.

“Don't give me no 'but you're beautiful on the inside' bullshit."

"No, you are beautiful on the outside," I say.

"Don't give me that bullshit either. I'm beautiful when I say I'm beautiful. Let me own that shit," she says. Her eyes have not left the computer screen this whole time, but I know she's paying attention to everything I say.

"Okay, then you are ugly."

"Thanks for being honest."

"Seriously. That's what we say in Haiti. 'Nou led, men nou la.' We are ugly, but we are here."

"We are ugly, but we are here," she says, almost whispering. "I hear that.”