Thursday, June 4, 2015

Latest Reads

Yes, I should be adding everything to my W drive because my computer crashes at least once a year, but I need to blog about the latest books I've read before I forget everything I can remember about them.

I was supposed to go to San Antonio during Memorial Day weekend. After looking at the weather forecast, I urged my husband to cancel the trip. When the floods came, even he had to say "I think you were right to cancel the trip." However, it gave me the opportunity to read some books.

The first two were ARCS I downloaded from Edelweiss.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa was a little disconcerting to read. It's written in three voices. Main character Jeremy lives with his gay dad and his partner and comes out as well. He's painfully shy and artistic. After a horrific incident at school, he's retreated into himself and encouraged to start an art club in order to use the school's facilities after hours. He writes in first person.

Mira (short for Miranda) had a nervous breakdown. She meets another one of the characters, Sebby (short for Sebastian), in the mental health institution where they become friends. She befriends Jeremy in the art club. Her voice is third person.

Sebby's voice is written in second person and "you" refers to Sebby, not the reader. I'm not quite sure why the author chose to handle the character in this manner, but she did. Sebby lives in a foster home, rarely attends, school, and is also gay. Sebby is a lost soul, but he comes to the art club with his BFF, Mira.

I wasn't enamored with Fans of the Impossible Life, but it kinda had the same tone (at least to me) of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Awhile back, I heard Teri Lesesne at a workshop. When she mentioned that Gary Schmidt has a new
book coming out, Orbiting Jupiter, I knew I had to read it. IMHO, Gary Schmidt is one of the finest writers around. I've never read one of his books that I didn't just love. This one didn't let me down either.

Jack lives with his family in the country. Jack milks cows, mucks out the barn, and lives a verysimple lifestyle. His parents decide to become a foster family for fourteen-year-old Joseph. Joseph has attacked a teacher and also became a father at age thirteen. All he wants is to find his daughter, Jupiter after the death of Jupiter's young mother.

This is a tear-jerker for sure. Beautifully written, sensitively told, the story is authentic and not sugar-coated. Joseph is a kid who just needs your love.

In my quest to read all twenty Lone Star Reading List books, I flew through Popular: A Memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen. Maya was an eighth graders when she wrote the book. Her father found the book Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide at a thrift shop. A shy introvert, Maya decides to follow the advice in the book to see if the 50s information still applies today. Some of the advice is hilarious. Maya wears "Pilgrim" shoes, pearls, and even a girdle! She also writes her own advice updating some of Betty Cornell's original bits of wisdom. This is an entertaining read that I think some girls will really enjoy.

Last of all, I listened to David McCullough read his latest book,
The Wright Brothers. Having been to Kill Devil Hills and to Kitty Hawk, NC, and hoping to someday to be a North Carolinian, I found the book to be immensely interesting. How two young me who had never been to college created the first true flying machine was fascinating. Then, of course, it was read by the author himself. It just doesn't get better than that.

Last Day of the Year

It seems to me the longer you teach, the harder it gets. Maybe it's because you know more and want to address more or maybe when you are younger "ignorance IS bliss." Or it could be that I'm just plain ole' OLD! Anyway, I found this year to be incredibly CHALLENGING.

So, no, I'm not sad that the year is over. I'm not sad that I will be able to get away for awhile, spend some quality time with my husband and dog, read, go to movies, swim, and RELAX.

Usually, I get kinda revved up at the end of the year, starting to get ideas for the next year, but this isn't happening for me. I also usually tear up at Eighth Grade Recognition or after our last Eighth Grade Research class, but not this year. I'm just glad that it's over. I started the year with shingles. It didn't go up from there.

I just cleaned out my Inbox in email. I'm notorious for keeping everything as long as possible. What struck me about this exercise was the numerous emails I had from students asking from the innocuous, "Where are the database passwords?" On the LiveBinder, on the Portal to "The access code to the LiveBinder doesn't work." Yes, it does. You typed it in wrong. To my all time favorite, "I can't find anything on my topic." Really? Then why did you select it?

Yesterday, I  finished four hours of summative conferences with library staff. Then I got the pleasure of writing up everything we discussed in those four hours of meeting. Even though an hour with each staff member seems like a long time, we really never scratched the surface of the entire year's work. All of us are feeling the same frustrations: teachers who won't work with us, people that don't follow through, an outdated, decaying library infrastructure with no improvement in sight, and after all of our hard work and efforts, the feeling that absolutely no one really cares what we do anyway.

Yes, I'm tired. I'll be thrilled when it's all over. I'll be the one shoutin'!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer Reading 2015

Today Monica Bullock's sixth grade reading classes came to the library to get ideas for summer reading. As noted previously, I pulled the books and added QR Codes that linked to book trailers or authors discussing their books. Students used iPads with headphones to access the trailers. Then the students wrote down some titles that may be of interest to them for the summer.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

No, this is NOT a book I would recommend to Middle School students. It's an adult book for my June
Book Club meeting. I actually listened to the book. I'd already purchased it on Audible before my book club selected it. So....I listened.

The book is a murder mystery told in three voices. First wife, Rachel, is still besotted with her ex-husband, Tom. Having not been able to conceive a child, Rachel turned to alcohol to give her comfort. However, Tom turned to another woman, Anna with whom he married and had a child, Evie. Rachel stalks Tom because she passes his house, their house, everyday on her train ride into London. Anna is the second voice in the story. She detests the house and Rachel and fears for Evie's safety from Rachel. She has difficulty after Evie's birth and hires Megan to help care for the baby. Megan lives down the street with her husband and has been unemployed after the art gallery where she worked closed. Although Megan works for Anna for awhile, she quits alluding to another job. Megan also has some emotional issues and seeks help from a therapist to help her work through those issues.

One morning Rachel awakes in her bedroom to find that she's had a horrible head injury. She knows that something is wrong although she cannot remember because she was so drunk the night before. Then when Megan goes missing, she somehow feels that she has some knowledge of it if she could only remember...

The three voices are not sequential in the story. Parts of the story are told in flashback. It was most concerting when Megan's chapter is read after her death.

I rarely read murder mysteries. I rarely read mysteries at all. I enjoyed Girl on the Train. It's not great literature, but it's a good read.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Now that I've finished the 40 Book Challenge, I've set a goal for my summer reading. I like to try to read at least 20 books during the summer. I know I'm going to need to finish my Lone Star Reading, but I think I've got some really terrific reads in my TBR pile. My book club is meeting throughout the summer, too; I'll be reading some great adult books in addition to my YA fare.

At TLA, I saw a great YA panel. Julie Murphy was there talking about her new book, Dumplin'. I saw this ARC on Edelweiss, and just knew it would be a book I'd like to read. Julie is apparently from Fort Worth, and her book is set in Clover City, Texas. While this is a fictionalized town, Murphy obviously knows her small town stuff.

The summer before her junior year, Willowdean Dickson, falls hard for her co-worker, private school student, Bo. He's good-looking, athletic, and personable, and he seems to really like her. This would be no problem except that Willowdean is everything he's not. She's fat, somewhat self-conscious, and seems to be losing her BFF, Ellen. Her life is also complicated because her single mom was once Miss Teen Blue Bonnet and directs the pageant every year, her loving aunt is dead, and she idolizes Dolly Parton.

Things are going well between Willowdean and Bo until she finds out that he will be attending Clover City High in the fall. She can't face the scrutiny the two of them will face. She quits her job, starts dating one of the football players, and enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant just because she can. When she finds that she will be competing with her best friend, Ellen, they have a major disagreement and stop speaking.

While the end is quite predictable, it's the journey that is interesting. When Willowdean and her new pageant-participating girlfriends visit the Hideaway (a drag queen club), and later learn how to prepare for the pageant from the drag queens themselves, I knew that this was more than just the regular small town novel. Also, the references to Dolly Parton and her music made the book more than just the usual YA fare.

I really liked Dumplin'. Murphy's Willowdean is an honest portrayal of what it feels like to be the fat girl in high school (and I should know.) The book has an authentic voice. I'm sure folks in New York may think that some of the things in the book are over the top:I can assure them that those kind of things really happen in Texas. (Nobody knows beauty pageants and small towns better than Texas.)

Enjoy Dumplin'!

(Note: According to Amazon, Dumplin' has 384 pages - counts as two books!)

Julie Murphy is third from the left.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Rising Seventh Grade Parent Meeting

Cindi Timmons and the rising seventh grade parents' book club visited the library this morning to discuss summer reading. I organized the books and added QR Codes on as many as possible linking the title to a book trailer or a book talk. These were displayed in the library. Susan Bauman,  MS English Coordinator, shared the reading that the kids will do during the summer and the required reading during the 2015-2016 school year. I shared info regarding Young Adult Literature, Self-selection, and reading levels.

Here's the Animoto I had showing the books on the list:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fifth Grade Research

Last week we started on the FINAL research project of the year. Yippee!!! Our fifth graders are studying Ancient Rome. The students were immersed in basic information in their classrooms by our fifth grade history teachers, Parker Ainsworth and Matthew Giorgio. They selected possible topics deciding on one and then the fun began.

Students learned about search terms, related terms, and wrote their 5 Ws questions about their topic. (This sounds easy. You wouldn't believe how some write questions that have nothing to do with their topics.) Then we discussed plagiarism and Trash and Treasure notetaking strategies. Teaching fifth graders how to find information for their citations is always fun as well. The students use at least one database (reference) article, one book (print), and one web site. We also cover web site evaluation.

The students have been terrific. I thought they'd blow it off at the end of the year, but they've been most attentive and have worked hard on their research.

The final product is a "Museum Artifact" representing their topic, a museum card describing the artifact and a persona piece where they personifiy the artifact. We'll see how that goes.