Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Latest "Reading"

I've been busy working on a new research project putting out fires with our new book vendor. I know that once the research unit starts and the first book order arrives, I may have more time. We'll see...

At any rate, I haven't read a lot lately. I have, however, listened to several books. I need to blog about them before I forget the plots

I am an avowed Rainbow Rowell fan. As I've previously blogged, I loved Eleanor and Park and really enjoyed Fangirl. I decided to listen to one of her adult books, Landline. While I enjoyed the book, Eleanor and Park is still my favorite.

Georgie McCool (yes, that's her name) writes for a hit comedy show and is excited for the opportunity to write for a new show IF she and her writing partner can get several episodes written before the new year. Unfortunately, that means that she'll miss going to Nebraska to celebrate Christmas with her husband, Neil, and their two daughters. When Neil takes the girls and leave, Georgie feels lost. She moves back in with her mother, her mother's much younger husband, and her much younger half sister. It is in her old room that she discovers an old yellow telephone - a landline - that links her to her college self when she and Neil broke up right before Christmas years ago. Using the landline, she tries to decide if Neil would have been better off not having married her. This bit of magical realism makes Georgie finally recognize what's most important in her life. I especially liked her first experience with snow and her realization that it is actually COLD.

I just finished listening to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. For some reason, I thought
this was a YA book and it started out in that manner. However, I soon found out that it is an adult book. Set in 1970s rural Ohio and told through a series of episodic flashbacks, this is a story of the Lee family and the death of daughter, Lydia. James, a college professor, is a first generation Chinese American who never fit in. He never had friends, was popular, or felt included. It was only when he met Marilyn, an ambitious Caucasian woman, that he felt accepted. Marilyn, on the other hand, always wanted to be a medical doctor. Her plans were put on hold when she finds that she's pregnant, and she and James marry. Because of her marriage, Marilyn becomes estranged with her home-economics teacher mother. After her mother's death, Marilyn receives a small inheritance. Because of the inheritance, she leaves James and her now two children to pursue her dream by going back to school. However, she soon finds herself pregnant again, and returns to the family. Both of her children, Nath and Lydia, internalize their mother's leaving in different ways, but it most effects Lydia who decides to become the perfect daughter in the hopes that her mother will never leave again. Marilyn, however, decides to pin all of her dreams on this perfect daughter, and determines at Lydia's tender age that she will grow up to be a doctor. The story centers on Lydia's death by drowning and how it brings out "everything I never told you."

This is a tough book to get through. Ng, however, makes you care about the characters so much that you're willing to make the time commitment to finish the book. As a reader, I could see things coming and in a much clearer light than the characters could. The story broke my heart. I wish she'd write a sequel because I'd like to know how Nath did at Harvard and if Hannah (the third child) ever found the love she sought from her parents.

The Selection by Kiera Cass is definitely YA. A combination of Cinderella, the Bachelor, and The Hunger Games, this book is a derivative of all things dystopian. America Singer is one of thirty five girls selected from "the Provinces" (districts) to come to the Palace in Illea because Prince Maxon needs to select a wife (Cinderella) Of course, all of this is televised to the country (the Bachelor) because everyone want to root for one of the girls and to see what they are wearing, etc. However, from time to time, the Palace is attacked by the Rebel forces (The Hunger Games).

America reluctantly entered the competition because it will help her family who are lowly fives in a caste system where the higher your number, the lower your status. Her boyfriend, Aspen, encouraged her to enter and when selected, he breaks up with her. When America arrives at the Palace, she has a run-in with the Prince, but they decided to just "be friends." Over the course of the book, several of the candidates are sent home and several leave due to the attacks on the Palace. At the end of the book, there are six candidates left. America, of course, is one of them, but her boyfriend, Aspen, is now a guard at the Palace due to his conscription into the army. (What a coincidence!)

Rather than having a nice narrative arc, the book ends without a conclusion. Of course, it helps that there are two sequels. An obvious pawn to sell more books...

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain was the latest book club read. This is a fictionalized biography of Beryl Markham, who was a contemporary and "friend" of Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame. (Beryl and Karen both had affairs with Denys Finch Hatton.) In many ways Beryl was a modern woman. She was an exceptional horse trainer and a aviatrix making a solo flight over the Atlantic during a time when most people had never flown. On the other hand, she was very unlucky in love, having married three times and having numerous affairs.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Books Week

7th Graders reading some favorite Banned Books.
This year we decided to celebrate Banned Books Week in the library. I really didn't go overboard or anything because generally no one really notices what we do. I simply collected books for a display and stuck a "Banned!" label across the front.

I had barely gotten the books out when a crew of Middle School students came in who were outraged that these books had been banned.

 "Why is The Giving Tree banned?"

 "What's wrong with Hop on Pop?"

"We read The Absolutely True Diary of  a Part Time Indian for class!"

"But I LOVE The Art of Racing in the Rain."

"Where the Wild Things Are was my favorite book when I was little. I read it every night before I went to bed."

 "Why would someone ban Winnie the Pooh?"

On and on and on.

I even had an Upper School student who sent  an email to all of the classes in Upper School telling them to come and celebrate a library that doesn't ban books! (I did point out that libraries don't ban books - generally administrators do.)

I guess I was really surprised at the reactions of the kids. Their reaction generally was "Why?" but also "Who Says?" Our point exactly.

I never thought anyone would even notice.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I've begun my "New Year's" reading. We aren't conducting a 40 Book Challenge like we did last
year, but I've learned that I personally work better with challenges. So... I'm challenging myself to read another 40 books during the school year.

Here's the first...

I just finished listening to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I've heard about this book for a really long time, and Margaret Atwood is coming to the Texas Book Festival in October so I thought I'd give it a go. While I thought it was a really good book, I was disappointed to find that it was my LEAST favorite genre, Dystopian!!!!

It turned out that that it was good that I actually listened to the book. Claire Danes read the novel, and I really felt it was an appropriate match. After the narrative of the story was completed, the epilogue was a speech where "The Handmaid's Tale" was discussed as being an artifact found after the period. The artifact was narrated on cassette tapes. Apparently, this was how the artifact was "found."

"Offred," the protagonist, was a "Handmaid." In the dystopian society in which she lived, the "Handmaid" was a babymaker for the elite Commander and his wife who could not have children. While this was not an ideal position, she felt that it help her from being hanged and her body put on display for others to view. In her past life, she'd had a husband and a child, but she did not know where they were or if they were alive. In passing, one of the other "Handmaids" alludes to "May Day," but Offred doesn't really know what this is about. All she knows is that this is a society devoid of love, information, and attachments.

While this is obviously an adult book, and I would not recommend it to Middle School students, I'm glad that I listened to it. Atwood is an accomplished writer. Her images were vivid and her situations distinct.

More to come...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Final Summer Reading

Okay, it's the end. My final entries for the summer. For now on, my reading list for the year starts over. I do believe that I read the equivalent of 23 books this summer. Yep, more than I challenged myself to read. That means that I read 62 books in the last year. That's more than one a week. Yes, I listened to some, but the vast majority I read myself.

So here's the final three:

The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe by Dan Poblocki. Gabriel's family home is destroyed by fire, and they move in with his illustrator grandmother. During the summer, he befriends Seth and they play a game which awakens an evil spirit who is determined to kill.

Wow! This is a REAL ghost story! I kept thinking that there was some "real" reason for the events to happen (because I don't believe in ghosts), but no, this is a scary ghost story. While not my favorite genre, I did enjoy the book. Poblocki's descriptions are so vivid that I could see Gabriel's grandmother's house and even the spooky illustrations that she was famous for.

There Will be Bears
by Ryan Gebhart. This is a story in the the
same vein as Gary Paulsen or Will Hobbs. Tyson can't wait to go hunting with his grandfather. He want to get his first elk. But things change drastically when Tyson learns that his grandfather is on dialysis, must live far from home, and then that the man he's always known as his grandfather isn't. However, a promise is a promise and Tyson and his grandfather sneak away on a secret hunting trip; however, what they find isn't quite what they expected.
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin. I've had a hard time NOT talking about this one. During World War II, black sailors were delegated to jobs like cooks and cleaners. However, in Port Chicago, California, they were given the daunting task of loading ammunition on ship. Unfortunately, they were never taught how to do it properly. Their white commanders even bet who can load the most ammunition in the shortest amount of time. When a ship blows up and everyone is killed, the black sailors balk and refuse to continue to load the ammunition. They are tried for mutiny and convicted. However, Thurgood Marshall brought their plight to the attention of many, and Eleanor Roosevelt urged integration. As the war progressed, it became obvious that segregated military units made no sense. A riveting read made more vivid by the inclusion of wonderful primary sources. Well-researched as usual.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guided Inquiry Design/Autonomy

Yesterday the faculty at Greenhill had several sessions with David Streight, author of Breaking into the Heart of Character: Self-Determined Moral Action and Academic Motivation. When he spoke to the Middle School staff, he discussed four approaches in developing autonomy in students. As he spoke, I thought, "This is what we do in Guided Inquiry Design!" Here's what he mentioned and my take on the implications for GID.

1. Choice - Mr. Streight pointed out that students do better when they have choices in their learning.

In GID, choice is not random. Students are given the opportunity to make educated choices about topics during the"Immerse" and "Explore" phases. After the students have developed background knowledge, the students select their topics for research in the "Identify" phase . Rather than drawing topics out of a hat or being randomly assigned a topic, the students have autonomy in selecting what they wish to research.

I found this to be particularly telling last year when we first implemented GID into the Middle School history classes. The students were genuinely interested in their topics. They had ownership in their topics, and enjoyed researching to find out more information about their topics. They were also more creative in producing their products because the information had relevance to them. Leslie Maniotes calls it "Third Space" which is the overlap of curriculum and interest. It truly happens in Guided Inquiry Design.

2. Voice - Mr. Streight asked, "Do kids have the freedom to express unpopular opinions?

Because GID is s student-centered learning and the students interact together in their Inquiry Circles, the students have a great deal of opportunity to express their opinions. In the Seventh Grade Inquiry Project we did last fall, the overarching essential question that we asked was "How does the phrase 'All Men are Created Equal' apply to particular groups in the nineteenth century?" One team of students studied the Chinese Immigrants working on the Transcontinental Railroad. Surprising to me, this group felt that yes, the Chinese Immigrants would have felt that "All Men are Created Equal." When asked to give their rationale, they noted that while the Chinese were initially exploited and mistreated while working on the railroad, they went on to own their own businesses and provide a better life for themselves than they would have had in China. While I didn't necessarily agree with the students, they had the freedom to express their ideas.

3. Structure - Mr. Streight noted that autonomy isn't "freedom," but "freedom with structure." Students need to know where the limits are. This is important in fostering autonomy.

GID provides a structure for learning. While the activities are no longer "teacher-led," there is a definite structure to the learning. The unit starts with "Open," an introductory activity/event designed to start the inquiry process. Then the students "Immerse" with group activities to provide a basis for their topics followed by "Explore" where they can find out more about the content. Then, of course, is the "Identify" phase where students select their topics and the Essential Question they wish to answer about the topic. As they "Gather" information, information literacy skills are introduced. The students then "Create" a product to reflect what they learned about the topic and how they answered the essential question posed in the "Identify" phase. This is followed by the "Share" phase where students participate in demonstrating their new found knowledge. Last, they "Evaluate" their learning by reflection and discussion. GID provides that "freedom with structure" Mr. Streight feels "freedom with structure" is one avenue to  develop autonomy.

4. Relevance - Mr. Streight stressed the importance of relating the information to the students' lives and show how the information has value. He said, "When we understand value, there's more buy-in."

I think that relevance has been covered earlier in this blog post, what we found in the Seventh Grade Inquiry project is that students who traditionally weren't the best test takers or particularly gifted academically were very successful in GID. The students were allowed to find the relevance in the topic, and we noted that as the students learned more about their topics, the "buy-in" was even greater. Both girls and boys had difficulty believing that women had few rights in the nineteenth century and were enraged to find that in many ways, women were treated more as "property" than people. Additionally, several of the kids selected a topic because they either had background in the topic or family connections. This also raised the level of relevance.

While my ramblings lack the eloquence of Mr. Streight's writings and the authors of Guided Inquiry Design and I haven't provided empirical evidence, I was struck by the similarities between the two. Because Guided Inquiry encompasses that areas that Mr. Streight mentioned, students do begin to develop that autonomy that we want them to have.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It's almost time to start it all over again...

I'm beginning to wonder if blogging is still something we need to be doing. No one reads this except me, and I really don't need to go to all of the trouble to write this just for myself. I do have a tendency to remember books that I read much better although I'm always notorious for forgetting characters' names and titles. Other than that...

I took quite a hiatus when I left for vacation. My husband and I spent three nights in London before boarding a ship in Southhampton to cruise the Norwegian fjords! Norway was as spectacular as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't always so accommodating. Nonetheless, it was a great trip. I watched a lot of movies - both on the airplane and on the ship. I saw a couple of plays in London, and we visited the Harry Potter Studios outside of London. If you are a fan of the movies, this is a must.

After we returned, I just really wasn't in the frame of mind to do a lot of reading. I've gotten back in the groove in the last couple of weeks, and I need to update the old blog about what I've been reading.

Prior to the trip, I read In the After by Demitria Lunetta. This is one of the Lone Star Books, and alas, ANOTHER dystopian read. It is very derivative (aren't they all?) of Amber Kizer's A Matter of Days and Susan Beth Pfeffer's LiFe as We Knew It. In fact, I wondered as I read if I had read the book before. Of course, I'm sure there will be a sequel... The only GOOD thing about it was that it weighed in a hefty 455 pages which means I can count it twice. Wonder if any middle schoolers will want to wade through all of that though for a story that's been told way too many times.

For my book club, I read Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the
Lusitania by Erik Larson. Although I love history and really enjoy nonfiction, I hadn't read any of his books prior to this one. This is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. All I remember from the history books was that the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat is what got the United States into World War I. Boy, was I ever wrong. It took the United States two more years to get into the war. (353 pages)

Larson focuses on four different aspects in the book: 1. What happened on the ship itself, 2. What occurred on the German U-boat with Captain Sweiger 3. What was happening in Room 40 - British Intelligence and the British military, and 4. What was happening in the White House with Woodrow Wilson.

As readers, members of the club would have liked diagrams of the ship and maps of the various places mention in the book as point of need. Although well-researched, the endnotes weren't very helpful while being read.

It was lucky that I didn't read this prior to my cruise because I might not have gotten on the ship. The Lusitania sunk in 18 minutes. Although  the event occurred several years after the Titanic, it was obvious that many lessons weren't learned. The passengers didn't know how to wear their life jackets nor did they know which life boat to board. Then the crew members who did know how to lower the life boats were killed in the torpedo blast. No wonder so many people were killed.

I just finished another YA nonfiction book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. While the book was well-researched and very interesting, I felt it was a bit condescending to the reader in the beginning. Then it took off. Of course, the big interest in the murder of the Tsar and his family has been the mysterious Anastasia, but that mystery was solved in the book. What struck me most about the Romanovs were how clueless they were. Fleming did a good job of bringing in other points of view. The peasants in Russia were starving and destitute and the Romanovs were living the high life and not too concerned with what was going on outside the palace walls. Then it seemed to me that Alexandra, not Nicholas, called the shots. (Sorry, bad pun.) In the words of the musical, Chicago, "He had it comin'."

I don't know if I'll reach my goal of 20 book this summer. I've got to look up the number of pages on several books to see what I have read. It really doesn't matter, I guess. No one cares except for me.

I officially go back to school on Friday. I've already spent a great deal of time at school already. We had to hire a new librarian. Therefore, I had to go post the job, look through resumes, interview, etc. I'm going to stay at home for the next two days although I do have an appointment and lunch with a friend tomorrow.

After that, we're back in the saddle for another fun-filled year!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Summer Reading Continued

Last night I met with my book club to discuss The Girl on the Train. We had a great discussion. I really like the women in our group. All have been teachers or are currently teaching. We all like to read, and can really discuss nuances in books. (It also helps that Janet Greedy was an English teacher extraordinaire!) Then there are so many different interests. This makes our book selections quite eclectic, but interesting.These choices make me read titles I'd probably never pick up, but I've really liked them all.

Enough of that...

I've read several titles since my last post. Here are my impressions.

I really liked Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless, another steampunk title. Will Everett's father works on the Canadian Pacific Railroad as it is being built across the continent of North America. Because Will's father saves the life a big executive of the railroad in an avalanche, he is given the cachet job of being the conductor on The Boundless, the largest train ever built. This train is so big that an entire circus is on board as well as a myriad of other things including the executive's funeral car that contains intriguing treasures. On a train stop, Will witnesses a murder, and the the rest of the story entails how he tries to escape from the murderer with the help of a circus performer.

There are a lot of overlaps in this title from Airborn, one of my "go-to" books. Both have an amazing machine (Boundless, a train; Airborn, an airship), there are fantastical animals that are integral to the stories, there's a hint of romance, and then ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. Both books would make terrific movies. This is another book on this year's Lone Star Reading List.

When I was in college I saw the movie "American Graffiti." This movie highlighted two characters Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I read the ARC from Edelweiss. Aiden and Clare decide to spend their last night together before leaving for college the next morning. Aiden is about to attend UCLA much to the disappointment of his father. Aiden plans to play lacrosse and is rather laid-back. While his father wanted him to attend Harvard, Aiden had different plans. Clare, on the other hand, is a very organized, structured young woman about to attend Dartmouth. As the evening begins, she's compiled a list of places that are important to the two of them as a remembrance because she feels the two should break up. Aiden, however, feels otherwise. Their friend Scotty, who is staying home, sums it up like this:

"It was always gonna be hard, right? Even if we were all in the same place next year, everything would still be different, and that sucks. But it's also kind of the point, I guess, New beginnings and all that..."
on the eve before leaving for college. This same theme was inherent in Jennifer E. Smith's book

A quiet falls over them, and Clare stares at the slats of the deck., knowing that he's right. It's time to move on, and the more time they spend wishing it were otherwise, the harder it will be to let go.

Later on Clare and Aiden discuss their situation again.

"Yeah, but what if it's true, what everyone's been saying?"

Aiden gives her a questioning look.

"That our lives are only just beginning," Clare explains. "What if one day we look back on this, and it's just a hazy memory? What if you and me -- all this -- what it it's not a big part of our story? What if it's just the prologue?"

"Oh, come on," Aiden says, "The prologue is the best part. Everyone knows that."

"I guess."

"And you and me? We must be at least up to chapter four by now. Tonight alone has to be a whole chapter."

"You think?"

"It is for me."

"Me, too," she says...

They wrestle with the question throughout the evening. In the end, they do decide to break up. I won't spoil the ending, but the book ends on a promising note.

I just finished listening to Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen's latest book. All of her fans should enjoy this book like they have her others.

Sydney lives the life of privilege, but she feels invisible. Her brother, Peyton, is the family's shining star, but has run into a string of problems such as thievery, drugs, and finally, a drunk driving accident that paralyzes a young man forever. For that, he is sent to a correctional facility and Sydney's parents (especially her mother) cannot come to grips with the situation. Because the cost of attorneys, etc., Sydney leaves her exclusive private school to attend public school where she meets Layla, who becomes a good friend. Layla's family, the Chathams, are the antithesis of Sydney's. They are loud, decidedly middle class, and face issues head on. They own a pizza shop where Sydney spends a great deal of time. She adores the pizza, and soon adores Layla's brother, Mac. When she defies her parents and allows Mac and his band to record in Peyton's recording studio and her mother finds her taking a sip of alcohol, there is hell to pay. It's only when one of Peyton's creeper friends attacks her, that her mother and father realize that she's also been dealing with Peyton's issues as well as a litany of changes in her own life.