Friday, March 20, 2015

Earlier I listened to Sara Gruen’s book, Water for Elephants, and enjoyed it immensely. Recently, I downloaded At the Water’s Edge from NetGalley, and I read it during Spring Break.

The book is basically about three overly indulged, entitled socialites during World War II. Maddie and her husband, Ellis, have been bankrolled by mutual friend Hank to go hunting for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland after Ellis and Maddie have been pretty much disowned by his family. Ellis and Hank were rejected for military service because of Ellis’ color-blindness and Hank’s flat feet. The coddled trio doesn’t even consider it risky to travel during wartime because after all, don’t the Germans know who they are?

When they arrive in a very small town in Scotland, they aren’t treated in the manner to which they are accustomed. No one is there to unpack for them, run their bath, or press their clothes. In fact, the men are treated as slackers for not participating in the war and Maddie scorned for her lofty attitudes.

Soon, however, Maddie realizes that more is happening that just a Scottish adventure. Ellis isn’t really interested in her at all. In fact, she was “won” in a bet with Hank. The two men really rather be with each other.

While Maddie is pretty much left alone, she can’t help but be attracted to Angus, the proprietor of the “inn.” Angus, she’s pretty sure, has been poaching in the woods to provide game for the villagers’ tables in order to keep them from starving due to rationing. She also befriends the two young women who work at the inn as well. It is from them that she learns of Angus’s secret.

Initially, I really didn’t like At the Water’s Edge. I’m not fond of entitled people. Ellis, Hank, and Maddie are indeed VERY privileged and expect to be catered to. However, as the story progresses and Maddie acclimates herself to her new surroundings, I found her to be immensely likable. (There’s definitely growth of the character here.) I also think she learns to really like herself.

There were some common themes I noticed between At the Water’s Edge and Water for Elephants. Both were historic fiction, both had an illicit love affair, both had “exotic” settings, and there’s a “convenient” death which sets up the opportunity for the couple to finally get together.

No, this isn't a book for kids. Occasionally I want to read a book just for me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

eleven by Tom Rogers

I know that I’m very behind in my blogging efforts. I’ve had back to back research projects since two weeks before Thanksgiving. Right now we are fighting the Civil War in 7th grade while the same seventh graders finish their Holocaust projects. I’m also grading the citations for the eighth grade research paper.

At the moment, the Internet is down and I cannot work on anything that I really need to plus it’s hotter than Hades in the library. I’m writing this in a Word document and will transfer it to the blog. Gotta punt, I guess.
At any rate, I HAVE read several books lately and will try to do some catch-up. First of all, I read eleven by Tom Rogers. Mr. Rogers attended Greenhill awhile back and is now a screen writer. He wrote this book for kids and our sixth grade classes have read it as a required reading book. We were supposed to have Mr. Rogers here for an author visit, but it also coincided with an ice storm when we had no school. I don’t know if the visit has been rescheduled or if they plan to Skype with him. Too  bad we didn't get the visit.
It’s Alex Douglas’ eleventh birthday. September 11, 2001. More than anything in the world, Alex wants a dog and just knows that’s what he’s getting for his birthday. His parents, however, don’t feel that Alex is responsible enough for a dog. So it’s not looking good for Alex…
It’s an ordinary day in the New Jersey suburb of New York City where Alex lives. Alex’s mother is a nurse going to work and his dad drives a commuter train into New York for a living. That morning Alex has words with his father. Words that he will later regret.
As Alex rides the bus to school, he is tormented by some bullies who ruin the cupcakes his mother had baked for his birthday. However, he spies a dog out the window. It’s not just any dog, it’s THE dog. And the dog looks as though he needs someone to take care of him. When Alex gets off of the bus, he approaches the dog that is initially suspicious. In a moment, however, the dog is all over Alex kissing him with a “Happy Birthday” greeting.
Not long after getting to school, Alex is told to pick up his sister, Nunu, and go to the hospital where his mom works. He’s not sure why, and his mom is not forthcoming when he asks.
“I need you to be a grown-up today.” 

Rather than go straight home, Alex finds the dog and decides that he wants to do everything he had ever hoped to do with a dog, and this dog is a dream. He’s so involved in playing with his friends in the park and with “Rex” the dog, he almost loses his sister. When some punks hurt “Rex,” Alex takes him to a vet who finds out that “Radar” has been micro chipped. Alex also finds out that terrorists have flown planes into the World Trade Center, right where his father works.

Distraught after learning that “Radar” had a home and that his father might not ever be coming home, Alex takes the dog back to the dog’s home only to find that the house is no longer there. It burned to the ground. It’s there that the kids meet Mac who shares that druggies had lived in the house and had dumped Rader into the street. Mac takes the kids in to meet his wife who appears to have Alzheimer’s, they play with a toy airplane, and wait for Mac’s son to come home. A son who works at the World Trade Center…
Throughout the book, the events of 9/11 are viewed by the Man in the White Shirt in periodic chapters interspersed through the narrative. Who is this man? Is it Mac’s son? We don’t know until the end of the book.
Things don’t end perfectly. They don’t end perfectly in real life. They certainly didn’t end perfectly on 9/11.
I've not read anything quite like eleven. It’s not the greatest literature, but it tackles a subject that hasn't really been addressed in children’s literature and personalizes the events of 9/11. To sixth graders, the events at the World Trade Center are ancient history. To those of us who experienced it, we’ll always remember when we heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Center and then another plane. I can still see the images and remember the nightmare.

I'll never forget.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Okay, I'm on my quest to read the 2015-2016 Lone Star Books. I decided to listen to Unbreakable: The Legion Book 1

As the story started, I thought, "Okay, this is a ghost story book." Great! I haven't read a good ghost story book for a long time. Then as I listened, I thought, "Oh, this is a DaVinci Code for kids." Fine, I liked the DaVinci Code. I listened some more and the book turned into a teenage, unfunny "Ghostbusters." Then there was a "Pandora's Box" conclusion that was a cheesy way to keep The Legion series going. At the end, just another paranormal run of the mill book which will have several sequels to make some more money for Little, Brown.

In all fairness, I'm really TIRED of the paranormal. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything very likable about main character Kennedy Waters to overcome my dislike of paranormal books. I also got lost in during the audio because it just didn't hold my attention. The reader was just fine; I just got bogged down in the details.

I guess I know enough about the story to steer a student to it if they are into this genre. It's just not my cup of tea.

Five down, fifteen to go...

I proceeded on...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lone Star Duo

I've started the long trek reading the twenty books selected for the 2015-2016 Texas Lone Star Reading List. Two down and eighteen to go!

I listened to The Nethergrim by Matthew Tobin. Jeremy Arthur read the book, and he was terrific! He managed to make everyone of the characters unique in voice much like Jim Dale in the Harry Potter series. Because of his excellent reading, I found myself enjoying the book ever so much more. I am not much of a fantasy fan (Jim Dale had to get me started with Harry Potter), so it takes an excellent reader to get me interested.

The story starts with an old legend. Tristan, the knight, and the wizard Vithric defeated the Nethergrim for all eternity. Or did they? Fast forward to the "present" medieval-type time. Edmund works in his father's tavern. He's rather a dreamy kid who loves books. His father, on the other hand, burns Edmund's books to keep Edmund focused on the work at hand. That is, he thinks he's burned all of the books. When a stranger appears at the tavern with mysterious book, Edmund is enthralled, not knowing that the book contains secrets he and his friends will need in the very near future. At night, Edmund, servant-boy, Tom, and Edmund's secret love, Katherine, sneak out to find bones picked clean by some mysterious being. When some of the children go missing (one of whom is Edmund's younger brother), the kids figure out with the help of Edmund's book, that the Nethergrim has returned.

Filled with fantastic creatures and edge-of-your- seat mystery, The Nethergrim doesn't disappoint. While there's a definite narrative arc to the story, it's obvious we haven't seen or heard the last of The Nethergrim. 

I just finished reading the preview copy of Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen. (Her book North
of Beautiful was on the Lone Star list a couple of years ago.) While I always enjoy contemporary realistic fiction and I liked the book, I find that Justina Chen always has a lot going on in her books.

Aspiring photographer and TurnStyle blogger, Shana, has sworn off guys after a particularly nasty breakup with the much-older Dom. While photographing street fashion at the gum wall in Seattle, she meets new boy Quattro who also enjoys photography. All is not all happiness, however, because Shana's father discovers that he is rapidly losing his eyesight which impacts his travel plans for the future. Because of his impending blindness, Shana's dad and mom decide to visit Machu Picchu. Shana gets to go along as a companion to an older woman. Who should show up? Quattro! What a coincidence. He's also sworn off the girls, but for a very different reason.

The Inca Trail is treacherous at the best of times, but after rains, the mudslides are life-threatening. When Shana's father barely rescues her and her mother from their tent during the slide, Shana mourns the loss of her new camera, but is happy to be alive. However, she and Quattro seem to be bonding, but then he pulls back.

It's only when Shana learns that Quattro blames himself for his mother's death and is on the trail to scatter her ashes that his reluctance seems to make sense. That coupled with her father's overt anger over his impending blindness cause her to make the decision to accompany Quattro back to Machu Picchu after it has been closed to visitors due to the danger. When she almost slips down the mountain and is injured, she learns that it is not always wise to try to take the future into your own hands.

I enjoyed both books although they are very different. As Lewis and Clark wrote in their journals, "We proceeded on.."

Only eighteen more to go!


Monday, February 2, 2015

Catch-up Reading

Yes, I have done a bit of reading between Guided Inquiry units, holidays, and checking myriads of citations. I won't try to spend a great deal of time on each book. I just want to catch up, and see how far behind I am on the 40 Book Challenge. (It's going to be so embarrassing if these kids whoop me!)

I've started on my 2015-2016 Lone Star Reading List Reading. So far, I've finished Buzz Kill by Beth Fantasky. Yea! This is a mystery which is not one of my favorite genres, and one that I really need to get the move on. This concerns the mysterious death of the not-so-liked head football coach and the protagonist's dad is the prime suspect. Also, there's a really cute quarterback who is also a mystery unto himself. I really enjoyed listening to this gem.

Unfortunately, I did not really care for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover. It's about an immortal King Tut who is stuck forever as an eighth grader. It's a Rick Riordan wannabe, but not nearly as good.

I also finished reading The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey for my book club. Set in Northern Ireland in the early part of the 20th century, this follows Eileen, a very strong acerbic woman who gets caught between two worlds - one of rebellion and one of the Unionists. I learned a great deal of history in this one.

I've already discussed Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School by Carol Kuhltha, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari. It will count an nonfiction on my 40 Book Reading Challenge.

Then there's one book I read a LONG time ago, but did not blog about. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. I blogged about seeing Meg at the Texas Book Festival and was so impressed with her that I read her book. In this book, the protagonist, Jam, has not been able to deal with the death of her boyfriend that her parents send her to a psychiatric hospital. There she is placed in a class of exceptional students and given a journal in which to write. As she writes, she's transported back to the times she was with her boyfriend until she can work through her issues. Effective use of magical realism, but I really didn't know what to make of the book.

Whew! Now I'm pretty much caught up in my book blog!

Sweet Reads!