Saturday, November 21, 2009


Okay-- so it's been quite a while since I've updated things here. So, here I am.

I finished The Shack-- finally. It's definitely a good one-- worth the time. Now on to new stuff (well, at least the last few months of new):

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
We read this one as a class. It was an interesting read as a historical fiction-- full of dialect and interesting tidbits of life "way back when." It was a good one to read aloud, with many sparks for great conversation. I was amazed at the reactions from the students-- how the thought of having a whipping boy was appalling, and then the growth of Prince Brat as a person. Many of the students could connect with at least one of the characters, while appreciating the others for what they represent. Definitely worth the time.

No Talking by Andrew Clements
This is our current "read-aloud-just-for-fun-at-the-end-of-the-day" book. One of my chatterboxes in class gave it to me as a present during our last book fair. As always, Andrew Clements has a fresh, kid perspective in his book. He shows that true competitiveness apparent with most late-elementary students. I must add that he captures the teachers and administrators that makes the book an enjoyable read for adults as well.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
What a classic is this, eh? I remember reading this one when I was a little girl. My favorite conversations with the students include Pa blowing up the pig's bladder for the girls to have a toy, and the way Ma colored the butter. There was a nice connection there, since in science class, we've made butter, so the students have a little tie-in with the book.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
I love reading this with my group of boys. It's gross, disgusting, and wonderful-- all rolled up into one fantastic book. Anyone who hasn't experienced the world of Roald Dahl is definitely missing something. Still not finished with this go around, but did enjoy the student's attempts to write poetry comparable to the caterpillar's songs (in order to gross me out!). I loved when one of them included a pig's bladder (he was listening to the other group'd discussion!).

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Oh, Blue Balliett is one of my favorites. She can weave a web of details in a mystery-adventure like no one's business! The group I have reading this now (along with myself) are having a lovely time-0f searching for clues, writing in code, looking for frogs... all the things a good book will do for you. Mystery writers are amazing-- how they can drop little details here and there, and then sweep them all up and give them meaning all at once. It's amazing to experience-- especially with a group of bright 8 year olds; Blue Balliett is a master of her craft. Wonderful nerdy characters help the dorkiest of us feel like we can fit in SOMEWHERE.

Savvy by Ingrid Law
This great little book is one of this year's Bluebonnet books; I read it on the suggestion from one of my students. Wow-- what a neat idea, I do believe that Madeline L'Engle and Natalie Babbit would be impressed and satisfied while reading Ingrid Law's new creation.

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
I bought this one today, having wanted to read it for some time now. I find the "author's" name quite interesting; Bosch is a Dutch painter who specialized in grotesque, fantastic creatures with human counterparts, while Pseudonymous, is obviously, well, a pseudonym. Being a big fan of Lemony Snickett, I hear that this current series is just about the next best (or worst!) thing. Horesradish, mayonaisse-- one of those condiments will either kill you or save your life, you know.

I'm sure there are more... as I think, I'll write.

Speaking of writing-- I'm off to either write some on that historical fiction I've been thinking about, or revising Pickle Summer from 2 NaNoWriMo years ago...


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Current Reading

Okay-- so I'm a little further into The Shack now. Not finished; school has definitely gotten in the way. I'm quite glad that I pressed on, and now that Mack is in the shack (hehe) and interacting with the "folks" there. I'd like to have finished it by now, but I'm getting to the point where I'm really enjoying it. Consequently-- I MIGHT be to the point where I slow up with it.

Weird, eh? I've told you about freezer books before-- like The Shining-- the ones you put away because you don't want to know what happens next. In fact, I think I lumped The Shack into that group of freezers a few weeks back.

But I also have that group of books that I take FOREVER to finish, because-- quite frankly-- I don't want them to end.
They're the flying dreams that you can hear the alarm clock go off with each passing page. Perhaps if I don't read that next page yet, I can hit the snooze and the feeling of flying can last a little bit longer.

This is where I am with The Shack now. It's amazing how it did a complete turnaround for me. I honestly can't wait to experience where it will take me next. Not sure if the "worst is over" now, but I'd like to think so.

Other things I've read lately-- the book affectionately called the Tan Book. It's the "bible" (If you will) of the Literacy Teaching World. I've yet to read it cover-to-cover-- but doing literacy training this summer has me using it more and more. I've also delved into the world of teaching mathematics, and found ATM by Marilyn Burns absolutely wonderful. Any doubts I may have had about teaching math this year-- well, they're just about gone (for now, anyways!).

Both are a great resource for any third grade teacher.

So-- tomorrow school starts again. I can't wait to see what the kids have been reading this summer. My younger son FINALLY got going with the Rick Riordan series. YEAH!! The older one just finished The Great Gatsby and Black Like Me. I've read Gatsby a few times, and love it for the 1920's feel to it. However, Black Like Me, seems rather intriguing and it's now on my "List."

If you're just starting school-- have fun! If you've already begun-- yeah! If you have nothing to do with school-- enjoy your day and remember what the first day is like-- you pick the grade.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Anything But Typical

I just finished Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin--- wow! What a great story! And I have to say-- as much as I didn't like the quasi-second-person-perspective from Larger Than Life Lara, I LOVE it in Anything But Typical.

Jason is autistic-- and ABT is his story, through his thoughts, shared with us, the readers. The thoughts shared through the story are not "typical" of Jason's personal communication style; he seems quite "short" on words (you'll get the pun after reading it!) himself-- but as most people who have worked with kiddos with autism suspect, being short on words is not synonymous with being short on thoughts. Since autism is a communication disorder, it's easy to believe Jason's character as a complex thinker, and it's interesting to see the conflict he has with himself and the world around him as he attempts to communicate-- sometimes effectively, most of the time, not so clearly.

The "quasi-second-person" works well in this book, simply because Jason isn't talking so much to the reader "you," as much as he seems to be working through the events and thoughts about his life. He's a verbal processor, without the friend or way to communicate it all (except through writing-- which is a big part of the story). Interesting.

So-- for all who have worked with kiddos or adults with autism, or are the least bit interested in the subject-- I highly recommend this book. If Temple Grandin were to ever write a novel for children, I imagine it would have the same flair of voice that Baskin has.

She's done her homework, and it shows.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Shack-- warning-- spoiler and other stuff

Now, during my last few moments before school starts, I am reading The Shack by William P. Young. It's been highly recommended by many-- in fact, the copy I'm reading is a borrowed one from one of the many. However, I have come upon a problem in reading this story.

I can't go on.

The MC's daughter has been abducted, and he's found solid evidence that things are not going well for her (Yes-- my version of a spoiler--generalizations. I won't be too specific so that you can experience it was well if/when you read it). There's something inside of me that doesn't want to know any more. I don't want to experience this tragedy through the MC's eyes...don't know if I can handle any more "solid evidence" that things have gone wrong. That feeling of having a child taken away-- stolen-- and hurt without any control. It's a bit much for me at the moment.

Now, I realize that Young has done an extraordinary job of creating a connection with his main character and his readers (at least one reader!), and this in and of itself is an incredible task. Literary speaking-- what a great piece of work. I also realize that in order for me to really "get" the rest of the book, I've had to understand what the MC is going through.

And I also understand that in order for me to "get" the rest of the book, I have to read the rest of the book.

It's not too often that I come across a book that's so good that I DON'T want to read it. I think the last one was The Shining by Stephen King. That one was just scary. I was like Joey, and put it in the freezer once or twice, I think.

The Shack is scary-- but in a very different way. It's scary in a parent way.

All that being said, I know I need to finish the book, because otherwise, I'll just finish the story myself, and what I make up will be quite different, I'm sure.

Now, for the "other stuff."

I tried reading Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dansi Daley Mackall. I understand that some people have found it to be a great read-- for example, these two teachers. But for me, it was not as smooth as I'd like to see a kids book to be. Please keep in mind that smooth is not synonymous with easy. What I mean by smooth is that the reader doesn't come across too much roughness in understanding the author.

Mackall's MC is hard for me to "get." The writing is a bit disjointed, and she has written LTLL in a quasi-second person point of view.

At this point-- as much as I don't enjoy saying this, I feel that I must right now:

Mrs. Biggs, my high school english teacher was right (*shudder*). Writing in the second person is hard, and does not make for a strong book. (Unless, of course, you are as smooth as William Goldman).

Well, Dandi Daley Mackall is not as smooth as William Goldman in her attempts to pull off the second-person-ish-let-me-tell-you-what-my-teacher-said bit. In fact, I don't think it's really a second person point of view-- it just feels like it's going right up to the edge of it without the necessary "you" it needs to make it a true second person.

If I'm not making sense to you, it's probably because the story didn't make sense to me.

Now, despite the fact that Mackall has written so many books, I have not read her work before. Larger-Than-Life Lara is one of over 400 books that Mackall has written in the past 20 years.

400 books.


That's like 20 books a year-- that's almost two a month! Some of the books on her list have been nominated for some awards. So, before I go off on the "well, quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality" bit, perhaps I should read more of her work.

After I finish reading The Shack, of course.

Others on my list for the last stretch before school ends (which will probably bleed over into the school year):

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway (research for my 1920's based historical fiction: my current work in progress, Sinkholes)

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (about a 12 year old boy with autism)

The Big Field by Mike Lupica (possibly the best kids' sports book writer!)

Red Ridin' in the Hood and Other Cuentos by Patricia Santos Marcantonio (I LOVE traditional literature spinoff tales. These loos great-- can wait to read them all)

In addition to all the "school stuff" that needs doing before I start back in LESS than two weeks-- looks like I've got my work cut out for me.

Hope you can enjoy some of these, too.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rick Riordan, the Sunken Place, and the Princess Bride

Well, well, well. I am most impressed-- once again-- with Rick Riordan's work. Big Red Tequila was GREAT--- muy bien, vato.

...and for you Elmore Leonard fans out there-- Riordan is definitely influenced (or at least seemingly so) by the Man. Looks like I'll be back in the library looking for The Widower's Two-Step sometime in the near future.

After finishing Big Red Tequila, we stopped by the library to check out books for my sons' trip to the grandparents house. While there, my older one picked up M.T. Anderson's The Game of Sunken Places. Talk about keep-you-on-your-toes-what-in-the-world-will-be-around-the-next-corner adventure writing! Oh, my! M.T. should definitely keep eating his broccoli while humming (take a peek at his link above). This little story is a pretty quick read, and full of wonderfully imaginative, page-turning events. Thanks, son, for that suggestion. I passed it on to the younger kiddo to read while away from home. Anderson's made it to my "need to read more by this author" list.

My current book of choice is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. This man is a literary genius!* I have ALWAYS been a fan of The Princess Bride, the movie. Since the first time my dear hubby (boyfriend at the time) shared it with me, it has been my fairy tale-- phooey with Cinderella**, and Snow White, and Belle, and all those other lovelies for which stories are written, Buttercup and Westley are it for me. In fact, I named my new Jeep Buttercup (much to the groaning dismay of all the males in the house).

So last week, I found a gift card to one of the chain book stores in the area (a wonderful gift from one of my students to her reading teacher!) and went in, not really looking for anything in particular, and found the thirtieth anniversary edition of The Princess Bride.

"Why not?" I thought.

Now, I'm thinking, "What took me so long?"

Goldman writes the story under the pretense of abridging a version of Buttercup's and Westley's tale written by S. Morgenstern. He makes personal remarks and comments about growing up with this story told to him by his father, and sharing it with his own son. He shares opinions given to him by his wife and "scholars" about his particular omissions and how he handles the work, that he chose to shorten for the benefit of his own son. The deal is, though:

There is no S. Morgenstern version of The Princess Bride. It's a ruse! Goldman writes it all.

What a fantastic literary technique-- truly imaginative.

Plus, there's sword fighting, pirates, a giant, torture, revenge, and true love. Who could ask for anything more in a story?

I'm about halfway through the book now; I'm sure the second half will be as good as the first, if not better. Sure, there's a FEW minor differences (so far) between the movie and the book, but nothing of serious consequence. Readers and movie lovers will agree-- it's a good thing Mr. Goldman wrote the screenplay as well.***

Looks like I have another one to add to my "need to read more by this author" list.

Perhaps I'll work on compiling that and share with you next.

*Not everyone I read is as great as these last choices of mine-- I've just been lucky this summer. Last summer, I was not so lucky. If you'd like particulars, send me an email and I'll share.

** I DO love Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson, though. She's much more sensible.

*** William Goldman trivia: Goldman also wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Plus, a whole bunch of other stuff.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shocked by the Bible

My husband recently ordered the book, Shocked By the Bible by Joe Kovacs. He read about a chapter or so one night, and then I stole the book, and read it front to back.

Interestingly enough, there are many things in the book that I knew about-- the pagen ritual ties to Christmas-- Noah's drunkenness-- Jesus wasn't the only one to walk on water. There were, however, some things that were not necessarily in the front of my mind, but rather a memory of going over these things in my past. The "God demands divorce" chapter and the "Satan asking permission of God to do evil" bits-- honestly, I do need to give my Sunday School teachers some credit, in that many of these things were not so shocking, but rather "oh, yeah! I remember that! Isn't it crazy how that happened?"

The chapter on unclean animals, was a bit of a shocker, though. Taking the Bible at its word, rather than our passed-down interpretation of it, well...let's say there's some thinking to do.

Now that I've finished up with that book, I've moved on to something I've found rather disturbing in the past-- moving from children's literature to adult literature. This in and of itself is not so bad--although I tend to read more kid's lit than anything.

My "experiment" (if you will)
I take a well-liked children's author (in the eyes of the kid's lit readers in my house) and read his or her adult literature work.
Not too scary, you might think. Well, the last time I did this was with Daniel Handler. His name might now be too familiar to you, but he wrote the abso-smurfly wonderful A Series of Unfortunate Events under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. This series of stories is wonderfully rich and full of...well...unfortunate (and twisted) events. If you've not read the books (all 13), please do so (unless, of course, you prefer stories about happy little elves).
Well, as I said, the last time I decided to read the adult "stuff" of a beloved children's author, Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler was "it".
I picked up Adverbs.
Then The Basic Eight.
Then Watch Your Mouth.

I tried them all, yet never could I find that extraordinary voice I was looking for. Perhaps it is Lemony Snicket's writing I prefer to Daniel Handler's.

This experience has made me wary in attempting the experiment again. But I've decided to move past it and go on. Now it's Rick Riordan's turn.

Dear Mr. Riordan. I shared some comments from his blog a post or so ago. I enjoy his Percy Jackson series oh-so-much, as do both of my sons. So, why not try his adult stories? Why let Mr. Handler skew my view and upset my enjoyment of a good book? So, I decided to go for it, and picked up Big Red Tequila at the library yesterday.

I must say, "So far, so good." The only thing that I've found utterly revolting is that the title is not a specific brand of tequila, but is rather the "drink of our younger days" for the main character and his love interest (so far, that is)-- Big Red soda AND tequila.


HOWEVER-- it's not enough to keep me away from the book. Like I said-- "So far, so good". Mr. Riordan definitely has his own style, but with a bit of a trace (no pun intended*) of Elmore Leonard**. MAYBE. I'll have to finish the book and let you know about that one.

But for now, I'm off to write a bit of my own story. It's been a long time swimming around in my head-- time to get some more of it out.

* You'll have to read a bit to get it
**This is a compliment. I'm a fan of Mr. Leonard's work.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hooray for Rick Riordan!

Besides being a great author, he's got a good head on his shoulders when it comes to kids and reading. In a recent blog post, Mr. Riordan tackles the thought of age-appropriate literature for kids. This is something I deal with constantly as a third grade teacher.

At my school, the kids take a computerized test (STAR) to determine their personal "reading range". While I, as many others, understand that this is one test, and many other things go into a "just right" book choice, much weight is put onto this test to determine what books the students can check out from the library.

Now, in theory, this is a good concept. If a student knows what constitutes "just right" for them, as far as reading level goes, it helps to narrow down books in the library (we have a great, full, library, and the books are color coded according to level). There are a few bumps in the road with this technique, but for the most part, it's good.

What I do have a problem with, though, is the thought that book level is the ONLY thing that goes into determining a "just right" book. So many kids come up to 3rd grade, reading books, simply because they are the "right" level. Granted, it's great that they're READING, yes. But to read a book, simply because you have the ability to decode the words doesn't necessarily make it a good pick for you at that time.

I've had quite a few kids come in, and test high on the STAR test-- about 6-7th grade level reading ability. Immediately, they jump into a book of that level, because the test "said" they could. What I try to explain to them (and parents alike) is that just because a student has the technical ability to do something, doesn't necessarily make it enjoyable, or truly understandable. I mean, I have the ability to understand college textbooks, but I don't choose to read them during my "independent reading" time.

There are SO many great books for each level of reading-- we are blessed as a society to have many great writers for children who look at their audience-- get to know their audience-- and write for their audience. Why take a book from their future, to experience and understand maybe half of what they could at an older age? Let the kids enjoy the age appropriate things-- when it's age appropriate. Not when it's too late, and "too baby" for them. Then they've lost an opportunity to experience the books as intended.

So, my younger son (who will be 9 in a month) is working on The Lightening Thief. He's finally ready to go there. Last year, at the end of second grade, he had the ability to read Mr. Riordan's book series, but it just wasn't appropriate for his experience and age. Now, he's older, and his story enjoyment ability has him catching and understanding the significance of more details, and he'll "get it". I had few students last year that got caught up in the Percy Jackson series as well-- at the end of third grade. Now they're Olympian FOOLS (no offense-- just wonderfully caught up in it all). But these kids (mine included) have read a LOT of books-- appropriate books-- to get them ready for a series like Percy Jackson and the Olympians. They've had the ability for a while, but now, they're ready.

And believe me-- their enjoyment proves that it was worth the wait.