Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blog Tour/Giveaway: COUNTDOWN ZERO by Chris Rylander


Walden Pond Press is offering one signed copy of Chris Rylander's new book, Countdown Zero, the second book in he Codename Conspiracy trilogy, to readers of this blog.

Publisher Summary:
There are people in this world who live secret lives. There are people who fight the evil that lurks in the shadows so that the rest of us can live free from tyranny and fear. There are people—perhaps the person who is sitting across from you on the bus or waiting tables at your favorite restaurant—who put it all on the line for us, every day, whose names we’ll never know.
None of these people is Carson Fender.
At least, not since he was let go by the secret agency that enlisted his services to help foil a nefarious plot perpetrated by one of their former agents. Carson is back to hanging out with his friends, pulling pranks, and not having to lie to everyone about how he’s spending his days. And that’s for the best. Isn’t it?

Of course, this was all before a note showed up in his school lunch, informing him that Agent Nineteen has three days left to live, and that there might still be someone inside the Agency working against them. Carson has always been able to rely on his friends—but what happens when there’s no one left to trust?

About the Author:
 
Chris Rylander is the author of the Fourth Stall Saga and the Codename Conspiracy series.  A fan of brown shipping boxes turned on their sides, dance-offs to win a girl's heart, and rice, he lives in Chicago.  Find Chris on Twitter and his website

Terms of Giveaway:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be selected
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to visit the other blogs in the blog tour:
Date
Blog NameBlog URL
2/16/2015
The Book Monstershttp://thebookmonsters.com/
2/18/2015
Novel Novicehttp://novelnovice.com/
2/20/2015
Mundie Kidshttp://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
2/23/2015
The Flashlight Readerhttp://www.theflashlightreader.com/
2/24/2015
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlusthttp://www.foodiebibliophile.com/
2/25/2015
The Hiding Spothttp://thehidingspot.blogspot.com/
2/26/2015
Small Reviewhttp://smallreview.blogspot.com/
2/27/2015
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readershttp://insatiablereaders.blogspot.com/
3/2/2015
Buried in Bookshttp://wwwburiedinbooks.blogspot.com/
3/3/2015
KidLit Frenzyhttp://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
3/4/2015
Paige in Traininghttps://pageintraining.wordpress.com/
3/5/2015
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythiahttp://hauntedorchid.blogspot.com/
3/6/2015
Word Spelunkerhttp://wordspelunking.blogspot.com/
3/6/2015
This Kid Reviews Bookshttp://thiskidreviewsbooks.com/

Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 2-23-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week I reviewed:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman


I finished reading with my ears:

All Fall Down by Ally Carter
A pretty solid start to a fun new YA spy series. I'm looking forward to the next book.


Favorite picture books from last week:


The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by  Selina Alko and Sean Qualls
A book many people will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the present day. An incredibly timely story. Which makes you wonder: how will history judge us based on the current fight for marriage equality? 

The House in the Night by  Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
As I was reading I couldn't help but think how much the illustrations reminded me of Van Gogh's Starry Night, and wouldn't you know it... There was a place in the story where the bedroom in the house had Starry Night hanging on one of its walls.


Currently reading:

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
I love how you have to "read between the lines" to understand the cover of this book. :) 


Currently reading with my ears:

The Swap by  Megan Shull


Other posts from last week:
A Ten Year Anniversary 

Last week marked the ten year anniversary of when my husband and I moved back home from Germany

From my teaching blog:
Write Beside Them
Students and social media: let's get our heads out of the sand
Finding inspiration in the classroom: Matching your passion to resources

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

It takes about three hours to pack the rest of her stuff. I pull out holey T-shirts and underwear because why do they need that? I throw away her stacks of music magazines, piled in a corner. I'm not sure what to do about her bedsheets because they still smell like her, and I have no idea if her sent will do to Sue what it's doing to me, which is making me remember Meg in such a real visceral way – Sleepovers and dance parties and those talks we would have until three in the morning that would make us feel lousy the next day because we'd slept like hell but also feel good because the talks were like blood transfusions, moments of realness and hope that were pinpricks of light in the dark fabric of small-town life.

I am tempted to inhale those sheets. If I do, maybe it will be enough to a race everything but you can only hold your breath for so long eventually, I'll have to exhale her and then it'll be like those mornings, when I wake up, forgetting before remembering.


Left to pick up the pieces of her best friend's suicide, Cody goes to pack up Meg's belongings that were away at college. While there, Cody discovers a side of Meg that she never really knew: one that she is now trying to uncover as she attempts to make sense of her death. As she gets to know Meg's roommates as well as the mysterious Ben McCallister who was Meg's former love interest, Cody is left to wonder how such a bright, vibrant young woman like Meg could possibly want to kill herself. But when Cody discovers an encrypted computer file on Meg's computer that she can't open, as well as months of deleted email correspondence that she can't recover, Cody now wonders if someone else had a hand in Meg's death.

I Was Here brings a new element into the writing of Gayle Forman: that of a mystery for the protagonist to solve. I will say though that I was not as emotionally invested in the characters in I Was Here as I was in If I Stay and Where She Went, which were Gayle Forman at her absolute best. If I started with I Was Here as my first foray into the work of Gayle Forman, I'm not sure I would be ask excited to pick up her other books. It's a solid story, don't get me wrong. It just didn't leave me feeling ALL THE THINGS the way IIS and WSW did.


I Was Here by Gayle Forman
Published: January 27, 2015
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 288 
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Finished review copy provided by publisher

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Ten Year Anniversary

Ten years ago on this very day, my husband and I got on a plane and moved back home. We had just spent the past three years living in Germany and traveling through Europe and now it was time to say goodbye.

At the time I was elated. I went through somewhat of a depression during this time. I was severely homesick and found it difficult to fully embrace the experience of living abroad.

I loved the travel though. Visiting so many different countries over the course of three years helped to open my eyes to the fact that I had been closed off to so many different ideas and learning experiences from living in my American bubble. It is why Wanderlust is a part of the theme of this blog. Because even though I wish I hadn't gone through that difficulty of being depressed and homesick, I also know that I would be a completely different person if I hadn't been granted the amazing opportunity of living and traveling in Europe. 

The world is such a beautiful and complex place. I seek the wisdom and opportunity to be able to see new places and learn from new people in order to understand it better. 

Ten years seems like such a long time ago. And also like no time at all.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? 2-16-15

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Last week I reviewed:
 
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley


Currently reading:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman
As much as I am enjoying this book, I will be glad when I'm done with it because every time I pick it up I get this song stuck in my head. 


Currently reading with my ears:

All Fall Down by Ally Carter
I'm really enjoying this book. It has a very Covert Affairs/Burn Notice/Bourne Identity/any-other-spy trope-you-can-think-of-but-with-YA-characters vibe to it. I've never really been a fan of Ally Carter's before but when she talked about the premise for this book at the Scholastic event at ALA Midwinter, I was incredibly intrigued. Given that Wanderlust is part of my blog title, I love that this book's setting is in a (made-up) country's embassy row. Very cool! 


Also last week on my teaching blog:
How should literacy learning be assessed? Have your voice heard in the conversation. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

In the early days of World War II, Ada and her younger brother Jamie live in London with their abusive mother. Ada receives particularly more brutal abuse than her brother because Mam is ashamed of her club foot and won't ever let Ada go outside. Mam makes Ada crawl around on the ground and punishes her by forcing her to sleep in a dank, dark cupboard filled with roaches and other filth.

When worries over London bombings by the Nazis start circulating, parents send their children away to safer areas of the country. Jamie of course is sent away, but once again their mother refuses to allow Ada to go. Ada, however, finds a way to sneak off and join Jamie while their mother is away at work.

Susan, the woman who is forced to take Ada and Jamie, lives in a beautiful house in the country and initially says she doesn't want the two neglected siblings. But even with her resistance, Susan shows them more kindness than their mother ever did. Slowly, as Ada begins to venture outside, ride horses, make friends, and even help watch out for German spies, she discovers the humanity that her mother denied to her as a result of her cruelty and shame.

Often when students are asked to read a historical fiction, they immediately recoil and shrink back in terror. If they don't say it outright, the looks on their faces are enough to hear their thoughts: "Please don't make me read this boring book!" The War That Saved My Life is a different breed of historical fiction, though. It's a page-turner. It's both a challenging and accessible read. But more importantly, it is a satisfying read. The abuse that Ada and her brother experience only happens in real-time for a very short part of the story. The remainder of the narrative involves Susan's attempts to repair these broken children. And so, readers feel the satisfaction of knowing that Ada and Jamie's lives are being vindicated.

I did have a couple issues with the novel, but they were petty in the overall scheme of how the novel made me feel as I was reading it. Still, I couldn't shake these two issues and so I will bring them up here:

1) Mam's treatment of her children was so cruel that it bordered on unbelievable. Her behavior felt more like that of a cartoon villain than a character in a serious historical fiction. Perhaps that was by design in order to make Ada and Jamie's experience living with Susan more satisfying, but it did feel a bit off-putting.

2) Ada begins the story completely illiterate and only later in the story does Susan begin teaching her to read. Her learning to read is not elaborated on much in the narrative -- it's really only on the periphery -- so the fact that this story is told by Ada in first person POV, who uses very sophisticated language, is a tad unbelievable. Perhaps if her literacy journey had been more on the forefront of the narrative, this might have made more sense, but as it was, by the end of the story, Ada still didn't know how to read and write that well.

Those are my nitpicky criticisms of the story because overall, I really enjoyed it and found myself staying up late to read it. Like Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793 and Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray, I think this will be one of my go-to historical fiction novels I hand to students who don't like historical fiction.


The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published: January 8, 2015
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 316
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole - what the heck is up with that ending?

Since Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is a book that totally perplexed me, and given that it just won a Caldecott honor, I decided to read it to my 8th graders this week. This is a book that spurred much discussion and perplexity in my classroom. I was delighted at the thinking and questioning it sparked.

In addition to reading the story as a class, my students read about some of Travis Jonker's theories (they particularly liked the Jesus theory) and came up with some of their own, my favorite being that the book starts at Dave's house and ends at Sam's house. When I told Travis about this theory on Facebook, it led to quite a spirited discussion by teachers, librarians authors, and the like, particularly the idea of whether or not Sam and Dave were brothers or cousins (there's a line in the story that mentions their grandfather, meaning they shared a grandparent). If they were cousins, then beginning at one house and ending at another would be plausible, but not so much if they were brothers.

My students asked if I would tweet Jon and Mac to ask them what they think happens at the end of the story. I doubt very much that they would reveal that information, and even if they would, I don't know if I want the answer. The whole reason people love this book is because it spurs so much discussion. So as tempting as it is to tweet Jon and Mac and ask, "So what is your take on what happened at the end of your crazy book?" I think I will pass. Then again, they do give a little clue as to what they think happens at the end in this interview:

Still, I think I'm just going to embrace the uncertainty and let this story spontaneously insert itself into class discussions for the rest of the year. For instance, "Well, what about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole? That book doesn't have a denouement." (Denouement is their new favorite word to use in class discussions).

For those people who don't think picture books should be read to students past 3rd grade, I have just added another book to the pile that cements my argument as to why they are for ALL AGES, not just primary grades. This book is full of complexity and makes a case for the importance of visual literacy (Explain the reasoning behind wanting to show a full spread of the house, the pets, and the tree without Sam and Dave at the end of the book. What is this trying to tell us here?). I have to admit, I missed a lot of the visual cues I was supposed to notice my first (and second!) read-throughs. It was only until students began to point them out that I started to make those connections. So again, please, I beg of you, do not assume that because a book is only 32 pages and has pictures that it is overly simplistic. I can assure you, there are many picture books that can teach literary elements just as well, if not better, than novels.




Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 40
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: EVERYONE! :D
Disclosure: Library Copy

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.