Friday, January 29, 2010

Poetry Friday

The poem I chose today comes from the book Poems in Black & White by Kate Miller. I read this book last year when I was checking out masses of poetry books from the library to give my students lots of choices for choosing a poem to memorize and recite in class.

Lots of kids really liked the poems in this book because the drawings really brought them to life. And despite the fact that everything is in black and white, it is rife with vivid images - mental and physical. Lovers of meaningful, literary kid poetry should check this book out.

The Cow

she wears
a bristly map
of milkweed white
and midnight black

it seems
as though
strong enough
to carry continents
upon her back

with oceans
in between

and islands on her

-Kate Miller

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is black. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as they could remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark.

The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl springs up—the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might be able to find their way home . . . wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers—if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.

- taken from Goodreads

I was hooked by the first paragraph! In fact, I did a book talk for my students on this book only after having read the first chapter. That is unheard of for me.

What's great about The Maze Runner is that it's sort of the boy's equivalent to The Hunger Games. As much as I've tried to get the boys in my classes into The Hunger Games, they just don't seem to connect with the female protagonist. The Maze Runner has all of the dystopian suspense of HG but with boys as the main characters.

I will say that the writing in this book is not nearly as lyrical as that of Suzanne Collins. It's a bit clunky and feels like you're far removed from the story rather than directly inside of it. Perhaps it's unfair to compare the two writers, but despite my fondness for this book, I sort of felt like I was in a fog as I was reading, whereas The Hunger Games always felt vivid and clear as a bell. Had this been written in first-person I think that might have helped to engage better with the story.

At the same time, I think that the plot-driven suspense will help boys better to engage with the book than the more character-driven (and female protagonist) Hunger Games.

Friday, January 22, 2010

i carry it in my heart

About a year and a half ago while lying in bed, I leaned up against my husband's chest to cuddle with him as I had done many times before. But on this particular night, things went a little bit differently. For some strange reason, I actually stopped to listen intently to his heart beating. I had heard his heart beating previous to this occasion, but it had always been more like background music. This time, I made sure to actually listen to the song lyrics. And it was at that point I realized I had never listened the words before. Wanting to make sure I heard right, I leaned in even more and discovered the sound I was hearing was an irregular hearbeat. A few weeks later I mentioned something to his younger sister who's a nursing student and she got out her stethoscope to listen more accurately. There was immediately a look of concern and she said, "You really should see a doctor about this."

Today was the culmination of that fateful comment. I'm sitting here typing this entry in an empty house while my husband sleeps peacefully (I hope) at U of M Hospital. He had a catheter ablation performed today to eradicate the pathway in his heart that was creating his arrhythmia. Everything went well and his doctor is pleased with the results. I can't tell you how relieved this makes me. As long as I live I don't think I'll ever forget that feeling of dread I felt when we were shuffled into the consultation room to talk to the doctor after the procedure. My logical mind told me, "Beth, this is a routine procedure. Everything is fine." But then my irrational mind took one look at the comfy couch and chairs along with the low, warm lighting that decorated this consultation room and all I could think was, "I wonder how many times doctors have had to deliver bad news in here..."

So of course when he came in and said that everything went fine, I had to hold back my tears of relief for fear of looking like a blubbering idiot.

Other than the fact that his procedure ended at 3:00 and he didn't get a room until 9:15, I have nothing but good things to say about the staff at the U of M Cardiovascular Center. The doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners... they were all competent, caring, and congenial. Given the grandiosity of the U of M Medical campus, I was amazed at how personable everyone has been thus far. I feared we'd feel like nothing but a number, but as a whole, everyone made us feel like we matter (with the exception of the room debacle, but I'm just going to try to let that go).

Despite the success of today's procedure, I'm still having a hard time letting go of my irrational fears long enough to go to sleep. I worry that the morning will bring some unexpected twist of fate that no one had anticipated and that, in reality, the procedure wasn't as successful as they initially thought. Of course this is a ridiculous thought and should be shoved out of my mind, but I can't help thinking it.

So I'm going to shut this computer down, turn off the lights, and fall into a light, turbulent sleep hoping that no results, cardiac or otherwise, get overturned in the morning.

In honor of my husband, I thought today's poem by E.E. Cummings was appropriate:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The movie was better than the book? Say it isn't so!

A couple months ago, I declared here on my blog that I had abandoned the book Julie & Julia due to its crassness. Given what an iconic, almost regal figure Julia Child was, it almost felt blasphemous to read such obscenities and narcissism in Powell's memoir of her year cooking Julia's recipes.

So this is one of the few times that I'm actually declaring my love for a movie more than the book. I curled up on the couch this afternoon and popped in the DVD of Julie & Julia that I checked out from the library, and it is one of the most feel-good movies I've watched in a long time. I can't remember the last time I sat down to watch a movie and thoroughly enjoyed every single moment.

Meryl Streep was brilliant, the food made my mouth water, it was funny and endearing without TRYING to be. And yet another pleasant surprise was Jane Lynch's performance as Julia's sister Dorothy. Given how accustomed I've become to watching her play larger-than-life, comedic characters (a la Glee and The 40-Year-Old Virgin), it was lovely to see her play such a dignified, subtle role.

I guess it's only fitting that I watched Julie & Julia today given Meryl Streep's Golden Globe win last night. She not only played Julia, she became her. I loved every second of seeing her on film.

Now that I'm thoroughly starving after watching all of the delectable (and even not-so-delectable, hello, aspic?) food scenes, I'm ready to purchase a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or at the very least, check it out from the library.

Bon Appetit!

Newbery Award et al anounced today

I am ashamed to admit that I haven't read ANY of the award winners that were announced today. Many of them are on my "to-read" list, but I haven't gotten around to reading them yet. I tried listening to the audiobook of When You Reach Me but I just couldn't get into it. I will try reading the actual book sometime in the near future.

I have Going Bovine on hold at my library and am looking forward to reading it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reviewing Books

All of the books I have reviewed on my blog thus far are ones I've either purchased myself or checked out from the library. Given my love of YA and middle grade literature, I would love to start reviewing ARCs to try to interest and excite my students in new and upcoming books. I do prefer YA and middle grade lit, but I would also be willing to review adult lit as well if it is realistic or historical fiction. If you are an author or publisher and would like me to review a book, feel free to contact me:
beths0103 AT yahoo DOT com

If I receive an ARC to review, I will promote the book on my blog, but I will also give my honest opinion based on my genre preferences, my impression of the writing, and/or whether I think it would be a book my junior high students would enjoy reading.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Other Blog Mentions

I've recently been following along with the blog Lavender and Limes. I found it by perusing through other people's blogrolls and was fascinated with all of the pictures from India. I have always been fascinated by India. One of these days I would love to go there to see the Taj Mahal and the opulent palaces of Rajasthan.

Right now Christine, the blog's creator, has an amazing giveaway going on that I thought I'd share because it's so great it bears mentioning and, well, if you link it to your blog, you get two entries instead of one. (*grins*)


John Green is one of my favorite YA authors. Not so much because I think his books are brilliant (though I did absolutely adore Paper Towns) but because he and his brother Hank completely entertain me every week with their "Nerdfighter" videos they post on YouTube.

If one brother does not abide by the rules they have created for each other, the other gets to punish the rule-breaker, which is always videotaped for posterity.

Last week Hank broke one of the vlogging rules and was made to spend 15 hours in a Target for his punishment. I laughed the entire time:

If you're a fan of YA lit and you haven't checked out their vlog, you must.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

Vince Luca is trying desperately to live an upstanding life, away from the corrupt "vending machine business" of his father Anthony. No matter how hard he tries though, his father's lifestyle follows him everywhere - even on the football field where a curious thing happens: the opposing team is afraid to tackle him for fear of it getting word to his father. Because his father's line of work follows him everywhere, Vince has decided that his form of rebelling is to live an honest life, much to the chagrin of his father.

I loved the humor and wit of this book, but I have to admit that there were certain moments where Vince's upstanding morality didn't feel believable. A normal teenager would have difficulty living as morally as Vince does, let alone the son of a mob boss. I understand why he denounced the life of his father, but it would've been nice to see him a little more flawed than he was. Although, I imagine Korman created his extreme morality to show that, according to his father, Vince WAS flawed. His flaw was that he was on the straight and narrow.

Poetry Friday

The Pasture

I'm going out the clean the pasture spring;
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha'n't be gone long. -- You come too.

I'm going to fetch the little calf
That's standing by the mother. It's so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha'n't be gone long. -- You come too.

- Robert Frost

Much love to Sharon Creech for making this poem a staple in my classroom! :o)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Momentarily Mesmerized

A few minutes ago my husband was channel surfing when he stopped to check the satellite guide to get a better idea of what was on TV. While he was checking the channel guide, the TV was on the Fox channel, which at that moment, happened to be playing the show Bones. Now I have never watched that show in my life, nor do I have any desire to, but at that moment, I was temporarily mesmerized by a character on the show playing a haunting Chopin nocturne. I immediately stopped what I was doing, closed my eyes, and experienced a feeling of pure bliss wash over me.

Seeing as how The Husband was channel surfing, this moment of classical beauty lasted only about a minute, and then boom - the spell was broken. But it was a nice reminder of what an important part classical music has been in my life over the years.

Ever since I was ten years old and heard Fantasie Impromptu for the first time, Chopin has been the composer that consistently tugged at my heartstrings. I could play Beethoven, Brahms, or Schubert, but Chopin is the one who always gave me the most satisfaction.

Just to show you how much Chopin is loved in my house, this is the book that has resided on my piano for the past few years. At this point it's there more for decoration than frequent use. I hardly ever sit down to play anymore, but when I do, Chopin is always my go-to classical choice.

What classical composer never fails to tug at your heartstrings?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Thomas Newkirk

Brandish your highlighter when you read this book. There's lots of quotable material in here.

In the world of "No Child Left Behind" and teaching to the test, Thomas Newkirk sees a disturbing trend in language arts instruction today. In this book he makes the case for effective instruction rather than just state mandated instruction. We need to stop thinking about standardized tests and scientific "sameness" in how we teach, and instead take pleasure in those spontaneous teachable moments that arise from our own students. We need to throw away the state standards that require us to "cover" a ridiculous, unattainable amount of material, and relish in the PLEASURE of expressive writing and independent reading that will motivate students to become lifelong learners rather than resent the institutions of learning.

My only major critique of this book is the large number of typos I came across throughout my reading. It was disappointing because it kind of diminished the power of his message a little bit.

Other than that though, it is a wonderful, career-affirming book to read if you're a language arts teacher.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Why Didn't I Come Across This Before Christmas?

Furoshiki gift wrapping from RecycleNow on Vimeo

You can even download gift tags to show the receiver of the gift how to turn the wrapping into a bag.

I need to remember to come back to this post next Christmas when I'm tempted to wrap everyone's present in beautiful, yet wasteful paper.

Friday, January 1, 2010

When Reading Student Writing Suddenly Becomes Less of a Chore...

I love when I come across a passage from my students' writing that just makes me proud to be their teacher. I'm reading writing assignments right now that were inspired by my Uncle Tom's essay "My Father's Voice" when I came across these lines from a boy in my 6th grade English class:

My Grandpa [is] sitting in his big red chair in front of the T.V. We listen quietly as he tells stories of the olden days, which I can only picture in my head in black and white. His eyes close behind his glasses on his wrinkled face. His laugh bellows across the room. "What if I don't hear him laugh again," I think to myself...

His laugh reminds me how sugar cookies are always ready when I get to his house. And they're always amazing. How the candy orange slices are always in a jar on the counter. I walk in and ask, "Where are the orange slices?" as if I didn't already know.

The entire piece was so touching, but those passages really just tugged at my heartstrings. I hope he doesn't mind that I quoted his writing here.

Poetry Friday

A Prayer for the Twenty-First Century

May the road be free for the journey,
May it lead where it promised it would,
May the stars that gave ancient bearing
Be seen, still be understood.
May every aircraft fly safely,
May every traveler be found,
May sailors in crossing the ocean
Not hear the cries of the drowned.

May gardens be wild, like jungles,
May nature never be tamed,
May dangers create of us heroes,
May fears always have names.
May the mountains stand to remind us
Of what it means to be young,
May we be outlived by our daughters,
May we be outlived by our sons.

May the bombs rust away in the bunkers,
And the doomsday clock not be rewound,
May the solitary scientists working,
Remember the holes in the ground.
May the knife remain in the holder,
May the bullet stay in the gun,
May those who live in the shadows
Be seen by those in the sun.

- John Marsden

Starting 2010 Without a Reading Challenge - Per Se

Last year my challenge was to read 100 books and I made it to 114. However, I'm starting 2010 without a challenge. I'm not sure if I'm relieved about that or bummed out. I guess my challenge right now is just to try to surpass 114. Maybe make it to 150.

Seeing as how it's the first day of the year, I haven't finished a book yet for 2010, but these are the books that are currently in the running for the first book I finish in the new year:

Currently Reading:
1. Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For by Thomas Newkirk
2. How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor

Currently Listening:
1. Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko