Monday, January 31, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Audio book review)

In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer. - from Goodreads

Janet Song is the perfect narrator for this story. Her voice is soothing and has a twinge of an Asian accent to it which helps with making the story feel authentic. However, despite Song's beautiful narration, I do not entirely recommend solely listening to the story without following along with the actual book.The formatting of the book itself along with the stunning, colorful illustrations is part of the whole experience of the story and should not be missed.  

Grace Lin weaves Chinese folktales into Minli's journey, making the book feel like a novel told in short stories.  As someone who's not a fan of short stories, this was the only part of the book I did not enjoy. I really liked following Minli on her quest to find the Old Man on the Moon, but the adding of the folktales into the story didn't excite or interest me as much.  

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Published: June 2009 by Little, Brown Young Readers (Audio book: February 2010 by Books on Tape)
Pages: 288 (audio book: 4 hours, 56 minutes)
Genre: fantasy
Audience: middle grade

Saturday, January 29, 2011

IMM (14)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Library Loot:

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Tibet: Through the Red Box by Peter Sis
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and his Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pin

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

What I got with my Scholastic bonus points this month:
The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow
The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone

What did you get in your mailbox?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Want to make kids readers? It's simple. Ditch the textbooks and give them REAL books!

I love reading workshop.  I will never teach reading another way ever again.  For those of you who don't know what reading workshop is, rather than teaching entire books to a whole class, students get to pick and monitor their own books.  I follow Donalyn Miller's format of requiring them to complete certain genres, but then they can choose whatever books they want within that genre.

The past couple of weeks I have really started to see the growth in my students as readers, but today was the culmination of realizing how far they have come.  I did a midyear reading reflection, and these were some of the responses I got:

My reading habits have changed because in the beginning of the year I was struggling to finish five books.  Now I'm finishing a book in three days.  I'm getting faster.

I now have explored different genres.  Also, now I know where to look for books and to get a new one right after I finish one.

I have gotten faster and I take a book everywhere.

My reading habits have changed by me bringing my books to more classes now and I am reading during most of my free time.  I like how we have so much time to read in reading workshop.  It is amazing how many pages you can get done.  I also like how it takes your mind off things.  If I have a science or math test, I don't worry about it and just read.

My reading habits have changed by me having more excitement to read books, making me want to read faster.

My reading habits have changed since September because now I can really focus on one book and not hop around from book to book.

I like reading a lot instead of doing millions of worksheets because I've always liked to read.

I really like the reading workshop because I'm trying out different genres and it helps me find a book to read.  Also, it feels as if reading counts more.

Reading workshop is the highlight of my day.  I don't dislike any of it.

I like how you just read instead of worksheets

I like that we get to chose what we read.  Being told what to read is annoying.

I dislike nothing [about reading workshop].  It is my perfect idea of reading class.

I do consider myself a reader and no not just because I have to read for school.  I feel I didn't like reading so much at the beginning of the year as I do now.  I love reading now. 

Some of these responses brought tears to my eyes.  These are not just from the star students.  These are from all types of students.

And the ultimate response from a student was not on a piece of paper.  A student who fought me tooth and nail at the beginning of the year and refused to read has FINALLY been quite occupied in a book lately, came up to me yesterday and said, "Thank you for helping me get more interested in reading.  I haven't felt this way in a long time."  It just goes to show that you can have all the money, technology, and updated textbooks in the world, but when it really comes down to it, if you want to make kids readers and improve their reading, all you have to do is just sit them down with a plain, old-fashioned book.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming. - from Goodreads

I'm not going to write a formal review of this book because so many have done this already, and much more eloquently than I ever could.  I just want to add my two-cents to the discussion.

Revis describes this book as science fiction for people who don't like science fiction. I'd have to say that's a fair description because equally important to the story is the mystery that Amy and Elder must solve which is twofold: 1) who has been thawing out the frozen bodies and 2) What is Eldest (the leader of the ship) hiding?

This is a great book to use to talk about climax (with high school students anyway - this book is too mature for middle school) because the climax of this story is extremely obvious and perfectly paced. 

Another great thing Revis does in this book is make you feel that sense of claustrophobia it must have been like to be traveling hundreds of years on this ship without a planet in sight. If you don't get anything else from this book, I would say the one thing you will take away is a feeling of gratefulness to be living here on this planet, even with all of the problems and the injustices we face.

I will say this - if you've seen this book around and have chosen not to read it because you don't like science fiction, give it a try anyway, especially if you like mysteries. Yes, this is a science fiction, but the science part of it not as prominent as other science fiction novels. This book is more about the people than the science.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Published: January 2011 by Razorbill
Pages: 398
Genre: Science fiction/dystopia/mystery
Audience: YA 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

IMM (13)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I love my library.  Not only is it the largest single-branch library in the state of Michigan, but it also has a really awesome used book store. I go there a couple times a month to stock up on books for my classroom. I had a major book windfall this week.  I bought over 30 books for less than $10!

I'm not even going to list all of them because there are so many, but I was especially excited about this particular stack that I got:

These classics  haven't even been opened.  They are brand new.  And I got them at the used book store. Plus, with the fact that I was able to acquire a new copy of Huck Finn, I decided now was a good time to have that censorship discussion with the kids about how I trust them to read the book critically and realize that just because Mark Twain used those offensive words in the story, doesn't mean it's OK to use those words today.  One particular boy in my class raised his hand and asked quite a pointed question.  He wanted to know if Mark Twain was a racist or if he was just using the word to expose the racism.  What a profound question for a 6th grader to ask.  It shows that we do not put enough confidence in children to learn the right lessons from literature. 

Anyway, this is what I got in my mailbox this week with my Borders gift cards I got from students for Christmas:

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Mercury by Hope Larson

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

What did you get in your mailbox?

The Pleasures of Cooking are in the Small Things

What I love about cooking is that it is such a sensory experience.  The smell of the garlic perfuming the kitchen, the sizzle of the onions hitting the pan, the feel of my knife making quick, even slices.  I get such pleasure out of the little things when I'm in the kitchen.

Believe it or not, one of those things is chopping onions.  Since I wear contact lenses, I never cry when I chop onions and strangely enough, is one of the reasons I want to KEEP wearing contacts instead of getting lasik.  I know, I'm strange.  But you see, not crying when I chop onions is part of the reason it is not a chore for me.  It is actually quite soothing and helps me to unwind from a stressful day at work.  And of course, the smell of onions meeting olive oil in a pan is probably one of the best smells there is.  Give me that smell over a vanilla-scented candle ANY DAY!

I was thinking about these small pleasures this morning as I was making breakfast because I looked down at my pan of rendering Spanish chorizo and thought to myself what a beautiful sight it was to behold:
And I'd venture to say that I got more pleasure out of watching that amber-colored fat ooze out of the meat than I did actually eating the finished product of scrambled eggs with chorizo, chives, and gruyere cheese:

Don't get me wrong, the eggs were quite delicious.  But part of what made them so delicious was the memory of watching those small bits of fat emerge onto the pan. 

What small things give you pleasure in the kitchen?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bookshelf Tour

Lots of bloggers have been doing bookshelf tours lately so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.  However, my bookshelf tour is in my classroom, not at my house, as I share just about all my books with my students so my home bookshelf is actually pretty sparse. 

So without further ado, I give you my classroom bookshelf:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One by Kathryn Otoshi

From Goodreads:  
Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count. As budding young readers learn about numbers, counting, and primary and secondary colors, they also learn about accepting each other's differences and how it sometimes just takes one voice to make everyone count.

Sometimes it just takes one.

What a great lesson, and one that will resonate after the story has been long finished.

I read this book tonight, and I'm already planning on using it as a journal topic tomorrow.  This is a great mentor text to use with kids to teach so many different things: about simplicity in writing - how sometimes less is more, about how great endings resonate, and of course about how to stand up for people who are being bullied.

Sometimes it just takes one. 

One by Kathryn Otoshi
Published: September 2008  
Publisher: KO Kids Books
Pages: 32
Format/Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Young Children (but a good mentor text for middle grade students)
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

Dreaming of Books blog hop winner

The Dreaming of Books blog hop has now ended and the winner of the ARC Being Polite to Hitler by Robb Forman Dew is...


Thank you so much to everyone who participated!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Throwing My Hat in the Ring: My Take on the Huck Finn Controversy

I was browsing through the blogs I frequent this morning when I came across Liz's eloquent post over at Consumed by Books regarding the recent Huck Finn controversy. I have been stewing over this issue for the past week, but Liz's words finally gave me pause and were the impetus for me to sit down and write about my feelings regarding this issue.

First of all, the professor who approached the New South Books about creating this edited version had good intentions. He wanted to make the book available to a wider audience. Given that Huck Finn is the fourth most banned book in schools today due to the use and frequency of two particular racial slurs, Professor Gribben figured that by replacing the words, it would allow for more students to have access to this great work of American fiction.

But that is where my admiration for Professor Gribben stops. You see, personally, the changes make me angry. Racially charged books like Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird used those racial slurs to try to expose the ignorance and intolerance of their times, not celebrate it. When we take those words out of the books and replace them with something more PC, it's like we're trying to rewrite history. NO ONE back then would have ever DREAMED of calling someone a Native American, which is what Professor Gribben decided should replace the word Injun. Truth be told, I'd rather have students NOT read the books than for them to have some sort of mis-represented view of history. Those words are SUPPOSED to make people uncomfortable. Students aren't going to learn to be bothered by injustice if they don't see it in its most raw form.

And it's interesting that I just so happen to be reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time because I just came to the part where the head fireman is talking to the main character, Guy Montag, about why their society started burning books in the first place: because too many groups of people were offended by certain books and they just decided that the ideas inside them were too volatile. Intellectualism is dangerous, ignorance is bliss. Ummm... does anyone not see some frightening parallels here?

Hmmmm... might this be the next step? First change the words, then burn the books?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

IMM (12)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Library Loot:

Picture books:

Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen


I Feel a Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems and His Poems Collected in Paris edited by Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul Janeczko
You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys edited by Betsy Franco


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Downloaded from Net Galley:

Bird in a Box by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Tupelo Honey Cafe by Elizabeth Sims and Brian Sonoskus
Salad as a Meal by Patricia Wells

Cloud of Ink by L.S. Klatt
The Crepe Makers' Bond by Julie Crabtree

In My Mailbox:

Dorris Bridge by Clive Riddle
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

By far my favorite commercial of all time

Have you guys seen this commercial? It is so adorable, but it proves the point so well. I can't help but feel warm and fuzzy when I watch it, while also laughing hysterically.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dreaming of Books Blog Hop

Thanks to Inspired Kathy for hosting this blog hop.

The prize I am offering is the ARC of the book Being Polite to Hitler by Robb Forman Dew:

After teaching and raising her family for most of her life, Agnes Scofield realizes she is truly weary of her routine. But how, at 51, to establish a separate identity?

Her newfound freedom may not sit so well with the rest of the Scofields, who operate strictly within the confines of polite Midwestern values. They'd be polite to Hitler if need be. But underneath the façade, private triumphs and tragedies---including struggles with alcoholism and illicit affairs-simmer, and Agnes finds herself becoming even more entangled in the family web.

BEING POLITE TO HITLER is a richly wrought portrait of a woman coming into her own in the middle of her life and a family that experiences passions, joys, and grief against the backdrop of the post-WWII era. - synopsis taken from Goodreads

Published: January 6, 2011 by Little Brown and Company
Pages: 304
Genre: historical fiction
Audience: adults

You do not have to be a follower to enter this contest, but you will receive one extra entry if you are.

This contest is open to U.S. residents only and will end at 11:59 on January 17th.


Be sure to visit the other blogs in the blog hop:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Delirium giveaway

Head on over to Lauren Oliver's blog. She's giving away five signed, finished copies of her new book Delirium that's coming out on February 1st.

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love - the deliria - blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

IMM (11)

In my mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

Library Loot:


Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Djibouti by Elmore Leonard


The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson

Picture books:

Subway by Cristoph Niemann
Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Purchased from my library's used book store:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
The China Garden by Liz Berry

Downloaded from NetGalley:

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek