Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite travel memories of 2013

Last year was the first year I did a recap of my favorite travel memories so I thought I would continue with that tradition this year. I feel so blessed that I have been able to see so much of the world. My husband and I don't really buy each other Christmas gifts. We always prefer to save that money and use it to have experiences rather than things. These are my favorite experiences of 2013.

1. Virtually no crowds greeted us in Iceland
 As much as I love to travel and see popular tourist attractions, I also hate crowds. Iceland gave us the best of both worlds. We were able to see popular travel destinations, but since so few people travel to this remote country, crowds were virtually nonexistent. I talk more about the lack of crowds in my Thoughts from Places video.

2. The Blue Lagoon
By far Iceland's most touristed destination, I worried that it would be little more than a tourist trap and nothing else. Turns out it was a wonderful experience. Despite being in Iceland near the summer solstice, it was unseasonably cold while we were there and relaxing in the milky blue geothermal waters was the warmest I felt the entire seven days were were in Iceland.

3. ALA and the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet in Chicago
Attending the Newbery/Caldecott banquet was a highlight of my life. Not THE highlight of my life,  but definitely A highlight. And being able to celebrate that evening with so many Nerdy Book Club friends made it even more special. 

4. The Comedy Museum AKA Art Institute of Chicago
My husband and I traveled to New York and Chicago with our friends from Germany this summer. I am here to tell you we never had so much fun at an art museum as we did at the Art Institute of Chicago, which our friend Matthias nicknamed The Comedy Museum due to the ridiculousness of some of the art we saw in the modern art wing. One of our favorites was the one above where my husband and Matthias are saying, "Wo ist das Bild?" (Where is the picture?)

5. NCTE/ALAN in Boston 
OK, so I didn't actually get to see any of Boston while I was at NCTE, but I did get to meet and hang out with some iconic authors: Judy Blume, Jack Gantos, and Laurie Halse Anderson just to name a few. Plus this is the first year I attended convention as a staff member AND was able to present at a session with some amazing teachers and one of my favorite authors (pictured above: Jen Vincent, Kellee Moye, Audrey Vernick, and me). So yeah, this was definitely a favorite travel memory. 

6. Getting to see Van Gogh's Starry Night for the first time 
Back in 2004 when my husband and I lived in Germany, we took a trip to Amsterdam. I thought for sure my favorite painting, Starry Night would be at The Van Gogh Musem since it's his most famous painting. Turns out it wasn't. And that was the beginning of an almost ten-year-long journey to see this painting that finally culminated this summer in New York.

7. 9/11 Memorial
It was really difficult to keep it together during my time exploring the 9/11 Memorial. I think I was in a perpetual state of tears the entire time. The emotion just overwhelms you.

8. Social media allowing for spontaneous meet ups with old friends
One of my favorite things about social media is that it allows me to meet new people and also keep in touch with my friends that I otherwise would have lost touch with. Because I was posting on Facebook and Twitter during our trip to NYC, I was able to meet up with two old friends that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. They saw my FB and Twitter posts and immediately asked if we could get together. I hadn't seen my friend Jerry since high school and it was so wonderful to be able to spend the afternoon with him and his fiance. It's crazy to see how far we both have come since our high school days. :)

9. Big House Tour - AKA Michigan Stadium

OK, so maybe this isn't technically travel since we live 15 minutes from the Big House, but it's something we did with our friends from Germany so we're going to count it as a travel memory. Germans don't really care that much for American football so this tour was completely selfish on my husband's part, but he at least wanted to take them somewhere cool and to him, cool equated to the biggest capacity sports stadium in the country.

10. Skating in Millennium Park
Last December my husband and I took an impromptu trip to Chicago with some friends to visit the German Christmas market. This year we decided to make it a tradition and go again. This time my friend Kirsten and I remembered to bring our ice skates and we were rewarded with a free jaunt around the Millennium Park ice rink. Heck, even the rink at Campus Martius in Detroit makes you pay to skate even if you bring your own. We were thrilled to discover that all we had to do in Chicago was strap on our skates and glide on by the endless line of people.

What were your favorite travel memories of 2013?

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 12-30-13

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?

Woa. 2014 is almost upon us. Wasn't it just 2007? Like, how is it already almost 2014?

I had quite a productive final reading week of 2013. I finished 101 novel-length books and I am only a few picture books away from having 500 books total read for the year. I will make the 500 mark before midnight on January 1st. :)

Speaking of books I read in 2013, here is my list of favorites for the year.

Last week I reviewed:

Every Day After by Laura Golden
Recipe for Adventure: Paris! by Giada DeLaurentiis

I also finished reading:

Sold by Patricia McCormick
Sold is both beautiful and horrifying at the same time. Told in sparse prose, almost as if its a novel in verse, Lakshmi's story of being sold into prostitution at the age of 13 will haunt me for a long time. 

I finished listening to:

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
There were things I both liked and disliked about this book, but ultimately it was a satisfying listen. It kept me from being completely bored to tears while my husband and I painted our home office last week. :)

I'm currently reading:

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan

I'm currently listening to:

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Oh my goodness! I'm not that far into this but I'm already spellbound. Kirby Larson's writing is simply exquisite.

Current giveaway (ends tomorrow):

Pug Hill by Alison Pace

Other posts from last week:
Why you should travel/study/work abroad
Making a case for the Mockingjay soundtrack

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My favorite books of 2013

In previous years I have done top ten lists of my favorite books, but this year I had too many favorites so I'm just going to break them down by category. If there's a link it takes you to the review I wrote of the book here on the blog.

Picture Books:

Journey by Aaron Becker
In the year of the wordless picture book, this one stands out above the rest. If I were a betting woman, this is where my money would go for the Caldecott award. 

Tea Rex by Molly Idle
I love fish out of water stories. And you can't get more fish out of water than a tyrannosaurus rex at a tea party.

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Based on the true story of when world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell played 45 minutes in a DC metro station and virtually no one stopped to listen. Since music has such an emotional impact on me, this is one that made me cry.

Wilfred by Ryan Higgins
This one touched me more than I expected it to. In fact, it made me tear up at the end. A wonderful, heartfelt story about a boy who finds a friend in a big, hairy monster.

Red Hat by Lita Judge
When a few woodland creatures spot a red hat hanging up to dry, they can't resist taking it down and playing with it... only their good-natured mischief gets them into a pickle. I ADORED this nearly wordless picture book.

Bogart and Vinnie by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Henry Cole
I am utterly and completely biased since Audrey is my friend, but her books are just so darn clever. In fact, we became friends because I told her how over the moon I was over her books. I like to surround myself with brilliant people, what can I say?

Ball by Mary Sullivan
You will only find one word in this entire picture book but that one word communicates so much coming from a dog. Sullivan communicates everything I love about dogs in her word and pictures, like enthusiasm, hopefulness, and loyalty.

Battle Bunny by Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Matthew Myers
I'm a fan of subversion --in books and in the classroom-- and it doesn't get more subversive than Battle Bunny.

Middle Grade:
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
I loved the characters and I loved how Balliett weaves the work of Langston Hughes into the story. If I were still in the classroom this year Hold Fast would have no doubt been a class read aloud. 

Every Day After by Laura Golden
A quiet little gem of a novel. But don't mistake quiet for weakness. Lizzie Hawkins is one fierce leading lady.

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb
A gripping nonfiction that doesn't read like a book, but rather makes you feel like you're watching a spy movie. 

Young Adult:

Level2/The Memory of After by Lenore Appelhans
In September the name of this novel changed from Level 2 to The Memory of After due to potential readers' confusion that the 2 in the title meant it was a sequel. Lenore is another author I consider a friend and so perhaps that makes me biased, but it also made me nervous to read this too. What if I didn't like it? Well I'm here to tell you I LOVED it. It's such a unique concept and I loved that she pulled in elements from both theology and mythology to support her world building of the hive-like place known as Level 2. 

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
Hatchet meets The Road. A completely gripping tale of post-apocalyptic survival with a fierce main character.

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins
A beautiful conclusion to Burned. I am both haunted and satisfied with how Pattyn's story ended.

Graphic Novels:

Bluffton by Matt Phelan
Beautiful graphic novel about Buster Keaton's summers in Bluffton, Michigan near Lake Michigan, told through the eyes of a fictional narrator, Henry. Definitely my favorite graphic novel of 2013, maybe of all time. I love how Phelan uses few words, choosing instead to let the pictures do most of the storytelling.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
A YA graphic memoir that celebrates food and travel? What's not to love? You have seen the title of my blog, right? ;)

Adult fiction:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
I can't remember the last time I read an adult novel where I was so utterly spellbound. So many gorgeously written passages that I had to mark them as mentor texts.

Professional Books:

Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
A brilliant follow-up to The Book Whisperer. An absolute must-read for anyone who is invested in good reading instruction. 

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire by Tom Romano
A writing book that will compel you to change and action in your own teaching. Another must-read if you teach English.

Honorable mention:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
This book was published in 2012 but I read it in 2013 and I couldn't let a favorites list go by without mentioning it. When I met Saenz at ALA in June I couldn't even tell him how much I loved the book because I got so choked up. 

What were your favorite books of 2013?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Every Day After by Laura Golden

Lizzie Hawkins has bigger problems to worry about than the school bully, Erin Sawyer. Like the fact that her daddy abandoned the family, her mama is paralyzed with sadness, the bank is about to take their house away, and Lizzie must now be the caregiver to her own mother. Soon, however, Erin's bullying goes beyond the schoolyard and doesn't mince words when she makes it known that she's determined to see Lizzie end up in the orphanage. But Lizzie already lost her daddy; she's not about to lose her mama too, and will do whatever it takes to keep them together.

Every Day After is a beautiful novel that is the very essence of what Laurie Halse Anderson calls resilience fiction. Lizzie is a fighter and is someone who will put you in mind of the great historical fiction characters of Jennifer Holm novels like Turtle from Turtle in Paradise or May Amelia in Our One and Only May Amelia.

While the novel started off a bit slow and I wondered where it was going, I'm so glad I stuck with it. I loved that the end didn't tie up all loose ends but left the readers feeling more than satisfied. I could see this one being a surprise Newbery winner next month. Newbery committees seem to gravitate towards this type of historical fiction novel with the message of resilience. And it just so happens that there's lots of room on the cover for an award sticker. In fact, I personally think it looks kind of bare without one if I do say so myself.

I'm so glad I met Laura at ALA this past summer because if I hadn't, I'm fairly certain that this little gem of a novel would have passed me by. Laura was so sweet and charming and just an all-around wonderful person that I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by to read her debut novel. Based on her ability to write such a fierce, determined female character, I hope she'll be writing many more books in the years to come. 

Every Day After by Laura Golden
Published: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 224
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

Recipe for Adventure: Paris! by Giada De Laurentiis

Goodreads summary:
When Zia Donatella comes to live with the Bertolizzi family, little do Alfie and his older sister Emilia know what's in store for them. Zia Dontella is determined to show the kids how a home-cooked meal is better than even the best take-out pizza or burrito. And when Zia's plan actually transports Alfie and Emilia to famous food cities around the world, they learn first-hand how food can not only take you places but can also bring you back home. Alfie and Emilia are transported to Paris, where a case of mistaken identity finds them caught up in the behind the scenes drama at a traditional French cooking school. As they explore the beautiful city of light and try to figure out how to get back home, they meet an incredible cast of French characters, as well as sample some of the best pastries and real hot chocolate that Paris has to offer.

This is the second book in the Recipe for Adventure series, the first one being Naples! While I enjoyed the first book despite feeling that it lacked a clear writing voice, Paris! felt way too much like Laurentiis was trying to create a children's version of The Next Food Network Star with this story. I was especially irritated that the kids were at a cooking school in Paris and without any actual cooking instruction, were asked to create a meal for a famous chef. The kids then prepared and talked of their dishes like they had already received their culinary education. In addition, there was too much talking in platitudes that you often hear Laurentiis, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown spouting on Food Network Star ("You should never tell your guests the hardships you have to endure to prepare their meals.") and it was written too much like an adult story with children as the characters.

As much as I love Giada and the message she wanted to get across with these books (introducing American children to REAL food rather than the processed crap they're most likely eating every day) the delivery felt heavy-handed and inexperienced. A story like this would have never been published without the celebrity name attached to it.

What I DO like about these books is communicating the idea that food can transport you to a place. I wish that had shone through in the story rather than the heavy-handed platitudes. As of now, I doubt I will be continuing with the series.

Paris! by Giada DeLaurentiis
Series: Recipe for Adventure #2
Published: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap
Pages: 144
Genre: Magical Realism
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: Library Copy

Friday, December 27, 2013

Making a case for the MOCKINGJAY soundtrack

I went with my husband to see Catching Fire for the second time yesterday. Even though I had already seen the movie the opening weekend, my husband hadn't and really wanted to see it. So I graciously told him I would accompany him even though I had already seen it. ;)  I am happy to say it was even better the second time around -- maybe because the first time I saw it I was so tired I kept nodding off. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie considering I really preferred the first book to the second, especially when they got to the Quarter Quell.

As the movie ended with its infamous cliffhanger and the last image you see is Katniss's fierce expression, I was reminded again how much I REALLY hope my favorite Muse song "Uprising" is on the Mockingjay soundtrack. I mean, that song is a slam sunk. Not only is the song a battle cry, but with a chorus like:

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious

It's kind of perfect, don't you think?

And then there's my favorite line of the whole song:
Rise up and take the power back
It's time the fat cats had a hard attack
You know well
Their time's coming to an end
It's time we unify to watch our flag ascend
So I'm saying this now: whoever's responsible for creating the soundtrack to Mockingjay, you have failed if you don't include "Uprising" on the soundtrack, OK?

Oh, and as a side note, how many of you are totally coveting Katniss's scarf/shawl/thingie she wears in the opening scene of Catching Fire?
I know I am!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why You Should Travel, Study, and/or Work Abroad

One of my Facebook friends posted this article from the Huffington Post today:

19 Things You'll Only Appreciate if You Studied Abroad

Though my husband and I weren't studying when we lived abroad (he was working) the heart of this article really applies to us, and anyone who has lived abroad for that matter. We have learned way more in our travels than we ever have in any classroom. As homesick as I was when I lived in Germany and as much as I longed to move back home, I find there are many things I miss about living there, especially this time of year, as I love European Christmas traditions.

If I could give young people graduating from high school or college one piece of advice it would be: travel. Get a backpack and a passport and go see countries other than your own. You haven't really completed your education until you leave the walls of the classroom and become a student of the world.

One of my favorite quotes of all time, and one I dole out effusively, is by Mark Twain and feels apt to quote here:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

It's Monday! What are you reading? 12-23-13

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?

Last week I reviewed:

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins

Last week I finished reading:
The President Has Been Shot: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson
Simply amazing. I really felt like I was LIVING the tragedy of Kennedy's assassination as I was reading this book. A perfect example of engaging, heart-pumping nonfiction.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
Felt like the Star Wars version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It was entertaining, but since I'm not a big Star Wars buff, I felt like some things that should have been funny to me weren't. I also wish this had been a graphic novel in color because I think that would have made the sequential art more engaging.

Picture books I read and enjoyed last week:
Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman
What Does the Fox Say? by Ylvis, illustrated by Svein Nyhus
Yes, I totally bought What Does the Fox Say? Don't judge.

I finished listening to:

Not a Drop to Drink by  Mindy McGinnis
This was one of the best YA novels I read or listened to this year. I enjoyed this one much more than I expected to.

Courage Has No Color: The Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
The audiobook narrator is quite capable but I still can't help but think I missed quite a bit from listening instead of reading this one. 

I'm currently reading:

Every Day After by Laura Golden

I'm currently listening to:

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
I was a bit dubious of this story in the beginning but I'm a little over halfway through and I'm really enjoying it so far. I have especially become attached to the character of Tim, who is an albino and despite his always feeling like an outsider, he really seems to have a good heart.