Saturday, June 29, 2013

Unleashing Readers launch week blog hop

I am thrilled to be a part of this blog hop to celebrate the launch of my friend Kellee and her cohort Ricki's new blog, Unleashing Readers. They have asked me to participate by answering five questions that revolve around the theme of their blog.

What is your favorite read aloud?
I have a couple. The first of course is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. So many kids love and feel an emotional connection to this book. It has such an important message and kids really get attached to Auggie and his friends. The second is When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This book is brilliant for read alouds because it forces kids to pay close attention. They find themselves confused through most of the story, but not so confused that they don't want to try to unmask their confusion. When all is revealed at the end of the story, the looks of revelation on their faces and the discussion that follows is absolutely priceless.

What is your favorite close reading/analysis book?
I recently did a close reading/predicting activity that I took from Kelly Gallagher's book Deeper Reading. The activity was done with the book Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. I gave the kids a list of words from the prologue and then asked them to make a prediction of what the story's about based on the words they were given. Then I gave them the whole text and asked them to mark it up and discuss their thoughts. I had a rather long list of kids who wanted to read the rest book after that activity, which I'd say is a close reading success story!

What is your favorite lit circle book?
Hands down Harry Potter because more often than not, I assign that book to kids who haven't read it because they don't want to read it and most of them end up loving it by the end. In fact, one year I had a kid who was so mad at me for assigning him the book that I thought for sure he was going to go home and make a Mrs. Shaum voodoo doll so he could protrude needles through it. He made it quite known that he was mad at me for giving him that book. Then, a few days before winter break, he came up to me and said, "Mrs. Shaum, if I finish this book before winter break, can I check out the second book to read over break?"  I about fell over in my chair. And by spring break he was already on the fourth book.

That is one of my favorite interactions with a student because I was also dubious about Harry Potter for a long time. I was determined I was never going to read it because I just don't like fantasy (in general). But I was encouraged to listen to the audiobooks by a librarian friend, Allison Tran, and I ended up loving them and finishing the entire series in six months.  I love that when I assign my students this book, many of them end up having the same experience.

What is your favorite book for the classroom library?
I don't have a particular favorite book for my classroom library. I guess it's whatever book or books are going to get passed around and get kids excited about reading.

What is your favorite book in general?
A year and a half ago I would not have been able to answer this question. I had lots of favorite books. I couldn't narrow it down to just one. But then in January of 2012 I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and it completely and utterly stole my heart. It is everything you want from a good book: it's a beautiful love story, it's funny, it's heartbreaking, essentially it makes you feel ALL THE THINGS!

Friday, June 28, 2013

In Iceland "off the beaten path" is everywhere you turn

In my last post, I talked about the most visited tourist destination, in Iceland, The Blue Lagoon and made a case for why you should visit even though a lot of tourists go there.

This post is about the secluded, off the beaten path places we found while we were in Iceland.

As I mentioned in my last post and also in my Thoughts from Places video, even the "crowded" places weren't crowded compared to other popular travel destinations I've been to. So pretty much every place you visit is going to be very laid back without much scrambling to get your perfect picture because there are too many tourists in the way.

The places we discovered where practically no one was there were still a treat for us, the first being a glacial lagoon called Fjallsarlon. As with pretty much all the secluded places, it was down this rickety dirt road the eventually led to this amazing view:

The same was true of this stunning gorge known as Fjadragliufur: we drove down a treacherous dirt road, hiked a little ways, and our jaws dropped when we came across this:
In the two hours we hiked in this area, we saw four people the entire time. 
So if you're someone who prefers to travel to places where there aren't hoards of tourists, I highly recommend Iceland. As  I said before, even the crowded places were pretty empty compared to "tourist trap" standards. I told my husband how un-stressed I felt when visiting all of these places because I felt like I didn't have to compete with others for a spot on a viewing platform or to find a place to get a picture where there weren't people in the way. Personal space is abundant and plentiful when traveling in Iceland.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Iceland's Blue Lagoon: a destination for travelers and toursits alike

When my husband and I were planning our recent trip to Iceland, we wanted to make sure that we set aside some time to spend at The Blue Lagoon. Even though it is the most visited tourist destination in Iceland, and from what I read during my trip research, Icelanders don't really go there, it was something we were both dying to experience.

But you know what? Sometimes places that are deemed as tourist traps are still worth your time. And The Blue Lagoon was one of those places. I know that an unwritten rule of calling yourself a world traveler is to avoid the places where all the tourists go, but sometimes you've just gotta follow the crowds. Hey, if Anthony Bourdain, who on his first season of No Reservations said "be a traveler, not a tourist," went to the Blue Lagoon when he was in Iceland, then I think everyone should go there, whether you're a traveler or tourist.

So what exactly is The Blue Lagoon anyway? It's described on their website as a geothermal spa, but what does that mean? Well essentially Iceland is rife with geothermal energy and they decided to harness all that energy by creating power plants that use that energy to power homes and businesses. Since geothermal power is clean energy, the runoff from these power plants is just really hot water. And The Blue Lagoon was the result:
We spent about 3 hours at The Blue Lagoon on a cold, gray day and it was by far one of my favorite moments of our trip, mainly because the water was so warm, and the weather in Iceland during our entire trip was in the low 50s/high 40s and windy. So The Blue Lagoon was the warmest I felt the entire week. And it was during my time there that I realized why I tend not to spend a lot of time in pools: because I'm always cold and the water in pools isn't 102 degrees Fahrenheit, that's why!

So if you ever take a trip to Iceland, ignore what people tell you about skipping The Blue Lagoon because it's a tourist trap. Sometimes you just need to follow the crowd. And honestly, Iceland is still kind of off the tourist radar anyway so tourist trap here does not equate to tourist trap in, say, Italy or France. There are plenty of other opportunities in a country of only 320,000 people to find off the beaten path places (which I'll talk about in another post). You can go to one place where there are a lot of tourists and I promise you won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Henry Cole

When Vinnie, a hyperactive, overly-enthusiastic dog finds himself lost one day, he stumbles into a wild animal preserve and befriends a curmudgeonly rhino named Bogart. Well, at least Vinnie thinks they're friends. To say Bogart is dubious (and maybe a tad bit bored) of Vinnie might be an understatement. But soon the media gets wind of this interspecies friendship and reporters flock to the animal preserve, making Bogart and Vinnie famous. Will their friendship last the test of fame? And what about Vinnie's home? Will his family find him and take Vinnie away from Bogart?

In my eyes Audrey Vernick can do no wrong. I continue to marvel at the smart, sassy humor in her fictional picture books and the sincerity and heart in her nonfiction picture books. Everything she writes has such a cleverness about it, right down to the zebras in this book whose names are Polka and Dot. I wish I were that clever.

Vinnie's enthusiasm comes off as both annoying and endearing at the same time, a trait I know many a dog owner can relate to, and Henry Cole's illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to showing the reader the striking variance of personalities between Bogart the curmudgeon and Vinnie eager optimist.

Audrey was gracious enough to read my class and their third grade buddies Bogart and Vinnie via Skype on World Read Aloud Day in March so I already knew I loved the story, but being able to see the words and illustrations up close made it even better.

If you are an animal lover, or just plain like funny stories, then pick yourself up a copy of Bogart and Vinnie today!

Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Henry Cole
Published: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages: 40
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Primary/Middle Grade
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 6-24-13

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

Hello everyone! So I missed last week's "It's Monday!" post because I was in Iceland. My husband and I had an amazing time there and I already wrote a few posts about it, one about our food adventures, and one Thoughts from Places video.

This past weekend I attended the Kids Read Comics event at the Ann Arbor District Library for the second year in a row. It was so much fun! I will definitely be going again next year.

I feel like I'm finally getting back on my reading game. Last school year really kicked my butt in terms of getting much reading done. Now that it's summer I feel like reading is enjoyable again because I don't have anything hanging over my head that makes me feel guilty for sitting down and reading instead of getting all that other stuff on my to-do list done.

So last week (and the week before), this is what I read and enjoyed:

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It Or Not" Ripley by Neal Thompson 
A review of this one will be coming soon.

Graphic Novel:
  Squish: Game On! by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Vive La Paris by Esme Raji Codell

Picture Books:

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A.G. Ford
Bogart and Vinnie: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Henry Cole

Last week I reviewed:

When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Currently Reading:
Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell

Currently listening:
The Wig in the Window by Kristin Kittscher
Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas

Check out my current giveaway: The Keep by Veronica Wolff (ends 6/30)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kids Read Comics 2013

Last year I went to the Kids Read Comics event at the Ann Arbor District Library for the first time and it was great fun. So much fun that when I saw that it was coming back to the Ann Arbor District Library this summer, I decided I just had to go back. It was definitely the right decision because I had even more fun this year than I did last year because I attended more sessions and met even more awesome people who are lovers and creators of comics.

As a teacher, I have only just been immersing myself into the world of graphic novels for the past year or so. I didn't realize how much this genre has become such a pervasive part of the literary world, so to go to an event like Kids Read Comics is not just a fun experience, but it's also a way to further immerse and educate myself about this visual and literary art form.

The first session I went to was a Comics Quickdraw which is essentially like Whose Line is It Anyway meets Win, Lose, or Draw. Teams of four have to draw a four panel-comic and take suggestions from the audience for what they can draw. I went to one Comics Quickdraw on Saturday and another one on Sunday:
Saturday's Epic Draw round
Sunday's Comics Quickfire with hosts Dave Roman and John Martin
Comics Quickfire participant introductions
The audience suggestion for this comic was Cheese Spray
And this one was The Bunny Apocalypse

Another session I went to was a panel of graphic  novelists and librarians discussing the importance of advocating for graphic novels in libraries, in the classroom, and in children's homes. The panel consisted of Scott Robins, author of A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics, Jim Ottaviani, author of many graphic novels, his most recent being Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, John Green, author/artist of Teen Boat!, and Rafael Rosado, artist of Giants Beware!  

The last session I went to was the Kids Comics Revolution podcast with Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd with guest panelists Scott Robins, Colby Sharp and Brian Wyzlic.
The panel was fantastic and essentially carried out the theme of the entire Kids Read Comics event, which is the need to advocate for comics and graphic novels as a legitimate literary art form, in the classroom and at home. The perception that kids can't be learning when they're having fun is something that has perpetuated this idea that graphic novels aren't real literature, but of the graphic novels that I find myself reading these days, many of them are quite literary and have great vocabulary for kids to learn. And especially if they're struggling readers, the artwork can help create a scaffold for them to learn those words better than they would have if they were just reading a prose novel. Heck, I'm only on page 38 of Giants Beware! and I've already come across these words: vile, valiant, odoriferous, shitake, sentient, vigilant, inclination, and thusly. So this perception that graphic novels are somehow lowbrow and less intelligent than prose novels is completely unfounded. They are developing greatly in their sophistication and authors are really creating some great writing to accompany the artwork. But let me be clear: graphic novels are not just something we should be recommending to struggling readers. We should be recommending them to ALL readers. These books are not something you give to reluctant and struggling readers and then ask them to graduate to prose novels once they've made appropriate progress. These are books for all readers to enjoy.

Speaking of Giants Beware! I had seen the cover of this book a few weeks ago and was immediately drawn to it due to the pug on the cover, as I have two of my own pugs. So when I saw that Rafael was at Kids Read Comics and they were selling copies of it, I just had to buy one. When I told Rafael why I wanted to read Giants Beware! he was gracious enough to draw Valiant the pug in my copy for me:

And of course, no Kids Read Comics event would be complete without a picture with one of my favorite graphic novelists, Raina Telgemeier, especially since I was rockin' the Smile t-shirt:

After the event, Brian Wyzlic, Scott Robins, Michael Lamore and I went to dinner at The Blue Nile, a fantastic Ethiopian place only a few blocks from the library.
I've been to The Blue Nile a couple times before, but for some reason, this time the food was better than usual. Maybe it was just the contentment of getting to meet new friends and talk about books, or maybe the food was really just better than usual. Whatever the case, I highly recommend The Blue Nile if you're ever in Ann Arbor. And if you live within driving distance, I also recommend you come to Kids Read Comics next year!

Thoughts from Places: Iceland

I've always enjoyed John Green's "Thoughts from Places" videos and so when my husband and I took a trip to Iceland for our tenth wedding anniversary, I decided that I would try my hand at creating one when I returned home.

I've already done one "Thoughts from Places" my last day in my classroom, and I also wrote a post about our food adventures in Iceland, but I thought I'd try my hand at more video editing and separate narration. This was a fun project and I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Food adventures in Iceland

My husband and I just recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Iceland. Since I generally don't like seafood, to say I was worried about what I would eat while I was there was an understatement. But I needn't have worried. We had many memorable meals during our time in Iceland, starting with a little nondescript hotdog stand on our first day that is apparently one of the best places to get a hotdog in the whole of Europe. Icelanders are wild about hotdogs, and Baejarins Beztu Pylsur down at the Reykjavik harbor has been serving hotdogs since 1935.
These babies are topped with mustard and a remoulade sauce with fried onions on the bottom
My husband Johnathon savors the yummy Icelandic delicacy known as the hot dog :)

Other than hot dogs, there is another traditional Icelandic "delicacy" that most people read about before traveling to Iceland that I refused to try and that was the rotten shark. Yes, you read that right. Rotten shark, otherwise known as Hakarl. The meat is toxic if you eat it before fermenting it, which apparently drains all the toxins. Traditionally you eat Hakarl and then do a shot of brennivin, which is an 80-proof liquor made from caraway seed, but we just decided to do the shot of bennivin, sans putrefied shark:
Brennivin is actually pretty good and doesn't burn going down nearly as much as other liquors such as Greek ouzo or Italian grappa. Though given that you're supposed to drink it after eating Hakarl, perhaps it would be better if it had burned going down. I imagine many people need their taste buds to be burned off after attempting such a feat of culinary bravery (or stupidity, however you prefer to look at it).

I also tried some Icelandic beer, which was also pretty tasty. This blond beer had a hint of orange in its flavor. It reminded me a bit of oberon ale.

Moving from the traditional to non-traditional, believe it or not, the best meal we had the entire time we were in Iceland was at an Indian restaurant in Reykjavik:
In fact, I'm going to be so bold as to say it was one of the best Indian meals I've ever had, eclipsed only by Vij's in Vancouver.

I ordered the Kozhi Mappas, which is a chicken dish with garam masala, coriander, turmeric, and coconut milk. The sauce was the perfect combination of savory and sweet and had the most pleasing viscosity of any Indian sauce-based dish I have ever eaten.
 It's one of those dishes I will crave for the rest of my life, not unlike the torta ahogada at Xoco in Chicago.

On our second trip to Austur Indiafjelagid (yes, we ate there twice), my husband ordered a tandoori dish (which is not a sauce-based dish, but comes out in a sizzling cast-iron skillet on a bed of onions very similar to Mexican fajitas. But this is way better than fajitas). His dish was called Margh Rajasthani and it was also a chicken dish that is marinated in ginger, garlic, cardamom, cumin, cloves, white pepper, and I'm going out a limb to say turmeric even though that wasn't listed on the menu because I can't imagine what else would give this dish its golden hue:
I loved that you could taste the flowery cardamom but it didn't overpower the dish because that is one spice that can get overwhelming quite easily.

For dessert, we shared the pistachio kulfi, which is pistachio ice cream flavored with saffron

And as you can see by the look on my face and the empty plates on the table, I am one happy diner:
In fact, I'm going to be so bold as to say that I would return to Reykjavik just to eat at this restaurant again. It was that good.

Another memorable meal we had was in a tiny village about 50 kilometers west of Skaftafell National Park called Kirkjubaejarklaustur (try saying that 5 times really fast). What was so memorable about this meal is that (1) the restaurant was very modern and had a fantastic menu for such a small village and (2) the menu had a nice variety of dishes but was still sophisticated and small. This is no easy task in a big city let alone a tiny village. The restaurant was called Systrakaffi and I will make sure to recommend it to anyone traveling to Skaftafell on their trip to Iceland.

My husband ordered the pan fried Arctic char and for someone (me) who doesn't like seafood, I found myself actually wishing I had ordered this dish because it was so meaty yet had a delicate flavor. You could absolutely tell it was fresh and had been fished in nearby waters.
Overall I have to say that I was pleased and surprised with the number of fantastic meals we had in Iceland, but I have to put the disclaimer out there that it would be extremely difficult to be a vegetarian there as 60% of their produce has to be imported and the other 40% of their produce that's grown in greenhouses even has to have soil imported from other parts of the world because theirs is so useless. Needless to say, I was starting to crave a giant salad by the time I left Iceland and even had to stop at Panera on my way home from the airport to order an Asian sesame chicken salad so I could get some green veggies in me. Still, I will look back fondly at my culinary adventures in Iceland, especially because I made sure to steer clear of the rotten shark.