Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dystopian Giveaway Hop: Divergent by Veronica Roth

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away a copy of:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Format: paperback (with bonus materials)
Published: April 25, 2011
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 487
Audience: Young Adult

Goodreads Summary:
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 10-28-13

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:

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth
Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner

Other picture books I enjoyed last week:

I'm a Frog! by Mo Willems
It's hard to ever go wrong with Elephant and Piggie and I love their newest adventure. It's all about the importance of pretending. 

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
A perfect book to use when talking about character point of view as this story is told from the perspective of four different characters. In addition, the off-kilter illustrations of using apes instead of humans, along with some other surreal elements makes for one intriguing read aloud.

I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau, illustrated by Serge Bloch
Think yawns aren't contagious? Just read this book in front of a group of kids and watch the yawning ensue. I'm yawning right now as I write this.   

This Monster Needs a Haircut by Bethany Barton
Silly book about a little monster named Stewart in desperate need of a haircut but likes his hair just the way it is. The illustrations are a riot and the story is fun and entertaining. I didn't quite get why Stewart and his dad wrote letters to each other on walls and doors, but it was still fun regardless of my head-scratching on that one.

When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten!: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf by Trisha Speed Shashkan
Both of these would be great mentor texts to use in the classroom, the first one could be a writing prompt, letting students write about "When I was young in..." and the second one could be used to discuss point of view, unreliable narrators, and also adding detail to writing.

Books I'm currently (still) reading:

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano
Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard

Books I'm reading with my ears:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner

Augustus the tiger was sad. He couldn't find his smile. So he set out to look for it. He searched high and low: in the mountains, ocean, and desert. He just knew it had to be hiding somewhere.

A simple yet beautiful story about finding something that was there all along. Catherine Rayner's music, cadence, and pacing are simply brilliant. Who knew a gentle tiger could teach us so much about happiness and being present in the moment. A book written for kids but certainly one adults can learn from too. 

I'd love to write more but sometimes the best book reviews are the shortest. I'm hoping this is one of them.

Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner
Published: April 18, 2006
Publisher: Good Books
Pages: 28
Audience: Primary
Disclosure: Library Copy

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth

Tai Shan and his father, Baba, don't fly their kites on the ground. Instead, they go to the roof of their house, "above but still under, neither here nor there." To them, the kites represent freedom and their unbreakable bond as father and son, the red kite being "small and nimble," the blue kite "big and strong."

But then a dark time descends on Chinese history, something called the Cultural Revolution. This is a time when, in order to assure that citizens do not "stray from the Communist path," people are tortured, beaten, and put into prison camps for even the possibility that they might have differing views.

Baba is one of those people who is put into a labor camp, but before he leaves makes a pact with Tai Shan: every day at sunrise, he will fly his red kite so Baba can see it from camp, and in return, every day at sunset, Baba will fly his blue kite so Tai Shan can see it from Granny Wang's farm.

But one day, Baba stops flying his blue kite at sunset and Tai Shan is afraid for him. Where is Baba? Will Tai Shan ever see the blue kite or his Baba again?

Red Kite, Blue Kite is based on a true story: that of the author's family friend who is the little boy of Tai Shan. It is truly a testament to the beauty and resilience of the human spirit, especially when you realize that this really did happen. Greg Ruth's illustrations further add to the emotion of the story, picking up human expression and feeling where words fail. This could be the first step of a reading ladder toward books like Red Scarf Girl also by Ji-Li Liang and Revolution is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine. The author's note at the end of the book gives just enough information to fill in some knowledge gaps for young readers, but is also vague enough that will compel students to read further about this era in world history, which is when a teacher can swoop in and show them books like Red Scarf Girl.

In addition, Red Kite, Blue Kite could also be a mentor text to discuss symbolism with students since the red kite and blue kite clearly represent the relationship between the father and son. 

Overall, this is a beautiful story that can speak to a variety of age groups.

Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-Li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth
Published: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: Primary/Middle Grade/Young Adult
Disclosure: Library Copy

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Skillet Tamale Pie

When I first started learning to cook I found recipes all the time in cookbooks that I wanted to try. And often I would also try many recipes and then deem them worthy of putting in my regular repertoire of meals. Not so much anymore. I don't know if I'm just getting bored with cooking or if I feel like I've exhausted all of my culinary options.

So it was refreshing for me to not only pull out one of my cookbooks off the bookshelf this week and attempt a new recipe, but it was also exciting that the recipe was so good that I decided I would definitely be making it again.

The recipe came from Rachael Ray's Just in Time cookbook from 2007 and it is skillet tamale pie. What also excited me about trying this recipe is that I discovered a new use for my rice cooker: making polenta. I'd also like to note that I halved this recipe since I was only making it for my husband and me, and I only used ground pork, no ground beef. In addition, I decided to use mozzarella instead of cheddar or Monterey Jack because, well, I just felt like it that's why. :)

Skillet Tamale Pie

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
2 bacon slices, chopped
3/4 lb ground beef
3/4 ground pork
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspooons ground cumin
pinch of ground cinnamon
salt and pepper
15 oz can tomato sauce
2 cups quick cooking polenta
A handful of fresh cilantro or parsley, finely chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar or Monterery Jack cheese

Preheat broiler to high and place oven rack 1 rung beneath the highest level.

Combine chicken stock and milk in a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk polenta into the stock/milk mixture for 5 minutes or until it is thick and masses together in the pot. Fold in cilantro or parsley.

While you're waiting for the stock/milk mixture to boil, crisp bacon in a large, oven-proof skillet, then add the ground meats and cook on high until meat is browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeno and garlic, and season with chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until veggies are soft, then add the tomato sauce and cook 1 minute more.

Spread polenta over meat mixture and top with cheese. Place skillet under the broiler to melt/brown the cheese and set the polenta, about one minute. Serve directly from skillet. (Leave the oven mitt on the skillet handle as a reminder to yourself not to touch it or you WILL burn yourself if you're anything like me!)
I will be making this again. It was delicious!

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 10-21-13

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 finished reading:

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins 
This book was sooooooo good. I am both haunted and satisfied with how Hopkins gave closure to Pattyn's story. Lots of tears in the last twenty pages. 

Last week I reviewed:

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

Currently reading:

The Nine Lives of Alexander Baddenfield by John Bemelmans Marciano
Like Lemony Snicket? Try Alexander Baddenfield.

Currently reading with my ears:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Rare is the adult book I actually pick up to read and even rarer is the adult book I actually finish. This is one that I will see through to the very end. Use this book as a reading ladder for students who enjoyed Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Goodreads Summary:
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city saved by the magic woven into its walls when a devastating plague swept through the world years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow, who spends his days in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill; something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.

While fantasy is not my preferred genre, I can't deny the flow, beauty, and simplicity of Anne Ursu's writing. The symbolism of Oscar's journey in discovering his own humanness was very real despite the fantastical setting. While Ursu herself has said that the main character of Oscar is not her son, it is clear Oscar's struggles are inspired by the fact that her own son is living with Asperger's, which is made further evident when you notice that the book is dedicated to him.

And even though fantasy is not my preferred genre, I love that Ursu found a way to write a story about a boy with Asperger's and place him in a fantastical setting rather than a typical real-life one. This is not a straight-up "issue book", which is refreshing to see a boy with Asperger's portrayed as the hero of a fantasy world rather than just a boy in a realistic fiction novel who learns to live with his special need. Not that those stories aren't powerful in their own right, but seeing a special needs character move beyond a typical "issue book" is a giant step forward in children's literature. For that reason I hope this is a book that the Schneider Family Book Award committee will take into consideration. Obviously there is a lot of Newbery buzz surrounding The Real Boy, but Schneider Award recognition would be a lovely testament to the beauty of this story as well. 

If you liked, the following books, give The Real Boy a try:
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Published: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: ARC received at ALA/audiobook received from the publisher 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen

Goodreads summary:
Born in 1963 in a Kafkaesque communal apartment where eighteen families shared one kitchen, Anya grew up singing odes to Lenin, black-marketeering Juicy Fruit gum at her school, and, like most Soviet citizens, longing for a taste of the mythical West. It was a life by turns absurd, drab, naively joyous, melancholy-and, finally, intolerable to her anti-Soviet mother. When she was ten, the two of them fled the political repression of Brezhnev-era Russia, arriving in Philadelphia with no winter coats and no right of return.

These days Anya lives in two parallel food universes: one in which she writes about four-star restaurants, the other in which a simple banana-a once a year treat back in the USSR-still holds an almost talismanic sway over her psyche. To make sense of that past, she and her mother decided to eat and cook their way through seven decades of the Soviet experience. Through the meals she and her mother re-create, Anya tells the story of three generations-her grandparents', her mother's, and her own. Her family's stories are embedded in a larger historical epic: of Lenin's bloody grain requisitioning, World War II hunger and survival, Stalin's table manners, Khrushchev's kitchen debates, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol policies, and the ultimate collapse of the USSR. And all of it is bound together by Anya's sardonic wit, passionate nostalgia, and piercing observations.

I am absolutely fascinated with Russian culture and geography. While most people, when it comes to learning about history, seem to be fascinated with all things World War II, my preferred historical era of study is the Cold War. So pretty much anything with the word Soviet in the title perks up my ears. 

It was interesting to read about Von Bremzen's childhood in Moscow because, at the time, she didn't understand her mother's anti-Soviet sentiments and really had Romantic notions of the socialist lifestyle, even ruthless leaders such as Joseph Stalin. Von Bremzen  presents the reader with an interesting dichotomy of emotions because the longing she is talking about in the subtitle is a longing for the old Soviet way of life. The nostalgia is somehow both understandable and confusing at the same time. But it is one that I, as an American, was never fully able to wrap my brain around during my time with this book.

I enjoyed the parts of the book where Von Bremzen talks about her life, but I found the history parts to be a bit dry and difficult to trudge through, and I'm normally one that enjoys learning about Soviet history. Plus, I didn't entirely buy the whole food premise of the book. It seemed forced into the narrative - probably because she doesn't really talk much in this book about how food writing became her career - and also, I just really wanted to know about her life, not necessarily the history of Soviet cuisine. For that reason, what felt most natural and fascinating for me was when the author talks about her life in the Soviet Union and how she emigrated to America. Still, I would definitely consider this a worthwhile read, but it was one that took me many weeks to finish. This is by no means a book most people can breeze through in one sitting. 

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
Published: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 352
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: ARC received from publisher (I also listened to part of it on an audiobook I acquired at the library) 

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 10-14-13

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?

I was on a blog posting role this week. I've been starting to feel lately like this blog is fizzling out a bit, but this past week reinvigorated me and helped get me back in the groove of regularly posting again.

Last week I reviewed: 

Burned by Ellen Hopkins
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic

I also posted:
Audiobooks are expensive. Here are some ways to bypass that expense.

Last week  I finished listening to:

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
I enjoy Hiaasen's adult novels, but I much prefer his kids' books. This one didn't hold my interest as much as his other books have.

Some picture books I read and enjoyed last week:

Moonday by Adam Rex
Unusual story, beautiful illustrations. This one's going on my ever-growing list of Caldecott possibilities. 

The Island by Marije and Ronald Tolman
I have to admit, I didn't really get this wordless picture book, but there's something so delightful about it that I can't put my finger on. I think it was the bear. 

Black and White by David Macaulay 
I need to read this book with a group of kids. I have a feeling my encumbered adult brain is missing a whole heckuva lot. The four quadrants of this book, telling four seemingly separate stories, yet somehow your mind has to try to piece how they're related, was just too much for my mind to take in all by myself. Much discussion is needed with this one. 

Currently (still) reading:

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins 

Currently listening to:

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Even though fantasy is not normally my genre of preference, Anne Ursu is certainly drawing me in with her beautiful writing. I see why this one is getting Newbery buzz and was nominated for a National Book Award.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Burned by Ellen Hopkins

Raised in a religious LDS home, Pattyn von Stratten doesn't know much more of life than helping raise her younger sisters, going to seminary every week, and helping her mom around the house with doing all the household chores for her lazy mother. At home, Pattyn fears the wrath of her father, especially when he's under the influence of his friend, Johnny Walker Black, which is pretty much every day.

When an incident at school forces Pattyn's parents to send her away to live with her Aunt J in the rural highlands of Nevada, Pattyn sees this as not only an opportunity to get to know a long estranged relative, but to also enjoy the freedom of being away from her demanding family, especially her father. What Pattyn wasn't expecting was to find love and acceptance in Ethan: the son of the man who caused Aunt J's long-time family estrangement in the first place. It is through Ethan that Pattyn learns of physical and emotional intimacy and from both Ethan and Aunt J, Pattyn finally discovers the meaning of unconditional love. But despite her contented life living with Aunt J, Pattyn still feels a sense of foreboding: wondering when her father will come and take it all away.

Oh I am feeling ALL THE THINGS! What an emotionally powerful novel! I really rooted for Pattyn all throughout this story and could feel the love and acceptance she found with Ethan. Despite the fact that novels with any kind of romance tend to make my eyes roll, I found the intimacy written in the pages of Pattyn and Ethan's love story necessary to rooting for them as a couple. The tenderness shared between the two of them juxtaposes the dysfunction and violence Pattyn experiences in her own home.  

After finishing Burned, I immediately started reading Smoke because I desperately wanted to know how Pattyn's story ends. I pray it's more hopeful than how this book ended, something Hopkins herself admitted the sequel will hopefully mollify for her beleaguered readers. 

Burned is my second Ellen Hopkins novel I've read, Crank being my first, and I have to say that I felt much more emotionally invested in this book than her first one. The verse format seemed more like a gimmick in the first book but felt more purposeful in Burned. Then again, maybe that's just because I have become more familiar with Hopkins's style of writing.

I would hand this book to readers who are fans of edgy YA fiction, but I might also suggest lovers of Eleanor and Park give this book a try since Eleanor and Pattyn's stories are quite similar. 

Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Series: Burned #1
Published: April 1, 2006
Publisher: McElderry Books
Pages: 532
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Verse Novel
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Purchased Copy

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cookbook review: Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes

In seeking relief from my IBS and at the request of my doctor, this summer I underwent some elimination from my diet, starting with dairy. Now anyone who knows me knows how much I love cheese and ice cream, so my two weeks of no dairy was pretty rough.

During that time, I came across Whole Grain Vegan Baking at the library and decided to give some of the recipes a try. I admit, the IDEA of being vegan is better than the actual carrying out of such a lifestyle. I have no willpower when it comes to that sort of thing. But books like Whole Grain Vegan Baking make the carrying out part a little less intimidating (though I have no plans to become vegan in the near future, I am still looking for more vegetarian/vegan recipes to make my animal product footprint less significant).

The recipes, pictures, and ingredients used in this book not only make these baked goods sound acceptable, but they even kinda sorta sound delicious too. I tried two recipes from this book, one was a hit and one was a miss, but the hit got me thinking that I will continue to attempt more vegan baking in the future.

The layout of Whole Grain Vegan Baking is very simple, attractive, and organized well. I'd say if you're thinking of giving vegan baking a go, this book would be a good place to start.

My cookies with some modified ingredients
The following recipe was so good, I'm planning on making it one of my go-to baking recipes, not just vegan baking, but baking in general. The inclusion of the Sriacha and Chinese five-spice powder gives this cookie such a unique flavor and spicy undertone.

I modified this recipe by not using oat flour (I substituted the oat flour for all amaranth -- well, I did also use the whole wheat flour) and instead of peanut butter I used almond butter. Based on the picture in the cookbook, my cookies had a different texture (more chewy and cakey than crumbly), but they still came out delicious.

If you're looking to adopt a vegan lifestyle or you're like me and you want to lessen your animal product footprint, or heck, you just like baking and want to try something different, I highly recommend Whole Grain Vegan Baking. This cookbook went from trying it by checking it out at the library to owning my own copy. 

Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies
from Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes

1/2 cup smooth or crunchy natural peanut butter
1/4 cup organic turbinado sugar or organic evaporated cane juice
2 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
1/2 cup vegan semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 tablespoon amaranth flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 to 3 teaspoons vegan milk

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

Combine peanut butter, sugar, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and Sriacha in a medium bowl. Stir together with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl, combine chocolate chips, flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, peanut butter mixture and adding the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until a cohesive dough forms.

Scoop the dough into tablespoon-sized mounds and press down slightly.

Bake cookies 15-17 minutes or until the bottoms are browned. Let cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet because the cookies might break if moved too soon.

Yield: 12 cookies

Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes
Published: April 1, 2013
Publisher: Fair Winds Press
Pages: 178
Genre:Vegetarian/Vegan Cooking
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Library and Purchased Copy

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Throw Back Thursday: Vienna October 2003

Ten years ago this month my husband and I were living in Germany and took our first major trip: a weekend in Vienna. As a classical music lover all my life and a pianist for 13 years, visiting Vienna was like taking a little kid to Disney World.

But the best part of visiting Vienna for me was when I was able to visit the factory and showroom for where they make and sell Bösendorfers: the most prestigious (and expensive) piano brand in the world. Some may argue that Steinways are the best pianos in the world, but I would beg to differ. I have played Steinways, and thanks to our trip to Vienna, I have also played Bösendorfers, and I'm here to tell you that even my clumsy fingers were quick and nimble on a Bösey. Steinways feel heavy and clunky compared to a Bösendorfer.

Here I am playing the $180,000 model that has 97 instead of 88 keys. This will be my first purchase when I win the lottery:

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic

Earlier this week as I was walking back to my car through the student center at Eastern Michigan University, my ears immediately perked up as the faint echoes of a Chopin etude wafted down the hall. I was like a police dog picking up a scent trail. I had to go find the source of the music. And while the person playing the etude was only practicing and hit many wrong notes, to me it didn't matter. I was called to the music. To find the source of it. And to stop and listen for a while.

Music moves me like nothing else on this earth does. There is a physiological and emotional response I experience when I encounter a beautiful melody, whether for the first time, or in this case, when I'm not expecting it. So it shocks and saddens me when I hear stories like the one in which this book is inspired: famous violinist, Joshua Bell, performed an experiment, proposed to him by Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten: What would happen if Bell, armed with his multi-million-dollar Stradivarius violin, dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, played for 45 minutes during rush hour in a busy D.C. metro station? How many people would stop and listen? Would anyone recognize his talent as more than just a mere street musician?

This experiment occurred on January 12, 2007. During the 45 minute performance, Bell played a piece known as one of the most difficult ever written for the violin, "Chaconne" from Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor, as well as the emotionally stirring "Ave Maria" by Franz Schubert, and out of the 1,000 people who made their way through the metro station that morning, only seven people stopped to listen for more than a minute, Bell finding less than $40 in his violin case (when you discount the lady who dropped $20 in his case because she recognized him).

What was most notable about this little social experiment was how often children, being dragged through the station by their frazzled parents, wanted to stop and listen, and could often be seen, turning their heads toward the source of the music, digging in their heels to prevent the beautiful sounds from wafting away.

Kathy Stinson heard of this story and knew it was worth exploring in a picture book. So the setup for The Man with the Violin is in its very first lines:

Dylan was someone who noticed things.
 His mom was someone who didn't.

Dylan is a fictionalized boy, but he is based on truth given the number of children who wanted to stop and listen to the music that day in January 2007.

The writing and the illustrations in this book are all quite wonderful, but for me it's the story itself that is so remarkable. To think that one of the best musicians in the world was just passed by and disregarded by virtually every commuter in the L'Enfant Plaza metro station that day, and already being familiar with what spine-tingling music Bell was playing, I just can't fathom how he went practically unnoticed.

If I had been one of the D.C. commuters walking through the metro station on that January day back in 2007, I have absolutely no doubt I would have stopped to listen to the beautiful sounds of such a musical genius. No matter how much of a hurry I was in. But as I finished reading this book, I immediately released all of my emotions and began to cry because, even though I have no doubt I would have stopped to appreciate the brilliant music on that particular day or any day for that matter, I have to wonder what other life moments I am missing out on because I am too oblivious to notice. I know I am certainly guilty of commentating my way through life via the use of my smartphone that I very rarely just stop, put the phone down and allow myself to be present in the moment. It's stories like these that remind us all to stop and be present. Thank you Joshua Bell, Gene Wingarten, Kathy Stinson, and Dusan Petricic for helping to remind me.

Read the original Washington Post article that inspired The Man with the Violin:
Pearls Before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten

Watch an interview with the author and illustrator:

Listen to an NPR interview with Bell talking about that day in the subway station:
All Things Considered

Listen to the music Bell played that day in the subway station:

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Published: August 8, 2013
Publisher: Annick Press
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture Book
Audience: All Ages
Disclosure: Library Copy

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Audiobooks are expensive. Here are some ways to bypass that expense.

 Living 42 miles away from my job for seven years made me an expert in all things audiobooks: listening to them, acquiring them, and certainly what makes for a good audiobook. I've also come to appreciate audiobooks for more than just listening to in the car. They are a great way to fill the time during tasks that involve little thought but prevent you from picking up an actual book and reading it: cooking dinner, doing the dishes, folding laundry, wrapping presents, etc.

What I'd like to talk about today is how to acquire audiobooks without spending a lot of money (or, you know, any money) because, let's face it, audiobooks are expensive.


If you join Audible they will give you a free audiobook credit download and then every month after that is $14.95 for one audiobook download. This is actually a pretty good deal when you consider how much physical audiobooks cost ($20-80). In the interest of disclosure, I will say that Audible offered me 2 audiobook downloads for my trial and I really liked how simple the process was (purchase from your computer and the audiobook syncs to your mobile device in seconds). However, if I'm being completely honest I will say that Audible is not my first choice in acquiring audiobooks because free is always better than inexpensive. I actually cancelled my Audible subscription not long after I received my free credits, not because I didn't like their service, but because I have so many resources at my disposal to acquire audiobooks for free, that paying $14.95 a month seemed unnecessary to me. So here are some of my free recommendations:

2. Your library's physical audiobook collection

Now I realize that not everyone's library is as wonderful as mine. My town's library -- shout out to the Canton Public Library, yo -- is the busiest single-branch library in the state of Michigan and their circulation rate is very high. It is always busy and is a centerpiece to our community. I have said to my husband many times that I never want to move because I love the Canton library so much. Anyway, their audiobook collection is quite extensive and very often if they don't have a book you're looking for, you can request it and they will acquire it.

3.Your library's e-audiobook collection

Many libraries have assembled quite a a collection of e-books and e-audiobooks for download onto your mobile devices. And if your library is anything like mine, this collection is growing! If you haven't become familiar with Overdrive Media Console, this is basically the free version of Audible and allows you to download audiobooks but for a limited time, you know, just like you were checking out a physical book from the library.

4. Library reciprocal borrowing

My town's library has an agreement with a few libraries in the area that you can borrow books with your Canton library card. In fact, I frequent the Plymouth District Library on an almost weekly basis due to the fact that it's on my husband's way home from work and they have a different selection of audiobooks to choose from.

5. State-wide library borrowing

I don't know if or how this works in other states, but in Michigan we have an awesome system called Michigan E-Library where you can request books from any library in the state and they will send it to your home library - for free. Yes, it takes longer to get the books because you have to wait for them to be sent in the mail, but if you're not in a big rush to get a particular audiobook, this could be a great way to prevent yourself from having to purchase an Audible membership if you don't want to pay $14.95 a month. As much as I love Audible's quick and easy interface, I would personally rather put forth a little bit more effort to get them for free.

Edited to add:
One of my Facebook friends reminded me of another great free resource:

6. Audiobook Sync

During the summer, this website allows you to download 2 free audiobook titles per week to your Overdrive Media Console: one YA, one classic, and both books are paired together because they have similar themes. For example, one week the books were The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen and The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. You can even sign up for a text message alert that will remind you every week to go on the website and download the new titles.

I want to thank Audible for offering me 2 free audiobook downloads to try out their service. For people who live in areas where going to the library is inconvenient or their selection isn't the greatest, I  say without hesitation that highly recommend Audible's service. But for me, my library is conveniently located with many resources for acquiring free audiobooks at my fingertips and so I prefer to go that route over a $14.95 a month membership fee.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 10-7-13

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?

My reading week was so-so, but my lack of reading time was made up for when I learned of some exciting news on Twitter and Facebook this week, shared with the world by none other than Adam Rex. On Friday he shared the following:
Now if you know me at all, then you know that I am the annoying gadfly that makes everyone listen to the audiobook of The True Meaning of Smekday because it is not only one of the funniest books ever written, but it's also one of the best audiobooks ever produced. One of the reasons why Smekday is so funny is because there is a hilarious and endearing alien named J.Lo in the book who has a very unique cadence and manner of speaking. So the fact that J.Lo is going to be the voice of a character in a movie where an alien in the story is named J.Lo, well that's just pretty darn meta (and epic!) don't you think?

Last week I finished reading:

Burned by Ellen Hopkins
Oh I loved this one! I immediately started Smoke after. I'm planning a longer review but we'll see if that happens. I'm feeling uninspired to write reviews lately and I don't know why.

Some picture books I enjoyed last week:

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
I finished reading this book and immediately began to cry. In fact, my dog Frank got up and clearly was concerned for me, as evidenced by this photo. This is another book that is awaiting a longer review.

Here is an interview with the author and illustrator

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman
Yet another picture book text that can spark students' interest in little-known stories.

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat
Carnivores have feelings too! At first I wasn't diggin' this book, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized my reaction as I was reading was very similar to my initial feelings about I Want My Hat Back. In fact, I could see this text being paired with I Want My Hat Back to talk about whether we sugar-coat stories for kids or give it to them straight. Carnivores can't fight who they are. They eat other animals. It's what they do. 

And how can you not want to read this book when you see the book trailer?

Currently reading:

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

Currently (still) listening:

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
Yep. I'm still pluggin' along on this one.