Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Scribner's Mills, Maine- photo me
Beth Revis is giving away lots of cool stuff including signed copies of Across the Universe and A Million Suns. She is also donating to charity. Check it out! epic-giveaway-of-epic-is-back

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

To Do

Things I must do:
1. write reviews for some of the fabulous books I've read this fall, such as:

  • Notes from an Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne
  • The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
  • Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  • Instructions for a Broken Heart by Kim Culbertson
  • Level Up by Gene Luen Yang
  • Americus by MK Reed
  • The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
  • Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
  • Chalk by Bill Thomson
  • Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

2. set aside just 15 minutes a day to write
3. start blogging again
4. read some of the wonderful egalleys I've received from Net Galley and review them (17 so far, but I don't know if I'll review all of them)

Blowing off the Dust

I don't really have much time to pursue my delights this year. My blog sits neglected and the excellent books I want to read (including about 16 titles from Net Galley) pile up. But I desire so much to get back into the habit of writing, of blogging, of reading for fun. *nervously eyes the mountain of correcting and lesson plans looming over head, threatening to topple at the slightest breeze* So I make a valiant attempt to reclaim some creativity in my life.

Behold, a slice of literary life:

This morning one of my freshmen girls came in and told me she had stayed up until midnight the night before reading Erin Dionne's Notes from and Accidental Bank Geek. She loved the book so much that she became totally lost in it, and it wasn't until she finished that she realized it was midnight and her entire family had gone to bed!

One of my freshman boys came to me this morning and passed me a copy of Dante's Inferno (duel translation). "Can I read this for my next independent reading book?"
"I'm going to read it in English and in Latin." (I think he meant Italian)
"Good luck with that."
Later in the day he explained to me why he chose Dante's Inferno, "My mother told me I couldn't make any more references to the 7th level of hell until I'd read Inferno. It might take me a little while, but I'm going to do it."

Despite the fact that BH (hope Laurie Halse Anderson doesn't mind me using the designation Beloved Husband for my hubby, it's such a great nick name!) is now working 10 hour days that require him to be at work at 6 am (yes, I'm still getting used to that one), for the second night in a row he was stayed awake past 9 pm reading Habibi, Craig Thompson's new graphic novel. He says it's amazing. I hope I get to read it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jumping Off Swings in paperback!

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles is coming out in paper back! To celebrate she is giving away a signed copy. Read her blog post for more information:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Everyone should read this book. It truly is an amazing story. It is one that is a must have for my classroom library.

My dad died of cancer two weeks ago, and during the last week of his life, we all were telling him it was okay for him to let go. I completely identified with Conor and his struggle with himself over not wanting his mum to die, but also wanting the pain to be over. This book helped me as I am in the process of grieving my father's death. I know that there are many young adults out there who will be helped by reading this story.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Five

1. At 5:45 this morning my dad passed away. My brother was at his side, whispering in his ear praise for the amazing husband, father, teacher, and friend that he has been. I can't help but believe that at the same time he was hearing my brother's praise for his life on Earth, he was hearing God welcome him into heaven. I am grieving, yet I know that he is no longer suffering and I will see him again one day. I went to school today. I know that he would have wanted me to do that. I felt that was a way that I could honor his memory.

2. I've not been writing or blogging much lately. Life has been so crazy with Dad's illness and school. I need to write. It will help me process everything. I need to carve out the time.

3. This morning after I told my freshman homeroom about my dad, one of my boys came up to me and said, "You need a hug." then gave me a gentle hug. It was very sweet. The two Korean exchange students each came up to me a grasped my hands for a moment. Another girl came and gave me a hug. These kids have known me for two weeks. I was very touched my their compassion. They are great kids.

4. I still feel the tug of war of the demands of school (correcting and planning) and the need to be with my family. I know that everyone understands if I'm with my family, but I'm falling farther behind in my school work and that is frustrating to me.

5. I have an amazing husband. He has been doing the house work, shopping, and cooking; he just build a bench for us to use as a coffee table until he designs and builds a real coffee table, and he has been so gentle and compassionate as I deal with the death of my dad. He h
asn't found a job yet, but he's still looking, and this morning he received a commission to build two pieces for my principal and his wife.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. Rebecca Skloot did a wonderful job of bringing the Lacks family to life and explaining the science. She clearly presents the moral issues and gives you a lot to think about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Just a little up date and slice of my current life

I haven't been doing a whole lot of blogging lately. It's been a very busy summer. In July we made numerous trips between Maine and Massachusetts. We worked on our new rental, cleaned and moved out of our old. I've been meeting with parents and teachers and trying to recreate an entire high school program (still much to do on that). In August we officially moved to Maine. I've been trying to take care of all those things that must be done when one changes states. I've been meeting with parents and teachers and trying to recreate an entire high school program and be ready to teach in a new school starting September 6. We've made two trips to our family cottage in central Maine, a trip back to MA for a wedding, and now here we are two weeks before the start of school. I've still not been able to get into my classroom (actually, I'm not sure which room is going to be mine), I don't have my curriculum guides for World Literature or World History, my 79 year old aunt is in the hospital awaiting open-heart surgery, my dad was just diagnosed with cancer (they found it in his chest on the CT scan yesterday), and this morning my brother called to tell me that Mom was calling the paramedics to take Dad to the hospital because he wasn't doing well (physically or emotionally) and there was blood in his urine. My husband is unemployed and we have no insurance. When I took this job (which I still believe was the right thing to do), I took a pay cut and my husband quit his job because we would be moving out of state. The leech field at our house has failed and we are still waiting for it to be replaced; it was supposed to be done last week. In the meantime, we are continually checking to make sure the septic hasn't backed up into the basement, conserving use of the plumbing, and having to go to the laundry mat instead of using the washer that is here.

Now all that sounds pretty bad, but I'm actually doing pretty well so far. I'm not freaking out or getting bowled over by the stress. It's not because I'm such a calm, put together person. It's because of my faith in God and my trust in his care and provision. It's a rather eerie feeling to see all that is going on in my life, and just feel so calm and at peace. But it's a whole lot better than feeling stressed out and overwhelmed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

You Don't Know Me by David Klass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up until midnight to finish this book and when I turned the last page, all I could say was "wow". It took me a little bit to get into the book and to adjust to the narrative style, but once I did, I loved John's narrative voice. He was very funny! It's a very unique voice and a very compelling story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Slice of Life

The only misadventures of this move so far was when beloved husband got on I-495 South, instead of I-495 North. I teased him that I thought he'd decided to head to Cape Cod rather than Maine. Oh, and then there was this morning when we went to return the rental truck (2 days late) and the owner and secretary were not in, but the owner's wife who knew nothing about checking in rentals was manning the shop. We figured out what we thought we owed, paid in cash, and got a handwritten receipt with a promise that if we didn't hear from them, everything was fine.

You can't make a major move like this without some story to tell!

On the more delightful side, I'm at my library (that is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays) and the collection is pretty good for a little library and it is a really nice, interesting space to work.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Five

1. Tonight is our last night in our old home. Tomorrow we finish loading up rental truck #2, finish cleaning, hand over the keys, and drive to Maine. I'm going to miss living here, but I'm excited about our new home.

2. When I went to the library to return my books this morning, I nearly cried. I love our library. It's a great library.

3. Wednesday I attended my first staff meeting at my new school. Exciting things are happening at the school and I really like my new co-workers. This is going to be fun!

4. We've begun to make our new house home. We were able to start figuring out where we're going to put things. It's fun!

5. School starts in 5 weeks. Yikes! I've got a lot to do between now and then!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Five

1. I'm actually home on Friday this time. For two Fridays out of this month we were away.

2. We picked up the U-Haul truck this afternoon. We were going to get it tomorrow morning, but the guy called this morning and said he'd be getting the truck in today and we could pick it up this afternoon. So we get 3 days out of it. I don't know about other people, but so far our experience with U-Haul has be fabulous. Hubby started loading the truck today while I continued to work on packing.
3. We've got stuff. You never realize just how much stuff you have until you move. I want very much to weed out and down-size, but every time I try I have trouble letting go. I'm doing pretty well, though. I've thrown out a lot of stuff (papers, etc) that I've been holding on to for years and really have no need for.
4. It's hot! It was over 100 and all kinds of records have been broken. The humidity is going down, which is good, and it looks like it won't be too unbearable for the move this weekend.
5. My husband is wonderful. He's been working hard, packing, lugging boxes, and encouraging me. I love him so much!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Slice of Life take 2 or Progress on the New House

This is the post that I intended to write yesterday for my Slice of Life.

In the last few weeks we have been working not only to pack, but also to get our new house ready to move into. It is an older house and has been vacant for a while. It needed some work.
The biggest thing that we needed to do was rip out the wall-to-wall carpeting. It was old and nasty and needed to go.


Underneath was nicely painted wood floors. There are lots of nail holes from
the w2w, but some of that we can cover with area rugs and the rest we'll ignore! We like the color of the floors, especially the cranberry in the front of the house. The pink walls
have to go, but we can do that later. Our landlord is going to take care of the kitchen linoleum (he called yesterday to say he found painted wood floor under two layers of linoleum and plywood and did we want to just keep that- yes!), the new septic, and repairing the leaking pipe in the kitchen.


The U-Haul has been reserved, and by the beginning of next week we will be in our new home, getting settled and familiar with our new community.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Sad Farewell

This morning we ran a few errands before diving into the day's packing. We needed more boxes, big surprise there, I needed to pick up my prescription at the pharmacy, and we had books to return to the library. As we left the library with no new books, it really hit me that we were moving next week. I love our library and our pharmacy. The library has a fabulous collection and is constantly adding great new books. The building is old and has lots of character. The librarians are all wonderful people. Likewise, the pharmacy is very cool. It is an independent, natural pharmacy. You can get your prescriptions filled, pick up beer or wine, and get plants for your garden.

Next week we rent the U-Haul, pack up all our stuff, and travel to Maine. We love our new neighborhood, and are excited about what lies ahead, but there are just those certain things that will really be missed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Good Reads:
Julia just graduated as her high school valedictorian, has a full ride to college in the fall and a coveted summer internship clerking for a federal judge. But when her older sister, Sophie, shows up at the graduation determined to reveal some long buried secrets, Julia's carefully constructed plans come to a halt. Instead of the summer she had painstakingly laid out, Julia follows Sophie back to Vermont, where Sophie is opening a bakery—and struggling with some secrets of her own. What follows is a summer of revelations—some heartwarming, some heartbreaking, and all slowly pointing Julia toward a new understanding of both herself and of the sister she never really knew.

Cecilia Galante never fails to deliver a compelling, profound story of human flaws and the redemption available for those who choose to face hard things. I very much enjoyed Galante's previous books and was delighted when I heard she had a new one out. It did take me a while to get into the story and really get a feeling for Julia, but before too long, I was pushing forward with as much urgency as Julia, wanting to know the truth of Julia's family. This is a wonderful story of learning to face hard things and discovering yourself.

Words You Don't Want to Hear

"Honey? Where is the Benadryl?"

These are words you don't want to hear from your bee-sting allergic husband when his health insurance ended with his job last month and you are trying to get through the next couple of months- including a move two states away- on your little Christian school salary.

I'm thankful to report that the allergic reaction was controlled with a regiment of Benadryl and lots of prayer. No EpiPen or trip to the hospital required. But he needs to stop this annual event (yes, this was the third in nearly three years) of getting stung by a bee.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the jacket flap:
In 1941, Fifteen-Year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.

Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive.

It is a long and harrowing journey, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?

My response upon finishing this book? Wow. Ruta Sepetys beautifully captures a horrific, yet little know piece of history. This is a book that joins other powerful narratives such as Zusak's The Book Theif as must reads. The narrative flowed smoothly. She used flashback effectively to fill in blanks and to reveal the story line and the characters. I also enjoyed how some characters where introduced in great detail, while others who where with Lina the entire story as well as playing a vital role where known only as "the bald man", "the man who wound his watch", or "the grouchy woman". The story is not an easy story, but it is an important one.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Five

1. We celebrated Independence day by having a nice quiet day at home. Okay, sort of quiet. We life across the street from what we call a party lake. There are numerous boats and jet skis as well as no less than three different locations that hold their own fire works. They don't wait for just the 4th either. We've been watching fireworks from our living room windows for several nights. Monday night we had a bon fire in our back yard and watched the fireworks through the trees.

2. Wednesday we drove up to Maine to do some work on the new house. Boy, does it need a lot of work! The nice thing is that the owner is letting us do pretty much what we want. There are some things he is taking care of (new septic system, plumbing repair in the kitchen, new kitchen flooring, new roof on the shop) and others he is leaving up to us. We decided the wall-to-wall carpeting needed to go. He okayed it, and we went to work. It's going to take a bit to get it all up, but it's going to be worth it in the end.

3. We're starting the serious business of sorting and packing. We both want to exercise some "tough love" and weed out things that we just don't need. We're off to a pretty good start, hubby took a truck load to the town dump today. Some stuff was thrown away while other things ended up in the swap shop. You know that saying, one man's junk is another man's treasure? Well, sometimes one man's junk is just plain junk! I'm going to have to lock my inner-frugal-New-Englander in the closet and not fall prey to the ole "I might need that some day".

4. We really did enjoy getting to spend our first night in our new home- even if we were sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor. The location is beautiful and the house gets lovely sun all day. We have a beautiful viewing of the sunrise, and while we don't have a clear view to the west, will still be able to see the sunset. There were a few moments of "oh no" panic, but overall we both left with a sense of encouragement that we can get the place fixed up and be quite happy there. It is after all a temporary situation.

5. Thursday late morning our landlord brought his family up to meet us. Such a sweet family and really cute kids! They really are delightful people and we are going to enjoy renting from them and being their neighbors. Before we left, we took a load of the ripped out carpet down to the dumpster the owner had outback of his workshop. We than visited with him for a few minutes (he was working to rebuild a window for a house he is working on) and got a tour of his workshop, portable sawmill, and sugar house. It made my heart swell to see this honest, hardworking man proudly show us the work of his hands. They are his hobbies and his lively hood. I really hope that in a very short time we can have our place and hubby can have the shop of his dreams and be able to be living such a fulfilling life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Today I stopped into my favorite local office supply box store to pick up a couple of things. Walking in, I was greeted by displays of colorful binders, notebooks, pens, pencils, and a variety of colorful things to organize your life. I was in heaven! It did not occur to me until much later that it was July 5th and the Back-To-School displays were already set up.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the book cover:
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb--males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape--to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant she trusts, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

A little while ago I saw a vlog done by the Lauren DeStefano about the effects of Good Reads on authors and really enjoyed her sense of humor. That caught my interest, so I sought out Wither. I was delighted to discover that my library had the audio version done by Recorded Books (excellently narrated by Angela Lin). This meant that I could listen to the book while I worked on other things. It was well worth it. The world is well constructed; you learn enough to be intrigued, but are left with questions about the society. The story is character driven, and those characters are well developed. Rhine is very compelling. She is a heroine that you genuinely want to see succeed. While some of the characters may seem like stock characters initially, DeStefano has created them with enough depth that they are believable and you find yourself somewhat sympathetic of even the evil House Master Vaughn. I look forward to the second book in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, and the next phase of Rhine's adventure.

Treasures: To Read Pile

Here are just some of the books that we got at the library yesterday:

Graphic Novels
Bayou by Jeremy Love
Amulet # 1 by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet # 2 by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet # 3 by Kazu Kibuishi
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and Joann Sfar
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen

Books for high school summer reading
A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson

Young Adult novels that I've been wanting to read:
Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
The Absolute Value of Mike by Katheryn Erskin
The Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Publishers Weekly
In a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly winning style, Christian documents his experience in the 2009 Turing Test, a competition in which judges engage in five-minute instant-message conversations with unidentified partners, and must then decide whether each interlocutor was a human or a machine. The program receiving the most "human" votes is dubbed the "most human computer," while the person receiving the most votes earns the title of "most human human." Poet and science writer Christian sets out to win the latter title and through his quest, investigates the nature of human interactions, the meaning of language, and the essence of what sets us apart from machines that can process information far faster than we can. Ranging from philosophy through the construction of pickup lines to poetry, Christian examines what it means to be human and how we interact with one another, and with computers as equals—via automated telephone menus and within the medical establishment, for example. This fabulous book demonstrates that we are capable of experiencing and sharing far deeper thoughts than even the best computers—and that too often we fail to achieve the highest level of humanness.

This is a challenging, thought provoking book. I enjoyed the discussions of chess, computers, language, and communication.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Good Reads: Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard--falling from it is even harder. Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High... until vicious rumors about her and her best friend's boyfriend start going around. Now Regina's been "frozen out" and her ex-best friends are out for revenge. If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day. She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully. Friendship doesn't come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend... if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don't break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

This was a frightening adventure into the world of mean girls. It's disturbing to read about just how horrendous young people can be to each other, and disheartening to realize that this is a reality for too many young people. There was quite a bit of swearing in the story. I realize that not everyone in the world shares my view that vulgar language is unnecessary, and that the dialogue and use of profanity is an accurate representation of "typical" teenagers. That being said, this was a one day read for me. I couldn't put it down. The story was very compelling, and I was eager to see how things were going to play out for Regina. I also look forward to reading Cracked Up to Be. Courtney Summer is a talented writer.

Dirty Little Secrets by CJ Omololu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Good Reads: Everyone has a secret. But Lucy's is bigger and dirtier than most. It's one she's been hiding for years—that her mom's out-of-control hoarding has turned their lives into a world of garbage and shame. Tackling an increasingly discussed topic that is both fascinating and disturbing, C. J. Omololu weaves an hour-by-hour account of Lucy's desperate attempt to save her family. Readers join Lucy on a path from which there is no return, and the impact of hoarding on one teen's life will have them completely hooked.

Wow. This is an incredibly compelling story. From the very first page, I was drawn in by the main character, Lucy. Although I knew the basic story line, I was intrigued by the "mystery" set up of the opening pages. Lucy struggles to keep her mother together, live a normal life, and keep the family secret, yet things come tumbling down- quite literally. This kept me up late into the night, reading how Lucy was going to resolve her dilemma without revealing her secret and destroying any chance at having a "normal" life.

Sense & Sensibility the Graphic Novel by Nancy Butler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know that Sense & Sensibility is one of the greats, and I probably should have read it, but having read the graphic novel version, I'm not sure that I'd be able to get through the real thing. Not because Jane Austen is a bad writer, I know she is quite good, but because I really don't like romance stories, and social manipulation and unrequited love, etc, really irks me. I really find those kinds of story lines to be quite irritating.

On the positive note, I enjoyed the cartooning. It was very good, and Nancy Butler did a nice job adapting the story. I look forward to reading more by both the author and illustrator.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Treasure Hunting

Combing the stacks, like hunting for buried treasure. We leave with our arms loaded. These riches ours to enjoy for at least 21 days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five

1.It's Friday. It is also my husband's last day of work. He surprised me by coming home around 2:30. Usually he doesn't get home until much later on Fridays because he has to clean for the weekend. But the guy who he had to hand his keys over to wasn't staying late, so he got to leave much earlier. He's so relieved to be done with this job. Now we'll see how he does being unemployed! He is looking for a job, but we're not moving until the end of July, so he's not too antsy about not having another job lined up...yet.

2. I got a new iPhone today. I love it, it's so much fun!

3. I still need to write letters to my students. I've been putting that off. I guess now that hubby is home during the day I need to be a bit more productive myself!

4. I've been trying to get caught up on my reading this week and have read several of the books from the library.
5. It may have been a mistake, but I downloaded Angry Birds to my iPhone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a graphic novel that you read quickly. Each story (there are three) needs to be savored and each page carefully examined. The stories and art work are equally amazing. After reading through the stories, then reading the author notes, I had to go back and reread because I felt I had missed so much the first time through. This is a book worth reading multiple times.

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the jacket flap:
In 1937 Kansas, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father's failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. A case of the new "dust dementia" would certainly explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the abandoned Talbot barn-- a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it's hard to trust what you see with your own eyes--and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes.

Matt Phelan's drawings are wonderful- I drank them in page after page. He artfully tells a story of a time in our history where many were despairing, yet there were pockets of hope. I especially appreciate Phelan's choice to show this time period through the eyes of a child. This is definitely a book I hope to add to my classroom library and utilize when teaching American history.

My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the jacket flap:
Have you ever had trouble figuring out a tip at a restaurant? Or following directions to a new place? For Samantha Abeel, who has a math-related learning disability called dyscalculia, each of these seemingly simple acts can feel next to impossible.
In her beautiful and haunting memoir, Samantha Abeel describes in evocative detail how her life was affected by her learning disability before and after she was diagnosed. In seventh grade she struggled wit the pressures of junior high, from balancing schoolwork, to remembering locker combinations, to explaining her difficulties with math to new teachers who couldn't understand why a "good" student like Samantha wasn't excelling. Though signs of a learning disability were there all her life, she was not diagnosed until she was thirteen years old. My Thirteenth Winter, Samantha Abeel's honest, hopeful autobiography, is an inspiring story of courage and strength.

Samantha truly has a gift with words and her narrative of memories interspersed with reflection draws you in and carries you along. I was moved to tears for her struggles and the compassion that she felt for others, as well as for the countless students who move through our classroom who struggle and no one ever knows.

This is a book that should be read by parents, teachers, and teens. Samantha recognizes how fortunate she was to have parents who where able to push through the system and get her the help she needed. She had break-throughs and relapses. The story is truly one of hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


This morning when I opened my email I found this in my inbox:
Subject: Hi from M and B

Dear Mrs. S,
We miss you and love you! How is summer? Have you read any good books that you want to recommend? M and I are looking for more to read! How is Mr. S doing? Did he find a job in Maine yet? We hope you two are both well.
Love you again!
M and B

P.S. Y says "HI!!!!!!!" too!

It was an email from some of my 8th graders. I wasn't at all surprised
because I have a very good relationship with this class. I was really
touched that they were asking about my husband, and that they are
still looking to me for recommendations of book. For two years
I read aloud to this class and we built a genuine community around
our reading. We traveled after school to meet Laurie Halse Anderson.
We Skyped with Kate Messner twice, we had a special visit from
Cindy Lord when she was in the area for NESCBWI, we swapped
books and even had a pool party the day after school ended so that
I could finish reading Matched to them. Several of these students,
including "B", author of the email, became readers.

I know that I have impacted them, but they have also impacted me.
I sure am going to miss them!

First Day of

Today is the first day of Summer and that got me thinking about first days. We celebrate so many first days- first day of kindergarten, first day of school, first day of life, of marriage, etc.

When I was little I had a Holly Hobbie lunch box (not the cheep plastic ones of later generations, but a good ole' tin one with the images embossed and the matching thermos with the wire to hold it in place), and I put a little puffy, googly-eye sticker carefully in the corner of the lid. I don't remember when I put that sticker there, but I'm pretty sure it was early on in my ownership of the lunch box. It had a little chick, just hatched, and said, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life".

I really feel like I am at the first day of the rest of my life right now. Last week I finished my 5th and last year at this school. This week my husband finishes at his current job and will be unemployed (yikes!). At the end of July, we move to Maine.
Next year I'll be teaching high school at a Christian school in Maine; not only will I be teaching English and History for the freshmen & sophomores, I will be head of the high school, working to rebuild it, and advising the rest of the school on things like curriculum and how to promote the school. I'm excited about this new chapter. I've got volumes of work ahead of me. There are still unknowns (like hubby's job, and insurance), and I will miss the family and friends we have here.

But here on this first day of Summer, I've got that "first day of" excitement and nervousness. That hope of possibility as I look ahead to what might be.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Five

1. I don't remember the last time I did a Friday Five (or a Tuesday Slice of Life). My blogging efforts have been an epic fail this spring. I've got to rectify that.

2. Today I finished cleaning and packing my classroom. I've still got some boxes to bring home, I'll get those next week. I haven't turned my keys into the office yet, either. Just little pieces of denial. I'm really going to miss this place and these people.

3. We found a house in Maine that is a nice little place, has workshop space for Hubby, and is very affordable. It's in a lovely little neighborhood on a dead end street, on the side of a mountain, at the edge of a field. We're going to like living there.

4. Last night around 7:30 a bear came and ate all the seed out of the bird feeders. He bent the pole over and sat there licking the seed out of the feed. We're just glad that he leaves the feeders when he's done!

5. In one more week Hubby finishes his job, and then we move at the end of July. It'll be nice having him around to help with the packing and all, but I wonder if we'll drive each other crazy being home all the time? It'll be good practice for when we're both old and retired!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

Sean Griswold's HeadSean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I stayed up all night to read it in one sitting. I loved the main character's voice. It was so real and had such a likable quality to it. This is definitely a book that I look forward to purchasing for my classroom.

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Matched by Ally Condie

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the last read aloud with my 8th grade class this year. We snagged every bit of available reading time- even the 10 minutes before graduation started! On the last day of school I was trying to finish it, reading through part of dismissal, but we just couldn't make it. One of the girls asked her mom if she could have the entire class (all 7 of them) over for a pool party the next day so that I could finish the book. Her mom agreed, so this afternoon, I left my end of the year teacher meeting and drove over to Haley's house. After swimming with them for a while, hanging out, and eating homemade pizza, the girls drapped themselves over Haley's bed while I sat on the couch and finished the book.

We really enjoyed this story. It is one of those books that at first seems so simple, yet as you near the climax, just enough layers are peeled away so that you begin to get a glimpse of how complex the society really is and you want to know more. There are so many aspects of this story that I appreciated. There is much depth and complexity to the culture. I really look forward to Crossed being released in the fall. Anyone who is a fan of Lauren Oliver's Delirium or Lois Lowery's The Giver, will enjoy this book.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Between a Rock and a Hard PlaceBetween a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an intense story. I admit that I skimmed some of the passages where he described breaking his own arm and then amputating his hand. I'm just too squeamish. I was captivated by Aron's descriptions of his adventures in the mountains and his ordeal being trapped in the slot canyon.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)Where She Went by Gayle Forman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I Stay was incredible. This sequel was equally incredible. I actually listed to the audio of this book, which made it even more compelling because it was read by Dan Bittner. It's been three years since the events of If I Stay and we now get to hear things from Adam's point of view.

Gayle Forman weaves an incredible story.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

ScarsScars by Cheryl Rainfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a difficult book to read, yet I finished it basically in one day. Cheryl tackles some pretty tough topics in a sensitive, well written way. The characters felt very real and Kendra's voice seemed very true. This is not a book that I would have sitting on my classroom library shelf, but it is a book that I would feel comfortable recommending to the right student. It is also a book that people who work with teens should read.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

Cryer's CrossCryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reading this book reminded me of my X-Files days. It also made me realize that my interests/tastes have shifted over the past few years. I still enjoyed the story and the characters, but it didn't hit me like it might have several years ago.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Middleworld (Jaguar Stones book 1) by J & K Voelkel

Middleworld (Jaguar Stones, #1)Middleworld by Jon Voelkel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was the latest read aloud with my 7th graders. I picked it on the recommendation of several 8th graders who read it and enjoyed the action and adventure. There certainly is a lot of action and adventure, as well as demon possession, attempted human sacrifice, and explanation of Ancient Mayan culture. My students enjoyed it, especially as the story neared it's climax. I even over heard several of them speculating on what was going to happen during their after-school math help.

The main characters are likable and believable, although, I did find the changing attitude of Max's Uncle Ted a little unbelievable. The first story wraps up neatly enough for those who like a tidy conclusion, but it open enough to leave room for the next book. I was glad that I already had the second book, because after finishing reading Middleworld to the class, one of my students was asking for the second one before I could reach the book shelf.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is actually a book my husband recommended to me. Usually I'm the one that recommends YA books to him! He had read about the book as had I and we both had heard good things about it. He read it rather quickly (an indication of a good story) and passed it one to me. I, too, enjoyed this story. The dystopian world is rather believable considering the news in these days of record storms and rising gas prices. The characters are also artfully created. Their development is believable and well paced.

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Marty McGuire by Kate Messner

Marty McGuire (Marty McGuire #1)Marty McGuire by Kate Messner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I bought it for our third grade teacher & her class, but had to read it first because Kate is one of my favorite middle grade authors. The third graders are going to love this story. Marty is a live wire! There is so much in the story for every student to relate to, from disappointment over changing friendships to trying to concentrate on math sheets the day of the play... Kate has once again done a beautiful job capturing the voice and emotions of young people.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Godless by Pete Hautman

GodlessGodless by Pete Hautman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another authentic teen narrator. This was a very thought provoking story- challenging the religion and faith.

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Trapped by Michael Northrop

TrappedTrapped by Michael Northrop

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a rather intense read. I'm glad that I read it this spring and not back in February when it first came out and we were still getting big snow storms/nor'easters! The setting was realistic enough and the voice of Scotty, the narrator was very authentic.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Freefall by Mindi Scott

FreefallFreefall by Mindi Scott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a little bit to actually get into this book, but once I did, I ripped through it. While I wasn't crazy about the swearing, the drinking, partying, and teen-sex, I did really like the characters of Seth and Rosetta. The character development was excellent, and I really wanted to see Seth pull himself out from under the bad choices he and his friends were making. It was clear that he was maturing much faster than his friends and it was sad that his friends seemed to be trapped in their harmful ways and continued to be heading for an early demise.

There were so many things about the character of Seth that reminded me of Ponyboy in The Outsiders. I frequently found myself connecting the two stories. I enjoyed this book, and hope to see more from Mindi Scott in the future. I can't say that it is one that I will be purchasing for my classroom library, but I am glad that this book is out there available for teens. It in no way glorifies drinking, drugs, and partying; in fact, it clearly shows the consequences of such choices and how complicated life can become. If even one teen is inspired to make healthier choices regarding their behavior and their relationships after reading this book, it has more than earned it's place in YA fiction.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Me & Jack by Danette Haworth

Me & JackMe & Jack by Danette Haworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this one on the bus during our middle school trip to Washington, DC last week and immediately handed it off to one of my 7th graders on the trip. Me and Jack is a wonderful story. It has humor, adventure, bullies, history, a lovable rare dog, true friendship... so much packed artfully into this middle grade novel. (Slight spoiler alert!) I have to admit, I was a bit nervous that it was going to be another one of those books where you're rooting for the dog and it dies. I was so relieved that Jack doesn't die. I think that is one of the biggest complaints of my dog lovers- books too frequently end with the death of the dog that you've come to love. This is a book that I will be recommending to many students.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of the author.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Break

Since completing the Slice of Life Challenge in March, I've been taking a little break. Mostly because I had report cards due last week and all my time was going into that. I'm extending that break for the next week as tomorrow morning I am boarding a coach bus with about 33 middle schoolers and 21 parents and teachers for a school trip to Washington, DC. I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories to share upon my return- of course, I have my writer's notebook with me so that I can record things along the way.

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Instructions by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Charles Vess

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love all the allusions to fairy tales in this poem. I first heard this read by Mr. Gaiman. I'm not sure which way I prefer it: listening to him read it and creating my own images, or reading through it and looking at Charles Vess's illustrations. This will certainly be a good example to use when teaching allusion if the kids know their fairy tales.

The Cruisers by Walter Dean Myers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Walter Dean Myers is an amazing author. I was intrigued by the cover and by the premise of this story. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I had a hard time really getting into the story and it felt shallow. The topics that were being delt with were not shallow (racism and broken families). As the main character observes, these are complex issues, but I felt that Mr. Myers didn't go as deep into it as he could of, or as middle school readers can and want to. I'm constantly impressed by my students' ability to handle and wrestle with complex issues.

Another aspect that made it hard for me to connect with this story was the culture. It is set in Harlem and the main character is a black, 8th grade boy. I am a white woman from Maine. I understand some of the culture and dialect of this culture because I read. But I am aware that I don't really get it.

The story is well crafted, and Mr. Myers is an extremely talented author. But this book just wasn't for me.

Zebrafish by Peter H. Reynolds & Fablevision

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been trying to read more graphic novels and make them available to my students. I had passed by this one, but recently read a glowing review of it. I don't remember which blog, but one of the teacher blogs I follow mentioned how much their students loved Zebrafish. I got it from the library yesterday afternoon and had it finished by dinner. I love it. The art work is fabulous, the story is fun, funny, and heart warming. It is definitely one that middle school and high school students can enjoy and appreciate. Zebrafish needs to be added to my classroom library.

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has gone to the top of my list of books that I will refer to again and again. While the focus is on high school writing, there is so much that I have already drawn on fore my middle school classes and I look forward to more fully implementing the things that I've learned next year in my high school classes. The book comes with a DVD that I have yet to dive into, but plan to soon. I read this book with pen in hand and writer's notebook within reach. Of the many things that I am taking away from this book are a renewed passion for teaching writing to adolescents, a better understanding to giving feedback as opposed to correcting errors, and an underscoring of the importance of writing for myself.

Thank you Penny!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reflection on Slice of Life Story Challenge

I felt a great deal of accomplishment yesterday as I posted my 31 SOLS. It was a good experience that made me reflect on the experience my students go though. Some days I was eager to write, I felt I had a story to tell. Some days it felt like something I had to do (even though it was an assignment I gave myself). There were days that I was casting about looking for anything to write about and days that I felt I didn't have anything to say or that I'd be able to say it as well as other people were. There were days I just had to put my thoughts out there and not worry about it.

But most importantly, I wrote.