Sunday, July 24, 2011

Peace from Broken Pieces

     Peace from Broken Pieces is Iyanla Vanzant's journey through the darkest days of her life.  Her daughter Gemmia was her best friend through all of the dark days.
     As the middle child Gemmia tried to be the perfect daughter.  She got good grades, never got in trouble and helped raise her brother and sister.
     As an adult, Gemmia continued to play her role by helping run her mother's business and becoming her best friend.  No matter how hard Gemmia tried to be perfect, her mother didn't really notice her.  After stuffing her anger for years and trying to be perfect, Gemmia died from cancer.
     Iyanla is devastated at the loss of her daughter.  After reading Gemmia's journals from the past ten years, Iyanla tries to come to terms with her role in her daughter's illness and in the lessons she passed on to her about love.  Iyanla realizes that she has unconsciously passed on the dysfunctional family dynamics that she had vowed to change for her children.  After realizing the part she played in Gemmia's death, she begins to start over and change the dynamics for her grandchildren.
     I liked this book, although it wasn't what I was expecting.  I thought it would start with her story and then move into a self-help book to help others through their broken pieces.  She did give bits and pieces of advice, but most of the book was her story.  Although I had just finished a book about the early parts of her life, I still enjoyed learning more about her current life.  I recommend this book if you like Iyanla or biographies.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bull Run

     In honor of the anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run yesterday, I read Bull Run by Paul Fleischman.
     This book can be read as a novel or as a reader's theater.  Each chapter is told by a new character with a different perspective on the battle and the war.   Each character has four or so chapters throughout the book.  The chapters are just over a page long, so it is a quick read for kids.
     Teachers could divide students into groups and give each group a character.  After reading the chapters written by that character, they could do a hot seat activity to share their findings with the rest of the class.
     I enjoyed this book.  I am definitely glad I am not living through the Civil War.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


     Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson is an amazing book.  It is one of those books that teaches you about life, but doesn't knock you over the head with the lessons. 
     Frannie is in sixth grade when a new boy moves in.  Frannie knows what it is like to be the new kid, but it is even worse when you are the only white student in the school and happen to look like Jesus.  The other students immediately pick on him and start calling him Jesus Boy.  Frannie is fascinated and repelled by Jesus Boy.  When he signs to her, she thinks he is trying to embarrass her in front of the other kids.  They don't know Frannie has a brother who is deaf or that her mother has lost two babies and is pregnant again.  Since death has been a part of her family's life since before she was born, Frannie worries incessantly about her brother and her mother.  She searches for meaning in everything and everyone around her.  After reading an Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope" in school, she begins looking for ways hope is like feathers.
     The novel taught me about the importance of hope, to stop worrying about what life might bring and enjoy the moment I have, the pain of judgement and prejudice, and what it means to be a "good" person.  The author did a great job of incorporating the lessons into the story for Frannie to learn.  
     Feathers won a Newberry Honor.  It is a quick read at 118 pages, so it's perfect for a summer afternoon in a hammock or at the beach.  It is a lower reading level so kids can read it, but I don't think they would appreciate the subtleties of the characters or situations.  However, it is a great book for mature readers, adults, or as a classroom novel with the teacher explaining the themes and symbolism in the book. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yesterday, I Cried

     I love Iyanla Vanzant, but I did not like this book.  It is basically an autobiography, and Iyanla has a very depressing life.  Not only is it a depressing read, it is also boring.  She is honest with her story, but she tells it in a clinical way.  It is strange to read about some horrific events and feel no emotions from Iyanla.  If you don't already love her, I don't think you will enjoy this book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Nanny Diaries

     It took me a while to get into The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, but once I did, I couldn't put it down.  The authors were both nannies for over thirty families.  They use their experience to write a fictionalized account of being a nanny in New York.
     I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know how the two compare, but I enjoyed the book.  The characters were very believable and I fell in love with four-year-old Grayer (AKA Grover.)  Some people might feel parents couldn't be that self-absorbed and selfish, but I have seen the same things as a teacher.  It is heartbreaking to see the results of families that have no time for their children - intentionally or not.
     My favorite parts of the book were Nanny and Grover.  Grover made me laugh out loud several times.  He also made me cry several times as he tried to deal with his family.  I related to nanny.  She kept finding herself in difficult situations with her employees, but was unable to stand up for herself until the end of the book.  Everyone in her life kept telling her to do so, but she would think of how it would impact her relationship with Grover and decide to let things slide.  When the book ended, I cheered for Nanny and cried for Grover.  Although Nanny spends the last minutes trying to convince the family to change, I don't think they will.
     A note if you want to read this book - there is a lot of swearing and some sexual innuendos because the dad is having an affair with a woman he works with.  It isn't explicit, but it may be offensive to some readers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Lightning Thief

     Nick and I just finished reading The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  We both loved it.  If you saw the movie, don't let that stop you from reading the book.  The book is totally different than the movie.  I had read the book before, but Nick had only seen the movie.  He had a great time pointing out the differences as we read.
     Rick Riordan used to tell his son stories about a boy with dyslexia and ADHD because his son had those disabilities.  He turned the two disabilities into advantages for a half-blood hero.  It's one of the things I love about this book.
     The story is very different from other books that are out now.  Although there are lots of double-crossing going on, they are believable and unpredictable.  The characters are well-developed and engaging.  There are Greek monsters and suspenseful scenes, but they weren't too scary for Nick to read before bedtime.
     This book had a bit of everything: suspense, humor, friendship, monsters, and heroes.  The book's messages were positive, but didn't hit you over the head.
     It is one of my favorite books and I loved reading it with my favorite guy each night.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Clock Watchers

     I just read an awesome book for teachers called Clock Watchers by Stevi Quate and John McDermott.  I picked this book thinking it was written by one of my favorite teachers - Cris Tovani.  It turns out she just wrote the introduction, but I am glad I decided to read it anyway.
     This book has six steps to motivate disengaged students.  The authors call them the six Cs:  Caring Classroom Community, Checking In and Checking Out, Choice, Collaboration, Challenge and Celebration.  A chapter is devoted to each of the steps.  The authors give examples from their own classrooms and then give you specific ways you can implement that step in your classroom.  You can choose to implement any or all of the steps, but they work best together.  The last chapter explains how the steps can be implemented together.
     This book had lots of great strategies and examples that I plan to use in my classroom this fall.  It is a great book for teachers of all ages - from preschool to college.   I highly recommend it if you have any clock watchers like I do!