Sunday, November 11, 2012


     Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is an incredible book.  I learned something new on nearly every page I read.
     This book is about the snap judgments we make in the blink of an eye.  Sometimes our instant decisions protect us and help us make great decisions, even though we don't know why we feel that way.  Other times our snap decisions are completely wrong and can cause harm for others, like in a police chase.  

     Malcolm Gladwell provides insightful stories and examples to show you how our snap decisions work and how we can use this ability to help us.
    I couldn't stop talking about or thinking about this book.  This is truly a book that has changed my thinking.  It is a must read.

Kill You Last

      Kill You Last by Todd Strasser is an awesome book!  I was hooked from chapter one.  
     Shelby's dad makes a ton of money taking photos of girls who want to be models.  Life is perfect until three girls in different towns disappear mysteriously.  The only thing police can find the girls have in common is they all had pictures taken by Shelby's dad.  Shelby is desperate to clear her dad's name, but is he as innocent as she hopes?  What about these scary text messages that Shelby keeps getting that threaten to kill her?  Will she be the murderer's next victim? 
      The book has a lot of suspense.  It is an easy read with short chapters.  There are a few kissing scenes that make it more appropriate for older teens.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

     Marcy Lewis hates everything in her life.  She is shy, scared, and embarrassed about her weight.  Ms. Finney changes all that.  Ms. Finney is an amazing English teacher who teaches Marcy to trust herself, her voice, and the other people in her life.  When Ms. Finney is fired for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Marcy is devastated.  She risks everything to try and get Ms. Finney back.  
     The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danzinger is an awesome book for struggling teenage readers.  It is easy to read, but deals with teenage issues, so struggling readers don't feel they are reading a kid's book.  It is funny and poignant at the same time.  Most teens can relate to some part of the book - being embarrassed about changing for gym, weight, fighting with their parents, dealing with younger siblings, struggling to fit in with other teens, or standing up for what they believe in when it goes against the values of other people.  My students love this book.


    While on the way to a restaurant, Richard sees a young girl lying injured on the street.  His fiancee leaves him because he helps the girl.  Richard takes the girl home and nurses her back to health.  By helping her, Richard disappears from the real world.  He tries to live his normal life, but no one sees him or hears him.  He goes into the underworld of London to find the strange girl and get his life back.  
     It is definitely one of the weirdest books I have ever read.  It is based on a T.V. show that Neil Gaiman produced in London.  I did not know that when I started reading it, so a lot of it did not make sense. 
     The London Underworld is very strange with lots of blood, gore, death, betrayals, angels, demons, assassins, and other strange characters.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Seven Simple Secrets: What the BEST Teachers Know and Do

     I just read an awesome book for teachers called Seven Simple Secrets by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker.  This book has seven simple secrets to help you in your classroom.  A chapter is devoted to each of the seven secrets.  The authors give examples from classrooms and then give specific ways to implement that secret in your classroom.  The secrets include: planning, classroom management, instruction, attitude, professionalism, discipline, and motivation/inspiration.  
     This book has a lot of great strategies that I plan to use in my classroom this fall.  It is a great book for teachers of all ages - from preschool to college.  It is a quick read.  You can read all of it or specific sections that you want to fine tune in your classroom.  It has lots of tips that you can use immediately.  I highly recommend it for teachers.

Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters From Obedience School

     Everyone thinks Ike is a bad dog, so Mrs. LaRue puts him in obedience school.  Ike hates obedience school and starts writing Mrs. LaRue letters to convince her to get him out.  
     This picture book is a great book for introducing inferences.  Students can use the pictures to infer what obedience school is really like compared to how Ike describes it.  The pictures show what Ike is imagining, but also what is really happening, so students have lots of support to make inferences.  Then they can use the text to support their inferences to see if they were correct.  
     It is a cute book with great pictures.  The advanced words will also help build kids' vocabularies.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Good to Great

      Some companies make the leap from Good to Great, while other good companies do not.  Although Jim Collins looks at the results from companies, the results apply to any organization.  He chose to look at businesses because they had a clear standard of success that could be applied to all companies.  
     Jim Collins and his research team found seven characteristics that ALL the good to great companies had in common.  Each characteristic is developed in an individual chapter.  Jim explains the characteristic, offers examples and non-examples, shows why it is important, and explains how an organization can implement the characteristic.  
      One of the most interesting characteristics to me was Level 5 Leadership.  There are so many people working in politics and businesses that do not have Level 5 Leadership.  Although their leaders are flashy or the newest and greatest in the business world, their companies will suffer from their leadership.  
     Although I am not in business, I learned a great deal about how to lead my school to becoming a great school.  This is an easy to read book with lots of applicable information.  .   

Reading Don't Fix No Chevy's

      Teenage boys tend to struggle in school, especially in reading and English classes.  Boys read all the time, just not in the traditional ways their teachers value.  As a result, boys don't see themselves as readers and that affects their abilities in school.  Michael Smith and Jeff Wilhelm use research and interviews with forty-nine guys to show teachers how to build literacy for the young  men in our classrooms.  Their findings are easily implemented.  A must read for language arts teachers.  


          Zero is sad.  When she looks at herself, she only sees a big hole.  How can a number worth nothing become something?  Zero tries to change herself into other numbers, but feels deflated when it doesn't work.  She tries to find value by impressing other numbers, but that just leaves everyone bent out of shape.  With the help of the other numbers, Zero discovers her own value.  
     This picture book is a wonderful metaphor about self-esteem and the value our lives bring to others.  It can also be used as a math book for children learning about place value and the power of zero.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

     Ivan is a gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall with an elderly elephant and a stray dog.  He spends his days trying to paint what he sees in his cage so Mack, his owner, can frame the paintings and sell them in the gift shop.  When Ivan was small and cute, Mack made lots of money from visitors coming to the mall to see the animals.  Now that Ivan is a Silverback, hardly anyone comes to see him or the other animals.  Mack is stressed about the lost money, so he buys a baby elephant to bring more visitors.  Although Stella is an elderly, disabled elephant, she cares for Ruby, the baby elephant, as if she were her own.  Stella's dying wish is for Ivan to save Ruby from the mall.  His promise to Stella changes all of their lives.
     This book is based on a true story about a gorilla who lived alone in a mall cage for twenty-seven years before being rescued.  You can read about the true Ivan here.
     The chapters are only a page or two, which is good for reluctant or young readers.  The story is told from Ivan's perspective, which can be a bit confusing for an inexperienced reader.  
     I liked the book, but I thought it was a bit heavy-handed in parts.  It felt like Katherine Applegate was forcing me to care about the animals, rather than letting me develop that relationship with the animals as the story developed.  I recommend this book for animal lovers of all ages.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Frankenstein: Lost Souls

     Note to self - Look to see if the book you want to read is a sequel.  Not only is Frankenstein:  Lost Souls by Dean Koontz a sequel, it is Book 4 in the Frankenstein series.  For most of the book I had no idea what was happening, but didn't really care.  The writing is mediocre.  Most of the characters are superficially developed.  There are so many people in the book, they almost fight for attention.  It was impossible to keep track of any of them, so I didn't care which humans were killed by the replacements.  The book was very slow, even though there were brief scenes of intense action.  Dean Koontz knew he was going to make another book, so he doesn't even try to bring the book to any kind of conclusion.  The book just stops.  I hated the book and will not go back and read the earlier books or the next one in the series.  Unless you are a fan of the series already, I do not recommend this book.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Waiting for Normal

     Waiting for Normal is going on my list of favorite books. Addison "Addie" Schmeeter is only twelve, but she is wise beyond her years.  Addie's dad is dead, but Dwight is a wonderful stepfather.  The family is happy for awhile with Addie and the two new baby girls that join the family.  However, Addie's mom "Mommers" is bipolar and her chaotic mood swings and actions cause trouble for the family. Mommers kicks Dwight out of the house and asks for a divorce.  After Dwight leaves, Mommers takes off and leaves nine-year-old (at the time) Addie to take care of her baby sisters alone for three days.  Dwight gets custody of his daughters, but he has no legal rights to Addie.  Addie and Mommers move into a trailer on a busy street corner.  Addie continues to take care of her mom while she settles into her new life.  She finds friends in unexpected places and learns how to show and receive love.
     I LOVE, Love, love this book!  Addie deals with poverty, neglect, death, divorce, her mother's mental illness, and loneliness.  Through it all she never loses hope, faith, or her optimism that life will get better for her.  The characters are so well-developed, I fell in love with nearly all of them.  Addie's mother could have been portrayed as a horrible woman, but she was a sympathetic character that truly loved her children, but needed help dealing with her mental illness.  The dialogue and setting are realistic and poignant.  I couldn't put the book down once I started it.  I even read it in the car, and then had to go through the store with red-rimmed eyes from crying.  
     This book is too difficult for reluctant middle school readers, but is a wonderful book for older students or advanced readers.  It would also be great for any kids going through abuse, neglect, or living with someone with bipolar disorder.  This book has won several awards, including the ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults.  This is a book that I wish I had written.  That is my highest praise.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Beginner's Goodbye

     I wish I could say The Beginner's Goodbye was another amazing book by Anne Tyler, but it was just mediocre.  When she writes well, this woman is untouchable.  Unfortunately, the last few books have lost their edge.
     In The Beginner's Goodbye, Aaron's wife Dorothy dies in a freak accident.  Aaron is devastated by her death.  He is still struggling to live again a year later, but Dorothy's spirit returns to help Aaron find a new beginning in life.
     The story was okay, but the characters were flat and stilted.  Without an attachment to the characters, it was difficult to care about what happened to them.  One of the things I love best about Anne Tyler is falling in love with her characters, but I didn't even get to know them in this book.
     If you love Anne Tyler, reread her other books instead.  If you haven't read any of her books, read her Pulitzer Prize winning book Breathing Lessons or my favorite, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.       

Monday, June 11, 2012


 Wow!  Another incredible book by Neal Shusterman!  A chilling look at the pro-life/pro-choice argument.  After fighting The Heartland War, a truce is finally reached.  Life is mandatory from the moment of conception until thirteen.  Once you reach thirteen, your parents can have you "unwound" and donate every part of you to someone else.  That way, you never truly die; you just live on through the donors.
     Unwind is the story of several teens who are scheduled to be unwound for very different reasons.  Together, they may have a chance to survive.
     This book was chilling, intense, and made me think.  What would happen to all the unwanted babies who become unwanted teens?  When do you have a soul - conception, birth, the moment you are loved?    Do our cells have memory?  How does it feel to live a life no one else feels is worth living?  Can we redeeem ourselves and make up for our past mistakes, or are some mistakes too big to erase?
     An awesome science fiction book with a great story and a warning about where we may be headed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dad, Jackie, and Me

     Jackie Robinson is one of my heroes, so I was thrilled to discover someone had left me this book as a gift the last day of school.
     This picture book packs an emotional wallop.  The boy in the story loves baseball, especially The Brooklyn Dodgers.  His dad takes him to opening day, 1947, to see Jackie Robinson.  The dad shouts "Ah-ghee, Ah-ghee" every time Jackie is up to bat.  Being deaf, he isn't aware that he is mispronouncing Jackie's name, but his son is embarrassed when the other fans begin to stare.
     The boy teaches his dad how to play baseball.  He throws the ball to his dad every night, but his dad is never able to catch it.  He never learned to play sports at the deaf school he attended.
     They go to every home game that season together.  When Jackie catches the last ball of the season, he throws it to the boy's dad, who catches the first ball of his life.  When he hands it to his son, Jackie smiles.
     Myron Uhlberg based this book on his deaf father, and his author's note at the end is very emotional.
     I really liked this picture  book a lot.  The theme of overcoming adversity is woven through Jackie's story and the father's story without being heavy handed.
     This book is a wonderful addition for a classroom because of its length, the focus on diversity, adversity, and the love between a father and son.  It has won two awards - The Teachers' Choices from the International Reading Association Project and the Schneider Family Book Award.  I recommend it for upper elementary students.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Van Gogh Cafe

    The Van Gogh Cafe is the story of a magical cafe.  It is not magical in the traditional sense, but the cafe's magic changes lives.
     The cafe was once a theater - which is where the magic begins.  "Some say magic comes from heaven, and others say it comes from hell, but anyone who has ever visited the Van Gogh Cafe knows that magic comes from a building that was once a theater..."
     Each chapter shares a new person or animal who experiences the magic of making a difference for the other people and animals in the book.  Once the magic has impacted others, the animal or person moves on to other places, while the ones impacted by the magic impact new characters.
     I loved the cause and effect idea and the connections between the various people and animals in the book.  Ten-year-old Clara and her father run the cafe and watch the magic unfold each day.  They tie the people and magic together.
     This is a very short book at 53 pages.  It is a great read aloud book.  


     Juice by Eric Walters is a short book about a new football coach who encourages his players to take steroids.
     The topic is relevant and the page count is great for reluctant readers, especially boys.  However, the 3rd person narrator keeps the story at arm's length, so it is hard to relate to Moose - the boy faced with the dilemma to take steroids.
     The other problem is the narrator tells us a lot of things that happen, but we don't see them happen, so it is hard to forget you are reading a book or connect with the characters.
     I recommend the book for reluctant teens, especially boys who play football or are interested in the topic of using steroids in sports.  

Have a Little Faith

    This book fell into my life a few years ago, but I apparently wasn't ready to have faith because it kept falling further down in the pile of unread books.  Suddenly it reappeared at the top and I picked it up again thinking, "I could use a little faith."  A coincidence that fell into place at just the right time.
     I often love Mitch Albom, but sometimes I feel like he takes the easy way out by minimizing the difficult questions he starts to ask.  This was one of those kinds of Mitch Albom books for me, but there were still golden nuggets of truth that made me think in a new way.
     Have a Little Faith is Mitch's first nonfiction book since writing Tuesdays with Morrie.  When the book begins, 82 year-old Rabbi Albert Lewis asks Mitch to give his eulogy.  Mitch agrees on the condition that he get to know the "Reb" as a man, rather than rely on his childhood memories.  Although Mitch left the Jewish faith years ago, he is intrigued with discovering the foundation of the Rabbi's faith.  The Reb is bigger than life for Mitch.  He is all that is good with the world.
     His foil is Pastor Henry Covington.  This man is a former convict, drug dealer, and recovering addict.  He now preaches to the homeless people living in the church.  Mitch has every reason to not have faith in the pastor's intentions.
     Though the men are opposites in all the least important ways, they never vary from their faith in something bigger than themselves.  Through their life lessons, sermons, and actions, Mitch learns to have faith again.
     Although the story seemed contrived and forced in parts, I truly liked the Rabbi and the Reverend.  These men had great lessons to teach.  I wish Mitch would have let their words speak for themselves rather than trying to convince me of their profoundness.
     One line that struck me the most was a line by Rabbi Lewis.  After being treated poorly by a doctor because of his religion, Rabbi Lewis made s condolence call when he learned the doctor's brother died.  When Mitch asked why, the Rabbi replied, "In this job, you don't retaliate."  I loved this view of life and the flawed humans that live here.  What a wonderful way to see everything in our lives.  In this job, family, marriage, religion, country...we don't retaliate.  What a world we would live in.
     When a Catholic priest became enraged over a parking situation and spat out, "They didn't exterminate enough of you," the Rabbi manages to walk arm in arm with the priest around the playground of the Catholic school during recess.  Because of his ability to forgive the man, the people in both congregations grew to accept and understand one another.  No one would have blamed the rabbi for being bitter and angry, but  instead he used the moment to teach an unforgettable lesson of forgiveness and love to everyone else.
     Another life-changing moment for me came from Mitch.
 I used to think I knew everything.  I was a "smart person" who "got things done," and because of that, the higher I climbed, the more I could look down and scoff at what seemed silly or simple even religion.  But I realized something as I drove home that night; that I am neither better nor smarter, only luckier.  And I should be ashamed of thinking I knew everything, because you can know the whole world and still feel lost in it.  So many people are in pain - no matter how smart or accomplished - they cry, they yearn, they hurt.  But instead of looking down on things, they look up, which is where I should have been looking, too.  Because when the world quiets to the sound of your own breathing, we all want the same things: comfort, love, and a peaceful heart.
     I have many flaws, one is thinking too highly of myself.  I need to be continually reminded that I am not better or smarter, only luckier.      

Friday, June 1, 2012


     First, you should know I love Neal Shusterman.  Second, I usually hate sequels and trilogies.  Third, I hate the second book, Everwild.
     I also have a strange obsession with rereading all of the books in the series before I read the new book so I can truly appreciate the nuances in the new book.  Since it is a school library book, and the end of the year, I reread the series quickly.  Everlost is one of my all time favorite books.  Everwild is the only Neal Shusterman book I do not like.
     When Everfound starts, Nick is still a puddle of chocolate, Mary is encased in a glass coffin like Snow White, and Milos is trying to kill as many children as possible to fulfill Mary's evil plan.  In her own, twisted way, she truly believes she is saving the children from a fate worse than Everlost - death.
     Unfortunately, Milos is not Mary.  He is not charismatic or protective or reassuring.  He is not enough of anything. The kids desert him quickly.  Milos resolves to kill more children to replace them.  He must prove his love to Mary when she awakes by ensuring her kingdom.  Luckily Mikey, Jix, Nick, and Allie are there to do what they can to stop Milos and Mary from destroying the living world.
     I liked the book, but I didn't love it.  I missed the characters I fell in love with in Everlost.  Like the living children in my life, they grew up and moved on, even after death.
     One of my favorite parts of the book is seeing Nick begin to resemble a boy when he remembers the love he shares with Mary.  Love can change even the most horrific aspects of ourselves into the most human.  Love can conquer all.
     My favorite character in the book is a jukebox machine called Wurlitzer.  If you feed it the coin you died with, it plays you a song, but the lyrics seal your fate.  Like the fortune cookies in Everlost, this idea of fate vs. coincidence complicates the story line and makes me think in a new way.  How much of what we dismiss as coincidences are actually messages to ourselves about the lives we are living?  Are these markers left to remind us of the path we should choose or are they only our mind's need to find meaning in the chaos?
      This book and the series make me think.  What is life?  What is a soul? Can your belief in something, even if that belief is wrong, be strong enough to kill you?  What fates are worse than death?  Is killing an evil person justified or is it still murder?
     It is definitely worth the read, although it is too long for reluctant readers at 500 pages.  If you love Everlost or Neal Shusterman, you will like this book.  Note - You cannot read it without having read the other books in the series first.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Fault in our Stars

     In a single word - AMAZING!  The Fault in our Stars by John Green is one of my favorite books of all time.  It is laugh-out-loud funny and sobbingly tragic within sentences of one another.
     The characters are some of the most believable I have ever read.  Hazel, Augustus, and Issac feel like friends I formed iron bonds through tragic circumstances, although the other characters were not as developed.  
     The dialogue was brilliant.  It held the beauty of Shakespeare, the simplicity of poetry, and the depth you only get from surviving a trip through Hell.
     The description of Spring in Amsterdam made me homesick for a place I have never been.
     The title refers to a line from Julius Caesar.  Cassius tells Brutus, "The Fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..."  It is the perfect title for a story of three teenagers facing terminal cancer.
     Hazel starts her story on the day she meets Augustus at the cancer support group.  She has terminal thyroid cancer that makes her unable to breathe on her own.  Suffering from depression, her mom insists she go to therapy.  One of those dreaded events she does each week, until the day Augustus appears in the group.  Hazel does not want to fall in love and devastate any more people than she has to with her death, but she can't stop falling in love with a boy who metaphorically holds the object of death in his mouth but doesn't smoke it.
     Augustus has been in remission from Osteosarcoma since his leg was amputated.  He knows the risks he faces falling in love with Hazel; his last girlfriend Caroline died from cancer.  In fact, he can't stop staring at Hazel when they first meet because she looks so much like Hazel.  He knows that losing the person you love is a grenade going off inside, but he knows love means something in this world that loss and death cannot diminish.
     Isaac loses his eyesight from his own cancer, but through his loss he sees life and love more clearly than before.  Although Isaac's girlfriend Monica swears to love him forever, she breaks up with him the night before the surgery to remove his eyes.
     He rages to Hazel, "Always was a promise!  How can you just break the promise?"
     Hazel replies, "Sometimes people don't understand the promises they're making when they make them."
     "Right, of course.  But you keep the promise anyway.  That's what love is.  Love is keeping the promise anyway."
     Through his loss, he gives my favorite line of the book.  This is my new definition of love.
     It has been a long time since I read a book by choice and found myself underlining lines and passages that were so powerful I knew I would want to come back to reread them later.
     Although this book has teenagers as the main characters, the language and sexual scene make it inappropriate for some teenagers.  However, it did fit into the book and the characters' situations; it was not done gratuitously.             

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Son of Neptune

     Another great book by Rick Riordan.  Percy finds himself in California this time, fighting Gorgons who won't die.  These Gorgons are greeters from Bargain Mart with big buttons on their vests and silver trays loaded with free samples.  Although Percy puts up a good fight, these Gorgons keep coming back to life.  Death has been kidnapped and the monsters reform as fast as Percy can kill them.
     As Percy escapes on a free sample tray, he encounters Juno and carries her across the Tiber River to Camp Jupiter.  By doing so, Percy loses the protection of the River Styx and chooses a life of pain and possibility.
     Percy becomes a member of the Fifth Cohort with the two kids who save him from the Gorgons - Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque.  After the nightly war games, Frank is claimed by his father Mars.  Percy, Frank, and Hazel are sent on a quest to free Thanatos, the god of death, from captivity in Alaska.
     On their way, they face many monsters and have wonderful adventures.  I love the new characters in the book.  In Greek tradition, they meet a blind man who sees and knows everything.
     Ella is another favorite.  She is a small, kind-hearted Harpy that remembers everything she reads, including prophecies.  One of my favorite parts of the book is when she falls in love with Percy's cyclops brother - Tyson, my favorite character in the series.  They were very cute together.
      I also like the Hyperboreans, bright blue, peaceful giants, living in Alaska  For some reason, they seemed to fit Alaska well.  I could visualize them going through Alaskan life at peace with nature and immune to the angst of the humans and monsters below.
     Arion was another fun character.  Who wouldn't love riding a gold-eating horse at the speed of light?  He also has a trash mouth, but we never have to actually hear the words, since Percy is the only one who understands horses.  
     Of course, I also like Octavian.  In the ancient days of Rome he would have read animal entrails for signs.  At Camp Jupiter, he reads the stuffing of stuffed animals instead.  That made Nick and I laugh hysterically.    
     My favorite part of the book occurs at Iris' store called Rainbow Organic Foods & Lifestyles or R.O.F.L. for short.  The store is protected by a brilliant rainbow that blinds the monsters trying to get inside.  When Polybotes demands Iris kneel before him, a dark object flies out the window and lands at his feet.  Polybotes yells, Grenade" and orders everyone to the ground.  When it doesn't explode, he looks more closely.  He roars in outrage, "A Ding Dong?  You dare insult me with a Ding Dong?"  It was so unexpected that I couldn't stop laughing.  What a great thing to throw at a giant threatening you to show how little you think of his threat.  A great life lesson in that analogy, as well.  
      The book was fast paced and full of adventures, romance, and monsters.  I enjoyed the writing, the variety of new characters, and the humor.  It was a wonderful addition to the series.  It is going to be really hard to wait for the next book that comes out in the fall.                 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Winter Girls

     Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the most intense books I have ever read.  When Lia and Cassie's families begin falling apart, the girls try to control the only thing they can control in their lives - their weight.  They make a vow to one another to be thin.  Cassie does not have the willpower that Lia has, so she resorts to bulimia.  She loses her life in a dirty hotel room, alone, after calling Lia 33 times.  The guilt is excruciating for Lia and her own demons return to haunt her.  Not only does she begin starving herself again, she is also haunted by the ghost of Cassie.  Lia is a lost wintergirl, not dead, but not alive either.  Everyone tries to help her come back from this living death, but only Lia can decide if she will take the easy way out and join Cassie or if she will fight hard enough to live.
     This book touched me deeply.  I loved a wintergirl and she killed herself seven years ago.  I know how hard this world is when your eyes see things that just aren't there.  It is so hard to see girls struggling so hard to be enough in a world that has no place for imperfections.
     The writing is brutal and stark and poetic and beautiful and hauntingly painful.  I couldn't get Lia out of my mind for days.  Every time I picked up the book, I couldn't stop reading.  It was hard to leave her lost in the winter until I could pick up the book again.
     Some people told me they felt this book was inappropriate for girls because it gave them ideas about anorexia and bulimia.  I think the issues go so deep that a book is not going to push someone into this life.  It is not glamorized, but Lia does have ways to convince people that she is fine when she is clearly not.  I would definitely read the book before suggesting it for a teenager to see if it was appropriate for him/her.
     This book was haunting and changed my life profoundly because I now understand the world through a wintergirl's eyes.  Although Lia will stay with me for a very long time, I am glad that I can leave her world.  Here's to the wintergirls.  I hope this book helps us change our views of weight, beauty, and perfection.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Sense of an Ending

     The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes frustrated me.  It is a metaphysical book that deals with human emotions of guilt, loss, and rejection.  However, it holds itself above the world of banal emotions and never allows the reader to truly feel anything.
     The plot is slow to develop, although it covers a lifetime in 163 pages.  With a slow plot, distant characters, and philosophical wanderings, it is a difficult book to read.
     The ending was disturbing and reinforced my opinion of the entire book.  Although I learned to dislike Veronica through Tony's eyes, I wondered why she chose to pay for the sins of the people she loved.  Did she feel the guilt of the stupid mistakes we all make when our whole life is ahead of us without the wisdom to tread lightly?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Peanuts

     I love this title!  It pretty much sums up my life, and the fact that it was a birthday gift from my brother makes it even more perfect.  This book of wisdom pairs up a lesson on the left with an example cartoon from Peanuts on the right. 
     One lesson is "How to Eat Ice Cream" and shows Snoopy and Woodstock eating ice cream together on top of Snoopy's dog house.  Snoopy says, "I always have the vanilla on the bottom and the chocolate on the top."  When Woodstock answers, Snoopy replies, "You like to have the vanilla on top and the chocolate on the bottom?  That's interesting.  It takes all kinds to make a world."  What a wonderful world it would be if we could all see that we like different kinds of ice cream, but it takes all kinds to make a world. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

43 Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You

     Ignatious B. Grumply is a grumply old man who has had writer's block for 20 years.  He rents a home for the summer so he can finally write the next book in his ghost series.  He discovers he is also living with a young boy, the boy's cat, and a protective ghost named Olive.  They will have to learn to live together or "die" trying. 
     This is a really quick read.  The book is told through letters, newspaper articles, drawings, reports, and advertisements.  Each character has a chance to share his or her point-of-view through the different medium used through the book.
     It is a great book if you have a child in upper elementary that enjoys books or for a read-aloud with mom and dad.  Even though it is short, it isn't a good choice for struggling readers.  Ignatius has a huge vocabulary, and he uses words like "beseechingly" and "conciliatorily."  The change in medium every few pages also makes it a struggle for some readers, but a delight for others.  A cute love story told in an original way.       

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

       The bullies finally push Michael too far and he shocks them with electricity.  Unlike a taser, Michael's electricity comes from the inside.  The cute cheerleader, Taylor, sees what happens and begins to probe  Michael's secrets.  After discovering they both have super powers, they begin investigating their pasts.  They were born at the same time in a California hospital testing new MRI technology.  They are shocked to discover that of the fifty-nine babies born there with them, only seventeen survive.  Taylor and Michael are two of the lucky ones.  Unfortunately, Dr. Hatch has left the information on the Internet to lure in the missing teens.  Dr. Hatch kidnaps Taylor and Michael's mom, knowing Michael will try to rescue the women he loves.
     This book was a little slow to start, but once it got started, it was hard to put down.  The characters were interesting, especially the teens living in Dr. Hatch's laboratory.  The teens powers were all very different, including the way they used their powers for good or evil.  I liked the way the bullies in the story became the ones helping Michael on his mission.  The only thing I didn't like was the almost sadistic side of power being shown at the end of the book.  
     I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to adults and teens who enjoy science fiction/fantasy or action/adventure.  At 326 pages, it is a more difficult book for reluctant readers, but with a great book talk or movie trailer, many would be willing to give it a shot.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Lost Hero

      Rick Riordan is now officially one of my all-time favorite authors.  This man is an incredible writer.  I wish I had written this book!
     The Lost Hero is the first book in The Heroes of Olympus series.  I loved the characters in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, so I was leery of a new set of characters.  I knew from the first sentence that I would love these characters just as much as Percy, Annabeth and Grover - "Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day."
     The story alternates between three characters, which is confusing at first.  I would just get into this character's story and then it would switch the point-of-view.  It took a while, but once I got to know the character's better, I was able to keep them straight.  I liked getting to know the perspectives of the three characters.  I did miss the funny chapter titles that Rick Riordan used in the first series though - like "I Accidentally Vaporized my Pre-Algebra Teacher."
     I loved the new monsters/bad guys.  It was fun to see how King Midas would survive in the modern world.  Of course, with all of our current greed, he fit right in.  I also loved Medea and her department store of gently used items of dead demigods.  I was alternately disgusted, sympathetic, and intrigued by her character.  I also liked Aeolus - the Lord of the Winds.  It turns out that the weather is controlled by the God's whims and their needs to reward or punish mortals.  Aeolus runs a weather channel that updates every 12 minutes and he is literally going insane from updating the weather as the Gods change their minds about the weather patterns. "We'll have a low-pressure system moving over Florida today, so expect milder temperatures since Demeter wishes to spare the citrus farmers..."  He tapped his earpiece.  "Sorry, folks!  Poseidon is angry with Miami today, so it looks like that Florida freeze is back on!  Sorry, Demeter.  Over in the midwest, I'm not sure what St. Louis did to offend Zeus, but you can expect winter storms!"
     It is a long book, but the action, humor, and well-developed characters make it a fun read.  I recommend it to all kids, teens, and adults that love fantasy or Greek/Roman mythology.  One of the best books Rick Riordan has written so far.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

     Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children may not have been the best book to choose while I was sick, but it seemed like a good one to distract me from my fever and coughing attacks.  It has been sitting in my pile for a couple of weeks, bought on the spur of the moment because the pictures and back of the book reminded me of Stephen King.  
     After witnessing the horrible murder of his beloved grandfather, Jacob sets out to understand his grandfather's dying words.  He discovers his grandfather Abe's fairy tales are true.  As a young Jewish boy, Abe is sent to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children to hide from the Nazis.  The orphanage is an ideal refuge until the Nazi bombing September 3, 1940.  The Nazis are soon overthrown, but new monsters take their place.  Abe is the only one who can see the new monsters, and he risks everything he loves to keep the monsters at bay.  Jason has unknowingly inherited his grandfather's gift and must save the children his grandfather leaves behind.           
     It is definitely one of the weirdest books I have ever read.  It has a bit of everything thrown into the mix: romance, horror, mystery, action, time travel, children with "freak show" abilities and the Nazis.  Unfortunately, the book tries to go too many places and loses its focus.  There are so many characters to keep track of, it is hard to feel for any of them, which is too bad because I want to feel for the kids.  The romance between Jacob and the girl his grandfather also loved is too much of an "ick factor" for me to get past, and the random sexual comments are too much for a recommendation to my students.         
     The photographs in the book are supposed to be actual photographs that people donated of peculiar children, and they are fascinating.  
     The book could have made a very cool allegory about monsters and the underlying truth of his grandfather's experience with the Nazis.  It also could have been a cool horror story.  It's too bad it tries to be everything and fails at all of them.  
     Tim Burton has bought the rights for the movie, so it will be interesting to see how it translates to the big screen.       

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wonkenstein: The Creature from my Closet

     Rob is a typical twelve-year-old kid with an annoying older sister and a tag-along little brother.  He doesn't do well in school, has a messy room, and  a huge crush on his neighbor Janae.
     Rob's dad brings home a closet door from Goodwill for Rob's closet.  It even has a weird handle that has a strange man's face on it.  Rob throws everything into his closet - including his chemistry set, playdough, and books he never reads, and shuts the door.
     One day a weird creature emerges from the closet.  He is a mix of Willy Wonka and Frankenstein's monster.  Rob decides to call him Wonkenstein.  Wonkenstein gets Rob into lots of trouble, some serious misunderstandings, and lots of adventures - including reading the two books that mean so much to Wonkenstein.
     This book is written in the style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Every page has lots of cartoon drawings, so it is great for reluctant readers.  The main characters are boys, which makes it a great choice for ten-year-old boys who don't like to read.  It was silly, but the perfect kind of humor for kids who are learning to read chapter books.  I recommend it for reluctant readers or kids who are learning to read longer books, but still need the support of lots of pictures to understand the plot.   


     Divergent takes place in a futuristic Chicago where the people have divided into five factions:  Candor for honesty, Dauntless for the brave, Amity for the peaceful, Erudite for intelligence, and Abnegation for the selfless.
     Beatrice and her brother are both sixteen when they must make the life-changing choice of the faction they will join.
     Beatrice leaves everything behind, including her name.  If she survives the initiation, she will hold a place in the society she has always admired.  If she fails, she risks her life and the lives of the people she loves.
     Divergent by Veronica Roth is all action and no soul.  The plot is full of surprises and unexpected twists, but the characters are shallow and dull.  Even though the book is non-stop action, I was bored.  The few sex scenes thrown in for interest make it an unlikely suggestion for my students.  The lead up to the climax is interesting, but from the climax to the end, the book becomes a copy of several Hollywood movies.
     Unless you are a huge science fiction fan, I do not recommend Divergent.  If you want a poignant book about war, finding a place in a society you don't belong to, and fighting your personal demons, read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card instead.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

     Two things you should know - first I hate autobiographies/biographies and second I love Rob Lowe.  Rob Lowe won.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012


     I am so disappointed in Crossed and Ally Condie!  This is one of the worst sequels I have ever read.  She sold out.  It was like she just wrote anything to get done by a deadline rather than having thought about the characters, the writing, or the story.
     Cassia, Ky and Xander all act like totally different people without any explanation or reason.  The characters I fell in love with in Matched are all jerks in this book.
     Most of the new characters are superficially developed and only serve the purpose of moving the plot forward.  The exception is Vick.  Of course, he is suddenly killed off halfway through the book, just after touching my heart with his story of lost love.  It reminds me of a Shakespearean scholar who once told me that Shakespeare had to kill off Mercutio because he was stealing the play from Romeo.  There was no point to killing off Vick unless he was taking us away from Ky.  It didn't change the symbolic meaning of the book, move the plot forward, or change any of the other characters.  It was a pointless death and we already saw lots of other characters die pointless deaths at the beginning of the book.
     The actual writing is not very good, especially when it was brilliant in Matched.  In this book, Ally Condie doesn't take the time to show us what is happening.  She doesn't give us enough details to lead us to our own conclusions about the characters and what things mean.  She takes the shortcut of telling us how to interpret everything.  It is annoying and comes off as condescending.
     There are plot flaws in the book that Ally Condie uses when she wants and drops when they become inconvenient.  In Matched Cassia learns her society uses colored pills to control people.  When Cassia was very young, her grandfather told her she was strong enough to not need the pills.  She reflects on that memory several times and avoids taking any pills.  In Crossed, Cassia suddenly believes society's claim the blue pills will help her survive without food or water.  She doesn't stop to consider the consequences or her grandfather's words before she takes a pill.  Later, Cassia thinks about taking a red pill to forget the past twelve hours, but she remembers her grandfather's words and changes her mind.
     There are also lots of coincidences that happen so often they become unbelievable.  Cassia just happens to be placed in a camp near Ky's previous camp.  The first words she says are "I am looking for someone.  His name is Ky.  He has dark hair and blue eyes.  He came from a city, but he knows this land, too.  He has words."  Of course, one of the boys knows exactly who she means and leads her into the Carving.  Later, half dead from poison, she stumbles up a cliff to see the sunset.  Ky and Eli happen to see her and they happily reunite.  These kinds of coincidences happen constantly.  It would make a great soap opera because it is almost laugh out loud ridiculous.
     Rather than take the time to flesh out the plot and the characters, Ally Condie tries to force the plot by having new characters just "figure things out" without any knowledge of what went on before or using the clues we have.  Indie suddenly knows everything about Ky and Xander, even though she just met Ky and has never met Xander.  Since I didn't have any of the clues Indie used to "figure it out", I felt cheated, rather than having an AHA moment of "Oh, that's what that meant."  I felt like I was ten again and hearing Darth Vadar say, "Luke, I am your father."
     When Cassia finally finds what she is looking for, she is sent back to society.  Coincidentally, society hasn't even changed her status, so in the third book she can be back with Xander like she never left.  She risks everything to find the rebellion and then happily lets them sort her back into society without a word.  So much for all the times she and Ky swore not to go gentle.