Friday, October 21, 2016

I Am Pan

     Pan creates pandemonium from the moment he is born.  He tricks the moon into falling in love with him, changes the battle of Troy, and saves everyone from the monster Typhon.
     This book is written in cartoons.  It has awesome colorful pictures, is humorous, and is easy to read.  It is a fun way to learn more about the Greek myths that involve Pan.  

The Shadow Club

     Jared and Cheryl have been best friends for years.  They start "The Shadow Club" for the kids who are second best at everything and are always lost in the shadows of the other kids' glory.  The kids in the club decide to get revenge by pulling pranks on the best kids.  At first it is all in fun, but the pranks become more elaborate and dangerous.  When the club meets to discuss the trouble they are in, they discover Tyson spying on them.  The kids are willing to do whatever it takes to keep Tyson quiet.
      I love Neal Shusterman, but I didn't really like this book.  I didn't like the way the kids didn't have any real consequences for trying to kill Tyson or for the pranks they did.  I don't recommend this book, but you should definitely check out one of his other books, especially Everlost.  

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

     Don't let this book cover scare you away from the book.  This is a fun, old fashioned scary story about a Haunted House disguised as an orphanage.
     Victoria is the perfect child.  She has perfect curls, perfect manners, and perfect grades.  Lawrence is anything but perfect.  He is disheveled.  He struggles in school.  He is lazy.  He drives Victoria crazy, especially the way he is always humming or playing the piano.  Victoria sets out to fix him, but doesn't realize she actually cares about him until he disappears.  His parents claim that Lawrence is at his grandparents' house, but their strange behavior convinces her that he is missing.
     Victoria realizes that everyone in the town is acting very strange.  Children are disappearing without anyone noticing.  The adults are always smiling creepy fake smiles.  Bugs are everywhere pinching and biting.  She knows that there is more than meets the eye at The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, but Mrs. Cavendish will not easily give up her secrets.
     This book is fun, spooky, and unique.  It's great for middle grade kids who love to be scared, but aren't ready for intense scares.  The book is creepy without being gory or graphic.  The only part of the story I didn't like was that the ending was a bit abrupt.  The rest was a perfect choice for Halloween.  

Off Balance

     You may remember Dominique Moceanu as the youngest gymnast on the 1996 USA team when they won gold.  This book is about her life as a gymnast, but also about the sister she never knew she had.  When she was nine months pregnant and finishing college, her sister contacted her, knocking Dominique's world "off balance."
      When Dominique was six, her mother had a baby who was born without any legs.  When her father heard about the cost of the medical care that would be required, he knew that he would not be able to afford to take care of her.  He decided to give her up for adoption.  When Dominique's mom woke up from the anesthesia, the baby was gone.  She never got to hold her or see her.  They never spoke of the baby again until Dominique asked about her sister years later.
     The baby, Jennifer, was adopted by a wonderful family who gave her the perfect childhood.  Although she didn't have legs, she was told she could do anything.  She competed in volleyball, gymnastics, and several other sports.  She never saw herself as disabled or handicapped.
     Although it was a closed adoption, a clerical error allowed Jennifer's parents to see the names on the birth certificate and see the pictures of her birth parents.  Since Jennifer loved gymnastics, the family watched the Olympic gymnasts and saw Dominique's last name.  They thought that was a strange coincidence, but when the cameras focused on Dominique's parents in the audience, they knew this was Jennifer's family.  They waited until Jennifer was older to tell her about her sister.
    In contrast to Jennifer's perfect childhood and family, Dominique shares the difficult life she led with her domineering father and controlling coaches.  They controlled what she ate, physically abused her, and only treated her well when the tv cameras were rolling.
     This is an interesting book, especially if you like gymnastics.  I am looking forward to reading Jennifer's upcoming book "Everything is Possible."

Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

     After hearing Kim Bearden's touching story at the Ron Clark Academy last week, I had to buy her book.  I started it on the plane and finished it yesterday.    
     Each chapter name is a different lesson that she learned from her students, such as "optimism" and "tenacity."  In that chapter she shares stories about her students that tie in with that lesson and how it helped her become a better person and teacher.  Each chapter ends with a summary of the key points and the homework for you to do as you implement that lesson into your own life.
     I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't my favorite.  The stories were interesting and inspiring, but were not developed fully enough to truly feel for her or the students she wrote about.  I would have liked fewer lessons with more complete descriptions that made them more memorable.  While I liked the stories, I could only retell one or two without needing to look back into the book.  I also disliked the key points and homework at the end of each chapter.  I know she was going with the school theme and helping me internalize the points she made, but it seemed heavy handed.  After the first chapter, I skipped the other pages at the ends of the chapters.
     It is worth reading if you are an educator, fan of the Ron Clark Academy, or of Kim.  But her personal stories are much more powerful when you hear her speak, which I highly recommend.   

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Winter People

     I grabbed this book at the airport because I needed a distraction on the long airplane ride from Salt Lake to Atlanta and back.  It worked well as a distraction, but is not a book I would recommend to anyone beyond that.
     It starts out as an interesting scary story about Sara, a mother, in a rural town in Vermont in 1908 who barely survived losing her baby boy, and has now lost her daughter Gertie.  She learns there is a secret way to bring back the ones you love, but it is only for seven days.  Sara is so desperate for her daughter, she is willing to do whatever it takes to see her again.  When her daughter returns, Sara becomes convinced her husband killed their daughter.  The dad is not sure if his wife is having a mental breakdown, if his daughter has really come back from the dead, or if his wife killed their child and her guilt is making her confess.
     The book moves between modern day and the past.  In modern times, two girls live in the house where Sara's family lived in 1908.  Their father has recently died and their mother has disappeared.  While looking for clues to their mother's disappearance, they find Sara's diary and begin to piece the stories together.
     This is where the book became unbelievable.  It tried to be bigger than the story started and it made the plot ridiculous at the end.  I won't spoil it for you, but the ending was making me laugh out loud instead of being scared.  I wish that it had stuck with Sara's story and the intrigue of wondering if Sara was hallucinating or if her daughter was really here, and who, if anyone, had killed the daughter.  The small scale of the town and time period made it spookily claustrophobic, but when it stretched to modern times and multiple stories coming into one, it lost its focus and its impact.  

Saturday, August 13, 2016


     August (Auggie) Pullman has a facial birth defect.  He has been home schooled while going through multiple surgeries for his cleft palate.  Now that he is 10, he heads to school for the first time.  Auggie learns to deal with teasing, bullying, and kids who want to be his friend but give in to peer pressure and make fun of him.  
     His sister Via is also having a hard time starting high school.  Her friends have changed and she no longer knows where she fits in.  She loves her brother, but struggles with jealousy over the attention Auggie gets from their parents.  
     Luckily, they both have loving parents who adore them, friends who stand by them through thick and thin, and each other.  This year is guaranteed to change all of their lives.  
     I really enjoyed this book.  Although it dealt with a difficult subject, it did so in a compassionate and realistic way.  Auggie was a strong character.  He is funny, smart, charming, and kind, but also dealt with the real feelings of embarrassment, anger, and feeling sorry for himself.  Via loves her brother, but also deals with feelings of embarrassment, resentment, and guilt.
      This is a great book for 10 +.  It is a great jumping off point to think about peer pressure, how we treat others, and learning to feel comfortable in our own skin.  

The Willoughbys

     Lois Lowry is a gifted writer because everything she writes is so unique and different.  You never feel like you are reading the same book repeatedly.  The Willoughbys is no exception.  Unlike her Dystopian novel The Giver or historical fiction Number the Stars or her realistic novel Gossamer, The Willoughbys is a parody of old fashioned stories like Mary Poppins and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
     Like all good old fashioned stories, a baby arrives in a basket with a note asking the Willoughbys to take good care of her.  The Willoughby parents can't stand the children they have, so are more than happy to have the children dump the baby on a rich, reclusive neighbor who is living in despair.
     In the meantime, back at the Willoughbys' home, the neglected children have hatched a plan to become orphans at the same time their devious parents have decided to find a legal way to rid themselves of their children.  The nanny arrives, and in true Mary Poppins' style, saves the day.
      This is a quick read.  I read it in one sitting, although kids may take a bit more time.  It is laugh out loud funny but much of the humor comes from understanding the stories being parodied.  With that and the difficult vocabulary, it is a good book for kids who love to read or adults who want to enjoy the twisted version of their favorite books they read as children.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Change Leader

     I really enjoyed Michael Fullan's Change Leader.  It was written in simple language with lots of examples to help you understand the key idea of each chapter.  Michael Fullan offers seven core practices that separate the competent leader from a change leader that is able to bring about and maintain deep and lasting changes in an organization.
     Rather than discuss each one of the core practices, I will share a few of the lessons that were the most insightful for my own growth as a leader.  
  • If you want to have any chance of changing a negative relationship you have to give other people respect before they have earned it
  • The lowest paid, and in most companies, the least motivated people, are the ones who can make or break a five-star operation.
  • Leaders are always developing the next generation of leaders as they do today's work.  
  • Change is only a mirage unless people actually experience the reality of improvement.  If that happens, they will expect and do even more.  
  • If you want to challenge people to change, develop a relationship with them first.  
  • You must share three cups of tea before you are accepted in the culture.  The first one is as a stranger.  the second is as an honored guest.  The third time is as family.  
  • Behaviors change before beliefs do.
  • The fall into the implementation dip will be even greater if high aspirations precede it, so strive for small early successes, acknowledge problems, admit mistakes, protect your people, and celebrate successes along the way.
  • Mutual allegiance comes from a commitment to the cause, and people get satisfaction from trying to outdo each other for the common good (and individual pride) even to the point of sharing ideas in a catch-me-if-you-can spirit.  It is magical.  you can have an Olympian spirit without cheating or cutthroat win-lose mentalities.
  • Learn to say I don't know and take the blame, even if it is not your fault.
  • Be indispensable in the right way - by creating new leaders that don't need you and can run with the changes on their own.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

     This was a book that I wouldn't have picked up on my own, but I'm glad someone required me to read it because it made me understand the Internment Camps of World War II in a new way.  
     The Panama Canal has been boarded up for 40 years when the new owner discovers the belongings of numerous Japanese families sent to Internment Camps during World War hidden in the basement.  When Henry Lee sees the parasol unfurl, he travels back in time to remember Keiko, his friend and first love from his childhood.
     Keiko and Henry are the only Asian American students in the all white school.  Although Henry is Chinese American and Keiko is Japanese American, they just see each other as friends.  The other children taunt and bully them, but their friendship helps them overcome it.
     Keiko's family supports the friendship and see Henry as a good person to be part of their daughter's life.  In contrast, Henry's father watched his parents get killed by the Japanese during an earlier war and wants Henry to stop being Keiko's friend.  He supports the American hatred of Japan and forces Henry to wear an "I Am Chinese" button so no will mistake his son for Japanese.  Henry is horrified to learn that Keiko's family is being sent to an Internment Camp.  He is able to travel to see her twice, and writes to her continually, but she never writes him back.  Henry finally agrees to his father's demands that he study in China if his father will agree to save the Panama Canal, the place where the Japanese American families have hidden their belongings.
     When the hotel is unboarded, Henry begins the search for Keiko's belongings and tells his son, Marty, about his first love.  Through the telling of the story, Henry and Marty learn to see each other as people and the value in giving each other a second chance.
     This is a book about love.  The love between father and son, the love for a country that is making the wrong decision, the love for family, first love, the love of art and music, and the love of friendship.
     The book travels between World War II and the current time of 1986.  It also travels between characters so you get to see the situation from many points of view.  The shifts in time and characters made it difficult for some people to read, but it is well worth the effort.      

When Books Went to War

     I bought this book as a present for my sixteen-year-old son who loves war topics, but isn't so keen on reading lately, so he would have a good book to read for his English class.  He got halfway in and quit reading, so I offered to read it so we could talk about it and motivate him to finish reading it.  I got halfway in and almost quit.
     The topic is very interesting, but it gets bogged down in the middle with lots of publishing information and political infighting that gets boring if you don't have enough background information to keep you interested.  However, when it refocuses on the soldiers and their experiences, it is a good read.
     The book is a true story of how books were used to fight Hitler's attack on books and ideas in World War II.  The book starts with a chapter on the Nazi's book burning and "whole war" attack on differing thoughts, ideas, and philosophies.
     Many people in Europe began hiding books in caves and castles hoping Hitler wouldn't find them, while others began shipping the books to other countries.  H. G. Wells began gathering the titles of the banned and burned books and created the Library of Burned Books in Paris in 1934.  When Germany invaded France, the Nazis put the library under lock and key and only let their high ranking officials in to see the books.
     When American librarians heard of the book burnings and banned books and authors, they were outraged.  They wanted to find a way to use books to counteract Hitler's attack on free thought.  When America men were drafted to begin training for war, the librarians began book drives to send books with them.  However, there were several problems that kept their original idea from succeeding.  The training camps were in disrepair and sorely lacking in equipment and supplies.  There was no place to house the books and it was hard to justify spending the time and money to build libraries when there were so many other things that needed to be built.  Soldiers didn't even have weapons to train with and had to use cardboard props to practice shooting artillery at fake planes.  Another problem was that Americans used the opportunity to clear out books they no longer wanted, so the librarians got books on knitting, religion, and children's books, which were not things the soldiers were interested in reading.  When Americans were sent to the front, the military was adamant that the soldiers needed things to read to counteract the boredom, fatigue, and horrors they were experiencing each day.  With the budget cuts and paper shortages, the librarians had to be creative in finding new ways to print books.  They came up with two pocket sized versions that were easy to read in any type of lighting, were small enough for a pocket or knapsack, and were light enough to not weigh the soldiers down.  They were so successful, the men couldn't get enough of the books.  Men who hadn't picked up a book since being forced to read in school fell in love with reading.  It gave them hope, courage, a new mindset, and an escape from the realities surrounding them.  The plan was so successful that when the men returned from war and used the GI Bill to go to colleges and universities, they were the best students.
     One of my favorite parts were learning how the American soldiers saved The Great Gatsby from obscurity because they loved reading it on the front.  My other favorite part was reading about the difficult places that the men read - from hiding in foxholes and trenches while Japanese tanks continually drove over their heads to lying wounded at the foot of the cliffs on Omaha Beach reading while they waited for medics to arrive.
     It is a great book and I learned a huge amount of information on a topic I knew nothing about.  However, if you plan to give it to a boy to read because he likes war, you may want to warn him that some chapters are boring and he may need to skim them in order to be willing to read on to the chapters that go back to the soldiers.  Your guy may be different, but this might help you if you have a kid like mine that won't finish books when he gets bored.