Monday, December 31, 2012

50 Books in a Year: Book #56 Mare's War #59 Dark Water #60 The List #63 Let It Snow

So, the above four books are pretty amazing and I'm kind of sorry that I'll be speed reviewing them. I hope you'll  get the idea of how much I love them, although they are all quite different. I'll be putting up full reviews on Teen Text Talk and will link to those as I complete them...which, um, may be the 12th of Never....we'll see.

Dark Water 
(edited from a conversation on YA Reads for Adults...where you too can join and I love that this was our guest author selection and Laura McNeal was there to talk with us about her book)

I love the ending so much. It's so hopeful and romantic and uplifting that I was willing to accept that even her cousin's, who is truly much weaker than she, hatred couldn't deter her from the goal of finding Amiel. 

I suppose I just see the whole book as being uplifting. I see it as a struggle for a girl to find her own identity, who is forced to find it faster than most because of what happens, and in the end she knows exactly who she is, what she wants and how she's going to get it. Pearl is much more than just a girl of divorced parents, much more than a poor girl et cetera, and while Amiel helped her on this road in the end she did this alone and I can take comfort in that. To me she is more alone than lonely and alone isn't all that bad. I don't think she was lonely just a little bit lost and I could/can/will identify with that.  All the people are experiencing  something that so real that at times it's painful. 

 I totally remember those times in my life when I felt like I was changing, and the world around me was staying the same...I think that's one of the many steps towards maturity. I also lived in my head a lot, um, er, still do and could be that extroverted cheerleader, but was also the person who thought about everything too much. I had to learn to balance those two me's a little better and in the process I grew up and realized that it's OK to be quiet sometimes and sometimes it's OK to yell. I think that Pearl is that the beginning of that journey.

Finally, this discussion has reminded me of this poem:

Song by Adrienne Rich

We're all just diamonds and wood after all. 

The List 

Although I was a black girl in a pretty much all white school, I mean I was the first African-American to graduate from Lebanon High School and that was 1994 (you can read more about that here). Aside from my early years of school, I wasn't really teased. And in high school I wasn't blacklisted or whatever it is teens do to other teens. I do remember being in a clique that would rival that one in Mean Girls and reading this book reminded me so much of those, what I thought were harmless, lists of pretty girls and boys. I never thought about what it meant to be on those lists or to write those lists or to even see those lists floating around.

Popularity contest are not cool.

I love how this book shows this, but doesn't really tie up any of the loose ends...the ending is neither happy nor sad. Everyone learns lessons and everyone suffers. How could you win when the list is so horrible and intrinsic to the very backbone of the school. Vivian really has shown us every example of the teenage boy and girl. I'm pretty sure every adult will see him or herself in the characters and be glad that time is over. I hope teenagers read this book (yes, I bought it for my classroom in hard-cover) and see themselves and use it as a tool to change.

Mare's War 

This book was first introduced to me during our Missouri Reading Initiative meetings. Our presenter Kae read a couple of really great descriptive passages from the book and then we used them as writing assignments. Those passages really made me want to read the book.

This book is quite lovely as it encompasses historical fiction, Mare is a African-American girl fighting in WWII, strong females, and it shows how African-Americans were discriminated against even in the face of war. The book is told alternately through flashbacks in Mare's voice and in the voice of Mare's youngest grand-daughter. It's important to appreciate your heritage and to not take for granted any member of your family.

Let It Snow

Super cute stories centered around a small town and the teenagers who get snowed in on Christmas and Christmas Eve. There are three stories that interweave the characters and each story is written by a prominent YA author.

The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson
I love this story. I enjoy a good meet cute. Stuart sounds just too perfect. I could go on, but I'd just feel like some sort of moron. Is it wrong that I want to collect little Christmas themed knick-knacks one day...with a train running through the whole town? I don't think so.

A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle by John Green
This story is kind of like Road Trip meets Pineapple Express meets Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. I loved. I rooted for the good guy. I wanted there to be cheerleaders. I wished I had a cool nickname like The Duke.

The Patron Saint of Pigs by Lauren Myracle
I'd been reading about how this one wasn't as good as the other two. At first I totally agreed the main character is a whiny, selfish girl who doesn't really deserve to have friends let alone a boyfriend. Despite my dislike of her I really thought she acted like many of the teen girls I see today and in the end she learns some really valuable lessons from her guardian angel and the only entirely tea-cup pig thing was adorable.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

30 Days of Truth: Something You Love About Yourself

I found this meme here and here.

Two: Something You Love About Yourself
There are many things I love about vast pop-culture knowledge, my mixed heritage, my family, hmm, I don't know if these are actually things about myself, like the deep within me self, but they are things I like about me.

I love that I am self-aware.

I am amazed that there are people who aren't self-aware.

I don't do things I know I can't do. I know when I'm being lazy. I know when I'm working too hard or not enough. When someone asks me a question, I can answer truthfully because I've already thought about the answer or because I think about the answer and, if I can't do either, I say, "Here's my gut reaction, but let me think about that. Unless you like my gut reaction."

I wonder if I learned this from my mother???

Saturday, December 29, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #53 Just for Fins and #62 In Over Her Head

Just for Fins
Reason for reading:
It's the third book in the series and I was a little worried I wasn't going to like it as I was not impressed with book 2, but I wanted/needed to finish the series.
Read this if you like:
Tera Lynn Childs, mermaids, Forgive My Fins (the first book in the series), stories about family, royalty, the ocean without being too technical
My thoughts:
What a lovely ending to the series. At least I hope it's the ending...I know how writers are nowadays. I also like that Lily kind of redeems her not so academic self by having such a passion for the ocean. I like how she is willing to learn from others and I like how she is quite the brave communicator.Quince must complete three challenges to win over Lily and everybody including Doe is rooting for him. This is such a fun, light series and I appreciate that!

In Over Her Head
Reason for reading:
I was curious about what an 'adult' mermaid book might be.
Read this if you like:
Romance novels, books about buried treasure, Splash, the sea and the ocean as it goes into great detail about both
My thoughts:
Gah! There's wayyyy to much ocean description. I don't need to know the name of every creature present. Heck, as a Midwestern I found myself looking up or Googling images just to get an idea of what the flip was going on. Also, I'm beginning to hate this new (?) trend that romance novels have of waiting until about 200 pages in before there's any 'action' and then the 'action' is so prevalent that it is distracting. Parts of this book were really cute, but most of it required too much from me to make it work.

2012 Mermaid books read in order of how much I like them
  1. Tangled Tides *****
  2. Between the Land and the Sea ****
  3. Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings ****
  4. Just for Fins ****
  5. The Lure of Shapinsay ****
  6. Fins are Forever ***
  7. The Little Mermaid ***
  8. Sea Change ***
  9. In Over Her Head ***
  10. Everblue **

Friday, December 28, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #52, #54, #55 The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

So, I've got 12 books to review in, um, 3 I'll be chunking them up. If you want to see full reviews of the young adult books check out Teen Text Talk...for the others, well that's all she wrote.

For this post, I'll be doing the three 50 Shades books...

I find that when I'm overly stressed out and busy I read books that entertain, but do not challenge...enter this trilogy. I'm not going to lie I found these books fun and entertaining and a bit more like Twilight than I thought they would be, even though I knew they were fanfiction. I also didn't really find them all that dirty (not really sure what that says about me...), but I've read loads of romance novels and you can only talk about having sex so much before it becomes bland, and, frankly, I found the sex scenes so similar that after the first book I breezed through the sex to read the story. And, just as I did with the Twilight Saga (everytime I call it the Twilight Saga I cannot help, but chortle...saga, really?), I really liked the first book and eventually got bored with the story and with the love story and just wanted some action...real action by the end.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Story line
From Goodreads:
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

  • Christian Grey...I really tried not to like him as I felt he would be an affront to the virtues of men and women everywhere, but alas he had his good qualities.
  • Ana seems to be a bit more powerful in this book than the other two.
  • There were some laugh out loud moments...hmm...I hope they were meant to be funny, at least they were to me.


  • the phrase 'inner Goddess'...who edited these books, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing that phrase to appear at all, let alone in the amount that it does.
  • no matter what i tried, i could stop Ana from being Bella...why is that you ask? because this book is the Twilight can change the location and you can muddle up the names, but still...
  • the use of the word 'baby'...ugh.
  • Ana...double ugh.

Fifty Shades Darker

Not that I want to admit this, but I probably found this book to be the best one. I like the story line and the locations. I don't really know if that's because I got used to the horrible writing. I feel like the first book is all about how sensational Christian and Ana are and this book actually has more dialogue, less 'baby's' and less of that friggin' inner goddess bull-crap. We also get to meet Ana's family and Christian's family and so there's less of that awful romantic conversation crap.

Story line
From Goodreads:
Daunted by the singular sexual tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house. 

But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Anastasia cannot resist. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Anastasia learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven and demanding Fifty Shades. 

While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her, and make the most important decision of her life.


  • I really do like Christian Grey...I loath myself.
  • The setting...I've never thought of Seattle as a place I'd want to visit. I guess it's more than the 90s Grunge scene and coffee houses.
  • I also like Christian's house-keeper, well, actually, I like all the people that work for him on a personal level--the office bimbos I could do without.


  • OK, so I always imagined Rochester from Jane Eyre as talking like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. About half-way through this book, I realized that Christian was taking on some of these traits...who wants to fantasize about Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.
  • Oh, Bella, er, I mean Ana get over are the worst character ever written...I still don't quite grasp what you conflict is and you make me want to punch you in the kidney.
  • Christian is a bit, ok more than a bit of a STALKER, and, since when is this an attractive quality in a man.

Fifty Shades Freed
I don't know why this book exist...the first 100 pages are so dull.
Not that I know a lot about S&M and I had to Google often to understand what was going on, but I really don't like the story arc of the lady (I don't the flip remember her name) who 'helped' Christian and then turned psycho and I don't like the treatment of the all the reasons Christian is the way he is. Why can't he just like doing it because he likes to? And, I really thought that woman would become a friend, not a jealous old lady with nothing except her money and boy toys.

Story line
From Goodreads:
Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.


  •'s that house that sounds just amazing.


  • What the heck was that honeymoon about???
  • What the heck was that ending about???
  • Ana is the most static character ever!
  • And, I am done with the Britishisms...why are people from America living in Seattle talking like they live in the West End!!!???

OK, so for all my dislike of what these books have done to mainstream America, I couldn't help, but read them and like them and like talking about them. The characters aren't roll models, the sex is pretty much used to propel the plot, but, if you told me you were going to read them I wouldn't stop you.

And, I'd want to dish about it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Implementing New Units...gah!

So, I've been really busy since the school year started. One would think that after 14 years of experience, teaching would be a breeze. You would think that all I'd have to do is make copies and sit at my desk and, well, put my feet up.

But, alas, no...

I started writing this post in September and assumed that I'd have it finished in early October, but here we are. Anyway, I just wanted to show you a typical unit process.

And, I also wanted to say I'm thankful that I'm only doing this for one class not two, I'm thankful that I have two lovely ladies teaching the same class with me to help, and I'm glad that, other than our approach to grammar, the 2nd semester isn't full of drastic changes.

This is the book we used for our short story unit.
It's from the 1990s, my colleagues husband remembers
using it when he was in high school.
Frankly, I love this book, but I understand that it is quite old.
Planning a unit looks a bit like this:

  1. Is there a test already created? If so, does it follow the CLEs, and, for this year, does it follow CCSS?
  2. If not, create a test...which means we have to look at our learning targets and our ELOs. If not, revamp said test. Thank goodness this particular unit already had a test created like my 2nd year of teaching, shared with others and revamped my 6th year of teaching and only needed to be updated a little.
  3. From the test create a calendar of what goes where (we're all about backward design)...for this unit that meant: 1] reading strategies 2] what stories or activities should be homework 3] what stories or activities should be completed in class 4] what's for enrichment 5] what's for remediation 6] what's for a grade 7] what's for practice and 10 years ago all of this looked different. Heck, 3 years this looked different. 
  4. Create what needs to be created...when there are three people working together that's pretty awesome because you can divide the work load and, if you are the veteran teacher you can say, "Since I made ---, could someone else make ---?"
  5. Implement said plan. This, of course, means writing new lesson plans or revamping old ones...ugh.
Here's are the lesson plans for this unit:


We've made three new units for 1st know and then there's the usual grading and takes up a lot of time. My blog has suffered.

But, I gotta tell you, this has been one of the best year's of teaching EVER! Really! And, I thank my PLC for making that possible. We're quite a team!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

30 Days of Truth: Something You Hate About Yourself

Um, I haven't really done a challenge in awhile and I thought I start with this in-depth look at me and my views for the next 30 Sundays...whew...

I found this meme here and here.

One: Something You Hate About Yourself
Hate is a strong word, so I can honestly say that I hate nothing about myself.

I mean seriously...let's look at the word "hate".

1. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest
2. to be unwilling; dislike
3. to feel intense dislike, or extreme aversion or hostility
4. intense dislike; extreme aversion or hostility
the object of extreme aversion or hostility

That's a pretty strong word. There are things about myself that I'd like to change, there are things about myself that I don't like, sometimes, and don't really want to change, there are things that people probably don't like about me that I should change/don't know about/don't want to change, but I don't hate any of them, they make me,

List of things I could mellow:
1. My inability to be patient, especially when I know that I'm right. I don't want you to figure out I'm right, I want you to trust me and do what I say...
2. Um,, most of the time...I'm pretty bossy I think that has a lot to do with #1
3. I'm not as brave as I should be...I can think of at least 3 powerful conversations where I hope my body language and actions said what I felt because, well, words never got to my lips

Hmm...that's all for now, thinking about those conversations has made me a wee-bit melancholy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sophomore English PLC does NaNoWriMo Film at 11

My former student and friend, Courtney turned me on to the deliciousness of National Novel Writing Month last year. It was after November and I didn't feel any pressure when I talked about how fun it would be to do such a thing.

Enter this year.

My English teacher friends and I were talking about stories we used to write and nerdy writer's groups we used to be in and I showed them the NaNoWriMo website. The challenge seemed too exciting to ignore. We decided to join and to challenge each other to write write like we did in College and High get back to the roots of ourselves (school and other commitments can can get in the way). We're doing NaNoWriMo all month. That's however many pages 1666 words is everyday for 30 days. Pretty intense, but the fact that we're on the journey is pretty exciting, and the fact that we're doing it together fills my heart with delight.

I don't really plan on that a bad thing?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #51 The Lincoln Lawyer

Ok, ok...I may have watched the movie before reading this book. It could be my old age or the fact that I've been working my butt off lately, but I may have watched the movie twice BEFORE even thinking about reading this book.

What can I say I like lawyer movies, and I like movies starring Matthew McConaughey, and I like movies starring Mr. McConaughey as a lawyer. I enjoyed the twists and turns the story took and wasn't sure they'd be as interesting in a book.

The thing is that while the book doesn't move as fast as the movie...and, the movie doesn't move fast at all...there are so many pluses to reading this book.

#1 Characterization
I like how Connelly writes Mickey Haller just as much as I like how McConaughey plays him. This guy is a truly flawed character who has his ex working for him and a tiny list of true friends to contrast his large Christmas list. I like that the book goes into detail about how guilty Haller feels about his failed marriage, failed relationships, failed relationship with his daughter and his guilt about being a lawyer who gets his money from living in the gray.

#2 Setting 
From the car to the court house Connelly sets the scene so well that I understand how a Lincoln can be an office, I felt the Los Angele heat and I was there in the courtroom and in the jail cells.

#3 Believable Story
In the end of this book not everything is tied up and Haller must struggle with the fact that doing good weighs more on his conscious than pretending good.

I liked this book and am glad that I have found another serial novelist to sink my teeth into on those nights when I should be grading or writing lesson plans.

The Lincoln Lawyer was my first Michael Connelly book, I look forward to reading more.I suppose I should start with the first one.

I like when I read a book after watching the movie and the book, while it has a different feel than the movie, is just as enjoyable. This is definitely one of those books. I'll be reading more Connelly in the near future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm Ashamed of Where I Live...Sometimes...

The top sign has been down the road from my  friend's house for a long time, She drives by it everyday she comes to work and, although we talk about and disagree with its sentiment we understand free speech. The bottom sign only went up yesterday, and has already been taken down...this story just makes me ashamed to live where I live, but not surprised at the hatred it spews. I won't even talk about the bumper stickers, or the churches contorting the Bible on their marques. Politics make us kra-kra. Hmm...and, so does race.

Below is the note my friend posted on Facebook with the picture:
Out of curiosity, I called a neighbor to see how long the bottom sign lasted. Although she said it made a number of her neighbors smile, it lasted less than 24 hours and was on a property that supported the message and allowed its placement. Cowardly people who propagate hatred and lies can remove a sign...but they can't keep it from spreading around on the internet. I encourage you to share this image. However people vote on November 6th, I would hope it would be about issues and not about bigotry.

Spread the word.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Where I've Been Lately...

A Run-Down of the Last Month

I can't believe that I've been absent from my darling blog for a month. School is kicking my butt right now and what I like to do when I'm not watching my kiddo, traveling to conferences, making new lesson plans for new units or reading is sleep (and, I've been doing very little of that lately). Sorry dear blog, I'd like to say it won't happen again, but really, shouldn't teaching be easier after 14 years?! And, while planning lessons we still managed to visit family, go on shopping trips, plan a birthday party and do all the normal day to day things October brings! I even read some books...light and fluffy and full of non-sense, but books just the same.

Here's the breakdown on my week...

September 25th-October 2nd
Jackets Unite and fun at the park

On the Merry-Go-Round, pretty sure she liked this a lot.
Nerd Day during Spirit Week. This is one pic
in the card for our department head, who was out with
a broken wrist. I can't show you the other pic...
it involves David Duchovny and some tea.
Homecoming 2012!!!
October 2nd-October 9th
I made the tutu. She wants to decorate it!

October 9th-October 16th
Pumpkin Patch and Happy Birthday!!!

[Gunter Farm]

October 16th-October 23rd
Dinner with Friends

October 23rd-Tomorrow
I'm pretty excited for this week!!! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #50 The Night Circus

I started this book last Fall...yes, last Fall. And, if my status updates are any indication this book was gosh darned slow to start. Slow as H-E-C-K!

Reading Progress

09/09page 280
73.0%"I suppose you get to a point where this book moves fast enough."
09/09page 181
47.0%"'Second verse same as the first.' I feel like I should wear more black, white and red. I have students who will love this book."
09/08page 121
31.0%"if I may be quite honest I started this like, um, last fall and got to page 31 and then, it was so boring and then I put it on a reading challenge and must have it read by the end of the month...the beauty of the language keeps me going. not really sure why it can't be told in sequential order. books that go out of time without a reason make me want to punch puppies."

This book was probably at a "2" until about half way, and, then, frankly, by the end it was a delicious and solid "5"...hence, the "4". It's one of those books where you can tell the author loves the world that has been created and this is the first book that I've ever read where the world that has been created is so magical and beautiful (like made for a movie that I'm sure is going to be created soon) that it distracts from the plot and from the characters. I couldn't tell if I wanted the two main characters to get together in the end and I wasn't sorry when any characters died...I didn't get to know them that well, I loved the ending so much I forgot about the beginning. And, gah, any character development happened in relation to that darned circus. It takes about 100 pages to go anywhere and that's a lot of darned circus talk.  Although I just didn't love all that rising action in the beginning, I do love me some circus action. And, really, who doesn't love a circus?

Yeah, that darned circus with it's beautiful maze and wishing tree and bonfire and delicious cider. Uh, uh, that circus with its contortionist and fortune teller and wide-eyed red-headed, mystical twins. Of course, there's a love triangle, of sorts and an aged old magicians bet. I wish I could have seen more of that...the bet, the mysterious characters, the love story. Read this and you'll want to grab your black and white dress or tux, throw on your red scarf and find some wonderful place to skulk about at night hoping for your dreams to come true, just don't plan on finding any characters to fall in love with on your journey, well, that is until the circus is about ready to close.

Monday, September 24, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #49 The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight

OK, so we've already established that I love romance and schmoopiness and chick-lit...I'd like to share with you one more very important point.

I am an over-the-top, dorkopatamus, hopeless Romantic. This book by Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight, totally encapsulates this sentiment.

I could gush on and on about the cover alone with it's perfect hand-writing font and it's adorable drawn-on heart doodle and the black and the white and the red and the airport PDA, but I'd much rather talk about Oliver and Hadley and my favorite place in the world, London, and, you know, my romantic view of airports and my teenage girl dream of meeting a lovely British boy on a plane.

I believe that airports and airplanes are two of the most romantic places in the world. They are brimming over with possibilities and full of stories...hearts being broken and courted and hopes being crushed and dreams being answered. And, I cannot count the amount of times I have sat in my seat hoping that someone would sit next to me and this someone would change my whole life. Of course, that's not how it went at all...but, I still have that dream in my soul. Passionate airport kisses and over-whelming desires to have them were just an added bonus to this dream.

Smith writes her characters in such a way that I totally believe that a girl could meet and fall for a guy in 8 hours. I totally believe that said guy would not feel totally weird about meeting said girl at an awkward time, and would put himself on the line just as much as she would to make sure that they saw one another again.

To add to the layers, Hadley's going to England to be in her father's wedding to a woman she has never met and doesn't want to meet. As Hadley gets to know Oliver more, we, in turn, begin to understand that she isn't very different from her father. And, we begin to understand that there are different types of love and not all of them end in happily ever after. We begin to understand that we have to be true to ourselves and accept the consequences of our actions.

I believe in love at first sight and, I love thinking about the idea that all of this happens because Hadley was running four minutes late. Because what would love at first sight be without fate playing the biggest role of all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Infinite Summer #14: So, You've Finished Infinite Jest...oh, wait you haven't!?

Neither have I...

Think of these Sunday posts as jumping off places...discuss what I've posted, post something yourself, answer questions, ask questions, add whatever it takes to make this experience enjoyable and understandable for you!

These post will be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS for the reading for that week (Just in case you didn't already know that!). I think knowing this will stop those of us that aren't at a certain place from reading on and will enable those of us who are writing to do so without worrying if someone knows that fact or not. If you are reading ahead and want to post about the pages ahead please wait and if you want to talk about other books, not Infinite Jest and are giving spoilers please indicate that in some fashion...even a *spoiler* before the comment would be nice.

And, finally, if there is anything I can do to make this run more smoothly please don't hesitate to message me on here, on twitter or on Goodreads and I'll see what I can do.

Let's Begin the Discussion...

I feel like it's cheating to come out of blog hibernation to talk about a book I've yet to finish. I'm stuck somewhere around page 725. Life happens...ya know...

What I do know is that I lovely this book...strangely I do. Every time I pick it up I wonder why it took me so long to pick it up. I will finish it. Hopefully I finish it in 7 days...

Of note:

1. I'll predate #12 and #13, so they go in the proper spot on the blog. I just didn't want you to think I was cheating when I do this.
2. Teaching is kicking my butt right now...hence the lack of post to even talk about how much it's kicking my I'll catch up, post some reviews, talk about Summer (sigh I remember Summer) and finish this danged book!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Infinite Summer #13: Gabe Habash's Take on the Top 10 Characters

I have a bit of a nerd-girl crush on Gabe Habash. It all started innocently enough with his post about reading 55 books in 2011, grew to laughing about his absurd taste in silly books and continues through his nerd love of all things literature. Imagine my surprise when I noticed all these posts he written about IJ, just at the point when my friends and I had decided to make it our summer challenge! I've saved the best for almost last...

Anyway, enough gushing...Gabe has posted on Publisher Weekly's blog, PWxyz, his Top Ten characters in the novel. Here's what he has to say:

One of the many joys of Infinite Jest, made possible because of its tremendous length, is its massive cast of characters. The deeper you go, the more characters you encounter and, as you go even deeper, the intersecting lines between the characters become apparent. Just take a look at this diagram. To celebrate the book’s huge ensemble, we’ve counted down the 10 best characters. For the list, we’re excluding the book’s two “main” characters, Hal and Gately, because they’re given time and consideration that the rest of the characters don’t get, and thus can’t be evaluated in the same way. Be sure to tell us whether you agree of[sic] disagree with our selections in the comments!

Anyway, here's his list
(click on the character name to be taken to an individual post about said character)
10] Barry Loach
9] M. Hugh Steeply (aka Helen)
8] Mrs. Waite
7] Bruce Green
6] Ortho ("The Darkness") Stice
5] Avril Incandenza
4] Joelle van Dyne
3] Michael Pemulis
2] Eric Clipperton
1] Mario Incandenza

Out of the characters listed above who is your favorite? Did he miss someone? Would you rearrange the order? Tell me and then go to his post (linked above) and tell him. Oh, and here's a poll, if you like that sort of thing...goodness knows I do!

Like what Gabe Habash has to say?...follow him on Twitter @gabehabash

Can you believe we're almost finished?!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Infinite Summer #12: Should this book be considered science fiction?

OK, so we've read enough of this book to argue the point.

Here are some interesting view points

1] Infinite Summer #7: Is Infinite Jest Science Fiction?
2] Is Infinite Jest Science Fiction?
3] Why IJ Doesn't Really Count as Science Fiction

This is a hand-out that I give the students when we talk about SF.
No, we don't even begin to talk about all the sub-genres only those we will come across throughout the school year.

Here's what I say
I suppose it does fall under some sort of alternate or futuristic type of SF. And, it does thoroughly follow the definition...I don't know where I found that definition:

1. Takes a scientific hypothesis (there are several for this book...I'm focusing on one for this exercise)
Our need for technology really doesn't plug us in and help us to communicate. It just gives us one more piece of entertainment to be addicted to and this addiction alienates us even more from our fellow man.

2. Vision of what life would be like if the hypothesis were true
People would be selfish and narrow minded. Even those that had feelings, even those that bothered to think would be squashed by society and by 'the machine' (cue Pink Floyd). To beat 'the machine' we have to join it? It hurts me that I am part of 'the machine'...and, yet, I don't want to be like Thoreau and live in the woods either.

                                                         "Welcome To The Machine"

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It's alright we know where you've been.
You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine.

3. Uses scientific imagination to tell a story about consequences and holds a mirror up to tomorrow in order to examine contemporary life
The world of this novel is so similar to our own that I find myself questioning basic idioms I've always believed to be true. You know "It's no longer recreational if you have to do it to survive. It's an addiction." seems that DFW would argue if it ever was recreational at all. We just allowed ourselves to think that. I also wonder about television addiction and Facebook and even blogging. Am I communicating or am I just glorifying myself. What aspects of new technology help us to become more global and what aspects hinder our growth. Infinite Jest is Science Fiction.

What do you all think?

Friday, September 7, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #48 The Bloody Spur

"But when they should endure the bloody spur, 
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades, 
Sink in the trial. Comes his army on?"
~Julius Caesar Act IV; Scene 2

I love film noir and I love classic pulp fiction. There's just something about an underpaid under-appreciated guy looking for the truth, trench-coat flapping, cigarette burning. Cleaning my classroom this summer I found a bunch of old books and in that pile was this lovely book The Bloody Spur (1st edition, opposite of mint condition). I cataloged the book and looked to see if they had it on the Nook, as I knew I wanted to read it, but didn't want to hurt the spine or break the cover any more than it already was.

Just, so you know last month they began to offer this classic pulp novel as an ebook and it's only $.99. It's got a few typos, but still it's a fun read.

The story opens with the funeral of a prominent newspaper man. At the grave-site and across the way there's a procession for a murdered secretary, the second, they believe, in a row of ghastly murders committed by the same evil man.

And, like any good piece of pulp this book goes off on many devious and bawdy tangents. There are four men vying for the spot left vacant by the newsman's death. These men are sleeping with their secretaries, one hires his mistress to seduce and blackmail someone else, there's lying and thieving and conniving and in the middle of it all there's these grisly murders. Based on real life events:
In 1952, he wrote a successful book called the "Bloody Spur," which was based on the crimes of William Heirens, the "Lipstick Killer," who terrorized Chicago in the mid-1940s. Movie director Fritz Lang later made the book into a celebrated 1956 film noir called "While the City Sleeps," which was set in New York.
Now, I've got to just find that movie...although, I'm sure it's taken out all the juicy bits. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #47 The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman

When it comes to coming of age novels I enjoy an good story about an angsty, awkward teenage boy. I especially enjoy this kind of book when our male protagonist narrates. It's no wonder why I am in deep love with the blonde, uncomfortable male lead in the novel The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman by Paul Zindel. Eugene Dingman reminds me a lot of Holden Caulfield, both are angsty and self-absorb, but when I was younger I felt they hung the moon.

I didn't realize how much this book is a foundation of my being until I re-read it. My favorite quote and philosophy of living comes from this novel.
"It doesn't make any difference what you do in the bedroom as long as you don't do it in the street and frighten the horses." ~Mrs. Patrick Campbell
Although I thought it was my idea to read Madame Bovary, I think it started here with Eugene.

I also didn't realize how many references, pop and political, lit and theatrical, exist in this book and you can't tell me that the Kauffman's (think Friends') and the Palladino's (think The Gilmore Girls) weren't subtly influenced by this book and Zindel as well.

One can not argue that this novel is a classic, a classic YA novel that I just had to nominate for the classic YA read for the month of August, (Nobody's commented on my comments if you want to join, read and do so that would be awesome). It follows the basic classic literature tenets.

From and a conversation had at YA Reads...
1] is an expression of life truth or beauty this is a coming of age novel that has a male protagonist that deals with many of the things (family relationships or lack thereof, thoughts of suicide, friendships, running away) that teens deal with, and we read about his life 1st hand in his journal...whether the authors know it or not, this book is a foundation for books such as The Perks of Being a Wall-flower, An Abundance of Katherines's and  Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, as they have conflicted male voices as protagonists.

2] stands the test of time it's on many booklist, especially when looking for classic male coming of age books...and, i found several reading list, here are three of note:

Paul Zindel's Classic Novels
Various school districts including this one
Reading Suggestions for Advanced Readers

 It's also 'an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age

3] has universal appeal Zindel's books are much like SE Hinton's books in the sense that they appeal to a certain kind of kid, usually reluctant reader types or fringe kids as his characters exhibit some of these traits...Eugene Dingman is no exception.

4] makes connections From the back: "On his fifteenth birthday, precocious Eugene Dingman begins the amazing and death-defying diary of his summer spent as a waiter at a ritzy Adirondack resort." Here's a review from 1988 that I think hits the nail on the head. Any person who has doubted, wonder, puzzled and struggled will find something to relate to in the character Eugene Dingman. I know I did! Hope this helps! :D

Seriously, go grab yourself that mix-tape I know you've been itching to play since you found your tape player, pop it in and read this lovely homage to the 80s, brilliant teenagers full of ennu and summertime. Afterwards you might want to watch Dirty Dancing or any movie involving John Cusack as a teenager. You've been warned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #46 On the Island

The following is full of spoilers...I thought I'd tell you just in case you were totally expecting the unexpected you will not find it in this book. Surely, I'm not giving ANYTHING away here. Does that cover look like the kind of book that would kill off its characters in the end?

Great Summer read...glad I wasn't reading it on a plane...wish I could have read it on a beach!

OK, maybe not a beach exactly...

I think I may be a romantic of the sappy variety.

Here are some of the signs:

1. I can watch the Lifetime channel all. day. long.
2. I like my 'Happily Ever Afters'.
3. I like the Hallmark Channel
4. I prefer Sandra Bullock to be in movies where she lives in Chicago and likes men who 'lean'
5. The shows that I love the most are shows that have a hard-core 'shipper' factor...The X-Files, Bones, Castle, sure these seem like murder mystery alien shows, but that's all a guise for the sexual tension.
6. I like sexual tension.
7. I love chick-lit. I don't think chick-lit is a derogatory word. I like my chick-lit in various forms and sizes.
8. When I grow up I want to be Bridget Jones.
9. My reading list this year has so many pinky, reddish, schmoopie colors it almost makes me embarrassed. Almost.

This book, On the Island, should be a sign unto itself. 30 year old woman meets 16, almost 17, year old boy recovering cancer patient. She's his tutor. They crash on an island. He matures. She *cough* matures. They um, well, you know it is an island and they are stranded there together for a long time.

And, the thing is nothing about the above story is creepy, at least Tracey Garvis Graves goes out of her way to make sure that we understand enough about their relationship that we don't find it creepy and she gives us just enough about the two characters that we do buy that he grows into a man and she grows to love him. TJ is probably more ideal than a lot of main male characters out there and he isn't just a puppy following Anna around until she decides to love him. They both learn to accept each other and they learn that they can survive no matter what. I mean there's this scene with a shark that's just wow.

I like that the climax is that they get off the island 3 1/2 years after crash landing and about 2 1/2 days (only slight exaggeration) after they decide to have a relationship. They have to learn to love each other in the real world. Each of them have to decide if the love is real. And, I love that TJ gets it first.

Anyway, every single part of this book is predictable and I loved every single minute of it. I really kinda a lot want to read it again...especially the last 40 pages or so *hubba, hubba*.

It's like Robinson Crusoe meets The Blue Lagoon...yeah, I just did that.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #45 Hands on Grammar

This is one of those books that you read more than one time and then you modify the lessons and you share the lessons. There are so many lessons that I will be using in my classroom. I can't wait to try these out and share them. Teaching grammar through mini-lessons in relation to a unit all year long seems like a better idea than the old-fashioned way of teaching grammar in isolation and this book is the ideal book to do that.

40 interactive lessons.


And, I got them all for free. 

Over the summer I attended a differentiated instruction conference in Chicago. My first session was about common-core and DI. We talked about all sorts of things, but spent a long time talking about how the common-core standards will change the way we look at grammar. Something that people have being saying in my AP (advanced placement) conferences for years. The reason is simple: we teach grammar mostly in isolation without critical thinking and critical thinking is a heavy component in the common core. Common Core will ask students to 'show' what they have learned not memorize and spit back.

It will be tough.

It will be hard...mostly for those of us who have a traditional approach to teaching. This book and it's author are definitely there to help.

She also sent me a couple of other lovely books and a t-shirt I'm wearing as I type this. If she's presenting at a conference near you, I highly suggest attending.

Dr. Katherine McKnight can be found at:

K-12 In-Service PD for Teachers
Katherine McKnight Literacy on Facebook

and here's an article: "What Teachers Need to Know About the Common Core State Standards"

Thanks! Dr. McKnight!!!

And, no, I didn't check this post for grammar's a blog!!! *hahaha*

Monday, September 3, 2012

55 Books in a Year: book #44 The Last Unicorn

My first memory of The Last Unicorn is from 1982. My grandfather had taken the three of us to watch the movie. I was 5 years old. I remember that he bought us popcorn and a soda and candy each, so we didn't have to share. I remember sitting on one side of him, my sister Marissa on the other, my sister Kim beside me. Eventually Kim moved into the seat with me (there are parts of that movie that really are scary to a 4 year old).

I was mesmerized by the unicorn "the color of snow falling on a moonlit night", I fell in the love the singing and I was enchanted by the story of a lone unicorn searching for her brothers and sisters. A unicorn who sacrificed herself to save those she didn't even know she loved.

I remember reading the book not long after and I realize, now that I've read it again, I didn't get a lot of it and the parts that I remember most vividly are the parts that are included in the movie; a movie I have seen at least 100 times. This book, like other fairy tales, is perfect in the sense that it has the fantastic story of a unicorn, a prince, a castle, the sea, adventure and love. As an adult I still had all of these themes floating around in my head and heart, but as an adult I could see all that the unicorn lost and I could see all that she gained. When I was a kid the story didn't seem so bittersweet. I just liked all the unicorns. I knew she couldn't be the last.

You can read the sequel...I guess one can call it a sequel here. It's even more bittersweet and, well, sad.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Infinite Summer #11: If I Were Going to Teach this Novel

Think of these Sunday posts as jumping off places...discuss what I've posted, post something yourself, answer questions, ask questions, add whatever it takes to make this experience enjoyable and understandable for you!

These post will be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS for the reading for that week (Just in case you didn't already know that!). I think knowing this will stop those of us that aren't at a certain place from reading on and will enable those of us who are writing to do so without worrying if someone knows that fact or not. If you are reading ahead and want to post about the pages ahead please wait and if you want to talk about other books, not Infinite Jest and are giving spoilers please indicate that in some fashion...even a *spoiler* before the comment would be nice.

And, finally, if there is anything I can do to make this run more smoothly please don't hesitate to message me on here, on twitter or on Goodreads and I'll see what I can do.

Let's begin the discussion...

10 Thing I Would Do If I Was Going to Teach Infinite Jest
There are several articles that talk about teaching this novel. I'd like to note that in my world teaching this novel is soooo not in the cards. I'm not even sure I'd want to teach it even if I could, as it would take a long time and I'm sure that the students (even if they were in college) would lose interest somewhere in the middle. How would I keep them motivated? I promise you I think there are very few up to the challenge.

  1. I'd want to talk about David Foster Wallace as a person
  2. I'd want to steer clear of his suicide. I understand that I could not. I also understand that I'm not sure I should
  3. I'd consult Kathleen Fitzpatrick and the blog her students created
  4. I'd take a whole semester
  5. I'd make the book the backbone of the class, but we'd read other works either by him or about him before/during/after the reading
  6. I'd try not to have this crush on Hal...yes, I may love Hal...
  7. I'd read the book again, taking a better look at it's chronology
  8. I'd also take better notes...most of my notes now are focused how I feel, not why I feel or what DFW did to make me feel this way
  9. I'd have to be much braver than I am now
  10. Heck, I'd probably have to be a little stronger too
What would you do if you were teaching it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

55 Books in a Year: Book #43 Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading

Over the summer I went to Las Vegas for a JEA Advisers Institute. It was pretty awesome. Chris and I went a couple of days early and we played around and then when he left it was time for some learning.

One of the best sessions I attended was one about Systematic Grading presented by Sandra Coyer. If you are a teacher or know a teacher or read the news to learn about education you know that standards-based grading, common-core standards, holistic scoring, grading for learning, essential learning outcomes (ELOs), formative and summative assessments are just a few of the buzz words that have the education world in a tizzy. We're all (well save a few states, I hear) trying to move towards common-core as our common language and we're all trying to figure out how that will look in our classrooms. People seem to think that standards-based grading is the answer.

Hoping on this band-wagon is yours truly. I like that the ELOs that we've spent years, literally, perfecting become how and what we teach and we use this knowledge to grade our students, but I really didn't see how this would look in the classroom. Coyer's Prezi talks about several ideas that were swimming around in my head:

  • that holistic scoring and standard-grading focus learning and make the goals for everyone easier to attain
  • journalism classes are differentiated and prepare students for the 21st century better than most classes.

And, I wondered how that would look in my classroom.

There were so many thoughts and ideas and questions floating around that I had to find a way to focus. Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading is the perfect book for this.

Here's what his website says about the book

This comprehensive guide:
  • Identifies three types of formative classroom assessments that should be used in a comprehensive system and explains how to design them
  • Explains the difference between “standards-based” and “standards-referenced” systems
  • Explains why it is usually inappropriate to use the 100-point scale in conjunction with formative assessment
  • Describes a systematic approach to the design and use of rubrics
  • Presents four basic approaches to tracking student progress and provides reproducible grade sheets
  • Discusses the use of technology in tracking progress and generating reports
  • Addresses the issue of grades for teachers using formative approaches
  • Includes an appendix that clearly explains the concept of effect size
  • Provides exercises to help readers assess and reinforce their understanding of the new strategies

And, it has hand-outs that address all the mathy stuff! It's fantastic!

Here are the hand-outs we created for the students, and so far it's working like a dream!

Standards Based Grading Info
Standards Based Grading Scoring Guides

If you want more information about how we're doing standards-based grading in a school that does not feel free to email me for the details.

Links for more information:
21st Century Skills
Common Core Standards
Formative Assessments
Holistic Scoring
Standards-based Grading
Summative Assessments


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