Sunday, December 26, 2010

Life, Death, War, and Delivering the Mail

Sarah Blake's somber novel The Postmistress is a gentle exploration of all these painful topics...And from the ashes left in the wake of World War II rise three (broken) women who are strong and capable. Most of all, though, I find I am haunted by the question "What does it take to make people understand?"

More to read...I know the blogs get shorter and shorter, but I need to finish a book a day (and, a few days, two books) in order to reach my goal of 100 books for 2010!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Two for the Road (or the Air, as the case may be)

I finished at least one book between finishing Hold Still and starting Beastly the night before we flew across the country to spend Christmas with my parents. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember what it was! So that blog will have to wait until I'm back home and can see which book is laying next to my bed.

In the meantime, my travel companions were Beastly by Alex Flinn and Entice by Carrie Jones. Beastly is a modern re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, and while it's a story that's familiar, the 21st century touches were pretty neat. Like the chat room for the recently transformed, led by Mr. Anderson...The film will be released in March 2011, so I'm glad I got my hands on the book and read it now!

Entice is the continuation of the story that began with Need, and I am happy to report that it was much, much better than Captivate. Since I don't like to give too much away for those who have not yet begun to read the series, I'll leave it at that--and get back to reading!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Still Holding

Last night I started and finished Nina LaCour's Hold Still, the story of how Caitlin came to terms with her best friend Ingrid's suicide. It was a (sometimes painfully) honest and realistic look at how people left in the wake of suicide come to terms with what they've endured--and all that they've lost.

Next spring, I will participate in the Out of the Darkness Overnight--an 18 mile walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention--to honor the memory of my friend and former (favorite) babysitter, Suzie. I'll be walking with my friend Danielle, who is walking to honor the memory of her father. I wish that I did not know how difficult it is to recover from the suicide of someone who is so well-loved. Nina LaCour clearly knows even better than I do, and describes it insightfully and well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Double Dip

Two books that made me cry this time: Guardian by Julius Lester and Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.

I am not sure how to discuss Guardian without giving away too much of the story. What I knew about it before I began reading was that it had to do with lynching. What I can tell you without discussing the book is that it is, to the best of my memory, the most honest, true, and horrific fictional accounts of segregation, lynching, and "Southern justice" that I have ever read. It is a must-read for all Americans...yet sadly, I'm sure it will remain largely unacknowledged. Too many people prefer to ignore (or worse, sugarcoat) the past than learn from it.

Love That Dog was a re-read, but it gets me every time. I have three dogs and I'm not sure that I love all of them together as much as Jack loves Sky (and I do love them a lot). I also love poetry, which makes this novel in verse a home run. And every time I see a blue car splattered with mud, I want to kick it!

Back to reading...The goal is in sight!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Slow Progress

I've read two books since my last post: The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson.

But first, let me take this opportunity to tell you that I once met Tomie dePaola. And really, that could be the entire content of my blog tonight, because even two years later that is just super-exciting. But I will try not to gloat about my encounter with the best author of all time and continue with the purpose of this blog, which is to tell you lovely readers about the books I have read.

So, The Legend of the Poinsettia was quite informative, especially in light of the fact that I always just assumed that poinsettias were considered "Christmas flowers" because they are red and green. But there is a Mexican legend behind their popularity--and it's retold by Tomie dePaola in the way that only he can tell a story. Did I mention the illustrations? I know, I know, I'm gushing. But I really like that guy! When we were little girls, my sister and I fought over Strega Nona every week when we went to the library. When I say fought, I mean there might have been blood and tears. Weekly. And don't even get me started on The Clown of God. Best. Book. Ever. Followed only by every other book Tomie dePaola has ever written. And I met him!!!

I also just finished Forge, the sequel to Chains, both by Laurie Halse Anderson. Let me just tell you first that my students love these books. As in, skip lunch to keep reading because they can't get enough, love these books. And I am so happy that such a quality author has done such a quality job in writing historical fiction that is interesting and accurate. And I am even happier that kids love what she's written. Really, I am! But I just don't connect with Isabel and Curzón the way I feel like I should. Wait, that's not completely true. I do feel invested in their story. But I think that I am old and jaded and I know that Laurie has done a great job focusing on the story she's trying to tell and while she refers to the horrors that slavery entailed, she does not get too caught up in describing every detail...and as I read, all I can think is "it was so much worse than the horrible that she is describing here," and that just makes me sad. Just plain sad. And consequently, these well-written, important books become hard for me to read. Which I suppose is a a weird way.

I am trying not to get too caught up in counting how many books I need to read to make my goal of 100. This is all about the joys of reading, right? I'm hoping I go up to bed and find a really, really good that I can't put down until it's done. Procrastinators of the world, unite! Tomorrow!

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Miss Drew, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Boone"

I didn't know what to expect when I opened John Grisham's Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a very enjoyable book! It was highly recommended by a student, and I was not disappointed. It had all the excitement of my beloved Nancy Drew series, along with all the wit of Encyclopedia Brown...not to mention courtroom scenes that would have Jem and Scout hiding in the rafters to see the action!

What I liked best, though, was the clear description of what happens in a criminal courtroom. I plan to use the opening chapters as a read-aloud with my students so they can develop a sense of what a "real" courtroom experience might be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For the million and a half...

I've owned a copy of Sid Fleischman's The Entertainer and the Dybbuk for longer than I should admit, because that is how long it's taken for me to sit down and read it. Worse, my dear friend Banna is the narrator of the Full Cast Audio edition of the book. Oy. I'm listening to her talented narration as I type.

This spare and powerful little novel should be a must-read for every child as they are introduced to the horrors of the Holocaust. Why? Because it presents the horrible truth of what happened to one-and-a-half-million Jewish children with wit and charm, but it does not trivialize the truth by crossing the line to comedy. Fleischman somehow transforms the stuff of nightmares into an eminently readable tome by--in his own words--allowing in "the occasional shaft of sunlight--the tough Jewish sense of humor."

Is it a story of justice, or a story of revenge? Perhaps the two are not so least not in the case of those responsible for such atrocities as the murder of children.

Procrastination Rears Its Ugly Head

After many years of rushing to meet deadlines, I thought I had put that nasty habit of procrastination to bed a long time ago. Then November 30 rolled around and I realized that I had read only 74 of the 100 books I pledged to finish in 2010. YIKES!

So I've been racing the calendar in an effort to read 26 books in the month of December. I'm off to a decent start, with three books done in the first four days: Crescendo by Becca Fitzgerald, The Ball by Tod Whitaker, and Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris.What follows is a two-sentence reflection on each book, because I need to spend my time today reading, not writing!

Crescendo is the sequel to Fitzgerald's Hush, Hush (which I loved), but it fell short because it didn't have the depth of its predecessor. It was much more brain candy than a real exploration of human (and angelic) emotion, and it strayed even further from any religious tradition I've ever known.

The Ball was a short parable about the need to for teachers (and small business owners) to stay focused on what's important in our classrooms: to keep our eyes on the ball. It was a good and valuable read so long as I did not remind myself that Whitaker is also the author of the less uplifting Dealing with Difficult Parents and Dealing with Difficult Teachers.

If I have a guilty reading pleasure, anything by Charlaine Harris is it! It was a pleasure to tear through Grave Secret and once again enter the (almost ridiculously unrealistic) world of Harper Connelly and Tolliver Lang. I'm just sad that the conclusion of the novel leads me to believe it's also the conclusion of the series.