Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday - April 21st

Another three weeks have gone by already? I'm making this a quick write-up, because I have a few other pieces of writing I promised to complete today. I hope you find a new book to add to your piles from my list!

Be sure to go directly to Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to find the links to other "It's Monday" posts and check out our tag on Twitter - #IMWAYR

Graphic Novels:
An excellent assortment over this past few weeks. Silver Six was one my son discovered at our library, and I'm now purchasing a copy for my classroom.

Picture Books:
All of these were good, but none of them really "wowed" me.
Stonehenge was a good introduction to the history and mystery, but lacked the backmatter to make the title sparkle.

Poe's Pie will be fun to use with kids in math, but the poetry itself didn't amaze or thrill me.

(this was a "must read in 2014" title)

Tuesday Tucks Me In had some excellent information about how dogs can help people, and will fascinate kids who love animals.

Young Adult Novels:
Wow! This was an excellent slew of novels.
I'm reading and discussing Not a Drop with Kathy (aka @thebrainlair) on our blogs and our new Facebook page. I just finished the final section.

I adored Shadow and Bone, and have already started the sequel in preparation for the release of the final book in the trilogy.

Everyone says not to read reviews of We Were Liars, and I'm glad I listened. This is a must read... get it on your radar for the summer!

Gae's latest book, The Summer of Letting Go, was beautiful and sad. A lovely look at family, loss, and friendship.

I enjoyed the action and the premise, but didn't feel a strong connection to the characters over most of the book. Still, the intriguing world building means I'll be back for the second title.

Middle Grade:
I've had an excellent run of book choices, and middle grade is no exception.

Annika Riz, Math Whiz will get a full review. A simple story with an excellent premise - Annika loves math. Her friends don't, but they support her as she enters a Sudoku contest.

Nonfiction to feed a writer's soul. Well written, easy to read, with great "writing dares" along the way.

From my "must read" list - Laurel Snyder doesn't disappoint.

This was a "Battle of the books" selection. Funny and action packed.

Awesome. I loved Mark of the Dragonfly. The cover appeal is strong - just one day on my "new arrivals" shelf and it was snagged by a new reader. I hope we get more from this author!!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Batty About Not a Drop to Drink - Part One

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis
 - Part One (pages 1-95)

Welcome to all those who decided to do a read-along with Batty. Welcome to those who are just stopping by the blog to hear about Not a Drop to Drink. Today’s post has some spoilers, though I tried to stick to things that happen early in the story.  Kathy’s post kept much more spoiler free.

Want to join in the fun? Check out our…

For those of you who are new to our Batty Chats - Maria’s thoughts with Kathy’s responses are hosted here on the Melange. Kathy’s (aka @thebrainlair) thoughts with Maria’s responses reside on The Brain Lair. Take a peek at both of sides and add your own voice into the mix!

Don’t forget to check out our discussion of:

Why is water a problem?
I know that Lynn and her mother are concerned about the quality of the water in their pond and the local streams, but what happened? I’m hoping we get some of the overall world building backstory on this later in the book.

This question became even larger in my head once we met Lucy, who know about faucets and running water even though she’s much younger than Lynn. What is happening in the cities?

In general - what came before? What happened to make the world the way it is, since it sounds like a recent event.
Lynn mentions that she is sure she had running water before her earliest memories. What happened?
Kathy: Yes, why did Lucy have to leave Entargo? How close is it to where they are now since there were no vehicles by the stream? Did Lucy’s family mean to be gone so long? I’m hoping part two answers some of these questions!

Why is Lynn’s mother so worried about “bad men” in particular?
We don’t know anything about Lynn’s father. I understand that Lynn’s mother is worried about the chaos of people after their water, but she seems to particularly point out the vague issue of “bad men”. It makes me wonder if there is something in her past that makes her extra sensitive to this. I’m pretty sure men AND women could be brutal in an apocalyptic situation… just as both men and women could be compassionate and helpful to those in need.
Kathy: I wondered this too. She helped Stebbs but pretty much tells Lynn not to trust men. Did Lynn’s father leave or was he never a part of their lives? How will we ever know?

Why is the basement safer?
I never really get the sense that the basement is closed off completely from the rest of the house. But maybe this is because of the way the basement is set up in MY house. Does her basement have multiple escape routes? Mine only has the door up into our main house, and that doesn’t seem much safer than any of the rest of my house.
Kathy: I think it’s because it’s more defensible. There are many ways people can get into your house or hide in your house but there is only one way into the basement, well two with the little window, and they would know immediately. Plus, they would have all their food and water. Maybe similar to a bomb shelter or panic room with enough space for two people and provisions and you can’t shoot into it like you see on television shows.... Hehe… clearly I’m not ready for an apocalypse!

I didn’t stop and highlight as much text in this book to use as “quotes” as I have in other Batty choices. I don’t feel like that’s a problem, though. The story in this is so intense and… for lack of a better word… gritty that I feel like if the prose had been “prettier” it would have caused a serious disconnect for me. There still were some great bits that really added to the overall anxiety and “yuck” factor that make me feel Lynn’s tension as I read.
Kathy: I agree, most of the quotes I wrote down were about the rifles and the act of survival. Though I must say that McGinnis did a great job of using imagery to make things vibrant.

“Death and gunpowder were scents from her childhood” - page 1.
This was the first one that jumped out at me, letting me know that Lynn’s world is so different from my own. I immediately wondered when the catastrophe (whatever it is) happened. We get some information on the timing in this first chunk of the story, but there’s so much I still want to know!
Kathy: I went for the first line on this page - Lynn was nine the first time she killed. So I believe it happened shortly after or right before she was born. How did things come to this and are others feeling it too? Stebbs doesn't seem near as anxious as Lauren.

“Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water” page 4
Another early indicator about this world. It makes me think of The Walking Dead. What does a crisis like this do to our moral compass? Do our responsibilities to other humans change in a situation like this? Clearly Lynn’s mother feels like her main responsibility is to Lynn… though her willingness to help Stebbs makes me feel like maybe she’s not completely without compassion for those around her.
Kathy: She seems to walk a fine line between keeping Lynn safe at all costs and wondering what those costs entail. She wants to go, to change but gives in to Lynn, at least she did in the past. Her desire to smoke the meat and move on hints that she hasn’t completely given up on the world. Or maybe she hasn’t given up on her memories of the world and wants to see if there is something to go back to or is she just trying to prepare Lynn to take care of herself? “I won’t always be here to double check you.” (37)

“The courtesy of a warning shot was more than most people extended these days” 35
Kathy: My question here is - who was firing the warning shots? Yes! I love all the set up in this section.

“The breeze shifted the grass around her, wafting into her face the faintly spicy scent of green leaves turning brown. But Lynn’s eyes saw only usefulness in these small miracles” 70
Kathy: This is beautiful and sad. When we lose sight of the world around us, we become different people, I think. Their lives are so consumed with survival and utility, the vitality of life is lost. “The water tanks sat there in the darkness, motes of dust settling onto their long white bodies.” (6) is another instance of survival outweighing beauty.

“I think we’re in danger of becoming friends” - 82
Kathy: I used this one too. It really sums of Stebbs for me but I wonder what took him so long to make his move?? I also like “but the deal was to split what you found” (81) when he decides to help with Lucy. YES! I wrote that one down also, but I had already written so much I didn’t use it.

Survival Skills:
Let’s be honest here, I’d be totally screwed in a major catastrophe. There’s not much call for reading, writing, or even teaching little kids during an apocalypse. I can’t fix anything mechanical, I don’t know how to build a fire without serious supporting materials, I don’t know how to purify water, and I have zero idea what edible things are in my environment. You’d think that since I’ve been reading all of these books about living through an apocalypse, I’d learn a thing or two, right?

What should be in a survival kit? What food lasts the longest? I honestly had a moment while reading this book where I considered finding a way to get someone to prescribe some antibiotics that I would just put aside for emergencies.  Anyone else get these little panic moments while reading post-apocalyptic books? (Aww, crap… just got sucked down the rabbit hole again while writing this!) In case you are curious, here  is an article about purifying water using UV-A from sunlight.

Kathy: I think, post-apocalyptic - meaning we survived the apocalypse - our particular skillset would come in handy in the rebuilding phase! We would help keep all the youngsters sane, give them a semblance of normalcy. But, you know, we’d have to survive first! I’m a total nonsurvivor so I already have the Camelbak filtered water bottle so I’d better go ahead and get their purifier ! This does what you mentioned above but I’m all about the convenience offered here, in case I need to move fast! Yours sounds exactly like the way Lauren taught Lynn to purify! I wonder what Stebbs is doing??? She can’t ask him but she never sees him gathering and he doesn't seem to be struggling to survive either… Exactly! I’m fascinated by Stebbs.

Plot Events:

I try to keep these discussions really spoiler free, so that if someone stumbles on them they don’t hate me. (I didn’t even talk about Lucy I was so afraid of spoilers!)

Letting your baby grow up - I know I’m overprotective, but Lynn’s situation makes me feel so anxious. Her poor mother… watching Lynn drive off with an ax, alone. Though I’m sure that she’s had plenty of training, since this is the way life has always been for her.

I think that the death of Lynn’s mother happens early enough that I’m willing to talk about it, though. I was surprised - though I know I really shouldn’t have been. Giving a teenager complete control over her decisions in a story like this is important, and sometimes the best way for that to happen is for the parents to either die or be absent. Lynn’s mother was completely controlling - she appeared to be quite literally the only voice in Lynn’s life. While I understand why she was that way, I know Lynn needs the chance to make her own choices, and mistakes, in this book.
Kathy: Gah!  I would have said so much more if I knew you were going to cover this!!! I have loads to say about their relationship but didn’t want to give this away. Next time! You are right, it was necessary because she was Lynn’s only contact plus she was ready to move on and Lynn wasn’t.  Now we get to see what Lynn does with the things her mother taught her. And she will grapple with whatever Lauren chose NOT to teach her. I want to know why they had all the clothes, even some for Lucy to grow into. Where did they come from??? But my major issue with Lauren’s death is McGinnis pointed out, in at least three instances, that Lynn was trained not to have a knee-jerk reaction when she was carrying a rifle and yet, this.  I struggled with whether or not to reveal this in my post… maybe I should put a spoiler note right before it and change the text color so you can’t read it unless it’s selected?

Lucy and Stebbs -
“I think we’re in danger of becoming friends” - 82
Not only do these characters add interest, but it helps to see Lynn as compassionate. She is willing to help others, even if it damages her own chance of survival. I loved how she was so cautious as she tried to approach Stebbs at first. The etiquette of an apocalypse seems like a prickly thing.

Kathy: She talks about “something else Mother had never taught her. Gratitude.” It’s like she was the Grinch and now her heart is growing. It’s interesting to see nature playing its part and battling with nurture, the way Lynn was raised. She has to find out who she is and what she believes in, apart from Lauren. Like with the medicine - “You don’t need to suffer more than you have.” She’s read books but her knowledge of how to be around other people is so limited. This could go many ways!

Be sure to come back next week to discuss the next chunk of the book - Pages 96-195

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Slice - Invitation to Write

During the March Slice of Life, I attempted a Blackout poem using a page from The Hobbit. It was a lot harder than I imagined it would be... more like sculpting a block of marble and less like writing poetry.

UntitledAnd yet... I went there again. This time I tried to use some color. I went with a backing of rainbow colors to fit the theme of uniqueness in the poem and story.

Then I decided to post my poems on the classroom door. I put up the first one, and kids started to notice. They stopped to read it, and they asked me about it.

I offered an invitation - "Anyone who would like to try one, just hand me a book with a page marked for me to photocopy." Believe it or not, I immediately got a taker. She had me copy two pages from The Wig in the Window and went to town.

Today I had a third grader request a copy of a page of The One and Only Ivan. I can't wait to see what she does with it!

We work so hard to get kids writing and thinking... and sometimes all it really takes is a door, curiosity, and an open invitation.

I’m participating in a writing community at Two Writing Teachers. We write about a little "slice of our life" each Tuesday.  If you stop by and have written your own slice, please leave the link in the comments so I can easily find your post!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Must Read in 2014 - First Quarter Update

 I'm highly motivated by goal setting.

Unless those goals involve getting my butt on the elliptical, or keeping my house clean, or cooking dinner every night.

Wait... let me rephrase that. I'm highly motivated by setting reading goals. I got through all the Newbery books in under 2 years. I've hit my Goodreads goals each year (with the help of some great picture books and graphic novels).

So when I decided to pick thirty-six books for my Must Read challenge, I knew I could do it. As it turns out, I may need to add more books to the list. I'll decide on that after second quarter.

Here's what I've read so far from my challenge list, with the most recent on the top.

Comes out in July. I absolutely adored Sidekicked... and this one was almost as good.

HOW did I miss this lovely tale by Laurel Snyder? So very good. A magic wall that transports kids to new locations? Genius!

Good, but not great. I didn't buy the romance angle at all, though, and my favorite character died way too soon.

With thanks to @LoveofXena for this one... a great science fiction book where the "Supers" aren't out to help humanity. My older son is reading it now and greatly enjoying it too.

Amazing. Not as keen on the ending, though. I ended up as part of the blog tour, and the author has a VERY entertaining set of answers for my questions!

I really enjoyed this one. Amazingly enough, the first person to grab this off my shelf is a fifth grade boy. He's enjoying the chance to read it during our state testing.

Awww... YES! Wonderful, unique take on vampires. This gets a HIGH FIVE from me.

Excellent end to the series. If you haven't made time to start this trilogy... do it! The first book is still my favorite, though.

Creepy and cool. The vintage photos in the book definitely enhanced the tale. My god-daughter insisted I read it.

Another HIGH FIVE from me! Science fiction meets fairy tales with kick BUTT characters. YEP!

This was a five, but a medium five. Interesting and funny MG science fiction.

Awesome. A sweeping discussion of all of American History from a civil rights perspective.

Audio book - Neil Gaiman is amazing as a writer AND a reader. I loved this.

Another solid middle grade science fiction. Lots of action and adventure. I also hosted an author interview for this one.

Part of my Cybils duties. Very ... odd... and interesting. The art is so distinctive.

I wasn't as keen on this one as so many others have been. I felt like it plodded along too much. Still - a great example of nonfiction in a graphic novel format.

Awesome! Oh, this reminds me.. I need to add the sequel to my overall reading list!

There you have it... I have completed 17 of my original 36 "Must Read" titles so far. I was tempted to push through just one more to get an even half for this post, but I'm in the middle of several other titles.

I'm currently listening to a Must Read (started today)

and reading another Must Read (Kathy and I chose it as our current Batty title)

I'm considering what to add to my list, since it seems to help focus me as I choose my books. Probably the Grisha trilogy, since the final book comes out in June. Maybe a favorite or two to reread...

I'll decide soon. Maybe I'll add another 9. That's just one extra per month. That would make an average of 3 a month for the rest of the year... which seems pretty doable.

In March, I really tried to make all my Slice posts separate from any bookish posts. But I just finished 31 straight days of doing that, so today they are combined into one. My reading life is a pretty immense part of my whole life, so I'm going with it for today.

I’m participating in a writing community at Two Writing Teachers. We write about a little "slice of our life" each Tuesday. In March - we attempt to write a slice EVERY day! Head over to their blog for the link up.

If you stop by and have written your own slice, please leave the link in the comments so I can easily find your post!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice - Looks Like (I) Made It!

It is so funny that the main Slice post includes The Beatles song "The End" today, since I've had a song stuck in my head for several days as I considered what to write today. I'm clearly not cool enough for it to be The Beatles, though.

Yeah, so "Looks Like We Made It" doesn't exactly fit with what we're doing here. It doesn't even fit my life... at all. Still, the title works, right?

So congrats to those of you who are here today. Whether you "made it" through all 31 days, or just managed to write as much as you possibly could, congratulations. For those of us who teach writing, it's so important to know just how kids feel when we hand them a pencil (or pen, or keyboard) and say, "Just Write".

I certainly lived up to my blog name this month.

mé·lange noun \mā-ˈläⁿzh, -ˈlänj\
: a mixture of different things
Full Definition of MÉLANGE
: a mixture often of incongruous elements
"Mélange." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <élange>.

I wrote about my children, teaching, and purging old clothes from my closet. I wrote poems, essays, and even used a string of tweets as a post. I shared new experiences, frustrations, and passions. Every year I'm amazed at the endless source of material in my life I can use for my writing. This year I went in giving myself permission to "fail"... to miss a day here or there. Instead, I made it to the end and still have plenty of snippets to keep me going. I just wish it all had SOME common theme. There doesn't appear to be any sort of actual book in me. 

Thank you to the many people who have stopped by my blog, shared your thoughts, and encouraged me as I wrote this month. I wish I could have gotten to more blogs to read and comment, but life is crazy! I hope to see you all on our weekly Slicing day. Eeek! Tomorrow??

I’m participating in a writing community at Two Writing Teachers. We write about a little "slice of our life" each Tuesday. In March - we attempt to write a slice EVERY day! Head over to their blog for the link up.

If you stop by and have written your own slice, please leave the link in the comments so I can easily find your post!

It's Monday - March 31st

 Once again, it's been a few weeks since I stopped by (so this is NOT a single week of reading!) The Slice of Life challenge kept me hopping.

I'll also do a year-to-date #MustReadin2014 update tomorrow. Carrie decided that quarterly updates would work out well, so many of the MustReaders will be sharing. Come back and join the fun!

Since Last IMWAYR...

Batty About Books!

Kathy and I finished reading The Archived. Thanks to any of you who stopped by our brand new Facebook Page or left messages on our blog posts. We have moved onto Not a Drop to Drink now, and will post about the first 95 pages on Saturday the 5th (we posted our thoughts about the cover this past Saturday)

This comes out in July, and is another great one by John David Anderson! Not quite as much action as the first, but I still love his voice and the deeper messages in the "super" genre.

Wow! How had I NOT read this one before? Seriously, it is great! A wall that transports the kids through space and time... it's a fabulous adventure.

Good but not amazing science fiction tale here. My favorite character died too soon, and the back talks about the "romance" sub plot that wasn't very good.

NOT my usual thing. Several of you laughed along at my updates on FB and Goodreads along the way. Carter gave me serious anxiety about my boys heading to high school (well, not SOON.. but still). He won me over by the end.

This was amazing, and the narrator was fabulous! Great diverse lit read for high schoolers, with a powerful message about friendship, bullying, and how we can so easily lose great minds to bad situations.

Other Young Adult
LOVE THIS SERIES! I forgot to put Scarlet on my "must read" list, but both Cinder and Cress are on it... so of course I read this one.

UntitledAnother "not my usual" genre that I ended up loving. So heartbreakingly sad. I thought the writing style was lovely, too. I kept wanting to stop and write down quotes as I read. It even got the "bookish nails" treatment...

Middle Grade Novels
I was excited to get my hands on this one, but not super enthralled. It's a good starter science fiction, but parts felt forced and it didn't really hold my attention.

This, however, was adorable. I got it at ALA completely for the title (find out why, below if you are intrigued....) but thought it was just so cute.

He called her "cupcake" all winter break.
They are "cupcake cousins".
Always love Angleberger... but Angleberger + Leia? Serious win.

Finally - I did a bunch of reading to get ready for my Dinosaur Day event with Cub Scouts. I also did some other fun picture book fiction and nonfiction reading over the past month.

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slice - Hail and Farewell

I finally did it. I gutted my closet. Sadly, this is probably the hardest post I've written yet this month. It's hard to grieve the me I used to be...

"Hail and Farewell"

Hail and Farewell
  to the sweet little skirt and top
I last wore 15 years ago.
While the colors are still lovely,
   it's time to wish you well with
your next partner.

Hail and Farewell
   to the little black dress
from the cruise.
May someone who can zip it
   now enjoy the splash of sparkle
in the cleavage.

Hail and Farewell
   to all the little summer tops
with the built in shelf bras.
It's not you... it's me.

Hail and Farewell
    to the thick and toasty
sweaters gathering dust.
May you each find a home with
    loving arms that don't
experience daily hot flashes.

Hail and Farewell
to the
    hope of "someday"
Two children and many years
have passed
    I deserve
to look amazing

I’m participating in a writing community at Two Writing Teachers. We write about a little "slice of our life" each Tuesday. In March - we attempt to write a slice EVERY day! Head over to their blog for the link up.

If you stop by and have written your own slice, please leave the link in the comments so I can easily find your post!

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