28 July 2014

Mon Reading Button PB to YAIt’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…who knows, you might discover that next “must read” book!
The lovelies at teachmentortexts.com thought this would be a fun meme to start up with a kidlit focus: anyone reading and reviewing books in children’s literature. It can be picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels – you name it in the world of kidlit and it’s in! I love being a part of this meme and hope you do, too! I encourage everyone participating to go and visit the other kidlit book bloggers that link up and to comment on as many posts as you can. We love talking books and believe in sharing and discussing what we’re reading. We hope you join us! Read more: http://www.teachmentortexts.com/#ixzz2R9UNmFll

Completed in the last month: I finished reading City of Heavenly Fire on audio completing the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Also on audio I finished The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling). In hard copy I’ve read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson which leaves me anxiously awaiting the final book in the series, Ashes. I also completed E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. I finally got around to reading Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and am a little perturbed at myself for waiting so long.

Up Next: I have started The Eternity Cure on audio to continue the Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa. Once I’m finished with that, I will begin listening to Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo to complete the Grisha series.  My next hard copy book will be Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. Cheers for summer reading!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

AUTHOR: Patrick Ness

LENGTH: 224 pages

PUBLISHER: Candlewick

SOURCE: library

SUMMARY:  At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

REVIEW: I have never read any of Siobhan Dowd’s books so I didn’t really know what to expect from this novel. I have read Ness’s Chaos Walking series though so I was pleasantly expectant. After reading A Monster Calls I intend to head to the library and collect all of Dowd’s book. Ness has crafted a singularly haunting tale of tragedy and acceptance that is at once engrossing and poignant.

This book is an achingly transparent look at how terminal illness affects family. Conor and his mother are treading water through life as Conor battles adolescence and his mother battles a terribly debilitating disease. With his father an ocean away, Conor has had to become parent and nursemaid while trying to navigate school and his fear of losing his mother. His grandmother begins to insert herself into their lives making Conor feel distrusted and useless.

When the monster begins to visit Conor, he is unsure of the monster’s intentions and wants to do whatever he can to dismiss the monster quickly. He had been expecting the monster from his nightmares but this monster is natural and wild and demanding. The monster being an organic and ancient being is fitting given the context of the book. Ness has given the monster a persona that is a good balance between menacing and mentoring, urging Conor to tell his own story. In the way of so many nightmarish creatures, the monster provides a focus for Conor’s rage and fear while bringing him closer and closer to the kernel of truth behind the monster’s visits.

The monster wants the thing from Conor that is hardest for most people to give: truth. Truth about himself and his nightmare and his love for his mother. Only when Conor is willing to be painfully honest about his own story, can the story itself be resolved. The subsequent climax is expected, inevitable, and heart breaking.

The illustrations in the novel add a Gothic feel to the tale making Conor seem equal parts victim and hero.  As the monster’s visits become more insistent and Conor’s reactions become more frantic, the illustrations become darker and more stark. The overall effect is one of stripping Conor down to his core to help him realize, as many do during adolescence, that sometimes our own worst enemy is our own emotion.

Ness has created an unforgettable tale of love and loss. It will resonate with anyone who has faced mortality head on and not been afraid to acknowledge their fear and helplessness in the face of pain. Ultimately it is a tale of hope and resilience sprung from fear. Prose for the soul.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

AUTHOR: James Dashner

LENGTH: 320 pages

PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press

SOURCE: purchased

SUMMARY: Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team.
But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

REVIEW: Dashner has done something that seems quite the challenge for authors who have written a popular trilogy…he’s followed the successful Maze Runner series with the first in another promising series. The Eye of Minds is the first installment in The Mortality Doctrine and it is a masterful mix of science fiction and reality. Virtual video games have become more and more accessible to the average gamer in the last 10 years so the premise of The Eye of Minds is not complete science fiction. The extent to which society is entrenched in the virtual world is exaggerated in the books but it takes no large stretch of imagination to see Dashner’s created world where the virtual is more appealing than the real world may be a reality sooner rather than later.

Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah are recruited by the organization that polices the virtual world because they know that to defeat a hacker sometimes the only solution is to hire another hacker. There is a cyber terrorist named KaIne who is perpetrating the unthinkable: he’s holding players hostage in the VirtNet. The police believe that the kids have a better chance of infiltrating Kane’s organization than if they go after him outright. In order to defeat KaIne, Michael and his friends must go off the known grid and delve into the seedy underbelly of the VirtNet.

Michael and his friends being asked to hunt a cyber-terrorist might at first seem far-fetched. However watching my own students and, for that matter my own children, become immersed in video games, it doesn’t seem such a stretch that these kids could lose themselves and alienate themselves from their parents in a virtual world. At 15 Michael is given almost unfettered independence save a housekeeper who lurks on the periphery. As he ventures deeper into the off-grid areas of the VirtNet, the connection to the real world becomes more and more tenuous for Michael and for the reader. Bryson and Sarah seem a little flat but because Michael only knows them through the VirtNet and has never met them in person, that seems plausible.

The settings used in the VirtNet give the story a sense of scope and surrealism akin to the feeling one has at an amusement park. This feeling of Big and Other helps readers feel the pull of the VirtNet in the same way the characters do. There is also a surprising amount of violence in the story. The closer Michael gets to discovering who and where KaIne is, the more aggressive and brutal become the tasks he must complete to stay on The Path. The violence and gore rise to peak levels in the Winter and led me to wonder how much violence is too much violence – in gaming and in books. The description of the kids’ hacking seemed a little vague and the only reference I had for it was scenes from The Matrix. Using that mental image gave the story an even stronger sense of surrealism that enhanced rather than detracted from the overall experience of the book.

The tension between Michael’s virtual experiences and his detachment from the real world (along with the fates of Bryson and Sarah) is honed throughout the book striking a good balance between action and nightmare. The suspense of seeing whether Michael will reach his goal while evading KaIne’s clutches builds to a climax that will make readers retrace their steps through the book, looking for clues and seeing Michael’s actions in a whole new light. Gamers will love the premise behind The Eye of Minds and wish that the VirtNet could become a reality. Even readers with a limited knowledge of gaming will marvel at the possibility of the VirtNet become a very real part of life in the near future.

Mid-Summer #Nerdlution

I finished post-planning on June 17 and this weekend marked the one-month mark of my summer. I have almost exactly one month to go before teachers have to report for pre-planning. I always have personal and professional goals for myself and my kids during the summer. I always want to read and write more and encourage my kids to practice those skills over the break as well. There are the ever-present professional goals of reading more, writing more, and growing professionally. Personally, I always try to focus on shedding some pounds.

I have read quite a bit in the last four weeks, so I feel like I’m keeping up with that goal well. I’ve kept my ear cocked to my PLN through Twitter and blogs that I read. My Nerdy Book Club friends put me to shame in the professional growth area: they all seem to be traveling the country attending PD conferences and NerdCamps galore. I have done some tinkering with my Ideas and Changes document that I keep throughout the school year thanks to the sharing they have done via Twitter and their blogs. And, to my own surprise, I have managed to shed a few pounds. I hardly ever manage to stick to my self-made promises to exercise regularly and eat better, but I’ve done well this summer. The only thing I haven’t managed to do is write more. Neither is it lost on me that in writing this, I am procrastinating yet again from “real” writing.

With almost exactly one month left, I am making another Nerdlution. I am committing to write 30 minutes a day. If I can continue to make sure I’m physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, surely I can take some time to write 30 minutes every day. I want to be more transparent with my students about my writing this coming school year. I want to show them my own writing and write with them on a consistent basis. I have done these things sporadically throughout my teaching career and to an instance, my students always respond better to those assignments I create with them or when i share my own struggles with a particular aspect of craft. It will help immeasurably to come to the table with a few works in progress. If I expect my students to consider themselves writers and take it seriously, I have to do the same.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd


LENGTH: 320 pages

PUBLISHER: Scholastic

SOURCE: purchased, Scholastic Book Fair

REVIEW: With Lloyd’s first novel, whimsy reigns. Ice cream that helps one remember, a network of do-gooders throughout the city, and a little girl who sees words floating around people that can help them find themselves. Lloyd also tackles some tough topics like broken families, abandonment, and the effects of transience on children, but does so within a definite structure of hope.

Felicity loves her mother and knows that her wandering heart is a product of suffering love’s loss. Felicity along with Aunt Cleo attempt to convince Mama that home is a feeling rather than a place. The characters, although not all strictly members of Felicity’s family, definitely comprise a loving community of support for Felicity, Frannie Jo, and Mama. In the end, Felicity’s is a story of coming home. It is Lloyd’s blend of small-town wholesomeness and big-city acceptance that makes Midnight Gulch the perfect place for the Pickles to call home.

BRIDGE: This would be a great book with which to teach folklore. The stories that frame the history of Midnight Gulch have all the elements of traditional folk tales. The most obvious bridge would be discussing vocabulary: specifically connotations. Felicity sees words floating above people and places and while the words themselves are related, the implications behind the words are much more powerful in the context of the story.

READERS and OTHER TITLES: Readers who need a little magic in their lives or want a story to warm the heart will enjoy Lloyd’s story. This title would also be a good text to use as a bit of light, but meaningful reading between heavier texts. This book reminds me of several other stories in which magical realism plays a major role: Savvy by Ingrid Law, Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, or Ida B… by Katherine Hannigan.


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