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Hidden Figures

This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, book club decided read Hidden Figures along with everyone else and their mom. I had seen the movie when it first came out and immediately fell in love with the stories of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy. I admired their strength and determination, working for NASA at a time when person’s race and gender either propelled them forward or held them back. When deciding on our February book, I gravitated toward the book off of which the movie was based, and could not have been more happy.

The book Hidden Figures differs from the movie in several ways. I enjoyed the personal stories and character development in the film, but what was lost in adaptation was just how long the struggle for equality went on. The movie focuses mainly on the space race. What it leaves off is the fascinating inception of the West Area Computers, beginning during WWII when much of the nation’s workforce was over seas.

I do not typically enjoy historical literature, however the writing of Margot Lee Shetterly paints a picture of the time such that I could not put this book down. One thing I noticed after reading nearly half of Hidden Figures was that the book is void of any dialogue, a feature that makes most characters more developed. This omission, however, was made up for by the detailed story telling of Shetterly. What she misses in dialogue, she makes up for in detailed background and explanation of character. After reading the book, I feel as though Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy had been in my living room discussing their time at Langley with me.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in space travel, women’s rights, racial equality, and history. While my knowledge of math and science did help me to understand the concepts better, a strong background in these topics is not necessary. I hope you enjoy Hidden Figures as much as I have. Happy reading!

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Goals: Reading Edition

I figure since it is still January, I can still write about my goals for 2017. This year I aim to read one book every two weeks, for a grand total of 26 by 2018. I am already crushing this goal, though, so we shall see how the rest of 2017 fairs. So far the books I have read this year all include similar themes: education, oppression, strong female characters. I did not set out to focus on these topics this year, but I find it nice to read the same topic from so many perspectives.

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The first book I finished this year was I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I had a hard time getting into this book at first because of the large focus on the political and historical influences in modern day Pakistan. As Malala began to tell her own story, however, I found myself enthralled with her every word. I found myself reflecting on our own education system. How privileged we are to be able to go to school through high school and beyond. How privileged we are to have choices in our schooling, both in projects, books, and activities as well as in the actual school itself. If you have not yet read I Am Malala, go pick it up now. I promise you will leave with a newfound respect for your own education and ability to think for yourself.

img_20170115_194917Next I picked up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I have to say that this was probably one of the best books I have ever read. I could not put it down from the very first introduction to death on the first page. If you have not yet read The Book Thief, I should tell you that death is the narrator. This choice is fitting since the story takes place during Hitler’s reign. Liesel, the main character, made me realize how lucky I am to have books readily available. At the start of the book she is unable to read, however by the end she is gobbling up stories, although their access is not as easy as she would like. Do not read this book, though, if you are not ready for a good cry. The connection to Liesel and her family made for a long, albeit predictable, sobfest.

And that brings me to today. I have just started reading The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I am excited to see Marjane’s view on her upbringing during the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. So far the artwork has been mesmerizing – The Complete Persepolis is a graphic novel – and the story has been fast paced.

I am not sure what is on the docket next, but I have started a list for this year.

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  2. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (reread)
  3. SmileSisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier (recommended by my students)
  4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  5. The Shining by Stephen King
  6. Room by Emma Donoghue

Do you have any suggestions? What are your goals for 2017?

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Land of Stories: Wishing Spell

Last night I finished reading Land of Stories: Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. It took me about a full month to complete because of work, grad school, and house things, but I am so glad that I persevered through this one. It was so magical, transporting me into another world, something that I’ve needed what with the current state of affairs. Although the book is 438 pages, it flew by (I ultimately read 1/2 of the book this past weekend). It wasn’t that involved, although the book magically intertwines nearly every fairy tale. Although I wouldn’t say Land of Stories is particularly challenging, it is just what this teacher needed to kick start her Thanksgiving Break.

I would strongly recommend Land of Stories: Wishing Spell to any lover of fairy tales or fantasy. If you enjoy a good adventure, complete with romance, friendship, and sibling rivalry, this is the book for you. I cannot wait to share this book with my 6th graders. They will love it!

Next on my list: The Secret Life of Bees. Happy reading!

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The Crossover

Y’all, if you have not yet read Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, do yourself a favor and pick it up NOW! This book was on our school’s summer reading list, and many of my boys were excited to see it. This book had everything they were looking for – basketball, girls, family, and poetry (have I mentioned how much my students dig poetry?) The verse in this novel wraps you up and entices you to flip page after page, moving forward to find out what happens to Josh (Filthy McNasty) and JB, whether their dad is sick, and what happens to the Miss Sweet Tea. What I did not expect from this book was the emotional roller coaster it took me through. I naively thought The Crossover was going to be a lighthearted read about a boy and his favorite sport. I knew early on, however, that this was not the case, and the depth of story and characters made it that much better.

My favorite part of the book is the Basketball Rules. These rules are metaphors that serve as life lessons. When taken in the context of the overall story, readers understand the meaning to the characters, but in isolation these Basketball Rules can apply to our daily lives.

Basketball Rule #3

Never let anyone
lower your goals.
Others’ expectations
of you are determined
by their limitations
of life.
The sky is your limit, sons.
Always shoot
for the sun
and you will shine.

I am so looking forward to discussing this book with my students. I also cannot wait to use this book as a model text for figurative languages and poetic devices. There are many great examples of rhythm and rhyme, onomatopoeia, and visual structure.

I hope you enjoy The Crossover as much as I did!

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Road Trip

“Great things can happen from little starts.”

Gary and Jim Paulsen’s Road Trip took me mere hours to complete. Not because the book’s lexile is 700, grade level equivalency 4.3, but because the misadventures of Ben, his father, Theo, Gus, Mia, and Atticus the border collie captivated me from the first lines. Gary Paulsen, known for books such as Hatchet, Lawn Boy, and Liar, Liar, has once again spun an adventure perfect for reluctant readers. I found while reading that the content level may be above the lexile, including more mature content such as theft of property, running from cops and prison time, and the threat of violence. The conflicts, however, help unite the mismatched characters, allowing them to team up in the end for a perfectly timed resolution.

This book includes many perfect examples for the ELA classroom including: plot structure and story arc, conflict and conflict types, conflict resolution, and narration and point of view/perspective. The inclusion of Atticus’ point of view allows readers to glimpse into the perspectives of other characters, although Atticus is giving us a 1st person perspective. It is almost as if he is 3rd person omniscient. This perspective would also allow the class to discuss foreshadowing and irony.

All in all, Road Trip was a fun read. This teacher highly recommends it!

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A Wrinkle in Time

‘Maybe I don’t like being different,’ Meg said, ‘but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.’

finally finished A Wrinkle in Time, just a short hour ago. Yes, this short, YA novel took me nearly two months to read. While I did enjoy the book’s story, I did not find it as enticing as many other new novels hitting the shelves these days, and perhaps this is why Wrinkle took me so long to complete. What I did find most enjoyable were all of the connections that I made to other fantasy novels. While reading, I was reminded of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Phantom Tollbooth. Perhaps these connections were based solely on the adventure, and the main character, Meg, finding her true purpose through her journey, but isn’t that what reading is all about, making connections? Frankly, it was these connections that kept me plodding through the pages. I imagine that had I read this novel as a child I would have been enthralled with the imaginative story; the whimsy of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which; and the suspense surrounding Mr Murray and Charles Wallace.

‘Like and equal are two entirely different things.’

I do not plan to read Madeleine L’Engle’s sequels any time soon, but perhaps in the coming months my mind will change. I have a feeling that this is the kind of book that will stick with me, that will be recommended time and time again. I have a feeling that I will mull over Meg’s interaction with IT and just how she was able to overcome. My copious notes on literary devices, symbolism, and important quotations alone have me curious why I did not enjoy the book as intensely as my curiosity has guided me.  Perhaps I will not pick up another of L’Engle’s books, but perhaps I will rekindle the friendship with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin.