Saturday, March 17, 2018

Going Places

Everyone had high expectations for Hudson Wheeler. His fourth grade teacher even wrote to his parents that Hudson was "going places." But everything went downhill after his father died on the battlefield of Iraq one year later. Now facing his senior year of high school without his two best friends by his side and with his teacher's letter still haunting him, Hudson seizes homeschooling as an opportunity to retreat from the world.
What happens during this year will prove to be anything but a retreat, as Hudson experiences love and rejection for the first time and solves the painful mystery of the “girl in the window”—an apparition seen only by the WWII vet whose poignant plight forces Hudson out of the comfort zone of boyhood.
Going Places is a peek into what male adolescence looks like today for those who don't follow traditional paths as they strive to find themselves.
My take:
There are a lot of stories like this in one way, but not enough in another. Hudson Wheeler chooses to forego his senior year and home school himself, not because he is angry or bullied or painfully awkward. That makes him different because he is not angsty or depressed. He actually is set on not  falling into the trap of post high school expectations but he does this with a  proposal to his mother to both take two classes at the high school (yoga and AP art), work at his two businesses that he creates (dog walking and Distress Dial for seniors with emergencies just below 911), and work on his graphic novel. He does that, but that is just one small part of a very convoluted and bustling story line. I think we need more stories like this about what home schooling might look like. Hudson's life is more about choosing an alternative path than dropping out, hiding out, religious zeal or disappointment and fear about the public school system
What also makes this different from other YA is that he is not the strong female protagonist, and as an 18 year old, he is pretty wimpy, but his commitment to his work and the maturity he shows to do what needs to be done is unusual. Sigh, unfortunately, he is still a doofus in the love department, just that he is not clueless as to how much of a doofus he is, he just cannot help it. 
Hudson, by the end of the book, becomes the heroic lead but not because of what he does. More because of the cast of side characters that he holds on to: Fritzy, Mr. Pirckle, his mom, his dead father, even Jennifer the pink male poodle. This book is not a fast read because the characters are eccentric and shooting off in different directions, but they are going places and the journey, not the destination is the adventure. 

A digital advanced copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Valiant Comics

This is old school comic book warriors. Captain America except that the Eternal Warrior, Gilad, never seems to succeed in protecting the Geomancer from the Immortal Enemy. 

Geomancers are a long line of mystics and they are guided by the Earth. As each Geomancer is killed, another Geomancer takes his/her place. As always, Gilad is there to protect them.  

Spend a day in the middle of the week reading this. Everyone loves monsters, and mystics and mangled ancient warriors. Oh my. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sun Does Shine

The Sun Does Shine: How I found life and freedom on death row

From the publishers:
In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.
But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence—full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015.
With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.

My thoughts:
In education, we call things like grit, values, persistence, work ethic, faith, and collaboration as "soft" skills. They are off content skills that are not graded or tested, but students who have these soft skills seem better equipped not just for school but for life. 

The wrenching memoir of an innocent black man who spent 30 years on death row in Alabama not for any crimes he committed but for being poor, black and convenient is really a model of how these soft skills helped Mr. Hinton to survive on death row. He not only survived, but he helped others, even if it was just to help others to escape their minds for a little while. 

This is a story of compassion and unconditional love. In this world of #blacklivesmatter, this is a story of hope, faith and love. 

Published March 27, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Sun is Also a Star

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? 

My thoughts:
This book grabbed me from the prologue and stirred up the science nerdy girl that has been dormant in me for so long.  Yoon starts with Carl Sagan talking about making apple pie from scratch, not just with raw ingredients. No. It's Carl Sagan. He is talking about an apple pie from nothing at all. Big Band, black holes, suns, oceans, life coming up from the muck. 

To make a thing as simple as an apple pie, you have to create the whole wide world.

That last line in the prologue is the essence of this book right there. If this were an essay, it would be the thesis. Worlds must collide. Dark matter, tides, extinction-level events. This is about two teenagers and romance and alternative worlds. It is about science and physics and the problem with immigration and race and ethnicity in America. This is about one day in New York. It is about broken dreams and loneliness. It is about time. 

And finally, as a former chemistry major who borrowed a chemistry book from my future husband and switched to English literature once we were together, this book is all about chemistry. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Creating Bookworms

This is not the first Buzz Books edition I have read, but this is the first one I have talked about. In short Buzz Books is a gathering of soon-to-be-published excerpts of novels chosen by Publishers Lunch. 

I initially thought that I would use this space to talk about my very long history with Young Adult books and how the books that I gravitate towards influences how I choose my own books to read, but this edition has made me think about how book choosing and book reading has changed and how I have to change.

I started writing about my belief in bringing tradebooks into my classroom for pleasure reading and how in 1992 when I started as a high school English teacher, there was a sad lack of used YA books that would appeal to my juniors and seniors in high school. However, that evolution as a teacher with nothing but a class set of Cormier's The Chocolate War and leaving my middle school classroom 20 plus years later with thousands of tradebooks all chosen by me for specific kinds of readers is another long story.

The short story is that I give my students a specific strategy for choosing books. 
  1. Look at the cover. If it appeals, keep going, if not, put it back. 
  2. Read the little description on the back or the inside cover. Again, yes keep going, no put it back.
  3. Read the lead until you lose appeal. If you have gotten through the first one or two chapters by the time you look away, grab it, borrow it, steal it. 
The change in strategy is that the assumption with this strategy is that my classroom is fully stocked, the school library is fully stocked and not being used for testing, or my local bookstore is fully stocked. This is not always the case.

My new strategy relies on me searching out ebooks with readers in mind, and when I come across books through a plethora of means (Buzz Books, other blogs, Net Galley), pass it on. It is no longer possible to stock my shelves. E-books have limited the experience that students have in choosing their own books by touch, by sight, by smell. Students will no longer remember what a brand new book smells like. They won't know what a book with its pages still a little crisp and tacky feels like. This is a new world. Relying on publishers to open up their pages in things like Buzz Books is the new way to choose the next read on the students' readers. 


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