Thursday, December 7, 2017

Illegal: current events as powerful story

From the Publishers:
A powerfully moving graphic novel by New York Times bestselling author Eoin Colfer and the team behind the Artemis Fowl graphic novels that explores the current plight of undocumented immigrants.
Ebo is alone. His brother, Kwame, has disappeared, and Ebo knows it can only be to attempt the hazardous journey to Europe, and a better life—the same journey their sister set out on months ago.
But Ebo refuses to be left behind in Ghana. He sets out after Kwame and joins him on the quest to reach Europe. Ebo's epic journey takes him across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli, and finally out to the merciless sea. But with every step he holds on to his hope for a new life, and a reunion with his family.

My Thoughts:
The only think I know about Eoin Colfer is through his graphic novels of his series Artemis Fowl. I have used his graphic novels to push reluctant readers into his books, but I have not actually read his books. What I do know is that there is a mixed reaction to his graphic novels by readers that have read his books, mostly around the way that Giovanni Rigano depicts the title character and other familiar characters to readers of the series. 

For these fans, their disappointment is similar to my disappointment to movie versions of books. They cut out large pieces of plot that I think are important, or like Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, the writers completely changed the ending and turned Hawthorne's moral tale into a romance with the lovers riding off into the sunset. I also find it frustrating when the casting is all off. I still have an issue with the casting of Peta from the Mockingjay series, but this is not a graphic novel based off a book. 

This is Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano using current events to tell a human story, an original story that is both fiction and truth. The decisions that they make to draw out the helicopter scene, the underwater scenes, the way they are almost creating a documentary and using time as a cliff hanger is powerful. It makes us wonder. Where is the end of the tunnel? Who is holding the light to guide us out? Why does the chasm between those who are living to survive and those who are living to thrive continue to get larger?

The trio does not offer solutions. But they do make noise. Add this to the list of graphic novels that have a political agenda to educate. Now as educators, how do we help our students to not just be educated or "woke" but do something with that understanding.  

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Writing Radar

Writing Radar is about Jack Gantos, the silly stories of his youth, the funny things that continue to happen to him and the way he is able to weave this ability to snoop out stories to become an author. I really was looking for another "on writing" book for my reading and writing across the curriculum or English language arts methods course for college, but this one is geared more for the young tween.

Gantos' familiar storytelling style from his fiction pieces like the Joey Pigza books continues in this how to guide. I am sure that budding tween writers will be hooked in by the shenanigans of the author. For me, since I was really looking for the "how to" aspects, there is a drawing of a fountain pen with the words "Writing Tips" scrawled throughout the book. There are also bold faced headings and chapters like "Story Maps" and "Key Words That Lead to Ideas for Action in a Story" that almost mindlessly guide the reader to and fro and amongst the author's meandering storyline.

As a tip guide, the tips are solid, straightforward, user friendly and developmentally appropriate for the tween audience. As a story, the author understands the developmental style that tweens like. I get it. They need to write, write, write, so any way to entertain them while they do it is fabulous. I also know that we lose them as readers and writers in the middle grades if as teachers we are not vigilant to what will keep them from grabbing a pen or a book for their own pleasure. At the college level it is easier to coach a writer through when they write too much and show too much voice than when their writing is sparse, generic and lifeless.

That being said, I can't use it in my secondary teacher education courses, but I can see a 4th, 5th or 6th grade teacher using this as mini lessons in writer's workshop with their students.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Manga Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

My thoughts:
This is a recreation of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in manga format. I think what initially was a bit jarring was the depiction of Huck. I understand that it is part of the manga genre, but drawing a young boy from the south in the androgynous manga style was a bit disconcerting. Perhaps as a reader I am too familiar with the work as well as the movies. However, once I put that aside, the writers of this manga classic do a good job of trying to make decisions to use some of the different dialects found in the original Twain novel. In other words, there is "Jim speak, " there is "Huck speak," and then there is narration which I think is understandable enough for the middle reader. 

I am not sure if the text is understandable to ELL (English language learners), but I think the combination of pictures and text, especially if readers are able to "read" the emotions coming from the characters in the stylized manga drawings, does a good job of helping to bridge to the original novel.

At 300+ pages, this is a hefty tome. It is not a one night read. In addition, there is a lot to read. That is not a bad thing. It is just something to think about when giving this to middle readers, and struggling middle readers. It could be used as a pre-read if teachers are actually wanting students to just get the gist of the plot before going into some closer discussion. However, in my opinion, the publishers created this to be a substitute for the original text rather than a hook or bridge into the original text. It is substantial, but as a former English teacher, I don't think it's enough. 

One of the major conversations happening right now is about the rise of "hate" speech that is blatantly racist, misogynistic, homophobic.  Pap's "govment" speech in Twain's chapter 6, recreated in a classroom, read aloud with all its spittle and compared to  the open rantings of Sheriff Clark of Selma, Alabama at the height of the protests for voting rights of African Americans in the 60's south and the current protests and speeches coming out of the south as well as our own "govment" in 2017 is the kind of dialogue that must happen in our classrooms. Twain's literature is the way in. His hook to engage the reader is the humor and irony, but the manga is missing the lessons we need to learn as Americans so that we can recognize not only how to move forward through education, but also be aware of when the histories in our literature as well as in our historical non fictions (like the three part graphic novels March by Senator John Lewis) point to the fact that we are standing still or moving backwards. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ghost of Gaudi

From the publisher:
Someone is committing barbarous murders throughout Barcelona, focusing on locations designed by renowned visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. The police have no clues, but a young woman is thrust into the investigation by a man resembling the late Gaudi himself, led to the scenes of the crimes before they even occur… could be a precognizant ghost?

My thoughts:
Yes, this is a  murder mystery and it is fascinating to use the graphic novel for this type of story. The art, by Jesus Alonso Iglesias is hauntingly beautiful. Yes, the murderer is positioning the dead bodies in different Gaudi buildings, but that is what is hauntingly beautiful. It does all the things that good graphic novel art does. It tells the story, it supports the story through tone and eye movement. It creates a complete package. 

In addition, this graphic novel is un American. I don't quite know what I mean by that, except that this book by El Torres, a Spanish comic, and another recent read by the Italian cartoonist Zerocalcare (Kobane Calling) are different in the way they approach story meshed with art. There seems to be a different lens to this storytelling that I can only describe as not typical of American works or even Japanese works. I like that about this book.

Finally, what this book did was introduce me to Antoni Gaudi, a Catalan architect, THE modernist Catalan architect whose building defy structure and embrace nature's organic flow. Barcelona is moving up to my number one must see place on my bucket list because even seeing his buildings on the internet make me ache as if I am missing out on something and I am at a loss because of my inability to truly SEE. 

The Castoffs, V2

From the publisher:
Charris, Trinh, and Ursa have managed to work together long enough to defeat the evil Priestess and her hive-mind robot army, the Surrogate. They journey back to the village of Clifton to reunite with their guild, but once there, they discover that the Priestess may not be defeated after all, and a much larger threat may be looming. A secret from Ursa's past threatens to break the fragile trust between the three mages, but they must overcome their differences and work together if they stand a chance of surviving the coming darkness.

My thoughts:
Normally, even if I am reading from volume 2, either the publisher description or a brief couple of pages in the beginning of the book lets me know what is going on in the book, but this is not the case for this book. The conflict seemed to be that whatever the main characters did was not really seen as positive by everyone. In addition, the main characters seem like they are apprentices and that is also not always looked at kindly within their own "school." And then the book was over and I was left with some looming graphic that hinted of some one or some thing still being in the picture. I read enough magic books that I should know what a mage is, but I had to look it up (magician or learned person). 

I think this is meant to attract the young tween reader, but the publishers need to know that the young reader does not always read things in order. It just depends what is at the library and what catches their eye. Therefore, each of the volumes needs to have enough in it to stand on its own. Unfortunately, this one does not. By the time I had a firm grasp of what was going on, I was two pages to the end of the book. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Scarecrow Princess

From the publisher:
Morrigan Moore has always been moody, but her new home is the worst. Her novelist mother has dragged her to the countryside, drawn by the lost myth of the King of Crows, a dark figure of theft and deceit, and the Scarecrow Prince, the only one who can stand against him. When Morrigan finds herself swept up in the legend, she'll have no choice but to take on the Scarecrow Prince's mantel, and to stand and fight. For her town, her family, and her own future. This lushly drawn graphic novel will pull you into its sinister secrets and not let go till the final page. For fans of Coraline and Over the Garden Wall.

My thoughts:

The publishers say that this book is similar to Gaiman's Coraline, and I agree that like Coraline, this graphic novel uses the drawings to set the mood of the book. This story is downright spooky and perfect for the Halloween season. I can feel the cold coming off the pages. In addition, if you have never seen Hitchcock's classic movie The Birds in black and white, watch it so you know what I mean when I say that the crows felt claustrophobic and nightmarish. 

I am not sure if the final version will be in color. My advanced copy was in black and white and I think that made this even more creepy. I used to love watching horror movies because they take you to the brink of wanting to look away when you hear the music. Well, even without the "music" in this novel I found myself speeding up and wanting to look away because I knew what was coming but I wanted to speed forward anyway and then I could not shut my eyes fast enough.  This was fun spooky and young readers will enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan

Christine, a half Japanese, half American 15 year old is sent to Japan to visit her grandparents. Although born in Japan, she was mostly raised in America so her lens in looking at tourists, Japanese style bathrooms and traveling through the country is very American. The angsty humor in her drawings is hilarious because I too was a teenager traveling through Japan. It captures this lens perfectly and brings me back to that time.

As a teacher I am always looking for an authentic voice from my students and this book with its manga style drawings and narration reveals a strong, authentic voice.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Black History In Its Own Words

From the Publishers:
A look at Black History framed by those who made it. BLACK HISTORY IN ITS OWN WORDS presents quotes of dozens of black luminaries with portraits & illustrations by RONALD WIMBERLY. Featuring the memorable words and depictions of Angela Davis, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kanye West, Zadie Smith, Ice Cube, Dave Chappelle, James Baldwin, Spike Lee, and more.

My Thoughts:
This is a "picture book" but this is not a children's book. The concept is so graphically simple and stunning. Open the book, picture book style and the reader has a very micro synopsis of the person highlighted and then a portrait by Ronald Wimberly with one quote that is cited in the preceding page and referenced at the end. Like Mr. Wimberly says, this is just enough to make you curious to do your own research. It is just the portal in. What I like is that for the most part he stays away from the often biographied black movers and shakers in history. This allows students to learn more from the perspective of others that may not be as well known.

For example, he chose Sojourner Truth over Frederick Douglass, Audre Lord over Maya Angelou, Mary Ellen Pleasant over Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur over Malcolm X. In other words, there is no Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Oprah Winfrey, Alice Walker, Rosa Parks. This is about finding out about people that history may not spend as much time or paper space on. This book encourages students to head to the library, Google away and immortalize these people, still living and long dead that make up the wide swath of black history.

Who will do this for the other marginalized others? Who will bring enough of their story to the foreground so that others take up the mantle to write about them, research them, say their words in another generation? This feels like a fabulous project.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Heartbreak wrapped in cartoon: Kobane Calling

I started this book and put it down, not because I was confused and thought this was going to be about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Although that may be why I put it down after all. I put it down because the frenetic narrator who is almost sneaking off to Syria and creating alternative worlds for his mother in order to go to Kobane at first reminded me of the drug addled Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even in its graphic form, I am not really a fan. So maybe the whole Cobain, drugs thing got me connecting Zerocalcare with someone whose motives are fueled by paranoia and alcohol. Yes, the character seems addicted to chai, but other than that, once he left for Syria, I was hooked.

Let me back up and let the publishers talk about it. Like the middle east itself, it's complicated. What helps is that the cartoonist is not American so his lens is less, well, American, which right now, is a fabulous thing.

From the publishers:
KOBANE CALLING is the autobiographical memoir of a young Italian cartoonist, writing and drawing under the nom-de-plume Zerocalcare, who volunteers with the Rojava Calling organization and heads into the Middle East to support and observe the Kurdish resistance in Syria as they struggle against the advancing forces of the Islamic State. He winds up in the small town of Mesher, near the Turkish-Syrian border as a journalist and aid worker, and from there he travels into Ayn al-Arab, a majority-Kurd town in the Rojava region of Syria. As he receives an education into the war from the Kurdish perspective, he meets the women fighting in the all-female Kurdish volunteer army (the Yekeineyen Parastina Jin, or Women's Defense Units), struggling to simultaneously fight off the Islamic State even as they take strides for Kurdish independence and attempt a restructuring of traditional patriarchal Kurdish society. In a story and style at once humorous and heartbreaking, Zerocalcare presents clear-eyed reportage of the fight against the Islamic State from the front lines. Originally published in the Italian weekly INTERNATIONAL, and then collected and expanded in an edition by Italian publisher BAO Publishing.

My thoughts:
This feels authentic, unfiltered by censorship and propaganda. Maybe I am naive but I think it just tells his story in panel form without agenda except to tell the truth. I was especially interested in the YPJ, the all-female Kurdish volunteer army. What we would call them in the Pacific are mana wahine which represent those powerful females who can save themselves, and their men too. 

I like how confused the author is when it seems like the enemy is the neighbor is the ally. I also have been shying away from watching and reading too much news, so Kobane is new to me and I just found this story both wrenching and heart affirming at the same time. I started re reading certain passages just to hold onto these people's stories, knowing that many of them will not live to see an end to this battle and will not live to go back to their homes just across the fence. In the end, the dead are still buried together, but in life, it is so very complicated. 

For those students in the middle, this is living history told by the people on the front lines. This is happening now,  not centuries ago. They need to know that people cannot be lumped in together and stereotyped because all we see are certain views from the media. Kobane Calling: Greetings from Northeast Syria is a portal in.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

As You Wish

From the Publishers:
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?
In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.
Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.

My thoughts
I like the premise of this book. As someone who reads a lot of YA, As You Wish feels new. I like that I could not figure out what Eldon was going to do until the moment he did it. I like that Sedoti doesn't just leave it at the decision nor does she just tie it up like a neat little gift. That kind of jarring even at the end is a welcome change. 
If you have students that struggle to finish a book, this is a great option for SSR because even if you are just reading in 20 minute chunks or 15 minute chunks, this story is easy to pick up again. The characters and situations are different so it is easy to just pick it up again.
Publication Date: January 2018
An advanced copy provided by the publisher and Net Galley for an honest review.

When I am Through With You

From the Publisher:
“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

My thoughts:
I just did not like Ben. I felt like he was whiny and weak and I just could not sympathize with him, but I kept reading because I needed him to change, grow a spine, do something worthy.

The power of the writing is that I could dislike the main character, dislike most of the characters and still keep reading until I was through. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Noble V.1: God Shots

Author: Brandon Thomas
Illustrators: Roger Robinson, Jamal Igle +

In this first series of Catalyst Prime superhero world, Astronaut David Powell is one of five astronauts sent by the Foresight Corporation and CEO Lorena Payne to save the world from annihilation by a massive meteor plunging to Earth.

Within the first two pages something goes wrong and his wife, former agent Astrid Allen-Powell sets out to not only hold her family and her two sons together, but it seems a year after the accident, Astrid finds out that David is still alive and she is not the only one trying to get him back.

My thoughts:
This will appeal to the new X-Men generation and the readers who liked the movie Logan and are currently watching the TV series Gifted. Granted the characters are adults and we need more teen characters just finding their powers and having to use them to get away from those people who either created and/or want to control them, HOWEVER, the appeal in this first volume is the identity issue.
David, who insists that is not his name, gains powers but loses his memory so he does not know who this David is. What he does have is sudden flashes of a child calling him daddy and glimpses of what happened to him. He remembers Lorena who seems to have implanted some of his powers but when Astrid tracks him down to try and bring him home, he does not remember her at all.

Like all first volumes in any series, the author uses the short chapters to give multiple background stories "to be continued," and this one has potential to hold readers and keep them coming back. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Model Texts: I Wish You More

I need to talk to my elementary colleagues and student teachers more often because using picture books to teach in secondary is such a rich resource for our toolbox of tricks. I went to a workshop with poet and teacher Georgia Heard and got some fabulous gems. I am in love with this one for its sweet sentiment but it also works as a mentor text for the power of repetition in writing.

This can be added to another good repetition piece: When I Was Young on a Mountain by Cynthia Rylant

Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld combine their graceful talents to create this perfect gift book. I cannot say lovely enough, but it is just lovely.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Blood of Eden Series

What I like about this trilogy - main characters die. I just think if I am  invested in a story, then important people need to die otherwise it is not satisfying and I do not get the emotional impact needed to continue reading.

Check on the OMG factor. 

Finally, I like imperfect strong female main characters who do not act like men but can still kick ass.

Check on the Xena factor.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Immortal Rules

This is the first in the Blood of Eden series from Julie Kagawa.

Do not judge a book by its cover or publisher (unless you like this cover or you are into Harlequin Teen). Personally, I passed this cover by for a couple of weeks when I went to my public library just because vampire crying. Plus it's already a spoiler, so yes, the main character, who should look Japanese rather than Caucasian as the cover depicts, becomes a vampire in the first book and then lo and behold must learn the rules of being immortal.

This is in my trash novel pile, not because I think it is trash, but because it is one of those devour without having to think too much books that I read long past the point when I should stop and sleep or grade papers or cook dinner or take a shower and then the next day I feel totally trashed. Still, the to do list piles up, the very important thing folder gets full and I find myself at the library borrowing the rest of the trilogy.

Julie Kagawa is not a new author, she is just new to me, but I understand her appeal and have heard great things from other bloggers about her Iron Fey series. Her writing is fast, she knows how to big picture trilogy a story and how to end it at the most inopportune time. For this series, I just have a thing for vampire stories with awkward teen characters (unlike the classic vamps like the New Orleans vamps in Anne Rice). Plus this trilogy is led by Allison Sekegawa, girl, Japanese, wields a katana and always makes the wrong decisions because the heartless vampire girl leads with her heart. Nice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Silence of Our Friends

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

From the Publisher:
New York Times-bestselling graphic novel based on the true story of two families—one white and one black—who find common ground as the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas.
This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston's color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.
The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.
My thoughts:
This semi-fictionalized memoir speaks to what social studies teachers today are looking for in how we currently teach and view history, as well as how we reach our learners. 
Set in the gritty graphic novel style that seems more like old news footage than the stylized gender fluid manga, this novel shows history in its most complex realism. What this graphic novel does so well is showcase how when it comes to race, how we treat each other, how the attitudes of the adults are mirrored in the innocence of children, history, even the ugliness and ignorance is still our history. What this makes me realize is that even if as a reader I am disturbed by children who don't understand why a game like "nigger knockin'' is a bad thing or I am squeamish about the blatant institutional racism present in a newsroom, if I do not accept the ugliness and horror, I cannot learn from history. I also cannot ignore what is still happening today and just accept that our history has changed. We need to be reminded by pieces like this that we have far to go as a society. 
As teachers, our job is to not gloss over the ugliness that is history, but to show multiple perspectives in order to let students create their own meaning making, debate with each other, and then give them an avenue for social justice action. 
For our most reluctant readers, this type of perspective housed in a graphic novel form is an engaging way to learn through stories and art. Put this in your social studies classroom along with John Lewis' March trilogy. Use this as additional resources to your civil rights curriculum. Do not look away.
An advanced copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review. 

March: Like Deja Vu

March is a graphic memoir trilogy by and about Congressman John Lewis' involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. It is co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. 

The first book in the trilogy focuses in on the early years of John Lewis' life in Alabama juxtaposed with a modern view of him getting ready for the first inauguration of our first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama. Book two recounts the Freedom Riders and their work to try and register voters in the south. Book three continues their efforts after the Freedom Rider summer to continue to find ways to register voters and try and get southern blacks to stand up for themselves and demand their rights in a living democracy. It ends with John Lewis invited to witness the signing of the 1965 voting rights act and travels again closes on the inauguration of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. 

The book focuses on Lewis' beliefs in both civil rights and non violence. It shows his early commitment as a young college student to righting injustice through his help in forming the Nashville Student Movement and their preparatory training for the non violent lunch counter sit ins. This is not a holier than thou account. Mr. Lewis shares the struggles of the group as well as his own personal struggles to try and do what he believes, even when he finds himself standing alone. He candidly shows a moment when he almost lashes back and breaks his non violence stand. He also shares his frustration about getting so many northern blacks and whites mobilized to help southern blacks who seem to just complacently accept the inequality and also see these young blacks as outsider instigators for violence in their own community.

I gave this book to one of my teacher prep students, a history major and future social studies teacher. He devoured it quietly and when he was done he said "this book is like deja vu." When I asked him what he meant, he just said that it is obvious that John Lewis really remembers what happened at that time and lived that life because it just mirrors and gives life to the primary source photos from that time and it makes it come alive from his perspective as if we are there and have been there before. 

What I liked about this book is that we see the historical figures in the movement including Martin Luther King Jr. as mentors and friends. It does not put them up as heroes but shows that in the midst of their now historic work, they continued to be human with missteps, insecurities and fear even as they kept doing the work they felt necessary. 

When I think about how little has changed and how violence and segregation still occurs, this trilogy holds more power to propel the next generations to non violent change.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines

Colin Singleton, angst-filled former prodigy, has just been dumped by his 19th Katherine, so he and his best friend, Hassan, go on a road trip as he tries to work on a theorem that can explain why he keeps getting dumped. This is a chick book led by a male protagonist.

What really makes this book interesting is the real math involved in this theorem, as well as the explanation of the math at the end of the book. Other than that, I had to struggle through the story and try find some kind of empathy for Colin.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso

I saw this at the Mānoa Public Library on my way home from work the other day and although I had already read it, I was surprised that I had not already blogged about it. In fact I almost remember what I wrote, so unless my search engine on this blog is really wacky, I think what I wrote was just in my mind. 

I went to Hiroshima at the beginning of this month for an education conference. The last time I was in Hiroshima was as a young girl going to elementary school in Wakayama and spending school holidays in Hiroshima with family. That was over 40 years ago. What I don't remember about Hiroshima that I felt now is the quiet and peacefulness of the city. I had also forgotten how many hills and mountains are bordering Hiroshima city. These hills and mountains helped to protect some of the residents of Hiroshima during the atomic bomb. 

The rest of the city, though haunting and quiet also reveals a tenacity and gambare spirit (never give up) not only of the people, but also of the city itself. There was a very large, very loud crow outside our hotel and it would seem to follow us as we walked every morning. But what stood out was that the crow had so many trees to land on in order to follow us. The city, ground zero, is just full of trees. Knowing what little I know about half life, radiation and nature's recovery, there shouldn't be so many trees. These are not young trees, these are healthy, towering old trees. I used to love to walk past the Peace Memorial Park even if it was a little out of our way because the walkway was bordered by the most fragrant cyprus trees and I just had to touch them a little and the smell stayed with me like a tattoo. 

But this book. Senso means war and this Usagi book is once again about his battle with the Geishu clan, however Sakai puts the metallic aliens from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds smack dab in the middle of this Japanese fuedalistic war scene. Suddenly the destruction of these technological marvels from a future light years away disrupts the whole Usagi world as we know it. This mash up of worlds is so jarring, but so fun to watch unfold because ultimately, like War of the Worlds, the characters must just have that gambare spirit because once these aliens start revealing themselves (Sakai's aliens look like gigantic tako, octopi) they are vulnerable and killable. 

This book makes me think about that never give up attitude of the Japanese that I saw in Hiroshima and that attitude was reflected in their city. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Author: Marta McDowell
Illustrations: Helen Sewell, Garth Williams
Publisher: Timber Press
Publication Date: September 20, 2017

I don't know if any elementary students still read Little House on the Praire by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but even if the books were already about 40 years old when I first read them, I was so enamored with life on the plains of America in the early 1900s. Laura Ingalls Wilder, born in 1867 wrote her first book in this series in 1932. It is about their early life as well as her husband's life in Farmer Boy. I guess I just liked that her life was so different from mine as a young girl growing up in a large urban city in Hawaii. Wilder's life was just so different from mine. Her praire and fields were as large as my ocean.

This book brings me back to that reading by giving a lot of the backstory to those books and including similar types of illustrations.

What I really find interesting about this well researched book is that it brings the series alive again by weaving in tips on how to grow the plants and vegetables featured in the Praire series as well as how to actually visit the places even 150 years after Laura Ingalls' birth. The historical and contemporary photographs just make this so appealing to me as an adult. Thank you to the authors and illustrators for the journey of nostalgia.

An advanced copy made available by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Nightschool: The Weirn Books


This manga 4-book series starts off in a day school that becomes a night school at 6pm for other worldly teens (weirns, werewolves, vampires oh my). I only have two of the four books but the books follow Alex, a homeschooled weirn who enrolls in the nightschool when her sister, who worked at the nightschool disappears.

If you like manga, but hate that the Japanese manga make you read backwards, this one is for you. If you cannot afford the manga series that seem to come out weekly for years, this one ends at 4.If you love the character styling of manga where everyone looks androgynous and European, this is for you. 

I liked the story enough. It fit the category of manga, cliff hangers and all. I think it taps into the fascination with non-human teen characters. Is it a keeper? No, but it's a reader. Find a public library or a well-stocked English classroom and just borrow it. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Things New: A YA Must Read

Publication Date: 
August 01, 2017

My thoughts:
The power of Miller's prose is her ability to create characters that we care about. 17-year-old Jessa Gray should have everything, and to those on the outside, she looks like she has everything, but she is just very good at hiding what is is broken inside of her. It takes an accident to force her to literally reveal what is broken inside of her as she now has to carry her scars on the outside. The accident also allows her to see the scars that others around her carry as a way to seek answers for herself and be able to reach out to others who need her help and empathy. It doesn't hurt that she falls for indefatigable Marshall who uses his own brokenness as a rally cry to embrace life and love fully. 

Miller takes these realistic issues and infuses it with very tangible chemistry between characters as well as humor and even some divine intervention. This is a devour-worthy read and puts Miller on the radar for YA authors that write movie worthy hits.

An advanced copy provided in return for an honest review by Net Galley.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What are YA reading?

I moved from teaching language arts to teaching general education courses, from introduction to teaching as a career to student teaching so I am out of the language arts daily game. However, this fall I finally get to teach my middle/secondary language arts methods course so I need to get back into reading YA.

What are the new must read YA books?
Who are the authors to follow?

I am starting with the Summer 2017 YA Book Club offerings by Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy. I read two of them already but I would like to hear what other educators are saying.

Also, if you don't already read her blog, check it out. For the most part, being in this business for 26 years, I agree with pretty much everything she has offered and I have used them in my own classrooms so I share her blog and podcast as a resource for my students because it is something I would love to have time to do but I don't so I'm thankful for this resource.

Other suggestions?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Manga Perspective: Beauty Vol. 1 + Beast Vol. 2

Everyone knows this "tale as old as time," and if you have not seen the Disney live version of their animated version, get to the theatre! However, what Tokyo Pop does with this manga is different in that we finally get to see the separate points of view of the two characters. By moving beyond the known tale through the use of manga, the Mallory Reaves offers up a new tale for a new time and a new generation. 

For the most part, the movie focuses on Belle's point of view so the manga version does not share any kind of new insight, but volume 2 from the Beast uses the genre of manga to fully exemplify Beast's fear, depression, anger and self-doubt through its darker drawing style and uneven shaped panels.

Another plus for the manga version is that I was not disappointed by the transformation of the Beast back to human form. He is a typical manga stylized hero. This type of hero does not usually translate well on screen, either animated or live. 

Finally, the "artist" notes at the end of the books are always a nice breaking of the third wall that appeals to me as a teacher who is interested in process as well as reflection on process. 

An advanced copy provided by Net and the publishers for an honest review. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sneak Peek: Once and For All

From the Publishers:
From Sarah Dessen, the beloved New York Times bestselling author of SAINT ANYTHING and JUST LISTEN, comes a new novel set in the world of wedding planning!
Is it really better to have loved and lost?  Louna's summer job is to help brides plan their perfect day, even though she stopped believing in happily-ever-after when her first love ended tragically.  But charming girl-magnet Ambrose isn't about to be discouraged now that he's met the one he really  wants.  Maybe Louna's second chance is standing right in front of her.

 Sarah Dessen’s many fans will adore this latest novel, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story with humor, romance, and an ending that is so much more than happily-ever-after.

My Thoughts:
This is just a sneak peek so know that I am just providing my thoughts on the excerpt provided, but before I say that, let me tell  you a little bit about why I am even willing to read excerpts.

1. I have read Dessen before and think that she is an easy airplane read. Those kinds of reads are great to give my students who like to read fast and dirty, immerse quickly and then go searching hungrily for the next "ride." In other words, Author Recognition.

2. I live here:
Not literally homeless on the beach at Makena on Maui, but I live in Hawaiʻi. In fact, I live on the outer islands (outer islands just mean any of the islands that are not Oahu). What we lack on the outer islands are chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble. We had a Borders in Hilo, but you know how that story ends. Yes, we have multiple public libraries that offer both e-books and book books, but do you know how we get to live here? We work all the time. Availability.

3. Don't you miss the days when you could read for pleasure, under a tree or a large red umbrella and no one would look for you or bother you? Yeah, I don't have those days anymore and you would think that after my doctorate I could read for pleasure because my formal education is done, but no. That is not how it works. No one told me that being a lifelong learner and reader does not mean that you actually are given time to read what you want to read. What I have learned, though, is that the flight from Honolulu (Oahu) to my home in Hilo (Big Island) is 40 minutes long. With the new regulations that allow passengers to keep their electronics on as long as they are on airplane mode, I find that I can actually finish an excerpt on one leg of a trip. Instead of playing games on my iPad, I now read.  Effective Use of Captive Time.

Back to my thoughts. The main character, Louna, has a summer job working for her mother and her mother's partner as part of a three person wedding planner team. Something happened to Louna's first love but it's not in the excerpt. The result is she acts young, as in not confident and she acts old, as in bitter towards love. This is the biggest issue I have with a story that I really want to get into except for this one flaw. I don't know if I was reading too fast and missed it but I cannot settle on an age for this character. She is both immature or girlish and old and jaded at the same time. If she is right out of high school, is this first love tragedy really a tragedy? Even if she is in college, is this first love tragedy really a tragedy? I am not sure and of course the excerpt ends before anything gets revealed.

What is going for this book though is that it will suck readers in. Dessen has a writing style that is easy on the eyes (and the brain) so the immersion into these people's lives are swift. 

Would I read it when it comes out? Probably. I wouldn't write about it if I did not think I would continue reading. 

Publication date: June 6, 2017

Excerpt provided by Net Galley and the publisher Penguin Young Readers Group

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Real Friends: Mean Girls for Tweens

From the publishers:

When best friends are not forever . . .
Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen's #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.
Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?
Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it's worth the journey.

My thoughts:

The pairing of words by Shannon Hale and illustrations by LeUyen Pham gives this novel that awkward, lonely, confused feeling that dredges up my own tween years when my own friendships started to change and drift away and I was left a little confused by my changing hormones, and the way I was very out of sync with my childhood best friend based on the rate of our maturity. This is a kinder, gentler Mean Girls, but it brings up emotions that all these years later still can come back through this book. 

In the Author's Note section Hale says she never thought she would write a memoir, but in some ways it is. The honesty and truth of this and the illustrations that are able to deftly illustrate awkward, confused and unsure states just in the character Shannon's face created an emotional roller coaster of a ride for me. 

This book is for those upper elementary girls who feel lost and misunderstood and abandoned and confused. The creators have a message. Things do get better. 

Publication Day: May 02, 2017
First Second Books

advanced copy made available by the publisher and Net Galley (.) com

Thursday, April 6, 2017

SYNC 2017 is almost here!

Summer is coming and with it comes free audiobooks from AudioFile Magazine and Overdrive! 

If you have never heard of this free, fabulous service, Sync is aimed at teens 13+. SYNC 2017 will give away 32 titles, 2 paired audiobook downloads each week starting on April 27th and ending on August 16!

Check out the complete list of exciting audiobook titles from award-winning authors such as Daniel José Older, M.T. Anderson, Franz Kafka, Ruta Sepetys, and Nikki Grimes.


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