30 Day Book Challenge: Day 28 – Favorite Title

Studies show that people only have seven seconds to make a first impression.

I think it takes maybe two seconds for a book to make a first impression. The first things a reader notices about a book are its cover and title. Those two pieces can hold a TON of information and function to draw readers.

That’s why titles have to be memorable!

For that reason, I chose Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

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Goodreads Summary:
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

I LOVED this book! I hope I get a chance to teach it in my classroom. It’s wonderfully written with a balance of humor and heart and honesty.

Some teachable topics for this book:

-Identity, especially for minorities

-Graphic novels

-Banned books

-American history

-Discrimination and prejudice

I think it also appeals to those reluctant readers because the novel is accessible and relatable. It brings home a serious, thought-provoking message without sounding preachy. There are also PICTURES! Like this one!

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I hate the assumption that pictures in books are meant for children. There is an ever-growing audience for graphic novels that are renowned for their literary content. The pictures in this book add to the story and make it more diary-like.

Finally, this book with an amazing title has recently been banned in New York which, as many readers can attest, makes a book even more interesting!

Disturbing Statistics on Reading

I was in the middle of spending a large portion of my life on Pinterest the other day (follow me here), I came across this infographic about reading. Allow me to address each statistic.

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1. I think once people graduate high school they think: YES! NO MORE HOMEWORK!!! Unless they continue onto higher education, this is exactly the case. Who is there to make them read? Even during higher education, there’s no incentive to actually read books when there are saviors like SparkNotes around. Unless you’re an English major like myself, why would you read a book? My significant other is actually proud of the lack of books he has read in his life. How do we prevent this? As a teacher, it is my job to inspire lifelong learning which includes lifelong reading. We need to adapt the curriculum so that our students see reading as fun instead of punishment. I say this as a kid who HATED reading in school because of the assigned material. It was like torture. Why would I willingly torture myself?! I think a great way to help students overcome this struggle is to introduce them to books OUTSIDE of the classroom. Let them free read or pick from a variety of books.

2. Post-college you are forreal home free. You’re “done” with reading for class or any other reason. Eventually you get caught up in life and grown-up business and forget that there is an entire book-verse out there waiting to be read! A great thing my public library does to engage adult readers is a One Book One Community event each year. They select a book for the entire community to read, and the author comes and talks and autographs books. They also host social gatherings to discuss the books. Reading as an adult can be fun! I swear! Pick a book with friends. It doesn’t have to be Dickens. It can be anything. And you can have adult beverages and yummy snacks. It’s a win-win.

3. Why are we not reading books to completion? There can be a lot of reasons. Sometimes a book isn’t interesting, and you just have to move on. Sometimes books are just super long. I love reading, but let’s face it: some books are INCREDIBLY LONG! It can be daunting. If you have problems finishing books, try reading a series of smaller novels. You get to read the same amount of pages and get that Finished Book Feeling. E-readers can be another solution. I’m an e-reader convert because they’re SO convenient. Read them on the bus. Read them on the treadmill. Wherever!

4. I personally can’t understand not walking into a bookstore. The smell. The books. It’s heavenly. BUT the book industry is changing. I remember frequenting a Borders within the last five years, and those don’t even exist anymore! Bookstores are becoming increasingly rare in this day and age (said in an old lady voice). People have e-readers and buy their books online. There just isn’t a market for bookstores to stay open anymore. Hopefully, they never become extinct because there is nothing like perusing a bookstore in real life.

5. I can see that families aren’t buying or reading books anymore. One, books are expensive! I would love to fill my bookshelves with books, but I’m a poor college student. If I can’t buy them, and they’re practically my drug, I can’t imagine people with limited interest spending money on them. With tense economic situations dominating many households, it’s no wonder that books have taken a backseat.

6. I couldn’t agree more. I can honestly say that I have learned about others through reading. It teaches empathy and gives new perspective on lives a reader may never encounter. It’s important that we teach young readers to read so they can become empathetic, educated adults. We must create LIFELONG LEARNERS!

7. This is a pretty incredible statistic. I think that potential readers often shy away from reading because it appears as an obstacle. You have to read SO many pages, and it takes SO much time. If we spend a FRACTION of the time we spend messing around online or watching TV reading, we could be international experts. Sounds very James Bond. If that’s not enough to get you reading, I don’t know what is!

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 10- Favorite Classic Book

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It quickly became one of my favorite books when I read it my senior year of high school English. Everyone else HATED reading it. I admit, it was a book I had to read in absolute silence with no disturbances so that I could fully concentrate. It ignited my love for Russian literature. The prose is so rich and complex that it’s a challenge to read it, but it’s well worth it. It opened my mind at an important time in my life, exposing me to the shades of gray that exist when it comes to good and evil. The characters are fantastic, and the plot is intriguing. I really hope I get to teach this book in my classroom someday!

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 7- Most Underrated Book

Day 7- Most Underrated Book

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I’m not sure if underrated is the right word, but I feel like no one is talking about Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, maybe because it was written in 2008. I was once again reading this book in a post-Twilight world where EVERYTHING was about vampires and werewolves. I love a good vamp/wolf story, but I was ready for something new. I read it a few years ago, and thought it was so timely and smart and entertaining. It’s a clear allegory for race or sexuality or anything that makes people different. BUT WITH ZOMBIES! It’s great because (before warn bodies hit theaters) it seemed like zombies got no love. For obvious reasons, they are seen as The Abject because they’re basically just walking corpses and aren’t all seductive and mysterious like vampires.

I love this book. I think it’s a great read, and I can even see myself teaching it in the classroom. Pick it up and give it a read. PLEASE!

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Goodreads blurb:

Phoebe Kendall is just your typical Goth girl with a crush. He’s strong and silent…and dead.

All over the country, a strange phenomenon is occurring. Some teenagers who die aren’t staying dead. But when they come back to life, they are no longer the same. Feared and misunderstood, they are doing their best to blend into a society that doesn’t want them.

The administration at Oakvale High attempts to be more welcoming of the “differently biotic.” But the students don’t want to take classes or eat in the cafeteria next to someone who isn’t breathing. And there are no laws that exist to protect the “living impaired” from the people who want them to disappear—for good.

When Phoebe falls for Tommy Williams, the leader of the dead kids, no one can believe it; not her best friend, Margi, and especially not her neighbor, Adam, the star of the football team. Adam has feelings for Phoebe that run much deeper than just friendship; he would do anything for her. But what if protecting Tommy is the one thing that would make her happy?

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Remember the sweet fairy tales of Cinderella or the Disney movie with the catchy songs about true love? Marissa Meyer changes everything you thought you knew about the story and turns up the volume. Meyer trades Cinderella, damsel in distress, to Cinder, cyborg on a mission, frolicking animals for androids, and the glass slipper with a mechanical foot.

Set in the futuristic streets of New Beijing, the novel opens on Cinder, a renowned mechanic replacing her mechanical foot with a new, more proportional model when a disguised Prince Kai visits her booth and urges her to fix a very important android for him. Not moments after his departure, a sign of the plague that has been ravaging New Beijing makes an appearance, setting everything into motion. When the plague hits her family and she becomes involved in finding a cure as well as the handsome Prince Kai’s affairs and a potential war with the lunar people from the moon, Cinder begins to learn more about her mysterious past and how her existence may change everything for the world.

It’s no secret that Fairy Tale Revisited is extremely popular right now. For me, it started with Beastly by Alex Flynn, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was made into a movie a few years ago. There have been dozens of other contributions to this growing genre including TV shows like Ever After and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman. We don’t seem to grow out of our love for fairy tales.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. These stories have been around for centuries and come from all parts of the world, constantly changing form for their audience but never losing relevance. Could Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm have ever imagined a cyborg version of their Cinderella?

Probably not. Enter the genius of Marissa Meyer.

I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this book. The characters, even the background ones, are so great. Cinder is a more modern (obviously) and independent upgrade. She has no need for a fairy godmother, though she is stuck with an evil stepmother and sister. Cinder is an excellent role model because she is so hard working and brave without being inhuman. She has vulnerabilities and valid emotions. THIS is how you create a great young adult novel female protagonist.

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She also represents minorities in that cyborgs in New Beijing are essentially second-class citizens. People treat her with disgust. I think this speaks to readers who find themselves in between identities like those of mixed race or even those with prosthetics. I think discussing these issues would be great in a classroom setting or a book group. Have we ever felt like we didn’t belong because of something that makes us different?

I also enjoyed that the story took place somewhere OTHER than Europe or North America. In fact, it is believed that the story of Cinderella originated in China during the 9th century. Today, China is a booming technology giant. They’re also known for their royal families. Obviously, Meyer knew what she was doing when she set this scene for her story. It is told that Cinder is from Europe (though her exact origin is unknown), but her prince charming, Prince Kai, is clearly Chinese. Interracial love! I don’t think we see enough of it in young adult literature. This could be another discussion point.

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The story has a few flaws as far as practicality and continuity and exploring more of what the author sets up, but there are also three more books in the works after this one so maybe all is explained in the sequels.

As far as teaching the book, I can’t see myself using it in curriculum just because I don’t think the academic tone or writing is there. I also don’t know that this novel would interest young male readers. However, I think the whole cyborg and android thing might carry some weight when trying to appeal to the masculine reader.

I would definitely recommend this to others! I can see it being very popular with late middle school to early high school readers.

Movie rights HAVE been sold and the screenplay is finished. I can’t wait for it to premiere on the silver screen. Romance and robots can’t fail.

Pick this book up immediately. It’s a great and quick read full of futuristic mystery and just enough sweet romance to make your heart do little flips. To tell you how much I enjoyed reading it, I literally downloaded the sequel Scarlet an hour after I finished Cinder. The second book continues where the first left off, adding a Red Riding Hood character into the mix. The next two installments of the series are set to include Rapunzel and Snow White.

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If you enjoy both of these books, Meyer has also come out with short stories, “Glitch” and “The Queen’s Army” as prequels to both of the books. You can read them both for free here:

http://www.marissameyer.com/books/short-stories/

Meyer’s website also includes her book recommendations that I have already added to my MUST READ list. Check it out here:

http://www.marissameyer.com/books/book-recomendations/

Check out Meyer’s pinterest board (how cool) for the Lunar Chronicles here:

http://pinterest.com/marissameyer22/the-lunar-chronicles/

Read an awesome fan interview with Meyer here:

http://izabella.tumblr.com/post/55065922902/we-skyped-with-marissa-meyer-and-she-answered-our

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

If you’re not familiar with John Green, you have either never been to a book store/ library or you’re incredibly lame. I feel sorry for you if either case is true. John Green has become well known in pop culture as a result of his award-winning young adult novels as well as his YouTube contributions which include video conversations between himself and his brother, Hank Green, known as the Vlog Brothers as well as the channel Mental Floss where he uses his knowledge to enlighten the masses in a fun, pithy way.

Vlog Brothers: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

Mental Floss: http://www.youtube.com/user/MentalFlossVideo

In short, John Green is something of a phenomenon right now. And it all started with this book.

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Just a few awards this book has won:

  • Winner, 2006 Michael L. Printz Award
  • Finalist, 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • 2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults
  • 2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award
2006 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
  • A Booklist Editor’s Choice Pick
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
  • Borders Original Voices Selection

After begging his parents to let him go, Miles Halter leaves his Florida home to travel to Culver Creek Preparatory High School where he meets a cast of characters including his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi, the school bullies, the “Weekday Warriors,” and Alaska Young, the beautiful, bipolar enigma. The students manage to get into the controversial pastimes of young adulthood like smoking, drinking, and sex- and then Alaska’s death that leads the boys to uncover her life’s mysteries and the mysteries of life.

I read Looking for Alaska when I was in high school after reading a short story Green had written that I really enjoyed. However, I had no patience for the book. I think the writing is gorgeous. I just couldn’t stand the characters. They were too brooding and needlessly “complicated” to endure.  I’m also not a huge fan of books set in prep academies. Maybe it’s because I can’t identify with the experience. Now that I’ve (in my opinion at least) matured a little, I have a new appreciation for the novel, but first, my annoyances with the book.

I have a particular pet peeve for Alaska, the girl, because she feeds into the stereotype that I see in many male-written stories. She’s the all too mysterious, unattainable, troubled, and gorgeous girl that the male protagonist pines for. She’s not real. She’s one-dimensional and a flimsy portrayal of a female character. It’s the same thing Green does in many of his books. He creates his female characters to be ideas instead of real people. I think this is dangerous because I’m not sure young readers understand the concept of the unreliable narrator. Just because the narrator views a person in a certain way doesn’t mean that is how they truly are. Green touches on this, but I worry readers won’t consider it enough.

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I DID like Miles’ fascination with biographies and famous people’s famous last words. I think it guides the book in a great artistic direction. I also think the story is a fantastic one for young adults. It’s not my favorite work by Green, but I think it’s worth a read for the narration’s pure gracefulness.

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Essentially: I did not personally find Looking for Alaska to be my cup of tea, but I think other people should try it because we don’t all like the same flavors of tea. Some of us like coffee or soda or just water so…  yeah…

To no one’s surprise, this book has been surrounded by controversy. To begin with, Green dared to write about anything other than teenagers behaving.  The sexually explicit scenes have been called “pornographic” and “disgusting” by concerned parents when teachers in Buffalo, New York taught the book.  Other parents have been angered over the smoking, drinking, and explicit language featured in the novel.

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Green’s defense:

“Some people say, ‘You wrote a dirty, dirty book.’ But there are very old-fashioned values and even a lot of religion in it,” Green said. “There are some adults who think that the only kind of ethics that matter are sexual ethics. So they miss everything else that is going on in the book.” Green also said, “The book has never been marketed to 12-year-olds. Never. It is packaged like an adult book; it doesn’t even say it’s published by a kids’ book imprint on the cover, and it’s never shelved in the children’s section of bookstores.”

Controversy even surrounded the book’s cover art. Learn about it here:

To best sum it up, I hand the microphone to Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee who says in the publisher’s discussion guide:

“There is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) gratuitous in this book. Everything in it serves to define character, give style to voice, and develop theme.” This probably describes 95% of all books banned for similar reasons.

My opinion as a future teacher:

  1. I HATE the entire (if sometimes necessary or required) practice of book permission slips. Why don’t I just send home a piece of paper that reads, “I’m going to teach a book that challenges ideas and conventions. Please sign below if you’re ok with your child reading a novel that will expand their horizons.” It’s like a red flag for Complainer Parents.
  2. I think this would be a great novel to teach to upperclassmen in high school. I think there could be fun, rich book discussions and essay topics and writing prompts. The only issue would obviously be if there were any controversy coming from parents or my school that would prevent me from doing so.
  3. It’s IMPORTANT to read books that are controversial/ have been banned. I mean, hello! If there’s something in a book people don’t want me to read, I WANT TO READ IT. The reason people have been oppressed since the beginning of time is lack of knowledge. The best way to keep control is to manipulate people’s minds and make them think like you do, which is exactly what book-banners want. I want my students to challenge everything they know because it may be the first or only chance they get.

If you’re interested in reading from the people who disagree with my stance on censorship:

http://www.safelibraries.org/pushers.htm

Let me know either in the comments or through email if you’ve read or taught Looking for Alaska in the classroom or if you agree or disagree with my review.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This is a book log entry I did for my education class:

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I picked The Scorpio Races because I read the Shiver trilogy Stiefvater wrote, and I loved it. However, I was disappointed with this novel. It wasn’t as interesting as the trilogy, and I found the writing to be less than stellar.

To begin, the novel has 400 pages. I thought they would go by quickly because, like I mentioned, I loved Stiefvater’s other books. This story dragged on for the first 300 pages. I understand the need to lay a foundation, but this took it to another level. The pace was sluggish, and the real action in the story didn’t even get started until around page 350. If I wasn’t reading this book for a class, I’m not sure that I would have kept reading.

The book’s redeeming quality lies in its characters. The narration switches every other chapter between Puck and Sean. Both of them become contestants in the Scorpio Races on their island. The races are run by water horses, monsters from the sea that must be tamed by the riders. Puck is a teenage girl who enters the race on her family horse, a pony, in order to win the prize money to save her family. Sean is a horse trainer who races to gain independence and his own horse. The struggles both of the characters go through is compelling, despise the sluggish narration.

Puck is a great heroine. She’s admirable and strong. She is the first girl to ever enter the races, and works hard for her family. Sean has integrity and is passionate about his horses. The two share a pretty PG-rated romance that doesn’t take from the plot. I would like to see more characters like Puck and Sean in young adult literature just because they’re so real and are great role models. The only issue is that the author doesn’t change voice when switching their narration so they end up having the exact same voice.

I enjoyed the race scenes and the characters, but overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book.

Curriculum Connections/ Caveats:

I don’t see myself teaching this book in the classroom. I also wouldn’t suggest it to a reluctant reader. However, I have noticed that it’s a popular book so I would recommend it to a strong, eager reader in early high school or an advanced middle school student.  It could be connected to The Hunger Games because of the characters’ ages and the violent nature of the races.