Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Status: Three books at once? Oh my!

Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading and what I'm thinking about it as I go along.

~At Home~
On Writing

by Stephen King
Simon & Schuster Scribner, 2000
Source: library

I'm almost finished.  I've found it really difficult to read anything this past week with all the work I have at school.  I had hoped to have it finished by Friday.  Alas, I am not there yet, but tonight!  Tonight will be the night.

Here's a secret:  I've never read anything by Stephen King other than The Body.  I love his thoughts on writing and the writing process.  Most likely he would yell at me and all my excuses for not spending time writing.  One day.  One day I'll get it together.  And I'm going to add one of his books to my TBR for this year.  Not sure which one yet.

~At School~
The Neptune Project 
Polly Holyoke
Disney/Hyperion, 2013
Source: A student lent this to me

I will honest, based on the back cover I don't have much hope that I'll enjoy this one, but I'm going to give it a try.  My hope is that it surprises me.  The idea is that a group of kids have been genetically altered to have some of the qualities of dolphins and when they're told, they're not too happy about it.  Then they're sent on some trip to help save the world.  I've only read a few pages so far, so I really only know the back of the book!
Check out the Goodreads page.

~Listening To~
The Thing About Jellyfish
Ali Benjamin
Read by Sarah Franco
Little Brown Young Readers, 2015
Source: purchased

I'm listening to this one as I walk.  It's my motivation to get me moving a bit more this month.  It's still so incredibly cold and I will have to wake up super early to do so, but I'm hoping to motivate myself at least twice a week and once on the weekend.  Then I can also listen to a book.

Today I got in an hour of listening/walking and so far it's interesting.  Suzy's best friend died in an accident at the end of the summer and now she's stopped talking.  By choice.  Because she needs to keep her words to herself.  Told through her current experiences and flashbacks to her younger childhood, Suzy is trying to make her way through seventh grade and has a theory about why her friend died.  She refuses to believe that some things just happened and she's going to find out the truth--using the scientific method.

Really looking forward to more.  So hopefully I get out there and walk!!

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Friday, January 29, 2016

NetGalley Challenge Update!


The NetGalley Reading Challenge is hosted by Fictively.  It runs from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016.  The goal is to keep reading those NetGalley books and also reviewing them so that you keep your rating up.

I did not do so well at this last year and had to stop requesting around October due to being overloaded and not even getting to some books.  I still have 5 books on my que.

My goal for this year is to read and review 15 novels and 5 picture books. I'm separating the two because I don't think that picture books should really count towards my book total goal in any kind of book tally--even if it does take more time since I'm reviewing them.

I'm happy with my results so far.  I have two novels real from Netgalley, however I haven't posted a review for Up to This Pointe yet.  It's coming, but I have a lot to say!

Novels on NetGalley Date Read Picture Books on NetGalley Date Read
1. Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum Jan 9, 2016 1. Table Cell
2. Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo January 19, 20162.Table Cell

Are you working on a Netgalley challenge too?  Any other challenges?  How are they going?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Review: Up to this Pointe

Up to This Pointe
Jennifer Longo
Random House for Young Readers, 2016
Source: ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I requested this book because it was about dance and as a former dancer who loves ballet, but was never cut out for ballet, I was very excited to be granted my request through Netgalley.  I wasn't quite sure what else I was getting myself into because I was really blinded by the word ballet.

Harper has had a plan all her life.  She and her best friend Kate will graduate early, audition for the San Francisco Ballet, get a crappy apartment together, and dance their way up through the ranks.  She's worked for it all her life, denied herself of so many things so that she can do her favorite thing on earth in her favorite city on earth.  But then it all comes to halt and she finds herself in Antarctica during Winter Over, stuck on The Ice for six months.  How did The Plan, her plan, go so wrong that she would end up in Antarctica?

Okay, so first of all, let's talk ballet.
I have a complicated history with this art form (as many people probably do who have ever been somewhat serious about it) that would take too long to explain.  I started ballet when I was 4 or 5 and, although there was a two year break during my angsty years, I dance in some form or another up until two years ago.  That's almost about 26 years of dancing.  I still love it.  There were so many moments during which Harper is in the studio or on stage that I was completely and utterly with her.  The way she repeated her teacher's mantra that ballet is an artform, not a competition, to how she looks at a room and imagines it emptied of furniture in order to create a dance space.

When everything crashes for her, I felt my heart sink and sink and sink.  Although I feel like I was pretty aware of my abilities and never truly had dreams of making it into any big dance company, there was the moment.  The moment when you realize that all you have just isn't enough and never will be enough--no matter how much you love it.  That moment is brutal and for Harper it just drags on and on and on.

The book begins in Antarctica, so you know right away things went wrong, but as you read, it jumps back and forth between Antarctica, the present, and San Francisco, the past.
The story begins to build itself and straighten out into how this all happened and who Harper is now that she doesn't have The Plan to lead her. There are people there who help her, who try to help her--at least.

There are love stories in here as well.  I say stories because I see many.  Harper is in the midst of her heart breaking over her biggest love--dance.  There's a new love, but it's confusing and complicated and she doesn't know what to do with it.  And then there's Antarctica and everything that's going on there.  But what I love the most about the love stories is that, although they are important to Harper's growth and understanding of herself, they aren't it.  It's not what this book is about.  It's about learning to find yourself when you've been crushed and no longer know who or what you are supposed to be.  It's about carving out a place for hope.  It's about finding a new way.  It's about family and friends.

I loved Up to this Pointe.  I found myself racing through it and wanted to find out more and hear more about dance.  Even if you aren't a dance aficionado, I think you could find quite a lot of intriguing details and events in Antarctica.  I definitely suggest this one to for older readers since there are a few older elements.

Are there any other fiction books about dance that you absolutely love?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Garth Stein
Harper Collins, 2008
Source: my public library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I had heard how great a story The Art of Racing in the Rain is.  I was a bit...apprehensive...because I'm not a dog person and I'm not a racing person.  If you'll remember from my review last week of The Girl Who Threw Butterflies, I am not a sports person at all.  So I finally sat down to read it.  It was beautiful.

Told from the point of view of Enzo, a dog, we see the lives of the Swift family and their happiness, sadness, vulnerability, anger, and meanness.  Enzo sees it all.  Since he is an enlightened dog who is determined that his next life will be that of a human, he studies them.  Sometimes his insights into the lives of Denny Swift, his wife Eve, and their daughter Zoey are just overwhelming because they are so telling, so truthful, and more human person would understand.  Denny dreams of a life as a racer and is incredibly good at driving, especially at driving in the rain, but life has made it so pursuing his dreams isn't always an option.  He loves his family and does his best by them. Enzo sees Denny as a hero of a man who saved him and loves all those who are special to Denny.
Inside each of resides the truth...the absolute truth.  But sometimes the truth is hidden in a hall of mirrors.  Sometimes we believe we are viewing the real thing, when in fact we are viewing a facsimile, a distortion (301).
Sometimes I was overwhelmed with sadness by what Enzo saw and tried to understand in his doggy ways.  Other times I was overwhelmed with anger, just as confused as he was about why people were acting as they were.  How can a person be so cruel?  Even as an adult human I ask myself this all the time.  How do innocent creatures process this?  I often thought of Zoey, Denny's daughter, and how she understood it.  I wish I could have gotten a little more insight into her world than we did, but Enzo is Denny's dog.  He loves Zoey and protects her, but it is Denny he will follow forever.

I loved Enzo's story, but I thought the racing analogy was just too heavy at times. Woven into Enzo's understanding of the world was his understanding of racing--just as Denny taught him.  So there were times when Enzo would explain what he was witnessing in the Swift family through racing analogies.  I skimmed through these to check to see if there was anything I needed to know.   There was a lot of reference to famous racers (I assume they are real people, but like I said, I know very little about racing and had little desire to look them up because I needed to find out about these people).  In addition to these little snippets were short chapters (2-3 pages) describing different aspects of racing that related directly to what was happening in the story.  I started skipping them entirely because I realized that they didn't have anything about the story itself and that's what I was interested in knowing about.

Despite the abundance of racing descriptions, I do recommend The Art of Racing in the Rain because it was really a beautiful look at humanity and the lives of humans.  Seeing it through Enzo's eyes gives us, as humans, some insight into our lives.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies
Mick Cochrane
Yearling, 2009
Source: borrowed
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Molly Williams is still grieving for her father, who died six months ago.  When she was little, he taught her how to throw a knuckleball and she's been practicing it ever since.  Now, all she wants is to feel close to him and the closest she ever felt was when they played or talked baseball. So Molly tries out for the baseball team.  Baseball.  Not softball.  At first, it seems like the only person she has rooting for her is her best friend, Celia, but Molly has a lot to learn about baseball and life still.  First, though, she's going to have to get through tryouts.

I was worried when I started The Girl Who Threw Butterflies because I'm not a huge sports person.  Wait. Wait.  I am not a sports person at all.  I watch the Cardinals--oh no.  I will agree to watch the Cardinals if someone else wants to watch the game.  Personally I don't really care about any sport, unless you want to count dance as a sport--I don't.  So I was a little worried when a student suggested this book because I didn't want to read a play-by-play of baseball.  I've tried to read sports books before but could never get into them.  Mick Cochrane has written a book about baseball that isn't about baseball, though.

Molly found herself trying to remember all of this, to find words for it, so that she could turn it into a story. It was what she did (30-31).

First of all, Molly is really interesting. You know why she's interesting?  She's not your typical tomboy-who-doesn't-like-girl-stuff character.  (Thank you, Mick Cochrane!) Molly has many interests that have nothing to do with baseball.  She knows about so many different things and has an understanding of social studies, writing, literature, poetry, science.  The best part is that those details are woven into who Molly is so well that I don't notice them as being traits to counteract her ability to play baseball well.  They're just a part of her.  It's how she compares baseball to her life one minute, and then turns the analogy around into a description of a story.  I loved Molly.

Second of all, Cochrane includes ideas of Zen in the story.  Celia encourages her friend to read a book about Zen to help her with her pitching.  It becomes a calming source that Molly returns to each time she feels the pressure of pitching, but not in a pretentious, she knows everything about Zen sort of way.  She even says at one point that she has no idea what half of it is saying, but she gets the important part (for her) and she makes it her own.  I actually found myself taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulder and neck each time Molly thought of Zen and focusing on her pitch.  They were some beautiful moments.

Third of all, Molly has some great supporters in her life.  Her mom is there and she's dealing with her own grief and trying, not always the way Molly wants her to, but then Molly isn't helping her mom much either.  She has her best friend Celia, whom I love!  Celia is Molly's voice of reason, but also at the same time her encourager to step out and do what she wants and to be okay with wanting something and admitting it.  She's supportive and questioning and pushes her to step out of her comfort zone.  There's also Lonnie, the awkward kid who ends up being her catcher during tryouts because they're both kind of on the outskirts.  Her coaches who never once mention anything about her being a girl.  Not once is that brought up by her coaches.  By the other players--yes.

That brings me to another thing I really liked about this.  Although Molly worries about being the only girl on the team and her classmates and teammates are uncomfortable with her decision to play on the boys' baseball team, on the field, Molly is treated as a player.  She's not treated as a girl who is playing.  For most of the book I was waiting for her coach to say something about it or give her a pep talk about how she could do it, or something.  But now, as I look back on that, I'm glad he didn't.  Did I just want this pep talk because she's a girl?  I think so and this book was so much more than that.

The thing was, the ball didn't care.  That's what she loved about it.  It was completely indifferent, without prejudice.  The ball didn't care if you were a girl or a boy.  Skinny or fat, rich or poor, black or white, cool or uncool, happy or sad, smart and funny or awkward and shy, if you were charming and had a way with words and a winning smile--didn't matter. The ball didn't care (130).
It's about a girl who misses her father and doesn't know why he left and she's trying to find him.  It's about a girl who can't figure out a way to communicate fully with her mother.  It's about a girl who's trying to figure out how to navigate through life.  It's about a girl who may or may not have a crush on the kind of weird kid in school who is a lot more interesting than she realized.

So I liked The Girl Who Threw Butterflies so much more than I thought I would.  It's not just a baseball story.  It's a story that uses baseball as a means to expose the main character and delve deeper into her understanding of the world.  There were a few scenes during games that some of the baseball talk was starting to drag on for me, but for the most part it wasn't too much.  I could even stand the baseball talk because the author allowed for suspense and more than just a play-by-play of the game.

If you enjoy sports books, you will definitely enjoy this.  If you don't enjoy sports books, give it a try and you might be surprised to find your first enjoyable sports themed book.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: Alistair Grim and the Odd Aquaticum

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum
Gregory Funaro
Disney Hyperion, January 5, 2016
Source: ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Gregory Funaro mixes steampunk with the fantasy worlds of Avalon in this sequel to the Alistair Grim series.  Grubb's father is none other than the Alistair Grim, inventor, mad scientist, sorcerer, collector of Odditoria--you name it.  Grubb is now his apprentice and they are on a mission to stop the evil Prince Nightshade.  Doing so will require a trip to the legendary Avalon to acquire the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake.  Only then will Alistair Grim be able to stop Prince Nightshade and clear his own name.

When I requested this ARC from Netgalley I wasn't aware that it was a sequel.  If I had been aware, I probably wouldn't have requested it, but I'm glad that I did.  Although it's obvouis that this is a sequel, the author does a terrific job of catching those of us up who haven't read it before without seeming too annoying and back story heavy.  I never felt lost or as if I had missed too much to understand what was going on.  That being said, I believe that there is quite a lot more that I would have been able to enjoy and make connections to if I had read the previous book.

There are so many fantastical characters in this book.  Banshees, fairies, and witches are all part of the Odditorium crew as well a magical eye, a watch that talks, and various other magical objects Alistair Grim has acquired throughout his adventures.  In addition he and his crew have created many inventions which require power from magical sources to keep them going.  It really is a fantastical world Funaro has created for readers to find themselves lost in while they read.

The pacing of the book reminded me of many other books in which the characters prepare for an adventure or journey and suddenly there is a lot of action and danger and then it's resolved so that we can prepare for the next part of the adventure.  Another burst of high energy, action, and close calls is resolved and the characters recover and prepare for the next step, and so on.  I've read other novels in which this is also the pattern and it is somewhat annoying when it pops out at me, and it did in this story. I was aware of it after the 2nd life threatening adventure and it pulled me out of the story.  I would rather not notice until I'm reflecting on the story and how it flows.

Overall, I liked Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro and plan to purchase both books in the series for my classroom.  I have a few students I believe will really enjoy these books.  Fan of Harry Potter will definitely like this series.  I would say that anyone who enjoys steampunk and fantasy novels  and stories of Camelot will also enjoy this book.  It's fast paced so it'll keep middle schoolers' attention.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Birthday: Up to This Point

It's the book birthday of Up to this Pointe by Jennifer Longo.

I'm about 3/4 of the way through and wish I could have stayed up later last night to finish it, but alas--eleven is my bedtime on school nights.

So far I am loving it!  I really enjoy all the dance parts--but I'm a dancer.  Harper is breaking my heart and I have so much to say about that.  I desperately want all her dreams to come true, but am also just so sad about life.

Also, all of this time spent in Antartica is great!  I would never do it, but I love reading about her slow transformation and the history of the explorers who are intertwined with her life's story.

I'll be sure to post a better review soon.  In the meantime, check out the Goodreads blurb!

Final Six Favorite Literary Characters

When I originally started making a list of my favorite characters in literature, I just wrote any that I could think of, with the intention of narrowing it down.  Well after I had my list, I couldn't bring myself to take any of them off the list.  So instead I categorized.  Two weeks ago I presented you with six of my Favorite Literary Characters from My Childhood and last week I presented Six More Favorite Literary Characters, which focused on children's and middle grade books read in my adulthood.

This week I have six more favorite literary characters from YA and adult books.  There weren't as many from adult books as I would have thought--and then remembered that I don't read a lot of adult books.  So yeah... :)

Be warned, there is quite a mix of characters here.

Kirsten from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 
It's been months, but I still sometimes stop and think about Kirsten.  I wonder if I could have been like her in a world that suddenly died--I'm not quite sure I would have made it.  Who knows.  Maybe I would step up?
Review: Station Eleven

Cress and Thorne from the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
So Cress I love because she came into the Lunar Chronicles with a bit more innocence than the other characters.  I feel like I should have been annoyed by her and her naivete, but I'm not.  And Thorne.  I liked him almost from the moment I first met him.  Okay so not at all in the prison during Cinder, but after that, I pretty much liked him.  And I fell in love with him during Cress.  He reminds me of Malcom Reynolds from Firefly.  In my mind, I picture Nathan Fillion, in his Malcom gear when Thorne walks onto the page.
Review: Winter
Review: Cinder
Review: Fairest

R from Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
I like reading zombie stuff okay.  I love the TV show The Walking Dead (never read the graphic novels).  I was so taken with the idea that a zombie could have a consciousness and could be rehabilitated.

Ava from AVA by Carole Maso
In college we read AVA and I fell in love with a book in a way that I never fell in love with a book before and probably never will again.  The way Maso wove those images together of a woman dying and the heaviness and lightness of it.  The beauty of it.  It moved me to dance, to create, and I found myself spending two years on this book, studying it, choreographing, performing, re-choreographing it until it all came together to me.  Never again will I love a book like this.  Gingko trees, hands, rolling over, "end the story here."  All ideas I will remember and this fictional image of a woman during her last days alive.

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I am pretending to only know the Atticus Finch I met in TKAM.  I cannot speak anymore about the Atticus I met in Go Set A Watchman.  If you'd like to hear what I thought about that, check out my "not-really-a-review" review.  The Atticus from TKAM embodied the spirit of parenting that I wanted to be..for the most part.  He inspired me as a teacher, because that's how I saw him in TKAM.
Review: To Kill a Mockingbird
Thoughts On Go Set a Watchman

Jo Montfort from These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
This is a newer read from just this past fall, but I loved Jo!  Raised in one of the most well-known and prestigious families of New York, Jo is expected to marry the most eliglbe bachelor.  Then she will have babies and host parties and maybe even get to write an advice column under a pen name is her husband will allow it.  But Jo is a fan of Nellie Bly and wants to be a journalist--a real journalist.  She has accepted that this will never happen, but when her father unexpectedly dies from an apparent accident, Jo isn't so sure and the only person who will listen to her is a young up and coming reporter looking for a story.  I love how although Jo is terrified of both the physical dangers and the social dangers of what she is doing, she still does it.  She makes that choice.  Jo also knows that soon this life will have to end and she'll go back to being the perfect girl and future-wife they all want her to be.
Review: These Shallow Graves
Character Spotlight: Jo Montfort

Do you like any of these characters?  Do you have others you want to add?  

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

#SundayStatus: The Shadow Throne and Up to This Pointe

Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading and what I'm thinking about it as I go along.

This week is when my reading life will probably slow down a bit.  We're back into the swing of school again and my first responses are due this week, which means I'll be cutting into my reading time with grading.  I feel like I have a good start, though, and am hoping it will carry me through to February/March.

The Shadow Throne
Jennifer Nielsen
Scholastic Press, 2014
Source: purchased for my classroom library

I'm so excited to finally finish this series!  I had to read it next because I have three students who are either reading the first two or waiting for me to put this one in my library.

Jaron is at it again, making stupid decisions and realizing that only moments afterwards.  There's lots of actions and a lot of surprises and I'm only about half way through the book.  I've already laughed, cried, and gasped out loud.

Up to This Pointe
Jennifer Longo
Random House for Young Readers, 2016
Source: ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I requested this from Netgalley because it's about a dancer.  I've only just started it and know that she's in Antarctica--that's it!

Here is the Goodreads blurb:
Harper is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. And Harper won’t let anything—or anyone—get in the way of The Plan, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.

Harper is a Scott. She’s related to Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer who died racing to the South Pole. So when Harper’s life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica. Extreme, but somehow fitting—apparently she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart.
Up to this Pointe is available for purchase on Tuesday!  If I can get far enough, check back then for a blurb about what I think!

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: Touching Spirit Bear

Touching Spirit Bear
Ben Mikaelsen
Scholastic, 2001
Source: my classroom library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ben Mikaelsen takes us on a journey along with Cole Matthews as he confronts his demons in Touching Spirit Bear.  Cole is angry.  Very angry.  He's angry enough that he beat the you know what out of a kid for ratting on him.  That kid, Peter Driscal, is now in the hospital and Cole has found himself in a juvenile detention center as he awaits sentencing.  But there is an alternative, a chance to change.  Through Circle Justice, a healing practice that focuses on the healing of both parties instead of just the punishment of one, Cole is sent to an Alaskan island to spend a year in solitude.  But is that enough for Cole Matthews?  Can he really change just from spending a year on his own in the wilderness? Can he even survive?

I read this books years ago and it's always been at the back of my mind for some of my students.  Although I have sixth graders and Cole Matthews is fifteen years old, some of the anger I see bottled up at times reminds me of him.  I have been thinking about sharing this with them and finally jumped in, reading carefully through it in order to prepare my read alouds.

One of the parts that I really appreciate about this book is the symbolism that is rampant throughout the first part.  Cole's anger is always smoldering under the surface until there is an explosion.  The references to fire and heat and anger are all mixed up in the first half of the book (in a good way).  As a class we'll start keeping track of these instances and then I'll have them draw a picture of Cole's anger, hoping that they all include fire of some sort in their drawing. 

There is also the chance for change.  Cole has the possibility for change.  He is given a chance to make his life better and to make up for the things that he has done to others.  It's up to him to take that chance and make it his own.  As one of the characters in the book says, healing is much more difficult than being punished, and Cole is about to learn that.  It's not just his change we see, but we also see the transformation of other characters who are connected to Cole as they witness everything that takes place in his life.  

While Cole is on the island he spots a large white bear, a spirit bear.  They supposedly don't live on the island and no one has ever spotted one anywhere near the island before, but Cole sees one.  The spirit bear encompasses so much of what Cole is experiencing while on the island and seems to reflect his own spirit.  

It's easy to get caught up in Cole's attitude and his anger and to go along with what he's feeling.  At the same time, you're just as angry with him as everyone is and you can't stand how he blames everyone around him.  

Ben Mikaelsen has shown us that surviving can be more than just about making it through nature, but about surviving your emotions and surviving life.  He gives kids a look at what is possible, even if you are a juvenile delinquent and angry at the entire world.  I enjoyed reading this again and hope that my students will also enjoy reading it.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Six More Favorite Literary Characters

When I originally started making a list of my favorite characters in literature, I just wrote any that I could think of, with the intention of narrowing it down.  Well after I had my list, I couldn't bring myself to take any of them off the list.  So instead I categorized.  Last week I presented you with six of my Favorite Literary Characters from My Childhood.

This week I have some of my favorite literary characters from children's and middle grade books that I read in my adulthood.  As a mother, I'm hoping that I can get my daughter (now 2.5, but I can plan her reading life for her--right?) into many of these characters as she grows up.  How early is too early to start reading HP to her?  

Moose from the Al Capone at Alcatraz series by Gennifer Choldonko.
Moose is in no way perfect.  All he wants to do is play ball, but he has to watch his sister Natalie most of the time.  Although Natalie does annoy Moose at times, he's kind to her and sticks up for her when others try to take advantage of her mental state.  He's a good kid, but has a lot to learn.
Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Meggie from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.
Meggie loves books.  She loves stories.  Enough said.  Oh yes, her name is Meggie.

Heidi from So B. It by Sarah Weeks
She is courageous and sets out on a trek to find out more information about her mother.  She discovers a lot about herself and what family means.

Rose from Rain/Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose's story is sad and beautiful.  I desperately wanted to befriend her and take her under my wing.  I read this one to my students this year and they also fell in love with her.
Review: Rain/Reign

Mo LeBeau from Three Times Lucky and Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Dramatic and over the top and always in the know, Mo is hilarious.  She's in no way perfect and makes many mistakes, but for the most part she owns up to her mistakes.  She also loves her family and friends with a fierce loyalty.
Review: Three Times Lucky
Review: Ghosts of Tupelo Landing


Harry, Hermione, and Dumbledore from The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I realize that this should count as three separate characters, but I'm putting them all together anyway. Harry is awkward and finds his place at Hogwarts--and it has nothing to do with being The Boy Who Lived.  He finds a place with the family he creates.
Hermione's character always seemed like a mother figure to Harry, but not the doting kind.  She says what needs to be said and she is loyal to him throughout it all, no matter what.  It is her friendship that makes the trio of Ron, Hermione and Harry work.
Dumbledore.  What can I say about him?  Sometimes infuriating in his enigmatic ways, but as a reader you end up looking up to him, depending on him just as Harry does.  He shows up at just the right time to save everyone and keep them all safe and works behind the scenes to make sure everything turns out okay.

What middle grade and children's characters reached out to you as an adult?

Check back again next week for the last of my Favorite Literary Characters!

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Sunday, January 10, 2016


Sunday Status is a weekly (ish) post where I let you know what I'm reading and what I'm thinking about it as I go along.

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies
Mick Cochrane
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009
Source: borrowed

A student leant me this book earlier in the year, really excited for me to read it.  It's about a girl whose father has died and their bond had always been baseball--not softball. Her mom is mess, trying to keep it together, but not very well according to Molly. Now, six months after his death, she's not interested in trying out for softball.  She's going to try for baseball.

Just started this on Friday and so I didn't get very far.  So far you can tell both Molly and her mom are grieving for Molly's father, but in their own ways.  They haven't figured out how to talk to one another about it. I'm not a sports book person, but I'm thinking (*hoping*) there will be enough in this that isn't sports related that I'll be able to enjoy it.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Garth Stein
Harper Collins, 2008
Source: public library

Literally just started this before I started writing this.  I have read one chapter and I'm intrigued.  I've had people telling me to read this for awhile, but I just never got around to it.  So I've jumped in and here we go!  So far, Enzo's voice seems pretty strong and loveable.  I hope that being a dog person isn't a prerequisite for loving this book.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010
Source: Kindle purchase
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

First, I would like to say that overall this was a pretty decent book, despite the 2 star rating.  I also want to point out that I'm probably not their target audience, however I do, on occasion, enjoy a well written teen romance with fully developed characters who aren't incredibly sappy. In this book we meet two characters who seem to be complete opposites:  Dash, a cynical kid who, due to his parents' divorce and his own intelligence, has managed to be alone for the holidays and Lily, a straight-laced, loves-Christmas, and does what she's told girl with very overprotective family members whose parents are off on a honeymoon they didn't get to celebrate 20 some years earlier.  When Dash finds a notebook with odd instructions in it, he follows them (what else would you do?) and then leaves instructions for the mystery girl.  The notebook is passed back and forth between the two with new instructions as well as thoughtful and very open letters as they get to know one another through the notebook.  How will this relationship live when it's brought out into the real world and they actually meet?

My sixteen year old self may have actually tried something like this after reading this book.  Just saying.  I was intrigued by their exchanges and the different "dares" they sent one another on throughout the Christmas season.  Dash's character bothered me a little.  He was so incredibly snarky that it was really difficult to like him or even believe in his character.  Maybe I just didn't like him.  I don't know, but it was off putting for me.  And the symposium he has with his friends on love was strange.  It was like he was lecturing them all and they were members of some weird college course on love.  It completely took me out of the story.  Lily wasn't so bad and I didn't have an issue with her character except that she seemed a little too naive at times.

The character that really and truly blew it for me was Boomer, Dash's friend.  I was confused for a long time whether or not Boomer was actually a younger kid Dash had befriended.  Using him for comedic effect really just became confusing and annoying.  I kept waiting to find out what the story was behind Boomer because he just doesn't seem like he would be in high school unless he was high all the time and that didn't seem to be the case either.  I found myself stopping every time his character arrived in the scene and wondering what was up with him.

Maybe some readers who are more into romance and don't have such a cynical view of romance will enjoy it more.  I had a hard time with it, though.  I will say it is a very appropriate read for high schoolers.  For the most part I would also say it's appropriate for middle school students, depending on their maturity level.

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Six of My Favorite Literary Characters from My Childhood

Some of my most influential literary characters are listed below.  These are all books I read up until college and as I was writing this post I came to a realization about the characters I chose to grasp onto.  Check in next week for more Favorite Literary Characters from my adult-hood.

Margaret Simon from Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.
I probably read this book 5 times between third grade and when I went to high school. Margaret and I were on the same page.

Dicey Tillerman from Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt.
Dicey takes her three younger siblings on a trek to find their only family when their mother disappears.  She makes sure they have food, they stay out of trouble (for the most part) and they find somewhere safe.  Dicey amazed me and I remember rooting for her and worrying about MayBeth and Sammy just as she was.

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.Anne is probably the most influential character in my life.  She is full of life and creative and strong-willed.  She tells the truth and knows exactly what she wants.  Anne lived for the dramatic and I loved all her crazy imaginings, but I was really the more conservative Diana Barry.  I think that's why I loved Anne so much.  She inspired me to write and to love stories.  When Diana sent her story in to the contest, I felt just as sick as Anne did, and when Gilbert Blythe teased her, I was infuriated! But I had a crush on him from the get go and throughout the series, I waited desperately for them to finally come together.  I've written about Anne and Anne of Green Gables a few times.
Character Spotlights:  Anne,   Gilbert
Other mentions:  Happy Birthday L.M. Montgomery,  Motherly Literary Figures

Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
I already wanted to be a writer when I met Jo March and her family.  She just made it more of a necessity.  I loved that she was always in charge, loud, and not one to always follow the rules of society.  Very opposite of me.  I am and have always been quiet and a rule-follower, but I tried to make myself a little writing nook like I imagined hers to be.  And I still get angry at Amy for burning her manuscript.  So angry.

Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
To be honest, I watched the movie well before I read the book in high school, so most of my love of Scarlett comes from watching the movie.  My cousin loved the movie and introduced me to it.  Scarlett was in control--she was a spoiled brat who used some incredibly hateful means to get what she wanted--but she was in charge.  Really she was an awful person, but I loved her as a character, and I remember my mom talking with me about the type of person Scarlett was and whether she was right in her actions or not.

Lizzie Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Although I didn't read P&P until I was in college, I still consider Lizzie's character and important one to my understanding of myself.  I loved that she was smarter than anyone else in her family and she knew it.  Everyone knew it.

One thing that I noticed here is that all of these characters that I attached to as I grew up were the opposite of what I saw in myself--except for Margaret.  Maybe I was searching for the part of myself that is louder, more confident, more dramatic, and not afraid to take charge of a situation?  Maybe I was searching for more of that in myself.  Maybe it worked, because I do feel more in charge and confident in myself than I ever did growing up.

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