Last Five Posts

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sunday Salon - 2012 Wrap Up

keepcalmIt's been an unusually "challenging" year for me both professionally and personally. I tell you, this is the first year I’ve actually FELT like I was getting old! No worries, though, I will overcome! In the meantime, here are some wonderful things I enjoyed this past year and some activities I look forward to in 2013!

Summer Throwdown
league of librarians t smallJoining forces with Sherry (@LibraryFanatic), Jillian (@heisereads), and Bryan (@brianwyzlic) to put on a month-long reading challenge between Teachers and School Librarians was phenomenal! We had over 150 participants who read almost 3,000 books! We had our own hashtags AND our very own T-Shirts! And don't forget the blog buttons! Oh, and it was super fantastic when the League of Librarians won that first round!







Batty About Books

whatcamefromThis was another big reading highlight for me! Maria (@mselke01) and I would choose a science fiction or fantasy book to read and discuss almost monthly. We did most of our discussion through Google docs then posted them on our blogs. We each had a different part of the story since my posts consisted of my thoughts and her reactions while hers were the opposite. The fun grew out of just responding to each book in whatever way the book moved us.  We'll be guest posting over at the Nerdy Book Club blog to talk more about this! I'm hoping we can continue reading together in 2013!




Reading Challenges

nerdprintzWeirdly, the only challenge I completely failed at was my own #NerdPrintz one! I look forward to picking up the mantle again this year! Realistically, due to committees and other club reading I've already committed to, I'll have to spread this out. But, look forward to some write-ups of at least 1/3 of the titles.










Blog Redesign
brainlairbigfavi
I'm still getting used to it but Lori at Imagination Design re-did the blog. It's a total departure from designs I've had in the past. It's even a departure from what I originally thought I wanted! Lori stuck it out with me as I fumbled through the process and always responded quickly, despite the looming holidays! I've got a few new features I had her create buttons for and can't wait to share them!

PS: If you previously branded yourself - don't forget to update your favicon, gravatar and profile pics.







I look forward to lots of exciting reads and reading activities next year! I’ll be assisting with a Battle of the Book team, overseeing our 3rd Annual One Book, One School read complete with AUTHOR VISIT, and possibly creating my very own multi-school Mock Newbery book club!!! So, just keep calm, things will work out!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Top Nonfiction Picture Books 2012

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/nonfiction-award
I'm so excited to be on the 2014 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards committee. This committee started in 2009 with the first books awarded in 2010.  For the 2014 Award we are reading books published for young adults from November 1, 2012 to December 31, 2013.  I can't actually tell you anything about any of those books right now but I can tell you about these two super fantastic books!







Top Nonfiction Picture Book reads of 2012
from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. 148p. $17.99. 9780547443157.) I actually listened to this one so I should also give credit to Meredith Mitchell, the narrator. What I loved about this book was the way Montgomery interspersed facts about autism with Grandin's story. Learning about how her dad wanted her sent away and then listening to some behavorial issues some autistic children may exhibit sort of put a face to the information and made it real. I especially loved Temple Grandin's tips to autistic children.

from Macmillan

Bomb: The Race to Build-- and Steal -- The World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Book Press, 2012. 272p. $19.99. 9781596434875.) Wow! This has to be the best nonfiction I've read in a long time.  I could not stop reading! Sheinkin's account of how scientists around the world worked to build the first atomic bomb, based on a theoretical  by  test on uranium reactions by Otto Hahn. This story is intense and filled with accounts of physicists and spies trying to help their country or, in some cases, another country, win World War II. Simply amazing.  There's a teacher's guide and a clip of Sheinkin reading from the book on the publisher's website.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Family Pictures 2012

It's been a long time since The Amazing Dancer and I took any sort of family photos. Sure, each year after her dance recital her dad, my ex, takes a few pictures of us together to add to his annual calendar Christmas gift. And I appreciate it!! But, this year, they were out taking thier family pics (he's remarried and they have 2  beautiful young girls) and Dancer texted to see if I wanted to come take pics with her! Weird! That was my first thought, but she convinced me and I went out and the photographer snapped a few of us! So glad I went!









Top Picture Books 2012

Even in the middle school we read picture books! Teachers like them for concise examples of concepts that they can read and use the same day. Students like them because it eases some of the stress of middle school like: the testing, the teasing, the trying to figure out what how you want to be known. I just like them!















Top Picture Book reads of 2012

from Abram's Books for Young Readers

Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley, ill by Dan Santat (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012. 40p. $16.95. 9781419703799.)
From eating, to bathing, to sleeping, Buckley takes the ordinary day of a child and turns it into something special. And the illustrations by Santat are phenomonal and pull you even further into Kel's day!

from Random House

Boy + Bot by Amy Dyckman, ill by Dan Yaccarino (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012. 32p. $16.99. 9780375867569.)
Great interpretation of what it means to be friends and how friends take care of each other.  We may be different, but we all want someone to love us the best way they can!

from HarperCollinsChildrens

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, ill by Jon Klassen (Balzer and Bray, 2012. 40p. $16.99. 9780061953385)
My favorite thing about this book are the illustrations.  Klassen has illustrated many books including The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (a great middle grade series full of mystery and humor), last year's I Want My Hat Back and this year's This is Not My Hat. His style is distinctive and full of character. 

from Random House

This Is Not My Hat written and ill by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2012. 40p. $15.99. 9780763655990)
Though the title sounds like a follow-up to I Want My Hat Back, it isn't. This humorous story takes place underwater as that cool looking guppy on the cover tries to hide so he can keep the hat he found.

Title links are to my Amazon Affiliate account to help support the blog. Publisher links are to the book page for more information on the book.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Batty About Books - Insignia by SJ Kincaid

Batty About Books reads

Insignia 
by SJ Kincaid

(Katherine Tegen Books, 2012. 464p. $17.99. 9780062092991)



We finished it! Maria and I just wrapped our final post on Insignia. While Maria (@mselke01) enjoyed the book. I thought it was just ok. We would love to hear what you thought, too! Over at Maria's Melange, checkout what she thought of the book as a whole. Here, Maria's thoughts are in purple, while mine are in blue!

In case you missed the previous discussions here are some links.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
And now, Part 4!
The Final Countdown
The Story
The government is recruiting teens to make into cyber soldiers. Great premise.  They are getting computers put into their heads and they can plug into the network through a wire into their brains.  We’ve got a classic hero’s tale going with Tom coming from a background he needs to overcome: No home, gambling/drunkard dad, mom’s gone.  He’s good at video games but not so hot at school. I can see students getting behind this story. They’ve read it before but not in terms of the future

  I like how you bring up the hero’s journey idea here. Often, in a first book, the main character still goes through the entire journey (like Book of Three or Wrinkle in Time). I think Insignia didn’t bring the journey to completion, though. That’s not completely uncommon, the Lord of the Rings series takes all 3 books to complete the journey as well.
The Main Man Tom’s no Harry Potter but he tries to stand up for himself and his friends by taking on the authority. He tries to resists the bad guy and his gifts come in handy in the end.  I think students will like the way he takes matters into his own hands while I didn’t like or dislike him. Tom is definitely not my favorite character in this book. I agree that he doesn’t have the resonance that Harry had. I really adored Harry - I empathized with him completely. I liked Tom, but it wasn’t quite the same.
The Friends Wyatt - super intelligent but socially awkward. She was my favorite character and I especially loved when she tried gloating.  She’s our Hermione and our Ron. I do wonder if she secretly has a crush on Tom, though. Wyatt is my absolute favorite - though I did start to get more interested in Medusa by the end. I like how you put it - she does encapsulate both of those character types. I have to agree, I do think she has a thing for Tom. I hope that doesn’t become a big “thing” and bring all the angst to the table.
Not something I want to see happen either! I like the way the relationship has built between Tom and Medusa and will be interested in seeing if they can overcome.
Vik - the spicy Indian. He’s loyal to Tom but he also loves the military and everything it stands for. Will he be able to keep the secret??? It will be interesting to see which side he falls on in Vortex. He’s Neville but funny. I liked how Vikram and Tom played out. I hadn’t thought about him as the potential leak. Curious. I do agree that he may be the weak link here. I’m not sure if it will be due to divided loyalties or just his lack of ability to keep a secret. If he ends up even ⅓ as awesome as Neville by the end it’ll be awesome.
Yuri - why was he here?

 Hmm... I hadn’t considered that. I saw Yuri as a window into the paranoia of the leadership. He’s a little bit of a Chewbacca in the group. Supportive, strong, but not really critical to the plot? (As a side note, I do love Chewie). I think students will be able to relate to both Wyatt and Vik but not sure what they’ll think of Yuri. Will there be new plebes for him to befriend?


The Grownups Blackburn - one of the most disappointing turns in the book for me. His 180 hurt me the most. I could get behind Eliot’s change since he’s young - they may change on a dime - but a grownup who’s fought long and hard to overcome some problems and specifically came in to help students then turning on said students?  I guess I should have seen it coming when he first humiliated Tom. I can see students despising his character and being gleeful for his comeuppance.  No one likes a bully. Especially one who’s in power over you. This bothered me a lot as well. In section 3 I mentioned how much I liked Blackburn, and then he totally crashed and burned. I was able to accept it as part of the brain destruction that occurred with his neural implant, I guess. It made the danger of tampering with the human brain more real to me - as did what happened to his family. I still would have preferred to get this lesson a different way.
Ossare - Absent most of the book, she has a huge role in the end. Even if it’s only find someone else to help Tom. Would have liked to see more of her. And in a positive light. What will happen between her and Blackburn now? They are really on opposite sides of this thing and he crossed a line.  Her part is pretty throwaway so I’d be interested to hear if students talk about her when talking about the book. I wonder if she’s back in the story more because she’ll be a bigger part in the next one? I agree with you - either more of her or take her out completely.


Neil (Tom’s dad) - Another absent character that has a big role. Kincaid told us he’s not that bad of a guy. And his scene with Tom at the end supports that. Though he asked to see Tom NOT an avatar and then Tom told him he was an avatar. Weird. What will he do when he finds out what’s happening? Will he want the neuro processor out of Tom’s head? Will it be too late? We all want our parents to be proud of us so I think students will like him in the end. I definitely want to hear more about Neil. I think he’ll have a bigger role to play - but maybe that's just me reading into his behaviors and comparing him to Blackburn.
Overall I’ve been wondering why I couldn’t enjoy this book more. I think it’s because I’m a detailed reader.  I’ve noticed in our conversations you are a forest girl - you focus on the big picture, the how it all comes together, while I’m a trees girl - I look at each chapter, each character, each sequence as an individual thing. Then I break that down.  It’s a tough way to read but I also think it’s what makes me a good librarian.  I’m on the lookout for books for book clubs, for literature circles, for teaching, and for fun. And ALL those things run through my mind as I read any YA/MG book. After reading through all of what you wrote, this is where I started responding. I think you are absolutely right. I am definitely more of a global thinker - a big picture processor. It’s one reason I love my current job. I help students move toward more global themes or overarching connections in everything we do - and they get it. Yes, I also insist the back up those ideas with specifics,but I do tend toward getting the global insight first. When I read a book and think about using it for a class, I ask myself those kinds of questions. If the individual pieces are exceedingly lovely (Seraphina, I’m looking at you), I absolutely notice it. If they aren’t, I tend to gloss over that as I look for bigger meanings. If they are horrifically bad (Beyonders, anyone?), I do notice. Overall, though, I’m looking for the bigger picture. So awesome we get to do things that play to our strengths!
What bothered me most about this book was it seemed to support the very things it was against. I was also bothered by the way it seemed to use negative examples to support it’s points. Also, the characters would 180 without any hints of where those “changes” came from. Tom says “Nothing in their conversations...could’ve readied her for the truth about him...” He’s talking about his battle with Medusa and his last actions but I think this sums up my feelings about the book. I felt blindsided by too many things. And they left me with questions of how these things could come about - which I should have been able to see in the story - instead much of it was just told to me.   I can see, however, the story moving in the direction of working against the “appearances” focus. I also see Blackburn’s humiliations of the students in a new light. Taking the book as a whole (and assuming that some of those themes continue into Vortex), I think I’m more happy with how those themes played out. I agree, though, I’m more satisfied with character changes when I can see them coming. I didn’t feel the information was there for us to get an “aha” moment - more of a “what??” moment. I prefer to have some sense that I’m predicting things correct. Or at least that all the little pieces have fallen into place in a way that makes sense by the end.
Tom says “It wasn’t worth being somebody if it meant hollowing himself out...” He’s talking about losing his soul if had to act like Eliot - shaking hands and smiling at people he didn’t like. But, what he does to Medusa. Wasn’t that like losing his soul?   

Yes! I mentioned this in my section as well. I just ached when he did that. Though I do think the resolution at the ending with her brought me some relief.

Something Else Vortex -  is the title of two books coming out 2013 and they are both sequels to books I didn’t love but I might read the sequel. Weird they are also both blue. Though Kincaid’s cover is better. What is the other one? I like the Kincaid cover a lot. I wonder what the new symbol is. The other book is the sequel to Tempest by Julie Cross.





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