Friday, January 19, 2018

A Review of 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001.  The protagonist, Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age.  He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker."

This book has been sitting on my shelf forever, so I wanted to read this in 2017.

The book started off alright.  I was drawn in by life living in a zoo and in a family whose job it was to take care of the animals.  I loved hearing the story about how Pi got his name.  It was a part of India that I have never read about before so that was also fascinating to me.  I also loved that this books explores spirituality how how it can play an active role in our lives.  As someone who has struggled with their spirituality since they were a pre-teen, this was a valuable experience for me to read about.  This is largely due to the fact that Pi is not just a blind follower to whatever religion he was born into (I believe his family is Hindu).  He is okay with exploring other religions, in his case Christianity and Islam.  One big misconception I have about religion and spirituality is that you have to pick one to follow and that's that.  But it's okay to explore and it's okay to take bits and pieces of other religions and spiritualities that help you live the life you're meant to be living.  It's very freeing for me to hear.

Tragic events befall Pi wherein he loses his family, most of the zoo animals, and so much more when the Tsimtsum, the ship helping him and his family emigrate to Canada, sinks unexpectedly and seemingly without reason, leaving him stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, left to fend for himself.  Suddenly, his days are reduced to fighting for his own survival and trying to make sense of all that happened to him.

There is a bit of a lull in the story as Pi focuses hardcore on basic survival: getting food, clean water, keeping things clean as much as one can in the middle of the ocean, staying sane, and feeding the tiger that has managed to survive this long on board the lifeboat that he and Pi now call home.  It was this focus on basic survival that really slowed down the story for me and why it took me so long to finish this book.  Once basic survival was fairly under wraps though, the book picked up a little bit.  Looking back now, I think this was a very immersive read.  As you go along, you're experiencing that struggle to engage your brain and stay active the way Pi struggles to stay engaged.  As soon as he latched onto something that kept his brain engaged, so did you.

Overall, even though there was a great lull in the story, this was a book that took you on a ride and demanded that you be part of Pi's story.

I give 'Life of Pi':
 1/2
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Review of 'The Arrival: Sketches From A Nameless Land' by Shaun Tan

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean.  He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life-- he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination.  He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images.  Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too.  But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy."

My students are in the middle of a unit on Immigration and Race and so one way we have worked towards the goals of our unit was to read this book.

It's nice because it's really accessible to readers of all levels.  There are no words, at least no words that anyone in our world can understand.  Since students have some background on the immigration process in the U.S., they were able to easily see the different steps in action (especially after learning about Ellis Island, which was where decided to start).  We also used this book to talk about settling in a new country and how you begin to find your 'new normal' once you've resolved to settle permanently.

The illustrations are fantastic and highly detailed.  This is just a beautiful book that readers of any level and kids and adults of any age can enjoy.  It's a great way to begin a conversation about immigration, which so many of us in the U.S. and other countries around the world can find threads of our own stories in.

I give 'The Arrival':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' by J.K. Rowling (Audio Book)

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers.  A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he's after Harry.  Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius.  But Harry can't imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair.  Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts.  A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry's success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights.  A cute fourth-year student catches his eye.  And he becomes close with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father.  Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer.  But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem.  Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series."

For the longest time, this was as far as I could read in this series.  I must have read it three, four times or even more in a row before I temporarily moved onto other books and finally onto Goblet of Fire.  As I've been rereading this series, I've realized that this is actually one of my favorites of all the books.  I'd say it's in my top three.  Here's why:

1. I think it's nice that we get at least a little bit of a break from Voldemort.  I know he's always a constant threat in Harry's world, but this is the one year where Harry doesn't have to face him directly.  We can worry about other things for once.

2. Harry has some wins in this year that he doesn't get again, especially the further into the series we get.  I mean, he gains a father figure who legitimately cares for him and doesn't try to use him to accomplish a task (ahem, Dumbledore).  He is reunited with the better half of his father's friends which, because he was ripped away from his parents, I can only imagine is an incredibly positive connection to make.

3. We understand a little more about Harry's parents and the circumstances surrounding their death.  While knowing these things doesn't change anything about what happened, it's nice to have the information if nothing else just so you know.  In my experience, that has helped me a little bit.  In mid-December last year, a friend of mine from college lost her life in an accident.  As a way to get closure, especially since I wasn't able to go to the funeral, I tried to get as much information about what happened surrounding her death as I could find.  It doesn't change the fact that she's gone forever, but just knowing that information is good for me to know.  There are no mysteries around her death anymore.  I can start finding closure in other ways.

I think this was J.K. Rowling's gift to Harry.  Even though it's not an easy year, there is a certain amount of reprieve that comes with this year that Harry won't get for years now.  If nothing else, this is a fantastic read just for that.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Review of 'Like Water on Stone' by Dana Walrath

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Blending magical realism and lyrical free verse, this is an intense survival story of three siblings caught up in the horrific events of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.

Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York.  Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love.  At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way.  But when the Ottoman pashas set their plans to eliminate all Armenians in motion, neither twin has a choice.

After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, Shahen and Sosi flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam.  Shahen keeps his parents' fate a secret from his sisters.  But the children are not alone.  An eagle named Ardziv watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood."

This was a book I had to read for my Middle Eastern book club but didn't finish until many months later.  I like this book because it's poetry and therefore short.  I thought this was an interesting way to begin to understand the Armenian genocide that occurred.  I have found through reads like this that I like poetry that is ultimately telling a story (fictional or nonfictional, it doesn't matter).  So I don't regret reading this book at all.

The trouble with reading poetry as narratives, however, at least in my experience, is that it can be hard for me to engage with the characters and therefore take the story to heart.  So after reading this book, I'm interested in reading more about the Armenian genocide, but I don't have a better understanding of this period of time after reading this book.  Poetry has a lot to do with communicating emotion and I think in order to understand one's emotions, you need some context and I don't really get that from this book.  Definitely not after the first read.  So that's rather disappointing.  I'd be interested in seeing if this book means more to me after a bit of an education on my part about this part of the world and about this part of history.

I give 'Like Water on Stone':
1/2
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Review of 'Rules' by Cynthia Lord

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"A heartfelt and witty debut about feeling different and finding acceptance-- beyond the rules.

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life.  Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability.  She's spent years trying to teach David the rules-- from 'a peach is not a funny looking apple' to 'keep your pants on in public'-- in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors.  But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she's always wished for, it's her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?"

I read this book with the boy I tutor during the week.  Normally when we read together, I think the books he picks don't normally engage either of us, but this book was a gold nugget among middle school reading duds.

While I'm curious about what goes on in the mind of someone with autism, I think, as Catherine points out just by being a character in this story, the family of someone with autism matters too.  They still need to be heard and listened to even if their needs might not be as high.

I thought it was really sweet that Catherine tried to help her brother in a way that he could understand through the creation of rules.  Catherine and David have this really special connection than he has with anyone.  I'd even go so far as to say that it's more powerful than the connection David has with either of his parents.

I love this book, but a number of things bothered me (but in a way that I think helped make the story better).  The dad bothered me.  I'm sure he works hard, but he didn't seem to make nearly the effort that Catherine's mother or Catherine herself makes on behalf of David.  He wouldn't arrive when he said that he would arrive where he needed to be.  Like when he was coming home from work, it's not that he'd be a minute or two late.  I find that understandable.  But he would show up half an hour, forty-five minutes, or even an hour later than when he promised.  That's entirely unfair and he knows how important promises are to his son.  Why would he do that?  And speaking of parents, I hate that Catherine has sole responsibility for David when either parent is not available.  That's not inherently wrong, but it's often at the expense of Catherine as it's often rather last minute that this responsibility is given to her.  I was so angry when Catherine was trying hard to become friends with Kristi (although she is rather manipulative and just plain no fun, so I don't think she'd make a good friend anyway), the girl next door, and suddenly she is asked to watch David.  That hardly seems fair and it's a complete disregard for what would be good for Catherine at the time.  Her parents are so unthinking it feels like...

And then my favorite part.  Catherine's relationship with Jason.  Jason is really sweet and I love that she makes the effort to communicate with him even when it can take an extra step to do so.  She showed him that his personhood matters and went so far as to make more communication cards that are more age appropriate for him (rather than just regular cards with hum-drum words).  Jason was able to express frustration and just generally what he was feeling with the help of Catherine's cards.  Every time I read an interaction between these two, my heart warmed and sped up with happiness.  I don't think you could find a sweeter pair out there.

Overall, this is a great book for younger readers and it's good if you're a parent reading with your child.  It's a good read if you're interested in learning more about developmental disabilities and how you can honor the personhood of those living with these conditions.  It's a fantastic read.

I give 'Rules':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' by J.K. Rowling (Audio Book)

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.  But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does.  For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's youngster sister, Ginny.  But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone, or something, starts turning Hogwarts students to stone.  Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever?  Could it possibly be Hagrid, who mysterious past is finally told?  Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects: Harry Potter himself?"

It took a while to start up the series again after I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because school keeps me busy during the day and even in the evenings.  But I found a free online version of the audiobooks-- every book from Sorcerer's Stone to Cursed Child which I can't even consider to be part of this series.  This made it much easier to make progress towards my goal.

I love this book even more than I love Sorcerer's Stone because now we don't need the full story of how Harry became a wizard.  We can dive into the Wizarding World almost as soon as we crack open the book (or in my case, press play on my audiobook).  You feel like you're part of something (because you are).

One of my favorite things is that we're getting more of Hogwarts secrets even this early in the series.   The history of the Chamber of Secrets is fascinating as we get to know more about the founders of Hogwarts.  In a world like this, it's nice to get more information like this in small doses (even when I'd like nothing better than to know anything and everything about this magical place).

I also think it's exciting (and scary) that Harry faces Voldemort all on his own.  Not that he didn't face him in his first year, but this is the first time when Voldemort has a form of his own, albeit not a physical presence, just memory.  But he wasn't sharing a body with anyone.  It was just him and Harry since Ginny is unconscious in the Chamber of Secrets.  And even more exciting, to practically witness a basilisk attack and then see the powers of a phoenix at work.

There are a number of things that I find so great about this book.  It's got that same charm that Hogwarts has in Harry's first year, even when the school threatens to close its doors.  It's fun to see how Harry grows from his first to his second year and see how he's capable of handling any challenge that is thrown his way.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Review of 'Turtles All The Way Down' by John Green

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there's a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate.  So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett's son, David.

Aza is trying.  She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza's story of shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship."

As soon as this book was announced, I pre-ordered it and waited impatiently until its October release.

This book has a very different feel from John Green's previous books.  While there was a boy involved, it wasn't a romance like almost all of his previous books have elements of.  It's not about Aza trying to get together with Davis.  She's got other things to worry about, even if Davis is involved.  I really appreciated that there was a focus on Aza and her friendship with Daisy.  There are too many reads out there where as soon as a boy gets involved, other friends just seem to fall off the face of the earth, including some of John Green's reads.  He's one of my favorite people in the world, but he's definitely not immune to this trope.

I also appreciated that a good chunk of this book was devoted to Aza's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but not in a way that was preachy.  It was done in a way where you could get inside her head to know what was happening to her and then by extension, know and understand how that affected her outside of her brain.  It scared me how things got even worse for her.  You definitely care about Aza the more you get to know her so when she starts going into a dip, when she gives into her compulsions more and more, despite fighting back as hard as she possibly can, your heart rises into your mouth and your stomach drops with worry for her.  At least that's what happened for me.

One complaint I have about this book is why Green decided to start the book off as a mystery that Aza was attempting to solve.  I don't personally feel that this was such a big part of the book.  It certainly starts off that way where Aza and Daisy are trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, but that quickly dies off... so I'm confused why this book was marketed as a mystery, in part.  I think it would have been just fine if it was marketed as a fiction book on the subject of OCD.  I still would have read it.  After this first read however, it felt like a distraction to me and that put a damper on my first read-through.

I will likely be reading this book again.  Maybe then I'll get to the bottom of my own personal mystery as to why John Green might have chosen to include this and why his publisher decided to market this book partially as a mystery novel.

If you are interested in mental health and want to understand how to navigate illness and personhood in a sensitive way, this is a good book to start with.

I give 'Turtles All The Way Down':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Review of 'Anya's Ghost' by Vera Brosgol



Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Anya could really use a friend.  But her new BFF isn't kidding about the 'forever' part.

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them.  Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse.  She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school.  A new friend-- even a ghost-- is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.  Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut from author/artist Vera Brosgol."

I think last year was the year where I really dove into the world of graphic novels and found things that I absolutely love to read.  This was a book that was sitting in my student teaching classroom that caught my eye all those months but I didn't get around to reading until later.  I didn't expect to fall head over heels for it, but I did.  I picked up the book and suddenly I couldn't put it down!  It was such a good read!

I'm a sucker for supernatural stories.  So to read a story about a ghost looking for a friend (turning into an angry ghost later), it didn't take long to draw me in.  I think what I like about ghost stories is the thought that they return because they have some kind of unfinished business and they're looking to either settle things themselves (exciting!) or looking for someone to help them settle things.

The pacing of the story was good.  It wasn't so slow that I lost interest and when the author knew that she would have the reader's attention, she sped up and you were with her every step of the way.  I loved the ending because I was sitting in my chair reading this book and my heart was practically pounding out of my chest because I was so invested in the end and she had cranked up the adrenaline.  And I cared so much about Anya and yet I still had mixed feelings about the ghost... Wow.  I can't say anything else other than "Please read this."

I give 'Anya's Ghost':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Review of 'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead



Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is hellish for all the slaves but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood-- where even greater pain awaits.  When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.  Matters do not go as planned and, though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead's ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor-- engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.  Cora and Caesar's first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven-- but the city's placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens.  Even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels.  Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman's ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share."

This book was recommended to me by my mom after she read it with her book club.  It was such an interesting concept to me that I couldn't say no.  Then on top of that, my own book club wanted to read it before we temporarily dissolved.  So I was happy to have multiple reasons to pick it up.

One thing that I was especially interested to see work was the actual Underground Railroad.  I wanted to know how an actual, physical railroad would work in a story like this.  My first instinct was to think that this would have been a really effective method of escape, if it was only a reality at the time.  But it's quite dangerous and frankly, not possible.  So once I was able to set aside thoughts of How does it work?? I thought about why Colson Whitehead would bother to change this about the history of slavery for the sake of this book.  What was the point?  I'm still struggling to find the reasons for that.  So if you're coming to this book for the actual railroad part, you'll be disappointed.  Instead, come to this book to understand what life was like, even through the eyes of a fictional character, through the eyes of the slave.

Digging back into my memory to middle school history when I first remember talking about slavery in depth, a lot of what we learned was from the perspective of white people (in other words, the enslavers).  What a slave could cost, how they were brought to the U.S., what kind of work they were doing, how they could be freed... maybe it was because we were in middle school, but I don't remember getting a clear picture of the actual brutality that slaves went through.  Not to the fullest extent.  Reading this book was the first time where I feel like someone shook me and forced me to look and listen and understand.

My worry though is that too many will take this as a way to feel that shock (or read it because of the shock), feel sorry for a while and then promptly forget about what they read about.  I don't want people to read this book and think, "Well, at least things aren't like that now."  Yes, we don't have slaves the way there used to be slaves, but because slavery comes in more covert ways now, I think it's a little bit harder to draw parallels between the past and the present unless you have been seeking out to learn this information on your own.  There is still the prison system where prisoners of color are over-represented compared to the proportion of crimes actually committed.  And the brutality hasn't stopped either.  This story takes place pre-Civil War (as the description above says, anyway) and you can see the treatment African Americans received.  But then you fast forward to the 60s when there were Civil Rights marches and how people would brutalize those who participated in sit-ins and who were blasted with fire hoses in the street, attacked by dogs... to today, where you almost can't watch the news without hearing about African American boys, in particular, being killed for a variety of reasons that don't make sense with the fate they got.  Black Lives Matter protests where people are standing up for human rights and being arrested and dragged away... enduring a government that doesn't give a damn about you unless you're an elderly white male, fearing for your safety and in too many cases, your life.

I'm angry about this of course, but what I ultimately want to impress upon anyone who chooses to read this is that when you read this book, don't dismiss this because it's a thing of the past.  It's still happening, it's just changed and looks different in some ways.

This is a challenging read, so please just understand what you're getting into when you set out to read it.  Forget about the presence of the railroad in this book, because it really doesn't matter.  Pay attention to the people.

I give 'The Underground Railroad':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Review of 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' by J.K. Rowling

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Harry Potter's life is miserable.  His parents are dead and he's stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs.  But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he's a wizard.  A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid.  But even within the Wizarding community, he is special.  He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry's first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect.  There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it's his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands.  But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come."

One of my goals for 2017 was to reread the entire Harry Potter series.  I finished up to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince which I'm still rather proud of.  I'll finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this year.

It was just wonderful to return to this series.  I've been in the habit of watching and rewatching the Harry Potter films several times a year, but not rereading the books.  So even though I know the stories inside out and backwards, I still managed to see new things that I hadn't noticed before.  I loved experiencing the charm of a bright and wonderful Hogwarts like I experienced the first time.  Because the thing is, the further you get into the series, the darker the story gets.  Hogwarts starts to become this really charming place where young witches and wizards go to learn magic less and less... so it's quite the feeling to experience this series at its freshest.

Having reread a majority of the series at this point, I can say that I think the pacing is really great in this story, save for the beginning.  It starts out pretty slowly since we're following the really boring and abusive Dursley family, but once we get more involved in the wizarding world, there's always something to be paying attention to and something else that you want to know and keep track of up until the end of the book.

I think I tend to view this series, and especially this book, with rose-colored glasses, but I truly feel that you'd be hard-pressed to find another series with as much of the world thought-out and with characters as developed as these characters have begun.

I give 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Review of 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"'Speak up for yourself-- we want to know what you have to say.'  From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school.  She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so no nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her.  As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether.  Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her.  Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him.  But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.

In Laurie Halse Anderson's powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school.  She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself."

I read this book once before, but I realized that I had never actually reviewed it.  I didn't feel like I could since I read the book so long ago.

I didn't like Melinda as much this time around.  I understand why she stopped talking (at least some of the reasons), but I couldn't help but feel like some of her troubles were brought on by her.  To be perfectly clear, I am not blaming her for being at that party.  I am not implying or outright saying that she should have done more to defend herself when she was in danger.  Because there's only one person responsible for what happened to Melinda: her attacker.  I'm speaking about some of her isolation.  When she was starting high school, she refused to try new things and refused to try making new friends, only relying on her old friend.  In my experience (both when I was in 9th grade and from what I've noticed about the 9th graders I work with), this is a time of great change.  Re-evaluating friendships, getting involved in different activities, trying things out and taking on new challenges... but Melinda shows no interest in doing anything like that.  So in that respect, she was a frustrating character to me.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that it highlights the damage that can be done when you don't believe someone who says they have survived sexual violence.  That is a part of her isolation that Melinda couldn't control.  Instead of saying she was wrong, she needed someone who could show her love and acceptance and help her not get over, but to move past this point.  Too often, I think the words we say are seen as not impactful.  It's so easy to say things... not so much effort most of the time... we don't think about the weight that our words can have on another person.  But just saying the words, "I believe you," can make all the difference.  You're taking someone seriously and agreeing to actually see that person as they are and acknowledging the pain they might be feeling.  I love this book for bringing attention to this, especially with a younger audience.  One thing we're working on with my 9th graders is the importance of the words you use.  I think this would aid in that discussion.

Overall, this is a great conversation starter and any read from Laurie Halse Anderson is well worth your attention.

I give 'Speak':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Review of 'Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching' by John Perricone



Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"This book is based upon two assumptions.  The first is that 'we teach who we are.'  The second is that one's philosophy of life is intimately tied to one's identity, and that it is one's 'philosophical identity' (conscious or otherwise) that ultimately dictates one's teaching style and also what distinguishes those who find joy and passion in the teaching profession from those who find drudgery and then simply pick up a paycheck every two weeks.  In his book Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching, Mr. Perricone compellingly invites his reader to participate in an introspective journey that is designed to help the reader better know themselves and the professional path upon which they have embarked.  This book is for those who are just beginning their careers in teaching, for veteran teachers who are still very open to personal and professional growth, and to those who are thinking about becoming teachers."

After I was hired to my school, we soon had our first all-school meeting where all of the teachers and paraprofessionals got together to celebrate the start of the school year.  I learned that it's pretty typical that they ask someone to come and speak and so we had the author of this book come to speak.  Even though I was super excited to get started with my teaching life, I was a little bit unsure about this John Perricone fellow.  And then he began to speak, talking about his previous students and about how he felt about teaching and how he managed to keep himself so fresh from year to year, even after he had been teaching for some time.

This is a fairly short book, but it's meant to help you figure out what you bring to your teaching life and how that can shape you as a teacher.  I thought that this was an interesting way to approach teaching.  At least in my experience, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who will tell you to approach teaching as you are and find out what makes you passionate about teaching.  In my teaching program any way, it was just assumed that you were passionate about the job you were setting out to do.  Sure, we'd talk about teaching as a cohort, but it wasn't part of the curriculum to help us figure out how to get started (not really) and more importantly, keep us going.  One statistic that I heard (and maybe it was from John Perricone) was that a large percentage of new teachers (just entering the field) average about 4 years of service before quitting education.  A big part of that is lack of proper preparedness and just plain old burn out (which I believe).  It's time to help new teachers adjust and build their practice so that we can keep them around.  There is definitely merit to having a less experienced teacher, but there is truly no replacement for experience.

If you're looking for a way to remind yourself why you want to teach (or find that reason in the first place), this is a good read to start.  You'll be very inspired and will feel ready to hit the ground running when the students arrive (shout out to teachers returning from winter break... I'm told this is a good time for transition and reteaching of the students.  I'm just experiencing this now).

I give 'Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Review of 'The Rose That Grew from Concrete' by Tupac Shakur

Please note: this is a book I read in 2017.  Due to starting a new job, I kept up in reading but fell behind in blogging.  Reviews for 2018 reads will begin after the remaining 2017 reviews are posted.  Thank you for your patience!

"Tupac Shakur's most intimate and honest thoughts were uncovered only after his death with the instant classic The Rose That Grew from Concrete.

His talent was unbounded-- a raw force that commanded attention and respect.
His death was tragic-- a violent homage to the power of his voice.
His legacy is indomitable-- as vibrant and alive today as it has ever been.

For the first time in paperback, this collection of deeply personal poetry is a mirror into the legendary artist's enigmatic world and its many contradictions.

Written in his own hand from the time he was nineteen, these seventy-two poems embrace his spirit, his energy-- and his ultimate message of hope."

I was doing this for research for my classes when we have our poetry unit.  I was looking for poetry that would be relevant to the lives of my students and a bonus if the poems were produced to become songs.

I didn't expect that I would get sucked into Tupac's rhythmic poetry and by extension, his own story.  I'm not much of a poetry person.  It's just not a medium that I get.  Not like I get longer fiction reads.  But I love that this is a medium for speaking our truths in a way that we can't in a book or in any other way.  Some truths and stories just need to be said out loud.  Said or rapped or sung so that our words have power and meaning in them.  Tupac showed me that poetry is more than just words on a page.  It's a line directly to the heart of a person.  If I read your poems, I can know you.  And that's a pretty great connection to make, if you ask me.

I'll keep this review quick, but do consider picking up this book.  It's made even better because the poems are typeset, but you can also see copies of the originals in Tupac's handwriting with doodles in the margins, occasionally.

I give 'The Rose That Grew from Concrete':
Thanks for Reading!

--Jude