A Wrap-up of Recent Reads

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

I put a hold on this book on Overdrive way back in August, and I finally got the e-mail saying it was available this week! Needless to say, I downloaded the book right away and started reading it. I’d heard such great things about this book, and I was hoping it was as good as all the hype.

In case you haven’t read the book yet, it stars Hazel Grace, a teenager living with terminal cancer. Hazel is intelligent and witty. She attends community college since she completed her GED already, but she also likes to binge watch America’s Next Top Model. But besides support group and attending her classes, Hazel leads a sheltered life. Her parents are her best friends. One day at support group, she meets a boy named Augustus Waters and everything changes. Augustus had a leg removed to get rid of the cancer in his body. Augustus is full of life and immediately takes to Hazel. Hazel doesn’t want Augustus to become too attached to her because she doesn’t want to hurt him when she passes away. She calls herself a grenade since she is living on borrowed time. Augustus cares for Hazel so much that he uses his Wish (a cancer perk) to take her to Amsterdam to meet an author she idolizes. I don’t want to give away any more of the story than that. What you need to know, however, is that you will both laugh and cry while reading this book.

So did the book live up to its hype? Sort of! I enjoyed the book and gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads, but it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. I’m not oohing and ahhing over it. I preferred Eleanor & Park and plenty of other books over this one. But does it take on an interesting and complex topic and spin it in a new way? Yes. It was a smart, well-written book with plenty of vocab words I was glad my Kindle Fire could help me out with! Hazel was a well-developed character and I feel like we had some things in common—like watching ANTM marathons and wanting to visit your favorite authors to demand answers from them! Will I go see the movie, coming out this June, starring Shailene Woodley? Perhaps! Not sure if I could manage to drag my husband to this one—I might have to catch it on video instead. Are you a Fault in Our Stars lover? What drew you to the book?

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The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel:

This was another book I had been waiting for on Overdrive. You may remember seeing trailers for the film version which was in theaters this past February. The film, starring the impressive cast of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, and Hugh Bonneville, had me intrigued because WWII is such a fascinating time period. I decided to skip seeing the movie until I had read the book, but perhaps I didn’t make the right decision there…

The book explains how Adolf Hitler began hoarding Europe’s art treasures. He catalogued the art pieces he wanted—intending to create a new cultural center—as well as the art work he wanted destroyed. A special force of American and British museum directors, curators, and art historians was formed to prevent the further destruction of art pieces, and to search for and reclaim the missing art work. These Monuments Men were not properly equipped, dealt with time-wasting bureaucracy, and sometimes weren’t even armed, yet they passionately strove to preserve thousands of years of culture.

The book, written by Robert M. Edsel, was more historically based than any novel I had ever read. WWII was always one of my favorite units in school and I’ve read several books that take place during the time period, but I had never heard of the Monuments Men. I was interested to find out more about these men and the work they did. Edsel included massive amounts of footnotes, actual photographs, and copies of war-time documents. But one thing the book was sorely missing? Dialogue! I’m assuming the film’s screenwriter took a lot of creative liberties when turning the book into a script. There was no dialogue in the book, and the characters all had their own chapters—rarely were they seen in the same place at the same time. The Monuments Men were really working on their own, mainly relying on the locals to get work done. Without dialogue, the book was dull and slow moving. Here’s my take on what the book sounded like:

George was a tidy man who somehow managed to keep clean, even while living through a war. He looked around at the village in front of him, ripped apart by bullets and looting. He gazed up at the old church. Bullet holes were scattered throughout the pale stone. The wooden front door was miraculously intact, but a large hole exposed the building’s interior. George put up a sign in front of the building to make sure people knew to keep out of the ruins.

Sad to say, the book’s seven day loan expired well before I had completed reading the book. I have no intentions of checking the book out again to finish it, and I’m not so sure I want to see the film anymore either. Has anyone watched the film? What did you think of it?

Childhood Reads

childhood_readsI have been working at a tutoring center for about six months, and I’m constantly amazed at how our brains work. How do we ever learn to speak? And to read? And why is it so easy for some people and a challenge for others? Somehow we learn that vowels make long sounds and short sounds. When put in different combinations with consonants, there are different patterns and rules for pronouncing words. Did I really understand that if an “e” is at the end of a four letter word with the CVCV pattern, than the first vowel becomes a long vowel? I barely understand it now, so how did I know that when I was five years old?! It’s pretty extraordinary what we’re capable of learning. I decided to sit down and take a look at my own reading development.

Looking back, I know that my parents were instrumental in my education. We had books at our house and I know that my mom read to me on our tan-colored, corduroy sofa (she even did voices). I have a Raggedy Ann & Andy book with the corner chewed off because this was apparently my favorite book as a toddler! We had a copy of the classic Pat the Bunny, board books, and picture books. I also had plenty of relatives who were book lovers, so I was frequently gifted books and encouraged to read. In kindergarten, I recall taking home the plastic bags with handles that held books inside them. By the time I was in first grade, I knew that I was a good reader. I remember being in the high-level reading group in school—I’m sure the teacher played this off as randomly selected groups, but we knew we were the strongest readers in the class.

My next reading memory comes a few years later. In fourth grade, our class did a Laura Ingalls Wilder unit. The class was going to read the first book in the Little House on the Prairie series, Little House in the Big Woods, but I had already read the entire nine-book collection of novels. This meant I went on to read The Rocky Ridge Years books, which continue to follow Laura, Almanzo, and their daughter Rose. Christmas and birthday gifts often consisted of gift cards to bookstores. Visiting Barnes & Noble was a special treat for me, and my parents always let me pick out a book or two when we were in a town with a B&N. We also frequently utilized our local library, where I checked out lots of Nancy Drew books. I still have my first library card where my mom wrote my name on the back since I was so little.

After thinking about my reading history a bit more, I decided to create a list of books that were important in my life and growth as a reader from the time I was in elementary school all the way up through college. I tried my best to select the ages I read certain books, although my memories of reading in elementary school are a bit hazy.

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Now I pose the question to you: How did you learn to read? What books, authors, and series were instrumental in your growth as a person and reader? Can you relate to the list of books I compiled?

Another Banned Book Sighting

diaryofparttimeindianMSN posted an article about a recent book banning in an Idaho school district. The novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is written by Sherman Alexie and is a 2007 National Book Award Winner. Having recently read this novel myself, I wanted to discuss this current event.

For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s about a teenager named Arnold Spirit, or Junior, who is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Life on the reservation is tough and his family struggles to make ends meet. Alcoholism, violence, poverty, and death are things Arnold deals with on a regular basis. Wanting to create a better life for himself, Junior decides to leave the reservation school and attend a high school where everyone is white and seemingly better-off than him. Junior includes drawings and cartoons as he tells his story about not fitting in on the reservation or off the reservation.

I had heard a lot of praise about this novel—some from students themselves—so I decided to pick the book up when I saw it at the Half Price Bookstore. I had a little trouble getting into the story at first, and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite book, but I can appreciate Sherman’s intention and creativity. I can see how teens, especially those with difficult home lives, could relate to the book and find a friend in Junior.

According to the MSN article, parents in the Idaho school district felt that the book was, “was rife with profanity, racial epithets and anti-Christian rhetoric,” and that “the book contained sexually charged material inappropriate for their children, was peppered with pejorative terms for women, people of various races and those with learning disabilities and mocked Christian beliefs.” Furthermore, a mother counted “133 profane or offensive words in its 230 pages.”

In the age of helicopter-parents, are the parents in the article correct in believing the book is bad for their children? Well, there are some swear words and derogatory language, but to me, the parents completely missed the point of the novel. Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye all contain offensive language, yet they continue to be taught in schools across the United States. The reason for this is because parents typically understand that there is a message greater than the language and an educational value in the text. Why didn’t the parents see the value in a story of a boy who tries to improve his own life and faces adversity along the way?

The only time when I feel a book should be challenged is when it is inappropriate for a particular age group or maturity level. But in the case of the Idaho story, the book was being used in a tenth grade classroom. Tenth! Not middle school, not junior high—but real, live, high school students! Tenth graders are entirely capable of having conversations about tough topics. The book is recommended for ages 12 and up. With a Lexile text score of 600L, the book is actually fairly simple to read—especially for high school students. It surprised me that parents of tenth graders got so upset about a book being used in their child’s classroom. I’m curious to know what books are allowed in the classroom.

I love the message Gretchen Caserotti, director of public libraries in Meridian, shared: “Teen fiction is often a reflection and extension of adolescents’ realities. We believe books are a powerful and safe place for kids to see outside themselves and explore a world that is increasingly diverse and complex.” And her comment makes sense. That’s why adolescents have long been drawn to books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower: they’re looking for a bit of truth amidst the chaos of growing up.

What are your thoughts? Was the Idaho school district correct in banning the book from tenth graders? Have you read the book? If so, what did you think about it?

Dishing on Divergent: The Film

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**Contains spoilers—if you haven’t seen the movie yet,

you may want to stay away**

**For real, you’ve been warned! Spoilers up ahead!**

 

I may have been harsh on Allegiant, but I am pleased to announce that I thoroughly enjoyed the film version of Veronica Roth’s Divergent novel. After reading the book twice and loving it just as much the second time around, I had high hopes for this film.

When I saw that Shailene Woodley and Theo James were chosen as the lead characters, Tris and Four, I was a bit skeptical. They weren’t quite what I had pictured in my head. According to the book, Tris is supposed to be petite and blonde—compact so that Four can carry her all over the place! Her size makes her seem more vulnerable and weak, so her rise to the top of the leader board trisandfouris more impressive. Since Shailene isn’t a tiny girl (she’s 5’8”—tall for a lot of Hollywood actresses), I was worried about how she would look with Theo James on screen. But my feelings changed as I watched the film. Shailene became Tris for me, and I liked that she’s a healthy, normal looking girl. Theo’s soft voice was perfection. He was the perfect amount of brooding, mysteriousness, and protectiveness. The audience certainly seemed to think so, too—as there were several catcalls and giggles of delight when he removed his shirt to reveal his tattoos!

Other Things I Liked About the Film:

  • I thought the film did a great job of explaining how the society was set up and how each of the factions function. My husband hasn’t read the book, but he could understand the story. This is different from The Hunger Games, where he had lots of questions about how things work afterwards.
  • I also enjoyed the overall setting of the film. The dilapidated Chicago skyline was cool to see, as was the incredible fence built around the city. It’s not how I had imagined the fence looking, but the sheer magnitude was impressive. If I saw a fence like that, I would certainly be curious about what was on the outside. The Dauntless Pit was pretty cool too. I pictured it a bit more natural and rocky looking, but the film version probably makes more sense since it’s inside a building, right?ericormacklemore
  • I had a little crush on Eric as soon as he appeared on screen—odd, because he’s Four’s rival and not a very nice person—but I loved his Macklemore look and cool voice! (Don’t worry–I’m still Team Theo!) The cast in general was great—I liked Zoë Kravitz’s tough-girl persona for Christina, and I liked seeing Tony Goldwyn (aka Fitz from Scandal) in another role. Ashley Judd made a great mother for Tris, and Maggie Q was a perfect Tori.
  • Oh, and the music—the music was excellent. Every time an Ellie Goulding song came on, I just thought, “Yes, this is perfect.” I’m kind of thinking about purchasing the soundtrack…or maybe an Ellie Goulding CD!
  • The feeling and tone of the film was spot on. It was exciting—it was romantic—it was fast-paced. I sat in my chair and smiled for most of the film, but I also teared up when Tris and Caleb decided to leave their parents and Abnegation (even though I knew it was going to happen!), and I was on the edge of my seat whenever people had to jump on or off the trains (they were moving a lot faster than I imagined in the book!).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes:

Yes, there were plenty of changes between the book and the film version. jeaninematthewsKate Winslet’s character Jeanine Matthews certainly got a lot more screen time and lines than the character in the book does. This especially comes into play at the end of the film when Tris slams a knife through her hand. That seemed like a pretty major change to me. However, it certainly sets Jeanine up as the villain (perhaps pounded that into our heads too much…), and the audience fully understands how much Erudite wants to keep the faction system and be the leaders.

Besides Will, Al, Christina, and Peter, the other initiates weren’t really given names. Edward is listed in the cast of Divergent on IMDB, but I didn’t really notice anyone being called Edward in the film. Also, Edward doesn’t end up with a fork in the eye in the film. And what about Zeke, Uriah, Marlene, Lynn, Cara, Susan, and the rest of the gang? Will they appear in Insurgent, or has the cast been trimmed down?

The Take Away

Go see Divergent! Books are always changed when adapted to film—but this one was done well. It kept the integrity of the film and the cast does a superb job with the characters we’ve all grown to love so much.

How about for you?  Does Divergent get a yay or nay?

My Favorite Bookstore

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Browsing in a Theater

I’ve visited plenty of bookstores over the years, but my favorite is still the Barnes & Noble bookstore located in Rochester, Minnesota. There are two locations in the city. One of the stores is a typical chain, located within the local mall. But the other location is something special. The store is located in the old Chateau Theater downtown and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater opened in 1927 and hosted plays, operas, vaudeville acts, and both silent and talking movies. From 1940 to 1980, the theater was a cinema. Eleven years after the doors closed, Barnes & Noble reopened the theater as a bookstore in 1994. Since the theater is a historic building, the floor is supported by pillars so that the decorative walls were left untouched. The walls replicate an early French village and the ceiling is still painted the original dark blue. The ambiance makes for a pretty magical shopping experience. If you ever find yourself in Rochester, be sure to stop at this unique bookstore.

bn_baltimoreAnother Cool Barnes & Noble Location:

I had relatives living in Maryland for a while, so my family visited them during spring break once upon a time. One afternoon, we made a stop at a B&N store that was inside a converted power plant. The décor is industrial and has elevators crisscrossing between the floors. If you’re near Baltimore, Maryland, it’s worth checking out.

Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming

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As a lover of local libraries, today I’m sharing a fantastic article about a lecture author Neil Gaiman gave this fall in London. Gaiman has written short stories, novels, comic books, graphic novels, and films. His works include Stardust, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. The article, titled “Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming,” focuses on the importance of libraries and the need to continue to provide information even in our digital age.

Gaiman states, “Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.” This is something I tried to stress to my students when they asked “Why do we have to read this?” or “Why do we have to take four years of English?” or “How come we have to write papers?” Reading and writing are such important skills—skills needed for any career a student may choose to pursue. And even beyond employment, reading and writing are important for personal growth and enjoyment as well.

The article is lengthy, but it’s worth it! It’s full of wonderful points and quotes. Towards the end of the article, Gaiman lists several obligations we have as readers, writers, and citizens. He states, “I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.” I also totally agree when he says, “We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.” Such wise words.

Click the link to read the full article from The Guardian: Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming