A Wrap-Up of Recent Reads #3

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon:

I picked up this book at my grandma’s house and was instantly hooked. The main character is a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher. Although not specifically stated, Christopher seems to be somewhere on the autism scale. He knows all the countries of the world and their capitals, the chapters are labeled by prime numbers, and he has no understanding of human emotions. If he sees five red cars in a row on his way to school, it’s going to be a Super Good Day, but if he sees a bunch of yellow cars—watch out—it’s going to be a bad day. At the beginning of the novel, Christopher finds his neighbor’s dog has been killed. Christopher puts his detective skills to the test and attempts to solve the mystery.

The book is a fast read, and I finished it in just two days. Christopher’s voice really comes through the novel and I found him very relatable. He reminded me of students I had worked with in the past. The book was unlike anything else I had read and I would highly recommend this novel.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson:

When I saw that Laurie Halse Anderson had a new book out, I was interested—but not interested enough to pay for it! So when I saw it on the New Releases shelf at the library, I snatched it up. Laurie Halse Anderson has been a leader in YA fiction with her novels Speak, Twisted, and Wintergirls, so I knew I was in for a good read. What I wasn’t expecting was how fast I was drawn into the novel and how fast I finished it. I had to know what would happen to the narrator and her father. This would be a great novel to use in a high school English class—it’s relevant and would spark some good discussions.

Senior Hayley Kincain is back at a public school after traveling the road with her dad and his semi for the past five years. They were constantly on the move as her father struggled with the memories and nightmares of his time serving in Iraq. Her dad wants to give her a normal life and decides they’ll move back to his hometown, but their life is anything but normal. He can’t hold a job, abuses alcohol and drugs, has a violent temper at times, and refuses to get help for his PTSD. In the meantime, Hayley struggles with memories of her own. She finds out that while her life isn’t perfect, neither is the life of many of her classmates and friends.

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Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore:

This book was popping up on summer reading lists, so when I found out that the price had been reduced on Amazon, I quickly bought it for my kindle. While I wanted to like the novel, it was unsettling and I don’t know how I really feel about it! I feel pretty confident that I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my friends though. One problem I had with the novel was the setting: when does the story take place? Judging from the character’s names (Mabel and Genevra), the fact that they attend a posh, East Coast school, and go to an event where a Degas painting is gifted to the school (and they have dresses made for it), I thought the book was taking place during the 1950s or ‘60s—like Mona Lisa Smile era—but then one of the girls mentions her cell phone and the fact that they won’t have cell or internet service up at their summer cabin. Wait, what?! Cell phone! That totally threw me for a loop. You’ll have to take your chances with this novel.

Mabel Dagmar, a scholarship student at an East Coast college, finally befriends her wealthy roommate Genevra (Ev) Winslow. Mabel is thrilled to be invited to Ev’s summer cottage in Vermont, but she soon finds that this charmed life isn’t quite what she had pictured. There seem to be a lot of secrets surrounding the Winslow family. Why are there heavy locks on the doors? How did the Winslow’s come into so much money during the Great Depressions? Why does Ev’s aunt want Mabel to look into the “blood money” and expose the truth? Are any of the Winslow’s trustworthy? Mabel must choose whether to expose the family or keep their secrets and become one of the Winslow’s.

What books have you read lately?

(Far, Far into the) Future Reads

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Have you ever stumbled across some of your own writing from the past? Perhaps a funny story you wrote in elementary school, or a sappy poem from your pre-teen years, or even a forgotten story beginning from your more recent past? Could you remember why you wrote it or the frame of mind you were in? Was it worth sharing with anyone else? Can you imagine what it would be like to have someone come across your writing 100 years from now?

If we look back 100 years to 1914, Charlie Chaplin is a big movie star, Woodrow Wilson is the President of the United States, Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, Babe Ruth plays with the Boston Red Sox, the Panama Canal is inaugurated, Harry Houdini is a famous escape-artist, and authors James Joyce, L. Frank Baum, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, Robert Frost, and Ezra Pound are all being published. So while 100 years ago seems like a long time, these events and names are all known to us. We may have even read something from this group of authors.

I think that’s why a fascinating article on The Guardian titled “Margaret Atwood’s new work will remain unseen for a century” sparked my interest this afternoon. Scottish artist Katie Paterson, founder of The Future Library project has created an unusual literary artwork focusing on the passage of time. The Future Library project asks authors to write a manuscript that will be locked away for 100 years. The authors are not allowed to share their work with anyone. In 2114, the works will be published. In addition, a forest of trees planted near Oslo, Norway, will provide the paper on which the texts will be printed. There will also be a printing press stored with the manuscripts to make sure that the technology will exist for the books to be printed. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, is the first author to join the project. She said she’s “finding it very delicious,” to not have to tell anyone what she’s writing—or to find out what people think of her work. She has, however, “bought some special archival paper, which will not decay in its sealed box over 100 years.”

If you scroll down to read the comments below the article on The Guardian’s website, you’ll find a lot of pessimistic attitudes. “Gimmick” declares one reader. “Egotistical” declares another. “Pretentious twaddle. The only value in a book is it being read, and who knows if a hundred years from now literacy will even exist, or English be a living language or whatever. Horribly gimicky ideas devalue art and devalue humanism” writes yet another reader. To me, these readers have missed the point. How could people be upset about a time capsule of literature? They’ve taken a unique project and blasted it for being creative. I think it’s rather exciting to imagine what life will be like 100 years from now—will we still be bothering with printed books or will everything be digital by then? Will future readers care about this project at all, or will they be unimpressed that a new Atwood novel has been released?

How about you? Are you intrigued by The Future Library project or do you see it as “pretentious twaddle”?

Novel Nursery Notions

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bookmobileskinnyWhile adding a few items to my Target baby registry, I happened across an adorable picture of book mobiles—made from actual books—hanging over a glider. Etsy had some mobiles for sale, but they were rather pricey ($35, $45, even $60). I decided to DIY it instead. How hard could it be?! I used the advice of The Pleated Poppy and The Thimble Life and then went for it!

Since the color scheme of our nursery is grey, white, and yellow, I wanted some hardcover books that would match the room. I picked up three classic Nancy Drew novels at Half Price Books in town. I’m hoping the yellow color will pop against the grey walls. If you’re interested in how I created my mobiles, check out the following steps, or click the links to the blogs I mentioned above. Both blogs include helpful pictures for each step.

Materials You’ll Need

- A hardcover book you can bear to dismantle

- An X-Acto knife

- Hot glue gun and glue sticks

- Fishing line and a hook for hanging

- Optional: fabric or paper to cover outside or inside of book if it isn’t pretty!

Steps to Follow

1. Using an X-Acto knife, slice pages along the inside book seam and remove the first third of the pages.

2. Flip the book over and remove the last third of pages from the back of the book.

3. With the remaining pages in the middle, loop the pages into five sections. This will give the mobile its shape and keep the cover from being too floppy. Use the hot glue gun to keep everything in place.

4. Now that you have a stack of pages, create different sized loops, hot-gluing them closed. You can even glue pages together to create bigger loops.

5. Tuck the loops into the five looped sections in the book and build on to the shape. Hold up the book every so often to check the shape and length of your mobile.

6. When you’re happy with the shape, string fishing line through the center loop and hang from the book’s spine. Hang several at different heights for a dramatic look.

Oh Baby! A Change in my Reading Habits

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Well, it’s been a while since I last posted! In that time, my husband and I moved into our first house, went several days without cable or internet, and attended the wedding of a college roommate. We’ve unpacked boxes, made a few trips to the hardware store, and settled into a new rhythm. This weekend, my parents are coming to help us with a fun home project: baby’s nursery!

That’s right. I’m 30 weeks pregnant and there isn’t much time left before baby arrives. We’ve got paint colors selected (yellow, white, and gray—in case you’re curious!), the crib has been delivered, and a dresser and glider are ordered and on their way. I’ve also been preparing for baby by reading baby books. A few of the titles I’ve been reading (mostly from the library):

  • Your Week by Week Pregnancy by Glade B. Curtis and Judith Schuler
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
  • The Joy of Pregnancy by Tori Kropp
  • The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman

Needless to say, this has certainly been a change from my typical YA lit-fix!

In addition to print books, I’ve also been fascinated by a recent string of articles about reading to infants and kids. For instance, in the article “Pediatricians prescribe books, daily reading to all infants, kids for a healthy brain,” the author notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents “read to their children every day from infancy at least until kindergarten, and advocates that pediatricians emphasize the importance of daily reading during each routine health checkup.” In the article “Read to Your Baby, Say Doctors—But Which Books?” the author provides a few titles to help parents figure out what to read to their babies.

As an English teacher and now a tutor who works with struggling beginning readers, I understand the importance of reading and have plans to read to my baby often. This is especially important in our digital age when it’s so easy to think that apps, e-readers, and iPads are replacing printed books. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also recommended NO SCREEN TIME for children under the age of two. The author of “Apps are nice but books are better: How to read to your kid in a digital age (book review)” notes that she’s “been surprised by how hard reading to a baby can be, in part because it’s hard to tell whether anything is sinking in.” She reviews Jason Boog’s book Born Reading, which provides helpful information about reading to infants and children. I like this article because it also includes a great video of a teacher reading a book out loud to a bunch of young children. You can see how the teacher reads expressively, pauses to ask questions about what is happening in the book, and models reading strategies as she goes. Like the author of Born Reading says, “Just having books around the house is not enough. Parents need to provide an interactive reading experience to reap the intellectual rewards inside of books.” So while baby won’t be able to understand or appreciate what I’m reading for quite a while, I plan on starting to read to her right away.

Literary (Temporary) Tattoos

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A love of book quotes? Check.

A fear of needles? Check.

Tattoos? Absolutely not!

Here’s a great idea for those of us who are petrified of inking up and regretting it: temporary tattoos! A Kickstarter campaign called “Litograph Tattoos: Wearable Tributes to Iconic Books” gives you the opportunity to cover yourself with quotes from 15 classic works—without the pain and permanency of a real tattoo.

The person behind this particular Kickstarter campaign, Danny Fein, already has literary love in his veins. He is the CEO of Litographs—the company that prints entire texts of classic novels on T-shirts and posters. (I even shared the Litographs website with you in a post about gifts for readers.) Check out this article on Bustle to see images of the tattoos, hear more about the campaign, and to watch a short video about the project. Or, you can click here to visit the Kickstarter campaign page and pledge your support. The campaign already has over 5,600 backers and has surpassed their initial goal by almost $29,000! Clearly, Litographs has a great idea here!

Will I be pledging my support? I’m obviously tempted. My only hold-up is the fact that the quotes are all from classic novels. As you’ve probably noticed from my blog, I’m not particularly drawn to the classics. They’re something you’re required to read for school, but not something I’d select for myself at the library. I’d prefer quotes from something more current, like maybe something from YA literature?

How about you? Would you get some ink (permanent or temporary) of a classic literary quote?

A PBS Kid

pbs_kidGrowing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was a product of PBS Kids. We didn’t have cable until I got to junior high, so if my sister and I watched TV, we were most-likely watching programs like Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Puzzle Place, Arthur, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? While all of these programs were entertaining and educational, I want to talk about two of my favorites: Ghostwriter and Wishbone.

Ghostwriter: Featuring a diverse cast of (funkily-dressed) young actors, the show ran from 1992 to 1995, but also had re-runs later on in the ‘90s. The premise of the show was that the kids needed to solve a crime or mystery, and they were able to do so with the help of Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter was a flying blob that used letters from notes and signs and reordered them into messages for the kids. At a time when I was reading short mystery books like Encyclopedia Brown and The Boxcar Children, the concept of kids solving mysteries was right up my alley. I wanted to have a pen on a string, write down clues, and solve mysteries too!

wishbonebannerWishbone: Featuring “a little dog with a big imagination” and a catchy theme song, Wishbone aired from 1995 to 1998. Wishbone was a dog owned by a boy named Joe Talbot. Events in Joe’s life would remind Wishbone of classic stories. Wishbone would then daydream about being the lead character of the story—this meant a dog dressed up in costume to portray such characters as Oliver Twist, Odysseus, Rip Van Winkle, and Anansi the Spider. I feel like I am familiar with a lot of classic works thanks to Wishbone. Who could forget the episode based on The Time Machine with the creepy morlocks? Or The Prince and the Pauper? Even in college, I remember visualizing the episode where Wishbone takes on The Odyssey when I had to read it for a class!

Were you a PBS kid? What programs or episodes have stuck with you?