Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why I Teach

High stakes state tests that total at least two months of our school year to administer; scores tied to teacher evaluation, even some of students I don't have in class; practice for state tests three times a year minimum; endless administrative tasks to help students and families stay aware of grades and classroom activities; endless planning to keep on track with common core and most current student data; monthly professional development; teacher portfolios; field trips; continually grading essays and research papers; chaperoning events after school hours; providing for class activities out of teacher's pocket (such as my complete classroom library). And I'm sure I've missed a few somethings that could be added to this list.

Craziness, right? So, why do I teach?

Seniors' last day was today. I received a picture from a student I had in 7th and 9th grade. She wrote on it:   "Mrs Gleghorn, Thank you again for that letter of recommendation. You supported me even after having your class. You are willing to do a little extra for those who ask and I appreciate that. You're one of the best teachers I've had!"

Also received a picture from another student I had last year, who was well behaved but quiet, and has steadily read his way through my classroom bookshelf throughout the past two years. He wrote on the back (in extremely small print...don't know how he did it): "Mrs. Gleghorn, I have many reasons to thank you. First, thank you for being the best teacher ever. Second, thank you for making me pick up reading again. You introduced me to so many books like The Fault in Our Stars, The Great Gatsby, and Miss Peregrine's. Also, thank you for making me want to write again. I am currently working on a novel that I started after having a talk with you about writing. I guess I should thank you for encouraging me to take AP Comp. It may have been the most stress inducing class ever, but I learned some valuable skills that I will be able to use in the future. If there is anything else I have forgotten about, thanks for that too." 

Looking back at my own special teachers, the quote that springs to mind is one of the Maya Angelou's, who passed away this morning at age 86: People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

What more can I ask for than that? That I inspired a student, the same as the teachers before inspired me. The subject may no longer matter five, ten, fifteen years down the road...and maybe not even the exact lessons learned. But that inspiration is priceless. It's what carries people into their future endeavors and pushes them to impact their own world in return.

This is why I teach.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

My latest read has left me reeling. The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult, is a study in so many things that it is hard to speak of unless the other person has read it. But here are some thought provoking sentences, review to follow in a day or two.

“History isn’t about dates and places and wars. It’s about the people who fill the spaces between them.” 

"Sometimes all it takes to become human again is someone who can see you that way, no matter how you present on the surface." 

The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Closed Doors

Closed Doors, by Lisa O'Donnell
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: May 20, 2014
Category: Fiction
Source: I received this e-galley via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

I ended up sticking to one author, Lisa O'Donnell, for most of Bout of Books last week. I read The Death of Bees first (review here), so I expected something quite similar going into her new book, Closed Doors. However, I didn't find them very much alike.

Michael Murray, the eleven-year-old narrator, gives the reader all of his thoughts, all of the time. It was akin to listening to a mini version of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, minus most of the swearing. Take heart, unlike Holden, Michael is not in the least bit annoying. His age explains much of what he thinks, says, and does. (Sorry Caulfield fans...I just reread Catcher with my students, so Holden's gonna take a fall here.)

Instead of running away from all of his problems (*cough* Holden *cough*), Michael attempts to figure out and deal with the problems that begin plaguing his house one late night. Being eleven, none of the adults in his family make it easy for him, thinking him too young to handle anything remotely adult. So Michael does what any kid might do, he begins listening behind closed doors. Without the understanding of an adult, Michael begins to piece together what he hears, eventually telling the story of his mother's new sadness and his father's anger.

What I like about Michael (and makes me even more annoyed with Holden Caulfield) is that he isn't just dealing with this one problematic aspect within his family. He is also juggling school, friends, and girls. All parts of his life soon become tied to his family's problem and still the little bugger chugs along.

Any sense of suspense (and perhaps his ability to move along) comes from the fact that the narrator is too young to completely understand what is happening around him. Michael is not yet world-wise and so the reader is continually doing his/her own piecing together based on a broader knowledge of the world in which we live, as well as watching Michael come into his own.

In the end, the metaphorical closed doors of his family's sadness give Michael what he has wanted the whole time. Closed Doors is different than The Death of Bees, and just as enjoyable.

Anyone hear any juicy secrets while hiding behind closed doors?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Death of Bees

I read The Death of Bees as part of my Bout of Books because I'd heard so many good things about it when it came out. Let me say first that my overall impression is that it's a good story. I was consistently interested and wanted to know what would happen to the characters.

Three characters tell the story: Marnie, the fifteen-year-old forced to grow up too fast because of her neglectful, drunk, drug riddled parents. Nelly, Marnie's twelve-year-old sister, is eccentric and adds a different perspective to the storyline. And Lennie, the girls' homosexual neighbor, who plays a bigger role in the girls' lives than anyone else when he begins taking care of them.

The story begins with a couple captivating lines from Marnie: Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved. If that doesn't wake you up, I don't know what will.

The story unravels from there with information about the parents' death and the girls' fear of children's services. Their neighbor Lennie eventually takes them in and for the first time the girls know what it's like to have true family and love. This is very clear to the reader because of the insights gained about the girls' past as the story goes along.

This is where I give a heads up. If you don't like foul language and talk of sex and drugs (although none of it is detailed or gratuitous), then this book might bother you. When I started reading the book, I had no clue what to expect...I simply picked it up because of the amazing first lines! It got me to thinking about people's reactions to what they consider "unsavory" in a book. In this case, honestly, anyone who has lived in or around environments of neglect, abuse, drug use, alcoholics, etc. can tell you that people don't use words like "crap" and " stinking" in their day to day dialogue. They don't have appropriate, loving contact with most people surrounding them. They are often used and abused, doing what needs done to survive. To have experienced such horror and find an author watering it down to something easy to swallow would be...well, hard to swallow, to say the least. Life can be horrific and, while we don't celebrate the horror, we do have to realize it and contend with it. If you'd like to read and discuss further on the topic of "clean" vs "unclean" reading, stop by this post at The Steadfast Reader. She extends the conversation beyond my mention of the ideas of language and violence in reading to include other reasons people won't read certain things.

The Death of Bees is a gripping story of survival, making a family, and finding love. Does the use of foul language and uncomfortable subjects deter you from reading a book? Or color your opinion of it?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Reading Catcher in the Rye with my students and liked this quote (even though Holden is something of a pain in the butt).

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."     The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Friday, May 16, 2014

Thursday/Friday Bout of Books

Major reading went down Thursday. I started Closed Doors, by Lisa O'Donnell, and read 47% of the book, according to my Kindle app! That's a personal best for me on one day of reading in Bout of Books.

Today, Friday, I read the remaining 53% of Closed Doors, finishing it off as my second book for Bout of Books! This is definitely a new record for me. I'm typically lucky to get through one and a half books total and this makes book #2.

My plan for the weekend is to finish Bout of Books with The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult as originally planned! I won't finish it within Bout of Books time, but I am so excited to finally get around to it. This will probably be my final update for Bout of Books too, so happy reading over the weekend everyone!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird

I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: May 20, 2014
Category: Children's Fiction
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

What can I say? I Kill the Mockingbird obviously drew me in because the title obviously refers to the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, aka The Literary Bible. So it was a must try. What I didn't know when I requested it (cause I wasn't paying attention to anything but the title) is that it is a children's book (maybe tweens) and was under 200 pages long.

I really enjoyed this little story. In an effort to make reading popular again, particularly the summer reading assignment To Kill a Mockingbird, a trio of friends sets up a campaign to hide all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird in bookstores and libraries throughout their area, even traveling hours sometimes to reach a destination. Using social media they track their progress and find both expected and unexpected results.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a funny little story that has a little bit of everything a book lover enjoys, especially the younger book lovers. Have you read any books for the younger set - even younger than typical YA - and been pleasantly surprised? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wednesday Bout of Books

Some unexpected reading happened today. First, I proctored the first half of our state tests. The tests are taken online, but cameras, phones, tablets, etc., are not allowed in the testing room, including teachers' devices, so I had no choice but to read. The only thing I have to do is grade research papers and that requires Google to check for plagiarism as needed.

Then the second half of the morning, the system was bogging down with too many people in the district online, so they restricted all Internet use to testing rooms only. I had students testing during this time, so although I had open time to grade, I couldn't because of lack of Internet. So, more reading!

Sooo, all that to say, I finished my first Bout of Books book! Total read in The Death of Bees today = 134 pages. Moving on to O'Donnell's Closed Doors tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday Bout of Books

Well, Tuesday's reading started off right at midnight. After posting my Monday update, I kept reading...fifty more pages of The Death of Bees. Going to bed very late and grading research papers between class time definitely set me up for a nap later today.

I didn't bring my book to school because of my grading, but we have a twenty minute hallway duty in the morning, so I started Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. It's a short, but often quoted piece of literature in the Christian community and I've had it for free on my iBooks app for a long time. Being nonfiction, it's different enough from The Death of Bees that I can read them at the same time without confusion.

Reading for today:
Pursuit of God - 8 pages
The Death of Bees - 75 pages

Tomorrow should pick up because I am proctoring our state exams and I won't be able to use any electronics in the room. No electronics = no Google = no research paper grading = reading a book.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Bout of Books

I started today completely hopeless as far as Bout of Books is concerned. Buried in grading all day long was not faring well for my evening, which I knew needed to be spent grading as well. Research papers...English teachers can't live with them and can't live without them.

So I came home and made myself a deal. If I graded all of my easy stuff - the 7th graders' vocabulary and Op-Ed essays, then I'd allow myself to read. So I graded all of the easy stuff and promptly fell asleep. Yep. Out cold for a couple hours.

Good thing though, cause I'm a light sleeper and there is one hell of a thunderstorm ripping through the county right now. So, at least I got some sleep earlier! And I can sit here and read! So, my progress?

Well, as usual, I made a goal to read certain books and immediately changed my mind. I've been reading mostly e-galleys sent from publishers/NetGalley, so I found myself itching to have a book in my hands. Since my next review book is Closed Doors, by Lisa O'Donnell (coming May 20th), I figured I'd also read The Death of Bees, which seemed like a hit when it came out.

So, I've read 100 pages for Monday night and whoa, what a crazy story so far. Definitely paints a picture for the reader. Can't wait to make myself a deal for Tuesday!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Once again, from I Kill the Mockingbird. I promise, there is a review for this book coming up!

"A good reader starts to see what an entire book is trying to say. And then a good reader will have something to say in return. If you're reading're having a conversation." I Kill the Mockingbird, Paul Acampora 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Nantucket Book Festival

Anyone live in, around, or near Nantucket, Massachusetts? Or are you able and willing to travel? If so, you are one lucky book lover. Nantucket is holding its third annual book festival June 20-22, 2014. I don't always hear about bookish events near me, so I'm always glad when someone keeps me informed. I thought I'd do my part in spreading the word about events when I receive information too. (Note: picture and all quotations are from official contacts of the festival.)

The Nantucket Book Festival "seeks to create and renew enthusiasm for books, connect authors with readers, encourage a love of reading and writing in a younger generation, and raise funds for literary causes." If you visit the site, you will find a list of events and which authors will be participating. Events vary from author presentations, to luncheons, and even a yoga event and open mic night! And each event has an author(s) involved. The events "allow unprecedented access to notable authors and facilitate casual interactions for all involved."

Besides involvement in the events, authors attending will be signing books. The authors span multiple genres and among them are Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult, and Dani Shapiro - just to name a few familiar names. (What I wouldn't do to meet Jodi Picoult AND have brunch!)

If this sounds interesting and you are nearby, check it out. "Unprecedented access" to authors sounds like a promising experience! Not to mention all the wonderful book people you will meet!

What's the best book event you've been to? Or which would you like to attend some day?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Category: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I continue to be amazed at an author's ability to maintain a beautiful, captivating story that spans 500+ pages. All the Light We Cannot See is indeed beautiful and captivating.

Marie-Laure, blind from age six, lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works. Six years later the Nazis occupy Paris and they travel to Saint-Malo to live with Marie-Laure's great-uncle, who has a story of his own. Not to mention the secret Marie-Laure's father totes along.

Meanwhile in Germany, Werner and his sister are orphans growing up under the care of an old woman and a number of other children. Werner soon proves his intelligence with his ability to fix just about anything mechanical. With such intelligence, he is taken into a boarding school for Hitler's military, where he excels, despite his misgivings about Hitler's ideology. Schooling and then war lead Werner through an internal journey of the heart and lands him in Saint-Malo, where he meets Marie-Laure.

Two people, paths crossing, lives changed. I love it. What stands out about this book is the beautiful writing. Also, Doerr's characters are well drawn. I found myself practically crossing my fingers as Marie-Laure and Werner moved through their separate lives, hoping they would make it out okay and waiting for that moment when their paths cross.

Also, the story is realistic. WWII did not spare anyone. All were affected in some way. Doerr does not shy away from the misfortune that befalls his characters due to the realities of war. And in the end, although life has moved on, it's not all laughter and good times. Characters must learn to live with haunting pasts that echo into the present and future.

Very well done Mr. Doerr.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Goals for Bout of Books 10

When I posted about my intentions to join Bout of Books, I did not list any goals. Even now, a week before I am not quite sure how successful I will be in meeting any goals I make. Three kids and a teaching job are full of last minute surprises waiting to happen, but I want to put something down in writing to show my intention to participate.

First, I definitely want to join in at least one Twitter Chat. Saturday 5/17 is when I know I can for sure, but I want to try to make Wednesday 5/14's as well. The Twitter Chats are my favorite part I think, besides the reading itself.

I am going to attempt to read every single day - a huge feat since it's softball season and we've got a loaded game schedule. And I have this sinking feeling I'll still be grading research papers by then. (Who am I kidding? I'll drop those papers to read in a heartbeat!)Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday of Bout of Books week are looking like the best opportunities to squeeze in more reading than usual.

My goal is to read at least one Chunkster (450+ pages) and one book from my TBR pile. I've been reading nothing but review books for a bit now and want to enjoy books I've had waiting. I think I'm going to aim for The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

What are your goals? If you've joined, but haven't linked up your goals yet, here's the page to do it! (There's also a link there for you to sign up if you haven't done that yet.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

From the children's book I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora. I never thought about this enough to think of it this way.

"I'm not one of those people who think that cancer is some kind of jousting match. People live or die based on good medicine, good luck, and the grace of God. The people that die from it did not fail. The people who live will die another day."