Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year-End Tidying-Up

First of all: to those of you celebrating holidays in the last several days, I hope they were everything you wished for. I had a great Christmukkah with my big complicated family, but I had no idea what a blur this week would be. Between traveling for celebrations, helping my mother move to a new house, and doing my best to get a year's worth of sick out of the way in my week off, I must admit that it's been all I could do to even keep up with reading blogs, let alone commenting or posting.

I have gathered that most everyone is taking stock of what they've read this past year, in a few different formats, and I want to get some listing in before 2012 sneaks up on me.

 First and foremost: best books I read this year. I am totally overwhelmed by the number of books I read this year, so figuring out which ones actually came out in 2011 would be next to impossible. But here are a few highlights of my reading life over the last 12 months:

1) Teaching Dystopian Literature, twice. I introduced tons of my students to The Hunger Games books, and I made a point of really delving into the genre. Hits included Divergent, Matched and Crossed, Delirium, The Ship Breaker, the Forest of Hands and Teeth series, and Variant.

 2) Reading Pride and Prejudice over again this summer while emailing with one of my students as she read it for the first time. If only that's what all English classes were like!

 3)Re-reading The Great Gatsby for the first time since it was summer reading before 10th grade English (hated it then, along with Wuthering Heights, which I have also re-read and loved since then!)I had no idea Nick Carraway was such a lyrical and frequently funny narrator!

 4) Looking For Alaska. I can't even.  You can see my thoughts here.

 5)Discovering this blogging community! You have no idea how my TBR list has grown since I started following a handful of YA-focused bloggers.

 So--segue into-- top ten TBRs (that are already out) heading into 2012. I'd like to point out that I'm in the middle of The Scorpio Races, a very exciting Christmas present, or that would be on the list as well. (I'm totally loving it, btw--I believe I mentioned my horsey reading streak from childhood, and this has all the best parts of that...with all the best parts of YA.)

 1) Ash by Malinda Lo
2) Legend by Marie Lu
3) Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
4) Anna and the French Kiss/Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
5) Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
6) Across the Universe by Beth Revis
7) Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
8) Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
9) Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
10) The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Fire by Kristen Cashore
Paper Towns by John Green
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Where She Went by Gayle Forman

 That's my year in review, and a little bit of looking ahead...but stay tuned just after the new year for some resolutions and my first-ever giveaway! Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Where Do They All Come From???

Today's RTW is a potentially controversial one--but I like it.

This Week's Topic:
Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!

First of all, let me say that sometimes I look around and I'm pretty sure they just come creeping in the windows at night, because there's no WAY they all could have gotten in the door with me.  I would remember buying thousands of books, right?  I estimate my classroom library to be about 500 volumes, with loads more--maybe another 500 or so--in my apartment.  Someday I will really catalog them all.  Someday.  Right now I have a GoogleDoc of my classroom books, but I know many of them will have walked away by the end of the year.  
So anyway, where do they come from???   

1) I have to cop to an old and undying love of Barnes and Noble.  As a child, we went to the library a LOT, and I didn't have a lot of opportunities to buy books.  Don't get me wrong--I LOVED my library, a lot.  And I also loved the occasions when my parents would take me to the little WaldenBooks at our local mall, and I could pick out a book from the like, three shelves of children's books.  But I will never forget my first trip to Barnes and Noble.  I must have been about seven, which is when I got the horsey bug bad and couldn't get enough of Marguerite Henry.  So anyway, I had never been to a freestanding bookstore before, ok?  Just a little one tucked into the mall.  And then one day my parents drove the twenty minutes or so to the Barnes and Noble in the next town over.  And you guys.  For whatever reason, there was a Marguerite Henry display in the window, with the books, and some hay, and I don't know, that was probably really all it was, but.  It was like a palace for books.  It was bigger than my library, even (and we went to the central branch which is pretty big and nice.)  And my very very very favorite books were in the window, with horsey stuff around them--if you listen carefully, you can still hear the echoes of my tiny little mind EXPLODING WITH JOY.    So, Barnsey, you will always be my first bookstore love.

2) We also have some great indie bookstores near us, and I try to patronize them as much as I can.  Favorites include BookBook, Three Lives and Company, and Books of Wonder.  Three Lives is especially well-curated--whenever I go in there, my immediate reaction is, "I want EVERY ONE OF THESE BOOKS."  Books of Wonder wins the "Happiest Place" award, as it is both a truly excellent children's/YA bookstore AND a cupcake bakery.  (Think Meg Ryan's bookstore in You've Got Mail, then add cupcakes.)  I have to be careful with my wallet in these stores, because the awesomeness is so highly concentrated.  In a store like Barnes and Noble, there's a lot I don't want mixed in...but not so much at places like these.  Recently, I pulled my husband in to Three Lives and pointed out books I wanted for Christmas--and made him promise to buy them there, which he did!  (And, since it's such an awesome place, he was inspired to add a few to the list--score!)

3) The Kindle store.  Hmmph.  I am really ambivalent about my Kindle.  On the one hand, I mean, it's awesome.  Because I am Rory Gilmore.
So being able to carry around a bus book and a backup book and a backup bus book (or in my case, train books) got a lot easier with the Kindle.  On the other hand...I love having actual books.  And now that I'm starting to follow some of the business pieces of the book industry, I have some anxiety over e-book pricing, etc.  But for the time being, while I have an hour-long commute with a hill on one end and a 3rd-floor walkup on the other, I will be Kindling at least some of the time.

 4) DonorsChoose.  Technically, I'm not buying these books, and they aren't mine, but they live in my classroom library and I get to pick them out.  I'm super grateful to the people who have donated books to my classroom in the past--I've gotten four projects funded, all books: a fiction mix, a non-fiction mix, and twenty copies each of Catching Fire and Mockingjay (our school bought class sets of The Hunger Games last year so I had a lot of desperate students.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RTW--A Christmas Gift For Campbell

Road Trip Wednesday!  Huzzah!

This week, the question is:

What would be the ideal holiday present for your main character (or favorite character)? 
This is actually a pretty loaded question, because of the world my girl Campbell is living in.  Goods are limited pretty strictly, so either she would want something totally frivolous and consumable (gifts of things like candy bars and fresh flowers are pretty rare and noteworthy) or something she could share with her family.  
But really, if she could have one wish, she would wish for her best friend to return the feelings she's starting to be aware of...or at least to understand those feelings a little better.  (I have a friend from college who insists on fast-forwarding through the "conflicty parts" of romantic comedies because they're so painful--and I confess I read the painful parts of books more quickly, so I don't know how I will push myself to complicate this relationship as much as I need to--but what must be, shall be.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Fives: Christmas Stories!

Ok, so I skipped out on RTW this week, as I sometimes do when it has a particularly writerly focus.  (It kind of seems like everyone else waited to start their blogs until they had finished at least one MS...)

Anyway, I'm super excited about this week's Friday Fives from Paper Hangover!

What are your FIVE favorite Christmas/holidays stories or novels?

1) "A Pint of Judgement" by Elizabeth Morrow--This is one of many stories in my all-time favorite Christmas anthology: Norman Rockwell's Christmas Book.  This one is about a little girl who overhears--and misunderstands--her mother's Christmas wish.

2) "Christmas Every Day" by William Dean Howells, also known to me from this anthology.  The title sums it up, and it's a tired concept at this point, but this story is one of the older takes on the idea and I really like the way it's is written.

3) The description of Maria's first Christmas with the vonTrapps in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.  The house is all a-bustle with present-making and suspense and it just sounds magical.

4) Laura and Mary going through their stockings in what I'm guessing is Little House On The Prairie--but maybe Big Woods?  They get sticks of candy AND and orange AND a penny EACH.  (I think reading the Little House books at a very young age really contributed to the notion I had growing up that my family was fairly wealthy.  Our house had glass window panes, we used white sugar at the table, and our Christmas stockings were so full they didn't ever stay up where we hung them.   I was way off base--money was often tight in our house then, but it never occurred to me to notice.)  

5) Ok, I have to cheat and say A Christmas Story!  It goes on as soon as we get to my dad's house and doesn't go off all day.  One of my all-time favorite movies in general, this has to make my favorite Christmas stories list.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

RTW again? Already? ...and late?

Wow, no posts between last RTW and this one.  And technically, it has become RTThursday.  I don't even know what happened to me, honestly.  It took me ten minutes to remember where I was on Friday, because I realize that I missed Friday Fives (I was at my in-laws' house, because it was the day after Thanksgiving.  I legit just forgot that for a little while.)

And somehow, even though this prompt is always the same, it always catches me unprepared.

What is the best book you read in November?

I read some doozies this month:  Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver and If I Stay by Gayle Forman were both pretty great, but completing my trilogy of [SPOILER!  SPOILER ALERT!] car-crash novels was the real stand-out, Looking For Alaska by John Green.  It absolutely demolished me in a way a book hasn't done in a while.

And now, November is over, and we are on to December.  A new marking period is starting soon, it's almost Christmas, and one of my classes just finished a very big and onerous project.  I started a project I'm really excited about during NaNoWriMo, and even though I didn't make NaNo-speed progress on it, I'm feeling good about it.  Onward and upward!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

RTW: Thanks, Books Edition

Well, this is pretty ideal.  Road Trip Wednesday, my favorite part of the week, asks: 

What writing or publishing-related thing(s) are you most thankful for?

Ok, first--I have to talk books.  I meant to do this earlier in the month, when I named The Hunger Games as the book I am most thankful for.  

1) Anne of Green Gables (and the other seven books in the series).  Little Women and Little Men (ugh, not Jo's boys).  A Little Princess. The Giver.  These are the books that I've read more times than I can count and that taught me how to be a person.  

2) Speak, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looking For Alaska, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, The Hunger Games series, Divergent, Delirium, If I Stay, 13 Reasons Why, The Compound, Uglies and the rest of that series, The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some.  These are the books I've read since I started education grad school and made YA reading a priority.  I wasn't a big reader of YA when I was a young adult--I read children's books for so long that I felt like I had to just jump straight to YA when I left the nest of the children's room at the library.  These books are all over the map, genre-wise, but they all have characters I got to know and many, many of them made me cry.  On the subway.  

3)  Which brings me to the subway:  not technically writing or publishing-related, but it is where I do nearly all my reading.  A 45-minute subway ride (each way!) is tough sometimes but it usually winds up being a highlight of my day.

4)  The blogging community!  I know everyone is saying this but there's a reason for that.  I'm writing so much more regularly now than I ever have before, and I can actually imagine showing my work to people.  Thanks, everyone, for helping me think of myself as a writer.   (And special thanks to RTW, for giving us all such creative topics to blog about every week!)

Thanks, Part 1

I've been so scattered this month that I haven't been taking the time to blog much about the things I am grateful for.  I've planned to, I've thought about it, but I just haven't paused to write them down.  So:

#1: I am grateful for today. I'm planned, my materials are ready, and I have time to breathe and write before my classes start.

#2: I am grateful that the show I directed went up this past weekend, and that the students involved rose to the challenge with flair and good grace.  I'm really proud of the work they did and the maturity they found within themselves. 

#3: I am grateful for the colleagues who supported me and my students--by attending, by encouraging their students to attend, and especially my supportive, understanding administrators and our music teacher who went way above and beyond to do all of our sound during the last few weeks of rehearsals and at every performance. 

#4:  I am grateful for my book blogging club--for half an hour every other day, I get to hang out with a room full of really cool students and geek out about things ranging from the Hunger Games trailer to my love for Neil Patrick Harris.  And without them, I would probably not have started writing here.

#5: I am grateful for my family--my husband, of course, is the easy one--but also my mom and dad and sister, and new step-dad, and step-sisters, and step-brother-in-law, and step-niece, and my mother- and father-in-law, and sister-in-law, and my aunts and uncles and twelve first cousins, and two first cousins once removed, and my cousins-in-law, and my husband's aunts and uncles, and first AND second cousins, and great-aunts and great-uncles, and then of course all the people we're not related to but who are parts of our family anyway (godparents, neighbors, former babysitters/adopted grandparents, teachers, etc.)    Whew!

Ok--enough is enough, for this post at least.  I still want to write about books that I am thankful for, but that's a post for another day, I think.  (Maybe tomorrow morning when I'm hanging out at JFK!  I am definitely thankful for Jetblue's beautiful T5--takes a lot of the yuck out of flying on Thanksgiving!)

Have a great holiday if you're in the States; otherwise, just have a good regular weekend, I guess!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking For Alaska (Or: You GUYS, Why Didn't You WARN Me?)

First off:  If you have not read Looking For Alaska by John Green, please stop reading this blog post.  Yup, stop right now.  Go read the book.  Then come back.  I'll wait.

Ready?  Ok.  If you're still reading,  I'm going to assume you've read the book.  Because there will be spoilers.  And despite the subtitle of this blog post, I've never been so glad not to have been spoiled on a book.  So please, please, please if you haven't read the book, go away.  You'll be glad when you read it.

[While I'm taking up space so that people don't accidentally spoil themselves, let me remark that I am really looking forward to having energy to devote to this blog again.  I've been directing A Midsummer Night's Dream with my students and the first performance was yesterday.  By 9:30 Saturday night, I'll be done with the show!  My students killed it last night and I'm really proud of them, but I will be very, very happy to have my life back.]

Ok, back on track.  Looking For Alaska.  I don't know how I managed to remain unspoiled on the biggest plot point of this novel that seems to be (justifiably) beloved by everyone on the internet.  But there I was, sitting on the train, reading the book, naively wondering, gee, what could they be counting down to?  What's going to happen when I get to those grey-edged pages? 

And then It happened.  I can't remember ever really going through the stages of grief this clearly for a fictional character.  I most definitely began with denial.  Pages and pages of denial.  I'm sorry, everyone else in my subway car, if you thought were sitting down next to a normal person and not a subway loon.  I can't imagine you loved the teary muttering and head shaking and furious page flipping that ensued.  It just really, truly, didn't occur to me that It--you know what I'm talking about--could be the Big Bad Thing.  Especially with the structure of the story, and Green's pacing leading up to It.  And all I could think was, "Why didn't anyone WARN ME ABOUT THIS?" 

I'm usually the one springing things on other readers.  One of my favorite things in the world is to read books to or with my students that I know will elicit strong reactions from them.  I love it.  The Giver and The Hunger Games definitely do this.  When I read "My Last Duchess" with my seniors this year and they got it--that was great.  And I cry at books fairly often (most recently before this: The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Before I Fall).  But this particular blend of surprise and shock (two different things), and absolute devastation--I really can't remember the last book that did that to me.  Even when bad things happen in the Hunger Games series--even the last, worst thing--didn't surprise me quite this much.  That was the world.  Maybe I wasn't using all my reading smarts during the first part of Looking For Alaska, but I think it's just really, really brilliant writing. 

Once I got over my first rush of disbelief and genuine sadness, I was able to reflect on how grateful I was for this experience.  This is why I read.  And truly, I was really glad not to have been spoiled, even though it was a rough train ride.  So, thanks, John Green, and thanks, discreet bloggers.  I've tried to follow suit as much as I could here so that others can have the same experience. 

What books have you read that truly, deeply surprised you, or moved you beyond a momentary reaction?  What did the author do to get that reaction?  As a reader, do you want those experiences, or are they too difficult?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Assigned Reading!

This week's RTW is about something near and dear to my heart: assigned reading!

This week's topic:
In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?
This one is fun because, to some extent, I DO have the power to change the curriculum, at least in my own classes.  
1)  The most successful book I have ever, ever taught?  By a landslide?  No surprise here: The Hunger Games.  It got my students reading, which is absolutely my measure of success in the classroom.

2) The book I paired with The Hunger Games in my Dystopian Lit class was The Giver.  I have loved it for so long that it breaks my heart to think of kids growing up without reading it.  It has a much slower build than The Hunger Games but most of the kids agreed that the payoff was worth it.

My first year of teaching--or rather, my first year of standing in front of my classroom every day trying to teach something--I followed a pretty cool curriculum our school uses that included a unit on Tim Burton's films and a unit on To Kill a Mockingbird.  Both were more or less busts, even though I loved the material.  There were two units that worked a little better, though:

3) Romeo and Juliet.  I knew my classes a little better by then, so I decided that rather than struggle through cold readings of the script, we would watch the Baz Luhrmann movie--with captions on.  We actually had some really good close reading discussions with the movie paused, looking at the writing on the screen.

4)  Speak

5) Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

6) Monster
7) The Outsiders
These were all from our lit circle unit.  The circles themselves weren't great, but these books got some really positive responses.  Speak was the first book that some of my students actually read on their own.  The students in the Part-Time Indian group thought they were getting away with murder--they figured there was no way a teacher would assign a book with that many pictures and swear words if she had actually read it.  (I shocked them when I calmly told them that I had read it twice, knew full well what was in it, and thought it had sufficient literary merit to assign it anyway.)  

If I got to add any book, right now, into the classes I'm teaching now?  Hmm.  Honestly, I just read Before I Fall, and I think we could have some really great discussions about issues of bullying and relationships and personal responsibility.  Then again, in terms of hooking reluctant readers, nothing beats The Compound.  Or if I wanted my students to think about big ideas--government, privacy, environmental issues--maybe Water Wars or Delirium or The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts on Motivation (and THREE more giveaway links!)

Today's Friday Fives is one I really can't answer yet. 

What are the FIVE ways that get you from the beginning to the end of your WiP without losing all your hair?

Simply put:  I haven't yet.  But there is one thing I've started to realize about my brand new WIP that sets it apart from the one I've been poking at since last November. 

I want to read this book.  So...I guess I have to write it first. 

A big part of this has to do with genre.  I will read the occasional contemporary/realistic MG novel.  And goodness knows I read a LOT of them when I was growing up.  But, teacher persona aside, just me, as a human being, choosing books?  My mix breaks down to about 75% YA--of that, probably 85% is genre fiction, primarily dystopian with some fantasy and historical thrown in, and the rest is realistic/contemporary.  Then maybe 15% adult fiction, with much of that drawn from my mother's book club picks (Time Traveler's Wife, Water For Elephants, a whole bunch of Lisa See, etc.) The other 5% is split between MG and non-fiction (most recently Malcolm Gladwell).    So, clearly, the new WIP is much more on target for me as a reader.

The other thing I have to sheepishly admit is that the older WIP is--if not exactly based on my life in middle school--then at least drawn from it.  I started with characters and scenarios that were real, and then embellished.  It was good practice in terms of storytelling and raising the stakes, because it gave me something to measure against.  "Well, this is what happened in life--what's the thing that would happen in fiction, instead?"  But it didn't have the same element of surprise that my current WIP does. 

When I started writing last year, I didn't think I'd ever be able to build a world good enough to sustain a dystopian novel.  And maybe I won't be, but I feel like I'm at least making progress.  What I do have right now are characters who stay in my head.  I'm starting to actually have the writerly experience of learning about my characters, rather than inventing them.  It's like a constant, low-grade version of the feeling I get when I'm reading and I want to find out what happens to the character so badly that I skim or skip whole paragraphs just to get to the resolution of a particular conflict.  I want to know--and this time, I have to write it to find out. 

In other news--

A few awesome ladies are doing some pretty excellent giveaways.  But hurry!  One ends today!

1) The "Maybe Genius Has an Agent" Contest
ENDS 11/11!

Enter to win signed books AND critiques!  (BTW, while following her blog is not required to enter, it only took me about three posts to decide this funny, smart lady is someone I want to follow.)

2) Jessica Love's OMG I Have An Agent Giveaway

I'm totally in awe of this fellow HS English teacher who managed to finish a novel AND get an agent--that's the dream, people.

3) Malinda Lo's New Website Giveaway

Ash is high on my TBR list--and with a budget-imposed book-buying moratorium until after the holidays, I'm hoping for a copy to come my way sooner.  (And it is a gorgeous new website!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Writing Superpowers

Road Trip Wednesday just keeps getting harder and harder.  Today's question is: 

What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) -- and what's your kryptonite?

Honestly, I feel like I have no business even answering this one.  I have twenty blog posts and two WIPs that, combined, don't yet reach 10,000 words.  But really, right now--that kind of is my superpower.  I'm new.  So I'm allowed to not know things, I'm allowed to ask questions, and I'm allowed to not be very good.  This is the first thing I've done that I'm really, truly new at in a long time.  Like, maybe the last thing was trying out for my first high school play, or picking up the clarinet in 8th grade.  Other things have been offshoots of things I was already good at.  When I stage managed for the first time, or directed, I had already done a ton of acting and random tech theater work, so I felt that there was pressure to be good right away.  When I started teaching, I had gone through ten summers working at camp, so even though teaching public high school in Queens was a far cry from theater camp at a Y outside Albany or progressive private school camp for 9-year-olds in Greenwich Village, I still expected to be good right away. 

But writing?  The only time I have ever sustained any kind of daily writing habit was when I was fourteen and writing fanfiction.  For Ally McBeal.  (Plus one crossover, where Ally and friends visit the Bartlet administration from The West Wing.  Oh yeah.  It's out there.  It's terrible--all 13,000+ words of it!)  So going into real writing, I have no pressure other than wanting to tell stories.  I can celebrate every word, because it's one more than I had written before.  I can bang out a short story and submit it to a contest, blithely aware that I will almost certainly not be chosen for publication.  I'm basically a writing infant--and that's my greatest strength right now.

And my Kryptonite?  At the moment, computer games and trashy TV.  Really anything that lets me put off actually sitting down to write!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life Happens!

Just a quick note to say that I'm sorry I haven't been as active either posting or commenting as usual in the last week or so--this weekend, I took a whirlwind trip from my home in New York to a dear friend's wedding in California.  Wheels up to wheels down, the whole thing was about 54 hours long, full of ocean and West Coast fast food and dancing and jet lag.

Plus, NaNoWriMo!  I doubled my word count today--it's still pitiful, but things are starting to spark and flow.  I posted an excerpt on my profile--I'm interested in what questions people have or what they're curious about, so feel free to NaNoMail me or post comments here.  I'm having a lot of fun thinking about these characters but I feel like the world isn't very fleshed out yet.

To those of you who are actually making the kind of progress that will get you to 50,000--I am deeply, deeply impressed.  To those of you who are going more my speed--keep going!  Every word is a win!  And to those of you working on other projects--may the work ethic that NaNo is meant to inspire enter your hearts to a much greater degree than it has mine!

I'll be back on schedule tomorrow, making the rounds of RTW!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Another fabulous giveaway!

Lydia over at The Word Is My Oyster (a fabulous blog, by the way, with a weekly feature called Medical Mondays that lets Lydia show off the fact that she is not just a soon-to-be-published YA author but also a DOCTOR) is giving away books!  And giftcards for books!  And even a critique so that your writing can get closer to being--you guessed it-- books! 

Go!  Read!  Enter!

(I believe Terry Pratchett makes an assertion in one of his books about the correlation between the number of exclamation points a person uses and the integrity of his or her sanity.  Um, I present this blog entry without further comment.  You be the judges.  November!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Writing Coaches

Ok, a short but sweet Road Trip Wednesday

What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you

As I embark on my second NaNoWriMo, my answer is simply: a coach who will keep me writing!  Right now,  I just need to keep putting words on paper.  I'm not so worried about whether my writing is good--not yet.  I need to make it a habit, and stick to it, and actually finish at least one of my works-in-progress.  Once that happens, we'll see about what kind of help or feedback I might want.

Fellow NaNo-ers--how's it going?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Am Grateful

I am constantly amazed by the generosity of the book blogging community, both in terms of their willingness to embrace newbies like myself, and in terms of giving away scads of actual, physical books.  Today I come to you with an extraordinary example of the latter:  Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe, is offering a chance to win 19 books plus a ton of swag (that's goodies, for those of you who are young enough to use the word "swag" differently than us old folks.) 

And this isn't just a chance to win cool prizes--it's also a great idea for a blog entry.  So, without further ado, I'll have a go at deciding:

What book am I MOST grateful for?

One book?  Really?  That's all? 

Ok, fine, I'll pick one.  But I will be posting separately, as November rolls along and Thanksgiving approaches, about my many, many runners-up.

Honestly,  at this moment the book I am most grateful for is The Hunger Games.  Before The Hunger Games, I had a handful of successes as an English teacher who secretly longed to be a librarian.  A couple students even told me that books I handed them were the first books they have ever read all the way through on their own.  And that felt great (I mean, and also bummed me out, but on the balance, it felt pretty good.) 

Then I read The Hunger Games and promptly designed a trimester-long English class around it*.   Suddenly, everything changed.  My students who used to ignore my every word--well, they kept ignoring my every word, except that now it was because they were too engrossed in Katniss and Rue's alliance or Peeta's injury to care what I was going on about.  All five copies of Catching Fire that I bought for my classroom were snapped up as soon as I brought them in, and several were lost in perpetuity as students passed them around from person to person without bothering to check them in first.  You might think that the students would dash through the series and then resign from reading forever--but that's not what happened.  This is what happened:

"Mrs. S--what else do you have that's like The Hunger Games?" 

"Hey, do you have any other books that are exciting like that?"

"What should I read next?  I need a book."

The Hunger Games started conversations about reading, between me and my students, and more importantly, among my students as a group.  Kids who had nothing in common were suddenly swapping news about the movie and debating the casting choices, or recommending books to each other.  These conversations are my single favorite part of being a teacher, and for that, I have to send a huge wave of gratitude to Suzanne Collins for writing The Hunger Games.

*Anthropological footnote:  when I put that class, Dystopian Lit, on the schedule for the first time in December 2010, I was flooded with students coming up to me in the halls asking me what "that d-word" meant.  When I taught it again starting in March 2011, it seemed that many, many more of my students were familiar with the genre.

Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo--It's Happening

Maybe it's the Halloween parade raging outside (we've heard tunes ranging from "Thriller" to "Shipoopi" from The Music Man, plus enough rabid screaming to fill three Justin Bieber concerts) but I succumbed to crazy and signed up for NaNoWriMo again.  A discussion prompt in the 7th grade English class in my room this morning made a YA dystopian world spring into my head in all its glory. 

So, I'm SilversteinELA over there--and totally confused about how to do the whole Writing Buddy thing (I guess maybe it's not working right now?) but excited to figure it out.  I will try for the goal, of course, but really I'll be pleased with myself if I can top last year's ~7,500 words.   10,000 would feel really good--that would mean that I sat down and wrote every day, even if it was just 300 and change words per day.  Anything after that is icing.  (I recently read, and loved, It's Not a Sprint, It's A Marathon--a dead simple reminder that the important thing is finding a writing habit that you can stick to, so while I will use NaNoWriMo as a kickstart, I think really I will be going for more of a marathon speed.)

Ok everyboday--Allons-y!  Time to write in T-2:30!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Fives!

This week at Friday Fives, the question is: 

What are the FIVE (book or movie) worlds you would love to live in?

1) I've scouted out some of the other responses,  and it seems that few can resist the allure of Harry Potter.  And neither can I, if only to go to Honeydukes and drink some Butterbeer.  I mean, seriously.  But definitely post-Voldemort.

2)  Lyra's Oxford from the His Dark Materials series (or really, wherever in that world).  I mean, yes, that series makes me cry as hard as anything I've ever read, but to just sort of be a normal person living there--having a daemon is possibly the coolest idea I've encountered. 

3)  Little House on the Prairie.  Yes, their lives were incredibly intense and hard a lot of the time, but unlike other historical periods/places that interest me (Austen's England, Wharton's New York), women on the prairie had a chance to break out of some of the traditional social roles.  And the "women's work" was a different kind of thing--yes, it was cooking and laundry in the home, or teaching outside the home.  But it was cooking dinner over a fire, or if you were lucky, in a big cast iron cookstove--full of fire.  It was cleaning and butchering a dead rabbit, or chopping off frozen chunks of carcass in the winter, or stretching three cups of cornmeal into two days' food for six people.  Laundry was backbreaking, sweaty labor, involving giant tubs of scalding water, stirring and lifting and wringing heavy fabrics that became unbelievably heavy when wet.  And teaching--still not an easy job under any circumstances--was in a tiny room in the middle of nowhere, with no other adults around, and with students ranging from the tiniest ones learning to read, to the big boys who only came long enough to run off the teacher, or beat him until he eventually died of his injuries which is something that gets casually mentioned in Farmer Boy.  Wow, this does not explain why I want to live there at ALL.  Um, they make sugar-on-snow candy and sometimes there are horses?

4) The world of Carolyn Haywood's Betsy books (not to be confused with the also-charming Betsy-Tacy books).  I guess as an adult, this is less applicable, but these books just entranced me when I was a kid.  They were from my mom's era of "Why don't you go play kick-the-can in the street until it's dark," and I grew up in a not-so-nice neighborhood where the only other kids when I was young was were little boys next door who stole my tricycle and then burned down their house.  So while the Betsy books are realistic (well, idealized, but at least possible) they seemed like a fairy tale to me in a lot of ways.

5)  This may be cheating, but pretty much any world created by Aaron Sorkin.  Like reality, but with much better dialogue!  And people try to do the right thing and be honorable and then give speeches about being honorable!  And the speeches sound so good!  (Ok, really, this is just a preview of next week's Friday Fives, I guess.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Best Book of October

Time for Road Trip Wednesday again! My how the time does fly. 

This week's topic: 
What was the best book you read in October?

This is always such a hard prompt--during the school year, I read like a maniac because of my commute (see my blog title!) so I average something like ten books a month.  A little more when I'm reading a steady diet of average-length YA fiction, a little less when I'm reading epics (the Eragon series took me a month or more--and it was so long ago now that I fear I have to re-read it when the fourth book is released!) or denser work.

This month, I finished the Luxe series (so much fun!) and inducted myself into the Malcolm Gladwell fan club after reading What the Dog Saw, Blink, and Outliers (we own The Tipping Point because Mr. S is a big non-fiction reader, but it has vanished into the stacks for the time being so I haven't read that one yet.)  

But even though both of those projects were pretty enjoyable, I would have to say that my favorite October book is Chime by Franny Billingsley.

OOPS--wait a minute--let me consult my records--no, actually, my favorite book of the month was Shine, by Lauren Myracle!  How could I have ever confused those two?  

Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist.  I actually did read Shine, just a day or two before all the National Book Award mess started.  I really loved it--there are obvious similarities to Speak, which I also love, but I love Shine's focus on the community.  It helped me get invested in the other characters so that the ultimate reveal kind of broke my heart.  I am so excited to read Myracle's latest, Kissing Kate, and I think she's really cool for turning a crummy situation into something really positive.   In short: moving, suspenseful, book, with a realistic and lovable protagonist, and an awesome author. 

That said--Chime sounds pretty good.  It will probably be joining my TBR pile soon.  Billingsley certainly can't be blamed for any of this, so there's no reason not to take this as an excuse to pick up a new book!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday Fives: Five Favorite Ages

This week, Friday Fives asks:

What are the FIVE best ages of your life and why?

Ok, this one is hard.  I've been putting it off all day.  I graded some papers.  I read all of Field Trip Friday (which usually takes all weekend!)  I even went online and did that jury questionnaire that got mailed to my mom's house by accident.  But I think I'm ready to go:

5) 14.  I didn't really think I would include much between like, 11, and college.  But actually, my first year of high school, and the very beginning of my second--yeah, I had some pretty good times.  I've been thinking about what that actually felt like lately--and it was always exciting.  It was frequently awful, but the highs were so high that they actually kind of made up for it.  This was especially true my first year of high school, when I was kind of adopted by the clique of older theatre kids, and before I realized that they weren't great friends and mostly didn't actually care that much about me.  (A note on the advantages of Facebook--I'm friends with a lot of those people now, and they all seem like pretty cool adults.  It makes me wonder about my high school self.)

4) Ages 4-8.  This covers the period when I was becoming a reader, and just devouring the children's section at the library.  It was the beginning of school, when I still loved it (except for first grade, when I cried every day because I was afraid of my teacher) and before it got complicated with cliques and mean girls and grade anxiety. I became a big sister, I spent a lot of time playing alone in my backyard and making up stories, and I still kind of thought I could fly if I focused hard enough and jumped off the coffee table in just the right way. 

3) 26.  I feel like not including my current age would be a real downer (and my students ask my age often enough that keeping it a secret is really pointless).  My life is pretty good right now.  I'm doing pretty well at balancing what I want to do and what I have to do, and my husband (and cat!) make things at home completely lovely.

2) 23.  I finished my M.A., got married, got hired, and started teaching.  A huge year.  

1) 19.  I was a sophomore in college.  I was really establishing myself as a stage manager.  I spent Winter Study taking a Musical Theater Performance class that culminated in me standing up in front of a real audience and singing "Stars and the Moon" by Jason Robert Brown.  Garden State played at the little indie theater in our tiny college town and I spent the rest of the year overdosing on the soundtrack.  I lived in a dorm way on the outskirts of campus, but I lived there with some really cool girls--and met my husband, who lived in the dorm next door, when he walked me back from a party one night because both our dorms were so far from everything else.  That summer, I did the program that made me realize I wanted to teach rather than pursue professional theater.  The next fall, I moved to a dorm much closer to the theater, and next door to my friend Lauren, who I can confidently say will absolutely always be one of my very favorite people. College in general was a great time for me, but I would say the year I was 19  was the high point.

I mean, I don't know.  Realistically, maybe this should be more specific.  A lot of bad stuff happened to me at those ages too, but I find that it's not what stands out.  And hopefully, in ten or twenty or forty years, this whole list will be different.  But this is it for now.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What was I just saying about this awesome community?

I'm so excited and touched that after just a few weeks of blogging, Mr. Colin Smith has given me the One Lovely Blog award! This award asks that the winners pay it forward to fifteen bloggers. I'm going to try to choose folks who were not also on Colin's list--so Jaime and Jennifer, cheers to you lovely ladies!

Now, onto my fifteen. If I've named you--don't feel like you have to post it or do anything if you don't want to! I'm still so new at this that I look up to pretty much all of you so me giving you awards feels a little backwards. I have a few different categories:

YA/Writing Bloggers

1) Katy Upperman
2) Left Brained By Day; Write Brained--All the Time
3) Rebecca Behrens
4) Paper Hangover
5) Y(A)? Cuz We Write!
6) The Word is My Oyster
7) The YA Sisterhood
8) YA Confidential

Teaching Bloggers
9) NYC Educator/Miss Eyre
10) Miss Brave
11) Teachable Moments

Special Awards: While I love all the blogs above, these merit a special note or two!

12) Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords--This is one of the all-around best blogs I've ever read. Rob Rummel-Hudson blogs mainly about raising his daughter, Schuyler, who I would so love to have in my class someday. Schuyler loves the color pink, monster movies, and Coraline, and she has polymicrogyria, a brain condition that impairs her speech and some other motor functions. Rob is also a published author (I highly recommend his book, Schuyler's Monster ) and occasionally blogs about the writing/publishing world as well.

13) YA Highway--If not for YA Highway, I would not be writing this post. They got me started, with Road Trip Wednesday, and they have a great fun blog to boot.

14) Lois Lowry--I couldn't resist, even though I'm sure this is the goofiest award she's ever won, and really, seriously, who do I think I am? But I really enjoy her blog--it's chatty and fun and bops around from her life to her writing to adorable kitten and dog pictures.

15) The Bookshelf--I'm so proud to introduce one of my very own students! She is an avid reader and one of my favorite people to swap book recommendations with. She has great taste (but you don't have to take my word for it! Check out her book list on the side of her blog!) I'm sure she'd appreciate any comments/intros if you have time to stop by her blog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--Why Do I Write?

This week, Road Trip Wednesday asks a question that I had to think about pretty hard:

What's your numero-uno reason for writing?

I was hesitant at first because I'm not great at making the time for writing that I feel I should, and because it seems like so many of the other bloggers I follow are so serious and diligent about it. But then I thought, hey, this is writing too.

So, what's the number one reason I write?

I write because no one can tell me I can't.

I'll never be in the Winner's Circle at the Kentucky Derby (I was one of those horsey kids). I'll never be on Broadway or on TV (theater major). I'll never work in the White House (huge fan of The West Wing).

But ever since way, way before I wanted any of those things, I was a reader. Authors were my first celebrities and my first heroes. And while I'd have to get past a lot of people to reach any of those dreams, there is no one who can tell me that I can't write a book. Or ten books. Or a hundred. Even if I only ever share them with my own kids someday--this is something I can do if I choose to.

[Edited to add links and such! iPads are great for emergency blogging but less great for formatting stuff!]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meta-Blognition (or: Thanks, Everybody!)

So, I was completely right in my blogging intro--community was absolutely the piece I was missing. I'm so much more excited to blog now that I feel like I'm getting to know my fellow bloggers a little bit! I'm still a wee little baby blog compared to a lot of the blogs I admire, but I know I can count on some traffic on Wednesdays and Fridays for my Road Trip Wednesdays and Friday Fives. I find myself getting really excited to do those posts each week. I blog on Wednesday (on my prep period, when I can, or during my blogging club when it meets on Wednesdays) and then put in a few hours at night going from blog to blog seeing what everyone else said and commenting.

I used to be so freaked out by commenting on blogs, especially established ones. I thought, who am I to say anything? Why does this blogger I like so much want to hear what I think? Although people who know me well would be shocked to find this out, I can actually be really shy in some situations. When I went to college, I had to make a conscious decision to always be friendly--I figured I had a limited time period where everyone would be trying to make friends, and I wanted to take advantage of that. It was hard and scary, but I met some amazing people I never would have otherwise. Some I ran with for a semester or a year or whatever, and some became the kinds of friends who I will forever be able to pick up, mid-conversation, where we left off, even if I haven't seen them for a year. So I'm trying the same thing with blogging.

All this blogging about blogging was triggered by the fact that tomorrow I'm going on a field trip that doesn't end until 7pm, and then my little sister and her friends are coming in from out of town. I'm really excited about both of those things--but I also thought, immediately, "When will I do Road Trip Wednesday?!" This blog is really becoming part of my life. I'm really excited about that. And I really appreciate all the people (Colin, Katy, Jaime, Alison, Jennifer, Lydia, et al.) who have been so friendly and have such awesome blogs that I find myself thinking about blogging at least daily. I've been part of several internet communities in the past--most of them, various fandoms--and eventually, the snark turned from fun to toxic, and they buckled under the weight of their own sniping. This is the first time that I've seen a community this supportive of even its newest members.

So hopefully, I'll be back tomorrow at some point--but if not, catch you for Friday Fives!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Little Light Meme-ry

From Quita and Pam over at Y(A)? Cuz We Write!, I bring you one of my favorite things to do on the internet since 1998, a list of things that I get to comment on!

All of the red titles = I've read them and own them
All of the blue titles = I've read them but don't own them (likely, they walked away from my classroom library over the last two and half years!)
All of the titles with * next to them = I own, but have not yet read
All of the titles with ^ next to them = I don't own, but want to read!

What have you read on this list? Any books up here you're dying to read? Any that you think should be subbed on? What would you swap out?

Top 100 YA Books (2011 version)

1. Alex Finn – Beastly
2. Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones
3. Ally Carter – Gallagher Girls (1, 2, 3, 4)
4. Ally Condie – Matched
5. Alyson Noel – The Immortals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
6. Anastasia Hopcus – Shadow Hills
7. Angie Sage – Septimus Heap (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
8. Ann Brashares – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1, 2, 3, 4)^
9. Anna Godbersen – Luxe (1, 2, 3, 4)
10. Anthony Horowitz – Alex Rider (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
11. Aprilynne Pike – Wings (1, 2, 3)
12. Becca Fitzpatrick – Hush, Hush (1, 2)^
13. Brandon Mull – Fablehaven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)^
14. Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret
15. Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments (1, 2, 3, 4)
16. Carrie Jones – Need (1, 2, 3)
17. Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (1*, 2*, 3^, 4^) [Didn't know there were four-but this series has been getting raves, and Carrie Ryan went to my alma mater, Williams College, so it's high on my list!]
18. Christopher Paolini – Inheritance (1, 2, 3, 4^)
19. Cinda Williams Chima – The Heir Chronicles (1, 2, 3)
20. Colleen Houck – Tigers Saga (1, 2)
21. Cornelia Funke – Inkheart (1*, 2, 3)
22. Ellen Hopkins – Impulse
23. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl (1*, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
24. Faraaz Kazi – Truly, Madly, Deeply
25. Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars (1, 2, 3)
26. Gabrielle Zevin – Elsewhere
27. Gail Carson Levine – Fairest
28. Holly Black – Tithe (1*, 2, 3)
29. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
30. James Dashner – The Maze Runner (1, 2^)
31. James Patterson – Maximum Ride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
32. Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why
33. Jeanne DuPrau – Books of Ember (1*, 2, 3, 4)
34. Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
35. John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas^
36. John Green – An Abundance of Katherines^
37. John Green – Looking for Alaska^
38. John Green – Paper Towns^
39. Jonathan Stroud – Bartimaeus (1^, 2, 3, 4)
40. Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – Caster Chronicles (1, 2)
41. Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers (1, 2, 3)
42. Kristin Cashore – The Seven Kingdoms (1*, 2)
43. Lauren Kate – Fallen (1, 2, 3)
44. Lemony Snicket – Series of Unfortunate Events (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
45. Libba Bray – Gemma Doyle (1, 2, 3)
46. Lisa McMann – Dream Catcher (1, 2, 3)
47. Louise Rennison – Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
48. M.T. Anderson – Feed
49. Maggie Stiefvater – The Wolves of Mercy Falls (1*, 2, 3)
50. Margaret Peterson Haddix – Shadow Children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
51. Maria V. Snyder – Study (1, 2, 3)
52. Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
53. Markus Zusak – I am the Messenger
54. Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
55. Mary Ting – Crossroads
56. Maureen Johnson – Little Blue Envelope (1, 2)
57. Meg Cabot – All-American Girl (1, 2)
58. Meg Cabot – The Mediator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
59. Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
60. Meg Rosoff – How I Live Now
61. Megan McCafferty – Jessica Darling (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
62. Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen’s Thief (1, 2, 3, 4)
63. Melina Marchetta – On the Jellicoe Road^
64. Melissa de la Cruz – Blue Bloods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
65. Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
66. Michael Grant – Gone (1, 2, 3, 4)
67. Nancy Farmer – The House of the Scorpion
68. Neal Shusterman – Unwind
69. Neil Gaiman – Coraline
70. Neil Gaiman – Stardust
71. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book*
72. P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast – House of Night (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
73. Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials (1, 2, 3)
74. Rachel Caine – The Morganville Vampires (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
75. Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
76. Richelle Mead – Vampire Academy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
77. Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson and the Olympians (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
78. Rom LcO’Feer – Somewhere Carnal Over 40 Winks
79. S.L. Naeole – Grace (1, 2, 3, 4)
80. Sabrina Bryan & Julia DeVillers – Princess of Gossip
81. Sarah Dessen – Along for the Ride
82. Sarah Dessen – Lock and Key
83. Sarah Dessen – The Truth about Forever
84. Sara Shepard – Pretty Little Liars (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
85. Scott Westerfeld – Leviathan (1, 2, 3)
86. Scott Westerfeld – Uglies (1, 2, 3, 4)
87. Shannon Hale – Books of a Thousand Days
88. Shannon Hale – Princess Academy
89. Shannon Hale – The Books of Bayern (1, 2, 3, 4)
90. Sherman Alexie & Ellen Forney – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
91. Simone Elkeles – Perfect Chemistry (1, 2, 3)
92. Stephenie Meyer – The Host
93. Stephenie Meyer – Twilight Saga (1, 2, 3, 4)
94. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees
95. Susan Beth Pfeffer – Last Survivors (1, 2, 3)
96. Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games (1, 2, 3)
97. Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
98. Terry Pratchett – Tiffany Aching (1, 2, 3, 4)
99. Tonya Hurley – Ghost Girl (1, 2, 3)
100. Wendelin Van Draanen – Flipped

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Fives: Childhood Favorites

Ok, I hope my students forgive me for this, because I imagine seeing your teacher become an internet fangirl is a little like seeing her in her pajamas, but: I have to SQUEE a little at this week's Friday Fives topic from Paper Hangover.

They want to know:

What are your FIVE favorite childhood books?

Ok, kiddos, let's see if I can boil this down to five. I spent the first twelve years of my life, easy, reading exclusively from the children's section of my library, and only reluctantly transitioned to the YA section, with frequent trips back until I actually got my dream job in 11th and 12th grades: shelving books in, you guessed it, the children's section. These days, I read a lot more YA than children's/middle grade books, because it holds my adult attention better and also because I teach high school. But I suspect that truly, my heart will always belong to the books I discovered in the children's room of the Schenectady Public Library--Central Branch--under the guidance of an amazing staff of librarians who I saw at least once a week pretty much from birth to age 18 (thanks, Mrs. Butch and Mrs. Grossman!)

1) The Josefina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr (who also wrote one of my runners-up: The Big Balloon Race. Before I loved Little House, even, I think I loved this one. I was doubly captivated by the story of Josefina, a beloved pet chicken on a wagon train west, and by the concept of a story quilt, where the materials used and the patterns on the quilt represented experiences the family had, like a scrapbook. I basically wanted to take this out every week, including the weeks when we had just returned it.

2) The Oink and Pearl books by Kay Chorao. True, Oliver and Amanda seemed to be the more popular pig siblings, but I was nuts about Oink and Pearl. When Oink tries to make Pearl a great big fizzy ice cream soda for her birthday--but uses baking soda instead of liquid soda? Classic! I laughed, I cried. Well, not really. I didn't know what baking soda was either, I was four. But this was another one that spent more time at my house than at the library.

3) The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, specifically On The Banks of Plum Creek. Little House In The Big Woods gets an honorable mention, mostly for the description of making sugar-on-snow candy and eating a piping hot roasted pig's tail. Actually, all the books in the series contain some superb food writing, but Plum Creek features Nellie Oleson prominently and really highlights the dreadful gloom of having straight brown hair instead of curly blond hair. I used to just stare at myself in the mirror and will my hair to curl. (And maybe it worked--if I cut it short enough and put goop in it when it's wet, it does indeed fall right into ringlets. If there's a full moon. And I throw salt over my shoulder.)

4) Saint Therese and the Roses by Helen Walker Homan. (Disclaimer: Since I write this blog as part of a school activity, it's important for me to mention that including this book is not meant to endorse or recommend its religious views. I'm including it because of how much I enjoyed its story, and because it was meaningful for my mom to share a book she had loved as a kid with me.) This is a biography that's told as a really engaging childhood/coming of age story. I do endorse the basic message that being kind in small ways can really add up, which was really influential for me, but I don't think that's necessarily connected to any particular religion or religion at all. My mom had read it as a kid, as I mentioned, and she read it to me--and when our library deaccessioned it, she bought me a copy. It was out of print, so she had to use a newfangled internet shop to find one--yes folks, this book is also memorable as our household's first-ever purchase.

5) Possibly my all-time favorite book, ever, anywhere: A Little Princess. I actually got my copy from the shelf to put the ISBN into Goodreads, because it is maybe the physical book I treasure most as an object (not counting signed/inscribed books--I love this book just for itself, specifically Jamichael Henterley's illustrations.)

(Sara's eyes! Her hair!)
This is another book with traits I love from both the Little House books and the St. Therese biography. Sara is my favorite kind of heroine--smart, plucky, and brunette (like Laura!). She doesn't think she's pretty (although of course she is, but not in the crowd-pleasing way that Isobel Grange, with her "dimples and rose-colored cheeks, and long hair the color of gold"--which is why it completely infuriates me that in the two highest-profile film versions, the actresses cast as Sara are blondes with round, rosy cheeks and dimples. I mean, Shirley Temple? Really?) and that actually is part of who she is. More importantly even than that, though--she's kind. She's generous and open-minded and takes care of people who are smaller or worse-off than she is even when it's terribly hard for her. She's pretty much been my role model for my entire life--but she's not perfect. She struggles to do the right thing, and she gets mad and cranky and misunderstands her friends and has to subdue her pride, and on and on and on. I just could not love her more.

So there you have it--my first Friday Five!

Blog Hop!?!

 Talk about jumping right in.  As part of my goal for this blog, I've tried to be a more social blogger, mainly through reading and commenting on other people's Road Trip Wednesday posts until grading or sleep demand attention.  This is something new I'm trying--and the volume is potentially much higher.  I'm planning to spend the weekend intermittently checking out the blogs on the blog hop list, even though I am a little overwhelmed by what seems like the internet version of going out to a crowded club, when my speed is really throwing a Mad Men theme party in my apartment for like ten people.

Here's to new things!

Three blogs I enjoy: 

Obviously, YA Highway because of Road Trip Wednesdays, and their excellent Field Trip Friday literary news roundup.

I'm really excited about YA Confidential--I always wonder if my students would agree with their "spies".

And, for good measure--Lois Lowry's blog!  I was so thrilled to find it and it's very chatty and occasionally contains really tantalizing information about her new books.