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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday--My Writing Journey

Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. This week, YA Highway wants to know:

What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Eek. I'm still a little squeamish talking about my writer-self. I'm way good with my reader-self and my teacher-self, but my writer-self has been dormant for so long, wth only brief outings. I do have the beginning of a WIP...insert standard author excuse-making here, I guess, but since I don't let my students indulge in those, I really can't get away with it either.

I started this novel last NaNoWriMo, with my 6th grade writing class. I am proud/chagrined to say that two of my 6th graders beat my word by quite a bit (I came nowhere near meeting my goal, but it was more writing than I had done for myself since elementary school.) Since I was writing alongside 6th graders, I decided to try a realistic MG novel. Currently it stands around 7,500 words, and for the time being, I'm leaving it be in order to focus on the demands of the new school year. I think I may give it another go during this year's NaNoWriMo--which I know is against the "rules", but it will be more of an inspiration to start writing daily--even 500 words or so--and that can't hurt. The title right now is Minnow. It has an outline, a playlist, and blobby first chapters. And I think that's all I have to say about that.

I also wrote and submitted a short story to a writing contest this summer, something I had never done before and had never really even considered. But the Machine of Death contest called out to me, and I had some free time over the summer, and so it went. I didn't agonize over it; I didn't tell myself that secretly, the editors meant that the contest was open to anyone but me (as I often do); I simply wrote, revised, and submitted. It was a whole new thing.

And of course, I'm writing this blog now. I'm committed to at least RTW every week, plus following my students once they get their own blogs up and running, and keeping up with a number of the other RTW participants. Actually, I have a question for the many more experienced bloggers who might click over to this--I tend to follow blogs in my Google Reader. Is there a preferred/better way? What's the current thinking/technology on following people?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Defining My Terms

As an English teacher, I'm constantly recommending books and/or haranguing my students to come peruse my overflowing bookshelves. I try to stock a wide variety, including some books that just don't catch my interest but that I know will be appealing to certain of my students. (BTW, thank you Borders, for choosing back-to-school time to close up shop. At 70% or even 90% off, I was much more willing to purchase books that I don't want to read, if I know my students will. There is much more non-fiction sports writing in the collection now, for example.) At the same time--I'm buying these books on my own time, with my own hard-earned, y'know, blah blah blah, so I feel ok about letting my quirks shine through. I stock very few vampire books--my entire Twilight series walked away my first year and I never saw fit to replace it. If someone wants to make a case for a vampire book or series that stands out, I'll try it--it just seems too hard to sift through and find what's good vs. what's pulpy and mass-produced. A crummy vampire novel is just plain crummy--whereas even a crummy dystopian novel
at least, inherently, has a social critique of some kind for the reader to think about.

Ok, so all that is to say, I think a lot about what makes a "good" book. I get asked at least once a day, "Mrs. S, is this one good?" I have to interpret what that question means based on who's asking--some kids mean, "I don't really read--is this going to grab me and suck me in?" Other kids mean, "You know me, you know what I read--is this my style?" Other kids are willing to try anything and just want some reassurance that something is worth a shot.

As an adult with a degree in English who reads at least 75% YA, I feel like I need to be judicious with applying the big g-word when I'm talking to other adults. I find myself saying things like, "Oh my god, I just read ____________ and I'm so obsessed right now," or "This plot has me so hooked--go away and let me read my book." (Sorry, Mr. S!) With knock-out, absolutely wonderful books, I'll take the step. I stand by every part of the His Dark Materials and Hunger Games trilogies. (If I ever get a tattoo--which I don't plan on doing, but who knows--it will be a particular four-word phrase from Mockingjay which I can't even think without getting a little winded.)

I have to have a few go-tos when people hear about what I do and ask questions (go-to recommendations that I am willing to call "good books", even to adults, right now: Divergent, The Ship Breaker, Delirium). But this is a weird standard that I don't necessarily apply in my teaching life, except with a few students who are really voracious and discerning readers. I hold these multiple definitions of "good" in my head all the time. And I'm sure we all do--the book you can't put down even as you find the actual writing hard to take. (A recent experience like that for me was Vixen--I was desperate to know how it would turn out, but the dialogue and some of the description just clunked along, to my ear. If you interrupted me when I was reading it and asked if it was good, though, I would have shooed you away so I could keep reading, which most people would take as a yes.)

So--what's a good book? The part of my brain that feels like I should be reading more Wharton, Dickens, or (oh help) David Foster Wallace* says it has to do with the prose itself--how is the story told? The part of my brain that only learned to form letters so I could write my name on a library card, that's been reading hungrily and instinctively since I was four says it has to do with the experience in the moment. Am I enjoying it? Am I going to keep turning the pages?

And of course, as a teacher, I have the ultimate test. Is this student going to connect in a way that makes him finish this book? Will this student read this one and then want to read another one?

How do you define a "good" book?

*A footnote, in honor of the great man: my husband, also an English major, claims Infinite Jest is his favorite book. I love my husband and so I'm supposed to say things like "I would do anything for him" or whatever. Infinite Jest disproved that after about a hundred and twenty pages. Sorry. Taken together, Mr. S and I would make the ultimate English major, with him covering Chaucer, Marlowe, and everything from Virginia Woolf to the present, and me taking Shakespeare and everything from Tom Jones through Edith Wharton.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday 10/4/11

It's time for another Road Trip Wednesday post! 

This week's topic:

What supporting character from a YA book would you most like to see star in their own novel?
Ok.  Well.  Where to start?  I mean, it feels like the major supporting characters are too obvious (a Gale's-eye version of the entire HG trilogy, especially once we lose sight of him in Mockingjay?  Yes, please.  Or even the Tale of Effie Trinket.)  And I wrote here last week about how much I would love to see more of anything set in the world of Ship Breaker.  When I polled my students today, I put myself on the spot and talked about how interesting a story about Aunt Edith from The Luxe Series could be--her youth must have been quite something.  

But surely there must be a better answer--a character I'm really attached to, from a book that's on my all-time greats list.  Hmm.  
Ooh--ok, got it.  Either Asher or Lily--maybe both--from The Giver.  Lois Lowry has continued to write within that universe, but I want a direct sequel to The Giver, maybe alternating first-person or third-person limited narration between Asher and Lily, since their ages and relationships to Jonas are so different.  Ooh--and while I'm getting greedy, maybe Fiona, too.  Someone who actually participates in Release in her work.  Ok, maybe Fiona actually wins this contest.  Yeah, definitely.  So, my answer is:
Fiona from The Giver, by Lois Lowry!