Another Time Another Memory

I ripped through Jacqueline Woodson’s ‘Another Brooklyn’.  I really loved her format of short paragraphs which resemble poetic stanzas more.  I was so affected that I told my best girlfriends that it was about us, even though the only thing we had in common with the four protagonists was that we grew up in the 70’s.  No matter.  It was like Woodson was able to burn us down to the essence of what our sisterhood is.

Close. Confessional.

Giving each other unwavering support in the face of literally everything.

August, Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela are so different in terms of households and upbringing, but they are sisters of the soul.  We see their story through her eyes and even though we know that her mother will never return as she chants with conviction throughout the slim volume.  We want to believe her, but we should know better, like her brother when he accuses, “You used to say she was coming back. . .Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (page 135)

I just want to read Woodson’s beautiful and heartbreaking and raw prose all of the time. If I were to highlight lines that I loved, most of the book would be a blaring yellow neon. Look at just this paragraph describing the girls: “Maybe this is how it happened first for everyone–adults promising us their own failed futures.  I was bright enough to teach, my father said, even as my dream of stepping into Sylvia’s skin included one day being a lawyer.  Angela’s mom had draped the dream of dancing over her. And Gigi, able to imitate every one of us, could step inside anyone she wanted to be, close her eyes, and be gone. Close her eyes and be anywhere.” (page 63)

Later, you feel for the oncoming tragedy of these girls and we can’t stop it from happening.

It’s life.  It’s growing up.

Woodson explains in her Afterword,  “At the day’s end, a writer lives alone with her story, wrestling with characters and settings, and the way light filters into and out of a scene.  The deeper messages often escape her.  Sometimes I take for granted the journey through the telling.  At other times I curse the muse’s power.  But through it all, I live each day in deep gratitude.” (page 175)

Jacqueline, as a reader, I do too.

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Three Quick Snippets

We have an area right by my classroom door for people to write quick post-it sized reviews/shout-outs about books people are reading. Here are three by me:
1) Elsewhere by Gavrielle Zevin (I LOVE HER!): Super interesting story! What happens when Liz (15 years old) is killed in a hit and run?
In ‘Elsewhere’ you age backwards until you are 4 weeks old and reincarnated. What happens until then is up to you!

2) The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover: What happens when (24 year old) Taylor is given a 3 year old Indian baby? Why, she names her Turtle, of course! A great book about making your own family!!! Totally engaging!!!

3) Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Loving this book so much! Adventure with a group of 6 misfits! Grisha Magic! An impossible heist!! Excellent world building! I was sucked in for the ride of a lifetime!

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Mowing Down the Competition (Literally!)

SCYTHE by Neal Shusterman: I bought this for my 7th grade classroom library and my very first reader did a Book Talk on it yesterday! He made the book sound so exciting and the class was riveted as he read an excerpt which takes place on a plane. In this dystopia novel, Neal Shusterman masterfully creates an interesting world where people can be resurrected, but in order to control the population, certain young people are trained as Scythes. They are able to mete out death without the possibility of resurrection. It is a difficult responsibility to carry, and as we are all human, some deal with it better than most. We follow two candidates, a boy and a girl, through their extremely difficult training (both physically and mentally) and tension rises as only one of them will become a Scythe and the other will be reaped! A great read for YA and adults alike. Really hoping for a sequel!

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Lazy (Busy) Sunday Musings

I’ve come to the conclusion that stressed out might be my natural state.  I have been almost maniacal in my constant push to get things done: for my new 7th grade classes, my graduate level UHM class I’m also teaching, and still try to get home and mom duties done as well.  I try to get in tiny “me time” breaks in, but am beset with feelings of guilt if I’m not “working”.  I know, this is crazy, but I still feel this way.

Some great things coming out of my constant motion: my students are getting into their reading workshop mode and some are already on their 2nd, or 3rd, or 5th books!  I hope one of my super readers will do her 1st Book Talk this week and set the tone for the rest of them.  I have always done Book Talks (ask my former students), but it was usually after I read a great book that I just had to share! (All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for example!!!!).  But now, I have shared two to three books and different ones at that with each of my 4 sections every day for the past two weeks.  The kids are great; they stand poised with their pens ready to jot down a title to add to their Someday Lists.  I’ve been pulling out all the stops.  Sharing books that I just Love LOVE LOVE! The Black Book of Secrets? Check. Fangirl and it’s companion Carry On? Check. Non-fiction books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Check. Becoming Nicole? Check check! My Period 5 kids are especially great.  They are open to me talking about any kind of books that my other periods are a little tentative about.  They are not put off about books with LGBTQ+ characters.  They told me to call them “rainbow” books and will raise their hands and battle each other (via Jun Ken Po [Rock Paper Scissors]) when I ask who wants to read the book.

It is a serious dream-come-true to know that I am creating a world where my students are free enough to talk about and share their love of books. This is me Book Doctoring/Prescribing  at a constant pace and I love it although my eyes are bleeding.  My ego won’t let me recommend a book that I haven’t read, nor love myself.  It will be great to take a backseat when the chain reaction of the kids taking over the Book Talks, with me getting into the mix from time to time, begins!

What I’m currently reading and/or have just finished: The Outsiders, The Lost and Found, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence, Black Wolves.

Hopefully, it won’t be a month until I write my next post!!!

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Rising (Reading) Like A Phoenix

I haven’t posted a blog entry for 3 years and I have been swamped! But, I’ve decided to return and resurrect my blog as I begin the 3rd chapter in my teaching career.  I will be starting at a new school and I will be teaching 4 sections of 7th graders and 1 section of Juniors and my 7th grade team has decided that we will use the Reading and Writing Workshop model!  They say that an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but this old dog sure can! I am enjoying delving into the world of Nancy Atwell and Penny Kittle and I am just foaming at the mouth to get going!

Our research emphatically states that the most effective way to serve our students is to have kids not read the classics, but to get them to become voracious readers (right up my alley!) and the classical reading will come! I wholeheartedly agree and I am carefully curating and adding to my book collection!

I spend hours just thinking about, reading about, processing and reading my books in preparation! The feeling I get when I hear the shoonk! of stamping my name into my books is like no other! Like a pro athlete, I am visualizing my book talks which will spark and entice my students to get on the path of becoming lifelong readers (and scholars) of the printed word. I can just picture them becoming true bibliophiles and my books just flying off the shelves!

They say that when one door closes, another one opens and I, for one, am leaping through! Please come with me as I continue my work as a literature teacher, reading guide, and book doctor!

Here are just a sampling of the 100’s of books my students will be able to explore and love!

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Shot Through The Heart: Great Girl Characters

images-2images-3imagesimages-1 I have been reading an avalanche of books and many of them have featured strong feminine characters.  Two series that I have been obsessed with are so different, yet they have women at their core.  

I have continued to read Gail Carriger after reading ‘Etiquette and Epionage’.  The Parasol Protectorate series is placed in the future from the time of E and E, and the main character Alexia Tarabotti is a diamond of the first water.  She doesn’t see herself that way, in fact, she views herself as an oddball, beautifully dressed, but an oddball just the same. She is born without a soul and is able, through physical touch, to force supernaturals like werewolves and vampires back into their mortal state as long as the contact is maintained.  She is very curious and is absolutely headstrong and determined.  Armed with her beloved silver-tipped parasol, she cannot be swayed once she is embroiled in a mystery.  One of her best friends is a vampire named Lord Akeldama with his own gang of dandified young men (drones) and he has many of the best lines in the series.  I love the witty banter between Alexia and any number of characters, especially the alpha werewolf Lord Conall Maccon who immediately recognizes her as his alpha female, even though she is not a werewolf herself!

This series is chock full of steam punk references and hive/pack/family dynamics.  Alexia is able to handle any type of problem from the most mundane to national security!  Queen Victoria even shows up to appoint her to the Shadow Council.  Alexia also believes that any type of ruckus (huge crazy mechanized octopus anyone?) can be endured with a cup of tea and her weaponized parasol at her side.  A satirical romp of delight!

The other series I am obsessed with is His Fair Assassin series by Robin Lafevers, who is known as a children’s writer (Theodosia and the Serpent of Chaos et al.).  This series is miles away from her books for younger readers.  I was hookedwith two words I read in a review for the first novel, ‘Grave Mercy.’

Killer. Nuns.

That’s all it took for me to immerse myself in the world of  a small medieval country within France named Brittany.   I was immediately taken in  by the detailed yet stark language of the first person narration of Ismae and the Lady Sybella (protagonist of the 2nd book ‘Dark Triumph’).  The foreboding mood and tension felt was palatable. The characters didn’t know who to trust, so it was much safer to trust no one.  Ismae and Sybella, along with Annith (the heroine of the upcoming ‘Mortal Heart’) find their individual ways to the Convent worshipping St. Mortain.  He is the God/Saint of Death.  The girls go through a stringent training regime to make them assassins for the church.    Whether it is knives, crossbows, or poisons, they are more than capable.  I looked forward to the scenes where these handmaidens had to mete out death in the name of St. Mortain, their Abbess, Justice, or even Mercy.  These women come to realize that they are more than just weapons or instruments for others to wield; they are themselves and they must find their way towards self-identity, acceptance and even love.  Ismae and Sybella thankfully have each other and Annith and it is their sisterhood that holds them up when it is hopeless.  The author also gifts each of them with a complex man, Gavriel for Ismae, no matter that she is sent to see if he is a traitor and must eliminate him if he is and Benebic De Waroch, known as the beserker Beast for Sybella.  Each man lives in and understands the darkness within their lady and it is the light of their acceptance that helps free them.

The main conflict of the series deals with yet another strong female character.  Anne, the Duchess, all 12 years of her, is also a prisoner to the world around her.  She is the unconfirmed ruler of this country and a political pawn.  Her deceased father promised her to any number of nobles and countries.  Now her most powerful suitor,  D’Albret, evil through and through and fifty years old to boot, schemes to get them married making her his 7th wife.  Sybella, is unfortunately his daughter and is made to return to his hellish holding per the Abbess’ orders to spy and thwart his plans.  Ismae must protect Anne as her secret body guard not to mention she is Gavriel’s half-sister.  Both women’s fates are inextricably woven with their young ruler.

Lafevers paints a very murky picture with political machinations, betrayals, and twists at every turn and I can’t get enough of  it.  This near seamless exercise in verisimilitude is breathtaking.  I hope I make it to Spring when ‘Mortal Heart’ comes out and it is Annith’s time to fight back.

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Into a Dream Darkly: Blackbringer and Silksinger

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I love fantasy.  All types.  Laini Taylor came into my life last summer when I was able to listen to an audiobook of her ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bones’ and it blew me away.  After that, I decided to read everything I could get my hands on by her and I love it all.  This summer I read both ‘Blackbringer’ and ‘Silksinger,’ two companion novels from her Dreamdark world with two very interesting heroines and their male companions.  

Magpie Windwitch is in both novels and I want to be her friend.  She is tough, vulnerable and loyal.  She is willing to take on the task of being a devil hunter which means she goes around with her adopted clan of long-lived crows tracking escaped devils (which come in a multitude of shapes, forms, and powers) and injuring them so that she is able to put them back into their magiked bottles.  She so wants to emulate her idol Bellatrix, who is long dead.  ‘Pie, as she is called by close friends and family, doesn’t know it yet, but she is so unique since she has been dreamed into being by the Dijinn King The Magruwen to save their world.  There are seven Dijinns and they are powerful genies who have left the world behind to dream in secret places.  As a result, the Tapestry, which wove the world and every living thing into being is becoming tattered which is allowing darkness and evil into the world.  It is up to Magpie (who has the power to weave the Tapestry) and her allies to find and wake the Dijinn while battling Darkbringer, who has been inadvertently released by “mannies” or humans.  It wants to consume the world in darkness and very nearly does.  

Magpie is joined by the brave Talon, the prince of the Rathersting clan of faeries.  He cannot fly (to his everlasting shame), but his skill at knitting while using a pair of dijinn-made needles allows him to create skins which help transform him into a falcon.  Both main protangonists have much character development as they learn to accept their identities and how they fit into the much larger scheme of their world and how they depend on each other to reach their highest potential.  

There is much magic that faeries can wield with their use of glyphs (symbols of power they hold in their mind) and enchanted objects like Bellatrix’s dagger Skuldraig which Magpie finds.  It will take everything within them to attempt to rid Dreamdark of Blackbringer and it is a rollicking adventure to see this come to pass.

‘Silksinger’ takes place after ‘Blackbringer’ is completed.  There are now two storylines, one with Magpie and another one focusing on the last silksinger, Whisper. She is so named since she can only speak at a whisper lest her powerful voice affect all who hear it.  She is tasked with protecting another one of the lost Dijinn, the Azazel, whose form is a tiny ember she carries around in a beaten teapot.  She has no shoes and just the clothes on her back.  The very first chapter captured my attention and the rest of the novel never let me go.  

Magpie is asked by Whisper’s dead relatives to find her and help her bring the Azazel back to his throne in his long-forgotten temple.  All this while she herself is trying to protect the ember of another Dijinn, the Ithuriel (in a cooking pot for safekeeping).  As in ‘Blackbringer,’ there is a male protagonist as well.  His name is Hirak Mothmage and he has to hide his heritage since his clan of faeries are hated for a supposed betrayal long ago.  This novel is equal to the first and we are again caught up in the danger and wonder of this world.  Both main characters find that they deal with duty thrust upon them, and the sacrifice, and the redemption that comes with being heroes.  The scene where Whisper is forced to weave a flying carpet for the evil half man/half tarantula who has imprisoned her is haunting and powerful as the song she sings to make it so.  I felt helpless as I read about the five firedrakes who are leeched each day for their life-sustaining blood for the mysterious Master by the kindhearted and downtrodden snag who must do this or become a meal himself.  How it all turns out is a tale that will not soon be forgotten.  

Laini Taylor is a rare find.  She, like both Magpie and Whisper, is able to weave words  together to create true works of art which take the reader flying through a dark dream that we don’t wish to be awaken from.  Bravo!  

Note: Much of our visualization of her world is also due in part by her husband, Jim Di Bartolo’s amazing renderings of the characters which are sprinkled throughout both novels!  

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Finally, a New Post! I’m a steampunk girl!

images I have been sooooo unbelievably busy with work and family, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading up a storm.  With only a week left before schoolyear 2013-2014 opens, I will try to write about some great books I’ve read!

Up first, Book 1 in the New Finishing School series by Gail Carriger!  I LOVED this book for many reasons: 1) It’s in the Victorian age, 2) The protagonist, Sophronia, doesn’t seem to fit in, 3) there’s all sorts of cool steampunk things going on (technology mixed with the supernatural)! Sophronia’s mother is at her wit’s end with this daughter who seems to attract all sorts of mayhem and can’t execute a decent curtsey to save her life.  The solution seems to be to send her to a finishing school as advised by her neighbor and friend Mrs. Barnaclegoose.

But, this school is very, very different.  Beside all of the requisite courses of study (etiquette, dancing, art and languages) there are “specials” like deception, weapons training (with a werewolf for a teacher), poisons and the like.  Sophronia finds that although she is a “covert recruit,” she finds herself at home at the school.

To say that Sophronia is plucky and “born to this” is an understatement.  She is amazing and I couldn’t help but want her to do well.  She finds that her nemesis Monique (older, wealthier, meaner) has a prototype to a communications device which she refuses to hand over to her teachers.  It seems that she is basically trying to make a deal that will suit her.  It is up to Sophronia and her gang of misfits (Dimity and her brother Pillover (from a criminal family), Sidhag (from a family of werewolves), Vieve (mechanical genius, tomboy), Soap (coal boy or sootie and black) and her mechanimal dog Bumbersnoot to save the day.

The author creates a wonderful kalidescope of a world with automatons, flying dirigibles, vampire teachers, and googles, as well as tea sets, balls, and carriages!  I could not put this book down and read it in one day!  I can’t wait for the sequel Curtsies and Conspiracies, to come out soon!  I am definitely a steampunk girl!

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A Sliver of Jade, A Handful of Silver

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Thank you to NetGalley.com and Scholastic for this advanced copy! 

 

As most Chinese and part-Chinese people, we take our Chinese Zodiac sign seriously.  I’m an Earth Monkey and my younger son is a Water Monkey and although we are similar in the sense that we are funny and clever as well as other Monkey traits, we are different.  I can also admit that I am secretly happy that he is also a Monkey and that I have someone who understands me.

 

I was thus intrigued by the premise of this YA historical novel.  We have a young woman, Jade Moon, who is inauspiciously born a Fire Horse and must carry the burden of being judged by her birth year.  I felt for her as she was constantly told that this was the reason why she was constantly at odds with people, why she would never fit in, why she would never hope to marry above a fourth son who would work her to the bone.  I wanted to know more about her.

 

 

 

It seems that Jade Moon’s father’s and grandfather’s wishes are granted with the appearance of the curiously-named Sterling Promise.  He had come with the most unusual request: he needs Jade Moon’s father to pose as his long-absent younger brother so that Sterling is able to get into America as his “Paper Son.”  A bargain is struck, and Jade Moon accompanies them on the long voyage overseas.  But before she goes, their longtime servant Nushi bestows on her a sliver of jade which she wears around her neck and her parting words about “how dangerous desperation can be.”  

 

In no time, Jade Moon comes to see how prophetic those words are when the trio are detained on Angel Island which is the “Ellis Island” of the West.  Much of our heroine’s growth towards maturity happens in the ensuing quarter of a year that they are made to wait, with the tantalizing glimpse of the mainland (and the American Dream) so close, yet so far away.  Jade gets to know a number of the other women like Spring Blossom who are also waiting in limbo and I was caught up with their individual stories as well.  

 

The art and power of storytelling help Jade in a myriad of ways: from making friends to seeking solace to keeping dreams alive.  One story in particular runs throughout the novel. The reader becomes well versed in the tale of the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd who are keep apart and yet live for those precious moments they are allowed to be together across the huge divide.  One can’t help but look at Jade Moon and Sterling Promise and wonder if they will ever be like their literary counterparts.  It is almost impossible due to Sterling Promises’ shifty nature and Jade Moon’s obstinate personality.

 

Jade is later moved to action when she is betrayed by Sterling Promise and must make a choice between being true to herself or being a dutiful daughter and returning to China.  Jade Moon comes to realize that the American Dream may be true for some people, but not those attempting to immigrate, least of all a Fire Horse girl.  Sterling Promise tells her  “that you will not have to kick at the walls of a prison anymore.  Those walls may stretch and shrink, but they will always be there.  You can never have the complete freedom you imagine.” In stark contrast, she thinks, “It had to be the place I imagined, because I had nothing else.” 

 

Jade attempts to change her luck by disguising herself as a young man (a la Rosalind in  ‘As You Like It’) and is taken in by Henry and his father, Mr. Hon, who turns out to lead one of the most powerful tongs (associations which turned into syndicates).  Mr. Hon looks at the newly-minted Sung Fire Horse and sees potential.  He makes sure that Sung learns more English and how the operation works.  He even has Neil, his Irish bodyguard, give Sung fighting lessons in preparation for who knows what.  

 

This second act moves quickly as it becomes more fraught with tension.  Will anyone discover Jade Moon’s secret?  Will Sterling Promise retaliate?  Will Jade Moon ever find the freedom and understanding she seeks?    

 

The author Kay Honeyman did extensive research in preparation of this novel and it shows.  I was immersed in this world and it was due to all of the little details that made this time come alive.  I was with Jade Moon as she looked up at the confessional poems written in the men’s barracks on Angel Island and was horrified that there were only two reasons a father brought his daughter to America: To marry her off to a stranger or to sell her into prostitution.  Her lyrical way with words is attested by the quotes, too numerous to use in this review, that I highlighted in my text.  

 

I was equally engaged in the appendices and explanations that Honeyman had at the end of the work.  It is a great YA novel as it has everything: an adventure, a coming-of-age, a history lesson, a love story, and a call to action to fight whatever is holding you down.  

 

After reaching the conclusion, I remembered that early in the tale, Jade Moon, upon seeing Sterling Promises’ fireworks states: “They [the fireworks] were like tiny promises that blossomed into tremendous things, like seeds that grew into trees, a drop of ink that birthed a poem, a dream nurtured into a life.” Like Fa Mulan and the Cinderella in the film ‘Ever After,’ this description fits Jade Moon/Sung Fire Horse perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Doubling My Time! My first “two reviews in one day” special!

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I get seriously happy when my reading is firing on all cylinders!  I usually read four books at a time and it can get bogged down.  Today I finished not one, but two novels and I have the luxury of doing my second review in a single day!

I read my first Mitch Albom when the lone male in our Mililani High Book Club, Jason, suggested we read ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven.’ It was short and quick, but very profound.  Jason asked us to state who the five people we thought we would meet in heaven would be and why.  An amazing discussion unfolded.

So I looked at this new book as something that would be as deep.

And it was.

The novel (with 81 short chapters) was structured with three divergent storylines.  One back in Biblical times and two people (an old man and a teenaged girl) today.  I wondered how these three very different people could even meet, let alone be woven together.

Dor is very unusual in his village. He doesn’t want to farm or to fight; he would rather spend his days counting, be it the passage of the sun through a day or drops of water as they drip from one bowl to another.  He is a dreamer.  He is visionary.  The only person who can bring him out of his contemplative reverie is his love, Ali.  He promises to shower her with silver, but of course, he isn’t able to.  But, silver is not important to Ali.  She just wants to spend her time with Dor.  After being exiled by his childhood friend and King, Nim (of the Tower of Babel fame) for not agreeing to work for him, Dor and Ali. relocate and create an isolated life for themselves while leaving their three children behind with relatives.

Later Dor promises to stop time for a now dying Ali, he finds that one must be careful of what one’s wishes for.  He is Father Time and lives many a millennium trapped in a cave that only allows him to hear the pleas of people who wish to control Time themselves.  He is taxed with helping two people; one who wishes for time to stop and one who wishes for it to go on forever.

This is where Victor, one of the world’s most wealthiest men and Sara, a very intelligent, yet alienated senior in high school come in.  We follow both of their story lines and are not sure which story is more compelling.  We feel for Sara as she falls in love with someone so out of her sphere that we can all foretell the massive crash her falling heart will suffer.  Victor, on his last lap, has one month left to live.  He is the person most used to being in control and wants to have dominion over death and time–no matter the cost. He has “a plan.” He has “paperwork.” He wants to engineer the best deal of his life or afterlife you might say.

All three characters collide on a cold and snowy evening when Dor realizes that he must act and step out from just being an observer.  These two people need him, even if they don’t know it yet.  Dor was such an interesting character since he learned as much (if not even more) as Victor and Sara did about Life, Death, and Time.  It is all about perspective.  It is all about giving up control.

I liked how Albom manipulated time in the novel and the symbol of the hourglass as representative of when the earth and the sky meet.  I’m glad that I won’t have to be a recluse in a quiet hermitage to learn that “Time flies when I’m with you.”  Finally, excuse the cliche’, but this novel is truly timeless in the life lessons it teaches and we need to sit up and pay attention.  Especially when we only have one chance (unlike these three characters) to get it right.

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