Monday, May 26, 2014

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets -- Real, Intense, and a Worthwhile Read

I had never heard of Evan Roskos before reading Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, but I now know that he has a gift.

This book tells the story of James Whitman, a teenager trying to make sense of his emotions and family. Equipped with a copy of Whitman's work, he manages to find and write the poetry of his life as it unfolds before him.

Like Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, this book felt real and it was honest. The ups and the downs were reminiscent of my own teenage life. Although I never hugged a tree to find comfort during stressful times, I know the feeling of frustration when a girl you like can't return the feelings, parents never seem to understand your point of view, and when you blame yourself for things that you could have prevented. I felt James' pain as he tried to figure out what happened to his sister, Jorie, who was expelled and moved out of her parents' house. I felt James' pain again as he risked friendships to finds answers to questions that he so desperately needed answers to. There were so many times that I had to stop and say that I, too, had been in situations similar to James'.

And this book served as a reminder that our lives are so full of poetry. My favorite part was the ending, but it wouldn't have been as meaningful had I not been along for James' journey of self- and familial exploration. The ending served as a reminder that we should, in Whitman fashion, celebrate ourselves and everything around us--even when we think there is nothing to celebrate.

I Told Myself I Wouldn't Buy a Book

Our senior prom was in the opposite location of my home, so I decided to kill time at Barnes & Noble. Before going in, I vowed that I wouldn't purchase a book because I had a box full of books from the recent Scholastic sale in my trunk. I held out for an hour, and then I gave in.

I walked the shelves. I had my phone in hand, and I was adding many titles to my to-read list on my GoodReads account. (Students, if you don't have one and your parents will allow you, sign up for one!)

And then I stumbled upon Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. The cover looked interesting enough, and I've been on the lookout for a while for a book that would interest my students that read Boy21, Foul Trouble, and other books that are about basketball. With my phone still out, I looked up the reviews on GoodReads, and I knew I had to get this book.

I ended up sitting in the parking lot for an hour before prom just reading this book. It is a verse novel, which I like because it allows me to help bridge genres for students. If they can read about something they like, they are more likely to attempt a new genre--even if it's poetry.

The book is about two twin brothers, Josh and JB, who are the sons of a former European league basketball star. It tells the story of their middle school basketball season, and it is broken into four quarters. It also explores the story of their relationship to each other, their father, and explains how they navigate the world. Basketball acts as a sort of center, a sphere, that helps "ground" Josh while he makes sense of the many changes taking place in his life. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"[T]he unexplainable world is constant and forever marching forward."

I've liked Matt de la Peña since I read Mexican WhiteBoy and Ball Don't Lie. Many of his books are about finding one's identity, and that is something that I find to be so important in the work that I do as a high school English teacher.

This novel was unlike de la Peña's other works. It was intense, and it read more like a thriller. I found myself staying up into the night to finish this book. I wanted--I needed--to know what would happen to Shy after the cruise liner he was working on was hit by a tsunami. I found myself making predictions on every page, trying to connect it to other adventure novels I'd read and TV shows that I watch.

There are so many reasons why students should read this book. In particular, I like the way that de la Peña was able to explore themes of greed and class differences in subtle ways. He really revealed how complex human interaction can be, as Shy, the protagonist that lives in a poor neighborhood near San Diego, interacts with Addie, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. More importantly, the language felt real. I remember being a teenager, and the voice seems so authentic at times. You feel as if you are inside Shy's head as he interacts with characters and reflects on the dire situations he finds himself in.

I can honestly say that I'm looking forward to the sequel to this novel, The Hunted, that is to be released this fall!

You might like this book if you've read Yann Martel's Life of Pi, as it deals with survival on the open sea, or The Walking Dead, as the novel has a similar plot line where a deadly disease has begun to take over.

For more reading, check out Matt de la Peña's NPR interview here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A title that caught my eye: RATS SAW GOD

I didn't buy this book for myself; I bought it for a student. He was struggling to find a book that he wanted to read, and I was struggling recommending titles for him. I can't remember the name of the series he enjoyed in middle school, but he described how he enjoyed them so much that he read the entire series. I knew then that we had something we could work with. 

Using, we were able to enter in the title of his beloved series, and Rob Thomas' novel appeared in the results, along with another book. He chose to read the other text when it arrived, and I wanted to know more about this quirkily titled text. 

Meet Steve York. His dad is an astronaut, and his parents are recently divorced. Over the course of the novel, you find out that Steve is coping with said parents' divorce, and his grades have plummeted. Writing this novel is his counselor's last-ditch effort to grant him the necessary credit that he needs to graduate. 

The book resonated with me because it told the story of so many of my own students. They are more than just the kids I teach; they are people. And those people have busy lives with so many forces pushing and pulling them. Like Steve, so many of them have so much potential, but there are obstacles they must overcome--and want to overcome--in order to succeed. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Commence Writing about Reading

As a lifelong reader and learner, I believe in choice. Research shows choice improves student achievement, and students have demonstrated a remarkable ability to choose texts that interest them throughout the 2013-2014 school year.

Students and I want to keep those conversations going. 

Commence "343 Reads." The success of this blog rests upon the shoulders of the students that have graciously volunteered to contribute by posting at least one entry about a book they read during the summer.