Sunday, May 31, 2015

Wild (Cheryl Strayed)

Good Reads summary:

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wildpowerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. 

This book is a story of a woman trying find herself. After her mother's death, breakdown of her marriage and sibling relationships, she decides it is time to go find herself by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. 

P. 31 Blood is thicker than water, my mother had always said when I was growing up, a sentiment I'd often disputed. But it turned out it didn't matter whether she was right or wrong. They both flowed out of my cupped palms.

It took me way longer to read this book than it should have. I kept having to put it down because Cheryl Strayed stressed me out! 

I was disturbed by things this girl did and I worried about her....I had to take breaks but I also couldn't stop reading. I had to make sure she was going to be okay. From riding with hitch hikers to losing her boot and walking in duct tape to having no money to waking up to being covered in frogs to sex with strangers (although, there isn't as much of that as I originally worried) to losing her toenails. I reeled at the way she chose to make connections:

P. 269  Speaking of her mother: It felt like she was with me always, metaphorically at least. And in a way it was literal too. When we'd finally laid down that tombstone and spread her ashes into the dirt, I hadn't spread them all. I'd kept a few of the largest chunks in my hand. I'd stood for a long while, not ready to release theem to the earth. I didn't release them. I never would.
I put her burnt bones into my mouth and swallowed them whole.

The story starts off with her mother dying. I read that chapter as my mother was in the hospital getting a pacemaker. I had to take a break from reading because the idea of losing one's mother was a little too real in that moment. 

Her stories of what life was like with her siblings seemed so (potentially) real to me. It was heartbreaking. Her mother dying fractured her family.

She talked about getting divorced from her husband even though she loved him. She respected him. He felt the same about her, it seems - but somehow their life fell apart. Her story seemed so real and so relatable. It is frightening how quickly life and marriage can unravel. 

Cheryl Strayed has a great talent for evoking emotion. When I read about how fun her step dad was when they first met him, I smiled and laughed out loud. When I read about her having to put her mother's horse down I felt like I had to turn away. I was horrified. 

There was great symbolism as well. The pack that she carries is way to heavy for her - symbolic, I think of how she carried emotions way too heavy for herself as well.

So much regret in this book. She remembers her mother, on her deathbed, bemoaning the fact that she was always responsible towards someone, whether it was as a daughter, wife or mother:
P. 273 "I never got to be in the drivers seat of my own life," she'd wept to me.....I've never just been me."

Cheryl, in the other hand, learns to be comfortable with and by herself. That was one great triumph of her experience: 
...I liked him perhaps a thousand times.....For once I didn't ache for a companion. For once the phrase a woman with a hole in her heart didn't thunder in my head. That phrase, it didn't even live for me anymore.

Re: drugs and finding herself while on the trail p. 290 I'd finally come to understand that what it had. Been: a yearning for a way out, when actually what I had wanted was to find a way in. I was there now. Or close.

This is a great story. I totally recommend it, if you can hack the journey!

Warning: swearing is kind of commonplace in this book. While the author doesn't describe sex scenes in detail, there are a number of instances of casual sex

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pinduli (Janell Cannon) picture has the paper strip I put on all library books in my classroom. 
Oh well!

What a beautiful story! The illustrations are amazing. There is a little bit of challenging vocabulary interspersed. I read it to my class while they were eating and everyone, even my 'I really am not interested in stories' kids were glued to it. Good lessons on character....sometimes people do mean things because something has happened to them. We have had a few conversations in class lately about context and how the context can help you understand a difficult word (or a tricky situation). This is a great example of that concept.

Good Reads summary: 

Pinduli's mama has always told her that she's the most beautiful hyena ever. But Dog, Lion, and Zebra don't think so. Why else would they make her feel so rotten about her big ears, her fuzzy mane, and her wiggly stripes? Poor Pinduli just wants to disappear--and she tries everything she can think of to make that happen. Yet nothing goes her way. Nothing, that is, until a case of mistaken identity lets her show the creatures of the African savanna how a few tiny words--bad or good--can create something enormous.

Janell Cannon, the creator of the bestselling Stellaluna, introduces yet another endearing character in this triumphant story about self-image, self-acceptance, and treating others with respect.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Flora and Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo)

I watched the live podcast of the ALA awards this week and felt pretty smug when the book I was reading won the Newbery Award. Yea Kate DiCamillo! I was very excited to tell my Gr. 3 Book Club kids, who were also reading one of her books, that she won the Newbery Award. I don't think they were as impressed. I must work on helping these kids to understand what a big deal that is.

As I read this book, I often found myself giggling. The characters are quirky and quite hilarious. The plot is simple and silly. I gazed over the illustrations - something I don't normally spend a lot of time on, but they really are terrific. There are regular black and white illustrations, and comic book style pages interjected here and there to move the story along.

I think this book would be best for div 2 elementary kids, or perhaps really good readers in Gr. 2 or 3. I'm not even sure it would work that well generally as a read aloud in Gr. 3. However, for the right group of kids, I think it would be a laugh out loud adventure. I would definitely want to use the document camera on my smart board so the kids could get a good look at the fantastic illustrations are well as the comic strip pages. This is a book that has a simple, kid appropriate story, but would stretch them some as well as it has some great vocabulary to take in (malfeasance and treacle, for example!)

Goodreads summary: 

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell.

Quotes I loved:

When I read this I thought My children are squirrels!
Chapter 2 The Mind of a Squirrel
Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel.Huge portions of what is loosely termed "the squirrel brain" are given over to one thought: food.The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: I wonder what there is to eat.This "thought" is then repeated with small variations (e.g. Where's the food? Man, I sure am hungry. Is that a piece of food? and Are there more pieces of food?) some six or seven thousand times a day. All of this is to say that when the squirrel in the Tickhams' backyard got swallowed up by the Ulysses 2000X, there weren't a lot of terribly profound thoughts going through his head.As the vacuum cleaner roared toward him, he did not (for instance) think, Here, at least, is my fave come to meet me!  He did not think, Oh, please, give me one more change and I will be good. What he thought was Man, I sure am hungry.And there was a terrible roar, and he was sucked right off his feet.
At that point, there were no thoughts in his squirrel head, not even of food.

The main character, Flora, has some hilarious things she says. She is obsessed with the awful things that can happen because of a book she read called The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! She often says, "Holy unanticipated occurrences!" and "Holy Bagumba!" I plan to use these phrases more in my life!

Flora is highly dramatic. She reminds me a little of Anne of Green Gables. And her parents are, well, odd. Her mother writes romance novels, and her father, George, is a stiff and proper man who introduces himself every time he enters a room, as though he has never met you before. They're divorced.

Chapter 23 Enter the VillainFlora's mother cleared her throat. She uttered the blood soaked words again. She said them louder. She said them more slowly. "You put the squirrel in the sack, George. You hit the squirrel over the head with the shovel." She paused. "And then," she said, "you use the shovel to bury the squirrel.""Put the squirrel in a sack? Hit the squirrel over the head with a shovel?" said Flora's father in a squeaky, despairing voice. "Oh, Phyllis. Oh, Phyllis, no.""Yes," said Flora's mother. "It's the humans thing to do."Flora understood that she had made a mistake in thinking that William Spiver was anybody important.Everything was coming into sharp and terrifying focus; the story was starting to make sense: Ulysses was a superhero (probably), and Phyllis Buckman was his arch-nemesis (definitely).Holy unanticipated occurrences!

At one point Flora is in a restaurant with her dad, and the squirrel is in a box on her lap.

Chapter 29 Cootchie-Coo"Whatcha got there?" asked Rita."Where?" said Flora."In the box," said Rita. "Got a baby doll in the box? Are you talking to your baby doll?""Talking to my baby doll" said Flora. She felt a flush of outrage crawl up her cheeks. For the love of Pete! She was ten years old, almost eleven. she knew how to administer CPR. she knew how to outwit an arch-nemesis. She was acquainted with the profound importance of seal blubber. She was the sidekick to a superhero.Plus she was a cynic.What self-respecting cynic would carry around a doll in a shoe box?"I do not," said Flora. "Have. A. Baby. Doll.""Let me see her," said Rita. "Don't be shy."
 ...that is, as you can imagine, when all hell breaks loose.

Updated: Re-read May 2015

I love how Kate DiCamillo doesn't dumb down books for kids. She challenges kids by using big words and great vocabulary. I learned some great words reading this book: malfeasance, euphemistically, arch nemesis, surreptitiously and treacle. 

While it has a child's perspective, it is also entertaining for adults. This book is quite unlike her other books - lots of silliness. Well, maybe I take that back. Mercy Watson has lots of silliness too. I kind of had to wonder, when reading it this time, if Flora and William Spiver perhaps are in the spectrum. I love their unique characters.

I was less impressed with how Flora's parents seem to get back together in the end (or was I just assuming that?). 

The Night I Followed My Dog (Nina Laden)

Lots of silliness. We used this story for teaching reality versus fantasy. Good vocabulary words. Great imaginative story. Who doesn't wonder what their dog does when they think you're not looking?!

Goodreads Summary:
"I have a dog. Nothing exotic or special, just an ordinary dog. In fact, I always thought he was a boring dog. What I mean is, he can fetch, roll over, and shake hands, but mostly he sleeps and eats." 
Or so the little boy in this story thinks, until one morning when he opens the door a little early and sees his dog jump out of a limousine. That night he decides to follow his dog, and that's when the fun starts. 
Before he knows it, he has entered the little known world of doggy glamour. His dog, distinctly reminiscent of Humphrey Bogart, treats him to a nighttime adventure where he learns where dogs go to relax and sees what they do while their masters are fast asleep. A terrific read aloud, Nina Laden's story will have everyone captivated by the coolest dog around.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Fine, Fine School (Sharon Creech)

This reminded me of The Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler:

Claudia is telling Mrs. Frankweiler that you should try to learn something every day:

"No," I answered, "I don't agree with that. I think that you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to well up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, that you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

Goodreads summary:

One day, Mr. Keene called all the students and teachers together and said, "This is a fine, fine school! From now on, let's have school on Saturdays too."And then there was more.

School all weekend.School on the holidays.

School in the SUMMER!

What was next . . .


So it's up to Tillie to show her well-intentioned principal, Mr. Keene, that even though his fine, fine school is a wonderful place, it's not fine, fine to be there all the time.

This would be a great story for before a long break or an end of year story. Learning is important, and it doesn't just happen in the classroom.

This would also be a great book for predicting because it has a pattern, then the pattern changes and if kids are paying attention they'll notice it.