Category: Reading Picks

Woot!  Made it in one piece.  I trust that your Monday was most marvelous, even if you had to go a whole day without my judgmental, raised eyebrow.

Before the reminders, just a note – please feel free to reach out to me this week through the school e-mail or the Remind App.  As I warned you, I will be away from grading this week, but I can still hear your questions, updates, and arguments as to why you should get extra credit/Vegas goodies/Time and Space considerations, etc.

On to your shameless check-ins!

9th: Did you enjoy Peter and the Wolf?!  I love it.  Make sure your Viewer’s Guide notes are in by the end of the week, or else you’ll be seeing this face when I get back in.

The stare already lives in your nightmares.
The stare already lives in your nightmares.

12th: How did I miss this opportunity last week in our Arthurian adventures?!

Maybe it fits into your Unit 1 Project on the cultural legacy of Arthur in British Literature.  Or you can just get Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes treatment on this year too, in pre-medieval times.  With monsters!

1010: Is the snark boiling over in class yet this week?!  Keep it respectful, but get ready to amp up your character cards in that Town Hall.  For some additional help, here’s a link to the original article’s comment section on The Atlantic.  Maybe you’ll get some good arguments to try in class!  I haven’t previewed them all of course, so I do not condone any comments by trolls you may find.

Not those kinds. Avoid these too.
Not these kinds.  Avoid these too.

Read Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge instead.  Read anything by Neil Gaiman.  Everything.

That’s it!  Stay tuned for tomorrow, and keep at it!

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Admin Field Trips Monsters Reading Picks

Banned Books Week 2015, courtesy ala.org/bbooks
Banned Books Week 2015, courtesy ala.org/bbooks

Every year, the last week in September becomes the focal point for a concerted effort to celebrate the freedom to read.  In this country, the First Amendment’s right to free speech must contend with a long history of censorship – promoted by individuals, organizations, and government.  Banned Books Week is organized by the American Library Association (ALA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and a host of non-profits, publishers, and legal defense funds.  It is supported by myself, among much of the reading world, and, through this week’s Extra Credit opportunity, by you!

(Check out this cool infographic to learn more: courtesy of Electric Literature)

To receive Extra Credit for Banned Books Week, you must choose one of the following options, and use professional images, symbols, designs, or media:

A) Create a Poster to celebrate the week, using the three requirements below:

B) Create a Handout to share information about banned and challenged books, using these criteria:

  • A list of frequently challenged books (Here’s a resource from the ALA)
  • Reasons why books are often challenged (Resources from the Huffington Post, in 2012 and 2014)
  • A checklist of frequently challenged books – check off as many as you’ve read!

C) Compose a 1 page essay (typed – 12pt font, TNR, double-spaced) on To Kill a Mockingbird as a challenged book.  Why (and where/when) has it frequently been challenged?  What might be ironic about wanting this book censored?  What is your reflection on reading the book – how might you oppose or defend a challenge to this book at our school?

Whichever option you choose, it must be submitted by the end of the week, Friday, September 30.  To be eligible, you must follow the requirements for each option, as well as aim for professional quality (Mom would put it on the fridge, and so would I!).  Successful efforts will be awarded 20pts, and above-average efforts 30pts (each option is worth more than a homework assignment!).  If nothing else, you can celebrate this week by finishing TKAM, and moving on to a new book which, having been published, probably has found someone to challenge it by now!

F(READ)OM!!

Courtesy @BannedBooksWeek on Twitter.
Courtesy @BannedBooksWeek on Twitter.
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Admin Class Resources Reading Picks

Women are awesome!  Some people aren’t aware, apparently.  That’s why March is designated Women’s History Month.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if someday we can collectively remember that history has been made by women, too – so you can do your part by checking out the titles below!

The Princess and the Pony. Kate Beaton. Arthur A. Levine Books. 2015.
The Princess and the Pony. Kate Beaton. Arthur A. Levine Books. 2015.

Kate Beaton is the magnificent wit behind the webcomic series Hark! A Vagrant, which has been printed in a few best-selling books (and also isn’t appropriate for all ages, especially because some killjoys detest constant giggling).  The Princess and the Pony, great for kids and adults, tells the story of Princess Pinecone, who wants a noble warhorse to ride into Viking-style violence.  For her birthday she gets instead a flatulent, rotund pony.  What happens next is funny and feminist.  Available from Scholastic Book Orders for $4!

Rad American Women A-Z. Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl. City Lights. 2015.
Rad American Women A-Z. Kate Schatz & Miriam Klein Stahl. City Lights. 2015.

Revolution begins at home!  America may be relatively young on the world stage, but its women have radically changed history.  The 26 women profiled in this book represent science, entertainment, athletics, innovation, exploration – basically all the walks of life that make our country what it is.  Kate Schatz writes the profiles, and Miriam Klein Stahl provides each illustration.  Available from Scholastic for $7, this pocket-sized guide is perfect for bite-sized, yet larger-than-life, world-widening.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World. Rachel Swaby. Broadway Books. 2015.
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World. Rachel Swaby. Broadway Books. 2015.

Rachel Swaby was inspired to write this informative, invigorating collection of women inventors, scientists, and explorers after seeing too many get short shrift in their obituaries.  Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter and – more importantly – the world’s first computer programmer (in the 1840s!), is included.  As is Hedy Lamarr, scintillating movie star and also pioneer in radar technology.  And those are just the most famous faces.  This book captures the sentiment of the women’s history movement succinctly: the stories have been there all along, but someone *forgot* to tell the whole truth.  We owe it to ourselves to fix that.  Read well – it’s the best provision for changing your life.

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Reading Picks Threads

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Seth Grahame-Smith.  Quirk Classics.  2009.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Seth Grahame-Smith. Quirk Classics. 2009.

Ah, February.  For many, the month brings to mind snowdrifts, Valentines, and the peculiarity of a short month made a little longer every four years.  But for others, February is about a different kind of romance – the marriage of classic literature and “ultraviolent zombie mayhem”. To wit, 2013 offered Warm Bodies, a film – based on a book – based on Romeo and Juliet (plus zombies).  This Friday marks the release of an undead, overdue film – based on a book – that may have started it all: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  While the film itself should be a delight (for those who like proper English ladies unsheathing decapitations upon dreadful Satan-spawn), the source material is not to be missed either.

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also penned Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), this novel comes from one of my favorite publishers Quirk Books, purveyor of all things interesting, literary, and, well, quirky (see: William Shakespeare’s Star WarsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and Horrorstör, to name a few).  Although eminently readable for its funniness and formally choreographed carnage, the genius behind PPZ is its authenticity in tone to Jane Austen’s 1813 original.  The manners and style that so occupy the Bennet sisters are retained, only now the ladies must sharpen swords and their martial arts skills in addition to proper dance form and social etiquette.  Also, the addition of “the dreadfuls” may clarify, for modern readers, some of the context and inferred elements of the novel, adding an undead focus.

p. 15 - "Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie as they went."  Illustrations by Philip Smiley.
p. 15 – “Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie as they went.” Illustrations by Philip Smiley.

The zombie trend, in my opinion, may have largely run its course.  Walking undead, such as vampires and zombies, aren’t really my thing, at least.  However, there is an undeniable appeal in the zeitgeist in imagining an endless horde of mindless consumers slowly, but surely, eroding the fabric of society.  Perhaps it was the same in Regency England!  If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em…er, join ’em.  For Brit. Lit. students, please consider PPZ as an option for the Unit 4 novels (or seek out sequels and spinoffs such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters or Android Karenina). There may also be an extra credit opportunity for using the movie as an excuse to get literary – as if you needed one!

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Monsters Reading Picks

I'll Give You The Sun. Jandy Nelson. Dial Books. 2014.
I’ll Give You The Sun. Jandy Nelson. Dial Books. 2014.

This incredible novel is available in the school library again, but I expect it will be checked out soon!  How I managed to grab it for a quick reread is an unfathomable mystery, but a happy opportunity for me to revisit Jandy Nelson’s second book.  Nelson is an incredible talent, and well-deserving of the praise she, and this imaginative, artistic novel, have received.  This is a young adult book in terms of characters and setting, but the language and conviction are definitely skewed for older, retrospective readers.

Jude and Noah are twins, and each tells half of the story in this novel.  Noah’s story describes age 13, when each sibling begins branching out and staking a claim – for art, for romance, for themselves.  Jude’s story is set three years later, and by age 16 both twins have seen their worlds dramatically change.  They’re barely speaking, but somewhere in the space between them are the answers and truths to bridge their fractured universes.  A good novel convinces you to like the protagonists.  In reading this novel – no exaggeration! – I fell in love with the characters.  Nelson captures the voices and personalities of these people so well that it feels like the high school story you never had, but would have jumped for without another thought.

In addition to the characterization and powerful themes, this novel has electric language.  The figurative voice – invisible museums and kaleidoscopic connections – is in the upper echelon of great writers.  It’s John Green on hyperdrive, soaked in Neruda and Whitman.  That said, Nelson is of her own, and you will undoubtedly fall hard for her, Noah, and Jude (especially Jude).  Get ahead of the cultural momentum and read this book before it explodes onto the scene!

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Reading Picks Uncategorized

The Martian. Andy Weir. 2011. Cover Art: Eric White. Crown Publishing 2014.
The Martian. Andy Weir. 2011. Cover Art: Eric White. Crown Publishing 2014.

One of the best-reviewed books of 2014 is now one of the best movies out this year.  It isn’t hard to see why: astronaut Mark Watney, botanist on the third manned-mission to Mars, is presumed dead after a fierce storm forces the emergency departure of the rest of his crew.  Watney’s not dead, however, but he soon will be if he doesn’t figure out how to solve his food crisis, find a way to contact NASA, plan a way to leave the planet’s surface, and basically survive in an environment incompatible to human life.  It’s a suspenseful read, made more invigorating by Watney’s gallows humor and MacGyver-like acumen.

Author Andy Weir is a former software engineer and NASA junkie, and it cannot be emphasized enough how authentic the depictions in the novel are.  Except for the whole “we-haven’t-gotten-to-Mars-yet” thing, this book is one of the most realistic science-fiction books available now.  It’s so realistic that it’s only sci-fi by technicality – I would file it next to the survival skills handbooks in your library.  Truly, one of the best aspects about this novel (and the movie adaptation) is the free PR it provides for a mind of scientific inquiry.  Not to knock my beloved field of English, but if I was on Mars I wouldn’t stand a chance with only HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs as my “experts” .  This book is good enough to make you pursue a career in STEM, if only to increase your livability as a Martian.

The movie is also impeccable, directed by Ridley Scott with Matt Damon starring as Watney.  Both the film and the book earn a PG-13 rating, for scenes of peril and the use of mature language (being trapped in life-threatening situations can do that to you).  You can pick this one up at any bookstore, the county library, and my now-treasured class copy.  Earthlings might be setting foot on the Red Planet sometime this century, so read this book: it may save your life.

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Reading Picks

Banned Books Week 2015, courtesy ala.org/bbooks
Banned Books Week 2015, courtesy ala.org/bbooks

Every year, the last week in September becomes the focal point for a concerted effort to celebrate the freedom to read.  In this country, the First Amendment’s right to free speech must contend with a long history of censorship – promoted by individuals, organizations, and government.  Banned Books Week is organized by the American Library Association (ALA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and a host of non-profits, publishers, and legal defense funds.  It is supported by myself, among much of the reading world, and, through this week’s Extra Credit opportunity, by you!

To receive Extra Credit for Banned Books Week, you must choose one of the following options, and use professional images, symbols, designs, or media:

A) Create a Poster to celebrate the week, using the three requirements below:

  • Include the title Banned Books Week, in flashy color/font to catch the attention of passerby
  • Include a quote about censorship from this video provided by Simon & Schuster Books: Celebrate the Freedom to Read
  • Include suggestions on how to celebrate Banned Books Week in school or at home

B) Create a Handout to share information about banned and challenged books, using these criteria:

  • A list of frequently challenged books (Here’s a resource from the ALA)
  • Reasons why books are often challenged (Resources from the Huffington Post, in 2012 and 2014)
  • A checklist of frequently challenged books – check off as many as you’ve read!

C) Compose a 1 page essay (typed – 12pt font, TNR, double-spaced) on To Kill a Mockingbird as a challenged book.  Why (and where/when) has it frequently been challenged?  What might be ironic about wanting this book censored?  What is your reflection on reading the book – how might you oppose or defend a challenge to this book at our school?

Whichever option you choose, it must be submitted by the end of the day Thursday, October 1.  To be eligible, you must follow the requirements for each option, as well as aim for professional quality (Mom would put it on the fridge, and so would I!).  Successful efforts will be awarded 20pts, and above-average efforts 30pts (each option is worth more than a homework assignment!).  If nothing else, you can celebrate this week by finishing TKAM, and moving on to a new book which, having been published, probably has found someone to challenge it by now!

F(READ)OM!!

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Admin Class Resources Reading Picks

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press. 2011
A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness. Candlewick Press. 2011

I’m in the midst of grad school books (in addition to my upkeep with To Kill a Mockingbird and Beowulf), so there isn’t much to share in my current readings that most students would be interested in.  Conversations in the senior classes, however, reminded me of a very, very good book I picked up in our school library a few years ago that is perfectly timed for the change in seasons.  If you aren’t already excited to read this month’s pick by the compelling cover art alone, the above book should appeal to you for many, marvelous reasons.  Not least of which is the promise of the title – indeed, A Monster Calls (from Candlewick Press, 2011).

A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd, a famed, prize-winning British writer of young adult fiction who died from a severe case of breast cancer in 2007.  Her (unfortunately) short list of completed works were widely recognized by literary awards, including the Carnegie, which is the British version of the Newbery Medal.  In the words of Patrick Ness, who completed this story: “She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning.  What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.”  Ness, author of the Chaos Walking series, picked up her idea and ran with it to a Carnegie Medal of his own for this novella, which details the troubled nights of Conor – a 13-year-old boy with an ailing mother and an inhuman visitor.

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls.
Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls.

The Monster in this book is of the Wild – a creature of the thresholds who is literally made of the natural world, visiting Conor each night seven minutes after twelve.  The creature is vividly brought to life in award-winning illustrations by Jim Kay, and the images blend seamlessly into the words much as the natural world slowly encroaches on our own concept of “safe” “civilization”.  The theme of slow, inexorable changes settles in the pages: in Conor’s attitude, his mother’s health, and the changing role of the monster who visits Conor night after night, stories in hand.

Storytelling is the one of the main takeaways of this novel, which addresses all of the English classes this year.  I won’t say any more about this book in the hopes that you will check it out for yourself for a monstrously-good read in this most exciting of seasons.  Again, the book is available in our own school library, as are the Chaos Walking books, and a host of other Carnegie winners (and fantasy/young adult fiction books).  If nothing else has you looking for this pick, think of it as a chance to read it before it gets cool – the upcoming movie adaptation is due October 2016, written by Ness, and starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones.

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12th Grade: European Literature 9th Grade: Intro to Literature Reading Picks

Sailor Twain. Mark Siegel. FirstSecond. 2012
Sailor Twain. Mark Siegel. FirstSecond. 2012

As you can expect, reading is a big part of my summer break. I mean, it’s a big part of my day at any point in the year, but in the summer I can read a lot more of what I consider to be fun. (I still enjoy reading in the school year, when I’m absorbing the same works you students do, as well as my grad school and professional readings – but here I get a little more choice!) What I don’t do often is reread a book shortly after I’ve finished it. Who has the time? One of the best exceptions to this rule, and one of the best reads I had this summer, was in Mark Siegel’s graphic novel Sailor Twain (from First Second, 2012).

Sailor Twain is centered on Elijah Twain, the writer-captain of a Hudson River steamship in the 1880s. (Twain, by the by, is of no relation to the author, who our captain must frustratingly point out is actually a Mr. Clemens.) Joining the bedeviled sailor is the ship’s gruff and motley crew, including the womanizing owner of the ship, Lafayette, as well as a foul-mouthed helmsman, two stowaways, a mysterious engineer, and a various assortment of New York passengers (keep an eye out for cameos from the likes of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Stephen King!). And, of course, there is the mermaid of the full title, who Twain must decide is either savior or siren.

Available at the Laramie County Library, this text holds many epic qualities: an expansive and realized cast of characters, elements of fantasy interwoven in spirituality, and a portrait of near-mythic America on the Hudson River. As a work of historical fiction, the world of the narrative is well centered in established movements and attitudes of America’s Gilded Age. What’s more, the artwork – almost entirely in charcoal – is evocative and symbolic. The rainy atmosphere and river setting were easily imagined despite our dusty August heat. Most importantly, Siegel’s use of motif, ambiguity, and doubling are absorbing. You are almost obligated to reread the novel to add your newfound evidence to the intricate clues.

This novel is definitely for mature readers (sexuality, complexity, language), but is my August pick for seniors to read, for two key reasons. First, it makes a great review of the themes of American Literature for those of you who survived last year. Second, Sailor Twain leads nicely into both senior classes’ content, addressing similar themes and also introducing you to the graphic novel format, which you can expect to see in the upcoming school year. In conclusion, it is important to read books and genres outside of your usual experiences. Anyone who still thinks, in 2015, that comics or graphic novels aren’t necessarily “real” literature needs to see what they are missing out on in Mark Siegel’s new American classic, Sailor Twain.

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Reading Picks