48HBC: Finishing Line!

48HBC finishing lineWell, I’m reaching the last few minutes of my 48 Hour Book Challenge and I’m feeling both please and slightly disappointed.  I read several books–and especially loved two of them in particular.  However, I didn’t quite make the 12 hour minimum even though I thought I had planned enough time; I just didn’t quite predict the amount of time I would need to take breaks to do things other than reading–like school commitments, baking muffins, church attendance, and writing advisee comments.  But still, I’m happy I attempted the challenge again!  I wish I’d been able to make the 12 hour commitment and been able to correspond more with other participants.

to all the boys i've loved beforeWell, since my last update, I got two more hours of reading in and got about 232 pages into To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  It’s fresh, sweet, and funny and I can’t wait to finish it!  Here are my final stats:

Final 48HBC Stats

Hours read: 8.5 hours

Hours blogged: 2.5 hours

Books Read: 4.5 books + 2 short stories

Pages Read: 1,274 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 11 hours

 

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48HBC Update # 3

48HBC update 3I can hardly believe it’s already my last day of the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I’ve done my reading and blogging in shorter increments than last year but so far I’ve still managed to get a lot of reading done–and been reminded how nice it is to just sink into a novel for an uninterrupted hour or more at a time.

Since my last update, I snuck in some reading time before bed last night, a little more early this morning, and then another extended period this afternoon.  And happily, I’ve also finished two more books!

gumazing gum girlLast night, I sped through The Gumazing Gum Girl: Chews Your Destiny by Rhode Montijo and throughly enjoyed its fun take on illustrated chapter books and superhero narratives.  It’s great to see some more diversity in the worlds of both early elementary fiction–especially in a format similar to popular fiction such as Babymouse and Captain Underpants.  It’s a pretty standard story with bright, fun illustrations and relatable characters–that just happens to feature a Latina heroine.  I give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars!

Then this morning I dove into Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and wow, I can’t believe I let so much time pass before I finally read this middle grade fantasy!

breadcrumbsEven when she can’t see to fit anywhere else–not with her crumbling family or at her new school–Hazel has a place where she feels right: being beside her best friend Jack.  While other kids in 5th grade thinks it’s weird that a boy and a girl are still best friend, Hazel and Jack know that their friendship is something special–they understand each other in ways that no one else does–or could.  Then one day Jack simply stops speaking to Hazel and she feels her world and heart begin to freeze over.   But when Hazel learns that Jack might have been stolen away by a strange woman who looks like she’s made of snow, she decides that it is her duty to rescue him–no matter what strange and dangerous beings she must face in the dark, unknown woods behind their houses.

From its opening pages, Anne Ursu’s multilayered and haunting Snow Queen retelling will grab by the heart and throat and refuse to let you go until you reach its sad, hopeful conclusion.  The prose is just gorgeous and Hazel is such an excellently complicated & human protagonist.  This elegant novel has the rich insight of the best coming of age tales, the careful & resonant details about childhood, difference, and identity (especially in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity) of great realistic fiction, and the twisty enchantment of fabulous fantasy.  Finally, I personally very much enjoyed the references to classic and well-loved children’s fantasy novels throughout the novel.  It’s just awesome–you should read it right now! I want to try to write up a lengthier review after I’ve had to digest but for now I’ll just say that I am totally in love with Breadcrumbs and highly recommend it to a variety of readers.  I also think that this novel would make an excellent read-aloud for younger middle school students (and older middle school students if you had the right setting!).

5 out of 5 stars for me!

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 6.5 hours

Hours blogged: 2.25 hours

Books Read: 4 books + 2 short stories

Pages Read: 1,042 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 8.75 hours

 

48HBC Update #2

48HBC update 2Whew! It’s been a fairly disjointed reading day–I had to take breaks for everyday activities like showering and cooking as well as attendance at my school’s commencement ceremony.  However, I did complete another novel and read a couple short stories in Diverse Energies.  

Every year, there are certain books that I start to hear about months in advance of their publication.  When I finally get my hands on these books, I’m both incredibly excited and nervous.  What is the novel doesn’t live up to the hype? So, it’s always incredibly satisfying to read one of these anticipated novels and find that it absolutely lives up to the hype.  Pointe by Brandy Colbert is absolutely one of these novels.

Theo is finally starting to get her life in order again.  Her ballet instructor has singled her out as one of her top students and told her to seriously consider auditioning for specialized summer programs.  She’s eating again, she’s got some great friends, and she might be on the verge of something special with an almost appropriate guy.  Then Donovan Pratt comes back.  Before he disappeared a few years ago, Donovan was Theo’s best friend.  And now Theo has all sorts of long buried memories bubbling back up.

This novel is heart-wrenching, raw, and ultimately hopeful.  Theo is a fabulously complex character; in Theo, Colbert has crafted a truly human protagonist.  The novel explores a range of issues and topics but it never feels melodramatic or disjointed.  Instead, Colbert has illustrated the complicated reality that trauma and healing can affect an individual’s life in many different but interconnected ways.  The secondary characters are also equally sympathetic and three-dimensional.  Additionally, race and social class are acknowledged and explored as natural and significant aspects of Theo’s identity and world.

I might try to write a longer review later but for now, I’ll just say: go out and read Pointe immediately, especially if you are invested in realistic young adult fiction, the creation of complex female characters, and the ongoing cultural conversation about girls, sex, and consent.

5 out of 5 stars

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 4.5 hours

Hours blogged: 1.25 hours

Books Read: 2 book + 2 short stories

Pages Read: 602 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 5.75 hours

 

48HBC Update #1 : First Book Read!

48HBC update 1 graphic.jpgAlthough I technically started the challenge yesterday evening, I’m only just over 2 hours in now;  I fell asleep after only an hour of reading last night!  But I woke up and jumped right back in this morning around 7:45am over coffee and oatmeal.  And now I’ve finished my first book of the challenge: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia.  Working with 7-12 grade students, I don’t get to catch up on the great fiction being published for the younger end of middle grade as often as I’d like.  However, whenever I can I sneak some titles in, especially over the summer.  I enjoy getting an idea about what some of my new middle school students might have encountered before they arrived in my library, occasionally discovering titles with appeal for my 7th graders, and the novels are often fabulous!

the garden of my imaan

In her first middle grade novel, Farhana Zia has crafted a sweet and appealing coming of age story focused on Aliya, an Indian-American fifth grader who deals with ordinary middle school struggles while trying to come to terms with her Muslim identity.  Like many middle schoolers, Aliya simply wants to fit in.  She wants to liked, to blend in, and to avoid her school’s bullies.  As Ramadan approaches, a new girls arrives at school.  Marwa is also Muslim (although her family is from Morocco) and she wears the hijab & responds to mocking or teasing with a calm confidence.  Between Marwa’s frustrating example and her newest Sunday school assignment to find a way to improve herself during Ramadan, Aliya begins to reconsider her desperate need to blend in and discovers that she too can be a little more fearless in the face of unkindness & a little more willing to stand out in the crowd.

While the characters can occasionally feel a little flat and the dialogue has stilted moments, The Garden of My Imaan is overall an accessible and gently amusing middle grade tale.  Aliya’s letters to Allah–obviously an homage to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret–are a familiar but effective device.  Aliya’s narration possesses both humor and honesty and her individual growth through the course of the story is clearly portrayed without reading as preachy.  Additionally, the novel realistically portrays the contemporary U.S. as a global and multicultural society.  The story emphasizes the fact that Muslims come from many different countries and illustrates the variety within the Muslim community as well as the sense of connection shared religious traditions can initiate.  I also enjoyed seeing a multigenerational family portrayed with such humor and ease.

A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars from me!

Next, I plan to read a story or two from Diverse Energies and begin Pointe by Brandy Colbert. 

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 2 hours

Hours blogged: .75 hours

Books Read: 1 book

Pages Read: 225 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 2.75 hours

Let The Reading Begin! : 48HBC Starting Line

48HBC starting line graphic.jpgAnd so it begins!  I’m back from our school’s academic awards ceremony and the post-ceremony celebratory outing with colleagues. So I’m ready to get my first couple hours of reading and blogging in! I’ll be posting updates here as well as on Twitter.  To find more information and discover other bloggers participating, check out the ‘Starting Line’ post over on MotherReader’s blog.

I’m officially starting at 10:30pm and plan to get about 2 hours of reading & a few minutes of blogging in before I crash tonight.  To begin the challenge, I’m starting two new books: The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia and the short story collection, Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell &  Joe Monti.  Happy Reading! 

diverse energies the garden of my imaan

 

It’s That Time of Year Again: School’s End & The Ninth Annual 48-Hour Book Challenge

48HBC base graphicWell, we’ve almost reached the end of another school year.  My middle school students have had their recognition ceremony, we’ve almost managed to round up all the overdue library books, and the senior class of 2014 will graduate this weekend.  It’s that time of year when school librarians wrap up the past year while beginning to prepare for the fall–just as our public library counterparts prepare for the onset of summer reading!

And once again, it’s also time for the Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge, hosted this year by wonderful MotherReader.  This weekend between 7am Friday morning and 7am Monday morning, participants will each read and blog for an individually selected 48 hour period.  I’m planning to start sometime Friday evening around 9 or 10pm and then finish at that same time on Sunday evening.  In even more exciting news, this year the 48HBC has a theme.  To support the critically important cause and message behind the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, this year’s challenge will be dedicated to celebrating, promoting, sharing, reading, and reviewing diverse books and diverse authors!

While this weekend involves some very specific scheduling restrictions due to our school’s commencement activities, it also feels like an ideal time to participate in a reading challenge like this.  I’m trying to reflect on my past year’s work, prepare for a new year of work, and say goodbye to some students I’ve been lucky enough to teach and work with over the past few years.  So I appreciate the opportunity to make a dent in my every-growing To Be Read pile and recharge myself through reading & writing about some great books.

I will post lengthier updates here and (obviously) shorter updates on Twitter.  I have a ridiculously overambitious pile of potential reads for the weekend.  I cannot imagine that I will read even half of them but I decided I wanted to treat myself with lots of options.

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Some of the many titles I’m considering for this weekend!

brown girl dreamingthe secret skyOn my Kindle, I have a big backlog of e-galleys to tackle over the next few months.  This weekend I might read my e-galleys of Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson or The Secret Sky – Atia Abawi. 

I am also reading It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd and I will likely include some pages from that book in my final count.

Remember, it’s not too late to join in and participate this weekend!  Check out the main 48HBC post for more information.  Either way, please feel free to follow along with the challenge via the Starting Line post that will go up on MotherReader’s blog tomorrow or by following #48hbc on Twitter.

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

language insideEmma Karas truly understands the meaning of the word ‘dislocated.’  When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the whole family suddenly relocates from Japan to Lowell, Massachusetts. Emma feels as though her body and soul suddenly live on different continents.  Her guilt about leaving behind the country and friends she loves just as they begin to heal from the devastating tsunami is almost overwhelming–especially as she faces the terrifying reality of her mother’s mortality.  She’s become literally homesick as her stress manifests in severe migraines.  However, when her grandmother arranges for her to volunteer at a long-term care home, Emma meets Zena, a poet with locked-in syndrome, and Samnang, a fellow teen volunteer with an unhappy past and a gift for dance.  Through the growth of her delicate new connections with Zena and Samang, Emma taps into her slumbering poetic talent and learns that home can be more than a geographic location.

Since I read this novel as part of the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I was able to simply sit down and read it without interruption, finishing it in an hour flat.   I am very thankful that I was able to read this lovely novel in a single sitting because for that hour, I was utterly transported in the way that only great fiction can achieve.  Novels in verse can be tricky–but when they work, they can really work and The Language Inside is a prime example of a successful novel in verse.  Thompson’s free verse expresses Emma’s voice and situation perfectly as she attempts to navigate her sudden transplant from Japan–her home since infancy– to the United States–her birth country.  The fact that the move has been prompted by her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis has only added to Emma’s sense of loss and isolation.

However, I found Emma’s particular isolation especially relevant for my student population–and for many modern kids.  We have a large number of students at my school who have grown up around the world.  Emma’s experience, as a white American who spent nearly her entire life in Japan, can be very representative of the experiences of many ‘third culture kids’–children and teens who  spent most of their developmental years in a culture different from their parents.  This reality makes her isolation and search for identity particularly complex and poignant.  However, it also leads Emma to seek out connections with a more multicultural group of individuals in her new town than many other recently relocated teens might.

In fact, I particularly enjoy the skillful way that Thompson weaves together so many different topics into a coherent whole through her full-formed cast of characters.  From traditional Cambodian dance to poetry composition to PTSD, Emma and her newly built community of fellow outsiders expose the reader to a range of experiences and topics as the characters’ varied emotional journeys intersect in unexpected ways.

While the story does follow a clear series of concrete events, this is a quieter novel; it focuses on an emotional rather than physical journey.  And while I found the conclusion satisfying, I would guess that some readers who prefer their tales to be more action-packed might feel less fulfilled–or even have difficulty finishing.  But for poetry fans and readers likely to appreciate a quieter but emotionally rewarding novel, this is a surefire winner.

This is a truly multicultural story about the complexity of identity, family, and finding an authentic personal voice.  The Language Inside was an immense pleasure to read and I look forward to sharing it with my students this fall.  A shining 4/5 stars!