Book Scavenger/Ferlinghetti

20170426_103537So the Ferlinghetti book was part of this month’s Guys Read book club meeting. The Book Scavenger was one I just happened to be reading for next year’s Reader’s Rally team.

Our book club has gotten into the habit of treating the April meeting as a catch all poetry read aloud session in honor of Poetry Month. Guys bring in a handful of poems which we read aloud and discuss. This year we added the Ferlinghetti collection as well.

Book Scavenger is about a girl who moves to San Francisco, makes a friend and has many adventures trying to crack an elaborate “book scavenger” puzzle that takes them on a literary tour of the city. One of the influences mentioned more than once is Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his City Lights book store which makes an appearance in the story. So that was fun. If you know a kid who likes things like The Westing Game or Gollywhopper Games, this is the book for them.

Two of the poems I found to read were both by a guy named Tony Hoagland who I’d never heard of before but quite liked. I’ll have to look for more of his stuff.

 

Troubleshooting

The only really stressful part of my job comes when there’s something I have to do in the broadcast room and something in there goes haywire. It happened this week and was nuts.

I had to go away for a half day meeting Tuesday afternoon and had a clerk record the next day’s morning show and do the end of the day dismissal stuff. She did everything right but when she went to play back the morning show there was no sound. She texted me but I wasn’t worried. There’s lots of little buttons it’s easy to accidentally push. I knew I’d quickly figure it out in the morning.

I couldn’t figure it out the next morning. I did every bit of troubleshooting I could. I finally had to break down and call the IT dept. and he walked me through even more troubleshooting things.  We thought we’d nailed it with five minutes to spare before showtime.

We hadn’t nailed it. I had a silent morning show. Sigh.

So the real troubleshooting began. I double checked every setting and piece of software and hardware and followed every cable in and out of that stupid soundboard until I found it. It was an unplugged gray cable that took me another forever to figure out where it should be plugged into. Grrr.

The morning before my meeting the tech guy had come in looking for some district tags on equipment for his inventory. We had to shift a few things around to find these little barcode stickers and must have inadvertently unplugged it. So now it is much better wound up and tucked into the back of this crazy mess of wires.

I miss the days when someone in the office would just do an all call announcement in the morning and afternoon and we didn’t have to deal with all this crazy stuff. I’m just sayin’!

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Feel my pain!

Sapelo Island, GA

Never heard of it have you?  THAT’S WHY WE WENT THERE! See that picture of the empty beach? That’s how it was all week.

The guy fishing? That’s the dock where we unloaded all our stuff then loaded it all onto the ferry to the island. When I say all our stuff I mean everything. You need to pack all food and snacks and drinks and everything you’re going to need to make all your meals all week long. My Lovely Bride had an excellent spreadsheet and is an amazing packer so we were good.

The kid with the van? When we got to the island our instructions were to find the van, get the car keys our of the drink holder with the map and go. There was no map. It was a creepy van. The kids nicknamed it “The Murder Van.” A storm was rolling in. A woman said she knew the house and led the way. Deep into the woods, with thunder going, the van died. My buddy got it going and we made it to the rental house and got everything into the house right as the downpour hit.

The misty forest photo? That was our view. Gorgeous even in the rain.

The dead tree on the beach? The next day we went out to that area nicknamed “The Boneyard” where a bunch of trees are slowly being washed away. Then we went to the EMPTY AND GORGEOUS BEACH all day.

The crabs? We went seining and caught a bunch of crabs! We looked up on youtube how to clean them. It was pretty gross and a whole lot of crabs didn’t equal that many crab cakes but man oh man were they good.

The nature trail? We hiked a lot. Forest, estuary, dunes, coast, everything.

Yes there’s a lighthouse. No, you can’t go in. But it’s a nice area to wander around. And yes, that last picture is of a gator! We went to the gator pond more than once before we finally saw a couple like this. I hear they wander around sometimes and you can see them laying outside the water but we never got so lucky.

It was a great, fun, relaxing and adventurous vacation. Just the right mix of exploring and laying around in hammocks and chilling. None of us wanted to return to civilization.

How about you? Hope you had a nice break as well and a good last few weeks of school.

Author Visit!

One thing I am not super great at but think is important is author visits. There are authors and illustrators you’ve never heard of that can be had for free or cheap but you need to make sure they’re engaging. Ones you’ve heard of are much more expensive and whenever I have money, I also have a list of books I want to buy. Plus, if you have the money and find the right author it’s a logistical nightmare working more than one presentation around lunches and recess and Specials and field trips and whatnot.

But it IS important. It can be a real inspiration to some of the students and teachers can do so much with a good experience like that.

So even though it was a lot of work, I am very happy how our full day visit from author David Biedrzycki (Ba-DREE-key) went last week!

I booked him for four presentations and he was here last Monday. He won our state’s picture book award (voted on by students) and sent out an email last spring to many of us, offering his services. I jumped right on it because Breaking News: Bear Alert is one of the rare picture books that is a fun read aloud from K through 5. And the fun thing about a fun presenter like this is even if some kid don’t care about this particular book, they learn so much about being an author and an illustrator that it’s totally worth it.

Yes, David is super engaging. He has a very active presentation with tons of fun and funny slides. He reads Bear Alert with slides and even photoshops the librarian into one of the pages for added hilarity. He discussed books he is working on and asks for student input. Then he shows them how he illustrates, getting them to pick colors and such as he uses a tablet to draw in Photoshop. Now Photoshop is pricey, but he recommends some apps and a website called sumopaint.com which is a free Photoshop analog budding digital artists can try. He also makes sure to draw something using basic shapes and colors do those budding artists have something they can try right away. He even showed an example of a student’s version and said the kids could send him their efforts.

It was a great day for all. I won’t be able to do it every year, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the change to try it out again.

One less expensive option is Skype visits. I did one with Barbara O’Connor last year and that was fun. But a real live, interactive author visit just can’t be beat.20170320_144243

Save Me a Seat

25311520I don’t do a ton of book reviews on here because there are SO MANY blogs reviewing books, kids books, and any certain kind of book you want to know about. These bloggers also seem to be out on the cutting edge reviewing things before they even come out. Plus there’s Goodreads so chances are, if a book is already out for you to read, you can find much more capable folks than I reviewing it.

But I do have certain types of books I read every year so heck, I might as well write up my thoughts each time. Who knows, I might even come up with something original every now and then. The list of books I read every year include the Georgia State Picturebook Award nominees (20 or so). The Gwinnett County Reader’s Rally books (15). And sometimes some of the Georgia State Book Award nominees. I also read most of my Guys Read book club books (12) and whatever else I get around to.

Save Me a Seat is co-authored by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. It alternates chapters between Joe, who is a bit lumpy and has a sensitivity disorder in which he needs to wear earplugs in places like the cafeteria and goes to a pull out teacher to help him deal with noise distractors. He also has had a good friend move away and eats alone in the cafeteria, partially because there’s a popular bully who bothers him quite a bit.

Ravi (rah-VEE) and his family have just moved here from India and while he may have been a top student in both academics and sports there, here no one can pronounce his name, can barely understand him through his accent and he is also unknowingly being led down a merry path by the same bully who has been making Joe’s life miserable.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say the “save me a seat” thing is a bit of a Sleepless in Seattle thing where Joe and Ravi actually don’t have much to do with each other until the final chapters. Joe sees what Ravi is walking into with the bully but Ravi misinterprets Joe, doesn’t pay attention to him and kind of needs to be taken down a peg or two anyway.

That’s one of the best parts of the book, actually. The bully is not a big, angry doofus like the one Calvin of Calivn and Hobbs had to deal with. He’s more like a Gaston type from Beauty and the Beast. He’s good looking, popular and can make a derogatory (but not offensive) nickname stick whether you like it or not. And once Ravi realized what he is he also realizes that while not as bad, he himself was not especially great to some other kids at his old school in India. So the fact that his cricket prowess and top academic status there seem to mean diddly here is a good wakeup call for him. And of course it’s satisfying when he and Joe finally click and combine their forces.

It reminds me of a couple of things. First off, I’ve learned as an ELL teacher to do everything I can to get name pronunciations right. The best way is to cover up the name and simply as the person to say it to you slowly and clearly. Then memorize that. Only then to you look at the printed name. Then the printed name, however goofily it’s spelled will just mean whatever the pronunciation is to you. Whenever I do it I get kids with names like “Saphanthong” right and the kid get wide eyed and says “You’re the only one who says it right!” It’s important folks. It’s their NAME.

The other one is a story I heard from a co-worker many years ago. He was from India and his mom was an ambassador or something and they ended up moving to California. He was pretty confident he’d be fine because not only did he already speak English he had more than a year heads up about the move so read and watched everything he could about America and going to school there. His first day at his new school was going fine until we picked up his lunch in the cafeteria. It was Taco Tuesday. He didn’t know what the hell a taco was. “This isn’t American food! How am I supposed to eat this thing?”

Cracks me up every time.

Anyway, it’s a good book and not too long so it’s a quick read with plenty to discuss. Would make a fine read aloud. Make sure you read the glossary and pronounce things correctly!

 

Georgia Children’s Lit. Conference 2017

The book award winner this year was Natalie Lloyd for A Snicker of Magic and the picturebook winner was David Biedrzycki (ba-Dree-key) for Breaking News: Bear Alert!

The first session was Natalie Lloyd giving a talk on “Finding Narnia: From Midnight Gulch to Middle Earth (and back again!)” She talked about giving talks at schools and being knocked out that much of the stuff she loved reading growing up is still popular. Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Dahl, Babysitters Club, Goosebumps, Oz and more. She was delightful. I love when authors are super fans. Her favorite “squee!” moment was when she found out Gilbert Ford would be doing her covers.

The first breakout session I attended was for Annette Laing, historian, historical novelist and frequent school presenter. She is super engaging and discussed how really engaging history through historical fiction is more important than ever in this time of “alternative facts.” “You can get more history into kids with fiction than any other way.” She discussed the importance of this kind of work for helping develop empathy. And she has a wonderful Scottish accent!

The next big author to speak was Kelly Bingham, “It Takes a Village.” What she means by that is that it takes a village of helpers to get books published. She had help from other authors, discouragement from a terrible editor and inspiration from a great editor. She worked for Disney as a storyboarder for many films. She said that the most valuable thing she learned was that you’ll probably end up revising out up to 90% of your original draft and that’s probably a good thing. I only knew her from her amazingly fun Moose picture books and had no idea about her YA books. She wrote a YA novel in verse about a surfer girl who gets an arm bit off by a shark. Then a real live surfer girl got her arm bit off by a shark, so she put this manuscript she’d been working on for years into a drawer. Later, another author convinced her to show it to his editor. She showed it to one other first and he was completely discouraging and unprofessional. Later, she showed it to the editor the other author mentioned and it’s been published and won a bunch of praise and awards and she has realized how terrible that first guy was. I would have invited him to every award ceremony if it had been me.

The Moose books came from reading to her little boy and loving meta-fiction like There’s a Monster at the End of this Book and him wanting a better ABC book than he was finding at the library at the time. She said it on;y too eight year for her to sell Z is for Moose and she knows it’s Paul O. Zelinsky’s illustrations that really make the book.

Duncan Tonatiuh and David Biedrzycki spoke on Saturday. I attended both of those but Duncan’s artwork is amazing and kind of speaks for itself and I’ll have much more to say about David in the next post.

Next years winners are Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio and Christian Robinson and Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar.

Star Wars Night in the Library

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Well, as you can see, the Georgia Garrison of the 501st more than delivered. It was the highlight of our school’s Literacy Night and a big draw. They came early and the principal and I posted a couple of shots of our droid guest on social media saying, “I HOPE YOU’RE COMING TO LITERACY NIGHT!” I heard from more than one parent that they were on their way to things like gymnastics or Boy Scouts and were instructed to “turn the car around! We need to go back to the school!”

It was a delighted mob that these fine folks patiently stood for photos with for over an hour. They were real, well, troopers if you will. They were so enthusiastic, high fiving everyone and really hamming it up.

I didn’t want to take too much of their time after the crush of people left but I did get some fun pictures of them with books in the stacks, checking out and other stuff. I even got a few video clips I can play on the morning show including one where they give some advice for getting a good night sleep and a good breakfast for when we have the big state tests in April.

They were all amazing but R2-D2 was the thing that really sold it. He moved around, beeped, and reacted to individuals. All his panels could open and close and the parents were as delighted with him as the students. The guy who built, programmed and ran him (an intensive two year process!) casually leaned against a pillar in the background and subtly ran R2 all night with no one catching on how it was being controlled. He hung out afterwards with some of our Robotics Club kids taking off panels and showing them how it all worked.

A great, great night for all involved!

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“These are the books you’re looking for.”

So Much Happening in the Library!

I haven’t been writing because so much is going on, good and not so good, that I’m just happy to be keeping my head above water. I’m only writing this now because I’m at my desk eating lunch and it’s weirdly quiet in here at the moment.

I have a get together for my Reader’s Rally team scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. This is the group that gets a list of 15 books from the county, reads them all and prepares for a big quiz bowl. Something like 60 elementary schools are descend on one high school in early March to compete in this event. Every year I figure out tips and trick to get my team better. My first couple of teams did pretty badly, but we’ve always had fun. Then they slowly did better each year until last year when they placed in their Division. This year they got 140 more points than last year and got second in their Division. So now the pressure is on to figure out how to do even better than that next year and try to be in the final four teams who go on to the next level.

I think part of why we didn’t do that well for a while is that I didn’t take it seriously. I like reading and talking about books but the whole quiz part seems silly. When I tried to get out of it a couple years ago my principal made it clear she expected us to represent our school well. So I thought, okay if I have to do this I might as well try to do it right. So yeah, it’s not really a reading thing, it’s more of just a challenge to do as well as we can with this particular game but that’s fun too. And the students who find books they love which they might not have read otherwise makes it worthwhile. If team members like a book, they’ll talk it up and get it passed around. This year the best book, in my opinion, was The War that Saved My Life by Bradley.

Then Thursday night we have our school’s big Literacy Night. Since we have a Star Wars theme this year I got the idea to contact the all volunteer, charitable organization the 501st, a/k/a “Vader’s Fist.” These are the folks who dress up in movie quality Star Wars outfits and visit children’s hospitals and such. A few of them are going to make an apperance here in the library Thursday evening. I’m going to ask them to dedicate a pile of new Star Wars books and comics I’ve bought for the library and get pictures with the kids. I hear there is going to be a “Rey” that will read them a story and I just found out the best part. They might be bringing in a replica of R2D2! R2D2 I say!  Just…wow. He’ll be the hit of the night. I promise I’ll get lots of pictures and video.

Then I have to have everything ready for Monday because a) I’m going to the Georgia Children’s Literature Conference in Athens on Friday and Saturday and b) one of the authors, David Biedrzycki, will be here all day doing four big presentations for my students!

So yeah, it’s crazed right now. I have lists of lists of to do lists I’m constantly checking and double checking. Just getting the schedule right fro everyone in a school to have a chance to see the author AND eat lunch AND go to Specials is like getting ready for D-Day, logistics-wise.

But it’s totally going to be worth it. The Reader’s Rally kids will have fun. The Literacy Night thing will be awesome. I love that conference and have high hopes for the author visit. Then after all that? I’ll probably go hibernate…

Babylon’s Ashes

9780316334747I’m not going to write a super long post on this book. You’ve either been reading the whole series since they’ve been coming out in 2011 or you know it’s not your cup of tea. The first book was Leviathan Wakes. I ate it right up and have read the new one as it’s come out every year. There are also apparently a number of bridging novellas but I haven’t read those and haven’t felt like I’ve missed anything.

Now they’ve started turning them into a television series called The Expanse. The first season is available on Amazon if you’re a Prime member. You’d have to have cable or pay to see the new episodes of the second season which are coming out now.

The show has a lot of the same characters and places and basic overall arc but moves some things around and introduces a few things in different ways and lets the actors do a few things differently than in the books but all of the changes make it interesting to watch since it’s different enough to be interesting. It’s an amazing show but I still really like the depth and richness of the books.

This is a long series (Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth so far) but since they’ve made it clear there will be a definite ending in the ninth book, it’s fine. I was just discussing earlier today a dislike of endless science fiction and fantasy series that tend to go on and on and here I am talking up a nine book series. But they introduce different point of view characters in each book and they even have different genres represented at times in some of these points of view. They are also complete novels on their own. Sure, there’s and overarching narrative, but each book does a good job of ending well enough that it’s not like one long tale that goes on and on.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the fourth book but the last two have been excellent. I don’t know how they do it, especially seeing as how they are both very involved in the making of the television show as well.

One of the great things about this entry in the series is the way they handle the final big battle. I obviously can’t spoil it but this is a series that, like the re-booted Battlestar Galactica television series, has violence baked into it’s DNA. Both small but intense firefights as well as full scale battles. It’s a science fiction action series, so of course it does. But this one plays some interesting games with expectations. In an early, smaller battle our main warrior gets taken off the board for purely banal, technical reasons which frustrate her and make for unexpected outcomes. They play with these kind of expectations more than once in this book but it never seems like anything other than organic to the story. A character who may have been involved in some kind of corporate espionage (for purely altruistic reasons) finds himself in a dark and intimidating interrogation room with some less than friendly characters. What does and doesn’t happen is what the scene, and the book in many ways, is all about. It all culminates into a big, important ending. Important in that all the eyes of the solar system are watching how the confrontation will go because it will change everything for all involved.

The only bad thing about the book is that I was reading it to escape the news and there are some unfortunate similarities with one ego-driven, narcissistic leader character and other ego-driven, narcissistic folks in the real world. But it’s not that similar and this one has, I imagine, a more satisfying ending.

Social Media Readjustments

132_1338905Doug Johnson over at The Blue Skunk Blog talks about something I’ve been dealing with lately as well. We’ve both been shedding our follows. On Twitter I was up to following near 600 accounts. Over the past week it went down as low as 150. I think it’s gotten slowly back up to about 250 now and seems in about the right place.

Here’s things I did to thin the herd and regain my sanity and social media enjoyment. (I just do Twitter and Instagram. You’re on your own for Facebook.)

Turn off Reweets! Not everyone’s. Some people I follow because they are great retweeters. Jennifer Ouelette, for example is an excellent retweeter giving me some great sciency goodness. But many people hysterically retweet almost everything. Just turning off retweets from most of your follows will tone things down a bit.

Unfollow. The great thing about Twitter is for the most part, no one takes it personally or even knows if you’re following them or not. So if anyone is tweeting too much about sports or politics or whatever it is, even if you agree with them, unfollow.

You don’t have to tell them! Never tweet: “I’m unfollowing you because you post too many cat pictures,” or “I used to like this account but now it’s all about politics!” Even actors and musicians are allowed to have political thoughts. If you started following someone for one reason but are seeing things you’re not interested in, no problem. Click that unfollow button and go on with your life.

Try following them elsewhere. Some of the children’s authors and illustrators I  follow were getting a bit much on Twitter but less so on Instagram.

Now I’m getting a good mix of news, education stuff, and fun things along with a tolerable amount of the political commentary (but that from people I enjoy their commentary).

I also don’t always limit myself to people I agree with. I follow some people who actually liked that Batman v. Superman movie, for example. I even follow some Republicans! But I don’t follow any accounts that drive me nuts anymore. There’s a difference in being informed and overloaded.