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.
I 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!
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.
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…
I’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.
Doug 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.
I’m working on some more ALA Midwinter posts to share some of the upcoming books I heard about from publishers but I wanted to let you in on why I had to shorten my conference and couldn’t make it on the big awards day.
When my daughter was about 18 months old we moved from Athens, GA to Lilburn where we had gotten teaching jobs. We moved into a little brick ranch house within walking distance to a cool park and a lovely little public library. I saw this older lady in her 80s outside working on flowers in her garden next door and introduced myself, telling her about my daughter and my wife, Annette.
“Well my name is Annette too,” she said, “so I know we’ll have to be friends.”
And just like that, we were. She was completely delighted with little Harper and we all became adopted family members. Harper saw her more often than her own grandparents and Annette saw us more than her own children (though they are all amazing and visited her quite often. As well as her grandchildren and great grandchildren!)
One day we lost track of little Harper and freaked out. She wasn’t in the house! She wasn’t in the back yard! We ran out into the street and were about to call the police when she came out of Annette’s with a handful of candy. She kept visiting Annette on her own like that for years. (Though she told us where she was going after that!)
She taught Harper to help her plant roses and pick her tomatoes. When Harper began piano lessons she would play for Annette and it brought back Annette’s love for that as well. We gave her the gift of having her piano tuned and got her a piano lamp and Harper would share her sheet music. They played together and for each other quite a bit.
We always knew we’d want a bigger house but put it off for years because of the mortgage crises and then because of Annette. When we finally decided to go ahead and look around it was knowing that it couldn’t be far from her. The one we ended up with was less than ten minutes away.
She wasn’t happy we moved but we ended up seeing her more often. I’d go every Monday after school, take out her trash and recycling and check her mail. Then, more often than not, I’d be invited to sit and chat for a while.
My wife went every Saturday morning to have tea and coffee and sometimes breakfast. Sometimes she’d do a little shopping for her as well. I became her tech guy whenever a TV or phone was giving her trouble.
Finally, last year, she decided she was getting too old to care for herself. No serious physical problems, just too tired to cook and clean anymore. So even though she’d been living alone in that same house for more than 40 years, she had her son find a retirement home for her. It was about only ten minutes away from us going in the other direction, so we continued our weekly visits, helping out whenever we could. My wife did this every single Saturday morning. I went here and there. We all saw her again over the holidays which was a treat I’m eternally grateful for.
She was funny and sweet and interested in everyone. She was in that home less than a year but has three incredibly close friends there.
My favorite recent story about her was when my wife read out the weekly menu to her because her eyes were starting to fail. She noticed the lunches seemed to be the big meal of the day with dinner being lighter fare, which she was a little grumpy about. “Maybe they think if you eat too much for dinner you won’t sleep as well,” my wife told her.
Immediately she shot back with, “I’d rather not sleep!”
She loved food and was an excellent cook. She was the one they went to for every big church event. She was so thoughtful and often had amazing leftovers or desserts for us.
She even called MY parents on the phone, as recently as last week, to check on them.
Thursday was a wonderful day for her. She spent it with her daughter-in-law Norma,shopping and eating out and getting her hair done. She had a bit of a fall when she came back so they called the paramedics. You can’t be too careful with those 94-year-olds no matter how good of a shape they’re in. One of the paramedics flirted with her and she actually danced with him a bit!
Later, she visited with one of her good new friends, showing her the purchases of the day. Her friend said she was going to go change, then she’d come back to pick up Annette and they could go down to dinner together. When she came back for her, our dear Annette had had a stroke and was unresponsive. Those same paramedics came back and took her to the hospital but it was too late. She passed.
So Monday our family joined with hers and many friends to celebrate her life, grieve and have her funeral. The family asked me to be a pallbearer.
This will be a short report because something came up I will be blogging about later which prevented me from attending for more than one day.
The ALA summer and “midwinter” conferences are always huge and always in a different big city. Not being one to travel much, I’ve been waiting many years for one of them to come back to Atlanta. It was exciting to be there and I learned quite a bit but if you are not WAY into the youth media awards (Newbery, Caldecott, etc.) on Monday then it’s probably not worth it for you. But that awards ceremony is something to see. Or so I hear. I couldn’t make that this time.
I did, however, get to “walk the floor” and see some cool stuff. More than half of the huge exhibition hall was technology stuff. Not that interesting for me as a school librarian. Most of that was for people at my county level who decide on things for the whole district (or public or university libraries, that kind of thing). But the Library of Congress area sure was cool.
The other side was all the publisher stuff and that’s what drew me in. Tons of upcoming books, Advance Reader Copies, reps to tell you about them and even some authors and illustrators dropping in to sign books.
I got to meet Nathan Hale of the Hazardous Tales series! I even got some signed books from him and got super librarian Andy Plemmons to get a photo of us to show my students.
I got to take pictures of books on display and share them with authors who couldn’t make it. Sage Blackwood and David Lubar are two I follow on social media that appreciated seeing their books being promoted.
I got to meet Library Goddess Ms. Yingling! She lives in a small town in Ohio very similar to the one I did. We both became school librarians. We both have eerily similar dogs. But her blog is about a thousand times more awesome. She reads EVERYTHING she might or has bought for her library and reviews most of it on her blog or on Goodreads.
I felt a bit guilty not being able to participate in the Women’s March so I bought a tshirt from the wonderful Harry Potter Alliance for my daughter that says, “Hex the Patriarchy!” One of my favorite things I say that day was a very big, burly security guard wearing a pink pussy hat knitted for the march.
I spent most of the time in the Book Buzz theater listening to publisher reps go over their upcoming titles for the spring and summer and highlighting some of their favorites. As always, there is some amazing stuff coming out!
I may post about some of those titles soon. I chatted with Ms. Yingling about blogging (she does it constantly, I do it…periodically). She said it’d be nice to have someone blogging about all the upcoming titles to look out for. I don’t think I can be the one to do that consistently, but I can do it for this and will try to keep up with at least what I and my students and staff are looking forward to as I look ahead for my consideration lists.
I also got some great ARCs I hope to review soon (as soon as I get them back from My Lovely Bride and my daughter).
I won’t go over the winners here. There are plenty of places for that and like I said, I had to miss that event. But I can tell you that there was a buzz about John Lewis coming and his March books. The third volume won FOUR awards. Before all of this hoo ha came up in the news recently, my book club had already slated us to read the first volume to discuss in…March of course. My girls got me the boxed set of all three for Christmas. I’m waiting to read them but will try to soon so maybe my daughter can read them as well and join us for the discussion in March. Would love to hear her take.
I’ve read on Twitter that at one of the airports, as John Lewis walked down the concourses there where what was described as “rolling standing ovations” for the great man. And he didn’t even have to pay anyone to do that!
Bold statement I know and my research has hardly been exhaustive, but from the evidence I’ve found I think this is true.
I’m mostly talking about movies here, but I’ll dip a toe into books too. There are basically three kinds of “prequels” that will be discussed here and not all of them are terrible. There’s the extended flashback (as in Godfather, Part II). That duel flashback and continuing story gave resonance to the entire work but I don’t consider it a “prequel.” To further bolster my claim that it is not a prequel, just look at the misguided “complete” Godfather where they re-edited all the flashbacks to before the first film. It was tedious.
In pop culture, similar examples would be the “early” X-Men movies where younger versions of the characters are featured. But I don’t really consider those “prequels” in the traditional sense. They are complete stories in themselves and don’t end at the moment the original series begins.
There are also “reboots” that walk the line of a prequel but I’m giving them a pass. The 2009 Star Trek, Batman Begins and 2006 Casino Royale are fun in and of themselves and while they may have moments that call back earlier themes, moments and characters they aren’t really trying to tell what happened before a specific story.
I’m mostly here to pick on Rogue One and prequels in a similar vein. The Lucas Star Wars prequels, Monsters U., The Hobbit movies and to a lesser extent Fantastic Beasts fall into this category of films purposely made to take place and fill in the story of an already existing story or series. They also tend to lead right up to the moment the original tale began.
I first asked about this on Twitter and was not surprised to hear Godfather II mentioned right out of the gate (by the always worth reading Tim Stahmer). It’s an excellent sequel and owes much to its filling in of the backstory to the first film but I think I’ve clearly stated why I don’t count it as a pure prequel.
Of course this is in my mind at the moment because of the disappointing (to me) double whammy of Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One. It’s probably not fair to consider Fantastic Beasts a prequel though, no more than it is to consider those young X-Men movies prequels. It’s a series following different characters (for the most part) in the same fictional universe but not directly leading to the original series. So I’ll skip it.
To be fair to Rogue One, it’s not completely terrible (as Monsters U. isn’t completely terrible.) It’s just that they suffer from something worse (to me). They are unnecessary.
Good things about Rogue One: the character of Jyn Erso and the magnificent actor playing her. The badass Force believers of Chirrut and Baze. The actors overall. The diverse cast. The lack of romance! (And kudos to Teen Vogue for going into this so well and thoughtfully.) The Vader hissy-fit. The general look of the thing.
Bad things about Rogue One: Maggie Stiefvater summed it up pretty succinctly on Twitter saying it was, “Too strung out to be tense. Not fun enough to be fun. Not philosophical enough to be tragic.” I would also add that I found the CQI-ification of dead or aged actors to be jarring, rather course and not even done as well as it could have been.
The only one of those that really points out the weakness of the idea of prequels though is the lack of tension or suspense. We know what’s going to happen. It’s all right there in the first part of the opening crawl of the original Star Wars film we (or at least I) have seen a thousand times:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”
Flashbacks and callbacks in series TV and long running stories can be awesome. I loved seeing the Starfleet Academy Picard get his butt kicked in a flashback. The last episodes of Breaking Bad made some fun references to the beginning of the series. But a whole movie or series of movies filling us in on what happened before we get to the stuff we already know we like? Yawn.
This was a problem with The Hobbit movies as well. I realize that the novel The Hobbit isn’t a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote it first. Then later had the idea to expand his fictional universe with the later series. But the movies were different. The original trilogy of films were an amazing achievement and stand alone. Because of various legal reasons Peter Jackson was unable to obtain the rights to The Hobbit until after The Lord of the Rings films were completed. But he didn’t just make a movie of The Hobbit. He made a prequel trilogy to The Lord of the Rings, adding characters and situations and dragging it out in a way that sadly weakened it.
Since I’m a school librarian I’ll mention one children’s book series that could be considered a successful prequel, though I would argue that it’s really a reboot. Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson wrote a series of books about Peter Pan. It was, at first at least, presented as a prequel but there are so many (wonderful) differences that it’s really a “reboot” in the best sense. (This series was pointed out as a “good” prequel by an excellent educator named Sarah Guest, also on Twitter).
So there you have it. As far as I know, there is no such thing as an excellent prequel and there probably won’t be.
It’s been a busy school year and when I’m not busy, I haven’t been thinking about blogging. I was just starting to think about it…when the election happened and I really didn’t want to talk more about that.
But I enjoyed posting about that Cinema Club movie and realized I should post about those from now on (if they’re worth telling you about). The others we’ve seen so far this season are worth checking out. The first was A Man Called Ove which is apparently based on a popular book club book. I haven’t read the book and I have a feeling this is one of those rare instances where the movie is at least as good as the book. It’s a funny and touching story of that old guy in every neighborhood who is a bit over the top in his enforcement of association rules. Grumpy, inflexible and unlikable. But some boisterous neighbors move in next door, we begin to learn about his past, and things get interesting.
We also saw Moonlight which is every bit as moving and perfect as you’ve probably heard or read about. The performances are truly exceptional and the ending made me hopeful for humanity.
The last one we screened was Jackie which has a searing performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy during the time from her 1961 television tour of the White House to an interview with a reporter in the weeks after JFK’s funeral. It jumps back and forth in time and includes some graphic imagery so it’s not for everyone but man is she good. Powerful stuff.
I also need to get back to writing up my Guys Who Read book club books and meetings. The problem with that is I didn’t love the last book and I doubt I’ll finish the next one. But let me just say a few words about the last meeting. After the election I was wishing we were meeting that Thursday instead. I so wanted to commiserate with those guys. But meeting a week later helped us focus on the book and other things before we chewed over that particular dumpster fire.
It really is an amazing group of guys. One had a dog he was training to be a service dog. One had to bring his toddler because his spouse was caring for their newest child. One dapper professor was wearing a suit with a horseshoe crab pin on one lapel and a Black Lives Matter on the other. We did the thing where we had a long list of book suggestions for next year and we went around and around a few times until we knocked it down to twelve. I’m not going to tell you what they are yet because we haven’t picked which books for which months and there may be one or two substitutions before it’s completely locked down. But as always, its a good and eclectic list and it will be a joy to read and discuss them in the coming year no matter what else happens in our country. At least there will still be good movies and books to talk about.
Now to keep chipping away at next month’s book (which I’ll never finish), The Iliad…