Monday, November 5, 2012

2012 Reading List - Revisited

This school year has been a big one for me. I started work on my Master's Degree. I am in the Educational Leadership program at the University of Northern Iowa. I'm in the Principalship program. It is a 37 credit hour program that takes 2 full years to complete. 425 hours of internship are needed by the end of the two years and I am attempting to accomplish this while still teaching and raising two little rambunctious children!

Suffice it to say, my involvement over at Heavy Medal this year has been almost non-existent. I still read each post and all the comments and I long for the time and expertise to contribute. But I have found that my heart just isn't in it because my time has been allocated elsewhere this year. I've really enjoyed reading a lot of professional works, about teaching and leadership, and found that I have read far to little of this type of work over the last few years as a teacher. But I do miss spending time reading for enjoyment. For fun.

Back in March, I listed 18 titles I was excited to read this year. I feel like I haven't read anything, so I was a little pleased and surprised when I revisited this list and discovered that I had in fact read 7 of them. Not great, but not near as bad as I was expecting. I also have read a few titles from this year that I did not include on that list.

Here are my most recent readings, and a short blurb about what I thought . . .

I would compare Rebecca Stead's LIAR & SPY, to M. Night Shymalan's Unbreakable movie. Both Stead and M. Night had monster success with earlier or first works (WHEN YOU REACH ME, The Sixth Sense). Both Stead and M. Night captivated audiences with their twist endings. Both artists' follow-up works, were highly anticipated. I found both, to be quieter than their predecessors.

I felt like LIAR & SPY was Stead's arthouse flick. Her attempt at a quieter, more subtle work than what WHEN YOU REACH ME turned out to be. I'm not sure Stead would have ever expected WHEN YOU REACH ME to become the blockbuster it did, but it did nonetheless.

I do like Stead's characters and language, and boy can she write New York City, but my problem with LIAR & SPY was that nothing seems to happen. It just didn't pull me in the way WHEN YOU REACH ME did. Maybe it's unfair to compare the two. I'm not sure how the casual reader is going to be able to not do that though. There are so many similarities in the narrative, there's so much mystery to the story, that in the end, I felt more letdown than anything. I also think children will be bored by it. And my 5th graders, devour WHEN YOU REACH ME.

If there's a book I would like to champion for the Newbery Medal this year, despite my limited range of completed readings, it would be Jerry Spinelli's JAKE & LILY. I'm a Spinelli-geek. I love the guy. I have a sentimental connection to MANIAC MAGEE and it probably blurs his work to me. Leaves me biased.

I read early on in the Newbery season that WONDER was "the book" to read/beat. Period. I also read early on that WONDER was "the book" about bullying that kids should read. Period. I have to "wonder" (sorry for the bad pun), if whoever said that had read JAKE & LILY.

I didn't realize before reading it, that JAKE & LILY was about bullying. I didn't think it would cover that territory. When it did, I was blown away at the subtle change in direction of the narrative. I wondered if kids would catch on. So I read it out loud to my 5th graders. They were speechless.

The book starts out with Jake and Lily, two twins, alternating chapters and writing about their connection as twins and friends. Then Jake begins to change and wants to spend time with other friends and Lily has trouble accepting this. My 5th graders strongly disliked Lily during this stage. But Spinelli has a few tricks up his sleeve. And shortly after Jake decides to spend some time away from Lily, Spinelli yanks the tablecloth out from under the plates and silverware and the narrative takes an unexpected turn. Spinelli's language is fun and kid-friendly. The man may be getting up there in years, but he sure knows how to crawl inside the mind of a 12-year-old.

I strongly disagree with whoever said WONDER was the book to read about bullying this year. If your child only reads one book about bullying this year, make sure it's JAKE & LILY.

In an attempt at reading something outside my comfort zone this year, I purchased BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD AND STEAL THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON by Steve Sheinkin on my iPad, without knowing it was raking in the starred reviews from various children's literature magazines. To make Jonathan Hunt happy over at Heavy Medal, I just wanted to make sure I tackled a nonfiction title and this one sounded the most appealing.

Wow. If all nonfiction authors could write at such a breakneck pace, and weave such a taut story, I would read more of it. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. It reads like a Hollywood screenplay, and I could no doubt, imagine this as a psychological thriller someday playing on the big screen. I was totally sucked in to the narrative, and the most impressive feat, to me, is the number of different angles to this story. There were so many people involved in researching the bomb and building the bomb and then to add to it, the stealing of ideas . . . I devoured this book in mere days. It was fantastic.

If I was handing out grades for these titles, which is something I like to do, I'd give . . .




I've got a nice head start on the work I'll need to complete for my grad class in the next few weeks, so I'm really hoping for the time to read some more of these titles. My wife bought me IN A GLASS GRIMMLY for my birthday, and I can't let it sit on the kitchen table, untouched any longer.