Tuesday, September 29, 2009

About right now I wish I had McKinley's pigtail hat! BRRR!! We are looking at 40s tonight and high 50s tomorrow. I actually turned on the heat in the house a bit ago as it got so chilly in here. I am bundled up with a heating pad on my knee and an afghan and I hear the heat kicking on again. YES!!

I am now over my snit after a not so great news appointment at the orthopedic surgeon's office today. Not only did I have to sit in a waiting room full of sniffling and coughing fellow patients I also sat for way too long in a freezing cold examing room. The knee surgery was a bit more complicated than cleaning up a meniscus tear due to a growth that was impacting the kneecap and had to be removed. Between that and the slow healing normal for a fibromyalgia sufferer, I am looking at another month of physical therapy along with limited walking and standing. So, I won't be taking a long walk through the neighborhood to enjoy the Autumn color as the leaves will have fallen before I get the possible go ahead in late October or early November. At least Steve and I can take a relaxing drive along the backroads down to the KY river to enjoy the Autumn colors.

I took my first "big outing" since the surgery yesterday and attended a writer's workshop lead by Ellen Hopkins, YA author of Crank, http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Crank/Ellen-Hopkins/e/9780689865190/?itm=1&USRI=crank+hopkins Glass http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Glass/Ellen-Hopkins/e/9781416940913/?itm=1&usri=g and the not yet published final book about her own daughter's meth addiction.  She was very open about her daughter's addiction and how it has impacted the family. It was heartbreaking to listen to her talk. Mic died in hiking accident and I thought I would die for a long time. I still miss him every day of my life but I cannot imagine watching my child kill herself a little bit at a time each day. She asked us to do a bit of writing of our own and I actually got the writing bug again as I used to write poetry before I began teaching at the university level and writing professional materials. I even bought a small spiral bound notebook to try writing poetry again. Don't know if I will have much time to write poetry as I am always behind with work due to my inability to work the long hours I used to. Brain stops working so much quicker these days.
We all received signed copies of Tricks http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Tricks/Ellen-Hopkins/e/9781416950073/?itm=1&usri=t written in her signature poetry style, that tells the story of a group of teens who find themselves selling themselves into prostitution. I have read about 1/2 of it already - I stayed up last night until I couldn't keep my eyes open as it is so good. I am feeling maternal toward these teens and would like to give their fictional parents a piece of my mind! I took a picture of her with my cell phone but I haven't figured out how to get it onto my laptop yet.

My students have been emailing me about the second Suzanne Collins title Catching Fire http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Catching-Fire/Suzanne-Collins/e/9780439023498/?itm=1 which I don't seem to have a review copy of it or I would have read it immediately as I loved Hunger Games http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Hunger-Games/Suzanne-Collins/e/9780439023481/?itm=2 I enjoyed getting to know Katniss, a strong a fiery female character living in a dystopian world that should scare us all silly.
With that book in mind I went looking for my copy of Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas' Woolvs in the Sitee http://www.amazon.com/Woolvs-Sitee-Margaret-Wild/dp/1590785002/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1254270204&sr=8-1 which is one of the creepiest dytopian futuristic picture books I've ever read/viewed. The stark illustrations draw me back to them over and over again. They portray a young boy who fears the wolves in the city, who aren't the 4 legged kind who roam the woods, but the ones who stalk the remaining humans when they venture into the city streets. He writes on the walls in phonetic spelling that often takes some thought to decipher. The boy's upstairs neighbor, an elderly woman, rushes out to get him when he thinks he sees bloo sky that, instead, turns out to be a painted wall that is quickly turning black. The old woman then disappears and he goes in search of her, leaving the reader to only imagine what happened to both of them. This is one of those picture books you would never give to a child as it is more horrific than any scary tale about a folklorish witch.

Which, of course, brings me to Arthur Yorinks' The Witch's Child illustrated by Jos. A. Smith. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Witchs-Child/Arthur-Yorinks/e/9780810993495/?itm=1&usri=w This is the book that sits next to the above YA level picture book.  Again, another picture book I would not share with young children. Upper elementary, yes, but not little ones. They'd be scared silly that a witch would turn them into thorny bushes! Smith's illustrations are beyond creepy in detail and nature. Let's just say the ending to the witch is similar to the Hansel and Gretel folktale with the witch's child being adopted by the little girl's parents. A little girl brave enought to enter the witch's house and try to mend the witch's child, a child of straw and leaves that even a lonely witch could not bring to life, but the love of a little girl could. There is a reason these two 2007 titles are still sitting on my bookshelf - they are ones I could not bear to give away. Nor will I!

My NCIS is over and Ziva is back home where she is supposed to be so all is right in my TV world. I have not decided if I like the California version with Chris O'Donnell yet. One week wasn't enough to draw me in but I plan to give it a chance. But it doesn't have Mark Harmon so how could it match up? :-)

Friday, September 25, 2009

I think Kegan and McKinley are going to be as close as my Mic and Mary were as kids. These two are even closer in age and McKinley already has Kegan and her older brother Michael wrapped around her little finger. Well, for that matter, her Mom and Dad too! Mary said they are now getting their summer weather. She called me yesterday from the park and she was in shorts and a tank top.

It has gotten chilly here in Lexington due to all the rain we have been getting. But, the flowers and wild strawberries in the front flower bed are growing like crazy. Steve picked a bunch of the tiny strawberries for me. They bring back memories of picking them as a kid and my mom making a white cake and covering the white frosting with the tiny berries. The coup was to find the first ripe ones so Mom could bring the cake to the St. John's Day celebration in late June. Summer came slowly to Upper Michigan - perhaps not as slowly as to Finland but my grandparents brought many of the celebrations with them.

I've been reading The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Blue-Zones/Dan-Buettner/e/9781426204005/?itm=3&USRI=blue+zone. I found out about this book from Veronica, one of the other LS professors at ECU whose husband is Greek. One of the Blue Zones is a Greek island, very near to the one Nick grew up on. One of the secrets to a long life is "Your Tribe" - in other words, your family and close friends. I did not realize what a close knit tribe I grew up in. My dad and his brother married my mom and her sister so my cousins are double first cousins and the two families grew up together. I was the youngest so I missed out on many of the activities but it just seemed normal for my mom and Aunt Ruth to be together. Their friends were people my dad had grown up with as both families settled in the same little area. I have come to realize I have missed out on so much by leaving my tribe behind when my kids' dad wanted to move as far away as possible and that was Alaska. So now I am rethinking this whole tribe thing and how those close connections are what may be why my parents' generation were as healthy as they were.

Speaking of the Zone, many of us grew up watching Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, which to me is much scarier than the blood and gore movies of today. There is no skill in scaring an audience by cutting people into piece with blood spurting everywhere. But, to scare viewers with the possibility that the person sitting next to you in that little diner may actually be a Martian in disguise and the cook is from Venus, is a gift. Mark Kneece, one of the founders of the Sequential Art Department at Savannah College of Art and Design, has brought 8 of the Twilight Zone episodes back to life via graphic novels that will appeal to readers from upper elementary through adult. This series, including Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Twilight-Zone/Rod-Serling/e/9780802797278/?itm=2 which spooked me when I saw it years ago and again in this graphic novel. Give these to the resistant reader boys and they will be asking for each one. I hope Kneece adds to this series as it will be very popular and 8 books isn't going to be enough.

Although I was not impressed with Nuggest on the Flight Deck by Patricia Newman, with colored pencil illustrations by Aaron Zenz, I am still very aware that it will be popular with elementary age boys http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Nugget-on-the-Flight-Deck/Patricia-Newman/e/9780802797353/?itm=1&usri=n They will be delighted with the detailed drawings and enjoy the jargon used on an aircraft carrier. Nugget is the term used for a new aviator on his first tour of duty, but the illustrations make him look like an upper elementary age boy, rather than a young cadet. Young readers may think it odd that a boy is taken on a training mission. Nevertheless, it is still worth purchasing for the military and jet avid young readers.

Since the inception of Harry Potter there have been a lot of dragon focused fantasy for middle grade readers, but Shadow of the Dragon, Book 1: Kira by Kate O'Hearn is a bit unique in that it is set in a kingdom where girls must be married at age 13 and they certainly cannot have anything to do with dragons, which are trained and used by the king's army. Kira is a feisty 12 year old who is fascinated by dragons but not by the idea of being married. When Lord Dorcon, her father's nemesis, arrives at their farm to collect the family, Kira and her little sister Elspeth escape, but the middle daughter does not and is thrown into prison with the other girls who the king plans to starve to death. Kira's father and brother are forced to join the army. Not about to accept defeat at the hands of girls, Lord Dorcon continues to search for the girls, driving them into the mountains ruled by a rouge dragon. Their fate changes when they find an infant dragon who grows to allow Kira to ride him. With the help of a wizard, the sisters intend on rescuing their sister. A fun read. Upper elementary and MS readers will be impatiently waiting for the next book, which focuses on Elspeth. O'Hearn's debut novel will be enjoyed by fantasy readers who may have the same dream of riding a dragon that the author had, but she was vicariously riding between the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Isn't McKinley adorable? Mary says she'll add a pink bow or something to the costume so it is clear she's a little girl. Wish I could be there to see the kids all dressed up for Halloween. I had as much fun on Halloween as my kids as back then I dressed as a witch (green face and all) and had a cauldron and turned out the lights and read or told scary stories in the elementary school library. Sure can't do that anymore! Now it is a harvest festival and no Halloween type decorations. Need to find the lighted jack-o-lantern for the front porch. I am buying Halloween candy I can't eat or else I will!

I played flamingo (my bad left leg up with my foot on my other ankle) while holding onto the counter tops as I made chili for dinner. I was in the mood to cook and that is very unusual for me so I ignored not being allowed to stand for any length of time on my left leg as I was going to cook. I am paying for it now as my knee is hurting like Hades but I am not taking anything stronger than Advil as I have to keep myself awake until 12:30 a.m. and set an alarm for 6:30 a.m. so I get a max of 6 hours of "bed time" for the next 5 nights. I am seeing a cognitive/pain doc to help deal with the fibromyalgia insomnia and pain. He assures me that if I am willing to give this the 5 days of 6 hours and then add a 1/2 hour until I am past the number of hours I need I will not need to take sleep meds. and I'll get more "refreshing" sleep. He swears that they have a 97% success rate with this technique and biofeedback with fibro patients. Since I am more than tired of hurting 24/7 I am willing to try most anything. Acupuncture only worked for a few weeks as the fibro pain got smart and just moved from the area he was working on.

So, I stopped at Barnes and Noble and picked up Dan Brown's Lost Symbol http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Lost-Symbol/Dan-Brown/e/9780385504225/?itm=1 I had read both previous books about Langdon long before the movies so I was really disappointed to have Tom Hanks play him as Hanks just doesn't live up to the good looking young guy I had in my mind! I am interested to see if I now see Tom Hanks in my mind as I read this. Hopefully I can stay awake until after midnight by reading this.

I also picked up a copy of the graphic novel of The Gunslinger Born http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Dark-Tower/Peter-David/e/9781615531318/?itm=1&usri=1 which was on sale for less than $7 so I didn't think I could go wrong as I loved Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. Again, I read it when it first came out so I've forgotten much of it but it will be interesting to see if the illustrations work for me. This graphic novel series is a gotta have for HS level graphic novel collections and at $7 it is a bargain! I'll write more about it when I finish reading/viewing it.

We all know that Stephen King writes really creepy horror that gets into your head and does not want to leave. Another author, who is incredibly gifted in creating dialog and narrative that makes the reader look behind him/her to see if the creepy character is Neil Gaiman. Lots of discussion about The Graveyard Book http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Graveyard-Book/Neil-Gaiman/e/9780060530921/?itm=1&usri=1 which to me is very much a MS level book and isn't one I'd hand to an elementary school student. But, that Newbery designation causes many librarians and teachers to misjudge this book as a children's book. It is pure creepy tween reading. Perfect to create an October book display around. He has also taken on the Norse mythology I grew up with in his Odd and the Frost Giants http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Odd-and-the-Frost-Giants/Neil-Gaiman/e/9780061671739/?itm=1&usri=1 Don't let the short length trick you into believing it isn't a sophisticated story even though it seems quite simple and easy to read. Odd is a young boy lamed in an accident while trying to use his deceased father's cross-saw. Odd states things as he sees them - simple yet confusing! It is his blunt look at the world and his simple logic that saves him from forever being lost in the world of the Norse gods. Although the reviews suggest ages 8-12, this is one I would suggest MS teachers read aloud when studying mythology as it is an absolute delight.

Since I started out talking about Halloween, I need to end on that note with the boootifully delightful Never Say Boo! by Robin Pulver and illustrated by Deb Lucke http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Never-Say-Boo/Robin-Pulver/e/9780823421107/?itm=1&usri=1 Poor Gordon - his ghostly parents have moved in the abandoned house across the street from the elementary school and have insisted he attend. But, his fellow classmates are more than a little scared of him. "Bummer!" as Gordon will say more than once. He has a blood curdling "BOO!" but knows better than to open his mouth, even when the teacher, Ms. Boodle, starts asking questions for which the answers all start with boo, including boomerang and booster. His haunted lunchbox is not a big hit, but Gordon saves the day when there is a fire in the school. Well, let's just say he wasn't booed for his "BOO!" that cleared the school. :-) Lucke's illustrations are as funny as the text as poor Gordon's teeth keep falling out of his mouth and he has a scar on his head similar to Frankenstein's monster. I know, I know - no Halloween books during story time in the school library, but at least this is a gotta have for the picture book collection. And, what a fun way to introduce words that start with boo.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Isn't she the most beautiful child you have ever seen? Well, I may be a bit prejudice as I am her Gramma, but this pic of McKinley is my screen saver. She has the same fine, white-blonde hair that I had as a child. Her mom's wasn't quite that blonde but she was a towhead as well. I have the weather for here in Lexington, Mary's Green Bay, and our, hopefully, next home, Ft. Lauderdale on my main page to compare the weather. It is as beautiful in Green Bay today as it is in both Lexington and Ft. Lauderdale, though not quite as warm. Perhaps Mary has taken the kids to the park again while the weather is nice. Winter will arrive in Green Bay way too soon. Hopefully we'll have this warm Autumn weather for awhile yet. I'd like to be able to take a walk in the neighborhood after the trees change, but my knee won't allow that yet.

Speaking of weather - I just received a copy of Mitzi's World: Seek and Discover More Than 150 Details in 15 Works of Folk Art by Deborah Raffin and illustrated by Jane Wooster Scott. The folk art depicts the seasons in the detail rich Americana folk art. I like the winter scenes best, even if I only like to look at snow from behind a window pane these days. Hopefully we won't get ice storms here this winter. Mitzi is a little white and black dog that kids, and adults, will enjoy finding in the illustrations, along with lots of other listed items. I am not a Waldo or I Spy fan but I do like this book. I like to look at the art even without trying to find the items listed. The only thing the kids might find confusing is that there are 15 illustrations but the last page states "And now a new year begins". Nevertheless, this is a wonderful book to curl up under a blanket with a child as the rain or snow blows outside.

My adult reading as of late has been Wild Women and Books: Bibliophiles, Bluestockings, and Prolific Pens from Aphra Behn to Zora Neale Hurston and from Anne Rice to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Brenda Knight. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Wild-Women-and-Books/Brenda-Knight/e/9781573242714/?itm=1 A very interesting set of short biographical essays about female writers from religious zealots to cult favorites like Anne Rice who arrived to an event in a hearse. J. K. Rowling is included as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder as far as authors with child appeal. I don't agree with Knight's list of "Other Beloved Children's Authors" as it includes Anne McCaffrey who is an adult author with teen/tween appeal. She listed Beatrix Potter but does not highlight her; that is a disappointment. But, at least the list includes Judy Blume.

I am listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Picture-of-Dorian-Gray/Oscar-Wilde/e/9781556852534/?itm=1&usri=1. I read it years ago as a teen but listening to it has been very entertaining, especially Lord Henry's witty, but cutting, anti-female comments, which are down right funny when heard rather read.

What would people today sell their soul to the devil for? Well, how about a 1958 Cadillac? That is exactly what happens to Eunice, aka Bug, a multiracial girl whose grandfather made a deal for his soul, and his granddaughter's. He may have died but somehow he beat the devil and now he's come to El Paso to collect on Bug's soul. She isn't about to give it, or her Cadillac, up to Beals, who is tied to the car. Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Soul-Enchilada/David-Macinnis-Gill/e/9780061673016/?itm=1&usri=1 is wickedly funny and very much an urban tale. He pulls no punches as far as the gross out factor or Bug's gritty language, but you have to keep reading to find out if Bug, with the help of Pesto, a car wash manager who is also an agent for the ISIS, International Supernatural Immigration Service, figures out a way out of the contract her grandfather signed. Now I have to tell you - I sure wouldn't sell my soul for a Cadillac - it would be more like a Jaguar!! No - I am just kidding!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I felt like I had let my "baby" go out into the world when I dropped my tenure portfolio off at UPS to be sent to ECU today. A 4" high binder full of examples of my professional life/contributions since August 2006. Hard to believe I am beginning my 4th academic year at East Carolina University. Seems like yesterday that I attended all those "new faculty" meetings and realized why it is good idea to stay at one university long term - you only have to attend those once! :-) But, now maybe I can catch up a few things and actually enjoy life for a bit even if I am stuck sitting with a heating pad on my knee. I have migrated from the bedroom to the recliner in the living room - I feel less like an invalid out here and can look out at the ferns swaying in the breeze on the back deck and the plum tree we planted when we first moved in, which is growing like a bad weed. Thank goodness for small laptops. I absolutely love this little Dell Latitude E4200 - it is bigger than the small notebooks but so much lighter than the average laptops and I really don't mind the smaller screen. It is small enough that I don't even have to put any pressure on my left knee when I sit with it.

Trying to catch up on email and saw that Reading Rainbow is going off the air. Not enough funds to continue airing it. Here's a bit of the quote from NPR http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112312561

The show's run is ending, Grant explains, because no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show's broadcast rights.
Grant says the funding crunch is partially to blame, but the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming. The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.
Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that's not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do. "Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read," Grant says. "You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read."

For those of you who know me, you can probably hear me grinding my teeth and growling at the shift to telling kids what to read and how many points a book is worth based on the often incorrect reading level and how everything is standardized test focused these days. The way kids become better readers is to read, for pleasure, and by selecting books they want to read, even if the books are below or above their supposed reading level determined by a test. I'd love to see someone do a reading level test on a paragraph of a limited text book about dinosaurs - the one that has all the dinosaur names in it and then tell me that a primary age boy can't read this book because it is above his reading level. Heck - the Kindergarten-2nd grade boys used to help me pronounce the names - they even know how to spell them. Delight in reading comes from reading what interests us. But, I have sung this song before and am sad to see a beloved show that actually encouraged the love of reading to be let go like this.

Some of you may recognize Susanne Dunlap's name from her adult historical fiction novels - several of them that look very interesting. But, I was pulled in by the lovely illustraqtion on the cover of her first YA novel, published by Bloomsbury, The Musician's Daughter http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Musicians-Daughter/Susanne-Dunlap/e/9781599903323/?itm=1 - a young woman with what looks to be a violin in her hands, but the character of this book, fifteen-year-old Theresa Marie has learned how to play the viola. It is 18th century Vienna and her father has been found dead in a Gypsy camp on Christmas Eve, his beloved violin gone. With her mother pregnant and a younger brother who is as hungry as she is, Theresa goes to her Godfather, none other than the composer Hayden, for assistance. He hires her to create the sheet music as he composes as he can no longer see well enough to do it on his own. Young women of her day do not go out alone, but she is determined to solve the mystery of who killed her father and where his violin is and in the process puts herself and her younger brother in grave danger. This is a historical mystery that will pique the interest of possible female musicians and those who like historical romance, as there is a bit of that as well. Yes, some of the incidents appear to be a bit stretched, but that's part of what historical fiction does - takes real people and creates a new story around them, while being seeped in historical setting accuracy. And, as far as the musical accuracy I wouldn't know if something was wrong as I have no musical talent or knowledge, but I trust Dunlap to have gotten it correct as she has a PhD in music history from Yale! From her website, it looks like she has another YA novel coming out soon in March 2010, Anastasia's Secret http://www.susannedunlap.com/Susanne_Dunlap/Home.html

My grandson Michael started his first day of First Grade today and was not the least bit happy about being back at school from what my daughter Mary said. Hopefully that will change as he gets back into the school focused schedule of the academic year. Maybe he feels a bit like the kids in many of the poems in Laura Purdie Salas's Stampede!: Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Stampede/Laura-Purdie-Salas/e/9780618914883/?itm=1&usri=1. The rhythm and the rhyme of the poems will make them great fun to read aloud to elementary age students. Lots of the issues addressed, such as not having done your homework and getting lost in the school, are topics that cross all age levels, but the bold illustrations by Steven Salerno make this more appropriate for primary grades, though I am sure some of the older elementary students will also enjoy the poems. Love all the illustrations except for the one for "New Mouse" about getting lost in the maze of hallways. The other illustrations are appropriate to the elementary school environment, but this one shows a maze with arrows pointing to rooms such as Woodshop, History, and French - none of which would be found in elementary schools even though the mouse girl illustrated is of elementary age. The one thing I do like about this particular illustration is that Salerno uses the term Library rather than media center, a term I really detest, especially since in most school libraries the students are not allowed to check out any of the media! Order this one rebound as the trade edition is so poorly bound a child could easily stick a pencil under the binding string and pop it. One circulation and that would be it if first checked out by the inquisitive child who wants to see what happens if the string in the book is broken. If you can't find a rebound edition it would be worth adding to your own collection for storytime.

And one other gripe - children's picture books normally have the same illustration on the book itself as on the dust jacket, but if an elementary librarian wants to save money by taking the jacket off and processing the book without it, the author and illustrator information is no longer accessible to the children, nor is the book blurb. I wish they'd be "forced" to keep the dust jacket on as is the case with most YA and adult hardbacks as the book itself is not illustrated and a blank cover with the title on the spine only will not pique a potential reader's attention as did the cover art of The Musician's Daughter for me.

That's it for today - back to over flowing email inbox. I haven't checked my yahoo email in weeks so if you sent me an email there, bear with me. I have to catch up with ECU email first.