IMWAYR–Mostly Murder Mysteries

untitledThis is more of a six week reading wrap up than what I’ve read in the last week, but the majority of this reading has taken place in the first two weeks of Christmas break. Since I just ordered the 17 required books for next semester, this is probably the last fun reading I get for a while. So far this break has been full of murder and mayhem, and I don’t think it will change in the few remaining days.

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd- This young adult book set in Ireland during the height 51zyIoTSlwL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_of “the Troubles” took me more than a month to finish, mostly because of interruptions, but also the book never made me want to jump in and read for long periods of time. The story was interesting but I guess not compelling or fast moving. Fergus, a young man studying for his college entrance exams, finds a mummified young girl while digging peat with his uncle. This mystery of who the girl in the bog is unfolds in the middle of Fergus’ imprisoned older brother’s hunger strike, Fergus’ exams and his first experience with love.

I’ve listened to three audio books in the last couple months, which actually doubles my lifelong audiobook total. I had checked all three out of the library for the long hours in the car going to NCTE and back, but the conversation in my carload was brisk enough we never needed the distraction.

Dark of the Moon by John Sandford- This is the first book in the Virgil 41ro4-cWtBL._SX268_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgFlowers series. I had read it several years ago but since Virgil is one of my book boyfriends, I revisit these books occasionally. My two girls and I listened to this book on a 22-hour drive to Pennsylvania and back over Thanksgiving break and they both enjoyed the story. (I don’t know that most parents would find it entirely “appropriate” for most 12-year-olds but it’s no worse than her steady Netflix diet of Bones and Criminal Minds.) Minnesota BCA detective Flowers is called in to help solve three homicides in a sleepy town. The motive for the murders goes back decades and the book takes enough twists and turns on the road to solving the crime that I didn’t remember who actually did it.

The Wave by Walter Mosley- I call this book science fiction light, which is a genre I don’t usually almost never read, but I love Walter Mosley books 41e6thoy+LL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_so I thought I’d give it a try. I found myself longing for Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill the entire time I listened to this story. Errol Porter’s father comes back from the grave with knowledge of a secret tar-like substance that links together a whole bunch of reanimated people who are supposedly peaceful but the U.S. government wants to eradicate anyway.

The Whole Truth by David Baldacci- A new, coerced into 41lJHkxpLmL._SX278_BO1,204,203,200_service, secret agent/social ops/hitman character, A Shaw, is out to save the world from evil forces- both American and foreign in this fast-paced thriller. The story is typical Baldacci action packed, the narrator is good with voices but I could do without the cheesy background music.

Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell- Now I remember 51bD0LAqojL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_why I quit reading her books and the Kay Scarpetta series in particular. This book is all preface for the next book in the series. Long time nemesis Carrie Gresham is back but she never really makes an appearance in this book, just messes with everyone’s life. None of the original characters, Kay, Lucy, Marino, Benton, are likeable or competent anymore and the story has been done better by other writers.

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith- I forgot that Robert Galbraith is really 51hy+GbenKL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_JK Rowling when I checked this book out of the library. I’ve read one of the other Cormoran Strike novels but I’m not really a JK Rowling fan, aside from appreciated how many non-readers she coerced into finishing books. This story was pretty good but I thought the book was too long. The suspect list could have been shortened a bit, as well as the number of pages. I had a hard time believing that one person could know that many people capable of sending body parts through mail, even if your career is putting criminals behind bars.

The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman- I enjoyed this story of a foster girl made good in spite of her terrible childhood but why did 51LnYdb+tZL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Kellerman keep making references to his other crime fighting psychologist, Alex Delaware? He had no real tie to this book and doesn’t make an appearance but Grace Blades throws in strange references to him throughout the book. The story stands on its own without Delaware and yes, Jonathan, I am aware of your other book series.

51klhwHo--L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The Best Short Stories of 2014– collection edited by Jennifer Egan- Some of the included stories I read previously in the New Yorker, which seems to be over represented in this collection, but there are several outstanding pieces of short fiction. My favorites are: Nicole Cullen’s “Long Tom Lookout” which originally appeared in the Idaho Review and “Charity” by Charles Baxter which was first published in McSweeney’s.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds- This is the story of a teenage51HppvVE3dL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ boy, Matt Miller, who just lost his mom to cancer and might lose his dad. He starts working at the local funeral home to help with the household bills and to eavesdrop on funerals trying to make sense of his loss. He also meets a girl, named appropriately, Love. This book is full Jason Reynolds’ unique voice and fun style, even though, once again, the subject matter is tough and important.


Christmas Gift Books

We finally finished up in-law Christmas so all the books are unwrapped and I can (almost) remember what I gave to everyone! I always gift quite a few books- it’s the go-to present for grandpa who we try not to buy more ‘stuff’ for (books don’t count) and my husband, who never wants very much and buys what he needs- but this year may have set a record for book gifting. I’ve decided that all the gifts I give next year will be books, no other junk, because it made shopping so much easier! We spent Christmas afternoon and the following day snowed in, cozy and content curled up in our respective reading spots with a new book.

My mother-in-law received Summer Miller’s New Prairie Kitchen, along 51+NGOj19NL._SX422_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgwith a beautiful solid wood cutting board handmade by the guy up the road. I don’t know how useful the cookbook will be, I think it is hard to know about recipes until you start cooking, but the photographs are beautiful. We know some of the people and have eaten at restaurants featured in the book, which is cool.

My father-in-law got two books: a signed copy of Linda Hasselstrom’s 51ElOVEexDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_latest The Wheel of a The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook, because after decades of writing and performing cowboy poetry he thinks he wants to write a book, and a memoir about sustainable living in either South Dakota or Iowa, so somewhat locally.

My husband received two books just for him and 51GtMh5WpLL._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_one I wanted to read… kind of like the shotguns and fly fishing rods I sometimes get. Brew Better Beer by Emma Christensen was recommended as one of the best cookbooks of the year. Hopefully with this book he can break away from home brew kits and into brewing directly from grains, most of which we have from making bread from scratch. There is 41+b8t5VrOL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_nothing in the fermentation bucket yet, but the husband thinks the many ingredient conversion charts will be very useful. He also got Dave Eggers’ The Circle and now, halfway through the book, he’s scared to use Google and wants to delete himself from Facebook. The book we are sharing and have both read and love of course, is Jason Reynolds’ The Boy in the Black Suit. It’s just as good as the two other books of his I’ve read. When he finished reading it, the day 51HppvVE3dL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_after Christmas-he’s slow reader, the husband said he knew some kids who needed to read this book. Exactly the same comment he had for All American Boys.

My oldest daughter got car insurance and college textbooks for most of her Christmas gifts but in her stocking she found the first two books of Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers trilogy, I Hunt Killers 41d++urzhQL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_and Game, Sold by Patricia McCormick and a grown-up coloring book so she will keep her hands off mine. She’s now finished the two serial killer books and really liked them, but she left after 51clOkezoKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Christmas for a week-long stay at her older brother’s with the second one, right when I was getting ready to snag it, so soon we will need the next ones. When she opened Sold, she was excited. Apparently she had read it from the library in sixth grade and couldn’t remember what it was called but loved it and always wanted to own it. Now I can steal it to read, so we are both happy.

My youngest son is more of a gamer than a reader and he got a new tv, but in his stocking was When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. I thought this book needed to be in our house. He says he started it but the husband 51OpWz6cprL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgis itching to read it, so he better hurry or he’s going to lose it for a couple days. He also got a remainder book about building muscle without machines that the husband ordered. He’s not a fan of the boys who hang out in the weight room at school and doesn’t like to leave his basement cave so he’s a fan of this book. I know he’s reading it because he keeps quoting random facts about how many calories are in all the foods I like to eat and resistance.

My youngest daughter found three books among the 51qqZeGBDZL._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_fuzzy socks in her stocking: Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big 41vUh9e1rxL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Mouth by Jeff Anderson, Wonder by RJ 51-w29V4YgL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Palacio and What We Lost by Sara Zarr. She is really picky about books but I want to read all three, so no loss if she doesn’t like one. I am confident she will like them all if she puts down her iPod long enough to give each a try. Actually she wants to read these books during SSR at school instead of the book in her tested required reading level: Dodger by Charles Dickens. I’m working on a note and the research to back it up for Monday.

It’s always a struggle to shop for my niece and nephew who are glued to 51gPJLKZw0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_technology and get everything they might think about wanting before they want it. This year they each got a book, accompanied by a bunch of earrings for one and a funny t-shirt for the other. I think we’ll go with books from now on because it was simpler to pick from authors I heard at NCTE than trying to find a gadget they don’t51ma5BhAvVL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_ own. One received Kevin Anderson’s The Fellowship for Alien Detection and the other unwrapped the first book in The School of Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani. They both read the back cover synopsis immediately so I’m hopeful they will unplug and turn pages. Maybe their middle school doesn’t require SSR according to tested reading levels.

Of course this book buying frenzy included one book for myself that I couldn’t disguise as a gift for someone else. Waiting for 51ChDqQXsEL._SX339_BO1,204,203,200_me under the tree was A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men by David E. Kirkland. I’m about halfway through, and although the book is different than I expected and not even close to hearing Kirkland speak, it’s pretty good.

About half of these books were purchased at an independent book store while Christmas shopping and half came courtesy of Amazon’s two-day Prime shipping because I am a procrastinating shopper. This year I hope to acquire a pile of books for each family member throughout the year so I have time to order in through our local bookstore instead of Amazon. I don’t know if I can hoard books without reading until Christmas though! Most of these books were new authors I discovered at NCTE or heard excerpts from at Steven Layne’s read-aloud session, I think proving the power of relationship building and reading aloud

The Creative Mind

Before a crazy blizzard (Snow in Nebraska in December! Crazy right?) snowburied everything for hundreds of miles around under a mountain of white, my Capstone class, The Creative Mind, was scheduled to end with each student creating and presenting a short version of a TEDtalk to share their take away from the class. When the presentations moved online, less than 24 hours before they were supposed to be given, I was still undecided which way I wanted to go and I had roughly developed two separate talks. (I know, I’m really on top of my homework this semester.) So I decided to sort of combine both things into one super long blog post with less pictures. Here we go:

“Just Do It: Nike was Right about Creativity”
“Are You My Mother? The Enormous Amounts of Creativity Required to do College as an Old Person”
“My Mother Does Not Wear Nikes Because She Has Weird Feet and Creatively Labeled Our Abandonment as Going Back to College”

Continue reading

NCTE 2015

ncteNCTE 2015 in Minneapolis, Minnesota seems like it happened a long time ago and I haven’t had time to organize my notes, handouts, or anything else since then. Driving over 5,000 miles in ten days for crazy circumstances, being on the school board in the midst of a superintendent search, taking 18 college credits and not completely neglecting four kids will mess with your life that way.

My time at NCTE was so much more than I expected. I took in so much information and learned so much about my classmates, that my brain exploded. I got to meet some of my idols and hear them speak. I discovered some new heroes. And as cliché as it sounds, I laughed and I cried. If I summarized all ten sessions I attended, this post would be long so here is the list of the top fifteen things I’m glad I got to experience at NCTE ’15, plus five extras, and the five things I could have done without. Continue reading

How to Grow Readers & Writers

It seems like ages ago that we were asked in ‘Methods’ class to think about how to grow readers and writers in our future classrooms and share those thoughts on our blogs. I did think about it. A lot. Most of my list centered on “how not to” instead of “how to.”

  • Don’t make kids write about ridiculous topics they don’t care about. (“Would you rather be a squid or a starfish?” writing prompt….I’m looking at you. Everyone wants to be a seahorse because seahorses are awesome!)
  • Don’t cover student papers in red ink just because they don’t know the difference between their, there and they’re, or any other easily correctable spelling or grammar issues. (Teachers if you do this regularly to my kids’ papers instead of utilizing mini-lessons, you better be ready for any parent-teacher communications with mistakes to be sent back to school corrected with a red pen.)
  • Don’t force students to pick from the two books in the school library that are classified at their reading level. (Guess how many books my kids choose to read at school? … the number rounds down to zero. Guess how many books my kids read at home? … approximately a gazillion. Guess how many of those were at the proper reading level? …. I have no flipping clue and I don’t care. Why should anyone?)


So how do I think teachers can grow readers? Continue reading

SOL #7: Family Life

It’s not normal for me to leave home and not know what I will find when I return. I never know whether the dishes have been washed this week or if there will be a pile of dirty plates waiting on the sink. I can count on some 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hlaundry needing washed and that the floors will need vacuumed. What I don’t worry about is whether my family will be intact and if my kids will be okay when I return. My husband is a good and capable father. He has been the at-home parent for most of the past fifteen years. We raised independent kids- so much so that sometimes they need reminded they are not the adult. My kids are happy to keep in touch during the week with Snapchat or text, as long as I show up on the weekend to spend a few hours on the couch watching Netflix with their heads on my shoulder or feet in my lap. They also expect enough baked goods to see them through the week.

Sometimes they delight in conspiring with their Dad to have a surprise waiting when I get home. One time the washing machine had finally moved from the middle of the kitchen to its rightful laundry space. Occasionally they make a batch of caramel corn and make sure there is a little left for me. Our family has functioned-if not happily, then consistently- this way for years.

This week I am preparing to attend the 2015 NCTE Conference with my Language Arts Methods class. I am excited for the opportunity to go. Really excited. The wealth of knowledge gathered under one roof looks incredible on the schedule. There are so many valuable sessions offered. (How do you choose between Linda Christiansen and Jason Reynolds, though?) I believe the things I learn will be invaluable in my future classroom. Plus, things have happened here at school that make me need a break. NCTE combined with the days off at Thanksgiving should get me through the semester.

Attending this conference means I won’t be home for more than ten days. As excited as I am to go to NCTE, I don’t know what will be waiting for me when I get home. Dirty dishes certainly. Laundry to wash of course. But I’m no longer guaranteed that “the kids are alright.”

SOL #6: Introverts Need People Too

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI have always been an introvert. I value and fiercely guard my alone time and was raised to be independent from a young age. I’m no good at small talk and awkward at parties unless I have at least three drinks down, but I can function well with a ‘script’ -like when I waitress or have to participate in class discussion about a particular subject- even though I am uncomfortable doing it. So being 100 miles away from my family during the week to attend college has been a blessing as much as it has been a hardship. I live alone. It’s easy to avoid my neighbors. I miss my family and talk to them each night.

It’s only during the last several days that I realized how alone I am at college and how much I rely on the support of my family without knowing. In my mind I gave up depending on other people in early childhood. It was clear they couldn’t be trusted. I have good friends at college. Friends that swept my shattered pieces off the carpet and put me back together with gentle hands and a box of Kleenex.

But it is not the same. It is not the same as your child wordlessly laying their head on your shoulder because they know you could use a touch. It is not the same as your dog sitting as close as possible to you on the couch because he feels you are sad. It is not the same as your husband of twenty years holding you so close that your heartbeats echo in each other. Or being able stretch a foot across the bed and feel he is still next to you when you can’t bear his touch.

I was never more alone than when my foot reached out in the dark night and found only empty space. My aloneness was magnified the next night when my husband and son left the parking lot in one direction and I turned the opposite way after we had met in the middle. I started my weekend early and the next school week late to soak up as much consolation in touch as possible in order to make it through four and a half days, and nights, alone.