Sunday, June 29, 2014


Here's a little sneak peek from my vacation! Isn't it gorgeous? You have no idea how many times I said, "Wow...," on this trip! I have some great stories and photos to share, as well as some great tips for taking a fabulous road trip! I thought I would be home by now, but decided to extend the trip by one more day. I look forward to sharing more with you all once I get home and load up the computer with my photos and journal from the trip.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

California Dreamin'...

I am happy to say I am on vacation at the moment,...exploring the beauty of the Pacific Coast Highway in California! I will be sure to blog about my trip when it's over, but for now...I just want to continue enjoying this fabulous experience!

So,...until next week,...

Happy summer and happy reading!!! :-D

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Short, Quirky, and Lovable

I'm not the kind of reader who insists on always reading a "doorstopper size" novel. In fact, I like to vary my reading choices. After I read a long novel, I typically seek out something smaller for a change of pace, a novella or a young adult fiction. Sometimes, I will choose a book with a collection of stories and sprinkle of few of the stories between reading larger novels. It just depends on my mood and my time schedule. 

All that being said, I'd like to share about two books I recently enjoyed. While the books are not similar in plot or design (one is a collection of short stories, the other a novella), they share certain features that appeal to me. The stories are quirky, but completely lovable. They are the kind of stories that stick with you. They make you think a little deeper. Ponder life, and your place in it, a little more. They also make you get a lopsided grin now and then in the middle of your day when something you read comes to mind. 

Now, I know "quirky" doesn't suit everyone but, if it does, these two jewels are right up your alley...

Let's start with Thank You for the Music: Stories by Jane McCafferty. 

I found this book at Half-Price Books and was attracted to the title and the cover. I love music and thought it might be something like Rob Sheffield's book Love is a Mix Tape. When I realized it was a collection of short stories with music woven in to the stories, I decided to take a chance on it (there's that great book instinct rising to the occasion again). 

McCafferty has written fourteen short stories about the lives of other people, and I assure you there is something for everyone. I read the book straight through, which is unusual for me when it comes to collections. I liked the stories for McCafferty's subtle insights and her humor. She looks at life in both a mystical and a practical way. Some of the stories made me a bit melancholy, others made me smile, but all of them made me stop and think. To me, that's always a good thing.

Special note: After I read the book, I looked it up on Amazon and found that it is now one of their "bargain books," which means you can get it for a very low price AND if you're an Amazon Prime Member, like I am, the shipping is free. And, yes, I ordered another copy - one to keep and one to lend. Supplies are limited on "bargain books," so...go get a bargain while they last! :)

(When did I turn into a commercial announcer?) 

Next on my list is Andrew Kaufman's All My Friends Are Superheroes

First,  you just have to love the title, don't you? I know I do! I was actually attracted to this book through a quote I saw posted on a social media site. When I saw the title attached to the quote, I just had to look it up. 

Since my last post was about my love of book covers, I must mention that there was nothing that appealed to me about the cover of this book. There are two covers, actually, and neither of them 'spoke' to me, but I could not deny my love for the quote and the title. Reading the little introduction convinced me it was for me.

In Kaufman's novella, the main character is not a superhero,...but all his friends are (including his girlfriend). However, their 'superpowers' aren't necessarily...super. The book is really more a statement about relationships and about how we are as human beings. While there are many books written about these topics, Kaufman definitely has a unique way of approaching the subjects. While it is an odd little book, it is charming and precious and,...I ended up hugging it after I'd read it. That should tell you something, eh? 

Here's a suggestion for you, if you decided to purchase this book, be sure to get the Tenth Anniversary Edition. I found that I was glad I purchased that one because the author added a few extra superheroes in a special section at the end. It was fun to read about each one after finishing the story.

Oh, and by the way...

In all this talk about books, have I mentioned this is the first day of my summer break? (Big grin!) I am so excited about all the extra reading time I'll have to enjoy for the next couple of months!! I also have quite a bit of writing to do, as well. Both are two activities I enjoy, along with spending time with my family and traveling. Let the fun begin! 

Happy reading!!!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Signing In to the Next Chapter

Yesterday was the last day of school for my sixth grade students. They are now, officially, considered seventh graders. While I will miss them, I am very proud of them and know they are ready for the next grade level. I look forward to watching them learn and grow over the next two years in middle school.

There is a time-honored tradition in my classroom that the students look forward to at the end of the year. It's something I came up with my first year of teaching, and I have followed through with it every year. It means as much to me as it does to my students.

I have two big boards in my classroom. One is a whiteboard at the front of the room and one is a chalkboard on the side of the room. I don't allow students to write on my boards in the classroom unless we're doing work. No one writes on my boards "(insert name) was here!" or "Luv u!" between class periods, before/after school, or during any clubs in my classroom.


Did I say no one? 

Well, that isn't true. Seventh and eighth grade students are allowed to come in anytime (when class isn't in session, of course) and write on either of my boards, anywhere they like and write anything they like. Sometimes, they even draw pictures. They enjoy their 'honored status' in my classroom. I enjoy giving them that honor, as well.

Does this sound like I'm being cruel or unfair to my sixth grade students? I assure you I'm not, though it sometimes feels that way to them in the beginning. I'm actually teaching them something. I'm teaching them how to enjoy anticipation and how to truly enjoy earning their own rewards. I'm also teaching them patience and respect and honor. And, believe it or not, I'm also teaching them what it feels like to be cherished.

You see, these students have watched my former students visit my classroom from time to time and sign my boards. They see the messages they leave, and they look up to the older students. Now and then, when given the chance, the older students pass on good advice to younger ones. My former students set a good example for my present students. By the time my sixth graders are ready to sign my boards at the end of the year, we know each other very well. They have come to understand the importance of earning rewards, respect, and honor. And they certainly know how much I love and cherish them.

Do you think I'm overstating the power of this very small, daily lesson that extends over the whole school year? If so, then allow me to share with you what I experienced yesterday, and what I experience every year on "sign in" days...

The last two days of school are exam days. Only after students have completed their final exam in my classroom do I consider them seventh graders. Once everyone is done testing, I congratulate them on their accomplishments and hand them a chalk or a marker to "sign in as a seventh grader" on my boards. They get so excited and their faces beam! They know they've earned it, know it's time to move forward, and know I now expect them to be the examples that lead my next class of sixth graders.

It's a very big deal to my students.

Most of my students take this opportunity to leave me one last message, a few just want to sign their names. All of them want to know how long it will stay there. I tell them the boards will be cleaned at the end of the week for the summer, but that I always photograph everything they've written with the camera on my phone, to have it with me wherever I go, and with my 'nice' digital camera to keep on my computer.

You see, it's a very big deal to me, too,...because my students are a VERY big deal! :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Confession: I'm a Cover Lover

You know that old saying about how we shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Well, maybe,...sometimes we should! At least, that's what I decided after reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. 

You see, if you asked me to be honest about what attracted me to the book, I would say it was the cover and the title. Pure and simple. It happens like that for me sometimes. It's almost like I can imagine the story just by looking at the cover. I've never read anything by this author before, so I didn't know what to expect. Once I found out it was a historical fiction, which I love, I was hooked. 

The Winter Sea is two tales in one (something else I love). The story is written in both the present day and in the past. The novel begins in the present with an author who is visiting Scotland to do research for a book she's writing. She finds more than she expects in the ruins of Slains Castle and is inspired to stay awhile longer. She begins to write a novel that almost seems to write itself. It is as if she is haunted by a story that must be told. 

The historical fiction part centers around the late 1600s and early 1700s. It has political intrigue, spies, castles, and the desire for "the true king" James to return and claim the throne. It speaks of sacrifice and hardships and the hope for a better world. There are strong female characters, which I appreciate, who aren't damsels in distress waiting to be saved. The novel reminds us that during times of war and unrest in a country, everyone must pull their own weight and be tough if they hope to survive. Remember, the good men are off at war fighting for what their country...or their king. Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't love and romance in the novel. What would anyone fight for if there wasn't that, eh?

While there was never any confusion for me 'where' I was when I was reading (present or past), Kearsley labeled the chapters of the book according to the time period the reader is in. I thought it was a nice touch. For chapters that are set in the present day, she has them labeled with the word "chapter" and a number. For chapters that are set in the past, she has them labeled with just Roman numerals. I must say, she does a wonderful job of weaving in and out of the past and present. The whole book flows wonderfully!

Slains Castle in Aberdeen, Scotland

I thoroughly enjoyed both stories in this novel, and I found myself wishing it would continue. For me, it did. Reading geek that I am, I loved that the author gave additional historical notes in the back and references to her information. I found myself on the internet reading all kinds of interesting things from that time period in Scotland and England. I now have a list of other books I'd like to read that are both non-fiction and historical fiction from this time period. I've also added Aberdeen, Scotland, to my list of places I'd like to go see in my travels. 

And, just so you know, I often judge a book by its cover. As much as I am an avid reader, and I am all about the words inside a novel, I can't deny my attraction to book covers and their titles. I am seldom disappointed when I choose one this way. It's almost...instinctual.

Of course, I AM a born bibliophile, so it all makes sense, right? ;)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Back at the Keyboard Again...

It's been awhile since I've blogged. Truth is, I've had a lot going on in my life. Things...I don't care to blog about. And, because I know myself all too well, I know if I blog while I'm going through something, part of it is going to leak out in my writing. I didn't want that, so I didn't write at all (other than for myself, where no one sees it but me). Now, while I realize we live in a world where people want to talk, tweet, blog, and post about every little detail of their lives, it isn't my style. I have nothing to hide, I just don't believe everything that happens in my life, or flashes through my mind, needs to be blurted out to the world. Just call me old-fashioned. ;)

While I haven't been blogging, I have been reading. Of course, right? Before I blog about some of the books I've read lately, I would like to finish up my take on the Caroline B. Cooney series about Janie. I finished it up some time ago, but Janie's name has not yet faded from the lips of my sixth graders. In fact, what started out as a 'Girls' Book Club' book has now crossed gender lines and book club lines.

The excitement about the series is still going strong as students who are reading the series have passed on their enthusiasm to other students. Everyone, of course, wants to start with the first one. All my copies of the first book are currently checked out, and I have other students waiting for my extra copies of different books in the series so they can continue their read. It's fabulous to see students excited about reading and having conversations about what they read!

I really liked the entire series. While I don't have a favorite of the set, I will say that The Voice on the Radio held a special kind of suspense I enjoyed. I also loved how Cooney decided to end the series when she wrote Janie Face to Face. The only drawback to the final novel was the author decided to revisit some of the old information from the previous novels. I understand the reason for it, of course. The fourth book, What Janie Found, was published in 2000. After her readers begged for years to know what happened to Janie after that, Cooney decided to write the fifth book. It wasn't published until 2013. I can understand the need to reflect on the past stories for those who had not read the series in many years. For me, who read them in order - one right after the other - I found myself skimming a few pages because I already knew the detailed background and didn't need the summary. Still, I enjoyed it and really enjoyed the suspense of the series' conclusion. Cooney did an excellent job of giving the reader what they wanted - well, at least, what this reader wanted. Many sixth graders agree with me.

In other news...

School is almost out for the summer. The students have three and a half more days. Teachers have five more days. I'm looking forward to my summer break, which means more time to read, more time to travel, and more time to play outside with my camera. It also means more time to write.

I look forward to sharing my summer adventures - in books and in travel - with you!