Sunday, June 21, 2015

Final Summary - 48 Hour Book Challenge

So I am finished with the 48 Hour Book Challenge, and am a little bit sad about it.  I got a LOT read, don't get me wrong, but I just wish I had had more time.  Life got in the way each day, and I found myself doing other things instead of reading.  And it didn't help that I am still pretty tired from my sinus surgery in the middle of last week.  But with all those excuses, I still read 12.5 hours, and completed five books and one complete blog post (I did write review posts for all of the books I read, but those were short).  It was a fun weekend, and I will for sure participate again!!! 
Here are the titles of the books I finished -
The Butterfly's Daughter - Mary Alice Monroe
Girl Genius, Book One: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank - Phil & Kara Foglio
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher  - Dana Allison Levy
Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle
Outrageously Alice  - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

and I read about half of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, which I'll more than likely finish tonight. 

Thanks to MotherReader for keeping this challenge alive!! 

Outrageously Alice - 48 Hour Book Challenge

So, if you've read my blog for long, you'll know that I am a big fan of the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  It had taken me a long time to get to Outrageously Alice and I had been looking forward to reading it.  This is another book that I will blog about sooner or later, so I won't spend too much time talking about it now.
But here are the things that stood out for me in this reading.  Alice lives with her father and her older brother.  There is such a remarkable relationship between the three of them - one that is so rare and fun.  They are good to each other, and both her father and her brother have roles in raising Alice.  Alice is curious, and there are lots of questions that she asks each of them (or both of them together!).
Also, in this book in the series, Alice is struggling with who she will be, both now and as a grown-up.  She wants to be "not boring", which can sometimes cross the line into outrageous.  She's also learning how to interact with boys, which is interesting too.  As always with these books, there is lots to think and write about.  I am looking forward to writing about this one on the blog too!!

Current Reading Time: 10.5 hours reading + 1 hour blogging - 11.5 hours total!!
Books Finished: 5

Outrageously Alice.  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  Simon and Schuster, 1997.

Now off to keep reading and I have a blog post to write for today!

Wolf in White Van - 48 Hour Book Challenge

Well, after I finished The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, my girls came home from a long few days at their dad's house while I recovered from surgery.  It was a successful re-entry, but it required my attention, so I didn't get as much reading done last night as I hoped.  However, I did finish Wolf in White Van last night around 10 pm, which was a victory.  I've read far more than I actually thought I would in this readathon, and I am loving it!  But on to Wolf in White Van.

I read it because it was on the Alex Awards list for this year.  Or at least, that was what caused me to put it on hold.  In the meantime, I had just  read Ready Player One and loved it, and I thought this would be another book about role-playing games that I would like.  But... I didn't get it.  There weren't enough of the things that I was interested in, and I felt like I just didn't get it.  Maybe if I was reading it more slowly, or not trying to read it while the girls watched The Goonies and I kept my eye out for scary scenes, or ... maybe it just wasn't my kind of book. All that to be said - I kept reading to finish it because I wanted to know more about Sean, and what had happened to Lance and Carrie.  I just wasn't satisfied with what there was.

Current Reading Time: 9 hours reading + 1 hour blogging = 10 hours total!
Books Finished: 4

Wolf in White Van.  John Darnielle.  Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.  2014.

borrowed from Lewis and Clark Library

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher - 48 Hour Book Challenge

I just finished another book - yay!  I'm feeling pretty accomplished today.  I just finished The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, and I am actually not going to say too much about it, because this was a re-read before writing a blog post.  I have two books that I'd like to post about in the next few days around Father's Day, and this is one of them.  So I'll keep my thoughts to myself for now. 

With chapter books, I tend to read them twice, at least, before I blog about them - the first time I might just be identifying that this a book I'd like to write about, so the second time I re-read looking for themes or quotes I'd like to write about.  Sometimes this second read takes longer, because I am making connections.  Sometimes it takes longer because while I have a feeling about the book, I can't exactly figure out what I'd like to say.  Sometimes it takes longer because I just don't have the time to sit down and work it all out.  I'm happy that I had had some time to think about the themes I wanted to use already, and that I had the time to re-read all at once.  Now on to writing about it...actually, I think I'll keep reading first!

Current Reading Time: 6 hours reading + 1 hour blogging = 7 hours total so far
Books Finished: 3

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher.  Dana Allison Levy.  Delacorte, 2014.

borrowed from the Lewis & Clark Library

Snow Day! Rainy Day!

Incredibly, summer has arrived.  All of a sudden, we went from school day wake-ups, which were always a struggle and sometimes involved tears, to happy smiles, shorts, and warm mornings.  Yet here in Montana, snow is never far from our minds.  When we visited the library recently, I spied Snow Day! on the shelf and we checked it out.  I liked the format so much that we placed Rainy Day! on hold so I could write about them both.  There is a third title in the series (Beach Day!), but our library didn't have that one.  These are oldies but goodies - books that are fun no matter the season.

Snow Day! begins with an alligator named Sam who calls his friends (Pam, Will and Jill) to tell them it has snowed overnight.  They are all so excited that the four speed through getting dressed to go outside and sled.  When Sam, Pam, Will and Jill meet up in the thick white powder, they realize they can't possibly sled until they have their protective gear on - goggles and helmets for everyone!  Now that they are all geared up, they are ready to sled.  Or are they?  There is one important thing they've forgotten - it's a school day!!  The alligators rush back inside and make the call to cancel school.  They are the principals, after all!!  Now the sledding can begin!

In Rainy Day!, the morning doesn't begin quite so excitedly.  It's another rainy day and the four friends are all cooped up inside, as bored as can be.  They've already done all the fun indoor stuff, but the rain hasn't let up.  The alligators decide to take their boredom and bad moods outside to play in the rain.  Again, they put on their protective gear - boots, umbrellas, hats and coats and head outside.  As the rain pours down and the fog grows thicker, the group becomes lost.  What emerges from that soupy fog?  Among other things, they find a pirate ship. a monster face, and a big, furry dog.  And they find a place to chase the rainy day blues away - the library!

What I love about these two titles is Lakin's way of telling a story in very few words.  As we all know from hearing Dr. Seuss's tales of writing The Cat in the Hat, it is very tricky to create an interesting story with a controlled vocabulary.  Both of these titles use just a few phrases, in rhyming combinations, to convey the story.  In Rainy Day!, as they try to negotiate the cloudy weather, the car full of friends drives cautiously along: "They took a left.  They took a right.  A pirate ship came into sight."  In Snow Day! as the alligators decide where they should sled,  the text reads "'The yard?', said Sam. 'The walk?', said Pam. 'The drive?', said Will. 'The hill?', said Jill."  It is constructed carefully, so that Lakin uses the minimum amount of words possible while still expressing the meaning.  There also isn't very much narration or description in either book, so the plot has to move forward in dialogue.  This could be an awkward  burden for the characters, but it doesn't feel that way in either book.  In fact, I found it entertaining to marvel at how the story unfolds through short (four or five word) pieces of dialogue.  And the dialogue is primarily questions or exclamations too.

I know, however appealing this short text is, that is wouldn't work as well for beginning readers without the illustrations.  Pages where all four alligators speak are usually broken into panels.  This allows the reader to match the character with their action.  In Rainy Day! when the friends stumble across a mini golf park in the fog, they all use different words to explain how they will get the golf ball into the hole.  "'Putt it!' said Pam" and in her panel, she is doing just that (although she's putting with her umbrella!).  Two pages later, the alligators come across a strange creature.  The creature takes up one whole side of the double-paged spread, and his contribution ("GRRRRRR!") is in large bold letters.  On the other side of the page, all four friends pile together in fear.  But the text still matches with each friend, so a reader can match their expression with their worried exclamations.  In these books, text and illustration work hand in hand to give meaning.

One of the ways these books would work with even younger children would be in units about clothing.  In both types of inclement weather - rain and snow - the alligators wear the proper clothing and spend time naming those accessories to the reader.  The friends make it clear that bad weather doesn't stop them from enjoying themselves as long as they are well protected.  The four assemble umbrellas, boots, rain coats and hats when they go out.  Unlike Frances and Gloria, when it snows, those four alligators put on long underwear, boots, mittens and scarves.  All of these items allow them to play outside longer than they would endure it otherwise.  And of course when Sam, Pam, Will and Jill go sledding, they all don helmets and goggles.  There is one page in Snow Day! where they are all taking off their winter gear.  The page is set up in a grid, with each alligator assigned their own square where they take off the designated accessory.  Even better, the alligators are depicted putting the item away (something that I cheered when I saw it the first time!).  These alligators are fairly neat.  These books, particularly Snow Day! would go well with other books such as The Jacket I Wear in the Snow and Froggy Gets Dressed (one of our favorites!).

These books are fun and full of exuberance.  I love that these alligators make the most of these experiences  - it will encourage young readers to try to go outside too.  And I love that Lakin and Nash's twist on beginning readers.  I just thought about the fact that it would be fun to "perform" these books as reader's theater, with four voices.  I think it would be a perfect fit!

Snow Day! Patricia Lakin; pictures by Scott Nash.  Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002.
Rainy Day! Patricia Lakin; pictures by Scott Nash.  Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

GIrl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank - 48 Hour Book Challenge

There's nothing better than a graphic novel to clear your palate after a longer book. This one only took me a half-hour to read, and I thought it would help get me going so that I could finish writing a blog post next.  Then it will be off to the library for a quick stop to return overdue books and pick up some holds before I'm back to reading.

I wish I could remember where I heard about Girl Genius, but I suspect it was a blog posting somewhere, and I think it was about girls reading graphic novels.  Regardless, I didn't remember hearing about this series before, although it has definitely been around for awhile (almost 15 years).  It sounded interesting enough that I bought a copy of my own, since our library didn't have it. 

This first title in the series (which is collected from the previously published comic books) doesn't have much exposition before you dive right in to the action.  And there is a lot of action, forcing me to just sort of keep up with what was going on.  Agatha Clay works in a shop at Transylvania Polygnostic University.  She is on her way there to work when there is an odd electrical anomaly and then she is mugged by a couple of soldiers.  A locket is stolen from her - one that her uncle told her she always needed to keep on.  When she arrives at work, things go from bad to worse when her boss is killed.  This all happens very, very quickly, so you don't get much of a sense of Agatha at all - except that she has spells when she gets upset, and that she loves working for the boss who was killed. 

When she gets home, she falls asleep after not feeling quite herself.  When she wakes up, there is an enormous clank coming in the door, along with one of the robbers who is returning her locket - it killed the other robber after they stole it.

Again, a lot of action going on all at the same time, but I do like steampunk, and I think this is going to be an intriguing series.  I know it's a little late to be catching up with this one, but I also bet in a couple of years Frances and Gloria will read and enjoy it too.  I'll keep reading in this series.

Current Reading Time: 3 1/2 hours
Books Finished: 2

Girl Genius (Book One): Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank. Phil and Kaja Foglio.  Airship Entertainment, 2006.

from my personal collection

The Butterfly's Daughter - 48 Hour Book Challenge

I'm three hours in to the 48 Hour Book Challenge and finished my first book.  This is the only time of year that I really post reviews of grown-up books on my blog.  I find it harder to write even mini-reviews of them.  But The Butterfly's Daughter has some meaning for me, so I'll do my best.
This book was loaned to me by a friend a few years ago.  The copy we had been passing around was read by our mutual friend, Linda, just before me.  Linda died about two months ago of cancer.  Her memorial service is this Sunday, and our friend Karen is speaking at the service.  This book reminded me of both of them in so many ways - it is the story of a granddaughter whose grandmother has just died in Wisconsin.  Luz, the granddaughter, sets off on a journey to bring her Abuela's ashes to their homeland in Mexico.  Luz is young, only 21, and has been raised by her grandmother after her mother deserted her as a toddler.  It is a story of healing, and mothers and daughters, and friendship, and it was just right for a comfort read to get me in the swing of the challenge.  It had been sitting in my pile for way too long, and reading it this weekend was a tribute to Linda, and Karen's strength in speaking about Linda.  The Butterfly's Daughter is a look at death, and how people live on in our memories and in our hearts.

Current Reading Time: 3 hours
Books Finished: 1

The Butterfly's Daughter.  Mary Alice Monroe.  Simon & Schuster, 2011.

from my personal collection

Friday, June 19, 2015

48 Hour Reading Challenge!

I am so excited to be participating in the 48 Hour Reading Challenge again!  I love this challenge, especially for the fact that I get so many books read!
This year I am especially lucky in an odd way - I just had sinus surgery on Wednesday this week, so I have just been at home resting.  I have a huge pile of books to read, and the time to read them!  So I hope to get a lot read.  Frances and Gloria will be at their dad's until tomorrow afternoon, so there is some uninterrupted time coming my way!
On my list of books to be read and/or finished this weekend -
Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle
Girl Genius, Book One - Phil and Karla Foglio
Shadow Scale - Rachel Hartman
Outrageously Alice - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Tales of Burning Love- Louise Erdrich
Defiance - Carole Maso
A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature, 9th Edition
The Butterfly's Daughter - Mary Alice Monroe
Lentil Underground - Liz Carlisle
Just Listen - Sarah Dessen
Nightingale's Nest - Nikki Loftin
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher - Dana Allison Levy
Missoula- Jon Krakauer
It's a lot to be read, for sure, but there's a lot of diversity there - some adult books, some kids books.  Some books about Montana (Missoula and Lentil Underground).  I'm reading Just Listen as part of the Summer of Sarah Dessen promotion where you read one of her books each week - this one just happens to be my favorite. 
Plus I am going to aim to write two posts this weekend with reviews, as well as keeping my blog updated with my progress.  I am starting later than I would have liked tonight, but life just got in the way.  So here goes.  Keep checking in with me!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Creature Features

I am absurdly proud of the fact that Frances and Gloria love nonfiction.  I know I just said that nonfiction is hard to find in our local library, and it is.  But they love to learn facts from the books we do bring home.  I rely heavily on other bloggers' recommendations for new titles.  It's often easier to have books on the hold shelf, waiting for me, instead of roaming the stacks.  And when I see a surefire hit mentioned somewhere, I reserve it right away.  That's what happened with Creature Features.  We own several other books by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page.  Gloria particularly loves to pore through these books, learning new facts as she goes.  So when I brought home Creature Features, it was read the same night.  Both Frances and Gloria listened intently, asking questions and laughing as I turned the pages.  I am most pleased, though, that they learned lots of crazy, cool facts in this one.

The subtitle of Creature Features is 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do.  And that subtitle is a perfect summary of the book's concise text.  Each page contains a large illustration of an animal (in most pages it is a close-up of the face) on a solid background.  This is an incredibly effective way to make their unique features stand out.  There is a question, posed to the animal itself: "Dear giant panda: Who gave you those black eyes?"  The answer comes straight from the animal themselves: "No one.  We pandas all have them.  The dark fur around my eyes makes me look bigger and fiercer to a predator.  I hope."  It's a pretty simple concept for a book, but it helps readers learn more about animals by questioning and thinking more deeply.  The concept works so well by allowing the animals to speak for themselves.

What I think makes this book interesting to adults are the connections between the animals.  The giant panda faces a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar who uses spots on its tail to mimic a snake.  The caterpillar scares off predators in the same way the giant panda does.  Bighorn sheep use their horns to fight other males; so do babirusa who use their fierce crossed tusks instead.  These connections are subtle, most likely too subtle for a young reader to pick up on the connections themselves.  However it can serve as a way to open discussion between adults and children.  It is an invitation to look more closely, think more deeply about this book.

Another thing we enjoyed about this book was its sense of personality and humor.  The facts about the creature features aren't just a flat recitation of what makes that animal special.  In the case of the giant panda, the text reveals a little bit of insecurity and worry when he says "The dark fur around my eyes makes me look bigger and fiercer to a predator.  I hope."  The same goes for the mandrill, who confesses "My rear end is pretty colorful too, but I'd rather not talk about that."  My favorite laugh of the book is the Egyptian vulture, who, when asked "Why no feathers on your face?", says "Are you sure you want to know? Really?  Okay, I'll tell you.  I stick my face into the bodies of the dead animals I eat, and feathers would get pretty messy..." First of all, yuck! While the facts compiled here are fascinating, it was the warm humor that kept us reading.

The full-page illustrations are so realistic, which is especially impressive considering that they are pieced together with torn and cut-paper collage.  Each animal looks like they could have been photographed rather than assembled.  The solid backgrounds of the pages have the dual benefit of making the creatures' faces stand out as well as emphasizing the unique feature. The papers used give fur-like texture to the animals.  The red squirrel has thin wisps of fur on his ears to help keep his ears warm, and you can see each strand.  The blobfish is shown from two different perspectives, and when shown smushed by gravity on land, the fish is appropriately jelly-like.  It's fun to see these animals up close in the illustrations.

Finally, there's my favorite part of any nonfiction title - the back matter!  Jenkins and Page have created one of the most original pieces of back matter I have seen in a long time.  There is a black and white representation of each animal, all shown at the same scale to help provide approximate scale for readers.  The animals are labeled, along with their general location and diet.  It is a very visual piece of back matter, to go along with the book that emphasizes how creatures look.  The locations of the animals' habitats are shown with small globes, which encourages readers to compare the globes as well. There is a brief bibliography of general animal nonfiction to help start readers who are curious to learn more.  The presentation of the back matter also lends itself to additional research, as does the whole title.  You learn just enough facts about these creatures to make you want to learn more.

Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do. Steve Jenkins & Robin Page.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library