Tuesday, November 24, 2009


It's hard to believe that we are already celebrating Thanksgiving again! Although the year has been a very difficult one in terms of job loss and the dismal state of the economy, it is still important to reflect about the many reasons in our lives to be thankful.

Among those reasons is the access to unlimited reading material. Libraries are phenomenal resources of free information - especially important when every dollar counts. Please take advantage of all that your school and public libraries offer!

Reading opens the mind and allows the reader to consider new ideas. The more you read, the better a reader you become. I hope that students and adults alike will make the choice to be lifelong readers. Books, in all forms, enlighten, educate, and entertain us.

Has it been some time since you enjoyed reading a book just for fun? Over a long weekend, or simply during the months with shorter daylight hours, you have perfect opportunities to read!

Please feel free to send a comment to this post to share some interesting books that you have read recently. Often, you find out about the best reads by word of mouth. So, please share the names of books that have moved you and made a difference in your life. If you want to tell a bit more about the book, that's great - just don't write any "spoilers".

Right now, I'm finishing a novel called, People of the Book. I have a number of books that I want to read next. What about you? Will you choose to read over this holiday weekend?

By the way, I wonder if any of you use an e-reader, such as the Kindle. If you do, please share what you like or dislike about it.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving - and happy reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Help

I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett recently. What a book! This novel, set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, is an excellent work of historical fiction. The plot revolves around a group of young white women and the African-American women they employ to run their households and take care of their young children. Remember that the state of race relations at that time and in that place was quite different than now. The Civil Rights movement was barely getting started. There was tremendous fear among most African-Americans about the potentially dire consequences they would suffer for perceived inappropriate behavior -- and for good reason in such a racist society.

The characters are very well-drawn, and readers will care about what happens to them - especially the risk-takers. Lifelong friends, Skeeter, Hilly, and Elizabeth, are the main white women in the book. Their lives are about playing bridge and social climbing. Ambitious Skeeter, a recent college grad, is an aspiring writer. Her career gets launched when she is hired to write a column on housekeeping tips for a local newspaper. Skeeter, who is significantly more enlightened than the others, appeals on the sly to Elizabeth's maid, Aibileen, to give her the advice she needs to write the column.

Aibileen is understandably nervous about spending time with Skeeter that takes away from her duties. Over time, they build a relationship. Skeeter capitalizes on that "semi-friendship" when she shares her idea for a book she wants to write about the real story between the local maids and their employers. Even though their real names are not used, imagine the danger for an African-American to divulge the truth about their employers! Skeeter too risks her social standing and her friendships.

Aibileen ultimately agrees to help Skeeter, and she persuades Minnie, a more outspoken maid, to contribute too. About a dozen maids tell their stories. Some are truly heartbreaking. All are filled with raw emotion and told by hardworking, undervalued, and often mistreated women. The book is fraught with tension as the maids stealthily assist Skeeter by sharing their honest recountings of their experiences with the white families. They were as brave as Skeeter was naive about their undertaking.

The white women, other than Skeeter, are entirely clueless about the racist way they treat the help. They don't see any problem with requiring the maids to use separate toilets from the ones the families use because "everybody knows they carry different kinds of diseases than we do". They feel completely entitled to live their lives without reflection or empathy for anyone who they see as different.

Stockett, the author, is a white woman from Jackson, and she acknowledges that she can never truly know what the experience was like for an African-American maid. The language includes dialect that is authentic to that time period. Some readers may be put off by a white author injecting such
language that could be viewed as the sign of an uneducated person. However, I believe it rings true.

There are triumphs along the way, although some are small. That Skeeter is willing to risk her lifelong friendships as her understanding grows is a testament to her character, and it leaves the reader with a bit of hope. The bravery of the maids is huge -- They are smart women who are ready to expose the realities of their lives, and readers will certainly root for them. There are also elements of humor woven in to lighten the tone of the novel.

If you read this book, please post a comment to let me know your feelings about it. It is a book that I recommend highly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catching Up!

This is my first post since the summer, and I want to share a few thoughts about some of the exciting and interactive resources available online - most are free too. I am trying to learn more about blogs, wikis, and other applications that allow for creativity and collaboration. Wordle and Animoto are two that I have tried recently.

I am learning about various Web 2.0 tools, so that I can start using them and sharing them with our school community. There is so much to learn about, and I am frequently overwhelmed! I think you just have to dive in and try a few of these Web 2.0 tools. Some you might like and want to use a lot, and others might not fit your needs.

So, whether you are a student or a teacher reading this, I encourage you to get started. The great thing is, in most cases, you can experiment without committing to anything and without looking too foolish.

One easy change I decided to make is about saving favorite websites. In the past, I saved a gazillion websites to "My Favorites", and I organized them into folders. I thought I was doing great, but guess what? I wasn't. When you bookmark as many websites as I did, it took way too long to sort through them. Even my neat folder organization was a joke -- Each folder contained a gazillion websites too! The other problem is that my bookmarks were saved on the hard drive of the computer I was using. Some were at school, and some were at home - It was not easy to access the ones that were not where I was.

I created a Delicious account, and that is changing everything. What's Delicious? It's a social bookmarking website, www.delicious.com, and it doesn't cost anything. You set up a username and password, and you're ready to start. When you find a website that you want to go back to, you save it to your Delicious account. Instead of creating folders, you assign the website any number of "tags" (or, keywords) that are meaningful to you.

It is very easy to share your Delicious bookmarks, and it's also easy for you to search some of your favorite tags to see what websites other Delicious users have selected as worthwhile. Pretty cool, right?

Since you access Delicious on the web, your bookmarks travel with you. Whether I log in to my Delicious account at home, at school, or anywhere else, I have immediate access to my bookmarks!!

As with all Web 2.0 applications, the folks who created Delicious continue to refine, adapt, and modify it. That's one of the things I like about Web 2.0 -- It's a very dynamic environment - There is always something new to learn.

So, I hope you'll jump in and try out Delicious. Be sure to post your comments, so that I'll know how you're doing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jodi Picoult books

I just read Jodi Picoult’s newest book, Handle with Care. As with most of her books, this one concerns family, relationships with friends, the law, and medical matters. True to form, this book alternates the narration among the main characters.

One of the characters in Handle with Care is a young girl, who was born with a rare, devastating disorder that causes her to suffer broken bones with the slightest wrong movement. Without giving anything away, her condition causes heartache for everyone, and families and friendships are severely tested. What if you experienced these stresses? How would you handle it?

I love reading Jodi’s books, because they treat contemporary issues that real people experience. I get to understand her characters better, when I hear their individual perspectives on what is taking place. This book pulls strongly on one’s emotions, and the reader cares deeply about what happens to everyone.

The PTO purchased our school library copy in memory of Lauren Savino. I obtained Jodi Picoult’s autograph and a brief inscription about Lauren, so this book carries extra meaning.

Have you read this book yet? I hope you’ll give it a try, and let me know what you think of it!

Have you read other books by Jodi Picoult? I’d love you to post a comment with your thoughts about one or more of her books that you have read. Be careful not to spoil the plot for someone who might yet want to read the book. If you need to say something that might give away an important part, please write “Spoiler alert” before you write that part.

Check out and vote in the poll I placed on my blog about Jodi Picoult books.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reading over spring break

Spring break gave me a chance to do a lot of things, including reading. I did read Born Confused, our recent BookChat! selection. Although it was not my all-time favorite book, I really liked it. I think a lot of people at our school could relate to the main character, Dimple Lala -- isn't that a great name? -- as she tries to live as an American teenager while also retaining her Indian heritage. It's a challenge for her, as I believe it is for anyone living a multicultural life.

Are you bridging cultures? Please write your comments about it on my blog. Let me know what the challenges are, and how you try to overcome them. Are there advantages to the multicultural life? Tell me about those. Through sharing, we can learn from each other and have a greater understanding of cultures!

Back to the books I read over vacation... I read Identical by Ellen Hopkins. This is not a book for everyone!! However, it was amazing - from the content to the format - and, there is definitely a twist at the end. If you want to know more about it, feel free to ask me.

I finally read Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. I can't wait to read Breaking Dawn, but I have some other books I want to read first. If you haven't read the Twilight series, you might just want to give it a try. Although vampires are not really my thing, I have definitely fallen for these suspenseful (at times), romance novels! Edward, Bella, Jacob - memorable characters! Ok, it will be hard to put off reading Breaking Dawn. I may have to read it next!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vacation Reading

I plan to read BookChat!'s next book, Born Confused, ahead of our next meeting on April 28th. This book should be interesting, as it involves a 17-year-old girl who tries to bridge two cultures -- something not so easy to do.

I'm sure that there are many students in this school who wrestle with some of the same issues as the main character in this book. We should have a good discussion about it!

Other books on my waiting-to-read list include: Eclipse (Stephenie Meyer), The Glass Castle (Wall), Outliers (Gladwell), and Handle With Care (Picoult). Certainly, I will not get through all of these during our week off, when I have many other things to do! Check my blog again after vacation. I'll post about what I actually did read!

What do you plan to read??? Please remember to use this blog to share about what you liked and disliked. I can't wait to read your comments!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What books do you recommend?

I'd love to share some space on my blog for you to share something about the books that you would recommend. Write about which book(s) really had impact for you? Write something that sheds some light on why you loved a book, a character, a theme, other...?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let's Talk About Reading!

One of the joys of reading is to share your thoughts, feelings, and impressions about what you have read with others. In this space, I hope to do just that. If you have read the same book too, I invite you to offer your comments about it here.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The power of words - One of the main themes of this novel concerns the power of words, and how words can be used to achieve great good or great evil. It is about the ability of reading to soothe and teach, and it is about how words in the hands of a madman can create the worst sort of fear and genocide. Another theme treats the two faces of humanity, and that most of us have the capacity for both -- the beautiful and the ugly ways that people treat each other.

There is much to consider in this extraordinary fiction book that explores the Holocaust from the viewpoint of the various inhabitants of an imaginary town outside of Munich. As such, readers experience the world of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s through the lens of ordinary people - most of whom are not Jewish.

Liesel, a non-Jewish, illiterate, young girl, and her younger brother are sent to foster parents by her mother. One concludes that her mother will be taken away by the Nazis, suffering the same fate as her father. Aboard the train, the brother dies. Liesel's foster parents, the Hubermanns, live in the poorest neighborhood in town. Hans, is a wonderful parent and accordion player who teaches Liesel to read. Rosa, with her nasty, feisty temperament, reveals that she too has a heart. Characters include: the occasional narrator, Death; Rudy, Liesel's best friend; neighbors; local thieves; Max, the young Jewish man who seeks refuge with Hans; others.

The writing is excellent, and Zusak's words and images evoke the horror and challenges of the time. The Book Thief won the following awards:

WINNER 2007 - ALA Best Books for Young Adults

WINNER 2007 - Michael L. Printz Honor Book

WINNER 2006 - Kirkus Reviews Editor Choice Award

WINNER 2006 - School Library Journal Best Book of the Year