Monthly Archives: January 2018

We Are The Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

2018.8 — We Are The Ants

I finally finished my first audiobook in 2018: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson!

We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Before I dive into the book, let’s first discuss the how and why of audiobooks. I refuse to pay for an Audible subscription because I think it’s a waste of money. (Y’all can choose how you want to spend your money, no disrespect here.) The library has audiobooks for free! No, I’m not talking about going into the physical library and getting a zillion CDs. I use OverDrive and log into my library account, then download the audiobook to my phone. Same way I check out ebooks to my Kindle.

Free audiobooks. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I usually listen to audiobooks when driving home from work, occasionally at the gym, and while doing mundane chores like cleaning. I usually prefer YA lit or nonfiction–if I have to merge and tune out for 10 seconds, I typically don’t lose the storyline (thank goodness for the 15 second rewind button).

Thanks for your honesty and transparency, Shaun!

I thoroughly enjoyed We Are The Ants! I stumbled upon it in another Twitter thread (anyone noticing a pattern?!), as a few authors were talking about not feeling Impostor Syndrome with their work. I totally get it, I feel it as a teacher and leader all the time. If you’ve read this post to this point, well, thanks, because I feel like my blogs waste people’s time too.

All this is a great segue into We Are The Ants. Henry lost his boyfriend to suicide, and blames himself. He struggles with bullies, end-of-the-world thoughts, and coming to terms with the past in order to move forward in life. He’s occasionally abducted by aliens, Sluggers, and told he must decide if he’s going to push a button to save the world–he has until January 29, 2016 to decide.

The whole book is Henry’s journey grappling with life, the future, and deciding whether life is worth living. It’s hard to find our place in the world, and Hutchinson illustrates this beautifully, not only for LGBT teens, but all teens wrestling with home and/or school situations.

Nothing feels forced in this book. Henry is authentically who he is, and he is instantly likeable for his quirks and honest struggles. This opens the doors for many authentic conversations on topics such as suicide, bullying, friendship, forgiveness, and family.

So, if you could press a button to save the world from destruction, would you?

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2018.7 – Love, Hate, & Other Filters

Another weekend, another binge read! I know this isn’t a sustainable pace, so I’m enjoying my relatively free weekends at home while I can!

I quite enjoyed spending my Saturday finishing Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed. I started it earlier this week, although slowly because work was busy/stressful.

Back in early January, I heard some buzz about this book on the Twitters. It looked interesting and thought-provoking, so I pre-ordered it. (I know, I know, I pre-ordered about half a dozen books because of pre-release tweets. Sorry, not sorry.)

It did not disappoint! I love that Maya is a very relatable character, no matter your knowledge of the Indian Muslim culture–admittedly, I know next to nothing. That being said, I found it easy to relate to Maya and her family on a very human level. She is likeable, and struggles with her identity, and breaking free of her parents more “traditional” ideas of her place in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with my students!

Additionally, story itself is entirely believable. If I hadn’t known it was fiction, I would have thought it actually happened. When a terrorist attack strikes panic in Maya’s state, it causes people, particularly one classmate, to target her. I know this has and continues to happen all over the US, whether it makes national headlines or not. I do wish the author spent more time on this part of the story, rather than the love triangle; there is a compelling need in American culture to debunk myths about American Muslims, terrorism, bigotry, and hatred.

As a result of seeing this book on the Twitters, I’ve discovered the We Need Diverse Books community (www.diversebooks.org & @DiverseBooks) as well as the #OwnVoices hashtag. Looks like my Amazon cart and OverDrive account are going to be getting some extra love in the near future. There are so many fantastic books out there that I need to read that feature diverse voices.

What books would you add to my To-Be-Read stack?

2018.5 – Before I Let Go

Another weekend, another binge read!

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

I read Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp over the course of about a day. I was hooked.

I first found her when This Is Where It Ends was a “Big Library Read” back in 2016. It showed up at the top of Overdrive, and the cover looked interesting. I checked it out, and was glued to my Kindle. I’m a teacher, so the storyline (a school shooting) was an emotional rollercoaster as I lived through their nightmare.

Needless to say, when I found out Marieke Nijkamp was coming out with a new book, I was excited! I put it on hold at the library before it came out.

Description (from Amazon)

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

Why I Liked This Book

This isn’t like most of the YA lit I read. Magical realism has started to grow on me, especially after I reattempted Gabriel García Márquez (Life in the Time of Cholera) back in 2015. Earlier this month I also finished The Timekeeper (Mitch Albom). To me, the magical realism in Before I Let Go didn’t feel forced or overly fantasy-ish. Instead, Kyra’s special abilities make her a prophet-like figure in their remote town.

Screenshot of Amazon page — #1 New Release, bravo!

I also think this book shows an interesting perspective on the realities of friendship, loyalty, trust, and mental illness. Kyra’s bipolar disorder is a huge part of the storyline, and fits seamlessly into how she is and the impacts on Corey’s friendship. The book also briefly touches on Corey’s realization that she felt some fear of her best friend, which I think stemmed from uncertainty of how to react and what to say. I wish this had been expanded on a bit more, and Corey had been a bit more self-reflective of her own side to the story.

Fitting for today, it also plays on how the hive-mind can turn people that one loved you into people who no longer accept you and see you as an outsider. Corey moves away from her teeny tiny town in remote Alaska, and 7 months later, she is no longer welcome back because she just “doesn’t understand” them anymore.

This is a book I’d recommend to my students! In fact, I already wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to one of my student’s desks today!

Based on this book, what else would you recommend to me?

2018.3 – You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

The start of 2018 has been super book exciting! At the end of December, I saw a flurry of tweets with authors excited for their books to come out in January. As I started following those retweeted authors, I found even more book retweets. Before I knew it, there were 5 pre-orders in my Amazon cart and numerous other books on hold from the library.

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

One of the books with a lot of happy buzz was You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon.

This is book #3 for 2018, although it’s the first book I started and finished in 2018.

After reading Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell) back in 2014, I fell in love with books told by two perspectives. You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone is told by twin sisters Adina and Tovah, who see and experience the world in two very different ways. The blurb on Rachel Lynn Solomon’s website states that it is “A heartbreaking and lyrical debut novel about twins who navigate first love, their Jewish identity, and opposite results from a genetic test that determines their fate–whether they inherited their mother’s Huntington’s disease.”

I love how open and raw the story is, neither character is forced or overdone. They are perfectly imperfect, struggling with big issues and handling them like teenagers tend to do. And, the thread of wrestling with their Jewish religion was beautifully intertwined into the story.

Confession: I read the first 3 chapters on Friday night, then read the rest of the book on Saturday. It’s the kind of book where I finish it, look up, and it takes a good few minutes before I can re-adjust to reality. Binge reading at its finest!

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Buy yourself a copy, and buy an extra one for a friend or your school library!

Book BINGO

For the last few years, my dad and I have done Book BINGO together. The first year, I found one online and we used that. The last three years, we’ve created our own BINGO game with 24 categories + a free space. It has been fun to think up creative categories, share books we’re reading, and compare our BINGO cards at the end of the year.

My dad retired in summer 2016, and has had much more time to read. He is good about getting all his spots filled out, while I seem to only finish ½ – ⅔ of them. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

The best part about Book BINGO is that it encourages us to find new and different books that we wouldn’t have thought to read! I love the adventure and the challenge! For example, last year we added “audiobook” as a category because my dad hadn’t caught onto that game yet. This year, I challenged my dad to read a book on his iPad–he’s definitely a book traditionalist!

Some of our categories include: a book with a ______ color cover (we start with, “hey Mom, name a random color! — she’s onto us now, and this year she said chartreuse…thanks Mom!), book that won the _____ prize, book written before 1000 AD, book that includes mythology, and book about food.

I’ve created a Book BINGO for you to use, personally or with your students. I hope this helps encourage you to try new books and expand your library! Happy reading!

Do you have ideas for categories! I’d love to hear! Give me suggestions in the comments.

What I read in 2017

2017 was a good year for books. I finished a total of 55 books! Here’s the breakdown: 26 audiobooks, 29 books (8 books, 21 ebooks). The two major categories I read this year were YA (21) and Nonfiction (20). Surprisingly, I only read 3 edu-books this year.

This year I kept a bit more data than I have in the past. Previously, I just listed the books I read. Now, I’m keeping track of completion date, number of pages or hours (although I usually listen to audiobooks on 2x speed, which I take into account in my data), format, and genre. My favorite part of all this data is the graphs I create to go along with it. I like the visual trends for genre and books completed each month. Click here to make a copy of my book tracking spreadsheet for your own use.

Here are some of my favorite books I read this year: (they’re in chronological order

1. Heartless (Marissa Meyer)

I love love love the Lunar Chronicles, and Heartless was just as awesome. This one is based on Alice in Wonderland, which brought in some of my childhood magic. I’m a bit sad it’s not part of a series, because I’ve loved everything she’s written!

2. Caraval (Stephanie Garber)

For my Breakout EDU fans, this book will be a hit! It has the magic of a full-scale Breakout EDU game, as the main character is trying to find her sister before Caraval is over.

3. My Not So Perfect Life (Sophie Kinsella)

I keep coming back to this book all year, thinking about how we portray ourselves online versus the reality around us. The reality is all too real!

4. Yes, And (Kelly Leonard & Tom Yorton)

This was recommended by my dear friend Jess Loucks, and her keynote is based on improv. This isn’t an improv how-to book, but rather the ideas behind improv and how they can make us better creators and collaborators.

5. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

This story is fantastic, complex, and heartwarming. It addresses the real issues around us, including life, love, and loss. He also wrote Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I read in 2015 — bonus for my Hamilton Nerds, the Aristotle & Dante audiobook is read by Lin-Manuel Miranda!!

6. Fueled by Coffee and Love (Mari Venturino)

I can’t blog about 2017 books without talking about this, I’m still so proud of myself for pulling together Fueled by Coffee and Love. It’s a collection of teacher stories written by teachers all around the world! Please pick up a copy for yourself and a teacher you adore–all proceeds go to classrooms!

7. The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

This book hit the world by storm when it was published in February 2017. I finally got a copy over summer, and binge read the entire thing in just a few days! It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening at the same time. It really framed police violence and BLM in a way that is accessible to a wider population. I highly recommend this book!

8. Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly)

I listened to the audiobook, then watched the movie (*gasp* I watched a movie!). So good! I’ve always been a huge space fan, and in middle school I wanted to be an aerospace engineer; however, why am I just now hearing about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson et al now?! They were left out of history, and I didn’t even know to look for them.

9. Classroom of One (Doug Robertson)

Another gem by my friend Doug Robertson. One of the three edu-books I read this year, and it was by far the best! It prepared me for my first guide teacher experience, and helped me become a stronger and more reflective teacher overall. I highly recommend this to anyone in education!

10. Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)

This is my second favorite John Green book (first favorite is Will Grayson, Will Grayson). This new one definitely didn’t disappoint. I appreciate how much it dove into anxiety and how it affects Aza’s life–but, it’s not forced or overdone.

I’d love some recommendations on books you think I’d like. Please leave me a comment below!