Wonder by R.J. Palacio, long car rides and wonderful news!

I feel as if I have neglected my blog a little…or perhaps a lot but switching student teaching placements is not that easy. Especially when you show up and another teacher wants you to teach two classes of seniors and the school wants you to interview in a week! I was super pumped about that interview though :).

So a lot has happened since I lost blogged and as a result not a lot of reading has happened. I did however start another three books since I last finished one, which brings up my current total of currently reading on my Goodreads account to 9. Which in theory I am only actively reading like two of those books. One for school and the other for pleasure.

I finished listening to the audio book Wonder and loved it! I cried at the ending which again I was driving to school when I finished so I was desperately trying to make sure my mascara wasn’t running. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Wonder simply because when the book first came out I read a few negative reviews and as a result of that wasn’t really interested in the book. Mainly the one complaint logged against the book was that it didn’t portray being a kid with a disability as having a happy easy life. Which, if I’m being honest life probably isn’t easy when you don’t look like everyone else. If you are reading this and have absolutely no idea what I am talking about I will explain. Auggie or Augustus Pullman was born with a rare genetic deformity that basically makes his face look not normal at all and severely deformed. However, this is the only problem with Auggie as this hasn’t effected him in any other way except he just looks different. He’s just like any other normal fourth grader about to go into the fourth grade.

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Auggie’s face is very noticeable and therefore he does get picked on and the book doesn’t shy away from that fact. To me that was refreshing. The book didn’t sugar coat the cruelty of kids and it didn’t sugar coat Auggie’s reaction to the bullying. Bullying happens whether we like it or not and not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. This book is honest about what kids do in fifth grade to each other especially when one is different than the rest. Another great example of this is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Another great book about a kid who is different and it doesn’t shy away from how her classmates treat her. It really is a great novel and would make a great read aloud and spark some really great conversations on how to treat classmates.

On the way to my brother’s wedding (St. Patrick’s Day! I did not wear green :)), I listened to the novel The Same Kind of Different As Me. I had bought the book years ago and it sat  on my shelf for years. I had always wanted to read it but I never found the time to and since I was going to be stuck in the car for nine hours I decided to borrow it from the library and finally read/listen to it. It was not what I expected at all and in fact I still don’t really know the point of the story. Turns out it is a true story about a man from down south who ended up in Texas and being helped by a Christian man and his wife. The description on the book in my opinion is really misleading because this book again was not what I expected at all but it was interesting. If I end up finding the book in my boxes I probably won’t keep it but it’s not a bad book.

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That brings us all the way to this last week. After my brother’s wedding I interviewed with the school where I am currently student teaching. I breathlessly awaited a answer to whether or not they hired me because I had another interview with a school as equally close to where I want to live. Well they had good and bad news. The bad news was I didn’t get the position I initially applied for but they really wanted me to work there so they were working really hard to make a position for me. This should have been flattering and it was somewhat but when they first offered me the job it was part time and the principal wasn’t sure if they would be able to get me to full time until Friday, the day of my next interview. So I was told to wait until Friday. Well I interviewed in the morning at the other school and as soon I got back into my building that morning the principal called me down to offer me a full time position! Needless to say I wanted to accept right away but I needed some time to think. I was really torn because if I stay at the school I am currently student teaching at I can work with one of my best friends but the other school has a great speech and one act program headed by another one of my great friends. I thought long and hard Friday and I will tell everyone my decision on Monday (even if it has already been made). Let’s just say one school has a lot more going for it then the other one :).

-A

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The Bittersweet of Books and Student Teaching

Yesterday was my last day student teaching in the sixth grade and the term bittersweet was never more true. There were days that I couldn’t wait to move on to the high school and yet when I was sitting alone in the classroom reading letters my students had written me I started crying. Despite the fact they drove me to my limits most days I will miss those kids something fierce. You form bonds with high school kids but it is a different kind of bond with middle schoolers. Even the kids who I knew didn’t really like me wrote me really sweet letters.

I wrote each of those self absorbed sixth graders a personal letter and their responses were why I am a teacher. Almost all of those kids said they were going to keep that letter and that fact alone almost made me start crying. I am not normally an emotional person but saying goodbye to those kids was really hard. They don’t tell you that in college. That student teaching is going to be hardest thing you have to do not only because of the workload and the fact that every night you want to go to bed by 7:30 and that at the end of the eight weeks you won’t want to leave your kids because they are the best thing about your day. They don’t prepare you for these things…nor do they prepare you for interviews or the post interview adrenaline where you to calm yourself down you attempt to read said letters and have an emotional breakdown and then suddenly realize you can’t have your kids see your terrifying crying face so you just force yourself to calm down and then once again you emotionally stunted because you didn’t allow yourself to cry…(I’ll do it later when there is no one around to see me ugly cry).

I only wish I had more time with those kids 🙂

Today I decided to reward myself and get my mind off the interview (they will let me know beginning of the week this next week (insert grimace face emoji)) I decided to finally finish A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Mass. I loved the first book in the series and even though I love buying books I am kinda a cheapskate so I waited until the second one was in paperback to get it and then I waited until like two weeks after the third one came out in hardback to buy it, so that happened. Anyways I started reading this book what feels like a year ago but in reality was only 7 months ago (that doesn’t make me feel any better :/) and just now finished it. I honestly have no idea why it took me so long to finish it because I have had time to read it especially since I started student teaching. As much as I complain about how much work student teaching is it was nothing compared to last semester’s workload (19 credit hours, work on weekends, club activities and packing). So all in all I really should have found the time to finish it before now. If yesterday wasn’t painful enough the last 100 pages of this book were guaranteed to rip my heart out and then slap a bandaid over it on the last two pages. As if that little glimmer of hope at the end of the book really helped my mood at all.

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This book was a complete 360 from beginning to end. One moment you are screaming at Feyre because she is an idiot and then the next you like “Girl, you are totally justified” and then once you are screaming at words on a page because Feyre is once again the dummest fairy to be alive. Despite the emotional roller coaster ride it will put you on this is by far one of my favorite fae book series. I have read two outstanding book series about fairies, in my two decades plus a little on this Earth, and this is number three (The Tithe Series by Holly Black, and The Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr). It is a fast paced, groundbreaking, novel full of sexual tension, true powerful love, strong female characters, and actual love. When I say actual love I am referring to the selfless kind of love that breaks people free and doesn’t leave them feeling trapped and alone. Incredible, incredible book and I am kinda mad at myself I didn’t finish it sooner. I am very pleased with myself however that I have the third book in my possession already but I probably won’t start it till later. I am trying to read Wrinkle in Time, the graphic novel Speak (in preparation for when I teach it to the high schoolers) and a book by an amazing author, Amee Bender, (who is somewhat of my personal idol in the book world) so I’m pretty swamped for the time being, not to mention I am listening to Wonder on audiobook as I drive back and forth.

P.S. if anyone knows of any good Court of Thorn and Roses fanfic floating out there I think I am finally at a place where I would love to start reading some 🙂

-A

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I don’t think I have ever been so tired and busy in my entire life. Not even the semester I took 21 credit hours and was working two jobs or last semester when I was in class from 8-3 every day and worked weekends. The one thing no one tells you about student teaching is how exhausted you will be. I knew I would be busy but I never thought I would come home and want to be in bed by seven every night.

I have a 40 minute commute every day and because of this I decided to listen to some audio books. My first audio book was Turtles All the Way Down which was great because it was a great book. Not that I didn’t think Into the Water wasn’t great but it didn’t put me in a chipper mood for teaching sixth graders all day.

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That being said it was a really great book. I have noticed though there is a big difference between American mystery novels and British mystery novels. American mystery novels focus on the events and the ever building suspense whereas British mystery novels focus on the characters and the building of the characters. The mystery is there but there is less focus on events and more on character development. I noticed that when I listen to the Casual Vacancy; that wasn’t a mystery but it focused more on character development than the main storyline. So maybe that is true of all British novels but I never really noticed it until now.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins is her second book and I liked it as much as her first novel Girl on the Train. I enjoyed listening to it on cd because different people voiced the different characters which helped differentiate them and give them their own unique “voice” (no pun intended). A lot of people said they didn’t like Girl on the Train because it was boring and yes, the rising action doesn’t actually start to rise in Into the Water until the end but the wait is worth it because there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. It is a murder mystery but there is much more than just one murder going on. I would akin it to a soap opera but it deals with contemporary issues very well while bringing in an old story.

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I also finally finished listening to the Nightingale which I would not recommend finishing while driving to work unless you want your mascara to run and your eyes to be red. The Nightingale is the amazing story of two sisters during WWII. Vienne who is living in southern France and her sister Isabelle who decides to take her life into her own hands and flees to Paris to help the resistance. Vienne stays in southern France waiting for her husband to come home and raising their daughter, while Isabelle risks her life as the Nightingale. Not that Vienne doesn’t have her own troubles what with a German office billeted at her home. It was such an amazing book because all the focus of WWII tends to be on Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England or a more centralized European country. Not a lot of WWII novels talk about France and what they dealt with during the war. It was an extremely interesting read but again make sure you have tissues nearby when you read the ending because you are going to need them.

Also yesterday I used my lunch period to sit down and finish the the fourth installment of Phoebe and Her Unicorn: Razzle Dazzle Unicorn. Phoebe and Marigold discover summer camp where Phoebe meets someone who is equally if not weirder than her. We see more of Max who according to Phoebe is not her boyfriend and Phoebe’s room magically disappears one afternoon. The sarcasm and friendship keep on rolling as you will on the floor laughing whilst reading Phoebe and Her Unicorn.

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-A

Giggles and Deep Contemplation

Finding time to read while student teaching has been a struggle which is why in my spare time I find myself reading more Phoebe and Her Unicorn and reading two more Audrey Niffenegger books because they are all about the visual.

Phoebe and Marigold’s latest adventures involve Dakota and her magical hair and goblins (which actually didn’t make an appearance until the end of the book). Nonetheless it was a great read because we were introduced to Marigold’s sister, Phoebe went to summer camp and she wasn’t picked last for dodgeball! Every time I open my book to read just one page I find myself laughing out loud. The humor is amazing and when I have had a long day and I find myself wanting to strangle that one student who will not stop talking and disrupting class I just turn to Unicorn vs. Goblins and have myself a hearty chuckle.

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I think my favorite part about Phoebe and Her Unicorn adventures is they are comics so while it feels like reading a book you don’t have to worry about finding a stopping point because you can always come back to the pictures and never worry about where you left off. It is a quick read for those spare moments when you are needing something to do and something to make you laugh. It is stress free and actually helps me decompress. It is funny and cute and full of so much dry humor that you cannot help but loving them.

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This last week and today I finally finished reading and looking through all of Audrey Niffenegger’s books. She has written two novels but her graphic novels or novels in picture form are beautiful and amazing. I read The Adventuress today which was her first published book and I love her illustrations. They are actually plates that you carve the picture into and you don’t really know the final outcome until they are pressed upon a page. It is beautiful and stunning and so original. The story is so powerful and moving and the pictures are so beautiful to look at that despite there only being maybe a sentence for each picture it takes you probably a good twenty minutes to read it. The stories may seem a bit bizarre but that is the appeal. Real true stories don’t have to make sense because stories are fictional in the first place.

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The one I loved however was The Night Bookmobile which is the more traditional graphic novel style and in fact my copy calls it a graphic novel. It is probably one of the weirdest stories I have ever read but it makes you stop and think. I truly mean you will stop and think for a good while after you finish especially if you are a book lover.

The story follows Alexandra who despite being happy on the outside finds true peace when she is surrounded by books. When she discovers the night bookmobile (which is a winnebago) she discovers her own personal library. Every book she has ever read is collected by Mr. Openshaw and stored in the bookmobile. The story follows Alexandra as she lives her life and yet yearns to one day enter the bookmobile and never leave. It truly does make one question what would we sacrifice to spend eternity reading the perfect book? What would we do to never have to worry ever again about anything and just sit all day and read without a care in the world?

-A

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Never in a million years would I think one day I would sit down and write a review for a John Green novel. I have read three (not including TATWD) John Green novels and only until recently liked one out of the three. In fact I still passionately hate Looking for Alaska. I’m impartial to Paper Towns because I really liked the storyline but hated the ending and FIOS was the first John Green book I liked. I read Paper Towns as a freshman in high school and never felt the need to read another John Green novel. As a senior in high school I read Fault in Our Stars because it was super popular and I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I really liked it and I liked the movie and I am not ashamed to admit it. In college my book club decided to read Looking for Alaska and I can count the number of books I have consciously quit reading on one hand. I hate not finishing a book but I had no problem putting Looking for Alaska back on the shelf and then destroying it during book club. I swore off John Green after that. It just reaffirmed that he couldn’t write teenage female characters or characters at really (but honestly FIOS was really good). For the longest time I would hate on John Green whenever his name was mentioned and tell people he was a terrible author. Of course my friends disagreed but I held firm that I would never read another John Green novel. That is until now.

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In walked Aza Holmes and out walked my belief that John Green couldn’t write a believable female character. In a time when mental illness is just starting to finally be acknowledged and written about John Green blew me away with such a powerful novel about anxiety, OCD and what it is like to live in one’s own head. I can also count on my fingers the number of books I have read where I fully identify with the main character. Actually I only need two fingers because it was this book and FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Anxiety isn’t something really talked about in YA, at least not in the YA I read growing up. In fact I don’t think I read many books as a teenager that dealt with any kind of mental illnesses. It just wasn’t talked about. Sometimes author’s nail it on the head though-what it means to live with anxiety. At one point in the story Daisy is ranting about Aza living in her head and Aza desperately tries to explain to her what it is like living in her own head. It’s not a choice. It’s not a conscious decision. It honestly sucks being stuck in this tiny little space with this tiny little annoying voice saying you aren’t good enough, don’t draw attention to yourself and make yourself as small as possible so they won’t notice you. Aza’s anxiety manifests itself in the form of OCD about germs. She is constantly reading Wikipedia pages about Human Micro Biome and freaking herself out but with any kind of obsessive compulsion you can’t just turn it off at will. It’s this tiny annoying voice in the back of your head telling you to constantly refresh your email because clearly if they don’t reply in the next 30 seconds then your email must have not gone through and the world is going to end. Or, for me at least, it can sometimes be the exact opposite. If you check your email and see you got an important email you will feel the need to reply or deal with it but, right now you cannot deal with because the very thought of dealing with it gives you so much dread and makes you want to throw up that it is easier to just not check your email and deal with the anxiety of not knowing then the anxiety of knowing.

It’s like trying to explain to someone that despite the fact I am deathly afraid of spiders and they bring out a side of me I don’t even personally know, I would rather grab one, with my bare hand, that had crawled into my hair and throw it on the floor then make a scene in a room full of classmates/peers (This actually happened and I still don’t know how to explain it). How do you explain to people that your anxiety of drawing attention to yourself is greater than your greatest fear? How does Aza Holmes explain to her mom that she drank hand sanitizer to clean out the germs from her boyfriend kissing her, and make it sound sane?

No one is normal but not everyone lives with a little voice inside their head telling them to do irrational things because we live in fear of something bigger then the irrational. How do you explain that to someone?

Aza learned the hard way how to explain to someone how it is living in your own head but she also learned how to ask for help. You shouldn’t have to struggle alone nor should you feel the need to change yourself to accommodate other people. As someone who dealt with a lot of social anxiety throughout junior high I always felt like an outsider. I always thought there was something wrong with me. It wasn’t until I started accepting the fact that maybe I was different and maybe I had a social limit that I started having better control over my anxiety. It wasn’t until Aza reached her breaking point that she realized despite her anxiety and OCD and intense fear of germs that she was the way she was. Mental illnesses aren’t about getting better because they are a part of who we are. They shouldn’t define us but we shouldn’t see it in terms of “getting better” instead we should see it in terms of “I have anxiety and some days I just want to hide in bed and ignore the way my heart pounds when I think about literally just checking my email, but I don’t let it define me or stop me from living.” It’s something I manage day by day and some days will be good and some days will be bad.

Aza kept reminding the people around her of that very fact. She wasn’t going to “get better” because her mental illness was a part of her but she also realized she wouldn’t let it stop her from living and trying to get out of her own head.

This really was a beautifully written story and as usual I tend to rant about myself but for me mental illness is deeply personal. Aza Holmes may not be a typical teenage girl but what is a “typical” teenage girl? She wants to fall in love, spend time with her best friend, and make out with a boy. She desperately wants to get out of her own head but life isn’t a happily ever after fairy tale where everything is right at the end. Life is messy full of unexpected events and consequences. Aza isn’t your stock female character destined to fall in love with the boy at the end. John Green out did himself by writing a teenage girl who is real, tangible, and most importantly like every other teenager out there-trying to find their place in the world while dealing with real issues. I loved every part of this book and I teared up a lot while reading it because it hit home in a very real way. It made me laugh, cry, sober up when I realized how true the words were but most importantly it made me realize I am not alone nor ever will be alone.

I think the most important thing books do is show us we are not alone. Thank you John Green for showing me I am not alone.

-A

Student Teaching, Phoebe and Her Unicorn and Audrey Niffenegger

I survived my first week of student teaching and honestly my sixth graders are funny and hard workers. Of course there are some in the bunch who challenge me a little more than others but it is so rewarding when they are the ones who volunteer to read or ask for tasks to do. Also I started another puzzle this week. I think I missed my calling in life because I love putting together a puzzle.

Two years ago (2016) I bought a Thomas Kincaid Alice in Wonderland puzzle and put it together over Thanksgiving break last year (2017) and then bought another two over Christmas break and put them together with the help of my amazing siblings!

Currently I am working on the sleeping beauty one which involves a lot of sky which is unfortunately all blue…

This last week I managed to finish another Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson: Unicorn on a Roll. As ever it was full of sarcasm, humor, heartfelt lessons and so much more. I absolutely love Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils and their adventures. This one featured Lord Splendid Humility the unicorn, roller skates, and frenemies. If you ever need a break from your day and would like some fun sarcastic humor then I would recommend picking up any Phoebe and Her Unicorn book or look the comic up online.

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The next book I read was a novel in words by Audrey Niffenegger. The first time I encountered Niffenegger was The Time Traveler’s Wife. Honestly I liked the book a lot more than the movie but I enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry much more even if the ending wasn’t to my satisfaction. I prefer a closed ending and unfortunately that book left it hanging but honestly I wouldn’t expect anything less because the book was just a little strange (in a good way). I love books that stretch the imagination when it comes to the real and the imaginary and The Three Incestuous Sisters did just that. The first novel in pictures I read by Niffenegger was Raven Girl and it reinforced my beliefs in the power of pictures and illustrations. Art is my other passion and anytime words can be accompanied by powerful, beautiful pictures I am all for it. You really have to read this book to experience it but what I can tell you about it, it involves three sisters, a love affair, hate, forgiveness and beautiful beautiful beautiful illustrations done by the author herself. Sometimes it’s nice to let the pictures tell us the story instead of the words.

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-A

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Happy New Year! Honestly the new year came and went for me because before my brother left to go back home he left me with one more Christmas present: a cold. So I spent my new years falling asleep on my futon passing out before eleven. I did manage to read one more book before the end of the year but haven’t had time to blog about it until now.

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I got to meet and get a signed copy of All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson at NCTE and while I had borrowed and started a copy about a month earlier it wasn’t until I sat down one afternoon after being tired of socializing with my family (every introvert should know the holiday struggle) and read did I finish this book. I loved this middle grades novel because it reminded me of my struggle in middle school. I was homeschooled just like Imogene and also decided to start public school in seventh grade.

Jamieson has such a unique artistic style and I love the storyline and plot of her newest graphic novel. Imogene works at the Renaissance  Faire with her family and has always been homeschooled but this year she has decided she would like to try out public school and embark on a new adventure called middle school. Imogene must learn to balance working at the Renaissance Faire and navigating middle school, which is a whole new world, including fashion trends, who to become friends with, and who really are one’s friends.

I loved the backdrop of the Ren Faire and seeing Imogene’s struggles. This book really resonated with my memories of middle school and I think this would really appeal to any middle schooler especially those who really liked Roller Girl or graphic novels in general.

-A