Monday, 27 April 2015

I Read... The Girl on the Train

The "buzzy" book right for the last little bit has been The Girl on the Train.  I picked it up on one of those "If you liked _____, you might like..." shelves, comparing the thriller to Gone Girl.  Gone Girl was the kind of twisted story that I devoured in one sitting, and it led me to run out and pick up the rest of Gillian Flynn's novels right away.  I had high expectations for The Girl on the Train.

I spent about 30 minutes reading the novel, and I put it aside for a few weeks.  I found the beginning so dry and repetitive that I just wasn't drawn in.  Rachel, the protagonist, seemed so dull and unlikable, and it seemed as thought there was no plot.  I didn't see any hints of twists and turns to come that made me want to keep reading.  I went through a few other novels instead.  This past weekend, The Girl on the Train was back at the top of my "to read" pile.  I gave it another go, and I am so glad that I did.

While the novel is slow to start, the action is worth the wait.  The mysterious story of the disappearance of a stranger that Rachel often noticed as she took the train to work every day gets juicy.  Once Megan disappeared and Rachel placed herself in the middle of the police case, I couldn't put the novel down.  The different characters' stories wove together seamlessly.  I was pleasantly surprised by the climax of the story, and I found the resolution to be satisfying (unlike Gone Girl!).

Food for thought... Can you think of a novel that you nearly wrote off due, but ended up loving?  Tell me about it!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Shape of Stories

In talking to English Language Arts teachers, I often hear that they wish that they could "jazz up" their Short Story units.  Other texts, such as novels and Shakespearean plays, offer lots of depth and, therefore, lots of juicy material to get kids engaged.  When it comes to the Short Story, however, lots of teachers use the stories to teach basic elements (character, setting, plot, conflict, etc.), and then move on.  I think that teachers would like to add more interest to their study of this text form.

I saw this infographic of Kurt Vonnegut's The Shape of Stories.  This information comes from his rejected Masters thesis in Anthropology.  He looks at the ups and downs of the main character's journey to create a shape.

(Image credit:

I think that there is a lot of great teaching and learning that can come from these story shapes.  Start with a discussion- do you agree with these shapes?  Are they accurate?  Is anything missing?  This could easily move into kids mapping stories that they read into these shapes.  This would give the kids the chance to dig deep into a story to determine where the story goes up and down.

Food for thought... how do you teach short stories?  Do you have any great ideas for getting kids engaged?  

Monday, 20 April 2015

I Read... El Deafo

The only graphic novel that I read over my Easter break was El Deafo by Cece Bell.  I love picking up a graphic novel because A) it breaks up all of the reading that I do and lets my brain work in a different way B) it lets me get acquainted with some great resources to engage students and C) I can usually read a graphic novel in a night, so it makes me feel like I have accomplished something in a short amount of time.

I loved El Deafo.  It is a book that I think anyone could enjoy, from upper elementary to adult.  I loved the fact that it was about a child who felt different from her peers (in this case, Cece is deaf and feels that her hearing aid sets her apart from the other students), but this difference isn't the focus or the defining feature of the girl.  While Cece has a disability, the focus of her story is her connection with her peers.  Who are her real friends?  Who can she share her secrets with?  Instead of making Cece seem like "the other," Cece feels like any other young girl trying to find her place.  This keeps the graphic novel from feeling preachy or like an after-school special.

Showing students a strong character who learns to see her disability as a strength (wait until you read about El Deafo and her superpowers!) is a fantastic example for anyone to read- whether they live with a disability or not.  I think that this would be a great starting point to a lot of conversations about difference, self-acceptance, and friendship.

Food for thought... what is your favourite graphic novel?  Have you ever taught a graphic novel to your class?  Or, if you are a student, have you ever read a graphic novel in class?  Tell me about your experience.

Friday, 17 April 2015

I Read... I'll Give You the Sun

Another great book that I read over my Easter break was I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.  In a way it reminded me of a book that I read a couple of months ago, We Were Liars because the story was told in bits and pieces, switching narrators and moving from past to present.  I'll Give You the Sun tells the story of twins Noah and Jude.  They were as close as can be, NoahandJude, until one day they stopped talking and interacting with one another.

As the story progressed, each new character or new piece of information becomes a piece of the puzzle.  The twins tell their stories separately, and the reader slowly puts the two stories together.  What really happened to each twin and their respective romantic interests?  What about the mother?  Father?  The mysterious sculptor?  The handsome boy with the crooked face?  Nobody knows just how intertwined these two stories are until the very end.

Themes involving death, superstition, and the importance of art and passion weave throughout the main mystery.  I thought that Noah did a great job of illustrating the importance of art in his life.  His description of the painting that he would create at key moments in his life showed the way that an artist's mind work in a way that I haven't seen described anywhere else.  Jude's connection to art had more to do with seeking a connection to her family members, but seeing her need to create certain sculptures broke my heart.

I found I'll Give You the Sun to be a very satisfying story.  In the end, it's really about the love of a family and, in particular, the love that two siblings have for one another.  I thought that the author did a great job of showing how families can often struggle through the teenage years and then come back together.  It was a great twist on the typical, predictable teenage angst story- definitely worth a read if you're looking for a good book to read out on your deck as the warm weather is coming.

Food for thought... what is the best YA book that you've read lately? 

Monday, 13 April 2015

I Read... A House in the Sky

I'm back in the swing of things after Easter break.  I got a lot of good reading time in.  The best book that I read over the break was definitely A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.  I've had it for a while, but I wasn't sure if I would enjoy reading the book.  I had heard about Amanda Lindhout's kidnapping in Somalia, and I thought that I might find her story too uncomfortable, too frightening to enjoy.  I was dead wrong.  As soon as I picked up the memoir, I was drawn in to the story and the engaging voice through which the story is told.  I kept finding excuses to take time to read throughout the day and finished in record time.

If you're someone who thinks that they don't like memoirs, give this a try.  It reads just like a thrilling novel.  I knew the ending from watching Amanda's story on the news, so I had that relief knowing that Amanda would return home.  The story kept me on the edge of my seat, however, as I read about Amanda's growing love of travel, her adventures around the world, and her eventual kidnapping.  Reading about how her experience in Somalia deteriorated- my heart broke for her toward the end of her time there- painted a picture of how it must feel to be in such a terrible, often hopeless, situation.  Amanda's strength comes through no matter what is going on around her- her empathy for others is inspiring.

While there is some mature content and language, I think that this would be a great read for anyone high-school aged and up.  It kept me hooked and wanting more, and it gave me a new perspective on a world and lifestyle that is far removed from myself.  I found myself considering the perspectives of everyone involved- Amanda's mother, townspeople who observe Amanda, her captors, her friend Nigel who has also been captured.  A book that has the power to expand your mind and capacity for empathy is definitely worth checking out.

Food for thought... what are your favourite memoirs?