Sunday, July 31, 2011

Girl who was on fire

When I first received Girl who was on Fire (essays about Hunger Games trilogy) a month ago, I immediately read the first four essays. I was so devoted to this task, I brought it with me to HSBC Arena (home of our Buffalo Sabres hockey team) that same evening to watch the NHL top draft picks on the jumbotron with my family. When the draft broadcast was boring (which is a lot of the time between draft picks and cute photo ops), I read this book because I didn't care much less understand what the commentators said to fill time.

That was the last time I read the book. For a while I convinced myself that I just needed more time to digest the important analysis each essayist presented after reading four in a row, blah blah blah. It sat in my Goodreads "to read" collection, and sat, and sat. So did two other books. Finally I admitted I just need to push myself to read it or forget it and move on. That's one reason to join Book-a-day.

There are several super interesting essays in this book, plus some essays that were just okay. Common themes (tyranny vs. community, love vs. hate, bread and circus) run throughout all the essays, so be prepared for repetition.

My personal favorites, ones that I found most thought-provoking: "Reality Hunger" by Ned Vizzini (connections to reality TV and essayist's experience with media/marketing; I'm going to find Vizzini's novels to read because I enjoyed his writing style!), "No So Weird Science" by Cara Lockwood (genetic engineering), "Crime of Fashion", "Bent, Shattered, and Mended" by Blythe Woolston (Post-traumatic stress disorder; I tweeted the writer, will find her book to read).

Potential for students - I think some 7th and 8th graders who enjoyed the trilogy would enjoy some of the essays. I may try to read excerpts from some essays in class with students. The new Common Core Learning Standards and specifically an addition by the New York State Education Department may require 7th and 8th grades to read literary criticism, something that seems generally out of reach for most students, but these essays would be much more accessible. (Confession: when my colleagues and I read that section in the NYS common core, our eyes bugged out. Honestly, I think we can teach it. It does require more creative curriculum work. That's why we're the professionals, huh?!)

Bottom line: we need more books like Girl who was on Fire - essays about our favorite middle grade/young adult novels! In the context of exploring great literature, these essays can encourage students to think more broadly and feel (and think) more deeply.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Typically I read very few books during July and August, my summer non-teaching months. I've noticed this personal reading trend over the past few years: reading in spurts of classroom/student related books from September through May (depending on when/how I find new books/authors/series), reading a LOT of books in June (when my mind acts out a pretend vacation despite the reality of working until the last day of June), then reading no more than 4 books in July and August when I have the most "free" time.

Usually at this point of the summer, I feel guilty about not reading books. Right now, I don't think I feel guilty. I just miss the satisfaction of being immersed in a good book. So I'm going to jump into the Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller's Book-a-Day challenge for August. Twitter folks provide a lot of inspiration - many tweet book titles and reviews for #bookaday :)

I need to start some book lists, request library items, strategize. Your suggestions are welcome, especially SHORT books - picture books, graphic novels, fiction or nonfiction!

Friday, July 29, 2011

high school reunion

Today was a high school reunion of just 2 people who were good friends in high school but haven't seen each other in 23 years! DGW lives in California and was in New York for a family gathering last week, then drove 5 hours with her 2 children and mom to visit some friends (including me!) here. We met each other's kids for the first time, too. Hopefully we can reunite at our next HS reunion shindig...

I looked through my HS yearbook just now and, despite being extremely average academically in our competitive magnet NYC high school, found a few compliments on my English/math/social studies homework HAHA from my friends HAHA.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My writing territories

This summer I organized a small writing workshop group (composed of a few friends/colleagues) to motivate and support each other to produce writing. It's working! We meet weekly at a bookstore (Borders this month, but soon Barnes and Noble) to share our writing and offer feedback.

My own "writing territories" (as per Georgia Heard and Nancie Atwell) are personal narratives from my childhood in Taiwan, life with my grandmother who raised me and my aunts and uncles. The writing group has offered positive responses and helpful suggestions, but most importantly, the weekly meetings push us to write.

Monday, July 18, 2011


The new Harry Potter movie - part 2 of Deathly Hallows - I didn't love it, but I'm never going to love any movie based on a book that I LOVED. It was a mix of great visuals and lame storytelling. Moving on.

"Downton Abbey" - FANTASTIC British Masterpiece Classic series that I enjoyed on Netflix (yes, I'm keeping the live streaming plan) last week!!!

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" - super interesting documentary movie about "street art" (aka graffiti) (Netflix again) - entertaining, thought-provoking, unexpected

Monday, July 11, 2011

coastal Maine

I truly believe in the healing power of nature that inspires us to create art. Here are a few more scenes from our time in Maine last week. Top picture was taken on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park - it's the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from early October through early March. Second picture features part of the village in Castine, Maine, as seen from the local yacht club pier.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New England

Just returned last night from a most excellent family road trip vacation - a day in Hanover, NH (lovely college town where we saw spectacular 250th anniversary commemorative fireworks, toured Dartmouth), 4 days in Castine, ME (utterly beautiful, classic coastal Maine town; we stayed with Castine cousins who totally spoiled us and visited breathtaking Acadia National Park), a day and half in Boston (saw a game at Fenway Park, walked most of the Freedom Trail, exhausting), half a day at WALDEN POND!

The trip was the perfect prelude to my writing summer - a few coworker friends and I are going to meet weekly to share and chat about our writing. We start tomorrow - so guess what I'm going to do today?!