April 18, 2013

Closure

I recently finished a book entitled Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, and I want you to read it. I blubbered like a baby at the end, and it's not just any book that makes me so emotional that I actually cry. The premise is that the main character Caitlin has Aspergers and is dealing with a major emotional loss. If you know of Aspergers, then you know that emotions are hard to understand and express when a person is on the spectrum. Caitlin's brother Devon was the only one who helped her "Get It," and he was killed in a school shooting. Caitlin's voice is clear and honest, and as she seeks closure for herself, her father and her community, you become completely invested in this person most people cannot relate to. It is a well told story and a hopeful one.

March 18, 2013

The coolest Goodwill find EVER

I was browsing through the Goodwill bookshelves the other day, finding 99 cent books to squeeze into my classroom bookshelves, when I found this:
I realize now my look of enthusiasm is kind of intense.
The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is a great book, a real steal at less than a buck. It is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future "perfect" world without color, pain, or the freedom of choice. A young boy named Jonas is selected to be the keeper of memories and is trained by "The Giver." Jonas' world starts to crumble when he realizes all that his community has given up to escape fear. Many of you have probably read it and been sucked in by the stark world Lowry created. It's one of my favorites. 

I'm also trying to build up a set of The Giver large enough to make into a literature circle option. I've got a list of books like this in my mind that I'm always searching for in any thrift store, garage sale or give away box on the side of the street (hey, I've got to be smart with my money people). When I do find one, I make a little noise of joy and do a happy dance right there in the store. All is well in the world. 
I do not look as good as this penguin. A real penguin trying to tap-dance probably looks way better than me. 

Then, I happened to look INSIDE the book.  As I like acting out stories, I have decided to tell this tale in pictures.
La de da, cheap book for my library, I am happy. Oh look, a dedication..."With love to those who read, remember, and GIVE..." Hmm, then there's a scribbled name...
And each name starts with a "L"...
 Kind of like the author's name...
 Oh my freaking goodness.
Did I see that right?
 Did anyone else see this? Will they still let me buy this for 99 cents?!?!
Oh my gosh, THE Lois Lowry actually TOUCHED this book!!!!!!!!!!
 AND SHE WROTE IN IT!! Oh yeah, folks, that's a note from Lois Lowry. Can I get a WOOOOHOOOO?!?!?! And I bought it for 99 CENTS! I put my name in it too. Because it is mine. My own...my precious....

CUE THE AMAZING DANCE ROUTINES OF ECSTATIC JOY!!

I was so nervous while standing in line at the checkout and I think I actually broke into a sweat when the lady was taking my money. There is a dangerous thrill in feeling like you're getting away with something. I wonder if this is what pawn shop owners feel like...
Still...
Best. Goodwill. Find. EVER.

March 17, 2013

Emerald City Comic Con

I attend comic book conventions.
I can add a "s" to the end of convention because I have now been to two: Emerald City Comic Con (Seattle) was SOO much bigger than C2E2 (Chicago) and a bit more overwhelming. In a good way.

If you haven't been to one, heard of one, or have a negative perception of comic-cons, then let me enlighten you. There is a huge room filled with booths in which you can purchase just about anything that has to do with any comic-book, science fiction movie, horror film, and fantasy novel- from action figures to zombie stickers, you'll find it there. 

There is another room called Artist's Alley in which you can meet/buy stuff from writers and/or artists and buy original creations by people that have no official affiliation with a publishing company (the legality of such purchases is overlooked). There are panels at certain times that highlight famous people, interesting ideas, and educational lessons on the booming comic-book industry. 

Then there are the con-goers. Hundreds upon hundreds of them. Emerald City was very crowded with unique people that are really fun to observe. And take pictures with.
This picture makes me happy. Look how happy I am....sigh...
Here's why I go to cons and will keep going, no matter how crowded they get.
 (I've got pointy elbows. I'll make do).

1. Yes, it is a strange place, but I'm strange too. I fit right in.
This is where the nerds come out to play. It's a mixture of Halloween, a social meet-and-greet for socially awkward people, and the coolest comic book store with everything you could possibly buy from Geekdom.

People dress in costumes (I love creating and getting into costumes). For example, there are groups of zombies just wandering around (including Corey and I). If you can name a superhero, I could have found somebody in that costume at the con. Or a villain. Or a video game character. Or the City Guard from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The little kids were the cutest by far. People ask to get pictures with people in costumes, and the people in costumes pose. That's part of the culture of a con. And it's spectacular. 

There was an equal ratio between male and female con-goers from what I could tell (take that all you geek chic haters!). There were about the same amount of boys/girls dressed up in costumes. However, since there is a lack of strong female characters in the comic book world that aren't wearing skin-tight-revealing-leotards, A LOT of women were dressed as male characters (see number 4 below). I saw one guy dressed as the princess' stunt man from the Mario video game, but that was it (great costume by the way).

Not everybody is in costume. The great majority of people are normal looking, with a broad variety of body shapes, skin colors and ethnic groups- there are nerds everywhere... It's just nice to be able to dress in costume on a day that isn't Halloween. Also, with the massive popularity of comic books being transformed into gleefully good movies, comic cons are becoming less uncouth and more crowded.

2. I am an English teacher. I like buying and sharing books. There were lots of books there. 


In short, I spent too much money. My students love me for it. Check out my blog post on graphic novel suggestions for a complete list of awesomeness if you want to expand your classroom library, have children, or are looking for some WONDERFUL reads yourself.  It was also great to talk with some of the actual artists/writers of these stories. I got some of my books signed. Totally wicked!

3. I experienced some interesting things 
(That guy in the awesome Thor costume was just one)
There are panels for celebrities to talk about their experiences on shows and movies that they have starred in/written/been awesome around, and they serve as manna from heaven for nerds who worship these actors/writers/performers. I could listen to Patrick Stewart talking about his audition for Star Trek forever... I also saw Gillian Anderson (she said 'um' a lot, but had some good stories), Christopher Lloyd (very calm and kind) and Will Wheaton (who was hilarious in an "I'm famous and over it" kind of way). 

No, that's not the real Christopher Lloyd, 
but signatures were $60, so this will have to do. 
I went to a great panel on raising a reader, went to a fall-to-the-ground-clutching-your-laughing-belly panel on Con Horror Stories, and accompanied my sister Corey to a few panels on how to publish stories, which were helpful and well run. The comic book industry may be hard to break into, but the creators are willing to help and give advice. It makes for a very welcoming atmosphere. 

Check out this amazing musical duo called Paul and Storm, who had me laughing for a solid hour. I even snorted once. It was mortifying.  Then I remembered where I was and got over it quickly.
I also made eye contact with a random guy while searching for Corey in the crowd, and he lifted up his badge which had "I'm single" written on it, then raised his eyebrows a couple times. In the manner of the school photographer who was trying to get you to look at the camera. Lesson number one- I shouldn't get separated from my sister (who tends to leave her phone on silent). Lesson number two- guys, don't wiggle your eye-brows like Mexican jumping beans. It's very off-putting.

4. Corey wants to do this for a living.
My little sister is an amazingly talented story teller- she's witty and artistic and driven (which is everything you need to be a sequential artist- translation: comic-book creator). It was great to be there with her, getting ideas for a booth for next year's Emerald City Comic Con (fingers crossed!), and watching her fill up with inspiration, ideas and excitement. And, to end this post with the most awesome story, I will share one of Corey's quick, weekly web-comics. This was my FAVORITE moment from the con. I'm still giggling about it...
Loki is her favorite. Thor is mine. We are very different.
You can bet your bottom dollar that really happened.

Graphic Novel Suggestions



My classroom library.
If you read my blog post on attending Emerald City Comic Con, then you know I bought a lot of books. The beauty of graphic novels is that low readers can comprehend complex plots with VERY high vocabulary, they can finish them quickly, and they LOVE them. I've got a lot of visual learners in my classes, and graphic novels are better than candy for many of them.

Imagine a kid who has never willingly picked up a book, finished it on their own, nor enjoyed the experience. Now, give that kid a graphic novel. The transformation is nearly immediate and a truly beautiful thing to witness. My reading intervention class is a different group of kids from the beginning of the year because of graphic novels- SSR is actually silent, and not the, "I have to be quiet so I'm going to fall asleep" sort of quiet. It's an electric sensation, watching my students devour books!

Here are some FANTASTIC graphic novels that should be in every middle school library (in my humble opinion).  

Side note- All of these are appropriate for middle level readers.
Avatar: The Last Airbender- The great cartoon (not the terrible live action movie) has been expanded by these graphic novels that are too hot to stay on my book shelves. There are lots to choose from- The Lost Scrolls, The Lost Adventures, The Promise, The Search, Zuko's Story and The Earth Kingdom Chronicles. I LOVE ALL OF THEM.

The following graphic novels are based on full-length novels and could be additions to a class set or help low readers follow along with the story. Or, you could just get them because they are great.
The Girl Who Owned A City I loved this story growing up. A plague wipes out all the adults on the planet and the children learn to survive. One ten-year old girl stands up to gangs and starvation and dares to own something worth having in a time when everyone takes what they need.
A Wrinkle in Time I used to have the hardest time getting kids to try this series, but not anymore!
Artemis Fowl  The thrilling stories of an evil mastermind (who just so happens to be a kid) and his fantastic adventures. 
Witch and Wizard Similar to the Hunger Games, a brother and sister accused of witchcraft must survive being sentenced to death.
The Lightning Thief I love this series and everything that goes with it (except the movie) and while there are some changes to the story in this version, it's still really good.

Now come a whole bunch of random recommendations that I have tried to group by theme, but really, it's just a list.
Maus- I recommended this in my blog post about Holocaust novels. It does have a heavy subject, so keep that in mind before you purchase/recommend it to kids. The Nazis are represented by cats, the Jews (and the Nazis' other victims) are drawn as mice- an amazing analogy. It is written by Art Spiegelman, who is telling the true story of his father. It is also the first graphic novel to have won the Pulitzer Prize. 
Cardboard/Bad Island/Ghostopolis- Doug TenNapel's style is so different, and each story he has created is wonderful. In my experience, these are popular with boys who have had troubled home lives, but everyone who has picked them up has enjoyed them, including me!
Smile/Drama- My girls have just gobbled up these books by Raina Telgemeier (though recently, a young man admitted to me, quietly, that he thought these books were, "actually pretty good"). My students really relate to the themes of social awkwardness, trouble with friends and learning to be yourself.
Astronaut Academy- Raina's husband, Dave Roman, has written this fun series, which is suited for younger students, but is still a fun read for all.
Friends with Boys- This story, by Faith Erin Hicks, has a wonderful plot of finding out who you are in high school, with the additional problem of dealing with a ghost. 
Anya's Ghost- Speaking of ghosts, Anya not only has to deal with a most pernicious spirit, but must also come to terms with her identity as an immigrant in America. Written by Vera Brosgol.
American Born Chinese- Sensing a connection here? This one, by Gene Luen Yang, is a told in a complex, three part story, and has some potentially inappropriate implications at the beginning that have to do with peaches...but other than that, it's a great story about accepting who you are.
Rust- This one is a lightning quick read (mostly pictures) with themes of war, loss and trying to be human. It is a three part series by Royden Lepp. Royden also visits schools to talk about being creative in your future careers. 
Mouse Guard- If your kids like to read about animals, then this one is a great pick. If they like to read about honorable warriors, suggest this one. If a student creates their own stories or is constantly doodling, then this self-published series might be a good inspiration for him/her. Written by David Peterson.
Memorial- This is my personal favorite. It is by Chris Roberson and it is a very complicated story that involves memory, stealing moments, and imagining all possibilities. It combines many of my favorite literary characters (such as Peter Pan, Mulan, Robin Hood and Sinbad) into a thrilling story that I couldn't put down. 
Marvel: All Ages- The problem I've had with comic books is that there are too many to read to make sure they are appropriate, and boy, are some of them inappropriate.  I haven't added a single super-hero comic book in my classroom because of this. Until now. Marvel has alleviated this problem by releasing stories about our favorite comic book heroes in stories that ANYONE, no matter their age, can read and enjoy.

If this wasn't enough, or you're looking for a different age level, then check out this book that was created by two librarians: A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics. It provides not only a summary and suggested age level, but also a page from the book so you can check out the artist's style.


Happy Reading!

March 10, 2013

The Gym: Part Three

Gym Culture (i.e. Best People Watching Ever)
Well, besides the airport, and Comic Con...

Here's the simple truth: I like going to the gym.
I enjoy the way I feel happy after I exercise and how I already feel stronger with only a couple weeks of work.

But I have to admit, there are some pretty funky characters at a gym. It's kind of distracting. And fun to watch.
I do not deny that I fall into a few "funky" categories.  I am one of those "People without professional gym gear." Oh yeah, I'm rocking the unflattering sweat-pants and an old shirt from some random activity I did when I was younger that isn't really as cool as it used to be, cause I'm too cheap to buy anything new (I mean, the shirt from the school I student taught at was nice when I got it, but no one here knows Clackamas High School. Plus, there are holes in the armpits. Perfect to sweat in!). 

Also, did you read my previous post? I literally FELL OFF OF A TREADMILL. While it was on its lowest setting. I am the founding member of "Using gym equipment incorrectly" group.
Here are some other groups I've enjoyed observing at the gym:
"HUMONGOUS guys who grunt a lot. A LOT" Think Arnold in his youth kinda big. I've been told that at a certain point, you can't help but grunt when you're lifting your limit. Still, there are some pretty strange sounds coming from the weight section...
"The Looker" Yeah, you think I can't see you, but you have seriously got to stop staring at my -fill in the blank- Both men AND women are guilty of this, people. Mirrors are the best way to catch "The Looker" in the act. This web-comic does an excellent job (using adult humor- you've been warned) at getting into the minds of "Lookers." But mirrors are also used by the...
"Mirror Gazer" I can understand checking your form and posture, but posing? Seriously? The gym is populated by people who both want to feel AND look good, and the walls are covered in mirrors, so it kind of sets the stage for vanity, but there are people who act as if they are at a magazine shoot. I find it hard not to laugh at these people. Then I glance at myself in a mirror as I walk by...Ok, ok, I'm a mirror-gazer, too (This might apply to everyone at the gym).
"Zumba-you-bet-I-know-the-move-dancer" Zumba is by far my favorite part of the gym. This is dancing at its best (at least for me). I could arguably do all of the other work-outs at home, but being in a dance class, surrounded by real people (who look normal to boot) is really fun. And the best part is when a familiar dance move begins and every body starts shaking their booty like a belly dancer. Then the move changes and I go the wrong way.
"Models/Trainers" These people wear skin-tight-commercialized-not-much-cloth-there-clothes, look as if they were born in a gym and walk around looking beautiful. Some of them have "trainer" on the back of their shirts, but most of them don't. They're done. Why do they taunt me?!?!
"Awkwardly loud talker" Wow, you're speaking loud enough for everyone to hear about that amazing basketball game you just dominated and the great new car you just bought. I'm so impressed I'm going to move to another section of the gym.
"Newbies" I no longer walk around with my mouth wide open, drooling, but there are certainly others in the same position who have newly jumped on this bandwagon. They usually walk around slowly, timidly trying the strange machines that are supposedly meant for human use. Do not fear, my young padawans (young or not), the force will guide your muscles to grow...and the dark side of extra fat to diminish...soonish...Well, you'll know how to use the treadmill without falling off, I can promise you that.

To really throw these groups into a clearly humorous light, watch this video.


Happy exercising!

March 5, 2013

The Gym: Part Two

First day: I walked through the front doors, and two thoughts crossed my mind.  

"This is like the Costco of gyms..."
Seriously people, it's kind of a warehouse-looking building, with an immense interior. The ceilings are very high (like Costco) and you can find a way to work out every muscle in your body (kind of like Costco?). This wide-open space is filled with about one hundred treadmills, fifty ellipticals, more weights than I care to count, weightlifting equipment that look similar to torture devices seen on science fiction shows, and approximately two hundred STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL human beings that don't look quite real. Of course, there are normal looking people too, but, those aren't the ones that I found myself staring at, slack jawed and drooling. One word, ladies: arms. I apparently have a thing for sculpted arms.
On the edges of this large, intimidating space are rooms for yoga, swimming, basketball, racquet ball, work-out classes, spin classes, and, get this, a movie theater filled with treadmills and ellipticals instead of seats (that was one of the major selling points for me). I mean, this place has got it all. Second thought...

"I have just walked into Globo Gym."
Please watch "Dodgeball" if you don't know what I mean.
I must have looked like a newbie (the drool probably gave me away), because the moment I walked in, no less than seven amazingly fit sales people looked up from their cool-looking desks, smelling a potential customer. These people are not only seriously good looking, but they are really good at selling things. Like overpriced gym memberships. Luckily, I was prepared for such an onslaught of fit beauty, and knew my financial limit. I have to prepare myself for such things. If a handsome/gorgeous person starts talking to me without giving me time to get ready, I will not be able to speak and will agree with anything they say. Even if they say, "Scientology is true."

After I got through the membership sprint, I decided to actually exercise. I had about thirty minutes before my yoga class began, so I decided to warm up. Thus begins my segment I have entitled:

"Tilting on Treadmills"
Please remember throughout this story that I have used a treadmill before and that I am surrounded by beautiful, sweaty people in skimpy, skin-tight outfits, while I am wearing what look like old pajamas. I chose a nice treadmill that can lift or descend to create the sensation of walking on a hill. "Alright," I thought, "let's get this party started!"

Well, some people may think that what happened next could be a joke told at a party...
After making the mistake of holding down the "increase speed" button, not aware it would jump from 1.5 to 15 in a matter of 1.5 seconds, I ended up suddenly sprinting. This was such a shock I flailed my arms about and knocked the emergency stop key from it's place of safety, proceeding to fly into the machine as it came to a complete stop that my sprinting body was not prepared for. I looked about as graceful as an epileptic baby giraffe- in sweats no less.
I then decided to shake it off, ignore the fact that I was surrounded by perfectly balanced people who could be models, straight from some magazine, in row after intimidating row of running machines of torture and take my darn warm-up walk, gosh darn it.

20 minutes pass. All was well until I had to be the good citizen and wipe down the machine- a machine that has an i-pad for controls (yes, this gym is fancy). As I did what any responsible gym goer would do, I was unaware that the i-pad was sensitive enough to register the wipe of a towel.
It started. While I was turned to step off the machine.
I realized too late that I was moving (that light-bulb went off when I saw the wall shifting to my right), and as I tumbled off this apparatus of evil into the treadmill behind me- complete with beautiful person in leotard- I realized the true beauty of walking outside is not nature, it's that there's less of a chance of being seen when you fall on your face. 

Yes, I did go back the very next day (I know, glutton for punishment, right?), but at a different time, so that regular gym goers would not have a chance to recognize me. I also chose a treadmill in the back.

February 27, 2013

The Gym: Part One





I've done it- I've joined a gym.

Let me explain why this is significant enough to write about:
1. I NEVER thought I would be a gym member.
Actual thoughts from my head- "Gyms, sheesh. What's the big deal? I can do all that in the comfort of my own home. I could get a video and it would cost one-tenth of a gym membership. Gyms are a scam, just trying to milk me for all I've got and I'm sure I'll get caught up in some contract that will cost me even more when I undoubtedly quit. And besides, there's a whole bunch of CRAZIES there in skimpy clothing lifting impossible amounts, I mean...come on...gyms are scary."
Looking back on my home-work-outs, I realize these were few an far between. It's just so easy to convince myself to do other things (I'm kind of a pushover actually).

2. I am a hermit.
I would much rather eat ice-cream while watching movies on my uber-comfy couch all by my lonesome than meet new people. Is there even a contest between those two things? Going to a party where I don't know very many people is an actual form of torture. That should be mentioned at the next Geneva Convention.

3. As my self-imposed couch exile has shrunk my social circle, it expanded everything else about me.
Perfect candidate for the gym, right? No, this fact actually kept me from working out in public. Silly, but true.

4. It's a long drive to anywhere from Benton City.
After work, all I want to do is lie on something comfortable and not think or make any decisions. It would be preferable if someone brought me food, and if I could moan a bit. Teaching is HARD. Wanting to do things that require effort after work is like wanting to listen to a door-to-door salesman tell you the 100 ways to remove slugs from your yard...when you live in an apartment. Ain't nobody got time for that!

I present myself today as a humble reformed person, a changed woman, or, as my co-worker who convinced me to visit the gym as a guest on her membership says, "I've drunk the Kool-Aid." You may be thinking, after all those (kind of pathetic) reasons, what event was so amazing that it lit an exercising fire under her butt? Even if you're not wondering that, here's why:

A. I want to be able to climb things.

There are these gorgeous hills behind my house called "Horse Heaven." I have wanted to climb to the top ever since I looked up at them while walking to work in August and saw the fog billowing off the top like cream being poured into tea and thought, "I bet the view from the top is stunning." In August, if I had tried to climb those hills, I would have died. Probably. Or at least pulled something.
I've always had a pretty good body image- I accept who I am and think I am beautiful, but I'm also a realist. If climbing a flight of stairs leaves me winded, climbing three miles at a .5 grade is going to  hurt. Being healthy is a good goal to have. Someday, I want to summit a mountain, and if THAT'S ever going to happen, I've got to get my bum in gear.

B. If I am able to conquer my stupid shyness, I enjoy having friends, especially in new places. (I mean, who doesn't?)
When my wonderful coworker invited me to join her in a yoga class, I eagerly yelled, "YES!" while spewing rice about the teacher's lounge table. She is gracious and kind, and politely ignored my lunch as it flew around her. I did not speak for the next thirty minutes.

C. I love dancing. 
I've wanted to be in a Zumba class ever since an infomercial captured my attention for a whole two hours in a hotel somewhere in Nebraska. The gym offers Zumba classes. I think that explains itself.

Don't miss the next installment of "The Gym," where I describe my extremely embarrassing first day. It's a wonder I even went back.
"The Gym: Part Three" will tell about the unique culture inside a gym. You don't know until you go, man. It really is kind of like a cult.

Small Pleasures

The sound of uncorking a wine bottle.
Finding funny birthday cards to buy.
Going outside at night when the moon is full.
Eating a handful of chocolate chips and almonds.
Folding warm towels straight from the dryer.
Watching horses run.
Fixing things with glue.
Dancing the wrong way in Zumba class, and realizing no one really cares. Including me.

February 25, 2013

Teacher Side Note

I am teaching about the Holocaust in my classroom right now, so it has been on my mind a lot lately. It is a huge strain to carefully teach children about such a period of destruction and death without doing damage. I encapsulate this dreadful event in novels that don’t shy from the truth, but declare that hope lives, have characters that never give in to the overwhelming darkness of hatred, and try to teach students that we cannot let such things come to pass again. 

If you’re interested in some excellent young adult Holocaust novels, here are my personal favorites (in order from least difficult to hardest): Number the Stars, Yellow Star, Ashes, I Have Lived a Thousand Years, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, and Night. There is a graphic novel called The Complete Maus, which is told in an extended metaphor of cats (Nazis) and mice (their victims) that is also very well done. If you are going to share these with children, please read them first, be prepared to explain difficult concepts like stereotypes, racism, loss, and genocide, and it doesn’t hurt to have some historical facts about the time period handy. 

I’ve been asked, why teach children about such a horrible time period? I always reply, because humans are capable of horrific things. The Holocaust happened. Genocides are not a thing of the past. We, as human beings capable of intelligent thought, shouldn’t let it happen again. The best way to make that change is to teach children compassion, empathy, tolerance, awareness and a drive to do. We  must teach them not to be a bystander, the un-sung villain of the Holocaust. The Holocaust will always be a testament to what happens if we don’t.