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As of my "maternity leave," here are the stats of the past year: 74 books reviewed 9 guest posts 4 independent bookstores 3 d...

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Artemis: A Novel

I haven't read The Martian yet, but I loved the film, so when I found out Andy Weir was coming out with a new book -- Artemis -- I requested a review copy, and here we are!

Jazz grew up in Artemis, the moon colony that has no home country. People who live there and visit there are from everywhere, and due to the restrictions on imports, Jazz runs a booming underground economy for her clients. One evening while delivering contraband to her best client, Trond, he tells her he wants to hire for her a job -- a life changing job. The only problem is that it's super illegal and could get her killed, but if she succeeds, she will be rich beyond belief and can finally live a life outside of just scraping by. When she takes it, she finds herself on the ride of her life -- or is for her life?

I was quite pleased by this novel and its caper quality. I will say that it was not the deepest piece of fiction I have ever picked up, and there were many times where it was clear that a man was writing from the attempted perspective of a young woman. I found myself rolling my eyes a couple of times at the internal comments Jazz would make at the audience, as they were very unauthentic, but I was willing to look past this for the sake of the story. After all, I wasn't in it for character development, but rather for the story.

Weir does an outstanding job of doing his homework and presenting the science thoroughly and, more importantly, interestingly. I ended up purchasing this book twice over the holidays, once for my brother and again for my brother-in-law. It's a great piece for just about anyone -- you can enjoy the story and skip past the science if it doesn't interest you or you find it tedious, or if you like the science, you can totally geek out on it and criticize it and be in awe of it and focus on that. It was what I think was the best part of this book -- it's a caper that has a story that grabs you and has a little something for everyone.

For myself, I'm not so sure after reading this book that I would be open to living on the moon. My anxiety was over the top reading about the precautions the residents had to take in order to live in a vacuum, and that's just not for me. I think that the idea of creating a colony on the moon, however, was fascinating and got me thinking long and hard about sustainable solutions for life on Earth. Would I at least want to take a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Artemis?

Why, yes, I would. Thanks, Mr. Weir. I'm looking forward to it. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Skipping Christmas: A Novel

At one of my favorite used bookstores, I picked up John Grisham's Skipping Christmas to read over the holiday break. I haven't yet seen "Christmas with the Kranks," the movie based off of it, so I thought it would be a fun pre-Christmas read this year.

Luther and Nora Krank said goodbye to their daughter right after Thanksgiving, off to the Peace Corps for two years. Luther, who hates the pageantry of Christmas (not to mention the $6,100 price tag in 2000 dollars), and he proposes to Nora that this year they skip Christmas and take a cruise. Nora reluctantly agrees. They don't buy the calendars, the fruitcakes, or the tree. They skip parties, cards, and celebrations of all kind. When they finally reach Christmas Eve and are excited to take off on their tropical adventure, their daughter calls with a bombshell.

I think it's fair to say that this book didn't win any awards, but it was exactly what I needed for when I read it. Coming off of an interesting semester, most of which was lovely but had its challenges, I needed a book that required no intellectual investment and that I could read in a reasonable time frame. (For me, that means a day on and off.) This book fit that bill. I read it on Christmas Eve Eve and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

There were some things that drove me nuts about this book, particularly Luther's obsession with money, and I couldn't decide if it was overkill from a writing perspective or if if it got on my nerves because of my own delicate sensibilities. $6k is a ton of money and I was frankly horrified that this, in early 2000's dollars, was how much a Midwestern couple spent on Christmas. I did a quick calculation on the interwebs and saw that this is $8,647.59 in current dollars. I just said some curse words out loud and threw up a little bit in my mouth.

I actually said to my hubby that I was amused that this book came into my hands the same year that I find myself pushing back against Christmas, specifically the commercialism and materialistic culture it embodies. I'm finding myself hating how much stuff we have (so much so that I fondly call it "out shit," because I can't deal), and then shopping for family members for the sake of buying things really wore me down. It feels so wasteful, and I am reaching a point where I don't want to participate any longer. How funny that Skipping Christmas was my choice.

I loved the premise, that the Kranks were going to take off for a vacation together instead of all of the materialistic trappings that Christmas brings. It was hilarious that they forewent so many things, and I found it to be quite poignant that when Luther offered the same donations that he normally offered at Christmas another time later in the year, the donation seekers were miffed. Luther said on three different occasions, "Don't you do X to help others? Come back in the summer and I'll give you $100 for that." Each time the requester went away in a huff. How funny, that someone offers you a donation later, and you are upset. It rang true to me, and it fell in line with the issues I am dealing with this year.

Ultimately, at the end of the book, the Kranks see that those who love them for who they are will come through when it's needed, and that love takes many forms. It takes many people and their presence to save Christmas, and at the end of the day it's about the people, not the stuff. I think we would all be wise to take that in this year, next year, and the years to come. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Guest Blogger Charlotte - Milk and Honey: Poems

With senior year in full swing, I wanted to change up the genre I was reading. Lately, especially on social media and in conversations with my friends, poetry seemed to be appearing more and more. I picked up a few different books and decided to read Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. It seemed like everyone around me had read or was reading and raving about it, and although I loved it, it wasn’t life changing.  

Milk and Honey is sectioned off into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. I really enjoyed this format because I knew what I was getting myself into. If before bed I wanted to read something more uplifting, I would go to the “loving” section, but if I felt like reading poems that were heavier I could go to the “hurting” or “breaking” sections. With these sections I was also able to experience a sort of evolution because of the order that the poems were placed in. It started off with the voice of someone that had been taken advantage of and turned into an individual that had more hope. With this, the progression from these different emotions felt more natural and easy to read and allowed me to connect to what was being said to a greater extent.

The collection of poems speaks about different relationships and situations. When I first picked up the book, I wasn’t sure what to expect and what topics the poems would go over. The main relationships discussed are a romantic one and familial ones such as her relationship with her mother. However, the main relationship focused on is the one with oneself, which I thought was really interesting. Sometimes poems can be very specific to certain situations and emotions, but with these poems, I was able to connect with them and feel as though they had been written for me.

With this personal feel to the book, I can understand why many have adored these poems. They talk about taboo topics, everyday events, and self-love. But, it was not the favorite writing I had ever read. I sometimes felt like some of the poems were cheesy and therefore was taken out of my reading daze. It seemed like they weren’t written to be appreciated by someone who reads a lot of poetry or who wanted to take the time to get immersed, but instead were written for someone who was looking for the Instagram version of poetry.

All together, I really enjoyed reading Milk and Honey and have been reading more poetry since. I think that different poems in the book will resonate with different people and even if they don’t, I still find it really interesting to learn more about other individuals and their emotions. So I would recommend, some candles, a bubble bath, and a few hours to de-stress.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel

I had never picked this book up, regardless of seeing the Broadway show and loving it. This is Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Christopher John Francis Boone is a young man in a special school for children with gifts and he is spon taking his A level maths. He is on the Autism spectrum, and he is a genius who has difficulty relating to others. His mother has died and his father is raising him, and one night the neighbors dog is murdered. Christopher sets out to find out what happened to him, setting into motion a series of events that will change the course of his life and take him to places he never imagined going. 

I was quite taken by this book. My husband and I purchased a copy for his mother a while back in hopes she would relate to the main character, as she is a retired special education teacher for students on the spectrum. I don't know if she ever read it, but when I saw a copy at the used bookstore, I realized how much I wanted to read it. I read it over the course of two days at home in Atlanta, and it was a lovely, empathetic portrait of a young man coming of age with a disorder that is so difficult to understand and even more difficult to treat. 

The most wonderful part of this book was the kindness and care that Haddon took with Christopher. This is the very definition of the writer getting out of the way of his character, allowing him to tell us who he is and what happens to him, rather than the writer. Christopher's trip to London was so well written and so full of life that I experienced it from Christopher's perspective. It was lovely and frightening, worrying me as a mother and a teacher, but also making me proud that the young man could take it upon himself to make the trip. 

This book, written a few years back, is a testament to treating young men and women who are neuro-atypical with such repoire and with the respect that they deserve not just as humans, but as the protagonists of their own stories. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Lois Lane: Triple Threat

I am madly in love with Gwenda Bond's version of Lois Lane. This will come as no surprise if you've been reading this blog for a while: Fallout and Double Down were both highly reviewed here. So I hung around the booth for the 1pm drop of this book at Book Expo and rejoiced to the heavens when I got my hand on Triple Threat.

Lois Lane, fresh off her discovery of the covert and evil laboratory experiments done by Dabney Donovan, starts having strange encounters in Metropolis with a group of kids who have strange powers that match their odd silver appendages. They seem to be after her, and she can't figure out why. Could they be related to the mob boss she helped put away recently? Or is this revenge for her deeds against Donovan? All of this on top of being smitten with her internet boyfriend, SmallvilleGuy, who surprises Lois by telling her that he's coming to town. Suddenly Lois's worlds come crashing together, and she must find a way to find herself and save herself at the same time.

So, yeah, Clark comes to town. That's no big secret. After all, that's kinda the premise of the superhero story, you know? I love that Lois is the center of this story and that Clark gets to be the gorgeous hunk of meat that steals Lois's heart. She's a great heroine -- she's plucky, she's brave, she's reckless, she's head over heels in love with someone she has never met -- and she's absolutely delightful. I loved that she finally met Clark in this book, along with his parents. Lois begins to suspect that there's more to Clark and their shared love of Strange Skies, the message board they met on, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this relationship goes in the future.

I am still smitten with this series, but I will say, this was not my favorite of the trio so far. However, I think that this book served as a fulcrum in the story. The investigation that Lois dives into isn't the most exciting, but it does set the stage for several things that look like they will be taking place in the near future. The action took a back burner in this story to the character development of Lois, Clark, and even her best friend Maddy. Who they are becoming throughout this series was more important to develop in this story than the action, and I can appreciate where this looks like it's going. Lois may have saved the day this time around, but only for the little guys who were hurt by the big guys. The big guys are still out there, and they want Lois. She isn't safe, even after her good work this time around. This book was a smaller grain of sand in a larger beach picture, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's next this spring!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups

I was sent an offer for a review copy of Erika Christakis's The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups not because I'm a blogger, but for review for use in my early childhood classes. I was skeptical at first -- we get a lot of offers for new books -- but the more I read, the more I was sold on its usefulness for my students and, in general, for parents and teachers everywhere. I have already recommended this book a dozen times over to colleagues and friends with small children, and I will recommend it another dozen times over before the year is out. This includes you.

Education in America has always seen its fair share of revolutions, and the last two decades are no exception. The push for academically strong children has moved our country away from the importance of genuine learning into a realm where our youngest members of society are pushed to recite English and math at alarming rates. Even our preschools are not immune to this push for advancement. Unfortunately, this has put honest to goodness learning on the back burner, and to our detriment. Christakis has crafted a treatise that lays out what preschoolers really do, in fact, need from the grownups in their lives, and in a nutshell, it's the ability to discover the world on their own rather than have it shoved down their throats.

Christakis follows her argument thoroughly and with a strong undercurrent of what I term "slow learning." We have moved so far away from understanding how children learn that we as a country are willing to throw our kids to the wolves. You have heard this all before, I'm sure -- kids today are overscheduled with activities, overburdened by school work, and falling behind on the world's stage of academics. We know this is true, and anyone who teaches at any level can see this bright and clear in their students. Christakis, a developmental specialist, tells us that we need to slow down, quickly and en mass. Kids need to construct their own knowledge of the world. It turns out Piaget knew what he was talking about the whole time. (My students will smile at this last sentence.)

One thing that I drive home with my students who take any development class that I teach is that children are not tiny adults. We often place our adult understandings, beliefs, and expectations onto small children who do not have the same level of developed cognition that we do. We think that children think just like us, and they do not. At all. A beautiful moment that occurred this semester in my 101 class is during a presentation on her fieldwork, one of my students ended by saying that she learned that even though she has two children herself, that being a parent doesn't prepare you to be a teacher. She often thought that her kids thought like her, and she learned through being in a classroom that kids in general don't think like adults. It was one of my most proud moments this year. (And I'm super proud of my undergrads.)

This is what Christakis argues in this book, and it's a compelling argument. Children are not tiny adults, and we shouldn't teach them as such. We need to give them space to grow and learn and quit creating one-off art projects that we hang on our fridge. Product does not always show process, and learning happens in the process. A recent New York Times article by one of my favorite researchers, Daniel Willingham, drives this point home. He tells us that one of the reasons Americans are functionally illiterate is that we lack content knowledge, and I absolutely agree. I see a connection here with Christakis's work, in that we as a country are so focused on forcing children to read that we aren't focused on what they are reading. The key to developing strong readers is to also teach them things, and to allow them to construct their own understanding of the world. Our job as educators is to guide them in their learning, not shove it down their throats, especially at age 4.

How do we change this? I wish I had the answer for that. Maybe consider passing this book on to your parent friends who have small children. If we all demand that our children be children, maybe those who make decisions about macro-education decisions will listen.