Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Alex Van Helsing Voice of the Undead by Jason Henderson

The other day I was going through my stack of books figuring out what to read next when I pulled out Alex Van Helsing Voice of the Undead by Jason Henderson.  A couple of items caught my eye.  First, the publicity firm is in Marblehead, so I figured wow another Mass connection.  Secondly, the back made me laugh “NO SPARKLY VAMPIRES HERE!”  As I read the press release and back I thought why not give it a try?   Normally I don’t read the second book in a series if I haven’t read the first one.  It is hard enough keeping up with books, so unless a student recommends it I tend to shy away from them.  But like I said this one perked my interest. 

Truth be told I enjoy watching mindless TV.  I find it reduces the brain waves during a hectic week, so I must admit that I enjoy True Blood and a few shows on USA Network.  Now before I continue I want to be perfectly clear.  I REALLY enjoyed Alex Van Helsing. I quickly became engrossed in the story, and plan on reading the first one.  It is better written than White Collar or shows on SyFy, but I couldn’t help comparing it to some shows.  Mr. Henderson please understand what I am about to write I mean as a good thing.  Picture Buffy the Vampire Slayer (change the name to Alex) meets Nakita (without Section being evil, and change the name to Alex) meets Covert Affairs and you have a fun read; andpossible Guys Read Book Club book.

The story is about Alex Van Helsing.  A young man sent to a boarding school in Austria.  During his first month he finds out he can fight vampires.  The vampires have their hideout under Lake Geneva.  How cool is that?

The story is fast paced.  Great vocabulary.  I needed to look up a couple of words.  Focus on world issues, and it takes place in Europe.  The press release and book says that it is for ages 12 and up.  I would say 10 and up.  There are some intense scenes and possible questions on why on earth parents would send their kids to a boarding school.  I know a few guys that will be excited to read this book.

Thanks harper Collins for the ARC.  Book to be released today!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cheesie Mack Is Not A Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler, Wicked Good

Fried Clams and Lobster

For some reason most of the books I have read this summer have a New England setting.  It has been way too many years since I have been there.  Recently I even read that Anchovies is still a great neighborhood place.  I remember when that was our big night out!  So, Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler didn’t help with the homesick.  If anything it made it worst because the setting is Gloucester Mass.  I lived in Boston, but it so close to Crane’s Beach and Essex, home
of the world’s best-fried fish.  The story had me so close to Woodman’s yet so far!

Two best friends, Ronald “Cheesie” Mack and Georgie Sinkoff, are approaching the end of an era and the beginning of a frightening one.  Yes, the end of elementary school and the upcoming entrance to middle school.  As any normal fifth grade boy they plan the perfect event to make sure their “graduation” is memorable. The principal makes sure it is normal like all the ones before. 

Luckily the boys have summer camp to look forward. Unfortunately, Georgie finds out his dad can’t afford it.  In solidarity Cheesie declares he will not go if Georgie cannot go.  On the way to figuring out what to do for the summer, they make a new friend and discover the true meaning of integrity.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was wicked funny.  I liked the voice and the first person narration.  The drifting off topic made me laugh.  The first time I had to re-read the previous page before I figured out that at times Cheesie would insert an idea for another story.  It will be a great book to put in the hands of kids this fall.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Me, a Writer?

I am a writer.  For the last 48 years, I have not considered myself a writer.  Yes, I can write an email, a letter, a thank you card, report card comments, and even a blog.  But writing and being a writer are totally different.  I think back to my writing instruction growing up, and I don’t remember any teacher teaching me how to write.  I know I did worksheets. How can I forget the cold feel of new dittos? And the smell?  I remember writing my first “term paper” on Norman Rockwell.  I worked really hard on it, and I was so proud of my work.  When I saw the “C” on the cover I was devastated. The teacher’s comments were “Your notecards are incomplete, we’ve talked about your poor penmanship, and why are there words printed on the back of the pages?” However, the most painful memory of writing happened in sixth grade.  I turned in my “How to Essay.” I can still picture the harsh look on my teacher’s face, and her voice when she told me she didn’t understand anything I had written.  When I asked her to explain she replied, “You are such a spoiled brat!”

Being that, historically, I was a non-writer, teaching writing is a struggle.  As a third grade teacher, teaching students to write is paramount.  So year after year, I have lied and faked my way through the Writer’s Workshop. I dreaded that they could sense my fear, and one day, my young students would realize I was a fraud. They would look up at me and say,  “You want us to consider ourselves writers; you are not even a writer!”

Given my relationship with writing, it is ironic that I ended up applying to the Denver Writing Project.  Last February at the state reading conference, I was visiting with Mark Overmeyer, a respected writer/educator who has published two books on Writer’s Workshop.  As we discussed the conference, he brought up the Denver Writing Project and encouraged me to participate.  While he talked my stomach started turning flips, and my heart started beating faster.  I thought he must have me confused with someone else. All I could think about was that I was not a writer.  Why would I even contemplate doing a writing project?  I listened politely, looked at him; finally confessed that I was terrified to write.  That night I received two emails from Mark.  The first was information about the Denver Writing Project, and the second was about my blog.  “I just read your blog.  You can write!”  Mark is very polite, so I took it as a nice gesture.  Remember, I was not a writer.

Always the curious one, I clicked on the link and read about the Denver Writing Project.  The more I read the more I thought: I need to do this.

I need to do this. 

I was tired of the anxious feeling I had every day before writing.  I took the next step and applied.  I filled out the application and wrote the brief essay.

As you can guess, I made it into the Summer Institute.  On the morning of June 13, 2011 I timidly made my way into the classroom on the University of Colorado at Denver campus.  This was to be my home, away from home, six hours a day for the next 20 days.

 I learned how to use SLAM poetry to engage students. 

I wrote.

I learned how to use low-risk activities so students can experiment with different leads for stories.  

I wrote. 

I shared MY WRITING with my colleagues.

I wrote. 

I was inspired by a peer that demonstrated the importance of not just showing our students our writing; but writing with them so they can see the process. 

I wrote. 

I learned ways to bring writing to life in my class.

I wrote.  

I learned not to reel from horror at having to be a writing teacher. 

I wrote.

My confidence grew and slowly I began to change the way I looked at writing. I know writing will never be easy, and I realize that it will always be a slow process.  I will still struggle with spelling and misuse words like than and then. I will never write like Michael Chabon or Federico García Lorca, but I will write.

This I believe is why the Denver Writing Project helped me find the writer inside me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

When I was a kid there was a commercial with the tagline “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”  Ironically it was for margarine, which is totally messing with nature.  That’s a whole different topic.  The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill has a different take on what happens when one tries to fool with Mother Nature.

Jack is delivered to the house of his aunt and uncle.  They live in Hazelwood, Iowa.  Jack’s life in San Francisco was lonely.  He had no friends and his parents rarely paid any attention to him.  He wasn’t in any family pictures.  Jack was invisible.  Once he moves in with his aunt and uncle everything starts to change.  Jack is noticed, he learns how to have friends and the town bully sets his sights on him.  He thinks things might start to become normal.  WRONG!!! 

While Jack is getting accustom to his new life magical and spiritual happenings are making his life anything but normal.  Mother Nature was split in half.  The Good and The Bad.  Greed took the lives of many innocent children.  As Jack’s friendships strength he learns that he must make a huge sacrifice for the ones he loves.

I am not doing justice to The Mostly True Story of Jack  by Kelly Barnhill. I don’t want to give too much away from this wonderful, creepy story.  Just like in the story where children are sucked in, Ms. Barnhill’s storytelling sucked me in.  I had trouble putting this delightful book down.  The twists and turns made it exciting and emotional. 

The press release and the info on the back of the book say’s that is for ages 8-12.  NOPE.  The content is too mature for 8 year olds.   My best bet is 9 ½ to 12.  There will be a fourth grade or fifth grade class that will be excited to get my copy.

Copy courtesy of the publisher.  On sale August 2011.