Friday, May 8, 2015

Author Becky Albertalli at Paideia Next Week

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda  is a wonderful YA coming-of-age debut novel by Atlanta author Becky Albertalli.  The first word that comes to mind as a description is "solid." Sure, on the face of it "solid" is not a particularly exciting adjective, but it's so right for this great book.  There's nothing fluffy, nothing weak, nothing unnecessary in the writing or plot. The characters are appealing and well-drawn, the crises so realistically believable, and the ending is satisfying. 

In a nutshell, Simon Spier is a funny, well-adjusted 16-year-old high school student somewhere on the northern side of Atlanta.  He has a core of close friends, does well in school, and knows he likes guys but isn't in torment about it.  In fact, Simon is thrilled that he's started to exchange friendly, flirty emails with another guy at school -- but he doesn't know "Blue's" identity, and Blue doesn't know his.  Then oops -- Simon forgets to close out his email on a library computer. The class clown/jerk Martin takes a peek, uses the secret to blackmail Simon into setting him up with best friend Abby (from Peachtree City),  and the plots starts rolling.

If you're a fan of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, or Glee, or Eleanor and Park, or anything by David Levithan, you will love Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I guarantee you will leave the book feeling like you've had a good meal -- lots of colors on the plate, a variety of flavors and nutrients,  not too heavy, not too sweet, but nourished, satisfied, and feeling like you've done a very good thing for yourself.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kindle Books + Audible Books + Fire HD = Immersion Reading:
Even Better Than Tinkerbell!

Remember read-along storybooks?  The ones when you "See the Pictures -- Hear the Record -- Read the Book," and a sound alerts you to Turn the Page?  Back before apps, before CDs, even before cassette tapes, many of the original read-alongs were adaptations of Disney cartoons, released on 45 rpm vinyl records.  In the Disney ones, Tinkerbell's ringing bell signaled that it was time to turn the page to continue with the printed text.  Look Mom, I'm "reading!"

A certain fine young man I know, VB, doesn't much like to read. He enjoys the stories, but reading is hard, and slow, and tires him out.  Kind of like running. Ugh.  Who can really blame a guy for choosing other leisure activities?
Once. U-pon. A. Time . . .

For school, though, reading isn't optional.  There are a number of assistive technologies available, like text-to-speech software, and Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic materials, that let VB listen to the spoken text and read along with it, but they're inelegant. The "Robbie the Robot" voices do they best they can, but often words are pronounced oddly, or without the inflections of meaning that are obvious to a fluent human reader.

None of these options has trumped Tinkerbell, until (which offered a text-to-speech Kindle option that VB liked ok)  figured out how to synchronize audiobooks with Kindle ebooks on the Kindle Fire HD tablet, using their Whispersync technology. They call it Immersion Reading, and  It's Awesome! 

Immersion Reading plays the professionally recorded audiobook synchronized to the corresponding text on the screen, with real-time highlighting of each word as it's read.  And poor Tinkerbell is out of a job -- the Fire HD turns the page automatically along with the narration.

On the slight down-side, it does mean buying the book twice, once from Audible and once from Kindle (both are owned by, and not all books have compatible audiobooks.  It doesn't work on a regular Kindle, though they say it will work on Android devices other than the Fire HD.

On the upside, though, since both are owned by, there is often a significant discount on the Audible book once you've purchased the Kindle book (The Martian  by Andy Weir was $5.99 for the Kindle book, and the Audible add-on was only $2.99.  Not all pairs are that good a deal, though).

The proof of awesomeness?  VB has asked for all his school lit books on the Fire HD, and even started reading one 3 weeks ahead of time.  He has also asked for leisure reading books (yay!  "Reader's Advisory" is fun!), and upon finishing one, he asks for another.  He says he understands what's going on much better with a human reading the story, and his work in lit class shows it.  "Reading on the Kindle Fire" even merited its own bullet-point in his recent presentation on his best learning strategies.  Wow.

After all, it's immersion in language and stories that matters, not the container.  Sorry Tinkerbell, this time I think you're out of a job for good.

Have you tried the Fire HD with Immersion Reading?  Or another assistive technology for reading?  Share your experiences in the comments.

VB's Top Immersion Reading Experiences So Far

Long Way Gone  by Ishmael Beah (for school)
Divided We Fall  by Trent Reedy
     (leisure reading; #1 favorite! VB is impatiently waiting for the audio version of the sequel)
The Martian  by Andy Weir (reading now)
The #1 Ladies Detective Agency  by Alexander McCall Smith
      (for school. Better than he thought it would be -- thanks to Immersion Reading!)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe:
A Joint Book Club Meeting with BAHGLT

If you've ever been in a book club, you know that some times you really get into talking about the book, its themes, the writing, what worked and what didn't work, and sometimes you end up just gossiping. Today we hit the first high with an excellent discussion of Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamín Alire Saenz. All year we have been hoping to have a joint book discussion with members of BAHGLT (Paideia's "Bi and Hetero, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender" student club) -- BAHGLT's sponsor, Eddy Hernandez, and I had listened to the book over the summer, loved it and were pleased that both groups wanted to read it. A big group (10 students!) met in Eddy's room after school to eat Fellini's pizza (thanks to our successful pizza sale fund-raiser last week) and talk about the book.

Benjamin Alire Saenz

 Author Quick Facts

• Chair of the MFA program in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso
• author of 5 books of poetry and many works of fiction, including short stories, adult novels, children's books and 4 novels for teenagers

• born in 1954 in New Mexico

• went to college in Colorado, studied theology in Belgium
• was a Catholic priest before returning to graduate school and becoming an author and teacher

• is the first Latino author to win the PEN/Faulkner Award

Aristotle & Dante won 3 of the American Library Association's 2013 Youth Media Awards --
 --> the Stonewall Book Award for depicting the GLBT experience
--> the Pura Belpré Award for depicting and celebrating the Latino cultural experience, and
--> the Michael L. Printz Honor Book award for best writing in teen literature

Find out more

Author Talk -  how he came to write the book (at

Words on a Wire -- Podcast interview with the author (audio only)

NPR interview with the author (from the program Tell Me More)

Interview with the author in School Library Journal 

Interview with the author (HappyNappy Bookseller blog)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Alex Awards Reading Report (2014):
All Ten Read!

Last week I had this post all ready to go except for the book cover images, when technology let me down. I accidentally deleted all the HTML, and Blogger helpfully auto-saved the blank page for me. POOF! Permanently vanished!  I wanted to cry.

This week the 2015 Alex Awards list was announced, so it's good to be able to say that I finished my personal challenge to read all ten titles on the 2014 list!   And a happy report it is, as all ten are winners.  Different genres, different styles, but not a dog in the pack.

 2014 Alex Awards 
(given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of ALA)
~ The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.
Links go to a book's entry in the Paideia Library online catalog.
  • Lexicon: A Novel  by Max Barry.  A thriller and a puzzle about the mysteries of the human mind and power of language, and the dangers of absolute control. Oh, and also about preventing the apocalyptic destruction of the entire human race by a single murderous Word.
  • Help for the Haunted by John Searles.  This novel is as much a study of a dysfunctional family as it is a mystery about who and what killed Sylvie's professional ghost-hunting parents one stormy night. 
  • The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu.  A fun space alien spy romp, with historical input.  Tao is thousands of years old, but on Earth his kind can only survive when hosted by a human body.  Past hosts have been history makers both good and bad, but his most recent host, an unachieving IT worker named Roen Tan, is one of convenience, not choice.  And given that Tao needs to change Roen from a couch-potato to super secret agent in just weeks (the war between pro- and anti- human alien factions is at a crucial stage), it's no wonder he's impatient, snarky and fond of the olden days of competent hosts..
  • Brewster by Mark Slouka.   This is a deeply moving novel about growing up, being a guy and  wanting to be loved by parents who can't.  I posted a review here on the blog back in May.
  • The Death of Bees  by Lisa O’Donnell.  Two sisters in hard-luck Glasgow struggle to keep the appearance of normality following the sudden death of their father, and suicide of their grieving mother.  With the bodies inexpertly buried in the back yard and each sister secretly convinced the other is guilty of offing their dad, the only caring adult who takes notice is the grieving gay widower next door, who just happens to have a conviction for solicitation of a minor.  This gritty novel is about how birthfamily can let you down, how trying to go it alone can be a mistake, and about how real family can be formed from unexpected ingredients.
  • Golden Boy by  Abigail Tarttelin.  The opening of this novel includes a graphic assault, and left me thinking about putting the book down for good.  I kept on reading, though, and accept that the violence at the beginning is crucial to understanding Max and his torment.  16-year-old Max is practically perfect -- a good student, a loving and beloved son, a great big brother, handsome, athletic.  He likes all the regular guy things, including girls.  The big family secret is 'in his pants' -- Max has working boy parts and working girl parts too.  Betrayal by a long-time friend forces him to the very edge emotionally, and only then does he find the support, true friendship and acceptance he needs to keep on living.  This thoughtful and sensitive novel ended up being one of my favorites on the 2014 Alex list.
  • Mother, Mother  by Koren Zailckas.  This was so much better than I'd anticipated (I was kind of afraid to read it after the dark reviews), and one of my top choices for the year.  Review from March is in this blog post.
  • Relish by Lucy Knisley.  A winning graphic novel memoir with recipes.  I wrote about it here back in April.

  •  The Sea of Tranquility  by Katja Millay.  Another favorite from the 2014 list.  Nastya has lost her identity, after a violent attack that left her with broken fingers, a broken body and a shattered future as a concert pianist.  With a new name, new school, and a new self (goth, sexy, uncaring, brash) she lives only for revenge.  Josh has lost his family -- everyone he's ever loved has died, and now he's an emancipated high school senior, taking care of himself and never letting himself care about anyone.  This is a romantic, weepy and very emotional novel about learning to rejoin and embrace life when it seems there's nothing left to live for.

  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. The book blurb didn't sound so great to me (teenager nabbed at British customs with an urn of cremains and a bag of pot), but you should read this book anyway!   It's a wonderful portrait of the unlikely friendship between an awkward, epileptic British boy with a flaky mom and a non-existent dad, and a misogynistic, cranky American Vietnam-vet widower, and of Alex's growth from strange kid to capable young man, brave enough to face both death and life head on.

 The high school Book Club is reading The Universe vs. Alex Woods for April.  I hope you will read one or many of the 2014 Alex Books -- if you do, please let me know what you think of it!

The 2015 Alex Awards list is published on the ALA website.  No promises from me yet -- a couple I know are going to be great, but the rest, well . . .  I'll let you know later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Display in the Library: French Picture Book Projects

At the end of the fall long term, Joanna's French 2 students are usually assigned a creative project, in which they write (in French of course) and illustrate a picture book for children.  The library gets to showcase the students' work come Short Term.

As with most school assignments, some students will do just enough to get it done, and some will work really hard on it.  Every now and then, a student will throw him or herself so wholeheartedly into an assignment, and the end product is so wonderful, that it just has to be shared with the world.

One such example of fantastic student work is on display in the library now.  La Soirée de Tony is a cute, appealing story written in very good French, but the care and work the author put into the drawings are what make it so good.  A successful picture book, as opposed to an "illustrated story book," is a book in which the text and the illustrations work together to tell a story that is greater than either element independently. 

So, while you read and enjoy Tony's Night Out (translations supplied by yours truly, but approved by Joanna) notice how the wealth of detail in the illustrations -- the facial expressions, the extra characters in the background, the action not made explicit in the text (le prof. on p. 4, and M. Blanc and the bear on p.12!) -- add to the humor and our understanding of the story.

If the Flash player doesn't work in your browser, click here to read the book at Picasa.

Come see all of Joanna's French 2 student picture books, on display in the library through the end of the month.

Check out C'est Cochon, another showcased student-created livre en images from French 2 a couple of years ago,  here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Amnesty in the Library (It's Not What You Might Be Thinking)

What's wrong with this picture of students studying in the library for finals?  Oh my goodness, they're blatantly eating lunch in the library! Yep, that's what going on.

Normally, no food or drink (except water) is allowed in the library at any time.  If you've ever seen the high school commons after lunch (it's a gross trashy disaster), you'll understand why.  Usually I take the offending items to my office for pickup on the way out (with assurance that I won't taste anything), but repeat offenders are requested to leave, immediately (alumni, you know who you are!).  Most of the time, the student can come back the next day (or next week) to try again, but ever so rarely a student gets asked to leave, permanently, for the rest of the year.  Sigh.

So what's going on this week?  Long term finals, with the attendant anxiety and stress, and morning snacks provided by our awesome high school parents.  Last year, rather than continuing to police and enforce the "no food" policy, I decided to offer a Food Amnesty for the three days of finals at the end of each long term. 

So far, so good.  Students seem to appreciate the luxury of snacks while studying, and as long as I walk around right before the final reminding everyone to "Leave No Trace -- even if you HATE the person who left trash behind (do you want that person to ruin it for everyone???)", the place is left in pretty good shape.  It's an ecumenical holiday gift!

And the library is packed with studiers every morning before the first final, and during the entire lunch period.

I have my stack of vacation reading all ready.  Do you?  Enjoy the next 2 1/2 weeks!

 с новым годом!!

Happy New Year!  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Towering Achievements: On Display In The Library

Ever since Annie & Patrick's 5th & 6th grade students brought their balsa towers to display in the library, I have had the pleasure of looking up from my desk and across the library to see their silhouettes against the autumn/winter background outside. The towers were constructed in art class with Joe Cillo,who is enthusiastic about finding ways to display student talent.

The towers were built with balsawood sticks, hot glue, translucent paper and found natural objects.  Although the class studied many examples of different types of tower, none of the students drew a plan before beginning construction.  Goals -- make it stand up, make it interesting, and try to make it 3 feet tall!


And I'm pretty sure this one includes the name of a favorite baseball team!

See it?  R-E-D-S-O-X 
(more or less).