Thursday, October 9, 2014

High School Book Club:
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

The high school Book Club met yesterday after school to discuss our first book of the year, The Night Circus  by Erin Morganstern.  Most people enjoyed the book, but nobody raved.  Some of the ideas and questions we discussed were:

- how did you imagine the circus?  for folks who have been to a Cirque du Soleil show, did anything seem similar? (to me, the high concept, lack of lions, and the dreamlike quality of the Night Circus reminded me a lot of the Cirque shows I've seen)

- how did the magicians Alexander and Hector serve as father figures? Did they really care about Marco and Celia?  Were they likeable characters? (Hector was universally disliked, Alexander had slightly higher ratings)

- what does the book have to say about the power of storytelling?

There were a few areas where members thought the book was a bit weak, telling more than showing, especially the supposed passion between Marco and Celia.  The Bailey plotline was a little skimpy and mystifying, as was the existence of Isabel. Several thought that Isabel should have figured out years earlier that Marco didn't love her back.

The meaning of the deaths of Tara Burgess and Friedrich Thiessen wasn't clear.  Did Alexander intentionally cause Tara to die, because she was asking inconvenient questions?  It seemed that way, and was building toward Alexander being a truly sinister character covering up a bad thing about the circus, but that goes absolutely nowhere.  Then, the death of Thiessen comes out of nowhere, doesn't connect with how Tara died, and was equally mystifying. We felt those elements were hanging threads that never connected and weren't tied up.

We also talked about magic, illusion and reality.  We liked the fact that Morganstern's magic was everyday, and that anyone could do it if properly trained.  Marco didn't have innate magic but was clever and persistent.  

We watched the following short clips and talked about them.  Turns out several club members have participated in NaNoWriMo -- Alex has even written two full novels, and is working on a middle-grades novel this November!

~ ~ ~

Interview with author Erin Morganstern

Watch on YouTube 

What is NaNoWriMo???
National Novel Writing Month, shortened as NaNoWriMo is an annual internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel from November 1 until the deadline at 11:59PM on November 30.

Excerpts from Author talk

Watch on YouTube

Pre-publication book trailer

Watch on YouTube

The New York Times book review
The Washington Post book review

Friday, September 19, 2014

Books! 3x

Last Friday was the year's first meeting of the high school book club, and was a great success.  Sixteen high school readers attended, and we ended up choosing The Night Circus as the first book of the year, to read for the October gathering.  We also have plans to choose and read a book together with another student club, and have a joint gathering for discussion.

Before taking recommendations and voting for October's book, though, we went around the room with introductions.  Each student gave name and grade, and the title of one (some had trouble picking just one, but that was the rule) book from summer reading that he or she would recommend to the group.  What a list!

~ ~ 

On Monday we had the first meeting of junior high reading club. We followed pretty much the same path -  snacks (always snacks!!), introductions, recommendations.  The student leaders had a list of  proposals for October (The 5th Wave, Like No Other, Say What You Will, Stupid Fast) and after voting, Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern was declared to be our next read.

Here's the list of recommendations compiled by the junior high club members:

Yes, my misspelling of Delirium is captured for posterity. Sigh.

~ ~

Lastly, my first booktalk (aka, 'travelling road show') in the junior high was yesterday.  I toted my stuff over to Tony's new ground floor digs, and gave (what I hope were) tantalizing descriptions of 17 Young Adult novels from our collection.  I must have done ok, because all of the starred titles were checked out right away; ones with extra stars have waiting lists!

* Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
* * * Divided We Fall  by Trent Reedy
* The Living  by Matt de la Peña
* * The Girl in the Steel Corset  by Cady Cross
* The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
* Eleanor and Park  by Rainbow Rowell
* * Will Grayson Will Grayson  by John Green and David Levithan
* Delirium  by Lauren Olivier
* Deadline  by Chris Crutcher
Wonder  by R. J. Palacio
Black and White by Paul Volponi
The Raven Boys  by Maggie Stiefvater
If You Come Softly  by Jacqueline Woodson
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Creeping with the Enemy  by Kimberly Reid
The Door of No Return  by Sarah Mussi 

 It's good to be back in action.  Reading is FUN!

Are you in a book club?  Is it fun?  Comment!

Friday, September 5, 2014

How A Library Is Like A Mutual Fund

Ok, so maybe not so high school.  But on the other hand, very high school.  We have, from time to time, offered Investing 101 courses during short term, and it's likely to come around again.

Teachers across the country, in independent schools and universities, have their retirement savings invested with TIAA-CREF.  I've worked in two independent schools, for over 25 years (requisite YIKES!! here) and TIAA-CREF has billions of my savings for the "twilight years."  Point being, I'm beginning to pay attention, and trying to understand fully where all that money is and how it's supposed to grow to support me, my adult children, goats, bees, chickens and cats in, say, 20 years from now.  I kind of think that TIAA-CREF is a mutual fund company that works almost exclusively within the world of academia, and exclusively toward long-term retirement goals. Please help me out if I'm woefully off base here.

As I understand it, a mutual fund is a big collection of individual stocks (and other things), managed by a professional understanding-stock-investments person, who buys and sells holdings within the ever-changing collection, in order to meet the financial goals stated in the prospectus.

My grandmother was
a university librarian,
and collected owls.
A library is a big collection of individual sources of information, managed by a professional understanding-information-sources person, who buys and weeds holdings within the ever-changing collection, in order to meet the information needs of the community, as outlined in the library's 'prospectus,' (aka "collection purpose and goals.")

Mutual fund managers spend their days reading the latest information and evaluating the worth of each stock, bond or real estate investment -- not just in abstract money terms, but also in terms of how that investment can meet the stated goals of the fund.  Then they act on that information, buying and selling, to keep the collection relevant to the shareholders' goals.

I spend (part of) my days reading reviews, researching sources of information for a variety of teacher and student needs, and identifying the best in terms of our community. Then I add the best and delete the outdated, books, weblinks and databases to the library collection to keep it relevant and useful to the Paideia community's needs and goals.

If a mutual fund doesn't keep up with, or exceed, the market's index, the fund manager has failed to meet goals.

If the Paideia Library doesn't keep up with, or anticipate, the community's information and reading needs, then I'm not serving my peeps as you should be served.

Everyone in the Paideia community is an investor in the libraries -- as a student working to learn, as a tuition-paying parent, as a teacher of students, as a staff member keeping the place running.   As a fund manager, I encourage you to read the prospectus, come see what your investment has provided, and use it to increase your wealth of knowledge and understanding.

You owe it to yourself to use your investments wisely.  The door is open -- come on in!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Week of Tales:
Folk and Fairy, Writing and Telling

-->  Junior high readers: the links are at the bottom of this post

Hello Friday!

This post has been dual-purpose.  The first version, which was live on Thursday, was written quickly to get links available to John & Sydney's class.  This, more verbose version, is to let you know what's been going on in the library that needed fairy tale links.

Three times since school started, I've raided the elementary library's 398.2 section (that's folk and fairytales in regular people talk) to select picture books and collections for high school and junior high classes.

Last week Thrower's high school lit class, "American Male Voice," came in to find inspiration for a storytelling assignment.  From classic tall tales to Paul Feig's hilarious memoir, the guys browsed and chose stories to learn and tell in front of the class.  I also introduced Margaret Read MacDonald's method for learning a story in one hour, found in The Story-Teller's Start-Up Book.  For students who wanted to create their own stories to tell, I showed  some of  Donald Davis' prompts from Telling Your Own Stories, such as #7, "Can you remember a night your parents never found out about?"  Teenaged guys were intrigued by that one.  Thrower and I both remember Davis' best storytelling advice from his visit to Paideia -- "where there's trouble, you've got a story."  Everyone's got trouble, and everyone's got a story to tell.

This week, Oman & Tom's class came on Monday afternoon, and John & Sydney's class came on Thursday afternoon to get started on a creative writing assignment tied into the summer all-read book, Far Far Away by Tom McNeal.  Each student browsed picture books and fairy tale collections to find a tale for revision -- fracture it (á la Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man), radically change the setting,  write from the point of view of a minor character -- so many possibilities!  Alas, even Natalie's awesome collection wasn't big enough for 60 kids.  The links below supplemented the print collection, so everyone could find a favorite fairytale to rewrite.

To end the week, this morning the whole junior high participated in a fantastic Skyped conversation with author Tom McNeal, who turns out to be a thoughtful, gracious, and pretty darn cool guy.  I won't give away the surprises of Far Far Away, but the nucleus of the story is a rewoven
"Hansel and Gretel." In the idyllic Midwestern hamlet of Never Better, two young people with sub-optimal parents find themselves in the clutches of a child-eating villain.  Throw in a few funny bits, teenage rivalries, plot twists and the ghost of Jacob Grimm, and you get much much more than just a fairytale.  Props to my colleague Greg Changnon, homebase teacher, for the commitment and energy he gives to promoting reading in the junior high.

Fairy Tales to Read Online

 Brothers Grimm -- Links to  many tales - just text, not too pretty

European Fairy Tales (includes Andersen, Grimm, Perrault and others)

Classic Fairy Tales -  most of the most well-known, reteller unknown - fairytales from around the world, reteller unknown

"The Story of the Three Little Pigs" - retold by Joseph Jacobs

"The Three Little Pigs" - retold by Andrew Lang

"The Gin-ger-bread Boy" - as first published in St. Nicholas magazine in 1875

Ebooks - original collections to read online or download to iPad (all at

Grimm's Fairy Tales -

Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm -

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault -

The Tales of Mother Goose, as first collected by Charles Perrault in 1696  -

Andersen's Fairy Tales by H.C. Andersen -

Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, First Series -

Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, Second Series -

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Paideia School and the Chamber of Seniors

School has begun, and hooray!  A literary senior prank!

We may never know where they got the GIGANTIC albino Burmese python that highlighted their Tuesday Morning Meeting show of 'seniority,' but for sure the Class of 2015 knows its children's literature.  I suppose there's a natural affinity between Paideia Pythons and Harry Potter's Basilisk (oh dear, does that mean we're all relegated to Slytherin?), and yesterday snakes slithered throughout.

During the traditional opening 'first eraser' pitch, seniors tossed little rubber snakes like confetti out into the darkened theatre.  Later on during the meeting, they dropped a banner from the catwalk while the curtains opened to reveal 4 seniors holding the full display of the afore-mentioned python (12 feet? longer?).  Notice the cleverly inserted '15' in the 'Rise Up'?

Then, yesterday at lunch, I noticed this warning posted on the student announcements board in the High School commons.

The 2014-2015 is open, and off to a smooooooth start.

Friday, August 15, 2014

You Can Learn a Lot from a Book (Soldier Dog Edition)

Did you know that 5% of deployed military dogs develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome)?  I didn't know the percentage, but after reading Robert Crais' detective novel Suspect last year, I did learn that war dogs can suffer from "shell shock," as WWI veterans termed it.

Do you get a thrill when things you've learned start to pop up all around you, adding to and confirming your new pocket of knowledge?  Call me a librarian :-), but I just love it.  And I was inspired to write this post over the summer when National Geographic's June cover article was "Hero Dogs: A Soldier's Best Friend," and featured Layka, a German Shepherd soldier dog just like Maggie, the canine heroine of Suspect.

The accomplishments of canine soldiers are also explored in a non-fiction book published last year (more literary synchronicity) titled Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America's Canine Heroes.  There's even a recent graphic novel that tells the based-on-true-stories accomplishments of combat dogs in three different wars: Dogs of War.

If you love dogs, are interested in details of military life, or just get a thrill from learning about new things from a bunch of different sources, you can learn a lot from a book.  I hope you read (and learned) this summer.

School's about to start.  See you next week!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reading Roadtrip Extras:
My Epic Family Roadtrip #1 -- There . . .

Well, I did promise more Reading Roadtrip ideas in June (see the pdf poster of books for each of the 50 states here, and its awesome inspiration at here), but as with most of the items on my summer "to do" list, this one didn't happen as planned or on schedule.  In honor of my own "Epic Family Road Trip,"  these first 8 extra lists are set in states along the outward bound leg of our family vacation itinerary.  I'm reading a book for each state along the way (YA novels and non-fiction, and adult fiction too), and I'm definitely giving myself a "Roadtrip Warrior" badge when school starts!

I hope y'all have been travelling and reading (or, travelling through reading --  an excellent summer activity :-)  Enjoy the last month of summer vacation!

My book --  Wings to the Kingdom  by Cherie Priest √
(Chickamauga, Georgia,  near Chattanooga)

More Georgia reads
Fallen by Lauren Kate
Peace, Love and Baby Ducks  by Lauren Myracle
Kira, Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Gone With the Wind (duh!)  by Margaret Mitchell
Endangered Species  by Nevada Barr
The Year the Lights Came On  by Terry Kay

South Carolina
My book -- The Distance from the Heart of Things  by Ashley Warlick
(Edisto Island)

More SC reads
Copper Sun  by Sharon Draper
He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander
Clover  by Dori Sanders
Virals (#1)  by Kathy Reichs

 North Carolina
My book  -- Crow  by Barbara Wright √
(Wilmington - historical fiction about the 1898 coup d'etat & race riots)

More NC reads
Kitty Hawk (I, Q series #3)  by Roland Smith
Elemental  by Antony John
What Happened to Goodbye  by Sarah Dessen
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Surviving the Applewhites  by Stephanie S. Tolan
Paper Covers Rock  by Jenny Hubbard
Dovey Coe  by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Jim the Boy  by Tony Earley

My book -- The Dream Thieves  (Raven Boys #2) by Maggie Stiefvater  √
(Henrietta, a fictional town in rural SW Virginia)

More VA reads
Second Summer of the Sisterhood  by Ann Brashares

Washington, DC
My book -- District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC 
(lesser known bits of DC history in graphic novel vignettes)

More DC reads
The President's Daughter  by Ellen Emerson White
The White House (I,Q series #2)  by Roland Smith
All-American Girl  by Meg Cabot
Nearly Gone  by Elle Cosimano

My book -- Tale of Two Summers  by Brian Sloan
 (Wheaton, MD and Washington, DC)

More MD reads
Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl  by Barry Lyga
Dicey's Song and Homecoming  by Cynthia Voigt
Blood and Chocolate  by Annette Curtis Klause
Avalon High   by Meg Cabot

My book -- Independence Hall (I,Q #1) by Roland Smith
(Philadelphia, of course)

More PA reads
Life As We Knew It  by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Fever 1793  by Laurie Halse Anderson

New York 
If I Ever Get Out of Here  by Eric Gansworth  √
(so new in our library it's not catalogued yet)
(upstate Tuscarora reservation, near Buffalo, and includes a trip to Toronto)

More NY reads
The Dead and the Gone  by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Suite Scarlett  by Maureen Johnson
Chains  by Laurie Halse Anderson
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You  by Peter Cameron

Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life  by Bryan Lee O'Malley

More Toronto reads
Aceleration  by Graham McNamee
Sketches by Eric Walters
Tagged by Eric Walters
The Rule of Thre3  by Eric Walters

ps - if we have the book, links go to the book info in the Paideia Library catalog