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Bookshelf: April-May

Despite packing up and moving to a new state and preparing for Teach For America, I've managed to do quite a bit of reading over the last two months. I don't expect to read too much from now until sometime in 2015, so I'm enjoying this current state of reading freedom.

See my reading selections for April and May below. Just a warning: I probably should have separated this into two posts. But I didn't. (Also, notice the star rating next to the title for a cursory look at my opinions! All ratings are out of five stars.)

April

The End of Worry - Will Vander Hart & Rob Waller - ***
Though a little simplistic, The End of Worry gave me a brief overview of the what worry is and ways to deal with it. The biggest thing that I took away from this book (and that I'm still practicing consciously) is to be present in the moment, especially if I'm feeling anxious or worried. This may seem overly simplistic, and for more acute cases of anxiety it probably is, but for me this works well.

The End of Worry is a fast read, so it's not a major commitment to pick up. I would recommend it to anyone who has wanted to give greater thought to the role of worry in their own lives, but I would also caution that this is in no way comprehensive. If you've already researched worry and anxiety disorders at all, none of this will be new.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling - *****
I've continued my re-read of the Harry Potter series. (I'm hoping to finish up the last book before my TFA training starts at the beginning of June.) Re-reading these as an adult has given me a greater appreciation for Rowling's writing style. Not only does she use words in amusing and effective ways, but her story line is, well, epic. I kept noticing how details in this book tied back in with characters and events in the first three books and I wonder to myself, Did she plan this from the beginning?

Between the Lines - Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer - **
I haven't read anything else by Jodi Picoult, but her books have been recommended to me on multiple occasions by people whose opinions I trust wholeheartedly. But I did not care for this book. The idea and the story line are interesting, quite fun for a bibliophile like me, actually, but the effect is ruined by the poor development of the characters. Even main characters fell flat for me. I think that if the authors wanted to develop characters more fully and keep the story as is, the whole book would have needed to be a little longer. Because of all the good recommendations I've gotten for Jodi Picoult, I'm going to chalk this disappointing read up to the fact that Picoult was working with her teenage daughter to write this. For a teenage writer, this is fairly impressive. For a 26-year-old reader, it's disappointing.

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie - ****
I would have give this book five stars if it had been a little... happier. I think just the frame of mind I was in when I read this didn't lend itself well to a murder mystery in which every single character dies. I wanted something happy-go-lucky. But as mysteries go, this was top-notch. This was my first Christie mystery, and I was terribly impressed. It's kind of like the board game Clue, only more complex.

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne - Catherine Reef - *****
The only books I've read by either of the Bronte sisters are Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I loved them. This brief biography of the Bronte sisters made me love them more. Through this book I gained a richer understanding of how and why the two novels above were written. I learned about the distinct personalities of each of the Bronte sisters and the eccentric personality of their brother, Branwell. I am inspired both to live in 19th century England and read the rest of the works by the Brontes.

Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer - ****
Patricia C. Wrede is a long-standing favorite of mine. Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles charmed me as a junior high girl and still manage to put a smile on my face. I hadn't read this in quite a few years, and I honestly didn't love it as much this second (or maybe third?) time through. Wrede and Stevermer wrote this book as a series of letters. If I remember correctly, they chose the time period and a few other general rules for their letter-story, but then kept a strict rule that they couldn't discuss what they wanted to have happen in the plot. They wrote back and forth, and Sorcery and Cecelia emerged.


May

Little White Duck - Na Liu & Andres Vera Martinez - ****
This was the first of three graphic novels I read in May. This was a very fast read, about a child growing up in China during the 1970s. I learned a lot about Chinese history, legend, and culture in these few pages. I'm not generally a huge fan of graphic novels. It's just not the way I like to read. But I thought this was well-done.

American-Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang - ****
This is a little longer and intended for a little older audience than Little White Duck. I liked how it dealt with issues of racism and stereotypes. The book alternates between three stories. Jin is a Chinese-American boy trying to navigate through high school despite the mild (and sometimes overt) stereotyping by classmates. Danny is a White American boy who has a cousin from China named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is an exaggeration of all of the worst stereotypes and misconceptions Americans have of Chinese culture. The Monkey King has mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines but the other gods do not accept him because he is a monkey. At times parts of each of these stories felt a little bizarre to me. But over all, this is a great and extremely interesting investigation into the challenges of growing up Chinese-American.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling - *****
I just love Harry Potter. This was the book I remembered the least, and I simply loved rediscovering it. That's really all I have to say on Harry Potter.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio - *****
This book was fabulous. About a boy who is born with severe physical deformities because of a genetic mutation, this book deals with themes of bullying and self-confidence. Wonder is told from multiple viewpoints: Augie, the boy with the genetic mutation, Augie's sister, whose whole life has been defined and colored by having a little brother like Augie, and Augie's new friends at school. I'm pretty sure that if I end up teaching anywhere between 3rd and 6th grade, I'm going to read this book aloud to my class or have the class read it together. It deals with so many issues that would hit close to home for the kids I teach and cries out for kids to develop compassion and integrity.

The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle - ****
This is a unique and beautiful story. What really sold it to me, though, was the quirkiness the author sprinkled on top of what was otherwise a pretty somber story. I first tried to read The Last Unicorn when I was about 13. The title, as well as the subject, of this story appealed to me. But re-reading it now has convinced me that this is not a fairy tale for kids. I appreciated things in the book this time, like learning to live with loss or regret, that I just found troubling as a 13-year-old. Lovely.

Maus 1: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History - Art Spiegelman - *****
I did not realize that Maus 1 and Maus 2 were part of the same story, and I am definitely going to have to pick up Maus 2 next.  As graphic novels go, this has such depth and breadth. Not only does it introduce the horrors of the Holocaust in a way that's easier for kids to understand and digest, but it also introduces the subject to readers who might be less likely to pick up a book on the Holocaust otherwise. This true story told in an unconventional way is one I will recommend to my students (once I have them) and kids (once I have them).

Currently reading:

Decision-Making and the Will of God - Garry Friesen & J. Robin Maxson
Yes, I'm still working on this one. I'm really close to the end though.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling 

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Beverly Daniel Tatum

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