* AlphaBooks Slogging

Slogging.  No, that’s not a typo.  I love challenges and hate to see one get the best of me, but I’m afraid AlphaBooks Blogging has won.  I got to the letter P and decided to reread Pride and Prejudice, which used to be one of my favorites.  Oh my!  One of us had changed, either Jane Austin or me.  Then it was on to Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  (Now I know my ABC’s. next time won’t you…?) WonderThis is a terrific story for older elementary and middle school kids, as well as their parents.  It’s one of those laugh and cry books about a boy with a serious facial deformity who is joining a regular fifth grade class for the first time.  How he survives, and how he changes the hearts and lives of those around him, is amazing.  If you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have bad teeth, for example, this book will put things in perspective.

After W, I did sing my ABC song again and ended up with S for Lisbeth Salander, the brilliant but tormented heroine of the Larsson trilogy.  These books are unforgettable, with twisting plots and computer hacking that narrowly defy imagination.  Girl with dragon tattooSo that wraps up AlphaBooks Slogging.  It was enjoyable at first and I won every prize in the book/s!

* Ten Things of Thankful

Lizzi, the creator of Ten Things of Thankful, shared her amazing week of relationships, relationships, relationships, and more relationships!  It’s such a joy to read!  Yes, she is still trying to get folks to vote for their favorite badge for this event, so I decided to post my choice below.  It’s from The Bipolar Mama blog, which is another blog worth reading.

I am going to follow Lizzi’s free-flowing format instead of my typical list style. We’ll see how that goes!  One of my happiest moments of the week was hearing that a student scored in the 98th percentile in reading on his EOY testing.  He is a gifted kid who lagged in reading due to a lack of systematic phonics instruction.  I knew he was going to ace it and I’m so proud of all his hard work in the past year.  It was an academic challenge that could have made him feel inadequate, but he persevered.  His parents gave him SO much support!  Woohoo!

This past week was a paperwork nightmare, with more to come, but I got a lot done.  Thankfully, I have a great computer and scanner.  How did I live without this technology?

I found a new mystery series, another British goodie.  I’ll save the details for my AlphaBooks Blogging venture.  (Don’t remind me that I’m a week behind on the AlphaBooks calendar I created!)  Back to the mystery.  It’s set after World War I, which brings back memories of my grandfather’s amazing survival in Russia.  The British troops had made their way to the frozen tundra, but the supplies didn’t catch up.  Without the generosity of a generous Russian peasant, my grandfather would have died.  I’m grateful he lived to tell the tale!

Speaking of grateful, my dearest blogging widower also survived another week of intense training (he’s the trainer!).  Just a few more weeks to go.  If you had told me, back in the day, that my introverted widower would be leading groups of social workers, police officers, DA’s, lawyers, judges, and medical personnel, I would have fallen over.  Wow.  If you had told me I’d be living a life of peace and joy, I might have strangled you or jumped off a cliff.  So that makes six things of thankful.  Not that I’m keeping a list.

I am grateful for the parents who have trusted me to teach their kids.  For trusting my judgment.  I’ve always been so sure of myself, even when there was nothing to warrant it.  That’s actually called arrogance.  But I have learned a lot in my career and I’m grateful for God’s grace in every part of my life, including my teaching niche.

If you are reading this, I am grateful that you are taking the time!  You have no idea how much it means to me.  Maybe it means too much, but honestly, there seems little point in writing if no one is reading.  I’m thankful for the blogging world, which forgives my lapses in keeping up with all their great writing.  I have a lot to read today!  And that’s all, folks!

* AlphaBooks Blogging: N is for New Tricks

If you love dogs and mysteries, enjoy self-deprecating humor, appreciate any kind of humor, and love dogs, David Rosenfelt’s New Tricks mystery is for you.  It’s one of eleven books in the Andy Carpenter series.  Andy is a dog-loving, wisecracking, and clever lawyer who must be a thinly disguised version of the author.  In fact, they both started a Tara Foundation to rescue Goldens, although the “real” one has saved over 4000 dogs.  David Rosenfelt is also the proud owner of 27 dogs!

In New Tricks, Andy’s client is a Bernese mountain dog, Bertrand II (aka “Waggy”).  This boisterous pup (“who could walk to New Zealand without getting tired”) is at the center of a tangled mess of murders and millions of bucks. Andy Carpenter maneuvers his way through explosions, twists and turns, romance with Laurie, and lots of dog walks.

My dear blogging widower wouldn’t read an Andy Carpenter book if you paid him. For some reason, he hates dogs.  It’s a sign of true love that I forgive him this foible.  Besides, that means I don’t have to share these terrific books.

* AlphaBooks Blogging: L is for Lynley

That’s Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley of New Scotland Yard.  Never mind that Lynley is the creation of talented mystery writer Elizabeth George.  Never mind that none of her books start with the letter L.  Lynley IS a capital character, as are the other fascinating individuals who populate her well-written thrillers.  Be warned: Elizabeth George has such a remarkable gift that you will find yourself enmeshed in the lives of Thomas Lynley; his wife, Helen; colleagues Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata; and Azhar and his daughter, Hadiyyah.  I admit I have sobbed my way through some of George’s stories, stayed up until 4 AM to see all the puzzle pieces fit neatly in place, and mourned the last book in the series.

Barbara Havers is probably my second favorite character in the Lynley series.  She’s a headstrong, brilliant detective who forges her own path towards self-destruction.  Guilt-ridden yet arrogant, she’s one of the many broken individuals in George’s books.  George manages to capture the ugly side of human nature without losing sight of our unique strengths and gifts.  I’m not sure I would want to live in Elizabeth George’s head.  But look at her!  She seems quite benign, even friendly!   She has also started a foundation to support artistic endeavors by unpublished writers, especially those which benefit disadvantaged youth.photo_elizabeth_george             foundation

* AlphaBooks BLogging: K is for Kid Docs

Kid docsNo kidding!  I found a book that starts with the letter K!  Kid Docs, written by Jenny Lynne, is an e-book about an unusual hospital where young kids become actual doctors.  This experimental site recruits talented kids from an early age (would you believe 3 years old?). The author, aka Dr. Jen, wrote this book in partial fulfillment of her personal bucket list.  On her website, My Dream Came True, she shares bucket lists from around the world, along with her favorite adventures.  Writing was a childhood dream for her and Kid Docs is her third book.

Despite its complex medical language, Kid Docs is probably best suited for late elementary and middle school students.  It features kids about 12 years old, all of them full-fledged doctors.  The story focuses on a tender romance between two of the young doctors who have their first kiss towards the end of the book.  Almost every crisis is resolved as in fairy tale land, but there are deaths and lots of medical descriptions of bloody procedures.  I’m thrilled for Dr. Jen, who is inspiring people to fulfill their dreams and live without regrets.

I just read the book today, so you can tell it is a quick read for adults.  Most adults probably wouldn’t read it, honestly, but I needed a book for the letter K.  Ta-da!  I know I have won a prize!  It’s all about the prize, right??

* AlphaBooks Blogging: I is for If You Give….

This If You Give… series, by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond, started with a mouse and a cookie.  You probably know what happened then.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, then kids, teachers, and librarians will like your book.  If they like your book, you’ll win a bunch of awards.  If you win a bunch of awards, you’ll write more books about a mouse.  If you write more books about a mouse, you’ll be encouraged to Give a Moose a Muffin.  If you write that book, you’ll write a bunch of other books with the same idea.  If you write all those books, an advertising agency will think about selling products with the “if you give” idea.  If the ad agency makes those commercials for Direct TV, everyone gets rich.  When everyone gets rich, many other people copy the idea and post their own videos with the same idea.

Bottom line:  If you start AlphaBooks Blogging now, you’ll probably win a prize.

* AlphaBooks Blogging: G is for Gamache

GamacheFor today’s AlphaBooks Blogging, I have chosen an entire series of mysteries by Louise Penny.  She’s the brilliant creator of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, a most unusually gentle and brilliant detective living in Quebec.  He stumbles upon Three Pines, a unique community virtually hidden from the world and populated by a funny, devious, and diverse collection of individuals who come to life under Louise Penny’s marvelous writing.  These mysteries often start and end in Three Pines, a place with a remarkably high homicide rate.  But it never feels contrived.  I would gladly spend a weekend at Three Pines. greeting everyone as old friends but looking over my shoulder.

And then there’s death.  Always a murder.  Gamache and his assistant, Jean-Gay Beauvoir, along with other remarkable individuals, unravel clues and trace the roots of fear, greed, jealousy, and anger that ultimately lead to a violent end.  Penny’s books are not only distinguished by her creation of characters who live and breathe, but for her insights into the roots of murder.  Her clever plots make these books impossible to put down (no matter how late it is!).

I highly recommend that you visit Louise Penny’s website because she shares herself as openly as she shares the souls who fill her books.  You can listen to her pronounce the French names and phrases, but even better, read about her own life from which she has drawn these books.  No, she hasn’t murdered anyone!  This is what Louise Penny says about the Gamache series: “My books are about terror.  The brooding terror curled deep down inside us.  But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness.  And Kindness.  About choices.  About friendship and belonging.  And love.  Enduring love.  If you only take one thing away from any of my books, I’d like it to be this:  Goodness exists.” 

Before I had read any of her works, I had the privilege of attending a book signing event for Louise Penny.  She was gracious, humble, funny, and clever.  Just like her books.  I remember the audience asking her questions about favorite characters.  It sounded for all the world like people gossiping about mutual friends.  I was afraid the books would be a drippy, overly descriptive mash of odd characters with little action, so I didn’t start reading the Gamache series until recently.  Boy, was I mistaken in that first impression!  Start with “Still Life” (image above from Amazon) and you won’t stop!

* AlphaBooks Blogging: F is for Freakonomics

FreakonomicsMy son suggested Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner for today’s AlphaBooks Blogging.   Yes, my blog is becoming a family affair.  The “Steven’s,” a journalist and an economist, have formed a clever and enduring partnership.  Freakonomics has grown to include its own award-winning blog, podcasts, movie, and lectures.  The book’s preface, “An Explanatory Note, says that ” Levitt [the economist] decided that Dubner wasn’t a complete idiot.  And Dubner [the journalist[ found that Levitt wasn’t a human slide rule.”  Good to know.

Freaknomics is a cool book that explores fascinating questions while focusing on these underlying ideas:

  1. Figuring out the “incentives” or motivation of actions is a perfect start to understanding riddles of the modern world.
  2. “Conventional wisdom” is often not wise at all.
  3. Subtle factors can lead to dramatic effects.
  4. “Experts” use their informational base to their advantage.

The book weaves data around those four ideas by asking unusual questions, many of them related to race, education, crime, and parenting.  One of the authors’ first questions is, “What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common?”  The sad answer is that they both cheat.   Oh dear.  And yet I, too, can testify to the test-cheating, which means that either cheating is fairly common or I have been uncommonly placed in cheating schools.  The authors also dissect the racial achievement gap and conclude that while black kids go to mostly bad schools, income and mother’s age are two other factors which contribute to that gap.

Freakonomics is a quick read but also thought provoking.

 If you have read Freakonomics, do you have any other insights to share?

* AlphaBook Blogging: D is for David Copperfield

Charles DickensToday’s AlphaBooks Blogging features David Copperfield.. (Not the magician, whom I think has disappeared.)  No, “David Copperfield” is a masterpiece of Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors.  Dickens himself writes, “Of all my books, I like this the best.  It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them.  But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child.  And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD.”

It’s true for teachers also, that we often have a favorite student.  For me, the challenge is keeping that a secret.  I fear it might be heartbreaking for some kids to know they aren’t my favorite.  But a more serious pitfall occurs when my heart favors a student.  I lose that oh-so-slight emotional distance which makes me more effective.

Our daughter, a former student, was a perfect illustration of how I lost my teacher perspective.  When she whacked me on the rear with a notebook, I took her firmly in hand to the principal, who stared at me with disbelief.  I’d had kids in my self-contained class pull all sorts of amazing stunts and I’d never batted an eyelash.  But our daughter-to-be?  Ah, I had lost my heart to her and could never maintain that distance again.  It was a good thing that she was mainstreamed into a regular classroom and her special education status eventually became a thing of the past.  Then she was simply special.

* AlphaBooks Blogging C: Classic Cat and Cheeky Monkey

 The Cat in the Hat                                  Curious George

AlphaBooks Blogging today features two books starting with C: That would be The Cat  in the Hat by the beloved Dr. Seuss and Curious George by H. A. Rey.  It’s a scientific wonder, or perhaps advertising genius, that both authors, long since dead, continue to write more books.  These two appealing characters have their own TV shows and websites with tons of games, books to order, movies, and videos.

Personal notes: I dislike any movies with people dressed up as fictional animals.  (My dear widower hates any animal movies at all, but I think my tastes are more discriminating.)  Also, The Man with the Yellow Hat was actually a pipe-smoking animal poacher, but has now become politically correct.  It was a different world in 1941.

I do prefer the original books by far.  I believe “The Cat in the Hat” has particular value for developing readers.  All of Dr. Seuss’ books have delightful rhyming.  They provide parents (and grandparents) a terrific opportunity for word play, which is actually phonological awareness.  One of the early warning signs of dyslexia is an inability to rhyme and manipulate sounds.  If your child does not “get” rhyming by kindergarten age, assuming he or she has had lots of exposure to fun books and activities, I’d be a bit concerned.  Check to see if your child can identify discrete words in short sentences (you could clap the words, for instance).  I would also explore whether your child can add or delete syllables, again in a playful context.  For example, if you say the two syllables of  “mo-ther” slowly, can your child hear the word “mother?”  You might say “eyelids” (from “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”) and then ask your child to say that word without the last syllable (so the word becomes “eye”).  No need to use the word “syllables”; you can say “parts” of a word.  For most kids, these phonological skills are acquired naturally.  But if you or close family members have a reading disability, and your child can’t perform these simple sound manipulations, consider an evaluation to rule out dyslexia.  Early intervention is crucial.