Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Simon & Schuster (April 15, 2014)
Young Adult
IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Amazon
Source: ARC for Review

Description from GoodReads:
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister's ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.
Thuy's thoughts on this book:
I just finished this book and I have to say wow, I really liked this a lot more than I thought I would. Though I've heard lots of great things about Jenny Han (I have her Summer series one shelf waiting to be read and have met her and find her think she’s funny and adorable), contemporary YA novels aren't usually my thing and I wasn't sure how I would feel about this. However, the pretty pink cover drew me in and I decided to give it a chance, and I’m so glad I did. Fantastically written and well developed characters and relationships make this a standout book for me.

It was hard for me to connect with Lara Jean when I first started reading. Her voice is a lot younger and more naive than what I expected of a 16-year-old in a contemporary YA novel. However, as the story progressed and I got into Lara Jean’s head, I found myself really liking her and relating to her in a lot of ways. Lara Jean reminds me a lot of myself at her age. She is quiet and, while not unpopular, is not a part of the cool crowd. She isn't afraid to be herself but she still cares about what people think of her. She's a little naive and is afraid to move outside of her comfort zone. In a landscape littered with cunning teen assassins and snarky mean girls, Lara Jean’s sincerity and earnestness is a refreshing change.

Another thing I loved in the book were the relationships. While I don’t have sisters, the sibling relationship between the Song sisters rang true. No one knows how love you and to hurt you as much as a sibling does. I loved how strong the family ties were and how they supported each other. There is no absentee parenting in this book. I was also happy that there was no insta-love. I am usually pretty wary of love triangles, but it worked here because all of the characters were well developed and I can see why Lara Jean would be drawn to both boys for different reasons.

The book had some good secondary characters as well, the standout for me being Kitty, Lara Jean’s little sister. She reminds me a little bit of Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers and I have a feeling that she will be ruling the world one day. It was also nice to see a little diversity in the book with a bi-racial main character.

My only small gripe about this book is that I wish the ending was a longer. It felt a little rushed and wished I’d had a little more resolution. I’ve heard that the finished copy of the book (I read an ARC) has a longer ending though and I am interested in re-reading the ending to see if it provides a little more closure. And good news is that there will be another book! Things were left open ended for Lara Jean and I am glad to hear that there will be another book in this charming series.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sweet, quirky coming of age story that will appeal to fans of contemporary YA fiction and romance. Now that I’ve read Jenny Han I can see why her books are so popular and I plan on reading more of her books soon.

Special thanks to Aly to lending me a copy of her ARC. :)

Side note: Lara Jean bakes cookies on several occasions in the book. One noticeable time is when she upsets Kitty and bakes her a batch of snickerdoodles as an apology. SimonTeen cleverly included a recipe card with the ARC for snickerdoodles, and I made a batch to celebrate the book’s release.

Below are a couple of pics of the results. Yum!

Lara Jean's Snickerdoodles

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
2. In a medium bowl, cream together the shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Stir in the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. In a small bowl, stir together the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the cinnamon. Roll dough into walnut sized balls, then roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar. Place them onto an unprepared cookie sheet, two inches apart.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges should be slightly brown. Remove from sheets to cool on wire racks.

Here's how they turned out:

For more information about Jenny Han: website | blog | tumblr | twitter | facebook 

Thuy can be found blogging at Nite Lite Book Reviews.  Her name Thuy - sounds like twee. Not thigh, thooey, or tweed. She is a lifelong reader, who usually reads Young Adult Fiction (Sci Fi/Fantasy in particular), Paranormal Romance, Romance, Literary Fiction, Comics/Graphic Novels, Mysteries, Cookbooks and Crafts/Knitting books. She loves dogs, zombies, knitting, movies and, of course, reading.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - National Geographic Super Readers

Thank you everyone for all of the great posts each week for the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2014. This week I am doing something a little different and presenting a series of books and how I recently used them with first graders.

National Geographic Readers Series:

Recently, I did a presentation for a group of teachers and shared a variety of nonfiction and informational books that have come out in the last couple of years.  Some of the teachers were familiar with the National Geographic Readers and other books for children, and some were completely new to the incredible books.  I was excited that they were able to explore the books and think about how to use them in the classroom.

Today, I am just focusing on the Super Readers (Leveled Readers), which are divided into four categories:

Pre-Reader"Pre-reader" books are just right for kids who are ready to read.

Level 1: "Starting to Read" books or just right for kids who are beginning to read on their own.

Level 2: "Reading Independently" books are perfect for kids who are read for longer sentences and more complex vocabulary.  New words are defined on the page, but occasional adult help might be welcome.

Level 3: "Fluent Reader" books are ideal for kids who are reading on their own with ease, and are ready for more challenging vocabulary and varied sentence structures.

About the Series:
National Geographic Science Readers is a high-interest, science inquiry series in an exciting and easy-to-read format. Each book falls into one of five reading levels and is labeled by level on its front cover. The simple, fun text with pull-quotes is only the beginning: National Geographic photography and kid-friendly diagrams draw kids in and get them reading about their favorite subjects.

Developed by National Geographic in close consultation with literacy education experts, this new series is one teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents know they can trust to nurture every child's love of reading.

Cost: Individual Books cost approximately $3.99/book; Collections (4 books in 1) are $7.95

My thoughts on these readers:
I am a huge fan of these books. From the gorgeous photographs, to the vocabulary words and glossary, to the humorous questions and answers, to the interesting facts, these books provide students with excellent and highly engaging reading material.

Last week, I took a set of readers and other National Geographic books for children into a first grade class.  I projected an ebook version of one of the readers onto a screen so that we could look at the book together.  As we flipped through it, we talked about all of the special features: title, table of content, headings, labels, diagrams, images, photographs, and more.

Next, students worked with a partner to look through a couple of readers and see what they could discover. 

At first, it was a bit confusing. This was the first time that they were learning about text features.  I would wander from group to group checking in on them and talking about what they were finding.

Despite the task being new, they were really interested in what they were doing.  I think the books had a lot to do with it.  There is a great range in topics and levels which allowed everyone to find something that they loved.  

It was really rewarding to see how focused they were and how much they really were enjoying the books.  I plan to continue working with the readers with this group of students.  They are quick learners and I know that they will be able to grasp the various names and purposes of different features.

Check out the Official National Geographic Super Reader Trailer:

For additional National Geographic Sites: National Geographic Kids | National Geographic Education

Where to find National Geographic Readers: Check out your local bookstores, or library.  The following websites can also help you find the books:  IndieBound | WorldCat

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction reviews:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Slice of Life - Writing With Young Children

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

For the past several months, I have been seriously thinking about ways to encourage children to write. I have particularly focused on students in grades K to 2.  This isn't the first time that I have pondered how to encourage and support writing in the younger grades, but lately I feel a bit obsessed. Children need to have a voice and a way of expressing themselves.  They need to be able to advocate on their on behalf, as well as, express their unique ideas and learning.   Not only should this communication be orally but in writing as well.

But how do you best do this as a teacher when you have large class sizes and many students who are English Language Learners or who do not have strong role models for reading or writing?

It is not that I am opposed to writing prompts or sentence starters or using graphic organizers or other techniques to support students, but somewhere we lose sight of the real goal - providing students with a voice to share ideas, and stories, and feelings.

Sometimes I feel like the ideas coming out of some schools of thought do not adequately address the challenges in writing with children in urban settings.  Other times, I feel like the ideas created specifically for children who are English Language Learners are too restrictive and do not produce the results that we hope for. Where is the happy medium? What is the best technique for the kindergarten teacher with a very diverse classroom of nearly 30 young students?

So, I am reaching out to my on-line Professional Learning Community and asking, what has worked for you in teaching and nurturing young children to write? What techniques or strategies have been particularly helpful? Have you tried these ideas with diverse populations? How does it fit into your daily routine? Any other thoughts?

If you can leave some of your thoughts in the comment area, I would love to read them. And thank you for being a responsive sounding board as well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Disneynature: Bears

I admit I am a fan of bears. They are fascinating and majestic.  Several months ago, I discovered that there was going to be a documentary on a mother bear and her cubs produced by Disneynature.  I literally marked my calendar so that I would be able to see it when it came out.  On Friday, April 18th, it opened in theaters, and I dragged a friend with me to go see it.  Of course, I loved it. 

If you love bears, or the Alaskan wilderness or just want to see a fun film about some really cute animals, check out "Bears" or any of the Disneynature films. 

About the movie:
In an epic story of breathtaking scale, Disneynature’s new True Life Adventure “Bears” showcases a year in the life of a bear family as two impressionable young cubs are taught life’s most important lessons. Set against a majestic Alaskan backdrop teeming with life, their journey begins as winter comes to an end and the bears emerge from hibernation to face the bitter cold. The world outside is exciting—but risky—as the cubs’ playful descent down the mountain carries with it a looming threat of avalanches. As the season changes from spring to summer, the brown bears must work hard to find food—ultimately feasting at a plentiful salmon run—while staying safe from rival male bears and predators, including an ever-present wolf pack. “Bears” captures the fast-moving action and suspense of life in one of the planet’s last great wildernesses—Alaska! Directed by Alastair Fothergill (“Earth,” “African Cats” and “Chimpanzee”) and Keith Scholey (“African Cats”), “Bears” arrives in theaters April 18, 2014, to celebrate Earth Day.  Rated: G

Official Movie Trailer:

Beyond the Trailer Bears 2014 Interview with Jane Goodall and the Directors of the movie:

Olivia Holt - Carry On (From Disneynature Bears) - theme song from "Bears":

My favorite scene from "Bears":

Check out the Disneynature Bears website for more videos, images, and information.  Also find Disneynature: facebook | twitter | YouTube | Pinterest

To download a free educator's guide click here

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Celebrate this Week - 4/19/14

This year, I am trying to increase my awareness of the many good things that happen, which are frequently overlooked by me.  To help me, I am joining Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week.

Here's what I am thankful for this week...

April has been an extremely busy month.  I really should look at the full calendar when planning things.  Despite how busy it has been, this past week was filled with some great things.  

1. The Los Angeles Times Book Festival - This year I was an honorary bookseller for the weekend (April 12-13, 2014). What a marvelous experience.  Check out my wrap-up post.

2. Author Event: Tomie dePaola - When I heard that author/illustrator Tomie dePaola was coming out for the LA Times Festival of Books and then doing an event at Once Upon a Time, I knew I had to meet him.  Tomie's newest book is one he illustrated for Lin Oliver's poems.  Tomie was so wonderful and good with all of the children and teachers and librarians and parents who came out to see him.

3.  Distinguished Schools Visitation Team - This week I had the opportunity to serve on a Distinguished Schools Visitation Team. What a fabulous experience!  I loved learning more about the process, visiting classrooms, hearing parents and students and staff talk about their school.  It was definitely worth doing.  I also loved the emphasis on writing and student writing was evident everywhere. 

4. Open Mic Poetry Event - We held our first joint activity between the schools and the library and celebrated National Poetry Month with an Open Mic Poetry Event. It was smaller than we had hoped but the energy was good and everyone is talking about seeing this happen annually. I blogged about it here.

5.  First Graders and Writing - I have been continuing my pilot writing and comprehension project and expanding it to a couple of additional classes.  Can't wait to share more. I love watching first graders as they figure things out.

So, what are you celebrating?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Poetry Friday - Open Mic Event

Last night, I had an opportunity to experience poetry as only middle schoolers can perform it.  A few months ago, I pitched an idea to the Coordinator or my District's After School program (LEARNS) and to a friend, Jane Gov, who is the Teen Librarian at the Pasadena Public Library.  I have wanted the schools to partner more with the public library.  With Poetry Month coming up, I thought it would be a great way to try doing an event together. 

At all of our Middle Schools, the LEARNS program staff worked on a writing class called The Spoken Word.  As part of the class students worked on writing original poetry. Some students added interpretive dance to their poetry and others performed their poetry to rap music. No matter which format a student used, the poetry was authentic and powerful.

The LEARNS Program staff also brought student created art to display in the room. I was in awe of their work.

This young lady danced before reading her poem.

One of the staff encouraged her son to join in and he read an original poem about bullying. I tried videotaping it but unfortunately, the sound did not come out clear enough.

There were several girls who performed poems that were very personal and touching.

And there was even a group of boys who learned that lyrics are really just poems in disguise.  They performed biographical poems as Rap Songs.

The energy before, during, and after the event was incredible. Family and friends watched and celebrated with their poets. And at the end, everyone celebrated with pizza. 

In the end, the unanimous sentiment was that this should be an annual event.  I was thrilled that my idea could find feet and wings with the support of talented staff, who helped see it through.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Wrap-Up

This past weekend, Los Angeles Times held it's annual Festival of Books. For the past few years, it has been held at the University of Southern California Campus.  In the past, I attended as a regular participant.  I would attend panels or stop by the Children's Stage or the YA Stage and listen to various authors. However, this year, I had a chance to see the Festival from a different perspective.

I became an honorary bookseller and volunteered my time with Once Upon a Bookstore in Montrose. Owner, Maureen Palacios, and bookseller, Kris Vreeland have been fantastic in supporting literacy efforts in the schools that I work with. The least I could do was give some of my time to helping them out. The picture above was taken really early on Saturday morning.  We still had lots of energy at that time. 

When bookstores participate in the Festival, they basically have to set-up a store away from their brick and mortar location.  This meant a full-day of preparation the day before the event so that we could be ready bright and early on Saturday.

In addition to Once Upon a Time, the booth was sponsored by the following publishers - Simon & Schuster, and Scholastic.  With their great support, we had a full line-up of authors scheduled to sign books.

Even Clifford came to visit us and greet young fans.

My job for the weekend was to help with the author signings.  The awesome James Howe (Bunnicula, The Misfits) kicked-off the author signings for us.

One of my favorite authors, Doreen Cronin (above with bookseller Kris Vreeland) signed her new book Chicken Squad.

James Swanson (Chasing Lincoln's Killer) and David Shannon (No David) came in to sign books.

And yes, that is the fabulous Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory) of chatting with the vibrant, Angela DiTerlizzi (Some Bugs).

On Sunday morning, I stopped by the Penguin Truck and had a chance to get behind the wheel. Thanks Amy Comito (Penguin Rep) for inviting me over.

While I was there, I ran into one of my favorite Penguin Children's reps - Nicole White and her daughter.

Before things became too crazy, I also had a chance to chat with Ronna Mandel (Good Reads with Ronna), who was sporting A Girl Called Fearless T-shirt in honor of debut author, Catherine Linka.

Laurie Halse Anderson came back on Sunday to kick-off the morning signing and yes, that is teacher and Nerdy Book Club buddy, Cathy Blacker sharing a photo-op.

I actually got a copy of Doll Bones signed by the adorable, Eliza Wheeler.  Eliza did the illustrations for the book. Now I just need Holly Black's signature and I will be all set.

We had a great trio of authors signing mid-morning with (left to right) Anna Shinoda, Carrie Arcos, and Shannon Messenger.

Sadly, there were some times when I was so busy that I did not have a chance to take a picture of the talented and friendly authors that came by to sign.  I also heard that author, John Green signed for four hours somewhere at the Festival.

Though the Festival ended on Sunday evening, I had an opportunity to continue it into Monday evening by helping out at Once Upon a Time while they hosted Lin Oliver and Tomie de Paola.  I have used so many of Tomie's books in lessons so this was a special treat.  And what a super fantastic experience it was to hear Tomie speak.

Lin and Tomie signed their new book, Little Poems for Tiny Ears (Nancy Paulsen Books, February 2014).

And my highlight - getting my picture taken with Tomie.

Though my experience this year was so different than previous years, I still had a blast.  The staff of Once Upon a Time are super friendly and passionate about what they do and I was honored to spend so much time with them.