Friday, May 30, 2014

New titles for Young Adult and Middle School Readers 2014-Out of the Easy to Skink No Surrender

One of the delights of going to a conference like the International Reading Association Annual Convention is the delight of finding new books, free if  they are  advance copies.  It's also exciting getting to see and meet authors that you have enjoyed!  I have to admit unless the line is moving fast I don't generally line up for autographs anymore.

I think my favourite books are picture books and young adult novels so even though though I don't have seventh graders anymore I couldn't resist picking up a few advance copies this year which I will pass on.

The first new book to me that I read was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys.  I absolutely loved this book and it was a perfect read as the story takes place in the French Quarter right in the neighbourhood where I was staying.

It takes place in 1950 with a great female protagonist who has brains and courage.  And she needs them.  The daughter of an abusive prostitute,who knows how to choose the wrong men, she wants to get out of New Orleans and go to Smith College which seems to be highly unlikely.  The book is full of mystery.  How did the stranger, who was kind to her, die?  Is she in serious danger from her mother's gangster boyfriend?  How will she be able to make a new life for herself far away?  The book is full of interesting characters and tackles some interesting social issues of that time and place.  It  gives you some of New Orleans interesting history and definitely evokes the atmosphere of this city.  I think it is a book that would appeal more to girls than boys, appropriate for high school, but I would pass it on to more sophisticated seventh grade readers.  The back of the book told how the author got the idea for the book and how she did her research.  She also has a good website.

The next book I read was The Living by Matt de la Pena.  I had heard of de la Pena, but hadn't read any of his novels.  I found it immediately engaging as Shy, a half-Mexican boy from a border town, has a job on cruise ship and after a bit of a strange verbal exchange with a passenger, the passenger jumps off the ship.  Shy does his best to keep him from doing so but he isn't strong enough to hold him and the man does die.  A week later he is on another ship heading for Hawaii, trying to forget this incident, when the big earthquake finally hits the west coast of North America, and the ship is wrecked.  Needless to say Shy survives but on top of the disaster there are other mysterious sinister events related to that initial death.  The book was fast paced but I had a couple of complaints.  The earthquake affected coastal California, Oregan, Washington, and Vancouver.  No one caught that Vancouver is a city not a province.  And the book ends but there has to be a sequel.  Nonetheless I am sure my former students would enjoy it.

Now if you have students who want a bit of a lighter book or have a curiosity about the lives of teenage television stars,  Amy Finnigan's Not in the Script might be for you.  Fortunately, Emma, the star of the novel, is quite level headed, and the book is fairly fast paced and humorous.  The author seems to have a good knowledge of the world of which she writes.  And she does examine the difficulties of knowing who your friends are and what it is like to have a lack of privacy.  Emma is serious about schooling and she wants to start a foundation but just needs a cause which she finds.  I know this is a book that would definitely be popular with seventh grade girls and younger high school readers who like books with a bit of romance (but it actually isn't too sticky!

I have read a couple of Carl Hiaason's adult mysteries and heard him speak at the Vancouver Writers' Festival.  Starting his career as an investigative reporter for the Miami Herald, he has been fearless in his defence of the environment, and his disdain for corruption.  His first novel for children, Hoot, was a Newbury Honour Book, and he has written several more books aimed at children.  Skink No Surrender is his first novel aimed at teenagers and I really enjoyed it.  Again having had a swamp tour in Louisiana and having also had a recent trip to Florida, I enjoyed the road trip as fourteen year old Richard with help from a rather strange former government and environmental guerrilla type defender, Skink, goes in search of his cousin Malloy who, in an attempt to escape being sent to a boarding school in New Hampshire, takes off with someone she has met in an internet chat room.  As is typical of Hiaason there is a great deal of humour despite the seriousness of the situation.  And Malloy is no shrinking violet, but she definitely needed Richard and Skink's help.   I also like how it looks at environmental issues and  also how Richard  learns to deal with his father's death.  This is a great book that I think middle school students would really enjoy!

New Orleans International Reading Association Annual Convention-

When I attended the International Reading Association Convention in San Antonio last year, my friend Donna and I made a plan to come to New Orleans this year. We hadn't been to this wonderful city in a long time.  And I looked forward to not worrying how I was going to manage to get leave to go to a conference.   Last year I had wanted to go as it was my last year as a classroom teacher.  And going to a convention this time of the year is always such a shot in the arm for inspiring your last few weeks with your students.  Also it was in San Antonio which I love.  I had been there twice for IRA conventions and once for a NCTE conference.  And it is just a great city.  I love the River Walk and the whole atmosphere, and we had a great time despite my unplanned overnight stay in Dallas on the way home!

But this time it would be different.  My teaching this year has been mainly been limited to volunteering with the first graders, which has actually been just fine.  As you know I honestly love doing this.  So I decided that my focus for the conference would be sessions focused at this level.  One of the great things about the conferences has been that having taught at different levels and with different focuses I was always able to find sessions that were applicable.  For instance, last year my focus had been at the middle school level since I was teaching grade seven.  Other times it has been primary or high school or sessions for literacy coaches or reading specialists or sessions on technology.

I think it's the 21th one that I have been to.  The first one I attended was in St. Louis, Missouri in 1980.  I literally won a trip there from the Montreal Reading Council and then my school board gave me leave to attend etc.  It was wonderful as I had gotten married that year, bought a house with many expenses, had to buy a new car, been on strike with a husband doing a Phd on a Canada Council.  Money was tight so this was wonderful!  It was an unbelievable experience and  was responsible for getting me really involved with the local reading association, LOMCIRA, when I moved  to Vancouver a few months later.  My involvement has lasted more or less for the next 34 years.

It's amazing just to be with up to 20000 people who are enthused about teaching reading.  It is an amazing opportunity to hear the latest research, see the most wonderful authors, get to pick up books before they are released etc.  In the past there have also been some rather amazing parties and has taken me from Toronto to Chicago to Atlanta to Orlando to San Antonio, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Anaheim, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Vegas, and Reno.

The last few years have been difficult for the association and the conventions don't generate the income they once did.  The economy has limited the number of teachers able to attend such conferences and there may have been 10000 teachers who attended all or part of this conference.  This convention ran over the weekend from Friday to Monday, I think for the second time to make it easier for teachers to attend.  Next year the conference will be held in the summer in St. Louis, where I went to my first conference.  This is because it is increasingly difficult for teachers now to get leave to attend during the school year.  And many do so by paying their own way.  I have even paid for the cost of substitution to do so.

I always brought an extra suitcase so that I could carry home books.  I loved the feel of those advance copies of new novels to bring to my classroom.  And often there are great new books signed by the authors.  This year I tried to carefully pack and only brought an extra bag that folded up in my carry on luggage on the way there.  I still came home with lots of books even without needing to stock my own classroom anymore!

We were in New Orleans for six full days-three were spent at the conference and the other three devoted to serious sightseeing documented in my travel blog.

I honestly plan to write up some of the great sessions I attended but in my next blog entry  I am going to talk about some of the young adult books I picked up and have been reading.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

New Orleans anyone?

Garden District using waterlogue app
I just got back from an amazing week in New Orleans.  And for more details you can read about it in my travel blog and see my many pictures!  Part of the reason I went was to attend the last International Reading Association convention to be held in May and since it was in New Orleans that was a total bonus.  I went to New Orleans a couple of times long ago when this conference was  held there and loved New Orleans.  A bonus was each time I got to spend a day at the New Orleans Jazz festival.    Unfortunately this year it had ended before the conference, but we still were able to hear lots of jazz.

What is really scary is the fact that I think I still have posts not yet published here of reviews of books I bought and sessions I attended  at last year's International Reading Association convention! Last year I wanted to go because it was my last year teaching and attending always gave me a needed boost of energy for the end of the year.

French Quarter waterlogue app
This year I didn't have to worry about finding coverage to attend nor planning for being away.  I ended
up seeking sessions on primary as that is the age level with whom I have been mainly volunteering.  Some would ask why go to a conference when you aren't really teaching anymore but I have been involved with  this organization and literacy for many many years and in some ways these conferences are like coming home.   Each time I would go I would bring an extra suitcase to bring home all the books I would accumulate-many at cut rates and many free advance copies of novels.  There used to be amazing publisher parties but times are far leaner now!  But my friend, Donna, also retired, and I still thoroughly enjoyed attending the conference.  And I brought a fold up extra bag and despite trying to limit what I brought managed to come home with quite a few books etc.  Stay tuned to hear more! And maybe I should finish my write ups of last year's sessions!