I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - A Book Round-Up for 2015

Maybe that's a bit dramatic - none of the books I read were what you might call "ugly," and there really weren't too many "bad" ones in the bunch either. Were there some I liked better than others? Absolutely. Were there some I chose versus some I was "forced" to read? Yeah... As a middle school LA teacher, I don't always get to choose my content, you know what I mean?

Here's my list - 32 strong! (Not that quantity matters - it's all about quality in my book...) -->

1) "The Hobbit" (finished 1/1/15) - Fantasy (for school)
2) "Moon Over Manifest" (1/17/15) - Historical YA Fiction
3) "Eight Keys" (2/2/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
4) "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" (4/19/15) - Fantasy
5) "Elephant Talk" (4/25/15) - Nonfiction (for school)
6) "Into the Unknown" (4/25/15) - Nonfiction (for school)
7) "Shooting Kabul" (5/13/15) - Historical YA Fiction (for school)
8) "The Cay" (5/17/15) - Historical YA Fiction (for school)
9) "Fish in a Tree" (5/23/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
10) "Under the Egg" (5/25/15) - Historical YA Fiction
11) "Data Wise" (6/13/15) - Professional Development
12) "Brown Girl Dreaming" (6/14/15) - Memoir/Poetry
13) "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (7/6/15) - Spiritual/Religious Nonfiction
14) "Paper Things" (7/12/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
15) "One for the Murphys" (7/24/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
16) "Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change" (7/25/15) - Nonfiction YA (for school)
17) "Crenshaw" (7/25/15) - YA Fiction
18) "Teaching Reading in Middle School" (7/27/15) - Professional Development
19) "Sondheim: The Man Who Changed Musical Theater" (7/28/15) - Nonfiction YA
20) "In Defense of Read Aloud" (7/28/15) - Professional Development
21) "Echo" (7/29/15) - Historical YA Fiction
22) "Stargirl" (7/30/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
23) "The Classroom Management Book" (7/31/15) - Professional Development
24) "Be Always Little: Christian Fables for Young and Old" (8/3/15) - Spiritual
25) "Small as an Elephant" (8/5/15) - Realistic YA Fiction
26) "Escape from Mr Lemoncello's Library" (8/22/15) - Mystery YA
27) "Stella by Starlight" (9/10/15) - Historical YA Fiction
28) "Unbroken" (audio) (10/25/15) - Nonfiction
29) "The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto" (11/23/15) - Fiction (with historical figures)
30) "I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives" (11/28/15) - memoir (dual) YA nonfiction
31) "The Hobbit" (12/14/15) - Fantasy (for school --> re-read)
32) "Just Mercy" (12/27/15) - Nonfiction

(Technically, the titles listed should all be underlined or italicized, but I kept this list on my phone, and I didn't really have the energy (or patience) to go back and change them all. I apologize to all of you grammar lovers out there.)

Now, I would award the books I read as follows (not that my awards matter - it's more fun this way, though):

BEST OVERALL ADULT READ: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (a story about the corruption within the US prison & judicial systems as well as one man's fight to bring justice)

BEST OVERALL YA READ: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (a story about being true to yourself and the effects of peer pressure/group acceptance in a high school setting)

MOST MEMORABLE READ: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (a fictional story of a musician set within the context of real world events; told from the perspective of music as the narrator)

MOST LIFE-CHANGING/APPLICABLE TO LIFE: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen (a wonderful read about mercy and multiple perspectives on the oft-heard Bible passage)

Some other highlights (or comments of note):

*I enjoyed Lord of the Rings #1 more than I thought I would. I was interested in reading the second book in the trilogy, but I felt I could not commit another two months (which is the length of time it took me to read book 1) to it at the time. Maybe one day I will finish the trilogy and finally see the movies!

*A number of the books I read hold potential for teachers to use as read alouds or books studies to draw attention to issues such as homelessness (Crenshaw, Paper Things), poverty & current events (I Will Always Write Back), and being true to oneself/accepting others who are different (Stargirl, Paper Things). One for the Murphys deals with going through the foster care system, and Fish in a Tree gives light to the idea that all children have different gifts and learn in different ways.

*I remembered reading The Cay in 6th grade, so I obtained copies for students to read in our historical fiction unit this spring. I firmly believe that every middle school student should read this book because of how it deals with prejudice, courage, and hope.

*Echo was amazingly crafted by Pam Munoz Ryan - the way she wove all the stories together so seamlessly left me in awe. Though it is a long read, it is worth your time!

*Unbroken blew my mind - Hearing about the torture and various events Louis Zamperini lived through and how faith ultimately saved his life was very inspiring.

As you might guess, I could go on and on, but, unfortunately, I still have quite a bit of student work to grade and some lesson planning to accomplish, so I must bring this year-end book review to its close.

I hope the new year brings many more incredible books my way and yours!

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