What I Read: 2015

Somebody (I don’t remember who anymore, sorry!) asked me for a post of all the books I read in 2015. Since I’m on Goodreads, I like to do the yearly challenge. Last year I set my goal at 25 books. I figured a couple a month was a fair goal with a new baby and all. As you can see, I surpassed that goal; I read 35 books!

I credit my students and our Reading Workshop. Since I have told my students that reading matters, and that when something matters, you find time to do it, I have made a commitment to reading every day. Usually I do it after the kids are in bed, but sometimes, if I’m not conferencing with my students, I will read my book when they have their reading time.  In fact, because of this I am already on my second book of 2016!

what i read

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This is a look back at the books I read in 2015, in order that I read them. I am too lazy to link to all of them, by the way, but I know you all know how to use the search function on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I put the MUST READs  in bold if you need some to add to your to read list (although to be fair, there is not a book on here I would say “meh” to. They are all recommendations, really. Just get them all, but read the ones in bold first). The books with a * are Young Adult Lit.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (nonfiction)
  • The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr (nonfiction)
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn
  • Apron Strings by Mary Morony
  • Open Boxes by Christine Organ (nonfiction)
  • Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster (nonfiction)
  • The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Jeffery Hunter McQuain
  • The Potty Mouth at The Table by Laurie Notaro (nonfiction)
  • From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler*
  • Butter by Erin Jade Lange*
  • All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven*
  • Paper Towns by John Green*
  • Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews*
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (nonfiction)
  • The Chosen by Chiam Potok*
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart*
  • We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen*
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (nonfictionish)
  • Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher (nonfiction)
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson (nonfiction)
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher*
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio*
  • George by Alex Gino*
  • Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Stand Off by Andrew Smith*
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan*
  • Fightball: Dying of Suck by Kris Wehrmeister (nonfiction)

This year I set my goal at 40. I think I can do it if I keep up the momentum that I set for myself in 2015.

Another thing I started doing this year is writing in a Reader’s Journal. I want my students to do this, so I model it by doing it myself. I have my notebook available in the classroom for students to flip through to see examples. They also like to flip through it for book recommendations. I admit I love reading their notebooks for this same reason. My To Read List grows as I talk to my students and read their thoughts about their books!

Knowing my students are looking to me as a model reader helps keep me reading. I try to read a mixture of Young Adult Literature and “regular” fiction/literature, just as I try to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction. That is part of my modeling for students too. Sometimes they get stuck on a genre and I want to show them there is awesome stuff across genres.

My other book goal for 2016 is to increase my classroom library by 100 more books. I added just under that (82 books) in 2015, so I think I can hit that goal this year. Right now my records show that I have 928 titles, and if I can surpass 1000 by the end of the year? Well, I will be ecstatic! To think that in the spring of 2014 I only had 104 books is crazy!

If you want to help, I keep a Wish List on Amazon of books that my students request as well as books I read about that I know my students will enjoy (I read a lot of new release and award lists).

Now tell me…what are you reading? What do you want to read? What should I read?

In the End

Today marks the end of NaBloPoMo: thirty days of solid, uninterrupted blog posts.

Whew.

Part of me wants to keep going just to see how long I can go. The other part of me wants to slap the first part of me for being insane.

The thing is, I have learned some things from all this key-pounding.

For one, I learned that I can, in fact, carve out a slice of time every day to write. Some days it’s only about 5 minutes, but I consciously take the time. It’s been good for me mentally, I think. I feel like I was able to write about stuff as I thought about it rather than saying, “That would make a good blog post…someday.”

By hitting “publish” every day, I also learned that I probably don’t have to hit publish every day. The fact that I sat down to write is the good part. In fact, there are some posts that could stand to have stayed drafts to be revisited later. They just didn’t quite say what I wanted…or at least not the way I wanted to say it.

Not everything I write is gold, but dang if I didn’t write some good stuff this past month. At least in my lowly opinion it was good stuff. And I learned that writing begets writing. I’m sort of afraid to stop because I’m afraid if I skip a day, I will skip another day, and then a week, and then I will be rarely posting again. When I post only rarely, I start putting pressure on myself to write amazing things every time. So then I don’t post because I think what I’ve got to say isn’t good enough to break a silence of days of non-posts. It’s a stupid cycle.

Writing every day also forces me to think like a writer. Everything I do becomes fodder for a post, and I find myself jotting notes on post its, my planner, and even my hand. I write notes on my church bulletin and on receipts. Sometimes it’s singular words. I had “white church” written on a post-it that I carried around until I wrote about it last week.  Sometimes it’s a topic or a phrase. Sometimes I write a bunch of stuff in a notebook and use that to craft a post. I have been looking at my life through my writer’s lens this whole month, and that has felt good.

Lastly, I have learned…or actually reaffirmed…that I am a procrastinator. I never finished my days post (ok, I never even sat down to write them) until the evening. There were nights when–and Cortney can attest to this–I have been crabby and annoyed because I had  to still write something.

But I did it. Every day I did it.

What We’re Reading

It’s been awhile since I wrote about books. I didn’t realize how many of you actually like to know what I’m reading, what my kids are reading, and what my students are reading!

I’ll start with my reading pile.

I’m currently reading Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen. He will be the visiting author at our school in January, so I am teaching this book in the next few weeks. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s so different than any book I’ve ever taught.2015-10-28 22.00.13

Clara and Elias are randomly next to each other on a flight to the United States. On the flight, Clara tries to strike up a conversation with Elias and realizes that he knows something about her past–something she is trying to keep hidden in the past. After they part ways, she realizes their backpacks were switched, and when she brings his back to his residence, she realizes that the Elias she met on the plane is not the same Elias that greets her at the door.

We just had Eddie’s parent/teacher conference this week and found out he is meeting benchmarks that surpass first grade in both reading and math. The kid loves learning. We had two Captain Underpants books at home and these have now become Eddie’s favorite.

We have read three of the series so far (numbers 1, 3, and 4). Eddie has put the rest on his Christmas list. I’ll be honest and say I think they are pretty dumb, but they are silly and they keep Eddie interested in reading.

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Charlie tries to listen to the chapter books at bedtime, but is usually uninterested if there are not pictures on the page. He usually picks from our enormous pile of picture books. Eddie also chooses books from his school library that he thinks Charlie will enjoy. This usually means we read a Curious George book at bedtime too.

It’s interesting to watch my students are reading. There are certain books and series from last year that were wildly popular that just haven’t been checked out much, but there are others that collected dust last year that have been constantly checked out this year.

A few of the favorites so far this year (that I haven’t mentioned before) include:

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Paper Towns by John Green – Ok, I mentioned this one before. But it’s hugely popular right now because of the movie and because Looking For Alaska is pretty similar, that one is always checked out too.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon – This book was new to my library this year and my students discovered it in the nonfiction section before I could read it. It’s a memoir about how Runyon attempted suicide as a teenager by setting himself on fire.

Gone (the series) by Michael Grant — Once kids have read through The Hunger Games and Divergent series they want something new. In this series, all the adults have been wiped out leaving only kids, toddlers, and babies to fend for themselves.

Bone (the series) by Jeff Smith — I really know nothing about this series because the minute I put it in my library it was all checked out. All of it. Reluctant readers (mostly boys) flock to this.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney — This actually a series too. I got it because this year I have quite a few reluctant readers who asked for mysteries. Since they were not big readers to begin with, my Agatha Christie was not appealing to them. I needed something YA to get their attention. Because of the popularity of this one, I just added the next in the “Janie Johnson Series”.

We Were Liars by e. lockhart — Ok fine. I mentioned this one before too. BUT in my defense that was before school started. This is one that the both boys and girls love to read. I’ve got quite the wait list for this one.

Ok, I showed you mine, now you show me yours. What are YOU reading? Or have I tempted you with any of these?

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If you want to help give my students more books to choose from, check out my Project for getting 25 new books here. I only need $120!

BabyFat by Pauline Campos {a review}

BabyFatCover1+copy-2I’ve written before about the fact that I struggle with my self-image– most specifically my weight. In college I was 5’7″, 125 pounds, and a size 6. I was exactly average. I often wished for a couple curves, but overall I was pretty happy.

Now I am a good 75 pounds over that, although I am not taller, and definitely not a size 6. Before having kids, it wasn’t hard for me to lose weight if I worked hard at it an cleaned up the food I was eating. Now, five pregnancies later, my body can’t seem to let go. Or maybe I am eating trash and never moving my body. It’s something.

One of the very first chapters of Pauline Campos’s book Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, and Trying to Stay Sane addresses this phrase: “you look good considering…”

hate this phrase. Because I know what “considering” means. I know why I look like I do. Why can’t people just stop with “you look good!”

Obviously, from the start of the memoir I was nodding right along.  In Baby Fat, Campos chronicles her weight loss (and gain) journey post-baby. And she does NOT hold back. She bares it all: every success and failure, every positive and negative thought. She is funny, but real.

While I can’t relate to the food sensitivities or allergies her family has, I totally know what it’s like to have the best intentions only to stumble into a pile of Twix. As Campos told herself, “Tomorrow will be different…” How many times have I repeated this mantra to myself (including last night when I riffled through the boys’ Halloween candy in search of chocolate paired with caramel)?

The book reads like Campos is giving you a peek into her diary, complete with date headings. And as you read, you feel like it too. Campos is not afraid to drop a swear word and let us know how she really feels about all the point-counting, calorie-watching she tries to do. One of my favorite lines straight from one of her chapter titles: “Diet is a bad, bad word”.

From my experience, the thing that really worked for me was cleaning up my eating habits, not going on a diet. Toward the end of her book, it seems that Campos is finding out the exact same thing. Of course knowing and doing are two entirely different things; something Campos and I also have in common.  It became obvious the more I read, the more we had in common in this battle of the bulge.

Even more clear is the message of accepting yourself for who you are NOW. Pauline struggles throughout her memoir to lose weight, but she makes it very clear that she loves her curves and she loves herself. This is something I need to work on more.

I have been trying to look at myself every day and list things that I love about me, and I really try to find one physical thing each day. Today it was my eyes, in case you wanted to know. I have pretty great blue eyes.

Anyway, you should check out Baby Fat. Not just because I liked it, but because it’s a quick, funny read that I think lots of women will relate to. Also because one of my tweets made chapter 26. But mostly because you will like the book.

Two lucky people are going to WIN the book! One will get a paper copy and one an e-copy! Enter in the Rafflecopter Widget below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was not paid to review this book, but Pauline is a friend of mine and sent me a free e-copy. My post is full of my honest opinions. The link is an affiliate, so if you buy her book I get like 10 cents or something. I’ll probably use it to buy more books for my classroom library.

What’s Past is Prologue

With it being National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo), I’ve been thinking a lot about this space. I realize it’s only Day 2 of the month, so Ok, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, but this is as good of a time as any to actually write about it.

I keep seeing all these links to posts and articles about blogging being “dead”.

This makes me laugh. For one, many of my readers had no idea blogging was “alive” in the first place. Those of you who have stuck around are not really “blog readers” as much as you read MY blog. So ya know, that is cool.

Another reason it gives me a chuckle is because when I started this space over eight years ago, I didn’t even know blogging was a “thing” at all. I just wrote silly, boring updates about our life. Then one day (probably for Wordless Wednesday or something), I posted a picture of a tiny Eddie in a onsie standing with his little hands our on our large front window. I had two comments on it: one from a friend who always commented and one from someone I didn’t know!

That started the whole “blogging is a thing” for me. I realized that there were thousands and thousands of blogs out there on the internet. There were communities for blogging in all areas of social media (who remembers Blog Frog? Anyone? Is it still a thing?). I joined networks and did blog hops and even co-hosted some of these sites for linking up writing. My stats were at an all-time high about four years ago.

If I look at my stats now, I guess I would have to agree that “blogging is dead,” but to be honest, I didn’t really ever do this for the stats.

The reason I started this blog–and continue to post here–is because I want a written record of my stories. Of our life as a family. It started as a way to keep friends and family updated, but it morphed into something even more meaningful once we had kids.

One time my mom and I were looking through my baby book and some things she had saved. In the pile we found some paper with some “memories” jotted down from when I was tiny. She had written some funny things I said (how I said “k-pop pop” for “ketchup”) and did (one time my dad was home alone with me and I threw up on the bathroom floor). She said something about wishing she had written down more because it’s just too hard to remember it all–even when you think you will never forget some of the stuff.

I realized the memories–both small and large–that I put here will help me and my kids know what our life was like right now.

I also have never gone back and deleted a post. There are some that could go because they don’t further my “mission” of writing for my kids–like giveaways. But it is what it is, right? Shakespeare used the phrase “what’s past is prologue” in his play The Tempest meaning that everything in the past is a preface for the present and the future.

That is how I feel about my writing here.

I may do side things or try new writing stuff, but as far as I plan, Sluiter Nation will always be here as my place to write about me, my life, and my kids. On my “About” page, I call this blog a legacy blog because writing my words and my stories–our stories–is a way to leave something for my children.

This is my place to tell stories to remember their little selves, to give my thoughts on everything from potty training to gay marriage to my own {at times shaky} faith.  My hope is that this blog will be here, in some form, long after I am gone.

The hype and trendiness of blogging may have come and gone, but it really doesn’t matter to me. My words will still be here.

BOO!

2015-10-30 19.11.59

Oh. Hi. It’s November.

That means it’s National Blog Post Month (you know, for those of us who don’t have the stones to do National Novel Writing Month). This is where I attempt to post every single day in November.

What could go wrong with that plan, right? I mean, this week is only the end of the first marking period at school. Next week is only  parent/teacher conferences for both my school AND Eddie’s. We only have Thanksgiving coming up plus my starting a new marking period with my students. We only have three birthday parties and two babies due in November in our family. NO BIG DEAL. It’s the PERFECT time to try to write something post-able every. single. day.

[I’m crazy]

Anyway, this first post is an easy one. It’s about last night. Halloween.

I sort of hate Halloween. It stresses me out and makes me cranky.

I know, I know…I’m such a scrooge. Such a Debbie Downer.

That doesn’t mean we don’t do the Halloween “stuff”. Everyone was in a costume (everyone = all three kids) and we had pumpkins that we actually carved. We didn’t do the pumpkin patch because it was on the list of things ain’t nobody got time for, but Cortney grabbed three great ones on his lunch break Thursday, and we carved them up Friday night.

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Saturday the kids dressed up in the costumes. Alice was not all that excited to have whiskers drawn on, but she got over it. Charlie was almost too excited to have a mustache drawn on.

We went to first to Cortney’s mom and step-dad’s house. That is always fun because Granny knows how to rock Halloween. Not only does she have goodie bags for the kids, she also always has cookies and other snacks out…as well as a beer/wine for the parents.

Plus the cousins are there too, so cute goes into overload.

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I know. Alice appears to be questioning all her life choices up to this point. She was so unsure of all that was going on. But she and her cousin, Alia, were adorable as Raggedy Ann and Minnie Mouse.

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SERIOUSLY. SO CUTE.

If we could have just stopped here, I would have been totally cool with Halloween. Seriously.. Maybe next year we should just go here and have the kids trick or treat their neighborhood because there were snacks and wine for adults.

But we went over to my parents house next because Halloween is totally a grandparents dream…seeing their cutie grandkids in costume, spoiling them rotten with too much candy, and then sending them on their way.

By the time we got home, it was rainy and wet and way past dinner time. But the boys wanted to go door-to-door. So Cortney took Alice in to feed her and get our dinner ready, and I took the boys to a few houses.

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Since it was raining and I was cranky, I dropped the boys at the first house, rolled the windows down in my car, and yelled “run to the next house!” while I slowly drove along. We did this for about 8 houses. Then I pulled their damp little bodies into the car, drove around the block to our street, and dropped them to go to the house next door to us. Then they sprinted home to ring our doorbell.

As much as I was over it, I couldn’t help smile at the fact that Charlie looked just like Mario running and jumping through yards.

Until we got home and I pulled shoes off and found dog poop on Eddie’s skeleton foot. Ew.

But then we ate chili and cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate and all went to bed.

Oh, and rolled the clocks back. That was good times too.

Happy November. Happy NaBloPoMo. Let’s see if I can keep up.

Where My Writing Is

In case you missed them, here are my most recent posts around the web:

I was honored to be featured on The Nerdy Book Club just before school started giving my Top Ten list of the books that are always on hold in my classroom library. If you’re looking for a good read, I suggest you check out this list.

I’ve also been posting about once a week at The Educator’s Room. This month my posts have been mostly about Close and Critical Reading: This one addresses summarizing, this one talks about recognizing author’s craft, this one is about identifying purpose and theme, and this one is about making connections to text.

This week, I contributed a post about why I read aloud to my 8th grade students (and why I read to my high school students).

Thank you for being so supportive of my writing!

The Things They Carried

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This book reminded me of how necessary it is to go out of your comfort zone sometimes. This book reminded me that, no, I don’t normal read “war books,” but sometimes you need to take a risk and read something that is not your normal genre. This book reminded me that while it may not seem like I could relate to a Vietnam war vet, I would be wrong.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien has been in my classroom library all year. I’ve wanted to recommend it–especially to boys who are finding a hard time choosing something–but I hadn’t read it and wasn’t sure how to present it. I don’t really read “war stories”. But I realized that by not reading it just for that reason, I was doing what my students were doing when they turned their noses up at books because the topic sounded boring.

So when I raided my classroom library in May to bring home a stack to read, I included The Things They Carried. Naturally, it was the very last book I picked up out of all the books. And I’m sorry for that because I quite possibly connected most to this one. In fact, I used O’Brien’s book as the first in my Reader’s Notebook that I am creating as an example for my students.

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The Things They Carried is actually a collection of stories, many of which has been published elsewhere before being brought together as a collection. The book is labeled as fiction, although the narrator is O’Brien and he was in Vietnam and all the places and characters and circumstances are based on real life. I would say The Things They Carried is “True Fiction”.

Everything he writes about is true, but it did not happen. Well, some of it may have happened, but not as he wrote it. Or to whom he wrote about. The truthiness of it plays with your mind a bit because it is so believable–graphic at times even–and yet, you know you are reading fiction. But while some of the details may be made up, it’s a True Vietnam War Story.

Sort of.

Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about the Vietnam conflict, and this book didn’t answer many of those questions. And I’m glad. When people say that it’s important to read books to see what it was like for the people who lived it, they were talking about O’Brien’s writing. I’m sure of it. This book proves why it’s important to read beyond textbooks. A history book is not going to show the reader the effects of PTSD or how soldiers coped with all the death around them. It’s not going to show the horrors of silence.

I think I connected to O’Brien’s words the most because he kept coming back to the idea of the story. How it’s important to tell your story. That even if you have to add details that did not happen, it’s Ok as long as they add to the truthfulness of the story. So your audience can feel and so you can release that bit of yourself from inside yourself.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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Confession: I started this book and thought two things: 1) I like books that make me feel good about my Spanish and 2) this book is going to take a lot of brain power.

I started this book for no other reason that I want to read more non-white authors and many readers I respect (who read the “literature” on top of just other stuff) rated this one highly. I also started it one day on the deck in the sun in my favorite reading spot. It is a stark contrast to all the YA lit I have been reading lately.

Let’s see…how do I describe Oscar Wao? Well, the book is fiction, but it also has some magical realism. The narrator is third person, seemingly omniscient, whose actual identity isn’t revealed until about halfway into the book. The story is about Oscar and the curse that is on him and his family called the fuku. The book starts with Oscar’s childhood, but talks about his mother’s childhood and formative years in the Dominican Republic, his maternal Grandfather (where the fuku started), and his sister, Lola.

The narrator is incredibly conversational using Spanglish and Dominican slang to tell the story of the de Leon family.There are quite a few footnotes (which are just as conversational) to give the reader history and background of The Dominican Republic that will help understand character motivation or the environment the characters found themselves in.

The book is beautiful. The writing is glorious and true and moving. I kept thinking of my students as I read it…how many have such journeys in their family history–maybe not with a curse attached–but who have parents who have come from another country and they are first generation in the US. About the struggles and the reasons for coming.

It’s just an extraordinary book. I can’t compare it to anything because I have never read anything like it. And I read a lot.

Where My Writing Is…

In case you missed it, I have a few articles floating around the internet…

This month at the Educator’s Room, I’ve posted about what all teachers should be reading this summer, and it’s not just “teacher books”!

I also put on my serious, political pants and talked about the very real feeling that there is a conspiracy against public education among politicians.

With school starting, I wrote about the important task of creating safe spaces for kids in our classrooms.

Just this week, I posted an introduction to a series that I will be working on this month about Close and Critical Reading and strategies I/we use in my district that have really helped students improve their literacy.

Also a post I wrote originally for The Educator’s Room was re-run on The Washington Post! I know! So exciting! It’s the one about Job Insecurity in education.

My writing is also on BonBon Break again this month with a post I did about my feelings concerning School Dress Codes from a teacher’s point of view.

And lastly, I was interviewed by UpWorthy about what the deal is with Back to School Supply lists. (In Michigan we can’t require students to buy supplies; we have to supply them. Which is why I have a Wish List on Amazon, in case you are interested in helping out)

There you go!

School starts for me on September 1, and for the kids (Eddie included) on September 8. I’ve been busy busy BUSY with To Do Lists and creating stuff and I’ve even been into my classroom already setting things up for a new year.

There is a lot of excitement about it over here, I won’t lie!  Eddie is going into first grade, Charlie is starting his last year of “full-time” daycare (next year he will go to preschool part of the time), Alice is starting full-time daycare, and I will be teaching a new year of eager 8th graders.

But I’ll keep writing too! So stay tuned!

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