Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Leveling of Books

Being librarians and book lovers, Malissa and I have often talked about the leveling of books. The good, the bad, the ugly. I realize that there are good things to be said, but as a public librarian/avid reader, it pains me to hear a child say "I can't read that book. It's not on my level." They are put in this box and told they can't go outside of it. They can read a book that's not on their level... if it's lower it'll just be an easy read. If it's higher it'll just be more challenging. But they can't test on it. Therein lies the problem for me. I feel pretty strongly about letting kids read what they want - they're reading, so why fight it? And if you look up the AR reading level of Jodi Picoult, most of them come at roughly a 5th grade reading level. Yes, you read that right. Someone who writes about some of the most controversial topics is "suitable" for a fifth grader in this sense. Really? But boy are they worth the points. And Harry Potter? Harry Potter is roughly a 6th grade reading level. How does this make sense? They take into account words used, sentence structure, and the like, but what about content? What about the themes that are presented? I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be okay with my future fifth grader reading Picoult's The Tenth Circle.

I would say a lot more but Malissa lives in a different state than I do, and she sends me this, saying what I would say and more:

So I need to vent. As will happen at times. And what better place than your best friend's book blog?
So here's the thing. Our state has introduced new educational standards this year (no, I don't have kids in school yet, but I know these things because I'm a public librarian). Stuff to do with common core and other things I'm not terribly well versed in. A part of this is a move toward using Lexile scores to guide a student's reading. So today I got an email from our state library listserv with an attached article about Lexile measure so that we librarians can be informed when panicked parents come in and don't know what it means that their kid needs a book from 750L - 900L. So I read it in the interest of being up to date and informed even though I'm already familiar with Lexile levels in general. And it says how great a tool this is to help your kids improve their reading and how you can use your school provided scores (Now a part of state standardized testing. Yay!) to provide your kids with books from 100L below their score to 50L above and track their progress and have a grand time etc. All very sunny and glowing stuff. I almost bought it. OK not really, but it did sound pretty decent. Then I decided to check a couple of books for my own amusement and enlightenment (I've done this before, but maybe it changed somehow ...). So I looked up Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel.) It's part of a juvenile chapter book series that my 5 year old kindergarten nephew LOVES. They're short and heavy on pictures and short on text. A bit like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. BUT they use big words intentionally and in fun ways and then list them in the back with definitions. My nephew went around last year after I gave him his first Bad Kitty book and said "masticate" on a regular basis. Used it correctly. (+snicker snicker+ because how great of an aunt does that make me?). Pretty cool way to get kids to learn vocab if you ask me, but does it make the book 720L and roughly equivalent in difficulty to The Boxcar Children mysteries and Hank the Cowdog (as an aside, Hank the Cowdog ranks about a 4.8 reading level and 3ish point for AR and Bad Kitty is 3.5 and 1 point)? I don't think so, but who am I to say. So then I decided to try's find a book feature and told it I was a 12th grader who found assigned reading easy. I gave it categories of books I like and hit search. It suggests that as a high school senior and advanced reader that I read J.K. Rowlings Tales of Beedle the Bard, apparently a 1290L. Yes, I read that as an adult, but not to challenge myself. 1290L? Really? OR I could read Orwell's Animal Farm at 1170L. Because Beedle the Bard is clearly more complex and challenging than Animal Farm ... And this is where one of my big problems lies. The scores only seem to take into account things like sentence structure or vocab or word length. They do nothing for the subtle complexities of the text. They don't consider the themes of the stories. Yet they're presented to parents and educators as the be all and end all of what kids SHOULD be reading. And sure, kids need to be challenged and assigned reading in school that they wouldn't usually pick up, but none of this existed (or at least was used) when I was a kid (and, no, I'm not that old). We did Book It! and got pizza coupons for reading books of our own choosing. And I read books. And more books. And then some more books because I loved them. And today I read lots and lots of books and am a librarian with a master's degree who shares books with others and is fairly literate and quite decent with the English language by my own estimation. Now I know I'm hardly a case study unto myself, but why can't we have more of encouraging kids to read what they love for pleasure and reward rather than forcing them into neat little boxes labeled with numbers that advertise their "abilities" (or perceived lack thereof) to the world? Is there any better way to tell a kid that reading is WORK? That it's supposed to be hard and challenging and no fun? Woohoo educational system. Way to go. Guess I'll just have to work extra hard to combat that with reading fun at home with my (nearly done "cooking") kid. Or maybe I could just reward him for completing "assigned" reading with video games and TV .... 
What are your thoughts on book leveling?

Friday, August 30, 2013

To Write or Not To Write?

Sorry it's been so silent over here. It wasn't intentional, but I ended up taking a hiatus for bit to focus on some other things. That being said, I think I'm ready to re-focus here and have some fun again. You with me? Please say yes. ;)

I was going to just start with a Follow Friday (hosted by Parajunkee), but decided instead to talk. Part of the reason I took a break was because I found I had nothing to say. Not just here, but anywhere really. I think that fog is starting to lift and clear, but the biggest struggle with reading has been being able to write a review. Have you ever had that problem? For real, I just sit there, stare at the blank screen, watching the cursor blink, and wonder what the hell to write. Even though I *loved* The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (thank you NetGalley) and give it five stars, I draw a blank when I want to say something about it. I did just finish a book I didn't like as much and I'm so hoping this will spur some sort of creativity in my mind. Seriously I'm starting to drown in the books that have unwritten reviews.

What do you do when you struggle writing reviews?


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The 5th Wave: A Review by Malissa

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.


I loved this book! Not surprising, really, because I've loved Rick Yancey's writing in the past. And if anyone else had come out with a alien apocalypse book with dystopian elements right now, I would have probably said no thanks. But this author is just good and doesn't disappoint. I should have reviewed this book right after I finished it (I've sucked at that lately ...) because I always forget what I wanted to say. Let's see if I can remember any of it ...

Things I especially liked:

The characters are quite believable and sympathetic. You really find yourself pulling for them despite perspectives changing at many times throughout the book. Sometimes I find that I don't connect completely with a specific character when we're constant changing perspectives, but that wasn't the case here at all. And the narration is spot on and quite entertaining.

The plot development. I liked that we find out how the world got to the point it's at slowly as opposed to being thrown all the details in the beginning. It helps develop the characters in a believable way while advancing the plot. 

The romance. Yes, there is one. But it's not a huge part of the story and actually adds to the character development. And no love triangle (thank goodness) at least so far. 

The twists. OK they're not really that shocking, but I don't think they're supposed to be. Because before something is truly revealed we get plenty of foreshadowing about it. Yet it's done in a way that, like the actual characters, you keep refusing to believe it until you have no choice. It's like nooooo X, Y or Z can't be true .... but you kinda know it is.

There's honestly not really anything I didn't like about the book short of it's a series, and I have to wait for the next one. Ugh. I definitely recommend this book, and it would be a good discussion book if it weren't so darn long. Maybe over a couple of book club meetings? 
Have you read it? What'd you think? Or haven't read it and want to? 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Follow Friday! ♥

8474595901 873f4993f4 Feature & Follow #138
Hosted by Parajunkee's View & Alison Can Read, the goal is to gain new followers and to follow new people yourself! :)

To join the fun and make new book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
(Taken straight from the hosts)
    • (Required) Follow the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts {Parajunkee & Alison Can Read}
    • (Required) Follow our Featured Bloggers
    • Put your Blog name & URL in the Linky thing. You can also grab the code if you would like to insert it into your posts.
    • Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say “hi” in your comments and that they are now following you.
    • If you are using WordPress or another CMS that doesn’t have GFC (Google Friends Connect) state in your posts how you would like to be followed
    • Follow Follow Follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don’t just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don’t say “HI”
    • If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the Love…and the followers.
    • If you’re new to the follow Friday hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
Happy Follow Friday!

This week's question/activity:

How do you handle a book you don’t like? Do you DNF or do you power through? 

I guess it depends on how much I'm not liking the book. I like to connect to something in the book ~ the story, the characters. I will give a book roughly 100 pages. If I'm *really* hating it, I'll stop. There's so many other books I'd like to try and get to that I don't like "wasting" precious time on something I'm not enjoying. However, that rarely happens, that I dislike a book enough to stop reading. I can probably count the number of times on one hand. I can be slightly indifferent about a book and power through, hoping it gets better. I find the older I get the more likely I've been to DNF books, though.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater: A Review

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .

Lament is a dark faerie fantasy that features authentic Celtic faerie lore, plus cover art and interior illustrations by acclaimed faerie artist Julia Jeffrey.


My Thoughts

I've wanted to read all of Maggie Stiefvater's books ever since I read The Scorpio Races and loved it. Thankfully, even though I wasn't sure what to expect of her earlier works (and it being my first faerie book as well), she didn't disappoint me, despite not being blown away by it. I love Maggie's writing and this one was no exception.

She creates a believable world out of the unbelievable. She brings these creatures to life and creates an atmosphere that not only invokes images but feelings and smells, too. I felt fully immersed in Deirdre's world.

It says in the description (which I did not read prior to reading the book...) that Deirdre is infatuated with Luke. I think obsessed is more like it, and vice versa. I found that a bit off-putting, really. How many times are we going to see the main characters have insta-romance? As the story unfolded I became a bit more accepting. But still. Insta-crush? Sure. Insta-obsessed-with-you-love? Pass.

I did really like James, though. He's the type of friend everyone wants in life. One who believes you no matter how crazy you sound; who's there to help you out, no questions asked; who will kick a faerie ass if necessary. Who doesn't need that every once in a while?

Some of the twists within the story had me reeling. I was excited that I didn't see it coming. I was a little worried at first that she was too accepting, too quickly, of the weird things happening. I mean, all of the sudden there's magical things going on and she is totally okay with all of this? But it was done in such a way that worked. Maggie is awesome like that.

I've ordered Ballad from my library and look forward to continuing the journey when it arrives. I won a giveaway for a book of choice... I chose Ballad. :)