January Reads

Apparently, I’ve read quite a lot this month!  Want to know my secret?  It’s audio books.  I’ve listened to four audio books this month and read 6 books in print.  I’ve gotten into a habit of listening to audio books when I’m doing laundry, cooking, or even when I’m working in the teacher workroom while volunteering at Grace’s school.  I like to fill the quiet spaces with something to occupy my mind.  It makes unpleasant chores so much more tolerable and it is a great way to check off the boxes on my to-read list.

This is just a brief rundown of the books I’ve read this month.

Books in print

In the Woods by Tana French

Technically, I started this book in December, but I finished it a few days into January, so I’m counting it!  This is the first in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.  The story follows detective Rob Ryan as he investigates the murder of a child in his hometown.  This investigation hits a little too close to home for Rob, who, as a child, was abducted along with his two best friends.  Rob was the only one to return alive.  The mystery surrounding his friends’ disappearance remains unsolved and Rob struggles to reconcile his past experience with new information he’s learned during this investigation.  This was a great mystery, though not an easy one to digest due to the subject matter.  I have the second book in this series on my bookcase, just waiting for me to reach out and grab it.  4 Stars.

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Eighteen year old Madeline struggles to remember the last time she left her house.  A deadly immune deficiency keeps her locked inside her home.  It is her own personal, hyper-sanitized bubble.  She lives with her mother and is homeschooled. She has a nurse who visits her daily, but most other guests are off limits.  Madeline seems happy and well-adjusted despite her unusual living conditions.  That is, until Olly moves in next door.  When natural human curiosity takes over, Madeline becomes filled with typical teenage angst that threatens everything about her perfectly protected life.  This YA read may lack a little substance, but the twist at the end might just surprise you.  3 Stars.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a grumpy old man.  He is hard-headed and stuck in his ways.  Ove has big plans for himself, but when his neighbors begin meddling in his day to day life, he find that his plans are thwarted over and over again.  I don’t want to say too much about this book, because I would hate to give anything away.  You should know that it is a heart-wrenching read.  Your heart will break for Ove time and again.  But this is also a beautiful love story that proves that it is never too late to love or live.  5 amazing stars.  This is the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

This was the latest book that I’ve reviewed.  You can read all about it here.  This was a fun read and well deserving of 4 stars.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Nicole is a girl growing up in a boy’s body.  She shares all of the same features as her identical twin Jonas, yet she is transgendered.   This is the story of her family’s struggles and triumphs over prejudices living in small town, Maine.  For me, this was an interesting and informative read.  It was also inspirational to see her family overcome their own fears to become Nicole’s greatest supporters.  4 stars.

Audio Books

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

With their dad away working on the oil fields, the Campbell sisters are forced to take care of themselves.  On the rare occasion when their dad does make it home, he is usually drunk and violent.  After a night of violence, the girls flee their home, knowing they will never return.  While trying to escape their past, the girls run into trouble that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.  I didn’t love this book.  The narrator of an audiobook can really be a deciding factor in how much I enjoy the book.  I didn’t care for the narrator, but aside from that, I just think the story lacked substance.  The character development just wasn’t there.  The sisters survived terrible situations, but I just didn’t feel a real connection to them.  I gave this one 2 stars.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kalig

This was fun and quick to listen to, although it did garner me a few questionable looks from my husband who could overhear it while I was making supper one evening.  Mindy Kalig is honest and funny.  She’s someone you can picture as a friend.  Like many  other celebrity memoirs, this was a collection of quirky stories in Mindy’s characteristically dry humor.  She makes a great narrator, so this is a good one to listen to on audio.  I gave it 3 stars.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

In a fit of desperation, I downloaded The Book Whisperer while volunteering in the library at Grace’s school.  I had packets to compile and staple for the entire school, so I knew I had a few hours worth of work ahead of me.  I was working in the teacher resource room, so I knew I wouldn’t be offending anyone by having the book played aloud.  This is a book that all elementary teachers should read.  In fact, there is merit in it for middle and high school teachers, as well.  Donalyn Miller shares her secrets on how she successfully encourages a love of reading in her sixth graders.  Her methods are fairly simple and would be easy to implement in almost every type of classroom.  I was in awe of her knack for recommendations and her classroom library that contained thousands of children’s books.  This was a fantastic professional development book.  It gave it 5 stars.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A group of well to do strangers are gathered in the home of a South American Vice President to celebrate the birthday of a Japanese businessman.  The entertainment for the evening is a beautiful opera singer who mesmerizes the guests with her enchanting performance.  As the evening comes to a close, the home is stormed by hostage takers in what would become a months’ long stand-off.  Patchett delves into the lives of both the hostages and captors, who eventually become like comrades during their time together.  I think this was my first Ann Patchett book, with State of Wonder patiently waiting for me to pull it off my bookshelf.  It was a wonderful piece of fiction, loosely based on actual historical events.  Patchett has a gift for story telling and I look forward to reading more of her books and stories.  I gave this one 4 stars.

What I’m Reading Now

 Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

I put this book on hold months and months ago through the library.  In fact, when it finally became available, I almost didn’t download it.  I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl over the summer and let’s just say that I was no fangirl where this book was concerned.  The writing was amateurish and I feel that the author was attempting to ride the coattails of Harry Potter fandom.  But back to Eleanor and Park.  I decided to give it shot because it is so hugely popular in the YA world and promises to be Rowell’s best work.  I’m about halfway through it right now and I’m happy to say that it is better than I expected.  The writing is much stronger and it has a main character that you want to cheer for.

What I’m Reading Next

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

At Grace’s urging, I’m reading Hollow City next.  She had been interested in reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for awhile before she finally got around to reading it on my Kindle.  Hollow City is the second book in this series and it goes without saying that she is hooked!  I’ve got the third book on hold for her at the library and I suspect we will be making a trip to the bookstore this weekend so that she can buy the graphic novel.  I thought Miss Peregrine’s was just okay, but I’m happy to give this one a go at Grace’s instance.

What did you read in January?  What are you reading now?  What are you reading next?  Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

Classics on my TBR

Last week, I shared with you a list of classics that I feel are worthy of rereading, some of them again and again.  This week, I’d like to share some of the classics on my to-read list.

TBR Classics on Worn Out Pages

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has been on my TBR for a LONG time!  I’m pretty sure I even have it on my Kindle, having purchased it when it was on a great discount.

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident.” —Amazon

 

I remember friends reading A Prayer for Owen Meany in high school.  Because we got to choose many of the classics we read, this one was never made it into my hands, instead I probably opted for memoirs like The Bell Jar, Go Ask Alice, and others that brooding teenagers enjoy.  

“Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s. According to John’s narration, Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and sets out to fulfill the fate he has prophesied for himself.” —Wikipedia

 

Flowers for Algernon is another book that I remember friends reading and really enjoying.  So you could say that I’ve been wanting to read this book since high school.  

“The eponymous Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. The story is told by a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human test subject for the surgery, and it touches upon many different ethical and moral themes such as the treatment of the mentally disabled.” —Wikipedia

Though I’ve seen the movie many, many years ago, I’ve not actually read Gone With the Wind.  Though I’m not typically drawn to historical fiction, I always seem to enjoy reading it when I do.  This is a hefty book, weighing in at 960 pages, and most likely the reason I’ve yet to pick it up.  

“This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.” —Amazon

 

Watership Down has only recently popped up on my radar.  I think what intrigues me the most about this book is that it is about rabbits!  How an adult novel about rabbits becomes a classic just baffles me, so I’m eager to read it to see why it earns such accolades.  

“Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.” —Amazon

 

I remember my grandmother having a few James Herriot novels around her house when I was a child.  They were large and intimidating to me as a young reader.  This is perhaps that is the reason I never went on to read them in school.  But being an animal lover, I’ve always known that I would enjoy All Creatures Great and Small.  

“For over forty years, generations of readers have thrilled to Herriot’s marvelous tales, deep love of life, and extraordinary storytelling abilities. For decades, Herriot roamed the remote, beautiful Yorkshire Dales, treating every patient that came his way from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen, loving eye.” —Amazon

Have you read any of these books?  What classics do you have on your to-read list?  Let me know on Facebook or in the comments below.

Revisiting classics

In high school and college, I was required to read a great deal of classic literature.  Much of it I disliked, and if I’m honest, I probably did my best to skim just enough that I could fudge on essays and tests.  A few that come to begrudgingly come to mind are The Old Man and the Sea and The Red Badge of Courage.  But there were also a few that stuck with me as an adult and that I think are worthy of revisiting again…

Classics to Revisit by Worn Out Pages

The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald had seen a resurgence in popularity since the movie was released in 2013.  But as much as I adore Leonardo DiCaprio, I couldn’t bring myself to watch this entire movie.  I found it dull and uninteresting, the complete opposite of how I felt when I first read the book in high school.  I was taken in by the glitz and glamour of the high society parties and the romance between Jay and Daisy.  I read this again as an adult and was entertained, though I think it lost a little of the luster I had for it as a young and naive high schooler.

 

You know, I couldn’t even tell you when I read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for the first time.  It may have been my senior year in college when I was student teaching, but I suspect I read it way back in high school, too.  This is a book that I’ve read a few times, and even used while teaching.  Regardless, this band of greasers exemplifies the value of brotherhood and friendship during times of adversity and loss.  This would be a great book to pick up again as our children near their teenage years.  The movie wasn’t too bad either.

 

A Separate Peace by John Knowles is another great story about friendship.  Phineas and Gene are friends away at boarding school during World War II.  A tragic turn of events forces the characters to delve deep into matters of the heart among these friends.  This book has been sitting on my bookcase for several years now, just waiting for me to reread it!

I will admit that I read 1984 by George Orwell as an adult, and not at all in high school or college.  I don’t think it was really on my radar until I began reading dystopian fiction.  If you enjoy that genre, then you must really pick up 1984, for it is one of the original dystopian novels.  Once you read it, you will look back on other modern young adult tales and realize that many of them have been modeled after this book.  Today dystopian fiction novels are a dime a dozen.  While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, you simply must read the originals to appreciate how groundbreaking these books were at the time.

If you are a fan of historical romance novels, then Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a classic that should be on your to read list.  It is a timeless love story that spans generations.  I read Wuthering Heights in college, fully expecting to suffer through it.  Instead, I found myself caught up in Catherine and Heathcliff’s dark and haunting relationship.  Set against the moors of England, this tale of unrequited love and revenge is one that will stay with you long after you stop reading.

If I were to forced to choose just one, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee would probably be considered my absolute favorite book.  I read this book as a freshman in high school and again as an adult.  I could read this book again and again and never tire of it.  I have so much love for this book and respect for Harper Lee as the author that I really didn’t want to even consider reading Go Set a Watchman because of the controversy surrounding the publisher’s acquisition of the book.  I did end up receiving it for it for my birthday but have yet to read it.  When I do, I know to proceed with caution and to read it as a novel completely separate from To Kill a Mockingbird.  I would hate for anything to tarnish the adoration that I have for this book.

What are your favorite classics that are worth rereading?  I have another list of classics on my to read list that I hope to share with you soon!

Introducing young readers to non-fiction

Non-fiction books are a wonderful way for children to explore the world around them.  They can travel through time to visit ancient Egypt or just across the globe to see how the Chinese celebrate their New Year.  Non-fiction books can help promote a love of learning by tapping into a child’s interests.  Does your child love dolphins?  Why not use that interest as an opportunity to learn more about his or her favorite animal?  The amount of knowledge we can gain from reading non-fiction books is infinite!  But you may be wondering how to introduce your child to this genre.  Fortunately, there are a few great book series available that have made it easy for us as parents.  These highly engaging series will have your child reaching for a new non-fiction book each time he or she visits the library!

Introducing Young Readers to Non-fiction by Worn Out Pages

Non-fiction books for Early Readers

Step Into Reading books have long been a staple in teaching children how to read.  This series organizes its books into five easy steps to help parents and teachers choose the right books for their new readers:

Step 1: Ready to read

Step 2: Reading with help

Step 3: Reading on your own

Step 4: Reading paragraphs

Step 5: Ready for chapters

This series offers non-fiction books for even the youngest children who are ready to read.  Step 1 and Step 2 books are 32 pages in length and feature simple words and rhyming phrases, as well as picture clues to help children understand the text.  Steps 3 through 5 advance as you would expect as the children’s reading ability grows.  Each of the books in Steps 3 through 5 are 48 pages in length and present the facts as a story.  This series features biographies, animals, science, sports, and some of your child’s favorite characters from popular shows such as Wild Kratts and Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.  Parents and teachers can use the convenient “Book Finder” feature on the Step Into Reading website to find just the right book for each child’s reading level.  With new books being added all the time, you are sure to find something of interest to even your youngest readers.

Buy Step Into Reading books here.

National Geographic Kids offers non-fiction books and atlases in high interest subject areas such as animals and nature, biographies, culture, sports and adventure, and science and space.  These eye-catching books feature brightly colored and interesting photographs that are sure to fascinate even your most discriminating young readers.  I’ve seen some of the smaller books at The Dollar Tree and in the Dollar Spot at Target, making them a bargain for parents or teachers.  Some, but not all, of the National Geographic Kids books are leveled.

Buy National Geographic Kids books here.

Non-fiction chapter books

If you have a young reader who is new to chapter books, then I’m sure they have already discovered the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne.  But did you also know that there are non-fiction companion guides to go along with many of these books?   The Magic Tree House Fact Tracker series is an excellent way for children to expand on their new knowledge that they gain from the regular books, which are typically of the historical fiction genre.  I was introduced to these books when my daughter purchased the Titanic bundle from her Scholastic Book Fair.  In the bundle was book #17 Tonight on the Titanic and the Fact Tracker non-fiction companion book Titanic.  My daughter read Tonight on the Titanic and was fascinated by the story.  She was eager to learn more about the Titanic, so having the Fact Tracker companion book to go along with it was incredible!  As a first grader, it was amazing to me how much of an interest she had in something that happened over 100 years ago!  What a genius idea to create a completely separate non-fiction book so that children can continue to learn long after the story is over.

Buy Magic Tree House Fact Tracker books here.

The Who Was books have become an incredibly popular non-fiction series.  What started out as a biography series for kids has morphed into a fantastic selection of non-fiction books about not only people, but places and events, as well.  The Who Was part of the series features biographies about famous people past and present.  The What Was part of the series features a detailed account of a notable historical events.   Where Is is the newest part of the series that highlights well-known landmarks.  This is a large series that is growing all the time, which is a good thing because your child will never be lacking a entertaining non-fiction chapter book with these around.  These books are a quick read for middle grade readers, but provide pertinent information in an age appropriate manner.  They are a super way to introduce your children to non-fiction books!

Buy Who Was Books here.

Do you know of a great non-fiction series that you’d like to share?  Tell me about it in the comments below!

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