The Power of Harry Potter at IRA

Will you be at IRA?  I am thrilled to extend the following invitation to you via Scholastic.

RSVP directly to loisbridges@earthlink.net

Lois and I have been in contact a few times over the last couple of months. Lois is a Literacy Publisher, formerly with Heinemann for ten years; now with Scholastic. She and Scholastic are interested in connecting with teachers who use Harry Potter in their classrooms to entice their students to read.  I shared a few of my blog posts with her and they will actually be sharing one of them with attendees at the party.  Harry Potter is so important to me so I am thrilled to be a part of this exciting endeavor, in any way I can.

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son is an interesting book.  It follows the same group of friends as her Saving Francesca, but it readers can pick up The Piper’s Son without reading  Saving Francesca  (I haven’t read it).  It walks the line between YA and adult, and some readers will definitely feel it is more adult than YA.  The story follows two members of the Finch-Mackee family- Tom and his aunt, Georgie.

I’ll let the flap cover do the summarizing:

homas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle’s death.

And in a year when everything’s broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them.

Marchetta weaves two stories together, alternating POV between Georgie and Tom.  From the outside, they seem to be very different, but over the course of the book it becomes clear that they are very similar, despite their age difference.  I found myself drawn more to Georgie, even though I could not personally identify with her struggle.  However, I it’s interesting to present teens with both a late-teens main character and a clearly adult character.  I don’t see it done very often and I am interested to see how my readers feel about it.

Marchetta is a fantastic writer.  She pulls you into the story word by word. Nothing happens quickly in The Piper’s Son, but that’s because it is not an action book.  It’s a book about people and about relationships.  It’s about picking up the pieces and trying to move on, even when it feels like you can’t.  It’s about the ways we react to tragedy in our lives, and the ways we shut out the people who love us most.  Marchetta is a gifted writer and I think The Piper’s Son will resonate with a lot of adult readers.  It’s the perfect crossover book.  Older teens will also gain a lot from reading her book.

*ARC courtesy of the publisher  

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

In the interest of full-disclosure, I went to high school with Brian.  We’ve kept in touch and I was so excited when I read his book announcement in Publisher’s Weekly.  I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could, and I read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. However, I tend not to read a lot of adult NF (other than professional books), so I knew I would be pretty hard on the book- I am tough to impress in the adult NF sector).

Publisher’s Summary: 

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a provocative, exuberant, and profound exploration of the ways in which computers are reshaping our ideas of what it means to be human. Its starting point is the annual Turing Test, which pits artificial intelligence programs against people to determine if computers can “think.”

Named for computer pioneer Alan Turing, the Tur­ing Test convenes a panel of judges who pose questions—ranging anywhere from celebrity gossip to moral conundrums—to hidden contestants in an attempt to discern which is human and which is a computer. The machine that most often fools the panel wins the Most Human Computer Award. But there is also a prize, bizarre and intriguing, for the Most Human Human.

In 2008, the top AI program came short of passing the Turing Test by just one astonishing vote. In 2009, Brian Christian was chosen to participate, and he set out to make sure Homo sapiens would prevail.

The author’s quest to be deemed more human than a com­puter opens a window onto our own nature. Interweaving modern phenomena like customer service “chatbots” and men using programmed dialogue to pick up women in bars with insights from fields as diverse as chess, psychiatry, and the law, Brian Christian examines the philosophical, bio­logical, and moral issues raised by the Turing Test.

One central definition of human has been “a being that could reason.” If computers can reason, what does that mean for the special place we reserve for humanity?

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is a stimulating, fascinating book that is perfect for both the most discerning technophile and the neophyte reader who seeks to start thinking about humanity, language, biology, history, and technology.  It’s the rare nonfiction book that can capture the mind of almost any reader.  Nothing is “over your head” and the tone is conversational while remaining intellectual. (The entire book actually made me think I was reading a TEDxtalk.  It’s that kind of conversational tone). Anyone who knows me know that I read very fast.  However, I found myself reading this slowly, savoring the ideas. I frequently stopped to think about some of the points Brian brings up, saying, “Wow, I never thought of it like that!”

As a teacher, I really appreciated The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive.  Brian does a fantastic job of bringing together many disciplines- math, science, computers, linguistics, sociology, human behavior, and much more.  Brian’s background in science writing and philosophy plus his MFA in Poetry are exactly the type of well-rounded academic life I am promoting to my students.  To be a successful citizen of the 21st century, you can’t just be an engineer, or a salesperson, or a teacher.  You must make your own way and your own ideas.  We are preparing students today for careers that don’t even exist yet!  Being well-rounded academically is so very, very important. And being able to bring all those ideas together is imperative.

And as a teacher, I appreciate the thought-provoking theme of what makes us human.  Our students are moving into an increasingly digital world- what will that mean for humanity? Where do we draw the line?  When do computers become “human”? As Brian points out, most human inventions came to be when we had a job that needed to be done.  Computers, however, were invented and then we created jobs for them.  They’ve always been different, and they are shaping the world we live in today and the world that will exist in the future.

This is a book I know I will find myself going back to over and over, rereading chapters here and there.  I look forward to discussing it with my students in the fall (The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive is our One Book, One Class for the incoming freshman class).  A few of my current freshman have read it and really enjoyed it. And Brian will be coming to speak to our freshman after spring break.  I am really looking forward to that!

Highly recommended for high school readers and adults.

*purchased copy

Opening the Gate: YA Books to “Hook” Adult Readers

One of my favorite parts of working at my new school has been exposing some of my colleagues to the great YA literature being published today.  Back in October, my AP biology colleague asked for a book recommendation because she loved my vast classroom library.  She listed a few books she enjoyed reading and I started thinking about great, literary historical fiction in YA.  Within a day or so I was handing her Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief. She read it and loved it, passing it on to a few others to read, too!  A new YA fan was born.

I have also shared books with our guidance counselor, including Emma Donoghue’s Room: A Novel. My freshman biology colleague has been borrowing books since the school year started.  So far he has read the Hunger Games series and Bumped. He reads my blog and when a review catches his interest, I can count on a book request the next day. :)

Before spring break I received an email from one of our Spanish teachers. She was looking for some books to bring on her spring break road trip. Moments later, I ran into our AP biology teacher and she also asked for some books. I spent a few minutes during my prep gathering books and then acted as the “traveling librarian”, walking around the school and delivering books to that who requested them. The Spanish teacher received Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light and Judy Blundell’s Strings Attached. My AP Biology colleague took home Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution and Judy Blundell’s What I Saw And How I Lied.  I am so looking forward to hearing their thoughts after break!

My students love knowing that their teachers are reading and enjoying some of the same books they love.  Reading is a social activity, and students don’t just want to talk to their peers about the books they read.  They love having conversations about the ending of Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) with myself and their biology teacher.  They love knowing that they can recommend a book they enjoyed to their Spanish teacher or the teacher in charge of their free period.  That’s why my freshman colleagues and I decided to completely integrate our summer reading this summer.  All of the choices on the list touch on our various subject specialties and we also noted our own favorites.  I want to build this reading community from the beginning, with common texts and student choice.  I also want to continue exposing my colleagues to the fantastic YA literature that is being published today.

What YA books do you find yourself recommending to adults?

Spring Break!

Finally. Finally. FINALLY!  Spring break is here!

The months between winter break and spring break were way too long this year.  Spring break at the end of April?  Sheesh.  This break is so desperately needed.  So excited to settle in for #bookaday, updating the blog, planning my week-long summer camp, and spending time with Dublin.  Hopefully, that means the blog will be updated a lot over the next few days.  But first- I am off to NYC and Broadway tomorrow!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I am a huge Megan McCafferty fan.  Like, ridiculous fangirl, over-the-top, absolutely love her.  Jessica Darling is in my Top 10 Favorite Fictional Characters.  I recommend Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel (the first in the series) to everyone I know.  So when I saw that Megan was writing a dystopian YA novel, I was pretty much in heaven.  One of my favorite authors writing in my favorite genre?  I was guaranteed to love it!  Then, when Megan offered me an ARC (thank you!), I jumped on it.  When the package arrived, I was almost afraid to read it- what if I was disappointed? What if I had built it up too much? Could it be as good as I imagined it would be?

I was silly to worry. Bumped is fantastic and novel read, unlike anything else I have read.  The publisher’s summary does a great job, so I will let it do its job:

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I was immediately intrigued after reading the back copy a few months ago.  For a long time, I have been fascinated by MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I feel like those two shows are a great way for parents and schools to begin talking to teens about safe sex and pregnancy.  I know that Megan was partly inspired by her own similar idea, so Bumped doesn’t shy away from some tough issues. Needless to say, I love that Megan takes on the hot-button issues, injects some sarcasm and humor, and still manages to make her reader think, and I mean really think, about the issues at hand.

Bumped is not for the faint of heart.  The reader needs to understand that the world in which Melody and Harmony exists glorifies teen pregnancy.  McCafferty doesn’t shy away from sexual language, but every word and scene choice is carefully made.  This is not a book that is meant to glorify and celebrate teen pregnancy.  Yes, that is the world it is about. But that’s not what the book is actually about, if you understand what I mean.  I think teens who read this will think about what these girls go through, and the choices they make.  There was a fantastic article in the NY Times this weekend which focused on the use of MTV’s Teen Mom in the classroom. While many adults are horrified by the popularity of the show, the article points out just how many teens are learning from the experiences of the girls on the show and the conversations that result from watching the show.  I think Bumped can and will do the same.

I’ve read a few reviews of Bumped and it seems they are mixed. But from what I see, many reviewers/readers don’t understand that McCafferty has her tongue planted firmly in cheek for the duration of the book.  This is a satire, and a very effective one at that.  Bumped is a critique.  It’s a critique of a juxtaposition- the focus on purity in religion coupled with secular society’s focus on sex and sexuality.  It satirizes the world we live in,pointing out the ridiculous path we are headed down. I loved it! I found myself putting the book down and thinking a lot as I read, and I was dying to talk to someone about it after reading.  It’s that type of book.

In the foreword, McCafferty refers to Bumped as her first “young adult” novel.  This is definitely a book that straddles the line between young adult and adult.  It’s certainly not a book for middle school students.  However, my more mature high school readers have rated it 5 stars on Goodreads.  They inherently understood that it was a satire and appreciated how much it made them think.  This may be a classic case of a book that is so perfect for YA readers that many adult gatekeepers think it is too much for them.  McCafferty does a fantastic job and I highly recommend Bumped, though I would be sure you read it yourself before putting it in your classroom library.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of the author

#NCTE11

Woohoo!  Today I received the email.  I admit, when NCTE tweeted that presentation invitations would be mailed this week, I was a little anxious.  I really want to present this November, as I was so disappointed when I couldn’t go to NCTE ’10.

Well, my anxiety has been relieved- I will be presenting at NCTE ’11 in Chicago this November!  Not only that, but I am presenting with an absolutely fabulous group: Paul W. Hankins, Donalyn Miller, Cindy Walthour Minnich, and Meenoo Rami.  Our presentation, POUND FOR #: TWITTER HASHTAGS FOSTER POWERFUL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND FUEL LITERACY INITIATIVES is going to be fantastic.

 

Looking forward to NCTE ’11 in Chicago.  Will you be there?

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