Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck--101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers

Author: Ron Clark
Pages: 317
Rating: G

I often say I am a schoolteacher with the heart of a parent. I’ve made it my mission to make a difference in the lives of all of our children. I have traveled throughout our country, visiting schools in all 50 states, seeking out remarkable teachers who inspire our children to greatness.

 Sadly, I have also witnessed classrooms that seemed sapped of all energy, filled with students struggling to stay awake and teachers in desperate need of inspiration. These “Molasses Classes” broke my heart.
I had to do something! I decided to leave my classroom in East Harlem, New York, and devote my time to this audacious dream: to create a revolution in our country, starting from the ground up. The heart of this change would be a school, unlike any in the world. It would be full of passion, creativity, energy, and an unparalleled freedom to do whatever it took to lead every child to success. The parents and teachers of this school would forge a true partnership with the intent of providing the best learning environment possible.

I am proud to say that dream—the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, is now a reality. We welcome educators from all over the world to visit and learn from our methods and techniques so that they may take them back to their schools. I am still teaching, every day, and I feel honored to have hosted more than 10,000 educators in my classroom. This book is filled with the magic, the successes, the heartbreaks, the mistakes, and the triumphs that are the Ron Clark Academy. These are the 101 most successful strategies we have used to help uplift our children and enliven our classrooms. My hope is that you will find ideas here that will help you ignite a passion for learning in your children—and together we can get the molasses out of all our children’s classes.

My Thoughts: This book was awesome. I honestly want to gift-wrap this book and give it to every teacher and administrator and parent in the world. Even though it's a book mostly about a school, there are some awesome ideas in there for parents as well. In fact, there's an entire section of the book full of tips that are specifically about "The Role of the Parent in the Success of the Child" and all the tips are about how you personally can help your child succeed. It also raises a lot of important points about how busted the education system in this country is, and I feel like it inspired me to push for changes in the schools around me, even if they are just small changes. When I have my own children I'm sending to school, I will keep in mind a lot of the ideas in this book, and try not to send them somewhere where their creativity and confidence will be squashed.

Some of my favorite tips from the book are:
-Teach children to believe in themselves and don't destroy the dream
-Not every child deserves a cookie
-Uplift other adults who play a role in the lives of our children
-See the potential in every child.
-Accept the fact that if kids like you all the time, then you're doing something wrong.

I actually have some hope in the fact that my middle school had a few things in place that the book suggests. My middle school had a mural on every wall. It was awesome. My band director had pictures pretty much wallpapering the back wall of the bandroom. Pictures from years past, trips, students, everything. It was every kid's hope to eventually have their picture on the wall. So...there are schools out there that are better than others. Just knowing what to look for helps. 

I recommend this book to EVERYONE who ever plans to have a child in their life at some point. It's really thought-provoking, even if you don't think all of the ideas will work for you, some of them definitely will.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What A Song Can Do: 12 Riffs on the Power of Music

Author: Various
Pages: 193
Rating: PG-13, but only because one story drops the F-bomb twice. But other than that, it's extremely clean. If you don't want the F-bomb, just skip the story entitled, "Riffs"

Summary: This compelling collection of stories explores the powerful impact that music has in our lives—especially in the lives of teens. Each story strikes a new note: Ron Koertge introduces us to the boys in the band—the marching band; Joseph Bruchac contributes a Native American boy with no rhythm whatsoever; Jennifer Armstrong writes about what was perhaps the first battle of the bands—during the American Civil War; and David Levithan offers up a love song that speaks powerfully to an unintended audience. But while each story is different, they combine into a harmonic song of praise—for the depths music can reach in us, and the power it has to bind us together.

My Thoughts: I'm not normally one for short stories, but I'm a sucker for anything musical, so I picked this one up. I actually really enjoyed each story in this book. They were all very well written and were touching in their own way. One reason I don't usually like short stories is because I want them all to be longer stories. I don't like how they end so quickly. I want them to be full books so I can really get to know the characters and read their ENTIRE story, not just a segment of it. But I liked each of the stories. Like I said in the rating, avoid the story called "Riffs" if you're not comfortable with the fact that it drops the F-bomb twice. I think my favorite story was probably the first one, "Variations on a Theme" which is basically a collection of one pages little bios from each instrument in a band. I loved that. I also liked "Tangled Notes in Watermelon" about a girl who has something called synesthesia, which causes her to see shapes and colors when she hears music. It's pretty interesting. The book wasn't life-changing or anything, but then, I'm not a short-story person, so give it a read anyway. It's nice and short, so you won't be wasting time, I can promise that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages: 543
Rating: PG

Summary: In 1959, Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist, takes his four young daughters, his wife, and his mission to the Belgian Congo -- a place, he is sure, where he can save needy souls. But the seeds they plant bloom in tragic ways within this complex culture. Set against one of the most dramatic political events of the twentieth century -- the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium and its devastating consequences -- here is New York Times-bestselling author Barbara Kingslover's beautiful, heartbreaking, and unforgettable epic that chronicles the disintegration of family and a nation.

My Thoughts: If you have not yet read this life-changing book, drop everything, go get it, and read it NOW. This is my second time reading this book, and I'm telling you, it completely changes the way you see the world, the United States in particular. Kingsolver is an amazing writer, and she just sweeps you right in to the lives of her characters. You change and grow right along with them. Just as the the Price family is utterly different at the end of the book from what they were at the beginning, you will be too. I'm serious when I say that this book can totally rearrange the way you think about just about everything. It's that good.

There's quite a commentary about how sometimes we think that the way we live and do things is the right way, and anyone doing it differently must be wrong. But really, it all depends on the circumstances and the lifestyle. In particular, "civilized" countries such as the US, made a habit of going around and trying to civilize all these other nations who were really doing just fine the way they were. And then when we didn't like the way they were running things, we changed it, because to us it didn't make sense or seem like it would work. We cannot judge someone else's actions based on only our own experiences.

This book is on my favorite book list. I absolutely love it. It takes forever to read cuz it's really long, but it's so worth it. It's so deep and thoughtful. The book also helped me to be grateful for all the blessings I have. We really don't have that much to complain about when you think about it. Here in the United States, we've got it pretty good. And, you can't just believe everything you hear about other places. The people there might tell you a different story.

As far as my rating, I gave it a PG because there's no real inappropriateness. It's a very clean book, it's just really intense and the subject matter is pretty mature. I don't think, say, a middle schooler would be able to process the book as well as an older teen or an adult could. It's just a book that seeps into you better when you've had more life experiences. For that reason, I feel like it's a book I can read over and over again at different stages in my life, and I will feel completely different about it. I'll never read it the same way twice. I can't wait to read it again in five or six years and see how it changes for me.

Go read it. NOW!!!! You won't regret it, I promise.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Series: The Wakefield Dynasty

This is only the first book. I couldn't find a picture of the entire series. Sorry.
STOP! DO NOT FREAK OUT THAT THIS IS A GIANT SERIES!!! See My Thoughts below before you rule out these books!

Author: Gilbert Morris

Books in Series: The Sword of Truth, The Winds of God, The Shield of Honor, The Fields of Glory, The Ramparts of Heaven, The Song of Princes, A Gathering of Eagles

Rating: PG I think. There is a bit of violence, and each book has an underlying love story, but since the books are religious-themed, there's nothing more than mushy words and some kissing.

Pages: Book 1 - 409
Book 2- 380
Book 3- 394
Book 4- 376
Book 5- 361
Book 6- 386
Book 7- 320

Two families--the Wakefields of nobility and the lower-class Morgans--are the focus of this sweeping generational saga, joined by intriguing personalities such as Elizabeth I, William Tyndale, and John Bunyan. Linking the people and events through the ages is the struggle of men and women who sought God as the answer to their difficulties.
#1: The Sword of Truth
Myles Morgan's discovery of his noble heritage introduces him to a fascinating new life in the English court and to the political conflict surrounding the translation of the Bible into English.
#2 The Winds of God
The sweeping saga of the noble Wakefields and the lower-class Morgans continues with this compelling account of the Spanish Armada during the reign of Elizabeth I.
#3 The Shield of Honor
This third book of the series depicts the English civil war, Charles I, and Cromwell as it continues the story of the Wakefield and Morgan families.
#4 The Fields of Glory
Evan, Amos, and Jenny form a triangle of romance and adventure that takes them to the limits of their faith. With the help of an outspoken minister named John Bunyan they are drawn closer to God.
#5 The Ramparts of Heaven
Follow the quest of Andrew Wakefield, a ministerial student at Oxford University, as he joins these shakers and movers in their attempts to advance the Methodist movement--and bring the realities of the gospel of Christ to a needy world.
#6 The Song of Princes
Twin brothers Paul and David Wakefield are born rivals and opposites in many things, yet only one can be master of Wakefield. Set in England during the reigns of George II and George III, The Song of Princes spans English history from the Methodist movement to the initial rumblings of the American Revolution. 

#7 A Gathering of Eagles 
Despite his conversion to Christ, Cathan must courageously prove his newfound faith to those he betrayed--Shayna and Sir Honor Wakefield. 

My Thoughts: Ok, first of all DO NOT get thrown off by the fact that this is such an enormous series. Since each book follows a new generation of the family, it's not completely necessary to read all the books or even to read them in order. Each book is its own story, and stands pretty much on its own. I don't remember reading all of these (I read them in high school) but I did read at least the first two and they were phenomenal. I think historical fiction is the best way to learn history. The first book is mainly concerned with the translation of the Bible into English. William Tyndale is of course a big character. I learned more about him and his involvement with translating the Bible from these books than I ever did from any history class.

As with most historical fiction, the Wakefield and Morgan families are entirely fictional, but nearly ever other character and event that transpires are historically accurate. The history is the main part of each book, but as the covers suggest, there's a love story subplot in each book. And it's a typical Christian romance. Lots of mushy gushy words and a little kissing and that's about it.

Anyway, this is an amazing historical fiction series that I HIGHLY recommend, even if you just choose a random book that you think looks most interesting to you. I only really remember the happenings of Book one, so start there, I can guarantee that one is worth your while.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tortall Series: The Immortals Quartet

Author: Tamora Pierce

Books in Quartet: Wild Magic, Wolf-Speaker, Emperor Mage, Realms of the Gods

Tortall Series: The Immortals quartet is the second quartet in a larger series of books called the Tortall Series. Each quartet is related in that they take place in the same land and the charcters often know each other or are inter-related, however, each quartet is about a different person. The first Quartet is Song of the Lioness, which I have reviewed also on this blog, then the Immortals. After that is Protector of the Small, about a girl named Kel, and then you have Trickster's Queen,  and Trickster's Choice.The Beka Cooper trilogy technically is set years and years before Song of the Lioness, but from what I've heard, it stands on its own without much need of reading the others, so you can go for those at whatever point. Just a bit of information in case you wanted to make sure you're reading them all in the right order.

Pages: Book 1 - 362
Book 2 -368
Book 3 -358
Book 4 - 338

Rating: .PG (There's some violence and war, but nothing terribly graphic. The love part only comes in the very last book, and all they do is kiss, so it's clean in that sense too.)

Summary: Book One -Thirteen-year-old Daine has always had a knack with animals, but it's not until she's forced to leave home that she realizes it's more than a knack -- it's magic. With this wild magic, not only can Daine speak to animals, but also she can make them obey her. Daine takes a job handling horses for the Queen's Riders, where she meets the master mage Numair and becomes his student.
Under Numair's guidance, Daine explores the scope of her magic. But she begins to sense other beings too: immortals. These bloodthirsty monsters have been imprisoned in the Divine Realms for the past four hundred years, but now someone has broken the barrier. It's up to Daine and her friends to defend their world from an immortal attack.

Book Two - When Daine is summoned by the wolf pack that saved her life a year earlier, she knows she has to go. She and Numair travel to Dunlath Valley to answer the call. But when they arrive, Daine realizes with a shock that it's not just the animals whose lives are threatened; people are in danger too. Dunlath's rulers have discovered black opals in their valley and are dead set on mining the magic these stones embody. Daine learns that Dunlath's lord and lady plan to use this power to overthrow King Jonathan -- even if it means irreversibly damaging the land and killing their workers.
On a mission to save both her animal friends and her human ones, Daine has to master her wild magic in order to fight for the kingdom and triumph over the would-be usurpers.

Book Three - Sent to Carthak as part of the Tortallan peace delegation, Daine finds herself in the middle of a sticky political situation. She doesn't like the Carthaki practice of keeping slaves, but it's not her place to say anything -- she's just there to heal the emperor's birds. It's extremely frustrating! What's more, her power has grown in a mysterious way.
As the peace talks stall, Daine puzzles over Carthak's two-faced Emperor Ozorne. How can he be so caring with his birds and so cruel to his people? Daine is sure he's planning something. Daine must fight the powerful Emperor Mage, knowing that the safety and peace of the realm depend on stopping Ozorne's power-hungry schemes.

Book Four - During a dire battle against the fearsome Skinners, Daine and her mage teacher Numair are swept into the Divine Realms. Though happy to be alive, they are not where they want to be. They are desperately needed back home, where their old enemy, Ozorne, and his army of strange creatures are waging war against Tortall.
Trapped in the mystical realms Daine discovers her mysterious parentage. And as these secrets of her past are revealed so is the treacherous way back to Tortall. So they embark on an extraordinary journey home, where the fate of all Tortall rests with Daine and her wild magic.

My Thoughts: I like the Alanna books and the Protector of the Small books better than the Immortals, but that didn't stop me from being engrossed in these. It was again hard to stop reading them, because they move at a very fast pace. Daine's magic is different from most people's. Some people in the fictional land have magic called the Gift, but it is easier to control, and most people with the gift can do simple things like light fires with it. Daine's magic is specific to animals. She can heal, but only animals, not people, and she can speak to animals and control them basically. Outside of the animal realm, Daine's powers do basically nothing. Her wild magic is so strong, that at one point, she got so absorbed in connecting with a pack of wolves that she forgot she was human for a time.

By the end of the first book, Daine has figured out how to talk to the animals around her and call to them with just her mind, from great distances. She is no longer in danger of forgetting she is human. In the second book, Daine learns how to basically inhabit other animals for brief amounts of time. She goes into meditation and for a set time, she can see, taste, and feel everything that animal does. By the end of the book, she is learning how to shapeshift and actually become other animals for a while, although this is quite difficult. Each book has a different disaster that Daine helps divert because of her ability to talk and work through her animal friends. She also can talk to Immortals, and there are some good ones. Griffins, dragons, basilisks, and others are all friendly and kind Immortals. But there are plenty of bad ones too. Every disaster that almost befalls Tortall is part of a giant scheme by Ozorne, and that doesn't reach a climax until the last book.

The last book is by far the most violent and magical and crazy. New creatures are surfacing all the time, and things are really developing. I started to get overwhelmed with all the magical stuff and the crazy stories with their gods and whatnot. The gods have a huge role to play in the last book, and it gets a little far-fetched. Overall, the Immortals series is not my favorite of the Tortall books, but they are still good.