Thursday, February 27, 2020

Opposite of Always by Justin A Reynolds

This is a book I found on a "Best of 2019 YA Literature" list.  I really enjoyed it.

It has a sort of Groundhog Day premise, with our hero reliving the same four months or so, over and over.  It's not repetitive in an annoying way, and it takes full advantage of the premise to investigate how things could go differently if you had a chance to try again.  Very good execution of an always-intriguing set-up.

The characters are interesting and sympathetic, the conversation witty.  The romantic interest isn't the only relationship important to the story.  

I did feel that the ending was a bit abrupt, but it was a great book. 

I will certainly read more by Justin A Reynolds.

My star rating:  4.5

Find it on Amazon: Opposite of Always

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When the Desert Begins to Bloom

On my Presidents' Day hike in the Arizona desert, I didn't really expect wildflowers yet.  But I found some!

In my experience, it's usually best close to the end of February and into March, but it's different every year, and depends where you go.

These pictures were taken at Cave Creek Regional Park on the edge of Phoenix on 2/17/2020.

And a not-flower:  

Gambel's quail, my absolute favorite quail.  


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, Alaska

If you're on an Alaska cruise and your captain or cruise director is kind enough to tell you when you'll be sailing through Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, get out on deck beforehand and stay out the whole time.  You may see nothing but beautiful scenery.  Or...if the weather is decent and luck is with you, you may see lots of whales!  It's a common feeding ground for them, so it's not unusual to see some, but this last August we saw more than I'd ever seen before in one place.

Most weren't super close, but there were so many.  They don't live in pods, but they do sometimes travel together while feeding, and we saw three of these big groups of 8, 10, 12 individuals.  Incredible.  Plus various others alone or in pairs.  We saw spouts, humps, tails.  We saw breaches!  And for the first time, I saw fin slapping.  The breaches and fin-slapping were far away, small even in my binoculars, but it was fantastic.

Some pics:

A nice fluke

Blow this up and try to count how many you see.

A humpback's humped back


For tips on having your own budget adventures in Alaska, read my travel guides:


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Find alternatives to classics to help student love reading

You know what kills the love of reading faster than anything else?  Making students read literature they're not ready for and then repeating that over and over, feeding teens a steady stream of classics many of them may find long, boring, and unrelatable (and which were mostly written by white males—though that's probably gotten better since I was in high school). 

Many modern novels have beautiful language, metaphor, personification, foreshadowing, symbolism, themes, good plot structure and characterization, and all those other things we studied in junior high and high school.  They also show different perspectives and help you relate to people very different from you (super important for understanding the world and becoming a good person).  And…they're interesting.  I really think we should teach more of these modern novels in the classroom.

I was a kid who loved to read.  I was also quite academic, with good reading comprehension and a big vocabulary.  Yet I wasn't ready for a lot of the books we had to read in junior high and high school.  It's not that I couldn't read them or understand them, but I didn't really appreciate them, didn't FULLY understand them...and often didn't like them.  Many were a slog.  I believe it totally turned some students off from reading.  And that's really, really sad.

One of the things I try to teach the parents of small children in my storytimes at the library is that you need to make reading fun.  You want kids to WANT to read.  I think that's the most efficient way to turn them into good readers.  As kids get older, it's also the most efficient way to turn them into continuing readers and voluntary readers…which in turn contributes to success in many areas of life. 

So, if you're a parent or educator, consider this when planning your approach to your kids.

If you teach them to love reading, they'll discover the classics in their own time, and the rewards will be much sweeter.  

Some examples from my own education:

Hemingway in 7th grade:  yawn. 
Hemingway in college:  fascinating! 

Heart of Darkness in high school:  yeah, yeah, he went native. 
Heart of Darkness in college:  possibly the most brilliant book ever written. 

The Great Gatsby in high school:  let's sit around drinking mint juleps and feeling sorry for ourselves.  
The Great Gatsby in my 30s:  okay, yeah, I see why some people think it's great. 

Steinbeck in junior high and high school:  yawn (with a  few good heart-rending parts). 
Steinbeck in my 30s:  amazing. 

Orwell in high school:  interesting, but not as good as it's cracked up to be. 
Orwell in my 30s:  just as good as it's cracked up to be.

Shakespeare...ok, let's be real.  Shakespeare hasn't gotten much better.