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29.7.13

Wildwood

Wildwood
by Colin Meloy
illustrated by Carson Ellis
narration by Amanda Plumber

The listening project has picked up speed.  I finished the book I mentioned last week. Surprise, it was Wildwood by Colin Meloy. In addition, I have completed another story and have moved on to book number 4.  I am starting a listening journal, much like my reading journal, to keep up with the books I have completed.  Keeping notes in one place about the books I am reading and hearing helps me to lead discussions in my book club meetings.  When you read as many books as I do, many of them too quickly, you tend to lose track of some of the best details.  I encourage my kids to keep journals, too.  You might want to try it yourself.  If nothing else, it might prevent you from picking up a used book, with enthusiasm, only to open it once you get home and see your own name written in the front.  Honestly, this has happened to me!

The story of Wildwood was original and intricate.  Every time I thought I had learned all of the rules of the place, a new twist was added.  Pru and Curtis, two of the many heroic characters in this novel, were flawed and lovable.  As a person who reads a lot of children's stories, I was delighted that these two 12 year olds had the courage to solicit help from others in the novel, with honesty.  I guess they had enough troubles on their plates without compounding the problems by distrusting the adults and capable animals around them.

When we meet Pru, we quickly learn that she is a bright and capable 12 year old. Tragically, while responsible for her infant brother, Mac, he is kidnapped from a Portland, OR, park by a murder of crows. That's right a flock of crows is called a murder (and this is not the only wonderful new word your reader will learn in the course of reading this novel). After untangling this reality, Pru speeds away from the park trying to keep up with the birds.  Finally acknowledging that the pursuit is hopeless, Pru watches the crows take her brother into the Impassible Forest.

Helpless, Pru makes her way home and finds that she is being followed by one of her classmates, Curtis. Though the two were once friends, as they've grown older, they have grown apart.  Afraid and angry, Pru dismisses Curtis out of hand and continues to try to contemplate a plan that will help her rescue her brother.

She will construct a plan.  She will carry it out.  And, Curtis will be her unlikely helpmate.  This is all I am going to say about it for now, except to add that while I loved the story and have even given a copy of the book to one of my closest friends who teaches 4th grade for a read-a-loud, I found the narration average.   I like the sound of Amanda Plumber's voice, but I would have liked it if she read a little faster.  The other downside of listening to this novel is that you will miss the fantastic illustrations by Carson Ellis.  You may remember her from Mysterious Benedict Society fame.

22.7.13

Second Hand Books

Second Hand Books
a few thoughts...

The book I have chosen to listen to this week is rather long, and though I have listened during every spare moment, I have yet to come to the end.  Next week, I will be able to comment on it. So far, it is a wonderful story, so check in next week for a full review.

In the mean time, I thought I would say a word or two about used books.  Honestly, what could be better?  This past weekend my family and I went to CALS, our library's used book sale, and we found a few gems.  My husband headed straight to the "literature" section, having a renewed interest in reading the classics.  He found a few to bring home:  A Separate Peace, Babbit, Scarlet Letter, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Return of the Native, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Pearl.  My son went in search of hardback books by Michael Shaara and Brian Jacques. I headed straight to the old books.

In the shelves, I found three gems.  I collect early readers, and I found two in beautiful condition.  I also found a 1941 book of snakes for my son, the want-to-be herpetologist.  All of the drawings in the books are wonderful, none of the books smell of mold, and the book of snakes has 87 color plates in the back.

I had to go looking for my son once I was ready to leave. I found him sitting on the floor with his nose in an old book about planes. He has long been interested in bio-mimicry.  Maybe with these two books in his arsenal he will create a mechanical flying snake.  Anything is possible.

All kinds of organizations host used book sales.  Schools and libraries are typical benefactors.  In my area, you can also always visit Goodwill and Savers to scan used books.  Finally, you can check for local flea markets, used book stores and the internet.

When we got home from buying our box full of books, I took the opportunity to go through my own shelves and cull out unneeded titles.  I was able to refill the box I brought home and make a donation to my library.  In six months, my donated books will find themselves on the "for sale" shelves at the CALS used book sale.  What a wonderful cycle!

15.7.13

The Peculiar 
by Stefan Bachmann
narrated by Peter Altschuler

So, the experiment is coming along nicely.  I have listened to an entire book and clocked a few miles on the road and treadmill in the process. After listening to this novel, I am convinced that we have learning styles and that auditory learning is a weak area for me. Listening took some practice.  I found that it was entirely too easy for my mind to wander and to lose track of the story.  At first, this frustrated me because I did not know how to use my Nano.  I thought I had to go back to the beginning of the chapter in order to retrace my steps.  As I was complaining of this to my son, he taught me something new.  There are two small dots on the bottom of the first screen I see when listening to a book.  It means there is another page.  On the second page, I can choose to loop the story, change the speed of narration (1x, 2x, 1/2x) and drag a little dot just a bit to the left and rewind.  I have to say that bit of knowledge has smoothed the way for me to continue this listening exercise.

The book was terrific and it was written by 19 year old Stefan Bachmann!  Now I am not saying it will replace The Outsiders, by then 16 year old S.E. Hinton, as the best novel written by a young phenom, but it is well worth your time if you like fantasy or steampunk.   I must tell you that the narration added to the thrill of the plot.  Peter Altschuler masterly created characters through distinguishable accents and voice changes. And, the pace at which he read the novel supported the plot brilliantly.

This mysterious novel, which begins with a description of the Fay and Human Wars,  presents the reader, or listener in this case, with the tale of conflict.  The fay have long been subordinate to the humans since losing the wars.  Magic has been subdued by all of the metal used by this Victorian age England.  One politically powerful fairy, Lord Lickerish, is poised to reclaim the world for the fairies.  In order to reach his goal, he has to find just the right changling or peculiar, a child who is only part fairy.  When we come to the story, his plans have already killed 9 changlings.  But, what Mr. Lickerish does not know is that his plans have been discovered by two unlikely and reluctant heroes, Bartholomew and Mr. Jelliby.  Will they meet?  Will they help each other foil Lord Lickerish's plans?  I have to say it is worth reading or listening to find out.

Suggested Reading Level:  Grade 5-8

8.7.13

A New Experiment

I am finally back from vacation.  It was great to be away, but I am having trouble finding my bearings.  Do you know what I mean? Anyway, upon my return, I have come to realize that I need to start maximizing the way I use my time, or I am never going to get everything done around here.  I have a job, analyzing data for a school, my family, and this fall I am going to learn to do research like the pros.  With all this in mind, I have constructed a new reading plan for myself.  I am going to listen, so I can multi-task.

I am forever espousing the virtues of reading aloud and now I am going to let someone read aloud to me.  I will listen while I do a few other things, like exercise, clean house and run errands.  I have long been an NPR listener, but for now that is going to be put on the shelf, so to speak, to make room for children and young adult stories.

Here is the plan.  I am going to listen to books I can download from my local library, yeah CALS.  Once I have found a winner I will let you know about it.  I am going to judge the book by how easy it was to listen and the quality of narrations.  Be assured that I will only recommend stories that I think are worth knowing about, as always.  Who has time to read about a book you shouldn't bother listening to or reading?  If I get the hang of listening, I may even listen to my book club selections this year.  We don't start up again until September, so I have some time to figure this all out.

If you have any advice on how to stay focused on the story without the words right in front of you, please pass them along! I must admit, I regularly stop and reread, so staying focused is going to be my biggest challenge. Next week, I will have heard a few new stories and will be able to give you at least one suggestion.  Happy listening to me!