Happy Ramadan

For the next month, a few new students will be joining our usual "I'm avoiding lunch in the H.S. Cafeteria" crowd: Muslim students who are fasting for Ramadan find a food-smell and food-fight-free haven in the Library over their lunch hours. And, hopefully, a quieter, more contemplative setting... although I can't always guarantee that.

In honor of Ramadan, I'm thinking of books I've read recently by or about Muslims. I finished Deborah Rodriguez's non-fiction Kabul Beauty School. I enjoyed the peek at womens' social lives in Afghanistan. And how timely the topic is again, with recent news about the Afghani election, the Taliban's interference with it, women's difficulty getting to the polls, and controversy over the United States' role in that country!

Speaking of Afghanistan and controversy: if you enjoy it, you must read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. It's a fictionalized (and one-sided) conversation with a young Afghani man who was educated at Princeton, found a lucrative job and beautiful girlfriend in the United States, and gave it all up over the way he was treated after 9/11. He returned to his home country, where he became even more radicalized. Even in Lahore, he couldn't escape involvement with Americans who distrusted him. A peek at men's social and political lives, and how history can affect them both.


Catching Fire at the Hunger Games

I finished the advance copy of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and it is definitely another winner. Students ask me every day "When will it be released, and how soon can I check it out?"

Catching Fire picks up after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have returned to their village, but not to their homes. They each have a spacious house in the Victor's Village now, near Haymitch. The three of them haven't been seeing much of each other. Gale Hawthorne is working in the Section 12 mines now, so Katniss can only meet him in the woods on Sundays, to hunt more than talk.

It's time for the mid-year Victory Tour, to parade last year's winners through all the Districts, and get everyone anticipating this year's Hunger Games. But, something has changed. Once again, Katniss and Peeta must pretend to be star-crossed lovers, while they notice strange happenings in other Districts, and worry what is happening to their families back home.

Naturally, Collins keeps the action speeding up, the dangers for Katniss and her loved ones increasing, and you won't believe the surprises she saves for the newest Hunger Games. Can Katniss manage competing threats, stay true to her ideals, and still protect her family and Gale?

It's such a teaser to have to wait for the third book now. We'll plan a big party for the eventual movie release.


Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live

My daughter recommended this little book, by Akiko Busch, and what a joy it's been to read!
Like Tracy Kidder in House, Akiko wrote of how simple architectural details develop a history within each of us. I'm only half-way through, but her chapters on the Front Door, the Kitchen, and the Home Office all set me off on long daydreams of homes and rooms I grew up with.
In the chapter Dining Room, she discussed our (still current a decade later) obsession with specialty cuisines, dishware, etc.: "Ritual, like religion, it seems, doesn't necessarily have to have a connection with cultural heritage; it's just another personal choice."
The author's dry recitation of facts about the Laundry reminded me of tawdry romance novels. Just the facts, but aren't they fun?
I can't wait to finish the second half.


Check out the meteor shower

It's time to find a dark, dark place, right now (and again tonight after 11:00 p.m.)!

Here's how to view the Perseids in the northeastern sky.

A wonderful story about unusual signs in the sky is Alphabet of Dreams, by Susan Fletcher. Orphans Mitra and Babak have been living a primitive existence, hiding from their parents' killers in the Middle East of two millenia ago. Their safe obscurity comes to a dramatic end when people discover that Babak dreams of the future, and his skill catches the attention of a travelling magus. Competing magi, mysterious spies, and threatening soldiers all work to prevent the children from finding their long-lost relatives - or any place to call home - until they stop with the magi in a small village called Bethlehem.


Looking for Student Essays

The International Society for Technology in Education's online magazine, Learning & Leading with Technology, is looking for 500-word essays by teens on student use of Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks:

  • How important is Facebook/MySpace/texting to you?

  • Are your friends on Facebook/MySpace the same as friends you see in person?

  • Are you different to your friends when you text them vs. when you're talking in person?

  • How does the time you spend texting, or on Facebook or MySpace, affect your development as a person?

ISTE: "Providing leadership and service to improve teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology in education."



Liz B. of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy has started an interesting discussion related to her SLJ article about writing fan fiction, When Harry met Bella: Fanfiction is all the rage. But is it plagiarism? Or the perfect thing to encourage young writers?

Isn't this the ideal way to get students involved in reading, and thinking about WHAT they're reading? I have read some Harry Potter fanfic online (examples: 1, 2), and the creativity is astounding. There are ongoing comics, adults-only versions, and all kinds of extensions of existing or imagined storylines. The writers/illustrators have read and re-read all the books, and incorporate their own ideas and interpretations and imaginings. True reading should always be so interactive.

Perhaps the Harry Potter and Twilight books should have been on our students' summer reading lists...


All about Kindles

Nicholson Baker's New Yorker article on the pros and cons of Kindle 2 vs. print books could serve as a history of e-book devices. He even details how they work, why they are or aren't environmentally friendly, their marketing history, and more.


The Angst of Summer Reading

Yes, we beat our students over the head with summer reading assignments, and they respond by reading the book their first week back at school (maybe - no one knows that better than the school librarian). Lisa Von Drasek asks why they hate summer reading assignments, and what we REALLY want them to do: Summer Reading? Good! Assigned Reading? Bad.
Back on July 2nd, Roger Sutton (Horn Book's editor-in-chief, and Simmons) questioned his Twitter followers: "topic for my class today: why does required reading feel more difficult?" "maybe it only feels that way for people who like to read, thus pleasure turned into obligation?" "or maybe because there are strings attached." Roger was reacting to Nicholas Kristof 's New York Times column on recommended children's books: Little Lord Fauntleroy? Really?
I used to work in a public library summer reading booth. Some of my biggest readers were second-grade boys who read every one of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books they could find, then went on to read his other series titles. They wouldn't put the books down, and couldn't wait to tell me about the next one! Now I see so many teen boys who say proudly "I don't read." Where did we lose them?
If my high school students could recapture that fun feeling about summer reading, I would be thrilled. That's why, whether they finish the "assigned" reading or not, I'm happy to hear a teen tell me they read something they liked over the summer. Even if it was another Captain Underpants.