Monday, December 12, 2011

Mini book ornament how-to

Author Cheryl Rainfeld posted on her blog how she made book ornaments for her own books. This gave me the idea to make mini books of some of my favorite books to use as ornaments. My goal is to eventually have most of the ornaments on my tree be literature related.
After looking at several how-to blogs for making the mini books I decided to try my own way.
1. Scan the dust cover of your favorite book. I laid it out flat so that the front, spine & back are scanned at one time. If you have a paperback, you can open it & scan the whole cover that way.
Because the dust covers are sometimes longer than the scanner, some of the edges will be cut off.

2. Open the scanned images using a photo editing software (I use Photoshop Elements). Print on white cardstock at 2in x 4in.

3. Cut out the covers & fold into book form so that you can see the spine. Lay out flat & paint on a thin layer of ModPodge. This will help seal in the color & make them shine more.

4. For the inside pages I used a beat up extra copy of Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire. (It almost killed me having to tear up a book, btw) Cut the edges off the sides using a paper cutter then fold the page in half twice. Cut these strips & fold them into thirds & cut. One page is enough for a mini book.

5. Once the modpodge is dry, squirt a layer of hot glue into the spine. Make sure all the pages are turned the same way and stick them in the book. Tap them in place to make sure all of the pages get in there.

6. Trim off any excess. Punch a small hole in the back. Tie a string through the hole & you have an ornament.

OF COURSE I had to make an entire Harry Potter collection.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In which I rave about Barry Lyga's books & give one away

I first picked up a copy of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga at a used book store because of the title (yes, I do sometimes judge a book by it's cover & title). It is told from Fanboy's point of view. Fanboy is a nickname given to him by Kyra, a Goth girl that befriends him at school after seeing a bully hit him in gym class. Fanboy tries to lay low in school. He's a smart, comic book nerd and that is a recipe for torment in most high schools. He is working on his own graphic novel & plans to show it to a big name comic book writer at the convention he is planning to attend.While Kyra encourages Fanboy on ways to improve his comic, she has her own issues. I loved this book when I read it and even more so listening to the audiobook. I was cackling out loud in the car when Fanboy sees a part of a certain female's body. Just the way that whole scene was written makes me laugh now thinking of it.
One of my favorite scenes (and probably the most heartbreaking to me) is when Fanboy is mentally beating himself up in the bathroom at the convention. I won't give anything thing away but I could relate to him.

I loved flawed Kyra and was quite excited when I found out that she got her own book. Goth Girl Rising is the follow up to The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. It is told from Kyra's point of view & begins after she spends six months in a psychiatric hospital. She comes back to school expecting everything to be like it was only to find that Fanboy isn't quite the same nerdy guy she new. I know people like Kyra. People who jump to conclusions and think everyone is out to get them. You know Kyra is hurting but at the same time you just want to shake some sense into her.

Barry Lyga has created some wonderfully flawed characters here. Another of his books, Boy Toy, is one of my favorites. That story centers on a high school kid dealing with the aftermath of an affair with a teacher.

Barry also likes Book Bloggers & often gives books & things to bloggers to give away on our blogs. I have a *signed* copy of Goth Girl Rising that I am giving away RIGHT HERE! (For the record- it pains me to give this away! I love this book & I don't currently posses a signed copy of my own.) And since I love these books so much I am throwing in one of my copies (unsigned) of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl because you need to read it first.

Here's how you enter:
1. Leave a comment here telling me something you enjoy or enjoyed from high school (me- I was a band nerd. I loved going to competitions on Saturdays)
2. I will give you an extra entry if you post about this contest(facebook, twitter, your own blog, etc) Just let me know where you posted.

I will use an online Randomizer to choose the winner.
Good Luck & Happy Reading!

Contest ends on November 5.

Thanks to all who entered :) Be watching for more contests soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Name of the Star- Maureen Johnson

I always stay up way too late reading. Last night I finished Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star around 1:30. It is set in modern day London. Rory is an American girl attending a boarding school & copy cat Jack the Ripper murders start occurring. Also, Rory starts seeing ghosts & she gets mixed up with a secret government police force.

I love Maureen Johnson. I love her books, her tweets (seriously, follow her. She's is the funniest thing on Twitter), & her cat pictures. One of my all time favorite books is Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by her & I've really liked everything else I've read that she's written. I knew this one would not disappoint. I was 50 pages from finishing and put off reading for a day because 1. I didn't this story to end and 2. it was INTENSE! I loved loved LOVED the ending & how it sets up perfectly for more.
This one gets my stamp of approval :)

(in a week or so I will be hosting a contest to win a signed copy of Barry Lyga's Goth Girl Rising. Be on the lookout!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter & the Epic Conclusion


I went to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt2 last night with several friends. It was amazing.
It picks up right where the last left off (so you really have to watch pt1). From the first moment to the last it was quite a ride- suspenseful, scary, touching, funny, sweet...

It wasn't the sob-fest I had thought it would be. I got a little misty-eyed a few times, though. I am ready to see it again! & I really would like to see it in regular-D instead of 3-D. I went back & forth with the 2D glasses at first but the 3D ones worked better here. I think something was wrong with the projection or something bc part of the screen stayed fuzzy.

Here are some of my highlights from my first viewing (in no particular order):
*Daniel Radcliffe absolutely killed as Harry Potter. He has improved so much over the years & I think he was channeling the boy wizard straight from the pages of the novel. When he stepped out from the crowd during Snape's assembly I cheered (which I did quite a few times throughout)

*I simply adored every moment Professor McGonagall was onscreen- from her duel with Snape to her awakening the suits of armor (and that coy little way she delivered that line! "I've always wanted to use that spell") to her absolutely heartbreaking expression when she thought Harry was dead.

*Molly Weasley got her moment! "Not my daughter you bitch!" Way to kick ass, Molly! more cheering for you!

*Neville! Not only has he become a hottie, but he ain't taking no crap! Loved loved loved where he said something to the effect of "Where's Luna? I got the hots & I want to tell her since we'll probably both be dead by morning." AH! & their sweet moment at the end.

*Oh Luna- "you listen to me, Harry Potter!" You tell him, girl!

*Every single scene with Harry & Ginny. (& her agonizing cry when she sees Harry dead)

*Helena Bonham Carter as Hermione-as-Bellatrix.

*Snape's last moments- Alan Rickman is amazing & I have a crush on him.

*Ron & Hermione kiss! & the audience cheers!

*The Forest Again- My favorite chapter in the entire series (really, in any book I've ever read) is chapter 34 of the Deathly Hallows, when Harry makes his final walk to meet Voldemort. "Does it hurt when you die?" <-- that line got me in the book AND the movie. That whole scene is heart-wrenching.

*King's Cross scene was well done also, but EWWW Horcrux Voldy was gross.

*I am SO GLAD they refilmed the Epilogue. They looked so much better than the early pictures....and looked closer to the correct age!

My not-so-hi-lights:
*My only complaint, really, is that Harry did not use the Elder wand to repair his own. Um, that's kind of important.

There were a few other things that I either wished they had done differently or wish they had included. I'll try to add more to this as I think about it (with my fuzzy, sleep deprived brain).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My letter in response to the "Don't say gay" bill

As you may have heard, a senator in my state of Tennessee is trying to get a bill passed through the senate (and it's already passed a committee) essentially saying that discussions, books, or any other material that mentions anything other than heterosexuality are not welcome in elementary or middle schools.

My very first thoughts went to the kids who have committed suicide because they were bullied. In some cases those kids were just perceived to be gay.

I have heard of letters that authors like Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Maureen Johnson & countless others have received from kids thanking them for their books because they gave the kids a voice & showed them that they were not alone.

How can anyone who cares for the well being of kids think this is a good idea? I see my first job as a protector of these kids-whether they are in my classroom or not. That's why I wrote a letter to my senator and representative (because the House has a similar bill that hasn't moved yet-HB0229).

If you live in TN, please contact your senator and them him/her to STOP this bill.
Here is my letter:

As a middle school teacher in a TN public school I am deeply concerned about this so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill (SB0049). It is my understanding that as an educator I wouldn't be allowed to acknowledge the fact that students are gay. Please don't forget the recent headlines where kids- some of them in middle school- committed suicide because they were gay or just perceived to be gay. Don't tie our hands where we cannot
address these situations. Don't silence these kids who are struggling with who they are by banning novels that deal with similar situations.
Ask any young adult author who writes on these subjects just how powerful & lifesaving their novels are & ask them how many kids write to them to tell them that.

Be bold enough to say no to this intolerance. Say no to this dangerous bill.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Severe Weather Testing Procedures

We had our TCAP meeting today since our tests are next week. You know the drill-

make sure everything is covered up (bc my Harry Potter poster might give someone an answer)

they aren't allowed to have a book in case they finish early (bc the book might give them an answer)

walk around & make sure they are putting the answers in the correct section but DO NOT look at the test! (bc we'd hate for the teachers to know what the kids are tested on)

lock your door when it's break time (bc a troll might break in and eat the tests?)

etc, etc, etc,

But this last part really takes the cake. Because this is Severe Weather Time, they decided to give us procedures on what to do if weather hits during the test. This is getting ridiculous..........


1. Should a severe weather situation occur during testing, please remain calm. To display any kind of anxiety would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.

2. Please do not look out the window to watch for approaching tornadoes. You must monitor the students at all times. To do otherwise would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.

3. Should students notice an approaching tornado and begin to cry, please make every effort to protect their testing materials from the flow of tears and sinus drainage.

4. Should a flying object come through your window during testing, please make every effort to ensure that it does not land on a testing booklet or an answer sheet. Please make sure to soften the landing of the flying object so that it will not disturb the students while testing.

5. Should shards of glass from a broken window come flying into the room, have the students use their bodies to shield their testing materials so that they will not be damaged. Have plenty of gauze on hand to ensure that no one accidentally bleeds on the answer documents. Damaged answer sheets will not scan properly.

6. Should gale force winds ensue, please have everyone stuff their test booklets and answer sheets into their shirts…being very careful not to bend them because bent answer documents will not scan properly.

7. If any student gets sucked into the vortex of the funnel cloud, please make sure they mark at least one answer before departing…and of course make sure they leave their answer sheets and test booklets behind. You will have to account for those.

8. Should a funnel cloud pick you, the test administrator, up and take you flying over the rainbow, you will still be required to account for all of your testing materials when you land so please take extra precautions. Remember, once you have checked them out, they should never leave your hands.

9. When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests…unless of course they have been through standardized test training.

(BTW, my principal has a great sense of humor. Honestly, I was buying it for the first 3 because it's about this bad. I needed this laugh today) :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Red Glove by Holly Black

Oh that Holly Black is a tricky one. I almost think she is an emotion worker but has a way of working through her words. At the end of White Cat it was like she stuck a knife right into my heart and twisted it just a little, and, just when you think the worst is over and things might actually be looking up for Cassel in Red Glove, she punches you right in the gut.

I have never been one to watch mob-related movies. I have never seen the Godfather movies or Goodfellas (though I use to watch the cartoon Goodfeathers, if that counts for anything). So I wasn't sure how I would like the Curse Worker series. I knew I loved Holly's storytelling and White Cat probably had a CAT in it, so I figured this would be good. And let me tell ya- I LOVED IT. It was probably my favorite book that I read in 2010. I try to get everyone I can to read it. I was able to get my grubby hands on an advanced copy of Red Glove thanks to the kind publisher who loves teachers who ask nicely. I got this book Monday and while I whined about having yet another snow day that closed schools today (because I have A LOT left to cover before those tests, but I digress) I stayed bundled up in my house and finished it.

(Slight Spoilery)
In White Cat Cassel Sharpe comes from a family of curse workers and feels left out that he isn't one, only to discover that he was being worked himself and is one of the most dangerous ones. Red Cat picks up a few months later. Cassel is dealing with a work his mother had done that left him wondering if Lila's intentions are true, his brother Phillip is murdered and the Feds want him to help find the killer, he is being recruited by some of the top mob families, all the while trying to find a way to pass physics. He doesn't know who, if anyone, he can trust.

There are so many twists and turns and discoveries. I was so drawn into this story. On the one hand I wanted to slap Cassel around for continuing to put up with his family's deceit and betrayal, but on the other, I can see how deeply rooted he was and how much he felt he had no choice. It breaks my heart that he felt so bad and not worthy of something good. I had Jesse Eisenberg's voice in my head which helped. He did an amazing job reading White Cat and he has a way of making Cassel sound just vulnerable enough. Hopefully they will get him to read Red Glove.

If you have not read White Cat, don't hesitate! Red Glove comes out in April of this year. This series is awesome. There are so many books coming out this year that I am looking forward to. If the rest are anywhere near as good as this one, I am in for a great year of reading.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What's this about education reform? A teacher's perspective

Ah yes, EDUCATION REFORM. Every politician promises to "fix" public education. Public schools and teachers are the current punching bags.

In case you haven't heard, Tennessee raised their standards last year. Without knowing that, one look at the schools' report cards across the state one would think that we have a bunch of failing schools where kids just show up and teachers play tiddlywinks all day. But you have to know more. When I say they raised the standards, it wasn't just a little. TN made huge jumps in the curriculum, and last year, the first year of the implement, we were told we had to teach the old standards and the new standards. For example, I am now teaching slope-intercept form in 7th grade. Do any of you remember when you learned this? Probably high school algebra.
And some of my students can't tell me what the opposite of multiplication is. It's not because our schools or teachers are failing. I think it's because we are cramming more on more on our kids earlier and earlier.

Look, I am all for accountability. I am a great teacher. But tell me if there is something I can do to improve my teaching and I will try it. This new evaluation model that we are having to go through is enough to make me question my career choice at times. We had to fill out a 40 page (yes, FORTY page) Self Evaluation, ranking ourselves on a scale of 1-4. Our principal was told, and relayed the message to us, that "There should not be many 4s." Really? So this person comes in believing TN doesn't have many exemplary teachers. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

And testing. Dear, sweet TCAP test. Now the government has decided that they are going to use the scores from a test that is given once, before the school year is even over, and taken by creatures of free will, and count those toward my evaluation. Please keep in mind that these scores have no bearing on whether the kids will move on to the next grade. This is not the fault of the school. How could they have any bearing when we don't get the scores back until summer? Now this is different in the high school where some of the subjects give an End of Course test and the score counts as part of the final grade. But in the elementary & middle schools the students have this idea that the "TCAP doesn't matter" so they don't have to try. I can be the biggest cheerleader, motivator, etc., but if a kid doesn't want to try, or is mad at someone, or has had a bad morning and just doesn't want to try, they won't. And there isn't anything we can do.

But this counts against my evaluation.

Also, keep in mind that our Value-Added scores change. Let me explain. Let's say in 2007 my value-added score for math was 3.5. (Yeah, I don't really know what that number means either, I just know if it's in the green, it's good. Go with it). So the next year I get my value added scores-which shows three years' worth-and my 2007 scores have changed to 2.8. How is this possible? I didn't have those kids. How was I able to take knowledge away? I've not been able to get a straight answer about this yet and I've been doing this for 15 years.

And tenure- I am tired of tenure being knocked with the old "We don't give doctors and lawyers tenure" Do you know what tenure is? It's DUE PROCESS. It says that the school system cannot dismiss a teacher without cause. My first year of teaching was not in my hometown. I was hired a few days before school started & was an outsider. At the end of a school year all non-tenured teachers are up for re-hire. The school board at this school postponed until the last possible day making their decision. And they decided not to rehire any of their non-tenured teachers. Then picked who they wanted to hire back. They don't have to give a reason, however I asked my principal and a few others. There were several local kids who were fresh out of college and needed jobs.

Can you imagine? Not knowing from one year to the next if you were going to piss off the wrong person and not be rehired. Or if someone in administration has a niece who needs a job. Tenure doesn't protect bad teachers. If a teacher is "bad" and is still in the system, the admin may not be doing enough. If the teacher is not doing his/her job and won't try to improve, then get them out of the school. But don't punish the majority by taking away tenure.

I love my job. I love teaching middle schoolers and being a part of their dramatic lives. I love teaching math and talking to kids about books. But I am tired. I am tired of all the teacher bashing and jumping through hoops to prove that I am a good teacher to people who have never stepped foot in a classroom.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I can now carry around a library

So I finally did it....I bought a nook. A nook, for the unfamiliar, is an e-reader sold by Barnes & Noble. Amazon has a similar one called the Kindle and there are a few other brands I am not as familiar with. I have been going back and forth on whether or not to get one for a while.

On the one had you get to carry around a whole library where ever you go. There have been many occasions where I was made to wait and I didn't have a book with me. This was the selling feature.

But on the other I am a huge book nerd. I love the way books feel in my hands, I like the way the spine looks on a new book and how sometimes books keep that new-spine look even after multiple readings. I love meeting authors and getting books signed. I have almost three shelves filled with author-signed books. You can't get an e-copy signed.

But I broke down and got one. It came in this week and so far I am enjoying it. Because I have to be different and don't want just a plain ol' white one, I have a decal coming. There are so many cute decals on there it was hard to choose. I narrowed it down to the library & the book tree.

I have been on Barnes & Noble's site downloading free & cheap books. I will only download legal copies (read this if you are are thinking about downloading illegal copies of someone's books. Please don't). There is also a a website called READS where you can check out digital copies onto your e-reader for two weeks from the library system from your home (you can also borrow audiobook files).

I probably won't have the popular books on my nook, but that's ok. I will buy a physical copy. I can't spend $10 on a digital copy of a book when there are so many books my students at school want to read. I live in a fairly poor area. There are no bookstores around here unless you count Wal-Mart (and while I am glad WM carries books, they don't have a huge selection). Also, the county library is sorely lacking in the Young Adult section. So I feel like I am providing a service to the kids around here. And I like buying books. It's an addiction.

If you're thinking about buying an e-reader, weigh your options & check out the options on each.