Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Salon: May 31, 2020

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz runs The Sunday Salon. 

Books read over the past week:   

Challenge progress 2020

  • Literary Escapes Challenge--This week: 0 states and 0 countries. 17 states and 12 countries total
  • Mount TBR Challenge--0 books read this week, 28 books total
  • Popsugar reading challenge--0 books read this week, 23 books total
  • Social Justice Challenge--0 books read this month, 5 books total
  • YA Award Winners--0 books read this week, 7 books total

My life outside books:

I am having trouble reading. It pains me to write those words as books, and reading, have been such a huge part of my life. I've also been doing a lot of thinking about our students and what they read for pleasure and in school. For them to see themselves in what they read is so vital. They need to see their joys, their trauma, their skin, their emotions, and their experiences in texts. Too often, they instead see a white world that oppresses them and who they are. Yes, the protests around the country in response to yet another murder of a black person have saddened me. Saddened isn't a strong enough word. I am sad, angry, frustrated, and I feel helpless. I will attend the protest in my town today, but I'll wear a mask and keep my distance. Through all of this, my thoughts are focused on schools and the trauma we inflict on students every day when they are not seen, not heard, and are not acknowledged. Thank you for indulging me the space for these thoughts.

On a happier note, it's graduation time and I feel so for the seniors (both high school and college) who aren't getting to go through ceremonies. But, my alma mater, Santa Barbara High School, did a cool thing. Check out this brief news clip.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Big Summer Book Challenge 2020


Once again, I am going to sign up for the Big Book Summer challenge! This challenge is hosted by Sue at Book by Book.

The rules are simple: 

  • Anything 400 pages or more qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 22 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 7 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with 400+ pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Sign up on the first links list below if you have a blo so others can visit (or in the comments below or in the Goodreads group if you don't have a blog).
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog.
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to! There is a separate links list below for big book reviews or progress update posts.

Pretty easy challenge, right?!


I am not sure how many 400+ page books I'll read, especially given how pathetic my pandemic reading has been, but here are the ones I am considering. And, they are all currently on my TBR shelf so I'll feel that I am reducing that, which is good, too.

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • Thunderstruck  by Erik Larson
  • The Blue by Nancy Bilyeau
  • Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Have you read any of these?
Is there one you would recommend I read before the others?

Sunday Salon: May 24, 2020

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz runs The Sunday Salon.

Books read over the past week:   

Challenge progress 2020
  • Literary Escapes Challenge--This week: 2 states and 0 countries. 19 states and 12 countries total
  • Mount TBR Challenge--2 book read this week, 32 books total
  • Popsugar reading challenge--0 books read this week, 23 books total
  • Social Justice Challenge--1 book read this month, 6 books total
  • YA Award Winners--0 books read this week, 7 books total
My life outside books:
Yeah, so, 2 books read in the past 2 weeks. Pretty pathetic. I started 2 books and abandoned both of them, and The Royal Abduls was the third. At least I finished it. Sigh. Luckily Dear America was fantiastic. Not only am I not reading books at my regular rate of 2 to 3 a week, but I am buying more books. I tell myself I am keeping our local indie bookstore in business, but it's getting ridiculous. I have added almost 20 books to my TBR shelves since the lockdown started!

We have been ordering books for some of our history teachers and I had them shipped to my house. What would normally have been a really boring task--delivering the books to the teachers--became a highlight of my week. I got out of the house and got to see some colleagues in person! Yes, I wore a mask and gloves and we stayed about 10 feet apart, but it still felt good.
I am worried about all the re-opening that is happening around the country. It just doesn't feel like the right time yet. My town is now allowing in-restaurant dining. No medicine, no vaccine, people not wearing masks or social distancing properly. And not listening to science and medical personnel is just ridiculous!


Last weekend I participated in a virtual conference entitled "Central Coast Social Justice Education Conference" put on by the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success as well as local education groups. I attended in person last year and this year was just as interesting and inspiring. I am working with the Ethnic Studies cadre in our district to create Ethnic Studies courses so this conference was really relevant and useful.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Non-fiction Review: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

Title: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen
Author: Jose Antonio Vargas
Year Published: 2018

Genre: Adult non-fiction (memoir)
Pages: 230
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (TX, DC, CA, NY, OR, WA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, called “the most famous undocumented immigrant in America,” tackles one of the defining issues of our time in this explosive and deeply personal call to arms.

“This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book––at its core––is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but in the unsettled, unmoored psychological state that undocumented immigrants like myself find ourselves in. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen; about families, keeping them together, and having to make new ones when you can’t. This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves. This book is about what it means to not have a home.

After 25 years of living illegally in a country that does not consider me one of its own, this book is the closest thing I have to freedom.”

Review: I don't remember who recommended this book to me--perhaps someone in our Ethnic Studies cadre or another blogger--but thank you! I have been struggling to read ever since this pandemic broke out and this book flowed for me, captured my attention and interest, and I highly recommend it.

Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist (Washington Post, New Yorker, Seattle Chronicle,  and others) so his writing is accessible, well-edited, and his chapters are short so it's easy to pick up and put down the book if necessary. Vargas' story is interesting as he moves through the three parts of this memoir: Lying, where he learns he is undocumented at 16; Passing, in which he lives as an "American" for over a decade, keeping his secret from even his closest friends; and Hiding, where he realizes he needs to be public about his situation and that of 11 million others in the US. 

Vargas doesn't ask that readers feel sorry for him, excuse his behavior/status, but rather that we understand how someone can end up as undocumented. He wants us to see that there is no avenue to get citizenship if one is undocumented, that all workers contributed to our economy without receiving many of its benefits. He wants us to see them as humans. And he does this with a story well-told.

To learn more about his work, check out Define America, the non-profit he formed.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

YA Review: The Royal Abduls by Ramiza Shamoun Koya

Title: The Royal Abduls
Author: Ramiza Shamoun Koya
Year Published: 2019

Genre: YA fiction 
Pages: 303
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (DC, OH)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ramiza Shamoun Koya reveals the devastating cost of anti-Muslim sentiment in The Royal Abduls, her debut novel about a secular Indian American family. Evolutionary biologist Amina Abdul accepts a post-doc in Washington, DC, choosing her career studying hybrid zones over a faltering West Coast romance. Her brother and sister-in-law welcome her to the city, but their marriage is crumbling, and they soon rely on her to keep their son company. Omar, hungry to understand his roots, fakes an Indian accent, invents a royal past, and peppers his aunt with questions about their cultural heritage. When he brings an ornamental knife to school, his expulsion triggers a downward spiral for his family, even as Amina struggles to find her own place in an America now at war with people who look like her. With The Royal Abduls, Koya ignites the canon of post-9/11 literature with a deft portrait of second-generation American identity.

Review: I am having a terrible time concentrating on reading during this pandemic. It took me about ten days just to read this one book! Normally I would do it in 2 or 3. Sigh. I feel like this book should be ranked a 4.5 (and it is ranked about that in Goodreads), but for me, it is a 4.

It was difficult to like Amina at first because she seemed so negative. She didn't want to deal with her family, she doesn't really like kids so didn't want to hang out with her nephew, and she was negative about her new workplace in Washington, DC. I think that contributed to me not really getting into the swing of this book until about half way in, but I did like the second half. I started to understand the characters more (Amina in particular), care about them and what happened to them, and I feel like the action picked up.

One important aspect of the book that was handled well is the treatment of Muslims in the United States post 9/11. From trouble at work to the way they were treated by strangers, this was (and still is) an issue in this country. During 9/11 I was married to an Arab and it was awful to see the transformation and the way he was treated in the early 2000s. The characters in this book had to deal with misunderstandings at school and work, and they brought that tension home with them.

My favorite character was Omar, Amina's nephew. He is innocence, curiosity, and tween angst all rolled up on one. While I am not raving about this book, I have found myself thinking about it over the past 24 hours since finishing it, so that says something really good about it.

Challenges for which this counts: 
This book counts for the Pop Sugar challenge because a character has a vision impairment (the author, the main character, wears glasses). This is a nod to 20/20 vision.