Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Salon: January 20, 2019

My life in books over the past two weeks: 
  • Escape from Syria by Samya Kullab--CYBILS Award elementary / MG graphic novel finalist
  • Hero Dogs by Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo--Adult non-fiction
  • We'll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss--YA fiction
  • Quince by Kit and Emma Steinkellner and Sebastian Kadlecik--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist
  • Grand Theft Horse by G. Neri--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist
  • Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin--YA non-fiction
  • As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist
  • The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb--YA non-fiction
  • Anne Frank: The Graphic Adaptation adapted by Ari Folman--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist

  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist
  • On a Sunbeam--CYBILS Award YA graphic novel finalist
Challenges progress:
  • A to Z Reading--I have read books with titles for 14 letters so far: A, B, C, E, F, G, H, M, O, P, Q, T, V, and W.
  • Diversity Reading Challenge--I have read 7 books, adding a book set in the Middle East and one with a Latina main character (and all other races in the background), and three with a trans and / or queer characters.
  • Literary Escapes--I have read books set in 8 states so far, adding Kansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas; and in 7 countries, adding France, Germany, Holland, Syria and Lebanon. Does outer space count as a country?!
  • Motif Reading Challenge--The January motif is "New to You" and I am counting The Widows by Jess Montgomery.
  • Non-fiction--I have read 5 books so far.
  • YA Award Winners--Winners are announced January 28 and I cannot wait!
My life outside books:
Well, it's been quite a couple weeks for me regarding work. I currently have two paying jobs: I am a tech coach and a social studies coach. Last week I was told the tech coach positions are being eliminated for next year (there goes .2 of my job) and then this week I was told they are reorganizing the instructional coach jobs so we all have to reapply and may not be chosen. Well, there goes the rest of my job. Wow. Maybe I'll be chosen again, but maybe not. If I am not, I can go back in the classroom, but I don't know if I want to do that. I'll put off thinking about it until I find out where I stand in March after interviews.

My daughter's month-long winter break comes to an end when she flies back to New York early tomorrow morning. I'm going to miss her, but am excited for her to begin her second semester in college. We had a wonderful time together this break.

I bought myself a treadmill! Unfortunately, the only place I have to put it is my bedroom, but at least that way it will be difficult to ignore it. :-)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Review: The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb

Title: The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century
Author: Neal Bascomb
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA non-fiction
Pages: 229 plus notes, bibliography, and index
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map): Germany

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): At the height of World War I, as Allied and German forces battled in the tranches and in the air, any captured Allied soldiers nad pilots were sent to a web of German prisons. The most dangerous POWs, the ones most talented at escaping, were sent to the camp of Holzminden--better known as "Hellminden." A land-locked Alcatraz of sorts, its rules enforced with cruel precision, the prison was the pride of a ruthless commandant named Karl Niemeyer.

This is the story of a group fo ingenious and defiant Allied soldiers and pilots who dared to escape from Holzminden, right under Niemeyer's nose. Leading a team that tunneled through the prison's foundation and far beyond its walls, these breakout artists forged documents, smuggled in supplies, and bribed guards. Twice the tunnel was almost exposed, and the whole plan foiled. But in the end, a group of ten prisoners escaped and made it out of enemy territory in the biggest POW breakout of World War I, inspiring their countrymen in the darkest hours of the fight.

Review: World War I is one of my favorite historical eras / events. And escapes are super exciting and interesting so a WWI escape sounded right up my alley.

The first half of this book is background: information about World War I (good since it's a YA book and students may not have much background on the war); introductions to the men who end up trying to escape; stories of British POWs in various German camps; and how each of them men arrived at Holzminden and what life was like under the awful Niemeyer. I found it fairly interesting, but this first half didn't thrill me.

The second half of the book is what I looked forward to: the escape. The story of the tunneling, the deception of the German officers, the collaboration of some Germans to help the British soldiers, and the clever ideas that the POWs had were all really interesting. I felt quite tense reading about the actual escape (and capture of some of the escapees) and I cheered out loud when the first man made it to safety in Holland and sent a snarky telegram to the German Commander!

One of the most interesting aspects is that the experiences of these men was used in World War II by the British and Americans to train soldiers about being POWs and the importance of escaping.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin

Title: Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918
Author: Albert Marrin
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA non-fiction
Pages: 198 including notes and index
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)World wide story, but focuses on USA (KS) and France

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people--one-third of the global population at the time--came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million. 

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge--and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.

Review: This book was a National Book Award finalist. Or maybe the author was (the statement is under his name on the cover). He is the author of Uprooted (Japanese Internment) which I read last year for the CYBILS. I liked Uprooted  better.

The 1918 influenza pandemic is a fascinating subject. Estimates are that it killed almost 100 million people in a few months. That's more than everyone who died in World War I! I knew about the disease, had heard about it, but how did it never occur to me that it took place in the final months of World War I and that the war itself is to blame for the flu's spread? That part I found fascinating.

My problem with this book is small, really. The book is aimed at teenagers and I must remember that they don't necessarily have the background that I do. The first large chunk of the book is about WWI and while it is well done, it was repeat for me. But, probably not for teens.

What I did like is the story of the influenza itself, how quickly it spread, where they think it came from (spoiler alert: flu comes from bird feces dropped into pig farms then spread to humans), and the impact it had on the world. That's the middle chunk of the book and it's the part that really sells it. The last chapter is also interesting, but goes beyond the 1918 outbreak, telling us how scientists have researched flu since 1918. 

So, if you read this book, go in knowing that the "meat" of the story is the middle portion and that you'll also be reading about World War I and recent flu knowledge.

Challenges for which this counts: 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Review: Hero Dogs by Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo

Title: Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America's Greatest Disaster Search Partners
Author: Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 335
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (CA, OK, NY, LA) and Haiti

FTC Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for a fair review

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Ana and Hunter were failed service dogs. Recon was left for dead on the train tracks. Cody was returned to the shelter seven times before he turned two. To most, these dogs were unadoptable. Unsalvageable. Irredeemable. To retired gym teacher and grandma Wilma Melville, they were the heroes America needed.

While volunteering as a canine search-and-rescue handler during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Wilma saw how ill-prepared the country was to respond to disasters. Then and there, beside her loyal Black Lab, Murphy, she made a pact, singlehandedly founding the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and beginning a journey that would change the face of search-and-rescue in America forever.
But even Wilma could not predict how desperately her idea would soon be needed. With 9/11, the scope of disaster response in America changed in an instant, and people across the country realized how crucial these dogs were, launching the SDF to a national stage.
In this gripping, heart wrenching story, Wilma and writer Paul Lobo trace the paths of the amazing animals, firefighters, and volunteers who brought Wilma's dream to fruition. They recount struggles and triumphs as the dogs and their handlers face off with hurricanes, bombings, and other staggering disasters. Along the way, we witness the unshakeable bonds that develop between humans and these remarkable dogs.

Review: I love dog stories and this book was wonderful! I read it in two sittings, staying up way past my bed time so that I could read more. Wilma Melville's grit and determination to create a search and rescue dog non-profit was super interesting (and I learned she lives only 30 minutes away from me!), but once she began telling stories of the dogs and the handlers I was hooked.

I did a fair amount of crying while reading this book because I am a sucker for a sappy and happy story. Melville only uses strays and rescue dogs in her work so there are lots of great stories about finding dogs no one else wanted and turning them into searching machines. I also really liked the stories of matching the dogs with their handlers and found myself smiling and laughing at the stories.

Reading about the experiences of her teams in Oklahoma at the Federal Building site, in New York on 9/11, in New Orleans after Katrina, and in Santa Barbara for our own fire and debris flow last winter was intense, interesting, and inspirational.

The non-profit has a wonderful website and you can imagine the emotions I felt when I got to the page about the dogs and handlers and their work in my town last January. I remember watching them in action, appreciating their work, and hoping they would find survivors. 

Challenges for which this counts: 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Review: We'll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss

Title: We'll Fly Away
Author: Bryan Bliss
Year Published: 2018

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 434
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2018 Google Reading map)USA (NC)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): You and me were never alone, T. Not when we had each other.

Best friends Luke and Toby just want to get out of their dead-end town.

They've been dreaming about it for as long as they can remember. And they are almost there. A few more months and they can leave behind: Luke's neglectful mom, her latest deadbeat boyfriend, Toby's petty-criminal dad, the teachers who all look the other way, the girls who can't be bothered to meet their eyes, the fridges that never have enough food inside, the pitying neighbors and store clerks.

They are so close to freedom.

Until they each make a choice--a series of choices, really--that sets them down an irrevocable path.
Review: A librarian friend of mine recommended this book to me and she was right to do so, this one is really good.

Luke and Toby are what best friends should be: they love one another like brothers; they do whatever it takes to make things okay for one another (especially when Toby's dad beats the crap out of him), they laugh together, and they get in trouble together. Unfortunately, even the best of friends have things they cannot overcome.

This story will tear at your heart. I wanted to yell at these boys to cling to one another for all they are worth. Chapters that move the story on alternate with letters that one of the boys writes from jail. Those letters reveal more of the story. It's a clever way to unravel the plot.

Challenges for which this counts: