And we’re back!

It still doesn’t seem real that students return Monday. But, here I am, ready (?) to start year SEVEN of this crazy teaching thing.

I completed my master’s degree this summer, which means instead of working on grad school assignments during my prep and after school, I might actually have time to IMPLEMENT some of the new things I learned in grad school and professional developments in the past two years!

This is kind of an accountability post, idea post, whatever you want to call it. These are some of the things I want to commit to at least trying in my classroom this year.

Improving Parent Communication

This is one of my weakest points as a teacher. I didn’t get into teaching to talk to parents, I got into it to talk to kids. And I really do believe that high schoolers need to take responsibility of their own learning and not rely on their parents to remind them of things and keep them on track. BUT, I have also realized that parents still care about what’s happening in their child’s classroom, and I want to get better about sharing that with them. I plan to use Seesaw, which automatically allows parents access to any work their child posts to the platform if they have signed up, and I am going to use this platform to also post weekly calendar pages about my class.

Varied Student Assessment

I want to get away from every grade being a paper and pencil test. I have a couple good projects that I use, but I want even more variety, since the ways they will be assessed post high school will vary a lot as well. Specifically, I want to experiment with collaborative/cooperative testing, and oral testing using the video feature on Seesaw. I want to try portfolio assessment, where students have to curate a set of evidence to show they met the standard using the textbook, their assignments, and other various materials.

Interactivity in Lessons

Trying to get away from teacher at the board being the go to, even for new content delivery. Our district gave us all access to PearDeck Premium, and I want to use this to quickly check understanding in students. I also received a Rocketbook at our district’s tech bootcamp, and I want to use it to quickly send student work to my computer so I can display it on the screen and discuss it with students. I also plan to use it to easily digitize answer keys (since it’s easier for me to make answer keys by hand), share them with students and emphasize them being accountable for tracking their own understanding. I am planning to use Mentimeter to have quick check ins on learning targets and potentially to create word clouds as a quick exit slip or opener.

Those are just some ideas so far. I know I’ll get overwhelmed when school starts and forget about half of these, so now they’re all written out! What new things are you wanting to try this year?

(I should get back to my to-do list now…)

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Book Recommendations (Vol. 10)

Been taking a bit of an actual break this summer – lurking a bit on twitter, running through a few grading/activity ideas in my head, but mostly enjoying my actual free time now that my master’s is finished!! I am looking forward to getting back to implementing new classroom ideas and returning to more regular blogging (hopefully) in about another month here! Since I won’t have required readings for my master’s classes anymore, I am also looking forward to bringing more nonfiction books about math and teaching back into my reading repertoire, so look forward to that in the next update!

You can read previous posts from this series here:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 | Vol. 04 | Vol. 05 | Vol. 06 | Vol. 07 | Vol. 08 | Vol. 09

In the past 3 months, I have read 18 books, bringing my total for the year to 34. Here are the top 5 from this quarter:

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria – Wendy Pearlman

This is a compilation of narratives from Syrian voices – from youth to elderly, refugees, doctors, activists, mothers, daughters, and everyone in between. Their individual stories together unveil the background of the Arab Spring uprisings and the aftermath.

Having this in Syrian voices was incredibly powerful. As mentioned in my last post, this book is also one I read because of the Life’s Library book club. I did not know much about the Arab Spring uprisings, or about Syria in general. The book begins with an introduction that provides historical context for each of the sections of the narratives, and Pearlman suggests that readers unfamiliar with the situation read a section of that introduction before reading the corresponding section of the narratives. This created an intense and beautiful experience in reading about the facts of what happened and then reading the reactions and lived experiences of the people who were there. It truly brings those news stories to life.

the mermaid’s voice returns in this one – amanda lovelace

The third in the Women are Some Kind of Magic poetry series, this collection of poems tells the story of women everywhere who have experienced trauma, heartbreak, and abuse. As with the other two in the series, this is full of feminine empowerment and fight.

It’s probably no surprise to those who have read my book recommendation posts previously to see this one here, as both of the previous two works were featured in prior posts. I do think that the first one is still the strongest of the series, but I truly loved this one. I thought the addition of poems from guest authors really added to the messaging and closed out the series very nicely. If I had to describe the three different books, the first one is a quiet reclaiming and empowerment, the second is fire and fight, and this one is sadder and darker, but still triumphant. The messages Lovelace writes are so important for any woman, anyONE to hear, but especially I think many of our students need to hear them. I read excerpts from the first two books in our English classroom on Read Across America day and there are several poems in this one that I would add to that experience.

Don’t Call Us Dead – Danez Smith

This poetry collection reveals the raw anger, hopelessness, and fight of black men in today’s America – specifically black, queer, men.

From the opening poem, this collection hit me so hard. There were so many poems that begged to just be sat with after I finished reading them, that made me think about my privilege and about the way that we make this country unwelcome for so many that are supposedly our own. Smith is a magician with words, communicating the fear, the anger, the sorrow, the questions that are the life experience of black Americans.

The Test – Sylvain Neuvel

Set in the near future, Idir is taking the British Citizenship test. He is so excited to belong to this country. Then the test takes an unexpected turn.

There is not a ton I can say about this one without spoiling it, especially because it is only 112 pages. But it will make you think about what citizenship means, what it means to belong to a country, and how we decide who gets to belong and who doesn’t.

With the Fire on High – Elizabeth Acevedo

Emoni is entering her senior year of high school with her two year old daughter. The responsibilities of school, money, raising her daughter, and thinking about post high school plans are piling up – the only place she finds release is in the kitchen, where she always feels that she knows just what to do. Her culinary arts class turns out to not be what she expected, and now there’s the added worry of how she could ever raise enough money to get to go to Spain with the class.

I was floored by Acevedo’s debut novel (The Poet X), and was intrigued when I found out that this, her second work, was going to be in prose instead of in verse like The Poet X was. I needn’t have worried, because her prose is just as stunning as her poetry, and the story she chose to tell just as vivid and important. The representation of a struggling teen mother who still finds a way to be successful was really important to me, as I teach many teen mothers and see them feeling isolated and alone in their journeys. I think this book can help them find identity and pursue dreams for themselves and their child. I also loved all of the descriptions of cooking and food, and the culture that was so lovingly included in this.

Finding the Good in a Weird Year

I’ve been trying for awhile to write a post about this school year. It’s been a very strange year for so many reasons. That’s a lot of why you haven’t seen as many posts from me this year. I’m trying to finish out the year strong in the spirit of #onegoodthing and finding the silver lining moments in all that has happened. So, first, a brief outline of why this year has been weird:

  • moving classrooms up a floor
  • two new math teachers in our department of four
  • district cuts of 85 teachers and many support staff members (including one of those new math teachers, and moving the other one)
  • seven snow days, six shortened schedule days due to weather, resulting in:
  • an extended schedule beginning in March with 20 minute longer days
  • removing our student early release Wednesdays for staff meetings (so we haven’t had a staff meeting since February)
  • new standardized testing completed on chromebooks for the first time this year
  • finishing grad school
  • Various district level issues
  • downtown being at major flood stage for a record breaking 51 days, and breaking Flood of 1993 crest records
  • implementing standards based grading practices, including being the only school in the district to do so for Algebra 2 and Geometry this year
  • our school being named a comprehensive school in need of improvement by the Every Student Succeeds Act

So. To my good things.

I finish my master’s in July! I am so excited to be done, but I can truly and honestly say that I have learned so much in this program: lots of mathematics, and lots about being a better teacher. I have really enjoyed most of the classes, even though they’ve resulted in at least one major mental breakdown every semester I’ve been in the program due to all the added work and stress. I also have many new teacher friends across the state that I hope will be lifelong partners in this teaching journey. I’m really looking forward to walking across the stage with a bunch of them in December and celebrating our hard work and accomplishments.

I’ve gotten to teach our little alternative high school’s first ever section of Pre-Calculus this year. We’ve sent a couple kids to other schools in the district or done independent studies before, but it’s the first time we’ve had enough students ready for advanced math to offer a class period of it! I’ve enjoyed the challenge of teaching new, advanced material, and the group I get to teach it to are just delightful humans. When I’m teaching that class, I really feel like we’re a team, instead of me being the teacher and them being the students.

Although the ins and outs of things like actually putting scores into Campus, getting used to how to score things consistently with rubrics, having rubrics and assessments that don’t really match up quite yet, and explaining a new grading system to students and parents have all been quite frustrating in our standards based grading implementation, there are DEFINITELY amazing things happening because of it. First, even if students are super grade focused, it’s eventually sunk in for most of them that their grade represents how much they understand of the content. So they know that if their grade is lower than they want, they need to ask for more help. Second, they can try again! It’s building a growth mindset in my students. And, during fourth quarter, I’ve been running mini reteaching sessions during our intervention period and students have been earning 3’s on standards they got 1’s on originally way back in first quarter, all because they have shown me that they understand it now. And the fact that now I get to give them credit for that is awesome. My Algebra 2 kids are even really starting to take responsibility for self monitoring their learning and making sure they ask the questions they need and get help before retaking assessments, and being able to identify their weaknesses really well. (Still working with the Algebra 1 kids on that)

With all the teacher changes in the district, we are down to 3 instead of 4 math teachers next fall. Myself and one other have both been at Mid City the whole time I’ve been teaching (she’s actually been there longer than me). The third is a new to us teacher who has been teaching at the other alternative program in the district, which is for behavior disorder students and students in extenuating situations with the courts. He has been part of our group for several professional development district wide math days and we love him! He’s super enthusiastic about teaching and getting better at teaching, and he definitely has the heart for our population. So I’m excited for him to teach in our building next year. Also, I’m very excited that the schedule for next year worked out so that for the FIRST TIME EVER in my teaching career, I will be teaching the same courses next year as I am this year. I’m very excited to not be constantly preparing brand new materials, and to get to focus on developing the weak points in my Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Pre-Calculus teaching!

Also, throughout this year, I’ve gotten to watch several of my former students achieve great successes in their lives. One is at college majoring in aerospace engineering (literal rocket scientist!!!), one continues to have a great welding job at John Deere and is great to chat with whenever I run into him, one was named to a list of 100 high schoolers to know in the country, one has been saving up money and is planning to go back to school in the fall, one I run into all the time with her almost three year old child and she is a great mom, and more and more. I love seeing them all pop up on facebook or running into them around town and seeing how they’re forming their own journeys. I’m very excited to see where some of my seniors graduating in a couple weeks go next and continue to just be so proud of them every day.

Now it’s time to push through to the end of this strange year, hit reset over the summer, and come back ready for more next year!

Book Recommendations (Vol. 09)

Uh, oops? I forgot to write a book recommendations post in March.

Better late than never? I think this got lost somewhere in the seven snow days and six shortened days we had due to weather in January and February…

You can read previous posts from this series here:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 | Vol. 04 | Vol. 05 | Vol. 06 | Vol. 07 | Vol. 08

So, going back to March, I had read 16 books, and a lot of them were EXCELLENT. Hard to choose five, but I’m selecting ones that are maybe outside the usual a bit.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost – Rebecca Solnit

I read this for the Life’s Library book club, which has been an incredible addition to my reading life. The four books I’ve read so far for the club have been ones I never would have picked up if I weren’t subscribed to the club and have been world-expanding and incredible reads. I highly recommend participating, which you can do in many ways – just get the books on your own and read along, get just the extra materials that go along with reading, or get a copy of the book and some little items along with reading materials!

Anyways, in this one Solnit writes about getting lost. We can be lost in so many ways: geographically, in our life path, in relationships, not understanding things. Cultures or ideas can be lost to the world or memories can be lost by being forgotten. We can lose opportunities, or objects, or parts of ourselves. She writes about each of this with such vivid brushstrokes. You’ll start reading one of the sections and be reading about some historical idea of the color blue, and you will have no idea about how it relates to anything, and then suddenly several pages later it all comes back together. Her writing is lovely and enveloping, and this will make you consider yourself and what you have lost and how you are lost for weeks after you finish it.

Math With Bad Drawings – Ben Orlin

If you’ve followed me on twitter for any length, you will have seen Ben Orlin‘s mathwithbaddrawings blog. It is, as it seems, an explanation of mathematical ideas accompanied by bad drawings (think stick people and simple outlines). The book is a cohesive, full length version of the blog that takes you through several different branches of mathematics with bad drawings.

Orlin is a master math communicator. I love the blog because his explanations and the drawings that accompany them make many ideas, histories, and even jokes of mathematicians accessible to those who wouldn’t consider themselves mathematicians. His writing includes history of mathematics, explanations of ideas, controversies, and jokes. Many math jokes. I loved every single second of reading this book. Some sections of it may make appearances in my classroom as introductions to concepts. He practically applies mathematics to real world things, and not in the way that happens in a lot of classrooms but in a real, no nonsense, this is actually how the math shows up in life way. I think every math teacher needs to read this, and every science teacher, and….everyone. It’s also just a stunning volume that would have a perfect home on your coffee table or prominently displayed on your best bookshelf.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man – Jason Reynolds

Miles attends Brooklyn Visions Academy on a scholarship. He’s been pretty annoyed by his history teacher lately, has a crush on this girl he’s too nervous to talk to, and is trying to keep his scholarship and a good relationship with his parents. Oh, and he’s Spider-Man.

If you’ve been reading this recommendation posts for awhile, you’ve seen many Jason Reynolds books at this point. The man is a genius. I recently got to see him speak at our local library and cry at him a bit as a thank you for sharing stories that represent my students. This is another one of those – we get a story about a normal everyday black kid who also happens to be a superhero. What I loved most about this was that for much of the story, the Spider-Man stuff was background information. Yes, there is a big battle scene at the end, but for a lot of the book, we’re seeing Miles the student, the son, the friend. The every day parts of being a super hero. Also, if you loved Into the Spiderverse as much as I did, I know you’ll enjoy reading more of Miles’ story.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

Years ago, the king took the magic from the people of Orisha. He killed the maji and left the people living in fear and poverty. But Zelie finds a secret: the magic isn’t really gone. Can she find a way to bring it back to her people before it’s too late?

This book is magical, literally and figuratively. You are immediately drawn into the question of what happened to the magic of the people of Orisha, and develop a quick hate for the monarchy that oppresses them. There are twists and turns and adventures of all sorts as they quest to restore the magic before the date when it will be gone forever. But perhaps the best part of this one is the masterful underpinnings which reflect societal issues we’re facing today. Adeyemi sneakily makes you think about these things while you think you’re reading a fantasy – there’s no way to read the book without confronting some hard issues. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, because this one left off in a fascinating place in terms this subtext (and also in the fantasy world as well).

Tale of a No-Name Squirrel – Radhika R. Dhariwal

Squirrel is just a slave – the last slave in Bimmau, in fact – until he attends a wedding and everything gets weird. He discovers a riddle to unearth his past, and embarks on a series of adventures to reveal his true name.

A friend got me this because I love squirrels, they’re my favorite animal. She didn’t know anything about the book when she got it for me. It turned out to be one of the most purely fun books I’ve read in awhile. I was obsessed with the Redwall books by Brian Jacques in elementary school. I just did a reread of them a few years ago and loved them as an adult. This has the flavor of Redwall to it. Puzzles, riddles, and adventures of animals. What I especially loved about this was that it has an ENTIRE PUZZLE FOR YOU TO SOLVE YOURSELF in it. Like, pause the book, do this puzzle, then start reading again. Ask some of my coworkers who were there when I was reading this in a break during a professional development day and discovered that puzzle and had just a moment of visceral joy. I just had so much fun reading it and I loved the character of Squirrel and his friends, and of course the messaging of good vs evil and the perils of power. It seriously reads like a sillier, more modern, shorter Redwall.

Stay tuned for another book post in, like, a month, which hopefully I won’t forget about!

Key Features of Polynomial Graphs BINGO

My Algebra 2 students have been working on describing key features of polynomial graphs. Our reporting standard for this unit is F.IF.C.7:
Graph functions expressed symbolically and show key features of the graph, by hand in simple cases and using technology for more complicated cases. Specifically, it is part c of this standard:
Graph polynomial functions, identifying zeros when suitable factorizations are available, and showing end behavior.

We focus on the key features in this standard because later in the year, we have another reporting standard where the main focus is using factorized polynomials to sketch graphs without a calculator. So in this unit we are using Desmos and working on vocabulary. The key features listed in our district’s SBAR (standards based assessment and reporting) rubric for this standard are:

  • x-intercepts
  • y-intercept
  • end behavior
  • extrema
  • domain
  • range
  • increasing/decreasing intervals

We have described key features previous to this for piecewise functions, absolute value functions, step functions, logarithmic functions, and exponential functions. From those, they are pretty comfortable with intercepts, domain and range. New to this function family are end behavior (which in Algebra 2 we describe informally without limits as rising or falling left/right), extrema, and increasing/decreasing intervals. They really struggle with types of extrema (local/relative vs. absolute) and with increasing/decreasing intervals.

Before their quiz, I wanted to give them a bit of a challenge to help them process some of these vocabulary terms more. In this activity, the numbers don’t really matter as much as the features themselves, so it really promotes understanding of the concepts. Originally, my thought was to make actual BINGO boards for each student with pictures of graphs on them, and then call out a key feature. They would be able to mark off a graph with that key feature. I started to do this, and made a Google Slides presentation with all the key feature descriptions I wanted to use, and then I started trying to make the BINGO boards and realized how much work it was going to take to make what I wanted. I wanted everyone to have a different board, and I was going to have to take screenshots of graphs that met all the features I had listed…so I went back to the drawing board. I did find this cool site though, where you can make randomized BINGO cards, so if you were doing this with vocabulary or something easier, check bingo baker out! I am realizing now that this may have worked if I had made the prompts a graph, and the spots on their boards the key features…next time!

I decided to reframe it as more of a challenge than a typical BINGO game, but with their goal to still get 5 in a row. I made up a Google Sheet BINGO board, with a blank cell beneath each key feature description. As the instructions state, students are to use Desmos to try to make a polynomial graph that meets any of the described key features. When they do, they copy and paste the Desmos graph’s link in the blank cell, then highlight that cell to show they’ve completed it.

As soon as they started working, my students asked, “can we use the same graph for more than one box?”, which for some reason I had not considered yet. I made the decision on the spot that they could, because I figured if they could make a graph that fit a whole bunch of the requirements, then good for them. Depending on what you want from your students, you might tell them that each box has to have a unique graph. My students used the strategy of making a random polynomial and then seeing how many of the boxes it worked for and putting the link in all those squares. I think they enjoyed the challenge of trying to make a polynomial that fit a large number of the squares. If you wanted them to focus more on the individual squares, then you may want to force them to have a unique graph for every square.

You can see that this student used the same link for several boxes:

The students had a fun time with this, and it was a perfect length activity for yet another 2 hr late start day that we had (our winter has been miserable – 7 days cancelled and 5 days shortened!). I think I will be more strict on encouraging them to fill as many squares as possible once they get a BINGO next time to push them further, although many students did that.

A student also let me know that I had two of the same end behavior squares – I fixed this so that they are now different, but you may notice the duplicate in the screenshots! (This is what happens when you are trying to come up with 24 different key feature descriptions and not paying careful attention and there’s only four possibilities for the end behavior of polynomials)

You can make a copy of my Google Sheet for this activity HERE. This will make a copy of the file to your own Google Drive which you can then edit as you wish 🙂

2019: Multiplying Me, Adding You

Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years (?!?! weird that that’s a possibility at this point) know that I have largely given up on New Year’s Resolutions. You know, those ones that you try for January and then forget about. I do resolution type things for Lent every year which is more effective for me, and I prefer to start the New Year with a theme instead of a goal that’s going to make me feel bad about myself.

For 2018, the theme was Unashamed, Unafraid, Unfinished.

Unashamed: I have found myself defending the things I like less this year while contemplating this word. I can more confidently say, “Yeah I just really didn’t like that” or “My favorite album of the year was 5 Seconds of Summer’s Youngblood” and not feel like I have to explain it or put myself down for it. I’ve also been working on self-deprecating myself less – I’ve realized that it’s a reflex for me a lot and I really don’t like that because I do like myself.

Unafraid: I have gone out on a lot of limbs this year. I’ve met a lot of new people and gone to a lot of social events and put myself in situations that I never would have before. I’ve talked about my feelings to friends and family more with the motivation that, you know, if these people are really important in my life, they’re not going to run away or be offended by me saying how I really feel about something. I gave a speech to all the teacher leaders in my district where I almost cried onstage! I’ve fallen back on the old phrase my college roommate and I used to use all the time: “what’s the worst that could happen?” – we would explore the worst case scenario about something we were afraid of and realize that, actually, that wasn’t so bad. I’ve done a lot of things this year where the worst case scenario was just like, “I won’t have very much fun at this thing” which…is not a great reason to not try something.

Unfinished: Pushing myself to be better this year has been really rewarding. In addition to working on less self-deprecation, I’ve worked on less insult based humor towards others – realizing that I’ve used that to cover up actually talking about how I feel. I’ve become a better teacher by trying new things and learning a ton in grad school. I worked so hard in our real analysis course in particular but also in other courses and am very proud to have maintained my 4.0 GPA for the master’s program so far!

So now, where am I headed for 2019?

Multiplying Me, Adding You

Okay, so it’s cheesy and mathy. Yes. But. Here’s what it means to me.

Multiplying Me

I’ve read a few things as 2018 ended talking about how New Year’s Resolutions are too often about changing ourselves. It got me thinking that I don’t really want to change who I am in 2019. I am really, really happy with my life right now, and proud of a lot of things. So I want to multiply the things I like about myself, including some of the positive changes I started to make in 2018.

I think I’ve become a pretty good baker and a pretty good cook and I want to continue trying new recipes and new skills and do it more often, including sharing what I make with others.

I’m really excited about finishing my master’s degree this summer and I am ready to be super proud of myself and to celebrate the accomplishment – along with working really hard on my last two classes and my action research project paper. (My last two classes are also both branches of math that I really, really love, discrete math and statistics, so I am psyched).

I want to continue to work on my self confidence and read good books and keep my house clean and celebrate teaching moments I am proud of. And yeah, I want to make myself better in a few ways, but do it by emphasizing characteristics I already have but don’t embrace fully instead of trying to change who I am.

Adding You

I haven’t always been great at letting other people into my life. I am not always a great communicator. In 2018, I struggled a bit with my family relationships but developed a lot of friendships and started dating someone incredible.

So in 2019, I want to isolate myself less. I pushed myself a lot last year as I mentioned to go to more social things that I wouldn’t normally, instead of shutting myself in my house every school night and pretending I had things to do.

I love my trivia team and spending time with them outside of trivia nights as well – one of our team members got a new job so she no longer works with me, so it’s even nicer to see her every week (or most weeks).

I love spending time at the local brewery where my boyfriend spins records once a week, and getting to know all the regulars there. I love that I am a regular there.

I love spending time with my niece and nephew and seeing them learn and grow, even if my nephew is going through a phase of meltdowns and attitude right now. I realized last year how much I miss spending time with my sister without them, though, so my goal is to invite her to do more things just us.

I am bad at communicating with my parents regularly. They’re both retiring this year, and I want to include them in my life more and not have it feel like an obligation. I want to figure out how to bridge the gap between the relationship my mom wants us to have and the one I want us to have.

I want to be a good girlfriend, to not shut down when I’m upset or when I get stressed or when I’m scared of how I feel. To find new and interesting things for us to do together, but also go to lots and lots of concerts and like, make dinner together and watch four hours of Great British Bakeoff in a row.

I want to go to concerts with my friends and go visit them on random weekends and not have to have a specific event to see the ones who live far away. (That will also be easier when grad school wraps up!) I want to develop the new friendships I’ve made this year with incredible people that I really treasure as a part of my life, and I want to stay in touch with my grad school cohort after we graduate.

In all these relationships, I want to be more present in the moments that I am with other people. I want to use my phone as a defense mechanism for my introversion less and be more attentive to conversations. I want to not worry about tweeting about everything or posting about everything right away, but I also want to stay close to my internet friends whom I love dearly. I want my social media posts to feel important because they aren’t too frequent.

I want to reach out to the #mtbos and #dcsdpln communities again, but to not burn myself out with requirements about how often I post.

I want to celebrate all the incredible people I have in my life, including myself. Happy 2019.

Book Recommendations (Vol. 08)

We’re almost at the end of 2018, which has simultaneously seemed like the longest year in existence (remember that the Olympics were THIS YEAR?) and also like I don’t know where the last few months have gone. I’ve done less reading than the past couple years, a combination of grad school and just being busier life-wise, but still an amount that I am happy with.

I’m currently curled up with my cat sleeping adorably next to me on the couch and Niall Horan’s album on my record player, and I’m ready to tell you about my top 5 books for the end of this year, AND the top five books for 2018 overall!

books

My total at this point in the year is 59 books (with probably one or two more getting finished before the 31st ends), which puts me at 13 for this quarter.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green

April May is heading home from work late at night (early in the morning?) when she stumbles across a giant….statue? She makes a video of Carl (the statue) and posts it on youtube, for kicks. When she wakes up in the morning, she realizes that she’s gone viral – because there are DOZENS of Carls, across the globe, and they all just appeared there. No one knows what is happening. And then everyone starts having the same dream – a dream you can control – a dream that is an escape room like puzzle. What.

If you’ve read my previous book posts, you know I am a huge John Green fan. I’m also a fan of Hank’s other work like all of the video series he produces on YouTube. I was very nervous when he announced he was publishing a book because, well, his brother is the author. But this book is a DELIGHT. It’s hilarious, and such an incredibly timely commentary on internet fame. April May is one of the realest characters I’ve read in awhile, in a not entirely likable but incredibly relatable way. The mystery and suspense of figuring out what’s going on with the Carls is so gripping and the ending is INTENSE. I cannot wait for the sequel to this, have already forced another teacher in my building and my mother to read it, and haven’t stopped thinking about it. And listening to Queen and Carly Rae Jepson (relevant to the book, I promise).

Chaotic Good – Whitney Gardner

Cameron’s cosplay is starting to get attention. Not all positive attention. Guys seem to be upset that she might be a “fake fan”. And then the guy at the comic book shop by her new house (her family just moved, and right before senior year) tries to direct her to the “girl section”. She borrows her twin brother’s clothes and is treated entirely differently when she walks into the shop as a boy. In fact, another employee invites her to play Dungeons and Dragons with them. But can she handle making a portfolio of original costumes for a huge opportunity AND pretending to be a boy playing D&D, especially when feelings get involved?

This book was truly just a delight. It captured the sexism of nerd culture very well and the girl character was well rounded – more than just a “not like the other girls” girl. I thought her twin brother was a really interesting juxtaposition to her character and the story definitely blossomed with the interactions between them. The Dungeons and Dragons storyline is perfect for little reveals about each of the characters by using the characters they play in the game, and there are incredible cartoon panels interspersed throughout the book that depict the D&D story. It’s definitely a take on a fandom culture book like ones I’ve read before, but it wasn’t tired and definitely brought new and inventive ideas to the table.

If You Come Softly – Jacqueline Woodson

Ellie and Miah run into each other (literally) on their first day at Percy Academy. Miah is struggling to fit in with his new basketball team, and Ellie is struggling to fit in with…anyone. They find each other, and despite all of their differences, fall in love.

Speaking of John Green, he’s started a book club called Life’s Library. This is the first book for the book club and I am so, so glad it was chosen. This book is absolutely TIMELESS. It was written over 20 years ago but feels like it could have come out in 2018. I absolutely sobbed reading the ending. As soon as you start reading it just feels like you’re reading a classic. Love, love, love.

The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah

Leni’s dad changed in the war. It’s 1974, and he can’t stay in one place for long. He gets fired, packs them up, and they move. This time to the middle of nowhere in Alaska. They’re going to live off the land – even though they don’t have any clue how to do that. Leni just wants to fit in, and for her dad to be happy again – and stop hitting her mom. Can they survive Alaska – and her dad? Will they find a place to be themselves?

My sister recommended this to me and it is not one I normally would have picked up, but again I found myself sobbing my way through several parts of it. Alaska is truly a character in this, majestic and terrifying and isolating. The characters themselves are all incredible and strong, from Leni to her mom Cora to Matthew and Large Marge and everyone else. It’s a story of resilience and friendship, and of what family means. It will break your heart, and break it again, and break it some more, and then give you some hope and shatter it. Definitely a trigger warning on this one for domestic abuse – very hard to read at times even as someone who does not have any trauma related to that.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

Shirin is living in a post 9/11 America as a hijab wearing teen. Her parents move her and her brother around a lot, and she’s learned to put up protective walls and shut all the atrocious comments out. That doesn’t mean they don’t hurt, but she shuts them out – shuts people out. Then she meets Ocean. Annoying at first, he just keeps asking questions. Apologizing when he gets something wrong. But he just won’t give up, and she doesn’t know how to let him in without him getting hurt, too.

This is a fascinating insight into how we as Americans treat those who are different. Throw into that a look into the glorification of high school sports and some breakdancing and this book is truly, truly unique. Mafi writes the high school experience extremely realistically and the romance seems realistic as well. Beautifully written and with some fun callbacks to 2002 culture (dial up internet, anyone?)



**2018 top 5**

If You Come Softly – Jacqueline Woodson

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green

All American Boys – Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely

A Memory of Light – Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake