Sunday, May 1, 2011

NEW, AMAZING YA Book Blog...Check It Out!

As if I didn't have enough on my plate (hey, I guess my kids can skip a few dinners this month, right?!), I've launched a new young adult book blog fueled entirely by middle school writing. My students are a talented bunch of kiddos, and they've written exceptional book reviews throughout this year. I couldn't let their impressive writings go to waste, so I've decided to post their reviews on a new book blog titled On the Middle Shelf. I'm also going to be teaching classes of Gifted & Talented students next year, and I hope to add music reviews, movie critiques and the random musings of 7th and 8th grade students (yikes!). Add our blog to your frequently visited sites, and I promise you will find all kinds of interesting information to keep you entertained!

Our Hunger Games Fame Continues!

I've been a very bad blog host lately, and I'm hoping that this summer I can spend more time discussing and rehashing all of the things going on in pop culture on this blog. Until that time, I will leave you with just a few minor updates on our Hunger Games fame. We were guests on the Tuesday, April 26th show of the Blog Talk Radio program, Hunger Games Fireside Chat. Gary Ross may be extremely busy casting his movie (which I definitely have opinions on, but don't have time to post and share tonight), but 8th graders don't seem to comprehend that he just might be too busy to hop on a plane, fly to Lubbock, and hang out with them for a few days. My students as EVERYDAY if he's coming. It never gets old. ;) To tide them over until his arrival or the premiere of the movie, we've been giving interviews. Here is our latest interview with HG Fireside Chat:

Pretty awesome youtube title, don't cha think? :) If you are a fan of the movie and books, you definitely need to subscribe to this podcast. The show is chock full of great information about the upcoming movie, and has interesting discussions about the books and characters.

We also had a pretty cool interview run in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and then the same article run again in the Amarillo Globe-News:

Here are a few of the pictures they took of my class the day Joe Gulick (Reporter for the AJ) had the pleasure to talk to my class. The class he interviewed is mostly composed of ornery, smart boys ( a lethal combination in middle school). They had great fun yanking his chain and telling him whoppers. I had to constantly say, "Please do not write that down," to Mr. Gulick repeatedly. The little turds are letting fame go to their heads. :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Here is our local Fox News 34 covering our big brush with Hollywood and The Hunger Games!

To say we are excited that the local news media was able to actually TALK to Gary Ross, would be a gross understatement. Here's to hoping he can visit our school (and cast us as extras in the movie...just a suggestion.).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Gary Ross, Director of 'The Hunger Games' Gives My Students a SHOUT OUT!

If you are a Hunger Games fan, then you know who Gary Ross is, right? The guy who has the future of the franchise in his hands is sorta well-known around this blog . He has the power to take this book to premiere status, and everyone in Hunger Games Land has an opinion of what the movie should and should NOT contain.

My students LOVE & ADORE this novel, and also have very strong opinions about the movie. Never mind the fact that they are 13 and 14 years of age, they have specific and ENLIGHTENING expectations of what they want this movie to look like and contain. Many people believe 8th graders do not have coherent thoughts, but I'll be the first to go to bat for them - they are INTELLIGENT little humans!

Before our Thanksgiving break, I decided to mirror something that I had witnessed in the "Making of The Outsiders" documentary I viewed two years ago. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a gritty story of teens and their "real" problems - a story that had nothing to do with "Sally Sue's First Spring Dance". It was nothing like the adolescent literature that was on bookshelves in the late 60's. Word of mouth from teen readers fueled the sales of Hinton's groundbreaking work. A group of middle school students in Fresno, California were so passionate about the novel, their librarian encouraged them to write a famous director and beg him or her to make this novel into a movie. The students chose to send their letters to Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the Godfather films. Coppola states in the documentary that he was impressed with the students opinions and heart-felt pleas to turn this book they loved into a movie. Simply put, the cult-classic film, The Outsiders was created because STUDENTS put pen to paper and voiced their opinions.
Hell hath no fury like an 8th grader scorned! Don't let us down, Gary!

I hoped my opinionated students could repeat history, and write letters that would influence the director of THEIR beloved novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Ross having recently been named the film's director, it was the perfect time for student to send voice their opinions to the man in charge of it all. Taking the opportunity to teach proper letter format, I had my students HAND WRITE their letters on our school letterhead. They could say whatever they felt in the letter (and trust me, they didn't hold back), but they couldn't be insulting or stupid (even though I'm afraid several of those letters leaned toward the latter:).

Before writing, we created a "non-negotiables" list of book components that HAD to be in the film, and also discussed faux pas we didn't want repeated in HG, that we'd noticed in other films based on books. From there, they crafted their letters with much thought and calculation. Then came my contribution to the assignment: finding a DAD-GUM MAILING ADDRESS FOR GARY ROSS. I Googled my little heart out, and nearly gave up on finding a legitimate address to mail our package of letters. I finally found the main headquarters of Lionsgate Entertainment in California, and the address seemed to be my best bet. Skeptical that THE Gary Ross would ever get his hands on my students' meticulously crafted letters, I dropped the package in the mail, and hoped for the best.

Upon returning from Christmas break this week, my students had asked a few times if I'd heard anything about our letters, but I think they all thought I was a dork for even mailing them...Gary
Ross couldn't possibly receive OUR letters out of tons of fan mail he must receive on a daily basis, could he? The IMPOSSIBLE seemingly happened when I was given a phone message from Entertainment Weekly reporter, Karen Valby. She left the inquiry with our school secretary, who delivered the message to our assistant principal, who then finally gave it to me Thursday morning. After reading the message that stated "reporter for Entertainment Weekly who wants to talk to teacher about student letters to Hunger Games director", I nearly stroked out in the main hallway of our school. Have you ever had a moment in which you want to scream, "No bleepin' WAY!". Well, it's really hard to have that "moment" when in front of your boss! I was so excited, I was sweating like a truck driver and trembling like a 6th grader on their first day of junior high!
Look for the interview (mentioning my FRENSHIP MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS) in the January 14th issue of Entertainment Weekly!

I took a moment to collect myself so this Entertainment Weekly reporter wouldn't think I was a nut job, and give her call. After sweating through a greeting with Karen Valby, and hoping to goodness this wasn't a sick joke orchestrated by one of my ornery students, I was pleased to hear the good news. According to Valby, she had recently interviewed Gary Ross, and he had told her about letters he'd received from a group of 8th graders at Frenship Middle School near Lubbock. (Thank the Lord for campus letterhead, or she wouldn't of had a contact number for our school!) Ross went on to share his opinions of the students passionate responses, and even said he was "dying to go to this school"! I'm sure I said something during our phone conversation, but all I remember doing was sweating...PROFUSELY, and possibly SQUEEEEEEing in my pants a little. Valby also graciously offered to send me copies of the January 14th edition of the mag.

After hanging up with her, I proceeded to run around the school (in heels, mind you) and blubber my crazy news to students, fellow teachers, custodian, random-parent-in-the-hallway, librarian, and some little 6th grade kid I didn't even know. I wouldn't have students for another half hour, and I had to tell SOMEBODY! (I think I even called every member of my immediate family, since they are privy to my Hunger Games addiction.) It was one of the most exciting moments of my life (minus the birth of my daughters, and marrying my husband...blah, blah, know what I'm talking about!). Knowing that something GREAT was happening to my students filled me with an indescribable JOY. A memory was being made for these kiddos, and perhaps trust in the world being built in them - maybe knowing Gary Ross read their letters would teach them that they ARE NOT insignificant in the world. On a grander scale, perhaps they will realize after this cool occurrence that writing a letter or voicing an opinion is worth the effort. I'm cheesy, I know, but it was a very AWESOME moment in the life of this teacher! Very Hallmark/Lifetime movie-esque, and something I had to share!

Here is a snippet of the article from the Entertainment Weekly website:

“I’m so touched by the humanity of Katniss,” Ross tells EW. “As much as the firestorm or the final action sequences are incredibly riveting and enormous, it’s the relationships in the books that are the most moving to me.” That’s good news for fans of the book from Lubbock, Texas. Upon news that Ross had taken the helm, an 8th grade reading teacher from Lubbock’s Frenship Middle School instructed her 134 students to each pen letters to the director with advice on how to best nail the film. “So many of them wrote ‘Listen, I know this is an action movie and I can’t wait to see the action but please don’t lose the heart of the story,’” relays Ross. CAUTION! STOP! FAT SPOILER ALERT! “The death of Rue is mentioned by every kid who reads the book.”

One Frenship boy pleaded for Megan Fox in the role of Katniss, a perhaps misguided request at least partially driven by hormones. Ross and Jacobson will soon be heading into casting meetings, and they understand the growing clamoring for a relative unknown in the main role. “I don’t think she should be famous,” says Jacobson. “I think that fans want Katniss to belong to them and I understand that. And I think that sometimes with people who have a strong other identity — as a celebrity or as a well known other character — you feel like that person doesn’t belong to you and I think that’s what fans are looking for.” Ross promises that casting announcements will come soon, as the film hopes to go into production in the late spring.

Please, no ridiculous comments about how "Megan Fox is all wrong for Katniss"...WE KNOW THAT! The reference to that particular 8th grade letter was meant as a joke. That student is a silly, witty, goofball and mentioned to Ross that imagining Katniss as Megan Fox made the book all the more interesting. (Ahhhhhhh...8th grade boys and their awkward hormones.) To say my students were excited about Gary Ross reading their letters would be a gross understatement! They were floored, over-the-moon, giddy as school girls (well, half of them ARE school girls), and were pretty much planning their trip to Hollywood to meet the cast, crew, and Gary Ross. (And that one young man was still holding out hope of meeting Megan Fox.) I had to remind them that Ross said he WANTED to meet them, but we would never know if that statement would actually come to fruition. Either way, we are BEYOND EXCITED about THE Gary Ross reading our "helpful" and opinionated Hunger Games movie letters! For more scoop from Gary and a few more references to my students letters, purchase your copy of the January 14th edition of Entertainment Weekly PRONTO, amigo!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

EW's Open Letter to Soon-to-be Hunger Games Director, Gary Ross

As a fan of The Hunger Games, I'm more than nervous about what the Hollywood scene will do to this movie. I've seen through the first Twilight film how they can totally twist the book into something that it's not (hello, Twilight the action film? Uh, no, thanks!). According to Entertainment Weekly, Gary Ross will most likely be the director of the film I'm waiting on pins and needles to be made. Can we get a cast list for crying out loud? Hire the dang director and let's get this show on the road!

Darren Franich, a columnist for EW has concerns about the movie that he shares in his open letter to Gary Ross that I've copied for you below. After reading his letter, now I have even more stuff to worry about. I agree with Franich, though. Read the book meticulously, Mr. Ross. METICULOUSLY. Talk to Suzanne Collins. Jump inside her brain. Do NOT try to stamp YOUR "artistic" vision on this and turn it into a pop-culture disaster like Twilight. Granted, those movies have made mega-money, but true fans were sorely dissappointed. Stick to Collins's vision for this movie, and we will all leave you alone. That is all...;)

From Entertainment Weekly "Shelf Life" blog:

Dear Gary Ross:
According to Variety, you’re all-but-officially the director of the Hunger Games movie. Congratulations! You haven’t directed a movie in seven years — Seabiscuit, saw it– and now you’re at the center of the next big young-adult franchise. Hooray! Now, I hope you won’t mind, but I have one minor request: Please, please, please, please, don’t make The Hunger Games gritty. Don’t shoot the movie with handheld cameras. Don’t bleach all the color out of the film stock until everything looks like rusted Depression-era gunmetal. Don’t forget: Katniss Everdeen is not Jason Bourne.

Now, I’m no snob. Gritty can be cool. Heck, calling a movie “gritty” used to be a compliment. Saving Private Ryan, The Lord of the Rings, and The Bourne Identity all took sainted genres known for glossy excess — the war film, the fantasy epic, the espionage thriller — and smeared them in mud. Actors spoke every line in an angry whisper. The color scheme was monochromatic, mostly hovering between comatose-blue and industrial-gray. It was awesome…for awhile. But now, “gritty” is everywhere. We’ve seen the Gritty James Bond movie, the Gritty Superhero movie, the Gritty Twilight movie, the Gritty Terminator movie. We’ve seen Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, the single muddiest movie ever made.

I understand the impulse to go gritty with Hunger Games. It’s post-apocalyptic, like Children of Men and all the real-world scenes in The Matrix. Katniss lives in District 12, a coal-mining town that reads like a Soviet hellhole. The latter half of the book is one extended action sequence — sound like it demands the extreme-close-up/shaky-cam tension of a Bourne film, right?

Wrong. Reading Hunger Games, you’re struck by just how vivid and alive the forest is. It’s Katniss’ escape from drudgery, the one place she can really feel alive. Listen to her describe the valley outside of District 12: “teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight.” That’s sounds more like the Technicolor-organic wilderness of Avatar than the dark, shadowy woods of Twilight. Conversely, the Capitol reads like a fascist version of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: too bright, too colorful, overpopulated with highly-caffeinated supermodels. But again, no gritty here.

Mr. Ross, Hunger Games has an instantly exciting storyline, and I have to believe that even a lame treatment of the book will result in a pulse-pounding action movie. But just because ugly things happen in Hunger Games doesn’t mean the film should look ugly. Heck, making Hunger Games gritty is the equivalent of adding a CGI stormcloud over President Snow’s head and adding explanatory subtitles to every scene: “VIOLENCE IS WRONG. DON’T DO FASCISM.”

Don’t make things too easy for the audience. Don’t forget about Suzanne Collins’ biting satirical edge, or her beautifully expansive vision of the world outside the fence. Don’t be afraid to unleash your inner Paul Verhoeven, or your inner Terrence Malick. Don’t go gritty. Hunger Games fans (and people who suffer from motion sickness) will thank you.


Darren J. Franich, anti-grit crusader and self-described Hunger Games expert

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Oh, man....are you in for a treat! I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore is the quintacenstial teen sci-fi hit of 2010. I know I'm not known for my analysis of literary classics, but my mantra is that "reading should be fun." Yes, a very complicated and deep mantra, but I'm not a big believer in only reading crap that is written for book snobs. I like to be entertained when I read, and this book definitely fits the bill for entertainment value! From what I've read about the book, it was totally written just so they could make an interesting movie about it, but whoever they hired to write the book was a great writer. No lie. Usually ghost writers for big-budget books or celebrity-written novels seem to blow (Hello, L.A. Candy?), but the fictional Pittacus Lore is worth the money Disney paid him or her to write the novel. I totally bought in the the marketing scheme...count me in for the next in the series, please!
So how did I get hooked on this pop-culture series? Every month, I copy the book review section from Justine Magazine (our school library has a subscription to this publication). If you aren't familiar with their SPARK book club, then you need to be. This magazine reviews teen fiction on a monthly basis and it usually has reviews written by teen readers. We like to read these book reviews because they really do "SPARK" interest in books. I have my students circle and discuss the top two books off of the reviews that they would like to read most. If I have enough money left in my class budget, I buy the books they voted as the most interesting. I usually can't keep these books on my shelves for the duration of the year. However, after my classes read the review page that contained I am Number Four and voted that book (as well as The Body Finder) as a book they would like to read, I discovered I didn't have enough school funds to buy the book. Books are to me what shoes are to other women: I can't say no to a good pair. I bought both books the other day and devoured I am Number Four in two days.
Nine Lorien children were sent to planet Earth in the midst of a full-scale attack by the evil and Mogadarian race. They plan to strip Lorien of it's natural resources and wipe out the Lorien population in the process. The plan is for the Lorien children to hide out on Earth, and wait for their Legacies (or superhuman talents) to grow and develop so they can come together to fight the Mogadarians for control of their homeland. A special Lorien charm protects the children when they arrive on Earth. Each is numbered, and each must live seperately from the other nine with their protector, or Cepan, or the charm will not work. The only way the Mogadarian can kill the Lorien teens is in the order that they were numbered. The nine children live in hiding on Earth, but the Mogadarians have discovered that they are on our planet and begin hunting them one by one. The first three are dead. Our narrator is number four. He knows that he is next and he also is aware that the Mogadarians have other reasons for being on Earth besides just hunting down the Lorien teens. Can the remaining six Loriens develop their Legacies and fight the Mogadarians before Earth as we know it is lost? You try starting this book tonight and see if YOU can put it down...not so easy, people!
What is also cool about this book is that it already has a movie coming out in February. Alex Pettyfer plays John, or Number Four. He is also the actor that many are lobbying for him to nab the role of Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games movie. He's quite literally the hottie in the trailer. The chick from Glee plays Number Four's love interest, Sarah, in the movie. Check out the trailer below and then go buy the book. It's awesome!

Bloodline by Kate Cary

Kate Cary's contribution to the teen vampire phenomenon with her novel, Bloodline, will leave readers with a true definition of what an evil vampire should be, and they definitely do not sparkle in Cary's adaptation! As a sort of sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, Cary tells a majority of the Bloodline tale through the journal of John Shaw. Recovering from wounds sustained in World War I, Shaw has vivid flashbacks and nightmares of his time in the trenches. The horrors he witnessed are not only from enemies encountered on the battlefield. A majority of his shocking visions are memories of watching his commanding officer, Quincy Harker perform superhuman, impossible feats and although John blames his memories on the side effects of trench fever, he's almost certain that he witnessed Harker drink the blood of their battle enemies. John doesn't want to face the evil truth behind his commanding officer's abilities, but when Quincey Harker shows up to check on John in his England hospital, John must question who his commanding officer truly is. Harker also begins to show interest in John's younger sister, Lucy, and this recent infatuation which makes knowing the truth of Harker's origins all the more imperative to John. He begins researching Harker's bloodline, and makes chilling discoveries about the war hero and himself.

Fans of Bram Stoker's classic will love the writing style of Kate Cary. She mimics the era of writing that encompassed the Gothic literature movement in the late 1800s. Telling the story through the journal entries and letters of different characters was also interesting, but at times kept the story from flowing as easy as it would have if the novel was told from third person POV, and interspersed with journal entries.

Descriptions of the vampire castle and the Transylvania vamps were truly chilling. Cary is a master of imagery when it came to her descriptions of the castle and the dark, shadowy chambers of the castle. I found myself unable to read this novel at night, for fear of Mina, Quincey, and the other vampires watching me from the shadows! There were a few scenes that intertwined blood lust and actual sexual desire that may be too much for teen readers. I would definitely say that grades 8-12 should be the target age-rage for this novel. Any younger might find the scenes from World War I and the Transylvania castle too graphic and gory. Teen vampire enthusiasts also need to take heed: Quincey Harker is NOT Edward Cullen's long-lost cousin. The Harker vampires embrace evil, blood lust, and find human life worthless.This chilling read will definitely leave you searching for the sequel, Bloodline Book Two: Reckoning.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hunger Games Projects

Oops! We did it again...My fellow 8th grade Reading teacher and I dressed up as Katniss for "Twin Day" during our Red Ribbon Week festivities. Other than a few students asking if we were Pocahontas, it was a huge success!

It's been a LONG time since I've posted, but teaching seems to hinder my ability to blog on a regular basis. (Curse you, real world!) Teaching is what actually leads me to this post - my students' amazing work on our recent Hunger Games projects. I usually wait to teach the novel at the end of the year, but decided that it would be best to have my students excited about reading at the BEGINNING of the year. A no brainer, right? Shifting my curriculum around just might be the best thing I've done in terms of doing what is best for my students. We finished the novel this week and MANY have already consumed Catching Fire and are halfway through Mockingjay. Thank you, Suzanne Collins for enabling my students to find pleasure in reading. Who woulda thunk it? I love seeing my 8th graders grappling for books and begging to borrow copies of my novels. It's like they've just discovered how pleasurable reading can be and are making up for lost time. Moments like these are what make teaching such a blessing!
I couldn't ruin their excitement for the novel and tarnishing this pleasurable experience with a stale, pointless, multiple choice test. Last year we created HUNGER GAMES FAN T-Shirts as part of our final exam (which we will do again before our Hunger Games Arena Competition, but that is another post). This year students could work in a group (no larger than four members) and choose from the following options:

1. Gadgets of the Capitol - Many gizmos and gadgets are referred to in the pages of The Hunger Games. Select one or many of the gadgets you found interesting or worthy of further exploration. Create a commercial or advertisement for the gadget in which you give a description and function of the item.
***I had three funny, creative, and down-right exceptional commercials submitted by students for this area of study. A group used the box that Katniss places her hand on to dry and part her hair. Using a wig, they cut from a boy with wet hair placing his hand on the box, to the same boy with a ridiculous wig on his head. "The Helping Hand Hair Genie" was a fabulous commercial! I will post it when (and if) I can obtain parent's too amazing not to share!

2. Cinna's Creations - Cinna was Katniss's stylist who helped to make her a memorable contender before the start of the Games. Recreate Cinna's fashions through drawings, fabric, or any other medium you desire. Be sure to include a description from the text when you present each outfit. Here are a few grainy pictures of a PHENOMENAL project sumitted by my 8th graders:

Using doll clothing patterns and their combined sewing/painting skills, this group went ABOVE AND BEYOND the call of duty.
This dress was HAND PAINTED by a student to mimic the flames described on Katniss's interview gown.

Katniss's opening ceremonies costume. Using the doll and putting her in the costumes of the opening ceremonies seemed somewhat symbolic to me. These characters in the books are just children; children being paraded around the Capitol for mere entertainment value.

3. Muttations - The Capitol used the genetically altered DNA of animals and humans to create MUTTATIONS. Select one or all of the muttations mentioned in The Hunger Games and create an informative poster, or you can even create a model of the mutt. You must have a description of the muttation from the text and describe what role the mutt had in the novel. (For example, the mockingjay was a symbolic to Katniss because the bird reminded her of her father.)

This is the wolf mutt, GLIMMER! Notice the green eyes and the jewel inlaid District 1 on her collar? Not what I would call a cuddly creature!

4. The Arena - Recreate the Arena by drawing a map, creating a scale model, or through computer animation and graphics. Select a certain area of the arena (like the Cornucopia), or create the ENTIRE domain of Katniss and Peeta's suffering! Include textual descriptions and do your best to stick to the novel's depictions of the Arena.

Model of the Cornucopia created by a FABULOUS group of students in my class this year. Check out the attention to detail!
The Cornucopia and it's mini-supplies.
See all of the tiny tributes poised on their metal plates? Such effort put in to this project!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hey, That's ME!

Do ya'll remember when I dressed as Katniss last April to introduce The Hunger Games to my class? My husband told me those pictures I posted would come back one day to haunt me...

He was RIGHT! HA! One of my students told me yesterday, "Hey, Mrs. Hart, I saw you on a Hunger Games blog this weekend!" It made me kind of nervous; not knowing for sure what the internet site the kid was talking about (Hey, now! Get your mind out of the gutter...that's not why I was nervous!). After finding the link, I thought it was pretty cool that my Katniss costume from last year made it onto a Hunger Games fan blog. is a pretty cool fan site for the series if you haven't checked it out already! Above, you will find my picture featured in a post covering Hunger Games Halloween costume ideas (Uh..I'm the one on the right. I refuse to dress like Effie! Ha!). Happy Hunger Games!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

'A Northern Light' by Jennifer Donnelly

In my quest to purchase individual titles for my classroom library, author Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light kept popping up as a recommendation. Winner of The Carnegie Medal, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, 'A Northern Light' needn't earn my seal of approval to be deemed a worthy teen read, yet I was eager to put my two cents in to the pot! I love turn-of-the-century novels and devoured the book in the car ride to and from Dallas.

After the death of her mother, Mattie, the eldest Gokey daughter is expected to help her father run the family farm. Not an easy task in itself, never mind the three younger sisters she must also tend to and manage. Burdened with the workload of the farm and her family, Mattie's dream of going to college in New York City at Barnard College seems impossible. That is, until her charismatic and feminist teacher Miss Wilcox enables Mattie to land a full scholarship by submitting Mattie's short stories to the college admissions board. However, Mattie still refuses to believe that obtaining her dream is possible, especially when at every turn someone is telling her that women do not belong in college and that an education is worthless and a waste of resources and precious time.

"It's not pride I'm feeling. It's another sin. Worse than all the other ones, which are immediate, violent and hot. This one sits inside you quietly and eats you from the inside out like the trichina worms the pigs get. It's the Eight Deadly Sin. The one God left out.

Eager to earn money for college and to help her family's struggling farm, Mattie takes a summer
job at the Glenmore - where she meets hotel guest Grace Brown, whose only interaction with Mattie is to ask her to burn a bundle of letters to her lover. After Grace's lifeless body is fished from the waters surrounding the Glenmore, Mattie hesitantly begins reading the letters that not only foreshadow Grace's demise, but oddly parallel the taxing life decisions Mattie is refusing to face.
Jennifer Donnelly and her gift for character development is remarkable. Even characters that only exist in Mattie Gokey's memories are exquisite. In her longing for her mother who died of breast cancer only a year before, was so easy for me (or anyone who has endured the hell that is cancer) to identify with Mattie's pain and suffering.
“I remembered her singing as she cooked. And standing downstairs in the root cellar in November, smiling at all the food she'd put up. I remember how she made us fancy braided hairdos and how she trudged through the winter fields on snowshoes to bring Emmie Hubbard's kids a pot of stew. I tried very hard to remember only the good things about my mama. To remember her the way she was before she got sick. I wished I could cut the rest out of me the way the doctor tried to cut the cancer out of her, but I couldn't. No matter how hard I struggled to keep my last images of her at bay, they came anyway."

Mattie's memories of her mother and the warmth that her house once shared are palatable...I feel as if I know Mattie's mother, and her father is just as well-developed. Her sisters, friends, uncles, teacher, neighbors - each are critical pieces to the development of the plot and are so rich and dimensional, I would readily a novel written from the perspectives of each.
The murder-mystery surrounding Grace Brown is actually the least interesting sub-plot binding this novel together; this statement is meant as a complement to Donnely's writing. She's developed a cast of characters whose ordinary lives and struggles are just as gut-wrenching and page-turning as an action-packed murder mystery.

I loved, loved, loved the ending and how the plot was parceled neatly its well-wrapped package. Endings that tie to the beginnings always do me in...I love the small revelations I have during the moments after the last line of such books are read. Jennifer Donnelly did that for me, and that's why I'm giving this book a ten out ten stars and an exuberant "thumbs up".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Katniss Everdeen: Leading Lady in Teen Fiction

Image by:

© 2010 skellingt0n: Fan imagining of a
The Hunger Games movie poster (DeviantArt)

Isn't this fan-made movie poster AWESOME??? Notice how Katniss and I are mirroring poses in my costume pic. Ha!

If you've frequented my blog, you know that all things concerning The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins dominates most of my posts. I can't help it. I LOVE the book and series, and I'm estatic that I can teach the novel to my junior high students! Today in class we were discussing Katniss and her character traits, and I off-handedly mentioned that she was my favorite female character in teen fiction. My students didn't miss a beat and decided to turn the tables on their teacher, asking, "What makes Katniss your favorite?" Here's a David Letterman-style top ten list detailing why Miss Everdeen is beating out her teen ficiton counterparts for Top Teen Heroine (in my mind):
*drumroll, please...............*

10. She's a bad Mamma-Jamma. Do you want to mess with a chick who can shoot a squirrel through its eye from fifty meters away? I think not.

9. She can sleep in a tree. Who can do that? Seriously?

8. Raw rabbit meat and pine bark: it's whats for dinner!

7. She is literally "The Girl on Fire".

6. Boys do not define her - they fight over her! (And...they are HOT BOYS...who bake...and kill things. ;)

5. Haymitch is her homeboy.

4. She refrains from punching Effie in the face throughout the duration of the trilogy.

3. Pig. Apple. Arrow. 'Nuff said!

2. Peeta loves her. I love what Peeta loves!

1. She could kick the snot out of Bella Swan. (We know I love Twilight, but you have to admit, Bella is one whiney chick!)

Picture by graysee at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"YOU Cast THE HUNGER GAMES"...Does E.W. Read My Blog?

It's very egotistical of me to think that, but it could happen...right? After coming across this article in Entertainment Weekly, I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the actors and actresses that we've been discussing (errrr, DEBATING! ) gracing the pages of my favorite magazine. For a chance to vote on your pick, click on the picture below. The article is VERY interesting for those of you who are as invested in this series as much as I am!
According to Entertainment Weekly, here are their top contenders for the main roles in the flilm...


Kaya Scodelario (39% of the vote)
Best Known For: Britain's Skins, Clash of the Titans

Alexandra Daddario (19%)
Best known for: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Hunter Parrish (40%)
Best Known For: Weeds

Alex Pettyfer (22%)
Best Known For: 2011's Beastly


Gaspard Ulliel (40%)
Best Known For: playing the young Hannibal Lector in Hannibal Rising

Drew Roy (38%)
Best Known For: iCarly, Hannah Montana


Kristen Chenoweth (51%)
Best Known For: Pushing Daisies, Broadway's Wicked

Emily Blunt (15%)
Best Known For: The Devil Wears Prada and The Young Victoria


Hugh Laurie (37%)

Best Known For: House

Robert Downey Jr. (36%)

Best Known For: Iron Man

Alli Shearmur from Lionsgate is listening to the fans and is quoted in the article as saying that "some of the actresses who fans have identified as the best potential Katniss are being considered." Smart move,Lionsgate! Movie makers should know how opinionated and passionate fans of a book can be when their beloved characters are going to be projected onto the big screen. Here's to hoping they make the right choice...we can't find out the official cast list soon enough!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Robert Pattinson in Lubbock, TX...and I Missed It

The events from the morning of Tuesday, September 7th will be forever seared into my memory. No, a relative didn't die and I didn't win any money. Babies weren't born and promotions weren't given. You would think that a memorable morning would consist of one of these life-changing events, but my memorable morning consisted of me MISSING ROBERT PATTINSON ON MY FREAKIN' DOORSTEP. Okay, so I'm dipping into my hyperbole pool, but I did practically miss the only chance I will ever have to see The Precious in the flesh. Let me break down this soul-crushing morning for you:

1. I wake up on Tuesday morning at 6:00am, ready to start back to work after a long weekend. Boo.
2. Pour myself a cup of joe and play with my phone while I wait for the sweet nectar that is my morning cup to take effect.
3. I quickly see that blasted red bubble alerting me to the fact that I have 800 missed calls and 1000 missed texts...okay, more exaggeration, but I had a crap-ton of ignored calls and texts.
4. Assuming that either A.) a loved one has died, or B.) I've forgotten to do or be somewhere really important. I click on my missed texts first.
5. Text from my friend that reads: "Um. Robert Pattinson is here. Like, HERE. IN LUBBOCK. RIGHT NOW. ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONE. HERE. IN. LUBBOCK. CALL ME!"
6. I nearly drop my cup of coffee in the process of scrambling to read the rest of my texts and listen to my voicemails - and (to my horror) all confirm the first text. I still didn't believe it.
7. Thinking that my friends have a sick and twisted sense of humor, I do what any of us would do in this situation and get on Facebook to check the validity of said texts/voicemails.
8. I find more pleas and entreaties for me to get out of bed and get my ass to Crickets Bar & Grill, a college sports bar near Texas Tech University across town...AS IN THE TOWN WHERE I CURRENTLY RESIDE.
9. I then find these pictures taken by my friend's camera phone and other phones in the vicinity:
This first picture I see is so grainy, I almost breathe a sigh of relief. It can't be RPatz. It's more likely Jesus enjoying a beer in a Lubbock bar, than the likes of Robert Pattinson, right? At least that's what I continued to tell myself until I saw these beautiful images...
The sexy smirk. The rumpled shirt. The insane beard that is hiding my jaw porn...yep, it's The Precious.
How can someone be sexy while texting? Robert Pattinson can!

Holy cow! Like a knife to the heart! In a bar mere miles from my home! Oh, why can't I be drinking on a random Monday evening? Curse you, husband, children and career! ;)

Lucky hoochies. And to quote Tessie Hutchinson, "It isn't fair! It isn't right"...and then, they were upon her.

This experience proves to me that God has a sick sense of humor. Why in the world would he send the only celebrity who actually causes me to swoon to my craptastic town? Nothing ever happens in Lubbock! Nothing besides football, drinking, and the occasional City Council that are equal parts boring and in no way pique my interest! The only celebrity we've ever had step foot in our city limits is that blasted Matthew McConaughey, and I can't like him because he's a Longhorn fan. That's against all of the blood oaths I took when I graduated from Texas Tech University. Something like "thou shalt not covet an attractive celebrity who has the audacity to wear a burnt orange leather coat." Honestly. He wears a burnt orange leather coat to Longhorn games. I don't care how attractive you are. It's never good form to insult a cow by dying his poor cowhide burnt orange. Anywhooooo, I digress....

Back to The Precious. Turning off my ringer at night cost me the chance to hang out with my celebrity crush. My husband even felt sorry for me. I would've taken him to a bar to catch a glimpse of Angelina Jolie. She's on his list, just like RPatz is on mine. He understood the horrific feelings of loss I was experiencing and actually offered to take me around town to troll random hotel lobbies in the hopes I would bump in to him. Sweet offer, but I didn't want to miss reporting to work. I was secretly banking on the possibility that Oprah was hiding in my classroom, (cameras ready to surprise me) with Robert Pattinson at her side, eager to tell me what an awesome teacher I am. Unbeknownst to me, (I was praying) some sweet, former student had sent in a request for me (thier favorite teacher) to meet my favorite fictional character; and Oprah, being the sweet lady that she is, read the heart-wrenching profession of educational excellence and came to Lubbock to bestow the gift that is The Precious upon me in person! Whew!

After succumbing to the fact that I missed my one and only chance to meet such a lovely hunk of man, I quizzed my friend who was able to make it into Cricket's Bar & Grill before the wolves descended. I asked him how Rob behaved in the bar...could you smell him? Was he as dreamy in person as he is in front of the camera? Here is the short q & a with my buddy, who was able to live the dream for me - if only for a few minutes:

Me: Was he (Rob) interacting with the people in the bar or keeping to his table of friends? Did you get to actually sit in the bar?

Buddy: He was personable...texted a lot...smiled...laughed when his friends were singing karaoke. Hearty laugh, head thrown back. I was inches from him when he went to the potty.

Me: Did he speak? DETAILS!

Buddy: He nodded and said hello and I almost wet myself. I think I may have giggled.

Me: Oh, heck, I would've! I'm too polite to bother a celebrity. Why?? I wouldn't have had the guts to interrupt his night to ask for a pic or an autograph!

Buddy: Our friend did, but he politely could tell he was just wanting a break, a beer, some laughs, but he smiled and didn't get ornery.

I can picture beautiful Rob, tossing his head back to let loose a hearty laugh. Can't you? I would've even loved to have been his waitress that night, but I can tell those chicks probably annoyed the tar out of him. Check out this video from our local news to confirm my theory here.


No such luck. Sorry I missed you, Rob. Like two ships, passing in the night...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lionsgate and the Katniss Question

Is Chloe Moretz Katniss Everdeen?

The USA Today reported on Wednesday that there is a bit of buzz surrounding the Lionsgate casting of Katniss Everdeen for The Hunger Games movie. Apparently, actress Chloe Moretz is said to be on the top of a very short list for nabbing the role of the tough heroine. Who is Chloe Moretz, you may ask? Her most recent works include Kick-Ass and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Chloe is only 13 years old, and in my humble opinion, looks more like Prim than Katniss, if we are going on looks alone, which I know shouldn't be what gets her the job - looks. I do know for a fact that her acting skills are noteworthy, and Perri Nemiroff gives her a huge thumbs up for the part in his article, "Daring to Dream: Casting 'The Hunger Games' Movie". He makes some great suggestions for our beloved character's parts. Check out his article for more!
If this movie sucks because they can't hold casting auditions and hire an actress that fits the physical traits of the character and can actually act, then I don't want them to even bother with production. (And if I hear Kristen Stewart's name mentioned for this role one more time, I just might hurl. She is NOT Katniss and I don't think anything Twilight-related should be thrust upon this stand-alone series. This article describing the brew-haha around casting/making The Hunger Games movie even goes as far to call THG The Next Twilight. Ugh. Although a great article and interview with producer Nina Jacobson, enough with the Twilight comparisons!) Do your homework, Lionsgate and GET THIS RIGHT.
So... just in case the casting directors of The Hunger Games need a bit of help, let me give them a slew of character traits mentioned in the book. In fact, take out a sheet of paper, directors, and let's make a t-chart for our lovely Ms. Everdeen, shall we? (We do this in my classroom while studying the novel, and it will serve as a valuable exercise for you, too, my dear casting directors.)Notice I even provide you with page numbers to Suzanne Collins's descriptions in the book. THE BOOK should be the golden standard here when referencing traits, shouldn't it? After all, those of us who will be in line with tickets in hand to see your production will be dedicated fans of the series. PLEASE attempt to have some regard and respect for Collins's vision of the character, Katniss Everdeen. This movie will be an epic fail if Katniss is miscast, but no pressure, huh?

In other Hunger Games movie news, the final round of directors are also rumored to be vying to take the helm of this much-anticipated movie. Sara Gundell from reports that David Slade, Gary Ross and Sam Mendes are named as the top three directors for the job. I've obviously heard of David Slade (director of Eclipse) and have enjoyed many Sam Mendes films (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). Ross is behind the film Pleasantville (amongst others), but Pleasantville being the only one I really recognized and a film that is one of my cinema favorites! Surprisingly, I do not have an educated opinion for my Lionsgate friends as to who should be the director. It sounds like the three that are leading the crowd are more than qualified for the job.

So there you have it, Hunger Games fans, a bit of news on the film all of us are chomping at the bit to see...LET'S GET GOING, LIONSGATE! Call me if you need a consultant to quote book passages and such!

Click HERE to vote for The Hunger Games movie cast - a poll created by Entertainment Weekly.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Re-Reading Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My students favorite phrase to say that they think will get them out of work in my classroom is, "But I already read that!" For some reason, students think that it is taboo to reread a novel or short story. Why? Don't we watch our favorite movies over and over again? Do we listen to songs we like the first time around a few more times? OF COURSE! You can derive the same pleasure from rereading a favorite book! (Don't tell anyone, but I've reread the entire Twilight series at least five times. I KNOW!) It's starting to be the same way with Suzanne Collins's addicting series. I teach the first book, so I hear the same chapters repeated six times a day, but IT NEVER GETS OLD! When Katniss is running from the Cornicopia for the first time, my heart quickens and my palms sweat...even if I'd just read that scene to my students the period before!

That brings me to rereading the second book, Catching Fire. When I was first able to lay hands on it, I DEVOURED it. I had to know what would happen to the characters I had come to know and love. When I devour a book, I tend to skip over stuff. My eyes skim the lines with anticipation, and I end up missing out on little details. I'm only through the first two chapters and I'm noticing all kinds of stuff I didn't the first go around. Has anyone else had this experience? I'm planning on chronicling my eye-opening discoveries in a post I'll publish the day before Mockingjay is released! Any tidbits you guys would like to alert me to while I'm rereading? Feel free to leave me a comment!

Totally off the subject, but check out this pic of actress, Kaya Scodelario I found on the Twilightlexicon blog. They were discussing who should play Katniss (aren't all of us?), and a fan recommended her. Add some tan-in-a-can, and I think she looks PERFECT if we are judging by looks alone.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I will admit that my love of all things Robert Pattinson is what enticed me to read this novel that I've skimmed over, but never purchased . After seeing a few screen shots of the movie that is currently in production, I decided I wanted to know more about Rob's character, Jacob Jankowski. He's uber hot in these pics. Can you blame me? There are so many more fabulous pictures @ Oh, my. Suspenders never looked so good!

Reading the book with the mental images of Rob as Jacob might have made the book better for me than if I'd read it before movie production began. Call me shallow and a petty, but I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel because of Rob and let's not forget the fabulous writing of Sara Gruen. I can't imagine the effort and research it took to know so much about the Depression era circus business. Gruen creates a seamless world of circus life that was engrossing and real. I'm hoping the movie can recreate the amazing imagery Gruen supplied producers with, and from looking at the movie stills, I'm seeing that they may be on the right track. I also love the juxtaposition of narration between old Jacob and young Jacob. It reminds me of The Notebook, but with less Alzheimer's and more elephants.

Gruen begins the novel with a 90 year old (or 93 year old....he's not quiet sure. What do a few years matter when he's already this old, he wanders?) Jacob. He's lonely and stuck in a nursing home, with ample time to reflect upon his life. The arrival of a traveling circus in the adjacent lot next to his nursing home stirs memories of his young-adult life. Jacob begins the long and mysterious track down memory lane, and his involvement with a traveling circus in the 1930s....

Jacob Jankowski is days away from completing his degree in veterinary medicine at Cornell University when he receives heartbreaking news about his parents. This news rattles him to the core, and sends him in a tailspin that leads him to the moving train of the Benzini Brothers Circus. Hoping aboard the train with only the clothes on his back, Jacob leaves behind everything and everyone he has ever known. His almost-degree in veterinary medicine makes him a perfect candidate to care for the rare and exotic animals on the tour, yet also separates him from the other working-class men he is surrounded by.

Immediately enamored by the beautiful and talented horse trainer and performer, Marlena, Jacob decides to stay on with the circus. Never mind that Marlena is married to the paranoid schizophrenic animal trainer, August. A man who immediately identifies Jacob as a threat, and has no qualms about getting rid of the new vet.

The gritty, often terrifying world of the Benzini Brothers Circus is the most unique and rare settings of any novel I've read this year. Water for Elephants is a brilliant novel, and will hopefully be complemented by an equally spectacular movie!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Nina is an American born Pakistani-Muslim girl doing her best to fit in to her suburban town. Never mind the fact that she was born and raised in Deer Hook, her ethnicity and religion separate her from her predominately white friends. Nina is a hysterical narrator, who keeps the reader thoroughly entertained with her humorous outlook on her situation. Any teenager could relate to her plight and perhaps find humor in their own situation after reading Skunk Girl. An entertaining addition to my teen fiction collection!

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

I love reading books that make me angry. It's either this side effect or the other that makes a book golden in my eyes: angry vs. blissfully happy. Great books stir emotions in their reader, and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams did that for me. I read with rapt attention and disgust. Yes, disgust. Read the rest of my review to understand why...

Thirteen year old Kyra lives a quiet, simple life with her 19 brothers and sisters, her father, and his three wives. (Yes. She is one of 19...and I thought I got the short end of the stick being the middle child of three girls. No complaints here!) As a member of the polygamist cult, The Chosen Ones, Kyra lives in isolation with her people; only learning about the outside world through the books she sneaks into the compound from the nearest town's mobile library. (She likes to go for walks around the dirt roads surrounding the compound, and happens to encounter the County Mobile Library on one of her walks. She sneaks the books into the compound in her dress to read at night.) Reading these forbidden books has planted seeds of doubt in Kyra's mind about the preachings of Prophet Childs - the iron-fisted leader of The Chosen Ones, who claims to have a direct line of communication with Jesus himself. Prophet Childs has forbidden books and travel to the nearby town, warning the cult members that only the devil and his evil can be found outside the chainlink fences of the compound.

Kyra shares the secret of her books with another compound teen, Joshua. Through their secret meetings and discussion of books they become much more than friends and develop feelings for each other that also break the boundaries established by Prophet Childs. When the Prophet proclaims that he had a vision of Kyra marrying her 60 year old uncle, Hyrum, Kyra's world is tossed asunder. Is the world she lives within her books and in secret meetings with Joshua the right path to follow? Should she risk it all (and the possible safety of the family she loves dearly) to avoid marrying her cruel and aged uncle? Did I mention Uncle Hyrum is 60 and Kyra is 13. THIRTEEN! Yuck.

I read this novel in the span of two evenings - biting my fingernails and holding my breath with every turn of the page. I've always been curious about the lifestyle one must lead to be a part of a polygamist community, but I never really ventured what it must be like for the children who are brought up to know nothing but this lifestyle. I love how Williams uses books as Kyra's escape from the Compound. The view they give her of the outside world is what opens the window in Kyra's mind that her way of life might not be the only way to find fufillment and rightousness. This novel is by far and away one of the best teen reads of the summer!