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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" Book Review

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a refreshing read into the psyche of young adults who are coming of age and struggling to figure out how the world works and what is expected of them. Aristotle (Ari for short) and Dante are two young Mexican American teenagers who, through course of events find themselves forming a relationship.... as a reader, once I found out that Dante really (really!) liked Ari, I was rooting for them the entire time.

Related to an earlier book club discussion, I was impressed with the presence of the parental figures that are within the book. Often you find parents in YA literature to be more in the background while the teen "does their thing", but that isn't realistic. Parents influence their children in many ways and their presence needs to be accounted for in YA lit more often.

The writing style was also very interesting and I found that the shortened, two page chapters were also more realistic. As a teen, I only had a couple of pages written in my diary before a friend called to bug me or worse (!), my sister needed something. I felt like I could really connect with this style.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

"Reading for Understanding" Textbook Review

Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College ClassroomsReading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms by Ruth Schoenbach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Reading Apprenticeship Program is innovative way to keep kids focused on reading and building literacy skills for their futures... But with limited class time and an continuously growing to-do list, as a teacher I find it difficult to make analyzing a single one page passage the prime focus of a precious class period of time. Yes, there are many elements to the program that can assist my teaching, but it takes quite a bit more effort from an already exhausted teacher to implement these rather basic things. The school year that lies ahead is my guinea pig and this is the manual to guide me, even though I think it requires more realistic connections.

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"Devil in the White City" Book Review

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting appeal for the story of the 1893 World's Fair and account of H.H. Holmes, infamous serial killer, however, I wasn't really the fish that took the bait on this one. What I was hoping for was a tale about the construction of a spectacular event, but beyond the awe, glamour and hype of it was a dark and twisted evil underneath. I wanted a story about how a serial killer lured his victims while at the event, and I admit that's sort of what I got, but it was told differently than I wanted it to be.

Instead, I received two tales that hopped to and from each other. First, you have the story of the construction of the World's Fair, with architect Daniel Burnham, who struggles to create a masterpiece that the masses will flock to. If you see pictures from 1893 Chicago, you can tell that he succeeded in creating a glimmering "white city". Secondly, you have the story of H.H. Holmes, a young, handsome, charming physician who also happens to be the ultimate scam artist. He builds hotels, marries many a pretty lady, then also happens to kill them in gruesome ways. Throughout the book each chapter switches back and forth between the two plots, but they never intersect!

What I wish would've happened would be for Holmes to somehow be directly involved in Burnham's creation. Sure, he may have visited the World's Fair, but I wanted something more dramatic. Granted, this was non-fiction, and what the truth reveals may actually creep you out and you may never want to stay in a hotel by yourself again, but if you've read fictitious crime stories or even watched "Dexter", you'll be wanting more.

Let's see what happens when the movie version with Leonardo DiCaprio is released sometime next year. :)

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Teacher Read- "The Hot Zone"

The Hot ZoneThe Hot Zone by Richard Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book because I will be teaching it this fall as the new non-fiction text in the English 9 curriculum, and since I'm such a good teacher, I better know what it was about. For this review, I will be analyzing "The Hot Zone" for its educational merits.

Preston investigates an outbreak of a dangerous viral strain- Ebola (Marburg, Ebola Zaire, Ebola Mayinga and Ebola Reston are all varieties that pose threats in this book), and its devastating effects on the human population from Kitum Cave in the heart of the African continent to a laboratory right outside Washington D.C and involves everyone from the amateur researchers to U.S. Army personnel who think they are familiar with disease....until this epidemic.

I specifically liked the narration of the text and how it is presented in smaller chapters that host individual stories that will eventually come together. We start the book off with Charles Monet who explores Kitum Cave, and Preston immediately twists the story and shows us how Monet is infected with a mysterious disease and dies in a short turn around rate. Preston also shows us the stories of doctors, nurses and other patients who interact with infected people and makes sure the reader understands the fear that comes with this unknown viral threat.

Folks- watch out for the vivid imagery! My male teenage students will love when Preston describes "organs turning into mush" and "blood dripping from every orifice", but if you're queasy, you may want to avoid it. I personally enjoyed the detail, but I also had to stop frequently and go wash my hands because I felt metaphorically contaminated.

NOTE- PETA representatives may object to this book as well, because the main reason the virus spreads is through human-primate interaction.... So how do you think the Army removes a threat of lethal virus when it's found in a laboratory of research monkeys? If you're clueless, whelp, read the book to find out.

I think that this will be a beneficial text to use in a classroom, especially in conjunction with science classes covering viruses and primates. I plan on having students investigating different diseases, writing persuasive essays about disease prevention and animal rights, as well as even doing a quarantine demonstration where the kids can do anything by sit in a chair for a certain amount of time....OH WAIT-they already do that! :)

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