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review 2017-09-23 23:09
Review of An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger
An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students - Ron Berger,Howard Gardner,Deborah Meier,Kate Montgomery

I really enjoyed this book on what makes for bringing a culture of excellence into the classroom.  I thought Berger's stories were inspirational, and loved many of his ideas.  Like many stories on great teaching though, his methods are virtually impossible to use in a big sense because his school basically allows him to teach however he wants.  At most public high schools, teachers would have to maintain a certain pace while covering a large curriculum.  However, I do like his technique of peer review and of making the work important to students.  Demanding more of students is something that sounds easy, but over time it can become difficult to maintain a high level of determination when teaching a class load of 130 kids through 180 days.  This book reminded me to never give up pushing each and every student.

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review 2017-08-18 17:08
Weathering the storm
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick

I was totally charmed by Wonderstruck because I went into it totally blind as to what it contained. I had a clue from the bolt of lightning on the front cover but even that was just a tiny portion of this stellar novel. The reader follows a boy on a journey from his small town into the bustling metropolis of New York City as he tries to find a clue to his origin story. Once again we are treated to detailed illustrations of not only the New York of the 1970s but of the 1920s as well. And a large part of the novel takes place in one of my favorite places in NYC: The American Museum of Natural History. There's a description of early museums and cabinets of curiosities (look out for a post in the future about this in more detail) which entrance as well as educate. Selznick explores Deaf culture, survival against all odds, and how we are all connected to one another. There is a grounding in true historical events which lends an extra dimension to the narrative. 10/10

 

Source: Brain Pickings

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-08-12 21:49
The perfect Spider-Man novel
Miles Morales: Spider-Man (A Marvel YA Novel) - Jason Reynolds,Kadir Nelson

This not only balanced the action of a racist regime actively trying to keep minorities down but also the more personal stories: Miles' crush on a poet, and fellow student, named Alicia.   (She's black as well, which is only important because one of their teachers is pretty openly and grossly racist.   While Miles bears the brunt of Chamberlain's wrath, Alicia isn't unaffected, and she's not the type to not get involved.   I also wonder if Miles is more of a target because of his socioeconomic status - poorer, a scholarship student at this school - but also because he's half Puerto Rican.  Or perhaps his family history on his father's side makes him the seemingly logical choice to torment for Chamberlain.   His father, Jefferson Davis and his brother, Aaron, play a large role in this novel and started out poor, and resorting to petty theft and non-violent crimes to make their way through life.   Jefferson managed to get out thanks to Rio, the woman who became his wife, and Aaron never did manage to go straight.)

 

Regardless, Miles is one of the most obedient students in school, and one of the more studious young people.   He respects his parents, and his teachers, especially when they aren't racist.  

 

And while Alicia and Miles' story isn't all about racism, by bringing the outside, the super villainy, into the school and by using it as something that does affect both Alicia and Miles, it means that the two storylines can't be completely separated.   Reynolds can, and does, work on both those stories at once. 

 

In addition, there are family issues: Miles, his roommate Ganke's family issues, and all this is worked in with an expert hand.   There's a lot going on and Reynolds does it all with a fairly low word count.   Not only that, it's fun to read.   There are moments of despair, for both Miles and Ganke, but the way that they hold each other up and cheer each other up is the true friendship that is in the comics: warm, goofy, nerdy, and always supportive, even when one thinks the other is being an idiot.   (Ganke does get pushy, especially about Morales and Spider-Man, but he's not so overly pushy that he comes off as manipulative or coercive and not all the time.   Only when he truly believes in something, like Spider-Man.)

 

This was not only a charming read, but it had a lot of important things to say about racism and how systemic it can be.   How it can poison minds, youths, and make them believe nothing will get better.   How it can turn them down the wrong path, a path they may never get off no matter how much try.   It was touching, funny, heartbreaking and all in character.   It was, in fact, one of the best Marvel tie-ins I've read.   I highly suggest this book, although I also warn you: you'll find it in the teens or young adult section.   And you should.   This is an important read, but especially for children, especially those who might not see their faces normally represented in comic books, or even comic book tie-ins.   

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review 2017-07-14 08:49
Treatise and character study
Anna Karenina - Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear,Leo Tolstoy

The foremost impression I'm left with, since I have the last part very present, is this literary symmetry: Anna takes about sixty pages to come in, by train, and leaves the book sixty pages from the end, also by train (yes, I know, some dark humor).

Next, also with the end very present, this sense that in the end, Levin and Ana essential difference is that when doubt harasses them, Levin goes back to what feels natural to him and trudges on, and Anna gives into despair.

For all that it's name comes from the woman, larger than life in the outside, and deeply uncertain on the inside, it was Levin the vehicle for most of the author treatise on... well, everything: agrarian reform, women's education, religion, politics, war, ideologies... At first I was interested. Passing the middle point, I just wanted the author to get on with it. I've gone over this many times: I have little patience for authors trying to educate or reform me through fiction.

While the Levin/Kitty side of the novel carries the most heart-warming bits, it's also choke-full of opinions, so whenever we got to it, instead of feeling like I was resting from Anna's turbulence, I started to feel dread at the amount of pages Tolstoy was about to bore me with his "insight". I totally get why the movies gloss so much over this side of the equation.

And it is some type of equation, or coin. I wonder if the author was trying to make Anna into a personification of reason, given the stab he takes at it in relation with faith in the end, with Levin as this second, him being unable to properly express himself, but finding peace with his own being at the end; Anna all poise, yet false, forever uncertain inside, speech coming out pleasant while thoughts looped and spun in place without answer. Also, passion vs. love. And romantic feeling against filial.

As for characters (beyond the two protagonist, because, you know, so mired into the theme), they were all so damned well fleshed out:

Vronsky with his honorable selfishness: I know it sounds like a contradiction, but the guy truly does not realize the damage he does, and in his own way, he follows a code of conduct strictly. It's horrifying.

Karenin... *sigh* Anna calls him a robot. At first, it looks like she's just over-reacting to her new feelings, ascribing the worst to her obstacle. It turns out she is over-reacting, but she's also somewhat right. The guy is a wonder of self-discipline, in his life and even where his feelings and though process is concerned. The way he twist and rearranges facts and ideas to suit himself is a thing to read. While writing this, I also wonder if his influence wasn't arresting much of Anna's internal disorder, if she didn't loose what little was keeping her peace when she left him, or if it was the other way around: a wild mare kept in tight reign, that suddenly tasted freedom and galloped non-stop into the abyss, with Vronsky spurring her.

Kitty with her innocence; Vronsky breaks her heart, but after some false steps, she comes on the other side just as sweet, and wiser.

Dolly and her big heart. Stiva forever on the rope by the miracle of his social nature. Sanctimonious Lidia. Betsy, so liberal but in the end unwilling to forsake society's constraints. Sergey and his empty rhetoric. Nikolay and his nihilism. Varenka.

I guess there was much more in all those many pages than proselytism. You can disregard this whole paragraph, I'm claiming that Levin ruined me, but really? Last night I went to sleep, and kept wondering: how much of these explorations impulse change? Much of what is discussed in dialogues here feels like sides talking to hear themselves, not to seek understanding, and I was left thinking about social change, and whether writing heralds it, or just meanders over what society has already started to accept or war upon. I noticed many of the topics expounded on came and passed, discarded by history, yet things that are barely touched upon, like womens rights and education became an issue not long after that endures. What I'm trying to say, and I'm treading on deeply personal and weird territory here, is that I started to doubt how much social commentary in literature looks forward, and how much it's just a belly-gazing soap box for the author.

So, *wheoo!*, that's a looong commentary on a loooong book, and I'm still unsure what I'll rate it. No, I do know. It's really good, and as a character study is great, but I don't think it perfect because, for me, if you are going to fill a novel with ideology, it has to age well, and it has to engage even on those bits. So 4 stars.

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