Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

Having been a fan of Louis Sachar's work since reading and subsequently teaching Holes to my middle schoolers back in my former life as a teacher, I was super excited to see The Cardturner show up in my mailbox a while back. I finally got around to reading it this past weekend, and while it isn't Holes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. (Don't you hate it when reviewers compare author's works to their most highly-acclaimed works?)

The premise - Alton Richards is your typical teenage boy. It's summer break, and since his girlfriend dumped him for his best friend, he has no exciting plans. He's not super excited when his mother volunteers him to drive his ailing blind uncle (who also happens to be rich) to his bridge games and be his cardturner a few times a week. As his uncle's health continues to fail, Alton's parents want to make sure Alton charms the family into his will, but there's another family that has mysterious ties to Uncle Lester and who seems to be competing for the inheritance. Soon, Alton is drawn into a decades-long secret and even learns to love bridge along the way.

So, here's what I really like about the book - the characters. Alton is a great character. He's believable - smart, funny, sarcastic, and inquisitive. From the very beginning, you're drawn into Alton's story and really like him as a person. Uncle Lester is the perfect, curmudgeonly old man who really does have a big heart. And then there's spunky Toni Castaneda - the granddaughter of Alton's sister-in-law who is the center of a very intriguing and sad mystery.

Throughout the book, Sachar inserts bridge lessons. I have to admit that I found them interesting at first, but by the end, I was skipping over them altogether. I'm more of a visual learner, and reading about different hands and plays and tactics was a bit much for me and what I think may turn some off from the book. He does, however, at the end of each "bridge lesson" include a short summary for those who don't want to read the more detailed section. And of course, he pokes a bit of fun at himself by including a whale symbol at the beginning of the each lesson - a nice little nod to the often over-detailed Moby Dick.

But, it's not a book about bridge. Bridge happens to be the element of the book that weaves the story and the characters together, but behind the bridge lessons, there's a beautiful story of love, friendship, family, and the search for truth.

Reading level: Young Adult | Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May 11, 2010) | ISBN-13: 978-0385736626 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

100 Things About Me as a Reader, Part 1

So, I'm way behind on blog reading and just came across Mary Lee's "100 Things About Me as a Reader" at A Year of Reading. Inspired by her blogging partner Franki's post, Mary Lee lists some interesting tidbits about herself as a reader and also says that a lot of individuals are posting their own lists, and teachers are assigning this to students. Of course, I can't pass this up. Here's the beginning of my list.

  1. According to my mom, by the time I was two, I was "reading" books my memory. 
  2. Also according to my mom, my first favorite book was The Pokie Little Puppy. I found a copy of this for my daughter when she was one, but it's never caught on. 
  3. The first series I fell in love with was the Trixie Belden series. A family friend gave me a full set when I was in the third grade. 
  4. The second series I fell in love with was the Flowers in the Attic series and then every other dark V.C. Andrews series I could get my hands on. 
  5. My Aunt Marian, along with my mom, helped nurture my love for reading. She frequently bought me books and lent me her own when I was growing up.
  6. When I was young, the library was one of my favorite places to be. It still is.
  7. I read Gone With the Wind when I was in 5th grade. It continues to be one of my favorites of all time. 
  8. I'm not sure that I have a favorite genre. I read whatever I'm in the mood for at that moment, but I do have a soft spot for dystopian fiction. 
  9. I became an English major because I loved reading and writing about what I was reading so much. 
  10. My two favorite classics are "Les Miserables," and "The Great Gatsby." Just mention the name Jean Valjean, and I get giddy.
  11. I often have around six books started at once. Right now, I'm reading four books and listening to one audio book.
  12. I get sad when people tell me they're not readers. 
  13. I love the touch, feel, and smell of books, but I really want a Kindle. I have the Kindle iPhone app, but it's not the same. 
  14. I love Historical Fiction. My favorite periods are the Tudor period, the Civil War, and the Renaissance. 
  15. I love reading nonfiction, but it's challenging to find well-written nonfiction. The best nonfiction authors tell their subjects' stories and don't just present facts. 
  16. I get frustrated with too much detail. I've never gotten through the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy because of all the detail, and that makes me sad. 
  17. I haven't read as many classics as I would have liked to because of the whole detail thing mentioned above. 
  18. I feel guilty for not finishing a book even if it's really bad. 
  19. Neither my brother or my sister read for pleasure. I'm not sure why.
  20. When I've had a really rough day, all I want to do is crawl in bed and read a book. 
  21. When it's cold or raining outside, all I want to do is crawl in bed and read a book. 
  22. I've always said that if I was stuck on a deserted island, my one wish would be to have a book of Shakespeare's greatest works. Now I think it would be a Kindle loaded with all kinds of books. 
Whew...this is hard, but fun. I think that's enough for now! 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reading Journal: November 2, 2010

Finding the time to review and blog continues to be challenging, but reading every day with the kids is still a top priority. Both kids are growing so quickly, and I want to capture memories of reading with them, which is the very reason why I started this blog in the first place nearly 3 years ago.

Baby Reader:
You know, for me, while having a second child has been more time consuming, I feel less stressed and worried than I did with the first. I think it's because I know what to expect, and I definitely know what to expect with books.

At nine months old, getting my son to sit still for even five minutes is out of the question, but he loves to look at the pictures and touch them. Last night, my daughter learned the hard way why we need to be careful with the baby around her books when he ripped a page out of her beloved Life-Size Aquarium book. That's why when we're reading together, I like to have plenty of board books around that capture his attention. Some books we read with the baby tonight included the old standby, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and some more tactile books like Feely Bugs. I don't even know how we acquired this book, whether it was a gift or from a book or yard sale, but it's been a hit since my daughter was an infant.

Preschool Reader:
We're at the stage with my daughter where she constantly asks for "one more book." She knows I'm weak and always say yes, but we have had to set limits at night. Because some books take longer than others, I start by letting her pick out three books to read. We normally dedicate at least half an hour for bedtime reading, so if we have time for more, we'll read more. She's also at the stage where she'll want me to read the same book to her over and over again.

Tonight, she and my husband read while I was getting the baby bathed, and then once it was time for her bedtime stories, she chose two old standbys, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity and Splat the Cat. I can't tell you how many times we've read these stories, and watching her face filled with the excitement of knowing what's going to happen next is priceless. And if I miss a word, she is quick to correct me. I'm always amazed at the different observations she makes. For example, tonight, she found a little mouse door in Splat the Cat's classroom that we've never seen before, and she said that it must be the door to mouse school. And while reading Knuffle Bunny Too, she noticed for the first time that Trixie and Sonja had lunchboxes with their initials on them.

Our third book of the evening was a first for both of us, even though it's been sitting on the shelf for a while: Laura Joy Rennert's Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur. It's a witty little book that weighs the positives and negatives of owning different types of dinosaurs and tells you how to care for them and train them once you've found one that suits your family. Marc Brown's illustrations are full of detail and are great conversation starters. When we were finished reading the book, my daughter sighed and said, "I wish I had one of those pet dinosaurs."

Wow...writing this post has actually been very enjoyable, something I haven't felt with blogging for a while. I see more reading journal entries in the future!

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