A Reading Summer 

Summer has officially started for my three sons since Friday was the last day of school. We celebrated with them, but my husband and I also have been anxious to figure out what we will do to keep them busy and active and learning this summer. This is not always the simplest of tasks. 🙂

One of the biggest things that we would like to focus on for our twins is reading since their school year was a challenge to meet the required minimum level. We would love to see them start off the new year without falling back on any levels, but our biggest hope is that with a good solid push over the summer, they may start the new year ahead. 

In addition to seeking out other activities to keep them physically active, one of our goals this weekend was to find some academically challenging workbooks and get them going on books to read. I was very happy to find this fantastic workbook that takes them week by week through the summer with ideas for learning activities, suggested reading, and then many pages of exercises in reading, writing and math. Included with the exercises is a rewards system of stickers and certificates, so we have a great way to offer incentives. 

For my gifted and talented oldest son, I skipped the workbook for his grade level and picked out a few logic and puzzle books. His teacher also gave her class a lovely Brain Teaser packet full of logic problems for the summer. He may not have been fired up for it, but his dad and I thought it was great! 

Speaking of great teachers who help over the summer, one of the twins’ teachers offers a bookmobile service over the summer where she will meet us at the school once a week on a designated day and at a specific time to bring some leveled reader books to kids that are needing a little extra help over the summer. What a gift! You gotta love teachers! 

We also have a fantastic library near us that works in conjunction with the schools to push a summer reading program, so we signed up the whole family for the summer reading challenge – me and my husband included! To get them started on it, I took my twins in today and they got their first library cards! We have been to the library there for years but I didn’t realize until recently that they could have their own cards. I thought they were excited, though one of them promptly set his down on the floor to pick something up and forgot all about it. So, maybe not. 😉

Everyone got new books this weekend and everyone is signed up for the summer reading program and everyone is committing to read. This will be our Summer of Reading, and I must tell you I, at least, am very excited for it! 

How about you? Will you be reading this summer? Have kids you are working on reading with? What did you do to keep them reading? 

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week! 

~CJS

Z is for…

 

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.
 

This quote is from a book I read in college,  Their Eyes Were Watching Godthat really opened my eyes to the beauty and richness of a unique voice.

I remember being absolutely mesmerized by the language. Some assigned reading you read, do the report and just move on, but some stays with you. This one always comes to mind when I think of voice and language as a deep and emotional aspect of the overall piece. 

I love these lines for the feeling of something important that is coming. Which year are we going to hear about? The one that asks or the one that answers? What will the questions be? Will we like the answers? What are those answers? Such a very rich beginning with which to begin to spin a story! 

But with this beginning we also find an end -an end to the A to Z Challenge for me for 2015! Thanks so much for joining in this adventure! Hopefully you have enjoyed it as much as I have. On my next regular post, I plan to share some of my favorite new blogger finds & also recap the month for you. 

Thanks & I will see you Monday!

– CJS 

W is for…

 

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.
  

  
These are the first lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet LX (60) which I found on one of my favorite and most commonly visited websites, Shakespeare Online

Why might you ask do I visit Shakespeare online so frequently? Well, I will tell you I have fallen into a new relationship with the Bard in the last year or so. My interest began thanks in large part to my fangirl favorite, Tom Hiddleston, who is a great fan of Shakespeare, but has grown as I have gotten more into the works, including seeing several performed, which is truly the best way to find a love for Shakespeare. 

One of the ways I have gotten more involved with his words is through the weekly Shakespeare lovefest that is #ShakespeareSunday on Twitter run by @HollowCrownFans. Each Sunday I search for the most fitting line to tweet within the theme and my day is always made when @HollowCrownFans retweet me. Hey, it’s the simple things in life, right? 😉 

I also picked up a really great iTunes download of a Shakespeare documentary called Muse of Fire where two actors go about trying to figure out what makes Shakespeare still so beloved after all this time. The two interview lots of everyday folk but also some big name actors, like Dame Judy Dench, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor and just the tiniest bit with Mr. Hiddleston. It’s a great exploration of why these works are so powerful even today. 

And just one more small mention of an absolute gem you should check out is PBS’s Shakespeare Uncovered. I watched the first season and am working on the second. Each episode focused on one play or a combination of related plays. Each episode is led by an actor who explores various parts of the history of the play as well as productions of it. I found these to be so helpful in understanding the works, but also just so fun to see the work in action. Definitely worth checking out! 😀

So given all of this I couldn’t pass up making W for William Shakespeare and I picked a favorite part of one of his sonnets that speaks to Time – which is a theme I am frequently drawn to. Not especially cheerful, but I love it.

Have a great week & make your minutes count! 😀

S is for…

 

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.

 

This quote is just one of many gems that can be found in Stephen King’s autobiographical writing guide, On Writing

My Twisted Writers post yesterday was about reading and writing and how they can go hand in hand, but also how I have been missing reading lately. I just enjoy reading, so the fact that I haven’t done much lately has me feeling like I am missing some of that magic King talks about. I have books all around and a To Be Read list that is always growing, so I have no real excuse except time. But busy or not, I need to make time for reading.

Are you a reader? What are you reading now? 

K is for…

  

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.

   

I’ll confess when brainstorming for K, I tried to think of authors whose name started with K and then looked for the quote, rather than having this one. This quote is from Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, which I will also admit I have not read, but I really love this quote. 

So many favorite books feature characters who seem ordinary or feel ordinary but end up having extraordinary things happen to them.  Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are just a few. 

By reading, or writing, we can find ourselves in the characters who live in an extraordinary world and through them feel extraordinary as well. 

To start of the new week of A to Z posts, I’m adding in a poem. I chose the Nonet form which I found on Shadow Poetry. A Nonet has nine lines, with the top line having nine syllables, the second with eight syllables, the next seven, etc down to the last line, which only has one. Rhyming optional. 

Ordinary

By CJS 

Some may say there is nothing worse than

being ordinary, but still 

the ordinary may find

extraordinary

moments may happen

in a life that

seems normal

even

dull.

Me Before You

 

I just recently finished reading Me Before You, a popular book by JoJo Moyes which was recommended to me by several friends.  Since finishing the book, people have asked me, “Was it good?”

It depends on what makes a book good.

Is a book good when you don’t want to stop reading, when you are filled with curiosity about what will happen next and are anxious to see how it will end?  Then this was a great book.  I really didn’t want to stop reading it the few times I had to set it down and I frequently found myself throughout the workday wondering what would happen next.

Or is a book good when you love the whole story and how it ended?  Then no, it was not a good book. I have mixed feelings about how the book ended so overall have mixed feelings about the book. If asked if I liked it, it’s hard for me to say simply yes or no.

But maybe it is that indecision and continued thought after finishing the book that makes it a good book.  Maybe the fact that I didn’t simply put it down and move on without any further thought makes it a success. 

Me Before You is billed as “heart-breaking”, “romantic”, and generally a weep-fest.  I did cry a bit, but found myself more frustrated than moved.

Our main characters are Louisa Clark, who in need of a job, accepts one as a caregiver to Will Traynor, a wealthy quadriplegic man who used to live a very large life and now struggles with living a smaller, more painful one.

Moyes puts a lot into the book that makes you think. Reading Me Before You made me think of a favorite quote about one of the joys of reading: 

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy. ~Edward P. Morgan

Moyes gives us both fragile thoughts and explosive ideas.  I’ll tackle the fragile thought first, as it was what I liked most about the book and why I would recommend it.  The explosive idea is morally and politically charged as well as filled with “spoilers” – as River Song might say in Doctor Who ( sorry I have a house full of Whovians at the moment and I can hear her voice saying spoilers, spoilers).

The fragile thought for me, that touched me, looked at how we define ourselves, our lives, our limits. Will Traynor challenges Lou to live a bigger life, not limiting herself to the tiny world and life she had defined for herself.  While I may not have connected with Will’s character, as I’ll discuss more later, one thing I did appreciate about Will was the way he challenged her tendency to say “That’s not me.”  Louisa’s response to things she hadn’t done before, like going to the orchestra or scuba diving was often, “Well that’s not me.”  When Will basically dares her to try things, and then provides her not only the opportunity but a strong motivation to try them, she begins to see herself differently. The Louisa Clark we meet in the beginning is a very different one than we see at the end, and I liked her journey. It made me ask myself, “What am I missing out on by telling myself, ‘That’s not me’.”?  I love that a book can open up new thoughts like that. 

The explosive idea (spoiler alert) is with Will’s decision to end his life through assisted suicide.  While I’ve read some very heated responses to the morality or politics of the “right to die” or “right to choose” or however you want to define the idea of whether a person should be able to receive medical assistance to end their own life, I don’t want to get into a debate about the big concept.  I think people will have very strong opinions about whether it is right or wrong, should be legal or should not be legal, and then even further into other related issues.  I don’t really want to go there.  Though many certainly will, and would argue it’s an important discussion to have. Perhaps.  I just don’t want to have it.

I’d like to speak very specifically about Will’s choice.  Not whether he should be allowed to have the choice. 

Why I struggled with this book and felt like flinging it across the room in the end was because Will was so determined to end his life and would not be swayed from that decision.  His argument was that it was the last choice that he was able to make for himself.  I’m sorry, but that’s BS.  He could choose to make the most of the life he had.  He still had his mind.  He wouldn’t even consider the possibility of trying to make a life work.  He gets a tattoo at one point in the book that I absolutely HATED.  The tattoo was “Best Before” and the date of his accident.  As if his life expired when he had the accident that disabled him.  All he can see is the life he used to live and the greatness of that life.  He cannot see beyond the limitation and pain of his new life.  Okay, I will concede that yes, that must suck.  You go from being the king of the world to having to have someone else be responsible for you basic physical needs.  He could no longer travel, climb mountains, ride motorcyles and have sex.  Yes, that would be awful.  But to not just joke but to believe that he was best before his accident and no longer wants to live because he can’t have those things is to take for granted what he still has or could have. 

Will and his family have the means to provide him the best care possible.  Will has full use of his mind and could use much available to him to still do something with his life.  Will has people who care about him, including a woman who loves him and wants to help enrich his life.  He has life.  I was so frustrated with this book because of his refusal to even consider that his life could still be good despite the incredible difficulties and limitations. 

Maybe it is the part of me that is an optimist that hated his pessimism (or even realism if you want to look at it that way).

Maybe it is the part of me that loves to see people rise up in difficult circumstances that hated his decision to end his life because it was difficult.  I want to read about a person who fights against difficult odds, overcomes insurmountable obstacles, and is ‘bloody, but unbowed.” 

I do not, and did not, want to read about a character who believes the best of his life is over and the rest of his life has no value.

And then he focuses his determination toward ending his life, despite how he knows it will hurt those around him.  I couldn’t like Will for all of these reasons.

I find it interesting that Moyes never gives us a chapter from Will’s perspective after his accident.  We get bits from the POV of most of the characters, but not Will.  I wonder why Moyes chooses to limit his POV chapter to only before the accident.  I have to say it contributed to my inability to connect with his character.

But do I have to like Will to like the book? No.  So was it good?  Yes, for making me want to read and making me think after.  But if someone asks me if I like it – my answer is no.  Because of Will.  Because of his decision.

Feel free to share with me (not political or moral outrage please) how you felt about the book.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Read on for a related note on this book from my Fangirling world.

************************

Part of the reason I read the book was because there are rumors that Tom Hiddleston has been considered or suggested for the part. Here, for my fangirl friends, are my thoughts on Tom in this role.

Tom is extremely talented and this could be an excellent vehicle for him to show off his talent.  He communicates much through his eyes and face alone, so playing a role where his face and eyes would be pretty much what he’d be limited to would show off his skill.

It’s also not hard to imagine Tom as the larger than life pre-accident Will that is an upper crust British gentleman or to imagine our devastation at seeing him broken.  I am certain Tom in this role would add a whole other layer to the story that I don’t know that I’d honestly want to explore. There is little possibility that we would not care about Will.  I’m certain Tom would fill in a lot of the holes in that character that I feel were present in the book.  I’m afraid I would love Will like Lou did and I would indeed be a weeping mess at the end when they say goodbye.

If Tom were Will I am sure I would care in a whole different way than I did in the book. 

And that is just one reason I don’t want him to play the role.

I think that whoever takes on this role will be thrust into the kind of discussions I’ve wanted to avoid when discussing this book.  People may ask if because of his decision to play the role, does he then support the choice Will made?  Certainly Tom is intelligent enough and articulate enough to make whatever argument he would choose to make, but I don’t know that I want to see the idiocy that may become prevalent on social media if he stars in this movie.

One of the reasons I am a huge Hiddleston fan is because of his positive and joyful spirit.  Many quotes are full of optimism and I love that. A favorite quote is:

“Never, ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Prove the cynics wrong. Pity them for they have no imagination.  The Sky’s the Limit. Your Sky. Your Limit.”

I know actors play characters that aren’t like themselves.  I know Tom has played characters that aren’t like him.  I know that. I just don’t like the idea of this character in his collection of characters. I don’t want him inhabiting a character who would value life so little.  I just don’t want it. 

But if he does, I am sure I will watch. I am sure I will weep. But I kinda hope I don’t have to.

The Fault In Our Stars

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As seems usual for me, I am a bit late to this party, but now that I am here, I love it! 🙂 John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is, as you have no doubt heard and/or seen, being made into a movie. I was tempted to wait until after I saw the movie to read the book because I have the tendency to play the “That’s not how it was in the book!” game and I was afraid I might do that with this one. But I really wanted to read the book because I have seen so many great reviews. I bought the book at a local grocery store with a gift card I’d been given. Why buy food with a gift card when there are books? :). I got a trade paperback with the original cover, not the movie cover, because I am funny like that. 🙂

Then I was busy with family in town and other things and only this week did I finally get around to reading it. It took no time to love it. Sadly my life does not easily accomodate reading a book the whole way through anymore, but I did stay up late reading a few nights and finished it yesterday.

Cleaning, who needs to clean? Laundry? It’ll still be there. Kids fighting? Sorry guys, I gotta see what happens to Hazel and Augustus. Mommy, are you crying? Yes, yes I am.

Green does so many things right with this book, and as a writer who is always looking to improve her craft, I had to admire his story and all the little details. I cried several times and not just in the BIG moments. I laughed a lot too, cared for the characters, and could see it all so clearly.

I purposely did not watch this trailer until I had read the book so there would be no spoiling the book for me. Now that I have read the book I am super stoked to see that the movie looks like it will be really great, too.

Since I did not want any spoilers I will carefully avoid giving any. I do want to share with you one of the things that really spoke to me that is not tied into something that would be considered a spoiler. Feel free to comment and we can chat about the book as much as you want though. Because there are so many good things.

Hazel has a book she loves in this story. A book she had read again and again. A book that spoke to her and her experience. A book that meant something to her and then to Augustus as well. Of course as a reader I can identify with having a book that you love like this. But because of some things that happen in the story, I really caught a glimpse into the power of being the author (or creator of anything really) that touches people. What we write has the power to move people. Maybe it is simple entertainment, and that is great. Maybe we just take them out of whatever else is going on in the world for a moment. Maybe we make them laugh. Maybe we make them smile.

Maybe we can change their life.

As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben reminded him, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”. Reading this book helped me see the power and the responsibility.

As I work on things I am writing, I will remember. And even if all I ever write that gets read is this blog, even this can be important to someone. Maybe not monumental (ok probably not monumental 😉 ) but even small things can make a difference.

And we may never know the difference we make.

The Power of One

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T is for The Power of One by Bryce Courteney. All right, the title is essentially a P, but I am fitting this one in because it is one of my all-time favorite books. And it is the correct title. 🙂

I picked up my first copy of The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay in paperback off the shelf in a grocery or Wal-Mart type store in preparation for the trip that took my family from Texas to Indiana. I was about to be a junior in high school and the move was not our first (or last), but it was one of the biggest.

It turned out to be the perfect book at the perfect time. Has that happened to you before? It’s incredible when it happens and this was one of those times.

Bryce Courtenay crafts an expansive tale taking us from our main character’s early childhood to his young adulthood through some extreme difficulties and beautifully triumphant moments. The novel is Peekay’s story, but is also a story of South Africa.

Courtenay paints a colorful story so vivid you can feel the heat as Peekay watches his first boxing match and starts learning about the Power of One. You imagine the cacti in the garden Doc has planted as he helps Peekay’s budding genius find roots. You wince as Peekay starts climbing in the ring, but you cheer and cry and read again and again how Peekay topples opponent after opponent. You can imagine the debates and laughter between Peekay and Morrie and feel a little proud as they make some crazy things happen together.

I loved the language and descriptions. I loved the So Real You Feel You Know Them characters. I loved the relationships between the characters that Courtenay builds and lets us see. I love the simple little scenes and the big moment scenes.

But the biggest love I have for this book, and what I think is best about any of our favorite books, is how it made me feel. I was the scared little boy in the beginning of the book, feeling weak and powerless. But then I got to grow from that weakness into newfound strength. I went from being alone and feeling invisible to being honored and respected, even if it had some mystical meaning behind it all I didn’t fully understand. I got to see little beat big and feel like maybe anything was possible.

My life was nowhere as challenging. I was just a Texas high school girl moving to a new state and another new high school. But even though my challenges were far different, I was still encouraged by (and thoroughly enjoyed) this book.

I have read it more times than I can tell you. I have purchased the book 3 or 4 times because paperbacks couldn’t last. The trade paperback I have now is in good shape though. I am probably about due to read it again. (Adds to my TBR pile.)

Yes, there is a movie that was made based off the book, but it is extremely disappointing. They cut out Doc, who is one of the best characters, and they stick in a love interest! I love a good love story but that did not belong in a movie based on this book. The book is always better, of course, but the movie that’ll play in your head as you read Courtenay’s descriptions far exceeds that pitiful one.

I will say there are some
scenes that area bit tough. This is not an easy world where Peekay lives. But go read this one. The really tough scenes are important to the overall story. It is also a tiny bit lengthy. But I really think you’ll be glad you went on this journey.

And like me, you may go back again and again.

;

National Poetry Month

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N is for National Poetry Month. As you may already know (for instance if you read my L post 🙂 ), April is National Poetry Month. Have you been celebrating?

Given my new love for poetry, which I talked about in my D is for Desiderata post , I am suddenly all about finding new poems. This makes this month quite a lot of fun for me because many libraries, bookstores, publishers and others are sharing poetry to celebrate this month.

Celebrate with a free Poetry magazine through Poetry Foundation.

Or Doubleday Knopf has a newsletter you can sign up for with poetry delivered to you and also a contest!

Here are a few sites which have a poem a day posted for the month to celebrate.

Boston Review

The Rumpus

Or if you are poetically inclined – write a poem a day! Writer’s Digest has a challenge including a daily writing prompt. I might actually give it a go by the end of the month. Stay tuned during the month and maybe I will post up an attempt. 😉

There are a lot more ways to celebrate – check out Poets.org which has a really fun list of 30 things you can do to celebrate.

My favorite is the Poem in Your Pocket Day. I am thinking how to put this into practice. I will post up what I end up doing that day!

I hope everyone has great time enjoying this month!

Below is an excerpt from one of my favorite new discoveries from the iF Poems app by the same makers of The Love Book app. Just a note here that with either of these apps, you always have a poem in your pocket (or purse or backpack) on your iPhone or iPad. Love it!

From As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming
And the deep river ran on.

Go read the whole poem – or better yet, have Tom Hiddleston read it you on the iF poem app. 🙂 That is a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month!

What a fantastic line –
‘And the deep river ran on.’

>

(A) Light In The Attic

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I absolutely adore the poems of
Shel Silverstein. His book A Light in the Attic is just one of many favorites.

April is National Poetry Month and while I have been finding lots of poetry to love lately, Shel’s fanciful poems have captivated me for a very long time.

My first memories of his work are from an elementary school teacher who frequently read to us from his books. I remember loving them then. The poems were silly and fun and made us laugh. But they were sweet and full of truth, too.

I’ve bought his books many times over the years, for myself, for gifts and now for my kids. My oldest and I went through a time where we would read from one of his books every night before bed. It varied between A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, but every night we would read some of his poems. I would go back to ‘Listen to the Mustn’ts’ again and again. He loved ‘Peanut Butter Sandwich’.

My kids, who are also big time Johnny Cash fans, were thrilled when they heard that Shel Silverstein wrote A Boy Named Sue. I was , too, actually. He’s just awesome. 🙂

Here are small quotes from some of my favorites:

The Invitation
If you are a dreamer, come in…

Listen to the Mustn’ts
“Anything can happen child, ANYTHING can be.”

The Voice
“There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long…”

Masks
“She had blue skin
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she…”

Poet’s Tree
“Underneath the poet tree
Come and rest awhile with me…”

What If
“Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear…”

If you haven’t read his stuff, I highly recommend all the collections, but also his book, The Giving Tree which is so lovely. You really can’t go wrong with Shel Silverstein.