Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Book Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic Inc)

Copyright Date: 2016

IMG_2654.jpg

I finally ticked a book off of my to-read list in Goodreads that I’ve put off for two years!

Being a fan of the Harry Potter series and also being married to a man who grew up during the series’ prime I was keen to get a hold of this screenplay. For this book legendary author, J.K. Rowling, teamed up with writers from London’s West End theater to create a new installment in the Harry Potter story, this time nineteen years after the conclusion of the Hogwarts War.

Harry and Ginny Potter are parents to James, Albus, and Lily who are all pupils or soon to be at Hogwarts. Albus, the middle child, has always felt like a misfit in his own family. Growing up in the shadow of his father has Albus feeling like a constant failure. After being sorted into the house of Slytherin, Harry makes it even more clear that he has little in common with Albus. Luckily, Albus makes friends with another troubled child at school, Scorpius Malfoy. Together, the two boys set out to write their own destinies as opposed to accepting the one’s determined by their birthrights.

At the Ministry of Magic, Harry and Hermione uncover a time-turner which threatens all that they know to be truth. In the wrong hands, a time-turner can rewrite history. They go to great lengths to protect their world from the effects of time travel, but forces in their midst threaten that security. Albus and Scorpius learn of this magic and decide to use it to fulfill their own purposes. Caught in a web of the past, Albus and Scorpius must combat dark magic not unlike the quests of their fathers.

At first, I struggled with Harry Potter’s parenting techniques. His harsh demeanor toward the son he struggled to relate to seemed as though he had learned nothing from his own estranged upbringing. I hoped to find Harry fostering a relationship with his own children that opposed the treatment he received from his uncle. Nonetheless, I can imagine it to be a true struggle for parents when they don’t connect with their children easily. While reading I needed to reference earlier books (since it had been such a long time) when it came to some of the spells and magic used in this book. I also didn’t love the fact that this book is actually just a copy of the script for a stage performance. I found that stage directions and speaker switches threw off my immersion in the story. I know that much of that is necessary to perform a play, but I wanted to lose myself in this book the way I did the novels of my childhood.

All of us who love Harry Potter have waited a long time to return to the wizarding world. To be back in the halls of Hogwarts made me feel like a kid again. I have missed the moving staircases, enchanted portraits, and lively Quidditch matches. Being able to catch up on the lives of the characters I grew up alongside really made this tale nostalgic.

I would love to see J.K. Rowling write more about Albus Potter in the future!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Advertisements

Turtles All the Way Down: Book Review

Title: Turtles All The Way Down

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Copyright Date: 2017

IMG_2464

“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.” (Green 283)

Aza Holmes had enough trouble trying to get through high school and battling her own anxious thoughts without the drama of a missing billionaire to complicate things. Just before he was arrested, Russell Pickett went missing. He left behind a fortune, an exotic pet, and two sons (and he ranked their importance in that order.)

With a hundred thousand dollars on the line, Aza’s best friend, Daisy, is convinced that the two can solve the mystery. Daisy enlists the help of Aza because she used to be friends with the billionaire’s son, Davis, back when they spent their summers together at “Sad Camp.”

After reconnecting with Davis Pickett, Aza learns that wealth isn’t everything. Davis grew up fed by a silver spoon yet he experienced grief and loneliness akin to her own. As the two grow closer Davis begins to break down the wall of anxiety that Aza has built around herself. Together with her closest friends, Aza focused on Russell Pickett’s disappearance while also working through her internal demons.

Lately, some of my favorite books have been based on mental illness. When We Collided by Emery Lord and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley were phenomenal books that dove into issues of anxiety, depression, and grief in an honest way. I felt like John Green also did a good job covering topics that teens wrestle with in an authentic light. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book he provided resources for those struggling with mental health and admitted to his own struggles that were reflected in Aza’s character.

Mental illness has been a trending topic both in writing and the media. With recent suicides in Hollywood a lot of energy has been focused on getting people the help that they need. As someone with diagnosed anxiety, I found myself relating to Aza on some level while also being inspired to push past my fears in order to avoid situations she faced.

I’m a fan of John Green. I liked The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns. In my Honors History classes, I occasionally show clips from his Crash Course Youtube channel where John Green and his brother explain eras of history in their own quirky way. When I first started teaching, his books were all the rage, but with his movie deals and Youtube Channel it’s been a while since he released a book. Last year when this book came out I added it to the top of my To-Read list on Goodreads. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity to read this one. It was a quick read, and totally worth every minute. At times, the main character really annoyed me, but it helped me to see what anxiety can be like for the people surrounded by it. Mental illness affects far more than just your mind. Relationships feel the tremors and fallout associated with the internal battles we all face.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

Gone Too Far: A Book Review

Title: Gone Too Far

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2015

img_5820

Ever since I became a member of the central Ohio SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I’ve been on a quest to read books by Ohio authors. This book was recommended to me by my high school librarian. The author is local to our area. 

Piper Woods is a senior just trying to make it to graduation. Her future plans are all laid out and include paying out of state tuition and studying photography. She won’t miss the cliques and the drama of high school, and she’s aching to get out of her dysfunctional home.

All of that changes when she finds a notebook laying in the hallway of the school. She picks it up and flips through the pages. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that someone is using the notebook to record secrets about her classmates. She soon realizes that knowing the secrets comes at a dangerous price.

After tragedy claims someone mentioned in the notebook Piper decides to turn it in and walk away. Before she can do that, a text message urging her to make things right changes her mind. Piper finds herself caught up in the secrets of the school. Torn between making people pay for the harm they have caused and keeping her squeaky clean record Piper is forced to make some major choices.

Natalie D. Richards is also the author of Six Months Later. Many of my students have read that book and it seems just as good as Gone Too Far. I look forward to continuing my list of Ohio authors over the next couple of months. Some of the authors of the list (like Natalie D. Richards) are also part of the SCBWI with me. It is so cool to read a book by someone I have met. It makes my dream of becoming an author seem so much more realistic. Let me know if you are interested in some reading suggestions written by Ohio authors. There are some really great pieces that come from my home state.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Another Short Story: Tragedy in Times Square (Part 1)

As part of my commitment to fiction writing this month I joined an online critique community. With my membership to the group I get to submit one short story per week to receive feedback. I am so excited about having this weekly opportunity to hear from professionals in the field. I also have access to a writing coach and publishers through online forums. This week I submitted my first installment from a novella I’m working on called “Tragedy in Times Square.”

This novella is about a young girl who was born at the same that her uncle died in a terrorist attack just miles away. Her mundane life is thrown off when her dead uncle appears on her fourteenth birthday and offers her a chance to bring peace to the family which still aches from his passing.

Here is a look at the first installment. Please feel free to offer thoughts. I’ve already received so much valuable feedback from my critique group, but I’m always looking for ways to make my writing stronger.

Tragedy in Times Square (Part 1)

by Lauren Sisley

They say that the day I was born was a tragedy. Not because I took my first breath and began life on this planet, but because so many others breathed their last. Fourteen years ago a group of angry men stormed into Times Square armed with their faulty religion and began to open fire on innocent tourists. Amongst the innocents was my uncle, Mark. He had driven to the city to await my grand entrance into this world. He was sightseeing when unbeknownst to him Mom had gone into labor and was desperately trying to reach him.

Within hours 1,204 people were dead. Days later fifty more would be added to that count. Mark’s life was extinguished instantly. To say that it was a tragedy is an understatement. It was a curse to be born on such a black day in our country’s history.

Today I turn fourteen.

Every year I hear my mother rise on my birthday and from her bedroom gentle sobbing can be heard. It’s hard not to take it personally that my mother begins my birthday in such downtrodden spirits, but I also can’t blame her for mourning her brother. She always tries so hard to hide the pain for my sake. I could hear her heavy breathing and sniffles as I entered the hallway outside of my bedroom.

Downstairs I knew better than to turn on the television set. Although part of my daily routine, April 5th was the exception.

“Good morning.” My father greeted me as I entered the kitchen. The smell of his usual breakfast tea and blueberry muffins filled the room.

“Hi, Dad.” I said as I opened the refrigerator to grab the carton of orange juice.

“Happy Birthday.” He smiled. As I shut the door to the refrigerator he embraced me in a warm hug which was not uncommon as a morning greeting from him. 

“Thanks.” I said once he withdrew. If there was anyone I could count on to treatment like royalty on my birthday it was my dad. He did well to overcompensate for my mother on this day. 

“Is your mother awake yet?” He asked trying not to insinuate his knowledge of her grief.

“I think I heard her getting up.” Although I really wanted to say I had heard her crying like a baby.

“Give her a few minutes and I’m sure she will be down.” Dad’s eyes went to the floor before he turned to pluck a fresh muffin from the pan. “But I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if we kicked off your birthday without her.” He tossed me a muffin. It was still warm on the bottom.

Several minutes later I heard the faint steps of my mother descending the stairs. And within seconds her small body sauntered into the kitchen.

“Happy Birthday, Clara.” Mom walked over to me to drop a kiss on the top of my head. Her eyes were surrounded by puffy skin and dark circles. Her flowing white robe was damp near the collar. It had been a hard morning for her as it always was on my birthday. She sat down at the bar stool beside me and Dad poured her a cup of coffee. Her tiny hand reached out from under her robe and grabbed mine. I stroked her fingers to let her know I understood and that I wasn’t upset.

After breakfast I showered and got dressed for school. Most people dislike going to school on their birthday, but for me it is a nice escape from the depression at home. It gives Mom a chance to mourn Mark so that in the afternoon she can truly celebrate my life. Just on time and like every other school day Dad slipped into the garage to start the car and I followed quietly and plopped into the passenger seat with my book bag across my lap.

“Do you have anything you want to do tonight?” Dad asked. It was his way of letting me know he had cleared his busy work schedule to make time for family that evening.

“Nothing in particular. I’m sure I’ll think of something at school.” I said with my hands folded across the bag.

“Let me know if there is any carry-out you’d like me to pick up or a cake that sounds delicious. I can grab whatever you want on my way back from Brooklyn.” He smiled as we backed out of the garage.

I leaned forward to turn on the radio to the usual station that served as a soundtrack for our morning commute.

“At exactly 2:05pm, our nation will observe a moment of silence today in honor of the victims of the Times Square Tragedy fourteen years ago.” Dad could sense my annoyance and changed the channel to an indie pop station and pretended to like it as he nodded along to the whimsical beat.

I don’t think it is a secret that I hate my birthday. Celebrations always seem forced. The mood is somber and bleak. Every single year it is a reminder of loss even for my own parents. I rarely hear an excited “Happy Birthday” that isn’t painted with overtones of pity. Instead of hearing, “I’m so grateful for you, Clara,” every pronouncement of birthday wishes sounds more like, “how unfortunate you were born this day.”

“Clara!” Aspen shouted from across the middle school yard. Classes were starting soon and I attempted to skip the birthday wishes that my friend Aspen would soon offer. With my head down and headphones in place I continued on my path toward English class. “Clara, wait up,” she called from ten feet behind me.

A few moments later I felt a familiar hand on my shoulder. I removed the headphones from my ears and pretended like I hadn’t heard her calling my name for the past thirty seconds.

“Oh, hey, Aspen.” We stopped briefly in the middle of the entryway, but were overrun by other students and walked at the pace of the rest of the traffic through the school entrance.

“How’s your birthday morning going?” She asked unsure whether a smile was appropriate.

“Like every other year.” I didn’t try to hide my disappointment.

“I’m sorry.” Her eyes were downcast. “I got you something.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a neatly wrapped pink bakery box. “Happy Birthday.”

“Thanks.” I smiled for the first time all morning.

“I know you love the long johns at Spencers so I stopped there on my way in this morning.” I opened the box and peeked in. The golden outside was painted with just the right ratio of fudge to fried dough. The confectionary smell wafted up to my nostrils. Even if my morning hadn’t gone as planned, I was happy for a friend who knew the right time for a donut. “Oh, and my mom said if you wanted to come and have dinner with us that would be fine.”

Aspen was one of those friends I couldn’t be rude to. She was always so happy and always tried her best to make me feel special.

“That sounds great. I’ll text my mom later and let her know. I’m sure she won’t care.” I was suddenly happy to spend my birthday away from Mom. I know it’s sad, but the reality is I want a birthday like everyone else. I want to go out to dinner, throw a party, and get sick off of too much sugar. But ever since the day I was born, April 5th has been a day of remembering for Mom. Sure, she gained a daughter on that day fourteen years ago, but she also lost her twin. Ever since, she’s been living with part of her soul missing.

I walked home with Aspen. She lives just two blocks from school and gets to avoid all vehicular traffic. I envy that luxury because she doesn’t have to hop into her dad’s car and drown in awkward silence twice a day.

“It was so hard not to cry in American History today.” She admitted. “The videos from the Times Square Tragedy were rough.” I thought back to a woman who was interviewed. Her husband had been a victim. Just like Uncle Mark.

“Yeah. So close to home.” I tried to not sound bored.

“I’m sorry, Clara.” Aspen meant it. There wasn’t much that she said that she didn’t mean.

“What do you think about catching a movie?” She asked trying to change the subject.

“Sounds great.” I said trying to remember any recent trailers I had seen on television. As my mind was trying to recall the name of the movie about the girl who fell in love with a half man-half eagle, I noticed a man across the street who seemed to be staring in our direction.

“What do you want to see?” Aspen asked, but my eyes had met the strangers and a weird feeling replaced the blood in my veins. From behind the vehicles parked on the other side of the road I could see the deep, dark eyes peering without fear directly into my own. My heart was racing and I began to feel fear coursing through my body. “Clara…” Aspen struggled for my attention.

“Oh, um I don’t mind.” My eyes were locked into the stranger’s who was now mimicking our pace across the street. Something about him was familiar. I felt as though I had seen him in a movie. I couldn’t put a finger on his identity.

“Clara, are you okay?” Aspen had picked up on the absence of my attention. “What are you looking at?” She followed my eyes.

“Do you see him?” I whispered careful not to drop the eye contact.

“See who?” She asked clearly beginning to freak out.

“That man over there?” I motioned with my head not my hands. I was trying to be subtle. He knew I was looking right at him because he was doing the same to me.

“Clara, there’s no one over there.” Aspen squinted, but saw nothing.

“You don’t see that man?”

“What man?”

And then it hit me. That man wasn’t a movie star. He wasn’t some actor I had seen relaying practiced lines and pretending to be a character. No, this man was one I had seen in my own house. In photo albums lined with dust and tears. His dark eyes resembled my mother’s and his small frame was only slightly larger than hers. Then, without thinking I let his name escape my mouth.

“Mark?”

“Mark, who’s Mark?” Aspen repeated still trying to catch a glimpse of the man hidden from her gaze.

“Mark is my uncle.” I admitted.

“You don’t have any family in New York, Clara. You’re freaking me out.”

“I did. My uncle Mark.” He was approaching the crosswalk parallel to us. And as he turned to walk, he nodded.

“But your uncle Mark…didn’t he die in the…?” Aspen started.

“It’s him, Aspen. I know it.”

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent. Always give credit where credit is due.

Bunkered

I belong to an online writing community by the name of Becoming Writer which is sponsored by The Write Practice. Every so often the community is thrown into a writing contest. I enjoy participating in these contests because I tend to get valuable feedback from other writers. The most recent short story contest I participated in was entitled “Spring Contest” and was given the theme of “Rock Bottom.” My story was to be under 1000 words and to incorporate the theme in some way.

I’m currently playing around with a second story idea and I thought I’d give it a shot in the contest. Earlier parts of the story can be seen here. For the contest I chose a scene from the story that goes along with the theme for the contest and I submitted it to the judges. I won’t hear back from the judges for a couple of weeks, but I thought I would let my blog readers have access to the tale and a chance to comment until the contest ends.

So here is my short story:

Bunkered

By: Lauren Sisley

There was a sound of crashing upstairs above my head. I listened as shards of glass hit the linoleum kitchen floor, and I dropped to the ground. My gun was ready. It had been weeks since I sensed the presence of another. Raccoons had broken in a few times since I bunkered down, but this didn’t sound like the doing of a verment. If indeed it was a person and they thought that they were going to take this house from me they had another thing coming. I trained myself for this moment.

I heard a pair of heavy feet move across the floorboards as I slithered across the cold basement floor to within view of the door. I steadied my breathing to keep from being heard. Light came through the gap between the door and the basement landing. Something from the upstairs impeded the light and I knew that it was no raccoon.

I watched as the knob turned and the door opened slowly. I jumped to my feet and concealed myself behind a bookshelf. I watched from the crack behind the shelf as the person in the doorway lifted their feet to descend the stairwell. I saw my life flash before my eyes.

I saw myself on the airplane to America last month. How naive I was to life outside of my English bubble.

I saw Grandma’s casket at the funeral home; the reason my family had ventured here in the first place.

I saw Mom and Dad and I hiding in Grandma’s house after the news reports about the rebel invasion from the south.

I blinked and I saw myself watching from an air duct as the men wearing the rebel flag around their arms crashed through the front door.

I saw my parents in the back of a humvee tied up and beaten.

I recalled how I had turned the basement into a bunker and survived alone for the past two weeks. I waited for days after the rebels left before moving myself to the basement. I kept hidden in the air duct for fear of being captured as well. After several days I let myself down. I grabbed a television set, a small handgun my grandma had kept, and all of the nonperishable foods from her pantry and created a home in the basement. The electricity and power stopped a few days after they left. The last day the news broadcasts informed me that the rebels broke through forces in Washington and took over the White House. That was rock bottom. Each and every person I cared about ripped out of my grasp by death or rebels. It’s funny how many things flood your mind in a moment when death is knocking.

And then I was pulled back to reality as I realized I was alone in the dark basement as a combat boot struck the top stair. The person had to maneuver around the objects I had piled in front of the door. It was to buy myself time to escape or shoot in case this scenario ever played out.  A line of light protruded from a flashlight in the person’s hand. I sunk back behind a shelf ready to shoot as soon as the light proved the person was near.

The steps stopped just short of my vantage point. With one hand I covered my mouth and nose to keep from being heard. With the other I prepared to shoot. My index finger grabbed at the trigger. My pulse raced. I hadn’t ever killed before, but I was preparing myself to do so in the name of survival. I blinked as the light turned toward me. The weeks in the basement had kept my eyes from direct light. The flashlight temporarily blinded me. Without a clear line of vision I made up my mind to shoot into the light. A shuffle of feet toward me and my sweaty finger began to slowly release the trigger.

“Ainsley!” A familiar voice called out. I aimed my gun immediately out of the light.Then I let it fall to the ground.

The flashlight fell, but I didn’t need light to know that the arms that embraced me belonged to my father. Tears built up in my eyes with the fear of his descent from upstairs and released themselves as I made contact with the first person in two weeks.

“Dad, How did you find me?” I asked through sudden sobs.

“Our camp was freed and we came straight to Grandma’s house. I wasn’t sure that you would still be here. Oh, I’m just so happy that you made it, Ainsley.” I missed his voice.  

He hugged me and kissed the top of my dirty hair.

“Lillian, she’s down here.” He called up the stairs. I heard the pitter patter of two delicate feet across the wood floor above as my mother sprinted through the ransacked house.

“Ainsley!” She called out as she ran down the basement stairs and enveloped Dad and I with her arms.

“I made it? Is it over?” I asked Dad. My voice was raspy from lack of use.

“Not quite, but England and France have landed troops in the capital and they have liberated many of the camps on the East Coast.” He squeezed harder as Mom began to sob.

“We will wait it out and then get ourselves on the first flight home.” I could hear the smile in my mother’s tone. I could care less in that moment about my house in London. I had my parents and they were okay. Rock bottom was a thing of the past. That was all the home I ever needed.

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent. Always give credit where credit is due.

The Outbreak: Looking For Inspiration

I’m working on a post-apocalyptic story  for a current project. I’m really getting into this story and have already shared it with some people for critiques and feedback. The ending I had originally written was not satisfactory so I’m reaching out to my blogging community for some inspiration. Take a look at the story below and comment or email me some suggestions about directions I could potentially take this piece. Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

The Outbreak

by Lauren Sisley

Grandma was lucky that she didn’t live to see the war.

Not that I knew much about her, but what little I had learned from the funeral gave me the impression that she wouldn’t have been too upset to have missed the bloodbath. Over a six day period I joined my parents in a strange country. Growing up in my American bubble I didn’t anticipate the differences I would experience in England. Dad prepared me the best he could, but the country had changed so much since he lived there as a child. If he had it his way Mom and I would have stayed behind while he settled the matters of Grandma’s estate. But as always, mom won the battle.

Six days ago my life was safe. I was going to school, playing soccer with my U16 team, and reading all the fantasy fiction I could get my hands on. It’s funny how death and war can turn a world upside down.

Two weeks ago when Dad got the call from his cousin in Southampton the discussion began about whether or not we should all pack up and head to England as a family.

“Ainsley and I have never been before. We would like to see the country and know what life was like for you back home.” Mom pleaded with Dad one night over dinner.

“It isn’t safe, Lillian.”

“That isn’t so. All of the rebels are on the continent. England has not been attacked and they won’t be as long as Cooper is head of the military.”

Dad was reluctant, but eventually he gave in as he usually does to mom’s breathtaking brown eyes and perfectly symmetric smile.

Yesterday was the funeral. We spent the days leading up to the funeral sorting through boxes and visiting lawyers to reconcile the estate and Grandma’s will. It was raining on the day of the funeral. I met several of my second cousins for the very first time as they came to pay their respects to the stranger in the casket. I smiled and embraced people I had never met who shared some of my inherited traits.

“You would have loved her, dear.” My dad’s cousin, Elizabeth said as she kissed my cheek with her leathery lips. “You look like your grandmother did at your age.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. I took a look at the aged corpse with ropey gray strands of hair sticking out in every direction. Her skin aged well. So, if Elizabeth was right at least I had the promise of resilient skin to look forward to. My hair on the other hand had no hope.

As our departure time neared, Dad handed the keys to Grandma’s flat over to the real estate agent and we loaded a taxi with our suitcases.

“London Heathrow Airport, please.” Dad instructed the driver as we entered the cab. The cab driver looked to be of Indian descent and spoke little English. Instead of a verbal reply he offered Dad a nod of understanding.

We were cruising the M5 enroute to the airport. Dad was fidgety as he always was before travel. His eyes were glued to the horizon as though he were trying to take mental photographs of a land so familiar yet so foreign to him. Mom was gripping dad’s hand and drumming her fingers on her knee. It was her nervous habit. I pulled out a book from my carry-on luggage and began to lose myself to the pages of mythical creatures.

We came up to usual morning traffic outside of London and the cabdriver tuned into BBC radio. The morning report was being read by a man with a thick accent. He spoke quickly enough that I only caught every other word. My ears readjusted and I began to block out the radio and continued to read. A few minutes later there was an interruption to the regular news program.

“As of 8:25 this morning England has declared war against the rebel forces in Europe. Rebels have broken through the southern borders and are moving north toward London. All flights in and out of the country have been grounded. Sergeant Cooper has mobilized all forces in the south. He asks all citizens to be patient and vigilant as the rebels are handled. Please report any unusual activity to the Foreign Affairs office or your local MP.”

Mom and dad exchanged a worried glance. The cabdriver looked back at the three of us. We each wore fear on our faces.

“Where to then?”  The driver questioned.

With nose-to-tail traffic stalled on the motorway we had no way of getting out. The cab driver turned the engine off and we sat in silence.

“Clive, do not panic. Where should we go? Can you think of anywhere we would be safe?” Mom asked Dad who was sweating and trying to act brave on my behalf.

“We shouldn’t go back to Southampton. It’s on the coast and the rebels could be invading right now.” Dad spoke quickly and as though he was struggling to take in deep breaths.

“Excuse me, Driver, about how far are we from downtown London?” Mom asked the man behind the wheel.

“Fifty kilometers from airport.” The driver answered her in his broken english.

“Clive, what if we check into a hotel? Wait out this invasion?” Mom offered.

You would never guess from my parents’ interaction that my father was once a professional athlete. He’s one of the strongest men I’ve ever seen in real life. He moved to America when he was eighteen to play college soccer, or football as he calls it.

Mom has always worn the pants in their relationship. I’ve inherited her strong will and ability to bring calm to the stress my father bears. He blames his nerves on his childhood. He never talked much about growing up in Southampton. And even on our inaugural trip to his childhood home did he mention much about living here previously.

As my parents talked through a plan I tried not to make it obvious that I was listening. I kept my eyes glued out the window with my hands in my lap.

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent. Always give credit where credit is due.

24 Book Challenge: The First Book in a Series

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This is book #6 from The Ameri Brit Mom 24 Book Challenge in 2016. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, or outside influences.

Title: The Selection

Author: Kiera Cass

Publisher: Harper Teen

Copyright Date: 2012

10507293

Picture credit: Goodreads

For the past couple of years The Selection series has been really popular among the ninth grade girls in my English classes. I’ve watched this series turn reluctant female readers into confident ones as they devour the pages quickly and with excitement. Whenever someone prepares to present about this book there is always another student in the room who gasps, “I loved that book!” uncontrollably. As a result of all the love this book gets in my classroom this title has been on my TBR (To-Be-Read) list for a while so I was excited to get it out of the queue.

America Singer lives with her family in the country of Illea. She is from one of the lowest castes in the nation where she is being trained to work as a musician. Over the past several years she has fallen in love with Aspen, a boy of an even lower caste, but they have found ways to kindle their star crossed love without suspicion.

Things are going well for the love birds until news comes out that Prince Maxon will be hosting a selection at the royal palace to seek out a wife. The promise of wealth and power for the family of the chosen wife as well as her mother’s own urging cause America to put her name in the running to represent her province in The Selection. When she is chosen to embark on the adventure to the crown America is torn apart, but she puts her family  before her own desires. Soon after her arrival to the palace it becomes clear that she is a front runner for Prince Maxon’s affection and she pays the price of his feelings with her relationships with the other girls in the contest, her forbidden love for Aspen, and the dangerous rebel attacks on the palace during her stay.

The Selection was a mash up between a couple of popular stories. When trying to explain the plot to my husband I drew multiple comparisons to well known tales/shows such as The Bachelor, The Hunger Games, and the story of Queen Esther from the Bible.

The Bachelor

Some parallels which can be drawn between The Selection and The Bachelor would be that the Prince of Illea has come of age and is need of a bride. Instead of going about the dating process the traditional way Prince Maxon undergoes a live televised program where he will court thirty-five women (one from each of the provinces.) The process will eventually lead to the selection of a wife.

The Hunger Games

The Selection is similar to The Hunger Games in that it is set in futuristic America. China has defeated our country before being invaded and overtaken by the troops of Lord Illea, the namesake of the newly formed nation. There is also a strict caste system in place across the country. And along the lines of the districts in Panem from The Hunger Games, each of the provinces of Illea will have a woman chosen at random to represent their province in the Selection. Much like Katniss Everdeen, America Singer is reluctant to be called upon to represent her home on the televised competition, but discovers that she is a natural and finds herself successful.

Queen Esther

The last comparison I made between the book and a famous story is that of Queen Esther. The process for determining a wife for the eligible Prince Maxon is reflective of the process that Esther took part in to win the heart of King Xerxes. The women are all brought to the palace and treated royally. Each woman is at the beck and call of the young prince and spends her days waiting for the privilege to spend one-on-one time with the heir to the country’s throne. Also, like Queen Esther, America Singer shows that she is not romanced by the wealth and power of the prince and oftentimes breaks the rules of the game by asserting her will without fear of consequence.

This was a very quick read. The author drew me into the plot from page one and didn’t let up until the abrupt ending. This is the first book in a series and so the ending was not clean and tidy. Most of the loose ends were left dangling. The rest of the series includes: The Elite, The One, The Heir, and The Crown (to be relased in May.) It’s clear to me why young adult readers have been flocking to this series. And now that I’m attached to America, Prince Maxon, Lady Marlee, and Aspen I’m looking forward to continuing the series!

The Ameri Brit Mom

A Book Review: Eleanor and Park

The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, and outside influences.

71LkLmxqgjL

Title: Eleanor and Park

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Copyright Date: 2013

Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a YA reading hiatus. Most of the books I’ve been reading have been about writing and novel production. However, over Thanksgiving Break I really wanted to quench my thirst for a good YA novel and I found that in Eleanor and Park.

Rainbow Rowell has recently become a big name in YA fiction. Some of her books like Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Fan Girl have been chart toppers and favorites among my students so I decided to track down a copy of Eleanor and Park and see what all this Rainbow Rowell hype was all about.

This story of unlikely love was extremely addicting. From the very first chapter I was hooked to the characters, Eleanor and Park. The two lovebirds met on the school bus when Eleanor moved back to Omaha, Nebraska. Park was a Korean kid and although no one really messed with him he was not a popular kid by any definition of the word. On Eleanor’s first day of school the only empty seat on the bus was the one historically available beside Park. And it’s when Park moved over (at first reluctantly) to make room for Eleanor that a friendship began to form.

Eleanor and Park would bond on future bus rides over comics and 80’s rock bands. Park would bring new things to share with Eleanor each day because she was too poor to even own a pair of headphones. They both began to look forward to those bus rides, and one day it became clear that their relationship had moved from bus buddies to romance quickly.

Park lived a privileged life. His father was a war veteran who married a Korean woman and brought her home from war. His family was built around love and affection. Eleanor was one of five children who was forced every night to listen to the violence between her stepdad and mother. She didn’t have two pennies to rub together. But Park gave Eleanor an excuse to wake up every morning and a reason to look forward to school. They begin to spend all day and every evening together as Eleanor used Park as an excuse to avoid the inevitable at home.

As their relationship developed Park began to learn about Eleanor’s home life. He knew someone was bullying her at school, but when he discovered that she was bullied at home as well Park vowed to protect her.

This story is about how far two young lovers will go to protect one another. Full of heavy themes and real language this book was hard to put down. I really enjoyed this read and I look forward to some more Rainbow Rowell reads in the future.

Motivating Readers and Myself

Yesterday, I took part in a very motivating Professional Development session at the public school where I work. It was a collaborative meeting that focused on the transition from 8th grade Language Arts to the freshman level, which I teach. I was particularly motivated and recharged during our discussion about teaching reading.

It’s true that I haven’t been reading as much as I should. Life gets busy and the state mandated tests have kept my classroom time from being as devoted to reading as it should be. I left my meeting with some really awesome and practical strategies for implementing a reading environment in the classroom and reaching the relunctant or emerging readers. A lot of our conversation was based on ideas from Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer, which is now #1 on my summer MUST READ list. Below are some ideas I took away from our group discussions. (I am not taking credit for these ideas. Most of them were from 8th grade teachers and librarians in my district).

We began our meeting with a short reading from Donalyn Miller’s blog. The article, What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real), highlights the importance of marketing reading in the classroom. Christopher Lehman, the author of the article, does a great job giving reasons for and examples of motivating readers toward a genuine love for reading. Please take a look at the link for this article, but to simplify, the points I took away from the reading let me provide you some bullet points:

  • Brand yourself as a reader by making reading look as glamorous, branded, and fashionable as Kim Kardashian.
  • Realize that any press is good press: Any type of book conversation is a good thing whether you are talking about a book you love or how hard you’ve found it to read lately.
  • Post your reading life anywhere you can! (I personally have a few classroom ideas for letting the students know what I’m currently reading. A Kardashian pun-involved poster: Keeping Up with Mrs. Sisley)
  • Treat your classroom library as a consumer machine. Promote it. Update it. Draw in the readers! (Rotate your stock often)
  • Be sure your reading instruction models reality. (Worksheets don’t make us better readers!)
  • Every effort you make to live as a reader, design spaces that inspire reading, and support real reading time, will in turn make each one of your students a star.

From that discussion we segued into ways to promote a culture of reading in our classrooms. Not only am I planning to next year be more vocal about the books I am currently reading, but I plan to model reading in class more often. Already, I set aside fifteen minutes at the beginning of class every Friday for independent reading. I also make it a point to read myself during that time (although it can be very tempting to use this time for grading and responding to emails). Next year, I would love to take it a step further and move into discussions about the books we are reading and include myself in those discussions. Additionally, some of the other teachers have set up Twitter feeds and hashtags where students can respond as a community to their independent reading books. At first, I was a little apprehensive to incorporate social media into my classroom, but I’m learning to embrace the inevitable fact that social media is not going away and teaching positive ways to engage in the online tools is becoming more and more a part of the teacher’s responsibility. I’m hoping to either set up a Twitter page over the summer or some other social media hub for communicating about books. (I should probably get a personal Twitter first 🙂 )

Another really neat idea I gathered for promoting reading in the classroom is a personal experience of mine. Recently, I posted a book review for The Orphan Train here on my blog. I sent a copy of my review to the author, Christina Baker Kline, and she responded to me! I shared this with my students and they thought it was one of the coolest things all year. I pulled up the email I received onto my Smartboard and they were blown away. Next year, I would love to implement an assignment where my students either send a review to the author of the book they just read or write some questions to the author.

Now that I’m super motivated to finish the two books I am currently reading I have decided to also create a summer MUST READ list. The following are five books I plan to read by the time I travel to England in late June. All photos and overviews are from Barnes and Noble.

#1- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

book whisperer

Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn’t turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller’s students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller’s unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves…

#2- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

girl on the train

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

#3- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fan girl

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

#4- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

#5- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

ill give you the sun

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

What are you Reading!?!