Mrs. McGriff's Reading Blog

Happy reading!

October 26, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Example reading post

I’ve recently discovered Marcus Zusak, an Australian writer. The two books I’ve read are very different (The Book Thief is historical fiction), but both share an offbeat, intelligent humor. I Am the Messenger is a contemporary realistic fiction novel that explores what it means to truly live—not just exist from day to day. One of the themes of the books is that anyone, no matter how ordinary, can overcome and achieve by learning to care.

I Am the Messenger tells the story of Ed Kennedy, your classic slacker and the obvious example of ordinariness. Ed’s life consists of driving a taxi, playing cards with his friends, hanging out with his dog Doorman, and having a secret crush on his best friend Audrey. He seems destined to grow up just like his father (as his mother bitterly complains)—a complete loser who accomplishes nothing in life.

All that changes the day Ed interrupts an incompetent bank robber and becomes an unlikely hero. At the trial, the bank robber tells Ed, “You’re a dead man…Remember it everyday when you look in the mirror. A dead man.” (Zusak 38). Is it a threat or just a simple statement of fact?

Zusak creates the rest of the plot around random playing cards (all aces) that arrive in Ed’s life after the bank robbery. It seems random at first, but it matches the randomness of Ed’s life so far. He has been just drifting along, letting life happen to him. The first card is the ace of diamonds with four addresses on it. The rest of the aces follow in turn, each with its own cryptic clues. What is Ed supposed to do with these assignments? As Ed struggles to figure it out, he learns that he is supposed to see and to care. Some of the assignments are easy: to cheer on a girl who runs, to buy ice cream for a single mom, to string up Christmas lights for a family, to visit a lonely widow. Others are more difficult: to confront (or kill) an abusive husband, to be beaten up by fighting brothers. The most difficult ones are the ones that come close to home. The ace of hearts directs him to Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey. How much does he really know about his best friends?

Ed’s quirky voice throughout the book holds the seemingly random events together. Ed is clueless and so are we. Ed’s confidence grows as he succeeds at the cards’ assignments, but he still seems unsure—especially about why he was chosen. Here Ed shows his new confidence in his life before the cards deliver one last surprise.

 

Twelve messages have been delivered.
Four aces have been completed.
This feels like the greatest day of my life.
I’m alive, I think. I won. I feel freedom for the first time in months, and an air of contentedness wanders next to me all the way home. It even remains as I walk through the front door, kiss the Doorman, and make us some coffee in the kitchen.
We’re halfway through it when another feeling finds its way to my stomach, winds up, and spills.
I don’t know why I feel it, but any contentment vanishes instantly as the Doorman looks up at me. We hear a latch open and shut from outside and a person rush off.
* * *
I walk slowly out the door, down the porch steps, and onto the front yard.
My letter box stands there. Slightly crooked. It looks guilty.
My heart shakes.
 
I walk on and shudder as I open the letter box.
Oh no, I think. No, no. No!
 
My hands reach in and my fingers take hold of one last envelope. My names’ on it, and inside I can already see it.
There’s one last card.
One last address.
I close my eyes and fall to my knees on my front lawn.
My thoughts stammer.
 
One last card.
 
Without thinking, I gradually open the envelope, and when my eyes find the address, all thoughts are cut down and left there to die.
It reads:
 
26 Shipping Street
 
The address is my address.
The last message is for me (Zusak 353).

This passage shows Ed’s unique way of seeing the world and reflecting on it. Zusak combines Ed’s thoughts with surprising physical description and reaction. This voice carries through the entire novel and often made me laugh.

The ending left me confused at first. I had to read it twice to make any sense of it at all, and it still leaves me asking questions. Zusak never clearly answers—for Ed or the reader—who is behind the cards. Like Ed, I was left wondering who is really in charge of his life. Is there someone out there writing the script for him to live? Or is Ed a lesson to us all? If Ed can rise up and learn to care, maybe there is hope for everyone “to live beyond what they’re capable of” (Zusak 353). I think I like being left asking these questions that reflect important themes. I like being able to search for my own answers.

Zusak’s language did take some getting used to. As an Australian writer, he uses some phrases my American ears did not know. For example, a slippery dip is a slide. I also had to adjust to Christmas (December) being hot instead of snowy. Overall, though, the Australian words didn’t interfere with my understanding. They just gave more flavor to Ed’s voice.

I’m looking forward to reading Zusak’s other books. I’m definitely adding him to my favorite young adult authors.

 

October 25, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Reviewing a candy bar

A good review shows your opinion brith specific details.  Eat your candy bar and note the specific smells, tastes, textures, sounds, and sights.  Use those details to show your opinion of the candy bar.  Here’s how it works.

  • The breath taking scent of chocolate filled my head. The chocolate rainbow funneled into the back of my throat as as it melts. The Milk Duds get stuck to your teeth, so you use your tongue to get it out.
  • A cold warmth envelopes my mouth as if Zeus is playing badminton on my taste buds. A moment so epic it’s like a unicorn puking in my mouth. A chocolate smile spreads across my face after every bite of a M&M.
  • As the  ooey-gooey caramel, milk chocolate, and non-salty peanuts hit my tongue, a smile comes to my face.  A Snickers  bar candy bar makes my day amazing.
  • I bite into a creamy York Peppermint Patty, and a lightning flash of chocolate with a thunderous applause of fresh minty deliciousness fills my mouth like a flood of sweet nectar!
  • As I open the wrapper, the strong aroma fills the air around me.  As my nose pulls in the smell, the candy grows closer and closer to my mouth.  I pull the Twix in my mouth; the smooth chocolate coating and stringy caramel filling melt almost instantaneously.  Practially gone by the time my teeth roughly crunch into the savory cookie section of the Twix, it only reminds me that the Twix is almost gone.  I hope the last bite never comes.

Pay attention to how your point of view affects your reader.  One is not any better than the other.  It depends on your purpose for writing:

  • First person (I, me) shares a personal experience and is more intimate.
  • Second person (you) draws the reader into the experience
  • Third person (it) creates more distance and seems more objective.

Please share your reviews in the comments below, and enjoy the pictures!

August 25, 2012
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Crunch by Leslie Connor

Crunch by Leslie Connor is one of my favorite kinds  is realistic fiction with just one twist of science fiction?  Most of the story seems realistic.  Only one small part moves beyond where we are right now, but it’s not so much a technological advance as it is a technological disaster!

The characters are realistic and believable.  Five kids are staying home alone while their parents take an anniversary trip.  Lil is the oldest who tries to keep everything together.  She is also an artist who decides to paint a mural on the barn when her art class is canceled.  Angus and Eva, the five year old twins, just miss their mom and dad, but are usually pretty cheerful and friendly.  Vince is much more reclusive, but is a genius at bike repairs.  Dewey is the main character.  He takes on the responsibility of running the bike repair shop in his parents’ absence.  He’s pretty responsible with it, but the sudden demand for bikes and repairs soon has business overflowing.  I like how he tries to keep things running even when it gets tough.

The setting is mostly realistic.  Most of the story takes place on the Mariss farm.  They have a big garden, two chickens, and some goats.  The kids gather eggs and milk the goats every morning.  The bike shop is in the barn next to the house.  It’s a small community where people look out for each other.  Pop and Mattie check on the Mariss family frequently.  Officer Runks also swings by on a regular basis, especially when bike thefts become a growing problem.  The coolest part of the setting is the now car-free interstate highway.  Since no cars can go anywhere, people begin walking and biking down the highway.  They even organize themselves by speed of travel!

It’s the main problem of the story that gives a little science fiction twist.  Just as the parents are headed home, the world runs out of gas.  That has not happened yet, thank goodness, but it could be a possibility.  The lack of gas causes many complications.  Obviously, the kids have the continue taking care of themselves without their parents.  Because cars can’t run without gas, the demand for bikes goes up.  Dewey has more business than he can handle even with Vince’s help in the bike shop.  It’s also hard to get supplies (like bike parts and groceries) since trucks aren’t running.  There are a few electric cars, but no big technological breakthroughs.

I really liked the upbeat tone of this story.  Other books that imagine a world without gas (such as Suzanne Weyn’s Empty) take a much darker view.  In Crunch, most people work together to solve the crisis.  For example, people are orderly on the highway.  Dewey gives a guy named Robert a ride on his tandem.  Robert then comes around to help out in the bike shop.  There are a few bad guys taking advantage of the situation.  Someone is stealing a little bit here and a little bit there from area businesses.  Some people on the highway will beat up drivers to get a gas ration card, but most people are good.  I also liked the word play.  Vince comes up with the word crunch to describe the lack of gas since shortage doesn’t seem strong enough.  Vince also describes Robert as a hitchbiker.

September 9, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
2 Comments

What genre is my book?

I am reading The Implosion of Aggie Winchester (G.P. Putman’s Sons 2011) by Lara Zielin.  It is a realistic fiction book.

The main characters are very believable.  Aggie began to dress and act Goth after being bullied her freshman year in high school.  She hopes that putting on a tough image will keep her from being hurt again.  It doesn’t hurt that her best friend Sylvia is also Goth and one of the toughest girls in school.  Aggie also struggles to get along with her parents.  Her mom is the principal at her high school and has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Aggie’s parents are worried about her because of the choices she makes to skip school and go to parties.  Then Aggie learns that Sylvia is pregnant.

The setting is also believable.  It takes place in a small town in Minnesota, mostly at Aggie’s home and high school.  The students are excited about the upcoming prom.  It definitely takes place in the present because Aggie has a cell phone, and the issues at her high school are similar to issues at schools today.  Some kids are popular, and some kids are picked on.

The plot involves problems that face high school students today:  getting along with parents, being dumped by friends, working out boyfriend/girlfriend issues, and getting pregnant.  Through it all, Aggie is trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into the world.

Lara Zielin made up Aggie’s story, but it is certainly believable.  I think many of you will relate to Aggie and enjoy this book.

February 13, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
1 Comment

Golden Line from Football Hero by Tim Green

First, choose an important passage (short) from your book.  Choose one that points to what the book is all about.  It might come at a point where the main character learns an important truth or makes an important decision.  It might be a passage that gives a clue to the title or is beautifully written.  Remember quotation marks and citation (author’s last name and page number).  Here’s the passage I chose from Football Hero by Tim Green.

” ‘It’s not over until it’s over,’ Thane said, speaking slowly, the way he did when he wanted Ty to remember.   ‘You want to be a champion, you have to think that way, in everything you do.  You never stop.  You let yourself start to think that way, then the one time you could pull out a win because of some freak luck, you’re not ready for it.  Maybe it’s only once in a lifetime, but that’s one win you’d never have, and who knows what that one win could do.’ ‘ (Green 289)

Once you quote the passage, explain what it means to you.  Tell me what you’re thinking and support it with examples from the rest of the story.  Here’s what I think about the quote above:

Ty remembered this conversation with his brother in the middle of a football game.  Ty was racing to catch the ball.  He had already outrun three defenders but the fourth had just tipped the ball out of reach.  Even though it seemed impossible, Ty kept going for the ball.  But more than that, throughout the story Ty never gave up.  Even when things seemed the most hopeless, he kept trying.  Sometimes he kept trying on the football field–running barefoot when his cheap sneakers wouldn’t do the job.  He also kept trying to stay in contact with his brother Thane.  At first Uncle Gus tells Ty he can’t visit his brother then weekend of the NFL draft.  Then when Lucy, the bar owner, sees a way to use the brotherly connection to his advantage, Ty asks him for permission to play in the football spring scrimmage, too.  When the school bully won’t leave Ty alone, Ty stalks him on the football field, earning the respect of his teammates.  When he realizes that Lucy is out to hurt Thane, he rushes to warn his brother and shoves Lucy down an  escalator.  One of the things I like best about Ty is that willingness to never say never.  I think Tim Green wants his readers to come away with that message, too.  Don’t ever give up, no matter how hard or impossible life seems, because you never know when that one time will pay off for you.  Keep trying so you will be ready for it when it comes.

February 10, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
2 Comments

Image for glisten

Go to FlickerCC to find an image that you can legally use on your blog.  FlickerCC lets you search for images that have a Creative Commons license.  That means you can use the picture on your blog if you follow the guideline given in the license. 

Insert the picture into your post:

  1. Right click on the image you want to use. 
  2. Choose “Save picture as” and save it to your folder.  Make sure you save it as a JPEG file.
  3. Go back to the post you want to insert the picture in.  At the very top, click on the first button beside “Add media.”  If you hold the mouse over it, it says “”Add an image.”  This will bring up a dialogue box.  add media
  4. Click on the “Select Files” button.  Change the location to your folder instead of My Pictures. Click on the image you saved.  add media 2
  5. Select the size and location of your picture.  Then click “Insert into post.”

Below your picture, write a caption that uses your word. 

dew

The drop of dew glistened in the sun. 

Image:  It is a Wonderful World found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/41864721@N00/2363896193  used with a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

You also need to give an attribution for the image like I did above.  Tell the name of the picture, give a link to the URL where you found the picture, and tell what Creative License it has.  Here is where you find this information on FlickerCC.

add media 3

February 10, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Characterization for cadence

For today’s writing assignment, choose a vocabulary word to write a characterization of at least 150 words.  You are going to personify (give human character traits) your word.  Imagine your word is a person whose personality matches its definition.  Describe what kind of person your word would be.  You can reveal character by describing the character’s appearance, actions, speech, inner thoughts and feelings,and  environment.  In addition, you can tell what others say about them.  Have fun with this one.  Here is my example (191 words). 

Cadence marched into the room.  He was dressed as usual in a uniform from the marching band. Every button shone and the cords over his shoulder lined up perfectly.  As he marched, he kept time with a rhyme he chanted.  He learned the rhyme while he was in the army, and every step he took matched the beat of the rhyme.  Many people found Cadence very tiring to be around.  Not only did Cadence march everywhere he went, he also expected other people to follow him.  Before he left a room, he lined up everyone in straight, even lines.  He would call out the first line, “One mile, no sweat.”  He expected the group to call answer with “Two mile better yet.”  That is how he led them down the hallway to their next class.  Everyone had to step in time to the beat.  If they got off, all they had to do was watch Cadence at the front of the line.  He lifted his foot high with every step.  He also raised a white baton in his right hand every time he lifted his right foot.  Don’t you wish you could follow Cadence to your next class?

February 8, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
0 comments

Personal Identification for frazzled

To write a personal identification, choose one of your vocabulary words that describes you (or describes the opposite of you).  Start with a sentence that tells how the word is like (or opposite of) you.  Then give three reasons why the word describes you (or opposite).  Support each reason with at least one vivid detail that shows how the word describes you (or not).  This writing should be at least 100 words.  (Use the word count tool in Open Office, then copy using CTRL-V.)  Here’s my example (at 157 words):  The example in your notes (for the word brutal), shows how you can take the opposite point of view. 

After being sick for over a week, the word frazzled definitely describes me.  First, my house is falling apart because no one else did the work I usually do.  I lay on the couch and worry about the crumbs trailing across the kitchen floor and the dirty dishes piling up on the counters.  Everyone wants to eat, but no one wants to cook.  Did I mention all the dirty clothes exploding out of the closet?  Another reason I feel frazzled is because I am falling farther and farther behind with my grading.  I still have over fifty editorials to grade.  Then there are the first journals you wrote and turned in and now vocabulary words.  The last reason I feel frazzled is because my desk is a mess.  I’ve just thrown all my mail and books over it until you can’t even see it.  Being sick for over a week sure makes me feel frazzled right now.

February 8, 2011
by Mrs. McGriff
2 Comments

Context Clue – scowled

Choose one of your vocabulary words to create some original writing.  That means you make up these sentences.  Write at least 50 words (in a sentence or two) that uses your vocabulary word.  The meaning of the word should be clear without stating the definition.  Here is my example for the word scowled.  Help out your readers by putting the vocabulary word in BOLD

After being out sick for four days, Mrs. McGriff came back to school to learn that her students had wasted their time in class.  Instead of completing their vocabulary words and reading their books, they talked—a lot.  The first day she was back, Mrs. McGriff stood in front of the class and scowled at her students as she expressed her displeasure. 

Based on this sentence, what do you think the word scowled means?  Will I have to scowl at you if I am absent again this year?

Now go guess read the context clues written by your classmates.  Leave them a comment that gives your definition of the word based on their writing.