Sunday, June 13, 2010

Growing a Reader from Birth: Your Child's Path from Language to Literacy by Diane McGuinness

Hey it's a book review!! Yes I am still reading, although you can see how my tastes are changing. I decided to do a book review on this book because I just really wanted to talk about it. I also posted the review on my baby blog.
The book is Growing a Reader from Birth: Your Child's Path from Language to Literacy by Diane McGuinness. Obviously I am interested in having a child who is a reader. I think the main reason why I am such a big reader is because both my parents modeled reading as a (very) common behavior as I was growing up. After reading this book, especially the last chapter about current literacy programs in schools, I have been thinking about how I learned to read. I actually do remember bits and pieces of learning, but not where it came from. But when I think about it hard enough, I think that my mom must have taught me before I started school. I remember being way ahead of the other kids, even when I started in the gifted program in second grade. Go Mom!
So, back to the book review. McGuinness structures the book by your child's age, beginning with the first year of life. For each section she reviews the literature on language development. (Her basic premise is that in order to be a good reader, we must first have top-notch communication skills.) She distills the important information out of the most current studies, and offers it to the reader in a coherent fashion. She finishes each section by discussing ways that parents can improve their child's language development, based on the current science.
Many of the tips are self-explanatory (talk to your child!), but she gives important details and ways to test your own communication style. The ideas that resonated the most with me were the difference between a repetitive style and an elaborative style, and, related to that, letting your child guide the conversation, rather than forcing it where you want it to go. The communication styles refer to conversations with toddlers - a repetitive style is one that mostly contains one-word answers and does not bother to expand on the topic under discussion, while the elaborative style is one where the parent adds lots of extra information on the topic under discussion, especially if it is one the child finds interesting. An example of an elaborative conversation from the book is -
Parent: What did we see down in the harbor?
Child: Boat
P: Yes we did, we saw a lot of boats didn't we? Do remember, some were big and some were small.
C: Small boat. Bird.
P: Oh, you remember the birds! We saw birds sitting on the small boat didn't we? Looking for fish. Do you remember what kind of birds they were?
C: Fish birds?
P: No they're called seagulls. Can you say seagulls?
C: Seagulls.
P: Good! That's very good!
The boy in this example is thirty months old. This is contrasted with the actual conversation, where the dad kept changing the subject to try to get the "proper" response from his son. That conversation ended with the boy in tears. Obviously not much learning taking place in that case. The key is to not be afraid to talk more than your child. He needs to hear you, as long as you're giving him a chance to participate as well.
The book ends with a discussion of current literacy practices in schools, and how, for the most part, they do nothing to actually teach children how to read. From McGuinness's examples, it's hard to see why these are the methods that are still predominate. She gives tips on investigating your school's methods, and what programs you can use at home if your school is not using a phonics-based method.
As you can probably see, I really thought this was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for parents with children ages five and under. I know I will be using all of the tips, as well as modeling reading to my child. I kind of can't help that part!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Break Time!

As is probably clear to anyone who reads this blog, I have been very lax about posting lately! I know I have explained before, but I wanted to give another update.
I will probably be having a baby here in the next week or so, and while I was supremely confident in my ability to sort of keep up with posting, that has clearly not happened. And I doubt I will be able to once I have a little infant to care for either. So I am sort of officially going on hiatus. I will be posting reviews of the ARC's I still have (although I will probably try not to get any more of those), but otherwise I will not be doing reviews for the time being. This means I'll be working extra hard to keep my goodreads profile updated. So you can still check there if you would like to see what I am reading. I may even do reviews there, just briefly. We'll see.
Sadly this means that I may not even do any wrap-up posts in the next week or so. I did have some I wanted to do, but I can't really claim that they will get done. Oh well.
Not sure when I'll be back - family takes priority obviously! Thank you to all of my readers and followers - feel free to add me as a friend on goodreads or follow me there, if you like (but please let me know who you are when you add me as a friend, otherwise I may ignore you!). Happy reading!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

Another lovely reading experience, brought to you by Georgette Heyer. I think that this one is my favorite so far by her. It had all of the components of her other historical romances, but this one managed to pull them all off flawlessly. It is a slightly different story than seems typical for her books, but maybe that's why I liked it so much.
The Duke of Sale, known as Gilly to most people (his full name and titles are amusingly very long), is an orphan, raised by his uncle until he reaches his majority at age 25. We meet him at 24, and see in him a man who has been so sheltered and cared for all of his life, that he practically cannot stand up for himself. He wants to speak for himself, and live his own life, but he knows that those responsible for his extreme disconnection from the world, his uncle and servants, only treat him so because they love him so much. And he does not have the heart to cause strife among his household. However, we see that this "mollycoddling" has begun to be simply too much for him, and he begins to show signs of breaking free. When his cousin finds himself in some trouble, Gilly volunteers to solve the problem. His first step? Tricking his servants and informing absolutely no one, not even his closest friend Gideon (another cousin), of his intentions, he sets out to have himself an adventure, to prove to himself whether he is "a man, or only a duke."
Gilly is a fantastic character, one whose strength the reader can see through all of the sheltering he has grown up with. The other male characters are equally well-drawn; I especially love Gideon, and his attitude towards Gilly, who he insists on calling Adolphus (his true first name). The two main female characters are also likeable, and Heyer does a terrific job of making us love the foundling Belinda, while being just as annoyed with her as the rest of the cast of characters most of the time. The romance in this book is more subtle than in the others, but I found it perhaps even more satisfying. Like I said, this is my favorite of the Heyer books I have read so far, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction and romance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin

This is definitely one of the strangest books that I have read in a while, and I'm not really sure if I liked it. It was a fascinating read, and I kept thinking about the book after I was done. But overall, I think it missed the mark in a few ways.
Fade to Blue is the story of Sophie Blue, who decided to start wearing all black, including her lipstick, on her last birthday, which was also the last time she saw her father. Sophie is pretty sure that she is losing her mind, and the scary dreams and creepy popsicle truck that seems to be following her don't really help things. The book also seems to be the story of Kenny Fade, the school basketball star for whom everything seems to go exactly right. But he may be going crazy too. Their stories begin to intertwine in a way that makes you scratch your head, that makes you go, "Okay, this book is totally not what I thought it was about." The other main characters of the story, Sophie's best friend Lake and her brother O.S., are also not quite what they seem.
As the plot twists and turns, I found myself getting a little bit lost, which I don't think was entirely my fault as a reader. Beaudoin seems to want to take this story somewhere that he can't quite get to. But it really is a fascinating read, nonetheless. Also, I couldn't read about the creepy popsicle truck without picturing the ice cream truck from that old Play Station video game, Twisted Metal. If you know what I'm talking about, you'll know what I mean when I say it's creepy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Lie by Fredrica Wagman

This book was totally not what I expected it to be. Honestly, I really had no expectations, it's been in my to-read pile forever and I finally just got to it. But even with no expectations, it completely surprised me. This review may contain spoilers, it is incredibly difficult to talk about without giving away plot. But I think it will be okay, if you plan on reading the book - I don't think anything I discuss will ruin the story in any way.
Ramona Smollens is seventeen when she meets the man she will marry, just one month after meeting him. Their meeting is very strange, and sets the tone for the rest of their relationship. The entire novel takes place inside Ramona's head, with her as a narrator. And what an unreliable narrator she is! The "Lie" of the title is complicated - Ramona's entire life seems to be a lie, as she has lied to herself and others for so long. But really, the Lie for Ramona seems to be that love and sex and marriage can bring happiness and fulfillment to life. Ramona has believed in the promise that she was told by the sirens of the silver screen, Rita Hayworth in particular, that she will be swept off her feet with passion, and sex will come easy to her, and she will be happy. But none of this happens. And so Ramona lies, to her parents, to her husband, to herself. And she lives within the lies that society has told her, and the lies she believes that her husband is telling her. And within her narration, it is sometimes impossible to tell the truth from the fiction.
The writing itself is not what I was used to. Wagman uses a sort of stream of consciousness style, with sentences that seems to go on forever, broken up by elipses and dashes. But it always makes sense, and the style never distracts from the story. It only adds to the sense of madness that we get from Ramona. She is entirely obsessed with Rita Hayworth, and entirely obsessed with the idea of herself as a woman. She grew up in a household that destroyed her soul, and made her seemingly incapable of real feeling. This book was really a fascinating read, and would be a terrific choice for a book club. There is so much here to discuss! I read it in a few hours, it just flies by. If this review has made the book sound interesting at all, I would definitely say go pick it up. You may not like the story, or Ramona, but you won't forget it, and you won't regret picking up this book for a glimpse into the way the Lies of our society can alter a life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

This is the first book that I have read by Malcolm Gladwell, but if his other two books (The Tipping Point and Blink) are anything like this one, the man is a genius when it comes to synthesizing information. Synthesizing is not the exact word that I want, but what I mean is he has an incredible ability to bring together information from all sorts of studies, creating a pattern that he shows to his readers to make his point. His point in Outliers is that our notion of success is flawed. We love to believe in the self-made man, the super successful genius who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, came from nothing or nowhere, and became an icon of success. However, Gladwell shows that this myth is simply not true; for every super successful person, he can show examples of people who are just as talented, and could have been just as successful, but for whom life did not provide the lucky breaks it did for the success stories. (This is not meant to lessen the genius of those successes in any way - it just gives a different perspective on their lives.)
Gladwell's examples range from the Beatles to Bill Gates, from Jewish lawyers in New York to Chinese children and mathematics. In every single chapter there was something that I absolutely had to share with my husband while I was reading - really, I would have just read the whole book to him if I had the chance. The most fascinating information I found was his description of cultural legacies, and how those continue to affect us on all levels.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I was unable to provide a category for it in my labels, but anyone who enjoys reading will enjoy this book. It is fascinating, especially if you are a non-fiction reader. But even fiction readers will find themselves hooked!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Lord John by Georgette Heyer

My Lord John was Heyer's last novel, and is actually unfinished, with the manuscript ending right in the middle of a sentence. She had planned on writing the life story of Lord John, Duke of Bedford, son of King Henry IV and younger brother to King Henry V, but this book ends right before the death of his father. It covers his life from childhood through to 1413, when he was in his early twenties. Heyer did an enormous amount of research to write this book, and this becomes very obvious throughout the story. In addition to discussing the life of one man, we learn about the entire world during that time period, from details of the lives of the princes, to the struggles on the world stage.
I found this book to be incredibly difficult to read. For fans of Heyer's light romances, which are also excellent historical fiction, this book might be a bit daunting. It is very different from the others I've read by her. What made it most frustrating for me was the fact that I could not for the life of me keep all the names and titles straight, even with the help of the cast of characters at the front of the book and the family tree in the back. The problem comes from Heyer's use of not only the character's given names, but also their titles, which seem to be constantly changing, and even their nicknames, if the characters have them. Most historical fiction authors that I have read try to keep things a little bit more in order for their readers, as though they understand that this can be confusing. Heyer also uses language from the time, and she helpfully includes a glossary, so that her readers will not be further mystified about what is going on. Still, this use of language tended to add to my difficulty with the book.
Overall, the historical detail is incredible, and the reader can learn a tremendous amount about this time period from the book. It would have been good to read the entire thing, no matter how difficult I found it. However, I hesitate to recommend this one, simply because the constant name switching and use of language were for me very distracting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

When I first read about The Year of the Flood, and that it takes place in the same world as Oryx and Crake, I was intrigued. The world of these two books is a future of our world, around fifty years in the future, I think. So much of it is very similar, and what isn't the same as our world is still recognizable. I read Oryx and Crake when it came out a few years ago. I liked it, but it did not become a favorite of mine. It stuck with me, and yet it did not mean very much to me. As a result, I did not remember many details.
As a result, it took me a while to recognize that The Year of the Flood not only takes place in the same world as Oryx and Crake, but it also takes place over pretty much the exact same time period. The Year of the Flood is not a sequel, nor is Oryx and Crake a prequel - they are more like companion novels. I may have to go back and reread Oryx and Crake now, as I feel like I may see it in a different light.
I love Margaret Atwood's writing style. The Handmaid's Tale is my favorite book, and I have read many of her other books over the years. In this book, as in all of her others, Atwood simply drops you right into the story, and begins to describe the world from the point of view of one or more of the characters. In a science fiction-like story such as this one, this makes things a bit disorienting at first. Atwood leaves it up to her readers to piece together the meanings of many words - although the world is very similar to ours, many things exist in it that do not in our time, and so there are new words for many objects and ideas. But Atwood is an excellent writer, allowing the reader to pick up on these things as she goes along.
The Year of the Flood is told from the points of view of two different characters, Toby and Ren, who have both survived the plague that wiped out humanity, known as the Waterless Flood. Interspersed between their chapters are sermons given by the leader of the Gods Gardeners, Adam One. Toby and Ren give us a picture of what their life is in the present tense, as well as telling us about their past. The stories of their pasts move forward until at the end of the book, they meet with the present. I always really enjoy this novel structure, as it is suspenseful in a way, but you also know the ending.
I would have to say that I liked this book a lot better than Oryx and Crake, but it would be really interesting to reread that one now that I've read this one. They are incredibly different books, told by characters who are vastly different from each other, and experience the world in a very different way. Atwood's views of the future are always interesting, and are critical of many aspects of our present societies. I highly recommend this book to everyone, not just fans of her work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

John Wells is a CIA agent who has had a rough time the past couple of years. In two previous books by Berenson, The Faithful Spy and The Ghost War, Wells is the hero who must save the world in some way. And The Silent Man is no different. I have not read the other two books, but I can vouch for the fact that this book stands on its own - no need to read the other two first.
The Silent Man is the story of an Iraqi man who becomes a jihadi after his family is killed during the American invasion of Iraq. He connects with various people around the world who help him to acquire nuclear material in the form of bombs from Russia, which he plans on using to make his own bomb. In the beginning of the book, there is no connection between this plot and Wells, but after Wells attempts a mission of revenge against a man who tried to have him and his fiance killed, he becomes very involved. Wells is unable to accomplish the act of vengeance that he seeks against Pierre Kowalski, and in order to save himself, Kowalski offers Wells information about the terrorists. From there it is a tense race against the clock.
I enjoyed this book, and I can see why people are fans of this genre. I must admit that I am not a fan of thrillers of this sort, and even though I read and enjoy them occasionally, I doubt they will ever be my favorite. I mostly find them depressing and rather cynical, especially because I feel like the bad guys are always stereotypical. But I guess they have to be recognizable, so in this day and age, the bad guys are typically Muslim terrorists. Anyways, this is a good example of the genre, and it is definitely a page-turner. The characters have a decent amount of depth, even the bad guys, which makes reading it much more interesting. All of the characters are conflicted in some way, especially John Wells. He has had more time to develop as a character through the series, and he is a very complicated man. Not your typical hero at all. But he does his best, and when that involves saving the world, who can complain?
This is another book that qualifies for the Suspense and Thriller Reading Challenge, which I am surely not going to finish by the end of the year. But whatever. This one qualifies as both a Spy Thriller and a Terrorist Thriller, but I think I will use it for the former. A Spy Thriller is "where the hero is generally a government agent who must take violent action against agents of a rival government or (in recent years) terrorists."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

The Tudor Rose is the story of Elizabeth of York, the mother of Henry the Eighth. This telling begins when she is a teenager, and is to be wed to the Dauphin of France. Although this marriage falls through, pening the book this way gives the reader a good glimpse of what the rest of the book is going to focus on. After the King, her father, dies, and her brothers are presumably dead, she is basically the heir to the throne of England. Her uncle Richard takes the throne after imprisoning her two young brothers in the Tower, yet she still has the stronger claim. Therefore she becomes the prize to be won, along with the rightful rule of England.
The first half of the book focuses on the struggle for the throne, which ends with the victory of Henry Tudor, who will become King Henry the Seventh. From there on, the story is of her marriage and her children. It is rich in historical detail, although sometimes the way that detail is conveyed is told rather than shown. That was my main difficulty with really getting into the story - the author tends to have her main characters throw in history for us, but it sounds incredibly forced. And in some cases it is clear that the conversations are probably not in anyway historically accurate, but are there to fill the reader in on some details. Despite this, it is an enjoyable book, and as my mother is already reading and enjoying my copy, I can definitely say that fans of historical fiction will like this one.