Book Chat

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royalty reading challengeFirst, something fun: I’m holding a Royalty Reading Challenge here at my blog in March. I’ll put up a post on March 4 where you can link up if you’d like to participate. To participate? Read a book of your choice on any royal topic. If you’ve read much here, you know that I’m a royal junkie: particularly British royalty, but also other more obscure royals, particularly that wacky yet intriguing King Ludwig of Bavaria. I’m hoping to read a few royal biographies, and I hope this will be incentive for me to do that. Have you wished you knew more about Queen Elizabeth? Henry VIII? Or any other royal figure, or maybe even a fictional account involving a king or queen? I’m not too picky here 🙂 Choose a book and plan to participate — I’d love to have more than just myself.


The Giver LowryIt’s been years since I’ve read The Giver — I think it first crossed my radar back when I was teaching. I may have even read it with students, can’t remember anymore. But, a copy one of my kids had read for school was sitting on my stack in the basement. Remember this as a “good book,” I began re-reading it recently. Wow — it really is excellent. I noticed so many parallels to “The Hunger Games,” and thought how “The Giver” really is a better book. You just begin wondering what it is that makes one book “take off” so much more than others that are better … in “The Giver”‘s case, I’m guessing its main characters are just a bit too young for the romantic appeal of Katniss et al. Oh well.

Anyway, if you’re one of the half-dozen who still hasn’t read The Giver, it’s about a society where everyone and everything is tightly controlled. Each family is given (yes, “given”) two children. Each age brings a specific new privilege to a child. Once children are raised, parents are sent off to a building for childless adults, where they are cared for until they are “released.”

When a child is twelve, he/she is given an assigned job to train for. Jonas, the main character, is named Receiver of Memory. This kind of freaks him out, as he has never even heard of this job, and there is only one person performing it: him. His training involves meeting with an old man known as The Giver. This man helps him see all that the outside world and the past have to offer — basically, all the things missing from his current world. Colors. Feelings.

To me, this book came across as an excellent analogy of the world as experienced by those on the autism spectrum (cut and dried, black and white, emotionless) vs. that experienced by neuro-typical people (feelings, colors, memories). Unsurprisingly, Jonas is hugely conflicted as he realizes more and more the gulf between him and the others in town. He felt such love for Asher and for Fiona. But they could not feel it back, without the memories. And he could not give them those. Jonas knew with certainty that he could change nothing.

What would you choose, if given the option — a world of no pain, no feelings, no love, no choices — or a world with all those things, but also with music, colors, and emotions? That’s the decision Jonas must make.

Read The Giver, if you haven’t. It will make you appreciate the little things that make us human: tears, joy, babies, love, the red of an apple, a fire in the fireplace …




Doon reviewed by my 12-year-old, Sophie:

This week, I had the pleasure of reading Doon.   Does the word Brigadoon ring a bell?  This book is set in Scotland, Alloway, near the ‘Brig-o-Doon’, a bridge legendarily opening every one hundred years to a magical kingdom called Doon.

Veronica Welling and her best friend, Mackenna, take a summer trip to a cottage in Alloway that Mackenna inherited from her aunt.  There, they discover her aunt’s journal and two rings, which lead them to the Brig-o-Doon.

This book had me laughing at a lot of the hilarious dialogue and awkward moments.  I recommend it to middle- or high school girls.  I love the cover and back on the book, and probably would give it 5 stars.

Thanks to BookSneeze for Doon.


critical issues and practices in gifted educationWith three children in our district’s gifted program, and as a board member of the program, I was excited to be able to review Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education: What the Research Says. This huge book (almost 800 pages) is an excellent resource on gifted education. There are brief chapters on any educational topic you can imagine, from bullying to underachieving, and how it relates to giftedness.

I’m making my way through the entire book (speed-reading and skimming much of it, which you can imagine given its size). As I read, I’m often reminded of my thought that I would never want to be a researcher, as research is pretty boring to read, and much seems obvious (boys more often show giftedness in areas like math and science, girls in language-related fields — did we really need research to show this?).

However, I kept paper and pen with me as I read, and I made note of things that popped out to me. A few of those —

  • In a chapter about AP classes, I read that between 2001 and 2012, the US Dept. of Education spent $275 million on a program encouraging low-income students to take AP classes. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of African American and Latino students taking these classes, yet “most” failed to pass the required end-of-class test which would have given them college credit. I have to wonder if this is money well-spent. Should we bend over backwards to get people to do something they won’t be successful at?
  • The chapter on giftedness and how it relates to autism fascinated me. It was stated that it’s a common assumption that all those with autism have intellectual disabilities (not true). Another myth is that all those with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the high-functioning end of autism, are gifted or have savant-like abilities. Again, not true. Interestingly, the research cited in this chapter found that gifted children often display characteristics  common to those on the autism spectrum, including intense concentration on a topic of interest, negative behaviors perceived as oppositional, few interpersonal relations, and hypervigilant senses.
  • Related to the hypervigilant senses that are common among gifted kids — a chapter on bullying found that even a single incident of victimization could have a long-term impact on a gifted child, due to his/her acute sensitivity.
  • From a chapter on creativity: creativity in sciences tends to be associated with firstborns, lower levels of psychopathology, and higher levels of education. Artistic creativity tends to be associated with laterborns, a higher likelihood of psychopathology, and lower levels of education. Fascinating!
  • Gender issues: the SAT test has a persistent gender gap favoring males on both the verbal and math sections, even when adjusted for every other demographic. Interesting …
  • The gender chapter also states “continued low representation of females in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields … remains a concern.” I read this type of thing so often, and honestly? I have to wonder why it’s a concern. I feel like boys naturally gravitate more to math/science, while girls tend to like social/”soft” sciences  more. Why is this a problem? It’s like saying “the curved edges of spheres remain a concern.” Ummmm … whatcha gonna do about it?
  • Interesting: academically talented girls tend to attribute their success to effort or luck, while boys tend to attribute their success to ability. I clearly remember being interviewed as a high school senior about why I thought I had ended up as one of our class’s valedictorians. I said my success came “because I always did my homework.” Years later, after having taught for quite a while, I thought back to this, and realized that I was probably smart. That thought had not occurred to me at the time.


Wide Sargasso Sea

Remember reading Jane Eyre? Remember when Jane and Rochester’s wedding is ruined by the revelation that Rochester already has a wife, ya know, that crazy lady living in the attic??!!! Well, Wide Sargasso Sea is Jean Rhys’s attempt to tell the backstory of wife #1. “She seemed such a poor ghost,” wrote Rhys, “I thought I’d like to write her a life.”

This is a short book, but as a Jane Eyre fan, I found it really good. It’s set in the West Indies. The first section is told by Antoinette (or Bertha, as Rochester later calls her). The second section is told by Rochester (although he’s never specifically named in the book), and the final section by Antoinette again, this time from her dark attic room at Thornfield. The whole tale brings to life the West Indies — the lush, colorful vegetation, the conflicts between the blacks/whites/creoles, the voodoo/magic/spells that are a big (and creepy, to me) part of the culture. Fan fiction of the highest order, and recommended for all Jane Eyre junkies. You’ll never seen the woman in the attic as one-dimensional again.

More glimpses at what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books.

12 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I had never even heard of The Giver, so I guess I am one of the half dozen. 😀 I’m not a big fan of dystopian literature, but this sounds interesting. I have wanted to see the musical version of Brigadoon for years but just never have.Doon looks fun!

  2. Great variety in your list. I vaguely remember reading The Giver when I was younger. Think I’ll have to add it to my pile again. Love Jane Eyre so I’ll have to look for Wide Sargasso Sea.

  3. And…you’ve just about managed to convince me that I should read that book about gifted children (despite the dryness). What a very fascinating topic-with such interesting insights. I often wish more authors of non-fiction would take the time to write science like that in an engaging manner (a la Nurture Shock).

    Also, I’m laughing out loud about “the curved edges of a circle”. Pretty much sums up my thoughts exactly.

  4. What an awesome list! The Giver is a really good book. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it but it’s totally worth a reread. There are sequels! (Which I have not yet read).

    The Gifted Education book sounds really interesting, though you said it was dry. Because my husband and I are interested in older child adoption, we come across a lot of kids with autism. That specific chapter sounds like one I need to read!

  5. I’ll have to check out Doon for my daughter. Love the idea of the Royalty Challenge–I’ll have to see if I have time.

  6. Speaking about the Royals – Yesterday’s news reveals they better start tightening their purse strings quite a bit. They’re running out of dough! I really appreciate your abilities. I will always remember Mrs. Baughman’s words about you, “Susan makes her OWN luck!”

  7. Well, once again you’ve come up with a list of books, none of which I know about. Sophie’s review was so well written. Please tell her I was impressed. I think I would enjoy skimming the book about gifted education. I’m sure I wouldn’t slog my way through it word for word. I’d be interested in the royalty challenge if you give us some suggestions.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I enjoy hearing your thoughts.