Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tokyo: Ghibli Museum, DisneySea, & Disneyland

Our final week in Japan was a mixture of Tokyo Disney and exploring more of Tokyo's many neighborhoods. On our way back into the city from Kyoto, we stopped at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Photos weren't allowed inside, so these are all from outside, but this is a definite must for fans of animation, film-making, and illustration!
After a wonderfully kooky lunch at the museum, we headed towards Tokyo Disney - a resort area featuring two parks: DisneySea and Disneyland. We are so grateful that we got to stay on the Disney property, thanks to a wonderful wedding gift and a "friends & family" discount at our Hilton hotel.

The view from our hotel room (that's the Tokyo skyline in the distance, and Daikanransha, which was the world's tallest Ferris Wheel at the time of its construction (1999)).
We stopped in our room just long enough to see that our luggage, which we had sent over a week earlier when we first flew in to Tokyo, had arrived. [Seriously, the luggage delivery system in Japan is awesome.] Then we headed out to the first park: DisneySea. DisneySea is unique to Japan, and instead of having differently themed lands (ie, Adventureland, Tomorrowland) has ports of harbor (Port Discovery, American Waterfront, Mediterranean Harbor) - it is set up like an island, and each area is themed by different water-based characters and locations. It's super cool! I'll let the pics do the talking:
Is anyone surprised that Mermaid Lagoon was my favorite?
Hidden Mickey!
A romantic gondola ride to end our night!
We spend our second (full) day at DisneySea as well. It was just as magical as being there at night! I should also mention that we had zero issues with crowds. Because it was the week after Thanksgiving, there weren't many American tourists, and since it was cooler out and a weekday, there weren't huge Japanese crowds either. Tokyo Disney is a "locals" park since it is easy to get to with public transportation - meaning Japanese visitors quite often go for a day trip, or on the weekend, or they get the evening pass and come after 6 pm. We really lucked out and rarely had to wait in lines for rides!
The Christmas theming was Jesus's favorite. 
Mermaid Lagoon/Triton's Kingdom remained my favorite!
10 months later, I still think about these custard-filled dumplings.
By the end of the night, we were literally the only people in line for the Indiana Jones ride!
We spend our final day at Tokyo Disney at Disneyland, which is comparable to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World or Disneyland California - it has all the familiar characters, and many of the same rides. Jesus had never been to any Disney park, so the most entertaining part for me was to see his enthusiasm and childlike wonder.
The queue for Pooh's Honey Hunt was amazing!
Of course I found the giraffe ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And they lived happily ever after... :)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Into the Water

Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lot of fun to listen to as an audiobook - it's read by a cast of characters, so it feels kind of like an old radio mystery. I very much enjoyed all the excerpts from the fictional book at the heart of this little town with lots of secrets, including what exactly the Drowning Pool is and represents. I also liked going into the minds of various residents - a stark contrast from the style of The Girl on the Train, where we focused on only a few characters. The red herrings weren't too obvious, I thought I had motives and guilty suspects figured out several times, and I was hooked the whole way through.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Nonfiction for Fun

If I've learned anything during my time in grad school and while working with the newest in children's literature, it's that nonfiction (especially for youth) doesn't get the respect it deserves. Or it does, but not as "pleasure reading" - it's used in classrooms, or for research, or it's read out of some sort of obligation (all of which are perfectly fine reasons to read!), but rarely just because a person wants to hunker down with some facts. I'm here to tell you, nonfiction books can be just as thrilling as any fictional novel - you've just got to find the right one for you! These are a few I've enjoyed recently:

Family/Cultural Drama

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto YoshitsuneSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Samurai Rising is the truly epic tale of Minamoto Yoshitsune, a Japanese man who became a samurai despite all the odds against him. It reads like a novelization of a movie or television show - the opening scene would not be out of place on an HBO drama. Turner has a way of making ancient history seem so fresh and relevant, and there were several times that I noticed how she explained very complex and nuanced Japanese rituals or familial structures with ease and fluidity. As an adult reader, I appreciated that things were never watered down or left out, but instead given extra detail. It was apparent that Turner trusts her audience, whether teen readers or older, to go along with her for a wild ride.

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial RussiaThe Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so I knew what was going to happen in this intimate look at Russia's last royal family, but I still could not put it down and felt the suspense the entire way through! I was truly engrossed in this book, which felt like a telenovela, and I loved the contrast in chapters focusing on the Romanovs versus the common citizens of Russia. There was a lot of information presented in each chapter, but I never felt overwhelmed, which shows the strength of Fleming's writing and organization skills. Again, Fleming trusts her audience and does the story justice with honesty and wit. Additional resources include photos, maps, journal entries, and other historical documents.

Poetic Nonfiction

Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights CaseLoving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This illustrated verse novel details the relationship and resulting civil rights case of Mildred and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man who fell in love as teenagers in Virginia in the 1950s. It would take years of trials, separation, jail time, and protests to legalize interracial marriage, and Loving vs. Virginia shows the emotion of this time for the Lovings. Each poem alternates in perspective between Richard and Mildred, allowing both of them to tell their own stories. The poems range from light and quick to longer, more in depth meditations on what it means to love and be loved. Photos, a timeline, and additional resources round out this informational narrative.

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FrankensteinMary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Shelley's life and the creation of her most well-known work, Frankenstein, are detailed in this free verse biography for young adults. Haunting black and white watercolor illustrations complete this nonfiction verse novel, and both the poetry and the images work together to bring Shelley and her writing to life. Mary's Monster joins several other biographic works about Mary Shelley this year (as it's the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein), but the artistry sets this one apart. It's simply a beautiful book!


I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The audio, the content, the subject, the backstory - so much contributes to the strength of this book. I'm not sure how I would've reacted to it pre-arrest, but listening to it post-arrest was very satisfying. Obviously DNA is what got the GSK eventually, but to hear all the connections and guesses McNamara and others made without it was stunning.

I'm in awe of people with such a passion, and McNamara's fastidious determination and grit came through on every page (or in every recorded minute, as it were).

Extras: view all my reviews, more audiobooks, and more poetry.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Wicker King

The Wicker KingThe Wicker King by K. Ancrum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect from this strange little book (from a (Chicago) local author!), but I'm glad I read it. Best friends August and Jack navigate both the real world and the world of Jack's hallucinatory visions while also coming to terms with what their relationship is and isn't. The writing is richly detailed, yet never too flowery, and I loved getting lost in the in-between world. I found the literal composition of the book to work in its favor as well, with the darkened pages and the way words were placed on the pages to show Jack's inner turmoil. All-in-all, it made for a total reading experience - I wanted complete silence and solitude while I read to fully enjoy the ambiance the book created.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Women in Translation Month

Did you know August is Women in Translation Month? Here are a few of my recently read translated favorites:

Picture Books

Animal CityAnimal City by Joan Negrescolor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought the colors in this picture book were fantastic!

How to Knit a MonsterHow to Knit a Monster by Annemarie van Haeringen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun and cute tale of what happens when you're a prolific knitter, but you don't always pay attention to what's on your needles...


Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the WorldBrazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a quirky, detailed, fun collection of illustrated stories! This nonfiction graphic works well as a dip-in-and-out resource, and even though I read it cover to cover, it could easily be read by interest or as curiosity leads. The colors are sharp, and the book as a whole has a very eclectic feel. I love that it features women we don't often see depicted in media.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1)Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution is at times funny, moving, sweet, heartbreaking, and enlightening. Satrapi's simple black and white illustrations tell her story without sensationalizing it, and both the words and images allow for the reader to connect with the content on an emotional and intellectual level. I'm excited to continue reading more of Satrapi!

YA Novels

The Forgotten BookThe Forgotten Book by Mechthild Gläser
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading The Forgotten Book is like reading Pride and Prejudice, but set at German Hogwarts. Largely a P & P retelling, though with more fantasy elements, The Forgotten Book swept me up in its romance and in the mystery of a book that makes the things written in it come true. An old boarding school with hidden secrets set in the countryside is a perfect setting for this story, and I loved exploring its passageways and imagining what it would be like to hang out it the library. Austen isn't always my cup of tea, but I like what Gläser did with this story. Despite mostly knowing what direction storylines were headed in, I still enjoyed the journey.

ErebosErebos by Ursula Poznanski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For fans of Ready Player One and Warcross, Erebos shows readers a world where a computer game influences the real lives of teenagers in one city. This mystery-thriller was a slow burn with plenty of world-building (both on- and offline) and a few red herrings along the way. It was interesting to put myself in the places of the characters, and I also appreciated the thoughtfulness of the details of secondary characters and subplots.

Extras: view all my reviews.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Instructional Project Reflection

For our final project, my group decided to do a live database tutorial that would assist a fictional 8th grade class in their research for a fictional biographic research project. This activity would also assist the fictional teacher who assigned the project, as their students would be better prepared to complete the assignment. Choosing a topic for our lesson was fairly easy: we knew we wanted to teach middle school students and we also wanted to teach a database, so we browsed Dominican's offerings to see what would be age-appropriate and what could be linked with an actual classroom assignment (as opposed to doing a database walk-through just because). Britannica Online has a very user friendly interface that can be used by students young and old, and we liked the extensive biographies it has, so we went with that.

Creating the lesson once we had an end assignment and a few potential standards/outcomes took some trial and error, but on the whole was very productive. We tossed around ideas for database scavenger hunts, worksheets, and team competitions to find certain information. We all wanted to make the tutorial fun, interactive, and not too stressful - using the database isn't the assignment our fictional students are getting graded on, so our goal was more focused on getting them comfortable with the different features and with composing appropriate research questions than in quizzing them on the database itself.

The easiest way to engage learners is to get them doing something. Make it interactive, make the student the expert, and keep the stakes low. Our scavenger hunt starts with easier questions that get more challenging as the students explore, but there is no wrong way to find the answers. The important part is that the students try, and that they observe how their classmates found the information. If two students find the same information in two different ways, they are both right! I'm hoping the "challenge" factor engages our learners and increases their comfort with the database.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Pathfinder Reflection

After thoroughly enjoying the curation assignment, I was interested in preparing a more focused pathfinder. Honestly, curating themed resources is something I do fairly naturally, but intentionally sitting down to do it still had its challenges. First, I needed a topic. I love and crave limits and the creativity they foster, so on the one hand, I was excited to narrow down my resource gathering, but on the other hand I was overwhelmed by my options of topics! And of course, after all my practice in creating lesson plans and working with classroom teachers to create co-curricular assignments, I couldn't think of ANYTHING I wanted to do.

I started a few different pathfinders to see which topic's potential resources felt best, and to see which curation tool I wanted to use. I looked at the LIS 724 website, saw a few tools that I hadn't used before, tried Scoop.It, hated it, and went back to Wakelet. It's just so streamlined. Pearltrees would have also worked, but I liked being able to add more text to explain my resources. I started gathering mermaid resources, fairytale retelling resources, and Chicago resources, and found that I was most interested in collecting a more specific set of Chicago history resources - primary sources and artifacts. That led me to gathering websites, books, encyclopedias, and archives related to Chicago's history in general and four events in particular: Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933-34. Chicagoans and other discerning historians will recognize these events as the ones represented by the four stars on Chicago's flag, which for me was the easiest way to narrow down the expanse of Chicago history.
I know I'll be using pathfinders throughout my career and in my personal life (my booklists here are a sort of pathfinder) for years to come, so it's helpful to try out new platforms and topics that students or curious Chicagoans may actually find useful!