The Same Birthday Book Club

     Ever wanted to promote the love of reading within your own family and needed a book with the ability to garner the interest of three generations?  Carol Galusha’s The Same Birthday is the novel that meets this criteria. 
     An educator for more than twenty years, Ms. Galusha implements components that draw the young adult reader into the novel such as active-voice sentences which are direct, yet chock-full of details, brief chapters overflowing with discussion material, and themes in which a young adult can relate.  Students will be pleased with the 120 pages when the novel is distributed in class, yet mesmerised by the journey in which the three protagonists take them.
     Interestingly enough, this journey is full of complexities which engage the adult reader also.  Thus, not only an ideal choice for the secondary classroom complete with lesson plans provided by the author, but also a work with the ability to bring multi-generational readers together.  Yes, Grandma, Mom, and Daughter, for example.
     In the case of book club, what brings people together better than food?  In this case, the food acts as a symbol for the lives of each of the three main characters.  To represent Janine, appetizers should be available such as those mentioned on page 23 in The Same Birthday:  pigs in a blanket, vegetables, and chips with elaborate dips.  In the case of Mary Anne, earthy potato soup and rustic ham sandwiches express her backstory.  Without a doubt, the essentials for making a mouthwatering pizza pie will not only coax the adolescent reader to book club, but also create a starting point for discussing the life of Molly.  Looking for the ideal gift for the tween, adult, and seasoned person in your life?  Look no further  . . . you cannot go wrong with the gift of reading.


Carol Galusha

Cultivating Radiance Book Club

     Whew!  Having just turned the final page of Tamara Gerlach’s Cultivating Radiance, I can honestly say you cannot estimate the time it takes to read a book simply by the number of its pages.  At first glance, I thought 180+ pages would be an engaging weekend read.  However, a weekend read stretched to a two-week self-discovery adventure.  Yet, since the theme of the novel, “cultivating radiance,” is actually an on-going process, I know that I will revisit, reread, and review as needed.
     Cultivating Radiance is divided into short chapters which end in homework assignments comprised of a Discovery Question, an Activity, directed Gratitude work, and a Mantra for memorization.
     Each chapter is sprinkled with anecdotes, biographical contributions as well as Ms. Gerlach’s honest recollections as proof of the author’s authentic requests of her audience.
     For book club, this is an ideal choice for weekly study groups, an on-line book club, or a monthly book club that checks in with one another on a weekly basis.  Some homework assignments may be completed together such as attempting meditation (think The Center in Glen Carbon, IL), cooking healthy with local ingredients from a farmer’s market (think Fournie Farms in Collinsville, IL), or participating in your first 5K (think A Signature Hollywood Salon’s Annual Running with Scissors).  Perhaps, your book club members will register as a group for a Women’s Retreat (I’m in!).   Whatever tickles your fancy, attempt an activity which lies beyond your norm in order to experience Cultivating Radiance.

Tamara Gerlach

Experiencing Tuesdays with Morrie*

*I write a lot about experiencing the novel through crafts, snacks, field trips, dramatization, etc. This blog will discuss experiencing Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie through its dramatization which my husband and I attended June 12, 2011.  This blog, though, is written in celebration of the life of Michelle Conrady-Brown, born June 27, 1977.  Having only met Michelle a handful of times through her sister, my friend Ash, I felt as if I had known her for years due to her warmth and smile.  A loving mother to Avery and Nora, devoted wife, and tireless social worker, she is remembered forever in our hearts.
Michelle Conrady-Brown
     Having purchased my tickets for the play, Tuesdays with Morrie, I wanted to read the non-fiction work written by Mitch Albom prior to performance night.  Having downloaded this book on my phone, I intentionally learned how to use the digital highlighter thingy ma bob because of the thought-provoking aphorisms (these quotes will definitely find their way onto my chalkboard) at nearly every turn of the page.  The vivid descriptions of Morrie’s debilitating disease brought to mind memories of my own father’s gruesome death at the hands of cancer, and, thus, streams of tears from my eyes.  Yet, I do not walk away from the reading of Tuesdays with Morrie with mere sadness at the loss of Morrie, a contributing member of society, but sadness overshadowed by the motivation to do more with one’s life with the end goal of not benefiting oneself, but benefiting others.
    Thus “date night” arrived, and the hub begrudgingly agreed to accompany me to see the enactment of Tuesdays with Morrie (although X-Men: First Class would have been his choice).  This play, directed by Tom Corbett, had a one-night production at Troy United Methodist Church.  The two-man cast from the Ricks-Weil Theatre Company comprised Gary Roberts as Mitch Albom and Thom Johnson as Morrie Schwartz.  There was no changing of scenery, no intermission, and only slight costume changes.  Yet, the passing of twenty years and the suggestion of an accompanying cast through the use, for example, of an empty chair was achieved.  This play was able to portray the love between these two human beings as well as the rapid progression of ALS in a meager 90 minutes.  What impressed upon me the most was the creative usage of lighting.  At one point, Mitch’s wife, Janine (i.e. the character in the empty chair), visits Morrie.  A singer, she agrees to sing for Morrie at his request.  Morrie, in turn, closes his eyes in order to be in the moment and savor this gift of her voice (which is a recording played in the background).  After Morrie closes his eyes, the stage as well as the church’s Family Living Center, where the stage is placed, goes dark- unable to see my hand in front of my face dark.  Thus, the audience’s eyes are shut, too, in order to accompany Morrie in the present.  The play ended with roaring applause, and then there was an unusual quietness where, I guessed, people were lost in thought instigated by the play in much the same manner as the hub and I were.  The majority of the ride home was comfortable silence interrupted only with our agreeing that we both thoroughly enjoyed Tuesdays with Morrie.  I will now close with one of Morrie’s aphorisms for the road, this journey we call life, “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Doctor De Soto by William Steig

     As part of the homework assignment for Reading Camp, we were to choose a picture book from the reading list provided and then partake in a dramatization of the story.  As luck would have it, William Steig’s Doctor De Soto, a Newberry Honor Book happened to be on our bookshelf.  No hasty trips to the library for this assignment.  Score!
     Main characters Dr. De Soto and his wife, Mrs. De Soto, work tirelessly on various patients’ teeth such as moles, chipmunks, and pigs.  Due to De Soto being a mouse, he took extra precautions against any potential patients that may cause harm to himself or his wife.  Outside the office, a wailing fox begged for treatment, and De Soto and his wife, from the kindness of their hearts, relented and decided to treat him.  A fox is a fox is a fox, so inevitably, his ulterior motives surfaced.  Yet, in the end, De Soto and his wife were able to successfully outfox the fox.
     A perfect choice to read before a dental visit or perhaps a field trip to a dentist’s office.  In our case, the squirts and I each chose a character from the story to reenact.  Being the largest of the bunch, I was the sly fox and used my spooky voice in the retelling.  My girls furiously worked on my teeth with their invisible instruments and finally sent me on my way with an intentional dose of artificially created lockjaw.
      For snack, an ideal time to reaffirm the healthy snack option- Green Meanies, mouths made from healthy food options – in lieu of sugary snacks as an attempt to keep dental work at bay.  If there is time, I have found that I cannot go wrong with sticker scenes with my squirts and their friends.  Oriental Trading offers Make-a-Dental Sticker Sheets which reaffirms the theme of the story.

Reading Level:  Ages 4-8
William Steig

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

     Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain reaches beyond the animal lover or racing lover.  Instead, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a consuming read for men and women alike.  Creatively, narration is provided by Enzo, the terrier/lab mutt chosen at twelve weeks by the protagonist, Denny.  Enzo welcomes the reader into the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of his own life as well as the life of his master.  Without giving too much away,  the majority of Stein’s novel is a realistic tearjerker causing one to evaluate the treatment of his own life as well as others which then concludes on an almost fairy-tale note.
     Problems for me, the reader, ensued with the late introduction of Denny’s parents.  Their physical presence in the novel occupying only one chapter read as an afterthought.  Further explanation surrounding the parents only reaffirmed the notion that either more elaboration was needed, or the interjection of the parents should have been deemed unnecessary and distracting during editing.
     In regards to book club, this is one where man’s best friend should be not only welcome, but master or mistress of ceremonies.  The ideal setting would be a dog park such as Rock Springs Park in O’Fallon, IL.  If book club members are not owners of the four-legged friend, simply being near these canines at the park would set the mood.  Plenty of dog biscuits must be brought along to share with the dogs, and a fresh batch of oatmeal raisin cookies made in the same manner as Denny- plopped onto the cookie sheet- to share with the humans completes the ambiance and hopefully gives chase to a conversational treat.  Garth Stein
   

Molly’s Magic Pencil Book Club Ideas

     It comes as no surprise that the vivid images composed of rich colors by illustrator, cartoonist, designer, and author Peter Davies engage the emergent reader.  In fact, my three-year-old snatched the book from my hands and proceeded to tell the story in her own words using only the bold pictures as guidance.  With a sprinkle of Harry and the Purple Crayon mixed with a dash of Aladdin’s magic carpet, Davies’ words add a memorable tale with a positive message to Molly’s Magic Pencil.
     The English teacher within could not help but notice the run-on sentence on page one as well as some missing commas throughout.  Distracting for a thirty-something, but ignored by the target audience, three-year somethings.  In addition due to editing, a picture of Grandpa looks as if he is missing part of his left arm, but I assured my toddler that Grandpa was completely intact.
     For book club regardless of weather, definitely incorporate a flying carpet into the storytelling area.  This may be a sheet, rug, or blanket.  Allow the kiddos to take a ride with their minds as they listen to Molly’s Magic Pencil.  Snack may be the creation of a flying carpet using graham crackers, peanut butter or icing, and various colored sprinkles in order to create the carpet of his/her choice.   To conclude “baby” book club, give each book club member a “magic pencil” and paper allowing the creative juices to flow and to review Molly’s Magic Pencil.

Peter Davies

Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse Book Club Ideas

     Rebecca Janni’s Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse is an ideal choice for not only teaching kiddos that what one may want is not actually what one may need, but also to motivate a young reader to learn to ride his/her bicycle.
     In order to experience this children’s book, attempt to find a park complete with a paved path for bicycle riding and a lake for the book club meeting.  After reading through Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse, have children first complete  the “chore,” similar to the main character, of feeding the “free-range chickadees”( with bread or crackers) or in the case of the park, ducks and swans.  After chore-time, gather tricycles, big wheels, and bikes from the car so that the kiddos may enjoy riding their horses of choice.  Just when the kiddos are running out of steam, announce snack-time complete with cherry tomatoes (since Nellie Sue ended up in Mama’s tomato patch) and mozzarella mini-balls on Popsicle sticks.  For the pickier eater (ahem, like my kiddos), use maraschino cherries- to mimic the look of tomatoes- and banana slices.

Rebecca Janni

Dead Reckoning Book Review and Book Club Ideas

     Having just completed book 11 in Charlaine Harris’ series, I am filled with a sense of sadness that I have turned the last page and a pang of disappointment that this novel feels more transitional than stand-alone. The main protagonist, Miss Stackhouse, finds herself involved in yet another dilemma- this time concerning the status of her relationship with her beloved, Eric, as well as his future in the vampire kingdom.  Glimpses of well-developed characters in past novels seem only to make cameo appearances leaving the reader with several unanswered questions.  Usually the Dead novels are a one-night read, this time the pull of the novel did not seem to occur until nearly 80% of the pages had been read.  Nevertheless, I will impatiently wait for book 12 in which I am hopeful I will find the answers to which I am looking.
     If choosing this novel for book club, it is worth the attempt to experience the novel as much as possible as a means to not only spark conversation, but also to immerse the reader into the pages.  Thus, without a doubt, to set the ambiance, play Elvis’ “Kentucky Rain,” “In the Ghetto,” and “JailhouseRock.”  Refreshments could include Miss Stackhouse’s cheese straws- crisp with the right amount of spice- salted pecans, Maxine’s punch, a delicious cake from the bakery, and, of course, plenty of V8 disguised in bottles with the True Blood label.

Charlaine Harris

Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion Book Review

 

This novel is about the coming of age of a brother, Ralph, and his sister Molly. Even though Molly is a bright, young female who aspires to be a writer, she considers herself a mind housed within a long wooden box.  While Molly and Ralph visit their Uncle Claude and grandfather, their mother takes their two older sisters around the world in preparation for marriage. Molly, not faced with many alternatives, spends the summer imitating Ralph. When Ralph asks her what dirty words she knows, his name, too, is added to her list of “unforgivables.” Molly’s presence, in essence, inhibits Ralph’s male maturation. Therefore, the hunt for the mountain lion translates into a form of salvation for future Mollys as well as for Ralph. This novel, rich with symbolism, is an appropriate novel for the secondary classroom highlighting such subjects as feminism, anorexia, and dysfunction in the family.

"Baby" Book Clubs

A child is never too young to instill the love of reading. . .  In honor of National Children’s Book Week, I have decided to form a book club for my daughters, ages 3 and 5, and their friends.  My friend and I founded one when our kiddos were approximately 3 and 1 which included a story, snack, and craft.  Now, I feel it’s time to elevate the “Baby” Book Club and add more adult elements such as a copy of the story for each child and/or family.  Thus, I intend to e-mail the book title in advance to member parents so that they may order from the library the book title in question prior to “discussion.”    With this advance copy in hand, I am hopeful a prereading of the story will follow, which, in turn, will allow more silliness and participation on actual book club day if, for example, there is a catchy rhyme or repetition of words.  The book club attendees will be more likely to join in the reading if they are familiar with the storyliine.  In addition, “Baby” Book Club also includes snack and craft.  Field trips entail storytimes at the library, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and independent bookstores where children’s authors often conduct signings and readings.Children’s Book Week