The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Stephenie Meyer)

If you're a true Twilight fan, you've read all of the books in the series at least twice. Maybe three times. :) You've waited in line to catch the midnight openings of each movie, and probably giggled a little bit at the concession stand when you're getting your souvenir cup and the dude asked you, in a very cryptic way, "Which character do you choose?"

But do you have the foggiest idea who Bree Tanner is? Maybe you do, maybe you missed her brief encounter with the Cullens at the end of Eclipse. I actually did remember Bree Tanner but I didn't think about her very much. She seemed...inconsequential.

Bree Tanner is a 15-year-old runaway who had the distinct misfortune of being turned into a vampire solely for the purpose of serving as a soldier in Victoria's army of newborns. The title tells us that she has a short second life, because we already know that at the end of Eclipse, Bree Tanner is killed by the Volturi. (Spoiler-gasp.) She dies. We know this when we begin reading the 192-page novella that helps us better understand Victoria's strategy and process of creating this army of newborn vampires. Victoria, you see, is rather peeved that Edward killed her mate James (Now we are taking it old school, all the way back to Twilight.) She has tried and failed in other methods of trying to get her revenge on Edward by killing his beloved Bella, so this pack of newborns is her latest and greatest attempt. She wants Bella dead, and she thinks that if she uses a bunch of fresh, incredibly strong- even for vampires- run by her puppet/gopher boy Riley, then she can avoid Edward's pesky ability to read minds and therefore anticipate her attack on Bella.

So complicated. Isn't it ohsowonderful and ohsoexhausting?! I love these books.

So anyways, back to Bree. As it turns out, Bree was far from a mindless, blood-thirsty newborn vampire like the others Victoria was creating. She's likable, witty, intelligent, and scared to death, and as you get to know this young Bree Tanner, you begin to hope beyond all hope that somehow the ending that has already been written will change, that somehow her demise won't come as you've already read it in Eclipse. Poor Bree Tanner.

Her Second Short Life is fantastic, and really helpful in adding yet another dimension to the Twilight series. Her Second Short Life also proves yet again that no Twilight character is inconsequential.

The Big Wave (Pearl S. Buck)

This is a short one, easily swallowed in 1 sitting. It is the story of a Japanese village blended with fishing and farming agriculture. Kino's father is a farmer, and they live high on the mountain near a volcano. Jiya's father is a fisherman, meaning they live on the beach, safe from the volcano but dangerously close to the tsunami-prone sea.

One day, the big wave comes. It decimates the village, and Jiya barely escapes with his life. He becomes part of Kino's family, nurtured back to health by Kino's wise father. It seems that everything the man says is a note-worthy nugget of cultural wisdom. For example:
pg. 12- "Enjoy life and do not fear death-that is the way of a good Japanese."
pg. 24- "for life is always stronger than death."
pg. 26-"Ah, no one knows who makes evil storms. We only know that they come. When they come we must live through them as barely as we can, and after they are gone, we must feel again how wonderful is life."

and on and on

It is easy to infer that Kino's father has had experience with a big wave and losing his family before.

Not my favorite Buck book, but it's good for connecting literature and empathy to science.

A Week in the Woods (Andrew Clements)

Do you remember those kids who had it made? They had whatever they wanted, went wherever they wanted, and did whatever they wanted? Mark is one of those kids. Only, the not-so-obvious thing about Mark is that despite all he has, he would give it all if it meant he would have more time with his parents. Both of them travel incessantly for work, and though he is safe with his caregivers, Mark longs for what he does not have.

Having recently moved (yet again) to a new home, Mark suddenly becomes interested in all things outdoors. He does some research about camping, practices some hikes, and buys all the equipment any camper would ever dream of having. All these come in handy during a school trip to the forest, in which even Mark learns that there is more to him than money.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the side-story about a teacher, Mr. Maxwell, who has his mind made up about Mark, and yet by the end of the book his opinion is much different. As teachers, we are so guilty of pegging kids into a hole. We talk to their teachers last year, find out all their issues, and by the time they walk into our rooms we already know what we think about these kids. And for all the Marks in the world, that just isn't fair...

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

Alabama's Big Read project this year is with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. A fellow librarian and myself collaborated to put together a gigantic adventure journal for our students. The journal includes a word search and word scramble, places for students to sketch a steamboat and draw a Most Wanted Pirate sign, and tons of opportunities for research on everything from southern culture to the typical dress of boys and girls in the 1800's to Robert Fulton (inventor of the steamboat engine). There is something for everyone in this journal, and I have had an absolute blast with my students as we've studied it!

One reason I wanted to create the adventure journal was because Tom Sawyer is written on an 8th grade reading level. Twain's vocabulary is rather extensive, and even 5th graders get tangled up in the "conjectured's" and the "alacrity's" and the "constrained's". So, I re-read the book myself so I could book-talk it for all of my kinds in grades 1-5. What a great book! Not one chapter went by without my thinking the Big Read book pickers are a team of geniuses! This book is really funny, well-woven, and it does a fantastic job of reminding us all how kids act, think, and play.

Tom Sawyer is an orphan living with his brother and sister under the care of their Aunt Polly. Rather predisposed to mischief, Tom tends to either find or make an enormous amount of trouble. From accidentally witnessing a murder to getting stuck 5 miles underground in an enormous cavern, Tom is highly capable of getting himself into trouble. Good thing for Tom, he's rather good at getting himself OUT of trouble, too!

I read this book long ago when I was in elementary school, and likely would never have chosen to read it again if it were not for the Big Read. I'm so glad I did! This book now ranks high among my top favorites! And many of my favorite quotes are from Mark Twain, so it's no surprise that I absolutely loved his style, sarcasm, and wit.

Get full text of Tom Sawyer here:

You can also download the entire thing for FREE on Kindle or Stanza iPhone apps.

Here is my wikispace page I created for The Big Read:

Fever 1793 (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Mattie Cook is a teenager who has to grow up in a real hurry. We first meet Mattie as a girl exasperated by her mother, flirting (1700's style) with a boy, whining because she doesn't want to help out in the family's coffeehouse, and whose biggest concern is how to finagle a piece of candy from her grandfather. By the end of the next few months in her story, she has buried that grandfather, survived the fever herself, seen enough sickness and death to last a hundred lifetimes, and transformed into a young woman who realizes that she has what it takes to run the family coffeehouse.

Thanks to this book, I learned that:
-There was a yellow fever epidemic in 1793 that killed around 5,000 Philadelphians.
 -Yellow fever was (and still is, in some parts of the world) contracted through bites of certain mosquitoes.
-There were conflicting viewpoints on how to treat the fever. Some doctors thought the pestilence must be bled from the victims. Others believed that clean water, fresh air, and liquids were the best treatment.
-The Free African Society of Philadephia was to thank for caring for so many sick people, turning away any attempts at compensation.
-Thousands of children were orphaned as a result of this illness.
-There were so many deaths that men rolled wheelbarrows throughout the city every morning calling for families to throw out their dead.
-Homes where yellow fever had been contracted were marked with a yellow strip of cloth tied to the porch railing, doorpost, etc.
-There was such fear of catching the disease that people fled to various surrounding smaller cities, which were guarded by armed men ready to send away or shoot any sick individuals who attempted to enter. 
These are only a few interesting facts that Fever 1793 teaches about this very dark period in American history. It is a magnificent piece of historical fiction.  

Additional links:
1. Museum of Philadelphia-
2. Eyewitness to History-
3. The Role of African Americans-
4.The author's website, containing Teacher's Guide, Playlist, etc.-