Wellbeing

I sing because I’m happy

At the end of my blog post “Mental Health Reflection” I promised a follow up about the benefits of singing for depression. Well, here it is!

My psychologist suggested to me that as I have a background in singing, that I might like to start singing once a day for at least 20mins. She didn’t explain more than simply suggesting that it might help. We agreed that I would sing in my car at least once a day when heading to or from work or the gym. I made an appointment to see her in a month and promised to report back on what I noticed.

The first time I put my Disney playlist on (yes, I know, I am a big kid at heart) I did not feel like singing at all. I forced myself to do it and after about 5 songs I was singing a long, if a little more reserved than I used to. Fast forward a few days and I still didn’t feel like singing in my car, but I made myself do it and after about 3 songs I was getting into it a little more – I was starting to do the voices too. A few days later and I was actually starting to look forward to singing in my car. By the time I went back to my psychologist I was singing daily, and not just in my car. My general mood had lifted greatly and if I was feeling down I knew a sure fire way to give myself a boost. When I reported back to my psychologist, this is what she told me:

Apparently, when you’re singing your face is using all the muscles you use to smile. Your brain registers the use of these muscles and thinks “I must be happy, my face is smiling” and then starts to release all the happy chemicals, hence instead mood booster! You don’t even have to be great at singing to experience this feeling – it’s the act of singing, not the sound that improves your mood.

When my psychologist told me all this I was in awe of the brain. How amazing is that?! I walked out of my appointment feeling very proud of myself for sticking to the plan AND seeing results. It’s certainly helped me trust the other little homework exercises my psychologist has given me since then. I’m slowly compiling a list of things that work for me and I will share them one day. In the meantime though, if you’re feeling down, I challenge you to try singing. Even if you don’t feel like it, put on a playlist that has a whole bunch of songs on it that you love and know all the words to and just sing!

Ps. Please enjoy this version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by the Idea of North. It’s one of my favourite versions of this song and every time I hear the line “I sing because I’m happy” I think of this.

Bookish Things

Fuzzy Mud – Sachar

When I first started at Mount Alvernia College in 2016, I was asked to take over the Readers Cup team. One of the books that year was Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. Since reading it, I have recommended it to countless students and it is rarely on our shelves. I thought it was about time I wrote a review of it.

Synopsis:

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Tamaya and Marshall are family friends. They’ve grown up together because of the close friendship between their mothers. They walk to and from school together every day; in fact, Tamaya is not allowed to walk to school if Marshall is not with her. One day, Marshall tells Tamaya that they are going to walk through the woods out the back of their school – which is out of bounds. Tamaya tags along because she has no other choice, but during the trek through the woods they get separated, and Tamaya is tracked down by the school bully. To escape the bully, she throws a handful of mud into his face and runs away. After a few days, the bully is still missing, and Tamaya has noticed a weird rash that is spreading up her arm. She becomes really worried for the bully takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of where the bully has gotten to, and what’s up with the “fuzzy mud.”

Thoughts:

I loved this book for how easy it is to read, but also for the mystery that is woven throughout it. The story is told from a couple of different perspectives. There’s Tamaya’s, which is the main narrative voice, but occasionally we get flash backs and alternate storylines that tell the story of the fuzzy mud. The scientists that create it and then unknowingly set it free upon the world try to defend their actions, which have essentially released a self-replicating virus upon the world. I also love the exploration into friendship, bullying, and doing the right thing even when it’s not easy.

A super quick read, I’d recommend this to middle years readers after a good mystery with a little bit of science thrown in.

 

Bookish Things

Murder Most Unladylike – Stevens

I read Murder Most Unladylike because we’ve had an increasing number of students in years 7 and 8 asking for “murder mysteries.” I have no real idea as to why these types of stories are becoming popular again, but as an avid reader of Agatha Christie in my early teens, I cannot complain! And so, it was with great pleasure that I realised there is a new range of Middle Reader friendly murder mysteries available, one of which is the A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series by Robin Stevens.28953339

Synopsis:

When Hazel Wong moves from Hong Kong to Deepdean School for Girls in England, she finds it difficult to make friends at first. After a rocky start she soon becomes fast friends with Daisy Wells, a typical English young lady. Due to Daisy’s murder mystery obsession, the two friends start their own Detective Agency. After solving a couple of small crimes, such as lost ties or collecting gossip, Hazel eventually stumbles on their first real crime: their Science Mistress has been murdered and Hazel discovers the body.

The body goes missing shortly after Hazel discovers it and so Hazel and Daisy must race against the clock to collect clues to find out who the murderer is. They know it’s someone on staff, but who?

Thoughts:

I did like this story, but I didn’t love it and I think it’s because I’m not it’s targeted audience. The murder mystery was well thought out though. I didn’t see the “who done it” coming and the way that certain off-hand events tied in was very clever – in this sense it is very Agatha Christie.

Hazel and Daisy of the Detective Society are likeable enough. The mentions of Hazel’s “oriental” background and the way the girls in her form refer to her are very apt for the time the story is set in. However at the same time, Stevens has shown sensitivity towards migrants by using Hazel’s voice as a voice of displeasure over the apparently “harmless” comments made by her peers. Daisy is initially portrayed as the perfect English rose, but her depth of character is explored further when Hazel slowly discovers that Daisy is the smartest girl in school but hides it, she loves to play rough when it comes to sport, and has a fascination with murder.

The setting of an all girls school back in the day (I don’t think the year is ever specified), and the description of the teaching staff set the scene for trouble quite nicely. The explanation of the Masters and Mistresses is slightly one dimensional; we never really get to know the staff that well, but I believe this is largely due to the fact that Hazel, the voice of the story, doesn’t know them well enough to make their personalities clearer. We see them as she sees them: untouchable and infallible.

The narrative of the story is a combination of present and past events. We see the murder unfold as the present, but Hazel adds in tidbits of information about the school and characters are reflective chapters. It’s really very clever. The other notable thing about the way in which this book is written is how Stevens has divided the story into parts. I am a huge fan of this as it gives me tangible goals for reading and I think this will only increase it’s popularity among Middle Readers.

Overall, I think this is a very clever murder mystery that is perfect for Middle Years readers looking for an Agatha Christie style novel. It’s easy to read, the main characters are likeable, and the plot twists are certainly shocking.

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

The truth about our “why”

Have you ever told yourself that your goal was simply to “have fun?” Well, over the weekend we hosted a Smashing Stereotypes event at the gym and the presenter said something that really struck me. The presenter was Raeanne Pemberton, and she is a Strongwoman Competitor in the USA. She has a lot to say about the mindset of women for strength training, and in general, and I always find her inspiring. This time around, the thing she said that struck me was: “If you’re telling yourself that you’re there to have fun, you’re lying to yourself.” That hit hard.

Some context:

We were talking about competing in strength sports and how a lot of women seem to tell themselves before a competition that they “don’t really care how well I do, I just want to have fun.” I myself have said this. Raeanne says that this is a lie, and I now agree. We absolutely, 100% do care how well we do! You may not realise it, but every time you sign up to compete you have certain numbers in the back of your mind that you want to hit, and you’ll either be disappointed when you miss them, or elated when you smash them. I realised that we don’t publicly acknowledge these numbers as our official competition goals because we likely don’t want to risk failing. We don’t want to put ourselves out there, and then not achieve. We want to protect ourselves from feeling failure by setting our goals low. It’s easy to turn around and say, “I may not have gotten any PRs today, but I had fun and that was my goal.”

Maybe I’m being a little too doom-and-gloom about it all, but let me try explaining it like this. We are predisposed towards being hard on ourselves, we are conditioned to have low expectations of our abilities, and we are raised to fear failing. To protect ourselves from all of this, we set the bar low in terms of our achievements. There is a difference between “I just want to have fun today” and “I want to hit certain numbers or reps today, but I also want to have fun.” Every time we sign up to compete, we have certain expectations and hopes for what we will achieve. After hearing Raeanne speak, I have made a conscious decision to really acknowledge what I want to achieve from the competition, and to not settle for “I just want to have fun.” Remember, it’s ok to have fun while competing, but you will achieve and progress so much more if you truly acknowledge why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’ll probably have more fun along the way as well.

Educating Young Women:

Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to discuss this phenomenon of “just having fun” with the students in my home room. We were asked to watch the following video and then discuss:

We talked about goal setting and some examples:

  • Running – why do you run? Do you always want to run faster or further?
  • Music – why do you play? Do you want to share your music, play harder pieces, or sound better each time?
  • Writing – why do you write? Do you want to get better, share your work, or learn new styles?

As you can see, we talked a lot about our “calling” or our “why,” and I raised the question of whether a goal of “just having fun” is enough? It was interesting to hear these young women echo the same concerns about setting low goals that Raeanne raised. It gave me hope. Does this mean that this generation of young women are being empowered to think they can do more, be more, and therefore set themselves more challenging goals? I really hope so.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Education, Thoughts

Templates on Instagram – Innocent or something more?

I came across a great teachable moment last night on Instagram, but this moment I woke up and felt that I needed to share it a little more widely…  Templates on Instagram – are the innocent, or something more?

Firstly, here’s the post:

krystalgagen Can we talk about these templates for a minute? I’ve been noticing an increase in templates that you screen shot, fill in, and then post on your Instagram story. While most of them are harmless, there are some that ask for a LOT of personal information. For example, this one is asking for your age, your birth day and month – put those together and you’ve got your full birth date. Add in your height, birthplace, and descriptive features, like eye and hair colour, and all of a sudden that’s everything that you’d put on a driver’s licence/form of ID!

I’m not saying that everyone that creates one of these templates is out to collect your information, but in today’s world of selling information and identify theft, we need to be super careful! There are some of these templates that are harmless fun, and while the creator of this one probably didn’t mean any harm, the minute you put this amount of information into the world, you put yourself at risk.

Don’t let this stop you from engaging in the Instagram or general online community! Just be careful about what and how much you share. Be smart, stay safe 💪

#adventuresoftheliftinglibrarian

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When I first saw this template I thought, “aww, that’s a bit cute.” And then I read it through properly and my heart stopped. I’m not exaggerating. I actually felt that thrill of fear, and experienced a spike of adrenaline as I saw what this template was asking me for. As I said in my Instagram post, the creator of this template might have created this with innocent intentions – you know, maybe they hadn’t fully thought through the types of questions that they were asking? But the cynical side of me, the part of my brain that assesses risks, couldn’t help but think: “this is the type of information you’d put on a drivers licence, a form of ID, a missing person’s report!” Put together the birth date and birth place, and if your profile has your first (or even in my case, first and last) name in it, then BAM! They know enough about you to start stealing your identity. Call me paranoid, but in this day and age, with companies selling and buying your information daily, we need to be super careful.

You might be thinking: “but Facebook asks me where I lived and for my birth date, how is that any different?” Well, yeah, sometimes we do give out that information willingly, I myself have done this. The difference being, Facebook is a company that I know the terms and conditions of. I’ve read their fine print (I know, nerd!) and I’ve made an informed decision. I am prepared to take that risk. The difference between that and these templates floating around on Instagram, and probably other platforms that I don’t use, is that there are no safe guards in place for my information. I don’t know who is on the receiving end of it and what they plan to do with it. That scares me.

All I ask is that you think before you post! That you open discussions with people you might think are at risk of answering these types of questions without fully thinking through the consequences. (By the way, I don’t just mean teenagers… I know plenty of adults, of any age, that don’t think things through before posting!) The more we talk about this type of thing in our families, or communities, the less likely we will be at risk of something horrible happening online. As I signed off last night: Be smart, stay safe.

Wellbeing

Hearts on the line everyday

Disclaimer: the following is a brief discussion about mental health for teachers.

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

When Jane is in your office telling you that her parents are divorcing and they don’t have time for her and she’s failed her math exam but can’t tell her parents because they’ll take away the only things in life giving her joy…

When Sam is looking to you for advice because his friends and peers are making fun of the fact that when he speaks to them as their Student Representative he uses hand gestures, and rather than focusing on his words, they focus on his hands…

When Anna is 100% engaged in class and contributes insightful and thoughtful comments in discussions but when it comes to assessment she simply doesn’t try and accepts her punishment because “she’s used to it…”

When Tim has spoken to you every day for 6 months about his mum having cancer and you can see that he desperately needs help but doesn’t know whom to speak to so he unloads on you and you don’t know how to help and you try and you try but it takes all your energy away and you can’t give anything more…

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

These stories are fictional, but they are based on events that teachers all over the world deal with daily. These types of events are the reason that I tell people going into teaching that it is the best job in the world and also the hardest. What I have learned is that we teachers, with our hearts on the line every day, cannot shoulder every burden that our students have. We also need to reach out for help and seek guidance in dealing with these burdens. Obviously we keep in mind student protection procedures and confidences, but by speaking with colleagues we can sort out our feelings, work out what we can do to help our students, and continue to support them, all the while protecting our hearts.

Sometimes it means stepping back and letting someone higher up in leadership or counselors take over with managing a student’s needs. Sometimes it’s talking to parents, or mediating conversations between peers. Either way we can always do something but we don’t have to be everything. We all have different roles to play and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are humans with emotional needs too. We cannot take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So, when you have given everything that you can to your students, and you’re barely holding it together because you’ve taken hit after hit to your heart and you can’t imagine feeling anything more than despair, and desperation to continue trying to help them? It might be time to reach out to your colleagues and seek help. Talk to someone, get strategies, and protect your heart so that you can continue to put it on the line every day.

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

Role Models: Part Two

In Role Models: Part One I wrote about the importance of Fictional Role Models. In Role Models: Part Two, I will discuss the importance of Real-Life Role Models and how everyone is a role model to someone in some way.

You may not realise it, but someone in your life might be looking to you for inspiration, advice, and direction. You might think that you are simply going through the motions to achieve your goals, but others might be marvelling at your ability to get the job done. I have recently become aware of how much power my actions have when it comes to interacting with people, and I wanted to share my experiences.

Education example:

As a teacher, I have always known that what I do directly impacts how my students see me, how they interact with me, and how they might expect other adults in their lives to treat them, both now and into the future. Therefore, I try to always be a positive role model, and it’s not always easy, but I also know that by sharing some of my frustrations and difficulties (within reason of course) can also be a powerful learning tool for them. By seeing how I cope with stress, hearing me talk about my struggles, and celebrating the wins that I have, my students can constantly adjust their perception of what being an adult and or a well rounded person is like. I don’t get it right all the time, after all, I am human, but we all know that students learn certain skills from watching and observing the adults in their lives.

Gym example:

I was having a conversation with one of the women I know through the gym the other day, and I realised how much power a Personal Trainer or “coach” has over a client. I often wonder if these professionals realise just how much trust their clients put in them, and how much their actions and words impact their clients. I have learned from my own brief experience as a gym owner, that the women I interact with look to me and observe how I interact with our members, how I go about my training, and how I compose myself both in person and online. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it scared me at first, until I realised that my position as a role model in the gym was simply an extension of my position as a role model in the classroom.

And so, if what I’ve claimed is true and everyone is a role model to someone, I wonder if everyone realises this? I hope that by the end of reading my thoughts on Role Models, that you’ve had some time to think about who you might be a role model to, and who your role models are. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

 

Bookish Things, Education, Thoughts

Role Models: Part One

Over the past two weeks I have spent some time at home recovering from an ankle reconstruction and I often found myself thinking about roles models. This came about because of the type of books I’ve been reading, the TV shows I’ve been watching, some of my interactions with our gym members, and what I wanted to say for International Women’s Day this year. In this blog post “Role Models: Part One” I want to talk about Fictional Role Models, and in “Role Models: Part Two” I’ll discuss Real-Life Role Models.

On International Women’s Day (IWD) this year I took my time thinking about the message that I wanted to share within my spheres of influence. I ended up sharing about the importance of role models for women. To that end, my Instagram post ended up being this:

krystalgagen: I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I wanted to post for International Women’s Day this year, and then it hit me: books by women, for women. I started going through my personal library for my favourite books and I realised just how many I had (this is not all of them…)

It’s so important to have great role models. Women NEED to see other women succeeding in a wide variety of positions so that they have the confidence to know they can do it too. Books are a great way to give girls confidence.

So, happy International Women’s Day. Celebrate the women in your life, recognise their achievements, and empower them to give anything they want a go.

Here’s to strong women.
May we know them. ❤️
May we raise them. ❤️
May we be them. ❤️

PS. Although Grant is not a female author, his characters were too good to leave out… Amazing role models regardless.

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As I pointed out, fictional role models can often take the place of real-life role models, and I think they are equally as important. Here’s why…

I never had a lot of female role models during my teens and early twenties. My mum was my main role model, and my grandmas, but other than that I was limited to teachers. Our family is close and I didn’t get to watch my parents interact with many adult women who weren’t related to me and I certainly never got the opportunity to find a female mentor during my years of development. My favourite teachers in high school were often males and although they were awesome (so knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects), they were still men. I’m in my late 20s now and I’d say that I still don’t have a definitive role model – some of my friends are fantastic influences on me, but I often find myself searching for guidance. When I was growing up, books taught me all I needed to become the person I am today, and I still find inspiration in characters for self growth. Without these books, I would not have had the opportunity to develop my sense of self, and discover who I am today.

There were two series in particular that I feel really shaped who I am today: Harry Potter by JK Rowling, and Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. Both written by women with strong female characters. Here’s what I learned from these two series:

Hermione in Harry Potter
Hermione taught me that it was ok to be smart. I didn’t need to pretend I wasn’t just to have friends in my corner. Her brains and her kindness are just two of the things I love about Hermione. I know that I personally, as 7 year old girl that was told she was “bossy,” needed Hermione to show me that I wasn’t bossy, but rather I was smart, had great leadership skills, and could still have friends.

Alanna in Song of the Lioness
Alana taught me that girls didn’t have to do “girly” things. Alana wanted to be a knight and she worked hard to get there. She taught me that if I truly wanted something, I would need resilience, courage, and to know that even though some people might disagree with me, if I wanted something badly enough I could make it happen.

I don’t remember there being an abundance of novels available to me that had strong female characters as I grew up. These two series are the only two that really stand out in my mind. And so, this got me thinking about how amazing it is that these days there are a number of books with strong female characters, and what that means for the current generation and future generations.

The books pictured in my Instagram post for IWD 2018 have female characters that:

  • Specialise in technology and are often even better at it than the boys
  • Fight wars for their countries because they love their country
  • Make decisions about their futures based on what they want to do, not on what they are told to do – in fact, often these two things are opposites.
  • Show compassion and kindness, and have it seen as a strength, not a weakness

By reading books with strong female characters that exhibit these characteristics and more, girls, teens, young women, and women are exposed to a range of characters that show them what women are capable of. By having these fictional role models, we can see what women can do if given the chance.

I will continue to read books that have strong female characters, and I will continue to recommend these books to my students, both male and female! However, I will also continue to find and read books with strong male characters as well, because it’s a two way street. Overall, the power of fictional role models is something that I truly believe in. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Education

The power of language

It’s no secret that words have power. My good friend Lynette Noni has based a whole series on not only the power of words, but the power of our intention behind the words. (First in the series is called Whisper and it is set to be released on May 1st 2018, get excited!) However, as much as I would love to discuss the power of words when we use them to talk to or about people or places, today I am more interested in a slightly more education based discussion. I want to talk about the power of the language we use when teaching, and how we can either promote or demote certain subjects just by saying an off-hand comment!

I am a geography teacher. I love what I do and I love what I teach. I try to make my lessons as authentic, engaging, and filled with opportunities as much as possible. I know I still have a fair way to go but I am getting better every single lesson.

When I started teaching at Mount Alvernia College I was thrown into the world of girl’s education. I never had any aspirations to teach in a girls school and when I stood in front of my first class, I really struggled – despite being a young woman myself! I quickly discovered that I needed to change my language.

Girls are predisposed to thinking “I can’t do that.” There’s no point arguing about it, it’s ingrained in us from the very beginning of our existence. In my first couple of weeks I would often hear myself saying to the girls “I could never do maths, I just didn’t get it.” I’d say the same sort of things about science too, and I quickly realised that not only was I undermining the girls’ confidence, but also the subjects that my colleagues had been working so hard to encourage girls to engage with. It hit me then, I NEEDED to change my language. Not only to make sure I wasn’t undermining my colleagues or my girls, but also to change my own ideas about what I thought I was capable of achieving. In short, since I changed the way I talked to myself about the possibility of me learning some scientific facts, or relearning some maths skills, I have become more open to these subjects AND I have found that I have a much better capacity to understand them – JUST FROM CHANGING THE LANGUAGE I USED!

My next realisation came when I was teaching a year 9 geography class just yesterday. We were looking at a choropleth map of Australia that showed the average rainfall in January across the country. We ended up having a discussion about North Queensland and why it would have more rainfall than South Australia. One of the girls ended up asking if it had something to do with the humidity and I was a little shocked to realised that they were struggling to make the connections between humidity and precipitation – the water cycle that they spent so much time learning in year 7 and then touched on again in year 8 – and it got me thinking. Do they truly not remember this important piece of information OR is it because we weren’t in a science classroom that they weren’t able to make the connection?

Again, I realised that I would need to change my language. I started to wonder if I needed to use terminology from their science classes in my geography classes so that they could connect the dots themselves? I got really excited by the possibilities this would open up – I have never been more excited about broadening my scientific knowledge than I have in the past 24 hours! I’ve spoken to the Learning Area Advisor for Science and a couple of the science teachers to see if there was potential for cross curriculum collaboration (I know, it’s an old concept but for the first time I’ve actually thought it to be possible) and I was even more excited to learn that they were VERY interested in working with me on getting this up and running! I’ve even had an invitation to attend a year 9 science excursion on Monday next week and I’m going to do all I can to be involved.

I’ve gone from someone that thought “science wasn’t my thing” to “science is something that I want to learn so much more about!” I know that I have a long way to go and that I will be limited by time when it comes to just how much I’ll be able to achieve. However, if I can get this excited over the possibility of learning more about science and implementing it in my geography classes, I hope that my passion will inspire the girls too. I hope that they will be able to make the connections between what we’re doing and what they’ve learned in other classes themselves. The ultimate goal in teaching (in my humble opinion) is to create authentic learning experiences, and the research shows that clear connections between subjects helps with that, so that’s what I’m hoping to work towards. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be able to turn maths into something that is “definitely my thing” and feel more confident in including that terminology in my classes too!

One final little mention about the Science Department at my school. THEY ARE AWESOME. In a girls school it’s really important to have strong female role models, and our science department is majority female; we even have a female physics teacher! (I’ve been told that this is an amazing thing as there aren’t many.) Not only are they awesome teachers with a great range of knowledge, but they are passionate about what they teach and are willing to include me in their teaching and learning, me who is someone that quite possibly would have been their idea of a nightmare student – you know the type, lots of potential but just lazy because “science wasn’t their thing.” Not only have they been welcoming, but they have also been enthusiastic and full of great ideas. I can’t wait to see where this goes!

Bookish Things

Looking back at 2017’s reads

This year I have managed to read 61 books, surpassing my goal of 52. It was no where near as many as I read in 2016, I think I managed over 120, but I have certainly not spent anywhere near as much time reading this year. 2017, among other things, has been the year of Netflix for me! However, I am proud of the 61 books I have read and thought I would do a quick recap of my top 5 from 2017.

Before I get into it, I want to give some quick insight into my 2017 reads feelings overall. I didn’t actually love many books this year. Sure, I had a couple that I had been eagerly anticipating the release of, but there was only one book that really took my breath away. Everything else was just sort of “ok.” For example, I loved Gemina by Kauffman and Kristoff, but it had lost its shock value because it was the second in the series. Same with A Court of Wings and Ruin by Maas. In my humble opinion it was going to need to be something truly amazing to live up to its predecessor, A Court of Mist and Fury, which has to be one of my all time favourite books. Unearthed by Kauffman and Spooner was another highly anticipated release for 2017 and whilst I enjoyed it, I think these authors have been spoiled for me forever, simply because These Broken Stars of the Starbound Trilogy is simply one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. You can see that even though I enjoyed a lot of the books I read this year, it has been tricky to find the kinds of books that make me say wow. So, I went through my 61 reads for 2017 and picked out my top 5. I tried to avoid those that were continuations of series that I have been reading, and pick only standalone books or firsts in series.

#5  Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

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This graphic novel is very much along the same lines as Smile, and is all about learning to find friends that click with you, not you being forced to fit in with them. I really felt for main character, Shannon. I could recognised some of my own friendship experiences in hers, and some I have since witnessed. This is a great story about learning who you really are and how kindness above all else will help you thrive.

Recommended for all from ages 8 and up!

#4 Geekerella by Ashley Poston

34790383As a Cinderella story, the storyline of this is completely predictable, however… I loved it. The twist on each of the original Cinderella characters is very clever. I adored how in this version our main characters are geeks; fans that cosplay or write fan-fic, and are hopelessly in love with the fictional worlds that we in the real world also adore.

We also get more of a backstory for Prince Charming, or Darien Freeman in this case, that has never really been explored before. In my opinion, Cinderella stories are all about the girl. The fact that this novel is written in alternating chapters between Darien and Elle’s (Cinderella’s) point of view means that both sides of this story are told. I love how Darien’s geeky-ness is hidden behind his superstar facade, which makes him all the more loveable. Elle has the right amount of fiery courage as someone that has been treated as a doormat for her adolescent life for her break for freedom to be believable. In short, Geekerella is a great modern twist on a classic story.

There is just one little thing that bothers me about this book: Editing! There are so many little words missing that it is noticeable and a little annoying. Other than that, a very easy read. Recommended for readers 10 and older!

#3 Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

30233110It look a little while for me to really get into this one; the beginning was a little slow and there are so many words that I struggled to pronounce. It got to the point where my brain would acknowledge the cluster of letters and move on. Once I got into the swing of the story, both characters started to grow on me.

Cyra and Akos live on the same planet, but are from two different worlds. Their lives are divided by a wide expanse of no-man’s-land, and their cultures differ greatly. Cyra’s is a world of brutality and war. Akos’ is a world of peace and farming. Their world’s collide when Cyra’s tyrannical father kidnaps Akos’ brother, and Akos in the process. Cyra and Akos must work together to escape from Cyra’s family.

I really loved the character development of this story, particularly Cyra’s. I also loved how the chapters were split in alternating perspectives, and that when Akos’ story was being told it was written in 3rd person, and when Cyra was telling her story it was in 1st person. I have no idea as to the reasoning behind this decision, and although it was  a little jarring at first, I really enjoyed the change.

Recommended for 13 years and older.

#2 Firstlife by Gena Showalter

28412750I really enjoyed this one, the idea that you needed to choose which life you would live after your first death really intrigued me. There are two sides to choose from and they are quite different, but both are appealing. Both sides want main character Tenley, or Ten, Lockwood but she can’t decide. Soon she’s on the run from both sides, simply trying to make her decision without their influence. She knows she needs to make a decision though because if she doesn’t and she dies, she will end up nowhere, doomed for eternity.

Ten is such a strong, female lead character. She makes decisions based on her own thoughts and desires, and doesn’t let anyone decide anything for her. She uncovers some hidden truths about the two worlds and puts herself in danger in order to show both sides what she’s discovered. I really enjoyed the action packed nature of this story, but also the world building.

Recommended for 13 and up!

#1 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

28103790I have not been able to stop raving about this book since I read it back in April. I love World War II history, and this book taught me about a naval tragedy that I knew nothing about. In fact, it’s about the worst naval tragedy in history, more lives lost than the Titanic, and I had never heard of it! That in itself was pretty special, but what I really loved were the characters.

These characters were not your typical WWII story characters, they were German citizens, fleeing before the call for evacuation had been made. Because of this, they feared for their lives as it was considered treason to be fleeing against direct orders from the Fuhrer. Each character had a different reason for running, each had a secret, each were scared for their lives. I loved the hints, I loved the intrigue, I loved the storytelling, and I loved characters. As you can probably tell, this book has definitely found a place among my favourite books and I think everyone should read it.

Recommended for readers 13 and up!