TV Renewal Question

Which of your favorite TV shows do you most want renewed? Or which were you most relieved that they got renewed?

I was happily surprised Fringe got renewed for 5th season (w/ 13 episodes).  It’s my favorite show and I was sure it was going to be canceled.  Now I’m biting my nails waiting to hear if Nikita gets renewed because it’s my 2nd favorite show.  *Sigh* If only I loved shows that were more popular. 

How Reading Helps Kids Develop Empathy & A Review for the TV show, Smash

Blogs:
How Reading Helps Kids Develop Empathy – If you have elementary-school-aged kids, or if you just enjoy middle grade books, check out the excellent Middle Grade blog, From the Mixed Up Files. It's chock full of helpful information for parents, teachers, and writers of middle grade readers. One of their recent posts is about how reading helps kids develop empathy.

I experienced this lesson first hand with my kids.  I read aloud to my kids until they were around 10 or 11 years old. Plus, I gave them a special book allowance, where I would buy them one book a month– in addition to their regular allowance. They were also given an extra half-hour later bedtime, if they wanted to read in bed — but it could only be used for reading. I also suggested books I thought they might like, not books I wanted them to read, but books I truly thought they'd enjoy.  As a result, they read a lot as kids and as teens. In fact, my son came home from college and was happy he was able to read a book for pleasure during his winter break.

Now that they're 15 and 18, I'm starting to see the results of all this reading. Not only has their regular reading habit helped them with their SAT scores and writing, but it also has helped them empathize with others and understand people who are quite different from themselves. They both are able to get along with lots of different people, without much drama, because they seem to understand others pretty easily.

When kids read, they get to feel what it's like to live in other parts of the country or world and even other imaginary societies.  They get to experience romance, adventure, and heartbreak vicariously, and see how others handle those situations, and what the consequences of their actions are.  This gives kids who read an upper-hand when they start dating, or have to deal with drinking and drugs, or head off to college, or when they get their first job.  There's nothing like getting to do tricky things vicariously first to help you feel more confident when you start doing them as yourself in the real world. This doesn't mean that my kids have never learned life lessons the harder self-experience way.  They have, but they also seemed to learn a lot of lessons the easy way too.

PS  – Middle Grade books are fiction novels for kids from around 8-12 years,

TV:
Smash ( 4 stars) – I watched the pilot for the new TV show, Smash, on Hulu last night and loved it.  Smash is the fictional story about a Broadway play coming to life. It starts at the beginning, when a writing team first gets the idea to do a musical about Marilyn Monroe, and I imagine will follow the story all the way up to the show's opening and beyond. 

The pilot deals with introducing the major players: the writing team, the producer,  and the director.  The potential leads are introduced as the initial production team starts auditioning for the lead role of Marilyn. 

All the major players have their own problems and dreams and I can already see what conflicts are coming, and the potential Marilyn has to be a smash hit, but also the real possibility that it might not make it to Broadway either.  The insider details of putting together a Broadway show, plus the musical numbers, plus the individual character stories make the show really fun to watch.  Smash has the strong potential to become a favorite show.

The cast of Smash is a mix of excellent unknown actors and well-known actors, like: Anjelica Huston, Jack Davenport (Coupling, The Event) and Debra Messing (Will and Grace). I don't usually like Debra Messing, but so far, her character is pretty low-key.

[The pilot is available to view for free without registration on Hulu.  It's also available for free online viewing on NBC. The show premieres on NBC, on February 6th at 10/9c.]

Tuesdays at the Castle, Misfits, and Florence & the Machine

Books:
Title: Tuesdays at the Castle
Author: Jessica Day George
Date Published: October 2011
Rating: 4 out 5
Ages: 8 years and up
Format: Read eBook on Nook for Droid Phone

Every Tuesday Castle Glower adds new rooms to itself. For generations the castle has behaved like a living person, making life easier or harder for the inhabitants based on how much it liked them. It has even picked each new ruler. Eleven-year-old  Princess Celie — the youngest daughter of the current king– is one of the castle's favorites. She understands the castle best.  It's her connection to Castle Glower, and her detailed atlas, that helps her family survive the castle's big crisis.

This is a fun tale with lots of tension and excitement. It would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Music:
Florence & The Machine, Ceremonials (4 stars) – I like this album even better than the group's last popular album.  The songs are still filled with lots of dramatic over-the-top vocals, but this time I liked the lyrics better. Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, All This and Heaven Too

TV:
Misfits (3.5 stars) – The third season is now available each Monday on Hulu. Since actor Robert Sheehan decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career, the most charismatic of the young offenders, Nathan, is gone.  While Nathan was the funniest character, he was never that important to the plot. His replacement is just okay, but so far the episodes revolving the rest of the characters are quite good.  Their new powers help them explore interesting new aspects of themselves as they grow and change, plus there's a lot of fun entertainment in them. My favorite part is how one of the character's new power is playfully used as catch-phrase in each episode. There are eight episodes in season 3 and Hulu is currently on episode 5.  There's also a 10-minute clip on Hulu's Misfits Page called, "Vegas Baby!", that gives Nathan an amusing send off.

Top Favorites of 2011 (In A,B,C Order)

2011 was a good year for me. I started biking, went on a writing retreat, camped at Assateague, and visited Vermont.  I even finished a first draft of my middle grade novel!  It's spectacularly crappy, but it's got a beginning, middle and end, and now I can start revising it into something better. 

I also did all my grocery shopping by foot or bike, bought all most all my produce at farmer's markets, and did the majority of my cooking from scratch this year.  Plus, I watched my oldest kid graduate from high school and sent him off to college. 

I was disappointed by how little I read in 2011 though. Hopefully in 2012 I can figure out how to do all those things and read more too. Anyone know where I can buy a Time-Turner like Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? That would be useful. Here are my favorites during 2011:

Books – Middle Grade Fiction (Total Read -5)
Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Books – Young Adult Fiction (Total Read – 9)
All Unquiet Things, by Anna Jarzab
#Legend, by Marie Lu
# Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins

(I also read 3 fiction books for adults.)

Books- Non-Fiction (Total Read – 7)
#Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, by Stephanie Staal
The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the Word's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom, by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert – review coming

Movies (Total Watched – 19)
After the Wedding
#Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Heartbreaker
TiMER
Titanic

Music Albums (Total Listened To – 28)
#Adele, 21
Florence & The Machine, Lungs
The Frames, Cost
The Glitch Mob, Drink The Sea
Jack in the Box, Play It Again Jack!
K'naan, Troubadour
#Movits, Out of My Head
The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love
Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise & Age of Adz
#Vanessa Carlton, Best of Vanessa Carlton

TV Shows (Total Shows Watched – 42)
#Being Erica
#The Big Bang Theory
#Fringe
#The Good Wife
Misfits
#Nikita
#Parks and Recreation
#Revenge
Skins, series 5
#The Vampire Diaries

Honorable Mentions:
#Up All Night
#Doctor Who

# – Indicates the book, movie, album, or TV season debuted in  2011.  Many of my favorites were works I discover this year but debuted earlier.

Middle Grade Fiction – For around 9-14 years or 4th-8th grades
Young Adult Fiction – For around 12 years and up or  7th grade and up

Three More Late-Blooming Shows To Watch During The Holiday Repeat Season, Part 2

Nikita
Why You Didn't Watch It The First Time: The previews for Nikita made the show seem like an bland, exploitative copy of La Femme Nikita. Also, the pilot took itself too seriously and the twist that makes the series different didn't come until the very end after you probably already stopped watching.

Why You Should Give It Another Chance:  Nikita is an entertaining escapist pleasure. At first glance it seems like a glossy spy vs. spy thriller with lots of pretty people, but the show has heart, likable characters, and has even found its humorous side in season two.  I especially like that the character Nikita is so reserved and serious.  Like Olivia Dunham on Fringe, Nikita keeps her emotions below the surface and focuses on her mission with an intensity usually reserved for male characters. Just when the show seems predictable, the writers do something to surprise me.

Terriers
Why You Didn't Watch It The First Time: F/X burdened Terriers with a stupid name and a horrible advertising campaign so it was hard to know what the show was about.

Why You Should Give it Another Chance: This quirky detective show is like a cross between The Rockford Files and Veronica Mars.  The leads are down and out guys in need of a second chance.  Their banter and amiable friendship is entertaining and the cases they take start off as low-key and realistic, but quickly turn tense and dangerous while still maintaining a sense of humor.  It's only 13-episodes long and the main mystery is tied up in a satisfying way.

The Vampire Diaries
Why You Didn't Watch It The First Time: The first few episodes are mediocre and seem like a bland CW version of Twilight.

Why You Should Give it Another Chance: Somewhere between episodes 7 and 9 of season one the show takes off and changes into a plot-driven guilty pleasure that is tons of fun, where the villains do evil things and the heroine gets to be gutsy and assertive and doesn't just sit around waiting to be saved. The show combines the best parts of a small town soap opera with the fun supernatural action of vampires and witches, and because it's on the CW, every character is not only entertaining but super pretty too.

All three shows are now available on Netflix Instant viewing.