Tools for writers

25 Feb

Last year, I tried to get a writing group going for teachers at my school, but it didn’t work out. My simple premise for the group was that teachers of writing should write and we were going to explore that. Oh well.

One of my favorite resources, which I revisit from time to time is  Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott.

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Its subtitle is  Some Instructions on Writing and Life and it truly is. It is a great collection of essays on being a writer. Not necessarily a professional writer, but a writer who writes about life. It is funny, wise and cranky, just like me! And, it is empowering. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it, even if you have no aspirations as a writer. maybe it will give you some.

Recently I found  Writer to Writer: From Ink to Think by Gail Carson Levine.

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This is a kids’ guide to writing fiction and walks them through the process very neatly, but would be helpful to adults as well. This book is also humorous and wise. Fortunately, given the audience, it isn’t cranky. This book is a companion to her previous book about writing, Writing magic: Creating Stories that Fly.

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 Both books have exercises for writers to try, which really help get the creative writing juices flowing. And she has an important piece of advice at the end of each chapter of Writer to Writer: 

Have fun, and save what you write!

Oud-rageously Oud-standing: A Slice of Life Story

24 Feb

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I traveled last night, along dusty caravan roads, to places where the warm air is filled with the smell of spices. I went there in my mind as I sat in the hall at Reed College listening to Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI play music from around the Mediterranean.

The six musicians were from Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and Armenia.  All played traditional instruments, and yes, there were two oud players. There was also an Armenian flute (duduk) player and a turkish qaran (zither) player. Together they brought me to heaven. At times I couldn’t tell if the music was ancient or cutting edge. There were moments when It seemed as though I was listening to medieval Christmas music. As I looked around the audience, everyone was rapt and feet and heads were moving.

This was my first of four nights out in a row, and I’ve been dreading this week. But after last night, I know I can face it. Music has the power to make things better.

Everybody Reads

23 Feb

Multnomah County Library’s 2015 “Everybody Reads” book is The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson.

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This is an autobiographical novel for adults, set in  a tough neighborhood in Portland, OR during the 1990s.  I have my copy, but have yet to read it.

The Residue Years is too mature for young adult readers (12-18), but there is an alternative that has just been published.

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This Side of Home by Renée Watson is set in a Portland, OR neighborhood that is gentrifying.

Publisher’s Summary:Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.

You and your teen could read different books on a similar theme and perhaps have a great conversation.

2015 Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #2

22 Feb

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I’m starting off slowly this year. This week I listened to Revolution by Deborah Wiles,

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which was on the 2015 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults list. I was skeptical about how this book would translate to audio, since it was so full of photos from the freedom summer in Mississippi. But it is fantastic. You hear speeches narrated by the original speakers like MLK & LBJ in between the story line. This is the second of three documentary novels by Wiles, and I like this one even more than I did Countdown. 

Publisher’s summary: It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer.

Meanwhile, Sunny can’t help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool — where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs.

This is a wonderful novel about a young girl coming to terms with changes in her personal life and community, and how the changes in each help her with the other.

Winding down

20 Feb

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It’s my last week of OBOB for the year. We started in October and here it is, late February. From October through mid-January the kids and I met during my plan time on Wednesdays. From mid-January through today, I’ve had a battle a day, with two battles on Wednesdays. THE FINAL BATTLE is on Monday, but it will take today’s last round robin battle to determine who will be the second team in that battle, which will happen on the stage, in the gym, in front of whichever 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes decide to come.

It was a little harder to organize this year as a regular classroom teacher. My schedule as librarian and ESL teacher both had a lot more wiggle room for special events like this. But I made it work and the teachers weren’t too crabby with me. I will definitely be glad to get my plan time back. But it has been worth it.

It’s not really over after today. Or even after Monday. The team who wins on Monday will go to the regional meet on Saturday, March 7th. The top two teams from there go on tho the State championship in April. I had a team that went that far once, and ended up #2 in the State. I’d love that to happen again, but mostly, I just want the kids to have fun.

Winnie the Pooh’s Canadian Connection

19 Feb

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Harry Colebourn was a Canadian veterinarian from Winnipeg, though he was born in England. When WWI broke out, like many, he was sent to England first. On the train across Canada, he saw a baby bear in a train Station in White River, Ontario, on the north-eastern side of Lake Superior. He bought the bear for $20, named him after his hometown, and took him on the troop train. Once in London, Harry realized he couldn’t really keep the bear, so he donated it to the London Zoo, where, a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne, loved to come and visit. The rest, is history.

This book is a beautifully written and the illustrations by Jonathon D. Voss are gorgeous,  softly bleeding into the white space surrounding it.

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The endpapers have old, captioned photos of Winnie, Coleburn and Christopher Robin Milne. The Author’s Note at the end gives more specific details on the lives of Harry Colebourn and Winnie and provides sources for further investigation. All around an excellent book.

The CYBILS Awards Announced

18 Feb

With Valentine’s Day and Fiona’s surgery, I almost missed the announcement of the CYBILS Awards. I had the great pleasure to serve as a Round 2 judge for YA non-fiction, and it was a wonderful experience. It was my first opportunity to serve on this sort of committee and I learned a lot about book evaluation and interpreting award criteria. And here is our choice for this year’s YA Nonfiction winner:

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming

Schwartz and Wade Books

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With its breathtaking scope and Fleming’s narrative finesse, The Family Romanov will lure even history-phobic readers deep into this fascinating – and comprehensive – history of the powerful and ill-fated Romanovs – the last ruling monarchy of Russia. Fleming retells the political and personal conflicts that lead up to the Romanovs’ eventual assassination and Lenin’s rise to power with the fluid storytelling of novelist, with sidebar material illuminating the contrasting lives of Russia’s lower castes and their growing frustration with their Tsar. Impeccably sourced and featuring well-selected historical photographs, The Family Romanov is both a wonderful introduction to this tumultuous, pivotal period of Russian history and a riveting tale of wealth, power, and political corruption that sets the record straight about the fascinating Romanovs and the fate of the notorious Grand Duchess Anastasia. With its well documented sources and unusual center photo placement, this title should not be missed in any young adult nonfiction collection.

If you are looking for something really good to read, check out the full list of the CYBILS Award winners.

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